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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 21 Nov 2006

Vol. 627 No. 6

Written Answers.

The following are questions tabled by Members for written response and the ministerial replies as received on the day from the Departments [unrevised].
Questions Nos. 1 to 16, inclusive, answered orally.
Questions Nos. 17 to 68, inclusive, resubmitted.
Questions Nos. 69 to 74, inclusive, answered orally.

Telecommunications Services.

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

75 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the discussions he has had with ComReg and the action he will take in view of the recent problems experienced by customers of Smart Telecom as a result of their service being discontinued by Eircom; the measures to be put in place to ensure that consumers are not subjected to similar situations in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38822/06]

The telecoms market in Ireland is fully liberalised and open.

Statutory responsibility for the regulation of the electronic communication sector rests with the independent regulator, the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), under the Communications Regulation Act 2002 and the Regulations transposing the EU Regulatory Framework for Electronic Communications Networks and Services.

As the Minister with responsibility for policy in the sector, I am concerned about the disruption and inconvenience caused to so many customers. A number of steps have been taken by the Regulator to ensure that disconnected customers can move to alternative service providers and have a telephone service restored to them.

Energy Conservation.

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

76 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he is prepared to implement any of the measures from the new 75 step programme to tackle energy inefficiency and increase energy awareness and conservation across the EU that was recently brought forward by the Energy Commissioner, Mr. Andris Piebalgs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38832/06]

The Energy Efficiency Action Plan for Europe presented by the Commission sets out a very comprehensive range of proposed policies and measures aimed at realising at least 20% savings in EU energy consumption by 2020.

Its related objective is to provide EU citizens with the most energy efficient infrastructure, buildings, appliances, processes, transport and energy systems.

Energy efficiency has the potential to be the most effective and economical means of delivering on the challenge of reducing import dependence, reducing the energy demand and reducing CO2 emissions.

The Commission's ambitious Action Plan is to be welcomed in terms of its overall approach. The Plan sets out 10 priority actions for transport, built environment power generation, economic sectors and individual consumers. The actions are underpinned by a large programme of 57 measures which the Commission will progressively propose to Council and Parliament up to 2012.

The Council of Energy Ministers will discuss the Action Plan this week and I fully expect colleagues to share my view that this is a very welcome plan. Obviously the debate on the very many individual actions proposed in the plan will continue into the future. But the immediate requirement is to endorse the overall thrust of the plan and encourage the Commission to move ahead rapidly.

It is essential that we have effective co-ordination and synergies between National Energy Efficiency Action Plans and action at Community level. Member States need to retain room for manoeuvre depending on specific circumstances.

I recently launched the multi annual national energy efficiency campaign Power of One which is the umbrella for a comprehensive series of actions on energy efficiency to be rolled out over the next 12 months. Energy Efficiency is a cornerstone of Irish Energy policy as it is for European Energy Policy. I look forward to working in Europe and here at home to deliver the very considerable dividend which energy efficiency offers.

Broadcasting Services.

Jimmy Deenihan

Ceist:

77 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the position in regard to the separation of TG4 from RTÉ; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38794/06]

The Government is committed to supporting the development of Irish language broadcasting, and to the establishment of TG4 as an independent public service broadcaster.

In mid 2005 I appointed consultants to assist in the preparation of a detailed implementation plan for the establishment of TG4 as an independent entity. The consultants submitted their final report to my Department by end 2005. This report outlined the most appropriate methodology and structure for giving effect to the separation of the assets and trade of TG4 from RTÉ and establishing TG4 as an independent entity.

Following consideration of this report, the Government has agreed to establish TG4 as an independent body as provided for in Part VI of the Broadcasting Act, 2001 on 1 April 2007.

A Project Management Group, chaired by the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and comprising representatives of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, RTÉ and TG4, has been appointed to oversee the implementation of this task. Good progress has been achieved by the Group to date.

I am glad to say that, on this, the tenth anniversary of TG4's first broadcast, I have been able to secure the provision of an additional funding for TG4 in 2007 of the order of €2.5million. It is also proposed that similar increases would be provided for in each of the years 2008-2010. This additional funding will allow TG4 to improve its Irish language schedule and reduce its repeat ratio.

Fishing Industry Development.

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

78 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the progress made with the European Union in establishing new recording mechanisms for fishing boats operating under the common fisheries policy to ensure that there is instantaneous electronic recording of all catches and landings. [38789/06]

There is great need to make full use of communications technologies in the monitoring and control of fishing activity. Over the past two years, the Department and the Naval Service have developed new information management systems in the fisheries area which are proving effective in the monitoring, recording, analysis and reporting of fishing activities.

An example is the installation of a Vessel Monitoring System on every vessel over 15m that facilitates the tracking and monitoring of vessels fishing in EU waters, including Ireland's Exclusive Fisheries Zone.

Along with Minister Browne, I have strongly pushed for the use of new technologies that would strengthen Ireland's capabilities to monitor and control fishing activity, including giving the Naval Service access to catch levels of vessels in advance of boardings. In this regard, Ireland has been at the forefront in pushing for the introduction of electronic logbooks and have worked closely with the EU Commission on the early adoption of their proposal.

The proposal for an EU Council Regulation on Electronic Recording and Reporting of fishing activities and on means of remote sensing is on the agenda for decision at the Council of Ministers meeting in Brussels today, which my colleague — Minister of State John Browne — is attending. This Regulation has two main aims:

1. To oblige fishing vessels to record and submit their logbooks, transhipment declaration or their landing declarations electronically, at least once a day. The first sales notes should also be electronically recorded;

2. To require Member States to be able to monitor and locate their vessels and match this with their VMS system in order to assess the presence of fishing vessels in a particular area.

Minister Browne will be pushing for the adoption of this Regulation at today's Council, which we believe will deliver efficiencies for our control services. It is particularly important for Ireland because of our disproportionately large European Economic Zone (EEZ) and the high level of activity by other EU vessels in our waters.

The use of electronic fishing logbooks will also facilitate earlier and more accurate transmission of data, direct from the fishing vessel, rather than after the vessel returns to port as in the current manual system.

The introduction of the Commission's proposal is, I am convinced, a major step forward in giving the control authorities tools to effectively address illegal fishing and the non-recording and the misreporting of landings.

Aquaculture Development.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

79 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will report on the recent new €2.2 million package to develop the Irish aquaculture sector; where these measures will be targeted; if he will bring forward a national aquaculture strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38842/06]

Given that there are a number of important issues facing the Irish aquaculture sector, €2.2m was recently identified within the BIM budget to support a number of technical initiatives.

The package will target six projects:

Technical Environmental Support Programme, TESP,

Resource Development Grant, RDG, Pilot Projects

Carrying Capacity Project

Technical Aqua Equipment

Technology Transfer Project

Salmon Ova Hatching Capacity.

These projects range from:

the interdisciplinary study of the carrying capacity of bays, which will estimate the level of aquaculture a bay can sustain, thus optimising the development of aquaculture in these areas;

to testing the potential impact of the use of renewable fuel sources, such as biomass, which would act as an alternative energy source to a sector highly dependent on electricity; and

the provision of biosecure salmon ova hatching capacity.

As regards the formulation of a National Aquaculture Strategy, the Seafood Strategy Review Group was established by myself and the Minister of State in June 2006 with the objective of consulting with all stakeholders, including the Aquaculture sector, to devise a strategy for the entire Seafood industry under the 2007-13 National Development Plan. The over arching aim of this Strategy will be to deliver a sustainable and profitable seafood industry in Ireland. I expect to receive the report of the Seafood Strategy Review Group within the next two to three weeks.

The achievement of this Strategy will require the taking of a set of integrated, market led actions to improve competitiveness and profitability across all the sectors of the industry — including aquaculture — by targeting investment so as to achieve the highest level of value generation.

Given that Ireland is no longer a low cost economy, constant improvements in efficiency are required of our Aquaculture sector for it to remain competitive. Therefore, our objectives going forward must be to further develop environmentally sustainable farming techniques, including organic farming, and achieve successful diversification into new species, while ensuring that the highest international quality standards are met.

Telecommunications Services.

Gerard Murphy

Ceist:

80 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his plans to provide cutting edge telecommunications technology in all areas throughout the country, urban and rural; if he has had discussions with interested parties with a view to expanding, extending and improving the service and its availability; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38755/06]

I meet with industry and interested parties on a regular basis in pursuit of my objective to facilitate the widespread availability of competitively priced broadband in Ireland.

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

The role of Government is to implement regulatory and infrastructure policies to facilitate the provision of affordable, high quality telecommunications services, by competing private sector service providers.

However, it has been clear for some time that the private sector has failed to invest at the level necessary to keep pace with the demand for broadband. Direct funding has already been provided under the National Development Plan 2000-2006 for the provision of backbone infrastructure and to upgrade local access infrastructure. 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) allow the private sector to offer world-class broadband services at competitive costs. The networks also offer towns opportunities to attract inward investment in advanced technology and knowledge based enterprises.

The Department also offered funding assistance for smaller towns and rural communities through the Group Broadband Scheme. The scheme is technology-neutral, allowing the community to select the most suitable broadband delivery platform for the area.

Despite private and public investment in broadband infrastructure there are still some parts of the country where the private sector will be unable to justify the commercial provision of broadband connectivity. Options to address these gaps in broadband coverage are currently being considered by a Steering Group comprising officials from my Department and representatives from ComReg. I expect to finalise proposals shortly.

Post Office Network.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

81 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his policy in regard to the future of An Post and the retention of the maximum number of upgraded post offices throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38776/06]

The future of the post office network and the upgrading of post offices are a matter in the first instance for the board and management of An Post. As set out clearly in the Programme for Government, this Government and the board of An Post, are committed to the objective of ensuring the continuation of a viable and sustainable nationwide post office network. The precise number of post offices is a matter in the first instance for the board and management of the company and one in which I have no function. The challenge for stakeholders in An Post is to generate sufficient profitable business to maintain the network at its current size.

It was in this context that I asked the company to ensure that any strategy for the development of the company should ensure the long-term viability of the post office network.

It was to this end that the Government recently gave its approval for An Post to enter into a joint venture agreement with Belgian Bank, Fortis, to set up a retail banking business. This will entail the provision of a range of financial services operated through the post office branch network, using the An Post brand and other An Post assets. Key to the Government approval of this joint venture was that it not only offers a real opportunity for the growth and development of An Post and the post office network but that it will, in time, greatly benefit the income streams of postmasters.

With regard to the automation of post offices, the company has recently completed a pilot project in which ten smaller post offices were fully automated.

It is intended to evaluate the business generated and the income gains in these newly automated offices, in order to see if there is a justified commercial case for further automation of non-automated offices. There are currently 386 non-automated post offices in the country which account for just over 2% of the current business of the network.

Alternative Energy Projects.

David Stanton

Ceist:

82 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the extent to which an evaluation has been carried out of the use of bio-diesel for domestic heating purposes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38809/06]

Liam Twomey

Ceist:

86 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the extent to which he has examined the various options available in terms of bio-fuels with particular reference to the growing of energy crops; the extent to which any one of the alternatives is most attractive in terms of meeting the requirements and cost effectiveness; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38815/06]

John Deasy

Ceist:

121 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the extent to which he has examined the merit of introducing further incentives to promote the production of energy crops as an alternative to the payment of fines for failure to comply with Kyoto; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38816/06]

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

161 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his preferred options in respect of the development of the alternative energy sector with particular reference to the need to generate adequate import substitution to assist in safeguarding security of supply and meeting the Kyoto principles; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38814/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 82, 86, 121 and 161 together.

The development of an Irish biofuels market and the increased development and deployment of bio-energy resources in Ireland is a key priority. Biofuels and biomass strategies are critical components of the Government's energy policy objective to significantly enhance the contribution of renewable energy sources to the electricity, heat and transport sectors.

A range of initiatives are already in place to support the development of a biofuels sector. The biofuels excise relief scheme is creating significant opportunities for the development of pure plant oil, biodiesel and bioethanol processing facilities in Ireland and also provides economies of scale and commercial returns for processors. In that context, the technical feasibility for promoting usage in the domestic and commercial heating sector will be progressed as part of the strategy to optimise the potential of the bioenergy resources right across the spectrum.

The 2005 pilot mineral oil tax relief scheme for biofuels resulted in eight projects being awarded excise relief for a two year period under the scheme.

Building on the success of this scheme I launched the Biofuels Mineral Oil Tax Relief Scheme II, valued at over €200m, in July last. The excise relief scheme will enable us to reach the initial target of 2% market penetration of biofuels by 2008. The Green Paper proposes to double this to a target of 5.75% biofuel market share by 2010. The scheme will underpin the production and use of some 163 million litres of biofuels each year. Applications received under the scheme are currently being assessed and the results will be announced shortly.

One of the related aims of the new scheme is to send the necessary market signal to stimulate the development of biomass/feedstock production to support a sustainable domestic biofuels industry. There are considerable benefits to be accrued from a cohesive approach to bio energy and biofuels for both the demand and supply sides. The Government has made it clear that a fully cohesive approach by all relevant Departments and Agencies is key to delivering on the bioenergy agenda.

The Ministerial Bio Energy Task Force is overseeing the finalisation of the national bio-energy strategy which will set out the roadmap for bioenergy development and deployment. This strategy is taking account of EU developments, and the Energy Policy Green Paper consultation process.

Aquaculture Development.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Ceist:

83 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if his Department retains the bond for £420,000 lodged by the Drogheda Port Company in 1998 in relation to the mussel productivity levels of an association (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38844/06]

It has not been possible to provide a comprehensive answer to the Deputy within the time available. This matter goes back a number of years and to fully respond to the Deputy's question will require further examination of the detailed records held in my Department and possible consultation with third parties.

I am, however, arranging to have the matter comprehensively examined and I will write to the Deputy at an early date with full information on the issue raised.

Geological Survey.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

84 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the full extent of the GSI with particular reference to the extent to which modern technology has been used to update this information; if he will restore the GSI Bill to the Order Paper; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38803/06]

Earlier this year, the Geological Survey of Ireland, in cooperation with the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland, published a new 1:500,000 bedrock geology map of the island of Ireland. This map takes into account new information acquired by both surveys over recent years arising, for example, from ongoing surveying of the island, major infrastructural developments and drilling. The map is compiled and produced using the latest Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technology. GSI has been a pioneer in the use of this technology in mapmaking since 1994.

As regards the GSI Bill the position is, as advised in reply to Parliamentary Question No. 32 of 19th October 2006, that my Department is separately, considering whether there is a case for converting the GSI from a division of the Department into a stand–alone agency. The question of advancing legislation is in abeyance pending the outcome of that consideration.

Telecommunications Services.

Damien English

Ceist:

85 Mr. English asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources further to Parliamentary Question No. 148 of 9 November 2006, the options being considered to ensure full connectivity of broadband, telephone and mobile phone services to those parts of the country such as the Black Valley, County Kerry which do not have access to a reliable and quality service; the groups, bodies, agencies or individuals with whom he is having discussions; when he expects to reach a conclusion; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38792/06]

The provision of telecommunications services, including broadband, telephone and mobile phone services 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.

As regards the deployment of broadband infrastructure, 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.

Despite private and public investment in broadband infrastructure there are still some parts of the country where the private sector will be unable to justify the commercial provision of broadband connectivity. Options to address these gaps in broadband coverage are currently being considered by a Steering Group comprising officials from my Department and representatives from ComReg. My aim is to see a situation where every reasonable request for broadband will be met at a reasonable price. I expect to finalise my proposals shortly.

Question No. 86 answered with QuestionNo. 82.

EU Directives.

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Ceist:

87 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the Government’s position on the recent EU discussions on the extension of the Television Without Frontiers Directive to the internet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38843/06]

The Television Without Frontiers Directive, which was first adopted in 1999 and updated in 1997, aims to create the conditions necessary for the free movement of television broadcasts within the European Community.

The development and application of digital technologies, combined with other developments in the broadcasting markets, are changing the reality of European broadcasting. To address these changes the European Commission published its proposal for a revised Directive in December 2005.

The Commission, as part of its proposal, has proposed two new definitions to describe the services that would be covered by the revised Directive. These definitions are aimed at giving certainty in a rapidly changing audiovisual media services landscape.

The first of these definitions relates to ‘linear services', which would include those services that have the same characteristics as a television broadcasting service and are available to all viewers at the same time, for example, traditional scheduled broadcasting, via traditional TV, the internet, or mobile devices. The logic is that the medium used to deliver the service does not matter. The same regulation should apply to the same type of services regardless of the type of technology used to deliver the service.

The second definition relates to the proposed introduction of a new definition of non-linear services. These are services that are not delivered to all viewers at the same time, for example, services such as video-on-demand. These services are sometimes described as services where the viewer ‘pulls' content from a network. The Commission proposes that a basic tier of rules would apply in the case of non-linear services.

I have supported the two-tier approach taken by the Commission while expressing the view that there is a need for as much clarity as possible regarding the identification of the new services that would come within the reach of the new Directive.

The Finnish Presidency's text was discussed at Council on 13th November and included amendments which proposed a definition for television programmes and explicitly excluded user generated content, which is primarily non-economic and not in competition with television broadcasting. The Directive will be considered by Parliament, under the co-decision procedure, in December.

Postal Services.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

88 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has issued policy directives through An Post, directly or through the Regulator, in regard to the future development of the postal and packaging services throughout the country having due regard for compliance with EU directives and the retention of a nationwide efficient and cost effective postal service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38772/06]

I have issued no policy directions to An Post, either directly, or through the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) in recent times in relation to the development of the postal services.

An Post operates within a regulatory framework as enshrined in EU and Irish law and therefore, the universal service obligation, which includes nationwide postal delivery requirements, is a statutory requirement for An Post, as the designated universal service provider. This is set out in Statutory Instrument 616 of 2002 European Communities (Postal Services) Regulations.

The Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, in accordance with the provisions of S.I. 616 of 2002 European Communities (Postal Services) Regulations, is responsible for the monitoring, measurement and regulation of the postal sector including measuring the levels of service to be achieved by An Post and ensuring that the company abides by its statutory universal service obligations.

Furthermore, the regulations also provide for the liberalisation of the postal sector. Liberalisation has already commenced and the current postal directive is due to expire on 31 December 2008 and the postal market will, subject to political agreement, be fully liberalised across the EU on 1 January 2009.

Issues that will be important for Ireland in the context of any new directive will include the protection of the universal service in a liberalised market, ensuring that Irish citizens continue to receive a broad suite of postal services and the continued viability of An Post in the face of open competition.

Energy Supply.

Tom Hayes

Ceist:

89 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the lessons which can be learned from the most recent power blackout throughout Europe; the steps that can be taken to prevent such an occurrence here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38768/06]

Security of supply in relation to electricity in Ireland is the statutory responsibility of the independent Regulator, the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER). The independent Transmission System Operator (TSO), EirGrid, monitors the adequacy of generation capacity over time and reports to the CER accordingly.

I am advised by the CER that the Council of European Energy Regulators (CEER), of which CER is a member, is currently undertaking an urgent enquiry on the blackout which occurred across central Europe on Saturday 4 November. The aim of this enquiry is to provide some preliminary advice before the end of the year and a full report on the event not later than February 2007.

While the outcome of this inquiry is awaited, the CER understands from initial information available from the German federal grid regulator that the blackout may be attributable to simple human error.

The CER advise me that a similar situation is unlikely to occur in Ireland as we operate a closed Island Grid system at this point. The CER has also ensured significant levels of investment in the Irish transmission system in recent years with plans for continued investment to the end of this decade. Between 2002 and 2010, almost €1 billion will be invested in the Irish transmission system, which will ensure, to the greatest extent possible, that the system is capable of handling exceptional circumstances.

The key lesson nevertheless which can be learned from this blackout occurrence is that no electricity power system can be fully protected from such events and that fast, effective and specific emergency measures must be in place to deal with such incidents.

In any emergency situation in Ireland, the TSO, as part of its licence conditions, has in place a number of specific Emergency Plans to deal with an incident quickly and effectively. Implementation of the plans is at the discretion and under the control of the TSO.

Telecommunications Services.

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

90 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the progress his Department has made in co-ordinating the existing backhaul networks that are in the ownership of different State owned companies to assist the development of a competitive telecommunications infrastructure for Ireland. [38778/06]

In April 2005 a team of advisers was engaged to examine the potential for enhancing and augmenting existing State owned infrastructure. This team submitted a Feasibility Report in December 2005. The report found that, while technically feasible, there would be considerable financial, legal, regulatory, operational and organisational challenges in harnessing and enhancing the existing State owned infrastructures. It is not my intention to publish the report given the extent of the commercially sensitive information contained in it. My Department is considering options to enhance competitive backhaul connectivity.

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

91 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if in view of a new Eurostat survey ranking Ireland within the bottom four of States surveyed for household broadband connection rates and due to the fact that Ireland has fallen back yet another place in the OECD broadband league tables he will bring forward measures to address the ever increasing broadband deficit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38854/06]

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 independent Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg.

It is accurate to say that the Irish broadband market is currently ranked lower than more developed markets in terms of broadband take-up. This reflects the relatively late launch of affordable and competitive broadband services in Ireland by telecoms and cable companies in the early 2000s.

However, Ireland is now a fast growing broadband market and broadband take-up has more than tripled since late 2004 when I set a target of 400,000 subscribers by end 2006. This target has already been comfortably exceeded. The challenge now to industry is to reach 500,000 subscribers by 2007. If the current growth holds I should be in a position to announce 500,000 subscribers by Spring 2007.

The role of Government is to implement regulatory and infrastructure policies to facilitate the provision of affordable, high quality telecommunications services, by competing private sector service providers.

However, it has been clear for some time that the private sector has failed to invest at the level necessary to keep pace with the demand for broadband. Direct funding has already been provided under the NDP 2000-2006 for the provision of backbone infrastructure and to upgrade local access infrastructure. 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) allow the private sector to offer world-class broadband services at competitive costs. The networks also offer towns opportunities to attract inward investment in advanced technology and knowledge based enterprises. However, it has been clear for some time that the private sector has failed to invest at the level necessary to keep pace with the demand for broadband. Direct funding has already been provided under the NDP 2000-2006 for the provision of backbone infrastructure and to upgrade local access infrastructure. 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) allow the private sector to offer world-class broadband services at competitive costs. The networks also offer towns opportunities to attract inward investment in advanced technology and knowledge based enterprises.

The Department also offered funding assistance for smaller towns and rural communities through the Group Broadband Scheme. The scheme is technology-neutral, allowing the community to select the most suitable broadband delivery platform for the area.

Despite private and public investment in broadband infrastructure there are still some parts of the country where the private sector will be unable to justify the commercial provision of broadband connectivity. Options to address these gaps in broadband coverage are currently being considered by a Steering Group comprising officials from my Department and representatives from ComReg. I expect to finalise proposals shortly.

Seymour Crawford

Ceist:

92 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the reason for the delay in announcing the third call for broadband; when the call will be made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38707/06]

I am aware of the importance of the roll out of broadband in rural areas and smaller communities. The most recent phase of the group broadband scheme, which provides grant aid for the installation of broadband in rural areas, has closed.

However, the nature of the scheme is currently being reviewed in the context of options being considered for the achievement of nationwide broadband. Ultimately, my aim is to ensure that the most effective and efficient mechanisms are put in place to assist in the roll out of broadband nationally as quickly as possible.

Options to address these gaps in broadband coverage are currently being considered by a Steering Group comprising officials from my Department and representatives from the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg. I expect to finalise proposals shortly.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

93 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the full extent of the BT proposals in regard to the provision and facilitation of broadband throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38761/06]

I have no function in this matter. The provision of telecommunications services, including broadband, is a matter in the first instance for private sector companies operating in a fully liberalised market regulated by the independent Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg. Private sector companies' investment proposals are matters for those companies.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

94 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he is satisfied all former Smart Telecom customers have been provided with alternative and satisfactory service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38749/06]

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

99 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the position regarding the recent Smart Telecom fiasco; the discussions his Department has held with ComReg and the telecoms industry in this regard; when he will bring forward the emergency legislation that he promised to ensure there will be no repetition of this episode; the regulatory reform he will introduce on foot of this debacle; if he will adopt ComReg’s suggestion of establishing a statutory basis for notice of withdrawal of service by a telecoms operator; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38856/06]

Gerard Murphy

Ceist:

125 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the number of subscribers whose broadband and telephone service was disconnected in the course of the dispute between Eircom and Smart Telecom; if all such subscribers have been reconnected with full service in respect of both broadband and telephone; the number of reconnections undertaken by Eircom and other service providers; if provision is being made to prevent a recurrence of the outage and inconvenience to customers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38754/06]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

164 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his proposals, or the discussions he has had, in relation to preventing another Smart Telecom situation which occurred recently with over 45,000 customers being disconnected in view of his recent commitment to request ComReg to examine the matter in order to prevent such a scenario happening in the future. [38820/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 94, 99, 125 and 164 together.

The telecoms market in Ireland is fully liberalised and open. Statutory responsibility for the regulation of the electronic communication sector rests with the independent regulator, the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), under the Communications Regulation Act 2002 and the Regulations transposing the EU Regulatory Framework for Electronic Communications Networks and Services.

As the Minister with responsibility for policy in the sector, I am concerned about the disruption and inconvenience caused to so many customers. A number of steps have been taken by the Regulator to ensure that disconnected customers can move to alternative service providers and have a telephone service restored to them.

Electricity Generation.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

95 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has held discussions with the management of the ESB in relation to media reports of a possible ESB takeover of a company (details supplied); his present views on measures to promote competition in the electricity market here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38824/06]

There is no such proposal on the table.

The Green Paper on Energy Policy has articulated the need to enhance competition in the electricity market as an immediate priority. Structural change to deliver meaningful competition and reduction of market power in generation are clearly signalled as key objectives. The strategies to deliver this are being developed in the context of the consultation process to inform the White Paper.

Telecommunications Services.

John Gormley

Ceist:

96 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the support mechanism he is considering for the roll-out of broadband accessibility to the whole of the country; and the timetable and estimated cost for the development of such a facility. [38787/06]

John Deasy

Ceist:

97 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when he expects 100% broadband availability will be achieved here; if specific steps are required to achieve this target; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38759/06]

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

178 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his plans, either directly or through the Regulator, to accelerate the delivery of broadband to all areas throughout the country within a short time, having particular regard to the progress in Northern Ireland and the UK; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38758/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 96, 97 and 178 together.

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

The role of Government is to implement regulatory and infrastructure policies to facilitate the provision of affordable, high quality telecommunications services, by competing private sector service providers.

However, it has been clear for some time that the private sector has failed to invest at the level necessary to keep pace with the demand for broadband. Direct funding has already been provided under the NDP 2000-2006 for the provision of backbone infrastructure and to upgrade local access infrastructure. 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. The networks also offer towns opportunities to attract inward investment in advanced technology and knowledge based enterprises.

The Department also offered funding assistance for smaller towns and rural communities through the Group Broadband Scheme. The scheme is technology-neutral, allowing the community to select the most suitable broadband delivery platform for the area.

Despite private and public investment in broadband infrastructure there are still some parts of the country where the private sector will be unable to justify the commercial provision of broadband connectivity. Options to address these gaps in broadband coverage are currently being considered by a Steering Group comprising officials from my Department and representatives from ComReg. I expect to finalise proposals shortly.

Energy Conservation.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

98 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the extent to which he has entered into discussions with the relevant Departments with a view to achieving energy efficiencies as prescribed by the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38800/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

389 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the extent to which he has entered into discussions with the relevant Ministerial colleagues with a view to achieving energy efficiencies as prescribed by the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38911/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 98 and 389 together.

I am working with all relevant Ministerial colleagues including the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Minister for Transport to ensure a fully cohesive national strategic approach to delivering on energy efficiency objectives both in terms of EU obligations and directions as well as specific national targets.

Question No. 99 answered with QuestionNo. 94.

Prospecting Licences.

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

100 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has had discussions with oil, gas or other exploration companies with a view to identification of a new licensing regime that would meet all requirements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38753/06]

Pádraic McCormack

Ceist:

123 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will ensure in the context of a future review of oil, gas or other mineral exploration licences that such regime is pitched in such a way as to encourage exploration and at the same time be seen to give a fair, adequate and transparent return to the taxpayer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38766/06]

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

138 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his preferred options in respect of his anticipated review of the exploration licensing regime in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38765/06]

Pádraic McCormack

Ceist:

143 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the nature of discussions he has had within his Department or with the exploration sector within the context of the review he has suggested of the exploration licensing regime; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38767/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 100, 123, 138 and 143 together.

My Department is currently undertaking a review of the licensing regime under which offshore exploration companies operate in this country. Indecon International Economic Consultants Indecon has been engaged to assist my Department in this regard and is due to report to my Department by the end of this month. I have had discussions with officials of my Department about the analysis which was referred to Indecon and about the terms of reference for the assignment.

I have not had meetings with representatives of the exploration sector to discuss this review, though I understand that Indecon, as part of its work, has consulted with industry representatives.

It is my objective to ensure that the licensing regime in place maximises the return to the national economy while, at the same time, encouraging exploration for petroleum. This regime must be sufficiently progressive to accommodate both future variations in oil and gas prices and the high cost of deep-water field development. Non-fiscal aspects of the terms, such as the types of licences and their duration, are also being reviewed to ensure that they are conducive to an effective and timely approach to exploration.

With regard to non-petroleum minerals, it is Government policy to stimulate discovery of economic mineral deposits and to maximise the contribution of the mining sector to the national economy, with due regard to its social and environmental impact. Exploration and development is undertaken by private enterprise and regulated under the Minerals Development Acts, 1940 to 1999. All extraction of minerals under the Acts is subject to payment of royalties to the State. While it is my intention to consolidate and update the Minerals Development Acts in a new Minerals Development Bill currently being drafted in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel, I do not propose to change that policy.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Ivor Callely

Ceist:

101 Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the alternative energy services that have been given consideration by his Department; the status of alternative energy projects and results of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38716/06]

Shane McEntee

Ceist:

145 Mr. McEntee asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his preferred options for the incentivisation of alternative energy production; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38806/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

425 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his proposals for setting up alternative or bio-fuel infrastructure or support services with a view to increasing availability and access and developing the industry in order to improve Ireland’s compliance with Kyoto principles and the need to reduce dependence on imported fuels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39205/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 101, 145 and 425 together.

A number of innovative alternative energy programmes are in place as part of a €65m initiative announced last year. The programme is being rolled-out over a five year period and provides funding for the domestic, commercial, services and industrial sectors as follows:

The €27m ‘Greener Homes' domestic renewable heat grants programme is providing grants for householders for the purpose of installing renewable heating including wood biomass boilers and stoves, solar panels and heat pumps.

The €22m Bioheat grants programme provides grants for commercial scale wood biomass boilers aimed at the business and services sectors.

The €11m Combined Heat and Power grants programme is providing funding for the commercial sector to switch to more efficient electricity and heat generation.

In addition to these funding measures, a number of other financial initiatives have been introduced:

In July, I launched a five-year excise relief programme for biofuels, valued at over €200m. The successful applicants under this scheme will be announced shortly. The programme builds on a pilot initiative rolled out in 2005, in which eight biofuels project were granted excise relief over a two-year period.

In June, I launched the Renewable Energy Feed-in-Tariff which is providing a fixed feed-in-tariff for renewable electricity over a fifteen year period.

The Bio-energy Ministerial Task Force, which I established in July this year, will develop, by end-year a cohesive national bioenergy strategy including biofuels. Further initiatives including the question of additional supports are being considered in the context of the Green Paper on Energy Policy, and the Estimates and Budgetary processes.

The Renewables Directive (2001/77/EC) obliges Ireland to develop and implement a programme capable of increasing the amount of electricity from renewable energy sources to 13.2% of total consumption by 2010. We have proposed a target of 30% by 2020 in the Green Paper.

The target of 13.2% approximates to 1450 megawatts (MW) of installed generating capacity to be operational to the electricity network by 2010. Currently Ireland has over 940MW of renewable capacity connected. This consists of approximately 670MWs of wind-powered plant, 236MW of hydro powered plant with the balance (c. 35MWs) made up of different biomass technologies. The additional new capacity required to achieve the target will be delivered by projects already selected under the AER VI competition and the new Renewable Energy Feed In Tariff (REFIT) programme I launched on 1st May last.

On 29th September I announced the first tranche of support under REFIT to over fifty new renewable powered electricity generating plants. The combined capacity of these projects is over 600 megawatts (MW), with wind-power accounting for most of the new support. Full details of REFIT and the successful applicants are available on my Department's website at www.dcmnr.ie.

Fisheries Protection.

Dan Boyle

Ceist:

102 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the body to be charged with overseeing the implementation of the new salmon regime; the legislative powers the body will be vested with; and the resources to be allocated for the additional monitoring of salmon numbers and for the introduction of new river management schemes to improve the spawning conditions and water quality for salmon. [38780/06]

Liz McManus

Ceist:

158 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the way he will provide resources for river counters and inland fisheries staff to implement the salmon conservation programme highlighted as urgent in the report of the Independent Salmon Group; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38837/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 102 and 158 together.

Under the Fisheries Acts, primary responsibility for the management, conservation, protection, development and improvement of inland fisheries rests with the central and regional fisheries boards.

Funding is allocated directly to each fisheries board from the vote of my Department. These funds are applied by the fisheries boards towards their statutory functions, including the management of the wild salmon fishery, in each of the regions according to their needs. I am committed to enhancing the funding available to the fisheries boards for their protection and enforcement effort to ensure that the salmon stocks we are trying to rebuild are not unlawfully taken. I am confident that this increased funding will be reflected in the Revised Estimates Volume when published in the New Year.

As the Deputy may be aware, the management of the existing fish counters is undertaken by the regional fisheries boards and supported by the Marine Institute and this will continue through the National Fish Counter Programme. In so far as real time monitoring and management of stocks is concerned, I am advised that counters are only one method by which the assessment is made. Reliance is also placed on the expert analysis of catch data and surveys by fisheries officers and research officers of spawning areas, fish populations and habitat etc to monitor stocks.

Post Office Network.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

103 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the number of post offices that have been closed or downgraded in the past five years; the number of new offices opened or upgraded in the same period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38775/06]

The matter of post office closures is, in the first instance, a matter for the board and management of the company and one in which I have no function. According to An Post the number of Post Offices that have been closed in the past five years stands at 211. The number of Post Offices converted to postal agencies in the same period stands at 279. One new Post Office opened during this period. The number of Post Offices automated in this period stands at five.

Foreshore Licences.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Ceist:

104 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if there is a maximum timeframe limit for approving foreshore licence applications; and if there are plans to introduce a formal appeals mechanism for foreshore licences that have been refused or for licence applications that have been delayed. [38785/06]

The timeframe for considering foreshore lease and licence applications depends on a number of factors, including the precise nature of the activity proposed, the observations from expert consultees and issues arising from the public consultation process.

The Foreshore Acts do not provide for appeals against decisions on foreshore lease and licence applications, and there are currently no proposals to introduce a formal appeals mechanism in respect of such applications.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

105 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the arrangements he will take with regard to wind farm developments which were approved under the AER support mechanisms but which have not met the required timetables for development of the projects; and the support measures the Government intends putting in place to support the development of off-shore wind farms in Irish waters. [38782/06]

The Alternative Energy Requirement programme (AER) and its successor, the Renewable Energy feed-in tariff programme (REFIT), are designed to support the construction of new renewable energy powered electricity generating plants which would not otherwise proceed to build and operate. Both programmes are subject to EU State aids clearance. A condition of the State aids clearance for the AER programme is that projects can be supported for fifteen years or until 2019 whichever is earlier.

Any AER supported project, which is not yet built or under construction, cannot achieve the full 15 years support under the AER programme. The REFIT programme permits any project, which was previously selected in the AER programme but which was neither built nor under construction in April 2005, to enter REFIT and achieve a fifteen year support programme. It is a matter for individual project developers, including projects developers already declared successful in AER, to determine whether any particular project is compliant with the conditions precedent in REFIT and whether the REFIT support is acceptable. I am also moving any unused support capacity or capacity which becomes available under the AER programme into the REFIT support programme to ensure it is available to the maximum number of project proposals.

One exception to the 2019 deadline in the AER programme and the transfer of capacity to REFIT is the offshore wind category in AER VI. This category permits support to end 2021. Projects in this category have until end 2006 to construct. Correspondence with developers in this category is ongoing and it is premature to reach any final decisions in advance of that deadline.

Future targets across all renewable technologies, beyond the REFIT programme, will be settled in the context of the White Paper on Energy Policy.

Electricity Generation.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

106 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his plans for the development of microgeneration; if his Department is making a submission to CER on the regulator’s current public consultation on microgeneration; if and the way he is liaising with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the issue in view of his recent public commitments in relation to planning aspects of microgeneration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38823/06]

The Government is committed to developing domestic scale renewable electricity and heat technologies. Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI) has undertaken work on Metering Options for Small Scale Renewable and CHP Electricity Generation. The study identified a number of areas which require further analysis including the ability of such processes to secure adequate payment for their exports, a review of connection standards and processes for smaller generators, and the implications of the Single Electricity Market for small-scale electricity generation.

These technical and administrative issues are currently being addressed, and my Department is working with the relevant agencies, including SEI, the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), ESB Networks and the Electro-Technical Council of Ireland in this regard.

As part of the ongoing work to progress this area, the CER launched a public consultation in early October on arrangements for micro generation which deals with metering issues.

I have raised the issue of planning guidelines for domestic renewable technologies with my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, with a view to ensuring a common national approach on such issues.

We are working with all relevant agencies and the CER to ensure that the appropriate administrative, technical and safety standards and practices are in place to underpin programmes for the widespread deployment of micro generation technologies. I am confident that appropriate solutions suited to the context of the Irish electricity grid and for non-grid connected technologies will be developed with a view to progressing this emerging sector.

Energy Policy.

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

107 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the role he intends for the ESB in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38751/06]

The Government is firmly of the view that there is strategic value in maintaining a strong, commercially viable ESB into the future. Retaining the natural monopoly networks in State ownership is also stated Government policy.

Structural reform is nonetheless essential and urgent in the interests of the development of a competitive market in electricity, providing consumer choice and driving efficiencies within the ESB itself. The creation of the Single Electricity Market in 2007 is a critical context.

The Energy Green Paper outlines the lines of action that the Government is considering as a means of achieving the necessary structural reform, including consideration of establishing a State-owned land-bank of potential generation sites and addressing ESB's dominance in the area of price-setting plant. Discussions and consultations are underway, in the context of developing the White Paper, to crystallise and agree the actions to be taken to deliver on the two policy imperatives of competition and security of supply.

Mobile Telephony.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

108 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to research linking mobile phone use to male infertility; if he will review the findings of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35495/06]

My officials are aware of a number of studies in relation to male infertility and mobile phone usage, including the recent preliminary results from a study carried out in Cleveland. To date the balance of scientific and medical evidence does not support a causal relationship.

I am guided in these matters by the advice from international expert bodies, such as the World Health Organisation and the International Commission for Non-Ionising Radiation Protection. These bodies continually examine the totality of the scientific and medical evidence available so we have the most up to date and accurate information in regard to the potential health effects, if any, of electromagnetic fields.

Post Office Network.

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

109 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the Government strategy on the post office network; if he will provide the full list of the closures to date in 2006 and the number of post offices, sub-post offices and postal agents on 1 January and 21 November 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38847/06]

As set out clearly in the Programme for Government, this Government and the Board of An Post are committed to the objective of ensuring the continuation of a viable and sustainable nationwide post office network.

In line with this objective, I asked the company to ensure that any strategy for the development of the company should ensure the long-term viability of the post office network. It is in this context that the Government recently gave approval for An Post to enter into a joint venture with Fortis, with a view to providing a variety of financial services through the post office network and improving income for both An Post and postmasters.

The closure of individual post offices is in the first instance a matter for the board and management of the company and one in which I have no function. According to An Post the following is the full list of closures to date in 2006.

16 Sub-Office closures in 2006

Brandon, County Kerry

Martinstown, County Limerick

Tomhaggard, County Wexford

Kildinan, County Cork

Grangecon, County Wicklow

Boholas, County Roscommon

Church Cross, County Cork

Bornacoola, County Leitrim

Crosspatrick, County Tipperary

Carrigrohane, County Cork

Drumcree, County Westmeath

Holycross Kilmallock, County Limerick

Cranford, County Donegal

St. Margaret’s, County Dublin

Fortel, County Offaly

Whitehall, County Dublin

10 Postal Agency closures in 2006

Shannon Harbour, County Offaly

Bellacorick, County Mayo

Derreens, County Mayo

Kiltormer, County Galway

Moneygold, County Sligo

Askamore, County Wexford

Brittas, County Dublin

Straide, County Mayo

Ballylickey, County Cork

Sherkin Island

The number of post offices, sub-post offices and postal agents in existence on 1 January and 21 November 2006 is set out in the table below.

1st Jan. 2006

No.

21st Nov. 2006

No.

No. of Company Offices

88

No. of Company Offices

84

No. of Sub-Post Offices

1,321

No. of Sub-Post Offices

1,281

No. of Postal Agents

161

No. of Postal Agents

171

Postal Services.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

110 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if, in the context of the future development of postal and packaging services here and notwithstanding his previous references to postal services in other European countries, he will have due regard for the topographic and geographic nature of Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38771/06]

Matters relating to the provision of postal services are in the first instance a matter for the board and management of An Post. The standards of service delivery in the postal sector are set out in the two European postal directives, which outline the universal service obligations to which universal service providers including An Post, must comply. The USO currently requires the provision of collection and delivery services 5 days per week, regardless of geographic location. There are no proposals to change this requirement in the context of future liberalisation of the postal sector.

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

111 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if the Government will respond to the new proposal by European Commissioner Mr. Charlie McCreevy on abolishing the reserved areas for national postal operators for letters below 50 grammes; his views on the concerns of Ireland’s EU partner States such as France, Italy, Spain, Poland, Belgium and Greece that Commissioner McCreevy’s proposal will weaken customer service in the postal sector and lead to thousands of jobs losses; the way or the model by which he proposes to maintain the universal service obligation; if he will establish a new comprehensive postal services strategy to ensure that An Post is robust enough to meet the challenges of the fully liberalised market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38846/06]

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 39126 of 21st November 2006.

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

112 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the cost of post codes; the degree of implementation; the benefit to consumers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38795/06]

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

150 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will immediately publish and lay before Dáil Éireann the feasibility study and cost-benefit analysis produced by ComReg on the introduction of postcodes; when he is planning to introduce postcodes; if there will be a general consultation process before a system of postcodes is introduced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38861/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 112 and 150 together.

The generally accepted definition of a postcode is a unique, universal identifier that unambiguously identifies the addressee's locality and assists in the transmission and sorting of mail items.

The introduction of a postcode system in Ireland would assist with improving efficiencies in the sorting and delivery processes for postal items and would also help facilitate new entrants to the market, should the EU postal market be liberalised in the future. Ireland is one of the few developed countries that does not have a postcode.

The National Postcode Project Board (NPPB) has now presented to me for consideration its recommendation as to the most appropriate postcode system for Ireland, the costs and benefits arising from its introduction along with a detailed implementation plan. As part of its analysis, the NPPB's advisers carried out an extensive consultation with stakeholders both within the postal sector and outside it with a view to arriving at a postcode model that best meets the needs of the stakeholders and measures the likely costs and benefits of the introduction of such a postcode.

I am now considering the next steps including any Government approvals, tender processes, legislative requirements and administrative supports required to introduce the recommended model by 2008.

Gas Network.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

113 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will report on the development of the gas network throughout Connaught; the reason towns such as Belmullet and Ballinrobe were omitted from this expansion of the domestic and business gas infrastructure; if these and similarly sized communities not on the published list can now be added to the national gas network; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38828/06]

I can advise the Deputy as follows:

The position is that, since 2002, the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), which is a statutory independent body, has been charged with all aspects of the assessment and licensing of prospective operators who wish to develop and/or operate a gas distribution system within the State under the Gas (Interim) (Regulation) Act 2002.

The construction by Bord Gáis Éireann (BGÉ) of a natural gas transmission pipeline, known as the Mayo-Galway Pipeline, has recently been completed. The pipeline is one part of the infrastructure required to transport natural gas from the Corrib gas-field to the national gas network.

Earlier this year the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) directed BGÉ to implement a new Gas Connections Policy, which determines the economic viability of connecting towns to the gas network. The new policy allows for the appraisal of a new town either on its own or as part of a regional group of towns. Having regard to this new policy, BGÉ carried out a comprehensive review of towns being considered for connection to the national gas network. The review is being conducted in two phases, and phase 1, which covers the towns in the proximity of the Mayo-Galway Pipeline, has already been completed.

Following consideration of this phase of the review, the CER made the decision to allow Bord Gáis to extend the natural gas network to eleven towns along the route of its Mayo-Galway gas transmission pipeline. The towns to be connected to the network are Athenry, Craughwell, Headford, and Tuam in Co. Galway and Ballina, Ballyhaunis, Castlebar, Claremorris, Crossmolina, Knock and Westport in Co. Mayo, and it is hoped that some of these can be connected as early as the end of 2007.

Bord Gáis is continuing its evaluation of the viability of extending the gas network elsewhere to towns in other parts of the country with a view to completing its review by July, 2007. Following completion of this study, the CER will consider whether other towns with an economically viable case may be connected.

With regard to the Deputy's question about Belmullet and Ballinrobe, I am advised that the review carried out by Bord Gáis indicates that connection of both towns to the network would not currently be economically viable. Full details of the issues taken into consideration by Bord Gáis in its review of these and all other towns examined so far, as well as a map which shows each of the towns to be examined in phase 2, may be examined on its website www.bge.ie.

My Department has also engaged consultants for a Gas to the Northwest Study, in the context of the Government's objective for regional policy in the National Development Plan and having regard to the National Spatial Strategy.

The scope of this study is firstly, to determine the feasibility of bringing gas from the Mayo-Galway pipeline to Donegal Town via Sligo, considering three specified alternative routes; secondly, to examine and assess options for and issues surrounding the development of gas-fired power generation along the pipeline routes; and finally, to present options for the provision of gas pipeline infrastructure and gas-fired power generation, with recommendations as to how best the options may be pursued. The study is scheduled for completion in January 2007.

Energy Supply.

John Gormley

Ceist:

114 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when the Government expects to make a decision regarding the construction of a new east west inter-connecter with the UK; the projected grid reinforcement measures that will be required on the UK side of such an inter-connector; and the respective roles for the UK and Irish transmission grid companies in the operation of the facility. [38786/06]

John Perry

Ceist:

126 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if it is intended to provide one or two interconnectors; if this is expected to happen by way of public or private enterprise or a combination of both; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38811/06]

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

148 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will report on the development of an east west interconnector; if it will be developed on a regulated, hybrid regulated or merchant basis; the amount it is set to cost; the meetings his Department has conducted with their UK counterparts on this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38863/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 114, 126 and 148 together.

Security of energy supply is a key imperative for Ireland and the European Union. The relatively small size of the Irish electricity market underlines the need for greater interconnection as a means of enhancing security of supply, promoting competition and integrating the Irish electricity market into the wider European market.

The recently published Energy Policy Green Paper "Towards a Sustainable Energy Future for Ireland" underlines the Government's commitment to deliver enhanced interconnection on the island of Ireland as well as with Britain as a priority. This is also the way forward envisaged at European level.

The Government has made a decision approving plans for the construction of a single 500 megawatt electricity interconnector between Ireland and Wales. On foot of the Government decision, the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) has been requested to proceed with a competition to select a developer to secure the design and construction of this interconnector by 2012 at the latest. As regards funding, the mechanism will be determined by the CER with fully regulated capital expenditure and revenues which will deliver the most cost effective and efficient solution.

The CER has also been requested to arrange for EirGrid and ESB to expedite the technical work of route selection and necessary grid reinforcement works. The Government decision provides that the interconnector when completed will as a key strategic asset remain in public ownership and will be owned by EirGrid.

EirGrid will carry out the work needed to select the route of the interconnector and the sites at each end for the converter stations. This will involve discussions with the UK authorities to determine what routes are feasible. The CER will actively participate as appropriate.

To underpin the development process, new arrangements are proposed in respect of the construction and operation of future interconnectors in the Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006. The Bill provides that the CER may, with Ministerial consent, secure the construction of an interconnector by one or more means, including by competitive tender. Such consent will be contingent on final Government approval.

I am not in a position to put forward any estimates as to the ultimate cost of the east-west interconnector not least because the groundwork has not been completed on specific routes. Until the CER has established considerably more detail on the specifics of the route, seabed surveys and the cost and extent of the essential grid reinforcements, it would serve no useful purpose to speculate on final costs. Also, it would be inappropriate to pre-empt the outcome of the competitive process for developer selection.

Meetings by my Department with UK counterparts to discuss energy matters including interconnection occur on a regular basis. The Department of Trade and Industry has been briefed on developments related to the interconnector. Both Departments are in full agreement on the merits of enhanced interconnection and have undertaken to liaise closely as necessary as the project goes forward. I also briefed my Welsh colleague Minister Andrew Davies in September and we agreed that officials would work closely together on the technical and other dimensions of the project. My Department has also briefed the European Commission on the east-west interconnection proposal and I am pleased to note that the response of the Commission was very positive and supportive.

Energy Costs.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

115 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has received a copy of Forfas’ statement on the Costs of Doing Business in Ireland; if in view of Forfas’ concerns regarding the significant impact of energy price rises on competitiveness he will direct CER to conduct an immediate review of its pricing policy and establish a statutory consumer panel within the institutional structure of CER; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38830/06]

I can confirm that I and my Department have considered the Forfas Statement on the Costs of doing Business in Ireland. I note the findings of this report that, on average, labour costs dominate business costs (59%), followed by property costs (11%), utility costs (9%), transport (4%), with all other costs accounting for 17% of the total costs. I have also noted the finding that utility costs, including electricity costs, are less competitive when compared to the benchmarked locations.

This finding is consistent with the message of the Energy Policy Green Paper: Towards a Sustainable Energy Future for Ireland. The Green Paper notes that Ireland's small energy market, peripheral position in Europe and exposure to sustained high global oil and gas prices pose particular challenges in terms of competitive energy costs.

This Green Paper also outlines options for the future direction of energy policy based on the three pillars of:

security of supply;

environmental sustainability and;

economic competitiveness.

It acknowledges that Ireland's continued economic growth and competitiveness depends on a reliable and competitively priced energy supply and sets out two overarching policy objectives to ensure the competitiveness of Irish energy supply:

effectively liberalising gas and electricity sectors by implementing energy market mechanisms, and

enabling competition by reforming institutional arrangements and market structure.

The Green Paper lists a number of key policy targets aimed at delivering these objectives. A central target is the introduction of the Single Electricity Market (SEM) in 2007, which is designed to provide a larger market with more competitive energy prices. The proposed use of a Capacity Payment Mechanism is designed to encourage new market players to invest in power generation.

The continued liberalisation of the electricity and gas markets is also designed to further enhance competition. This includes the full opening of the natural gas market to augment the fully open and contestable electricity market. This is provided for in the Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006.

In relation to reforming institutional arrangements and market structure, the Green Paper favours the retention of a strong commercially viable ESB and the retention of certain strategic electricity assets, including networks and certain generation assets, in State ownership for the long term.

Enhanced competition in generation will act as a catalyst for improvements in operation and maintenance costs, productivity, availability, flexibility and innovation. In order to mitigate ESB's dominance in mid-merit price-setting I am also giving consideration to the option of creating a ‘landbank' of suitable sites, to offer a predictable pattern of access to suitable generation sites in Ireland for new entrants to this market. This would remove a significant barrier to new entry and has been used successfully elsewhere to encourage new entry.

The Green Paper also sets out the Government's intention to undertake a comprehensive review of the energy regulatory framework. This will be initiated following the introduction of SEM in 2007, with a view to positioning regulation to meet the energy challenges up to 2020.

Under the Electricity Regulation Act 1999, the regulation of energy tariffs falls within the remit of the Commission for Energy Regulation, (CER), the independent regulator for electricity and gas. I do not have any function in this matter. I am advised that the CER has indicated that it will hold a consultation on the introduction of a fuel cost variation mechanism in electricity tariffs by the end of this year.

Under EU Regulations in relation to the Internal Energy Markets the CER has a direct legal obligation to protect the interests of final customers of electricity and to take account of the needs of vulnerable customers.

In relation to the CER's pricing policy, all decisions are made following full consultation which is open to all consumers, which outlines the proposed decision and full details of the drivers behind the decision. The CER's pricing policy includes a full assessment of the impact of proposed tariffs on all categories of customer. Decisions are made based on delivering value for money for electricity and gas customers while maintaining a secure supply and demand balance and ensuring sufficient investment in the network infrastructure to support Ireland's expanding economy.

The CER also progressed work on developing specific consumer panels for the gas and electricity sectors. This proposal has now been superseded by the establishment of the National Consumer Agency (NCA) by the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment. The Agency's remit is to represent and progress consumers' interests across all economic sectors. It is also envisaged that the Agency will provide a strong consumer voice in the regulated sectors including energy.

The CER is working closely with the NCA to ensure that the consumer has a strong voice and input on energy tariffs. I very much welcome the fact that both are collaborating to put in place appropriate arrangements including a memorandum of understanding on information sharing and consultation and cooperation.

Fish Quotas.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

116 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will make a statement on the reductions to Ireland’s 2006 mackerel quota arising from allegations of landings of undeclared mackerel [38850/06]

Earlier this year, after extensive investigation, the UK authorities reported undeclared landings of mackerel into Scotland by Irish vessels in 2005 to the EU Commission. As a result, the EU Commission deducted 6,578 tonnes from Ireland's 2006 mackerel quota under Commission Regulation No. 742 of 2006, as ‘payback' for the 2005 undeclared landings.

Following extensive consultations with the EU Commission, the Attorney General's Office and industry representatives, my colleague Minister of State Browne decided that vessel owners reported for undeclared illegal landings of mackerel should be held individually responsible as far as possible. Accordingly, and following full consideration of representations made by the individuals concerned, deductions were applied to the allocations of mackerel of those vessel owners whom Minister of State Browne was satisfied had breached Community regulations and landed undeclared mackerel.

The Mackerel fishery opened on 28th October 2006. Any balance of the 6,578 tonnes deducted from Ireland's 2006 mackerel quota that is not cleared following the application of reductions in the allocations of these individual vessel owners was applied to the other vessels in the RSW Pelagic fleet on a pro-rata basis.

I believe that this management arrangement is fair and reduces as far as possible the impact on those not responsible for the reported undeclared illegal landings into Scotland.

The methodology, scale and timing of any deductions in Ireland's future mackerel quota in respect of the undeclared landings in the period 2001 to 2004 is under discussion with the EU Commission.

Energy Costs.

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

117 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he is satisfied that the regulatory system as transposed into Irish law is capable of giving Irish consumers the benefit of lower oil and gas prices on international markets; if he will take action to address this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38802/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

119 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when he proposes to take action of a legislative nature or otherwise to intervene on behalf of the consumer with a view to delivering the benefits of lower international oil and gas prices to the domestic and business section here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38745/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 117 and 119 together.

The Commission for Energy Regulation is statutorily required to protect the interests of final customers as well as taking into account the needs of vulnerable customers. CER has put measures in place to ensure that consumer interests are represented in the CERs decision making process and that customer complaint mechanisms are enhanced. Plans by CER to develop consumer panels for gas and electricity consumers have been superseded by the establishment of the National Consumer Agency. The Agency's remit is to represent and progress consumer interests and is specifically charged with providing consumer advocacy in the regulated sectors including energy.

I welcome the fact that the CER have undertaken to review electricity and gas tariffs in light of recently emerging price trends for oil and gas on global markets. CERs openness to review its recent tariff decisions in light of all factors indicates that the regulatory system is responsive and is taking the concerns of consumers and enterprise into account.

Broadcasting Services.

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

118 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if it is intended in the context of the Broadcasting Bill to provide for subtitling with a view to meeting the requirements of persons with hearing deficiencies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38752/06]

Subsections 11 to 13 of Section 19 of the Broadcasting Act 2001 empower the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) to make rules requiring each broadcaster to take specified steps to promote the understanding and enjoyment, by persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, of programmes transmitted by that broadcaster. The rules drawn up by the BCI following a comprehensive public consultation process came into effect in 2005.

Subheads 5, 13 and 14 of Head 41 of the draft general scheme of the Broadcasting Bill re-state the existing requirements of Section 19 of the Broadcasting Act 2001.

As the Deputy is already aware, the draft general scheme of the Broadcasting Bill has been submitted to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources for the purposes of public consultation under the eConsultation initiative.

Question No. 119 answered with QuestionNo. 117.

Energy Costs.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

120 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to the fact that in other EU jurisdictions, deregulation and competition in the area of gas and electricity supply is to the advantage of the consumer in contrast to the situation here, whereby it appears that the EU law transposed into domestic law has resulted in price hikes which will have an impact on the domestic consumer and consequences for the manufacturing and services industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38744/06]

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

146 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on the noticeable divergence of energy prices here with those in neighbouring and competing countries; if he will take action to review the relevant EU legislation with the objective of delivering the benefits of competition to the Irish consumer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38813/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 120 and 146 together.

I am aware of varying energy costs within the European Union. I do not have any function in relation to the pricing of electricity and gas, as this falls within the remit of the Commission for Energy Regulation, (CER), the independent regulator for electricity and gas.

I am advised that an analysis of the most recent Eurostat data on gas and electricity prices (as of 1 January 2006) indicates that the Irish price for gas supplied to domestic customers was the 12th highest price in Europe (out of 24). It was less than half the price charged in Denmark, while Sweden, Netherlands, Italy and Germany also had higher prices. Significantly, the Irish price was less than the average EU25 domestic gas price (there was no comparison available for industrial gas prices). These comparisons are based on consumer price including all taxes. Even taking into account the recent increase in gas prices, Bord Gáis has indicated that gas prices in Ireland are still the 9th cheapest in Europe and they remain below the EU 15 average.

In relation to electricity, the Eurostat statistics indicate that domestic electricity prices in Ireland are the 7th highest in Europe while Ireland had the 6th highest industrial and commercial (medium sized business) electricity prices in 2006. The CER has advised that the electricity price in Ireland is cheaper than the average price in Britain at present, although this will even out if the sanctioned price increase takes effect on January 1st 2007.

It is worth making the point that even in the most liberalised energy markets in the EU, successive price rises have been experienced throughout 2006. Ireland's small energy market, peripheral position in Europe and exposure to sustained high global oil and gas prices pose particular challenges in terms of competitive energy costs. Controllable costs must be vigorously tackled, as I have made clear on successive occasions. As part of the Green Paper consultation process my Department is consulting directly with consumer interests as well as business and enterprise on their views on energy policy directions.

The Electricity and Gas Market Directives (2003/54/EC and 2003/55/EC respectively) are designed to complete the internal market in these sectors and to speed up the liberalisation process with a view to achieving a fully operational internal market. The Directives establish common rules for the electricity and gas sectors, including rules for the organisation and functioning of these sectors, access to the markets and the criteria and procedures for the granting of licences or authorisations.

These Directives are being transposed into Irish law through a series of primary and secondary legislation. This legislation has already introduced a suite of liberalisation measures, including the full opening of the retail electricity market in Ireland and the establishment of EirGrid as the fully operational and independent electricity transmission system operator. The full opening of the gas market is provided for in the Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006.

Question No. 121 answered with QuestionNo. 82.

Mobile Telephony.

Martin Ferris

Ceist:

122 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to the fact that texts of an explicit nature are being randomly sent to mobile phone customers encouraging them to ring premium rate numbers; and the advice he has for people who wish not to receive such texts or for parents who are trying to protect their young children who may have mobile phones and are receiving such texts. [38819/06]

I have no function in the regulation of premium rate numbers. These are commercial products in a commercial market and responsibility for the regulation of the content and promotion of premium rate telecommunications services is a matter for Regtel, the independent regulator.

The Deputy should be aware however, that legislation is already in place to address the sending of indecent or offensive material by phone, and the harassment of people by phone and anyone who has information in relation to these matters should bring it immediately to the attention of the Garda Síochána for criminal investigation.

In relation to parents with young children, obviously parental supervision is key. In addition, the Irish Cellular Industry Association has done a lot of work in the area of safe and responsible use of mobile phones. They have published a Parent's Guide to Mobile Phones, which aims to inform parents of some key safety tips that will encourage responsible and secure use of mobile phones by their children. It seeks to educate parents and guardians in the ways in which they can gain greater visibility of their child's mobile usage and the services they access. The guide also addresses the subject of bullying and malicious communications. A copy of the guide is available on the ICIA website at www.icia.ie.

Question No. 123 answered with QuestionNo. 100.

Telecommunications Services.

Liam Twomey

Ceist:

124 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the further discussions he has had with State or semi-State bodies such as ESB, Bord na Móna, Iarnród Éireann and others in regard to the previously reported proposal to provide a State controlled telecommunications network to facilitate the advancement of broadband and state of the art telecommunications technology in general; if costings have been undertaken on the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38805/06]

In April 2005 a team of advisors was engaged to examine the potential for enhancing and augmenting existing state owned infrastructure. This team submitted a Feasibility Report in December 2005. The report found that, while technically feasible, there would be considerable financial, legal, regulatory, operational and organisational challenges in harnessing and enhancing the existing state owned infrastructures. It is not my intention to publish the report given the extent of the commercially sensitive information contained in it.

My Department is considering options to enhance competitive backhaul connectivity.

Question No. 125 answered with QuestionNo. 94.
Question No. 126 answered with QuestionNo. 114.

Broadcasting Services.

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

127 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will report on the ongoing digital terrestrial television trial; if he will provide details on the recently completed selection process for multiplex programme content managers; when the DTT trial will be completed and national roll-out will begin; the reason he has not dealt with digital television services in a more comprehensive manner in the new Broadcasting Bill; if he will publish stand-alone legislation on digital broadcasting services; the way he will manage spectrum space as the digitisation process advances; if he has set a date for the switch off of the analogue signal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38855/06]

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

152 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his preferred options for the development of digital television; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38764/06]

Gay Mitchell

Ceist:

163 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his policy preferences in respect of the development of terrestrial television transmissions in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38763/06]

Dan Boyle

Ceist:

168 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the cost of the digital television pilot service over the next two years; the criteria to be applied to programming and advertising content of the seven successful applicants; if he expects to meet the European Union’s desired deadline of 2012 for the phasing out of analogue television system; and the measures he will take to meet that target date. [38781/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 127, 152, 163 and 168 together.

A digital terrestrial television (DTT) pilot programme is currently being implemented by my Department. The purpose of the pilot is to bring further momentum to the transition to digital terrestrial broadcasting and to test and trial various aspects of the service.

The DTT pilot is now in the "soft trial" phase during which the network and user technologies will be tested. The initial transmission sites are at Clermont Carn in the north east and Three Rock covering parts of the Dublin region.

The trial is planned to continue over a two-year timeframe and will provide the opportunity for technical and user testing of both existing and new broadcast services, including both television and audio services. Over the period 2006-08, it is estimated that the DTT pilot will cost approximately €10 million.

My Department has begun preparing legislation for digital terrestrial television and is examining all the options with regard to putting in place a legislative framework for national DTT roll-out.

It is anticipated that the pilot will generate awareness and discussion among interested parties in a full national roll-out of digital terrestrial television. As the trial progresses and proposals are developed for a national roll-out of digital terrestrial television, the question of possible analogue switch-off dates will be considered.

Switch-off of analogue television services is being strongly advocated by the European Commission, with 2012 a target date suggested by the Commission. While the pilot is underway, I intend to hold discussions with all relevant stakeholders around the issue of digital switch-over with a view to meeting this deadline.

When decisions have been taken about the nature and timing of analogue switch over, it will be necessary to ensure that Irish viewers are fully informed of all the issues arising.

My Department, in conjunction with the Broadcast Commission of Ireland (BCI), recently completed a process seeking applicants to operate as Multiplex Programme Content Managers on the second phase of the DTT trial. In assessing applications, the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and the BCI, had regard to the extent to which an applicant's proposals met some or all of the objectives of the DTT trial and the applicant's compliance with the provision of information in the required format.

Further information on this process is set out in the application guidelines, available on the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources' website at

http://www.dcmnr.gov.ie/Broadcasting/Digital+ Television/Digital+Terrestrial+Television+Pilot/.

During the summer, the International Telecommunications Union held an international conference to plan the use of the frequency spectrum for digital broadcasting. Ireland was represented at that conference by officials from my Department along with representatives from ComReg, BCI and RTE.

I am very pleased with the outcome of the conference. In addition to obtaining the necessary spectrum to allow for the initial roll-out of DTT nationwide, Ireland has also secured the right to re-use the existing analogue transmission frequencies for digital use.

This will facilitate not only the introduction of DTT nationwide but also permit the development of many new and innovative services, such as mobile television, high definition television and interactive television, particularly following the switch-off of the analogue services. My Department is currently examining how the spectrum should be used so that it can fully contribute to the development of broadcasting in a knowledge-based society.

Telecommunications Services.

Tom Hayes

Ceist:

128 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when he expects all telephone exchanges and cable networks to be broadband enabled; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38790/06]

Gay Mitchell

Ceist:

129 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if, arising from a Sunday newspaper article, his attention has been drawn to an alleged request from Eircom for the upgrading of a number of telephone lines which currently render it impossible to obtain broadband in some rural areas due to the use of shared or divided lines which were installed in the 1980s; if, as suggested, funding to the extent of €200 million has been sought from the State to facilitate such an upgrade; the full extent of such enquiries or discussions including the alternatives; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38762/06]

I am aware that Eircom has highlighted the infrastructure enhancements required in order to provide broadband services throughout its network.

I also recognise that despite private and public investment in broadband infrastructure there are still some parts of the country where the private sector will be unable to justify the commercial provision of broadband connectivity. Options to address these gaps in broadband coverage are currently being considered by a Steering Group comprising officials from my Department and representatives from ComReg. I expect to finalise proposals shortly.

Fisheries Protection.

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

130 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will report on the Government’s approach to the annual EU sea fisheries negotiations under the Common Fisheries Policy and on his targets for the key quotas and TACs, the industry here may face in 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38839/06]

Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and Quotas and associated conditions for fisheries for 2007 under the Common Fisheries Policy will be decided at the Council of Agriculture and Fisheries Ministers from 19-21 December 2006. The Council will be preceded by a series of working groups and other meetings at which each Member State will endeavour to negotiate the best possible outcome in the interests of its own fishing industry and having regard for scientific advice.

The European Commission will come forward shortly with proposals for 2007 taking account of the scientific advice recently published by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).

Ireland will consider the Commission's proposals for 2007 in the light of the scientific advice, current measures in place (including recovery plans and effort restrictions) and in consultation with our industry representatives in order to determine a national position.

The priority for Ireland at this Council will be to ensure that Irish fishermen will have the maximum possible quantity and range of fishing possibilities available in 2007, taking into account the need for effective conservation measures in our waters. Some 40 fish stocks are of interest to Irish fishermen and an overriding imperative for both the Government and the Irish fishing industry will be to achieve a balanced outcome, in order that the stocks are managed and exploited on a sustainable basis.

My colleague, Minister of State John Browne, together with the Department, will maintain close contact with industry representatives throughout these negotiations.

Proposed Legislation.

Joe Costello

Ceist:

131 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will provide details on the forthcoming Single Electricity Market Bill; when it will be fully published and made available to Dáil Éireann; the impact of the SEM Bill on CER; if there will now be a single all island energy regulator; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38826/06]

The Electricity Regulation (Amendment) (Single Electricity Market) Bill 2006, which was published on 20 November, provides for the establishment and operation of a single competitive wholesale electricity market on the island of Ireland.

The Bill will, inter alia, provide a framework for the performance of the functions of the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) relating to the single electricity market (SEM). These functions will be undertaken by a newly established SEM Committee, which will be a sub-committee of both the CER and its Northern Ireland counterpart, the Northern Ireland Authority for Energy Regulation (NIAER).

The Bill will not establish an all-island regulator. This issue is identified in the All-island Energy Market Development Framework launched in November 2004, as one to be considered, in consultation with the Northern authorities, at a later stage once the primary objective of establishing a single electricity market has been achieved.

Telecommunications Services.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

132 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he is satisfied that deregulation in the Irish context is sufficiently focused to ensure the delivery of the full scale of modern telecommunication services including broadband and mobile telephony to all areas of the country; if an adequate degree of competition exists to ensure that the rights and entitlements of subscribers are fully observed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38760/06]

The telecommunications market in Ireland is fully liberalised and open and the provision of telecommunications services, including broadband, is a matter in the first instance for the private sector companies.

Statutory responsibility for the regulation of this sector rests with the independent regulator, the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), under the Communications Regulation Act 2002 and the Regulations transposing the EU Regulatory Framework for Electronic Communications Networks and Services.

One of ComReg's key objectives is the promotion of the interests of users in the sector.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Ceist:

133 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the long term target his Department has set for the reduction of greenhouse gases from the energy sector; and the means being introduced to ensure that Ireland meets such a target via annual incremental reductions. [38784/06]

My colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, has lead responsibility for Government policy on meeting Ireland's target under the Kyoto Protocol.

The energy sector will make its contribution to meeting our obligations under the Kyoto protocol through participation in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. The Government has already decided, in the context of the preparation of Ireland's second National Allocation Plan under the scheme, that the emissions trading sector will be responsible for making approximately 3 million tonnes annual reductions in greenhouse gases out of the approximately 7 million tonnes per annum reductions needed to enable Ireland to meet its Kyoto target over the period 2008 to 2012, after existing abatement measures have been taken into account.

Under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, installations are granted a certain level of allowances and are required to either mitigate their emissions or purchase allowances for any emissions above the level of allowances. Accordingly it is a matter for the individual installations (which includes all commercial scale fossil fuelled electricity generation) to decide on the most cost effective mix of abatement measures for their business. In this context, annual incremental reductions are not a feature of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.

Postal Services.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

134 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if An Post has achieved sufficiently high following day delivery throughout the service; if he proposes to take policy decisions to ensure a delivery service in keeping with best practice worldwide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38774/06]

Matters relating to quality and levels of postal service are a matter in the first instance for the management and board of An Post.

The Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, in accordance with the provisions of S.I. 616 of 2002 European Communities (Postal Services) Regulations, is responsible for the monitoring, measurement and regulation of the postal sector including measuring the levels of service to be achieved by An Post and ensuring that the company abides by its statutory universal service obligations.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

135 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the action he has taken in response to complaints from householders and businesses in relation to the adoption of wood pellet boilers and biomass heating technology whereby installation and supply problems with this renewable energy source make its current adoption impossible; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38852/06]

There are no market problems as implied by the Deputy's question and the deployment of the technologies concerned is continuing as normal.

The Greener Homes Scheme, which I launched in March, provides grant aid for domestic renewable heat technologies. Approximately 44% of the applications received to date relate to wood pellet boilers or stoves.

The BioHeat Programme, which I launched in June, aims to increase the deployment of biomass heating systems fuelled by wood chips and wood pellets in large buildings and small industrial sites in Ireland. In doing this the programme also aims to achieve carbon emission savings and fossil fuel displacement, increase customer awareness and confidence in heating from biomass and develop the capability of the Irish wood fuel supply chain. A total of 37 systems have been approved under this programme with ten installed to date.

Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI) has endeavoured to ensure that all prospective purchasers have sufficient objective information that will inform their choice. This includes general guidance on technology options as well as more specific information on fuel purchase and storage considerations. In the case of the Greener Homes Scheme, because of the newness of the technology to the Irish market, this takes the form of an easy to read step by step Buyer's Guide.

In response to a customer requirement to identify the closest supplier options for them SEI has developed a list of Known Wood Fuel Suppliers identifying location and supply options. This list contains 53 suppliers countrywide the majority of which supply pellets in bagged form.

Fisheries Protection.

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

136 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will raise the problems of overfishing and the use of illegal nets and tackle by other EU fishing fleets in Irish waters as discussed by the Houses of the Oireachtas during the Fisheries Act 1980 discussions earlier in 2006 at the forthcoming EU sea fisheries negotiations under the Common Fisheries Policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38840/06]

Over-fishing and illegal practices by other EU fishing fleets in Irish waters are and have been a matter of ongoing concern to me, to my colleague Minister of State Browne, and to the Department. Illegal practices militate against the protection of our fisheries resources, and their exploitation in a sustainable way into the future.

I have previously raised Ireland's concerns on these issues with Commissioner Borg and along with Minister Browne, I will continue to do so. A Commission proposal to introduce electronic log books is under consideration at today's Fisheries Council, which Minister Browne is attending. Ireland has been at the forefront at pushing for the introduction of this new technology which will provide a significantly enhanced capability for monitoring catches at sea.

The Common Fisheries Policy imposes obligations on all member states in relation to the monitoring and control of the activities of their fishing fleets, and Ireland will continue to press for strengthened controls at European level. The recently established Community Fisheries Control Agency will help to improve co-operation and co-ordination between the control authorities of member states.

At national level, our Control Authorities and our Naval Service are enhancing their monitoring and inspection systems, with upgraded communications systems, greater co-ordination between agencies and the appointment of additional inspection staff at our ports.

A new Sea Fisheries Protection Authority will come into being on 1 January 2007. The new Authority will further strengthen Ireland's capacity to monitor and control illegal activities in Irish waters.

Electricity Generation.

Jimmy Deenihan

Ceist:

137 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he is satisfied that sufficient generating capacity exists to ensure the continuity of supply and the integrity of Eirgrid for the foreseeable future; if sufficient surplus supply exists to cater for all eventualities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38793/06]

Joe Costello

Ceist:

147 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his views on the fact that worries are being expressed that Ireland’s electricity generation capacity will be inadequate from 2008/2009 onwards; the steps he may be taking to ensure that sufficient generation will be brought on stream from 2007 to ensure energy security here; if there will be a tight supply demand balance in winter 2006; if there have been amber or red alerts in the electricity system in the past year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38825/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 137 and 147 together.

The economy and society overall require that energy supply meets the demands of Irish consumers, and industry, at all times. The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), has broad statutory functions in relation to security of electricity supply in line with EU Directives. It is the duty of the CER to monitor the security of supply of electricity and to take such measures as it considers necessary to protect security of supply. In particular, the CER can host a competition to acquire the necessary generation or it can direct the Transmission System Operator, ESB or any licensed undertaking to put in place any arrangements that the CER considers necessary to protect security of supply.

EirGrid's statutory role, as the independent Transmission System Operator, is to deliver quality connection, transmission and market services to generators, suppliers and customers utilising the high voltage electricity system, and to put in place the grid infrastructure required to support the economy. In fulfilling this role, EirGrid is required to develop, maintain and operate a safe, secure, reliable, economical and efficient transmission system.

In co-operation with EirGrid, the CER carries out extensive ongoing monitoring to identify any factors affecting security of supply at an early stage so that any necessary measures can be taken.

In line with international norms, the generation system in Ireland is designed, planned and monitored such that it meets a standard which requires it to meet all reasonable demands for supply. This is designed to ensure that, in designing the system, the appropriate balance is met between protecting security of supply and the cost of building and running the system.

At my request, CER and Eirgrid have been briefing myself and my Department on a regular basis on the prognosis for winter 06/07 and generation adequacy in the medium term. The CER advises me that it is satisfied the generation system is currently adequate to meet demand, and provides a sufficient margin to meet the security standard. The CER has also advised that there is sufficient capacity and arrangements in place to provide for demand to be met in the short term.

The CER is taking measures to facilitate the development of the system such that it remains adequate to maintain that security standard. Security of supply will be enhanced in the longer term with the development of additional electric interconnection and the development of the Single Electricity, and the resulting all-island approach to security of supply.

With regard to existing generation capacity, the most recent advice to me from CER and EirGrid is that generation adequacy in terms of the supply — demand balance will be manageable up to 2009 provided however that projections by generation companies regarding performance and availability are met and that planned new generation capacity comes on stream to schedule. Eirgrid will shortly publish its Generation Adequacy Review 2007-2013 which will set out its assessment of supply-demand over the period.

System alerts are indicators issued by the EirGrid, as the independent TSO, to power station operators so as to encourage conservative operational practices at times of lower than usual spare generating capacity. The CER advises that the occurrence of any alerts on the system is contingent on both the level of demand over the winter, which will be determined, in part, by the weather, and the availability of plant to meet that demand. Similar to recent winters, during times of peak demand, the Commission anticipates that there may be times when alerts will be initiated in order to signal the appropriate actions for generators.

I am advised by the CER and EirGrid that up to 16 November this year, there have been 19 amber alerts and no red alerts issued. For comparison, in 2005, there were 46 amber alerts and 1 red alert issued. While I have been assured by the CER and EirGrid that there has been no occasion this year when electricity supply to customers was affected by a capacity shortfall, I am advised that they are considering additional measures that can be put in place to minimise the occurrence of instances where alerts are called for.

The Government is also concerned to ensure that adequate provision is also made to encourage the development of an electricity portfolio, which can support and complement the ambitious targets which we have now set for renewable growth. Decisions in this regard by the CER, EirGrid and the Government will be informed by the need to ensure capacity and competition in the generation sector while reflecting the overriding consideration of security of supply.

Question No. 138 answered with QuestionNo. 100.

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

139 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his preferred options to generate competition in the electricity industry with particular reference to the need to deliver the benefits of competition to the consumer in the form of reduced energy costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38750/06]

The Government's Green Paper on Energy Policy outlines future directions for energy policy based on the three pillars of:

security of supply;

environmental sustainability and;

economic competitiveness.

Ireland's continued economic growth and competitiveness depends on a reliable and competitively priced energy supply. The competitiveness of Irish energy supply requires action on a number of fronts including:

effectively liberalising gas and electricity sectors by implementing energy market mechanisms, and

enabling competition by reforming institutional arrangements and market structure.

The introduction of the Single Electricity Market (SEM) in 2007, is a key policy imperative which will enhance scale and encourage new entrants.

The continued liberalisation of the electricity and gas markets will also further enhance competition. This includes the full opening of the natural gas market to augment the fully open and contestable electricity market. This is provided for in the Energy (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006.

In relation to reforming institutional arrangements and market structure, the Government has stated its commitment to the retention of a strong commercially viable ESB and the retention of certain strategic electricity assets, including networks and certain generation assets, in State ownership.

I am on the record as stating that the Government does not in any circumstances favour the fragmentation of the ESB. I believe such a move would not reduce prices, but could in fact increase them and endanger security of supply and competitiveness. The need however for structural change within the electricity sector and for ESB itself is clearly articulated in the Green Paper.

Enhanced competition in generation will act as a catalyst for improvements in operation and maintenance costs, productivity, availability, flexibility and innovation. As part of action to mitigate ESB's dominance in mid-merit price-setting I am also giving consideration to the option of creating a ‘landbank' of suitable sites, to offer a predictable pattern of access to suitable generation sites in Ireland for new entrants to this market. This would remove a significant barrier to new entry and has been used successfully elsewhere to encourage new entry.

Bord na Móna.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

140 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his plans for the future of Bord Na Móna and the role he expects the company to fulfil in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38804/06]

The Government's objective with regard to Bord na Móna is to ensure the long-term viability of the Company having regard to the declining and finite nature of its existing businesses.

I approved, with the consent of the Minister for Finance, Bord na Móna's future strategy proposals in October 2005. Included in the strategy are projects in the renewable energy, waste management and environmental solutions areas.

I fully support the overall strategic direction charted by Bord na Móna which will position the company firmly to develop opportunities in the renewable energy sector in line with overall energy policy objectives.

The successful implementation of the approved strategic direction now being taken by Bord na Móna should ensure that the Company remains a major employer in the Midlands region, and that the company continues to make a significant, indeed expanded, contribution to Government priorities for the Irish energy sector.

Aquaculture Development.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

141 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will report on the national sea fisheries and seafood strategy and on the way this will be facilitated by the next phase of the National Development Plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38841/06]

Minister of State John Browne and myself established the Seafood Strategy Review Group in June 2006 with the objective of consulting with all stakeholders to devise a strategy for the 2007-13 period for the delivery of a sustainable and profitable seafood industry in Ireland.

I expect to receive the report of the Seafood Strategy Review Group within the next two to three weeks. This report will set out the development strategy for the sea fisheries, seafood and aquaculture sectors.

The achievement of the strategy will require the taking of a set of integrated, market led actions to improve competitiveness and profitability across all the sectors of the industry — sea fishing, aquaculture, processing and marketing — by targeting investment so as to achieve the highest level of value generation within the Irish seafood industry.

The strategy will feed into the Seafood Development element of the new National Development Plan being drawn up for the 2007-2013 period so that the seafood sector, including the Aquaculture sector, will have access to the necessary development funding for the coming years.

Broadcasting Services.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

142 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if all religious broadcasts from the various churches here which were discontinued on the FM service have been fully restored on an alternative frequency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38747/06]

The Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) is the statutory body responsible for spectrum management.

Earlier this year ComReg established a licensing scheme to permit wireless public address systems (WPAS), and allow what is seen as a valuable community service to continue in a way that is regulated and will not cause problems for the broadcasting content regulator and other users of radio spectrum.

The Regulations providing for this licensing scheme required my consent as Minister for Communications, under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1926 and were put in place last June.

I would refer the Deputy to ComReg for any further questions in relation to this scheme (www.comreg.ie).

Question No. 143 answered with QuestionNo. 100.

Environmental Policy.

Joe Sherlock

Ceist:

144 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the contribution his Department makes to formulating the Government’s climate change policy; if, in view of the landmark Stern Report on climate change and the second meeting of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol in Kenya, he will review the current Irish climate change policy; if he will ensure that an accelerated biofuels policy plays a key role in the Irish effort to tackle climate change; if he has reviewed the recent Energy in Transport 2006 Report publication from Sustainable Energy Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38857/06]

My colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, has lead responsibility for Government policy on climate change, including the Review of the National Climate Change Strategy. The Review, entitled "Ireland's Pathway to Kyoto Compliance" was published for consultation earlier this year and is currently being considered by the Minister.

My Department participates in the Inter-Departmental Team on Climate Change, which deals with a wide range of related policy issues including the overall allocation of allowances under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme and the Review of the National Climate Change Strategy.

A range of initiatives are in place to support the development of a biofuels sector in Ireland. The 2005 pilot mineral oil tax relief scheme for biofuels has resulted in eight projects being awarded excise relief for a two-year period under the scheme including four pure plant oil, three biodiesel or other biofuel and one bioethanol proposal.

Building on the success of this scheme I launched the Biofuels Mineral Oil Tax Relief Scheme II, valued at over €200m, in July 2006. The scheme will be rolled out this year and will enable us to reach the initial target of 2% market penetration of biofuels by 2008. When fully operational the relief is expected to support the use and production of some 163 million litres of biofuels each year. The successful applicants under the scheme will be announced shortly.

I welcome the recently published "Energy in Transport, Trends and Influencing Factors", published by Sustainable Energy Ireland which is a valuable source of statistics, information and analysis regarding energy trends in the transport sector.

Question No. 145 answered with QuestionNo. 101.
Question No. 146 answered with QuestionNo. 120.
Question No. 147 answered with QuestionNo. 137.
Question No. 148 answered with QuestionNo. 114.

Telecommunications Services.

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

149 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the new metropolitan networks due to be constructed in 2006 and in 2007; and the contracted cost for the construction of each such local network. [38788/06]

Details of the 90 Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs) to be constructed during 2006 and 2007 and contracted costs for the 26 MANs currently under construction are as follows.

Metropolitan Area Networks

County

Total Contracted Price

€m

Bantry

Cork

n/a

Blarney

Cork

n/a

Carrigaline, Ringaskiddy, Passage West

Cork

n/a

Charleville

Cork

n/a

Cobh

Cork

n/a

Dunmanway

Cork

n/a

Fermoy

Cork

n/a

Kanturk

Cork

n/a

Kinsale

Cork

n/a

Midleton

Cork

n/a

Mitchelstown

Cork

n/a

Skibbereen

Cork

n/a

Youghal

Cork

n/a

Ballybofey/Stranorlar

Donegal

2.32

Ballyshannon

Donegal

1.57

Buncrana

Donegal

2.11

Bundoran

Donegal

1.22

Carndonagh

Donegal

1.57

Donegal Town

Donegal

2.87

Donabate

Fingal

n/a

Lusk

Fingal

n/a

Portrane

Fingal

n/a

Skerries

Fingal

n/a

Athenry

Galway

1.48

Ballinasloe

Galway

3.39

Clifden

Galway

1.82

Gort

Galway

1.18

Loughrea

Galway

1.97

Castleisland

Kerry

n/a

Dingle

Kerry

n/a

Kenmare

Kerry

n/a

Killarney

Kerry

n/a

Listowel

Kerry

n/a

Tralee

Kerry

n/a

Clane

Kildare

n/a

Kilcock

Kildare

n/a

Kildare

Kildare

n/a

Maynooth

Kildare

n/a

Monasterevin

Kildare

n/a

Newbridge

Kildare

n/a

Rathangan

Kildare

n/a

Sallins

Kildare

n/a

Longford

Longford

2.49

Ballinrobe

Mayo

n/a

Claremorris

Mayo

n/a

Knock Airport

Mayo

n/a

Athboy

Meath

0.37

Duleek

Meath

0.37

Dunboyne/Clonee

Meath

1.78

Dunshaughlin

Meath

1.15

Kells

Meath

1.56

Laytown — Bettystown

Meath

0.40

Navan

Meath

3.40

Ratoath

Meath

0.42

Trim

Meath

1.40

Clara

Offaly

n/a

Edenderry

Offaly

n/a

Moate

Westmeath

n/a

Mountmellick

Laois

n/a

Portarlington

Laois

n/a

Ardee

Louth

1.93

Bailieborough

Cavan

1.28

Castleblaney

Monaghan

2.45

Clones

Cavan

1.39

Cootehill

Cavan

1.61

Boyle

Roscommon

n/a

Castlerea

Roscommon

n/a

Cahir

Tipperary

n/a

Carrick-on-Suir

Tipperary

n/a

Cashel

Tipperary

n/a

Dunmore East

Waterford

n/a

Muine Beag (Bagenalstown)

Carlow

n/a

Thomastown

Kilkenny

n/a

Tipperary

Tipperary

n/a

Tramore

Waterford

n/a

Tullow

Carlow

n/a

Abbeyfeale

Limerick

n/a

Banagher

Offaly

n/a

Birr

Offaly

n/a

Kilrush

Clare

n/a

Nenagh

Tipperary

n/a

Newcastle West

Limerick

n/a

Roscrea

Tipperary

n/a

Templemore

Tipperary

n/a

Blessington

Wicklow

n/a

Enniskerry

Wicklow

n/a

Kilcoole-Newtownmountkennedy

Wicklow

n/a

Question No. 150 answered with QuestionNo. 112.

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

151 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will report on the regular meetings that his Department is conducting with the broadband service providers; when he will bring proposals to Government on achieving 100% broadband enablement of the State; if he is considering including an upgrading of all telephone exchanges and fixing the problem of shared lines within these proposals; if the cost of this proposal may be up to €200 million; if such investment would ensure that the State receives a stake in the critical communications network; if he plans a tendering process along the lines of the contract that was awarded to BT in Northern Ireland; the role he envisages for e-net and the MANs in this proposal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38853/06]

I meet with industry and interested parties on a regular basis in pursuit of my objective to facilitate the widespread availability of competitively priced broadband in Ireland.

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

The role of Government is to implement regulatory and infrastructure policies to facilitate the provision of affordable, high quality telecommunications services, by competing private sector service providers.

However, it has been clear for some time that the private sector has failed to invest at the level necessary to keep pace with the demand for broadband. Direct funding has already been provided under the NDP 2000-2006 for the provision of backbone infrastructure and to upgrade local access infrastructure. 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) allow the private sector to offer world-class broadband services at competitive costs. The networks also offer towns opportunities to attract inward investment in advanced technology and knowledge based enterprises.

The Department also offered funding assistance for smaller towns and rural communities through the Group Broadband Scheme. The scheme is technology-neutral, allowing the community to select the most suitable broadband delivery platform for the area.

Despite private and public investment in broadband infrastructure there are still some parts of the country where the private sector will be unable to justify the commercial provision of broadband connectivity. Options to address these gaps in broadband coverage are currently being considered by a Steering Group comprising officials from my Department and representatives from Comreg. I expect to finalise proposals shortly.

Question No. 152 answered with QuestionNo. 127.

Fisheries Protection.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

153 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources further to the recent research in the International Journal Science that concluded that by 2050 there will be virtually no global fish stocks left, that stocks have already collapsed in around one-third of sea fisheries and that the decline is rapidly increasing across the globe, the measures he will undertake to ensure the long-term sustainability of fish stocks here; the proposals the Government has suggested at EU level to combat declining fish-stocks; if he will introduce a sea fisheries sustainability impact assessment based on consultation with all major stakeholders and which would be brought before Dáil Éireann on an annual basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38851/06]

The report to which the Deputy refers made a number of worrying points in relation to the consequences of the loss of biodiversity, the effects of overfishing, loss of species, and their effects on the ability of the oceans to heal themselves. However, the report's main author goes on to say "I am confident we will not go there because we will do something about it".

Here in Ireland, we are well aware that ocean management and fisheries management are interlinked. We know the issues in the waters around Ireland and we are working to address them at national, EU and international level.

Fish stocks in the waters around Ireland are exploited under the umbrella of the EU Common Fisheries Policy. A fundamental principal underpinning this Policy is to manage the exploitation of the stocks in a way that protects their long-term viability. The Marine Institute reports that over 75% of the key commercial stocks around Ireland are outside safe biological limits with either a low stock size or unsustainable levels of exploitation.

We are working hard to strengthen conservation and promote sustainability. For example, the EU designated a Biologically Sensitive Area off our south coast in 2003 in recognition of the importance of this area for juvenile fish and for spawning. A recovery plan for hake, near collapse in 2000, was also introduced and the stock has rebuilt.

We must improve our knowledge base and also work towards effective enforcement at national, EU and international level. Irish scientists, industry and managers are working together for example on a suite of new projects that will improve the assessment and advice for key stocks:

Anglerfish off the West of Ireland (surveys on fishing vessels)

Cod in the Celtic Sea (closed boxes introduced to help stock recover)

Irish Sea Cod Recovery Box.

We must deliver strengthened control and a level playing field and I have pursued this agenda strongly at EU level since my appointment.

Our common goal is to have a sustainable fishing industry with sustainable fish stocks, operating in a sustainable ocean. This must be done in partnership with stakeholders at EU and international level. I see little benefit in introducing a sustainable impact assessment to be brought before Dail Eireann. As we are operating within a common EU policy, a focus on a national framework would have limited value.

At EU level there is a substantial framework for assessment in place involving scientific evaluation on the state of the stock by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES), an assessment of the economic and social aspects of the scientific advice by the EU Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) and stakeholders assessment by the Regional Advisory Councils (RACs). All of this operates within a very tight time frame to inform consideration of TACs and quotas, for the following year, at the December Fisheries Council.

Energy Resources.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

154 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he is currently examining an extension of Ireland’s strategic gas reserves; his views on the development of electricity storage projects in view of the dramatic increase in wind generation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38862/06]

I can advise the Deputy that one of the strategic objectives set down in the All-island energy development framework for natural gas is a common approach on natural gas storage and Liquid Natural Gas (LNG). With this in mind, the issue of a strategic gas reserve is one of the issues to be addressed by means of an all-island study to be commissioned jointly by my Department and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment for Northern Ireland (DETINI). Both Departments are jointly engaged in a tender process in this regard, which closes at the end of this month.

The successful tenderer will be required to assess the medium to long-term position with regard to security of natural gas supply and to consider the scope for a common approach on storage and LNG with a view to optimising that position. The study will have regard to industry views and to any existing capacities, as well as to any planned or proposed developments for storage and LNG. I am advised that a contract for the study will be placed by the end of January next at the latest with a view to the report being finalised by mid 2007.

Security of supply in relation to electricity is a matter for the Commission for Energy Regulation (C.E.R) in accordance with the provisions of Article 28 of the European Communities (Internal Market in Electricity) Regulations 2005 (S.I. No. 60 of 2005). Specifically, Article 28 provides that it shall be the duty of the CER to monitor the security of supply of electricity and that the Commission shall take such measures as it considers necessary to protect security of supply. In the performance of its functions, the CER is advised by EirGrid, the Independent Transmission System Operator.

In its Generation Adequacy Report 2006-2012, EirGrid identifies system operation issues as a result of increasing wind generation as one of the key issues to be addressed to ensure that electricity demand continues to be met. With this in mind, I am advised by the CER that it has requested EirGrid to update its study carried out in 2004 on the economic and operational impacts of wind penetration with a view to identifying any necessary actions which need to be taken.

With regard to electricity storage projects, the CER advises me that while it would welcome initiatives in relation to electricity storage and the potential benefits which could be accrued from these, it would not view them at present as having a significant role in relation to security of supply. In terms of security of supply, the CER advises that other mechanisms such as increased interconnection, the development of the Single Electricity Market, continued improvements in thermal plant efficiency and availability as well as medium to long term needs for new plant should be given priority consideration in order to ensure generation adequacy into the future.

Energy Policy.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

155 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he is in favour of the introduction of net metering for domestically produced electricity as exists in Northern Ireland and other jurisdictions; and the discussions his Department has had with the CER with regard to its recently produced consultation report on the matter. [38783/06]

The Energy Policy Green Paper: Towards a Sustainable Energy Future for Ireland sets out the Government's commitment to realise the potential of small-scale renewable sources. Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI) is undertaking comprehensive analysis in relation to metering and reward systems that adequately and equitably treat both generators and system operators. There is no doubt that we can learn from successful experiences elsewhere and I expect that the necessary comparative analysis will feature in SEI's work.

The CER has issued a consultation paper on arrangements for micro-generation which deals with metering issues, including net metering and smart metering. Smart metering has clear potential applications in encouraging energy efficiency, which is a key energy policy objective.

Offshore Exploration.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

156 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he proposes to examine again all aspects of the Corrib gas issues with particular reference to the need to utilise and make available this important natural resource at the earliest possible date; if he will make one final effort to resolve the outstanding matters which if allowed to continue will do considerable, if not irreparable, damage to the national image; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38770/06]

Michael D. Higgins

Ceist:

159 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will review his position in relation to the commission of inquiry proposal from the Shell to Sea campaign; his views on face to face talks between representatives of the Erris and north Mayo community and the management teams of companies (details supplied); the way the present stand off will be resolved for the wellbeing of the people of Mayo and Ireland; and the role he is prepared to pursue to find an urgent agreed resolution. [38833/06]

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

175 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the number and nature of the issues which lead to the ongoing Corrib gas field dispute; the extent to which all such issues have been examined; the areas on which resolution or agreement has been achieved; the number of issues outstanding and the best way these might be resolved with a view to enabling the development to proceed and the availability of product for the market here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38769/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

366 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when he expects all the outstanding issues surrounding the development of the Corrib gas field, onshore and offshore, to be resolved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38884/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

367 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the number and nature of the issues which lead to the ongoing Corrib gas field dispute; the extent to which all such issues have been examined; the areas on which resolution or agreement has been achieved; the number of issues outstanding and the way these will be resolved with a view to enabling the development to proceed and the availability of product for the market here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38885/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

368 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he proposes to examine again all aspects of the Corrib gas issues with particular reference to the need to utilise and make available this important natural resource at the earliest possible date; if he will make one final effort to resolve the outstanding matters which if allowed to continue will do considerable, if not irreparable, damage to the national image; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38886/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 156, 159, 175 and 366 to 368, inclusive, together.

In view of the strategic importance of the Corrib Gas project, I have, over the past eighteen months, been proactively engaged in efforts to create the conditions that would allow the difficulties associated with the project to be resolved.

My statutory responsibilities in this matter relate to the regulatory aspects of petroleum exploration and development and I would like to emphasise that in this regard all of the required statutory approvals are in place. These approvals were only given after intense scrutiny of the various applications made to my Department. It was only after my predecessor was fully satisfied both in relation to the technical, safety and environmental aspects of the proposals that approval was given.

Authorisations were granted for the Corrib gas field under a number of provisions. Under the Continental Shelf Act 1968, authorisation was given for the construction of the sub-sea facilities. Consent was also given for the Plan of Development of the field under the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act 1960. Under the Gas Act 1976, as amended, consent was given for the construction of a gas pipeline from the gas field through the offshore up to the terminal building. A foreshore licence was also granted under the Foreshore Acts. In addition, An Bord Pleanála granted planning permission for the gas terminal.

Arising from local concerns about the safety of the onshore upstream gas pipeline, I had a further comprehensive safety review of the pipeline carried out by Advantica consultants last year. Advantica is a world leader in the development and application of advanced hazard and risk assessment technologies for gas pipelines.

It was a priority for me that people who had views relating to the safety of the pipeline should have the opportunity to have those views considered by Advantica. During the period of the review, views were invited from local residents, communities and any interested party. A two-day public hearing was also held in the locality. The draft safety review was presented to the community and further comments were invited before the report was published.

The Advantica report found that proper consideration was given to safety issues in the selection process for the design option and route. Moreover, the review found that so long as a number of measures were implemented, the project would carry a substantial safety margin and that both the pipeline and route should be accepted as meeting or exceeding international best practice.

A separate Technical Advisory Group, which supervised the safety review, made a series of further recommendations, covering, among other things, issues of design code, the drawing up of a Pipeline Integrity Management Plan and a range of measures on which the developer would have to gain approval to ensure that the actual construction and installation of the pipeline would be to highest international standards.

I published the full details of all of these recommendations in May of this year. The developer, Shell, has accepted the recommendations made by both Advantica and the Technical Advisory Group and has committed itself to meeting all of these requirements fully. Shell has notified my Department that they are well advanced with the additional work necessary to comply with these requirements.

I also appointed Mr. Peter Cassells as mediator in the dispute. Mr. Cassells was appointed following consultation with the protestors and Shell. Both sides agreed to this appointment. Mr. Cassells reported in July 2006. Shell has accepted the recommendations made by the mediator. Shell has indicated publicly that, in line with Mr Cassells' recommendations, it is considering alternative pipeline routes and will consult widely when it has come to a conclusion in relation to options.

Protestors have recently been focusing their concerns on the siting of the terminal at Bellanaboy. Although I do not have a function in relation to planning matters, I would point out that the terminal has undergone a rigorous planning process over a three and a half year period following which An Bord Pleanála granted permission for the terminal. The terminal has been the subject of two applications for planning permission to Mayo County Council, one of which was following an initial refusal by An Bord Pleanála.

I do not believe that there is a basis for a commission of enquiry as the various aspects of this project have been subject to rigorous scrutiny through a number of formal consent processes. The project has already been delayed to a very significant extent and a formal commission of enquiry would inevitably prolong the delay in getting a strategically important resource into production, without serving any useful purpose.

In conclusion, although the current situation at the terminal site is of course regrettable, I think any reasonable person will agree that the Advantica, the Technical Advisory Group and the Cassells reports moved a huge distance towards allaying the local concerns relating to this project. It has always been my priority to encourage dialogue and to enlist the help of independent bodies and individuals, as I have outlined.

Postal Services.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

157 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to deficiencies in the postal delivery services which appear to affect specific areas; if he has issued instructions or had discussions with the Regulator of An Post, with a view to identification of the underlying cause or causes of such deficiencies in the service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38773/06]

Matters relating to quality and levels of postal service are a matter in the first instance for the management and board of An Post.

The Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, in accordance with the provisions of S.I. 616 of 2002 European Communities (Postal Services) Regulations, is responsible for the monitoring, measurement and regulation of the postal sector including measuring the levels of service to be achieved by An Post and ensuring that the company abides by its statutory universal service obligations.

Question No. 158 answered with QuestionNo. 102.
Question No. 159 answered with QuestionNo. 156.

Legislative Programme.

Shane McEntee

Ceist:

160 Mr. McEntee asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the reason the Postal Services Miscellaneous Provisions Bill was withdrawn; if it is intended to replace it with alternative legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38807/06]

The Postal (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill that was published in 2001 provided for the issue, sale and disposal of shares in An Post in the context of an Employee Share Ownership Plan (ESOP) and possible strategic alliance. The Bill also contained ancillary provisions arising out of a possible change of ownership.

The financial and industrial relations environment in An Post has changed substantially since 2001. The company experienced significant losses that led to the adoption of a recovery strategy by the Board. Implementation of the recovery strategy which included negotiation of a new industrial relations agreement in order to return the company to sustained profitably became the key focus in relation to An Post. As a result, the Postal Miscellaneous Provisions Bill, the objective of which was to give statutory effect to the ESOP, was withdrawn from the Dail Order paper on the basis of the uncertain IR and financial situation prevailing in An Post.

Nevertheless, the Government and I remain fully committed to an ESOP in An Post if it can be demonstrated that real business transformation can occur in the context of the recovery strategy. If and when this is achieved, the legislative agenda can be revisited.

Question No. 161 answered with QuestionNo. 82.

Fisheries Protection.

Seán Ryan

Ceist:

162 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will review and improve the compensation package proposed for drift net fishermen particularly in areas like the south east where historic and modest fisheries are being terminated following the Government decision on the report of the Independent Salmon Group; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38836/06]

As the Deputy is aware I appointed the Independent Group to examine the implications of alignment with the scientific advice for the commercial salmon fishing sector in 2007 and beyond. As part of their remit the group made recommendations to address any financial hardship that may be experienced by the sector. The approach they adopted to determining the hardship payments is robust and convincing.

In their report the group commented that the level of hardship likely to be experienced would vary both in extent and scale. Taking all factors into account and based on available information, noting particularly that there is no legal obligation on the State to provide compensation in a situation where it is imposing management measures that are fundamentally in the public good, they proposed to provide a measure of relief to each individual in line with the level of hardship likely to be experienced. They recommended that this should be based on the recent catch history of the individual licence holder (2001 to 2005). The Government accepted the recommendation of the Independent group and has determined that the level of payment should be based on the average net income per salmon in the commercial fishery for the past five years (2001 to 2005). This income calculation was based, by the group, on the average price obtained per fish each year less the costs incurred by fishermen. Each individual licence holder who applies to the fund is set to receive six times their average catch multiplied by the average net income per salmon. An additional payment equal to 6 times the current licence fee will be made in all cases. I believe this is a fair and reasonable allocation and does not need to be modified.

The Deputy will appreciate that cessation of the mixed stock interceptory fishery should, in particular, benefit the returning stocks to areas like the south east.

Question No. 163 answered with QuestionNo. 127.
Question No. 164 answered with QuestionNo. 94.

Communications Infrastructure.

Ivor Callely

Ceist:

165 Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the advice and submissions he has received with regard to safety issues associated with mobile phones and mobile phone masts; the safety monitoring measures that are in place to assess non-ionising radiation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38715/06]

The limits for non-ionising radiation are global limits established internationally by the International Commission for Non Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). There is currently no scientific or medical evidence that emissions below the level of internationally recognised guidelines from mobile telephony are injurious to health. The Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), the regulator, conducts audit measurements to verify compliance with these limits.

The health concerns of some members of the public were highlighted in the Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources' "Non-ionising radiation from mobile phone handsets and masts" report, published in June 2005. This report made a number of recommendations about the continuing safety of mobile phones.

In September of last year Government set up an interdepartmental committee, chaired by my Department, to report on appropriate actions on these recommendations and examine Government policy with regard to any potential health effects, if any, of electromagnetic fields. In order that the interdepartmental Committee will have the most up to date scientific and medical evidence available to them, the Committee has set up an Expert Group to prepare a report on the potential health effects of electromagnetic fields.

As part of their review, the Expert Group sought submissions from individuals, local authorities, Industry and concerned citizens groups. These submissions provided the Group with the key relevant questions raised by the respondents. They met with representatives of some of these last February, where further information was sought by the Expert Group regarding the issues faced from an Irish perspective.

The Expert Group are now finalising their report. This report will cover all aspects of potential health effects of electromagnetic fields, including; radio frequency fields used in mobile telephony; extremely low frequency fields used for electricity power distribution; static fields used for medical imaging; potential risks to children and the question of whether some individuals may be sensitive to these fields.

It is not possible to present the recommendations of the Interdepartmental Committee at this time, as the work of the Committee is ongoing and is not due to completed until the end of the year.

Offshore Exploration.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

166 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has examined the Price Waterhouse Report and analysis of petroleum exploration terms in Ireland, UK, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands; if he will incorporate parts of the report in future exploration and licensing policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38748/06]

I am aware of a report "An Economic Analysis of Petroleum Exploitation Terms in Ireland, the U.K., Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands" that was published by Price Waterhouse in 1988. One of the authors of that report is leading the team that has been engaged by my Department to assist with the review of the licensing terms for petroleum exploration and production. The work already undertaken by my Department and its advisers in reviewing the existing licensing regime, together with the work currently being undertaken by Indecon, has included peer analysis that included the oil provinces mentioned by the Deputy.

Broadcasting Legislation.

Mary Upton

Ceist:

167 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when he will publish the Deloitte and Touche and William Fry Solicitors report on the future of TG4 in the context of the current consultation process on the Broadcasting Bill and his decision to make TG4 an independent statutory body; the amount this report has cost his Department; the way he plans for TG4 to be funded in the long-term; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38859/06]

I intend to publish the Deloitte and Touche report, on the preparation of an implementation plan for the establishment of TG4 as an independent statutory body, in whole or in part, in due course. However, the report will first need to be considered by the Project Management Group set up to oversee the establishment of TG4 as an independent body. The report contains some commercially sensitive information that may not be published. The cost to the Department of this report was €88,935, inclusive of VAT. TG4 will continue to receive grant aid from the Exchequer to fund their operations in 2007, along with the income they receive from advertising.

Question No. 168 answered with QuestionNo. 127.

Offshore Exploration.

Seán Ryan

Ceist:

169 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if his Department has held discussions with the energy and exploration departments of experienced oil and gas provinces like Norway, Denmark, Newfoundland or the UK in relation to the development of exploration expertise in the public service and the licensing and management of national fossil fuel exploration and recovery; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38835/06]

My Department has formal contacts with the Oil and Gas Ministries of a number of other north-western European countries through annual meetings. The other countries involved include Norway, Denmark, the UK, France, Germany and the Netherlands. These contacts between senior officials are aimed at sharing information on the effectiveness of promotional strategies, licensing terms and the overall status of exploration and development activities. My Department's officials also communicate with the provincial Governments of Canada's Atlantic provinces and are particularly active in developing collaborative transatlantic petroleum research programmes.

Although countries clearly compete for investment in the exploration sector, our experience is that exchanges at an official level are surprisingly constructive and mutually beneficial. International support for research is also proving vital for exploiting oil and gas resources, and Ireland is working to strengthen co-operation in this area.

As the Deputy is aware, my Department is currently undertaking a review of the licensing regime under which petroleum exploration companies operate in this country. The work being undertaken includes peer analysis that included the oil provinces mentioned by the Deputy.

Broadcasting Services.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

170 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources when he expects to extend the broadcasting and transmission of RTÉ radio and television to neighbouring jurisdictions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38799/06]

As the Deputy may already be aware, RTÉ's statutory mandate, as defined in Section 28(1) of the Broadcasting Act, 2001, provides that RTÉ's radio and television services shall be made available, in so far as is reasonably practicable, to the whole community on the Island of Ireland. As such RTÉ's statutory mandate does not extend to the provision of radio or television services to Irish communities living in Britain or elsewhere. As a consequence RTÉ may not use the proceeds of the television licence fee to provide such services. However, it should be noted that many people living outside of the Island of Ireland already enjoy access to a considerable quantity of RTÉ's television programming by way of the Internet, and to RTÉ's radio services by way of satellite, LW and MW and the Internet.

In the light of the recommendations of the Task Force on Emigration, it is proposed to amend the public service remits of RTÉ and TG4 to allow for the provision and public funding of broadcasting services to Irish communities in Britain. Proposals to amend the Broadcasting Act, 2001 are contained in the draft general scheme of the Broadcasting Bill, which has been submitted to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources for the purposes of public consultation under the eConsultation initiative. I am now considering extracting this provision from the Broadcasting Bill in using it in a stand-alone bill.

Energy Policy.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

171 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has reviewed the new World Energy Outlook 2006 from the International Energy Agency which warns that many countries are on an unsustainable energy path characterised by under investment, a strong risk of supply disruptions and increasing greenhouse gas emissions and face a dirty, insecure and expensive energy future; if he will review his Green Paper targets for renewable electricity and overall renewable energy in view of this further warning and the alternative policy scenario as set out in the IEA’s publication; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38829/06]

I welcome the timely publication of the International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook 2006 which maps a new global energy future contrasting existing directions with how to change course. The outlook responds to the request from G8 leaders and others to advise on alternative energy scenarios and strategies aimed at a clean clever and competitive energy future. The Alternative Policy Scenario set out by the IEA states that increases in demand and emissions can be significantly reduced if a range of policies and measures are implemented globally. The various elements of the IEA's Alternative Policy Scenario are being assessed and will, where appropriate to the Irish situation, be reflected in overall policy directions and targets in the Energy Policy White Paper.

Offshore Exploration.

Michael D. Higgins

Ceist:

172 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the way his Department assesses the latest claims by offshore exploration companies which seem to indicate a very bright future for the industry in extracting Ireland’s offshore oil and gas reserves; when he expects to receive the Indecon report on the review of Irish mineral and offshore licensing; and his plans to change the oil and gas licensing regime here. [38834/06]

I am unclear as to what claims made by offshore exploration companies the Deputy is referring to. My Department, however, presented a paper at its conference in Dublin earlier this month on "Exploring Atlantic Ireland" which referred to the fact that the Irish offshore is under-explored although an assessment of resource potential would indicate that this could be in the region of 10 billion barrels of oil equivalent (BBOE).

Though these figures look promising, I have to be realistic and am aware of the high cost involved in exploring for hydrocarbons in the deep waters of the Atlantic. Ireland may describe its prospectivity in the Atlantic Margin in terms of potential whereas in other provinces such as the UK and Norway their prospectivity is described as ‘proven'. The paper mentioned above gave an honest assessment of what may be found offshore Ireland, but we need the industry to undertake the high-cost and high-risk activity of exploration to find these potential hydrocarbons.

In relation to the licensing terms under which offshore exploration companies operate in this country, my Department is currently undertaking a review of the licensing regime. Indecon International Economic Consultants has been engaged to assist my Department in this regard and is due to report to my Department by the end of this month.

Broadcasting Services.

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

173 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his plans to alleviate interference with television or radio reception caused by mass turbines or other structures; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38797/06]

The functions under the Wireless Telegraphy Act 1926-1988 for the investigation of interference were transferred from the Minister to the Communications Regulator (now ComReg) on its establishment in 1997. Accordingly, I have no function regarding this matter.

Communications Infrastructure.

Simon Coveney

Ceist:

174 Mr. Coveney asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the extent to which he proposes to implement the recommendations of the Dingle Report with particular reference to the optimisation of communications infrastructure available throughout the country with a view to ensuring competition and delivery of a high quality service to consumers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38757/06]

In April 2005 a team of advisors was engaged to examine the potential for enhancing and augmenting existing state owned infrastructure. This team submitted a Feasibility Report in December 2005. The report found that, while technically feasible, there would be considerable financial, legal, regulatory, operational and organisational challenges in harnessing and enhancing the existing state owned infrastructures. It is not my intention to publish the report given the extent of the commercially sensitive information contained in it. My Department is considering options to enhance competitive backhaul connectivity.

Question No. 175 answered with QuestionNo. 156.

Fisheries Protection.

Séamus Pattison

Ceist:

176 Mr. Pattison asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the way the salmon surplus will be distributed following the ending of drift netting and the introduction of single stock management; if he and the Government have concerns that the salmon and other fisheries will become the preserve of vested private interests; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38838/06]

It is the Government's strongly held view that our wild salmon stock is a national asset, which must be conserved and protected, as well as being exploited as a resource by us all on a sustainable basis. In future the wild salmon fishery will be managed on the basis of individual river stocks. Harvesting of salmon will be restricted to those rivers that have been identified as meeting their conservation limit in compliance with Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and wild flora and fauna, the Habitats Directive.

It is proposed that the Chief Executive Officers of the Regional Fisheries Boards, having consulted the Fishery District Committees, will decide on the allocation of the salmon quota on a river or river catchment basis in 2007 in accordance with the draft Wild Salmon and Sea Trout Tagging Scheme Regulations for the 2007 season, which were published for consultation on 18 November 2006. The statutory consultation period continues until 17 December 2006.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

177 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will report on Gate Two of the renewable generation offers and commitments; if he will provide an evaluation of Ireland’s renewable energy targets and achievements when Gate Two joins the generation mix; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38827/06]

Ireland has a target to treble the contribution from renewable energy sources in electricity production from 5% approximately to 15% by 2010. The target approximates to 1650 megawatts of generating plant. We have also proposed a target of 30% by 2020 in the Green Paper on Energy Policy.

There is currently 940MW of renewable powered electricity capacity connected. This consists of approximately 670MWs of wind powered plant, 236MW of hydro powered plant with the balance (c. 34MWs) made up of different biomass technologies. The additional new capacity required to achieve the target will be delivered by projects already selected under the AER VI competition and the new Renewable Energy Feed In Tariff (REFIT) programme.

Future targets across all renewable technologies, beyond the current programme, will be set in the context of the White Paper on Energy Policy. The processing of Gate 2 applications for grid connections is a matter for the appropriate grid operator and the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER). I have no statutory function in that process.

Question No. 178 answered with QuestionNo. 96.

Digital Hub.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

179 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the degree to which the digital hub is achieving its targets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38746/06]

The Digital Hub Development Agency has entered into a 3 year Performance Contract with my own Department that commits it to specific targets. The targets to be achieved during the 3 year period commencing 1st April 2006 are outlined in four specific areas namely: property; enterprise development; community and learning programmes; and organisational performance. These targets will be reviewed annually beginning in April 2007.

Telecommunications Services.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

180 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the steps he will take to provide a State controlled broadband and telephone network; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38579/06]

The provision of telecommunications services is a matter in the first instance for the private sector companies operating in a fully liberalised market, regulated where appropriate by the independent Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg. The role of Government is to implement regulatory and infrastructure policies to facilitate the provision of affordable, high quality telecommunications services, by competing private sector service providers. The Government has recognised, however, that a lack of investment by the private sector in the necessary telecommunications infrastructure has acted as an impediment to the speedy rollout of competitive, affordable broadband services in Ireland, principally in the regions. In partnership with local and regional authorities, the Government is funding the construction of high-speed, open-access telecommunications networks, known as Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs), in around 120 towns and cities nationwide. These publicly owned networks are offered on a wholesale, non-discriminatory basis to multiple private sector telecommunications operators to enable them to offer a range of telecommunications services directly to consumers.

Postal Services.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

181 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources his preferred options for the retention of the maximum scale of services to An Post with particular reference to ensure the viability of the company and deregulation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38777/06]

The retention of the maximum scale of services to An Post is a policy and operational matter for the Board and management of An Post and one in which I have no function.

Mobile Telephony.

Mary Upton

Ceist:

182 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will introduce measures for the regulation of the content of mobile phone products and services; if he will end the self-regulation of this sector and incorporate RegTel into ComReg; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38860/06]

I have no plans for the regulation of the content of mobile phone products and services. The Office of the Regulator of Premium Rate Telecoms Services, RegTel, already authorises and supervises the content and promotion of premium rate telecommunications services within the Irish market and is independent. RegTel does not report to me as Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources and I have no plans to amend its status. The area of consumer protection within which RegTel operates falls mainly under the remit of my colleague the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs. In addition, the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, has no role in relation to content.

Employment Statistics.

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

183 Mr. Morgan asked the Taoiseach the number and the percentage of the overall workforce who earn twice the average industrial earnings; the number and percentage of the overall workforce who earn three times the average industrial earnings; the number and percentage of the overall workforce who earn four times the average industrial earnings; and the number and percentage of the overall workforce who earn five or more times the average industrial earnings. [38484/06]

The latest results in relation to the distribution of earnings are from the 2003 National Employment Survey. The results refer to a total of 1,440,400 employees out of 1,793,400 persons at work in March. The survey does not measure self-employed earnings and it does not include the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors. Average earnings for employees in the Manufacturing, Mining and Quarrying sector were €15.50 per hour in March 2003. An estimated 8.6% of all employees earned more than €31 per hour or twice the average earnings per hour for the Manufacturing, Mining and Quarrying sector; 2.5% of all employees earned more than €46.50 per hour; 0.9% of all employees earned more than €62 per hour and 0.4% of all employees earned more than €75.50 per hour. The National Employment Survey (NES) is being undertaken on an annual basis from 2006 onwards and the Central Statistics Office (CSO) is planning to publish the results of the March 2006 survey in the middle of next year, 2007.

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

184 Mr. Morgan asked the Taoiseach the reason employment statistics are not provided by county; his views on whether this is unacceptable and impedes the pinpointing of employment and unemployment trends in specific counties such as Donegal which experience particular problems. [38566/06]

The Quarterly National Household Survey (QNHS) which began in September 1997, has as its main purpose the production of quarterly labour force estimates that include the official measure of employment and unemployment in the state (ILO basis). The legal basis for the survey is EU Council Regulation 577/98 which stipulates that Member States must conduct a continuous labour force survey yielding quarterly results of acceptable accuracy at State and regional levels. In Ireland's case the regional requirement refers to the eight Regional Authorities. The QNHS has been designed to meet these requirements in an efficient manner and this involves interviewing over 30,000 households (approximately 2% of all households) throughout the country each quarter. This is a huge sample in absolute and, in particular, relative terms but it is still not sufficient to provide labour force estimates of sufficient quality at a county level. The accuracy of the estimates is directly linked to the size of sample and the provision of county data to the standards set for regional figures would necessitate a quadrupling of the current sample. For cost, response burden and other practical reasons such an increase is not considered to be a viable option. Details at a county level on employment and unemployment are available from the Census of Population on a five yearly basis while indications on unemployment based on the Live Register are available for local offices within each county each month. These data, taken in conjunction with the quarterly data on regions from the QNHS, provide a cost-effective means of monitoring trends in the labour force at sub-national level.

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

185 Mr. Morgan asked the Taoiseach the median earnings at present and in each of the past five years. [38567/06]

The latest results in relation to the distribution of earnings are from the 2003 National Employment Survey. The results refer to a total of 1,440,400 employees out of 1,793,400 persons at work in March 2003. The survey does not measure self-employed earnings and it does not include the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors. The results for March 2003 showed that the median earnings of all employees was €13.08 per hour, i.e. half of all employees earned less than this amount and half earned more. The National Employment Survey (NES) is being undertaken on an annual basis from 2006 onwards and the Central Statistics Office (CSO) is planning to publish the results of the March 2006 survey in the middle of next year, 2007.

Departmental Appointments.

Dan Boyle

Ceist:

186 Mr. Boyle asked the Taoiseach the statutory processes involved in the appointment of chairs and board members of executive bodies, advisory bodies, task forces, accountability agencies and working groups under the remit of his Department and their legislative origin. [38471/06]

The processes for the appointment of the President and Commissioners of the Law Reform Commission is set out in the Law Reform Commission Act, 1975. The process for the appointment of the chair and members of the National Statistics Board is as set out in Section 18 of the Statistics Act, 1993. Following the passing of the National Economic and Social Development Office Act, 2006, and subject to the making of a Commencement Order, the processes for the appointment of the chairs and members of the National Economic and Social Development Office and its associate bodies (National Economic and Social Council, National Economic and Social Forum and National Centre for Partnership and Performance) will be as set out in that Act.

Consumer Price Index.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

187 Mr. Bruton asked the Taoiseach the trend in prices in the Eurozone countries and in Ireland under each of the ten product categories covered in the harmonised consumer price index in each year since 2001. [38472/06]

The table that follows this reply presents the annual rates of change for the twelve eurozone member states as well as the eurozone average from 2001 to 2005 for each of the twelve main COICOP commodity groups covered by the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices. The latest available annual rates of change, which refer to October 2006, are also presented.

Annual Rates of Change (%) by COICOP Commodity Group: 2001 to October 2006

2001

2002

2003

2004

2005

Oct. 2006

COICOP 01 Food and Non-Alcoholic Beverages

eurozone12 Euro area

+4.9

+2.8

+2.1

+1.0

+0.7

+3.0p

be Belgium

+4.5

+2.3

+1.9

+1.1

+1.7

+4.5

de Germany

+4.5

+0.8

-0.1

-0.4

+0.4

+2.9

gr Greece

+5.3

+5.8

+4.9

+0.9

+0.8

+4.5

es Spain

+5.4

+4.7

+4.1

+3.9

+3.2

+4.4

fr France

+5.5

+2.7

+2.3

+0.5

+0.1

+2.1

ie Ireland

+6.5

+3.4

+1.4

-0.2

-0.7

+1.6

it Italy

+4.0

+3.6

+3.2

+2.1

-0.1

+2.7p

lu Luxembourg

+4.7

+3.9

+2.0

+1.8

+1.7

+2.7

nl Netherlands

+7.1

+3.5

+1.2

-3.5

-1.2

+1.8p

at Austria

+3.3

+1.2

+1.5

+1.7

+1.1

+2.0p

pt Portugal

+6.5

+1.5

+2.3

+1.1

-0.6

+3.5

fi Finland

+4.4

+3.1

+0.6

+0.8

+0.3

+2.9

COICOP 02 Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco

eurozone12 Euro area

+2.9

+4.2

+5.9

+7.5

+4.9

+2.9p

be Belgium

+1.9

+1.6

+4.4

+4.8

+2.8

+0.9

de Germany

+1.7

+4.0

+5.3

+6.8

+8.5

+3.6

gr Greece

+7.4

+7.0

+4.2

+4.5

+2.2

+10.6

es Spain

+3.2

+5.7

+3.4

+4.3

+5.1

+0.9

fr France

+3.2

+4.9

+8.8

+14.3

+0.1

+0.5

ie Ireland

+2.5

+5.6

+9.9

+3.5

+0.6

+0.5

it Italy

+2.6

+2.1

+7.0

+7.9

+6.8

+4.9p

lu Luxembourg

+3.9

+5.2

+5.7

+6.5

+6.7

+3.5

nl Netherlands

+6.7

+4.6

+3.6

+7.3

+2.8

+1.4p

at Austria

+3.9

+4.0

+3.0

+1.8

+6.3

+0.9p

pt Portugal

+3.3

+4.9

+4.6

+2.9

+4.5

+9.0

fi Finland

+1.9

+1.7

+1.1

-10.7

-1.8

+1.2

COICOP 03 Clothing and Footwear

eurozone12 Euro area

+0.6

+2.1

+0.9

+0.7

+0.1

+1.0p

be Belgium

+0.7

+1.1

+1.0

+0.6

-0.1

+0.5

de Germany

+0.8

+0.7

-0.8

-0.7

-1.9

+0.1

gr Greece

+3.2

+3.5

+2.0

+4.1

+4.7

+3.2

es Spain

-0.6

+5.1

+3.8

+1.8

+1.4

+1.3

fr France

+0.5

+0.9

-0.3

+0.3

+0.2

+0.6

ie Ireland

-2.8

-4.2

-4.1

-3.5

-2.8

-1.8

it Italy

+0.6

+2.9

+2.2

+1.9

+1.2

+1.3p

lu Luxembourg

+2.1

+1.7

+1.5

+0.5

+0.5

+0.2

nl Netherlands

+1.8

+3.2

-3.1

-1.9

-2.6

+1.6p

at Austria

-0.3

+0.3

-0.1

-0.6

-1.2

-0.4p

pt Portugal

+1.5

+2.5

+1.2

-1.1

-1.2

+6.5

fi Finland

+1.0

-1.1

-0.2

+0.3

-0.6

-0.9

COICOP 04 Housing, Water, Electricity, Gas and Other Fuels

eurozone12 Euro area

+3.0

+1.3

+2.5

+2.5

+4.7

+3.6p

be Belgium

+3.7

+0.2

+1.4

+3.0

+5.6

+3.8

de Germany

+3.2

+0.7

+1.8

+1.9

+4.0

+2.6

gr Greece

+2.7

+3.8

+4.5

+4.9

+9.2

+4.9

es Spain

+2.9

+2.3

+2.9

+3.5

+5.3

+4.9

fr France

+1.1

+1.7

+2.7

+2.9

+4.7

+3.7

ie Ireland

+5.8

+4.1

+4.2

+3.8

+9.6

+5.5

it Italy

+3.0

+0.4

+3.4

+2.0

+5.0

+4.6p

lu Luxembourg

+1.7

+0.2

+2.8

+3.1

+6.8

+2.0

nl Netherlands

+6.5

+4.0

+4.3

+3.2

+5.9

+5.0p

at Austria

+3.0

+0.6

+1.6

+4.2

+6.2

+4.6p

pt Portugal

+4.1

+3.0

+4.2

+3.0

+4.4

+3.2

fi Finland

+2.8

+2.7

+4.0

+2.1

+3.2

+2.0

COICOP 05 Furnishings, household equipment and routine household maintenance

eurozone12 Euro area

+1.8

+1.7

+1.3

+0.9

+0.8

+1.0p

be Belgium

+2.6

+1.9

+1.2

+0.9

+0.9

+1.2

de Germany

+0.9

+1.1

+0.3

-0.2

-0.1

+0.1

gr Greece

+2.5

+1.6

+1.8

+1.5

+2.1

+2.2

es Spain

+2.0

+2.0

+2.0

+1.6

+2.1

+2.6

fr France

+1.9

+1.4

+1.3

+1.2

+0.9

+0.6

ie Ireland

+3.2

+1.4

-0.7

-1.8

-1.5

-1.4

it Italy

+2.0

+1.9

+2.0

+2.1

+1.6

+1.7p

lu Luxembourg

+2.1

+1.6

+1.5

+1.7

+1.5

+1.6

nl Netherlands

+5.2

+3.9

+1.7

-0.9

-0.3

+0.1p

at Austria

+1.3

+1.6

+1.2

-0.1

-0.3

+0.8p

pt Portugal

+3.2

+3.0

+2.4

+1.6

+1.3

+1.0

fi Finland

+2.2

+1.5

+0.4

+0.6

+0.6

+1.0

COICOP 06 Health

eurozone12 Euro area

+1.2

+2.5

+2.2

+7.9

+2.1

+1.7p

be Belgium

+1.1

+1.5

+2.4

+1.4

+2.2

+2.3

de Germany

+1.2

+0.6

+0.4

+19.2

+1.9

+1.1

gr Greece

+2.7

+5.1

+4.6

+5.3

+4.4

+2.5

es Spain

+1.8

+2.7

+2.1

+0.4

+0.9

+1.5

fr France

-0.1

+1.4

+3.2

+2.9

+2.2

+4.1

ie Ireland

+6.7

+10.1

+7.7

+6.0

+6.2

+4.3

it Italy

-1.2

+4.2

+3.2

+3.3

+2.3

-0.4p

lu Luxembourg

+1.7

-5.1

-2.4

+2.2

+0.2

+2.5

nl Netherlands

+6.8

+6.5

+2.7

+9.6

+1.2

+3.9p

at Austria

+6.1

+3.0

+1.3

+1.1

+4.9

+0.6p

pt Portugal

+3.6

+4.8

+2.3

+1.7

+0.9

+2.7

fi Finland

+2.6

+5.0

+3.1

+2.1

+1.9

+0.0

COICOP 07 Transport

eurozone12 Euro area

+1.2

+1.8

+2.3

+3.1

+4.3

-0.7p

be Belgium

+1.2

+0.8

+1.6

+3.6

+5.8

-2.1

de Germany

+1.5

+2.0

+2.2

+2.3

+3.4

-1.2

gr Greece

+1.6

+0.5

+3.1

+3.5

+4.7

-0.9

es Spain

+0.8

+2.1

+2.1

+4.5

+6.4

-1.1

fr France

+0.2

+1.1

+2.4

+3.4

+4.4

-0.6

ie Ireland

-1.9

+3.1

+2.8

+4.1

+3.7

-0.8

it Italy

+1.5

+2.0

+2.6

+3.2

+4.5

+0.5p

lu Luxembourg

+0.5

-0.5

+1.6

+6.0

+6.6

-4.4

nl Netherlands

+2.7

+1.7

+2.8

+3.6

+4.2

-1.1p

at Austria

+1.7

+0.8

+1.1

+3.5

+3.7

-0.3p

pt Portugal

+4.8

+5.0

+4.3

+3.6

+5.8

+0.8

fi Finland

+1.0

+0.6

-0.1

+0.7

+2.6

-1.1

COICOP 08 Communications

eurozone12 Euro area

-4.0

-0.3

-0.6

-2.0

-2.3

-2.6p

be Belgium

-6.7

-0.1

+0.6

+1.3

-0.5

-2.1

de Germany

-5.9

+1.7

+0.7

-0.9

-1.3

-2.4

gr Greece

-1.8

-4.5

-4.6

-4.3

-0.4

+0.2

es Spain

-0.8

-2.9

-2.6

-1.1

-1.6

-1.3

fr France

-4.5

-0.4

-0.5

+0.2

-0.3

-3.9

ie Ireland

-8.3

+2.2

+1.4

+2.7

-0.2

-0.1

it Italy

-2.2

-1.4

-1.7

-6.4

-4.5

-2.7p

lu Luxembourg

-11.7

-4.3

-2.5

-2.4

-4.7

-2.4

nl Netherlands

-2.3

+0.1

+3.1

-0.7

-3.8

-3.8p

at Austria

-0.1

-0.8

-1.7

-1.2

-7.9

-1.7p

pt Portugal

-2.2

+0.8

-1.1

-1.0

-0.2

-1.0

fi Finland

+2.8

+0.7

-3.4

-8.3

-11.4

+0.7

COICOP 09 Recreation and culture

eurozone12 Euro area

+1.4

+1.3

+0.2

-0.1

-0.1

+0.0p

be Belgium

+2.6

+0.8

-0.8

-0.2

-0.3

+0.9

de Germany

+0.1

+0.4

-0.6

-1.1

+0.1

+0.2

gr Greece

+3.5

+2.8

+2.4

+2.9

+1.5

+3.8

es Spain

+2.7

+2.5

+0.6

+0.1

-0.2

-0.3

fr France

+0.3

+0.5

-0.5

-0.6

-1.0

-1.6

ie Ireland

+4.9

+6.3

+4.1

+1.2

+0.0

+2.7

it Italy

+1.7

+2.6

+1.7

+2.0

+1.1

+1.3p

lu Luxembourg

+2.4

+2.9

+2.3

+0.5

+0.9

+1.6

nl Netherlands

+4.6

+3.7

+0.9

-1.0

-0.7

+0.4p

at Austria

+1.5

+1.6

+0.1

+0.5

-0.8

-2.1p

pt Portugal

+2.6

+2.9

+1.2

+2.1

+1.7

-0.1

fi Finland

+3.7

+1.8

+1.0

+1.3

-0.7

-0.3

COCIOP 10 Education

eurozone12 Euro area

+3.0

+4.0

+3.5

+3.4

+3.1

+3.4p

be Belgium

+2.1

+3.0

+1.3

+0.9

+2.1

+2.4

de Germany

+1.3

+2.6

+2.1

+3.3

+2.2

+3.4

gr Greece

+3.7

+4.0

+4.5

+4.4

+4.1

+3.8

es Spain

+4.1

+3.8

+4.9

+4.0

+4.2

+4.0

fr France

+2.4

+2.6

+2.8

+2.8

+2.6

+3.6

ie Ireland

+7.2

+10.3

+9.1

+5.9

+6.0

+5.9

it Italy

+3.2

+3.0

+2.7

+2.2

+3.3

+2.3p

lu Luxembourg

+2.0

+8.5

+7.5

+1.0

+1.8

+2.4

nl Netherlands

+2.9

+4.4

+4.1

+2.8

-3.7

+1.2p

at Austria

+10.0

+21.9

+3.3

+1.9

+1.9

+7.9p

pt Portugal

+5.2

+5.8

+6.6

+9.4

+7.0

+4.0

fi Finland

+3.5

+3.2

+6.0

+5.5

+4.0

+1.6

COICOP 11 Restaurants and hotels

eurozone12 Euro area

+3.5

+4.6

+3.2

+2.8

+2.5

+2.6p

be Belgium

+2.4

+4.4

+3.2

+2.6

+2.8

+1.8

de Germany

+1.9

+3.7

+0.8

+0.7

+1.0

+1.3

gr Greece

+5.2

+6.7

+4.8

+4.3

+3.1

+2.5

es Spain

+4.4

+5.5

+4.3

+4.1

+4.2

+4.5

fr France

+2.5

+3.9

+2.6

+2.8

+2.5

+2.2

ie Ireland

+5.9

+7.1

+6.3

+4.0

+3.3

+4.1

it Italy

+4.0

+4.5

+4.0

+3.0

+2.5

+2.7p

lu Luxembourg

+3.1

+4.2

+3.3

+3.2

+3.5

+2.8

nl Netherlands

+6.1

+6.9

+1.9

+2.0

+1.8

+2.1p

at Austria

+2.6

+2.8

+2.7

+2.5

+2.4

+1.9p

pt Portugal

+4.4

+5.6

+5.1

+5.0

+1.4

+2.3

fi Finland

+2.5

+3.3

+2.9

+1.0

+1.8

+2.3

COICOP 12 Miscellaneous goods and services

eurozone12 Euro area

+3.1

+2.9

+2.6

+2.2

+1.8

+2.3p

be Belgium

+2.5

+2.7

+2.5

+2.4

+2.1

+2.6

de Germany

+3.1

+2.0

+1.7

+1.4

+1.0

+1.0

gr Greece

+3.4

+2.9

+2.3

+2.0

+3.1

+3.2

es Spain

+2.8

+3.6

+3.1

+2.7

+2.8

+4.2

fr France

+2.5

+2.7

+2.5

+2.2

+1.5

+2.9

ie Ireland

+6.5

+7.6

+5.2

+2.2

+1.9

+3.0

it Italy

+3.7

+3.8

+3.5

+2.8

+2.6

+2.9p

lu Luxembourg (Grand-Duché)

+3.9

+2.5

+2.2

+2.0

+1.8

+2.7

nl Netherlands

+4.5

+4.5

+3.7

+2.6

+2.2

+0.5p

at Austria

+2.6

+3.1

+1.9

+2.6

+2.5

+2.6p

pt Portugal

+5.4

+5.4

+4.0

+2.6

+2.1

+4.0

fi Finland

+3.4

+2.2

+2.1

+2.5

+1.3

+2.7

p Provisional.

Official Engagements.

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

188 Mr. Sargent asked the Taoiseach if he will be meeting European Parliament President Mr. Josep Borrell MEP when he visits Ireland later in November 2006. [38508/06]

I will have a meeting with Mr. Josep Borrell Fontelles, President of the European Parliament, on the morning of 30 November, 2006, in advance of his address to the National Forum on Europe.

Minimum Wage.

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

189 Mr. Morgan asked the Taoiseach the number of the two million people employed here who are receiving a wage of less than €10 per hour; and the number of these who are receiving a wage of €7.65 per hour. [38543/06]

The latest results in relation to the distribution of earnings are from the 2003 National Employment Survey. The results refer to a total of 1,440,400 employees out of 1,793,400 persons at work in March 2003. The survey does not measure self-employed earnings and it does not include the agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors. The average earnings per hour was €16.41 for all employees. The results for March 2003 show that 28.4% of all employees earned less than €10 per hour and 12.1% of all employees earned less than €7.65 per hour. The minimum wage for experienced adult workers in March 2003 was €6.35 per hour and the survey indicated that 3.8% of all employees earned less than this amount. The National Employment Survey (NES) is being undertaken on an annual basis from 2006 onwards and the Central Statistics Office (CSO) is planning to publish the results of the March 2006 survey in the middle of next year, 2007.

Oireachtas Committees.

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

190 Mr. Morgan asked the Taoiseach the total costs, including administrative costs, costs of publishing reports and travel costs, associated with the All Party Committee on the Constitution since June 2002. [38617/06]

The total costs, including administrative costs, costs of publishing reports and travel costs, associated with the All Party Committee on the Constitution since June 2002 are as follows:

June-December 2002

Total expenditure for the period

109,686.91

Travel

0

Total administration costs

109,687

Breakdown of administration costs

Pay

65,152.00

accommodation, office supplies, IT, etc

44,534.91

Committee published its Seventh Progress Report: Parliament earlier in the year — costs came to €37,550.65

2003

Grant in Aid — €331,000

Actual expenditure for 2003 — €301,680

Breakdown

Travel

39,304.77

Reports (Eighth Progress Report: Government and reprinting Report of the Constitution Review Group)

40,508.93

Expenses paid to committee members

19,140.34

Administration costs

202,725.96

Breakdown of administration costs

Pay

100,788.51

Accommodation, light/heat, IT, office supplies etc.

101,937.45

2004

Grant in Aid — €380,000

Actual expenditure for 2004 — €325,880.54

Breakdown

Travel

10,543.09

Reports: Ninth Progress Report: Private Property

81,475.96

Expenses paid to committee members

6,599.27

Administration costs

227,262.22

Breakdown of administration costs

Pay

150,269.48

Note: €19,032.40 of pay costs attributable to 2003

Accommodation, light/heat, IT, office supplies etc.

76,992.74

2005

Grant in Aid — €399,000

Actual expenditure for 2005 — €338,639.38

Breakdown

Travel

0

Reports Tenth Progress Report: The Family

71,251.97

Expenses paid to committee members

0

Administration costs

267,387.41

Breakdown of administration costs

Pay

125,720.78

Accommodation, light/heat, IT, office supplies etc.

141,666.63

2006

Grant in Aid — €407,000

Actual expenditure to 17 November 2006 — €237,831.71

Breakdown

Travel

26,262.26

Reports: Tenth and Eleventh Progress Reports

24,172.12

Note: €23,873.62 relates to the Tenth Progress Report: The Family

€298.50 relates to the present study (Eleventh Progress Report: Freedom of Expression, Association and Assembly)

Administration costs

187,397.33

Breakdown of administration costs

Pay

116,780.61

Accommodation, light/heat, IT, office supplies etc.

70,616.93

Petty Cash

Garda Operations.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

191 Mr. Gilmore asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the fact that some Garda speed checkpoints appear to be concentrated at soft target areas which are located at the interface of two different speed limit levels; if he will address this problem; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38512/06]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that Garda enforcement under road traffic legislation is not concentrated at perceived soft target areas but in a fair and balanced manner. The Garda IT system underpinning the Fixed Charge Processing System (FCPS) rolled out nationally for speeding offences on 2 February 2006. The following tables set out the number of fixed charge notices issued for speeding offences in the 50, 60, 80 and 100km/h speed zones for the period 2 February 2006 to 30 September 2006 by speed range:

50km/h Speed Zone

Speed Range

Number of Notices

51km/h-60km/h

98

61km/h-70km/h

9,700

In excess 70km/h

29,741

Total

39,539

60km/h Speed Zone

Speed Range

Number of Notices

61km/h-70km/h

86

71km/h-80km/h

9,024

In excess 80km/h

29,630

Total

38,740

80km/h Speed Zone

Speed Range

Number of Notices

81km/h-90km/h

101

91km/h-100km/h

8,856

In excess 100km/h

14,274

Total

23,231

100km/h Speed Zone

Speed Range

Number of Notices

100km/h-110km/h

325

111km/h-120km/h

3,906

in excess 120km/h

22,840

Total

27,071

Statistics are provisional/operational and liable to change.

Decentralisation Programme.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

192 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when the land registry offices in Roscommon Town will be available for occupation; when staff based in Dublin will be decentralised to the town; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38725/06]

I am informed by the Registrar of Titles that a site for the permanent decentralised offices for the Property Registration Authority's Roscommon office has been identified. The matter is now being progressed by the Office of Public Works and it is anticipated that the accommodation will be ready for occupation in 2009. The Property Registration Authority has carried out an advance move to Roscommon and currently has thirty-three staff working in the town. I understand that, subject to operational requirements, it is intended to transfer around ten additional Dublin based staff to Roscommon in early 2007.

Terrorist Threats.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

193 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the measures being taken to allay people’s fears that terrorist attacks at Irish international airports are a real threat following the revelations on the BBC that a Muslim cleric has been exhorting attacks on an airport here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38995/06]

Aviation security arrangements at Irish airports are kept under continuous review by both the Department of Transport and the National Civil Aviation Security Committee (NCASC). The NCASC is chaired by the Department of Transport, and both my Department and the Garda Síochána are represented on it, together with a range of other key stakeholders. I understand that the Department of Transport conducts regular security inspections and tests of aviation facilities and all operators at Irish airports. These facilities and operators are also subject to audit by the European Union, European Civil Aviation Conference and International Civil Aviation Organisation, in partnership with the Department of Transport. In addition to these site-specific measures, the Garda Síochána maintains an up-to-date assessment of the threat to this State from international terrorist groups through analysis of intelligence gathered from domestic and international sources. Moreover, the Garda Síochána has developed excellent lines of communication and co-operation with security and intelligence services in the European Union and further afield. This ongoing sharing of intelligence enables a rapid operational response to be put in place where circumstances so warrant. It is not the practice and it would be contrary to the public interest to comment on specific alleged threats or measures taken in response to ongoing security issues.

Closed Circuit Television Systems.

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

194 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if the budget of €5.1million for the Garda closed circuit television programme has been allocated for 2006; if so, the breakdown of this expenditure in relation to the projects that were allocated funding; the amount allocated to each project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38499/06]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the E4 subhead of the Garda Síochána Vote covers expenditure on new Garda CCTV installations, the maintenance of existing Garda CCTV systems and the allocation of grant aid funding for the Community Based CCTV Scheme, which is being administered on behalf of my Department by Pobal. The Community Based CCTV Scheme, which I launched in June 2005, offered two levels of support to meet the requirements of local communities. Stage 1 offered pre-development supports and funding of up to €5,000 for organisations/groups who were not yet ready to develop their proposals fully. Some 24 successful groups received Stage 1 grants totalling €115,665 earlier this year. Stage 2 offered a direct Application Process to organisations who could demonstrate an ability to develop and deliver a CCTV Programme immediately. Some 13 successful groups have been approved to receive Stage 2 grants totalling €1 million to be matched, in RAPID areas, by the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.

On 13 October 2006, the Garda authorities published a request for tender, with a closing date of 22 November, for the installation of three Garda CCTV Systems in Ballyfermot, Clondalkin and Tullamore, at an estimated cost of €1.3 million. These systems will use wireless CCTV technology which will allow CCTV cameras to be redeployed as necessary to meet changing policing requirements. Contractors will be required to complete the deployment of these CCTV systems before the end of March 2007. Further such projects are under consideration as part of the process of outsourcing Garda CCTV systems. Maintenance costs of €308,000 associated with existing systems have also been incurred to date. Given, in particular, the complex and lengthy work required for the peer review process with the Department of Finance on the outsourcing of Garda CCTV systems and the implementation of Joint Policing Committees which are necessary to approve community CCTV schemes, there will be an underspend in this subhead in 2006. The recently published Estimates for 2007 contain an increased provision for CCTV to meet a range of developments which will incur costs in 2007.

Visa Applications.

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

195 Mr. Crowe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position regarding the status of the visa applications for persons (details supplied). [38500/06]

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the visa applications in question were approved on 9th November, 2006.

Missing Persons.

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

196 Mr. Howlin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his Department received a request for funding on behalf of the Irish Missing Persons’ Helpline; if such funding was provided and the amount of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38546/06]

Jimmy Deenihan

Ceist:

221 Mr. Deenihan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if a request for funding was made to his Department by the Irish Missing Persons Helpline; if it was successful; the amount of grant aid provided; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38693/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 196 and 221 together.

Funding of €110,000 in respect of a National Missing Persons Helpline, made available by my Department in 2002 and 2003, was channelled through the Victim Support organisation and was in addition to the ongoing funding that the organisation received for the provision of services to victims of crime. This funding of €110,000 was provided subject to the conditions that no funding beyond the year 2003 should be implied, and audited accounts should be provided to my Department on a calendar year basis. To date no audited accounts have been received in my Department. At the end of 2003, and as a matter of good practice in the handling of public money, my Department commissioned a review of the Helpline from the Department of Social Sciences, Dublin Institute of Technology, which recorded the number of phone calls to the Helpline up to that time as being in the region of 100. In March 2005, I decided that continued funding of the Victim Support organisation could no longer be justified due to serious concerns in relation to governance, accountability for public funds and poor service levels, after a lengthy period of instability within the organisation. I understand that Victim Support closed down its headquarters operation during 2005 and that a number of staff were made redundant, including the person employed to operate the Missing Persons Helpline. My Department had no role in the decision of Victim Support to make a number of its staff redundant, other than to insist that statutory requirements (notice, holiday pay, etc.) be met and that the interests of the staff be protected.

In March 2005, I established a new Commission for the Support of Victims of Crime to devise an appropriate support framework for victims of crime into the future and to disburse funding for victim support measures. The Commission is entirely independent in its decision making and examines each application on its merits. The Commission received an application from the Missing in Ireland Support Service for €71,600 to establish, staff and operate a Helpline for missing persons. After careful consideration of the application the Commission decided to offer funding of €25,000. However, this offer was rejected by the Missing in Ireland Support Service. It should be borne in mind in this context that the Commission is charged with funding support services for victims of crime, and that, while some persons who are missing are crime victims, most are not.

The Garda Síochána continuously monitors international developments in relation to missing persons in order to ensure that best practice is followed. If its professional judgement is that some change in the existing legislation, protocols or structures would be of assistance in improving investigations, this would be considered by me. I am of the view that a Helpline for this purpose is best set up on an independent basis and by a non-official, voluntary organisation. A proposal for funding has been received in my Department from the Missing In Ireland Support Service to establish a national missing persons helpline. The proposal is currently being examined with the assistance of An Garda Síochána.

Family Reunification.

Damien English

Ceist:

197 Mr. English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when a pending family reunification application for a person (details supplied) will be decided on; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38547/06]

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the application in question was approved on 17th November, 2006.

Garda Investigations.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

198 Mr. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he is satisfied with the way in which the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 11 was handled; and if it raises questions requiring reform to the legal codes or operational procedures of the Gardaí. [38558/06]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the incident referred to was investigated by the Garda Síochána in the area concerned in accordance with Garda operational procedures. I am further informed that a person who went voluntarily to the Garda Síochána was interviewed in relation to the incident and made a statement admitting the incident. An investigation file was submitted to the Director of the National Juvenile Office. The person was subsequently dealt with under the Juvenile Diversion Programme. Part 4 of the Children Act 2001, which came into effect in May 2002, places the Garda Juvenile Diversion Programme on a statutory basis. The programme provides that, in certain circumstances, a juvenile under 18 years of age who freely accepts responsibility for a criminal incident may be cautioned as an alternative to prosecution.

Residency Permits.

Pat Carey

Ceist:

199 Mr. Carey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when a decision on an application by a person (details supplied) in Dublin 11 for residency will be made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38561/06]

I understand that the Immigration Division of my Department has recently written to the legal representative of the person concerned informing them that residence has been approved in respect of their client.

Judicial Appointments.

Jerry Cowley

Ceist:

200 Dr. Cowley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if a person can apply to become a peace commissioner; the criteria required for same; the process involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38573/06]

Peace Commissioners are appointed under section 88 of the Courts of Justice Act, 1924. The Office of Peace Commissioner is an honorary appointment and Peace Commissioners receive no remuneration or compensation by way of fees or expenses for their services. An application for appointment may be submitted by a person who is interested in obtaining an appointment or a third party may submit a nomination in respect of a person considered suitable for appointment. Nominations are generally received from public representatives. A local Garda Superintendent sometimes requests an appointment in a particular area in the public interest.

There is no qualifying examination involved but appointees are required to be of good character and they are usually well established in the local community. Persons who are members of professions or employed in occupations which engage in legal work or related activities and members of the clergy are, as a matter of practice, not appointed because of their occupation and civil servants are usually only appointed where the performance of their official duties requires an appointment (i.e. ex-officio). Persons convicted of serious offences are considered unsuitable for appointment.

The fact that an applicant or nominee may be suitable for appointment does not in itself provide any entitlement to appointment because appointments are made at the discretion of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and having regard to the needs of particular areas.

Visa Applications.

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

201 Mr. Howlin asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if the holiday visa granted to a person (details supplied) can be altered to enable them to travel to Ireland on 1 January 2007 rather than on 24 November 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38574/06]

The person in question is advised to submit a fresh visa application setting out the new travel dates. If necessary the current visa will be ‘cancelled without prejudice' and a new visa issued. In exceptional circumstances the administration fee may be waived.

Decentralisation Programme.

Paudge Connolly

Ceist:

202 Mr. Connolly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of staff in his Department who have indicated willingness to decentralise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38597/06]

Six hundred and ninety officers in my Department have applied to the Central Applications Facility to decentralise under the Government Programme.

Firearms Restrictions.

John Perry

Ceist:

203 Mr. Perry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the issues raised in correspondence (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38601/06]

Under Section 29 of the Criminal Justice Act, 2006 I may, by statutory instrument and in the interests of public safety and security, declare specific firearms and ammunition as "restricted", by reference to their category, calibre, working mechanism, muzzle energy and description. It should be noted that where a firearm is deemed "restricted" it does not mean that the possession or sale of such firearms is prohibited. Where a person wishes to possess such a firearm they will be required to make an application to the Garda Commissioner for the grant of a firearms certificate and satisfy the Commissioner that they comply with the conditions set out in Section 4 of the Firearms Act, 1925, as amended by the 2006 Act. In addition firearms dealers will be required to seek an authorisation from me for the importation for sale of such firearms.

My Department is currently in consultation with the Garda Síochána, organisations representing different shooting interest groups and firearms dealers representatives regarding the drafting of the statutory instrument and due consideration will be given to any observations which interested persons or groups may wish to make.

Residency Permits.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

204 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when a decision will be made on an application by a person (details supplied) in County Mayo. [38602/06]

An application for long term residency from the person referred to by the Deputy was received on the 16th June 2006.

The position in relation to granting long term residency is as follows: Persons who have been legally resident in the State for over five years on the basis of work permit/work authorisation/work visa conditions may apply to the Immigration Division of my Department for a five year residency extension. In that context they may also apply to be exempt from employment permit requirements. The dependants of the aforementioned, who have been legally resident in the State for over five years may also apply for long term residency. This particular long term permission does not exempt the person from employment permit requirements. Time spent in the State on student conditions cannot be counted towards long term residency.

While applications for long term residency are under consideration, the person concerned should ensure that their permission to remain in the State is kept up to date. I understand that applications received in May 2006 are currently being dealt with. As soon as a decision is made on the case, the person concerned will be notified.

Road Traffic Accidents.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

205 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the date on which An Garda Síochána submitted a file to the office of the State Solicitor in County Mayo in respect of a traffic accident which occurred on 14 October 2004 (details supplied). [38631/06]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the road traffic collision referred to involved a motorcycle with a driver and pillion passenger and a car. The driver of the motorcycle was seriously injured and was brought to Mayo General Hospital. He was later transferred to Beaumont Hospital where he died on 26 October 2004. The pillion passenger received less serious injuries, and the driver of the car was uninjured.

I am also informed that an investigation file was prepared for the Law Officers and a prosecution was directed against the driver of the car who was convicted before Westport District Court on 19 May 2005 of driving while unaccompanied and was fined €150. I am further informed that a Chief Superintendent has been appointed under the Garda Síochána (Discipline) Regulations 1989 to investigate all aspects pertaining to the investigation of this fatal collision.

As this inquiry is on-going the Deputy will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for me to comment any further on the matter at this time.

Visa Applications.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

206 Mr. Kehoe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if an application for a visa by a person (details supplied) in County Carlow has been received by his Department; and when he expects a decision on same. [38639/06]

The application referred to by the Deputy was received in the Dublin Visa Office on 8th November, 2006. A decision in respect of the application will be made in the coming weeks.

Lottery Licensing Laws.

Tony Gregory

Ceist:

207 Mr. Gregory asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the failure of the Gardaí and his Department to enforce the law and close down the 12 gambling casinos in the Dublin area will shortly result in the introduction of illegal roulette slot machines being introduced into betting premises here starting in December 2006; the steps he will take to prevent the installation of illegal roulette slot machines into betting shops; if he will take steps to ensure that the law will be enforced against such attempts to operate illegal roulette slot machines; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38643/06]

Tony Gregory

Ceist:

208 Mr. Gregory asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the reason the 12 gambling casinos operating in contravention of the law in the Dublin area are not closed immediately pending the deliberations of the special working group; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38644/06]

Tony Gregory

Ceist:

209 Mr. Gregory asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he has taken steps to prevent 12 gambling casinos in the Dublin area from continuing to break the law here. [38645/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 207 to 209, inclusive, together.

I have been informed by the Gardaí that they are aware of a number of gambling casinos in the Dublin area as indicated by the Deputy. These private clubs are visited by the Gardaí Síochána on a regular basis and no irregularities have been detected to date that would justify a prosecution under the Gaming & Lotteries Acts 1956-86, which is the relevant legislation for such matters. I am assured that the premises will continue to receive Garda attention and if breaches of the legislation are detected the directions of the DPP will be sought.

As the Deputy is aware, I have established an inter-departmental committee chaired by Mr Michael McGrath BL to report on the possibilities for a legislative basis for the strict regulation of casino-style operations in the State, the composition of any proposed Casino Regulation Commission and related matters. I expect to receive the Casino Committee's report in the near future. The Deputy will understand that, having established a committee to consider these complex issues, I do not propose to comment on future policy in advance of receiving and considering the report of the Casino Committee.

I am aware of some proposals to introduce casino type activities such as fixed odds betting terminals (FOBTs) in betting shops. On a personal level I am opposed to the introduction of such activities into the betting shop environment, however, as outlined above I am awaiting the report of the Casino Committee before commenting on future policy.

Garda Strength.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

210 Mr. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of Gardaí working in community policing in the Tallaght Garda station in each year over the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38653/06]

I have been informed by the Garda authorities, who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that the personnel strength (all ranks) of An Garda Síochána increased to a record 13,000 on Thursday, 16 November, 2006, following the attestation of 299 new members. This compares with a total strength of 10,702 (all ranks) as at 30 June, 1997 and represents an increase of 2,298 (or 21.5%) in the personnel strength of the Force during that period. The induction of 280 new Garda recruits to the Garda College on 6 November, 2006 resulted in a combined strength, of both attested Gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,137. The Garda Budget now stands at €1.3 billion, a 13% increase on 2005 and an 85% increase since 1997 in real terms.

I have been further informed that the personnel strength (all ranks) of Tallaght Garda Station as at 31 December, 1997 and 30 October, 2006 was 133 and 173, respectively, representing an increase of 40 (or 30%) in the number of Garda personnel allocated to Tallaght Garda Station during that period. I have also been informed that the personnel strength (all ranks) of the Community Policing Unit at Tallaght Garda Station as at 31 December, 2001-2005, inclusively, and as at 17 November, 2006 was as set out in the table hereunder:

Date

Strength

31/12/2001

20

31/12/2002

22

31/12/2003

24

31/12/2004

24

31/12/2005

20

17/11/2006

23

I should add that it is the responsibility of Garda management to allocate personnel to and within Divisions on a priority basis in accordance with the requirements of different areas. These personnel allocations are determined by a number of factors including demographics, crime trends, administrative functions and other operational policing needs. Garda management state that such allocations are continually monitored and reviewed along with overall policing arrangements and operational strategy. This ensures that optimum use is made of Garda resources, and that the best possible service is provided to the public.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

211 Mr. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of Gardaí during 2005 and 2006 who have transferred out of a station (details supplied) in order to join a specialist unit within the metropolitan area or within the Gardaí generally; if, in each case, the Garda lost to the station in question was subsequently replaced by a new member of An Garda Síochána; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38654/06]

I have been informed by the Garda authorities, who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that the personnel strength (all ranks) of An Garda Síochána increased to a record 13,000 on Thursday, 16 November, 2006, following the attestation of 299 new members. This compares with a total strength of 10,702 (all ranks) as at 30 June, 1997 and represents an increase of 2,298 (or 21.5%) in the personnel strength of the Force during that period. The induction of 280 new Garda recruits to the Garda College on 6 November, 2006 resulted in a combined strength, of both attested Gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,137. The Garda Budget now stands at €1.3 billion, a 13% increase on 2005 and an 85% increase since 1997 in real terms.

I have been further informed that the personnel strength (all ranks) of the Garda Station in question as at 31 December, 1997 and 30 October, 2006 was 133 and 173, respectively, representing an increase of 40 (or 30%) in the number of Garda personnel allocated to the Garda Station during that period. I have also been informed that the number of Gardaí (Garda rank) who were transferred from the Garda Station in question in 2005 and to date in 2006 was 21 and 10, respectively.

Garda management advise that of the 21 Gardaí transferred from the Garda Station in 2005: 8 Gardaí were successful in competitions to join Specialist Units and were subsequently transferred to Specialist Units in November, 2005; 1 Garda was transferred to the Garda College, Templemore, and the remaining 12 Gardaí were transferred from the Station following requests from the members concerned. Garda management further advise that of the 10 Gardaí transferred from the Garda Station to-date in 2006: 3 Gardaí transferred to Specialist Units; 4 Gardaí transferred Inter-Divisional at their own request, and the remaining 3 Gardaí transferred to Garda stations within the Dublin Metropolitan Region South Division.

Garda management state that, in 2005, 19 Probationer Gardaí were allocated directly from the Garda College to the Garda Station in question and 1 Garda transferred into the Station. To-date in 2006, 26 Probationer Gardaí have been allocated directly from the Garda College to Tallaght Garda Station and 1 Garda has transferred into the Station.

I should add that it is the responsibility of Garda management to allocate personnel to and within Divisions on a priority basis in accordance with the requirements of different areas. These personnel allocations are determined by a number of factors including demographics, crime trends, administrative functions and other operational policing needs. Garda management state that such allocations are continually monitored and reviewed along with overall policing arrangements and operational strategy. This ensures that optimum use is made of Garda resources, and that the best possible service is provided to the public.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

212 Mr. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of probationary Gardaí who were allocated from the Garda college to a station (details supplied) in each year since 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38655/06]

I have been informed by the Garda authorities, who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that the personnel strength (all ranks) of An Garda Síochána increased to a record 13,000 on Thursday, 16 November, 2006, following the attestation of 299 new members. This compares with a total strength of 10,702 (all ranks) as at 30 June, 1997 and represents an increase of 2,298 (or 21.5%) in the personnel strength of the Force during that period. The induction of 280 new Garda recruits to the Garda College on 6 November, 2006 resulted in a combined strength, of both attested Gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,137. The Garda Budget now stands at €1.3 billion, a 13% increase on 2005 and an 85% increase since 1997 in real terms.

I have been further informed that nineteen (19) Probationer Gardaí were allocated directly from the Garda College to the Garda Station in question on first allocation in 2005 and a total of twenty six (26) Probationer Gardaí have been allocated directly from the Garda College to the Garda Station to date this year. Garda management state that the information requested in relation to the number of Probationer Gardaí who were allocated from the Garda College to the Garda Station in question from 2000 to 2004 is not readily available and can only be obtained by a disproportionate expenditure of Garda time and resources.

I should add that it is the responsibility of Garda management to allocate personnel to and within Divisions on a priority basis in accordance with the requirements of different areas. These personnel allocations are determined by a number of factors including demographics, crime trends, administrative functions and other operational policing needs. Garda management state that such allocations are continually monitored and reviewed along with overall policing arrangements and operational strategy. This ensures that optimum use is made of Garda resources, and that the best possible service is provided to the public.

Proposed Legislation.

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

213 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the steps he is taking to reform family law to ensure equality for all parties in the family law process. [38667/06]

The Constitution requires that people who appear before our Courts in essentially the same circumstances should be dealt with in essentially the same manner. It follows that in the exercise of its judicial functions under various enactments, including those on family law, it is already the duty of the Courts to see that this principle of equality is observed. The Judicial Council Bill that I am proposing is designed to establish a Judicial Council which will have among its functions the preparation of a judicial code of ethics. No doubt the proposed Council will take the opportunity when exercising that function to re-enforce the application of the principle of equality.

Legal Aid Service.

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

214 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will substantially increase the resources available to the Legal Aid Board in view of the fact that individuals are currently waiting for periods of between three to six months for legal aid services. [38668/06]

I am pleased to be able to advise the Deputy that the Legal Aid Board is currently providing legal services to all eligible persons within a maximum period of four months nationwide. In fact, at most of the Board's Law Centres the waiting time for an appointment for a solicitor was two months or less at the end of October 2006. The Deputy may also wish to note that the Board provides a priority service to persons seeking legal services for cases involving domestic violence, child care, child abduction and for certain other matters where there are statutory time limits. These cases are dealt with immediately and without going on a waiting list.

Garda Training.

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

215 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if training will be made available to the Gardaí to specifically address the problem of domestic violence against men. [38669/06]

I have been informed by the Garda authorities, who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that an appropriate training is delivered to Garda trainees on Phases I and III under the auspices of the Legal and Policing Section. I am further informed that this training covers matters relevant to Barring/ Protection/ Safety Orders, arrest powers, procedures to follow, advice to be given, and bail issues. The training involves study of relevant legislation, including the Domestic Violence Act, 1996, the Children Act, 1908 and related matters, and the Child care Act, 1991 including the duties of the Health Boards and Courts in matters of child care.

Garda management state that no differentiation is made in the training courses between male and female victims of domestic violence. I am also informed that Domestic Violence training is also provided by the Social Studies Section on Phases I and III, following which Student Gardaí are fully briefed on all aspects of the law in relation to Domestic Violence. During experiential learning phases, Student Gardaí would also be exposed to dealing with real cases of domestic violence under the supervision of tutors.

Furthermore, while on Phase III, the organisation Women's Aid attend the Garda College, Templemore and spend 4 hours with each class of 24 students educating them on issues of domestic violence. Women's Aid deals with both violence against women and against men. This is put into practice by way of role play situations which assess the students ability to deal with domestic violence situations both lawfully and professionally.

Garda management further state that the issue of training for the general membership of An Garda Síochána is being researched for inclusion on the Continuous Professional Development Core Programme for 2007.

Legal Services Ombudsman.

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

216 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if, in the interests of accountability, he will introduce an ombudsman to regulate the law industry. [38670/06]

The Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2006 that is before the House provides for the establishment of a Legal Services Ombudsman who will oversee the handling by the Law Society and Bar Council of three types of complaint against solicitors and barristers, namely inadequate services, excessive fees and misconduct. The key function will be to provide a form of appeal for clients of solicitors and barristers who are dissatisfied with the outcome of a complaint made to the Law Society or Bar Council.

The Ombudsman will also have a more general oversight role for those complaints procedures by examining a selection of complaints files each year taken on a random basis. Access to the legal profession will also be monitored by the Ombudsman who will report to the Minister and the Oireachtas on the adequacy of numbers admitted annually to each profession. I am satisfied that the introduction of the Legal Services Ombudsman, as a layer of oversight additional to the present self-regulating mechanisms operated by the Law Society and the Bar Council, will provide the necessary independent scrutiny to assure the public of the effectiveness and trustworthiness of the complaints process as a whole.

Departmental Correspondence.

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

217 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if an invitation was extended to a person (details supplied) at a meeting in January 2006 to meet with him; and when such a meeting will take place. [38671/06]

No invitation to meet with me was extended to the person in question.

International Agreements.

Pat Carey

Ceist:

218 Mr. Carey asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his Department has received documentation from the authorities in Ecuador regarding its wish to operate the Strasbourg Agreement as a mechanism to facilitate the repatriation of prisoners. [38677/06]

My Department has received no documentation to date from authorities in Ecuador on this matter.

Asylum Applications.

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

219 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will take into account humanitarian consideration and letters from a psychiatrist in relation to an application for a person (details supplied) in County Meath in their application for asylum; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38680/06]

As the Deputy will be aware, applications for refugee status in the State are determined by an independent process comprising the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal which make recommendations to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on whether such status should be granted.

As I have been advised that judicial review proceedings have been taken in this case, it would be inappropriate to comment at this time.

Mary Upton

Ceist:

220 Dr. Upton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the status of an application for refugee status by a person (details supplied) in Dublin 8 if neither his Department nor the Refugee Appeals’ Council are able to locate their file; if he will endeavour to locate this file or at least establish its whereabouts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38692/06]

The person concerned, a Ukrainian national, applied for asylum on 27 May, 2003. His application was refused by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner on 23 August, 2004. He did not appeal this decision.

In accordance with section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999, the person concerned was informed on 14 October, 2004 that the Minister was proposing to make a deportation order in respect of him. He was, in accordance with the Act, given the option of making representations within 15 working days setting out the reasons why he should not be deported i.e. be allowed to remain temporarily in the State; leaving the State before the deportation order was made; or consenting to the making of the deportation order. Representations have been received from the person concerned requesting leave to remain in the State on the basis of his marriage to a Kazakhstan national who has leave to remain based on her parentage of a child born in the State before 1 January, 2005.

The case file of this person is currently with the Repatriation Unit of my Department for examination for deportation. I expect the file to be submitted to me for decision in due course. This decision will be taken having regard to considerations specified in section 3(6) of the Immigration Act 1999, as amended. These considerations include matters relating to the common good, the person's family and domestic circumstances, as well as humanitarian considerations. Consideration will also be given to the prohibition of refoulement which is contained in section 5 of the Refugee Act 1996 as amended.

Question No. 221 answered with QuestionNo. 196.

Visa Applications.

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Ceist:

222 Mr. Gogarty asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if the status of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin who is a non-EU national and was granted a visa on the basis that they are a temporary registered doctor and the parent of an Irish born child but did not receive the stamp of IBC status is automatically superseded by the fact that they are the parent of an Irish born child; and if same has a bearing on their spouse’s visa application. [38699/06]

The application referred to by the Deputy was received in the Dublin Visa Office on 23rd August, 2006. The decision of the Visa Officer to refuse the application was taken on 9th October, 2006.

An appeal against the initial refusal decision was received on 17th November, 2006. Following a re-examination of the application, the decision to refuse was overturned. Accordingly, I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the visa application was approved on 17th November, 2006.

Tribunals of Inquiry.

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

223 Mr. J. Higgins asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the persons who fund the operation of The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal. [38705/06]

The Law Society funds the operation of the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal.

Garda Transport.

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

224 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of An Garda Síochána who are driving official cars and only have the chief superintendent’s permission to do so. [38706/06]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that members of the Garda Síochána are allowed to drive official vehicles in two circumstances: (a) where they hold at least a class B driving licence and have been authorised to drive by the Chief Superintendent; or (b) where they have completed an official driving course.

I have been further informed by the Garda authorities that the number of Gardaí who are driving Garda cars where they hold at least a class B Driving licence and have been authorised to drive by the Chief Superintendent, in each region, as at the 17 November 2006 was as set out in the table hereunder:

Region

Number

D.M.R

921

South Eastern

218

Eastern

317

Northern

275

Western

143

Southern

407

Total

2,281

Garda management states that the staffing levels of the Garda Driving and Training school are currently being examined with a view to reducing the number of personnel driving on Chief's Permission.

Garda Stations.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

225 Mr. Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 204 and 207 of 14 November 2006, the location of each station in question; and if, in each case, the living quarters are habitable; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38724/06]

The detailed information sought by the Deputy is being compiled by the Garda authorities and I will communicate with him shortly.

Prison Building Programme.

Damien English

Ceist:

226 Mr. English asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of meetings officials from his Department have had with officials of Fingal County Council with regard to the relocation of a prison complex at Thornton Hall, County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38734/06]

A total of 5 meetings have been held to date between officials of the Prison Service and officials of Fingal County Council. In addition to the above, however, consultants appointed by the Prison Service have held in excess of 15 meetings with officials of Fingal County Council in relation to the servicing of the Thornton Hall Site.

Ministerial Transport.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

227 Mr. Cuffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of kilometres covered by each Government Minister’s car; the amount and type of fuel used and the make of car, for the last year for which figures are available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38908/06]

I have been informed by the Garda authorities that Ministerial State cars are placed at the disposal of Government Ministers pursuant to a long standing arrangement and that up to 30th September 2006 the make of car and the Kilometres covered by each Government Minister is as set out in the table hereunder:

Name

Make or Car

Date allocated

Kilometres

Ahern B.

Merc S320

01/03/2006

29,280

Harney M.

Volvo S80

05/11/2002

218,240

O’Donoghue J.

Lexus 450H

01/06/2006

16,640

Roche D.

Lexus 450H

01/06/2006

26,880

Martin M.

Volvo S80

12/11/2005

182,400

Dempsey N.

Merc E240

31/12/2003

210,960

O’Dea W.

Lexus GS300

01/12/2005

62,720

Hanafin M.

Merc E240

21/04/2005

118,560

Ó Cuív E.

Volvo 2.5T

02/09/2005

292,800

Ahern D.

Lexus GS300

01/12/2005

106,400

Cullen M.

Merc E240

March 2004

154,400

Cowen B.

Merc E240

07/04/2005

143,200

McDowell M.

Merc E240

Sept. 2004

91,520

Brennan S.

Merc E240

March 2004

163,712

Coughlan M.

Merc E240

30/03/2005

193,600

Factors such as fuel efficiency and safety are taken into account in making purchases for the Ministerial Fleet. I have been further informed that all cars in the Ministerial Fleet are petrol driven models (with the Lexus GS 450H vehicles powered by petrol and electricity).

Garda Stations.

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

228 Mr. Allen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his plans for the future of the Garda station at Watercourse Road, Blackpool, County Cork. [38941/06]

I have requested a report from the Garda authorities on the issue referred to by the Deputy and I will communicate with him shortly.

Deportation Orders.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

229 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will not deport a person (details supplied) in County Galway; and if he will work with the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment on this case. [38952/06]

By way of background to the case I would refer the Deputy to the Replies I gave to Questions Nos. 582 and 599 on Tuesday 4 July 2006 and No. 613 of Thursday 6 July 2006. The current position with regard to the person in question and her three children is that the consent deportation orders issued in respect of them and which were signed by me on 9 June 2006 have expired and are no longer enforceable. In view of this, a fresh notice of intention to deport letter in respect of the persons concerned is currently under consideration by the Immigration Division of my Department.

Crime Prevention.

Seán Ryan

Ceist:

230 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the reason neighbourhood watch brochures are no longer available for distribution within participating estates in north County Dublin; if he will confirm that one of the sponsors has withdrawn his financial support; if he will confirm that to date his Department has failed to come up with necessary funding for the brochures; and if he will arrange to have this matter resolved. [38983/06]

Neighbourhood Watch was established in 1985 as a crime prevention measure for urban areas. There are approximately 2,600 Neighbourhood Watch schemes in operation throughout the country. Since its establishment, the Garda authorities have sought to encourage the active participation of the public in Neighbourhood Watch by encouraging and supporting communities to establish and maintain such initiatives. An Garda Síochána has been a strategic partner in driving and supporting Neighbourhood Watch through its Community Relations Section and local Garda management and has deployed Crime Prevention Officers and Liaison Gardaí to assist schemes.

The Garda authorities are finalising a high level review of Neighbourhood Watch which involved consultation with all the relevant stakeholders. The new strategy will provide a blueprint for the future development of Neighbourhood Watch.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that Garda Community Relations Section arranged and funded the printing of the Neighbourhood Watch brochure which is now out of print. The Garda authorities will produce a new Neighbourhood Watch booklet for distribution when the review has been finalised and in that context the question of funding will be addressed.

Pension Provisions.

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

231 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if there is a discriminatory distinction regarding exemptions from PRSI contributions in respect of contributions made for pension provisions between workers who are on PAYE and those who are self employed; the basis for this discrimination; and his plans for dealing with same. [38984/06]

The matters raised by the Deputy are appropriate to the Minister for Finance and the Minister for Social & Family Affairs.

Prison Services.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

232 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will provide a list of those matters not related to imprisonment for which prisoners will be required to pay for escort services outside the prison under Section 37 of the Prisons Bill 2006; the number of escorts that fell into this category each year in 2004, 2005, and 2006 to date; and the related costs of these escorts for each of those years. [38997/06]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

233 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will provide a list of the those electronic devices for which prisoners will be required to pay for access to under Section 37 of the Prisons Bill 2006; and the related costs of providing access to these devices to prisoners each year in 2004, 2005, and 2006 to date. [38998/06]

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

Section 37 of the Prisons Bill 2006 allows the Minister to provide for charges to be made to prisoners for goods or services that are not generally available to prisoners or are not available on an unlimited basis. This would include telephone calls, access to electronic devices, private medical treatment or escorts provided outside the prison for matters not related to their imprisonment. This section will provide a statutory basis for provisions in the Draft Prison Rules (a copy of which is available on my Department's website at www.justice.ie) which allow a Prison Governor to charge for the provision of certain services over and above the standard provision to all prisoners, such as use of the videolink, telephone calls and access to materials relating to current affairs (e.g. newspapers, magazines etc.).

Access to many of these services are currently provided without charge and it is not intended to begin charging for all of these services. For example no charge is currently made for the making of a certain amount of phone calls. Prisoners are currently entitled to a daily phone call including calls to their legal advisor, and this will continue to be the position.

Prisoners are provided with access to Healthcare services on an equivalent basis to citizens in the general community who are covered by the GMS (Medical Card) service. Section 37 of the Prisons Bill 2006 allows for the Prison Rules to provide, where it is deemed necessary (on the basis of non-convicted status) to facilitate a prisoner with access to elective health care outside the public system, that the prisoner will be responsible for the costs associated with facilitating such provision. Provision of necessary healthcare to all prisoners on an equivalent basis to that provided under the public health system will continue to be funded by the State.

In addition to the escorts costs that would arise in the facilitation of access to elective healthcare outside the public system, inmates are charged for escorts outside of their place of detention in relation to civil proceedings against third parties. It is not proposed to charge for escorts where the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform or an individual governor is listed as a defendant or co-defendant in such proceedings. It is also not proposed to charge prisoners for appointments relating to any matters before the Residential Institutions Redress Board.

In 2004 there were 29 escorts relating to civil proceedings amounting to €19,247.78. In 2005, there were 21 such escorts amounting to €8,730.11 and in 2006 to date there were 16 escorts amounting to €5,228.53.

The overall purpose of this Section is to future-proof the legislative underpinning of such charges which may become necessary to allow the provision of further services to prisoners, or to provide for currently unforeseen services to prisoners in the future. It would be unfortunate if the lack of a legislative provision would serve to hamper the use of emerging technologies to improve the lot of prisoners. For that reason it is not possible to give a definitively comprehensive list of services or items which may be covered by it.

Road Traffic Offences.

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

234 Mr. Morgan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of motorists that have been penalised for travelling at speeds between 80kph and 100kph on the stretch of the R132 from south of Kilsaran to Moremount in County Louth during each of the months from January 2006 to November 2006, with a breakdown for each month of the number of the penalties which have been reversed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39022/06]

I have requested from the Garda Síochána the information requested, and I will contact the Deputy again when a response is received.

Employment Rights.

Arthur Morgan

Ceist:

235 Mr. Morgan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the report published by the ESRI entitled Migrant’s Experience of Racism and Discrimination and its findings that insults or other forms of harassment at work are the second most common form of discrimination against immigrants with 32% of work permit holders across all groups having reported it; and his plans to address this problem. [39023/06]

The Employment Equality Act 1998 as amended by the Equality Act 2004 places an obligation on all employers in Ireland to prevent harassment in the workplace. The administration of this legislation is a matter for my Department and, more particularly, the Equality Authority. Persons who consider themselves to be the victims of harassment may bring a claim to the Equality Tribunal.

Compliance with employment rights legislation is a matter for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. I am, nevertheless, aware of the ESRI Report on Migrants' Experience of Racism and Discrimination in Ireland. The Report describes the subjective experiences of racism, discrimination and exploitation in respect of a random sample of employment permit holders and asylum seekers. I have already stated, in response to the publication of the ESRI Report, that my Department is developing integration strategies through the National Action Plan Against Racism and the existing equality framework with a view to combating racism and creating an intercultural society through interaction, equality of opportunity, tolerance and respect.

Citizenship Applications.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

236 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the reason for the delay in finalising the application for naturalisation in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Mayo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39062/06]

An application for a certificate of naturalisation, based on marriage to an Irish citizen, was received in the Citizenship Section of my Department on 21 June 2004 and was assigned file reference number 68/2104/04.

The applicant subsequently lodged a fresh application on 23 February 2006 (68/1232/06) as it appears he may have been under the misapprehension that the initial application was deemed not to have fulfilled the relevant statutory conditions.

I am informed by staff of the Citizenship Section of my Department that the original application is valid and that as applications received in the second half of 2004 are currently being processed, the file in question will be forwarded to me shortly for a decision.

I will of course advise both the Deputy and the person concerned when I have reached a decision on the application.

Garda Deployment.

Tom McEllistrim

Ceist:

237 Mr. McEllistrim asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his plans to tackle anti-social behaviour in Tralee; the resources he has allocated to Gardaí in recent months to deal with the problem; and the impact of the community policing initiative in Tralee. [39063/06]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that current policing plans for the Tralee area are predicated on the prevention of anti-social and public order offences, the prevention of crime, including crimes of violence against persons and property, and the maintenance of an environment conducive to the improvement of quality of life of the residents. This strategy is, and will continue to be, central to the delivery of a policing service to the area. I am advised that to date in 2006 there have been almost 1,000 arrests made for public order/anti-social behaviour offences in Tralee.

I am further informed that in order to maintain public order in the town and reduce the numbers of people leaving licensed premises at peak times, and as a result of submissions made by local Garda management, the latest permitted finishing time for special exemptions, granted by the District Court for the Tralee area, has been changed from 2.30 am to 2.00 am. In addition, the CCTV system currently in place is being reviewed to ensure optimum coverage of the town. I am also informed that nine additional Gardaí have been allocated to Tralee Garda District, which now has a personnel strength of 96 (all ranks). This has been beneficial to policing in terms of enforcement and visibility. The Community Policing Unit pays particular attention to outlying estates by way of foot and mountain bike patrols. Extra patrols by uniform and plain-clothes Gardaí have been put in place by local management, and, utilising resources under Operation Anvil, public disorder hotspots are being actively targeted, particularly at weekends.

Garda Youth Diversion Projects are a tangible measure of crime prevention and reflect the commitment of my Department and the Garda Síochána to multi-agency partnership approaches to tackling crime and anti-social behaviour at community level. The role of the youth diversion projects is to bring about conditions whereby the behavioural patterns of young people towards law and order can develop and mature through positive interventions and interaction with the project. There is currently one project in Tralee, Connect 7.

It is my intention that 100 projects will be established nationwide before the end of 2007. Recently I announced the establishment of ten new projects in the first phase of the expansion of the scheme, bringing the total number of projects to 74. Two of the ten projects are located in Tralee.

Tom McEllistrim

Ceist:

238 Mr. McEllistrim asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will assign more Gardaí to Castleisland for immigration duties at Kerry Airport in Farranfore; the position regarding plans to build a new Garda station in Castleisland; the increase in the number of Gardaí assigned to Garda stations in north Kerry since 2002; and his plans to assign more Gardaí to north Kerry in the months ahead. [39065/06]

I have been informed by the Garda authorities, who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that the personnel strength (all ranks) of An Garda Síochána increased to a record 13,000 on Thursday, 16 November, 2006, following the attestation of 299 new members. This compares with a total strength of 10,702 (all ranks) as at 30 June, 1997 and represents an increase of 2,298 (or 21.5%) in the personnel strength of the Force during that period. The induction of 280 new Garda recruits to the Garda College on 6 November, 2006 resulted in a combined strength, of both attested Gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,137. The Garda Budget now stands at €1.3 billion, a 13% increase on 2005 and an 85% increase since 1997 in real terms.

Garda boundaries do not always correlate with County and Electoral boundaries. I have been further informed that the personnel strength (all ranks) of the Kerry Division as at 31 December, 1997 and 2002, and as at 20 November, 2006 was as set out in the table hereunder:

Date

Strength

31/12/97

230

31/12/02

266

20/11/06

294

This represents an increase of 64 (or 27.8%) in the number of Garda personnel allocated to the Kerry Division during the period above. In addition, I would point out to the Deputy that the Division's resources are further augmented by a number of Garda National Units such as the Garda National Drugs Unit, the Garda National Immigration Bureau (GNIB), the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) and other specialised units.

Local Garda management report that with the continued expansion at Kerry (Farranfore) Airport, a review of policing and Immigration requirements at Kerry Airport has commenced. I understand that the Office of Public Works expect to have a Sketch Scheme ready, for the new Garda Area Headquarters Station at Castleisland by the end of the year, for submission to my Department and the Garda authorities.

I further understand that on approval of the Sketch Scheme the OPW expect to initiate the requisite planning process early next year. The Deputy can be assured that my officials will continue to liaise closely with the OPW with a view to addressing the accommodation needs of the Gardaí at Castleisland.

I should add that it is the responsibility of Garda management to allocate personnel to and within Divisions on a priority basis in accordance with the requirements of different areas. These personnel allocations are determined by a number of factors including demographics, crime trends, administrative functions and other operational policing needs. Garda management state that such allocations are continually monitored and reviewed along with overall policing arrangements and operational strategy. This ensures that optimum use is made of Garda resources, and that the best possible service is provided to the public.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

239 Mr. Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will provide more details on the placement of personnel (details supplied) in County Mayo. [39122/06]

I have been informed by the Garda authorities, who are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, that the personnel strength (all ranks) of An Garda Síochána increased to a record 13,000 on Thursday, 16 November, 2006, following the attestation of 299 new members. This compares with a total strength of 10,702 (all ranks) as at 30 June, 1997 and represents an increase of 2,298 (or 21.5%) in the personnel strength of the Force during that period. The induction of 280 new Garda recruits to the Garda College on 6 November, 2006 resulted in a combined strength, of both attested Gardaí and recruits in training, of 14,137. The Garda Budget now stands at €1.3 billion, a 13% increase on 2005 and an 85% increase since 1997 in real terms.

I have been further informed that on 17 November, 2006, 3 Probationer Gardaí were allocated from the Garda College, Templemore to Garda Stations within the Mayo Garda Division as set out in the following table:

Station

Gardaí

Ballina

1

Belmullet

1

Swinford

1

I have also been informed that on 22 November, 2006, 3 Gardaí will transfer to Garda Stations within the Mayo Garda Division as set out in the following table:

Station

Gardaí

Castlebar

1

Belmullet

1

Claremorris

1

I should add that it is the responsibility of Garda management to allocate personnel to and within Divisions on a priority basis in accordance with the requirements of different areas. These personnel allocations are determined by a number of factors including demographics, crime trends, administrative functions and other operational policing needs. Garda management state that such allocations are continually monitored and reviewed along with overall policing arrangements and operational strategy. This ensures that optimum use is made of Garda resources, and that the best possible service is provided to the public.

Suicide Incidence.

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

240 Ms C. Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of the persons who committed suicide in each year since 1999, who had been reported missing prior to being found dead; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39213/06]

I have requested a Garda report in relation to this matter and I will contact the Deputy again when the report is to hand.

Garda Stations.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

241 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Finance when the Garda barracks will be constructed at Kilfinane, County Limerick. [39009/06]

A Sketch Scheme for the new Garda station at Kilfinane will be sent to the Department of Justice, Equality & Law Reform and the Garda Authorities for approval in early 2007. A Part 9 planning process will then be initiated on receipt of approval. It is anticipated that work on the new Garda station will have commenced by the end of 2007.

Asbestos Removal.

Paudge Connolly

Ceist:

242 Mr. Connolly asked the Minister for Finance the progress to date on surveying all primary and post-primary school buildings in order to identify the presence of asbestos; the timescale for total eradication of asbestos from school buildings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39207/06]

In the seven years since the commencement of the Asbestos Management Programme in schools, approximately 3,700 schools have been surveyed and works identified as necessary have either been completed, are in hand or are programmed over the coming months.

The remaining 460 or so schools will be surveyed by Spring 2007 and arrangements for removal where necessary and in other cases the management of any materials identified will be put in hand. Remediation works are carried out on a priority basis, as soon as possible following the surveys.

The timescale for total eradication of asbestos from schools will depend on the type, location and condition of materials identified. Regard must always be given to the special nature of the school environment in deciding whether to remove asbestos containing materials or manage them safely in situ.

Removal of asbestos containing material is not always an appropriate solution. In these circumstances it is difficult to forecast a precise completion time for the programme.

Departmental Expenditure.

Jerry Cowley

Ceist:

243 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Finance when the underspend in the Border Midland Western region will be made up by the Government; his views on whether funding is urgently needed in the region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38480/06]

Investments under the National Development Plan/Community Support Framework (NDP/ CSF) 2000-2006 are delivered through seven Operational Programmes (OPs) which are directly managed and implemented by Government Departments, the Regional Assemblies and other Agencies. My main concern is to ensure that the available funds are allocated in a manner that meets the Government's objectives and secures full draw-down of Ireland's entitlement of Structural Funds. I am anxious to ensure that both regions secure the EU and Exchequer funding available to them under the National Plan. In this regard, I have written to my ministerial colleagues asking them to ensure that the investment objectives for the Border, Midlands and Western (BMW) region are appropriately prioritised to ensure that outcome.

The House will be aware of the general state of play in relation to expenditure in the BMW region from previous debates and questions on this issue. The figures reported at the recent Monitoring Committee meetings indicate that some €11.1 billion or 82% of forecast Exchequer and EU expenditure had been incurred by the end of June 2006. This is a healthy implementation rate in view of the slow start up in some areas at the very beginning, the relatively disappointing response in certain demand led schemes and the fact that Exchequer spending in relation to Structural Fund Measures for the 2000-2006 period will in fact continue up to 2008 in accordance with EU Regulations. Based on the most recent information available to me from Monitoring Committee reports including their assessments of continuing spend under the current NDP, I expect that by the end of the programme period, the original forecasts for Exchequer and EU spending in the BMW region will have been realised in full.

The Government's commitment to the BMW region does not cease when the current funding round draws to a close. Investment to achieve more balanced regional development is a key Government priority. This has been underscored by the publication the National Spatial Strategy (NSS). The implementation of the NSS will be a central element of the next NDP (2007-2013). The new NDP 2007-2013, currently being finalised, will build on the achievements already taking place under the current Plan and will continue progress towards ensuring a more balanced distribution of development in the country. In addition, the BMW region will also receive Structural Funds allocation of €458 million under the next round of funding for 2007-2013. In that context, my Department is also preparing the National Strategic Reference Framework which will set out the strategic orientation of the Structural Funds and link the European Community's priorities with the national and regional priorities, and which in turn will assist in the preparation of the relevant Operational Programmes.

Tax Code.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

244 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Finance the cost of reducing the higher tax band from 42% to 40%. [38486/06]

By reference to the 2007 pre-Budget income tax ready reckoner prepared by the Revenue Commissioners the full year cost to the Exchequer of reducing the top rate of tax from 42% to 40% is estimated to be €457 million. This figure is provisional and subject to revision. The ready reckoner is available on my Department's website, at www.finance.gov.ie.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

245 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Finance the cost of changes to stamp duty for first-time buyers of second hand houses and apartments whereby houses up to €419,809 would be exempt from stamp duty, houses from €419,810 to €635,000 would be charged at 6% and where the rate of 9% would be retained for houses over €635,000. [38487/06]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the estimated cost of extending the current stamp duty exemption of €317,500 to €419,809 with a 6% stamp duty applying to houses costing from €419,810 to €635,000 for first time buyers of all second hand residential property is estimated at €35 million in a full year, based on the stamp duty yield in the first 9 months of 2006 grossed up to a 12-months basis.

Tax Yield.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

246 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the tax projections by source underpinning the forecast tax reserve of €47.4 billion in 2007 and the implied absolute and percentage growth on the 2006 outturn. [38555/06]

As indicated in the Pre Budget Outlook, the tax projections take account of performance to the end of September and revisions to the economic projections since Budget 2006. The tax projection for 2007 shows an increase of €3,550 million or 8.1 per cent over the projected outturn for 2006. The principal sources of revenue, as a proportion of total tax revenue, are Income tax (28 per cent), consumption taxes (45 per cent), corporation tax (13 per cent) and capital taxes, including stamp duty (14 per cent). These projections will of course be affected by any decisions taken in the context of the forthcoming Budget.

These projections are technical in nature and will inevitably differ from those that will be published on Budget day, not least because of performance during the remainder of 2006. For example, about 20 per cent of total taxes profiled for collection in 2006 are expected in November alone. The latest Exchequer Statement provides details of how the different tax heads are performing against profile.

It is likely however that capital taxes will make up a significant part of the final excess for 2006, owing much to the continued buoyancy of the property market. In addition, there is no reason to believe, at this point, that the other taxes which have performed well to date will not continue to perform well and these will likely contribute to the overall projected excess.

Tax projections for 2006 and 2007 will be published in detail on a pre-Budget basis in the White Paper on Receipts and Expenditure. The post-Budget details will be published on Budget day.

Departmental Expenditure.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

247 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Finance when he expects to have completed drafting of the National Development Plan 2007 to 2013; if an independent ex-ante evaluation will be commissioned on the draft plan; when he expects to publish the final plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38569/06]

It is intended that the NDP 2007-2013 will be published in January next. The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) was commissioned by my Department to undertake an independent ex-ante evaluation of the investment priorities for the NDP 2007-2013. The ESRI's report was published on the 24th of October 2006.

Decentralisation Programme.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

248 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance the position on the arrangements for an application system modelled on the central applications facility for civil servants and public servants who intend to remain in the Dublin area in the context of the Government’s proposed decentralisation proposal; the number of applications that have been received; the Departments they were received from; if the Dublin central applications facility for civil servants who wish to remain in Dublin is still operational; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38587/06]

The primary mechanism for placing civil servants who are in posts which are due to decentralise but wish to remain in Dublin is by way of bilateral transfer. As staff in organisations who are remaining in Dublin, who have applied to decentralise, continue to be transferred into decentralising organisations, the posts they vacate become available to those wishing to remain in Dublin.

In addition, the Public Appointments Service has commenced the operation of a system which 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. The precise operation of these arrangements is currently being discussed with the civil service unions to improve their overall effectiveness. The aim is to achieve a close alignment between the assignment of staff to Dublin posts and the readiness of Departments to release staff at particular grade levels. When these discussions are concluded, Departments and Offices will be asked to update their returns to the Public Appointments Service. The information sought by the Deputy will be furnished as soon as that exercise is completed.

Paudge Connolly

Ceist:

249 Mr. Connolly asked the Minister for Finance the number of staff in his Department who have indicated willingness to decentralise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38595/06]

The number of staff in my Department who currently have live applications on the Central Applications Facility for decentralisation to other Departments/Offices is sixty nine (69), a further thirty seven (37) staff have already transferred to other departments giving a total of 106 people.

This 106 figure does not include staff in my Department who have already decentralised to Tullamore or those who wish to decentralise to Kildare (12).

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

250 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Finance if an organisation (details supplied) in County Donegal has requested to be part of an overall programme of the decentralisation of a Government Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38621/06]

The Commissioners of Public Works have informed me that they have purchased a site in Buncrana, County Donegal to accommodate the Department of Social and Family Affairs (decentralised and local office) and the Garda Síochána. The site will be fully utilised in meeting these requirements.

Tax Code.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

251 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Finance his views on the representations from a person (details supplied) with regards to the reintroduction of a limited form of rollover to assist in exchange of lands where Teagasc certify that same is in accordance with good farm management, as provided for in the stamp duty regulations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38627/06]

Capital Gains Tax (CGT) is a tax on a capital gain arising on the disposal of assets. A 20% rate of CGT applies on the gains arising on the disposal of assets. In Budget 2003, it was announced that no rollover relief would be allowed for any purpose on gains arising from disposals on or after 4 December 2002. Rollover relief applied when CGT rates were much higher. In effect, it was a deferral of the tax to be paid, where the proceeds of the disposal were re-invested into replacement assets. The taxation of these gains would take place following the eventual disposal of the new assets without their replacement. The abolition of this relief is in accordance with the overall taxation policy of widening the tax base in order to keep direct tax rates low.

Such reliefs made sense when CGT rates were 40% and above. As the Deputy may be aware, the rate was halved from 40% to 20% in Budget 1998. Taxing capital gains when they are realised is logical, and this change brings CGT into line with other areas.

However, in the last two Budgets various measures were introduced to assist the farming community. I announced in the 2005 Budget a new stamp duty relief which applies solely to farmland being exchanged between two farmers for the purposes of consolidating each farmer's holding. Guidelines in relation to this relief are available from the Department of Agriculture and Food. Budget 2006 extended the Young Trained Farmer Stamp Duty Relief for a further three years. I also provided for tax relief on the EU Single Farm Payment Entitlement under CGT Retirement Relief and CAT Agricultural Relief. In addition, I exempted all transfers of the Single Payment from stamp duty. I have no plans for the re-introduction of rollover relief.

Tax Yield.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

252 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Finance the revenue generated in 2005 by stamp duty on ATM cards; the revenue generated in 2005 by stamp duty on debit laser cards; and the revenue generated in 2005 by stamp duty on combined ATM debit cards. [38672/06]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the net receipts from stamp duty on ATM/Debit cards, in 2005 were as follows:

€m

ATM card without a ‘Debit’ function

22.4

‘Debit’ card without an ATM function

3.3

Combined ATM and ‘Debit’ card

12.2

Total

37.9

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

253 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Finance the amount of revenue which would be raised from a €1 increase on a packet of 20 cigarettes based on 2005 figures. [38673/06]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the yield of Excise and VAT to the Exchequer which would be raised from a €1 increase on a packet of 20 cigarettes is estimated at €219 million based on 2005 figures.

Financial Services Regulation.

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

254 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Finance the respective roles of his Department and the Financial Regulator in the formation of policy in key areas, specifically in the reform of credit union legislation; if his recent decision to ask the Financial Regulator to examine proposals on the savings protection scheme and to champion the reform of the regulatory framework for the credit union movement, involves an abdication of responsibility for policy information by his Department by bestowing such powers on the regulator; his views on whether this is appropriate in terms of the respective roles of both the regulator and his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38703/06]

The Credit Union Act, 1997 provides the legal framework for the regulation of credit unions. The Act provides the credit union movement with a regulatory structure that reflects and promotes the particular ethos and philosophy of the credit union movement, its strong tradition of volunteer service and the core objective of providing opportunities for saving and lending for members of credit unions. The role of my Department is to advise on ensuring that the legal framework for credit unions continues to be appropriate for the effective operation and supervision of credit unions. The Registrar of Credit Unions in the Financial Regulator is responsible for the administration of the regulatory and supervisory regime for credit unions under the Credit Union Act. The Registrar's powers in relation to the control and supervision of credit unions are set out in Part VI of the Credit Union Act. The purpose of supervision is twofold namely the protection of the funds of credit union members and the maintenance of the financial stability and well-being of credit unions generally. The Credit Union Advisory Committee (CUAC) — the statutory expert advisory body under the Credit Union Act — also provide advice and information to me on key regulatory issues for credit unions.

Approval for savings protection arrangements in credit unions is the responsibility of the Regulatory Authority under Section 46 of the Credit Union Act. In May 2006 the Financial Regulator agreed to examine proposals for the reform of the existing Savings Protection Scheme for credit unions and this commitment is included in the Financial Regulator's recently published three-year Strategic Plan.

The case for modernising the regulatory framework for credit unions has been raised by both the Registrar of Credit Unions and the representative bodies for credit unions. In this context, it is important that there is a clear shared understanding on how a new regulatory framework would operate, before moving to develop specific proposals for further consideration by my Department, drawing on the advice of CUAC. Consequently, I wrote to the Chair of the Financial Regulator earlier this year recommending that the Financial Regulator engages with the credit union movement, in the first instance, to identify common ground in relation to a set of principles that could guide the development of an updated regulatory framework for credit unions. The Chair of the Financial Regulator has indicated the Authority's willingness to move forward on this basis and I look forward to considering the proposals that emerge from these considerations.

I consider that the consultative approach adopted in this instance which is fully consistent with the principles of Better Regulation is essential to ensuring that any proposals with implications for the reform of the regulatory and legislative framework for credit unions are fully informed by the views of both the credit union stakeholders and the Regulatory Authority.

Driving Tests.

Damien English

Ceist:

255 Mr. English asked the Minister for Finance if the Office of Public Works intends to locate a driving test centre at the old AIB building in Main Street, Blanchardstown; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38736/06]

The building referred to has been allocated to the Department of Transport for use as a Driving Test Centre. Preparations are under way on the submission of a planning application to the local authority.

National Parks.

Damien English

Ceist:

256 Mr. English asked the Minister for Finance the outcome of the Office of Public Work’s study into opening the Phoenix Park to buses. [38737/06]

The independent Traffic Study for the Phoenix Park, completed recently, examined a range of measures to alleviate pressures on the Park and make it more accessible and safer for all Park users. Prior to formulation of the Study, a public consultation process was undertaken by the consultants.

One of the measures recommended in the Study is the provision of a public commuter bus service via Chesterfield Avenue to the city centre. Another measure recommended in the Study is the provision of a Park shuttle service to provide access for the public from Heuston station to all the main features in the Park.

The Commissioners expect that the public consultation process on the completed Study, will be concluded by mid December.

The Commissioners have written to Dublin Bus inviting proposals for a service through the Phoenix Park.

Garda Stations.

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

257 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Finance his Department has been requested to seek an alternative site for the Garda station at Watercourse Road, Blackpool, County Cork; and if there are plans for the disposal of the building. [38935/06]

The future of Watercourse Road Garda station is under consideration by the Garda Authorities in consultation with the Commissioners of Public Works. Disposal of this Garda station premises is not currently under consideration.

Tax Code.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

258 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Finance the annual cost of increasing the maximum mortgage interest relief available for first-time buyers on or below the average industrial wage from €800 to €1,000 per annum for single people and from €1,600 to €2,000 per annum for widowed and married people. [38936/06]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

259 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Finance the annual cost of increasing the maximum mortgage interest relief available for first-time buyers on or below the average industrial wage from €800 to €1,200 per annum for single people and from €1,600 to €2,400 per annum for widowed and married people. [38937/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 258 and 259 together.

I assume that what the Deputy has in mind is the cost of increasing the maximum mortgage interest relief available for first time buyers in the first seven years of a mortgage in certain cases.

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the full year costs to the Exchequer, based on projected 2007 incomes, of the changes referred to by the Deputy are estimated to be in the region of €5 million and €8 million respectively.

However, I would point out that a scheme on the lines suggested would be likely to raise practical, operational and administrative difficulties, in particular for the financial institutions who operate the mortgage interest relief at source system.

These figures are provisional and subject to revision.

David Stanton

Ceist:

260 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Finance the estimated annual cost in terms of revenue foregone on tax and PRSI concessions relating to contributions to approved pension schemes, including occupational schemes, AVCs, PRSAs, and self-employed and director arrangements in each of the most recent three years for which data is available, showing separately figures for PAYE, PRSI and other tax headings, for example, self-employed persons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38938/06]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the relevant available information relates to the estimated cost of tax relief on pension contributions by employers, employees and self-employed and the exemption from tax of income in the pension funds. This information is provided for the three income tax years 2001 to 2003, the latest year for which it is available.

Cost of income tax relief relating to pension contributions

2001

2002

2003

Type of Pension Contributions

€ million

€ million

€ million

Employees’ Contributions to approved Superannuation Schemes

389

563

622

Employers’ Contributions to approved Superannuation Schemes

498

623

564

Exemption of Net Income of approved Superannuation Funds (Contributions plus Investment Income less Outgoings)

938

1,272

1,434

Retirement Annuity Contracts (RACs)

185

251

264

Personal Retirement Savings Accounts (PRSAs) *

N/A

N/A

6

Total

2,010

2,709

2,809

*Figures for PRSAs reflect the relative early stage of the scheme which was introduced in 2002.

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

It should also be noted that these costs are very tentative and that efforts are being made to improve information on the cost of tax relief for pensions. The cost figures in respect of pension contributions by proprietary directors are included in the overall figures provided and a breakdown is not available. With regard to occupational pensions, that is, schemes set up by the employer, the figures in respect of employee and employer contributions are available only in aggregate form on a tentative basis. RACs are used by the self-employed and by employees who are not in pensionable employment.

Estimates of PRSI costs in relation to pension contributions have not been compiled and are not available.

Motor Vehicle Registration.

David Stanton

Ceist:

261 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Finance if, in cases where VRT has been paid on commercial vehicles and where subsequently the owner wants to use the vehicle for ordinary passenger use, the original VRT paid is taken into account and deducted from the extra VRT that has to be paid in order to upgrade the vehicle to passenger use; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38980/06]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the original vehicle registration tax, VRT, paid is taken into account where a commercial vehicle which has been previously registered for VRT purposes in the State is converted in such a manner that the VRT classification changes from category B or C (commercial) to category A (passenger).

Section 132(5) of the Finance Act 1992 provides for the methodology to be used in the calculation of VRT liability in such instances. When the converted vehicle is presented to Revenue for assessment of the additional VRT due, the methodology allows for the residual VRT on the pre-converted vehicle to be calculated, based on the open market selling price on that day, of a similar second-hand commercial vehicle. This is then offset against the VRT due.

Civil Service Staff.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

262 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Finance the procedures for removing a person who is employed by or under the State; if an outside body can terminate said employment or instruct it to be terminated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38992/06]

I understand that the Deputy's question relates specifically to the situation regarding civil servants. There are a number of grounds on which a civil servant may be removed from office. First, under the Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Act 2005, which was commenced on 4 July 2006, disciplinary action may be taken on grounds of misconduct, irregularity, neglect, unsatisfactory behaviour or underperformance. The relevant Minister has powers of discipline and dismissal for the grades of principal upwards and Secretaries General and heads of office have responsibility for grades below principal. The Government is responsible for the dismissal of civil servants appointed by it.

Second, the Civil Service Regulation (Amendment) Act 2005 provides for transitional arrangements in situations where proceedings, procedures or measures in relation to discipline and dismissal have begun before the Act is commenced, these proceedings are not affected by the changes to the Regulation Act. Such proceedings are to continue until completed or concluded as if the arrangements prior to the amendment of the Civil Service Regulation Act 1956 were still in place.

Third, the Civil Regulation Act 1956 also allows for compulsory retirement on grounds of ill-health at the initiative of the employing Department or office. Finally, under the 1909 and 1963 Superannuation and Pensions Acts, an officer may be retired early on grounds of organisational efficiency or effectiveness and receive a pension before the normal pension age.

Medical Cards.

Tony Gregory

Ceist:

263 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Health and Children the maximum amount a person (details supplied) in Dublin 7 can earn and still retain their medical card; if this amount referred to has changed over the past eight years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38642/06]

Medical cards are made available to persons and their dependants who would otherwise experience undue hardship in meeting the cost of general practitioner, GP, services. In 2005 the GP visit card was introduced as a graduated benefit so that people on lower incomes, particularly parents of young children, who do not qualify for a medical card would not be deterred on cost grounds from visiting their GP.

Since the beginning of 2005, substantial changes have been made to the way in which people's eligibility for a medical card is assessed and these apply equally to the assessment process for a GP visit card. The income guidelines have been increased by a cumulative 29%. Income assessed is now after income tax and PRSI. In addition, allowance is made for reasonable expenses incurred in respect of mortgage or rent, child care and travel to work costs. In June 2006, I agreed with the Health Service Executive, HSE, a further adjustment to the assessment guidelines for GP visit cards and these are now 50% higher than those in respect of medical cards.

The financial guidelines used by the executive to assist it in determining if a person qualifies for a medical card have been changed over the past eight years. The following table gives details of medical card and GP visit card guidelines as at 20 November 2006. As the HSE has the operational and funding responsibility for these benefits, it is the appropriate body to consider the particular case raised by the Deputy. 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.

The following table shows allowed weekly income, after tax and PRSI, before mortgage or rent, child care and travel to work expenses are allowed for.

Medical Card (with effect from October 2005)

GP Visit Card (with effect from June 2006)

Single Person Living Alone

Aged up to 65 years

184.00

276.00

Aged between 66-69 years

201.50

302.00

Single Person Living with Family

Aged up to 65 years

164.00

246.00

Aged between 66-69 years

173.50

260.00

Married couple/Single Parent Families with dependent children

Aged up to 65 years

266.50

400.00

With 1 Child

304.50

457.00

With 2 Children

342.50

514.00

With 3 Children

383.50

575.00

With 4 Children

424.50

637.00

Mental Health Services.

Damien English

Ceist:

264 Mr. English asked the Minister for Health and Children if it is her view that the proposed Central Mental Hospital can be located at Thornton, County Dublin without planning permission; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38735/06]

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services was assigned to the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular matter raised by the Deputy. 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.

Health Services.

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

265 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to the fact that the majority of physiotherapy graduates from UCD in 2006 have been unable to find work in the health services here; if she will engage with the Health Service Executive to ensure that the needs of the public and the availability of qualified professionals are matched through the creation of posts in physiotherapy in the health services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38933/06]

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

311 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Health and Children if her attention is drawn to the fact that the majority of graduates in physiotherapy from UCD in 2006 have been unable to find posts in the health services here; if her Department has plans to provide funding to the Health Service Executive to sanction additional posts; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38940/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 265 and 311 together.

I was recently made aware that an issue has arisen around the availability of employment opportunities for recently qualified physiotherapists and I have asked the HSE to give the matter its urgent attention. It is a matter for the Health Service Executive, as part of the management of its employment ceiling, to determine the appropriate staffing mix required to deliver its service plan priorities.

It is important to note that there is not an over supply of physiotherapists in Ireland. The Bacon Report, Current and Future Supply and Demand Conditions in the Labour Market for Certain Professional Therapists, March 2001 recommended an increase in physiotherapy training places, following which additional training places were provided. There continues to be a growing demand for physiotherapy services and this is likely to continue as was highlighted in the Healthcare Skills Monitoring Report (FÁS, August 2005) and as evidenced by the number of development posts planned for the physiotherapy profession in the coming years.

At present, there is a significant demand for Senior Physiotherapists but, at the present time, less opportunities for newly qualified graduates. I am advised that the HSE has recently advertised 81 Primary Care physiotherapy posts and there will be a further 62 development posts in physiotherapy, in areas such as services for persons with disability and older person's services. The majority of these posts, which should be filled in the coming months, are at senior level, but their filling should provide employment opportunities for recent graduates through backfill. As the development posts are taken up by seniors, or more qualified basic grades currently in the system, a gap will be left for the recent physiotherapy graduates.

My Department and the HSE have identified this issue as a priority and are taking steps, in consultation with relevant stakeholders to find a satisfactory and sustainable outcome in the interest of the patient, the public, physiotherapists seeking employment and the HSE itself.

Eating Disorders.

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

266 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will provide funding for a dedicated eating disorder service; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39159/06]

Paudge Connolly

Ceist:

335 Mr. Connolly asked the Minister for Health and Children if funding will be provided for dedicated eating disorder services for young people; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39106/06]

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

337 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Health and Children the initiatives that have been undertaken by her Department to highlight the problem of eating disorders here; the services currently in place for both the prevention and treatment of such conditions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39158/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 266, 335 and 337 together.

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services was assigned to the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004 and funding for all health services, including the treatment of eating disorders, has been provided as part of its overall vote. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular matter raised by the Deputy. 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.

Voluntary Sector Funding.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

267 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Health and Children her views on concerns that the Irish Osteoporosis Society may have to close due to lack of funding; the steps she will take to support people with osteoporosis; the number of people with osteoporosis here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39352/06]

Liz McManus

Ceist:

293 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will comment on concerns that the Irish Osteoporosis Society may have to close due to lack of funding; the steps she will take to support people with osteoporosis; the numbers of people with osteoporosis here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38612/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 267 and 293 together.

The Irish Osteoporosis Society (IOS) received funding from the Health Service Executive of €130,000 in 2005. The IOS sought further funding of €128,000 during 2006. Following a series of meetings and checking of documentation, the HSE provided this amount to the IOS on the 22nd of September 2006.

The Health Service Executive has informed my Department that the IOS have not formally applied for further funding but have indicated they wish to. Representatives from the Population Health Directorate are scheduled to meet with the IOS on the 28th November to discuss funding.

Osteoporosis can affect men, women and children of all ages. As many cases of osteoporosis remain undetected until a fracture is sustained it is difficult to give exact incidence and prevalence rates for the disease in Ireland. However, osteoporosis is currently estimated to affect 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men over 50 years of age. Furthermore, loss of bone density, symptomatic of the potential to develop osteoporosis occurs with advancing age and rates of fracture increase markedly with age, giving rise to significant morbidity and mortality.

The Department has supported the National Council on Ageing and Older People and the Health Service Executive in the establishment of a steering committee to oversee the development of a strategy to prevent falls and fractures in the ageing population. This committee is chaired by the HSE, and it is understood that a subgroup has been established to examine the area of osteoporosis.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Joe Costello

Ceist:

268 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Health and Children the proposals she has to provide independent living for people who have a disability and in particular in relation to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 7; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38489/06]

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.

Pharmacy Regulations.

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

269 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Health and Children when it is proposed to introduce a new Pharmacy Act; if the heads of such legislation have been approved by Government; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38490/06]

As I have previously stated, I consider the first Pharmacy Bill a priority piece of legislation. The first Bill will deal with the governance of the Pharmaceutical Society, registration and fitness to practice issues. It will also remove the EU derogation for supervisory pharmacists (where only Irish-trained pharmacists can supervise pharmacies less than three years old). The general scheme and draft heads of the first Bill were approved by Government on 25th May 2006. Work on the drafting of the Bill is ongoing between my officials and the Parliamentary Counsel's Office. Subject to the Cabinet's approval, I hope to publish the Bill and present it to the Oireachtas before the end of the current session of the Oireachtas.

Medical Cards.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

270 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will assist a person (details supplied) in Dublin 5 in getting a medical card; and the reason for the hold-up regarding this issue. [38491/06]

Medical cards are made available to persons and their dependants who would otherwise experience undue hardship in meeting the cost of General Practitioner (GP) services. In 2005 the GP visit card was introduced as a graduated benefit so that people on lower incomes, particularly parents of young children, who do not qualify for a medical card would not be deterred on cost grounds from visiting their GP.

Since the beginning of 2005 substantial changes have been made to the way in which people's eligibility for a medical card is assessed and these apply equally to the assessment process for a GP visit card. The income guidelines have been increased by a cumulative 29% and in addition allowance is now made for reasonable expenses incurred in respect of mortgage/rent, childcare and travel to work costs. In June 2006 I agreed with the Health Service Executive a further adjustment to the assessment guidelines for GP visit cards and these are now 50% higher than those in respect of medical cards.

As the Health Service Executive has the operational and funding responsibility for these benefits, it is the appropriate body to consider the particular case raised by the Deputy. 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.

Drug Trials.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

271 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of drug trials involving psychiatric patients in 2004, 2005 and to date in 2006. [38492/06]

The information sought by the Deputy is set out in the table below.

Year

Number of Trials

2004

6

2005

1

2006 to date

2

Services for People with Disabilities.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

272 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of persons with an intellectual disability in psychiatric hospitals. [38493/06]

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

Hospital Services.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

273 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Health and Children the measures she is taking in relation to the urgent requirements for the development of an acute in-patient unit at Beaumont Hospital as outlined in the 2004 Annual Report of the Mental Health Commission. [38494/06]

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

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

274 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Health and Children if a hospital appointment will be arranged as a matter of urgency for a person (details supplied) in County Louth in view of the persons ongoing medical condition; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38495/06]

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services was assigned to the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004 and funding for all health services has been provided as part of its overall vote. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular case raised by the Deputy. 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.

Medical Cards.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

275 Mr. McGuinness asked the Minister for Health and Children if a full medical card will be issued in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if she will expedite the matter. [38497/06]

Medical cards are made available to persons and their dependants who would otherwise experience undue hardship in meeting the cost of General Practitioner (GP) services. In 2005 the GP visit card was introduced as a graduated benefit so that people on lower incomes, particularly parents of young children, who do not qualify for a medical card would not be deterred on cost grounds from visiting their GP.

Since the beginning of 2005 substantial changes have been made to the way in which people's eligibility for a medical card is assessed and these apply equally to the assessment process for a GP visit card. The income guidelines have been increased by a cumulative 29% and in addition allowance is now made for reasonable expenses incurred in respect of mortgage/rent, childcare and travel to work costs. In June 2006 I agreed with the Health Service Executive a further adjustment to the assessment guidelines for GP visit cards and these are now 50% higher than those in respect of medical cards.

As the Health Service Executive has the operational and funding responsibility for these benefits, it is the appropriate body to consider the particular case raised by the Deputy. 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.

Health Services.

Jerry Cowley

Ceist:

276 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Health and Children if her Department intends investing to a greater extent in cardiovascular health services following recent research which found that Ireland spends the second lowest proportion of it’s health care budget in heart and circulatory diseases in the enlarged EU; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38524/06]

The study to which the question refers is the ‘Economic burden of cardiovascular diseases in the enlarged EU' by Leal J, Luengo-Fernández R, Gray A, Petersen S and Rayner M. European Heart Journal, doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehi733.

I understand that the authors set out to provide an estimate of the economic costs of cardiovascular disease for EU countries. Data were obtained from published studies of healthcare costs and health service utilisation. It appears that all costs for health care in Ireland were extrapolated from costs in other countries.

It is unclear how some of costs were estimated, for example, annual loss of earnings or the cost for a day's inpatient care. The data on costs and resource implications were used to estimate the costs of cardiovascular disease.

Given that the authors may have underestimated the true costs in Ireland, there are question marks about the accuracy of the overall findings as they relate to this country. It is also possible that the authors did not include the costs of services provided in the private sector.

There has been rapid expansion in cardiology services in Ireland in recent years. The Cardiovascular Health Strategy — Building Healthier Hearts — was launched in 1999. The report makes recommendations about the prevention, treatment and surveillance of coronary heart disease across a number of sectors and the full range of health service activities, in health promotion, primary care, pre-hospital care, acute hospital services and cardiac rehabilitation.

Since 2000 the Government has committed over €60 million towards the implementation of the Strategy. This funding has supported a wide range of new regional services and initiatives, which have had a measurable impact on the diagnosis, and treatment of patients with heart disease. More than 800 new posts have been created, including 19 additional consultant cardiology posts.

We have made progress in addressing the key challenges in the implementation of the Cardiovascular Health Strategy in relation to (i) Improving Population Health: by supporting intersectoral work for health promotion, to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and improve quality of life; (ii) Ensuring equitable access to services: by continued provision of resources and support to fully implement outstanding Cardiovascular Health Strategy recommendations to meet the needs of the growing numbers of older people and to provide new treatments for which there is evidence of effectiveness; (iii) Improving the quality of services: by developing and implementing practice guidelines, the implementation of cardiovascular health information systems, support for clinical audit and for research to enhance the quality of services.

It appears that the study may not reflect the current level of expenditure and service provision. The study is useful however in drawing to our attention the high costs of cardiovascular disease both in Ireland and at European level, not just the costs of health care but also the costs to the economy and to families and carers.

Grant Payments.

Ned O'Keeffe

Ceist:

277 Mr. N. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will investigate the non-payment of a specific type of grant approved by the Health Service Executive in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [38525/06]

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services was assigned to the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004 and funding for all health services has been provided as part of its overall vote. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular case raised by the Deputy. 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 Staff.

James Breen

Ceist:

278 Mr. J. Breen asked the Minister for Health and Children when the health care assistants working at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Ennis, County Clare who have passed their full examinations will be appointed to full time positions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38526/06]

Over 120,000 people work full-time or part-time in our public health services. In recent years, the Government's ongoing high level of investment in health has achieved and maintained significant increases in the number of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals employed in the public health services. The Government has also invested heavily in the education and training of such personnel in order to secure a good supply of graduates to provide for the healthcare needs of the population into the future.

Subject to overall parameters set by Government, the Health Service Executive has the responsibility for determining the composition of its staffing complement. In that regard, it is a matter for the Executive to manage and deploy its human resources to best meet the requirements of its Annual Service Plan for the delivery of health and personal social services to the public. The Executive is the appropriate body to consider the matter raised by the Deputy. 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.

Health Services.

Jackie Healy-Rae

Ceist:

279 Mr. Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Health and Children the average waiting time nationally for consultation and treatment for public orthodontic patients; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38532/06]

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

Health Service Staff.

Jackie Healy-Rae

Ceist:

280 Mr. Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will appoint a specialist orthodontist for the Kerry area to cope with the present public waiting list which has been closed due to the volume of patients; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38533/06]

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.

Jackie Healy-Rae

Ceist:

281 Mr. Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will replace the two dentists that left the public orthodontist unit for Cork and Kerry as the waiting list has over 1,000 patients on it and had to be closed by the senior public orthodontist due to reduced staff numbers and an increase of patients waiting for four or five years for this treatment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38534/06]

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.

Jerry Cowley

Ceist:

282 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Health and Children when a full time palliative care unit will be established at Mayo General Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38545/06]

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services was assigned to the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004 and funding for all health services has been provided as part of its overall vote. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular case raised by the Deputy. 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.

Jerry Cowley

Ceist:

283 Dr. Cowley asked the Minister for Health and Children the date the third dialysis session at Mayo General Hospital will be up and running; if same will happen before the end of 2006 as previously stated by her Department as the dialysis department of Mayo General Hospital are not aware of the increased capacity; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38551/06]

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

Medical Aids and Appliances.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

284 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Health and Children further to Parliamentary Question No. 559 of 27 September 2006, the mechanism a voluntary group (details supplied) in County Kildare can follow to assist in the purchase of a defibrillator, in view of the work defibrillators play in the protection of human life and their value to the local community. [38556/06]

Jack Wall

Ceist:

285 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Health and Children further to Parliamentary Question No. 700 of 27 September 2006 and in view of the work that defibrillators can play in the protection of human life, if she has plans to provide grant aid to sports clubs and voluntary organisations to help with the considerable purchase price of defibrillators. [38557/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 284 and 285 together.

In September 2004 a national Task Force on Sudden Cardiac Death was established in order to address the problem of sudden cardiac death in Ireland. The Report of the Task Force, published in March 2006, makes recommendations on the prevention of sudden cardiac death and on the detection of those at high risk.

The Task Force supports the establishment of first responder programmes and recommends that priority should be given to programmes, geographical locations and facilities identified as having the greatest need. All programmes should be coordinated by the HSE ambulance services, with best practice guidance from the Pre Hospital Emergency Care Council.

The Task Force also recommends that Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) should be placed in facilities where the incidence of cardiac arrest is high, including: inpatient health facilities; G.P. surgeries and primary care facilities; airports, shopping centres, major sports venues and golf courses, bus/rail terminals, ferries/ferry terminals, concert and conference venues; universities and colleges; gyms and fitness clubs; and other venues for major public events.

My Department has no plans to provide grant aid to assist in the purchase of AEDs for these or other facilities. Where funding for AEDs or first responder schemes is required, the Health Service Executive, which has overall responsibility for the implementation of the report's recommendations, may consider such applications, subject to financial constraints and guided by the priorities identified in the report.

Nursing Home Charges.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

286 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Health and Children the average length of time involved in processing a payment under the nursing home repayment scheme from receipt of application to final repayment; the number of applications received from each county; the average payment; if a dedicated helpline continues to exist for applicants; if a dedicated point of contact exists for Members of the Oireachtas; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38570/06]

The Health Service Executive has responsibility for administering the Repayment Scheme and the information sought by the Deputy relates to matters within the area of responsibility of the Executive.

My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued to the Deputy.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

287 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Health and Children when payment will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38571/06]

The Health Service Executive has responsibility for administering the Repayment Scheme and the information sought by the Deputy relates to matters within the area of responsibility of the Executive.

My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued to the Deputy.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

288 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason a special needs assistant has been removed from a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary; if the decision will be reconsidered; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38572/06]

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

Nursing Home Charges.

John Deasy

Ceist:

289 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of applications received for repayments under the national repayments scheme to date; the number of those applications that have been fully processed; when she expects all applications to be fully processed and all due repayments awarded to applicants; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38588/06]

The Health Service Executive has responsibility for administering the Repayment Scheme and the information sought by the Deputy relates to matters within the area of responsibility of the Executive.

My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued to the Deputy.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Paudge Connolly

Ceist:

290 Mr. Connolly asked the Minister for Health and Children the availability of BreastCheck in County Cavan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38589/06]

Paudge Connolly

Ceist:

291 Mr. Connolly asked the Minister for Health and Children the availability of BreastCheck in County Monaghan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38590/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 290 and 291 together.

I have met with representatives of BreastCheck and they are fully aware of my wish to have a quality assured programme rolled out to the remaining regions in the country as quickly as possible. I have approved additional revenue funding of €8 million for 2007 to meet the additional costs of roll-out and an additional 69 posts have been approved. BreastCheck also requires considerable capital investment in the construction of two new clinical units and in the provision of five additional mobile units and state of the art digital equipment. I have made available an additional €21m capital funding to BreastCheck for this purpose. This investment will support the roll out to the South and West commencing in the Spring of next year.

At a meeting with my Department recently, BreastCheck reported on significant progress that has been made in preparation for the roll-out. BreastCheck has appointed Clinical Directors for the Southern and Western regions. The recruitment of Consultants and other staff, including Radiographers, is underway. Construction teams have been appointed for the static units in University College Hospital Galway and South Infirmary/Victoria Hospital, Cork. Construction commenced in Cork on 3 November and in Galway on 7 November.

As regards the roll out to specific counties, my Department has requested the Director of the Programme to respond directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Services.

John Perry

Ceist:

292 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will intervene with St. James’s Hospital on behalf of a person (details supplied) in County Sligo and have them called for treatment as their condition has deteriorated; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38599/06]

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.

Question No. 293 answered with QuestionNo. 267.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

294 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will urgently take action regarding the parking situation especially for patients attending St. Martins’ dialysis unit, Beaumont Hospital; and when the new 40-bed unit will be built. [38613/06]

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services was assigned to the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004 and funding for all health services has been provided as part of its overall vote. Therefore, the Executive is the appropriate body to consider the particular case raised by the Deputy. 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.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

295 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will assist the Centre for Independent Living in Castlebar, County Mayo; and if she will support them in their request for personal assistants for 70 people. [38623/06]

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 Procedures.

Shane McEntee

Ceist:

296 Mr. McEntee asked the Minister for Health and Children the procedures in place in hospitals, health centres and Government offices to minimise the risk of Legionnaires’ disease from showers, spray taps and ornamental fountains; if risk assessments have been carried out on all public buildings; if these risk assessments are available to the public and to staff; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38637/06]

The management of public health aspects of Legionnaires' disease is carried out in accordance with multidisciplinary guidance which was produced by the Health Service Executive — Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HSE — HPSC) and covers the prevention, environmental health management, contact tracing and surveillance of cases of Legionnaires' disease in both hospital and community settings. This is available on the HPSC website at www.hpsc.ie. The operational aspects of the public health management or surveillance of Legionnaires’ disease are handled as a matter of routine by the Health Service Executive.