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 8, inclusive, answered orally.

Human Rights Issues.

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

9 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the result of his meeting with representatives from Amnesty International on 8 November 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39505/06]

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

99 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on his 8 November 2006 meeting with Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan; the subjects discussed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39586/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 99 together.

I met the Secretary General of Amnesty International, Ms. Irene Khan, in London on Wednesday 8 November. The meeting was a useful opportunity to exchange views and discuss common ground with one of the leading global human rights organisations. Our discussions centred on the situation in Darfur and the role of the new United Nations Human Rights Council.

On Darfur, I briefed Ms. Khan on my visit to the region last July and on my discussions with the Sudanese Foreign Minister then and in September. I also recalled that I had highlighted the situation in Darfur in my address to the UN General Assembly. I expressed my serious concern at the ongoing human rights violations in the region and assured Ms. Khan that Ireland would continue to do all it can at an international level to bring these gross human rights violations to an end, above all through achieving agreement on a robust peace-keeping force. Ms. Khan gave me an account of Amnesty's important work in relation to Darfur. She emphasised the important role of the Egyptian Government and it was partly in response to her suggestion that, as indicated in my earlier reply, I recently wrote to my Egyptian colleague.

On the UN Human Rights Council, which was established earlier this year, we exchanged views on the early stages of its operation. Ms. Khan outlined Amnesty's view of the challenges facing the Council. I reiterated Ireland's support for an active presence for civil society at the Council and we discussed practical ways in which this might be facilitated.

We also discussed briefly the situation in the Middle East and the recent deployment of Irish troops to Lebanon as part of the UNIFIL mission.

I also availed of the meeting to underline Ireland's strong and forceful opposition to the practice of extraordinary rendition, which Ms. Khan acknowledged.

Japanese Constitution.

Pádraic McCormack

Ceist:

10 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position of his Department regarding recent statements by the Japanese Prime Minister that he will undertake attempts to reform Japan’s pacifist constitution in view of recent tensions in the region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39503/06]

I understand that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has indicated that he intends to begin a debate on the possible revision of the Japanese constitution. In his Policy Speech to the 165th Session of the Diet, Prime Minister Abe noted that the current Constitution was formulated nearly 60 years ago when Japan was under military occupation, and that discussions were ongoing within and among the government and opposition parties regarding "the formulation of a constitution that befits a new era". The Prime Minister has not set an exact timeframe for the possible revision of the Constitution, though he has indicated in a recent press interview that he envisages addressing this issue within the next six years, the maximum period he may serve as Prime Minister.

Japan is an important partner for Ireland and the EU, with whom we share fundamental values such as democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and with whom we cooperate for peace, security and the prosperity of the international community. Japan is an active member of many international organisations. It is a major contributor financially and in peace-keeping to the UN, and a very significant aid donor. In 2007 we will be marking the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between our two countries.

Prime Minister Abe has made clear in various fora that Japan seeks to engage in active diplomacy not only in Japan's national interest but in the interest of the region's peace and prosperity. To that end he has already sought to strengthen Japan's partnerships with other countries, including its bilateral relations with the countries of the region, notably China and the Republic of Korea, and I welcome these moves. Japan is also active in Six Party Talks on the DPRK, the recent missile and nuclear weapons tests which are rightly of grave concern to it, as they are to the rest of the international community. Overall, and indeed against the above background, I take the view that the content of the Japanese Constitution is primarily a matter for the Japanese people alone.

Departmental Estimates.

Dan Boyle

Ceist:

11 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will comment on the 2007 Estimates for his Department. [39578/06]

The 2007 Estimates for my Department include a total provision of €208.8 million for Vote 28 and €728.7 million for Vote 29 dealing with development assistance.

The Vote 29 Estimate represents a further substantial increase in our assistance to developing countries, from just over €600m this year to €728m in 2007. In addition, the Estimates provide €85 million for development aid through other Government Departments, bringing Ireland's Official Development Assistance (ODA) in 2007 to €813m. This increased allocation amounts to 0.5% of Ireland's GNP, fully meeting the Government's interim target for 2007.

In terms of our size, Ireland continues to be one of the most generous donors in the world. The 2007 Estimates demonstrate the commitment of the Government to meet, by 2012, the UN target of providing 0.7% of GNP in development aid. The increase in aid from this year to next will amount to €130 million, which was the total amount of development aid Ireland provided ten years ago. Increased funds for Irish Aid will allow us to expand key areas of our programme, including Ireland's response to natural disasters and humanitarian emergencies in developing countries.

I am delighted that Vote 28 includes an allocation of €15.2 million for services to our emigrants abroad. This represents a 25% increase in funding compared to this year and a fifteen-fold increase in such provision since 1997. These figures clearly reflect the Government's strong commitment to the welfare of the Irish abroad.

Ireland's contributions to international organisations will increase from almost €26.4m this year to €31.9m next year. This is in keeping with the Government's continuing commitment to the role and work of the United Nations. I am also pleased that funds for North-South and Anglo-Irish cooperation projects, supported by the Department's Reconciliation Fund, will amount to €3m in 2007.

Under the capital allocations, the Estimates provide €20m for the Department's programme of purchasing premises for its Missions abroad and refurbishing Embassy buildings owned by the State. The Department favours a decision to buy rather than rent property abroad where this is supported by a sound business case.

International Agreements.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

12 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his position in relation to the proposed UN referendum on the future of the occupied former Spanish Sahara. [39535/06]

Seán Ryan

Ceist:

93 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the breach of international law involved in the EU granting of fishing and exploitation concessions in territorial waters of the Sahara Arab Democratic Republic. [39534/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 12 and 93 together.

The Government strongly supports the right of the people of the territory of Western Sahara to determine their own future. This has been the position of successive Irish Governments. The Government has no view on what that future should be — independence, integration with Morocco or some degree of autonomy under Moroccan sovereignty. The essential point is that it be decided in a genuine act of self-determination.

The Government has supported successive efforts by the United Nations to broker a solution to the issue of Western Sahara based on this principle. Following the ceasefire between Morocco and the Polisario Front in 1991, the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) was deployed in September 1991 to monitor the ceasefire and organise a referendum on the territory's future status. That referendum has yet to be held. In 1997, the former US Secretary of State James Baker, acting as the Personal Envoy of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, brokered the Settlement Plan between the two sides, but again this was not implemented. In 2003 he brought forward what is known as the Baker II Plan, which was endorsed by the Security Council in a number of Resolutions. Both these plans involved a referendum to determine the future of the Territory.

One of the chief obstacles to the implementation of these plans has been the refusal of Morocco to accept a referendum in which independence is an option. I regret very much that Morocco has taken this view, and I look forward to the proposals which Morocco has stated it intends to present in the near future. The Government remains convinced that the full exercise of self-determination is the essential principle on which this dispute must be resolved. The Moroccan authorities are fully aware of this view.

The position in relation to the EU-Morocco Fisheries Partnership Agreement was set out in detail in my reply to Question No 278 on 20 June 2006. The Agreement was negotiated by the Commission, discussed by Member States in the Fisheries Working Group, and adopted by the Agriculture and Fisheries Council under Qualified Majority Voting. In relation to territorial application, the Agreement used the same language as in previous EU Fisheries Agreements with Morocco, going back over many years.

In relation to the Western Sahara issue, the Government's concerns were that the Agreement should imply no recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the territory, and that the benefits of any economic exploitation of Western Saharan resources under the Agreement should flow to the people of the territory.

In voting in Council to approve the Agreement, which is of major importance to the fishing industries of a number of partners, Ireland made a National Declaration that it supported the Agreement on the basis that these two principles were respected. In particular, Ireland noted the duty of the EU-Morocco Joint Committee, envisaged under the Agreement, to ensure "that the Agreement is implemented to the benefit of all the people concerned and in accordance with the principles of international law".

Decentralisation Programme.

Gerard Murphy

Ceist:

13 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of principal development specialists volunteering their efforts to decentralisation within Irish Aid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39475/06]

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

82 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of development specialists presently volunteering their efforts to decentralisation within Irish Aid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39476/06]

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

117 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of senior development specialists presently volunteering their efforts to decentralisation within Irish Aid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39474/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 13, 82 and 117 together.

Three Principal Development Specialists serve in Irish Aid headquarters in Dublin. None of the three has applied to decentralise to Limerick.

There are twelve Senior Development Specialists at Irish Aid headquarters. None of the twelve is applying to decentralise to Limerick, though two originally did so, but subsequently withdrew their applications.

Finally, there are nine Development Specialist posts at headquarters. Five Development Specialists originally applied to decentralise to Limerick and subsequently withdrew their applications. At present, four specialists who commenced employment since the announcement of the decentralisation programme in December 2003 are scheduled to decentralise.

There is an ongoing Labour Court case regarding the terms and conditions under which technical grades are employed in various areas of the public service, including the specialists employed by Irish Aid. Technical staff employed by Government Departments and Offices, including specialists and other fixed-term workers employed in Irish Aid, brought cases to the Rights Commissioner under the Protection of Employees (Fixed-Term Work) Act, 2003. The case, which involves complex legal issues, has been referred to the European Court of First Instance.

Some of the issues involved in the decentralisation of Irish Aid to Limerick have, therefore, a wider Civil Service dimension and must be resolved at the central level. Discussions are on-going with representatives of the specialists, with their union IMPACT, and with the Department of Finance about the issues involved.

Decentralisation is a Government decision and the Government is committed to moving ahead with its implementation. At present, 48 posts in the Directorate are filled by officers who have signalled their intention to decentralise to Limerick. A further 17 officers who are serving elsewhere in the Department, mostly abroad, are also expected to decentralise to Limerick and will be taking up duty in Irish Aid in advance of the move. In addition, 21 officers from other Departments who have applied to decentralise to Limerick, most of whom are currently based in provincial locations, will transfer to the Department closer to the date of the move. Once these officers take up duty in Irish Aid, 86 posts (69% of the Directorate's staff complement) will be in place.

A small number of staff, approximately 15 at entry grades, will be recruited for direct assignment to Limerick in the months preceding the move.

Almost all of the senior management team for Limerick will be in place by the end of this year. The Director General of Irish Aid has already indicated that he will decentralise to Limerick. There are now six Counsellors in place in the Directorate, who have volunteered to go to Limerick and a further two Counsellors will take up duty over the coming months. The changeover of the senior management team, just as in other grades, has been implemented in a planned and careful way so as to minimise disruption to the business of the Directorate.

While there are challenges ahead, management and staff are working effectively together to maintain the quality and integrity of the programme. It would be my hope that a greater number of specialists will, in time, volunteer to decentralise to Limerick.

Overseas Development Aid.

John Perry

Ceist:

14 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the funding allocated to the Clinton Foundation to combat HIV and AIDS in Africa; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39510/06]

HIV/AIDS is one of the foremost challenges in development, especially in Africa. The recently- launched White Paper on Irish Aid reaffirms the priority attached by the Government to addressing the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative provides assistance to countries to implement care, treatment and prevention programmes that can reverse the course of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Three years ago, the Government signed an agreement with President Clinton committing the Government to allocating US$50 million to HIV/AIDS treatment programmes in developing countries. Mozambique was selected as the initial country of focus for the partnership.

Mozambique is greatly affected by HIV with more than 16% of adults between the ages of 15-49 infected. These additional resources have enabled the Government of Mozambique to successfully introduce HIV treatment into its public health response to HIV/AIDS. At the end of June this year, over 27,000 people were on HIV treatment. While excellent progress is being made, this is only 10% of those needing treatment and there are still big challenges ahead.

Based on the significant progress made to date, the many challenges still to be overcome and a positive interim review of the Irish-Clinton Foundation partnership, the Government decided to extend the partnership in Mozambique for a further five years from 2006-2010.

The partnership is also being expanded to Lesotho this year. Lesotho is one of Irish Aid's partner countries and has one of the worst rates of HIV in the world. This is both a human tragedy and a tremendous barrier to development.

On 29th September last, the Taoiseach signed a new agreement with President Clinton. This new agreement builds on the existing partnership and commits the Government to continue working with the Foundation up to 2010. The agreement commits Irish Aid to work jointly with the Foundation in Mozambique and Lesotho towards the achievement of three goals: to provide financial and technical support towards the implementation of national plans for the prevention, treatment, care and support of people affected by HIV/AIDS; to contribute towards the strengthening of the health system; and to respond to the crisis of human resources for health.

This new agreement supersedes the previous agreement and provides for €70 million over the period 2006-2010. Of this amount, €60 million will go to Mozambique and €10 million to Lesotho. This support will be channelled through Ireland's missions in each country to the respective Ministries of Health. Irish Aid will meet with representatives from the Clinton Foundation in these countries on a regular basis to review cooperation and ensure the continued success of the partnership.

This is an important partnership and represents a major contribution by the Government to fighting HIV/AIDS and achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

Middle East Peace Process.

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

15 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he agrees with the views expressed by Mr. Tony Blair in his Lord Mayor’s speech that Syria and Iran now need to be brought into the peace process for the Middle East; the views of the Government regarding these two countries; the steps taken to improve diplomatic relations with these two countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39587/06]

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

72 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the current situation in Iran, especially with regard to the need for Iranian officials to engage with counterparts in the United States; and any offer of support for such talks which Ireland has made. [39554/06]

John Gormley

Ceist:

198 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he agrees with the views expressed by Mr. Tony Blair in his Lord Mayor’s speech that Syria and Iran need to be brought into the peace process for the Middle East; his views in relation to these two countries; the steps taken to improve diplomatic relations with these two countries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39808/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 15, 72 and 198 together.

The conflict in Lebanon and the ongoing crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territories have underlined the urgent need for a renewed international effort towards a comprehensive settlement of the inter-related problems of the Middle East. At the heart of such a settlement must be a negotiated two-State solution to the Israeli — Palestinian conflict. This is the only way forward for the Israeli and the Palestinian people. It is in the interests of Israel and of its neighbours, and it would remove a major source of the instability and tension across the Middle East which remains probably the greatest single threat to international peace and security.

There is a strong view among EU Member States, which the Government shares, that any effort to reach a comprehensive settlement must take into account, and where possible accommodate, the concerns of all the key regional actors, which include Syria and Iran. Engagement with Syria and Iran by all concerned could be a very positive step, but it would nonetheless need to be carefully prepared. The possibilities and basis for such engagement are currently the subject of consideration and discussion within the EU, in Israel and across the Middle East, and in the United States. I welcome Prime Minister Blair's recent contribution to this debate. Clearly, Syria and Iran can also play a politically valuable role in the stabilisation of Iraq.

The importance of Syria to an overall Middle East settlement is evident. Syria is the only one of Israel's neighbours with which a state of war technically still exists. A comprehensive peace must by definition involve Syria, which continues to seek the return of land occupied by Israel in 1967. It is encouraging that Syria has in recent years defined its goal as the achievement of a peace with Israel which will return the Golan Heights to Syria. Less encouraging, however, has been Syria's continued support for armed groups, the use of its territory to supply weapons to Hezbollah, and its long standing interference in the political affairs of Lebanon.

Iran for its part, while not bordering Israel or Palestine, has significant concerns as a regional power with wide interests. It could potentially play a positive role in the promotion of a two-State solution, but regrettably has chosen so far not to do so. It continues to reject the Oslo process and to support violent groups. It has provided weapons to Hezbollah and others. Repeated extreme statements by President Ahmadinejad on the Holocaust and the existence of Israel have increased regional tensions. It plays an increasingly influential role in neighbouring Iraq. Aspects of Iran's nuclear programme have also seriously alarmed its neighbours and considerably added to fears of instability in the region.

In a major effort to resolve the nuclear issue diplomatically, the EU proposed in June a very significant package of measures which could bring about a new and improved relationship between Iran and the wider international community, including in regard to Iran's security. Unfortunately Iran has not so far responded positively to this offer. The offer remains on the table and the door to a more positive dialogue remains open, even as the situation receives consideration in the UN Security Council.

Iran's relative international isolation has, of course, been heightened by the serious difficulties in its relations with the United States over several decades. The Government has warmly welcomed the support of the United States for the EU's efforts to engage constructively with Iran. I believe that it would be helpful if Iran and the US were in due course to agree to engage in direct contacts on regional and international issues.

Foreign Conflicts.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

16 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the political and security situation within the Darfur region of Sudan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39488/06]

Pat Carey

Ceist:

26 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the UN Secretary General’s latest report to the Security Council on Darfur. [39462/06]

Dan Neville

Ceist:

63 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the latest discussions that have taken place between his Department and the Government of Ethiopia to encourage the Government of Sudan to agree to allow a UN peacekeeping force into Darfur; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39486/06]

Liz McManus

Ceist:

65 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the details available as to the relationship which exists between China and the Sudanese Government; the initiatives in train at international, United Nations and European Union level seeking to alleviate this position; the contributions Ireland has made in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39547/06]

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

197 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps being taken to secure the deployment of a full United Nations force for Darfur, Sudan; the humanitarian and security situation in the region; if an expanded African Union and United Nations force will have the necessary authority and ability to restore order and stop indiscriminate killings in Darfur; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39722/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

206 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he is satisfied that action taken to date in Darfur is sufficient to prevent killing, extortion and human rights abuses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39817/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos 16, 26, 63, 65, 197 and 206 together.

The Government's general position on the situation in Darfur is outlined in Priority Question No. 2 of today.

In his September 2006 monthly report on Darfur, the UN Secretary General expressed particular concern at the Government of Sudan's attempt to find a military solution to the crisis and its use of aerial bombardment that fails to distinguish between civilians and combatants. He also highlighted increased restrictions on humanitarian efforts, recurrent attacks on women and girls in IDP camps and a rise in the number of militia attacks on civilians. During October and November attacks on civilians have further increased. These terrible developments underline the urgency of putting in place an effective international peace keeping force in Darfur.

As regards contacts with the Ethiopian Government, I met Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in Addis Ababa in July 2006 and I wrote to him on 15 September to urge him to encourage the President of Sudan to accept the deployment of the UN operation in Darfur, with a strong mandate for the protection of civilians and provision of security for the delivery of humanitarian assistance. I also argued forcefully for the transition to a UN force with the Foreign Minister of Ethiopia while I was in Addis Ababa in July, and found his approach to this issue to be positive and constructive.

While China's approach to international relations is strongly conditioned by its attachment to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries, it has in recent times sought to play a relatively constructive role in relation to Darfur. During the China/Africa Summit in Beijing on 4-5 November 2006, the Chinese President and Foreign Minister are believed to have stressed to President Bashir the need to engage with others to deal with Sudan's problems, particularly in Darfur. At the meeting in Addis Ababa on Darfur on 16 November, co-chaired by the UN and African Union, the Chinese representative made a strong appeal to Sudan to accept the UN Secretary-General's proposals for the deployment of a hybrid UN/African Union peacekeeping force.

I regret that China has abstained on the various UN Security Council Resolutions dealing with Sudan/Darfur. However, it has provided US$4 million in budgetary support and humanitarian aid to AMIS, the African Union's ceasefire monitoring mission there. China also welcomed the signature of the January 2005 North/South Sudan Comprehensive Peace Agreement and committed 200 troops to UNMIS, the UN's peacekeeping operation in Southern Sudan. I welcome these positive contributions, but would urge China to now bring all its influence to bear on the Sudanese President to deliver on the agreement reached at the meeting in Addis Ababa on 16 November.

The economic relationship between China and Sudan is very important. According to the Sudanese Foreign Trade Ministry, China is Sudan's main commercial partner and largest investor. The state-owned China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) owns 40% of Sudan's largest oil venture, the Greater Nile Petroleum Operating Company.

It should be recalled that under the provisions of the January 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, 50% of oil proceeds in southern Sudan are for the use of the Government of Southern Sudan, an area which has suffered extensively from the conflict waged there over twenty years and which is much in need of development and investment. Southern Sudan obtained US$865 million from this source in September 2006.

According to Amnesty International, arms deliveries to Sudan from China since the 1990s have included ammunition, tanks, helicopters and fighter aircraft. In March 2005 the UN imposed an embargo on arms supplies to all parties to the conflict in Darfur. The UN's Sudan Sanctions Monitoring Experts have stated that much of the ammunition used by parties to the conflict in Darfur was manufactured in China. They also discovered that in October 2005 Chinese-manufactured military trucks procured by the Sudanese Ministry of Defence had been transferred to Darfur. The Experts have recommended that the UN's arms embargo should be extended throughout Sudan, like the current EU embargo, and that countries which supply military goods and services to Sudan should require end-use destination certification. However, these recommendations have not yet been implemented by the UN Security Council.

Human Rights Issues.

Seymour Crawford

Ceist:

17 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the discussions he has had at European or international level regarding the curb of civil liberties in Russia, particularly freedom of the press; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39498/06]

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

37 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has had conversations with counterparts in the Russian Government regarding the murder of a person (details supplied) and other outspoken critics of the Russian Government who have lost their lives in mysterious circumstances and whose assailants, thus far, have not been brought to justice; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39497/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 17 and 37 together.

The murder on 7 October of the most widely known investigative journalist and defender of freedom of expression in Russia, Anna Politkovskaya, was a heinous crime which shocked the entire international community. Her death is a tragic loss to all who work for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Russia, most of all in Chechnya. I regret to say also that justice has not been clearly seen to be done in a number of previous cases of killings of journalists in Russia. In order to demonstrate that there is no impunity for such crimes, it is imperative that the Russian authorities investigate thoroughly the murder of Anna Politkovskaya and bring its perpetrators to justice. This action is incumbent on any member in good standing of the Council of Europe and party to the European Convention on Human Rights. The Russian authorities have condemned the murder and repeatedly assured the EU that the investigation, which has been placed under the personal control of the respected Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika, is a priority.

Mandated by Ireland and other Member States, the EU Presidency has raised the case of Anna Politskovskaya with Russia on at least three occasions to date, including at the highest level. A Presidency statement issued on the day after the killing called for a thorough investigation. Prime Minister Vanhanen, as President of the European Council, raised the matter with President Putin at the dinner which followed the informal European Council in Lahti, Finland on 20 October. The case of Anna Politskovskaya and the wider question of the role of free media as an element of a functioning democracy were among the issues discussed at the fourth round of human rights consultations between the EU and Russia in Brussels on 8 November. The Presidency is expected to refer to the case again at tomorrow's EU-Russia Summit in Helsinki.

In recent years, in an overall context in which the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms is not advancing and the space for genuine political pluralism is narrowing, freedom of the media has deteriorated in Russia. News coverage by State-owned and most privately-owned electronic media lacks independence. The print media, which has a narrower reach, has a more critical approach to the actions of the authorities; however changes in the ownership of some prominent dailies suggest that they too may become subject to increased pressures. There are fears that recent changes to the law on countering extremist activity, which is very vaguely defined, may make it easier to use against opposition politicians, human rights defenders and free media. The EU is monitoring closely the implementation of changes to the law governing the funding of foreign NGOs in Russia, which came into effect on 1 April last, because they give rise to similar concerns.

There are disturbing reports this week suggesting that Alexander Litvineko, a former Russian security agent living in Britain, might have been poisoned because he is an enemy of President Putin. The Russian authorities have dismissed the charge which, if proven, would be very grave.

The EU has an intense engagement with Russia. Ireland participates fully in the development of common positions for EU contact with Russia at all levels. In particular we work with others to ensure that values issues, such as those raised by the Deputies, receive due attention.

Foreign Conflicts.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

18 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position of the Government regarding the handing down of the death penalty to Saddam Hussein; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39499/06]

Tom Hayes

Ceist:

44 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the political and security situation in Iraq; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39494/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 18 and 44 together.

The Government shares the widespread concern at the extremely difficult situation in Iraq. Developments have been dominated by the continuing deterioration in the security situation, and in particular the terrible consequences of the spiralling cycle of sectarian violence. There is at present no sign that the insurgency and the inter-communal violence across the country are being brought under control. It is clear that they are effectively blocking the political and reconstruction efforts of Iraq's first fully sovereign and democratic Government and Parliament. The worst violence has been between Shia and Sunni groups in Baghdad and central Iraq, but there has also been an increase in violence in the south of the country. The Kurdish area in the north has largely been unaffected by the violence, although there are dangerous signs of ethnic tensions in the disputed city of Kirkuk.

Although there is no agreed estimate of the casualties from the insurgency, the inter-communal violence and the widespread resultant criminal activity, it is clear that the suffering of the Iraqi people has reached an appalling level. Credible media reports put the more recent monthly death toll in the region of 1,300. In response to the chaos, there has been substantial population movement, with many of those who can afford it moving to neighbouring countries and to Europe, and widespread internal relocation, as formerly mixed areas become polarised along communal lines. Estimates of the extent of this movement suggest perhaps a million people internally displaced.

Against this background, it is difficult to remain optimistic about the impact of the democratic process, which was embraced in such a remarkable manner by the Iraqi people last year. A series of initiatives by the national unity Government to combat the violence, with the assistance of US and other international forces, have had little success. The apparent involvement of some units of the new Iraqi security forces, in some cases linked to Shia militias, has greatly strained relations between the parties in Government. There has been no progress in the review of the new democratic Constitution, which might have addressed some of the concerns of the Sunni community.

The Government and our partners in the EU remain firmly committed to supporting the Iraq i people as they work to restore security and prosperity. Since 2003, the EU has provided over €700 million in assistance for reconstruction. Work is continuing under the auspices of the United Nations on the development of an International Compact for Iraq, which will coordinate assistance in partnership with the Iraqi Government, on the basis of its priorities. The EU will continue to offer all possible political, economic and technical support, including training for officials of the Iraqi criminal justice system.

In considering the situation in Iraq, the primary concern of the international community must be the welfare of the people of the country. We believe that a secure and peaceful Iraq can only be assured through the maintenance of its territorial integrity, the development of shared political and other institutions and strong political and economic links with all the countries of the neighbouring region.

I am aware of the criticisms of the conduct of the trial of former President Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants by organisations including Human Rights Watch. The accused were charged with specific and very serious crimes. I believe that the people of Iraq deserve to see those crimes accounted for. We welcomed the determination of the Iraqi authorities to pursue the legal process in extremely difficult circumstances. It would not be appropriate for me to comment now on the conduct of the legal process, other than to note that the trial was held in open court under Iraqi law, and was fully televised. The guilty verdicts are clearly a matter for the Iraqi courts. An appeals process is now underway.

In relation to the death sentences imposed on Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants, I would emphasise that the Government, and our EU partners, have a clear policy against the use of the death penalty in all circumstances. The EU has conveyed its strong views on the use of the death penalty directly to the Iraqi Government.

Convention Ratification.

Joe Sherlock

Ceist:

19 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs when Ireland will ratify the United Nations Convention against Corruption; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39527/06]

I refer the Deputy to previous replies to similar questions concerning the United Nations Convention against Corruption, most recently on 25 October 2006. The Convention was adopted by the UN General Assembly in October 2003 and was signed on behalf of Ireland, when it opened for signature, in December 2003. The convention entered into force on 14 December 2005. To date, eight Member States of the EU have ratified the Convention.

The Deputy will be aware that my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has lead responsibility in this area. His officials, in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, are currently examining the Convention with a view to identifying the necessary legislation which will be required to enable Ireland to ratify it. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform has also undertaken consultations with other Departments and Agencies seeking their views on the matter.

Departmental Staff.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

20 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of posts for external application he proposes to advertise in 2007 in the different sections of his Department. [39531/06]

Vacancies in the Department are, in general, filled through the Public Appointments Service (PAS), which is the central recruiting body for the whole of the Civil Service. Competitions for positions within the Civil Service are advertised by the PAS in the recruitment pages of the national newspapers.

The Department's graduate recruitment programme for posts at the diplomatic grade of Third Secretary is also operated by the PAS. Candidates must have a first or second class honours degree in any discipline or have qualified as a Solicitor or Barrister. A new Third Secretary recruitment competition will be advertised by the PAS in early 2007. Third Secretaries will be appointed from this competition to fill vacancies arising and it is expected that the first of them will take up duty in the Department next summer.

The Department also recruits development specialists to work at headquarters and in missions overseas to provide specialist input to its overseas aid programme. As soon as ongoing discussions around the specialists' terms and conditions of employment are successfully completed, the Department, through the PAS, intends to recruit additional specialist staff.

This year, the Department initiated a pilot scheme which offers six internships for recent graduates who hope to make a career in international development aid. The internships, which are for eight months, are designed to complement academic and professional knowledge by providing practical experience and an understanding of the realities of international development cooperation. Recruitment has just ended for the coming year. The scheme will be assessed at the end of the internships before a decision is taken on whether to recruit interns next year.

In addition, the Department annually recruits four Stagiaires to work for up to twelve months in its Legal and Political Divisions. The posts are normally advertised in the national newspapers in April or May of each year respectively. In each case, successful candidates are placed on a panel following a competitive interview process.

Finally, the Department from time to time advertises for Services Officer, Nightwatchperson and Cleaner positions through the FAS website. Panels are formed from which vacancies in these grades are filled. A competition for Services Officer and Nightwatchperson is underway at present. The panel, which will be formed arising from this competition, will run until 2008. A competition for Cleaner positions will be advertised through FAS in the early months of next year.

Human Trafficking.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

21 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the efforts undertaken by his Department to work with his international counterparts in order to effectively combat human trafficking; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39489/06]

The ongoing struggle against human trafficking is a priority issue at EU and international level.

A specific Action Plan was adopted by the Justice and Home Affairs Council last December. This Action Plan is aimed at developing common standards, best practices and mechanisms to prevent and combat trafficking in human beings. It covers such issues as the coordination of EU action and the prosecution of offences linked to trafficking. Implementation of the Action Plan is being pursued by the Justice and Home Affairs Council, where Ireland is represented by the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. At the June European Council, Heads of State and Government highlighted human trafficking as an area where further EU action is required.

In Ireland, human trafficking is primarily a criminal law matter and the Government has recently approved the Criminal Law (Trafficking in Persons and Sexual Offences) Bill 2006. This Bill is currently being drafted in the office of the Parliamentary Council.

My Department actively supports measures against human trafficking in other international fora, such as the Council of Europe, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United Nations, where a resolution on "Trafficking in Women" and Girls was adopted without a vote on 9 November. Ireland co-sponsored this resolution. In addition, through Irish Aid, the Department of Foreign Affairs has contributed more than €1.7 million towards anti trafficking projects carried out by, amongst others, the International Labour Organisation.

Diplomatic Representation.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

22 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs when an Irish Ambassador will be appointed and take up residence in Chile. [39525/06]

Ireland established formal diplomatic relations with Chile in 1992 and since then our Ambassador to Argentina has been accredited there on a non-resident basis. The Government has also appointed an Honorary Consul, who is based in Santiago.

As I believe the Deputy will appreciate, any expansion of our diplomatic network must be approached on a phased basis, having regard to clear priorities and available resources. In this regard, and while the opening of new Missions is reviewed by the Government on an ongoing basis, there are no plans to establish a resident Embassy in Chile at this time.

Overseas Property.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

23 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on Irish citizens purchasing property in occupied Cyprus; if he has been contacted on the matter; the advice he can give to Irish citizens in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39526/06]

In line with UN Security Council Resolutions 541 of 1983 and 550 of 1984, which are binding on all members of the United Nations, Ireland does not recognise the so-called "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus". The Republic of Cyprus has been a Member State of the EU since 1 May 2004. In the absence of a comprehensive settlement to the Cyprus problem, the application of the laws and regulations of the Union to the northern part of the island is suspended. The issue of property rights is a crucial element in the search for a comprehensive settlement, on which the United Nations has the lead role, and will not be resolved until such a comprehensive settlement has been agreed.

Any Irish citizen considering the purchase of property in the area in which the Government of the Republic of Cyprus does not exercise effective control should consider very carefully all the complex legal issues involved. I believe that it is important also to take full account of the political background. Any future comprehensive settlement in Cyprus will almost certainly include provisions on property rights which, depending on the particular circumstances, could have very serious practical or financial implications for people who have purchased property in the northern part of the island.

Debt Relief.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

24 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the degree to which the agreed level of debt write off has to date been achieved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39516/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

205 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he is satisfied that commitments entered into by way of debt write off to the poorer countries is being honoured in full; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39816/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 24 and 205 together.

The IMF and World Bank have made increasing efforts to tackle the problem of debt in developing countries, since the launch of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative in 1996. The HIPC Initiative, which was strengthened and enhanced in 1999, sought to reduce the debt burden of qualifying countries to sustainable levels but did not entail cancellation. Ireland contributed some €30m towards the costs of implementation of the Initiative.

The Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI) agreed by the G8 Countries at Gleneagles in July 2005 and which came into effect on 1 July this year, goes further. It is a commitment to the cancellation of the multilateral debt owed to the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund of many of the poorest and most indebted countries in the world. Most of these countries are in Africa. For the first time, the most powerful countries have recognised that many poor countries need 100% debt relief if they are to address the development needs of their people seriously. This is an important basis from which we can continue to work for a complete and sustainable solution to the debt problem facing poor countries.

The Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative is separate from the earlier HIPC Initiative, but linked to it operationally. Under this new Initiative, cancellation of eligible debts is granted to countries which have completed the HIPC Initiative process, i.e. have already been judged as qualified to receive debt relief.

From the information available to me, I am satisfied that these new commitments to debt write-off are being honoured. As of mid-August 2006, 29 countries of the 40 defined heavily indebted poor countries had received debt relief under the HIPC Initiative, amounting to US$28.8 billion. So far, 19 of these countries have also received MDRI debt relief from the IMF and World Bank, amounting to a further US$15.8 billion (US$12.8 billion from the World Bank and US$3.0 billion from the IMF). The total cost of the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative is estimated at US$48.9 billion in nominal terms.

The IMF share of the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative's costs will largely be met by own resources, as authorised by IMF Members including Ireland. Ireland's additional share of the costs of the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative amounts to €58.6m, out of the approximately US$37 billion total cost of debt relief to be provided by the World Bank. As a gesture of support and to underline our strong commitment to 100% debt relief for the poorest countries, this amount has already been paid over in full.

Human Rights Issues.

Liam Twomey

Ceist:

25 Dr. Twomey asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has had conversations with his European counterparts regarding diplomatic measures that could dissuade the Government of Israel from its current house demolition practices in East Jerusalem; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39491/06]

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

66 Mr. Crowe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the action is he taking to ensure that Irish owned companies are not participating in the erection of the apartheid wall in Israel or in the construction of new roads in Palestinian territories annexed by the Israeli Government. [39468/06]

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

69 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has had discussions with his counterpart in the Government of Israel regarding the demolition of Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39490/06]

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

71 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the representations he has made to the Government of Israel on the administrative detention, effectively internment without trial, of up to 950 people, mainly Palestinians, by that Government. [39466/06]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

110 Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the representations he has made to the Government of Israel to secure the release from administrative detention of a person (details supplied). [39465/06]

Martin Ferris

Ceist:

118 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the action he is taking directly to monitor the illegal activities of the Israeli Government in continuing to erect an apartheid wall in Palestine, reinforcing illegal settlements and violating the human rights of the Palestinian people. [39467/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 25, 66, 69, 71, 110 and 118 together.

The Government is deeply concerned by the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The terrible violence of recent months serves to underline that there can be no military or unilateral solutions to the Israeli — Palestinian conflict. The Government and our EU partners are determined to continue to work directly with the parties, and internationally, to revive a credible peace process in the Middle East. We have argued strongly that the only way forward for the Israeli and the Palestinian people is the negotiation of a viable two-State solution.

The EU has consistently stated that all parties must demonstrate their commitment to the implementation of their obligations under the Quartet Roadmap, and under international law. The Government and our EU partners have consistently called on the Israeli Government to end all activities in the Occupied Territories which threaten to undermine the viability of a two-State solution and which are against international law. These include the expansion of settlements, the demolition of Palestinian homes and the construction of the separation barrier on occupied land. We have raised these issues directly with the Israeli Government, in conjunction with our EU partners, and at the United Nations. We will continue actively to do so.

As I stated in my reply to a Question on house demolitions on 2 November, the Government continues to follow the situation in East Jerusalem very closely, through the Representative Office in Ramallah and the Embassy in Tel Aviv, and in consultation with Palestinan, Israeli and Irish human rights groups and NGOs. The practice of house demolitions in East Jerusalem is closely linked to the issues of residency status and the expansion of settlements. The Israeli authorities have placed very severe restrictions on the building of houses by Palestinians in East Jerusalem and, in practice, have issued fewer than 100 building permits to Palestinians in the area annually. Many Palestinians have built homes without the permits required by the Israeli authorities because they believe they have no alternative. Both directly and in conjunction with our EU partners, the Government has made it clear to the Israeli Government that it must end the practice of demolition of these homes, which is contrary to international law.

The Deputies will be aware of the Government's strong views on the illegality of the construction of the separation barrier on occupied land. While we recognise the responsibility on the Israeli Government to provide for the security of its citizens, I have regularly expressed my serious concern about the negative consequences of the continuing construction of the barrier, both for the daily lives of the Palestinian people and for the viability of a just and lasting settlement. The Government has raised the issues involved directly with Israel, within the EU and at the United Nations. We have been to the fore in ensuring that the European Union continues to affirm that it will recognise no changes to the pre-1967 borders other than those negotiated between the parties in the context of a final status agreement.

We will continue to monitor developments in relation to the barrier and the construction of settlements, and to make our views known on their illegality. I am not aware of any Irish company which is involved in the construction by Israel of the separation barrier, or of new roads in the Occupied Territories.

In our bilateral contacts with Israel, the Government has regularly conveyed its concerns about the human rights implications of Israeli security policies and the importance of full compliance with international humanitarian law. The EU has serious concerns about the practice of administrative detention in Israel and the Occupied Territories. We have ensured that they are addressed in the EU's continuing political dialogue with Israel. Most recently, the Union's specific concerns about administrative detention were raised at the meeting of the EU-Israel Association Council in Luxembourg on 13 June and at the EU-Israel Sub-Committee on Political Dialogue in Brussels on 9 November.

As Deputies will be aware from my replies to a series of Questions earlier this year, I remain concerned about the specific case mentioned, which has been raised with the Israeli authorities on a number of occasions by our Embassy in Tel Aviv. The person concerned was arrested on 23 May 2005, and on 16 June 2005 the Israeli authorities ordered his administrative detention for six months. Despite a number of appeals and reviews, the detention order has been extended continuously since then. Most recently, on 14 November, it was extended for a further four months. The Department and the Embassy in Tel Aviv are continuing to monitor the situation in cooperation with Embassies of other EU Member States and in consultation with Israeli and Palestinian human rights groups.

Question No. 26 answered with QuestionNo. 16.

Commemorative Events.

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

27 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his plans to provide a memorial for Irish personnel who were members of the British military forces during World War I and who recently received a pardon under the Shot at Dawn campaign. [38349/06]

The National Day of Commemoration, held in remembrance of all those Irish men and women who died in past wars or in service with the UN, remains the official commemorative event for Irish war losses. This, of course, includes the tens of thousands of Irish volunteers who were lost in the First World War.

With regard to those "shot at dawn", Deputies will be aware that legislation was recently enacted in the British Parliament granting a statutory pardon to all soldiers executed for military offences during the First World War, including 26 Irish volunteers.

The Government offered strong support to the ‘Shot at Dawn' campaign in Ireland, and in particular took the issue up formally with the British Government through a comprehensive report in 2004. The Government has been actively engaged since then in finding a solution, and very much welcomes the outcome as a vindication of the memory of these men. The Government also notes that the legislation granting pardons has been welcomed by the campaign as the conclusion of its efforts on behalf of the families.

I understand also that, consequent to the enactment of the pardon, the Irish War Memorial Trust is in the process of adding the names of those ‘shot at dawn' to the National War Memorial Records.

Tax Code.

Michael Mulcahy

Ceist:

28 Mr. Mulcahy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will support the campaign to have corporation tax in Northern Ireland reduced to parity with the Republic of Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39591/06]

A clear case has been made, including by Northern business people and the political parties, that lowering Northern Ireland's corporation tax rate would help to stimulate growth in the Northern economy. This is, of course, a matter for the British Government in the first instance. Any such proposal may also have to be considered in the context of EU rules.

I particularly welcome the fact that the Northern Ireland political parties, together, are pursuing this issue actively with the British Government. I also warmly welcome the level of engagement among the political parties to address the economic challenges facing Northern Ireland.

The Government is convinced that stronger economic growth in Northern Ireland can only be of benefit to all citizens on the island, North and South, and we are, of course, strongly supportive of measures which will foster such growth.

Cluster Munitions.

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

29 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government’s position at the current Conventional Weapons Review Conference in Geneva, in particular, the Government’s stance on the banning of the use of cluster bombs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39585/06]

John Curran

Ceist:

40 Mr. Curran asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if Ireland will take a lead role in opposing the use of cluster munitions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39463/06]

Peter Kelly

Ceist:

101 Mr. Kelly asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if Ireland will take a lead role in opposing the use of cluster munitions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39588/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 29, 40 and 101 together.

Ireland has been calling for action on cluster munitions within the framework of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons (CCW) since July 2002. We have consistently expressed our view that it is in the tradition of the CCW to address issues concerning weapons that have been shown to have indiscriminate effects.

Accordingly, Ireland was one of six CCW States Parties (the others were Austria, the Holy See, Mexico, New Zealand and Sweden) which made a proposal last August for the Conventional Weapons Review Conference to draft a mandate for the negotiation of a legally binding instrument on cluster munitions. We welcomed, and were encouraged by, the appeal made by the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, on the opening day of the Conference, to take urgent action to address the issue of cluster munitions. By the close of the Conference last Friday, a total of 25 States had supported our call for such a mandate.

The Conference operates by consensus, however, and the mandate agreed on Friday provides only for the urgent convening of a meeting of governmental experts "to consider further the application and implementation of existing international law to specific munitions that may cause explosive remnants of war, with particular focus on cluster munitions, including the factors affecting their reliability and their technical and design characteristics, with a view to minimising the humanitarian impact of these munitions."

In a national statement on the closing day, we regretted that the Conference was unable to agree a more comprehensive mandate to deal with this grave humanitarian issue but signalled that we will continue to work within the CCW process, and elsewhere, to seek agreement on a legally binding instrument on the use of cluster munitions.

Ireland also joined 24 other countries in a declaration recognising that cluster munitions are of serious humanitarian concern during and after armed conflict. The declaration called for an international agreement that would include a prohibition on the use of cluster munitions within concentrations of civilians and a prohibition on the development, production, stockpiling, transfer and use of cluster munitions that pose serious humanitarian hazards due to their unreliability and inaccuracy.

Ireland was also successful in introducing language into the Conference Final Declaration "noting the foreseeable effects of explosive remnants of war on civilian populations as a factor to be considered in applying the international humanitarian law rules on proportionality in attack and precautions in attack." This will increase the onus on military commanders in the field to give due weight to the foreseeable after-effects on civilian populations of whatever weapons and munitions are used on a given occasion. This is, however, no substitute for the international instrument on cluster munitions, which we believe to be necessary and which the Government will continue to pursue.

Iranian Nuclear Programme.

Pádraic McCormack

Ceist:

30 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to negotiations taking place between Iran and EU3 with regard to nuclear development; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39481/06]

Jimmy Deenihan

Ceist:

91 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has had recent discussions with European Union Foreign Ministers regarding the Iranian nuclear development programmes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39482/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 30 and 91 together.

The question of Iran's nuclear programme is kept under constant review within the European Union at official level and is also the subject of regular discussions at Ministerial level. The most recent such discussion was at the General Affairs and External Relations Council meeting of 13-14 November in Brussels, where Ministers received an update on latest developments.

There are currently no negotiations underway between the EU3 and Iran. Following Iran's failure to comply with the UN Security Council's 31 August deadline on suspension of enrichment-related activities, High Representative Solana, on behalf of the EU3, met with lead Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani on a number of occasions in September. However, these discussions failed to agree an acceptable formula for commencing negotiations. The EU side has been obliged, reluctantly, to conclude that Iran is not at this stage seriously interested in responding to the package of incentives presented to Teheran in June.

As a result of Iran's failure to comply with the Security Council's 31 August deadline, as set in United Nations Security Council Resolution 1696 of 31 July, the Security Council is currently discussing a second resolution that would impose additional restrictive measures on Iran, designed to increase pressure to comply with the Security Council's suspension demand. I would like to stress that the door to negotiations on the June package of incentives remains open should Iran choose to do what is necessary so that negotiations can commence. Meanwhile, the latest report from the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Dr El Baradei, continues to confirm Iran's lack of cooperation with the Agency's efforts to resolve the outstanding questions related to its nuclear programme. The matter will again be discussed by the IAEA's Board of Governors which is currently in session.

Question No. 31 answered with QuestionNo. 7.

Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

32 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs when the matter of the development of EU battle groups was last discussed with his European counterparts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39479/06]

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Ceist:

46 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the further negotiations he has had with his counterparts in the countries forming the Nordic Battlegroup regarding Irish membership of that group; if a memorandum of understanding has been drawn up; if so, if that memorandum makes reference to Ireland’s need for a UN mandate before Irish troops take part in an overseas military mission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39582/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 32 and 46 together.

As I have previously informed the House, Ireland indicated to its EU partners in 2004 a positive disposition towards taking part in EU Battlegroups. I met the Foreign Ministers of Sweden and Finland in January 2005 and the Foreign Minister of Austria in April 2005 to discuss a range of issues, including possible Irish participation in EU Battlegroups. I also had the opportunity to discuss Ireland's expected participation in the Nordic Battlegroup with the Norwegian Foreign Minister, Jonas Gahr Store, during the visit of the Norwegian Royal couple in September of this year.

European Security and Defence Policy issues, including developments with regard to Battlegroups, are also discussed regularly at meetings of the General Affairs and External Relations Council. The most recent of these discussions was at the joint meeting of Foreign and Defence Ministers in Brussels earlier this month.

At its meeting on 14 November 2006, the Government decided that Ireland would provide a contingent of the Defence Forces to participate in the Nordic Battlegroup. This Battlegroup will be on standby in the first half of 2008.

Our partners in the Battlegroup will be Sweden, Finland, Norway and Estonia. These countries have agreed a Memorandum of Understanding outlining the principles for the establishment and operation of the Battlegroup. The Memorandum recalls that the "fundamental framework for international relations is the United Nations". It stresses that "international law will govern the Battlegroup, taking into account the principles of the United Nations Charter", and "having regard to relevant UN Security Council Resolutions". The Memorandum further specifies that the "commitment of forces to the Battlegroup will be without prejudice to each Participant's sovereign right to make an autonomous decision on whether to deploy its forces to a specific crisis management operation". In Ireland's case, the arrangements of the "triple-lock" of Government decision, Dáil approval and UN authorisation will apply in respect of any possible deployment of Irish troops. Sweden, as framework nation, has confirmed that it fully accepts Ireland's position in this regard, as do the other participants in the Nordic Battlegroup.

Foreign Conflicts.

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

33 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has made representations to the Israeli Government concerning attacks by Israeli Defence forces in the Gaza Strip on 9 November 2006 which killed 19 persons (details supplied); the position of the Government regarding the maintenance of the EU Israel Association Agreement in view of Israeli human rights violations in Palestine; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39584/06]

Damien English

Ceist:

41 Mr. English asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position of the Government regarding the recent statement by Hamas that they reject the notion of a two State solution in the Middle East; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39492/06]

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

78 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if Ireland or the EU will take new initiatives to restore the peace process in Palestine leading to a cessation of rocket attacks on civilians in Israel, and a cessation of military incursions by the Israeli military into Gaza and the West Bank occupied territories. [39546/06]

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

84 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the discussions he has held with his counterpart Ministers in Denmark, Slovakia and the United Kingdom at European Union level following the decision by these three nations to abstain from a recent United Nations Security Council Resolution condemning the recent loss of life in Gaza. [39521/06]

John Perry

Ceist:

85 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has had conversations with his European counterparts regarding the negative effect Hamas’ rejection of a two State solution will have on the Middle East peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39493/06]

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

96 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the current European Union policy towards, and views of, the ongoing conflict in Gaza, with reference to the recent United Nations Security Council Resolution at which different members of the EU failed to maintain a coherent and consistent line. [39522/06]

Michael D. Higgins

Ceist:

102 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his and the Government’s views on the implications for European Union policy of the abstention of the United Kingdom and Denmark on the Security Council Resolution condemning the loss of civilians lives in recent Israeli attacks on Palestinian homes in Gaza. [39520/06]

Pat Breen

Ceist:

204 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the action he is taking following the killing of civilians in Beit Hanoun in Gaza by the Israeli armed forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39771/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 33, 41, 78, 84, 85, 96, 102 and 204 together.

The Government is deeply concerned by the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and especially by the rising toll of death and destruction in Gaza. We have conveyed our position clearly and consistently in direct contacts with the parties, including the Israeli Ambassador in Dublin and the Israeli Government in Jerusalem, in cooperation with our partners in the EU, and at the United Nations.

I have unreservedly condemned the killing of 18 civilians, including women and children, in the shelling of Beit Hanoun by the Israeli Defence Forces on 8 November. I also condemn the killing of an Israeli woman in rocket attacks on Sderot on 15 November. The Government has called very clearly for an immediate end to all violence. This includes the Israeli military operation in Gaza and the firing of rockets on Israel from Palestinian Territory.

The meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council in Brussels on 13 November strongly deplored the Israeli military action in Gaza and the unacceptable military operation in Beit Hanoun. The Council underlined that any military action should not be disproportionate or in contravention of international humanitarian law. The Government and our EU partners have reminded all parties of their duty to protect civilian lives. Israel has a legitimate right to defend itself against attack, but not at the expense of the lives and welfare of innocent civilians. I believe it was particularly important that Ministers agreed on such a strong message at the meeting of the Council and responded to the situation in this way, not least in view of the perception of possible differences of approach as a result of the votes cast on the draft Resolution in the UN Security Council on 11 November, which has been raised in a number of questions.

As Deputies will be aware also, an Emergency Special Session of the UN General Assembly on 17 November adopted a Resolution, which was introduced by the Palestinian delegation, which calls on Israel to cease immediately military operations which endanger the Palestinian civilian population in the Occupied Territories and withdraw its forces from within the Gaza Strip to their positions prior to 28 June 2006. The Resolution also calls on the Palestinian Authority to take immediate and sustained action to bring an end to violence, including the firing of rockets on Israeli territory. Following intensive coordination within the EU, in which our Permanent Mission to the United Nations was very actively involved, Ireland and all other EU Member States voted in favour of the Resolution.

The terrible violence of recent months underlines the urgent need to revive a credible peace process in the Middle East. There can be no military or unilateral solutions to the Israeli — Palestinian conflict. We have argued consistently that the only way forward for the Israeli and the Palestinian people is the negotiation of a viable two-State solution. The Government and our EU partners strongly support the continuing efforts of President Mahmoud Abbas to agree with Hamas and other Palestinian groupings on the formation of a national unity government. Given the context, it is not surprising that the negotiations have proved difficult, and that agreement has not yet been reached. There has been some evidence of differences of emphasis and approach in recent statements by spokesmen for Hamas.

I have stated on many occasions that if agreement can be reached on a government committed to the negotiation of a two-State solution and based clearly on an end to violence, Ireland will argue strongly for a generous and creative political response from the EU and the wider international community. The Council on 13 November stated that a government with a platform reflecting the Quartet principles and allowing for early engagement would be a partner for the international community in re-launching the peace process.

The Government is convinced that the efforts of the EU in the Middle East must focus on actions which will improve the prospects for the achievement of a two-State solution. The operation of the EU — Israel Association Agreement promotes the dialogue which is essential if progress is to be made in rebuilding the peace process. Meetings of the Association Council with Israel also provide the opportunity for the EU to highlight its concerns on the human rights implications of Israeli security policies. I do not believe that the suspension of the Agreement, which would require consensus within the European Union, or other measures to restrict contacts, would serve the interests of any of the parties.

US Immigration Reform.

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

34 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the possible effect that recent American elections may have on the Kennedy-McCain immigration proposals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39495/06]

John Curran

Ceist:

42 Mr. Curran asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the recent contacts he has had as part of this campaign for the undocumented in America; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39464/06]

Peter Kelly

Ceist:

47 Mr. Kelly asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the recent contacts he has had as part of his campaign for the undocumented in America; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39589/06]

John Gormley

Ceist:

76 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the impact the US mid-term election results will have on efforts to legalise Irish immigrants in the United States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39577/06]

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

97 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has had conversations with his counterpart in the US administration to determine possible policy shifts of interest to the Irish people, particularly in view of recent election changes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39496/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 34, 42, 47, 76 and 97 together.

The Government attaches the highest priority to the issue of the undocumented Irish in the United States. This issue is actively on the agenda of the Embassy and the Consulates in the United States in their on-going discussions with the Administration and on Capitol Hill. I myself raise it in all my discussions with the US Authorities including, most recently, in a wide ranging discussion with the new United States Ambassador, on 1 November. I also had detailed discussions in New York on 10 November with the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, an organisation that has been highly effective on Capitol Hill and beyond and which the Government has been supporting financially. I now look forward to further discussing and reviewing the prospects for immigration reform, in particular with key Members of the incoming Congress in the New Year. In this regard, my initial assessment is that the recent elections have given a boost to prospects for reform, though the issue remains a difficult and divisive issue both in Congress and in the United States generally.

I should emphasise also that I very much welcome the continuing commitment of Senators Kennedy and McCain to the advancement of the comprehensive approach to immigration that they have long promoted and which the Government strongly supports. I also greatly appreciate the recent reiteration by President Bush of his on-going commitment to comprehensive reform in this area.

The Government's overriding objective continues to be to ensure that our undocumented citizens in the United States can regularise their status, travel freely to and from Ireland and ultimately secure a path to permanent residency. Despite all the difficulties and challenges, I look forward to further progress on this priority issue for the Government in the coming period.

Common Foreign and Security Policy.

John Gormley

Ceist:

35 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will comment on the proposal by the Polish President, Mr. Lech Kaczynski, for a 100,000 strong European Union army linked to NATO; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38107/06]

I am aware that President Lech Kaczynski of Poland was reported earlier this month to have said that the European Union should have an armed force of between 80,000 and 100,000 personnel, within the framework of NATO. While the leaders of Member States of the European Union and others are, of course, free to raise such ideas, I am not aware that Poland or any other Member State intends to put forward a formal proposal of this kind. In any case, all decisions related to the Union's Security and Defence Policy are taken by unanimity. Nor is there any current basis in the Treaties for the establishment of such a force.

The Government would be strongly opposed to any such move and, as I have already stated in response to reports of President Kaczynski's remarks, Ireland cannot under the Constitution enter into any arrangement that would entail a common defence.

Question No. 36 answered with QuestionNo. 7.
Question No. 37 answered with QuestionNo. 17.
Question No. 38 answered with QuestionNo. 8.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

39 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government’s position on the British Government’s commitment in the St. Andrews Agreement to establish a forum on a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland; if the Government has any involvement in the planning for this forum or has conveyed views to the British side on the matter; his views on whether the British commitment to convene an inaugural meeting of the forum in December 2006 is appropriate or feasible; his further views on the representation of civil society at any such forum, the selection of its chair and the provision to it of adequate secretarial and research resources; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39539/06]

The Government very much welcomes the firm commitment in the St. Andrews Agreement that the British Government is to establish a Forum on a Bill of Rights and convene its inaugural meeting in December 2006. The Joint Declaration published by the two Governments on 1 May 2003, in the context of their ongoing work to achieve full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, explicitly committed the British Government to "work with the parties to facilitate the response to the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission's proposal for a round table forum on the Bill of Rights, involving the parties and civic society." It envisaged that the round table forum "will have an independent chair and its own secretariat, will be as inclusive as possible of Assembly parties and civic society, will appropriately involve the Human Rights Commission, mindful of its statutory role, and will be adequately supported and resourced."

Since then, the Government has consistently raised the need for delivery on this commitment with the British Government, within the framework of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference. I discussed the issue with the Secretary of State at successive meetings of the BIIGC this year, where we also reviewed the useful discussions on a Bill of Rights between the political parties in the Assembly Preparation for Government Committee.

The discussions at St. Andrews resulted in an explicit commitment by the British Government in Annex B of the St. Andrews Agreement to the establishment of a Forum on a Bill of Rights and to the convening of its inaugural meeting next month. In order to facilitate delivery on that commitment, a public consultation process was launched by the British Government on 14 November. The consultation invites views,inter alia, on the draft terms of reference for the proposed Forum, the timescale for the Forum to produce agreed recommendations and the Forum’s proposed size, membership and structure. The consultation is ongoing, but will be conducted within a tight timeframe. Responses have been requested by no later than 28 November next.

On the question of Forum membership, the Government has always supported the involvement of political parties and civic society, as envisaged in the Joint Declaration. I made clear our support for such an inclusive Forum as the best means of facilitating debate on a Bill of Rights when I met with representatives of the Human Rights Consortium and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission in Belfast in March of this year.

The role of Chair will obviously be critical to the success of the Forum's deliberations. It is the Government's view that the Chair should be clearly independent, have relevant human rights expertise, and possess the skills necessary to facilitate effective discussions among Forum Members. I made these views known to the Secretary of State earlier this year. We firmly believe that, in line with the Joint Declaration commitment, the work of the Forum should be adequately supported and resourced. I welcome the clear statement of intent in that regard in the British Government's Consultation Document of 14 November.

We will continue to engage with the British Government at political and official level in the coming weeks as preparations for the first meeting of the Forum proceed.

Question No. 40 answered with QuestionNo. 29.
Question No. 41 answered with QuestionNo. 33.
Question No. 42 answered with QuestionNo. 34.

Overseas Humanitarian Aid.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

43 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the progress to date with regard to the development of a rapid response initiative to increase Ireland’s ability to respond to global emergency situations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39472/06]

Gay Mitchell

Ceist:

98 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if arrangements for the storage of humanitarian aid at overseas locations have been finalised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39515/06]

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

112 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the level, nature and amount of humanitarian supplies to be stored overseas by the Government; if the matter has been discussed at European level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39500/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 43, 98 and 112 together.

A number of humanitarian crises in recent years have highlighted some shortcomings in the response mechanisms currently in use by the international community. This applies to both the response mechanisms of the European Union and of the United Nations. Efforts are underway to improve emergency responses internationally, which I fully support. Our Rapid Response Initiative complements these efforts.

The Rapid Response Initiative is designed to substantially enhance Ireland's response to humanitarian emergencies. Considerable progress has been made to date under its three elements:

1. Pre-positioning and transportation of humanitarian supplies to disaster areas:

On Friday 13 October, I signed a Letter of Understanding with Mr James Morris, Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) on the pre-positioning of humanitarian supplies. Under this two-year pilot programme, Irish Aid will fund the purchase and pre-positioning of humanitarian supplies at the United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot (UNHRD) — the UN's main rapid response base, managed by the WFP — in Brindisi, Italy. The Brindisi supplies will comprise shelter and other non-perishable housing items such as kitchen sets, blankets, plastic sheeting, tents and mosquito nets, and water supply and sanitation equipment to benefit approximately 20,000 people. Irish Aid has consulted widely with several UN agencies, other donor countries and NGO partners to ensure that the composition and design specifications of the supplies comply with international norms and standards. Work is ongoing in respect of the development of a similar facility at the Curragh which will handle supplies in respect of approximately 10,000 people.

2. Establishment of a register of highly-skilled and experienced individuals for deployment at short notice to emergency situations:

The idea behind the establishment of the register is to provide an opportunity for a Rapid Response Corps of skilled and experienced Irish personnel to serve at short notice in emergency situations. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) have been identified as appropriate partner agencies, which can provide the appropriate on-the-ground support for such personnel. Irish NGOs may also wish to use the register.

3. Enhancing the emergency capacities of international humanitarian response agencies and mechanisms:

Funding is being provided for the development of 4 regional humanitarian supply depots for UNHRD. Irish Aid will provide funding for the running costs of the regional humanitarian supply depot for Africa, which will be based in Accra, Ghana. Funding in the amount of €3.4 million will be disbursed in 2006 to strengthen the capacity of a number of key response mechanisms of the international humanitarian system — notably the key UN agencies and the Red Cross family.

Irish Aid is working to improve humanitarian response capacities on a broad front through a number of activities complementary to the Rapid Response Initiative. I have provided €10 million in 2006 for the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) of the UN. This Fund is designed to provide rapid funding to agencies to enable them to respond much more quickly to emergency situations. I have pledged an additional €20 million for 2007. Funding is also being provided to the International Federation of the Red Cross to build local capacity to meet emergency needs. We are also in discussions with NGOs with the aim of assisting them to build more capacity in emergency response.

Question No. 44 answered with QuestionNo. 18.

Overseas Development Aid.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

45 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the details regarding a proposed booklet on Irish aid, for which advertisements for the tendering process were published recently; the proposed contents of such a leaflet; when it is proposed that it would be distributed; the number of copies to be produced; the way the production and distribution, of such a leaflet is to be funded; if the moneys for such will come out of the Irish aid budget; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39548/06]

As announced during the recent debate on the White Paper on Irish Aid in the Dáil on 2 November 2006, the Department of Foreign Affairs will distribute a booklet on the aid programme to each household in the country in January 2007. The contents of the booklet will include a short overview of the White Paper on Irish Aid, information on the priority areas of work for Irish Aid and details of volunteering opportunities for Irish people. This mail-out is taking place in the context of the need to strengthen public awareness of the aid programme as outlined in the White Paper and in the debates in the Dáil and Seanad. Throughout the extensive consultation process preceding publication of the White Paper, this emerged as a key concern for Irish people. Ensuring public awareness of the aims and activities of the aid programme will be all the more important as the level of resources committed to overseas development increases.

The Government Supplies Agency in the OPW are currently tendering for the printing of the booklet as per public procurement guidelines. Following completion of the tender process, the booklet will be printed and distributed to approximately 1.6 million addresses by An Post over a two-week period beginning in the last week of January 2007.

The booklet will be funded from the Information and Communication budget within Irish Aid and the total cost of design, printing and distribution is estimated to be €310,000. The Information and Communication budget for 2006 represented 0.2% of the total ODA budget and it will remain the same for 2007.

Question No. 46 answered with QuestionNo. 32.
Question No. 47 answered with QuestionNo. 34.

Foreign Elections.

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

48 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the latest information following the recent elections in Congo; his Department’s information as to reports that this election may spark off unrest in that country; the initiatives that have been taken at European level to try to help in the event of unrest; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39552/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

207 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if action to support the development of democracy is proposed by the international community in the aftermath of the general election in the DRC; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39818/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 48 and 207 together.

The Independent Electoral Commission of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) announced on 15 November that President Joseph Kabila had won the presidential election run-off contest held on 29 October, securing 58% of the votes against 42% for his opponent, Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba. The results are provisional until endorsed by the country's Supreme Court, a decision which is expected within a matter of days. Mr. Bemba has rejected the outcome while at the same time making clear that he will use all legal channels to contest it.

The generally peaceful and orderly conduct of the elections in the DRC has been a tribute to the strong desire of the Congolese people for an end to conflict and the installation of democratic government. While some limited unrest has occurred, particularly following the announcement of the first-round results on 21-22 August, the presence of the EU's EUFOR mission, acting in support of the UN's MONUC peace-keeping mission and the Congolese security forces, has had a positive deterrent effect and has contributed to ensuring that such violent incidents were isolated. The priority now is for all parties in the DRC to respect the democratic verdict of the electorate, act within the law in dealing with any differences and work together to build a strong and inclusive government for the DRC and its people.

The European Union has played a key role in ensuring the successful completion of the transition process in the DRC. The General Affairs and External Relations Council on 13 November welcomed the conduct of the second round of the presidential election on 29 October and reiterated the EU's support for the new government and its efforts to develop the DRC. In addition to deployment of the EUFOR mission, whose mandate will end on 30 November, the EU and its Member States also contributed most of the financial support required for the holding of the elections. Nationally, Ireland contributed €1.3 million in support to the DRC electoral process and also provided seven members of the Permanent Defence Forces to serve with EUFOR.

Continued international engagement will be crucial if the DRC is to have any prospect of overcoming the very many political and developmental challenges in the period ahead. The EU is already extensively engaged in support of security sector reform in the DRC, through deployment of two ESDP missions, EUPOL and EUSEC. Consideration is currently being given to the EU assuming a lead role in the coordination of future international efforts in support of this vital sector. It is also desirable that the mandate of MONUC should be extended by the UN Security Council for a reasonable period, to allow it to deal with the continuing threat, posed not only to the DRC but to the Great Lakes region as a whole, by the remaining armed militias in eastern DRC.

The Government has contributed almost €12 million for emergency and recovery activities in the DRC since 2003, with €6.1 million provided to date in 2006. Ireland is committed to continuing to support the DRC, including through provision of emergency and recovery assistance as well as any other forms of assistance deemed appropriate, as that country moves into a new era of democracy and development.

UN Conventions.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

49 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs Ireland’s position in relation to the proposed UN Convention on Disability. [39536/06]

Agreement on the draft UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was reached on Friday 25 August 2006 by the Ad-Hoc Committee, established by the UN General Assembly in December 2001 to carry out this task. The draft Convention outlines the general obligations of States in relation to the rights of persons with disabilities. It aims to ensure that persons with disabilities are given an equal opportunity to enjoy their human rights and specifies that discrimination on the grounds of disability is impermissible.

The text of the draft Convention is now being finalised by a Drafting Committee and the process of translating it into the official languages of the United Nations is under way. The Ad-Hoc Committee will reconvene on 5 December to give formal approval to the work of the Drafting Committee and the draft Convention will then be referred to the General Assembly. It is hoped to have the Convention adopted by the General Assembly during its current session.

I welcome this significant progress towards the adoption of the Convention. Ireland will be supporting the adoption of the draft Convention when it comes before the General Assembly. Ireland, along with our EU partners, was an active participant in the meetings of the Ad-Hoc Committee. Ireland was represented at these meetings by officials from a number of Government Departments, including my own Department and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Ireland also actively supported the participation of civil society in the drafting process. Ireland has funded participation at the Ad-Hoc Committee by Irish NGOs representing persons with disabilities and has emphasised the importance of maintaining the unprecedented level of NGO participation in the drafting process. Ireland has welcomed the progress made to date and looks forward to the early adoption by the General Assembly of what will be the first human rights convention of the 21st century.

Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

50 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the developments regarding EU co-operation in security and defence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39484/06]

The European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP) is an integral part of the European Union's Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), the principles and objectives of which are set out in the Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice Treaties, approved by the people at successive referenda. The Union is continuing to develop its capabilities for crisis management operations, both military and civilian. The objectives which it has set itself are set out in the Headline Goal 2010 and the Civilian Headline Goal 2008. These include having the capability to undertake humanitarian and rescue tasks, peacekeeping tasks and tasks of combat forces in crisis management, including peacemaking, along with conflict prevention and civilian crisis management.

There are eleven ESDP crisis management missions currently underway, both civilian and military. The civilian missions include police and rule of law missions, security sector reform assistance, and border monitoring missions. The principal military mission has been the ongoing peace stabilisation mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina (EUFOR Althea).

An EU Planning Team has been deployed to Kosovo this year to prepare for an expected rule of law mission in Kosovo next Spring, in succession to the current UN mission operating there. Current and future ESDP missions were reviewed by Foreign and Defence Ministers at the meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council earlier this month. Work has also been proceeding on the development of EU Battlegroups. Twenty-six nations — including Turkey and Norway — have committed to forming or joining these rapid response teams, which will reach full operational capability from 1 January next year. At its meeting on 14 November 2006, the Government decided that Ireland would provide a contingent of the Defence Forces to participate in the Nordic Battlegroup. This Battlegroup will be on standby in the first half of 2008. Deployment of the Irish contingent of the Battlegroup will of course remain subject to the requirements of the "triple lock" of Government decision, Dáil approval and UN authorisation.

Human Rights Issues.

Seán Ardagh

Ceist:

51 Mr. Ardagh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will confirm that Ireland will not open diplomatic relations with Burma until Aung San Suu Kyi is released from house arrest; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39259/06]

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

55 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the new proposals he has in mind in relation to the actions of the Burmese military regime, in particular in relation to the release of Aug San Suu Kyi; if he has lost confidence in the ASEAN process; and his views on whether the present situation in that country is grave. [39532/06]

Seymour Crawford

Ceist:

107 Mr. Crawford asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the recent conversations he has had at European level with regard to violations of human rights and democracy in Burma; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39471/06]

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

108 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the status of the pro-democracy leader in Burma; if her detention has been discussed at European level in recent months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39470/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 51, 55, 107 and 108 together.

Ireland will not open diplomatic relations with Burma until Aung San Suu Kyi is released from house arrest. The Government consistently takes a strong position on Burma on all possible occasions, including in the European Union framework and at the United Nations. Together with our EU partners, we avail of all opportunities to call for the immediate release of Aung San Suu Kyi, to condemn the abuse of human rights and fundamental freedoms and deplore the lack of progress towards democracy in Burma. Ireland and our EU partners apply a range of sanctions and restrictive measures against Burma, referred to as the EU Common Position, which was renewed in April for a further year. In the absence of any significant progress in Burma, Ireland strongly supported the renewal.

The exchange of non-resident Ambassadors was put on hold by Ireland in 2004. Significant and positive moves by the Government of Burma, including and in particular — as I have indicated above — the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, will be required before any decision to proceed with an exchange of Ambassadors can be made. There has not been any recent direct bilateral contact with the Government of Burma. However, at the ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting) Summit held in Helsinki in September, the Taoiseach raised the situation in Burma in the presence of the Burmese Foreign Minister and called for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. Burma attended as a member of ASEAN (the Association of South East Asian Nations) and was the only participant at the Summit not invited at Head of State or Government level. The EU Troika met with the Foreign Minister in the margins of the Summit to reinforce the EU's strong concerns about the lack of progress in Burma. We raise the issue of Burma with our ASEAN partners at every appropriate opportunity and I welcome their increased efforts to put pressure on the Burmese régime.

In my statement on behalf of Ireland to the 61st Session of the UN General Assembly on 26 September, I referred to the particularly grave human rights situation in Burma. I called, once again, on the Burmese régime to move towards democracy and to release all political prisoners, in particular Aung San Suu Kyi. These statements by the Taoiseach and myself are consistent with the strong position on Burma which Ireland takes on all possible occasions, including in the European Union framework and at the United Nations.

The situation in Burma was most recently discussed at the EU General Affairs and External Council Meeting in Luxembourg on 12 June. Subsequently, the UN Security Council included Burma on its agenda on 29 September when it was briefed by UN Under-Secretary-General (UNUSG) Gambari, who had visited Burma in May. In a welcome development UNUSG Gambari paid a second visit to the country earlier this month. These visits were the first high-level visits to that country by a UN representative in more than two years. I welcome the fact that during his visits he was able to meet with the most senior Burmese leaders, as well as with Aung San Suu Kyi and representatives of her party, the National League for Democracy. I strongly welcome the inclusion of Burma on the Security Council agenda. It is vitally important that the Burmese government allow the UN to play a role in promoting common ground between the government and the National League for Democracy so that the resumed National Convention can proceed in a more inclusive way.

I remain deeply concerned that Aung San Suu Kyi has been detained continuously for over three years without charge and, once more, urge the Burmese government to restore fully her freedom and civil liberties. On 27 May, the EU issued a statement which deeply regretted the decision of the Burmese government to extend the house arrest of Aung San Suu Kyi and deplored the fact that international appeals, including that of the EU, had once again gone unheard.

Foreign Conflicts.

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

52 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the present position in Lebanon with particular attention to the Government in that country, in view of reports in the last week indicating that a number of Ministers have offered their resignations. [39553/06]

Gay Mitchell

Ceist:

74 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has had conversations with the Government of Somalia regarding reports from the United Nations that Somalis contributed to the efforts of Hezbollah during the conflict in Lebanon; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39508/06]

Dan Neville

Ceist:

86 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has had discussions with his European counterparts regarding the recent reports from the United Nations that Somalia provided aid to Hezbollah during their conflict with Israel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39507/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 52, 74 and 86 together.

I know that the Deputies will join with me in condemning in the strongest possible terms the assassination on 21 November of the Lebanese Minister of Industry, Pierre Gemayel. As I stated at the time, the killing is an appalling tragedy for Mr. Gemayel's family, to whom we convey our deepest sympathy. It also appears to be a further challenge to the legitimate, democratically-elected Government of Lebanon. All parties in Lebanon and in the region now have a clear responsibility to act to stabilise the situation in the country and to focus on the work of reconstruction following the terrible conflict this summer. The Government and our EU partners are determined to maintain our support for the Lebanese people and their Government.

Before the assassination of Pierre Gemayel, the Government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora was already under sustained pressure from Hezbollah, resulting in the resignation of a number of Ministers. Last week's meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council in Brussels strongly encouraged all Lebanese parties to resume the process of national dialogue aimed at resolving the political crisis. It emphasised the EU's continuing support for the legitimate and democratically-elected Lebanese Government and its efforts to reconstruct and stabilise the country following the conflict. The Council called on all parties to comply with Security Council Resolution 1701, notably the arms embargo. It called on Israel to stop violations of Lebanese airspace by the Israeli Air Force, and on all countries in the region to refrain from any interference in Lebanon's internal affairs.

Overall, the ceasefire in Lebanon has continued to hold well. The immediate cause of the conflict in July and August was the unprovoked attack by Hezbollah on Israeli territory, and the killing and capture of a number of Israeli soldiers. From the beginning, the Government called unambiguously for an immediate cessation of violence and the protection of civilian lives. We were particularly critical of the harsh and disproportionate military response by Israel, the very high level of civilian casualties and the widespread destruction of vital civilian infrastructure.

At the root of the conflict and the continuing political tensions in Lebanon is the absence of a credible process for a comprehensive settlement in the Middle East. The unanimous adoption of Security Council Resolution 1701 on 11 August provided the basis for the ceasefire, and it continues to offers a path to a stable peace, based on the territorial integrity, sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon. The Government and our partners in the EU will remain actively engaged in support of its full implementation. The EU has taken the lead in ensuring that the deployment of the strengthened UNIFIIL force in Southern Lebanon, alongside units of the Lebanese Army, has proceeded smoothly and on schedule, and that the ceasefire has held. Building on the contribution of the Defence Forces to peacekeeping in Lebanon since 1978, Ireland is playing its part through the deployment since 31 October of a UNIFIL contingent, as part of a joint Finnish-Irish unit.

I am aware of media reports that the Monitoring Group on Somalia which was established by the UN Security Council to monitor violations of the embargo on the provision of arms to Somalia is expected to transmit its latest regular report to the Council shortly. Among the reported findings are that Hezbollah has provided military training to the opposition Islamic Courts Union in Somalia, and that a Somali force of 720 militia members fought with Hezbollah in Lebanon during the recent conflict. The Government will examine the report when it is published. I understand that its findings will be considered by the Security Council in the coming weeks.

International Agreements.

Joe Sherlock

Ceist:

53 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs when Ireland will ratify the United Nations Conventions which it signed in 2000 in relation to the rights of the child; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39528/06]

The Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, was adopted and opened for signature by the General Assembly of the United Nations in May 2000. Ireland signed the Optional Protocol on 7 September 2000. The Optional Protocol entered into force on 18 January 2002, following its ratification by 10 states.

The Optional Protocol covers inter alia, the sexual exploitation of children, the transfer of organs of a child for profit, engagement of a child in forced labour and improperly inducing consent for the adoption of a child.

Some legislative changes are required before Ireland can ratify this Optional Protocol.

I understand from my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, that the General Scheme of the Criminal Law (Trafficking in Persons and Sexual Offences) Bill has been approved by the Government and that the proposed legislation is currently being drafted in the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. The provisions of the proposed legislation will bring Ireland into line with the requirements of the Optional Protocol in relation to the criminalisation of the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.

I understand from my colleagues, the Minister for Health and Children and the Minister of State for Children, that their officials are reviewing the legislative changes required in the areas of adoption of children and sale of children's organs for profit, which would enable Ireland to move to ratify the Optional Protocol.

Nuclear Disarmament Initiative.

Shane McEntee

Ceist:

54 Mr. McEntee asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the most recent discussions that have taken place with his European counterparts regarding the European and global response to North Korea’s testing of a nuclear bomb and the UN sanctions levied against them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39483/06]

The announcement by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) on 9 October that it had tested a nuclear explosive device was met with swift condemnation by members of the international community, including Ireland. I strongly condemned this provocative act by the DPRK as a threat to regional security and as running counter to the objectives of the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regime.

On 14 October, in clear recognition of the gravity of the DPRK's decision, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1718. This resolution obliged the international community to enforce specific sanctions, including an arms embargo, as well as a ban on any items which could contribute to the DPRK's nuclear, ballistic missile or Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) programmes.

At a meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 16 October, the EU committed itself to the full implementation of Security Council Resolution 1718, as well as Resolution 1695, adopted in July in response to the DPRK's earlier controversial ballistic missile tests. A Common Position imposing restrictive measures against DPRK in accordance with Security Council Resolution 1718 was adopted by the Council on 20 November.

Specifically, the Common Position provides for a ban on exports of sensitive goods and technology which could contribute to the DPRK's nuclear-related, ballistic missile-related or other weapons of mass destruction-related programmes, and on the provision of related services; a ban on procurement of sensitive goods and technology from the DPRK; as well as a ban on exports of luxury goods and the freezing of funds and economic resources of persons, entities and bodies engaged in or providing support for the said DPRK programmes.

This regulation will enable EU partners to implement sanctions through their domestic law in a coherent manner. Preparatory inter-Departmental and inter-agency consultations are currently underway here, with a view to the early implementation of the necessary national measures.

Recent reports that the DPRK has pledged to return to the Six Party Talks shortly without preconditions are a welcome development and I would particularly congratulate China for its efforts in this regard. This does not, however, mean that efforts to implement United Nations Security Council Resolution 1718 should weaken.

Question No. 55 answered with QuestionNo. 51.

Human Rights Issues.

Tom Hayes

Ceist:

56 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the human rights situation within Cuba; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39511/06]

Ireland, along with our EU partners, continues to urge the Cuban authorities to bring about rapid, lasting and substantial improvements in ensuring the full respect for all human rights. The European Union's 1996 Common Position is a central element in Ireland's relations with Cuba. The General Affairs and External Relations Council, in its most recent evaluation of the Common Position in June 2006, expressed serious concern at the ongoing large-scale violation of human rights in Cuba. In particular, the Council strongly condemned the trial and continuing detention of a large number of prisoners of conscience, including those arrested during a crackdown by the Cuban authorities in March and April 2003. The Council called on Cuba to release immediately all those detained for political reasons. The Council reiterated that constructive engagement remained the basis of EU policy towards Cuba, emphasising the importance which the Union attached to dialogue in order to produce tangible results. The Council also expressed its continued preparedness to provide EU co-operation to Cuba in areas that promote respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. Ireland fully concurred in the Council's consensus on these issues.

I would again urge the Cuban Government to release all prisoners of conscience and to respect internationally acknowledged principles and practices in the field of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

57 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the information which he has with regard to the ongoing allegations of organ harvesting of Falun Gong practitioners in China; if he and Department officials have raised this matter, and the more general matter of persecution of Falun Gong practitioners recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39550/06]

As set out in previous PQ replies, most recently on 24 May, I am aware of allegations regarding the harvesting of live organs from Falun Gong practitioners, including as set out in a recent Canadian report by Mr David Matas and Mr David Kilgour on behalf of the Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of the Falun Gong in China (CIPFG). I view these allegations seriously and enquiries on this issue have been made by the Department within the EU and UN frameworks, as well as through our Embassy in Beijing. Although our enquiries are continuing, no evidence has been found to date to support the allegations contained in the report. However, I understand that one of the authors of the report, Mr David Kilgour, is in Ireland this week, and I have arranged for a senior official from my Department to meet with him to discuss the findings of the report. Without prejudice to the outcome of the above enquiries, Ireland and the EU remain concerned about the situation of Falun Gong practitioners in China and have raised our concerns with the Chinese Government on many occasions.

I am also aware of reports of a trade in human organs in China generally. The sale of organs for transplant is illegal in China. The Chinese Government introduced a regulation in July to govern the clinical use of body parts as well as the transplantation of body parts. Reports suggest, however, that an illegal trade in the organs of executed prisoners does exist. Wherever this practice occurs, and whatever the circumstances, the illegal harvesting of, and trafficking in, human organs is a deplorable act. This issue has been raised as part of the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue, most recently in October 2006. The Chinese authorities state that they are firmly opposed to the illegal trade in human organs for transplant.

Human rights issues are a constant and important point of dialogue with the Chinese authorities at both bilateral and European Union levels. The EU-China Human Rights Dialogue is the agreed formal framework through which the EU raises human rights issues and concerns with China. The latest round of the Dialogue was held in Beijing on 19 October.

Senior officials from both sides discussed a wide range of human rights issues. Special attention was given to questions related to combating racism, freedom of expression and reform of the criminal justice system in China. The EU took note of the commitment of China to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as soon as possible and, in that context, to reform its criminal justice system. The EU urged China to continue cooperation with, and implementation of the recommendations of, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, including the rapid abolition of the "re-education through labour" system. The EU expressed its deep concern over the continuing restrictions on freedom of expression in China, including on the use of the internet. The EU further expressed concern at the high number of human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists in prison and urged China not to harass or punish individuals exercising their right to freedom of expression in a peaceful manner.

On a bilateral level, I met with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing on 12 May during a visit to Beijing. During the meeting, I had the opportunity to raise human rights issues and concerns, including the importance we attach to freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Chinese Foreign Minister Li referred in particular to China's commitment to the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue and was hopeful that a decision would be taken to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as soon as possible. Most recently, the Tánaiste held official talks on 25 September with visiting Chinese Vice-Premier Zeng Peiyan in the course of which he also raised human rights issues and concerns.

European Constitution.

Gerard Murphy

Ceist:

58 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position with regard to the ratification of the treaty establishing a European Constitution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39487/06]

As I advised the House in reply to a similar question on the 25th October, fifteen Member States have so far ratified the Constitutional Treaty. Luxembourg and Spain have done so by referendum while thirteen Member States have ratified by parliamentary means. Finland is expected to complete its ratification procedures in the coming months. As the House is aware, the Constitutional Treaty was rejected in referendums held in France and the Netherlands last year.

Following the referendum results in France and the Netherlands, the European Council initiated a period of reflection in order to allow time for further consideration of how to proceed with the Constitutional Treaty. In June 2006, the European Council agreed to extend the reflection period for another year and to focus also on the Union's delivery of tangible results to EU citizens.

The European Council also mandated the Presidency to consult extensively with Member States and to present a report to the European Council in June 2007. That report is to contain an assessment of the state of discussions with regard to the Constitutional Treaty and to explore possible future developments. The report is intended to allow the European Council to point the way forward towards decisions on the Constitutional Treaty, which are expected to be taken during the second half of 2008 at the latest.

As I stated earlier, Ireland's view remains that the Constitutional Treaty is a carefully constructed package and remains the best available option for equipping the Union with the means to meet the challenges facing us now and into the future. For this reason, we believe that any attempt to alter the essential balance and substance of the draft Treaty would be unlikely to succeed.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Joe Costello

Ceist:

59 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the responses of political parties in Northern Ireland given to the British and Irish governments following the period of consultation immediately after the talks at St Andrews; his further views on whether these responses are sufficient for further progress to be made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39541/06]

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

60 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has had discussions with the British Government or with political parties in Northern Ireland regarding the proposal to hold either new Assembly Elections or a referendum in Northern Ireland on the St Andrews Agreement; if he recognises the potential of Assembly Elections to polarise opinion further in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39544/06]

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

92 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the new legislation published by the British Government to enact the St Andrews Agreement; the main details of this new legislation; his views on whether this legislation will allow for the re-establishment of the institutions created under the Good Friday Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39540/06]

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

113 Ms O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on whether the changes to the Good Friday Agreement are sufficiently significant to require a referendum; when this referendum may take place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39543/06]

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

116 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the latest efforts being made to encourage the DUP to enter into a power sharing executive in Northern Ireland; the latest issues of concern that the DUP have; if further concessions to the DUP will be made; if his attention has been drawn to the potential of further side deals beyond the St Andrews Agreement to upset the political process in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39545/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 59, 60, 92, 113 and 116 together.

The St. Andrews Agreement published by the two Governments on 13 October underpins the Good Friday Agreement and sets out a clear way forward for all parties to commit to the full operation of stable power-sharing government in Northern Ireland and to full support for policing and the criminal justice institutions, including the Policing Board. It also sets out in some detail the practical changes proposed to the operation of the institutions, the arrangements for a financial package and the timetable for implementation of the agreement.

At St. Andrews, the Governments asked the parties, having consulted their members, to confirm acceptance of the agreement by 10 November. Further to these consultations and their contacts with the parties, the Governments announced on 10 November that they were satisfied that the St. Andrews Agreement, implemented in good faith, represents the basis for a political settlement.

Last week therefore, the British Government published draft legislation to give effect to the St. Andrews Agreement. This legislation yesterday completed its passage through the Westminster parliament.

The legislation makes the necessary provisions to allow devolved government to be restored in Northern Ireland on the basis of the timetable set out at St. Andrews, which envisages restoration of the devolved institutions on 26 March 2007. It provides for a Transitional Assembly to meet from 24 November to prepare for restoration of the devolved institutions. It includes amendments to the Northern Ireland Act 1998 to implement, on restoration, the practical changes to the operation of the institutions agreed at St. Andrews. It also includes provision for the Northern Ireland Assembly to be dissolved at any time before 25 March 2007 if it is considered there is no reasonable prospect of establishing a power-sharing government. In these circumstances, the Governments would move immediately to implement new British Irish partnership arrangements.

It was clear from our discussions with the parties at St. Andrews that some form of electoral endorsement of the agreement as a whole would be required before the formation of an Executive next March. The British legislation makes provision for this to be by way of elections to the Assembly in Northern Ireland on 7 March 2007. The Secretary of State Peter Hain has made clear however that an election would only take place in these circumstances, that is if it is clear that the parties are working constructively towards participation in a power-sharing Executive by 26 March of next year.

As to whether a referendum is required here, the Attorney General will advise the Government on any implications that may arise in this jurisdiction, once he has completed his examination of the final content of the British legislation.

In the course of our ongoing efforts to restore devolved Government to Northern Ireland, all parties have raised with us issues of particular concern to their membership. In our contacts with the parties we have consistently sought to address these issues as constructively as possible, and in line with our overall aim of achieving full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. The Governments believe the St. Andrews Agreement addresses the concerns expressed by the parties, including the DUP, in a balanced and fair way. We are satisfied that if it is implemented in good faith by the parties, it will clear the way for the restoration of the devolved institutions on 26 March 2007.

I was encouraged that the Programme for Government Committee met for the first time this week and that it has now begun to address some of the practical issues that will face the restored Executive. We expect these preparations to intensify from tomorrow, once the Transitional Assembly gets down to work.

The St. Andrews process will continue to require careful management over the coming weeks and months to bring it to a successful completion. In that regard, there is a responsibility on all to play their part in making it work. The Government will continue to work in close partnership with the British Government, as well as with the parties to complete this task and clear the way for a new era for the people of Northern Ireland.

Humanitarian Aid.

Ivor Callely

Ceist:

61 Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the humanitarian situation in the West African region; if there is a weakness in the Ministerial response system to this area; if the UN are correct in their call that upwards of 300,000 children may die in the region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39318/06]

Ivor Callely

Ceist:

200 Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of children who have died in the Sahara region of west Africa due to poor harvest, deepening food crises, high market prices and lack of social support over the past three years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39725/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 61 and 200 together.

The humanitarian situation across West Africa remains a matter of the deepest concern. A number of countries, such as Sierra Leone and Liberia, are only now emerging from a bitter and destructive civil war, while conflict persists in some other states in the region such as the Ivory Coast. At the same time, the countries of the Sahel, specifically Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger, continue to exhibit extreme vulnerability due to climactic changes and desertification. The situation of the most vulnerable in these societies is of the utmost concern — a concern voiced forcefully by the United Nations earlier this year, which highlighted the fact that it is those most vulnerable sections of the community, notably women and children, which have borne the brunt of both the natural and man-made disasters which have afflicted the region in recent years.

Ireland provides emergency and recovery funding in response to humanitarian needs across the region:

Since 2005, Ireland has had a development cooperation office in Freetown which oversees programmes in Sierra Leone and in neighbouring Liberia. This year, funding of over €6.8 million has been provided to assist in the recovery process in both countries;

In the Sahel region, funding assistance of €7 million has been allocated for humanitarian assistance in 2006;

Ireland's funding partnership programme with the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) provided funding of €1.5 million in 2006 and 2007, which is being partly utilised to help National Red Cross Societies in West Africa build local capacity to respond to humanitarian emergencies.

Last year, the food crisis in Niger and surrounding countries highlighted a weakness in the system of international humanitarian response. Once the food security situation emerged, Ireland responded in a prompt and timely manner with support of €3 million to Niger and Burkina Faso as the most seriously-affected countries. Fortunately, the situation was quickly addressed and alleviated. In addition, a subsequent healthy harvest eased the most immediate needs.

The situation in Niger in 2005 helped to highlight the case for an enhanced international capacity to respond better to such crises. One result of this was the strengthening of the United Nation's Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF). This fund now enables the UN to have immediate access to grant-based stand-by funding, thereby speeding response to rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situations. Ireland has contributed €10 million to the CERF in 2006 and we will double our funding in 2007, with a pledge of a further €20 million for 2007 at the forthcoming pledging conference in New York. I will travel to New York on that occasion for discussions with the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, Mr. Jan Egeland, to review global responses to situations like that in the Sahel region.

I can assure the Deputy that this region remains of concern for Ireland and we are committed to ensuring that the vulnerable populations there receive the humanitarian assistance which they require, in a timely and effective manner.

Commemorative Events.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

62 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his plans to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39319/06]

The 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome on 25 March, 1957 is a milestone in the life of the Union. It is entirely appropriate that citizens throughout the Union should have the opportunity of celebrating the progress and prosperity achieved by Europe over the past half century.

Germany, which will hold the Presidency in the first half of next year, is taking the initiative in preparing a declaration on the occasion of the anniversary for adoption by EU Heads of State and Government during their meeting in Berlin in March.

Ireland has been a major beneficiary of the integration process set in motion by the Treaty of Rome. We have also contributed significantly to the development of the European Union in the period since our accession in 1973. It is fitting, therefore, that we should mark this important EU anniversary in an appropriate manner.

We are planning a series of events to coincide with the 50th anniversary and details of these will be made available in due course.

Question No. 63 answered with QuestionNo. 16.

Humanitarian Aid.

Mary Upton

Ceist:

64 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will respond positively to a request for aid in the post volcano response for the island of Montserrat, an island which values its heritage connections with Ireland. [39530/06]

I am aware of the strong historical and cultural links between Ireland and the island of Montserrat.

In 1997, a major volcanic eruption affected the British Territory of Montserrat causing the evacuation of the population to neighbouring islands, or to the safer northern part of the island. Due to the existing damage and the ongoing threat of further eruptions, the southern part of the island has been declared unfit for habitation, which has forced more than half of the population to leave the island owing to a lack of housing.

The British Government has funded a substantial development effort in Montserrat. Apart from the basic needs of housing and sanitation, advances have been made in restoring health and educational services. Efforts to rehabilitate the island are aimed primarily at the restoration of the country's economic infrastructure. Redevelopment has focused on the northern third of the island, which is at negligible risk from the volcano.

As Montserrat is a British territory, the UK Department of International Development has taken a lead role in the provision of assistance to Montserrat and has provided funding of some £220 million for both development assistance and budgetary support since 1997. The population of the island now stands at approximately 5,000.

In 2001, a Montserrat delegation including the Chief Minister of Montserrat, Mr. David S. Brandt, visited Ireland and met with officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs, IDA Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, the National Software Directorate and the Chambers of Commerce of Ireland. The focus of the Montserrat authorities was on rebuilding the tourism sector to reinvigorate the economy and to create greater employment opportunities.

In 2001, over €190,000 was allocated from Irish Aid to the authorities in Montserrat for assistance in the development of a National Tourism Strategy Document for the island. This support is an expression of the strong historical links that Ireland has with Montserrat. Since then, confidence has been restored in this sector. A particularly notable development has been the opening of a new airport in 2005 at Montserrat's new capital, Little Bay. This marks an important milestone in the economic regeneration of the island.

Question No. 65 answered with QuestionNo. 16.
Question No. 66 answered with QuestionNo. 25.

Official Engagements.

Shane McEntee

Ceist:

67 Mr. McEntee asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the result of his meeting with representatives of the Government of France during his 30 October 2006 visit to Paris; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39504/06]

Ireland and France share important interests on a range of EU and other issues and it is important that we maintain a close and co-operative dialogue with them. With this in mind, I met with my French colleague, Philippe Douste-Blazy, and the French Minister for Europe, Catherine Colonna in Paris on 30 October. We had a very useful and open discussion on a number of important international and EU topics. The subjects covered in the course of our discussion included Irish-French bilateral relations; the EU Constitution/Future of Europe; EU enlargement and Turkey; Iran; the Middle East Peace Process including Lebanon and Syria; Darfur; Kosovo/Serbia; and the UNITAID initiative.

Overseas Development Aid.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

68 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps he is taking to promote access to medicine in the third world; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39320/06]

Improving access to medicine is one of the critical challenges to improving health in the developing world. Many poor people do not have access to essential medicines due to a range of factors, including lack of drugs at health facilities, lack of trained staff to provide treatment and the high cost of medicine to poor people. Lack of access to medicine causes the deaths of many people each year in developing countries, particularly from HIV/AIDS, TB, malaria and infectious diseases in children. Access to medicine needs to be improved along with complementary measures for prevention and care.

The Government's commitment to health and tackling HIV/AIDS and communicable diseases is set out in the White Paper on Irish Aid. We are committed to developing programmes that address the key causes of illness and poor health among the poorest and most vulnerable people and to strengthening health systems in the poorest countries. Providing access to essential medicines is a key part of this response. The area of greatest need for medicine is for treatment of communicable diseases and the Government has committed €100 million annually to tackling HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases.

In Irish Aid priority countries, the approach taken is to strengthen health systems so that everyone can have access to essential services, including treatment of diseases. Measures supported by Irish Aid funding include the development of better drug purchase and supply systems, and increased availability of skilled health workers to treat sick people.

A specific objective of the Government's partnership with the Clinton Foundation is to improve access to treatment for HIV/AIDS. The Government has committed €70 million from 2006-2010 to improving HIV services. Irish Aid is working with the Governments in Mozambique and Lesotho to make anti-retroviral treatment for HIV/AIDS available to all who need it. Success has been demonstrated in Mozambique where the Government of Mozambique has successfully introduced HIV treatment and at the end of June, over 27,000 people were on treatment.

One of the challenges in access to medicine is that drugs widely used in developing countries have become less effective. TB causes two million deaths a year, mainly in poor countries, yet there has been no major new TB drug developed for over 30 years. In 2006, the Government made a substantial investment in research and development for new drugs for TB and malaria. Irish Aid committed €9 million over three years both to the Global Alliance for TB Drug Development and the Medicine for Malaria Venture. These organisations offer the prospect of creating access to new and more effective drugs to developing counties within the next few years.

As outlined in the White Paper on Irish Aid, the issue of health remains a priority for our aid programme.

Question No. 69 answered with QuestionNo. 25.

Human Rights Issues.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

70 Ms O. Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has had recent discussions with his American counterparts regarding the rendition practices of the US; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39502/06]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

83 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has had recent discussions with his European counterparts regarding the use of rendition by the US administration; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39501/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 70 and 83 together.

As I have made clear on many occasions, the Government is completely opposed to the practice of so-called extraordinary rendition. Our position in this regard is regularly discussed with the US authorities. Most recently, I had the occasion to discuss the matter with the new US Ambassador, when we met at the beginning of this month. I am satisfied that the assurances we have received from the US authorities, that prisoners have not been transferred through Irish territory, nor would they be, without our permission, remain valid.

Within the EU, the matter continues to be discussed by the Working Group on Public International Law, COJUR. At political level, the subject was discussed most recently by Ministers over lunch at the GAERC on 15 September. Ministers reiterated the EU's commitment to combating terrorism effectively, using all legal means and instruments available, while ensuring that in so doing, human rights and humanitarian standards are maintained.

In September, my Spanish colleague, Miguel Angel Moratinos, accepted an invitation to appear before the European Parliament's Temporary Committee on the alleged use of European countries by the CIA for the transport and illegal detention of prisoners. As the House will be aware, I have accepted a similar invitation, and I will be meeting with the Temporary Committee in the near future.

Separately, the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe continues to consider proposals made in this area by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Mr Terry Davis, on foot of his earlier enquiries. The Secretary General's proposed measures include drawing up minimum standards to prevent human rights abuses by security services, in particular foreign security services active on the territory of a Council of Europe member state, mechanisms to enforce existing human rights obligations with respect to transiting aircraft, and a legal instrument permitting diplomatic immunity to be waived in cases of serious human rights violations. In early September, the Committee of Ministers took note of the Secretary General's proposals and agreed to resume consideration of them at one of its forthcoming meetings. Ireland has welcomed the Secretary General's initiative and looks forward to further detailed discussion of them.

Question No. 71 answered with QuestionNo. 25.
Question No. 72 answered with QuestionNo. 15.

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

73 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has undertaken efforts to contact the Government of Libya regarding the imprisonment and scheduled execution of a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39509/06]

I am aware of the case referred to by the Deputy. Although some of the details remain unclear, we have followed it in coordination with the Missions of our EU partners in Tripoli, and will continue to do so. The person concerned has been detained for over two years. The Libyan authorities have stated that he has been charged with certain offences but the exact details have not been made known. The death penalty can be applied to some offences under the Articles of the Criminal Code which are involved, but it is not clear that this would necessarily apply in the case in question. A verdict and sentence have not yet been delivered.

The Deputy will be aware that this case has been followed closely by a number of NGOs, including Human Rights Watch, which has reported that the charges may relate to criticism of the Libyan leader and to contact with foreign authorities, possibly including a U.S. diplomat. I understand that the case is being pursued in particular by the authorities of the United States, where a number of relatives of the person involved are believed to live. He was released from detention on a previous occasion following intervention from the United States. There has been a significant improvement in relations between Libya and the US in recent years, although full diplomatic relations have yet to be re-established.

Since 2003, Libya has taken important steps in order to normalise relations with the international community. Relations with the EU have also improved significantly. The EU recognises the positive developments in the human rights situation in the country, but continues to monitor the situation closely and to highlight issues of ongoing concern.

Question No. 74 answered with QuestionNo. 52.

Decentralisation Programme.

David Stanton

Ceist:

75 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position regarding the sourcing of a property to house the decentralised Irish Aid operation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39473/06]

Under the Government's decentralisation programme, the Development Cooperation Directorate of the Department of Foreign Affairs, which is the Headquarters of Irish Aid and currently based in Dublin, will decentralise to Limerick.

The Office of Public Works (OPW) is responsible for the provision of office accommodation for the Directorate in Limerick. The OPW has identified a suitable location on Henry Street in Limerick city centre, and has advised my Department that lease terms have been agreed with the developer. The developer has indicated that he is now aiming for the building to be fully fitted out and ready for use in the second half of 2007.

The question of an advance move is now being pursued with the Department of Finance and the OPW. It is proposed that around 30 of the Directorate staff will be in temporary accommodation in Limerick by May of next year. OPW is currently considering a number of options for temporary accommodation in Limerick city.

Question No. 76 answered with QuestionNo. 34.

EU Enlargement.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

77 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position regarding accession negotiations with Turkey; the three most pressing issues that present for resolution at this stage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39485/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

211 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the progress to date in regard to the Cyprus situation in the context of European enlargement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39822/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

212 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in regard to future enlargement of the European Union with particular reference to Turkey; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39823/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 77, 211 and 212 together.

Negotiations regarding Turkish accession to the European Union commenced on 3 October 2005. An extensive screening process is currently ongoing which closely scrutinises the compatibility of Turkish legislation with that of the EU. In all, there are 35 negotiating chapters in the accession process. After a Chapter has been screened, the EU can decide, on the basis of a proposal from the Commission, whether the negotiations in that sector can proceed. In June 2006, the European Council welcomed the provisional closure of the Science and Research chapter with Turkey. To date, this is the only Chapter to have been provisionally concluded.

The European Commission published its annual enlargement package on 8 November 2006. In its assessment of Turkey's progress, the Commission states that reforms have continued but have slowed during the past year. Improvements are needed on freedom of expression, the rights of non-Muslim religious communities, women's rights, trade union rights and on civilian control of the military. Further progress in aligning its legislation with that of the Union is also required in a range of areas, among them agriculture; taxation; state aid; and the free movement of goods, workers and capital. The Commission also calls on Turkey to ensure full implementation of the Ankara Protocol and states that it will make relevant recommendations ahead of the December European Council if Turkey has not fulfilled its obligations.

It is difficult to prioritise particular issues, as all of the points identified in the Commission report require Turkey's active attention. However, it is clear that Turkey's non-implementation of the Ankara Protocol is complicating the accession negotiations and requires an immediate solution. Resolution of the problem would facilitate progress in the negotiations and enable the EU to continue to press Turkey to sustain and accelerate its reform process.

The Finnish Presidency is currently working on an initiative aimed at resolving the question of access to Turkish ports for Cypriot vessels in compliance with the Ankara Protocol. Ireland is supportive of these efforts and we hope that an agreement can be reached in the coming weeks. When I met with the Turkish Chief Negotiator, Mr. Ali Babacan, at the beginning of the month, I impressed upon him the importance we attach to the resolution of this issue so as to prevent the accession negotiations from being adversely affected.

Question No. 78 answered with QuestionNo. 33.

Overseas Development Aid.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

79 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has congratulated Mr. Daniel Ortega Saavedra on his election as President of Nicaragua; and if he will expand on Irish assistance to the project of reconstruction and poverty elevation in that country. [39523/06]

The Presidency of the European Union, on behalf of all Member States, has issued a declaration congratulating Mr. Daniel Ortega Saavedra on his election as President of the Republic of Nicaragua.

The preliminary report of the European Union Election Observation Mission found that the presidential elections had been adequately administered in a peaceful, competitive and transparent manner. Ireland provided assistance in the monitoring of these elections, with four Irish short-term observers taking part in the European Union Election Observation Mission and two Irish short-term observers assisting the monitoring mission carried out by the Carter Centre.

In 2005, Irish Aid allocated a total sum of €961,894 to development in Nicaragua under a number of civil society funding mechanisms. In cooperation with the Nicaraguan Ministry of External Relations Cooperation Secretariat, Irish Aid provided a total of €495,766 to the Capacity Building Programme for Civil Society Organisations in Nicaragua. This programme included a number of poverty reduction initiatives, among which were the promotion of fair trade access to international and national markets for small producers, funding of a mother and child health care programme aimed at reducing infant and maternal mortality, support for traditional health care facilities, management training programmes, and programmes focused on advocacy for national development and poverty reduction initiatives. In addition, Irish Aid provided a total of €154,292 to local NGOs under the Personnel Co-Financing and Partnership Fund, and allocated €311,836 from the Multi-Annual Programme Scheme in support of Trócaire's civil society and livelihood security initiatives in Nicaragua. Further funding for Nicaragua is currently under review in accordance with the commitments made in the White Paper on Irish Aid.

Cross-Border Projects.

Michael Mulcahy

Ceist:

80 Mr. Mulcahy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his plans for greater all Ireland economic cooperation and the development of greater cross-Border links; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39590/06]

Seán Ardagh

Ceist:

100 Mr. Ardagh asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his plans for greater all Ireland economic co-operation and the development of greater cross-Border links; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39260/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 80 and 100 together.

The Government's objective is the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the restoration of the institutions, including the North/South Ministerial Council. In the St Andrews Agreement we have set out a clear path to restoration by 26 March 2007. This will greatly enhance the excellent work being undertaken by the North/South Bodies, as well as facilitating the development of North/South co-operation to the benefit of all.

A key priority for the Government is to give enhanced impetus to North/South co-operation, including through all-island economic co-operation. On 26 October, the Secretary of State and I launched a ground-breaking Study on the All-island Economy. The study sets out a strong and cogent economic rationale for economic co-operation on the island.

Initiatives identified in the Study embrace further collaboration in Research and Development, including maximising access to EU funds; a new targeted approach to enterprise training and to identifying labour market needs on an all-island basis. We have also agreed to pool our resources in trade promotion, including the opening up of trade missions to businesses across the island and the placing of the overseas offices of Enterprise Ireland and Invest NI at the disposal of companies, North and South. Already trade missions to India and Canada have included companies from both parts of the island.

The Study identified co-operation on the planning and delivery of infrastructure as key to maximising returns on the major infrastructure investments being made, North and South, and also to help ensure more balanced regional development. In this regard, the all-island dimension will be an important horizontal theme of the Government's next National Development Plan for the period 2007-2013.

The Governments are committed to working together to create a more integrated and regionally-balanced road network, enhancing key routes between the major urban centres on the island. In addition the Government is moving ahead to re-open the remaining few cross border routes closed as a result of the Troubles. I should add that some significant progress has already been achieved, for example in the upgrading of the Dublin Belfast road and the agreement to joint investment in the development of the City of Derry Airport.

The Government is also committed to taking forward plans for the restoration of the Ulster Canal to create a further major inland waterway for the border region.

In the energy sector, the Single Electricity Market will be operational in 2007 and plans are advanced for the development of further interconnection of our electricity and gas supply systems on a North/South and East/West basis. The two Governments have agreed to work together to maximise the contribution of renewable and sustainable energy to the future energy needs of the island.

The Government's vision is of a strong, competitive and socially inclusive island economy which will deliver better results and better outcomes for people, North and South.

The two Governments, along with key stakeholders, will now jointly develop a more detailed programme of work in each of the areas identified in the Study as well as seeking further opportunities for co-operation in the education and health sectors.

Recognising the significant practical benefits of all-island economic collaboration, I look forward to working on this important agenda with a restored Northern Ireland Executive and North/South Ministerial Council in the near future.

Foreign Conflicts.

Paul McGrath

Ceist:

81 Mr. P. McGrath asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the political and security situation in Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39512/06]

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

106 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the status of the International Security Assistance Force; the mandate which it holds for the maintenance of security in support of the Afghan Transitional Authority; and the assistance involved. [39551/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

209 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the situation in Afghanistan; if stability is expected to be restored in the near future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39820/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 81, 106 and 209 together.

In any country, developing the democratic structures, institutions and administrative systems necessary to provide essential public services and to ensure a secure environment for all its people is a process that takes time. I believe that this is an important period for Afghanistan in consolidating the progress that has been made. It is important that we, the international community, do not allow Afghanistan to fail. Within the EU, discussions are currently taking place on possible further EU support for the rule of law sector in Afghanistan. The EU will continue to explore ways in which it can improve its effectiveness in supporting the Government and other actors to continue to seek to improve the situation in the country. We continue to encourage the Afghan government to take all necessary steps in addressing serious issues relating to impunity and corruption, as well as expanding legitimate government control and human security through the country.

The Afghan Parliament has now voted in the remaining Cabinet and Supreme Court members, and has started to review the country's current legislation. The appointment of a new, reform-minded Supreme Court is a positive development, as has been the work of officials, including the new Attorney General, in tackling corruption. The reform process is continuing with the assistance of the international community across all sectors, including the administrative and judicial systems, the police service and army.

The Afghanistan Compact, launched at the International Conference on Afghanistan in London on 31 January/1 February, and endorsed by the United Nations Security Council in Resolution 1659 (2006), continues to guide the joint efforts of the Afghan Government and the international community in meeting outstanding challenges across three pillars of activity: security; governance, rule of law and human rights; and economic and social development. Ireland pledged €5 million at the launch of the Compact, which will be expended over the next two years. Ireland has contributed a total of €22 million to reconstruction and recovery programmes in Afghanistan since January 2002.

Ensuring security in Afghanistan is an especially challenging and complex task, particularly given the presence of violent factions who stand to benefit considerably from a destabilised country. Though the past five months have witnessed an increase in fighting in the south and insurgency-related security incidents in the capital, there has been a marked decrease in both since the beginning of November. The recent success of ‘Operation Medusa' in the south, involving the Afghan National Army (ANA) and the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan (ISAF) , has delivered a blow to Taliban military capabilities. At the same time, the continuing challenge from the Taliban is worrying, and the security situation remains a cause of serious concern. Long-term success will depend on significant improvements in governance and prompt delivery of humanitarian and reconstruction assistance.

The illicit narcotics industry also remains a major challenge to the long-term security, development and effective governance of Afghanistan. In cooperation with the international community, the Afghan Government operates a Counter Narcotics Implementation Plan and a National Drugs Control Strategy in an effort to work towards elimination of the narcotics trade. Reported statistics for the 2005-2006 opium crop are disappointing. Though eradication rose by 210%, production is believed to have still increased significantly. Counter narcotics efforts were identified as a cross-cutting priority in the Afghan Compact and will be a particularly important challenge in the period ahead.

ISAF, under NATO leadership, deployed to the eastern part of Afghanistan in October, hitherto the exclusive domain of the ANA and the US-led international coalition, Operation Enduring Freedom. This means that ISAF is now responsible for security assistance throughout the whole country. Seven members of the Irish Defence Forces currently serve in ISAF, based in Kabul.

ISAF is a UN Chapter VII operation, originally mandated by Security Council Resolution 1386 of 20 December 2001, and extended in September last by Security Council Resolution 1707. Its present mandate runs to October 2007. It is composed of contingents from both NATO and other contributing countries and, as indicated, is deployed under the authorisation of the UN Security Council.

ISAF's mandate is for the maintenance of security in support of the Afghan Transitional Authority — which has since been succeeded by the Government of Afghanistan. The mandate authorises ISAF "to support the Afghan Transitional Authority and its successors in the maintenance of security in areas of Afghanistan outside of Kabul and its environs, so that the Afghan Authorities as well as the personnel of the United Nations and other international civilian personnel engaged, in particular, in reconstruction and humanitarian efforts, can operate in a secure environment, and to provide security assistance for the performance of other tasks in support of the Bonn agreement."

Question No. 82 answered with QuestionNo. 13.
Question No. 83 answered with QuestionNo. 70.
Questions Nos. 84 and 85 answered with Question No. 33.
Question No. 86 answered with QuestionNo. 52.

Task Force on Hunger.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

87 Mr. Noonan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the status of the proposed International Hunger Task force; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39506/06]

The Government has decided, in line with the recommendation in the White Paper on Irish Aid, to establish a Task Force on Hunger. The aim of the Task Force will be to identify the additional, appropriate and effective contributions that Ireland can make to international efforts to reduce hunger and thus achieve the first Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty and hunger by 2015.

Consultations are currently underway on the likely composition and programme of work of the Task Force. What I can say at this stage is that, in terms of size, it will be a compact group of no more than 12 members and that it will have both Irish and international high-level participation.

In terms of substance, it is envisaged that the Task Force will build on the valuable work on hunger of the UN Millennium Project "Halving hunger: it can be done" and will:

Carry out a macro level analysis of Ireland's aid programme to assess the extent to which it is addressing food security and hunger through its partnerships with development agencies and organisations (UN, NGOs and others) and through its own bilateral programmes;

Make recommendations on where the opportunities and necessary resources exist for Ireland to strengthen its own programmes and partnerships to address the issue of hunger;

Suggest actions whereby Ireland can give practical leadership internationally on the attainment of the Millennium Development Goal on hunger;

In the context of Ireland's own history of famine and its current success in relation to agriculture and food production, examine new areas where the energies, expertise and experience available in Ireland across the public and private sectors and in research institutions can be appropriately and effectively harnessed to the international efforts to reduce hunger.

Human Rights Issues.

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

88 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the present position in Tibet; the discussions which Ireland have held in recent times with Chinese officials regarding the ongoing crisis in that region; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39549/06]

Human rights issues are a constant and important point of dialogue with the Chinese authorities at both bilateral and European Union levels. At EU level, the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue is the agreed formal framework through which the EU raises its concerns with China about individual human rights cases, and more general issues such as freedom of expression and the abolition of the death penalty. These issues were raised at the latest round of the Dialogue in Beijing on 19 October 2006. At the meeting, the EU raised cases relating to Tibetan individuals in its list of individual cases of concern submitted to the Chinese authorities, a procedure which forms part of the Dialogue process.

At this meeting also, the EU specifically raised the issue of shooting of Tibetan refugees at the Nanga La Pass on the Tibet-Nepal border on 30 September, expressing our deep concern about these events and urging China to investigate the incident thoroughly. We continue to have serious concerns about the official Chinese explanation of the event, which does not appear compatible with the testimony of independent eyewitnesses or video footage of the event. I believe it is important that China seek to establish and address the full facts of the incident. Ireland, with our EU partners, will continue to follow up the matter closely with the Chinese authorities.

Ireland established diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China in 1979, and, in line with our ‘One China' policy and the position of all other EU partners, recognises Tibet as an integral part of China. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, in his ‘middle-way-approach', while seeking greater autonomy for Tibet, also accepts that it is part of the People's Republic of China and stresses that the solution he seeks for the people of Tibet is one ‘within the framework of the Chinese constitution'.

Ireland, together with our EU partners, strongly supports the dialogue between the Chinese authorities and representatives of the Dalai Lama that has been taking place since 2002, the last meeting having taken place in February this year. We would very much encourage the dialogue between the two sides to continue, leading to a peaceful and sustainable solution for Tibet.

The Government has consistently called on the Chinese authorities to respect fully the rights of the Tibetan people, including their socioeconomic and human rights. We will continue to address our ongoing concerns regarding Tibet, both bilaterally and within the framework of the EU-China dialogue.

On a bilateral level, I met with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing on 12 May during my recent visit to Beijing. During our meeting, I had the opportunity to raise human rights issues and concerns, including the importance we attach to freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Diplomatic Representation.

Pat Carey

Ceist:

89 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, in view of the fact that Irish Embassies abroad are owned and funded by the taxpayer, he will introduce a scheme whereby embassy buildings of architectural merit are opened to visiting Irish persons for tours; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39461/06]

I welcome the Deputy's suggestion to open Embassies of architectural merit to Irish citizens abroad. Irish Embassies have indeed a long and proud tradition of openness and accessibility to the Diaspora and to visiting Irish citizens.

In response to the Deputy's suggestion, I have asked our Embassies to consider favourably any request from Irish citizens to see Embassy buildings of architectural merit.

Obviously, the normal constraints of security, practicality and resources will pertain. The first priority of an Embassy must be to represent the Government and people of Ireland abroad, including where required providing consular assistance to Irish citizens.

International Agreements.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

90 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the re-opening of diplomatic ties between the EU and Uzbekistan, the welcoming of the Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev to the EU in November 2006 and the planned meeting with the President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev, in the EU capital in December 2006; the implications of these meetings for the EU’s Central Asia policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39581/06]

The Deputy will recall that in May 2005 several hundred people died during demonstrations in the town of Andijan in Uzbekistan. As a result of the Uzbek authorities' refusal to allow an independent international enquiry into the events there, and in light of the excessive and indiscriminate use of force by the Uzbek security forces during those events, the EU imposed a series of measures on Uzbekistan on October 2005. These included an embargo on arms exports, a visa ban on named officials involved in the events at Andijan and its aftermath, and a suspension of technical meetings of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which is the framework governing the EU's relations with Uzbekistan. However, diplomatic ties were not broken off.

Contacts with the Uzbek authorities in recent weeks indicated that they may now be willing to begin to address the EU's concerns. At a Cooperation Council on 8 November, Uzbekistan offered to host a meeting (before the end of the year) of EU and Uzbek experts to discuss the Andijan events. They also proposed that the EU and Uzbekistan open a regular dialogue on human rights. While the EU remains profoundly concerned about the human rights situation in Uzbekistan, it considers that the opening to dialogue on the side of Uzbekistan offers the opportunity to bring Uzbekistan into compliance with the principles of respect for human rights, the rule of law and fundamental freedoms. The EU has therefore agreed to resume the technical meetings of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. The arms embargo and visa ban remain in force and will be reviewed again in 3 months in light of developments.

The visit of President Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan to Brussels should be seen in the context of the EU's growing relationship with Central Asia. One of the priorities of the Germany Presidency of the EU in the first half of 2007 will be to launch an EU strategy for Central Asia, having regard to the rising importance of the region. This stems from a recognition of the strategic location of Central Asia as a cross-roads between Europe and Asia, its importance as an energy provider for Europe and the EU's desire to help the countries of the region in their ongoing development. Discussion of the new approach to Central Asia within the EU is still at an early stage and Ireland is contributing to this process. Visits such as those of the President of Kazakhstan, and the increasing tempo of high level EU delegations visiting the region generally should help to ensure that the EU has an adequate understanding of conditions and needs in the region, on which to base its new strategy.

The visit of President Aliyev of Azerbaijan to Brussels in November came just before the signing of European Neighbourhood Policy Action Plans by the three South Caucasus countries (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia) on 14 November. These set out the reform and development aims of the three countries and indicate the assistance the EU will provide to these countries over the next 5 years. As with Central Asia, the EU is becoming increasingly engaged with the South Caucasus region and the signing of Action Plans with the three countries represents a significant stepping up of the EU's activities there. While in Brussels President Aliyev met with Commission President Barroso and signed a Memorandum of Understanding on energy cooperation with the EU.

Question No. 91 answered with QuestionNo. 30.
Question No. 92 answered with QuestionNo. 59.
Question No. 93 answered with QuestionNo. 12.

Mary Upton

Ceist:

94 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if and when Ireland will ratify the four United Nations Conventions which deal with the law of the sea, dating back to 1958; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39529/06]

The four United Nations Law of the Sea Conventions of 1958 to which the Deputy refers are: the Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone; the Convention on the High Seas; the Convention on Fishing and Conservation of the Living Resources of the High Seas; and the Convention on the Continental Shelf.

These Conventions were superseded by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea adopted on 10 December 1982, which was signed by Ireland on that date and ratified on 21 June 1996. This Convention resolved a number of crucial issues which were unresolved under its 1958 predecessors and is universally regarded as a comprehensive constitution for the governance of oceans and seas.

Accordingly, it is not appropriate or necessary for the State to become party to the 1958 Conventions.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Martin Ferris

Ceist:

95 Mr. Ferris asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the demand by certain sporting organisations in the North that people living there not be allowed to declare for Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35054/06]

The Good Friday Agreement recognised the right of people born in Northern Ireland to identify themselves and be accepted as Irish, British or both, as they may choose. Any attempt to deny this right should be strongly rejected, as running contrary to the Agreement and the basic concept of parity of esteem it sets out.

I am aware of reports that concerns have been expressed to FIFA about the number of football players born in Northern Ireland who are opting to play for Ireland.

A previous attempt to impose a requirement for players representing Northern Ireland to hold a British passport was overturned by FIFA and UEFA, following my strenuous representations on the issue. This House can rest assured thatany further efforts to undermine the rights recognised in the Good Friday Agreement will be resisted.

Question No. 96 answered with QuestionNo. 33.
Question No. 97 answered with QuestionNo. 34.
Question No. 98 answered with QuestionNo. 43.
Question No. 99 answered with QuestionNo. 9.
Question No. 100 answered with QuestionNo. 80.
Question No. 101 answered with QuestionNo. 29.
Question No. 102 answered with QuestionNo. 33.

European Council Meetings.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

103 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the 13 November, 2006, EU Foreign Ministers meeting in Brussels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39580/06]

The November General Affairs and External Relations Council (GAERC) meeting included a Joint Session of Foreign and Defence Ministers. Ireland was represented by my colleagues, Noel Treacy, T.D., Minister for European Affairs and Tom Kitt, T.D. Government Chief Whip and Minister of State at the Department of Defence. The Vice President of the European Commission, Commissioner Margot Wallström, presented the main elements of the Commission's work programme for 2007. The programme focuses on four priority areas:continuing to build prosperity under the Lisbon Strategy; developing social solidarity; protecting Europeans against the threat of crime, terrorism, communicable diseases; developing a strong EU voice in the world. The Presidency introduced the annotated draft agenda for the European Council to be held in Brussels on 14/15 December 2006. The issues to be addressed by the European Council are Enlargement; Justice and Home Affairs; Innovation and Energy; and External Relations. The GAERC will finalise the European Council agenda at its December meeting.

Ministers received a briefing from Mr. Martti Ahtisaari, the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy for the future status process for Kosovo, and held a discussion on EU policy towards Kosovo. Also on the Western Balkans, the Council adopted negotiation mandates for visa facilitation and readmission agreements with Bosnia and Herzegovina, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. A negotiation mandate was adopted for a visa facilitation agreement with Albania (with which the EU already has a readmission agreement). The Council discussed EU relations with Russia and considered, but did not conclude, draft negotiating Directives for a new Agreement to provide a comprehensive framework for EU-Russia relations. As regards relations with Uzbekistan, the Council decided to extend the arms embargo and visa restriction imposed in connection with the events at Andijan in May 2005. It decided to reinstate technical meetings with Uzbekistan with the aim of bringing about improvements in the human rights situation.

At a Joint Session for Ministers of Defence and Foreign Affairs, High Representative Solana and Commissioner Michel provided a positive assessment of the political situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, following the second and final round of parliamentary elections in that country. Ministers also discussed Afghanistan, and the possibility for an enhanced EU contribution to international efforts to stabilise the political and security situation there. Finally, the Joint Session reviewed developments in the European Security and Defence Policy over the last six months, notinginter alia the activity report of the Head of the European Defence Agency, and the outcome of the Civilian Capabilities Improvement Conference held in the margins of the Council. Over lunch, the Council discussed Enlargement, Middle East Peace Process and Iran.

The Commission summarised its recent Communication on Enlargement which included an individual assessment of all candidate and potential candidate countries as well as an overall enlargement strategy paper. The Commission's strategy paper will form the basis of a comprehensive debate on all aspects of enlargement, due to take place at the December European Council. As expected, substantive discussion on the strategy paper did not take place at last week's GAERC. On Turkey, whose failure to implement the Ankara Protocol has given rise to difficulties in the accession negotiations, the Commission stated that it would bring forward its recommendations ahead of the December GAERC.

On the Middle East, Ministers reviewed recent political and security developments in Israel, the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon, and discussed the prospects for a Government of national unity in Palestine. The Council decided to extend the EU Border Assistance Mission for the Rafah Crossing Point for a further six months. On Iran, High Representative Javier Solana informed Ministers that little progress had been made up to that point in discussion at the UN Security Council on a draft Resolution on the Iranian nuclear issue.

Diplomatic Representation.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

104 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has been in contact with the Government of the newly re-elected president of Brazil, His Excellency Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva; and if Ireland will deepen its relations with Brazil. [39524/06]

The Taoiseach recently sent a letter of congratulations to President Lula da Silva on the occasion of his re-election as President of the Federative Republic of Brazil. The Taoiseach wished President Lula well in his second term in office and expressed his wish to develop further the warm and close relations between Ireland and Brazil. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations, Ireland and Brazil have enjoyed positive and deepening relations, with continuing efforts being made through the Embassy of Ireland in Brasilia to further strengthen bilateral ties. Over the last five years, a number of state, official and high-level visits have been made to Brazil, notably an official visit to Brazil by the Taoiseach in July 2001 and a state visit by President McAleese in March 2004. In the economic domain, an Enterprise Ireland delegation visited Brazil in February 2006. Enterprise Ireland has appointed a consultant in Sao Paolo to assist Irish companies interested in entering the Brazilian market, with a number of Irish businesses attending a Telecommunications Trade Fair in Florianópolis in October 2006. A visit to Ireland in March 2006 by the Chief Executive of the Brazilian Agency for Industrial Development, Mr. Alessandro Teixeira, was followed by a visit by the Brazilian Minister for Industry, Trade and Development, Mr. Luiz Fernando Furlan, in May 2006. Ireland also engages in dialogue with Brazil in the context of membership of the European Union. EU relations with Brazil are pursued through bilateral and multilateral fora, the former being based on the 1992 EC-Brazil Framework Cooperation Agreement and the latter being conducted through the mechanism of the 1995 EU-Mercosur Framework Cooperation Agreement. Ireland and Brazil co-operate on a range of multilateral issues at the UN, and in the framework of the Non-Proliferation Treaty as members of the New Agenda Coalition. Political consultations were held at senior official level in Dublin in April this year.

EU Enlargement.

David Stanton

Ceist:

105 Mr. Stanton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the timescale for the possible accession of Croatia to the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39513/06]

Accession negotiations were opened with Croatia on 3 October 2005. The screening process, which scrutinises the compatibility of Croatian legislation with EU legislation, has continued during the Finnish Presidency but progress has been quite slow in comparison with previous enlargement rounds. After each chapter has been screened, the EU can decide, on the basis of a proposal from the Commission, whether the negotiations in that sector can be opened. Croatia has opened and provisionally closed negotiations on just one chapter (Science and Research). To date, the Commission has presented its reports to the Council on 15 further negotiating chapters for Croatia. Benchmarks, which must be achieved before negotiations may be opened, have been agreed for 7 of the 15 chapters for Croatia. It is expected that Croatia will be invited to open negotiations on a number of chapters shortly. At this stage, it is not possible to set a timeframe for the completion of the negotiations with Croatia. They will be judged on their own merits and the pace of the negotiations will be determined by progress in fulfilling the requirements of membership. The European Commission published its annual enlargement package on 8 November 2006. The package includes an individual assessment of the progress made by all of the candidate and potential candidate countries as well as an overall enlargement strategy paper. The Commission report commends the good start Croatia has made to its accession negotiations. The report also noted that Croatia needs to accelerate the pace of reforms in order to ensure that its good start to the accession process is maintained.

Question No. 106 answered with QuestionNo. 81.
Questions Nos. 107 and 108 answered with Question No. 51.

Overseas Development Aid.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

109 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the measures in place to ensure that overseas development aid reaches the people for whom it is intended; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39517/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

208 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if development aid throughout the African continent is received by those for whom it was intended; if his attention has been drawn to specific incidents to the contrary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39819/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 109 and 208 together.

Programmes and projects supported by Irish Aid are subject to detailed planning and preparation to ensure they are designed to meet the needs of the poor. Poverty reduction is at the heart of the aid programme and this focus has been endorsed by the White Paper on Irish Aid, published in September. Irish Aid constantly monitors and evaluates the implementation and outcome of its interventions, either directly with development partners including governments, non-governmental organisations and civil society, or in co-operation with other donors and international organisations, so that its effectiveness can be measured against defined objectives and against the broad aim of contributing to sustainable poverty reduction. If there is evidence of misuse of funds, it is investigated thoroughly and appropriate remedial and preventive measures are put in place. Aid is delivered in some of the most difficult operating environments in the world, where the strength of systems and capacities of our partners, both governmental and civil society, are not well developed. The challenge for our programme is not only to reduce poverty but at the same time to build capacity across a range of institutions in developing countries. Good governance is a key objective of the programme, one of the main aims of which is to build effective systems of service delivery and to identify and remedy misuse of funds and weak administration.

The highest importance is attached to the Audit and Evaluation functions in the Irish Aid programme. Rigorous accounting and control systems are in place to protect Irish funding from misuse. Irish Aid organises audits through its Audit and Evaluation Unit and in conjunction with reputable international firms. Over the history of the programme, the attention and resources devoted to Audit and Evaluation has greatly increased. In 2003, an independent Audit Committee was established. Formal audit and evaluation systems have been designed and implemented including the overseas office audit policy, value for money study guidelines and the Audit Charter. Internal auditors are in place in 5 Programme Countries and additional auditors will be recruited as appropriate.

Ireland's overseas development assistance is effective. The development programme has been favourably reviewed by the OECD. Working in over ninety countries, and with a particular emphasis on Africa, Irish Aid is helping people to improve their own lives and is making a real difference on the ground. For instance, in Lesotho in 1999, enrolment in primary schools was at 57%. With Ireland's support, by 2003, this figure had increased to 82%. With Ireland's support, immunisation rates against childhood diseases in Uganda are now at 84% for the entire country. More generally, it is clear that development assistance is having a positive effect in Africa. In its Africa Development — Indicators 2006 Report, the World Bank notes that in contrast with the 1990s, conflicts in Africa have declined and economic performance has improved. It notes also that since the second half of the 1990s, many low income African countries including Mozambique and Uganda have lifted significant percentages of their citizens above the poverty line.

Question No. 110 answered with QuestionNo. 25.

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

111 Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the amount of aid moneys to be allocated to the countries of the Middle East for 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39480/06]

Ivor Callely

Ceist:

201 Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the level of humanitarian support that the Government has given to the Iraqi people over the past three years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39726/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 111 and 201 together.

This year Irish Aid has delivered significant development and humanitarian funding in the Middle East. The bulk of Ireland's assistance this year — over €8.5 million — has been allocated to Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq. Depending on the emergency and development needs of the region, I expect that our assistance would remain at a similar level in 2007.

Palestine remains our key partner in the region. Ireland has been providing development and humanitarian assistance in support of the Palestinian people since 1993. In 2006, we allocated €6.4 million to meet the humanitarian and development needs of the Palestinian people. Ireland's core objective in providing assistance to Palestine is to alleviate the consequences of the conflict by enhancing the capacity of Ireland's partners in Palestine to respond to the current crisis and, where possible, to begin to meet future development needs. The UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs remain key partners for Ireland in the provision of basic, emergency assistance to the Palestinian people. Ireland has provided €3 million in assistance to UNRWA this year. This core funding facilitates UNRWA in responding with flexibility to Palestinian needs in the West Bank, Gaza and also in the region, including refugees in Jordan, Syria and the Lebanon. In 2007, Irish Aid is set to continue to provide a similar level of assistance to the Palestinian people and our focus will continue to be on the three sectors of education; rural development and support for civil society. Our funding of these sectors will be complemented by our continuing commitment to the funding of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

Ireland responded swiftly to the crisis in Lebanon earlier this year. On 31 August, at the Stockholm Donor Conference, I pledged a further €2 million for recovery and longer-term reconstruction and assistance in Lebanon and Palestine, which will be fully committed by the end of 2007. Since 2003, Irish Aid has made funds of €7.4 million available for humanitarian interventions in Iraq. Irish Aid supported activities currently include mines clearance work by the Mines Advisory Group and health care programmes for the Marsh Arab population run by the Amar Foundation. Ireland will continue to respond to the emergency situation in Iraq in 2007 as needs emerge.

Question No. 112 answered with QuestionNo. 43.
Question No. 113 answered with QuestionNo. 59.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Joe Costello

Ceist:

114 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the latest efforts being made to ensure that Sinn Féin support the PSNI and take their seats on the Policing Board; the efforts he is making to encourage Sinn Féin to hold an Ard-Fheis on this issue as a matter of urgency; his views on whether a positive decision from such an Ard-Fheis has the potential to provoke significant progress towards restoring the political institutions in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39542/06]

The St. Andrews Agreement set out a clear timetable for the restoration of the political institutions in Northern Ireland. It also made clear that, as part of that process, all parties would fully support policing and the rule of law, while also recognising the right of every political party to hold the police to account.

In this regard, the St Andrews Agreement outlined the essential elements of support for the police and criminal justice system, including endorsing the PSNI, actively encouraging everyone in the community to co-operate fully with the PSNI in tackling crime in all areas, and actively supporting all the policing and criminal justice institutions, including the Policing Board. It also set a target-date of May 2008 for the transfer of policing and justice powers to the devolved Institutions.

Both Governments have been engaged in ongoing contact with the political parties to ensure that the various elements in the St. Andrews package are implemented. The first meeting of the Programme for Government Committee took place on Monday last, 20 November, to begin preparations for the full restoration of the Assembly and Executive next March. It is intended that this Committee, which includes Sinn Féin and other parties likely to comprise the incoming Executive, will consider a number of important issues in the coming weeks, including outstanding policing matters. We have consistently urged all parties to support policing, and urge them to take without delay any steps necessary to achieve this objective.

The convening of the Programme for Government meeting, and the expectation of further progress in the weeks ahead, reflect the overwhelming desire of people North and South to see the restoration of the political institutions in Northern Ireland and support by all parties for the policing and criminal justice system.

We will continue our efforts in the period ahead to secure the implementation of all the commitments set out in the St Andrews Agreement, including those relating to policing. We look forward to the support of all the political parties in this task.

Departmental Staff.

Damien English

Ceist:

115 Mr. English asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the planned increases to staffing levels in Irish Aid over the course of 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39514/06]

The White Paper on Irish Aid recognises that the enormous expansion in the size of the aid programme will place heavy demands on those administering it. The Government has committed to undertaking a major review of the management of the Irish Aid programme. The review will embrace the financial and administrative systems, approval, monitoring, audit and evaluation mechanisms, management information systems and the management and technical competencies necessary to guide the programme through this era of growth.

The staffing requirement will be considered in the context of this management review. The review will be conducted by my Department in conjunction with the Department of Finance. A report will be made to Government with recommendations.

In addition, sanction has already been conveyed by the Minister for Finance for an additional 20 posts in my Department's Development Cooperation Directorate. The filling of these posts will be completed during the course of 2007.

Question No. 116 answered with QuestionNo. 59.
Question No. 117 answered with QuestionNo. 13
Question No. 118 answered with QuestionNo. 25.

Official Engagements.

Dan Boyle

Ceist:

119 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on his recent meeting in Dublin with the Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39579/06]

I met with my Estonian colleague Urmas Paet in Dublin on 31 October. We had a very useful and open discussion on a number of important international and EU topics. The subjects covered in the course of our discussion included Irish-Estonian bilateral relations, the European Constitutional Treaty, European Neighbourhood Policy, EU Enlargement, EU-Russia relations, Common Agricultural Policy and Review of Financial Perspectives, Energy Policy, EU Battlegroups, Development Cooperation, and Afghanistan.

In an enlarged European Union, it is vitally important that we maintain good bilateral relations with our EU partners. There is a particular need to develop close ties with those countries, like Estonia, that acceded to the Union in 2004. The visit by Minister Paet served both of these purposes very well.

Citizenship Applications.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

120 Mr. Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he has assessed the delays that have built up in dealing with applications for naturalisation by the spouses of Irish citizens; when a decision is expected in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 9; and if additional support will be given to this work in view of the inconvenience of obtaining visas when people need to travel abroad without an Irish passport. [39729/06]

Citizenship on the basis of marriage to an Irish citizen, until recently, could be acquired in one of two ways. Section 8 of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 (INCA) provided that spouses of Irish citizens, who were citizens other than by naturalisation could claim citizenship as of right once they had been married for three years by making a declaration of post-nuptial citizenship. There was no residence requirement under this section.

Spouses of Irish citizens, who had gained their citizenship by naturalisation themselves, were required to apply for naturalisation and comply with the normal statutory conditions for naturalisation contained in section 15 of INCA, namely residence in the State, being of full age and of good character and having an intention to reside permanently in the State after naturalisation.

Under an amendment to the INCA in 2001 post-nuptial citizenship was phased out over a three year period from the commencement of the Act on 29th November 2002 by a specific provision in Section 15A of the INCA. This provided, inter alia, for a three year rather than a five year residence requirement and a three year subsisting marriage requirement, both of which I am entitled to waive in cases where the applicant shows that they may suffer serious consequences in respect of their bodily integrity or liberty if not granted Irish citizenship.

In the interests of fairness to all concerned, it is the practice of the Citizenship Division of my Department to process cases in chronological order based upon the date of receipt of the application. As the conditions for naturalisation for the spouses of Irish citizens are generally the same as those for other applicants for naturalisation, I see no reason to deviate from the present practice in their case.

The only areas where the above practice is not observed involve applications by persons with refugee status or where the application is made on behalf of a minor. In the case of applicants with refugee status the Government has obligations under the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees of 28 July 1951. Accordingly every effort is made to ensure that applications from such applicants are dealt with as quickly as possible, having regard to the general volume of applications. Where applications made on behalf of minors are concerned, these generally require less processing than standard adult applications so it is usually possible to finalise them more quickly.

An application for a certificate of naturalisation was received in the Citizenship section of my Department from the person referred to in the Deputy's question on 28 July 2005. Applications received in the second half of 2004 are currently being processed and there are approximately 3900 applications awaiting processing before that of the person in question. It is likely that processing of the application of the person concerned will commence in the second half of 2007.

Meanwhile, if the person concerned wishes to travel outside of the State prior to her application for naturalisation being finalised, she can travel on her current passport and apply, in advance of her departure from the State, for a re-entry visa to the Visa Office at 13/14 Burgh Quay, Dublin 2.

Illegal Immigrants.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

121 Mr. O’Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his proposals to award appropriate compensation to a person (details supplied) who was wrongfully deported from the State on 3 October 2006; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39758/06]

I wish to advise the Deputy at the outset that the person concerned was not deported from the State but rather refused leave to land.

An immigration officer at any point of entry to the State has the power to refuse leave to land to a person seeking to enter the State pursuant to Section 4 (3) of the Immigration Act, 2004. I am informed that in this case, it appears that the immigration officer relied on Section 4 (3) (g) of the aforementioned Act. The relevant section provides, inter alia, that ‘An immigration officer may, on behalf of the Minister, refuse to give permission to land to a non-national if the officer is satisfied that he/she is not in possession of a valid passport or other equivalent document, issued by or on behalf of an authority recognised by the Government, which establishes his or her identity and nationality'.

As the immigration officer was acting within his remit and in accordance with the statute law of the State, the issue of compensation does not arise.

Garda Stations.

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

122 Mr. Stagg asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the direct population area of the existing 109 Garda stations, open 24 hours, cover individually. [39759/06]

The detailed information sought by the Deputy is not readily available and can only be obtained by the disproportionate expenditure of Garda time and resources.

I should point out 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.

Juvenile Offenders.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

123 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of incidents of juvenile crime recorded in each division since 2002; the number of cases dealt with by the juvenile diversion programme in the same period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39760/06]

The juvenile Diversion Programme was introduced by the Children Act 2001 and is a package of measures for dealing with children under the age of 18 who commit an offence or offences.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that incidents of juvenile crime recorded by the Garda Síochána are set out in the following table.

The figures for 2004 and 2005 were prepared on the basis of Garda Division. The figures for 2002 and 2003 were prepared on the basis of Garda Region rather than Garda Division. To collate now the information on the basis of Garda Division for those years would require a disproportionate expenditure of Garda time and resources.

Referrals to Diversion Programme

2005

2004

2003

2002

Eastern Region

Carlow/Kildare

848

1,054

Laois/Offaly

641

666

Longford/Westmeath

517

495

Louth/Meath

1,028

947

Total

3,034

3,162

3,101

3,245

Dublin Region

Eastern

1,082

938

North Central

570

707

Northern

1,482

1,635

South Central

477

549

Southern

1,951

1,766

Western

1,963

1,520

Total

7,525

7,115

6,846

7,480

Northern Region

Cavan/Monaghan

466

516

Donegal

704

684

Sligo/Leitrim

214

173

Total

1,384

1,373

1,723

1,536

South Eastern Region

Tipperary

638

708

Waterford/Kilkenny

1,343

1,527

Wexford

654

574

Total

2,635

2,809

2,793

2,902

Southern Region

Cork City

1,807

1,659

Cork North

641

514

Cork West

459

547

Kerry

545

401

Limerick

1,419

1,107

Total

4,871

4,228

3,647

3,560

Western Region

Clare

576

388

Galway West

651

511

Mayo

428

670

Roscommon/Galway East

343

329

Total

1,998

1,898

1,800

1,924

Outside Jurisdiction

50

22

Total

21,497

20,607

19,910

20,647

Decentralisation Programme.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

124 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when he expects the fixed charge unit to decentralise to Thurles; the progress to date on the unit’s decentralisation to Thurles; the number of staff at each grade who have selected Thurles; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39761/06]

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

125 Mr. Lowry asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when he expects elements of Garda headquarters to decentralise to Thurles; the progress to date on the unit’s decentralisation to Thurles; the number of staff at each grade who have selected Thurles; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39762/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 124 and 125 together.

Under the Government Programme, one hundred and fourteen posts are scheduled to decentralise from sections in Garda Headquarters to Thurles by the end of 2008. The Garda Central Vetting Unit commenced its operations in Thurles in November 2005 involving the transfer from Dublin of thirty-one posts. Another advance move is planned for the first half of 2007, when forty-three posts from the Fixed Charge Processing Unit will relocate to Thurles.

Under the Central Applications Facility, there are currently one hundred and thirty five applicants from both within my Department and from other Government Departments who have indicated Thurles as their priority location. The breakdown in grades is as follows:- five Assistant Principal Officers, seventeen Higher Executive Officers, one Administrative Officer, twenty-one Executive Officers, eleven Staff Officers and eighty Clerical Officers.

Prison Staff.

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

126 Mr. Connaughton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when the next competition will be held for the employment of prison officers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39777/06]

The Irish Prison Service, in conjunction with the Public Appointments Service, intend to hold an Open Competition for the appointment of Recruit Prison Officers circa March 2007. In the interim, successful applicants from the competition advertised in February 2006 will continue to be appointed to fill vacancies as the need arises.

Residency Permits.

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

127 Ms C. Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the month and year of the applications for family reunification that are currently being dealt with in view of the fact that such applications are generally dealt with by his Department in chronological order; the average length of time it takes for such applications to be processed; the circumstances under which applications will be dealt with outside of chronological order; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39778/06]

I have been informed that applications for Family Reunification that were received in the period from July to August, 2005 are currently being dealt with in my Department. However, the recent assignment of additional resources to the area should have a positive impact in reducing processing times.

Applications for Family Reunification are normally dealt with in chronological order, but may occasionally have to be prioritised where there are compelling humanitarian considerations involved.

Garda Training.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

128 Mr. Cuffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of gardaí who have undertaken the bicycle training course, and the number of bicycles available at Garda stations (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39779/06]

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 by the Garda authorities that the number of Gardaí who have undertaken the bicycle training course, and the number of bicycles available at Blackrock, Cabinteely, Dalkey, Dún Laoghaire, Kill O'Grange and Shankill Garda Stations are as set out in the following table:

Garda Station

Trained

No. of Mountain Bikes Allocated

Blackrock

5 Gardaí

2

Dalkey

Dún Laoghaire

1 Sergeant and 6 Gardaí

2

Kill O’Grange

1 Garda

Shankill

3 Gardaí

1

Cabinteely

1 Garda

I have also been informed by the Garda authorities that currently 500 Garda personnel have been trained and equipped for mountain bike duties nationally, including over 300 personnel allocated to the Dublin Metropolitan Region.

Assistant Commissioner DMR is currently reviewing deployment of mountain bikes in the DMR with a view to expansion and establishment of new units.

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.

Legislative Programme.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

129 Mr. P. Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when the Sale of Alcohol (Codification of the Licensing Laws) Bill 2005 will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39780/06]

The Government Legislation Programme provides for publication of the Sale of Alcohol Bill in 2007. This Bill will repeal the Licensing Acts 1833 to 2004, as well as the Registration of Clubs Acts 1904 to 2004, and replace them with provisions more suited to modern conditions.

Residency Permits.

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

130 Mr. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the status of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; if the person’s residence status is to be changed from a stamp three to a stamp four permit in order to allow the person to work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39802/06]

The person concerned was granted permission to enter the State as a dependant of his wife. He has permission on this basis until the 1 December 2006.

Should he wish to enter employment, there are two main ways in which he can seek to enter employment. The first option open to him is to source a prospective employer who can seek to obtain a Employment Permit on his behalf.

The second option is to obtain a Working Visa which is a scheme for highly skilled personnel seeking employment in Ireland. Generally speaking the scheme covers highly specialised areas of the economy requiring a high level of skill and educational achievement — for example, the high-tech, medical and engineering sectors. The criteria for issuing Working Visas changes regularly, according to the demands of the economy.

Further information relating to the issuing of Work Permits and Working Visas can be obtained from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment. (www.entemp.ie).

Parliamentary Questions.

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

131 Mr. J. O’Keeffe asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of Dáil Éireann replies where he has failed to furnish the information requested in parliamentary questions and where such information is outstanding as of 20 November 2006; and the number of such replies where the information is outstanding for more than a week, a month, two months, three months and longer. [39803/06]

The information sought by the Deputy is set out in the following Table. As the Deputy will appreciate, the number, range and complexity of the questions tabled to my Department is considerable and yet the overwhelming majority of questions are answered within the few days usually provided for answer. In certain instances and despite every effort, however, some questions cannot be answered immediately. My Department is continuing to follow up on outstanding responses but when one considers the total number of questions dealt with (almost 4,000 responses in 2005 alone, for example) the proportion where a response is outstanding is negligible.

Answer outstanding

Number of Questions

Between one week and a month

28

Between one and two months

5

Between two and three months

0

Three months and longer

48

Garda Deployment.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

132 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he has consulted with the Garda authorities with a view to identifying the optimum number gardaí requirement at the various stations throughout County Kildare with the objective of achieving best practice in line with international standards of the ratio of police numbers to population; if he has identified the number of gardaí now required in County Kildare to achieve this standard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39832/06]

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 also been informed by the Garda authorities that the personnel strength of the Carlow/Kildare Division as at 21 November, 2006 was 367 (all ranks). The personnel strength of the Carlow/Kildare Division as at 31 December, 1997 was 281 (all ranks). This represents an increase of 86 (or 30.6%) in the number of personnel allocated since that date.

I should add that it is the responsibility of Garda management to allocate personnel to and within Divisions. These personnel allocations are determined by a number of factors including demographics, crime trends, administrative functions and other operational policing needs. 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.

I have been further informed by the Garda authorities that the Garda Establishment Redistribution Model (GERM) is utilized as an indicator for the effective means to distribute Garda personnel throughout the country.

In addition, I should remind the Deputy of the role of the Garda Síochána Inspectorate which I established in July 2006. Its objective, as set out in the Garda Síochána Act 2005, is to ensure that the resources available to An Garda Síochána are used, so as to achieve and maintain the highest levels of efficiency and effectiveness in its operation and administration, as measured by reference to the best standards of comparable police services. One of the areas currently being examined by the Inspectorate as part of an operational and administrative assessment of the Garda Síochána includes Resource Allocation, including the deployment of Garda and civilian personnel. I have asked for an interim report from the Inspectorate no later than January 2007 and a final report by May 2007.

Deportation Orders.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

133 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will review the proposal for deportation in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare who is being prevented from working here due to lack of a green stamp, but who is the parent of a child born to an Irish citizen; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39833/06]

I refer the Deputy to Parliamentary Question No. 94 of Thursday, 16th November, 2006 (ref: 38448/06) and the written reply to that Question. The position is unchanged.

Asylum Applications.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

134 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the residency status in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Roscommon who is a native of the Democratic Republic of Congo; if extended residency will be offered in their case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39834/06]

The person concerned arrived in the State on 10 October, 2003 and applied for asylum. Her application was refused following consideration of her case by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and, on appeal, by the Refugee Appeals Tribunal.

Subsequently, in accordance with Section 3 of the Immigration Act, 1999, as amended, she was informed by letter dated 18 August 2005, that the Minister proposed to make a deportation order in respect of her. She was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why she should be allowed to remain temporarily in the State; leaving the State before an order is made or consenting to the making of a deportation order. Representations have been received on behalf of the person concerned.

This person's case file, including all representations submitted, will be considered under Section 3(6) of the Immigration Act, 1999, as amended, and Section 5 of the Refugee Act, 1996 (Prohibition of Refoulement). I expect the file to be passed to me for decision in due course.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

135 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when a green card will be restored in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 24 in view of the fact that the applicant is a carer for family children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39835/06]

I refer the Deputy to Parliamentary Question No. 162 of Thursday, 11th May, 2006 and the written reply to that Question. The position is unchanged.

Citizenship Applications.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

136 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath will meet the necessary residency requirements to qualify for naturalisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39836/06]

An application for a certificate of naturalisation from the person referred to in the Deputy's question was received in the Citizenship section of my Department on 7 June 2006. An examination of his application revealed that he did not have 5 years reckonable residency in the State prior to him submitting the application. He was informed of this on 21 October 2006.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform may, in his absolute discretion, grant an application for a certificate of naturalisation provided certain statutory conditions are fulfilled. One of these conditions is that the applicant has had a period of one year's continuous residency in the State immediately before the date of the application and, during the eight years immediately preceding that period, has had a total residence in the State amounting to four years.

In the context of determining if an applicant meets the residence requirement for naturalisation, certain periods of residence in the State must be excluded. These include

periods of residence in respect of which an applicant does not have permission to remain in the State

periods granted for the purposes of study and

periods granted for the purposes of seeking recognition as a refugee within the meaning of the Refugee Act, 1996.

A fresh application may be submitted when the individual concerned fulfils the aforementioned criteria.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

137 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform further to Parliamentary Question No. 97 of 9 November 2006, in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 24 to the effect that there is no record that any original documentation accompanied the application for naturalisation of the person in question, and in view of the fact that his Department required the original documentation which was supplied, if he will arrange for the return of this documentation after examination; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39837/06]

I refer the Deputy to my response to Parliamentary Question No. 97 on 9 November, 2006 and can confirm that no original documentation accompanied the application for naturalisation in this case.

Separately however, the individual concerned submitted her travel document to the General Immigration Office at 13/14 Burgh Quay, Dublin 2 for renewal in July of this year. This document has now been renewed and will be returned to the person involved.

National Drugs Strategy.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

138 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the extent to which he proposes to assist by way of direct funding, the efforts of various community groups involved in the fight against drugs with particular reference to outreach, treatment of diversionary programmes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39842/06]

As the Deputy will be aware, very significant levels of funding are being provided to community based drugs projects under the Government's National Drugs Strategy through the Local and Regional Drugs Task Forces initiative as well as the Young People's Facilities and Services fund under the aegis of the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.

My own Department's remit in this field, insofar as funding is concerned, is primarily focused on support for offenders and ex-offenders, as well as in the area of Youth Diversion.

In 2006 the budget allocation for assistance to voluntary bodies from the Probation Service amounted to €20.827 million. I am pleased to advise the Deputy that for the coming year this has been increased to €24.096 million. Of the €20.827 million allocated in 2006, €2.412 million was provided for drug treatment programmes including counselling for the treatment of drug, alcohol and other addictions.

In addition to the above, I can inform the Deputy that there are a further five Probation led projects, approved by Local Drugs Task Forces, which are currently operating on a pilot basis. While the projects are operating on a pilot basis the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs provides the funding, channelled through my Department. Currently the grants to these five projects amount to almost €2.52 million. Subject to favourable evaluation, these projects will in future be funded by my Department through the Probation Service.

The Irish Prison Service and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs have through the Dormant Accounts Fund also made available funding for a number of pilot projects in this area. These pilots will take place over the coming years and are related to throughcare focused addiction counselling work for prisoners. The Irish Prison Service also supports the provision of addiction counselling by community groups in a number of prisons.

I would also like to draw the Deputy's attention to the work of the Garda Youth Diversion Projects which are a community-based, multi-agency crime prevention initiative which seek to divert young persons from becoming involved — or further involved — in anti-social and/or criminal behaviour by providing suitable activities to facilitate personal development, promote civic responsibility and improve long-term employability prospects. By doing so, the projects also contribute to improving the quality of life within communities and enhancing Garda/community relations. The projects are funded by my Department and administered by the Community Relations Section of An Garda Síochána.

I secured increases in funding for the Garda Youth Diversion Projects bringing the total funding to €6.6 million in 2006 and to €9.8 million for 2007. This funding supports Garda Youth Diversion Projects and mainstreamed Local Drugs Task Force Projects, of which there are seven.

The increase in funding has enabled me to begin an expansion of the programme from 64 Garda Youth Diversion Projects at the beginning of this year to 84 projects nationwide before the end of 2006. It is my intention that there will be at 100 projects nationwide before the end of 2007.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

139 Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the action being taken to address the ever growing problem of drug abuse; if the regional drug task force had adequate resources at its disposal to meet the growing requirements of community based groups involved in combating drugs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39846/06]

The Government's National Strategy 2001-2008 addresses the problem of drug misuse under pillar headings of education and prevention, supply reduction, treatment and rehabilitation and research and is firmly founded on the principle that drug misuse needs to be addressed in an integrated manner across these headings through a co-operative approach involving the statutory, community and voluntary treatment sectors.

The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, under the stewardship of my colleague and Minister of State Mr. Noel Ahern, is the lead Government Department in co-ordinating the implementation of the Strategy. The allocation of funding to the regional drugs task forces is, therefore, a matter which comes under the remit of that Department.

My Department's remit in this area, while not exclusively, is primarily in the area of drug supply reduction and drug law enforcement, remains a key feature of the Government's drug policy framework.

An Garda Síochána invokes a number of broad strategic responses in addressing the issue. These include the following:

Identifying, targeting and dismantling national and international drug trafficking networks which supply and distribute illegal drugs within this state.

Conducting intelligence driven operations focusing on all aspects of the illicit drugs trade including commodity, logistics, distribution and financing.

Working with other national and international law enforcement agencies on joint actions designed to reduce the availability of drugs and the proceeds derived from the drugs trade.

Working in partnership with statutory, community and voluntary groups to reduce both the supply and demand for drugs within society.

Tackling organised crime and drug trafficking is primarily achieved through the use of specialist units and targeted intelligence led operations.

The Organised Crime Unit, established in November 2005, in conjunction with the Garda National Drugs Unit and local Gardaí, continue to implement initiatives such as Operations Anvil and Oak which target criminals involved in the trafficking of drugs.

These operations, which are ongoing, continue to dismantle drug trafficking networks and have led to the arrest in recent times of major criminals both based here and abroad who are involved in the drugs trade and very significant drug seizures continue to be made by An Garda Síochána as a result of this work.

The record level of resources, both in financial and personnel terms, being made available to An Garda Síochána this year is proof of the Government's commitment and determination to ensure that the Garda authorities will continue to implement targeted, intelligence and high intensity operations against organised crime with a special focus on drugs crime.

Furthermore we are ensuring that our law enforcement agencies have a strong legislative platform from which to operate in their work tackling those involved in such criminal activity.

While our legislative package for tackling drug trafficking is already viewed as being one of the most stringent in Europe, the Criminal Justice Act 2006 provides for further measures which will enhance the powers of the Gardaí in the investigation and prosecution of drug offences.

Finally, I can assure the Deputy that the Government remains resolutely committed to addressing this issue as an ongoing matter of priority through our National Drugs Strategy.

Tax Code.

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

140 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Finance further to correspondence (details supplied) the mechanism or means by which VAT that has been charged to consumers for the purchase of optical items, or services rendered, will be refunded to them, on foot of a recent court decision; if there is a mechanism or means by which this could be put in place in order to ensure that the consumers will receive the benefits of such refunds if they are entitled to same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39867/06]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that, historically, they had treated the supply of corrective spectacles and contact lenses by an optician as a single supply chargeable at the standard rate of VAT (currently 21%). Opticians had, in general, accounted for VAT on the full price for the supply of spectacles and contact lenses. Opticians have always been exempt from VAT in respect of the professional fees received from eye testing, which has always been treated as a separate supply.

The Appeal Commissioner decided, in a test case, that the supply by an optician of spectacles and contact lenses constituted two separate supplies for VAT as follows:

(i) A taxable supply of goods.

(ii) An exempt supply of dispensing services.

The decision in question followed similar decisions in the UK courts. The Revenue Commissioners have accepted the decision. The principle that there are in fact two separate supplies involved is beyond dispute.

As a result, many opticians now find themselves in a position to claim a refund from Revenue of a portion of the VAT accounted for by them on their supplies of corrective spectacles and contact lenses. VAT is a consumption tax collected and accounted for by businesses. Refunds of VAT are made to the persons chargeable to, and accountable for, the tax. There are no provisions in EU VAT law which could enable repayment of VAT to be made by Revenue to the ultimate consumer, in this instance, the customers of the opticians. Therefore, the question of refunds to the opticians' customers is a matter for the optician and customer concerned.

Tax Collection.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

141 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Finance if tax is owing to a person (details supplied) in County Carlow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39718/06]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that a review of liability has been carried out on behalf of the taxpayer. The taxpayer has received all refunds due to him to date. An underpayment has arisen for the year 2004 and a balancing statement detailing this issued to the taxpayer on 10 November 2006.

Tax Code.

Tony Gregory

Ceist:

142 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Finance if he will review the requirement on elderly people who live alone to pay 21% VAT on the cost of providing a carer in their homes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39724/06]

The application of VAT in these cases is governed by EU law. This requires that private providers of homecare services must charge VAT at the appropriate rate of up to 21%. My Department is examining in consultation with the Department of Health and Children the scope within the relevant EU Directives to exempt the provision of such services from VAT in the future.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

143 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Finance if there are proposals to exempt sporting and voluntary bodies from stamp duty; the estimated annual cost of such a proposal; if a similar proposal exists to refund VAT to sporting and voluntary groups; the estimated annual cost of the proposed VAT refund; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39747/06]

As the Deputy is aware, I do not comment on possible changes ahead of the Budget. I am also informed by the Revenue Commissioners that they are unable, due to data difficulties, to provide a cost for introducing an exemption from stamp duty for sporting bodies.

The Deputy may already be aware of the fact that an exemption from stamp duty is provided for in the stamp duty code in respect of a conveyance, transfer or lease of land made for charitable purposes to a body of persons established for charitable purposes only. This exemption is confined to bodies of persons which are recognised under law as having been established for charitable purposes only in which case the entirety of the activities carried on by the body in question must be charitable in nature.

In this regard, voluntary sporting bodies that do not have this charitable exemption are liable to stamp duty in the normal manner. However, there are separate relieving provisions in the tax code for not-for-profit and member-controlled sporting bodies. Amateur and athletic associations are not liable to income tax. In addition, a generous capital gains tax exemption is available to sports bodies where they dispose of a property and the proceeds are re-invested in new assets for the promotion of the sport in question. In this situation, capital gains tax is not payable. In addition, sporting organisations can avail of the special donations scheme. Where donations are made to qualifying sporting associations, the Revenue Commissioners will apply relief on the donation at the donor's marginal tax rate and refund the relief to the sports body in question.

I am also informed by the Revenue Commissioners that it is not possible to furnish figures of the VAT paid by exempt sporting and voluntary bodies on their purchases of goods and services from VAT registered bodies, as the information furnished on VAT returns does not require the yield from particular consumers to be identified.

The position is that charities and non-profit groups engaged in non-commercial activity are exempt from VAT under the EU Sixth VAT Directive, with which Irish VAT law must comply. This means they do not charge VAT on the services they provide and cannot recover VAT incurred on goods and services that they purchase. Essentially only VAT registered businesses which charge VAT are able to recover VAT.

Tax Compliance.

Jimmy Deenihan

Ceist:

144 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Finance if he will confirm that his previous written reply, of July 2006, that no penalties were incurred as a result of non-compliance with the requirements of EU Regulation 2064/97, was untrue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39752/06]

I can confirm that the statement given by me in July 2006 on the question of non-compliance with EU Regulation 2064/97 was correct. There has been no change in the position in the interim.

Tax Code.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

145 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Finance if his attention has been drawn to the fact that private providers of care for the elderly are being charged VAT at 21% on home help services and 13.5% on nursing care services and that they are competing with nursing home care which qualifies for a 0% VAT rate; the estimated annual cost to the Exchequer of removing the VAT charges on private care for the elderly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39767/06]

The application of VAT in these cases is governed by EU law. Nursing home services provided by the HSE are not, as the Deputy suggests, subject to the zero VAT rate. The position is that homecare services provided directly by the Health Service Executive are exempt from VAT, as public bodies are not regarded as taxable persons. This means that they do not charge VAT on the services they provide and cannot recover VAT incurred on their input costs.

Under the Sixth VAT Directive Member States may retain the zero rates on goods and services, which were in place on 1 January 1991, but cannot extend the zero rate to new goods and services. The provision of homecare services was not zero rated on 1 January 1991 and cannot therefore be zero rated. Accordingly, private providers of homecare services must charge VAT at the appropriate rate of up to 21%.

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that VAT returns are not compiled in a manner which would allow the yield from particular goods or services to be identified. Therefore, the amount of VAT collected in respect of homecare services cannot be readily identified from the overall VAT yield.

My Department is examining in consultation with the Department of Health and Children the scope within the relevant EU Directives to exempt the provision of such services from VAT in the future.

Communications Masts.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

146 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Finance if a decision has been made in regard to reviewing the decision to place a new telecommunications mast in the vicinity of Shankill Garda Station; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39768/06]

The Commissioners of Public Works granted licences to mobile phone operators to install telecommunications equipment on the mast at Shankill Garda station. As the terms of the licences have not been breached, there is no basis for a review of the decision to grant the licences.

Budget Submissions.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

147 Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Finance if he will consider the issues raised by a council (details supplied) when he is framing his Budget 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39786/06]

I have noted the issues raised by the Council in question and they will be considered in the context of the forthcoming Budget.

Tax Code.

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

148 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Finance if, in relation to the child care scheme, in the event of a minder exceeding the €10,000 tax free limit, they are taxed on the whole amount; and if they will be allowed to offset expenses such as heating, lighting and food against the amount earned. [39800/06]

Section 13 of the Finance Act 2006 provided for a scheme of tax relief for income received from the provision of certain childcare services. The scheme operates broadly on the basis that if gross annual income from the provision of childcare services in a person's own home does not exceed €10,000 in a tax year, the income is fully exempt from tax. In determining whether the income level exceeds €10,000 no account can be taken of deductions or expenses of any kind.

Where the income from such childcare services exceeds €10,000 the exemption does not apply and the entire amount is taxable in the normal way. However, in these circumstances, the childcare service provider can deduct all allowable expenses such as the cost of additional heating, lighting and food etc expended in the course of earning the childminding income.

Disabled Drivers.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

149 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance when he expects some liberalisation of the qualification criteria for primary medical certificates under the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994 to include sufferers from rheumatoid arthritis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39851/06]

The Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Scheme provides relief from VAT and VRT (up to certain limit) on the purchase of a car adapted for the transport of a person with specific severe and permanent physical disabilities, as well as relief from excise on the fuel used in the car up to a certain limit.

The disability criteria for eligibility for the tax concessions under this scheme are set out in the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994. To get the Primary Medical Certificate, an applicant must be severely and permanently disabled and satisfy one of the following conditions:

(a) be wholly or almost wholly without the use of both legs;

(b) be wholly without the use of one leg and almost wholly without the use of the other leg such that the applicant is severely restricted as to movement of the lower limbs;

(c) be without both hands or without both arms;

(d) be without one or both legs;

(e) be wholly or almost wholly without the use of both hands or arms and wholly or almost wholly without the use of one leg;

(f) have the medical condition of dwarfism and have serious difficulties of movement of the lower limbs.

The Senior Medical Officer (SMO) for the relevant Health Service Executive area makes a professional clinical determination as to whether an individual applicant satisfies the medical criteria. An unsuccessful applicant can appeal the decision of the SMO to the Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal, which makes a new clinical determination in respect of the individual.

A special Interdepartmental Review Group reviewed the operation of the Disabled Drivers Scheme. The terms of reference of the Group were to examine the operation of the existing scheme, including the difficulties experienced by the various groups and individuals involved with it, and to consider the feasibility of alternative schemes, with a view to assisting the Minister for Finance in determining the future direction of the scheme.

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

In respect of the long-term recommendations, including the qualifying disability criteria, given the scale and scope of the scheme, further changes can only be made after careful consideration. For this reason, the Government decided that the Minister for Finance would consider the recommendations contained in the Report of the Interdepartmental Review Group in the context of the annual budgetary process having regard to the existing and prospective cost of the scheme. This consideration is undertaken on a regular basis.

Pension Provisions.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

150 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the way the tax on the approved retirement funds which is commencing in 2007 will operate; and if tax paid on actual withdrawals will be deemed a credit against this new levy. [39862/06]

The 2006 Budget and Finance Act introduced an imputed or notional distribution of 3% of the value of the assets of an Approved Retirement Fund (ARF) on 31 December each year, which notional amount will be taxed at the ARF owner's marginal income tax rate. Funds actually drawn down by ARF owners will be credited against the imputed distribution in that year to arrive at a net imputed amount, if any, for that year.

As a transitional measure, the 3% rate will be phased in over the period 2007 to 2009, with 1% applying in 2007, 2% in 2008 and the full 3% in 2009 and each subsequent year. The new regime will apply to ARFs created on or after 6 April 2000 where the ARF holder is 60 years of age or over for the whole of a tax year. The new provisions do not impact on Approved Minimum Retirement Funds (AMRFs).

This measure was introduced because the internal review of tax relief for pensions provision undertaken by my Department and the Revenue Commissioners last year (and which was published earlier this year) found that the ARF option was largely not being used, as intended, to fund an income stream in retirement but instead was being used to build up funds in a tax-free environment over the long-term. The imputed distribution measure will encourage the use of ARFs as intended.

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that they have recently commenced discussions with pension industry representative bodies with a view to clarifying the detailed operational aspects of the new provisions. The broad operational features of the new provisions can, however, be summarised as follows:

The qualifying fund manager (QFM) will be required to value the assets in the ARF or ARFs (where there is more than one ARF beneficially owned by the same individual and managed by the same QFM) on 31 December in each year commencing in 2007.

The QFM will determine the amount of the notional distribution, called the "specified amount" in the legislation, by applying the appropriate percentage rate to this value (1% for 2007 rising to the full 3% for 2009 and thereafter).

The QFM may deduct the value of any actual distributions made from the ARF or ARFs, and any actual distributions made from an AMRF beneficially owned by the same individual, to arrive at the net notional distribution, if any, to be subject to tax.

The notional distribution, if any, is deemed to arise in January of the year following the year of assessment in respect of which it has been determined (e.g. the notional distribution calculated for 2007 will be regarded as arising in January 2008).

Where an individual is the beneficial owner of more than one ARF which are not all managed by the same QFM, he may nominate one of the QFMs to meet his overall obligations under the new provisions.

In the above circumstances, the other QFMs are required to certify to the nominee within 14 days of the end of the year of assessment, the value of the assets in the ARF or ARFs managed by them and the amount(s) of any actual distributions made from those ARFs (and from any AMRF managed by them) in that year.

The nominee will then calculate the notional distribution as if all of the ARFs were managed by the nominee and as if all of the actual distributions were made by the nominee to arrive at the overall net notional distribution, if any.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

151 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the maximum percentage of income which can be put into a pension fund in 2007 by an employee themselves; and the maximum that can be put in by a firm on behalf of a director. [39863/06]

I take it that the Deputy is referring to the position in relation to occupational pension schemes. In that regard, I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the maximum annual tax relieved contribution that an employee, including a director, may make towards his or her pension scheme is determined by the individual's age and the level of his or her remuneration, subject to an overall earnings cap which currently stands at €254,000. The age related percentage limits are as follows:

Age

Limit as a % of Remuneration

Under 30

15%

30 to 39

20%

40 to 49

25%

50 to 54

30%

55 to 59

35%

60 or over

40%

In 2006 the maximum tax relievable contribution based on the overall earnings cap of €254,000 would be €101,000 i.e. €254,000 x 40%. For 2007, I am not in a position to state what the equivalent maximum tax relievable contribution will be as the earnings cap is to be increased with effect from 1 January 2007 in line with an earnings index which I will be announcing next month.

Contributions to an occupational pension scheme made by an employer on behalf of an employee, whether a director or not, are not affected by the age related percentage limits or earnings cap that apply in relation to employee contributions. However, the annual employer contribution must not be of such an amount that, if the contribution were to be continued throughout the lifetime of the scheme, it would lead to over-funding. In that regard, the overall tax relieved pension fund which can be created by both employer and employee contributions is limited, in the first instance, to a fund capable of providing the statutory maximum pension benefits of 2/3rds of the employee's final remuneration, subject to the further restriction with effect from 7 December 2005, that the capital value of those benefits may not exceed the "standard fund threshold" of €5 million. As a transitional measure, a higher limit may apply where the value of an individual's pension fund exceeded €5million on 7 December 2005 (the "personal fund threshold"). Both the standard fund threshold of €5 million and the personal fund threshold, where one applies, will also be indexed in line with the earnings factor referred to above from 2007 onwards.

Tax Code.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

152 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the value of earnings from renting rooms in a person’s home and for caring for children in a person’s home which can be exempt from income tax in 2007; and if those sums are exempt from social insurance and health levy. [39864/06]

As regards the rent-a-room scheme, the position is that where an individual receives less than €7,620 in income during a tax year from renting out a room or rooms in his or her own home, that income is exempt from income tax and it is not taken into account for the purposes of social insurance and the health levy. However, if the income received exceeds €7,620, the amount received is taken into account for the purposes of income tax, social insurance and the health levy in the normal way.

In determining whether the rent received exceeds €7,620 no account can be taken of deductions or expenses of any kind. However, where this amount is exceeded the person who rents out the room can deduct all allowable deductions and expenses for the purposes of determining the taxable rental income.

As regards the childminders' scheme, the position is that where an individual receives less than €10,000 during a tax year from providing child care services in his or her own home, the amount received is exempt for income tax and health levy purposes. However, there is a liability to social insurance and the minimum annual contribution rate of €253 applies. Where the amount received exceeds €10,000, the amount received is taken into account for the purposes of income tax, social insurance and the health levy in the normal way.

In determining whether the amount received exceeds €10,000 no account can be taken of deductions or expenses of any kind. However, where this amount is exceeded the child care services provider can deduct all allowable deductions and expenses for the purposes of determining the taxable income.

Property Market.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

153 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the percentage increase and decrease in the volume of new house sales, new house prices, second hand house sales and in the price of second hand houses that underpin his Department’s tax Estimates for 2007 published in the pre-Budget outlook statement. [39865/06]

In estimating the Pre-Budget Outlook 2007 tax projection, my Department forecast a volume decrease of -1.0 per cent in new house output for 2007. A new house price increase of +5 per cent was also forecast. These new house volume and price growth estimates are subject to change in the Budget 2007 tax forecasts.

There are no reliable macro economic indicators currently available which detail activity in the second-hand housing market, from which the bulk of residential property related Stamp duty receipts are derived.

Accordingly, the forecast changes in the volume and price of new house activity are used as a general proxy for the change in the level and value of stamp duty liable transactions for second-hand houses. Added to this is an adjustment for the consequential movement into the higher stamp duty bands brought about by the projected increase in new house prices.

Clearly, such forecasts are susceptible to a far greater margin of error than other economic variables such as forecasts of employment, income and consumption.

Tax Code.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

154 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Finance the grants or tax breaks available to build leisure centres, bowling alleys and kiddies play complex; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39870/06]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that there are no specific tax breaks available to build leisure centres, bowling alleys and kiddies play complexes. Tax relief, in the form of capital allowances, may be available under one of the general property-based incentive schemes, depending on where the premises is located and the circumstances of the case. Tax relief is available for the construction of certain commercial premises under the Urban Renewal, Town Renewal and Rural Renewal schemes. In general, commercial premises must be in use either by an owner-occupier for the purposes of a trade or profession or by a lessee who is renting the premises on commercial terms. Capital allowances may also be available for the construction of a leisure centre in circumstances where the leisure centre forms part of a hotel that has been included in the Fáilte Ireland register of hotels.

Information on the various property-based incentive schemes is available on the Revenue website at www.revenue.ie in the ‘Leaflets and Guides' section and in the publication ‘Tax Briefing'. Issues 63, 64 and 65 contain articles on the transitional arrangements for the phasing out of these schemes.

As regards grants for the types of facilities referred to by the Deputy, this is a matter for the various spending Departments. I am, however, informed by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism that the sports capital programme, which is administered by the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism, is the primary means of providing Government funding for community based sports facilities. It does not fund commercial enterprises. Projects submitting an application to the programme must be directly related to the provision of sport and recreational sport facilities and be of a capital nature, which, for the purpose of the programme, is defined as:

expenditure on the improvement or construction of an asset and includes any costs directly incurred in this process; and

purchase of permanently based sports equipment, i.e. it is securely housed, and will remain in use for 5 years or more.

I am also informed that, as part of the implementation of "Ready, Steady Play: A National Play Policy", which was published in 2004, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government allocates funding to county and city councils for the development of new or refurbishment of existing playgrounds. Over €8 million was allocated for this purpose over the period 2004-2006.

Disabled Drivers.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

155 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Finance if he will extend to tax relief in relation to vehicles purchased for use by people with disabilities to persons with loss of or partial vision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39879/06]

The Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Scheme provides relief from VAT and VRT (up to certain limit) on the purchase of a car adapted for the transport of a person with specific severe and permanent physical disabilities, as well as relief from excise on the fuel used in the car up to a certain limit.

The disability criteria for eligibility for the tax concessions under this scheme are set out in the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994. To get the Primary Medical Certificate, an applicant must be severely and permanently disabled and satisfy one of the following conditions:

(a) be wholly or almost wholly without the use of both legs;

(b) be wholly without the use of one leg and almost wholly without the use of the other leg such that the applicant is severely restricted as to movement of the lower limbs;

(c) be without both hands or without both arms;

(d) be without one or both legs;

(e) be wholly or almost wholly without the use of both hands or arms and wholly or almost wholly without the use of one leg;

(f) have the medical condition of dwarfism and have serious difficulties of movement of the lower limbs.

The Senior Medical Officer (SMO) for the relevant Health Service Executive area makes a professional clinical determination as to whether an individual applicant satisfies the medical criteria. An unsuccessful applicant can appeal the decision of the SMO to the Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal, which makes a new clinical determination in respect of the individual.

A special Interdepartmental Review Group reviewed the operation of the Disabled Drivers Scheme. The terms of reference of the Group were to examine the operation of the existing scheme, including the difficulties experienced by the various groups and individuals involved with it, and to consider the feasibility of alternative schemes, with a view to assisting the Minister for Finance in determining the future direction of the scheme.

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

In respect of the long-term recommendations, including the qualifying disability criteria, given the scale and scope of the scheme, further changes can only be made after careful consideration. For this reason, the Government decided that the Minister for Finance would consider the recommendations contained in the Report of the Interdepartmental Review Group in the context of the annual budgetary process having regard to the existing and prospective cost of the scheme. This consideration is undertaken on a regular basis.

Health Service Allowances.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

156 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Health and Children the status of an appeal application for domiciliary allowance for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39765/06]

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.

Tax Code.

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

157 Mr. Allen asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of persons who have become involved in the childminding scheme since its establishment in December 2005 to date in 2006. [39799/06]

The number of voluntary notifications made by Childminders to the City and County Child care Committees (CCCs) since the introduction of the Child care Services Relief in December 2005 has been monitored by my Office on a regular basis. The latest figures available as of 1 September 2006 are summarised in the following table.

The first tax year for which this Relief applies is 2006 and tax returns for 2006 must be made by the end of October 2007. Until that time, the final take-up of this initiative cannot be fully established.

Voluntary Notifications to CCCs

Child care Committee

September 2006

Carlow

2

Cavan

7

Clare*

9

Cork City

0

Cork County

0

Dún Laoghaire/Rathdown

2

Donegal

0

Dublin City

1

Fingal

38

Galway

11

Kerry**

70

Kildare*

16

Kilkenny

2

Laois*

4

Leitrim**

24

Limerick City*

1

Limerick County*

5

Longford*

1

Louth

0

Mayo

0

Meath

16

Monaghan

7

North Tipperary*

2

Offaly*

6

Roscommon

0

Sligo

0

South Dublin

19

South Tipperary

3

Waterford City

17

Waterford County

11

Westmeath*

12

Wexford

0

Wicklow

32

Total

318

*Figures for these areas are held by and provided by the Health Service Executive via the CCC.

**Figure is provisional and pending finalisation.

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

158 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Health and Children if an investigation will take place into patient records for an appointment date for a hip replacement operation for a person (details supplied) in Count Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39713/06]

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.

Special Educational Needs.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

159 Mr. Wall asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason a person (details supplied) in County Kildare has not received speech therapy; the arrangements his Department have put in place to overcome the reasons or problems; the timescale involved in regard to the supply of the service to the person; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39753/06]

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.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

160 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Clare will be facilitated with a rheumatologist appointment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39754/06]

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services has been assigned to the Health Service Executive. 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 this case investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Medical Aids and Appliances.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

161 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of people who wear medic alert bracelets; her views on a campaign to highlight the purpose of bracelets and their importance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39755/06]

As Medic Alert is a private company, my Department has no information on the number of people who wear medic alert bracelets. Responsibility for running information and health promotion campaigns now rests with the Health Service Executive. 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.

Budget Submissions.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

162 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will confirm that a project (details supplied) in County Tipperary has been included in the 2007 budget Estimates; if excluded, the reason for the project’s exclusion. [39756/06]

As Deputies are aware, it is not usual practice for the Minister to comment in advance of the Budget on the content of the Budget.

Health Services.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

163 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Health and Children her proposals to improve the provision of speech therapy, occupational therapy and other relevant therapies for children with special educational needs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39757/06]

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.

Assisted Human Reproduction.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

164 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children if she has reviewed the report (details supplied); if she has prepared legislation; when this legislation will be published and if this legislation will be dealt with before the end of the current Dáil. [39772/06]

The Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction was established in March 2000. Its terms of reference were:

‘To prepare a report on the possible approaches to the regulation of all aspects of assisted human reproduction and the social, ethical and legal factors to be taken into account in determining public policy in this area.'

The Commission conducted an intensive and analytical examination of Assisted Human Reproduction issues, and its conclusions derive from this wide research. Its report was prepared after twenty three meetings. It also consulted widely and sought submissions from the public. The Commission's report was published in May 2005 and the Government referred the report to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children. This process was intended to allow for further consideration of the complex issues involved and the Committee's report along with the report of the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction, will help to inform future policy in this area.

In the meantime, I have instructed my Department to begin preparing for legislation in this area, and the recent High Court judgement will be examined as part of this process. This work will involve consideration of a wide range of issues in order to develop an appropriate structure for the regulation of this area. It is not possible at this point to say when this process will be completed.

Child Care Services.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

165 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of community based public child care facilities in place in County Mayo; the number of children they cater to; and the number of such facilities which have closed down in County Mayo in each of the past five years. [39773/06]

As the Deputy will be aware, I have responsibility for the Equal Opportunities Childcare Programme 2000-2006 (EOCP) and the National Childcare Investment Programme 2006-2010 (NCIP), which are being implemented by the Office of the Minister for Children.

The EOCP is supporting 50 community based projects in County Mayo and the funding allocated is expected, when fully drawn down, to create 963 new childcare places and support or enhance 814 existing places. A comprehensive list of the projects funded and childcare places created or supported under the EOCP in County Mayo to end of 2005, including community based facilities, is now available on the Departments' website at http://www.dohc.ie/publications/ developingchildcare.html. My Office does not have information on projects which have closed.

Childcare services in County Mayo can also avail of a wide range of training and other quality enhancing initiatives offered by the Mayo County Childcare Committee which is funded under the EOCP.

Health Service Allowances.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

166 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will be approved and granted the domiciliary care allowance. [39774/06]

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.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

167 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Clare will be facilitated with a bed in a hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39775/06]

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services has been assigned to the Health Service Executive. 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 this case investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

168 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Health and Children the position on the provision of medical cover for Alzheimer’s patients and the unit provided for them and for families at an institution (details supplied) in County Mayo; if medical cover exists; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39776/06]

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.

Proposed Legislation.

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

169 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Health and Children her proposals to introduce legislation to allow for the independent inspection of residential places of care for adults and children with disabilities; if the nursing home inspectorate will have its remit extended to inspect such places of care; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39811/06]

Residential centres for children or adults with disabilities are not currently subject to statutory inspections. The Health Bill 2006 will provide for the establishment of the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) and the Office of the Chief Inspector of Social Services, within HIQA, with specific statutory functions. The Chief Inspector's functions will include the inspection and registration of residential centres for people with disabilities.

I should explain that nursing homes are currently inspected and registered by the Health Service Executive (HSE) but that the inspection and registration of private nursing homes will be a function of the Chief Inspector of Social Services under the Health Bill 2006. Children's residential centres provided by the HSE are currently inspected by the Social Services Inspectorate and the inspection and registration of these centres will also become a function of the Chief Inspector of Social Services under the Bill.

I intend to publish the Health Bill 2006 before the end of the year.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

170 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Health and Children when she expects the BreastCheck service in Cork to be fully functional; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39812/06]

I am committed to ensuring that the BreastCheck service is 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 involved. I have also made available an additional €21m capital funding to BreastCheck for the construction of two new clinical units and five additional mobile units and state of the art digital equipment. I am pleased to advise the House that screening will commence in the South and West in the Spring of next year.

In relation to the roll out to specific counties, my Department has requested the Director of the Programme to respond directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

171 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children the number and location of drug detox facilities available in the greater Dublin area; her plans to increase the number of treatment centres with a view to combating the drugs problem; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39826/06]

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.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

172 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children if the various drug treatment centres here have sufficient resources to deal with the waiting lists; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39827/06]

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.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

173 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children the current requirements in terms of the number of methadone treatment centres; the actual number of centres; her plans to meet the full requirements; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39828/06]

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.

Mental Health Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

174 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of dedicated personnel including councillors available to treat people deemed to be at risk through self harm; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39829/06]

The Report of the Expert Group on Mental Health Policy, entitled ‘A Vision for Change', was launched on 24th January 2006. This provides a framework for action to develop a modern, high quality mental health service over the next 7 to 10 years. In 2006, a sum of €25 million was allocated for the further development of our mental health services in line with ‘A Vision for Change' and an additional €1.2 million was also provided in 2006 to the National Office for Suicide Prevention specifically for suicide prevention initiatives and research.

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. 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.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

175 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children the extent to which treatment in respect of Crohn’s disease, here or worldwide, is advancing; if patients here can avail of the most advanced treatment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39830/06]

Crohn's disease is an inflammatory disorder of the gastrointestinal tract. It can affect any area of the gastrointestinal tract, from the mouth to the anus, but it most commonly affects the lower part of the small intestine. Common symptoms of Crohn's disease include abdominal pain, diarrhoea, and rectal bleeding. It has been estimated that Crohn's affects one to three per 1,000 adults in Western countries. Crohn's disease affects males and females equally. The precise cause of Crohn's disease is as yet unknown but there appears to be both genetic and environmental components.

Treatment of Crohn's disease depends both on the site of the gastrointestinal tract affected, the severity of the inflammation and whether this is complicated by infection. Care is best coordinated by a multidisciplinary team involving medical and surgical gastroenterologists, dieticians and clinical nurse specialists with an interest in nutrition and stoma care. Treatment is determined on a case by case basis and may include specific drug therapy and surgery and nutritional support.

There have been significant advances in drug therapy for Crohn's disease over the last 20 years. Specific drug therapies have included corticosteroid therapies, aminosalicylates such as Asacol and Pentasa, antibiotics and immunosuppressive therapy. More recently a class of drugs known as tumour necrosis factors agents have been used for the treatment of Crohn's disease. Infliximab is a member of this family of agents and was first used for the treatment of Crohn's disease in the USA in 1998.

Advances in the medical treatment of Crohn's disease are ongoing. Research is ongoing to facilitate targeted delivery of medication specifically to the site of the disease. Improved understanding of the causes of Crohn's disease will lead to the development of further drugs such as the necrosis factors agents which are targeted at specific points in the inflammatory pathway. Bone marrow transplantation and gene therapy are also undergoing research as possible treatment for Crohn's disease.

Surgery is considered for those patients whose disease does not respond to drug or dietary measures. In addition undernourished patients or those who have undergone bowel surgery may require additional protein and nutrient supplementation. All these therapies are available for the treatment of patients with Crohn's disease in Ireland.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

176 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children the extent to which he proposes to assist, by way of direct funding, the efforts of various community groups involved in the fight against drugs with particular reference to outreach, treatment of diversionary programmes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39845/06]

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.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

177 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Health and Children the position in relation to the proposed audit of the second phase of the phase 2B of the Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar; when same will be completed; when the report will be published and available to the relevant personnel and bodies; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39868/06]

In accordance with Department of Finance requirements, capital projects in the Health Sector costing more than €30 million require a detailed cost benefit analysis to be undertaken. This requirement applies to Stage 2 of the Phase 2B development of the Midland Regional Hospital at Mullingar. My Department is advised that this cost benefit analysis is currently being undertaken by the Health Service Executive.

Hospital Services.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

178 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Health and Children the plans she has to develop a dialysis unit at the County Hospital, Roscommon; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39878/06]

This year an additional €8m was provided to the Health Service Executive (HSE) for the development of renal services, including dialysis, throughout the country. The Estimates for 2007 which were published recently include additional funding of €4m for the HSE to continue the development of renal services including dialysis.

My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the HSE to arrange to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy in relation to the provision of dialysis services for people from County Roscommon.

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

179 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Health and Children the rationale of the decision to transfer St Luke’s Hospital from Rathgar to St James’s Hospital; the way she will replicate the support buildings and structures for cancer patients currently located at St Luke’s Hospital which were largely constructed by fundraising over a large number of years; her views on whether the environment created at St Luke’s has been part of the success of the hospital; her further views on whether a holistic approach towards treatment of cancer patients can affect the outcomes; if the land or buildings at St Luke’s have been valued; if that has played a part in the decision; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39883/06]

The decision to transfer St. Luke's Hospital was taken by the Government in the context of its consideration of the National Plan for Radiation Oncology Services. The decision is based on expert advice and is designed to ensure that radiation oncology, one element of cancer care, is integrated with all other aspects of care, including surgery and medical oncology. This is in line with best international practice. I am convinced that this model will provide better patient centred treatment with improved quality of service and outcome for patients. The Board of St. Luke's Hospital and its Executive Management Team are fully committed to supporting the Government's decision in relation to the development of radiation oncology. A transfer on similar lines took place earlier this year in Northern Ireland when radiation oncology services transferred to Belfast City Hospital, a major academic teaching hospital.

In progressing the transfer, I will build on the expertise and ethos of St. Luke's. I have ensured that experts at St. Luke's are centrally involved in the planning and delivery of the National Plan. The plan consists of large centres in Dublin (at Beaumont and St. James's Hospitals), Cork and Galway and two integrated satellite centres at Waterford Regional Hospital and Limerick Regional Hospital. Medical and scientific experts from St. Luke's are involved in developing the output specifications for the delivery of new radiation oncology services nationally. The Chief Executive at St. Luke's will lead the management team of the new facility at St. James's. I also appointed the Chairman of St. Luke's to chair a National Radiation Oncology Oversight Group to advise me on progress on the implementation of the National Plan.

The tender has recently been awarded for two additional and two replacement linear accelerators at St. Luke's to provide much needed interim capacity pending the roll out of the National Plan. I expect these services to commence late next year. I also recently announced the approval of two radiation oncology facilities at Beaumont and St. James's Hospitals, comprising of two linear accelerators and associated treatment planning at each site, to be delivered in early 2009. These are key elements of the delivery of the National Plan.

The expertise and professional commitment of the staff at St. Luke's Hospital will continue to be an essential element in the development of cancer care.

Care of the Elderly.

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

180 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Health and Children the names of the companies that have been engaged by the Health Service Executive for home care or home help; the extent of the contracts to date in 2006; if a cost benefit analysis has been done where comparisons have been made between direct employment as opposed to private sector involvement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39884/06]

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 issue 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.

Telecommunications Services.

Cecilia Keaveney

Ceist:

181 Cecilia Keaveney asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the timeframe as to when the remaining areas (details supplied) in County Donegal will have access to broadband; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39705/06]

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. 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.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

182 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the areas in County Mayo in which broadband is not available; if his attention has been drawn to the difficulties being experienced by businesses in acquiring broadband services throughout sections of the county; the action he proposes to deal with this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39730/06]

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.

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, including areas in County Mayo, where the private sector are 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.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

183 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the areas in County Mayo in which broadband is available; if his attention has been drawn to the difficulties being experienced by business in acquiring broadband services throughout section of the county; his plans to deal with this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39731/06]

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.

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.

The following projects have been approved in County Mayo.

Projects funded in County Mayo

Clare Island, Inisturk, Inishbofin

Ballyhaunis

Newport

Balla

Charlestown

Ballyheane

Crossmolina & Ardagh

Aghamore, Tooreen & Kilkelly

Claremorris

Knock

Ballinrobe

My Department operates a dedicated website,www.broadband.gov.ie where potential broadband customers can ascertain the availability of services in their 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 Resources.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

184 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the estimated value to the people and economy here of the proven potential of the Corrib field; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39740/06]

Production of Corrib Gas Field is a major infrastructural project, which has the potential to play a significant role in the economic and social regeneration of Mayo and the northwest region. It will facilitate the improvement of the region's infrastructure and increase local employment, in both the short and long term. The development will also increase Ireland's security of supply by providing a reliable, secure and indigenous source of gas.

Construction work on the Corrib project will contribute to Exchequer income from corporation, payroll and indirect taxation insofar as it relies on sourcing of Irish skills, staff and material. Operation of the field will similarly contribute to the Exchequer and will also yield lease rental income. In addition to sharing in general prosperity, communities in Mayo will benefit where there is local sourcing of workers, services and goods. The project will generate over 700 jobs in the construction phase of the Bellanaboy Gas Terminal. It is also anticipated that 50 to 60 staff in three shifts will be employed to operate the terminal.

I understand that the developers recently issued letters of intent to a number of Irish contractors for work on the site, valued in the region of €76 million.

I also welcome the recent decision by the Energy Regulator to extend the natural gas network to eleven towns along the route of its Mayo- Galway transmission pipeline. Athenry, Craughwell, Headford, and Tuam in Co. Galway and Ballina, Ballyhaunis, Castlebar, Claremorris, Crossmolina, Knock and Westport in Co. Mayo will all benefit from new gas connections. This has been made possible because of work undertaken by Bord Gáis in anticipation of landing gas from Corrib and introducing it into the gas transmission network.

Coming specifically to the actual revenue to be generated from the field, I should point out that the principal mechanism for extracting State revenue from offshore production under the current exploration terms is via a special higher rate of Corporation Profits Tax at 25%. My Department claims no particular expertise in taxation matters, which is the preserve of the Revenue Commissioners. However, taking current estimates of the recoverable reserves, applying the recent market price for gas and roughly estimating the cost of production over the life of the field would lead to a figure for direct Government revenue of the order of one and a half billion Euro. It will be appreciated that each of these parameters is subject to significant variation and that the timing and profile of production would also have an impact. This calculation is based on a historically very high gas price and the reality could be considerably lower. I am not in a position to estimate the indirect revenue referred to earlier, which is likely to be significant. I would also reiterate that the terms themselves are under review although the outcome of the review will not affect existing licences and leases.

Fishing Industry Development.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

185 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if it is proposed that private companies or community interests might take over the management and operating of angling development and management of inland waterways; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39741/06]

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.

As the Deputy will be aware, proposals adopted by Government in relation to the restructuring of the inland fisheries sector provide for the restructuring of the executive functions of the central and regional fisheries boards to be subsumed into a new National Inland Fisheries Authority. The Government also decided that the consultants who undertook the initial review of the Inland fisheries sector should be re-engaged in 2006 to identify in more detail the structures, resources, funding and policy approaches needed to implement the further restructuring of the sector. This process will involve full, transparent, comprehensive and patient consultations with all of the stakeholders during which the principles and structures to deliver the new model will be fleshed out.

I do not envisage that any changes will be implemented pending completion of Stage II of the Review, which will take several months.

Broadcasting Services.

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

186 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he has had discussions with his Northern Ireland counterpart on the development of communications infrastructure, particularly for radio and television broadcasting, on an all island level; if he will report on the access to Northern Ireland radio stations here and vice versa; his plans in this regard to develop such radio services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39788/06]

RTE is a statutory corporation, governed by the Broadcasting Authority Acts 1960 to 2001. It is independent in day-to-day matters, including the provision of its broadcasting services.

Under the Radio and Television Act, 1988, and the Broadcasting Act, 2001, the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) has statutory responsibility for the licensing of independent radio and television services. In this regard, the BCI is charged with the orderly development of sound broadcasting services and with ensuring the appropriate development of the sector. Under its statutory obligations, the BCI determines issues such as the type and number of licences in any region.

The BCI, the Commission for Communications Regulation (Comreg) and the Office of Communications in the UK (Ofcom) hold ongoing discussions with regard to spectrum planning for broadcasting on this island.

Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, TG4 is now widely available in Northern Ireland.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

187 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the public sector energy costs and the level of public sector carbon emissions; the amount of the public sectors energy costs and carbon emissions accounted for through the school building stock; if he will bring forward measures or a new programme to disseminate environmental good practice in school and other public sector buildings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39789/06]

Buildings have a large part to play in the abatement of greenhouse gas emissions in order to meet our Kyoto commitments and reduce our reliance on imported energy. It has been estimated that lighting, space heating and cooling of buildings is responsible for 40% of final energy use in the EU. Research has shown that more than 20% of present energy consumption could be saved by 2020 by applying stricter standards to buildings undergoing refurbishment and to new buildings. Energy use in the commercial and public services sector grew by 70% over the period 1990 to 2004.

The Public Sector Programme of Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI) recognises the diversity of buildings, the potential for improvement, impending regulations and directives, and the capacity to influence other sectors of the economy. Dissemination of good practice and implementation through demonstration projects, publications and seminars is central to the activities of the public sector programme. It promotes energy efficient design, technologies and services in new and retrofit projects. Under the programme energy performance is enhanced through design, investment and management. Supported projects act as examples of good practice, as a demand leader for the services and technologies involved, and help build sustainable energy capabilities among key service professionals.

The programme supports three streams of activity: design study support scheme, model solution investment support scheme and the energy management bureaux. The Design Study Support Scheme provides support for professional expertise to examine the technical and economic feasibility of design and technology solutions. Model Solutions Investment Support Scheme supports energy management and technology solutions in existing buildings and specifications for new buildings. Energy Management Bureau are a outsourced energy management services to manage energy usage, identify and implement energy related projects in groups of entities that come together for the purpose such as UCD, TCD, DIT and DCU.

The estimated energy spend for the total public sector in 2005 is €1.15 billion. This is based on a 60/40 split between private/public services. The 2003 Services inquiry put energy spend for private services at €1.47 billion and allowing about 15% for inflation this gives a value of €1.15 billion. The carbon dioxide emissions for the public sector amounted to 2,674 kt in 2005.

At present specific figures for energy use in schools are not available for the entire country. Schools are allocated an allowance per pupil for building operation and each school pays its own utility bills. The introduction of the energy performance of buildings directive will result in the publication and collation of energy use for all public buildings. Specifically the public sector programme has supported a model school in Tullamore, Gaelscoil an Eiscir Riada.

Also in 2006 Sustainable Energy Ireland supported a generic design study for an energy efficient template for primary schools in partnership with the Department of Education and Science. This is published on its website. A number of schools including Archbishop Ryan National School in Balgaddy, Lucan, have been completed using this template.

Other work with the Department of Education and Science includes a pilot project to install wood pellet boilers in schools.

Telecommunications Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

188 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the way it is intended to provide broadband to rural or urban dwellings or premises where previous telephone connection was by way of split line; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39790/06]

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. Technical difficulties experienced by service providers are matters for the service providers. I have no function in the resolution of such technical difficulties.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

189 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if he will lay a copy in the library of Dáil Éireann of the technical evaluation and completion report for each phase of the work carried out, together with a map of the houses passed arising from his response to Parliamentary Question No. 337 of 21 February 2006 as the company concerned have not provided same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39809/06]

Following an Invitation to Tender in July 1999, twelve projects were selected for funding under the Broadband Measure of the Economic Infrastructure Operational Programme 1994–1999, one of which was the design and construction, by Chorus Communications, of a hybrid fibre coaxial network in Castlebar, County Mayo.

Construction of the infrastructure was completed, with more than 1200 homes passed. The technical evaluation of the project was completed by North West Labs Ltd, who furnished a completion report for each phase and a final report on the project.

I would be happy to provide the Deputy with a copy of the report, subject to the removal of any commercially sensitive information.

I do not propose to lay a copy of the report in the library of Dáil Éireann.

Motor Fuels.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

190 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the average price of petrol and diesel at filling stations here and throughout the Eurozone at present; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39814/06]

The Irish oil market is fully privatised and deregulated. I do not have any function in setting petrol or diesel prices.

However, in line with EU obligations, my Department supplies weekly statistics to the European Commission in regard to prices of petroleum products. An extract from the latest EU prices report follows.

Consumer Prices of Petrol (Unleaded 95) and Automotive Diesel in the Eurozone on 13 November 2006.

Country

Unleaded 95 Petrol (cent per litre)

Automotive Diesel (cent per litre)

Austria

101.70

96.50

Belgium

114.80

91.10

Finland

124.03

99.30

France

115.49

103.09

Greece

90.60

92.10

Germany

119.73

106.60

Ireland

105.90

104.90

Italy

121.99

111.61

Luxembourg

100.50

86.10

The Netherlands

133.90

103.20

Portugal

120.65

100.63

Spain

95.58

90.89

Source: European Commission.

Offshore Exploration.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

191 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the model adopted or to be adopted by his Department in the event of further hydrocarbon finds being proven in the Atlantic margin, assuming that such gas finds in particular might use infrastructure in place to bring the Corrib reserves ashore; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39853/06]

The model used in the event of a commercial discovery in the Irish offshore is set out in the ‘Licensing Terms For Offshore Oil and Gas Exploration And Development 1992'.

Before a licence holder develops a commercial discovery, a Petroleum Lease must be applied for and granted. Within two years of the date of issue of a Lease the lessee is required to submit a detailed plan of development for my approval. An Environmental Impact Statement of the likely effects of the development on the environment is also required.

The methodology for the development of a field depends on several factors including the estimated size of the reservoir, the location, depth of water, distance from shore and the availability of existing infrastructure such as platforms, pipelines and terminals. The methodology chosen is a matter for the operator and my role is to ensure that development proceeds in a safe and efficient manner.

In relation to the Corrib infrastructure, it was recommended in the Independent Safety Review of the onshore, upstream section of the Corrib Gas Pipeline carried out by Advantica Ltd and which I published on 3rd May 2006, that: "In the event that additional fields were proposed to be tied in to the pipeline at any future date, a full review would be required to consider issues such as extension of the life beyond the initial design life, changes in the fluids in the pipeline or changes in the operating pressures".

As regards fiscal terms, any future discussions under existing licences will be subject to the terms under which the licences were offered. Any future new licences will bear whatever terms emerge from current review.

Tourism Promotion.

John Perry

Ceist:

192 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the measures he is taking in relation to marine tourism; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39854/06]

Earlier this year the Marine Institute facilitated, on behalf of the Department, an interdepartmental working group to develop a marine tourism and leisure strategy for the period 2007 to 2013. The group comprised representatives from the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources; the Departments of Arts, Sport and Tourism; Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Environment, Heritage and Local Government; tourism bodies and county councils. The group completed a Marine Tourism & Leisure Strategy for the period 2007 to 2013 with detailed recommendations for the development of this sector.

The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources fully endorses the strategy which recommends that the interests of marine and water related tourism will be best served by reintegrating marine tourism within the strategic development of tourism as a whole, with the lead development role to be undertaken by Fáilte Ireland. The Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources will continue to provide scientific, environmental and resource management advice on marine tourism development via the Marine Institute.

Fishing Industry Development.

John Perry

Ceist:

193 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the reason there is a 12% drop in the level of funding allocated to fish processing in the Estimates for 2007 in view of the nature of the fishing industry here at present; his views on whether this area requires increased, not decreased, investment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39855/06]

The allocations in the Estimates are based on multi-annual proposals for seafood processing which were prepared last year and reflects the expected grant aid needs based on previous years performance.

As the Deputy will be aware, I appointed an independent Seafood Strategy Review Group in June under the chairmanship of Mr Noel Cawley to devise a strategy for a sustainable and profitable Irish Seafood industry over the period 2007 to 2013. The development of the seafood processing sector is regarded as a key component of this review. The review will, I understand, set out the actions necessary to develop an efficient and competitive seafood processing sector and will identify the additional funding requirements to deliver the strategy set down in the report. I expect to receive the report in the coming weeks and will carefully consider its recommendations and the additional funding requirements. I will pursue additional grant aid funding where I consider it necessary to deliver on this development strategy.

Fisheries Protection.

John Perry

Ceist:

194 Mr. Perry asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources further to the recent announcement that consultants are to be appointed to examine ways of resolving a dispute over the lowering of a weir on the river Blackwater which anglers say is necessary to allow salmon stocks to regenerate, but which a local rowing club fears will lead to its demise, the price that will be paid for said consultants; if he sought a way for his Department to mediate regarding this dispute; the amount the report he commissioned, which recommended lowering the weir by a metre, cost; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39856/06]

I recently exercised my powers under the Fisheries (Consolidation) Act 1959 to issue a notice to Fermoy Town Council to carry out the alterations necessary to the Fermoy Weir in order to allow for the free passage of fish. I did this in the interests of conserving and protecting the wild salmon resource and in order to avoid the initiation of infringement proceedings by the EU Commission under the Habitats Directive.

My decision was informed by a report and recommendations following examination, as part of the process, by the Department's Engineering Division. In summary, the report recommended that approximately 80 metres of that part of the Fermoy Weir upstream from the town bridge be lowered to the maximum extent consistent with retaining sufficient depth for rowing activities and that a rock ramp fish pass be installed in the lower weir to enable the free passage of all migratory species.

I recently met with representatives from Fermoy Town Council and Fermoy Rowing Club to discuss this matter. At the meeting it was agreed that Fermoy Town Council would engage consultants to examine and advise them on this matter. As Fermoy Town Council is the owner of the weir, the cost of any consultancy and subsequent works associated with the weir will have to be borne by it. The Department's engineering experts will be available to the Town Council if needed for the appointment of consultants and to meet the consultants as part of their deliberations.

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

195 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the details of the legislation which governs the illegal gathering of shrimp in Irish waters; and the person who is responsible for the enforcement of such legislation. [39857/06]

I wish to advise the Deputy that Statutory Instrument No 235 of 2006, namely the Shrimp (Fisheries Management and Conservation) Regulations 2006, governs the fishing of shrimp.

This Statutory Instrument prohibits the fishing for shrimp between the 1st of May and the 1st of August each year. This prohibition of commercial fishing of shrimp during the period specified is a conservation measure intended to protect the stocks of Palaemon spp. shrimp so that they may be exploited on a sustainable basis.

As with other National and EU fisheries conservation legislation, the Seafood Control Division of the Department, in conjunction with the Naval Service are responsible for the enforcement of this legislation.

After the 1st of January 2007 the new Sea Fisheries Protection Authority will be vested with the responsibility for the enforcement of Sea Fisheries Law.

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

196 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the measures his Department will take in order to encourage sustainable fisheries here in view of recent reports regarding dwindling global fish stocks; and his views on the introduction of a fisheries certification scheme, which would identify fisheries which operate in a sustainable manner. [39858/06]

I am aware of a number of scientific reports on the state of fish stocks, one of which in particular made a number of worrying points in relation to dwindling fish stocks worldwide.

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.

We know the issues in the waters around Ireland and we are working to address them at national, EU and international levels. We are working hard to strengthen conservation and promote sustainability and have introduced a number of measures over the past few years to address this issue. 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 of controls 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.

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.

You will be aware that I have appointed a Strategic Review Group that will, inter alia, consider and make recommendations on new marketing initiatives for the Irish seafood sector. A certification scheme such as the Deputy has proposed is one option worthy of consideration in this context.

Question No. 197 answered with QuestionNo. 16.
Question No. 198 answered with QuestionNo. 15.

Common Foreign and Security Policy.

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

199 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on recent developments in the EU’s relations with Russia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [37084/06]

Russia is a key strategic partner of the European Union, one with which we have a wide-ranging relationship. The EU-Russia relationship is currently governed by a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement which expires in December 2007. There are ambitious plans for a new EU-Russia agreement, which is intended to provide a comprehensive framework for future relations.

Regular meetings currently take place at a range of levels, including biannual Summits. President Putin was invited to attend a working dinner held at the informal meeting of the European Heads of State or Government at Lahti on 20 October, which the Taoiseach attended. External energy relations were a key focus of the frank and constructive discussions with President Putin at that meeting. Aspects of the internal situation in Russia, including the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, were raised as were Russia's relations with Georgia and a number of international issues on which the EU and Russia cooperate. It is important that the EU continues to build on the coherent and balanced approach towards Russia which it demonstrated at the Lahti meeting. That meeting has given a political impetus to the overall development of EU-Russia relations.

The next EU-Russia Summit will take place tomorrow (24 November) at which the Russian Federation will be represented by President Putin, accompanied by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. The Summit will be hosted by Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, in his capacity as President of the European Council. It will also be attended by the Secretary-General/High Representative, Dr. Javier Solana, the President of the Commission, Mr. José Manuel Barroso, and Commissioners Benita Ferrero-Waldner and Peter Mandelson.

A key objective of the forthcoming Summit is to launch negotiations on the new framework Agreement with Russia. As much has changed in the ten years since the current agreement was negotiated, a more comprehensive agreement is required. This needs to take account of the four Common Spaces agreed with Russia in May 2005. These cover the fields of the economy; freedom, security and justice; external security; and research and education, including cultural aspects. The new agreement should also provide for a comprehensive free trade agreement for goods and services. Energy will also be an important sector in the new agreement.

Question No. 200 answered with QuestionNo. 61.
Question No. 201 answered with QuestionNo. 111.

Human Rights Issues.

Ivor Callely

Ceist:

202 Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the countries where it is known or there is a level of concern with regard to human rights issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39727/06]

Human rights are, and have always been, a priority of successive Governments and central to our foreign policy. Together with our EU partners, the Government monitors the human rights situations in many countries, on the basis of information obtained from a variety of sources including both official and non-governmental organisations. Where the situation warrants, we make known our concerns about human rights violations to the Governments in question, either bilaterally, through the EU, or through action at the UN General Assembly and the UN Human Rights Council. At these bodies, the EU regularly makes statements on the human rights situation in various countries. Ireland is fully associated with these statements. The EU also introduces or supports resolutions dealing with specific countries.

Active participation in multilateral organisations such as the EU, UN and the Council of Europe provides an opportunity for Ireland to voice its concerns regarding human rights abuses. Through these organisations, international pressure can be brought to bear on those responsible for violation of human rights.

The EU has also adopted Common Positions on certain countries, which attach priority to promoting human rights, democracy, good governance and the rule of law. In addition the EU conducts human rights dialogues with a number of countries.

The Government will continue to use these mechanisms as a means of highlighting violations of human rights and furthering their protection.

EU Directives.

Ivor Callely

Ceist:

203 Mr. Callely asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number and details of EU directives that are at present awaiting transposition into Irish law; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39728/06]

I am advised that there are at present 128 EU Directives awaiting transposition into Irish Law. As of 31 October, 22 Directives were overdue for transposition.

The Government is strongly committed to meeting the deadlines for transposition. The Interdepartmental Committee on European Union Affairs, which is chaired by my colleague Mr. Noel Treacy T.D., Minister of State for European Affairs, works to ensure that the implementation of EU Directives by Ireland is effective and timely.

In addition, the Cabinet Committee on European Affairs, which is chaired by the Taoiseach, keeps the issue of the national rate of transposition of EU Directives under regular review.

At EU level, the Internal Market Scoreboard tracks the rate of transposition of EU Directives on an EU-wide basis, with the next Scoreboard due to be published at the end of November. It will be available on the European Commission's website shortly after publication.

Question No. 204 answered with QuestionNo. 33.
Question No. 205 answered with QuestionNo. 24.
Question No. 206 answered with QuestionNo. 16.
Question No. 207 answered with QuestionNo. 48.
Question No. 208 answered with QuestionNo. 109.
Question No. 209 answered with QuestionNo. 81.

Overseas Development Aid.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

210 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the international community is achieving its targets in relation to addressing the issues of AIDS, war and starvation in Africa; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39821/06]

The complex series of factors, which contribute to the enormous needs we encounter in Africa, include food insecurity, poverty, environmental degradation, weak governmental capacity and policies, unequal global trading relationships, protracted conflict, severe infrastructural weaknesses, poor governance, debt and the effects of HIV/AIDS.

Addressing Africa's needs, especially the interests of the poorest and most vulnerable, necessitates a comprehensive and coordinated series of actions by the international community and African Governments. In order to measure development progress and to set benchmarks, the United Nations have developed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were endorsed by world leaders in 2000. While the MDGs are undoubtedly ambitious, they can be reached if all stakeholders, the affected countries themselves, the donor community, the UN and EU work together to ensure that poverty reduction, good governance and sustainable development are the cornerstones of all our efforts in Africa.

For Ireland, Africa is at the heart of the programme of official development assistance and our approach has a number of distinct but complementary elements. As regards the immediate challenges of natural disasters, conflict and food crisis, our humanitarian budget is a key instrument in meeting immediate needs. Our recovery and long-term development programmes seek to assist countries emerging from natural and man-made emergencies and also address the underlying causes of poverty in all its manifestations.

Long-term development is the core of our aid programme in Africa. We have a strong partnership with six countries in sub-Saharan Africa, namely Ethiopia, Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. We are assisting the Governments and peoples of these programme countries to address the fundamental causes of poverty through promoting good governance, delivery of essential basic needs, including the fight against HIV/AIDS and promoting economic growth.

In addition, we work in many other African countries, either directly or through our partnerships with the United Nations, the Red Cross family and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) such as Concern, GOAL, Trócaire, Oxfam and others. In the context of an increasing aid budget, as we approach the UN target of 0.7% of GNP by 2012, these interventions are being further strengthened through enhanced support at the global and country levels.

Ireland's approach to efforts to promote security and stability in Africa includes our contribution to the security and stability of Liberia through the deployment of troops with Ireland's approach to efforts to promote security and stability in Africa includes our contribution to the security and stability of Liberia through the deployment of troops with UNMIL, the UN Mission in Liberia, since 2003. Ireland has also provided assistance to the African Union (AU) Mission in Sudan (AMIS), as part of the EU's joint actions to foster peace and security in Darfur. In addition, we have pledged support to the UN's Peace Building Fund and have been strongly supportive of the establishment of the Peace Building Commission. We are actively seeking ways to support regional organisations in Africa, particularly the AU, which represents an important strategic partner for the European Union and the international community generally.

The challenges facing Africa are enormous but there is some encouraging news. Many African economies are growing. Inflation, now averaging 8% a year, is at its lowest level in many African countries since soon after independence. While there are exceptions such as Somalia, Zimbabwe and others, many African countries now have less violence and civil strife than for many years. There is relative peace in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola and southern Sudan. We must build on progress. We must address continuing needs. Through our growing aid programme, we will continue to make a difference on the ground in Africa and to work with all donors, including the UN and EU, to make a real and lasting difference in the lives of the poorest in Africa.

Questions Nos. 211 and 212 answered with Question No. 77.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

213 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which the democratic process is developing in the various African countries; the efforts by the wider or world community to pursue such objectives; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39824/06]

Considerable progress has made in spreading and deepening democracy in Africa in recent years. Most African countries have evolved from authoritarian to more democratic systems with elections now becoming the only acceptable basis for choosing and changing leadership; many States are working to ensure that the executive and legislative arms of government reflect the diversity of their people; and most Governments are facilitating increased public participation in the political process. While credit for this progress must go primarily to the relevant African States, international bodies and donors have also played an important supporting role.

However, there remain a number of African states which are in no way democratic. Moreover, in many countries problems remain with regard to the independence and institutional capacity of parliament, the judiciary, the media and civil society. All these institutions provide the checks and balances needed for democracy to function fully. Weaknesses in African civil services and corruption are also major challenges.

The African Union (AU), founded in 2002, is doing much to encourage the positive trend. One of the key objectives of its Constitutive Act is to "promote democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance", while the Act also provides for suspension from the Union of Governments who come to power through unconstitutional means.

The AU's socioeconomic initiative, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), has established a ground-breaking mechanism for promoting democracy in the region, the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM). This promotes better governance through reports on the policies and actions of AU member states and follow-up recommendations which are reviewed by a forum consisting of the Heads of State of participating countries. 26 African States have joined the process. The first two APRM reviews finalised, on Ghana and Rwanda, were strong and critical. Ireland has already provided €300,000 to strengthen the NEPAD secretariat and will engage with the African Union on how best to support implementation of APRM recommendations at country level. Other EU member states and the European Commission also support the APRM.

The UN, the World Bank and the OECD's Development Assistance Committee are increasingly engaged in supporting democratic governance in Africa, The European Union also plays a key role, through activities ranging from diplomatic engagement to support for local civic education programs. The EU/ACP Cotonou Agreement, which requires partners to meet standards with regard to respect for democratic principals and the rule of law, has been used widely to encourage democratisation. Work is currently underway to harmonise and better co-ordinate the many ways in which the EU Member States and EU institutions are supporting democratisation in Africa.

Ireland is actively supporting democratisation in Africa. In the White Paper on Irish Aid, the building and strengthening of democracy is defined as a guiding principle for our aid programme. A significant proportion of the budget of Irish Aid is spent on programmes that support governance reform and democratisation in the region. This is provided both through multilateral agencies and in the programme countries. Ireland funds parliamentary and public sector reform, improved legal systems and development of effective oversight institutions such as auditors-general and anti-corruption agencies. We also support civil society organisations and independent media which hold Governments to account.

In 2006 Irish observers participated in EU election observation missions in Uganda, Zambia, Mauritania and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). We also provide targeted support where special needs are identified. This year we provided €1.3 million for the Presidential and parliamentary elections in the DRC, one of the most important elections held in Africa for many years.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

214 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will report on the ongoing situation in Zimbabwe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39825/06]

The overall political, economic and humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe continues to deteriorate. Inflation in Zimbabwe is now estimated to be 1200%, the highest in the world, while unemployment is estimated to be around 80%. There continue to be severe food shortages in the country, with over one million people currently requiring sustained food assistance. The dire political and economic conditions have led to large-scale emigration, with at least 2 million Zimbabweans now judged to be living illegally in South Africa.

There is at yet no indication that the Zimbabwean Government is willing to alter the policies which have brought about this situation, or to introduce those democratic and economic reforms long called for by the international community and which, if introduced, would positively influence relations with Zimbabwe. On the contrary, we have seen increased repression, with large-scale arrests of peaceful demonstrators and credible reports of trade union leaders being seriously ill-treated in police detention following a peaceful protest march in Harare last September. There is also no evidence of serious efforts by the Zimbabwean government to re-house the many hundreds of thousands of people left homeless, following Operation Murambatsvina, launched in May 2005.

Against this background, there is little scope for a fundamental review of the restrictive measures which the EU has imposed against Zimbabwe since February 2002. The restrictive measures, involving a travel ban, assets freeze and arms embargo, were renewed last February for a further period of twelve months. These measures are very much targeted at the Mugabe regime, and not at the people of Zimbabwe. The EU has also suspended its development cooperation with Zimbabwe, although certain types of cooperation involving the provision of basic services are exempted, with a view to avoiding an adverse effect on the population.

It is clear that international pressure needs to be maintained on the Mugabe Government to alter its current policies. Ireland and our EU partners are determined to continue working with others in the international community, including our partners in Africa who can exert particular influence, to help promote democratic change in Zimbabwe. I discussed the current situation in Zimbabwe with the South African Deputy President during her visit to Dublin on 16 November and urged South Africa to continue its efforts to influence the situation positively.

The Government's concerns were also conveyed at a meeting on 23 October between senior officials of my Department and the new Zimbabwean Ambassador to Ireland. EU Ambassadors in Zimbabwe, including Ireland's, are also maintaining contact with all those within Zimbabwean society who may be in a position to influence positive change.

The Government is continuing to make available humanitarian assistance to the people of Zimbabwe. Since 2004 Ireland has committed over €13 million in aid to Zimbabwe, including €3.7 million this year to address emergency needs. The largest proportion of this funding is for immediate humanitarian needs, particularly the provision of food assistance. Ireland is also providing funding to mitigate the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Zimbabwe which is estimated to infect 25% of the population. Earlier this year Ireland approved a new programme of funding for HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe amounting to €7.5m over the years 2006-2008.

Special Olympics World Games.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

215 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he has received correspondence from a group (details supplied); his views on the contents; if he will give consideration to the requests of the group in the context of budget 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39750/06]

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

216 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he will take steps to ensure that adequate funding is provided to Special Olympics Ireland, to enable it to address a projected shortfall and provide for growth and sustainability over the next five years, and to enable it to have adequate funding and resources to provide for the largest team of athletes and coaches to represent Ireland in the 2007 World Games in China; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39866/06]

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

I am happy to place on record the high regard in which both I and my Government colleagues hold Special Olympics Ireland. Since 1999, Special Olympics Ireland has received core funding of €4 million from the Irish Sports Council including almost €0.6 million this year.

Special Olympics Ireland recently made a submission to the Government on the development and funding of the Special Olympics Programme over the next three years. Subsequently, they met with officials of my Department to elaborate on their submission which is being given the fullest consideration in consultation with other Departments.

FÁS Training Programmes.

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

217 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if there are strategies or plans proposed to anticipate and identify in advance the changing educational and training requirement of low skilled or semi-skilled workers engaged in the construction industry; his views on the situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39709/06]

The question of providing appropriate education and training for low skilled and semi-skilled workers in the construction industry is kept under regular review and there are currently a number of research projects being conducted on the subject.

First, the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs, which is made up of representatives of a range of interests concerned with future skills needs and reports jointly to the Minister for Education and Science and to me, has established a Steering Group to oversee research into the particular needs of the construction industry. This research is being led by the research department of FÁS and will consider the growth of the construction sector in general and the likely trends across the various occupations within the sector.

Second, the EGFSN has also conducted major research on Ireland's future skills needs. While, this study, which was previewed at the National Skills Conference in Farmleigh in October, and covered the whole economy, some of its major conclusions are also relevant to the construction sector. Overall, the research suggests that Ireland will need to up-skill a large number of employed persons over the next decade if we are to achieve our goal of becoming a successful competitive and inclusive society.

Third, the Deputy may also wish to be aware of a research study in respect of the construction industry that is being conducted across both Ireland and the United Kingdom into labour mobility. This study will involve a large-scale survey of the construction industry, and help us to better understand working patterns in this sector. FÁS is supporting the Irish element of the study.

A very large number of apprentices are trained for the construction industry each year by FÁS, the Institutes of Technology and, of course, the industry itself. The Universities and Institutes of Technology provide education across the range of professional occupations such as engineering, surveying, and architects. FÁS also provides training for those already working in the industry.

Industrial Development.

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

218 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of site visits by Enterprise Ireland to counties Laois and Offaly over the past 12 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39711/06]

The issue of site visits is a matter for the relevant industrial development agencies, and not one in which I am directly involved. Itineraries for site visits generally relate to mobile investments, normally from overseas. Enterprise Ireland's portfolio of indigenous client companies is, of its nature, not very mobile, therefore the number of site visits arranged by the agency only relates to a small number of companies. Any such visits are primarily for natural resource companies, taking into account their special location requirements, such as access to raw materials and to facilities.

When a situation arises that an Irish company is interested in relocating or expanding to another part of the country, the Enterprise Ireland office in that region will assist in providing information on premises and services available locally, and contact details for other information sources in the region. Within the last year, Enterprise Ireland arranged three site visits to County Laois and one to County Offaly on behalf of a group of investors who are seeking to establish an Irish based manufacturing facility in the area.

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

219 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of site visits by the IDA to counties Laois and Offaly over the past 12 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39712/06]

Support for job creation and investment in individual counties and towns is a day-to-day operational matter for the development agencies as part of their responsibility under the Industrial Development Acts. While I may give general policy directives to the agencies I am precluded under the Industrial Developments Acts from giving directives regarding individual undertakings or from giving preference to one area over others.

There have been 6 first time site visits to County Laois and 2 first time site visits to County Offaly that were hosted by IDA Ireland over the past 12 months. IDA Midlands Region consists of Counties Laois, Longford, Offaly, Westmeath and Roscommon. The locations of emphasis for IDA in these counties are the NSS Gateway towns of Athlone, Tullamore and Mullingar. In addition IDA actively promotes the county towns of Portlaoise, Longford and Roscommon.

IDA Ireland's strategy for the Midlands Region is: to progress the development of a knowledge economy, in order that the Region can compete both nationally and internationally for foreign direct investment; to work with the existing client base in the Counties and to expand their presence in the various Counties; to provide modern property solutions with supporting infrastructure; and to work with the Local Authorities and relevant infrastructure providers to influence the delivery of appropriate infrastructure to the various counties.

To support this strategy IDA Ireland is working closely with educational institutions in the Region, in developing the skill sets necessary to attract high value-added employment. IDA is also working with FÁS to provide guidance in developing the appropriate skill sets needs of those already in the workforce. I am confident that the strategies and policies being pursued by IDA Ireland, together with the ongoing commitment of Government to regional development will bear fruit in terms of overseas investment and jobs for the Region.

County Enterprise Boards.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

220 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of applicants seeking grant aid from Mayo County Enterprise Board in each of the past three years; and the number of applicants by category who were approved funding. [39737/06]

I have no role in the grant decision making process employed by Mayo County Enterprise Board (CEB) in relation to grant approvals or refusals. Decisions on applications for assistance from Mayo CEB are made independently by the Board on the advice of it's Evaluation Committee. In making recommendations to the Board the Evaluation Committee is required to have regard to the quality, local relevance, cost effectiveness and viability of proposals as well as issues of deadweight and displacement. The Board has supplied the following information in response to the Deputy's query.

From 2004 to-date in 2006 Mayo CEB has approved grant assistance to 70 projects with one formal refusal of grant aid by the Board. I have been informed by Mayo CEB that all early stage enquiries about possible applications are examined by the executive of Mayo CEB with a view to advising potential applicants of the feasibility or otherwise of their project proposal and whether or not it falls into the eligibility criteria under which Mayo CEB operates.

Number of Projects

Capital Grants

Employment Grants

Feasibility Study Grants

Redeemable Preference Shares

2004

25

19

4

1

1

2005

22

16

4

1

1

2006 (to-date)

23

21

2

0

0

Competition Law.

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

221 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the details of the formal co-operation agreement with regulators (details supplied) pursuant to Section 34 of the Competition Act, 2002. [39738/06]

The Competition Authority is an independent statutory agency responsible for the enforcement of competition law across all sectors of the economy. I have no direct responsibility for the day to day work of the Authority. Its mandate and functions are contained in the Competition Act, 2002, as amended.

Section 34 of the Act provides for co-operation agreements between the Authority and other regulatory bodies. The Authority has concluded such agreements with the Office of the Director of Consumer Affairs, the Health Insurance Authority, the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland and the Energy, Aviation and Communications Regulators. I am not a party to these agreements nor have I any function in relation to the making of any such agreements, other than to amend the list of bodies with whom the Authority shall enter into agreement. Section 34 (5) does provide that within 6 months after the commencement of an agreement the Minister and relevant Ministers be furnished with a copy of the agreement. All six co-operation agreements are published free of charge on the Authority's website (www.tca.ie). Additionally, they may be obtained for a fee from the Competition Authority in accordance with Section 34(7) of the Act.

Departmental Programmes.

Jimmy Deenihan

Ceist:

222 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will confirm that his Department was informed, in a variety of independent consultancy reports, but particularly in the two Arthur Anderson reports of 1998 and 2000, that the authorities here had not fulfilled their EU obligations with audit procedures specified by the Commission and that the audit procedures applied by the authorities here were described by Arthur Anderson as ineffective and haphazard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39742/06]

The two Arthur Andersen reports referred to were commissioned by the Department of Finance in 1997 to review the financial management and control systems within the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Cohesion Fund. As the 2000 Report dealt with the Cohesion Fund, it had no relevance to programmes being managed by my Department.

The 1998 Report, which covered all Departments and bodies involved in the administration of ERDF co-funded measures, concluded that, in overall terms, "it is fair to say that the system of financial management and control currently in place appears to be working reasonably effectively". While the Report did highlight some weaknesses in the systems and made some recommendations for improvements in the management and control systems, these were, where relevant, taken into account in the subsequent management of the programmes run by my Department.

Jimmy Deenihan

Ceist:

223 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will confirm that his Department incurred penalties of €15 million in respect of just one sub-programme which had not met the exacting audit requirements as laid down retrospectively by EU Regulations 2064/97 and that in respect of other approved projects his Department was, in 2003 and 2004, retrospectively creating and confirming the specific audit trail as required by EU Regulation 2064/97; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39743/06]

As a consequence of an EU Commission Decision in the year 2000, which was subsequently confirmed by a Judgement of the European Court of Justice in 2005, €15.6 million of European Social Fund monies have been withheld from Ireland. This reduction applied to the Human Resources, Tourism and Industry Operational Programmes for the programming period 1994-1999. The amount withheld represents less than 1% of the €1,897 million in ESF allocated to these Operational Programmes in total. As part of the closure process of the three Operation Programmes, the audit trail was reconstructed and confirmed by my Department. With regard to the compliance by my Department with EU Regulation 2064/97, I would refer to the decision of the European Court of Justice in this matter (see paragraph 36-53, in particular) where it is clearly stated that the Commission Decision was not based on any provision of EU Regulation 2064/97, but was based on other provisions in force at that time.

Departmental Offices.

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

224 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when the decision was taken to relocate the offices of Enterprise Ireland from the current occupation in Glasnevin; and the parties involved in that decision. [39744/06]

Enterprise Ireland occupies four separate offices in Dublin. Discussions on bringing all Enterprise Ireland Dublin based staff together in one location have been going on since the Agency was established in 1998. One of the options considered was that of developing the Agency's Glasnevin site to provide accommodation for all Dublin staff. However, when the Government's decentralisation programme was announced in December 2003, the option of investing in new purpose-built premises on the Glasnevin site was deemed to be inconsistent with the proposed decentralisation of some 300 of EI staff to Shannon. Enterprise Ireland nevertheless faced the same operational challenge of occupying four separate locations across Dublin. This, plus the fact that the leaseholds on two of these premises are due to expire in 2008, meant that the Agency had to come up with an office solution that would, on the one hand provide suitable accommodation for the staff currently spread across the four separate Dublin locations, and on the other hand give EI the flexibility to comply with the Government's decentralisation programme.

Having explored a number of possible solutions, the Board of Enterprise Ireland decided that the single site office in the East Point Business Park was the most appropriate from a number of perspectives, including value for money and flexibility. In September of this year, following the Board decision, EI signed a normal commercial 25 year lease on the units in East Point. The lease has in-built break clauses and a clause to enable the Agency to sub-let space, if required.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

225 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs when community welfare officers will offer rent or family support assistance in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin who had to travel to their homeland to obtain documentary evidence required by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law reform; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39831/06]

The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which includes rent supplement, is administered on my behalf by the Community Welfare division of the Health Service Executive.

Supplementary welfare allowance is not normally payable where a person is absent from the State. The Health Service Executive has advised that it ceased payment of rent supplement to the person concerned for the period she was absent from the State. The Executive has further advised that on her return her rent supplement was re-instated and payment from 1st November 2006 will issue shortly.

Social Welfare Code.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

226 Mr. Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if persons paying tax under the PAYE system receive relief in respect of social insurance and health levy in pension contributions which they make; and if this applies to AVCs. [39861/06]

Social welfare legislation provides for PRSI refunds to be made on contributions to a personal retirement savings account (PRSA) or a retirement annuity contract (RAC) where the contributions are paid by an employed contributor i.e. an employee, or a self-employed worker who pays income tax through the PAYE system i.e. a proprietary director.

In relation to additional voluntary contribution (AVC) to an occupational pension scheme, where the pension contributions are allowable as a deduction for income tax, a refund will also be due.

In each case PRSI refunds are only made where relief has not already been granted through the payroll. The refunds apply to both the social insurance and the health contribution elements of PRSI.

These provisions are effective on pension contributions made since 1st January 2003 and are provided for under Section 38 of the Social Welfare (Consolidation) Act, 2005, and in the Social Welfare Regulations (S.I. No. 698 of 2003).

Pat Carey

Ceist:

227 Mr. Carey asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason participants on community employment schemes can not avail of family income supplement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39763/06]

Family income supplement (FIS) is designed to provide cash support for employees on low earnings with families. This preserves the incentive to remain in employment in circumstances where the employee might only be marginally better off than if he or she were unemployed and claiming other social welfare payments. FIS is paid on a weekly basis over a period of 52 weeks, taking into account a family's net earnings and the number of children under aged 18 or aged between 18 and 22 years and in full time education.

CE is a publicly funded employment and training programme with the specific objective of progressing the long-term unemployed and other disadvantaged people from social welfare dependency towards employment in the open labour market.

FIS is designed to encourage people to take up or remain in full-time work in the open labour market in circumstances where dependency on social welfare alone may otherwise appear attractive. Extension of entitlement to people engaged in community employment would not be consistent with these policy objectives.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

228 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason a person (details supplied) in County Dublin is not receiving rent assistance in view of the fact that all they have to live on is disability benefit and are unable to survive on this; and the reason they have not been approved rent assistance in view of the fact that it is clear that they are paying their rent every month. [39782/06]

The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which includes rent supplement, is administered on my behalf by the Community Welfare division of the Health Service Executive. The Health Service Executive has advised that it has no record of an application for rent supplement from the person concerned. If she requires assistance with rent, she should make an application for rent supplement at her local health centre so that her entitlement can be determined.

Parking Regulations.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

229 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Transport if disabled parking discs will be allocated to parents of autistic or disabled children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39798/06]

The Road Traffic (Traffic and Parking) Regulations, 1997 empower local authorities, the Irish Wheelchair Association and the Disabled Drivers Association, to grant a disabled person's parking permit to a person who is suffering from a disability that is of a nature that prevents him or her from walking or causes undue hardship to the person in walking.

The qualifying criterion centres on the issue of a person being unable to walk at all i.e. a wheelchair user or, if ambulatory, having significant mobility impairment. Eligibility has to be determined on a case by case basis and it is not proposed to extend the application of the scheme across the board on a blanket basis to parents of children with autism or with other disabilities.

Telecommunications Masts.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

230 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Transport if a decision has been made in regard to reviewing the decision to place new telecommunications equipment in the vicinity of Dalkey railway station; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39770/06]

This is a day-to-day operational matter for the company concerned and not one in which I have any role.

Railway Stations.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

231 Mr. P. Breen asked the Minister for Transport his proposals for the re-opening of Crusheen train station; if in the context of the western rail corridor development he will re-instate the railway station; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39784/06]

The location of railway stations is a matter for Irish Rail and is not one in which I have any role.

Rail Services.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

232 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Transport when the first rail services to the Docklands station will commence; the arrangements being made to provide for link services to Connolly station, Dublin city centre, and the south business district; if his attention has been drawn to the long distances between the new station and Connolly, the LUAS link and crossing by foot to the south city business district, to which 60% of commuters using the Clonsilla line wish to go; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39785/06]

I understand from Irish Rail that construction of the Docklands Station is now due to be complete in March 2007 and to be operational from April 2007, i.e. 9 months in advance of the original projected completion date.

This is a first step in implementing a rail-based development plan for the area, also involving the Railway Procurement Agency. I have asked Irish Rail to report to me on the need for bus connections to and from the city centre pending the delivery of the Luas connection to the Point Depot and the Interconnector.

Public Transport.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

233 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Transport the number of passengers carried by Dublin Bus, suburban rail, DART and LUAS in the morning peak hour in 2005; and the operating costs and revenues in respect of its operation in 2005 and projected for 2006 in each case. [39813/06]

Dublin Bus, Iarnród Éireann and the Railway Procurement Agency have informed me that the information requested by the Deputy in respect of each of their public transport systems is as follows:

2005

No. of Passengers (Morning Peak — 7 a.m. to 10 a.m.)

Operating Costs

Revenues

€m

€m

Dublin Bus

115,000

245.8

246.3

Suburban Rail and DART

40,000

61.4

42.0

LUAS

18,094

27.1

27.3

Projected outcomes for 2006 and subsequent years are commercial matters for the companies concerned.

Park and Ride Facilities.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

234 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Transport the amount of funding set aside in the 2007 estimates for the funding of park and ride facilities. [39876/06]

I welcome the 2007 estimates and I am satisfied that, as for 2006, adequate funding will be available from my Department in 2007 to cater for all applications to my Department for funding for appropriate park and ride facilities.

Funding for Park and Ride is provided for in the investment programme in Transport 21 in several ways. In 2007, my Department will be making €5 million available for the funding of park and ride developments in the Greater Dublin Area. There will also be €15 million for a variety of bus priority and park and ride measures in the regional cities.

In 2006, my Department approved funding totalling €3.865 million for a feasibility study by Irish Rail on a car park expansion programme and for expansion-improvement works at the car parks serving Ennis, Mallow and Leixlip-Louisabridge railway stations. Just under €1 million of this approved funding is scheduled to be expended in 2007. The implementation and funding of more extensive car park expansion and improvement works will be discussed with Irish Rail when the feasibility report referred to above is available.

In addition there will be expenditure on car park provision as part of major new infrastructural works due to begin construction in 2007 including on the Kildare Route Project and the Cork Commuter Rail Project.

Rail Services.

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

235 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Transport if Irish Rail has sought an increase in its subvention to overcome the problem with its dual suburban fare structure; if so the amount that has been sought; if he will respond positively to the request; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39894/06]

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 454 on 10 October, 2006, in relation to this matter.

Park and Ride Facilities.

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

236 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Transport the consideration there has been by his Department on charging for park and ride facilities at suburban locations; the impact it will have on public transport use; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39895/06]

My Department has capital funding available under Transport 21 for the development of park and ride facilities, subject to suitable business cases being made. My Department does not provide funding for the operation of such facilities. The issue of charging is a matter for those operating these facilities.

However, as I have indicated before, a number of guiding principles for the implementation of rail-based park and ride strategy have been identified by the Dublin Transportation Office, and these principles will be expected to inform local authorities and service providers of both bus and rail-related park and ride in accordance with Transport 21. These principles are: park and ride should improve rail accessibility without disimproving road congestion; rail users only should use park and ride spaces and may have to pay to use them; complementary parking controls in the areas around stations may be required; rail fares generally should not be increased to pay for park and ride; those who benefit from park and ride should contribute to the cost of it; rail services must be able to serve the demand generated by park and ride provision.

Park and ride facilities can and do have a positive impact on public transport use, and have an important role to play in encouraging people to transfer from private cars to public transport. In considering whether to impose charges towards meeting the operating costs of park and ride facilities, providers can be expected to take into account a variety of factors, and these would of course include consideration of the likely impact of charges on use of the facility and, by extension, on public transport use.

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

237 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Transport the arrangements that exist between his Department and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in relation to closer co-operation in relation to the delivery of park and ride facilities in the greater Dublin area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39896/06]

In the Greater Dublin Area, traffic management matters including park and ride facilities come under the remit of the Dublin Transportation Office (DTO). Both the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and my Department are represented on the Steering Committee of the DTO, and I consider that this provides the necessary co-operative framework.

Rail Network.

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

238 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Transport if, in view of the importance of the rail interconnector at Spencer Dock, he will consider the measures that can be put in place to bring the project to completion at a much earlier stage than identified in Transport 21; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39897/06]

Transport 21 provides for the construction of the Interconnector in the period 2010-2015. My Department and Irish Rail accord a high priority to this project, which is intended to be the final phase of a programme to extend and reconfigure the DART and suburban services and to provide higher capacities, frequencies and integration of services to meet forecast demand levels in the Dublin inner-suburban area and to develop an integrated transport system for the capital.

There are a number of projects currently under way that are necessary to prepare for the development of the interconnector including the Kildare Route Project, feasibility study on the electrification of the Maynooth line and two complementary planning studies on the Interconnector. Irish Rail and the Railway Procurement Agency are also working well together to ensure that planning for both the Interconnector and the Metro is properly integrated. On this basis and taking account of the scale and extent of this project, I am confident that the timeframe for the delivery of the Interconnector as set out in Transport 21 is realistic and achievable.

My Department will continue to work with Irish Rail to ensure that this project is delivered as quickly as possible.

School Traffic Wardens.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

239 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Transport the amount of funding provided to local authorities in each of the past three years for school traffic wardens; the number of wardens by each local authority in each of these years; and the amount of funding set aside in 2007 for school traffic wardens. [39902/06]

The engagement of school traffic wardens to patrol places where school children cross public roads and the funding of the service is a matter for each local authority. I have no role in local matters of this nature and there are no statistics in my Department in relation to the number of persons appointed in this service or in relation to the annual budgets concerned.

The compilation of statistics in relation to the number of personnel employed by each local authority across all grades and details of the annual revenue income and expenditure in respect of each local authority is a matter for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Údarás na Gaeltachta.

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

240 D’fhiafraigh Mr. McGinley den Aire Gnóthaí Pobail, Tuaithe agus Gaeltachta cén dáta ar bunaíodh comhlucht (sonraí tugtha) sa Ghaeltacht; an deontas iomlán a íocadh leis an gComhlucht go dtí seo; an líon daoine atá fostaithe, cad iad na deacrachtaí atá ag an gComhlucht faoi láthair; costas iomlán an fhorgnimh ina bhfuil an comhlucht lonnaithe agus na pleananna leis na postanna a chaomhnú; agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina thaobh. [39707/06]

Ón eolas atá faighte ó Údarás na Gaeltachta, tuigim gur bunaíodh an comhlacht atá i gceist ag an Teachta sa Ghaeltacht i 2001 agus go bhfuil cúnamh dar luach €3.1 milliún beagnach íoctha leis go dáta (deontais de €2.306 milliún móide foirdheontas cíosa de €0.782 milliún). Tuigtear dom ón Údarás freisin go bhfuil 54 duine fostaithe ag an gcomhlacht ach go bhfuil 49 díobh sin leagtha as go sealadach ó 17 Samhain 2006.

Tuigim ón Údarás gur bhain costas €4.853 milliún leis an mhonarcha a thógáil don ghnó tosaigh lenár tógadh í. Bhain caiteachas €6.389 milliún leis an obair athchóirithe a bhí riachtanach chun an foirgneamh a chur in oiriúint do ghnó an chomhlachta atá i gceist ag an Teachta — thit €3.66 milliún den chostas sin ar an Údarás agus an fuílleach de €2.729 milliún ar an gcomhlacht féin.

Maidir le deacrachtaí an chomhlachta faoi láthair agus na pleananna chun poist a chaomhnú, tuigim go ndearna an comhlacht cinneadh an mhonarcha a dhúnadh go sealadach i bhfianaise méadú mór stoc ar lámh go dtí go mbeadh sé in ann an farasbarr sin a dhíol. Tuigtear dom freisin go bhfuil an comhlacht i mbun comhráite le custaiméirí d'fhonn na deacrachtaí sin a shárú agus an fhoireann a chur ar ais ag obair.

National Drugs Strategy.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

241 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the extent to which he proposes to assist by way of direct funding, the efforts of various community groups involved in the fight against drugs with particular reference to outreach, treatment of diversionary programmes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39844/06]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

242 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the action being taken to address the ever growing problem of drug abuse; if the regional drug task force had adequate resources at its disposal to meet the growing requirements of community based groups involved in combating drugs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39847/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 241 and 242 together.

The Government is tackling the misuse of drugs in a concerted, planned and integrated way on several fronts under the National Drugs Strategy. The overall Strategy is being implemented across a range of Government Departments and agencies in conjunction with the community and voluntary sectors. Co-ordinated by my Department through the mechanisms of the Local and Regional Drugs Task Forces and the Young People's Facilities and Services fund, the Strategy is underpinned by a process of co-operation and partnership between all sectors.

Since 1997, across the 14 Local Drugs Task Force areas, over 450 community-based projects have been established with funding in the region of €125m provided. These projects, some of which have been assigned to other Departments and Agencies in the interim, employ more than 300 people. In the current year, 361 projects, including those under the Emerging Needs Fund, are receiving interim funding totalling €20.2 million from my Department. Of these, 174 projects deal with the issues of treatment and rehabilitation.

I allocated €5 million in 2006 to the ten Regional Drugs Task Forces (RDTFs) to facilitate the commencement of the implementation of their action plans. The National Drugs Strategy Team has been working closely with the RDTFs to get their programmes up and running as speedily as possible. 68 projects have been initiated in 2006 and it is envisaged that around 80 projects will be in progress by the end of the year. 59 projects proposed by the RDTFs deal with treatment and rehabilitation and are currently at various stages of development. Funding will be increased on an incremental basis to achieve full roll-out of the RDTF plans estimated to have an annual cost of around €14 million.

Through the Young People's Facilities and Services Fund, which was established in 1998, funding is made available towards the development of youth facilities, including sport and recreational facilities and services. These are specifically aimed at attracting "at risk" young people in disadvantaged areas into activities that will divert them from the dangers of drugs misuse. In all, approximately 460 facility and services projects are being supported under the Fund, which has a total allocation to date of approximately €107 million.

Overall, I am satisfied with the level of progress being made. Tackling the drug problem is a key priority for Government and will continue to be so.

Grant Payments.

Jimmy Deenihan

Ceist:

243 Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when REP scheme payment will be made available to a person (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39704/06]

My Department has no record of an application from the person named for an annual REPS payment.

Veterinary Inspection Service.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

244 Mr. Kehoe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the number of inspectors employed by her Department; the breakdown of the figures; the breakdown of the figures; and the number of farmers inspected by those inspectors. [39715/06]

My Department currently employs 343 staff in the Veterinary Inspector grades, 220 Agricultural Inspectors, 35 Forestry Inspectors and 1087 Agricultural Officers. These officers work in Food Safety, Research, District Veterinary Offices, Agricultural Environment and Structures, Single Farm Payment and Disadvantaged Areas, Seed Certification, Dairy Produce, Feeding Stuffs, Fertiliser, Grain, Poultry and Eggs, Forestry etc. The bulk of farm inspections are carried out by staff in the District Veterinary Offices and in the Agricultural Environment & Structures, Single Farm Payment/Disadvantaged Areas Schemes.

Currently there are some 350 officers in the District Veterinary Offices whose duties include the inspection of farms on an on-going basis with the primary objective of safeguarding animal and public health. During 2006 some 290 officers from the Agricultural Environment and Structures Division and the Single Payment and Disadvantaged Areas Schemes are scheduled to visit a total of 17,889 farms. I might add that the annual number of inspections under the Single Payment System has fallen dramatically to just over 8,000 from a figure of 18,000 under the old coupled system of payment.

Grant Payments.

Gerard Murphy

Ceist:

245 Mr. G. Murphy asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position regarding the 2006 disadvantaged areas scheme for person (details supplied) in County Kerry; the status of their flock register; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39787/06]

An application under the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme was received from the person named on 15 May 2006. While the person named declared 257.50 hectares, payments under the Scheme are restricted to a maximum of 45 hectares. However, following computer validation, an issue in relation to the required minimum stocking level was identified, on foot of which the person named was written to 26 September. As no reply has been received to date, an official from my Department will make direct contact with the person named in the matter. Payment under the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme can only issue where the minimum stocking density level of 0.15 livestock units per hectare is met.

Bovine Disease Controls.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

246 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the legal basis for tuberculosis and brucellosis testing; the legal sources, both national and European, used in the operation of the TB and brucellosis statutory scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39880/06]

The EU legal basis for the TB and Brucellosis schemes is primarily Directive 64/432/EEC, which governs trade of bovine animals. Other EU legislation which includes provisions relating to these diseases are Directives 64/433/EEC, 92/46/EEC, Regulation No. 2004/853/EC and legislation governing Community co-financing of eradication programmes (Directive 77/391/EEC and Decision 90/424/EEC) and amendments updating such legislation.

Directive 64/432/EEC provides, inter alia, that all animals are subject to test at intervals determined by the national disease level. At current disease levels in Ireland, all herds and all eligible animals must be tested annually. In the case of TB, eligible animals include all bovine animals on the holding, with the exception of calves under 6 weeks which were born on the holding. For Brucellosis, eligible animals are all female bovines and bulls over 12 months of age.

With regard to national legislation, the provisions governing TB and Brucellosis testing are contained in the 1966 Diseases of Animals Act (as amended) and in Orders made under the Act. The principal Order in relation to TB is the Bovine Tuberculosis (Attestation of the State and General Provisions) Order 1989, (S.I. No. 308 of 1989). In the case of TB, eligible animals being moved out of a herd must have passed a TB test within the previous 12 months in accordance with Article 17 of the Bovine Tuberculosis (Attestation of the State and General Provisions) Order 1989, (S.I. No. 308 of 1989) as amended by Article 7 of the Bovine Tuberculosis (Attestation of the State and General Provisions) (Amendment) Order 1996 (S. I. No. 85 of 1996). With regard to Brucellosis, the principal Order is the Brucellosis in Cattle (General Provisions) Order 1991 (S.I. No. 114 of 1991). Brucellosis eligible animals being moved out of a herd, other than directly to premises at which they are to be slaughtered, must have passed a Brucellosis test in accordance with Article 18 (2) of the Brucellosis in Cattle (General Provisions) Order 1991, (S.I. No. 114 of 1991) (as amended by Article 2 of the Brucellosis in Cattle (General Provisions) (Amendment) Order, 1998 (S.I. No. 39 of 1998) within the previous 30 days.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

247 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the legal basis for issuing a notice of suspension of the herd number which was received by a person (details supplied) in County Roscommon on 4 November 2005; the reason her Department failed to issue a statutory notice under section 25 of the Diseases of Animals Act 1966; the reason officials from her Department issued a restriction notice, received on 15 November 2005, declaring that the herd was a restricted holding for tuberculosis or brucellosis purposes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39881/06]

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

248 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will confirm that her Department will restore the official health status of a herd (details supplied) and ensure that a statutory tuberculosis or brucellosis herd test is carried out immediately; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39882/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 247 and 248 together.

The herdnumber of the person mentioned has been suspended and his holding has been restricted because he has failed to have conducted the tests required to maintain the health status of his herd and has further refused to comply with notices issued by my Department to have his herd tested for Bovine Tuberculosis and Bovine Brucellosis. The herd belonging to this person was last tested for TB on 30 September 2004 and for Brucellosis on 27 September 2004.

An attempt was made to hand deliver formal statutory notices under the Bovine Tuberculosis (Attestation of the State and General Provisions) Order 1989 and the Brucellosis in Cattle (General Provisions) Order 1991 to the person's premises by Department official on 11 November 2005. Having failed to serve these notices on the person, they were forwarded to the person by registered post on the same date. Receipt of the documents was acknowledged in writing by the person. The notices were re-issued on 1 December 2005, requiring the tests to be carried out by 15 December 2005. To date, the person has not complied with these notices.

The legal basis for these notices is the Diseases of Animals Act 1966 and the TB and Brucellosis Orders made thereunder and mentioned above and EU Directive 64/432/EEC, which governs trade of bovine animals and sets out the conditions required to establish and maintain health status for TB and Brucellosis. In addition, my Department's administrative rules provide for the suspension of a herdnumber where there has been a failure to comply with the testing requirements issued by my Department.

The objective of the TB and Brucellosis eradication schemes is to reduce and eventually eradicate these two diseases and it is the responsibility of keepers and herdowners to arrange with their private veterinary practitioner for the tests to be carried out. The herdnumber will be restored when the tests have been carried out and the restriction notice will be lifted when the officially free status of the herd has been determined.

Afforestation Programme.

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

249 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food when her attention was drawn to the halving of the forestry planting target of 20,000 hectares a year which was recently announced in the Ex-Ante Evaluation of the Rural Development Plan submitted to the European Commission; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39903/06]

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

250 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food her plans in view of the fact that Ireland’s 1996’s Strategic Plan for the Forestry Sector here made the case for further investment in the forestry sector primarily on the basis of the ideal or target size for the industry critical mass which can not be achieved under the terms of the Ex-Ante Evaluation of the Rural Development Plan recently submitted to the European Commission, to review forestry policy here; and if plans involve public participation and expert independent advice from outside Ireland. [39904/06]

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

251 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the way, in view of the cuts announced in the planting target for the forestry sector in the Ex-Ante Evaluation of the Rural Development Plan, she proposes to justify the continued heavy subsidisation of the current planting of fast growing conifers of almost €1 billion when the recent review by Bacon and Deloitte confirmed to him that the industry must obtain critical mass and that the reality is that this level must be achieved in the shortest timescale possible, and not later than that outlined in the strategic plan. [39905/06]

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

252 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will seek to include the Forestry Act 1989, which sets the primary objective of Coillte Teo to operate on a commercial basis, in the current review of forestry legislation in view of the fact that the Ex-Ante Evaluation of the Rural Development Plan 2007 to 2013 has halved the forestry planting targets and made the achievement of the commercial target size for the industry impossible. [39906/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 249 to 252, inclusive, together.

The Ex-Ante Evaluation of the Rural Development Plan does not announce a halving of the forestry planting target. On the contrary, sufficient funds have been provided in the Rural Development Plan to encourage a renewed planting effort, intended in the first instance to restore annual afforestation rates to at least 10,000 hectares. We should not underestimate the challenge which lies before us in this regard and the new Forestry Programme takes this into account, incorporating several new and innovative measures to attract farmers into forestry. These are demand-led schemes and my intention is to stimulate that demand.

As regards forestry policy, this was comprehensively reviewed by Peter Bacon & Associates in September 2004. The report reaffirmed a planting rate of 20,000 hectares per annum as appropriate but significantly noted that lower levels of planting could still provide a viable basis for support when non-timber benefits are maximised. A high-level Group, which includes representatives from the Department of Finance as well as my own Department, have been examining forestry policy in the light of the Bacon Report and wider EU considerations and I expect its report very shortly.

In terms of critical mass, I fully agree with the Deputy on the importance of achieving an appropriate level of forest cover. This is precisely why I am making some €1 billion available over the course of the Programme to encourage the planting of trees.

Finally, on the question of the review of forestry legislation, the main focus here is on the operational provisions of the various Forestry Acts, principally the 1946 Act as amended. The 1988 Act is not excluded insofar as it deals with operational matters, such as the level of penalties, but the basis for establishing Coillte Teo. is not currently under review. Coillte continues to operate on a commercial basis and is a profitable company with a clear strategy for the future.

Fisheries Protection.

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

253 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if she will provide an assurance that the scientific advice received from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in relation to the protection of the fresh water pearl mussel Margaratifera was incorporated into the Draft Forestry and Freshwater Pearl Mussel Requirements and was not amended for commercial or political reasons. [39907/06]

The National Parks and Wildlife Service of the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government was directly involved in the work of the Forestry and Margaritifera Group. In drawing up the Draft Forestry and Freshwater Pearl Mussel Requirements, the scientific advice of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government was incorporated into the Requirements in the interests of providing the optimum protection for the Freshwater Pearl Mussel. The text itself of the draft Requirements was agreed with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government before issue for public consultation.

Education Centres.

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

254 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science when her Department will approve the project at a school (details supplied) in County Cork; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39708/06]

Officials from my Department met recently with interested parties in relation to Baile Bhúirne. Following consideration of the views expressed by the interested parties at that meeting, I expect to be in a position very shortly to make a final decision on the project.

School Evaluations.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

255 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Education and Science her views on an educational publication (details supplied); her further views on the schools analysis therein; her advice to parents of children attending the lowest 100 schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39716/06]

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

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

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

Given the breadth of the contents of WSE reports, I believe that the publication of these and other school inspection reports could go a significant way to addressing the real needs of parents, students, teachers and others for better information on schools. The type of information provided in WSE reports will help parents who need accurate and balanced information.

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

In addition, I am confident that the continuing expansion of services, such as supports for children with special needs and children whose first language is not English, and the significant increases in expenditure on capitation announced in the Estimates will greatly assist all schools in meeting the needs of their students and in further improving the quality of the education they provide.

School Management.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

256 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Education and Science her proposals for the future governance of primary schools in view of the decline of involvement of church personnel; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39717/06]

The criteria and procedures for the recognition of new primary schools were revised in 2002 based on the recommendations of a report of the Commission on School Accommodation. Applications for the recognition of new schools are assessed by an independent advisory body — the New Schools Advisory Committee.

The Committee assesses all applications for recognition against published criteria. All potential sponsors of new schools are treated on an equal basis regardless of whether they are denominational, inter-denominational or multi-denominational.

Disadvantaged Status.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

257 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will review the level of disadvantage in relation to a primary school (details supplied) in County Mayo and include this school in the new integrated school support programme under DEIS; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39732/06]

DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools), the action plan for educational inclusion, provides for a standardised system for identifying levels of disadvantage and a new integrated School Support Programme (SSP). The School Support Programme will bring together, and build upon, a number of existing interventions in schools with a concentrated level of disadvantage. The process of identifying primary and second-level schools for participation in DEIS was managed by the Educational Research Centre (ERC) on behalf of my Department and supported by quality assurance work co-ordinated through the Department's regional offices and the Inspectorate.

As a result of the identification process, 840 schools were invited to participate in the School Support Programme. These comprised 640 primary schools (320 urban/town schools and 320 rural schools) and 200 second-level schools.

A review mechanism was put in place to address the concerns of schools that did not qualify for inclusion in the School Support Programme but regarded themselves as having a level of disadvantage which is of a scale sufficient to warrant their inclusion in the programme. The review process operated under the direction of an independent person, charged with ensuring that all relevant identification processes and procedures were properly followed in the case of schools applying for a review.

The closing date for receipt of review applications was Friday, 31st March, 2006. An application for review was not received from the school referred to by the Deputy. The Group has submitted a final report and the review process is now concluded.

Schools which have not qualified for the new School Support Programme and which are receiving additional resources, both human and financial, under pre-existing schemes and programmes for addressing disadvantage, will retain these supports for 2006/2007. After that, schools will continue to get support in line with the level of disadvantage among their pupils.

The DEIS action plan states that, as well as the provision being made for schools with a concentrated level of disadvantage, financial support will also continue to be provided for primary schools where the level of disadvantage is more dispersed.

EU Directives.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

258 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Education and Science the proportion of school buildings that have double glazed windows; if she has plans to provide energy labelling or building energy rating certificates for school buildings as provided for under the European Building Performance Directive; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39733/06]

The information sought by the Deputy is not readily available in my Department.

However, my Department is reviewing renewable options for energy generation in schools through a number of research projects including, Tory wind turbine project, Interreg solar hot water heating projects and Biomass wood pellet / wood chip boiler and solar projects. My Department would encourage schools to consider the use of wind-generated electricity which is available nationally through the National Grid. This in effect allows the school to benefit from the environmental and lower cost benefits of wind generated electricity without being exposed to operating and maintenance issues and reliability of supply.

The Tory Island project involves the supply and installation of two wind turbines to provide electrical energy to serve the existing community facility and Vocational School situated on Tory Island.

With respect to energy programmes that would compliment environmental work currently taking place under the green flags initiative for the past eight years the Planning and Building Unit within my Department have been using a process called the DART approach (Design, Awareness, Research, and Technology) to develop sustainable and energy efficiency in educational buildings. The policy is driven by technical guidance documents, informed by building unit professional and technical staff, external partnerships and updated by continued energy research and development.

Rather than develop a unique focus on energy design my Department has taken a more holistic approach and have developed their technical guidance on energy efficiency in school designs as an integral part of the suite of technical guidance documents. These guidelines encourage the design team to take a complete design team approach from project conception is encouraged.

The incorporation of low energy design has been done on a hybrid basis by maximising natural resources and utilising technologies. This involves focusing on areas such as natural ventilation, passive solar design, day lighting and reducing infiltration, enhanced insulation, lighting and heating controls and water efficiency.

The focus to date on sustainability in schools has been to reduce the energy demand in schools. This has proven quite successful with modern day schools typically using three times less energy than schools built ten years ago and also using less than half the energy than what is termed as good international practice for schools.

Irish Language.

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

259 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Education and Science the position in relation to the application from the parents of a school (details supplied) in County Wicklow who are anxious that their children will have the option to continue their education through the medium of Irish at second level; if this can be sanctioned as a matter of urgency; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39734/06]

The Department is in receipt of an application to establish a Gaelcholáiste in the area to which she refers. This application is currently under consideration and a decision will be communicated to the proposer as soon as possible.

Schools Refurbishment.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

260 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding an application for the summer works scheme 2007 by a school (details supplied) in County Limerick. [39735/06]

An application has been received in my Department from the school referred to by the Deputy under the Summer Works Scheme 2007. My Department is currently assessing all applications received from schools for funding under this programme.

Schools Building Projects.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

261 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress in developing a new school building for a school (details supplied); the number of students enrolled in the school; the age of the building in which the school is currently housed; if her attention has been drawn to the poor conditions at the school in its current accommodation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39736/06]

Enrolment at the school in 2005/06 was 229 pupils. The school is currently in rented accommodation and until the Department is in a position to provide permanent accommodation, interim accommodation will remain the responsibility of the Patron as was conditional when granting recognition to the school. Earlier this year, my Department wrote to the school authorities confirming that the long term projected staffing for the school had been set at a Principal plus 16 mainstream teachers. Property Management Section of the Office of Public Works (OPW), which acts on behalf of my Department in relation to site acquisitions generally, has been requested to source a suitable site for the school referred to by the Deputy. The OPW has advised my Department that they are currently working closely with the relevant local authority to identify and acquire a suitable site for this school.

School Placement.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

262 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science if a school placement will be offered for a person (details supplied) in County Kildare in September 2007; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39791/06]

School enrolment is a matter for Boards of Management. The parent in question should, therefore, apply for enrolment, in the normal way, to her relevant local schools. Section 29 of the Education Act 1998, provides parents with an appeal process where a Board of Management of a school or a person acting on behalf of the Board refuses enrolment to a student. Where a school refuses to enrol a pupil, the school is obliged to inform parents of their right under Section 29 of Education Act 1998 to appeal that decision to the Secretary General of my Department. Only where an appeal under Section 29 is upheld can the Secretary General of my Department direct a school to enrol a pupil.

The National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) is the statutory agency which can assist parents who are experiencing difficulty in securing a school place for their child. The NEWB can be contacted at National Educational Welfare Board, National Headquarters, 16-22 Green Street, Dublin 7 or by telephone at 01-8738700.

Special Educational Needs.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

263 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will locate an applied behavioural analysis school in the western area; the locations of all such schools nationwide; the number of children attending same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39792/06]

Michael Ring

Ceist:

264 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of children in County Mayo with autistic spectrum disorders; and the assistance available to these children from her Department. [39793/06]

Michael Ring

Ceist:

265 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science her proposals to establish an appropriate educational centre of excellence for children diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorders; the situation in this regard; if funding will be provided for such a facility; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39794/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 263 to 265, inclusive, together.

The information regarding the number of children diagnosed with autism is not readily available in my Department. The National Council for Special Education (NCSE) which is now operational is currently in the process of compiling a nationwide database of all children with autism. It is expected that this database will be completed in the near future.

My Department considers that children with autism, in common with all children should have access to appropriate provision delivered by suitably qualified teachers within the school system where children can mix with their wider peer group and have maximum opportunities for integration. The preferred approach to the provision of appropriate education for children with autism, is through the primary and post primary school network, whether through placement in mainstream classes, in special classes or in special schools, a view that is supported by the findings of the Task Force Report on Autism. My Department's ongoing commitment is to ensuring that all children, including those with Autistic Spectrum Disorders receive an education appropriate to their needs and in this regard my Department has established: 175 Special Classes for children with autism, attached to special and mainstream schools, 6 of which are located in the Mayo area; 5 special Classes for children with Asperger's Syndrome; 16 pre-school classes to facilitate the demand for early intervention provision for children on the autistic spectrum; 12 Stand Alone facilities providing an Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) specific methodology on a pilot basis, four of these facilities are in the Dublin area and one in Galway, Louth, Cork, Waterford, Kildare, Kilkenny, Meath, and Westmeath. These units currently provide in the region of 217 places. Approval has also been given for the establishment of a further two such facilities in Carlow and Waterford.

My Department supports a multi-skills approach in regard to the education of children with autism where a range of teaching methods are available e.g. Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication Handicapped Children (TEACCH), ABA (Applied Behavioural Analysis), Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS).

Additional training supports for staff engaged in the education provision for children with special needs including autism can be accessed through the Special Education Support Service (SESS). The service will, as appropriate, consolidate, co-ordinate, develop and deliver a range of professional development initiatives and support structures to the relevant staff.

An application was recently received from the group in question to participate in the pilot scheme which has facilitated the establishment of the ABA-specific autism units nationwide. My officials requested that the names and the psychological assessments of the children proposing to attend the centre should be forwarded to the Department in order to progress the application further. My Department is currently awaiting this information.

Departmental Correspondence.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

266 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Education and Science if she received documentation of 1 February 2006 from persons (details supplied) in County Cork in respect of their difficulties with her Department; the action she has taken arising from the documentation received; the reason it has taken so long to reach a conclusion in this matter; if she has read the requests of the persons concerned; her views on whether their requests are valid. [39795/06]

I confirm that my Department has received the documentation referred to by the Deputy. I would like to clarify at this point that the documentation in question relates to difficulties with the school rather than with my Department.

The position is that my Department has been involved in reviewing a very complex and sensitive complaint in respect of this school. Part of the process of this review involved the Inspectorate of my Department considering all of the relevant information gathered through the review process, including meeting with both the school authorities and the complainants. In this regard, on two different occasions, the latest one being within the past week, a member of my Department's Inspectorate met with all parties involved with a view to bringing this case to a conclusion.

It is the intention of my Department to conclude its review shortly following submission of a final report on the matter by the Inspectorate.

Special Educational Needs.

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

267 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will confirm that her Department has received correspondence from persons (details supplied) in County Westmeath; if, in this context, she will take steps to ensure that the people concerned receive a full-time special needs assistant on the classroom as same is required on a one to one basis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39859/06]

The National Council for Special Education has confirmed that the local special educational needs organiser (SENO) met with the parents of the pupil in question and the school principal on 21 November 2006 in the context of an application for special educational needs supports for the pupil. The parents provided the SENO with the correspondence referred to at the meeting. The SENO has also received additional reports from HSE personnel. The SENO advised the parents and school that all these reports need to be considered and undertook to revert to the school with a decision on the application within the week.

Disadvantaged Status.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

268 Mr. Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science the exact rates of grant assistance in relation to educational disadvantage given to schools not participating in the DEIS scheme, but who are eligible for some assistance with respect to disadvantage; the way such grant assistance is calculated; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39872/06]

DEIS (Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools), the new Action Plan for Educational Inclusion is designed to ensure that the schools serving the most disadvantaged communities benefit from the maximum level of support available.

As a result of the identification and review processes under DEIS, 873 schools have been invited to participate in the new Programme. These comprise 670 primary schools (338 urban/town schools and 332 rural schools) and 203 second-level schools. As well as the provision being made under the new School Support Programme for schools with a concentrated level of disadvantage, financial support is provided for other primary schools where the level of disadvantage is more dispersed.

A new streamlined model for allocating financial supports has been devised which takes account of level of disadvantage and relevant financial supports already in place and replaces all other models of grants paid to schools under previous disadvantaged programmes.

Under this new model grants amounting to approximately €7.7 million due to the 670 Primary schools which are participating in the DEIS initiative were lodged to their schools' bank accounts on 17 November 2006. This is in addition to payments totalling €1 million which issued to those schools in June 2006. Provision is also being made for the issue of grants in the case of the 203 Post Primary schools which are participating in the initiative.

Schools which have not qualified for inclusion in the DEIS initiative and which are receiving additional resources, both human and financial, under pre-existing schemes and programmes for addressing concentrated disadvantage have retained these supports for 2006/2007. After that, schools will continue to get support in line with the level of disadvantage among their pupils.

Grant payments amounting to approximately €4.1 million have issued to some 1,900 primary schools, including those that are benefiting from previous schemes, to assist them with their respective levels of dispersed disadvantage. The grants paid ranged from €70 to €150 per eligible pupil and are based on schools' level of disadvantage relative to other schools as identified by the new identification process.

Site Acquisitions.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

269 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will purchase a site for the expansion of a school (details supplied) in County Roscommon; the steps taken to date by her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39877/06]

An application for capital funding has recently been received from the school to which the Deputy refers. This application will be assessed and consideration of same will include an assessment as to whether a site is required for the proposed project.

Schools Building Projects.

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

270 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for Education and Science her views on whether a two-stream arrangement at a school (details supplied) will no longer be sufficient by September 2008 in view of the fact that this school is in a location that has a consistent and rapid population growth and that there will be insufficient space for health and safety reasons to install more prefabs in addition to those already in place; her further views on whether there is a need to move this school from band 2 to band 1 in order that provision can occur in an orderly way; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39898/06]

An application for major capital funding has been received from the school authority to which the Deputy refers.

On foot of an assessment of this application, it has been determined that the school requires to be developed into a 24 classroom facility (a 3 stream school) with appropriate ancillary accommodation. This has been agreed with the school authority.

The project has also been assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria for large scale building projects and it has been assigned a Band 2 rating. Progress on the project is being considered in the context of the School Building and Modernisation Programme from 2007 onwards.

Pension Provisions.

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

271 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Defence if, in the context of resources available to him, he will consider awarding the military service allowance to military personnel who retired before 1 August 1990 and which was considered by the report of the Gleeson Commission on remuneration and conditions of service in the Defence Forces; if he will confirm that the number of personnel involved are declining on an annual basis and, therefore, the payment of same would not constitute a significant financial burden on the Exchequer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39860/06]

Arising from a recommendation made in 1990 by the Commission on Remuneration and Conditions of Service in the Defence Forces (the Gleeson Commission), Military Service Allowance (MSA) was made pensionable in the case of personnel retiring on or after 1 August 1990. As I have previously indicated to the House, this approach was fully consistent with settled public service pensions policy which provides that the benefit of an allowance being made pensionable for serving personnel does not extend to existing pensioners.

More recently, the Final Report of the Commission on Public Service Pensions, which was published in January 2001, was considered and broadly accepted by Government. The Commission's Report was the first comprehensive examination of public service occupational pension arrangements since the foundation of the State. The Commission was an independent body and had invited submissions from interested parties through advertisements in the national press in September 1996, giving those concerned an unprecedented opportunity to put their case on occupational pension issues. I understand that groups representative of military pensioners were among those who made submissions and were met by the Commission.

In its Report, the Commission specifically addressed the issue of the pensionability of allowances (including the MSA) and the consequences for public service pensioners generally. However, having considered the arguments advanced by the groups affected, together with longstanding public service pensions policy in that context and the substantial cost implications involved, the Commission did not recommend any increase for the pensioners concerned. Aside from pre-August 1990 Defence Forces pensioners, the other groups affected include certain retired members of An Garda Síochána and the Prison Service and retired teachers. In the context of the Government's subsequent consideration of the Commission's Report, no change in existing policy on this matter has been authorised or is contemplated.

At present, there are 9,727 persons in receipt of pensions under the Defence Forces Pensions Schemes (including some 1,440 spouses of deceased personnel). About 3,630 of these are pre-August 1990 pensioners who do not qualify for the MSA in their pension. The direct cost to my Department of extending the benefit of MSA to them is currently estimated at €6.85 million a year. While the number of pensioners affected is slowly falling each year — the corresponding figure this time last year was about 3,770 — the cost involved remains significant.

However, the position of these Defence Forces pensioners cannot be looked at in isolation and the question of cost implications for the wider public service must be considered. In this regard, the Pensions Commission indicated in its Final Report that it had obtained actuarial advice on the impact of making certain allowances (including MSA) pensionable in the specific case of Garda and Defence Forces' pensioners for future pension payments only. The Commission was advised that, at 1997 costs, this would result in an immediate increase in expenditure of €11.4 million a year and that the accrued liabilities of the State would increase by €147.3 million if this change were implemented for both groups. The reality therefore is that any departure from established pensions policy for one group would give rise to significant cost repercussions in other areas of the public service. Accordingly, there is no scope for departing from settled public service pensions policy in the case of MSA.

Housing Grants.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

272 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on reintroducing the first-time buyers grant to assist young people purchasing their first home; the annual estimated cost of such a proposal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39748/06]

The new house grant scheme was terminated in 2003 to concentrate housing programmes on areas of greatest impact and social need. It is not proposed to reintroduce the grant. However, through overall increases in supply, and increasing output under various affordable housing initiatives, the Government are seeking to improve access to home ownership for first time buyers. These targeted measures, in particular, assist low income purchasers.

This is a better means of improving the affordability of house purchase and using available resources effectively, than a general first time buyer grant which would over time become absorbed into the house price. Other general measures are in place through the tax system to assist first time buyers, such as stamp duty concessions and mortgage interest relief.

There is evidence of strong activity at present by first time buyers in the market. It is estimated that 45% of new house loans in 2005 were taken out by first time buyers. In addition, the average age of Irish first time buyers in 2005 was 30. Over half of these purchasers were aged 29 or under. This compares with a corresponding average age in the United Kingdom of 34.

In 2002, prior to termination of the grant, it is estimated there were 33,000 first time buyers; however only 10,500 or about 1/3 of those drew down the grant. If the scheme was reintroduced at this stage it is likely, assuming a similar ratio of first time buyers qualify that the annual cost would be in the order of close to €40 million.

The Government will continue to prioritise effective action to maintain current high levels of supply in the housing market and in particular, will accelerate measures to assist those who cannot access affordable housing without assistance.

Housing Market.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

273 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of first-time buyers in each county each year since 2002. [39749/06]

My Department does not have definitive figures on the number of first-time buyers in the housing market or a breakdown by county. However, using data on the numbers of loans drawn down for new and second hand houses, together with data received from the financial institutions as part of the development of a more comprehensive housing price statistical system, the following estimates are available at a national level:

Year

Estimated number of First Time Buyers

2002

33,000

2003

32,000

2004

34,000

2005

40,000

As the above data is based on profiling those taking out mortgages for house purchase purposes, it will not cover all purchases of new or second-hand houses. It is estimated that in 2005 approximately 45% of new house loans and 30% of second hand house loans were taken out by first-time buyers.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

274 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the role of the Society of the Irish Motor Industry in the preparation of an energy labelling system for new vehicles; the reason the label chosen by his Department does not feature the same coloured features that are used on UK vehicles; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39783/06]

The National Climate Change Strategy proposed implementation of a system of fuel economy labelling for new cars and the monitoring of carbon dioxide emissions rates for all newly registered cars. Since August 2001, national Regulations require all new passenger cars for sale to be individually labelled with fuel economy and carbon dioxide emissions information. This labelling requirement is in accordance with the relevant annex to EU Directive 1999/94/EC relating to the availability of consumer information on fuel economy and CO2 emissions in respect of the marketing of new passenger cars.

Furthermore, the Regulations require the display of a poster detailing the official fuel consumption and CO2 emissions of all models for sale, the inclusion of fuel consumption and CO2 emissions data on all promotional material and the production of a fuel economy guide by the Society of the Irish Motor Industry outlining the fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions of all makes and models of new passenger cars offered for sale or lease in the State.

A report on implementation of the National Climate Change Strategy, Ireland's Pathway to Kyoto Compliance, which was published in July 2006 for public consultation, proposed that public awareness of the carbon dioxide emissions from each vehicle model might be increased through a redesign of the existing fuel economy label. I will consider final decisions in relation to this proposal in light of submissions received.

Homeless Persons.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

275 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on correspondence from Louth County Council regarding funding for projects to relieve homelessness; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39745/06]

My Department recently received a letter dated 14 November 2006 from Louth County Council which referred to concerns raised a meeting of the Louth Homelessness Forum on 3 October 2006 in relation to funding for homeless projects. My Department recoups to local authorities 90% of their approved expenditure on the provision of accommodation and related services for homeless persons in accordance with the provisions of Section 10 of the Housing Act 1988.

As regards the two specific cases referred to in the correspondence, my Department has in fact notified the local authorities concerned of increased funding. One related to an expansion of homeless services provided by the Simon Community in Dundalk. Approval for additional funding for these services in 2006 was notified to Dundalk Town Council in a letter from my Department dated 10 October 2006. This approval represented a significant increase in funding for these services by the Department from €114,300 in 2005 to €215,838 in 2006.

The second case related to additional funding sought by Drogheda Borough Council. Approval to increased funding for the Drogheda Women's Refuge issued from my Department to the Council on 29 June 2006 — this approval involved an increase in Departmental funding from €23,564 in 2005 to €24,097 in 2006.

Issues relating to funding will be considered as part of the preparation of the revised Government Strategy on Homelessness, which is currently under way, having regard to the recommendations of the Independent Review of Implementation of Homeless Strategies.

Housing Grants.

Michael Lowry

Ceist:

276 Mr. Lowry asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the annual costs associated with the first-time buyers grant in each of the five years prior to abolition; the individual grant each year for the same period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39746/06]

The information requested is set out in the following table.

Year

Individual Grant Payable

Annual Cost (Expenditure)

€m

1997

3,809.21

39.34

1998

3,809.21

39.35

1999

3,809.21

34.73

2000

3,809.21

38.08

2001*

3,809.21

38.75

*Abolished 14th November 2001.

Planning Issues.

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

277 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the number of planning enforcement officials that have been employed by local authorities each year since 1995; if so, the numbers of same; if instruction has been given to local authorities setting out the minimum level of staffing provision for the planning enforcement function, and the planning function generally; if his Department has a function in determining the number of planning officials, including planning enforcement officials employed in local authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39766/06]

According to returns supplied to my Department for the Annual Planning Statistics 2005 275 staff were engaged in planning enforcement in planning authorities in 2005. The figures collected for the annual planning statistics prior to 2005 do not distinguish the staff engaged in planning enforcement and other activities such as development management and forward planning.

The Draft Development Management Guidelines, which will be finalised and published in the coming months, advise local authorities that adequate staff, financial and other resources should be allocated to ensuring that compliance with the development plan and planning conditions are given the importance that they deserve. It is a matter for the manager of each local authority, under section 159 of the Local Government Act 2001, to make such staffing and organisational arrangements as may be necessary for the purposes of carrying out the functions of the local authorities for which he/she is responsible, subject to overall Government policy on the control and regulation of numbers in the public sector, including local authorities, announced in the Minister for Finance's Budget statement of 7 December 2005. I am continuing to keep the overall employment position in the sector under regular review, having regard to the need to deliver quality front line services and achieve value for money within the parameters of Government policy on public service employment generally.

Social and Affordable Housing.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

278 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, further to a Dáil Éireann debate on 2 November 2006 regarding a problem associated with the purchase of affordable sites in Roscommon town, the progress to date on the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39796/06]

My Department is aware of an issue which has arisen in County Roscommon in relation to difficulties by applicants who have bought sites under the low cost sites scheme from obtaining mortgages from certain financial institutions. I understand that discussions are continuing between the Council and certain financial institutions in an effort to resolve this issue. My Department is also examining the matter with a view to addressing general policy issues that arise.

Water Consumption.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

279 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his Departmental guidelines for domestic water allowance for consumers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39797/06]

I assume that the Question refers to water consumption in premises which combine both domestic and other uses.

My Department has not issued guidelines in relation to this matter. However, the law requires sanitary authorities in such cases to make a reasonable estimation of the domestic element of water consumption in the premises, and to exclude this from any changes which they make for the supply of water.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

280 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government further to Parliamentary Question No. 534 of 14 November 2006, the schemes which have to reach full compliance with the EU Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive and which are contained in the water services investment programme of his Department for the period 2005 to 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39810/06]

The EU urban waste water treatment directive prescribes varying standards of treatment for waste water discharges from a graduated range of agglomerations. Discharges from the domestic population and from economic activities are taken into account in determining the extent to which the requirements of the Directive apply to individual agglomerations.

As the volume of waste water discharged by individual agglomerations varies over time in line with demographic and economic developments, the standard and range of waste water treatment facilities required for compliance with the Directive is also subject to change. On the basis of the latest data available, compliance with the requirements of the Directive in relation to secondary treatment of waste water discharges, which stood at 25% in 2000, has now risen to 90%.

My Department's Water Services Investment Programme 2005-2007 includes 899 water services projects that have been approved for funding to meet a variety of objectives. Of those 899 projects, the 24 schemes set out in the following Table are designed to meet all Ireland's current waste water treatment obligations under the Directive. Construction is already under way on several of these schemes.

County

Scheme

Clare

Ennis-Clarecastle

Cork

Cork Lower Harbour

Kinsale

Skibbereen

Youghal

Donegal

Ballyshannon

Dungloe

Falcarragh

Killybegs

Moville/Greencastle

Rathmullan

Dublin

Dublin Bay Project Contract 5 (Howth)

Portrane/Donabate/Rush/Lusk

Shanganagh/Bray

Galway

Clifden

Kilkenny

Kilkenny City

Mayo

Kiltimagh

Sligo

Sligo Town

Tipperary (North)

Thurles

Waterford

Tramore

Waterford City

Wexford

New Ross

Wicklow

Arklow

Newtownmountkennedy

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

281 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if and when a sewerage scheme to cater for the entire village of Straffan, County Kildare will be approved; if his Department has received a recommendation from Kildare County Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39815/06]

I refer to the reply to Questions Nos. 428 and 429 of 22 November 2006.

Grant Payments.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

282 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the reason a person (details supplied) in County Mayo did not receive their sheep de-stocking payment. [39873/06]

Payments under my Department's scheme for Sheep de-stocking are issued in December of each year. In the present year, farmers will have to participate in either the Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS) or the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) Farm Plan Scheme in order to qualify for a compensation payment.

Local Authority Staff.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

283 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the funding provided to local authorities in each of the past three years for school traffic wardens; the number of wardens by each local authority in each of these years; and the funding set aside in 2007 for school traffic wardens. [39874/06]

The number of school wardens employed by local authorities, as indicated by the local authorities, in the years 2003, 2004 and 2005 is set out in the table.

School Wardens

2003

2004

2005

County Councils

Carlow

7

7

7

Cavan

0

0

0

Clare

4

4

7

Cork

44

42

45

Donegal

8

8

8

Dún Laoghaire Rathdown

88

88

68

Fingal

89

89

97

Galway

0

0

0

Kerry

8

8

8

Kildare

24

25

23

Kilkenny

2

2

2

Laois

6

8

7

Leitrim

0

0

0

Limerick

14

14

14

Longford

1

8

1

Louth

5

5

5

Mayo

0

0

0

Meath

24

12

6

Monaghan

0

0

2

Offaly

0

0

1

Roscommon

0

0

0

Sligo

0

0

0

South Dublin

100

100

100

Tipperary N.R.

1

1

1

Tipperary S.R.

2

2

2

Waterford

1

1

1

Westmeath

5

5

7

Wexford

2

3

4

Wicklow

13

13

13

City Councils

Cork

49

41

41

Dublin

173

171

170

Galway

17

17

17

Limerick

45

40

50

Waterford

8

8

8

No specific funding is provided by my Department for the employment of school Wardens, the costs of which fall to be met from local authorities own resources and general purpose grants.

Grant Payments.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

284 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if there is funding available for redevelopment works on a property (details supplied); if so, the details of same. [39875/06]

The Living Over The Shop tax incentive scheme, introduced in 2001, operates in accordance with the provisions of the Finance Acts of 1998 and 2001. The main aims and objectives of the scheme are to improve the standard of the existing building stock and foster a "living" urban environment within the five cities of Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Limerick and Galway. My Department's involvement with the scheme relates primarily to the issue of a Certificate of Reasonable Cost where the house meets the conditions and standards as set out in my Department's Explanatory Memoranda HA1 and HA2R. The details supplied with the Question do not permit my Department to identify whether a Certificate of Reasonable Cost has been applied for or granted in the case of the property concerned. Entitlement to tax relief is, dependant on compliance with certain requirements of tax legislation.

Proposed Legislation.

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

285 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if in addition to creating new town councils in towns with the required population he is also considering expanding the powers of town councils that were former town commissioners; if new town councils will be established within the lifetime of this Government; if expanded powers to existing town councils will require legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39885/06]

The Local Government Act 2001 has been designed to provide a modern legislative framework for all local authorities. Under the Act all town councils, including former town commissioners, may take action to promote the community interest; exercise a representational role, with an office of mayor and structured linkage to the county council; provide local amenities and raise a local community contribution; make local bye laws and have statutory input to the local development plan process under the planning code. Under Section 185 of the 2001 Act, which sets out the provisions for the establishment of new town councils, the powers of new town councils would correspond to those of former town commissioners and any proposal for expanded powers would require amending legislation. Certain town councils, other than former town commissioners, are under the relevant statutory service codes responsible for certain mainline functions in the housing, roads and sanitary services areas. The Oireachtas in its comprehensive review and restatement of local government legislative powers in recent years did not extend responsibility for such mainline functions to additional town councils. Amending legislation would be required to give expanded powers to existing town councils. I am considering the steps necessary to commence the relevant provisions of the 2001 Act in respect of new town councils and I am in discussion with local government interests in this regard, as the opportunities arise. I continue to keep the position under review, while consolidating progress on quality customer service measures, with the aim of ensuring good accessible local government service delivery for all towns.

Local Authority Funding.

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

286 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the amount by county, city or town council that was sought in commercial rates in 2004 and 2005; the rate in euro for each authority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39886/06]

The information requested, which is derived from the adopted budgets of local authorities, is set out in the following table.

2004

2005

Commercial Rates to be levied

Annual Rate on Valuation

Commercial Rates to be levied

Annual Rate on Valuation

County Councils

Carlow

3,731,278

55.25

3,971,318

58.01

Cavan

5,611,200

46.76

6,137,500

49.10

Clare

23,542,593

57.83

26,758,658

61.24

Cork

60,391,500

61.75

67,964,000

65.35

Donegal

14,962,710

64.59

16,284,600

67.82

Dún Laoghaire Rathdown

60,741,500

64.44

65,072,500

66.05

Fingal

70,042,975

56.83

80,106,155

59.10

Galway

12,365,193

54.12

13,969,550

58.45

Kerry

12,442,159

66.73

14,181,348

70.07

Kildare

23,705,092

58.36

26,519,938

61.56

Kilkenny

7,057,331

43.04

7,989,230

45.62

Laois

6,081,860

54.20

6,916,657

57.45

Leitrim

2,835,094

53.42

3,180,791

56.64

Limerick

19,301,987

53.16

21,498,969

56.08

Longford

2,845,900

59.70

2,800,400

62.10

Louth

4,874,443

45.34

5,284,301

47.61

Mayo

9,621,845

60.12

10,441,602

63.43

Meath

11,760,647

53.25

14,344,694

59.12

Monaghan

3,888,768

48.94

4,371,297

50.49

North Tipperary

4,966,453

56.17

5,374,346

58.42

Offaly

4,684,241

45.39

4,557,663

48.12

Roscommon

5,894,600

63.37

6,388,300

66.54

Sligo

3,117,980

56.87

3,519,742

59.66

South Dublin

75,416,699

61.04

86,457,410

64.09

South Tipperary

5,324,911

47.11

5,651,216

49.00

Waterford

4,075,800

58.33

4,360,700

61.26

Westmeath

5,356,459

44.87

5,776,433

46.90

Wexford

11,433,662

59.08

13,207,038

62.03

Wicklow

7,925,033

61.17

8,917,113

64.84

City Councils

Cork

46,264,600

64.52

48,576,900

66.41

Dublin

209,368,231

52.59

229,456,190

55.21

Galway

19,403,628

54.96

21,786,738

57.98

Limerick

22,634,271

73.06

24,270,497

75.69

Waterford

14,598,304

55.72

15,916,744

58.53

Borough Councils

Clonmel

3,527,957

49.14

3,976,091

51.10

Drogheda

7,170,460

59.26

7,939,655

62.22

Kilkenny

3,503,000

51.35

3,960,500

53.92

Sligo

4,917,842

59.98

5,367,982

63.15

Wexford

2,651,409

55.62

2,695,128

57.84

Town Councils

Arklow

1,543,852

54.71

1,619,470

57.39

Athlone

2,100,299

49.47

2,549,911

52.44

Athy

1,500,571

48.31

1,580,225

50.72

Ballina

2,215,202

59.04

2,399,925

61.11

Ballinasloe

1,108,653

45.40

1,095,270

45.40

Birr

859,925

55.30

937,847

58.62

Bray

4,203,080

54.23

4,497,319

57.47

Buncrana

965,417

38.54

1,127,662

40.17

Bundoran

608,839

59.75

722,113

62.75

Carlow

3,804,103

62.48

4,310,612

65.60

Carrickmacross

1,078,807

57.38

1,121,828

59.67

Carrick-On-Suir

611,820

41.91

653,482

44.01

Cashel

377,036

45.98

449,274

48.74

Castlebar

2,093,781

63.45

2,265,061

66.62

Castleblaney

581,520

49.96

606,653

52.46

Cavan

1,358,030

58.65

1,389,083

61.58

Clonakility

845,880

57.00

950,946

60.42

Clones

385,724

51.05

402,779

53.89

Cobh

608,552

56.37

661,653

60.88

Dundalk

9,573,843

62.77

10,154,544

65.91

Dungarvan

1,919,922

50.84

2,219,000

53.39

Ennis

3,127,236

52.45

3,485,480

55.55

Enniscorthy

1,092,497

53.63

1,147,091

56.31

Fermoy

791,198

50.67

836,573

53.57

Kells

475,790

51.75

511,462

55.63

Killarney

5,236,086

60.26

5,742,481

63.28

Kilrush

492,588

49.07

538,303

52.01

Kinsale

820,289

56.18

852,562

58.39

Letterkenny

3,548,548

61.24

3,679,724

63.08

Listowel

1,268,736

65.05

1,301,278

67.56

Longford

1,656,054

62.00

1,878,948

64.79

Macroom

546,000

52.00

577,801

56.10

Mallow

1,646,613

49.39

1,811,153

52.35

Midleton

1,103,489

51.36

1,236,707

56.40

Monaghan

2,295,949

63.39

2,453,590

66.55

Naas

3,737,910

57.88

4,637,162

60.55

Navan

1,674,900

44.17

1,790,717

46.37

Nenagh

2,326,341

53.77

2,622,723

56.35

New Ross

901,587

48.64

999,190

50.83

Skibbereen

724,680

59.40

787,002

64.50

Templemore

325,300

45.80

358,000

49.00

Thurles

1,793,938

52.00

1,907,500

54.50

Tipperary

1,037,730

42.51

1,071,268

44.21

Tralee

6,217,709

71.93

6,680,174

74.45

Trim

475,366

48.72

545,968

53.10

Tullamore

2,502,236

55.46

3,057,217

58.79

Westport

2,058,264

58.80

2,223,393

61.59

Wicklow

910,391

49.61

1,012,184

52.58

Youghal

1,014,079

52.16

1,135,816

56.59

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

287 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the guidance he has given to local authorities in the use of development contributions for non-capital purposes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39887/06]

Under section 48 of the Planning and Development Act 2000 money paid as development contributions can only be applied as capital for public infrastructure and facilities. Circular Letter PD 4/2003, issued by my Department on 27 June 2003, advised that as such they cannot be used to pay current costs. The circular also advised that refurbishment, upgrading, enlargement or replacement of existing infrastructure should only be produced from development contributions where they involve adding value to a network, rather than simply the maintenance of a network that already exists.

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

288 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the extent of the debts by county, city and town council at the end of 2005 in both their capital and revenue accounts; the instructions that have gone from his Department to those councils where his Department is concerned about their debts; if the needs and resources model is designed to factor in such debt scenarios; the action his Department will take; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39888/06]

The data requested are set out in the attached table and is derived from local authority 2005 Annual Financial Statements. Capital account debt includes mortgage-related debt and non-mortgage debt; mortgage related loans, although classified as debts, are matched by the income stream from repayments of individual borrowers. Overdrafts are used to fund temporary cash deficits in respect of both capital and revenue services. Borrowing by local authorities must be sanctioned by the appropriate Minister and, in each case, such sanction is conditional on the local authority being able to meet the loan repayments. In light of the control processes currently in operation prior to sanctioning loans, no further action has been necessary in relation to the level of loans raised by local authorities. The Needs and Resources Model is used for the distribution of general purpose grants from the Local Government Fund. In calculating allocations, the model takes into account all current expenditure by local authorities including expenditure on loan repayments.

Capital Account Debt at end 2005

Overdraft at End of 2005

County Councils

Carlow

36,390,041

1,181,938

Cavan

17,185,836

2,888,431

Clare

76,285,819

Cork

308,170,879

Donegal

116,550,506

12,284,037

Fingal

304,989,407

7,748,063

Dún Laoghaire Rathdown

115,689,157

Galway

77,462,577

6,152,743

Kerry

36,590,828

6,202,562

Kildare

122,915,336

24,884,431

Kilkenny

57,322,505

542,117

Laois

60,791,090

2,290,191

Leitrim

13,154,895

Limerick

61,393,658

Longford

36,089,807

2,764,667

Louth

8,994,140

Mayo

83,409,545

11,559,037

Meath

44,700,804

1,207,469

Monaghan

25,456,109

North Tipperary

26,555,137

1,981,715

Offaly

70,067,198

Roscommon

15,946,466

Sligo

49,995,443

South Dublin

179,207,993

4,154,421

South Tipperary

53,843,944

Waterford

51,005,219

2,749,270

Westmeath

60,687,377

Wexford

80,795,102

Wicklow

43,811,609

7,603,541

City Councils

Cork

124,660,606

11,758,041

Dublin

760,411,707

Galway

95,269,408

Limerick

31,777,274

Waterford

57,574,098

1,799,088

Borough & Town Councils

Clonmel

5,211,164

Drogheda

23,448,115

422,261

Kilkenny

1,201,919

Sligo

40,792,435

Wexford

6,940,779

1,299,458

Arklow

95,805

Athlone

5,477,756

Athy

441,243

Ballina

139,108

Ballinasloe

Birr

Bray

3,548,094

381,018

Buncrana

507,895

Bundoran

1,994,871

Carlow

0

Carrick-on-Suir

379,735

Carrickmacross

34,616

Cashel

Castlebar

0

Castleblayney

93,350

Cavan

Clonakility

838,971

Clones

201,588

Cobh

Dundalk

31,213,609

151,047

Dungarvan

70,081

Ennis

10,882,028

314,999

Enniscorthy

858,376

Fermoy

711,087

Kells

82,539

Killarney

1,458,382

237,720

Kilrush

822,072

Kinsale

267,348

Letterkenny

1,818,179

Listowel

677,184

Longford

4,941,545

Macroom

109,908

Mallow

3,303,631

Midleton

Monaghan

643,301

Naas

10,389,749

Navan

850,000

Nenagh

248,828

New Ross

1,308,687

Skibbereen

Templemore

Thurles

1,207,920

Tipperary

1,036,992

Tralee

8,542,414

Trim

4,501,937

Tullamore

5,763,342

Westport

4,031,517

Wicklow

6,424,169

Youghal

2,368,075

Local Authority Housing.

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

289 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of house completions in each year from 2002 to 2005; the number of these that were private sector completions; the number that were affordable or social; the number that were completed by voluntary agencies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39889/06]

Data on the number of house completions, including private, social and affordable, for each year from 2002 to 2005, are published in the Housing Statistics Bulletins, which are available in the Oireachtas Library and on the Department's website atwww.environ.ie.

Local Authority Staff.

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

290 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of staff employed by each town council by council; the grades of staff employed; the changes in staff numbers since 2002; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39891/06]

The number of persons employed directly by town councils shown as whole time equivalent (WTE), in the years 2003, 2004 and 2005, as provided by the local authorities, is set out in the table below:

Staffing Numbers (WTE)

2003

2004

2005

Borough Councils

Clonmel

93.0

98.0

96

Drogheda

163.6

163.6

176.46

Kilkenny

111.0

109.0

107.00

Sligo

118.2

111.4

114.10

Wexford

75.4

71.9

78.15

Town Councils

Arklow

33.8

38.5

36.00

Athlone

71.8

84.6

79.60

Athy

29.5

29.0

34.70

Balbriggan*

0.0

0.0

0.00

Ballina

46.0

45.0

48.50

Ballinasloe

37.4

36.4

37.40

Ballybay*

0.0

0.0

0.00

Ballyshannon

0.5

0.5

0.50

Bandon*

0.0

0.0

0.00

Bantry*

0.0

0.0

0.00

Belturbet*

0.0

0.0

0.00

Birr*

14.3

13.5

0.00

Boyle*

0.0

0.0

0.00

Bray

88.0

85.0

87.00

Buncrana

20.0

18.0

18.00

Bundoran

14.2

14.0

14.00

Carlow

54.0

54.0

49.50

Carrickmacross

23.0

21.0

22.05

Carrick-on-Suir

29.0

28.0

28.00

Cashel

18.0

17.5

17.50

Castlebar

43.4

42.4

42.40

Castleblaney

9.5

14.0

13.95

Cavan

21.4

21.4

25.00

Clonakility

13.0

10.0

12.50

Clones

11.4

12.0

11.35

Cobh

25.0

21.7

21.60

Cootehill*

0.0

0.0

0.00

Droichead Nua*

0.0

0.0

0.00

Dundalk

201.0

203.7

212.00

Dungarvan

37.5

37.5

37.50

Ennis

86.0

86.0

82.00

Enniscorthy

29.0

26.0

25.50

Fermoy

26.0

32.0

25.00

Gorey*

0.0

0.0

0.00

Granard*

0.2

0.2

0.00

Kells*

14.0

15.0

0.00

Kilkee*

2.0

2.0

0.00

Killarney

63.1

62.6

62.92

Kilrush

13.4

13.8

17.50

Kinsale

13.0

14.0

18.00

Leixlip*

0.0

0.5

0.00

Letterkenny

45.0

58.0

65.00

Lismore*

0.0

0.0

0.00

Listowel

26.6

25.6

25.78

Longford

36.0

40.1

45.50

Loughrea*

0.0

0.0

0.00

Macroom

14.0

15.0

14.00

Mallow

30.0

35.0

46.30

Midleton

23.0

20.0

19.00

Monaghan

37.0

29.0

41.00

Mountmellick*

0.0

0.0

0.00

Muine Bheag*

0.0

0.0

0.00

Mullingar*

0.0

0.0

0.00

Naas

43.8

43.8

47.20

Navan*

27.5

34.5

0.00

Nenagh

29.0

35.0

35.00

New Ross

32.5

33.5

35.00

Passage West*

0.0

0.0

0.00

Portlaoise*

0.0

0.0

0.00

2003

2004

2005

Shannon*

0.0

0.0

0.00

Skibbereen

12.0

13.0

11.00

Templemore

12.3

13.0

13.85

Thurles

32.0

31.6

34.55

Tipperary

25.4

32.0

33.00

Tralee

136.0

136.5

133.00

Tramore*

0.0

0.0

0.00

Trim*

12.0

12.0

0.00

Tuam*

0.0

0.0

0.00

Tullamore*

55.0

55.5

0.00

Westport

34.9

37.2

37.99

Wicklow

33.1

32.0

31.50

Youghal

29.0

33.0

28.00

*Staffed by County Council

The information sought regarding the grades of staff employed is not readily available and its compilation would involve a disproportionate amount of time and work.

Local Authority Housing.

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

291 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of planning permissions by council, where the number of completions is identical to the number permitted that fall within housing estates; the number of such houses or estates that are on local authority lists for taking in charge; the number of houses in housing estates by council described as abandoned or where the developer is no longer contactable and where significant problems prevent the estate being taken in charge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39892/06]

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

292 Ms C. Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he has been contacted by a council or councils seeking funding to remediate housing estates not yet in charge that have been abandoned by the original developer; if such funding has been sought, the councils involved; the amount of same; the number of housing units or estates involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39893/06]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 291 and 292 together.

Table 1 under, which is based on data supplied by local authorities for the Report on Service Indicators in Local Authorities 2005, sets out the numbers of grants of permission for individual houses and for housing developments in 2005. House completions in 2005 are set out in Table 2. Table 3 summarises the responses to a survey of planning authorities earlier this year regarding estates to be taken in charge. The other information sought by the Deputy is not collected or held by my Department. My Department, has not been contacted by any local authority in relation to financing the remediation of individual private housing estates.

Table 1: Number of planning applications granted 2005

Single houses

Housing developments

Carlow County Council

273

48

Cavan County Council

1,232

190

Clare County Council

754

100

Cork City Council

62

64

Cork County Council

2,450

306

Donegal County Council

3,208

409

Dublin City Council

373

197

Dún Laoghaire Rathdown

214

87

Fingal County Council

257

114

Galway City Council

40

27

Galway County Council

2,152

155

Kerry County Council

1,520

386

Kildare County Council

644

122

Kilkenny County Council

555

64

Laois County Council

389

55

Leitrim County Council

605

90

Limerick City Council

6

6

Limerick County Council

800

111

Longford County Council

454

153

Louth County Council

644

74

Mayo County Council

1,632

192

Meath County Council

566

95

Monaghan County Council

567

98

North Tipperary County Council

444

63

Offaly County Council

436

57

Roscommon County Council

1,032

243

Sligo County Council

785

97

South Dublin County Council

194

53

South Tipperary County Council

496

82

Waterford City Council

28

16

Waterford County Council

514

51

Westmeath County Council

515

65

Wexford County Council

1,170

361

Wicklow County Council

476

113

Total

25,487

4,343

Table 2: New Houses Completed by Type — 2005

County*

Individual House

Scheme House

Apartments

Total

Carlow

303

717

180

1,200

Cavan

722

1,318

89

2,129

Clare

843

1,211

120

2,174

Cork

2,189

5,024

1,629

8,842

Donegal

1,688

1,765

214

3,667

Dublin

973

7,504

9,542

18,019

Galway

1,852

1,952

859

4,663

Kerry

1,338

1,431

414

3,183

Kildare

558

2,244

782

3,584

Kilkenny

492

690

192

1,374

Laois

367

1,219

216

1,802

Leitrim

304

449

107

860

Limerick

811

1,539

793

3,143

Longford

364

556

53

973

Louth

443

1,352

400

2,195

Mayo

1,069

1,075

257

2,401

Meath

606

2,805

475

3,886

Monaghan

401

460

92

953

Offaly

417

747

38

1,202

Roscommon

552

662

102

1,316

Sligo

402

608

154

1,164

Tipperary

1,035

1,525

188

2,748

Waterford

483

1,309

132

1,924

Westmeath

507

910

217

1,634

Wexford

1,220

1,676

284

3,180

Wicklow

423

1,412

506

2,341

Totals

20,362

42,160

18,035

80,557

Table 3

1

Housing estates to be taken in charge in 2006

625

2

Number of houses involved in estates in Answer 1

30,353*

3

Number of housing estates for which the life of the relevant planning permission expired more than 2 years ago which have not yet been taken in charge?

2,423

4

Number of estates referred to in Answer 3 in which the relevant permission expired more than 7 years ago

901

5

Number of estates referred to in Answer 3 which are finished (i.e. completed to the required standard under the planning permission)

785

6

Number of houses involved in Answer 5 (in the finished estates referred)

31,722*

7

Number of estates referred to in Answer 3 which are unfinished (i.e. not completed to the required standard within the appropriate period or since)?

1,160

8

Number of houses involved in Answer 7 (in the unfinished estates referred to)

40,042*

9

Total number of houses in the estates not yet taken in charge

71,764*

Note 1: The status of some estates, that is finished or unfinished, was not known by the planning authority, hence the total of the number of finished and unfinished estates in Answers 5 and 7 does not equal, as it should, the number of estates in Answer 2.

*Note 2: In many cases the planning authority was unable to give the information as to the number of houses in the estates.