Adjournment Debate.

Human Trafficking.

The matter I raise relates to the need for the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform to sign or ratify the United Nations Protocol on Trafficking which dates to 2000 and the Council on European Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings which dates to 2005.

In his capacity as Minister of State in the Department of Foreign Affairs, Deputy Conor Lenihan is probably aware that Ireland is in clear breach of its international obligations for failing to sign or ratify these two international instruments. It is entirely unacceptable that Ireland has no specific, domestic legislation to outlaw trafficking in human beings within this country or into this country.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has contributed his usual lip service but nothing has been done during his four and a half years in office. The inter-congregational group of religious orders has now taken up the cudgel. I hope the Minister will lend it a more sympathetic ear than he has done to the Members of this House. No doubt we will have copious promises of future action from the Minister but it is unlikely that anything will be done before the election takes place in six months time.

The stark reality is that trafficking in human beings is one of the biggest and most appalling multinational industries in the world. The startling statistics demonstrate that more people were traded into slavery in one decade of the 1980s, from Asia alone, than all the people sold into slavery from Africa in the 400 years in which slavery legally existed. Sixteen years later, the incidence of trafficking has increased substantially. It is estimated that approximately 1.5 million people are trafficked annually, more than 50% of whom come through various European countries. The industry is estimated to be worth a whopping €36 billion in Europe alone. Almost every city, town, or village in eastern and central Europe has girls and young women, in particular, victimised by the traffickers who force them into the human exploitation industry. With the opening up of the European Union borders, the movement of traffickers and their prey is largely invisible. The risks are few and the profits are enormous. Trafficking is now the third largest money making venture in the world after illegal weapons and illegal drugs.

Clearly, we can no longer turn a blind eye to what is becoming increasingly an Irish phenomenon. Experience on the ground in Ireland and research conducted at the Johns Hopkins University confirm that the trafficking Mafia are now targeting Ireland as a growing lucrative market and a port of entry. The Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform are well aware of the growing incidence of trafficking of women for the sex industry. It is essential that we take urgent action now before trafficking in humans goes the deadly way of illegal weapons and illegal drugs. The Government failed to act when the warning signs were there. Now gangland killings are widespread and there are illegal drugs distribution networks throughout the country.

The Government must ratify international conventions and protocols, which it has not done to date. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform must introduce legislation to target the traffickers with heavy penalties and give the Garda the necessary powers to track them down, seize their assets and put them out of business as well as putting them behind bars. He must establish a special rapid reaction team of gardaí who can link up quickly and effectively with Europol and Interpol to monitor the activities of the international trafficking gangs and pursue them anywhere in the world.

The Minister must acknowledge that trafficking in humans is a grave violation of human rights. He must, therefore, put in place a public awareness programme to inform the public and encourage victims to come forward. That will require legislation that not only targets the traffickers but also incorporates protective and support measures for the victims so that they do not end up being further victimised. A victim-centred approach is required.

I thank Deputy Costello for raising this very important issue and for giving me the opportunity of updating the House on this matter on behalf of the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Human trafficking, by its very nature, is a clandestine activity. It is a crime which can have very deep and lasting effects on its victims. The use of force or intimidation by those who engage in the activity of trafficking may cause victims to be reluctant to come forward to the authorities. In spite of whatever reluctance there may be to come forward with information, it is in the best interests of all concerned, as with all other forms of crime, that any acts of criminality, or suspected criminality, are brought to the attention of the Garda Síochána. It is important to note that those people who come forward to the Garda Síochána are treated at all times with respect, dignity and sympathy.

When victims of trafficking come to the attention of the authorities, they are provided with all assistance possible. Assistance may be provided through the services of the Health Services Executive in this respect. Victims of trafficking can also be assisted to return and reintegrate in their countries of origin with the assistance of the International Organisation for Migration. As I am sure the Deputy is aware, in the recent UN Trafficking in Persons Global Patterns report, Ireland was ranked at the low end of destination or transit target countries in Western Europe. The Garda assessment of the situation concurs with the UN report. In common with other EU countries, all the indications to date are that in Ireland trafficking in human beings takes place on a much smaller scale than illegal immigration. Many more people are brought here on a voluntary basis than are brought here against their will. That said, the Garda Síochána remains very active in this area in terms of its intelligence gathering, surveillance and investigations.

A number of specific Garda operations have been put in place to assess the extent to which Ireland may have been targeted by persons suspected of being engaged in trafficking in persons, to prevent such activity and, where such activity is disclosed, to gather evidence to be used in any prosecution. Operation Quest, for example, was established to investigate allegations of trafficking of non-nationals into this country for the purpose of employment in the sex industry. Operation Pentameter was set up with the objective of disrupting the activities of organised criminal gangs suspected of involvement in trafficking of persons. To date, there is no evidence to suggest that trafficking of persons into Ireland for the purposes of sexual exploitation is widespread. The Garda has encountered only a small number of trafficking cases and these are being fully investigated.

However, there is no room for complacency on this serious issue. The Garda continues to fully engage with other international law enforcement agencies on an ongoing basis to ensure that a comprehensive and effective response to the issue of trafficking is in place. In October 2005, an anti-trafficking working group was set up comprising officials from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and members of the Garda Síochána. The report of this working group was published in May 2006 and is available on the Department's website. This document sets out clearly the situation in Ireland and the State's response on a number of fronts including immigration controls, law enforcement activity, protection of victims and the legislative framework. NGOs reported to that working group on the excellent co-operation that they have with the Garda, particularly at an operational level. The publication of this report is clear evidence that the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Garda Síochána are committed to tackling trafficking in human beings at a national level and to working with our European Union and other countries to tackle it on an international basis.

Under current Irish criminal law it is an offence, punishable by up to life imprisonment, to traffic a person under 17 years of age, male or female, into, through or out of Ireland for the purpose of that person's sexual exploitation. This is provided for in the Child Trafficking and Pornography Act 1998. The Government has approved amendments to the legislation that will change the age from 17 to 18 years to allow Ireland to comply with the various international obligations. Under the Illegal Immigrants (Trafficking) Act 2000, it is an offence to organise or knowingly facilitate the entry into Ireland of a person who is reasonably believed to be an illegal immigrant or a person who intends to claim asylum. In this case the maximum prison sentence on conviction is ten years.

Legislation creating an offence of trafficking in persons for the specific purpose of sexual or labour exploitation is contained in the draft Criminal Justice (Trafficking in Persons and Sexual Offences) Bill. This Bill will comply with the EU Framework Decision on combating trafficking in persons for the purpose of their sexual and labour exploitation. It will also fully comply with the criminal law requirements of the protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children, which supplements the UN Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime and the Council of Europe Convention on Action Against Trafficking in Human Beings.

The Minister's time is up.

I will give the Deputy the remainder of the statement.

Graffiti Removal Operation.

I thank the Chair for giving me the opportunity to raise once again the ever increasing problem of graffiti in our city. At the beginning of the summer I raised this issue in the hope that the Government would take action to deal with it. Sadly, very little has been done and the complaints from constituents about this issue continue.

It seems this Government, consisting of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats, does not recognise litter, dog dirt or graffiti as problems. It has been in power since 1997 and has done very little about any of these issues. As the general election approaches I give a commitment on behalf of my party to deal with these problems by introducing specific legislation and through a co-ordinated, targeted approach, an approach which has worked elsewhere and will work here as well.

On the question of graffiti we need to distinguish between street art and what is known as tagging. Much street art has artistic merit and the Green Party believes we ought to engage in a dialogue between local authorities and street artists to provide areas where they can express themselves. There are many areas in the city where blank walls could be provided for street artists. I understand that discussions are already under way between Dublin City Council and street artists to provide five such blank walls in the city. We should also look at the whole issue of shop fronts, particularly the proliferation of ugly shutters. These are a magnet for taggers. Shutters should be put on the inside. If they are on the outside perhaps we could have an arrangement with graffiti artists to beautify these very ugly shop fronts.

We need to make that distinction between street art and tagging. There is little artistic merit to tagging. In my constituency I have seen the walls of pensioners' houses ruined with tagging, which is the result of someone spraying their initials or a symbol to mark out their territory, much like an animal does in the wild. In other cities throughout Europe such Paris and Berlin, tagging has reached epidemic proportions. I have seen it not just on the walls of houses but also on playground equipment, on public transport and even inside public transport. I do not know who has given some individuals the right to deface community or public property.

We need investment in removing graffiti. We must also introduce penalties as a deterrent. If we had a dedicated unit in the Garda working side by side with local authorities and equipped with camcorders and digital cameras, we would quickly determine who was carrying out this vandalism. These individuals should be named and shamed. Let us not fall into the trap of thinking that those engaged in tagging or graffiti vandalism, as it ought to be known, are somehow from deprived backgrounds. It is not the case. Many of these people are from well-off backgrounds.

I have seen little evidence of political graffiti. If people want to express themselves politically they can do so on these blank walls or through proper political agitation. The Criminal Damage Act 1991 and the Litter Pollution Act 1997 are not adequate to deal with the increasing problem of graffiti vandalism. I contrast the lack of strategy and policy in Ireland with the coherent approach elsewhere. I have a document entitled Combating Graffiti, which is jointly signed by the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, and its police commissioner, Raymond Kelly. This booklet, which is distributed among the community, defines graffiti, outlines the strategies to combat graffiti and gives useful telephone numbers to call if one sees graffiti vandalism taking place or one wants graffiti removed.

In the section on laws to combat graffiti, we are told that the New York administrative code penalises acts commonly known as graffiti vandalism; bans anyone possessing aerosol spray or broad-tipped indelible markers in a public building or facility with the intent to make graffiti; restricts the sale of these items to anyone under the age of 18; prohibits sellers of aerosol spray paint and indelible markers from displaying these items in their stores. The document also outlines the role of the police force in preventing graffiti, stating:

The Police Department has established a City-Wide Vandals Task Force. The Task Force will create and implement the strategies and tactics for dealing with graffiti vandalism and defacement of public and private property. The Task Force will also administer the Graffiti Reward Program.

The section on the graffiti rewards programme states:

Members of the public are eligible for up to a five hundred dollars ($500.00) reward for reporting graffiti vandalism. . . . The information must result in the arrest and conviction of individual(s) for violations.

Bakersfield with one quarter the population of this city has one police lieutenant responsible for a programme of oversight. It also has city council public referral-interdepartmental service co-ordination, one police sergeant, and one full-time and one part-time police officer. We have nothing like this. We have no co-ordinated approach and I call on the Government to make an effort to combat this serious problem.

I thank the Deputy for his public-spirited involvement in this issue. I am standing in for my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche. I am pleased to have the opportunity to outline the position on this issue. Graffiti is still a problem in and a blight on our society and our urban landscape. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to support this view.

Under the Litter Pollution Acts 1997 to 2003, primary responsibility for management and enforcement responses to the defacement of structures by writing or other marks lies with local authorities. However, conscious of the problem of graffiti vandalism, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform in conjunction with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs initiated a pilot project, the graffiti removal operation, GRO, initiative, aimed specifically at combating graffiti in Dublin city, Galway city and Bray, County Wicklow. This project is separate from, and in addition to, the graffiti abatement programmes carried out on an ongoing basis by the local authorities.

The GRO initiative involves a major initial clean up of the worst affected sites in the pilot areas, followed by a rapid response cleaning maintenance programme aimed at maintaining sites free of graffiti. To date all sites in RAPID areas have been addressed and significant cleaning works have already been completed. Work has already been completed, or is in progress, in 19 separate locations in the Dublin City Council, Bray Town Council and Galway City Council areas. Sites affected by graffiti outside RAPID areas are being surveyed with a view to extending the GRO initiative. The pilot project is overseen by a steering group comprising representatives from the three Departments and an independent evaluation of the programme has been commissioned in order to determine the programme's effectiveness. Should the programme prove successful in eliminating or significantly reducing the incidence of graffiti, consideration will be given to extending it to other areas.

The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is satisfied that there are adequate powers under the Litter Pollution Acts to tackle the problem of defacement of property. Section 19 makes it an offence to deface property and section 20 is a complementary provision which enables local authorities to have remedial action taken. In addition to the Litter Pollution Acts, the Criminal Damage Act 1991 provides for the offences of damaging or defacing property. The Garda authorities take very seriously the damaging or defacing of property. The Garda has operations Encounter and Assist in place, focusing on tackling anti-social behaviour including offences of criminal damage, such as defacing property or the imposition of graffiti. When the Garda detects such offences, culprits are processed through the courts or via the juvenile liaison system, as appropriate.

On deterring young people from criminal behaviour, the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform funds Garda youth diversion projects. These projects are community-based, multi-agency initiatives that aim to divert young people from becoming involved in anti-social and-or criminal behaviour by providing suitable activities to facilitate personal development, promote civic responsibility and challenge offending behaviour. The number of such projects has grown from 12 in 1997 to 64 at present, catering for approximately 2,500 persons per annum.

Care of the Elderly.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this issue. I tabled a motion on the Order Paper earlier this week about establishing a commission for the status of older people to monitor and oversee progress on issues of particular relevance to older people and to establish a dedicated Department for the elderly with a Minister with responsibility for the elderly appointed by the Government.

Some 11% of the population, 465,000 people, is older than 65. It is projected that by 2026, 17% of the population will be older than 65. In the last general election, 71% of the people aged over 65 voted, whereas less than 38% of people in the 18 to 25 category voted. In reality the older people elect governments, but probably have least say despite the many serious issues affecting them. We all recognise they have contributed significantly throughout their lives to the economic and social development of the country and the prosperity we now enjoy. As a society we owe a duty of care to our older population. It is a true measure of a nation's sense of value that it gives the respect to older people that they deserve.

Combat Poverty Agency has advised that 27% of the older people, 123,000 people, are in the poverty trap and are living on less than €185 per week. The State pension of €185 per week is less than 34% of the average industrial wage. We are the lowest of the OECD countries where the average pension is 68.7% of the average industrial wage, which indicates a significant gap. Many of our older people are now caught in a poverty trap and feel they cannot speak out because of the affluence of today's society. In many opinion polls, the cost of living is identified as the biggest issue for elderly people. While they say so privately in opinion polls, they find it difficult to speak out. When I have attended public meetings involving Age Action Ireland and the older citizens in my constituency, these have been the issues mentioned as causing them great concern.

On many occasions I have spoken in this House about the discrimination in nursing home subventions. In the west a person can get a maximum subvention of €190.50, whereas a person living in Dublin can get €850 per week. I have already received a commitment from the Minister for Health and Children that equalisation of those subvention rates will be introduced. However, a new applicant in County Mayo still cannot get an enhanced subvention. It is a disgrace and needs to be rectified as a matter of urgency. A person qualifying for maximum subvention, who is unlucky enough not to be able to get a public bed and is forced to go into a private nursing home, will only get 30% of the cost of the private nursing home bed, which means many elderly people cannot afford to go into private nursing homes and as a result live at home, often in dreadful circumstances.

The rural transport initiative was a wonderful innovation on the part of the Government but it is not sufficient and needs to be extended. Further public funding must be put in place. Older people recognise it as an excellent service, but in many instances voluntary groups of elderly people are coming together to enhance the service provided.

Access to public services has arisen as a problem, particularly in the context of ageism in the health care area. The maximum age for breast screening is 65 and for cervical screening it is 60. Breast screening is not yet available in the west. When it is introduced, is it correct that the maximum age for the service should be 65?

There is discrimination against elderly people in respect of driving licences and the cost of motor insurance. Travel insurance for a person over the age of 65 is three times that relating to a person under 65.

Many women of my mother's generation who gave up their jobs to look after their children are now retired and have no incomes on their own. Some mechanism must be found to provide people in this category with incomes. Every woman in the country should have an independent income.

There is a need to enhance home help services, home-care packages and night nurse facilities for people who need them. Funding must be given to voluntary groups to assist elderly people. The two biggest complaints from elderly people to the Equality Authority related to insurance costs and the service costs with which these individuals are faced.

I articulated a particular point on a number of recent occasions and I mentioned it to the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, Deputy Brennan. I refer to the adult dependant allowance. A commitment was given in the programme for Government to increase this allowance to 100% of the principal recipient's payment. However, that has not happened. It was also stated that it would, in most cases, be paid to the woman in her own right. The Minister has indicated that he takes the issue seriously and I hope he will announce something in the budget.

I call on the Minister of State to reply.

When I tabled this matter, I was contacted by one of the Departments involved and informed that——

The Deputy should conclude. She has exceeded the time allocated.

——it would be impossible to co-ordinate a reply in respect of these issues that could be delivered in five minutes. I replied that this underlines the point I am making. We need a designated Minister with responsibility for the elderly.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. It is good to see that she is in full voice again.

I never lost it.

On foot of the way in which our pensions system is organised, surveys such as those presented by the OECD in, for instance, its publication Pensions at a Glance can provide a distorted picture of the economic position of older people in Ireland. The survey focuses on the cash income provided through state pension systems and, in our case, makes no allowance for the role played by private occupational pensions or for the additional supports — such as electricity and gas allowances — provided to pensioners through the household benefits scheme or through the provision of medical cards, etc. Furthermore the very high level of home ownership among older people here is not reflected in such surveys and also impacts on the resources available to people in retirement. Accordingly, while such surveys are useful to compare aspects of the pensions systems across other countries, they are not, for the reasons outlined, a true indication of the economic position of our older people.

In respect of income poverty specifically, the most recent EU Survey on Income and Living Conditions for 2005, published this week by the Central Statistics Office, found that the percentage of older people below the 60% median income threshold has decreased from 27% to 20% in just one year. The latter compares to a rate of 18.5% for the population as a whole. This does not include the impact of the major pension increases provided for in 2006.

The needs of older people will remain a priority for the Government and this has been demonstrated by the numerous initiatives which have been taken in the past ten years in the area of pensions, supports for carers and household benefits. For example, since 1996 pensions have increased by almost 104%, or nearly 50% in real terms, faster than both price and wages growth in the same period. The Government is committed to achieving a target rate of €200 per week for social welfare pensions by 2007. In this regard, the budget to be presented next month by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, will be a landmark event.

Within the existing structure of social welfare pensions, which are based on contributory and means-tested payments, measures have been taken to provide personal pension payments to those who may have less than complete insurance records as a result of leaving the paid workforce to care for children or incapacitated people. These include the introduction of the homemakers scheme — which covers periods of caring from 1994 and under which up to 20 years spent on home duties can be disregarded in calculating pension entitlement — and an easing of qualifying conditions for both contributory and non-contributory pensions.

There are women who, for various reasons and despite the changes that have been introduced, remain outside the social welfare pensions system. Their position, as well as that of others who are not covered by social welfare pensions, will be considered in the context of the Green Paper on pensions to which the Government is committed as part of the new social partnership agreement, Towards 2016. The Green Paper will outline the major policy choices, the challenges in this area — including outstanding issues on social welfare pensions — and the views of the social partners. The Government is committed to responding to the consultations on foot of the Green Paper's publication and to developing a framework for comprehensively addressing the pensions agenda over the longer term. It is expected that the Green Paper will be published at the end of March next year.

The Department of Social and Family Affairs has responsibility for the provision of income support for carers and co-operates with other Departments on this issue, as appropriate. Issues relating to nursing home subvention rates are primarily a matter for the Department of Health and Children and the Health Service Executive. Under the current assignment of responsibilities among Ministers of State, Deputy Seán Power, Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, has special responsibility for older people.

A working group chaired by the Department of the Taoiseach and comprising senior officials from the Departments of Finance, Health and Children and Social and Family Affairs was established following the publication of the Mercer report, Study to Examine the Future Financing of Long-Term Care in Ireland. The objective of this group was to identify the policy options for a financially sustainable system of long-term care, taking account of the Mercer report, the consultation that was undertaken following that report and the review of the nursing home subvention scheme. The report of the group is currently being considered and I expect a decision to be taken in respect of this matter in the future.

Schools Building Projects.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise the provision of a new community school in Ballinamore, County Leitrim. As the Minister of State is aware, this is a long-running saga. A new community school was promised in 2001. Five years later, parents, teachers and students are still waiting for it. The Minister of State will be aware of the particular difficulties faced by the pupils and teachers at Ballinamore. The post-primary school operates between three different sites and students are obliged to travel up to 1 km between classes. This is totally unacceptable and the community in Ballinamore is becoming increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress. There are also serious health and safety concerns involved. Surely the pupils and teachers should not be obliged to put up with this situation any longer.

As already stated, the provision of a new school was sanctioned in 2001 prior to the last general election. In the interim, a full-year group of students have completed their entire secondary education in the unacceptable conditions to which I refer. Despite the fact that the Department of Education and Science predicted that a new school would open in 2003, the Ballinamore community school action group was this week obliged to launch a letter-writing campaign to highlight the delays in providing a new secondary school. One can imagine the frustration of the members of this group who, following a long campaign, are still in the position where they must write letters to the Minister for Education and Science. I am aware of the announcement last week that a possible site for a new school has been selected and that negotiations are under way. However, this has happened on several previous occasions. The community in Ballinamore needs a new school now and I ask that the Minister of State give a commitment that it will be provided within a specific timeframe.

I am also pleased to have the opportunity to raise the urgent need to provide a primary school at Dromore West, County Sligo. Parents of children who attend Dromore West central national school are extremely frustrated by the continuing delays. Plan after plan for their new school has been submitted and then rejected. The parents are also concerned about the terrible conditions that obtain in the school. These conditions continue to deteriorate. The Health and Safety Authority has already expressed a real concern regarding the hopelessly overcrowded conditions that the teachers and pupils must endure every day. Those conditions read like something from a Dickensian novel.

One teacher operates solo in the old church classroom. Staff members must boil a kettle to make a cup of tea in the classroom and, having finished their tea, they must wash the cup in the same hand basin in which they wash their hands. The so-called office of the school secretary is in a tiny girls' cloakroom and she has the pleasure of sharing this cubbyhole with the principal when she is involved in administrative duties. Recently a male teacher taught in the school and he did not even have the luxury of a toilet to use. How can any teacher or student be expected to spend his or her days in these conditions?

It is difficult to believe that, according to the statistics, Ireland is the second richest country in Europe. Many of my colleagues in the European Parliament look to Ireland as an example of economic success. There is not much sign of such success in Dromore West primary school. I am sure the Minister of State believes no teacher or student should have to endure these conditions. The parents, teachers and students need a new school, large enough to accommodate the expanding population of the village, for which 100 new houses are proposed. While the process is under way, the community wants a guarantee from the Minister that there will be no further delays or hold ups.

I thank the Deputy for affording me the opportunity to outline the proposals of the Department of Education and Science regarding the provision of a new community school in Ballinamore, County Leitrim, and also the need for a new school in Dromore. Modernising facilities in our 3,200 primary and 750 post-primary schools is not an easy task, given the legacy of decades of under investment in this area, as well as the need to respond to emerging needs in areas of rapid population growth. Nonetheless, since taking office, the Government has shown a focused determination to improve the condition of our school buildings and to ensure the appropriate facilities are in place to enable the implementation of a broad and balanced curriculum. As evidence of this commitment, approximately 1,300 building and modernisation projects will be active in our primary and post-primary schools during 2006. More than €500 million is being spent on primary and post-primary projects throughout the country. This unprecedented capital investment is testament to the importance this Government places to improving the quality of accommodation in our schools.

I refer to the specific matters raised. In 1994 two second level schools, Our Lady of Fatima convent secondary school and St. Feilim's College, amalgamated in Ballinamore. The newly amalgamated school continued to operate from two separate buildings situated half a mile apart. In 2001, a further amalgamation was agreed involving the local vocational school and a common enrolment policy was put in place. The management model for the proposed school was referred to the then Minister for Education who, in May 2001, decided in favour of a community school. The long-term projected enrolment for the new community school is expected to be approximately 400 pupils. The need for a new school building to house the amalgamated schools is acknowledged by the Department and, as an amalgamation project, the building project for the new community school has a band rating of 1.4 in line with the revised prioritisation criteria.

A suitable site for the new school building is required before architectural planning can commence. The property management section of the Office of Public Works, which acts on behalf of the Department of Education and Science in site acquisitions generally, has been exploring the possibility of acquiring a site for Ballinamore community school. A number of options have been considered, including the site of one of the existing schools as the site of amalgamation. The preferred option, however, is the location of the new school on a greenfield site. Over the past few years a number of sites have been identified as a location for the proposed new school but their acquisition met with difficulties. Following a re-advertisement for sites, new proposals were received. All site options were examined by the OPW, which has identified what it considers to be the most suitable site available. The Department has conveyed its approval to the OPW to pursue the acquisition of this site as soon as possible. Due to the commercial sensitivities of site acquisitions, it is not proposed at this stage to identify specific sites under consideration. When a suitable site has been secured, the building project for Ballinamore will be considered in the context of the School Building and Modernisation Programme 2006-2010.

The building project for Dromore West national school was one of a number approved by the Department announced 2005 to progress to architectural planning. This project is at stage 3 — developed sketch scheme. The brief is to provide adequate accommodation for a principal and four classroom teachers, with the possibility of future expansion. A letter issued to the board of management in May 2006 requesting additional stage 3 information, which was submitted by the board in August 2006. The stage 3 submission received in the Department deviated from the agreed brief for the building project and, consequently, the Department wrote to the board of management seeking a revised stage 3, in accordance with the agreed brief. When the revised stage 3 submission is received in the Department, a meeting will be convened, which will involve the board of management representative and the design team presenting the submission, outlining key aspects of same. Any issues or commentary by the Department will be addressed at the meeting and the minutes of the meeting will issue to the school afterwards as a formal record of the meeting.

It is envisaged that, unless there are very exceptional circumstances involved, the meeting will be sufficient to authorise the project to progress to the next stage of architectural planning, subject, if necessary, to formal confirmation by the school and the design team that issues raised by the Department have been addressed. In the case of all large capital projects on hand within the school building section, progression of projects to construction will be considered in the context of the school building programme.

The Dáil adjourned at 5.30 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 28 November 2006.