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.
Questions Nos. 9 to 94, inclusive, resubmitted.
Questions Nos. 95 to 105, inclusive, answered orally.

Afforestation Programme.

Ciaran Lynch

Ceist:

106 Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if her attention has been drawn to the concern expressed by the European Environment Agency regarding the State's tree planting policy and particularly the high level of planting in peatland, which releases a substantial greenhouse and carbon emission; the proportion of planting on peatland in each of the past five years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21803/07]

I am aware of this issue, which dates back to 2004. A report by the European Environment Agency claimed that 84% of planting since 1990 had taken place on peats.

That figure was based on satellite imagery and did not correspond in any way to the information available to my Department at the time, which showed that the actual level of afforestation on peats was between 26% and 43.5%, since 1990. The highest levels of planting on peats occurred during the earlier years of this period.

Based on current approaches and methods for estimating soil carbon dioxide emissions arising from afforestation and deforestation since 1990, an emission factor of 4 tonnes of carbon dioxide, per hectare, per year for the first 4 years following afforestation is applied to peats. This amount is deducted from the carbon dioxide uptake by the growing forest. Over the life-cycle of these forests, the level of carbon dioxide sequestered more than outweighs the carbon dioxide emissions produced in the short-term following initial afforestation.

According to the most recent analysis by my Department, the proportion of afforestation on peats over the past five years is as follows:

Year

Proportion of Planting on Peats

%

2002

31

2003

32

2004

28

2005

26

2006

29

These latest data support the earlier findings of my Department.

Finally, there are very strict procedures in place regarding the afforestation of peat lands. These procedures effectively rule out grant-aid for planting on intact raised bogs of the midlands, or the impoverished, oligotrophic deep blanket peats of the west.

Use of Pesticides.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

107 Deputy Liz McManus asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if her Department has undertaken an assessment of the implications for Irish farming of the EU plan to reduce the use of crop sprays; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21800/07]

The EU Commission has proposed a Thematic Strategy for the Sustainable Use of Pesticides. The Strategy includes a number of initiatives to reduce the impact of sprays. The Commission has also proposed a framework Directive on the sustainable use of pesticides. The aim of this proposal is to reduce the risks and impacts of pesticide use on human health and the environment. The current Commission proposal does not contain any plan to "reduce the use of crop sprays", except in "sensitive areas", where restrictions on use will be subjected to a risk assessment. Since my Department already carries out such risk assessments during the authorisation process for all pesticides, it is anticipated that there will be no additional implications for Irish farming.

Discussions are ongoing at Council and in the European Parliament and my Department is actively participating in this process. I am aware that several proposals from the European Parliament's Environment Committee refer to "quantitative use reduction" targets, but these proposals have not yet been ratified by the Parliament.

Animal Diseases.

Michael Creed

Ceist:

108 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if, in view of confirmed cases of foot and mouth disease and bluetongue disease in the UK, she will establish a biosecurity committee to constantly monitor threats which may confront Irish agriculture in the future. [21889/07]

The first case of foot-and-mouth disease in the present outbreak in Britain was confirmed on 3rd August in Surrey. Since then a total of eight cases have been confirmed in two separate clusters. The first cluster involved two cases around the village of Normandy and the second involved six cases to date centred on the village of Egham. To date the outbreak has remained confined to Surrey.

Immediately following the very first case and the first case in the second cluster on 12th September, I introduced a ban on the importation from Britain of live susceptible animals, fresh meat, raw milk and a range of other animal products from susceptible species. In each case, those bans were followed and superceded by EU Commission Decisions prohibiting the export from Britain of such animals and animal products.

I also instructed that disinfection facilities be installed at Irish ports and airports and my Department embarked on a communications strategy aimed at advising the agricultural community, the agri-food industry and the general public of the measures that had been put in place and of the need for farmers and veterinary practitioners to be particularly vigilant and to report any suspicions of disease to my Department.

All of our actions were based on the best veterinary, scientific and administrative advice available to me and my determination at all times has been to be proportionate and measured in my response to the threat posed by the ongoing outbreak. I and my officials continue to monitor very closely the developing situation and to keep the risk level and the appropriate response to that risk under constant review.

The first case of Bluetongue ever to be recorded in Britain was confirmed on Saturday 22nd September on a farm near Ipswich in Suffolk. Since then several further cases have been detected on a number of other premises in England. The strain has been confirmed as serotype 8 (the same strain as has been circulating in northern Europe since August 2006).

On 28th September, the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in Britain confirmed an outbreak of Bluetongue and immediately put in place the control measures required by the Council Directive 2000/75/EC. There is, already, as a result of the FMD outbreak in Britain, a ban on the importation from Britain of live animals.

There are no imports of susceptible livestock from restricted areas in Europe and all susceptible species imported from Bluetongue-free areas, apart from the U.K., are tested post-import and all have been negative for the disease. In view of the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD), exports of livestock from Britain are currently banned. If and when the FMD-related export restrictions on British animals are lifted, consideration will be given to introducing post-import tests on susceptible animals coming from Britain.

Following the outbreaks of Bluetongue in northern Europe, which began in August 2006, my Department embarked on a proactive surveillance programme that involved post-import blood testing of susceptible animals from affected countries and the random sampling of herds in counties in the south and south-east in which wind-blown midges might have made landfall, if blown here. In addition to the ongoing testing of animals from Bluetongue-free areas in Europe, my Department has engaged the Department of Zoology at NUI Galway to assist in carrying out a comprehensive surveillance survey of the midges that potentially spread the virus. In addition, my Department's laboratory service has been testing thousands of blood samples for any evidence of Bluetongue since earlier this year. My Department has also updated its contingency plans and legislative basis and has increased awareness by providing advice leaflets to farmers and the veterinary profession as well as having organised an industry seminar on bluetongue in July. Further comprehensive information is availableon my Department's bluetongue website —www.bluetongue.ie

The day-to-day management of the disease threat and the contingency arrangements is undertaken by the Management Committee of my Department's National Disease Control Centre, which has available to it a range of expert veterinary and scientific advice. This Committee, whose meetings I have regularly chaired, has been meeting frequently in response to the heightened disease threats posed by both FMD and Bluetongue.

The use of an outside advisory group with a range of disciplines is also part of my Department's contingency plan. This approach was used in relation to FMD and Avian ‘Flu in the past. Responsibility for taking decisions on the appropriate contingency arrangements to be applied would continue to be mine and that of my Department.

There is also a commitment in the Programme for Government to establish Biosecurity Ireland, as a separate Division within my Department, whose remit will be to ‘ensure the exclusion, eradication or effective management of risks posed by diseases and pests to the economy, the environment and to human and animal health.' This will enable my Department to even more effectively coordinate the existing breath of expertise already available. As with all commitments in the Programme, work on its implementation is continuing and I expect that it will be significantly progressed in the coming months.

I must emphasise, however, that I am absolutely satisfied that the measures introduced to date, in response to both disease outbreaks, have been taken on proper veterinary and scientific advice and that they are proportionate to the current risk. As that risk is reassessed, I will not hesitate to introduce such additional measures as are considered appropriate to any increased risk.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

109 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if she is satisfied regarding the adequacy of measures to protect against an outbreak or spread of foot and mouth or bluetongue disease here; the degree to which she has liaised with authorities in other jurisdictions with a view to isolating the origins of an outbreak and protecting the national interest; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21527/07]

My Department and I have been particularly proactive in taking measures designed to minimise the risk of the introduction to Ireland of either Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) or Bluetongue and I am satisfied that the measures in place are appropriate given the current level of risk of an outbreak of either disease in this country.

With regard to the threat of FMD, I introduced an immediate ban on the importation to Ireland from Great Britain of live susceptible animals, fresh meat, raw milk and other products from such animals as soon as the first case of FMD was confirmed in Surrey on 3rd August. I also instructed the immediate installation of disinfection points at Irish ports and airports. My Department also published information leaflets for people travelling from Britain and published information notices in the national newspapers as well as providing advice to the organisers of agricultural shows. Furthermore, my Department updated the dedicated FMD website which contains a significant amount of useful information and advice.

Within days of the introduction of my ban on imports from Britain, the European Commission introduced a ban on the export from Britain of susceptible live animals and products, including those included in my earlier ban. The Commission Decision was strictly enforced by my Department and a subsequent Commission Decision, introduced in the immediate aftermath of the first case in the second cluster of cases on 12th September, is currently being enforced by my Department.

In the short period during which live exports from Britain were permitted, there were three consignments of live animals imported from Britain and all have been traced and clinically examined and found not to have any signs of disease.

With regard to Bluetongue, my Department and I have responded proactively to the increased threat posed by the spread of the disease across northern Europe last year by engaging the Department of Zoology at NUI Galway to assist in carrying out a comprehensive surveillance survey of the midges that potentially spread the virus. In addition, my Department's laboratory service has been testing thousands of blood samples for any evidence of Bluetongue since earlier this year. My Department has also updated its contingency plans and legislative basis and has provided advice leaflets to farmers and the veterinary profession as well as having organised an industry seminar on bluetongue in July and comprehensive information is available on the Department's bluetongue website — www.bluetongue.ie.

The more recent detection of the disease in Britain, along with the rapid spread of the disease across northern Europe and its detection at more northerly points than ever before, inevitably increase the threat to Ireland. On Friday last, the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in Britain confirmed an outbreak of Bluetongue and immediately put in place the control measures required by Council Directive 2000/75/EC. There is, already, as a result of the FMD outbreak in Britain, currently a ban on the importation from Britain of live animals.

With regard to the threat presented by both Bluetongue and FMD, my approach is to ensure adequate awareness of the diseases and, particularly, the clinical signs with which farmers, veterinary practitioners and other livestock handlers ought to be familiar and to encourage vigilance among them when inspecting animals. In that regard, farmers and veterinary practitioners should note that Bluetongue is a notifiable disease and suspicions of the disease must be reported immediately to my Department. My Department and I are very conscious of the need to ensure such adequate awareness and are keeping the communications strategy under constant review.

Secondly, I am satisfied that the control measures currently in place are, at all times, proportionate to the current level of risk. This is obviously a situation that also requires to be kept under review and I will not hesitate to refine and update those control measures should I be satisfied that the risk has increased and that further control measures are appropriate.

In relation to the threat posed by the two diseases, my Department and I have been working closely with the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs in London, the European Commission in Brussels and, particularly, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) in Belfast. I have been and continue to be in frequent contact with my Ministerial colleagues in London and Dublin while my officials are in constant contact with their counterparts. Working closely with DARD to ensure that the island of Ireland remains free of both Bluetongue and FMD is a priority for both Departments.

In addition to the bilateral relationships, the FMD outbreak has been the subject of discussion at meetings of the EU Commission's Standing Committee on the Food Chain and Animal Health (SCoFCAH), which are always attended by my officials, as well as at last week's meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers, which I attended. A number of Commission Decisions have been adopted in response to the FMD situation and my Department has been fully engaged with that process.

Suckler Cow Quota.

Andrew Doyle

Ceist:

110 Deputy Andrew Doyle asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the actions being taken by her Department to ensure the future of the Irish suckler cow sector, in view of the drop in beef prices from the meat factories relative to European prices and the flooding of the retail market with imported low grade beef. [21927/07]

The suckler herd plays a major role in the social and economic well-being of rural areas and in particular areas of natural disadvantage. There is a need to improve animal welfare standards and generally to improve the quality of the national beef herd. With this in mind, I announced an Animal Welfare and Recording Scheme for Suckler Herds aimed at encouraging suckler farmers to adopt certain practices, which will assist not only quality and productivity, but also to underpinning competitiveness. An application for approval was submitted to the European Commission as required under state aid rules. Following consultations with the Commission services on the details of this scheme, certain modifications were made and a revised application was submitted to them on 15 August 2007. This is currently under consideration by the Commission. My Department is in regular contact with the Commission with a view to obtaining approval as rapidly as possible.

I am also aware of the importance of our live export market to the suckler sector. Live exports continue to be an important outlet not only for our weanling trade and indeed for the overall beef sector. My Department is, consequently, closely involved with Bord Bia in the promotion of the live weanling trade. Activities undertaken include showcase events for Irish weanlings involving exporters, importers, feedlot owners and media; promotional support to the trade including trade advertising and distribution of information and literature to potential customers in the markets; inward buyer visits to Ireland; and varied support to exporters including market and customer research, credit checks, translations, facilitating meetings, market information and study visits.

As regards prices paid for cattle, Irish prices have not fallen relative to those paid across Europe. Prices are down across most major EU markets in 2007. It should be remembered however, that prices in 2006 were exceptionally high. Irish R3 steer prices for the year to date have averaged 93 per cent of the EU average. This compares with 89 per cent in the same period in 2006. At the moment, Irish prices are running at 92 per cent of the EU average compared to 90 per cent in September 2006.

Farm Waste Management.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

111 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the reason the Farm Development Services are not processing application forms by farmers under the improvement scheme which are correctly filled out and sent to them by Teagasc for the installation of bulk feed bins, milk tanks and milking machines which are exempt from planning permission; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21784/07]

The Farm Improvement Scheme was introduced by my Department last July and provides grant-aid for, inter alia, animal housing, slurry storage facilities and investments in relation to dairy hygiene.

Under the Scheme, grant-aid is available up to a maximum eligible investment ceiling of €120,000 with a separate ceiling of €120,000 being applicable in the case of dairy hygiene measures. The standard grant-rate is 40% for animal housing and related storage facilities and for dairy hygiene investments, with a 10% top-up grant being available for eligible young farmers in certain cases. Approvals to commence work are now being issued to farmers who have submitted completed applications for grant-aid under the Scheme. I have asked that applications, not requiring planning permission be death with very quickly.

Animal Diseases.

Mary Upton

Ceist:

112 Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if, in view of the continuing threat to human health and the economy generally from animal diseases, she will consider the establishment of a permanent bio-security unit to provide maximum protection against threats of this nature; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21789/07]

Within my Department there is a wide range of veterinary, technical, scientific and administrative expertise which is relied upon on a daily basis in the development of contingency and operational plans designed either to minimise the risk of the introduction of various animal diseases to Ireland or to contain, control and eradicate any threatened or confirmed disease outbreak.

In addition, it is a feature of various contingency plans to establish an Expert Advisory Group to provide me with a wider range of advice from various disciplines appropriate to the particular disease outbreak. The membership of such Groups will vary from disease-to-disease depending, for example, on whether there are potential human health issues. Notwithstanding the establishment of Expert Advisory Groups, the responsibility for deciding which contingency or control measures should be introduced is ultimately mine and that of my Department.

The day-to-day management of the threat posed by various disease outbreaks, whether in Britain, Europe or elsewhere, is undertaken by the Management Committee of my Department's National Disease Control Centre. I am entirely satisfied that my Department has, in response to all recent disease outbreak threats, including avian ‘flu, Foot and Mouth Disease and Bluetongue, responded appropriately and that the measures put in place were, at all times, proportionate to the assessed level of risk and revised as appropriate, by reference to any reassessment of the risk.

There is, nonetheless, a commitment in the Programme for Government to establish Biosecurity Ireland, as a separate Division within my Department, whose remit will be to ‘ensure the exclusion, eradication or effective management of risks posed by diseases and pests to the economy, the environment and to human and animal health.' This will enable my Department to even more effectively coordinate the existing breath of expertise already available. As with all commitments in the Programme, work on its implementation is continuing and I expect that further significant progress will be made in the coming months.

Organic Farming.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

113 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if her attention has been drawn to the recent Eurostat survey which showed that Ireland has the third lowest area under organic production in the EU; her plans to increase organic output in view of increasing consumer demand in this area; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21796/07]

The Programme for Government has set a target of increasing the amount of agricultural land area under organic production from its current rate of less than 1% to 5% by 2012. Even though this is a challenging target I believe it is attainable, and my Department offers substantial incentives to promote the growth of the sector.

The new Organic Farming Scheme, introduced under the Rural Development Programme for the period from 2007 to 2013, aims at encouraging producers to respond to the market demand for organic food. Rates of payment under the scheme are some 17% higher than comparable payments under the previous Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS 3). One significant change this time round is that we are allowing organic producers to obtain organic support payments without having to join REPS. This should encourage small-scale horticultural producers to convert to organic production, and also conventional tillage producers to convert part or even all of their holdings. As a further incentive to encourage non-REPS farmers solely involved in tillage production to convert to organic farming, there is an additional payment of €240 per hectare available in the in-conversion period, up to a maximum of 40 hectares, provided they grow green cover crops.

As well as payments to farmers, my Department also offers significant development grants both to farmers and to processors under the Schemes of Grant Aid for the Development of the Organic Sector. The current Schemes were launched last June and they provide grant aid for investments by farmers and processors in equipment and facilities. The Schemes provide grant aid of 40% of the cost up to a maximum grant of €60,000 in the case of on-farm investments and €500,000 for investments off-farm.

I am pleased to note that Teagasc has appointed an additional three specialist organic advisors to strengthen its advisory role. This development, allied to the expanding demonstration farm programme, should further facilitate producers considering the organic option. Education, training and research and development are also key elements in encouraging and supporting growth in the organic sector. I am considering how the contributions from these areas can be enhanced.

The development at production level cannot happen in isolation. It needs a market to support it. The most recent initiative in this regard is the three-year Organic Marketing Plan 2006–2009, produced by Bord Bia, in consultation with the Organic Market Development Group. The objective of the plan is to develop the organic sector in Ireland for existing suppliers and new entrants. Included in the plan is National Organic Week, which this year runs from October 22nd to 28th.

I have asked for and received submissions from the organic farming bodies with their proposals for the development of the sector. I have also asked the National Steering Group for the Organic Sector and its two sub-groups, the Partnership Expert Working Group and the Organic Marketing and Development Group, to give me their considered views on the best ways to move to the Programme for Government target.

Consumer Protection.

Leo Varadkar

Ceist:

114 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if in the context of increasing competition for land use between food and fuel production she proposes to protect the consumer from rising prices as a consequence of falling production. [21895/07]

A range of factors including increased competition from biofuels, increased consumption in Asia and production difficulties due to weather problems in some key production zones are driving up international prices for cereals in particular and also other products. Ireland and the EU are not immune to such international trends. Some recent projections suggest that these price increases will moderate somewhat in the short to medium term, although prices should remain at relatively high levels. While higher commodity prices impact on consumer food prices, a variety of other factors, including the cost of wages, services and other materials also have an impact, as does the level of competition in the retail sector.

Pigmeat Sector.

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

115 Deputy Bernard Allen asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the steps she proposes to take to secure the viability of the pig industry here. [21892/07]

My Department is engaged in a wide range of activities that are vital to the development of the pig industry. These include national animal health programmes, monitoring of food safety compliance at production premises, the certification of meat for the various markets and improving access to new markets.

Pigmeat features prominently in Bord Bia's programme of promotion on home and export market. I have asked the Bord to intensify its autumn pork and bacon promotion campaign in order to ensure that the market remains firm over the coming months. Considerable Bord Bia resources are also devoted to the pigmeat quality assurance scheme. The Farm Waste Management scheme was extended to the pig sector and I brought in a programme of financial assistance for the transition to welfare-friendly sow housing.

I am firmly in favour of consumers being aware of the origin of the pork and bacon they are purchasing. I am working with the Department of Health and Children on draft legislation that will require the country of origin to be shown on pigmeat and other meats. A public consultation is currently being conducted on the web site of the Food Safety Authority of Ireland. This legislation will require the approval of the European Commission.

Another issue facing pig producers is how to deal with pig slurry in a manner that complies with environment protection legislation. I established the Intensive Livestock Working Group to address this issue and the Group is currently examining the possible options for the sector in this regard.

While pig producers are experiencing special difficulties at present due to high feed prices I am convinced that the future prosperity of the industry is secure thanks to exceptional efficiencies at farm level and a committed processing industry.

Dairy Industry.

Simon Coveney

Ceist:

116 Deputy Simon Coveney asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the steps she will take to halt the exodus of farmers from winter milk production to the liquid milk market. [21890/07]

I am informed by the National Milk Agency, which has statutory responsibility to regulate the supply of milk for liquid consumption within the State, that the Agency has registered 1,756 contracts for the milk year 2007/2008 compared with 1,511 for the equivalent period in 2006/2007. Moreover, in the winter months of October 2006 to February 2007, when milk is least available, supplies of fresh milk exceeded consumption by 19%.

International prices for dairy products have been buoyant since the start of 2007, as a result of which producer prices have risen substantially. The price paid by dairies to producers for milk is exclusively a matter for negotiation between those parties. I am, however, satisfied that the number of registered contracts with the National Milk Agency will provide continuity in supplies of liquid milk for the future.

Bovine Diseases.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

117 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the progress to date on increasing the age limit for BSE testing; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21525/07]

Seymour Crawford

Ceist:

137 Deputy Seymour Crawford asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when she will allow farmers to sell cattle over 30 months without having to go through a BSE test and pay for it; her views on the fact that factories use the 30 month system to downgrade the price of perfectly good cattle over the 30 month age thus creating a double loss to the farmer and in some cases, particularly in the autumn months, short term glut of cattle to the factory with even some of these cattle being of an unfinished nature; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21844/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 117 and 137 together.

The BSE testing requirements are provided for in Regulation (EC) No 999/2001 (the TSE Regulation). The Regulation currently requires that all bovines over 30 months, slaughtered for human consumption, must be tested for BSE. In addition, Member States are required to test all casualty animals over 24 months sent for slaughter and all fallen stock over 24 months not slaughtered for human consumption. I have never had nor do I currently have any discretion to change the age limits at which animals must be tested for BSE.

Having the age limit for BSE testing increased has been a priority of mine since my appointment as Minister and I and my officials have pushed the case at every opportunity. I have long taken the view that, given the significant decline in the incidence of the disease across the European Union in recent years, not least in Ireland, and the control measures in place, an increase in the age limit is entirely justified.

I am pleased, therefore, that the EU Commission has recently tabled proposals that, if adopted, will result, in respect of healthy slaughtered animals, for the testing of 100 % of cattle aged over 42 months and born before 1 January 2002, and 50 %of cattle aged over 42 months and born after 1 January 2002. For emergency slaughtered cattle and fallen stock, the proposal is to test 100 per cent of emergency slaughtered cattle and fallen stock aged over 36 months. I consider that the Commission proposals represent a vindication of the arguments I have been making over the past few years and that they will yield significant and well-earned savings for Irish farmers. Work is continuing in Brussels to finalise the criteria against which the performance of any Member State will be measured in order to avail of the newly proposed testing arrangements. I am pressing to have this work concluded as quickly as possible.

Assuming the Commission proposals are adopted and the eligibility criteria finalised, I intend that Ireland will make an early application to have our surveillance programme revised. In view of the work that remains to be done and the time likely to be taken before an application is approved by the Commission and the other Member States, it seems unlikely that the existing age limits for BSE testing will be revised until sometime in 2008, though I and my officials will, of course, continue to press for the earliest possible resolution of the issue.

Genetically Modified Organisms.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

118 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food her position on a genetically modified event (details supplied) in view of the serious repercussions the effective ban is having and will continue to have on animal feed manufacturers and in turn the livestock farmer; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21785/07]

The EU Commission proposal to authorise the genetically modified event, referred to by the Deputy, for marketing as food and feed within the EU was considered at the meeting of the Council of Agriculture Ministers last week. The Council recorded a no opinion on the proposal and the Commission is now expected to move to approve the product in the near future in accordance with regulatory procedures.

I abstained in the vote taken on this proposal at the Council because I am currently engaged in discussions with my Cabinet colleagues on how best the commitment in the Programme for Government on GMOs can be effected, while taking into account the views of all interested parties and the sectors most directly affected.

Sustainable Energy.

Tom Sheahan

Ceist:

119 Deputy Tom Sheahan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the steps she is taking to promote wood energy. [21522/07]

Wood energy has a key role to play in achieving the Government targets for renewable energy as set out in the White Paper, ‘Delivering a Sustainable Energy Future for Ireland'. My Department actively encourages the development of the wood-energy sector through a range of support measures. A new capital grant scheme to support emerging enterprises in the wood chip supply sector was launched during the summer. The Wood Biomass Harvesting Machinery Grant Scheme will grant aid the purchase of medium-scale wood chippers and self-contained chippers by providing up to 40% of the purchase price of this equipment.

Under the Scheme, my Department has already this year committed grant aid of nearly €500,000 towards wood biomass harvesting machinery, stimulating an associated investment of some €1.5m in the sector. I am also pleased to say that a second phase of this scheme will be launched in the coming weeks, making a further €600,000 in grant aid available. The additional harvesting capacity created will have a significant impact in assisting developing enterprises in the wood chip supply sector while complementing the Reheat Scheme operated by Sustainable Energy Ireland.

My Department is also supporting a number of wood energy pilot projects which aim to develop models of best practice for wood supply and to encourage increased use of wood fuel, primarily in the form of woodchip. Examples of the pilot projects being funded include the County Clare Wood Energy Project and the Forest Link project in Donegal.

COFORD, the National Council for Forest Research and Development, which is wholly funded by my Department, in association with Teagasc, is running a series of thinning and chipping demonstrations across the country. This is part of the Forest Energy 2007 Programme, following on from the highly successful 2006 demonstration programme. Events have already taken place in Counties Cork, Donegal, Galway, Laois, Limerick and Mayo. A major exhibition of technologies and developments in the wood and biomass energy sectors, ‘Bioenergy 2007', was jointly hosted by COFORD, Teagasc and Sustainable Energy Ireland at Oakpark, Co. Carlow at the end of August.

Finally, COFORD hosts and manages a website (www.woodenergy.ie) dedicated to providing factual information on using wood biomass as a carbon neutral, renewable energy source.

Suckler Cow Quota.

Tom Sheahan

Ceist:

120 Deputy Tom Sheahan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when she will honour her commitment to the suckling farmers here to introduce a new suckler cow grant. [21523/07]

The proposals for an Animal Welfare, Recording and Breeding Scheme for Suckler Herds were originally submitted to the European Commission in December 2006 as part of the Draft Rural Development Programme 2007-2013 (RDP). Following consultations with the Commission services on the details of this scheme, certain modifications were made and a revised application for state aid approval was submitted to them on 15 August 2007. This is currently under consideration by the Commission. My Department is in regular contact with the Commission with a view to obtaining approval as rapidly as possible.

Farm Incomes.

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

121 Deputy Emmet Stagg asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the information available to her Department on the expected impact on farm incomes of the exceptionally wet weather during the summer 2007 period; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21790/07]

Adverse weather in the period leading up to harvest time did give rise to concern that there might be a very poor cereals harvest, both in terms of quantity and quality. However, the weather improved just in time and consequently output is not expected to be very far short of the long-term average of 2 million tones. Similarly in the horticulture sector, the poor weather conditions caused problems for planting and harvesting operations of outdoor fruits and crops, however, the improvement in weather conditions in August/early September helped alleviate some of difficulties.

On a more positive note international prices for cereal and dairy products are buoyant and this will impact favourably on the output value of these sectors. However, higher cereal prices will give rise to higher production costs for cattle finisher and pig and poultry producers. The overall net effect on all these factors is difficult to tell at this stage.

Farm Prices.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

122 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the steps she is taking to ensure that higher market prices for lamb is passed back to farmers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21524/07]

The market situation for lamb is quite good at present with prices ahead of last year's at this stage. Supplies too have improved in recent weeks following the Foot and Mouth outbreak in the UK and the outlook for the remainder of the year is positive. Bord Bia actively promotes lamb as a quality product and thereby supports all those involved in the marketing chain, including producersI have no function in the determination of market prices nor of the margins available to processors and retailers.

Farm Structures Survey.

Sean Sherlock

Ceist:

123 Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food her views on the further significant decline in the number of farms reported in the recent Farm Structure Survey published by the Central Statistics Office; her plans to reverse this decline; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21783/07]

Last month the CSO published its Farm Structures Survey results for 2003 and 2005. The report shows that over that period farm numbers declined at a rate of approximately 1% per annum to 132,700 farms in 2005, which is slightly lower that the overall rate of decline since 1991. The reduction in farm numbers is part of an on-going trend, which is common throughout Europe, and indeed the rate of decline is lower in Ireland than in many other EU member states.

Such consolidation of farms allows for a greater level of efficiency and scale on both full and part-time farms. In addition farmers are supported strongly by the Government with very significant EU and national resources devoted to supporting farm incomes, encouraging incentives for structural change, optimising the environmental benefits from farming, providing research, advisory and training services and a range of other measures.

Departmental Offices.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

124 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the position regarding the establishment of the new Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; the reason for the delay in transferring responsibility for the fisheries sector to her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21801/07]

The Taoiseach announced on the 15 June 2007 that Sea Fisheries would transfer to my Department. The Government has now agreed the specific details for the transfer of those functions and the necessary Order to give effect to this will be made shortly by the Government.

Genetically Modified Organisms.

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

125 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the changes in the Government’s policy on genetically modified foods and crops since 1997; the reason that the changes that took place; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21571/07]

The Government, conscious of the range of concerns being expressed about genetic modification in the fields of pharmaceuticals, medical diagnostics, agriculture and food production and aware that no coherent policy on the issue had been formulated, established an Inter-Departmental Group on Modern Biotechnology in March 1999. This Group published its Report in October 2000 and in the Report it recommended that Ireland's general position on modern biotechnology should be positive but precautionary. This position informed the Government's approach to GM proposals up to June 2007, when a new Programme for Government was agreed.

I am currently engaged in discussions with my Cabinet colleagues on how best the commitment in the Programme for Government to seek to negotiate the establishment of an all Ireland GM free zone can be effected, while taking into account the views of all interested parties and the sectors most directly affected.

Farm Employment.

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

126 Deputy Pat Rabbitte asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the number of persons employed full time and part time in farming in 1997, 2002 and the latest date for which figures are available; her plans to reverse the decline in the numbers working in farming; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21792/07]

The most recent figures available from the CSO show that there were 74,500 farmers whose sole occupation was farming in 2005, a drop of 23,800 since 1997. Over the same period the number of farmers with another either major or subsidiary occupation increased by 8,600 to 57,900.

The on-going trend towards part-time farming reflects a combination of factors including the increased availability of off-farm employment. Many small scale producers find that combining farming with off-farm employment is an effective way to ensure their continued viability in farming. At the same time, full-time farmers are looking to the new flexibility offered to them under decoupling to develop and intensify their commercial farm enterprises.

Number of farm holders by presence or absence of off-farm job, 1990-2003

Year

Status of holder

Total Number of family farms

Farming is sole occupation

Farming is either main or subsidiary occupation

1997

98.3

49.3

147.6

2000

78.7

62.6

141.3

2003

78.5

57.0

135.5

2005

74.5

57.9

132.4

Common Agricultural Policy.

Leo Varadkar

Ceist:

127 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the status of talks on the CAP health check for 2008. [21896/07]

No proposals have yet emerged on the CAP Health Check. Formal legislative proposals are expected to be published in May 2008. In advance of that a Commission Communication on preparation for the Health Check is envisaged for towards the end of next month. Agreement on the proposals is anticipated for the latter half of 2008 during the French presidency of the EU. I will be participating fully at all stages of the negotiations.

Farm Improvement Scheme.

Terence Flanagan

Ceist:

128 Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when she will announce the details of the grant aid available for dairy farmers to improve their dairy facilities. [21893/07]

The Farm Improvement Scheme was launched by my Department on 12 July 2007 and provides grant-aid for, inter alia, investments in relation to dairy hygiene. The Scheme replaces the Dairy Hygiene Scheme which closed for new applications at the end of 2006. Under the Farm Improvement Scheme, a separate investment ceiling of €120,000 is applicable to dairy hygiene investments and the standard grant-rate applicable is 40%. I have also increased the eligible investment ceilings for milking equipment and bulk milk tanks to €40,000 and €25,000 respectively. The income unit limits applicable under the Dairy Hygiene Scheme have also been removed so that all dairy farmers will be able to participate in the new Scheme.

I am satisfied that the new Scheme provides a very attractive financial package for dairy farmers intending to improve the dairying facilities on their farms.

Animal Diseases.

Mary Upton

Ceist:

129 Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if she is satisfied that all appropriate procedures are in place to prevent the spread of foot and mouth disease to Ireland, in view of the number of outbreaks reported in Britain over the past two months, which are continuing; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21788/07]

My Department and I have been particularly proactive in taking measures designed to minimise the risk of the introduction to Ireland Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) and I am satisfied that they are appropriate given the current level of risk of an outbreak of the disease in this country.

Immediately following confirmation of the first case of FMD in Surrey on 3 August, I introduced a ban on the importation to Ireland from Britain of live susceptible animals, fresh meat, raw milk and other products from such animals. I also instructed the immediate installation of disinfection points at Irish ports and airports. My Department also published information leaflets for people travelling from Britain and published information and advice notices in the national newspapers as well as providing advice to the organisers of agricultural shows. Furthermore, my Department updated the dedicated FMD website —www.footandmouth.ie — which contains a significant amount of useful information and advice and which continues to be updated as appropriate.

My Department has also engaged with various stakeholders to ensure that there is maximum awareness of the disease, its clinical signs and the nature of the control measures in place. We have constantly emphasised the need for ongoing vigilance, particularly among farmers and veterinary practitioners and of the need to ensure that any suspicions of disease are advised to my Department immediately.

Within days of the introduction of my ban on imports from Britain, the European Commission introduced a ban on the export from Britain of susceptible live animals and products, including those included in my earlier ban. The Commission Decision was strictly enforced by my Department and a subsequent Commission Decision, introduced in the immediate aftermath of the first case in the second cluster of cases on 12 September, is currently being enforced by my Department.

In the short period during which live exports from Britain were permitted, there were three consignments of live animals imported from Britain and all have been traced and clinically examined and found not to have any signs of disease.

The continuing confirmation of cases is clearly a matter of concern and one which I am continuing to monitor very closely. Notwithstanding this second cluster of cases, the outbreak remains confined to Surrey and despite scores of suspect cases having been reported and investigated and a number of Temporary Control Zones set-up while samples were being analysed, no cases have been confirmed outside of the county. My officials and I are continuing to keep in close contact with Ministerial and official contacts in London and Belfast and we are working particularly closely with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) in Northern Ireland to ensure that the disease is kept off the island of Ireland.

In determining the adequacy of our control measures, I am satisfied that the measures currently in place are proportionate to the current risk and should that risk be reassessed I won't hesitate to revise our control measures should that approach be warranted.

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

130 Deputy Kathleen Lynch asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if she has made representations to the British authorities on the outbreak of foot and mouth being traced to the facility at Pirbright laboratories in view of the potential implications for agriculture here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21805/07]

Ciaran Lynch

Ceist:

134 Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if it is intended to continue the use of a laboratory (details supplied) for analysis of possible foot and mouth samples here in view the serious security breaches there which have been linked to recent foot and mouth outbreaks in Britain; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21804/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 130 and 134 together.

Following the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) in Surrey on 3 August, the UK Government commissioned two reviews — one by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and the other by Professor Brian Spratt, Imperial College, London — to look at the biosecurity arrangements at the Pirbright site at which the Institute for Animal Health and the Merial Animal Health Limited laboratory facilities are located.

The two reviews and the UK Government's response to them were published on 7 September. The reports concluded that the most likely cause of the outbreak was the escape of live virus from Pirbright, though the precise means by which the escape of the virus occurred was not fully established.

Both reports contain a number of recommendations, including a review of the full range of biosecurity measures and procedures at the Pirbright site, as well as recommendations relating to the role of the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra). These recommendations illustrate clear weaknesses in and breaches of biosecurity at Pirbright and I share the UK Government's stated view that the events at Pirbright were clearly a matter of significant concern.

In that regard, I welcome the UK Government's acceptance of all the recommendations made in the two reports and I note also the Government's claim that they ‘have decided to go beyond these recommendations.' I note too that a programme of remedial work is to be undertaken at Pirbright and I look forward to the Government's reports to the British Parliament on the progress of this work.

I have had the opportunity to discuss the outbreak and its consequences with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as well as the Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development in Northern Ireland and I certainly have confidence in the UK Government's commitment to ensure that all of the recommendations set out in the HSE and the Spratt reports are fully implemented.

The Institute for Animal Health (IAH) is the designated European Reference Laboratory for FMD and as such samples are required to be sent there for official confirmation of FMD, even though my own Department's laboratory service has the capability to detect a case of the disease. Notwithstanding my concerns about the events at Pirbright, I have no reason to question the diagnostic competence of the IAH and have, therefore, no reservations about sending samples there for confirmation or otherwise of FMD as the EU continues to recognise it as the official confirmatory laboratory for FMD.

Food Labelling.

Michael Creed

Ceist:

131 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the steps she is taking at national and EU level to establish country of origin labelling on all primary food products. [21888/07]

The Minister for Health and Children has overall responsibility for the general food labelling legislation. Responsibility for enforcement of labelling legislation rests with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) through its service contracts with my Department, the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, the Health Services Executive, the Local Authorities and the National Consumer Agency.

In relation to the particular issue of country of origin labelling, compulsory beef labelling legislation incorporating the origin of this meat has been in place since September 2000. I have already collaborated with the Minister for Health and Children and introduced legislation to ensure that all beef sold or served in the retail or catering sector is now required to carry an indication of the country of origin. This legislation is enforced by the FSAI.

Regarding the labelling of poultry meat, there are EU Regulations which provide for the labelling of unprocessed poultry meat at retail level. The Regulations require such poultry meat to be labelled with the information regarding class, price, condition, registered number of slaughterhouse or cutting plant and, where imported from a Third Country, an indication of country of origin.

In relation to other meats I have signalled my intention to have legislation brought forward to require the country of origin to be shown on poultry meat, pig meat and sheepmeat sold in the retail and catering sectors. A draft of such regulations was prepared by my Department and is currently being finalized by the Department of Health and Children. A public consultation process is currently being conducted. Following consideration of any views received it will be necessary to submit the draft regulations to the European Commission for approval.

The EU Commission is currently reviewing the whole area of food labelling and in that context my Department contributed to Ireland's submission which was co-ordinated by the Department of Health and Children. Within this submission Ireland explained why it felt that origin labelling should be compulsory for all meat. As well as direct contact with the Commission I have also raised this matter in the Agriculture Council. I will continue to press for progress as I believe consumers are entitled to full information on the origin of food products.

Sean Sherlock

Ceist:

132 Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if her attention has been drawn to the recent survey (details supplied), showing that fewer than one in five consumers here have full confidence in fresh food imported from outside the EU; if she is satisfied with the level of labelling of fresh foodstuffs imported from abroad; her plans for improved labelling; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21782/07]

The Minister for Health and Children has overall responsibility for the general food labelling legislation. Responsibility for enforcement of labelling legislation rests with the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) through its service contracts with my Department, the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, the Health Services Executive, the Local Authorities and the National Consumer Agency.

The survey to which the Deputy is referring was carried out on behalf of Agri Aware in early August 2006. While less than 20% of consumers have confidence in fresh foods imported from non-EU countries, the controls that have been put in place by the EU Commission are intended to ensure that such produce is safe to eat. The Commission has provided assurances that it will take immediate action in the event of any risk posed by imports of foodstuffs to consumer or animal health.

There is a legal obligation to display the country of origin for fresh fruit and vegetables. In the case of the importation of meat and meat products, there are specific requirements that such products must originate from a country approved by the EU, have been produced in an approved establishment and be accompanied by a health certificate in accordance with the provisions of Community legislation and must be presented for inspection at an EU approved Border Inspection Post.

Furthermore, there is compulsory beef labelling legislation in place since September 2000 which stipulates, among other things, that the origin must be placed on the label. There are also EU Regulations in place for poultry meat which provide for the labelling of unprocessed poultry meat at retail level. The Regulations require such poultry meat to be labelled with the information regarding class, price, condition, registered number of the slaughterhouse or cutting plant and, where imported from a Third Country, an indication of country of origin.

I have signalled my intention to have legislation brought forward to require the country of origin to be shown on poultry meat, pig meat and sheepmeat sold in the retail and catering sectors. A draft of such regulations was prepared by my Department and is currently being finalized by the Department of Health and Children. A public consultation process is currently being conducted. Following consideration of any views received it will be necessary to submit the draft regulations to the European Commission for approval.

The EU Commission is currently reviewing the whole area of food labelling and in that context my Department contributed to Ireland's submission which was co-ordinated by the Department of Health and Children. Within this submission Ireland explained why it felt that origin labelling should be compulsory for all meat. As well as direct contact with the Commission, I have also raised this matter in the Agriculture Council. I will continue to press for progress as I believe consumers are entitled to full information on the origin of food products.

Food Prices.

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

133 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the estimate of the increase in food prices over each of the past five years; if she has quantified the reason for these increases; and if her attention has been drawn to the concerns of significant further increases in food prices over the coming months. [21798/07]

According to data from the CSO, food prices increased by an average of just over 1% per annum in the 5 years since 2002. Over that period the increase in food prices was considerably lower than the overall rate of inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index, which averaged 3.4% per annum over the same time frame.

Last year, food price inflation averaged 1.4% compared with a rate of 4% for overall inflation. While food price inflation has increased to 1.8% for the first eight months of the year, it remains substantially below the overall rate of inflation of 5% for the same period.

Rising input costs, at both producer and processor levels have fed through to put upward pressure on food prices. Pressure on input prices, in particular energy and raw material, is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, with strong competition on world dairy and cereal markets pushing up producer prices.

Question No. 134 answered with QuestionNo. 130.

Beef Quality Assurance Scheme.

Andrew Doyle

Ceist:

135 Deputy Andrew Doyle asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the grant aid paid out under the beef quality assurance scheme and An Bord Bia beef marketing scheme; the percentage of this grant aid that was from the agriculture guidance and guarantee fund of the European Union; and her reason for supporting the importation of inferior quality Brazilian beef in view of the investment made to build up the highly regulated beef industry here. [21653/07]

A Grant in Aid is provided to support Bord Bia in carrying out its statutory marketing and promotion functions. Decisions on the sectoral allocation of expenditure are taken by Bord Bia and have regard to EU state aid rules. The Grant in Aid is currently €26.505 million. In addition, some €2.3 million is being provided this year to Bord Bia by my Department towards certification costs under beef and lamb quality assurance schemes. These amounts are funded directly from the exchequer and not from the agriculture guidance and guarantee fund of the European Union.

The Deputy's assertion in the latter part of his question is without foundation and contrary to the facts. I have clearly and consistently advocated that produce imported from non-EU countries must meet standards equivalent to those required of Community producers. My position in this regard is better understood by the EU Commissioner for Health, Mr Kyprianou with whom I have regular contact. The position is that, similar to imports of beef coming from other third countries, imports of beef from Brazil must satisfy EU import requirements. The Commissioner has assured me that in the event of any risk from imports of foodstuffs the Commission will act to protect EU consumer or animal health. In the interests of both EU producers and consumers I will continue to pursue this matter especially in the light of forthcoming EU Food and Veterinary Office missions to Brazil and in the context of WTO negotiations.

Farm Incomes.

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

136 Deputy Emmet Stagg asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food her views on the 26% decline in farm incomes for 2006, compared to 2005, as reported recently by Teagasc; her plans to ensure an increase in farm incomes, particularly in view of the Teagasc finding that average farm income in 2006 was just €16,680 overall and €34,486 for a full time family farm; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21791/07]

The NFS results for 2006 showed a 26% decline in average family farm income following an increase of 44% in 2005. Both these figures were due to exceptional circumstances as the overlap in direct payments paid in 2005, (with the introduction of the Single Payment Scheme and the payment of balance payments on 2004 premia scheme) was not repeated in 2006.

As in previous years farm incomes varied substantially depending on the size and system of farming. The overall average reflects the fact that many farms are operated on a relatively small scale and are suitable to part-time farming. Larger, more commercial units, derive a more substantial return for labour and investment.

In recognition of the contribution farmers make to our economy, not just in providing a source of high quality local food, but also in providing employment and maintaining the countryside, there is a high level of public support of the sector, with direct payments averaging €16,346 per farm in 2006. Since direct payments were decoupled from production in 2005, farmers have the opportunity to focus more clearly on market needs in order to maximize their profits.

Question No. 137 answered with QuestionNo. 117.

Fishing Fleet.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

138 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food her proposals for the decommissioning of one-third of the whitefish fleet; the estimated number of vessels to be scrapped and the expected job losses involved; the estimated cost of the decommissioning programme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21802/07]

The Scheme to Permanently Withdraw Capacity from the Whitefish Sector of the Irish Fishing Fleet will involve the decommissioning of 35% of the capacity of the whitefish fleet 18 metres in length and over. This scheme will see up to 11,000 gross tonnes removed from the fleet; the target recommended by the Seafood Industry Strategy Review Group (Recommendation 4.1). This will result in up to 70 whitefish vessels permanently leaving the fleet.

I met Mr Joe Borg, EU Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs last week to press for early EU State Aid approval for the planned scheme. To ensure maximum take-up an incentive premium and a selective reduction in the qualifying age of vessels will apply — but only for a defined time period.

The scheme, which will receive European Fisheries Fund support, will cost up to €58 million and is open to vessels owners in respect of fishing vessels that:

Are registered in the polyvalent or beam trawl segments of the Irish fleet.

Are operational at the time the decision is taken to grant the withdrawal premium.

Are 15 years or more in age at the time of application — reduced to 10 years in specific circumstances.

Are 18 metres or more in overall length.

Have carried out a fishing activity for a prescribed minimum number of days at sea in the two years preceding the 30th June 2007.

Up to 580 crew members will be potentially affected by this scheme. However, it is expected that many will find employment on other vessels that remain in the fleet.

Food Labelling.

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

139 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the steps she is taking to ensure that non-organic food is not mislabelled; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21797/07]

I am fully committed to ensuring that consumers can have full confidence in the organic food they buy. For that reason my Department has assigned additional resources to the Organic Unit and they are now systematically inspecting retail outlets, including supermarkets, shops and farmers markets, checking to ensure that all product identified as organic has been produced fully in accordance with the organic regulations.

The introduction of the European Communities (Organic Farming) Regulation 2004 (S.I. No 112 of 2004) gave my Department powers to prosecute contraventions of Council Regulation (EEC) No. 2092/91 on organic production and indications referring thereto on agricultural products and foodstuffs. To date one operator has been convicted of an offence for labelling product in contravention of these Regulations. I am pleased to inform the House that this Statutory Instrument has been amended today to grant significant additional statutory powers to Department officials to enable them to carry out their work in a more effective manner.

Farm Accidents.

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

140 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the number of persons killed or injured in farm accidents during 2006 and to date in 2007; the steps she will take to improve safety practices on farms and to reduce the number of farm deaths and injuries; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21793/07]

I am, of course, very concerned about the level of safety on our farms. Last year 18 people died on Irish farms (8 of these people were aged over 70) and this year up to 1 August 8 people have died. It is estimated that there are some 3,000 injuries on farms each year. I strongly support the work of The Health and Safety Authority (HSA), which is charged with overall responsibility for promotion of workplace health, and safety.

The Farm Safety Partnership, an advisory committee to the HSA that is made up of representatives from the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Food Teagasc and other farming groups, supports and co-ordinates the majority of research and promotional activities in relation to farm safety. On a practical level the HSA stand at the ploughing championships featured machinery safety demonstrations. A Code of Practice for the Prevention of Accidents and Occupational ill health in Agriculture was launched by the HSA at the ploughing championships in September 2006. The aim of the Code of Practice is to provide practical guidance to farmers and to help improve the level of safety and health in the agriculture sector. My Department in conjunction with the Department for Labour Affairs circulated some 160,000 copies of the Code of Practice to all farmers in late November/early December 2006. Teagasc, the statutory body responsible for training in the agriculture sector, aim to provide training for 9000 farmers on the Code of Practice in 2007. I would strongly urge farmers to attend this course.

There is also serious concern at the number of elderly farmers suffering accidents on the farm and to highlight this issue, the Health and Safety Authority issued leaflets on "safety and elderly farmers" at the Ploughing Championships this year.

We are also concerned with child safety on farms and the HSA, together with Teagasc has developed a new child safety book. This was launched by Minister for Labour Affairs at the Ploughing Championships this year. This free book illustrates the hazards, which may be encountered on a farm, and again I would strongly urge all farming parents to read the book with their children and thus ensure that the safety message gets across.

The provision of training is of utmost importance and especially in the area of Health and Safety. A twenty-hour training course is mandatory for all participants in the Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS). My Department has ensured that one module of this training is devoted to Health and Safety in farming.

Additionally, under the new Farm Improvement Scheme, grant aid may be provided against investment made for the purposes of increasing on-farm safety. Eligible items include:

Safety rails on silo walls

Safety fencing/solid cover for external slurry and effluent stores

Safety covers on external agitation points or manholes

Removal of existing internal agitation point and replacement by gang slat

Replacement of damaged slats (single/ twin/ gang) by gang slats

Replacement of a hinged door/sheeted gate with a sliding door on animal housing

Finally, I would stress to all farmers the need to follow the guidance of the Health and Safety Authority and take ownership of the Code of Practice for the Prevention of Accidents and Occupational ill health in Agriculture.

Food Safety.

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

141 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if she is satisfied that there are adequate checks and safeguards in place to ensure that infected beef is not imported into Ireland or the EU generally from countries where foot and mouth is widespread; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21794/07]

The placing of animal products on to the EU market may only take place where the conditions for their production and processing meet the EU's animal and public health requirements. Where risks to the safety of animal and public health arise from animal disease outbreaks, such as the foot and mouth disease, the EU Commission, which has responsibility in this area, immediately places restrictions on trade in live animals and animal products of the susceptible species until such risks have been eliminated. In this context safeguard measures banning importation from regions in Brazil that are affected by foot and mouth disease have been applied since 2005. More recently measures banning the export of meat and live animals of susceptible species from the UK have been applied since the outbreak of the disease in Surrey.

At the point of entry on the territory of the EU, importers of animal products are required to present consignments and the health certificates to an approved Border Inspection Post (BIP) for veterinary inspection. Documentary, identity and physical checks including checks on the origin of the products are carried out at the BIP in accordance with EU requirements. Where it is established that imported animal product has met all required conditions it is released for free circulation within the Community. Copies of the BIP clearance documentation must accompany the consignment to its first food business operator destination. Imports failing to comply with these veterinary control checks may be detained for further examination. If non-compliance is established the products are seized for destruction at cost to the importer.

My Department has also increased its controls supervising intra-community trade in animals and animal products in particular with the UK in order to safeguard this country's very high animal health status. My Department's services co-operates closely on protecting the animal health status of the island of Ireland with the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development of Northern Ireland.

World Trade Negotiations.

Terence Flanagan

Ceist:

142 Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the status of the WTO talks. [21894/07]

The negotiations on a new WTO agreement were launched at Doha in November 2001. While significant progress has been made towards concluding an agreement, most notably in the Framework Agreement which was reached in Geneva in August 2004 and at the WTO Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong in December 2005, final agreement has not yet been reached. The negotiations resumed fully in January 2007 following a breakdown in July 2006.

In June 2007, a meeting of the G4 group of major negotiating partners (India, US, Brazil and EU) ended without significant agreement and this was seen a major setback in efforts to reach a successful conclusion to the Round. Following this the focus of negotiations has returned to the multilateral process in Geneva. These negotiations are on-going at present and the efforts to achieve progress will continue over the coming months.

I remain committed to an ambitious and balanced outcome to the negotiations. As an open economy dependent on trade Ireland has much to gain from a successful deal. However, I am determined that agriculture must not be sacrificed for the sake of an overall agreement and that, in accordance with the agreed EU negotiating mandate, a new WTO agreement will not necessitate further reform of the CAP. The EU has undertaken CAP reform in preparation for the negotiations and I believe that it has already made a generous offer to reduce trade distorting subsidies and to provide substantial Special and Differential Treatment for developing countries.

I have consistently outlined my position in the clearest possible terms in the Council of Agriculture Ministers, most recently on 26 September, and I have emphasised the absolute necessity that the Commission remain within the terms of the negotiating mandate. I will continue to work closely with like-minded Ministers in other Member States to seek support for my position.

Ministerial Expenses.

Leo Varadkar

Ceist:

143 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Taoiseach the amount of money paid in expenses to each Minister of State in his Government Department; the headings under which they were paid for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22015/07]

Details of the amounts paid to each Minister of State in my Department during the last five years are listed in the following tables.

Minister of State and Chief Whip Mary Hanafin

Item

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007 (up to end of Sept)

Subsistence

€4,937

€3,529

Nil

Nil

Nil

Minister of State Dick Roche

Item

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007 (up to end of Sept)

Mileage

€19,956

€14,841

Nil

Nil

Nil

Subsistence

€221

Nil

Nil

Nil

Nil

Official Entertainment

Nil

€197

Nil

Nil

Nil

Minister of State and Chief Whip Tom Kitt

Item

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007 (up to end of Sept)

Subsistence

Nil

Nil

€1,305

€1,272

€699

Minister of State Noel Treacy

Item

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007 (up to end of Sept)

Subsistence

Nil

Nil

€650

€196

Nil

Legal Costs.

Michael Creed

Ceist:

144 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the role of his Department in a legal case (details supplied); if the State is now the defacto owner of property referred to therein; the costs involved in this legal case; if the State will pursue other parties in respect of costs involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21941/07]

All legal matters relating to the State Property Act, 1954 are dealt with by the Office of the Chief State Solicitor on my behalf.

Between 1986, when the company in question (which owns the property) was struck off the Register of Companies for not submitting annual returns to the Companies Registration Office, and 2006, the property vested in the Minister for Finance under the State Property Act, 1954. In 2006, the company was restored to the Register, on foot of an application by the person residing on the property to the High Court. The property reverted to the company. There are a number of motions pending in the Courts, both from a third party and the Chief State Solicitor's Office — the motion from the latter seeks to remove the State from the proceedings. No determination as to costs has been made as the first of the motions is due to be heard on 8 October 2007. A decision on the question of the State's pursuing other parties for costs will await the outcome of the Courts' deliberations on the motions before them.

Tax Code.

Ulick Burke

Ceist:

145 Deputy Ulick Burke asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance his plans to request the Revenue Commissioners to discontinue its practice of imposing penalties on deceased tax payers families as it is considered to be contrary to Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21963/07]

Section 1060(1) of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 provides that where a deceased has incurred a penalty, "any proceedings under the Tax Acts which have been or could have been commenced against that person may be continued or commenced against his or her executor or administrator, as the case may be, and any penalty awarded in proceedings so continued or commenced shall be a debt due from and payable out of his or her estate". Accordingly, penalties are imposed on the personal representatives of a deceased person and are payable out of the estate. Such penalties are not imposed on the family or heirs of the deceased. The implications for such provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights, which was incorporated into Irish law by The European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003, are kept under review.

Ministerial Expenses.

Leo Varadkar

Ceist:

146 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the amount of money paid in expenses to each Minister of State in his Government Department; the headings under which they were paid for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22010/07]

The Minister of State at the Department of Finance with special responsibility for the Office of Public Works has received a total of €528.71 in expenses, broken down as follows:

20/06/07 to 1/10/07

Foreign Travel

378.71

Miscellaneous

150.00

The following expenses were paid to the Minister of State at the OPW for the period 19/06/02 to 19/06/07 under the following headings and do not include possible travel and subsistence payments made in respect of foreign travel:

Year

Item

2007

Home Travel

19,749.49

Miscellaneous

1,185.92

2006

Home Travel

42,809.96

Miscellaneous

640.00

2005

Home Travel

30,825.97

2004

Home Travel

34,917.29

2003

Home Travel

35,259.57

Miscellaneous

727.19

2002

Home Travel

14,523.04

Miscellaneous

1,909.59

In addition to the sums paid to the Minister of State from the OPW vote, some €2,300 was paid from The Office of the Minister for Finance in expenses for the period 01/01/2002 to 01/10/07.

Year

Item

2007

EU Travel

100.00

2006

EU Travel

200.00

Home Travel

120.00

2005

EU Travel

400.00

2004

EU Travel

975.00

2003

EU Travel

545.00

2002

EU Travel

600.00

Site Acquisitions.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

147 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance further to Parliamentary Question No. 237 of 26 September 2007, if payment has been made to the landowners; the amount paid; the amount outstanding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22032/07]

The Chief State Solicitor continues to await closing documents from the Vendors Solicitor. Until the sale has been finalised it would be inappropriate to discuss the exact financial details of this transaction. I can confirm however the purchase monies have been forwarded to the Vendors Solicitor in accordance with Law Society practice and is held in trust until all closing requirements are satisfied.

Tax Code.

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

148 Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if further to Parliamentary Question No. 167 of 26 June 2007, it remains his intention to introduce changes to the current VRT system to take account of environmental issues from a target date of 1 January 2008; the notice period of any changes to VRT rates he proposes to give to members of the public and the motor trade in the context of their purchasing and ordering decisions for new vehicles arriving in 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22061/07]

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

149 Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he will continue the current VRT rebate applying to cars that adopt hybrid technology following the expiration of the relief at the end of December 2007; when he will be making clear his intentions in relation to the extension or expiration of the relief; if his attention has been drawn to the potential impact of uncertainty about the availability of the relief on consumers in the context of ordering and purchasing new hybrid vehicles for delivery in 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22062/07]

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

150 Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance why he has not announced details of changes to the current VRT system in the context of his commitments in Budget 2007 and in reply to parliamentary questions, that the new system of VRT rates would apply from 1 January 2008; if his attention has been drawn to the difficulties presented to both the motor trade and purchasers of new cars in the context of 2008 sales arising from the uncertainty about the applicable VRT rates; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22063/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 148 to 150, inclusive, together.

In Budget 2007, I announced that it was planned to introduce changes to the current VRT system to take greater account of environmental issues, and in particular Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions, with a target date of 1 January 2008. The Programme for Government re-affirms the commitment to introduce measures to further weight VRT in favour of cars with lower emissions.

A public consultation in this regard has taken place. Work on the matter is ongoing and a range of possible options are being considered. As regards the timing of when the changes in the VRT are implemented, it is desirable that members of the public be given reasonable notice of any changes being introduced. Therefore it is proposed to provide for changes to the VRT system in the 2008 Finance Bill,with an implementation date of around mid 2008.

The appropriate treatment of hybrids and flexible fuel cars will be taken into account in any future changes to the current VRT system. In the meantime, relief for hybrids and flexible fuel cars will continue.

Tax Yield.

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

151 Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the amount of VRT that was recovered by the Exchequer in respect of the sale of motor vehicles for each month in 2007; the proportion of vehicle sales that occurred in the first quarter of 2007 as against the rest of the year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22064/07]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that approximately 58% of net registrations of new cars for VRT to date in 2007 (end August) took place in the first quarter of the year. The number of net registrations of new cars for VRT in 2007 to date represents an increase of over 5 per cent compared to the same period in 2006.

The table below provides information regarding the number of net registrations of cars for VRT and the amount of VRT collected in each month in 2007 to date.

Month

New Net Registrations

VRT (€’000’s)

Used Net Registrations

VRT (€’000’s)

Total Net Registrations

Total VRT (€’000’s)

Jan.

45,071

324,715

4,922

14,678

49,993

339,393

Feb.

25,966

178,477

4,527

13,687

30,493

192,164

March

27,385

182,889

4,679

14,537

32,064

197,426

April

16,409

120,075

4,682

14,114

21,091

134,189

May

19,938

142,512

5,256

16,790

25,194

159,302

June

14,796

107,049

4,699

15,391

19,495

122,440

July

12,631

87,771

4,594

15,069

17,225

102,840

August

8,463

61,231

4,616

15,295

13,079

76,526

TOTAL

170,659

1,204,719

37,975

119,561

208,634

1,324,280

Motor Fuels.

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

152 Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if, in respect of the recent announcement of a procurement competition for new Ministerial cars by the Government Supplies Agency, he will indicate the fuel types selected; the proportion of cars that are run on biofuels or hybrid technology; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22067/07]

The Government Supplies Agency (GSA) awarded drawdown contracts in September 2007 to cover the purchase of 18 large executive saloon cars for the Ministerial fleet. This tender competition was for diesel-engined vehicles. Contracts were awarded for the following vehicles:

BMW 525d SE Saloon

Audi A6 3.0 TDI SE

Citroen C6 2.7 Hdi TGV

Volvo S80 D5 SE

All of these cars have the capacity for the inclusion of biodiesel in the fuel mixture. To date there has been one purchase from the above competition — an Audi A6.

Prior to the present competition a total of eight vehicles were purchased since January 2006 under GSA contract for use by Ministers. Of these, 7 were powered by hybrid Petrol/Electric engines (5 Lexus and 2 Prius) and 1 — an Audi A6 — with a traditional petrol engine.

Tax Code.

Tony Gregory

Ceist:

153 Deputy Tony Gregory asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance his views on whether a more appropriate commencement date for the changes in stamp duty which he introduced would be the start of January 2007 and not the more arbitrary end of March 2007; and if he will review this matter in view of the hardship caused to and the inequity imposed on those purchasers of homes in the first three months of 2007. [22096/07]

The Finance (No. 2) Act 2007 introduced an exemption from stamp duty for first-time buyers in accordance with the commitments made in the Programme for Government to bring about immediate change to the stamp duty code for first-time buyers.

This provided that deeds presented by first-time buyers to the Revenue Commissioners on or after 30 April 2007 will be exempt from stamp duty. As a deed must be presented to the Revenue Commissioners within 30 days of execution, the Act was drafted to provide for exemption for deeds executed on or after 31 March 2007.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

154 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance if he will arrange for the tax affairs of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 3 to be regularised as soon as possible; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22111/07]

The Revenue Commissioners have advised me that an amended statement has just issued to the taxpayer for the year 2003 showing a net refund of €748.93 for the four years ended 31 December 2005. A cheque for this amount will issue shortly. Revenue has also written to the taxpayer giving a full breakdown of how the net refund was calculated.

Tax Incentive Schemes.

David Stanton

Ceist:

155 Deputy David Stanton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance further to Parliamentary Question No. 238 of 26 September 2007, the hospitals, nursing homes, maternity homes or other institutions approved by the him under Section 469 of the Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997 which qualify for tax relief in respect of health expenses and which are not located in the State; the date when each institution was approved; the criteria used in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22144/07]

The position is that there are almost 1,500 institutions approved of for the purposes of section 469 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 of which approximately 340 are located outside of the State. A full list of the institutions is available on the Revenue Commissioners' website at www.revenue.ie.

The 1,500 or so institutions have been approved of over the 40 year period since the relief was first introduced in 1967 in accordance with the provisions of the legislation as it has applied over that period. The information requested by the Deputy in relation to institutions outside the State is not readily available and could not be obtained without conducting a protracted investigation of records held by my Department, by the Revenue Commissioners and by the Department of Health and Children.

Disability Payments.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

156 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Health and Children the action she proposes to take to introduce a cost of disability payment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21943/07]

As the Deputy is aware the Department published a Sectoral Plan in 2006 as part of the implementation of Disability Act 2005. The Sectoral Plan establishes a system for the assessment of individual needs for people with a disability.

The Sectoral Plan also identifies key objectives in relation to income support and associated benefits for people with disabilities. This Government is committed to developing income and related supports for people with disabilities in order to ensure that they have adequate, secure and sustainable income. The Government is working towards ensuring that income supports and associated benefits do not create financial barriers to people with disabilities.

My Department is committed to considering the issues around the cost of disability following the development of the needs assessment system provided for in the Disability Act.

Health Services.

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

157 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to a letter sent to pharmacists on 17 September 2007 by the Health Service Executive proposing to reduce the wholesale mark-up on medicines without consultation with the Irish Pharmaceutical Union; if she will intervene to ensure that the concerns of pharmacists are addressed; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22210/07]

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

158 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will support requests (details supplied). [22168/07]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

183 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children the extent of the discussions she, her Department or the CEO of the Health Service Executive have had with front line staff such as general practitioners, pharmacists, consultants or health service or hospital administrators prior to the recent announcement in respect of the new proposals in regard to the purchase and dispensing of drugs; the extent to which wholesalers or retailers have had an input in such discussions; the degree to which the service in terms of scale or quality to the customer is expected to be affected; the net benefit in terms of costs to such parties; if the hours or quality of services are expected to be affected; the extent of same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22135/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 157, 158 and 183 together.

My Department and the HSE have been reviewing the pharmaceutical supply chain, with a view to seeking value for money in the State's drugs bill in order to better fund existing and innovative therapies without compromising continuity of supply or patient safety. An HSE-led negotiating team, including officials from my Department, engaged with the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association (IPHA) and the Association of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers of Ireland (APMI), representing the proprietary and generic supplier representative bodies, and completed new agreements with these bodies in mid-2006. These agreements are in place.

As wholesale margins are not addressed in the new IPHA and APMI Agreements, it was intended to negotiate direct formal arrangements with the wholesale sector. Following completion of the manufacturer agreements and in line with the process agreed by the Cabinet Committee on Health, the negotiating team entered talks with the wholesaler representative body, the Pharmaceutical Distributor's Federation (PDF).

Early in discussions, PDF refused to negotiate a new margin for community supply, based on its own legal advice that this was a contractual matter between individual wholesalers and retailers. Subsequent legal advice to the HSE, confirmed by legal advice to my Department, indicated that, under section 4 of the 2002 Competition Act, PDF as an association of undertakings may not collectively negotiate fees, prices or margins on behalf of its members. Given the fact that the Irish Pharmaceutical Union is also an association of undertakings, it is not possible for the State to negotiate with PDF or the IPU on fees or margins as such negotiations would place these bodies at risk of prosecution.

In light of the legal position arising from the wholesaler legal advice, the negotiating team re-considered how best to address the review of pharmaceutical supply. Based on the legal advice, a consultation process accompanied by independent economic analysis was considered the most appropriate means to allow for the determination of new reimbursement arrangements. The consultation process involved direct discussion with wholesaler companies and a call for public submissions, published on 20th December 2006, in response to which a total of 161 submissions (including 143 from community pharmacy contractors) were received.

Following the completion of public consultation, and informed by independent economic analysis, new reimbursement arrangements were announced by the HSE on 17th September 2007. In its examination of the issues involved, the negotiating team considered a reimbursement level that reflects the market value of pharmaceutical wholesale services, and security and continuity of supply at current levels to patients. The evidence on which the decision is based, following examination of the issues, direct consultation and independent economic analysis, all indicates that the State is currently paying a premium for the services in question. It is possible and necessary for revised arrangements to be put in place without a substantial impact on the delivery of such services.

Information available to the negotiating team indicates that small and rural pharmacies typically receive discounts of 2-3% on the existing wholesale margin, while larger urban pharmacies and chains typically receive discounts of up to 12%. Therefore, smaller and rural pharmacies would be proportionately less affected by the revised arrangements.

In the light of the legal advice received, and following consultation with the IPU, a separate procedure was also agreed to examine available options for advancing contractual negotiations in compliance with Irish and EU competition law. This process is being chaired by Mr Bill Shipsey, SC. This process is continuing.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

159 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Health and Children the status of an application for a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21940/07]

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

Health Service Staff.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

160 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Health and Children when the post of occupational guidance counsellor will be put in place in a school (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21945/07]

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

The 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.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Ulick Burke

Ceist:

161 Deputy Ulick Burke asked the Minister for Health and Children the additional funding she is providing to University College Hospital, Galway following her announcement of her change in policy dealing with breast cancer; the number of new specialist staff she is providing to service the increased work load; the way she reconciles this new recruitment need with her announced embargo on the creation of new posts; if she envisages an increased waiting time for treatment of patients referred to UCHG; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21964/07]

University College Hospital Galway is one of the eight cancer centres designated by the Health Service Executive last week. The decisions of the HSE in relation to four managed cancer control networks and eight cancer centres will be implemented on a managed and phased basis. The HSE plans to have completed 80-90% of the transition of services to the cancer centres by the end of 2009. Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services is a matter for the Health Service Executive 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 questions raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have these matters investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Services.

Ulick Burke

Ceist:

162 Deputy Ulick Burke asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress made following her visit to St Brendan’s Hospital, Loughrea, in the construction and provision of the new 40 bed unit at the hospital in view of the need for long stay beds for elderly in the area and the constant reduction in the bed capacity at the hospital over the past six years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21965/07]

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

Ministerial Expenses.

Leo Varadkar

Ceist:

163 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Health and Children the amount of money paid in expenses to each Minister of State in her Government Department; the headings under which they were paid for each of the past five years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22012/07]

The amount paid in expenses to each Minister of State at my Department for the period 1st January 2003 to 30th September 2007 is set out in the table below.

Minister of State

Unvouched Expenses

Official Entertainment

Travel & Subsistence

Mary Hanafin T.D.

0

0

76

Dr Tom Moffat T.D.

0

0

136

Ivor Callely T.D.

22,312

0

72,939

Brian Lenihan T.D.

55,240

0

88,658

Sean Power T.D.

32,928

604

126,761

Tim O’Malley T.D.

55,240

0

149,035

Dr Jimmy Devins T.D.

1,701

0

175

Pat ‘The Cope’ Gallagher T.D.

2,096

0

194

Maire Hoctor T.D.

1,701

0

0

Brendan Smith T.D.

2,400

0

0

Health Services.

Chris Andrews

Ceist:

164 Deputy Chris Andrews asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason persons (details supplied) in Dublin 4 are having to pay for both taxi and an escort; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22022/07]

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services is a matter for the Health Service Executive 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.

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

165 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason some children attending a school (details supplied) in County Galway are unable to access dental care at the Tuam Health Centre; if her attention has been drawn to the long delays in getting examinations and subsequent treatments carried out; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22029/07]

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

Medical Cards.

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

166 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Health and Children the position regarding a medical card appeal in the name of a person (details supplied) in County Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22030/07]

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

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

As the Health Service Executive has the operational and funding responsibility for these benefits, it is the appropriate body to consider the particular case raised by the Deputy. My Department has therefore requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to address this matter and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Charges.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

167 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Health and Children the annual amount of hospital fees collected and the corresponding amount which remains uncollected; the breakdown of the reasons for and value of uncollected fees; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22031/07]

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.

Compensation Schemes.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

168 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Health and Children further to Parliamentary Question No. 424 of 26 September 2007, when she expects to receive the final report of the Vaccine Damage Group; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22033/07]

The Group is continuing with it's consideration of this matter, and is consulting with a number of representative bodies and individuals, and I look forward to receiving their final recommendations when their work is complete.

Hospitals Building Programme.

Frank Feighan

Ceist:

169 Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress on the community hospital, Ballinamore, County Leitrim (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22048/07]

I have been advised that the Health Service Executive (HSE) recently issued a reply to the Deputy in relation to Question No. 259 of the 26th June 2007.

Health Services.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

170 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will instruct the Health Service Executive to immediately provide home help to a person (details supplied) in County Mayo to enable them to continue living at home in view of the fact that the person is in their seventies, was recently discharged from hospital and lives alone. [22049/07]

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

Mental Health Services.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

171 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Health and Children if moneys from the sale of St. Loman’s Hospital will be used for the erection of the new mental health centre in Ballyfermot, Dublin 10; and the amount of same. [22059/07]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

172 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Health and Children if the new mental health centre in Ballyfermot, Dublin 10 will be on the site of the existing one; and the timeframe involved. [22060/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 171 and 172 together.

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services was assigned to the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004 and funding for all health services has been provided as part of its overall vote. The Executive, therefore, is the appropriate body to consider the particular case raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Hospital Services.

Pádraic McCormack

Ceist:

173 Deputy Pádraic McCormack asked the Minister for Health and Children the steps she will take to ensure the establishment of a warfarin clinic at University College Hospital Galway in view of the fact that this is the centre of highest population in the western region; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22068/07]

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.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

174 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children her plans with regard to the breast care unit in Sligo General Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22070/07]

The HSE has designated four managed cancer control networks (coterminous with the four HSE administrative regions) and eight cancer centres nationally. The two designated cancer centres in the HSE Western Region are University College Hospital Galway and Limerick Regional Hospital.

I recently approved National Quality Assurance Standards for Symptomatic Breast Disease Services under the Health Act 2007. Arising from the designation of cancer centres and in order to comply with the Standards, the Executive has directed thirteen hospitals, with low case volumes (less than twenty procedures per year) to cease breast cancer services immediately, to be followed by further staged reductions in the number of hospitals providing breast cancer services from twenty-two to the eight cancer centres. A number of the thirteen hospitals have in practice already discontinued symptomatic breast services. The National Hospitals Office has already planned the redirection of this symptomatic caseload. Additional groups of hospitals, including Sligo General Hospital will be similarly directed, in line with the further development of quality assured capacity in the eight designated centres.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

175 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children her plans with regard to the breast care unit in Letterkenny General Hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22072/07]

The HSE has designated four managed cancer control networks (coterminous with the four HSE administrative regions) and eight cancer centres nationally. The two designated cancer centres in the HSE Western Region are University College Hospital Galway and Limerick Regional Hospital.

However, it is fully recognised that there are particular and unique geographical circumstances applying to Donegal. This is reflected in North-South co-operation in the provision of radiation oncology to patients from Donegal at Belfast City Hospital. On a sole exception basis, the Managed Cancer Control Network in the West will therefore be permitted to enter into outreach service delivery in Letterkenny as an additional activity. This exception is subject to quality assurance criteria and also to the proviso that the potential to meet the needs of cancer patients in Donegal through North-South initiatives, such as the Belfast radiation oncology service must be optimised and fully facilitated.

The HSE has decided that breast services at Letterkenny General Hospital should be delivered as part of the services at University College Hospital Galway. A breast service clinical network is currently operating between Letterkenny and Galway. The service includes weekly meetings of combined multi-disciplinary teams, facilitated by telemedicine.

Health Services.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

176 Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Health and Children the progress to date in County Louth in providing services to people with cystic fibrosis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22073/07]

Operational responsibility for the management and delivery of health and personal social services is a matter for the Health Service Executive 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.

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

177 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Health and Children if the Health Service Executive west intends to close the health centre in Aughrim, County Galway; if her attention has been drawn to the importance of this centre to the local community; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22074/07]

The Primary Care Strategy aims to increase health service capacity through the development of services in the community to give people direct access to integrated multi-disciplinary teams of occupational therapists, general practitioners, nurses, home helps, physiotherapists and others.

It has been estimated that up to 95% of people's health and social services needs can be properly met within a primary care setting and the establishment of new Primary Care Teams can contribute greatly to enhancing community based health services.

The provision of the appropriate infrastructure to facilitate the delivery of primary care services is being considered by the HSE, having regard to a number of factors. These include the type and configuration of the services involved, the mixed public/private nature of our health system, the suitability of existing infrastructure and the capital requirements of the health services generally over the coming years.

As the Health Service Executive has the operational and funding responsibility for Primary Care services, it is the appropriate body to consider the particular matter raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Nursing Homes Repayment Scheme.

Frank Feighan

Ceist:

178 Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for Health and Children when it is envisaged that eligible patients entitled to refund as a result of illegal nursing home charges will have their claims settled; when relatives of deceased patients who were illegally charged nursing home fees will receive their refund; if the Health Service Executive retain interest of all repayments; the rate in relation to same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22077/07]

The Health Service Executive (HSE) has responsibility for administering the health repayment scheme in conjunction with the appointed scheme administrator KPMG/McCann Fitzgerald.

The scheme is progressing as speedily as possible and every effort is being made to complete repayments. The HSE has indicated that the delays in making repayments under the scheme have been due to legal and technical issues. Firstly, over 13,400 estates who lodged claims to date had not extracted a grant of representation in respect of the estate of the deceased patient. In these instances the person entitled to extract the grant of representation has to be identified before an application can be processed and to date over 6,500 certificates of entitlement permitting individuals to apply for a repayment have issued.

Secondly, there has been a high incidence of claimants providing insufficient information and these claims have taken longer to process as the scheme administrator must be provided with certain information in order to ensure that the correct person and correct amount is repaid.

Thirdly, it has been necessary for the scheme administrator to visit over 330 HSE facilities to scan records which form the basis for the calculation of repayments. The format in which this information is held varies widely between institutions and usually includes a mixture of paper files, handwritten files and computer files.

Priority had been given to repaying living applicants as they were most immediately affected but repayments to estates have now commenced. A two year timeframe has been allotted to the Scheme and the HSE and the scheme administrator are confident that all claims submitted by the public, including those submitted by the relatives of deceased patients will be processed within that timeframe.

The total repayment amount will include both the actual charges paid and an amount to take account of inflation by reference to the Consumer Price Index since the time the person was wrongly charged.

Hospital Services.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

179 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children the position in relation to a project (details supplied) in Dublin 9. [22080/07]

Beaumont Hospital is one of the eight cancer centres designated by the Health Service Executive last week. The decisions of the HSE in relation to four managed cancer control networks and eight cancer centres will be implemented on a managed and phased basis. The HSE plans to have completed 80-90% of the transition of services to the cancer centres by the end of 2009. In relation to the provision of radiation oncology services, the contract for the design consultants for the new facilities at Beaumont Hospital has commenced. The evaluation process for procurement of the supply contract is also under way and a technical subgroup is preparing the equipping specification for the phase 1 developments.

Health Services.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

180 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if a pharmacy (details supplied) in Dublin 3 will be supported. [22081/07]

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

Registration of Dental Nurses.

David Stanton

Ceist:

181 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Health and Children her plans to establish a statutory register for dental nurses; if so, the details; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22109/07]

The Dental Council is the statutory body responsible for the registration of dentists. Under Section 53 of the Dentists Act, 1985, the Council may establish schemes for the recognition of grades of auxiliary dental workers with the consent of the Minister for Health and Children.

The grade of dental nurse was created in 2001. The Council is responsible for maintaining the register of dental nurses and registration is voluntary. It would be a matter for the Council to submit an amendment to the dental nurse scheme if they consider it necessary.

On the 25th September last, I announced the research and development of a new National Oral Health Policy. This new oral health strategy will be undertaken by my Department in conjunction with the HSE. The development of the strategy will allow a critical examination of the many challenges and issues currently facing the dental sector in Ireland, including the provision of a revised regulatory regime culminating in a new Dentists Act. It is expected that the new National Oral Health Policy report will be available in Summer 2008.

Health Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

182 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children her plans to extend or upgrade the scale of services available at the various health centres throughout County Kildare; her intended plan for the provision of extra accommodation or services; the degree of services available; her proposals for enhancement; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22134/07]

The Primary Care Strategy aims to increase health service capacity through the development of services in the community to give people direct access to integrated multidisciplinary teams of occupational therapists, general practitioners, nurses, home helps, physiotherapists and others.

It has been estimated that up to 95% of people's health and social services needs can be properly met within a primary care setting and the establishment of new Primary Care Teams can contribute greatly to enhancing community based health services.

The provision of the appropriate infrastructure to facilitate the delivery of primary care services is being considered by the HSE, having regard to a number of factors. These include the type and configuration of the services involved, the mixed public/private nature of our health system, the suitability of existing infrastructure and the capital requirements of the health services generally over the coming years.

As the Health Service Executive has the operational and funding responsibility for Primary Care services, it is the appropriate body to consider the particular matter raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Question No. 183 answered with QuestionNo. 157.

Ministerial Expenses.

Leo Varadkar

Ceist:

184 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine the amount of money paid in expenses to each Minister of State in his Government Department; the headings under which they were paid for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22016/07]

The Department of Transport paid the following expenses over the past five years to each Minister of State:

Mr Jim McDaid, T.D.

Year

Mileage

Foreign Travel

Home Travel

Official Entertainment

2003

29,171

3,102

248

0

2004

18,430

1,300

0

252

Mr Ivor Callely, T.D.

Year

Mileage

Foreign Travel

Home Travel

Official Entertainment

2004

12,753

243

0

2005

34,430

1,221

6,904

Mr Pat ‘The Cope' Gallagher, T.D.

Year

Mileage

Foreign Travel

Home Travel

Official Entertainment

2006

32,492

910

14,130

534

2007

11,260

0

3,268

793

In addition, monthly fixed payments of 1,014 euro, which are paid to every Minister of State, were also made.

School Transport.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

185 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine his plans to extend the school bus system to urban areas in an effort to reduce urban congestion; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22051/07]

The question of extending the school bus system to urban areas is but one measure to be considered in moving to more sustainable travel and transport in Ireland.

Commuting by private car is growing in Ireland and our economic success and growing population has contributed to the increase in transport demand. The Transport 21 investment programme is providing significant public transport benefits and it also includes proposals to manage travel demand.

To complement the investment in Transport 21, I am also committed to delivering a Sustainable Travel and Transport Action Plan which will consider all policies impacting on travel demand.

One such area relates to school travel. Figures from the 2006 Census indicates that the percentage of primary schoolchildren being driven to school by car has risen to 55% in 2006 compared to 27.7% in 1991. My aim is to address this pattern of travel along with others in the context of the proposed Action Plan.

I intend publishing the Plan in 2008 after a full public consultation process. The process will inform the precise measures to be adopted in meeting the challenge of managing our economic success so that, in so far as transport is concerned, the citizen's quality of life and the environment can also benefit.

Light Rail Project.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

186 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine the reason for the ongoing delays in the commencement of the LUAS line to join the two existing lines; if he will intervene to ensure a speedy decision on the precise route; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22052/07]

The Board of the RPA decided earlier this year on a preferred route option for the cross-city Luas line. Following extensive consultation with key stakeholders and the public, the RPA are now planning detailed design work on the project based on this option. Dublin City Council are undertaking a traffic modelling exercise as part of their examination of revised traffic management arrangements in the city, which will be required not only for the delivery of the cross-city Luas line but also Metro North.

In this context, the RPA is also considering ways of streamlining and combining works on the cross-city Luas Line and the construction of Metro North in order to minimise disruption to the City Centre.

Following completion of design work, consideration of combining work on both projects, and subject to a satisfactory outcome to the city centre traffic management planning work, the RPA will submit a Railway Order application to An Bord Pleanála. The construction timescale will be dependent on the outcome of this statutory approval process.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

187 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine if the feasibility study for the Rathfarnham LUAS which was promised for commencement in April 2007 is complete; the results of the feasibility study; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22053/07]

Transport 21 includes funding for feasibility studies on those elements of the strategy "A Platform for Change" which are not included in Transport 21. Work is currently under way on the feasibility study for the Rathfarnham Luas and I understand from the RPA that this study will take a number of months to complete.

While Transport 21 involves a very large commitment of financial resources, those resources are also finite and it has therefore been necessary to prioritise the investments to be made over the period of the programme up to 2015. There is no financial provision in Transport 21 for the construction of a Luas line to serve the Rathfarnham area.

Company Takeovers.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

188 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine his views on whether the State shareholding in Aer Lingus can prevent a takeover by airlines other than one seen as the main competitor by the European Commission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22054/07]

Mergers and takeovers are subject to regulatory constraints that are intended to ensure that competition is not reduced to the detriment of consumers. In cases where the turnover of the combined businesses would exceed specified thresholds the proposed merger must be notified to the European Commission for consideration in accordance with the EC Merger Regulation (Council Regulation No. 139/2004 on the control of concentrations between undertakings). Proposed mergers that do not exceed the prescribed thresholds a may be reviewed by national competition authorities. It follows that it is not only a proposed merger of principal competitors that may lead to consequences under applicable regulatory requirements although that is the instance that is likely to give rise to the most significant competition issues.

Apart from the requirement to obtain regulatory clearance, any entity seeking to effect a takeover of Aer Lingus would have to acquire over 50% of the shares. Where the State's shareholding of 25.4% is not available for purchase, this raises the significant practical difficulty of acquiring over two-thirds of the remaining shares in the Company. The task becomes more difficult and potentially impossible if other significant shareholders declare an unwillingness to sell.

A further consideration for any prospective acquiring entity is that even if it were possible to purchase a majority share but without the possibility of 100% of the shares being acquired, Aer Lingus would have to continue to operate on an independent financial basis and the rights of remaining minority shareholders would have to be respected. The acquiring entity could not integrate the Aer Lingus business operationally with another business nor extract its assets including cash. In effect therefore, the State's retained shareholding of 25.4% of Aer Lingus provides a significant disincentive to hostile takeover attempts.

Aviation Policy.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

189 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine his views on whether an aviation policy for Ireland must encourage attracting a range of airlines rather than continued dependence on one or two providers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22055/07]

The Government's aviation strategy is to promote the development of as wide a range as possible of competitive international air services to and from Ireland to underpin our economic growth and competitiveness. We need to have regular, safe, cost-effective and competitive air services linking the country to key business and tourism markets around the world. To this end, within the European Union, Ireland has consistently supported market liberalisation measures, which have served as the platform for the rapid expansion of aviation generally. We have also promoted liberalisation on a wider basis most recently in pressing for the conclusion of the EU-US Open Skies agreement and in concluding a more liberal agreement on a bilateral basis with Canada.

I should add that our approach to the encouragement of air services is complemented by our policy on the development of airport infrastructure within the country. The main objective is to ensure that the three State Airports have sufficient capacity to respond to the growth opportunities of a competitive airline sector and to provide vital international access. In addition the six regional airports have a key role to play in promoting regional development.

Air Services.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

190 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine the progress made in attracting alternative airlines to fly the Shannon to Heathrow route or to fly Shannon to other European hubs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22056/07]

The business of attracting alternative airlines to fly the Shannon to Heathrow route or to fly to other European hubs is primarily a matter for the Shannon Airport Authority. Since the announcement by Aer Lingus of its decision to withdraw from the Shannon Heathrow route the Shannon Airport Authority has been actively engaging with airlines with a view to securing new services that would redress the reduction in connectivity that will follow from withdrawal of the Aer Lingus service. With a view to promoting the development of new services the airport has recently published a European Hub Airport Incentive Scheme for services to come into operation in 2008.

The Airport Authority has specifically identified airline services to the key European Hub airports of London-Heathrow (LHR), Paris (CDG), Amsterdam (AMS) and Frankfurt Main (FRA) as being of key strategic importance to its ongoing development. The Scheme also provides for significant discounts in airport charges and for the possibility of marketing support to be provided by Shannon Airport for new services.

Road Network.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

191 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport and the Marine the position in relation to planning for the outer ring road; the role envisaged for such a motorway and its priority vis-a-vis the construction of the eastern bypass to complete the M50 circle around Dublin; his views on both of these routes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22057/07]

The two major road proposals referred to by the Deputy were included in the launch of Transport 21 as subjects for further feasibility study. My Department has received a report from the National Roads Authority in respect of the outer orbital route and is expecting a report on the Eastern Bypass in the near future. I will study these reports and draw them to the attention of my cabinet colleagues in due course.

Ministerial Expenses.

Leo Varadkar

Ceist:

192 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the amount of money paid in expenses to each Minister of State in his Government Department; the headings under which they were paid for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22011/07]

Listed below are the details of the monies paid in expenses to each of the Ministers of State at my Department over the past five years.

Minister of State, Conor Lenihan T.D.

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

Mileage

21,677

16,846

8,177

Subsistence

237

6,910

5,117

903

Total

237

28,587

21,963

9,080

Minister of State, Tom Kitt T.D.

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

Mileage

9,605

11,445

25,159

Subsistence

1,949

8,329

6,790

Total

11,554

19,774

31,949

Minister of State, Michael Kitt T.D.

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

Mileage

7,900

Subsistence

433

Total

8,333

Minister of State,Noel Treacy T.D.

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

Mileage

10,146

21,277

43,173

27,958

Subsistence

859

4,164

3,319

1,311

Other

11,005

25,441

46,492

29,269

Minister of State, Dick Roche T.D.

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

Mileage *

3,884

Subsistence

1,330

11,276

8,539

194

Total

1,330

11,276

8,539

4,078

* Mileage expenses incurred by MOS Roche from 2002 — 2004 were a charge on the Department of the Taoiseach.

Leo Varadkar

Ceist:

193 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the amount of money paid in expenses to each Minister of State in his Government Department; the headings under which they were paid for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22008/07]

Due to the fact that my Department changed its financial management system within the last five years, information on expenses paid prior to 2004 is archived. For this reason, it has not been possible, in the time available, for my officials to collate all of the information sought by the Deputy. However, I can assure the Deputy that the details are available and that my officials are continuing to assemble the data from the archived system. I will write to the Deputy shortly with the full information he has requested.

EU Directives.

Joe Costello

Ceist:

194 Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if he will press the Council of Ministers to amend the EU Toy Safety Directive, 1988; if he will introduce domestic legislation to ensure that the manufacturers and importers of children’s toys do not put unsafe products on the market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22139/07]

The European Communities (Safety of Toys) Regulations (S.I. No. 32 of 1990), which transposed Council Directive 88/378/EEC concerning the safety of toys, govern the marketing, classification and labelling of toys placed on the Irish market. These Regulations are enforced by the National Consumer Agency (NCA). Under these Regulations a toy may not be placed on the market unless it is safe, appropriately labelled and compliant with the essential safety requirements of the Directive. I understand that the European Commission intends to present a proposal for a revision of the Toy Safety Directive by the end of this year with a view to enhancing safety requirements for toys and improving the efficiency and enforcement of the Directive by national market surveillance authorities.

Ministerial Expenses.

Leo Varadkar

Ceist:

195 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the amount of money paid in expenses to each Minister of State in his Government Department; the headings under which they were paid for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22003/07]

There has been no Minister of State appointed to my Department in the past five years.

Leo Varadkar

Ceist:

196 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the amount of money paid in expenses to each Minister of State in his Government Department; the headings under which they were paid for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22014/07]

There has been no Minister of State formally assigned to my Department during the period in question. However, Minister of State Ms. Máire Hoctor, who is Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, with special responsibility for older people, areas of which fall within the remit of my Department. Remuneration is dealt with by the Department of Health and Children.

Leo Varadkar

Ceist:

197 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the amount of money paid in expenses to each Minister of State in his Government Department; the headings under which they were paid for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22005/07]

From June 2002 to June 2007, Mr. Noel Ahern, TD, then Minister of State with special responsibility for Drugs Strategy and Community Affairs, was paid expenses by my Department, all in relation to travel and subsistence, as follows: 2002 — nil; 2003 — €1,267.17; 2004 — nil; 2005 — €360.92; 2006 — €1661.70; 2007 — €12.46. Mr. Pat Carey TD, Minister of State with special responsibility for Drugs Strategy and Community Affairs since June 2007, has been paid a total of €448.13 in expenses to date by my Department, all in refund of telecommunications-related expenditure.

Departmental Investigations.

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

198 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the details of the mismanagement alleged in the running of Waterways Ireland arising out of which damages of €75,000 had to be paid to a former corporate services director who was sacked after lodging complaints regarding such alleged irregularities, malpractices and failures in governance of the organisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22019/07]

As I have previously stated on the record of the House, an independent investigation was undertaken in 2005 into allegations by a senior manager in Waterways Ireland ("the complainant") regarding issues of bullying and harassment and related matters (including allegations concerning some recruitment and promotion practices). My Department and the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in Northern Ireland issued a joint statement on 4 April 2005 regarding the findings of the investigators' report, including actions to be taken arising from it. A copy of the joint statement was previously lodged in the Oireachtas Library and I am arranging for a copy to be forwarded separately to the Deputy.

A substantial number of detailed allegations were made and were thoroughly investigated. The clear outcome of the investigation — as set out in the Departments' statement — was that the bulk of the allegations made by the complainant were not upheld. The agreed actions arising from the report of the investigators, including an action to address their sole recommendation in relation to a full independent review of the practices and policies relating to bullying in Waterways Ireland, have been delivered on by the CEO of Waterways Ireland to the satisfaction of the two Departments.

Waterways Ireland has informed me that, contrary to the reference in the Deputy's Question, the complainant was not sacked. I understand from the Body that, subsequent to the investigation, his secondment to Waterways Ireland came to an end and an offer to him of employment as Director of Corporate Services was withdrawn. He then brought a case to the Industrial Tribunal in Northern Ireland alleging that he had suffered loss arising from the complaints he had raised.

I understand that, prior to the case being heard in recent days, the complainant's legal team sought a settlement from Waterways Ireland and that, following negotiations, a figure of £50,000 STG was agreed in full and final settlement of the tribunal case, without any admission of liability. I am informed that Waterways Ireland's Senior Counsel advised that the settlement was cost effective and represented value for money, having regard, inter alia, to the fact that, had the case proceeded, the costs that would have been incurred by Waterways Ireland in defending it (irrespective of the outcome) would have been substantially higher than any likely settlement figure.

I want to take the opportunity once again to place on the record my support for Waterways Ireland's ongoing work of developing and promoting the inland waterways network on this island. I commend Waterways Ireland's CEO and senior management team for its progressive approach to identifying the issues facing staff in a cross-border context, bringing together existing and new staff from different backgrounds and cultures and putting in place a positive action plan to take the organisation forward.

Grant Payments.

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

199 Deputy Bernard Allen asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the reasons Pobal will only pay grants awarded under DAF in instalments to a group (details supplied); the reason they are not allowed draw down the balance of the DAF grant in full; and the reason the organisation is being subjected to difficult bureaucratic procedures in relation to the grant. [22021/07]

The organisation in question was approved by Government for a capital grant of €90,000 under the Dormant Accounts RAPID Additionality measure in June 2006. My Department engaged Pobal to administer this measure on its behalf. Due to a delay on the part of the organisation concerned in confirming project costs, Pobal visited the organisation in April 2007 to assist them with fulfilling outstanding requirements. Following that visit the group returned a completed contract on 22 June 2007 and an initial payment of €27,000 issued on 6 July 2007. In line with standard procedure with regard to such grants, the payment terms include conditional phased payments of the grant sum. The group subsequently requested a second phase payment on 19 September 2007 to cover certain payments made. In this regard I am advised that Pobal have raised queries with the group in relation to these payments.

I would like to assure the Deputy that I am anxious at all times to ensure that funding drawdown in respect of approved grants under the auspices of my Department is effected in a timely manner, subject to adherence in all cases to agreed financial procedures and guidelines.

Tree Felling.

Terence Flanagan

Ceist:

200 Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if she will provide a full response to questions (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21944/07]

As outlined in a previous reply, testing for fireblight was carried out by my Department in the Fingal area and following positive results for fireblight trees were removed and destroyed. Host trees in the same stand were also removed to prevent further spread of the diseaseThe following trees tested positive for Fireblight in Verbena and Bayside this year.

Location

Tree Species

Date Samples Taken

Bayside Boulevard North

Crataegus monogyna

13-8-2007

Bayside Boulevard North

Sorbus aria

13-8-2007

Bayside Boulevard North

Crataegus monogyna

13-8-2007

Verbena Avenue

Sorbus aria

13-8-2007

Verbena Avenue

Sorbus aria

13-8-2007

Verbena Avenue

Sorbus aria

13-8-2007

Verbena Avenue

Sorbus aria

8-8-2007

Verbena Avenue

Sorbus aria

8-8-2007

Verbena Avenue

Sorbus aucuparia ‘Joseph Rock’

17-8-2007

Bayside Walk

Sorbus aria

23-8-2007

Ministerial Expenses.

Leo Varadkar

Ceist:

201 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the amount of money paid in expenses to each Minister of State in her Government Department; the headings under which they were paid for each of the past five years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22002/07]

The amount paid for travel, subsistence and miscellaneous expenses to each Minister of State in my Department for each of the past five years is set out as follows.

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

Noel Treacy

35,353

30,297

John Brown

8,033

40,547

10,824

Brendan Smith

6,109

30,959

39,791

22,252

Mary Wallace

26,193

36,431

Liam Aylward

38,582

44,064

Animal Welfare.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

202 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the animal welfare available in each county; and the protection in place for animals. [22035/07]

My Department has statutory responsibility for the welfare and protection of farmed animals under the Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes Act 1984, and the European Communities (Protection of Animals Kept for Farming Purposes) Regulations 2006. There is also specific legislation in place in relation to pigs, calves and laying hens. The legislation is enforced in each county by officers based in my Department's District Veterinary Offices. Funding is available to deal with emergency care, feeding, transport etc. of welfare compromised farm animals.

The Farm Animal Welfare Advisory Council which promotes and addresses issues of animal welfare in a practical manner developed an Early Warning Intervention System (EWS) in 2004 to deal with animal welfare cases. This involves my Department, the Irish Farmers' Association and the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals working in unison in providing a framework within which farm animal welfare problems can be identified in each county before they become critical or overwhelming. The new system allows for concerned individuals to approach their local IFA representatives, their local SPCA or my Department in the knowledge that the matter will thereafter be dealt with an effective and sensitive manner.

In addition to the foregoing, my Department makes ex gratia payments annually to organisations based around the country directly involved in the provision of animal care and welfare services, to assist in their on-going work. To date, a total of €7.2m has been paid to such bodies, some €1.24 million of which was paid to organisations in December last to assist them during 2007. A provision of €1.3 million for this purpose is included in my Department’s Estimates for 2007.

Grant Payments.

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

203 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the position in relation to grant applications (details supplied); if approval can be given for this application. [22036/07]

The grant application referred to was submitted under the Forestry Development Call for Proposals 2007. A large number of high quality applications were received under this year's Call. The applications have been examined and final decisions on the projects to be funded will issue this week. Each applicant will be notified in writing of the decision made.

David Stanton

Ceist:

204 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the number of applications received by her Department under the farm improvement scheme; when she expects all of these applications to be fully processed; the number of applications processed to date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22114/07]

3,467 applications for grant-aid have been received under the Farm Improvement Scheme since its introduction on 12 July 2007. To date, 268 approvals have issued to farmers to commence work under the Scheme. As farmers can submit applications prior to the receipt of full and final planning permission, it is not possible to state when approval can issue in all cases.

Departmental Statistics.

Shane McEntee

Ceist:

205 Deputy Shane McEntee asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of national schools by county and the number of second level schools by county. [21942/07]

The information requested by the Deputy in relation to the number of national and post-primary schools per county is as follows.

Table 2.17 — National Schools By County 2006/07

Special Classes in Ordinary Schools

Ordinary Schools

Special Schools

No. Schools

Carlow

6

40

1

Cavan

6

78

1

Clare

17

117

2

Cork City

19

53

8

Cork County

39

298

5

Donegal

13

176

2

Dublin City

81

192

32

Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown

14

59

7

Fingal

31

81

6

Galway City

13

22

4

Galway County

25

211

Kerry

19

140

3

Kildare

22

97

4

Kilkenny

5

76

4

Laois

12

65

2

Leitrim

4

41

Limerick City

14

30

4

Limerick County

15

112

2

Longford

13

40

1

Louth

20

70

3

Mayo

19

176

4

Meath

12

109

2

Monaghan

5

63

1

Offaly

14

68

1

Roscommon

8

93

1

Sligo

9

69

2

South Dublin

45

90

6

Tipperary N.R.

14

74

1

Tipperary S.R.

12

87

3

Waterford City

10

19

2

Waterford County

4

54

1

Westmeath

12

74

3

Wexford

22

103

2

Wicklow

15

83

4

Total

589

3160

124

Table 1 : Number of Schools Providing Second Level (General) Courses 2006/2007

County

Secondary

Vocational

Comprehensive

Community

Total

Carlow

5

5

0

1

11

Cavan

4

5

1

1

11

Clare

8

7

1

2

18

Cork County

30

21

1

7

59

Cork County Borough

18

6

1

3

28

Donegal

4

14

2

6

26

Dublin County Borough

55

22

2

3

82

Dublin Fingal

13

7

0

6

26

Dublin South

21

12

0

8

41

Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown

24

6

1

4

35

Galway County

19

11

1

6

37

Galway County Borough

7

3

0

0

10

Kerry

16

8

1

2

27

Kildare

15

10

0

3

28

Kilkenny

7

7

0

1

15

Laois

5

4

0

2

11

Leitrim

2

5

1

1

9

Limerick County

9

9

1

1

20

Limerick County Borough

11

3

0

1

15

Longford

4

4

0

1

9

Louth

11

5

0

1

17

Mayo

17

8

0

3

28

Meath

6

8

0

4

18

Monaghan

6

6

0

0

12

Offaly

5

5

0

2

12

Roscommon

4

3

0

1

8

Sligo

7

7

0

1

15

Tipperary N.R.

10

6

0

0

16

Tipperary S.R.

9

5

0

1

15

Waterford City

5

3

0

1

9

Waterford County Borough

7

2

0

0

9

Westmeath

10

4

0

1

15

Wexford

11

7

0

2

20

Wicklow

9

10

1

1

21

Total

394

248

14

77

733

Schools Building Projects.

Ulick Burke

Ceist:

206 Deputy Ulick Burke asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress made for the construction of a new primary school at a school (details supplied) in County Galway; the result of the site visitation listed for earlier in 2007; and the time scale for the completion of the project. [21957/07]

The Department has visited this school and following on from this visit, the Patron has confirmed the availability of additional lands for a school building project. This project is being considered in the context of the School Building and Modernisation Programme.

Ulick Burke

Ceist:

207 Deputy Ulick Burke asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress made in the provision of the new second level school to replace a school (details supplied) in County Galway in view of the concessions made by the trustees of the college, by an intake of first year students at the college in 2007; if she has had the proposed sites identified in Kinvara assessed as to their suitability; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [21958/07]

Earlier this year, I announced the provision of a new second level school for the Kinvara area. This decision was and remains predicated on the Mercy Order as Trustees of Seamount College accepting first year students each year until the end of the 2011/2012 school year. The Deputy will appreciate that planning for a new school involves a number of processes which can take some time to complete most notably:

the acquisition of a suitable site,

the design of a building,

the grant of planning permission,

the seeking of tenders and construction.

Many of these factors are outside the direct control of the Department.

At present, the Commission on School Accommodation is continuing its work on the identification of accommodation needs in the South Galway area, including the position relating to provision in Kinvara. Further progression of a new second level school to serve the area will be developed having regard to the factors as set out above.

School Accommodation.

Ulick Burke

Ceist:

208 Deputy Ulick Burke asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will provide funding for the extension to a school (details supplied) in County Galway; and when she envisages work will commence on this project. [21959/07]

My Department has received an application for capital funding from the school in question. This has been assessed and schedules of accommodation to meet the current and long term accommodation needs of the school have been drawn up.

The further progression of this project will be considered in the context of the School Building and Modernisation Programme.

Ministerial Expenses.

Leo Varadkar

Ceist:

209 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Education and Science the amount of money paid in expenses to each Minister of State in her Government Department; the headings under which they were paid for each of the past five years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22007/07]

The information sought by the Deputy is as detailed in the table below.

The only Ministers of State that were paid expenses within the last five years were Minister of State Sile De Valera and Minister of State Sean Haughey.

Sile de Valera

2002

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

Travel

Subs

297.00

1,622.95

602.67

4,594.59

651.97

0.00

Total

297.00

1,622.95

602.67

4,594.59

651.97

0.00

OVERALL TOTAL

7,769.18

College Appointments.

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

210 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Education and Science the details of the perceived irregularities in appointment procedures which are being examined by the Commission for Public Service Appointments at the six third level colleges; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22020/07]

I am aware that it is the policy of Institutes of Technology to conduct recruitment and selection of staff through a transparent competitive process to ensure that the highest quality staff are appointed at all times. In late 2005, the Institute Directors established a group to review procedures and agreed to ask the Public Appointments Service to assist in the project. It was agreed also that a steering group to include representation of the trade unions would be established and this has been done . Six institutes were selected for study on the basis of geographical spread and size etc and, at no stage, were the institutes considered to have perceived irregularities. I am aware that the TUI and the Institutes of Technology have responded to a newspaper article on this issue and that the responses have been published.

Schools Building Projects.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

211 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science her views on whether the promised investment of €4.5 billion in providing new schools and improving existing ones will be sufficient to meet the anticipated demand of 100,000 additional school places; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22037/07]

I am confident that the funding of €4.5 billion to be provided under the new National Development Plan (NDP) for investment in school building infrastructure will be adequate to meet my Department's needs over the lifetime of the Plan. This will be the largest investment programme in schools in the history of the State and will enable my Department to ensure that school places are available where needed as well as continuing to upgrade existing school facilities. This investment will allow my Department to continue the acceleration of the school building programme which commenced during the lifetime of the last NDP when well over €2.6 billion was invested on school development, delivering over 7,800 projects.

The budget for 2007 is the first year of the rollout of the new NDP. This funding will enable my Department to continue to take a proactive approach to the provision of modern school accommodation particularly in developing areas. This year alone around over €540 million will be spent on school building infrastructure with over 1,500 projects on my Department's school building programme. Construction in 2007 alone will deliver over 700 classrooms to provide permanent accommodation for over 17,500 pupils, mainly in developing areas.

Innovations in the delivery of school buildings such as Generic Repeat Designs and the use of the Design and Build model ensure that new school buildings are delivered in the fastest time-frame possible. My Department has also adopted a policy of devolving much greater authority to local school management boards to manage and deliver smaller building projects, thereby freeing my Department to concentrate on the larger scale projects. My Department has also improved forward planning through greater cooperation between the Department of Education and Local Authorities and the publication of 10-year Area Development Plans.

The main focus of the school building programme is to deliver additional capacity in the rapidly developing areas. It is projected that 100,000 additional school places will be required over the next number of years. I am conscious of the need to provide more school places quickly and these are being delivered.

Computerisation Programme.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

212 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science when schools can anticipate funding from the National Development Plan in respect of schools information communications technology in view of the substantial under-investment by her Department in this area for many years; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22038/07]

The ICT in Schools Programme commenced in 1998 and aims to provide all pupils with the opportunity to achieve computer literacy and acquire the necessary skills for participation in the Information Society. There has been significant investment over the period in providing computers to schools, professional development ICT courses for teachers, improving the availability of digital content, integrating ICT into the curriculum and in supporting schools to integrate ICT into their teaching and learning. The recent priorities under the Programme have been the development of schools' internal networking facilities and the provision of broadband connectivity for schools, which my Department has pursued in partnership with the Telecommunications and Internet Federation within IBEC.

There has been considerable progress since the Programme commenced. The number of computers in schools has increased substantially. In this regard, the latest available Census undertaken by the NCTE in 2005, found that at primary level, there was one computer for every 9 children, while at post-primary level, there was one computer for every 7 students. Schools have been grant-aided to develop their internal networking facilities and broadband connectivity has been provided to schools via a National Broadband Network. Over 130,000 training places have been provided for teachers to improve their ICT skills and assist them to integrate ICT into their teaching practice, while ICT has been included within the pre-service training provided by our teaching training providers. Scoilnet has been developed as a comprehensive resource for teachers and students and a range of relevant digital content has been created specifically to complement the curriculum. Schools have been supported to plan for the integration of ICT into their teaching and learning by the National Centre for Technology in Education and the ICT Advisory Service.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment has developed a draft ICT Framework as a practical tool to support teachers in planning and providing opportunities for students to develop their ICT literacy across the curriculum from primary to the end of compulsory education. New syllabi have been developed for the four technology subjects at Leaving Certificate level, in which ICT is a compulsory integral part of both curriculum and assessment. Two of these, Technology and Design and Communications Graphics, which involve the use of Computer Aided Design have now been introduced and will be examined in June 2009. A new Technology Subjects Support Service has been established and schools' have been funded to upgrade their facilities.

The Programme for Government sets out our commitment to implementing a comprehensive Schools' ICT Strategy. This strategy will be underpinned by the investment of €252m in the National Development Plan 2007-2013.

I appointed a Strategy Planning Group to advise me on the prioritisation of measures under the planned investment over the period of the NDP. Among the issues which the new strategy will address are the upgrading and renewal of hardware, the provision of software and digital content for learning, teacher professional development, curriculum development, the maintenance of the national broadband network for schools and technical maintenance and support requirements. I expect to receive the Strategy Planning Group's recommendations shortly.

Communications Masts.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

213 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science her plans to ensure that mobile phone masts are not located in the vicinity of schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22039/07]

The Deputy will be aware that the drafting of Planning and Development Regulations relating to mobile phone masts is a matter for the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The erection of such masts is subject to normal planning regulations which are administered by the relevant Local Authority. I am aware that the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government issued guidelines on electrocommunications Antennae and Support Structures to Planning Authorities in 1996 and that these guidelines are still in place.

In 2005 the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Marine and Natural Resources issued a report titled "Report on non-ionising radiation from mobile phone handsets and masts". On foot of the recommendations of the report that Department established an inter-departmental committee to examine the health effects, if any, of non-ionising radiation. I understand that this committee in their report concluded that no adverse short or long-term health effects have been found from exposure to the radio frequency signals produced by mobile phones and base station transmitters.

School Staffing.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

214 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science if her attention has been drawn to the difficulties experienced by schools in obtaining the services of school secretaries or school caretakers due to the low level of Government funding for these services; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22040/07]

My Department provides funding towards the cost of secretarial and caretaking services in primary schools under two separate schemes. One scheme is the 1978/79 scheme for the employment of full-time secretaries and caretakers in primary schools, under which my Department meets the full cost of salary. This scheme is being phased out as posts become vacant and no new posts are being created. This scheme has been superseded by a more extensive grant scheme now referred to as the Ancillary Services grant.

The Ancillary Services grant scheme is flexible in nature, giving Boards of Management discretion as to the manner in which secretarial services are provided. The grants paid are not directly linked to any objective pay scales. The level and extent of services provided is a matter for the school authorities who, through the discretion afforded by the scheme, apply diverse arrangements for secretarial services as resources permit. As the secretaries and caretakers are employees of individual schools, my Department does not have any role in determining the pay and conditions under which they are engaged. These are matters to be agreed between the staff concerned and the school authorities.

There have been significant improvements in the level of funding provided to primary schools in recent years. Since 1997 the standard rate of the Ancillary Services grant has increased from €38.09 per pupil to €145.50 per pupil at present. The level of capitation grant at primary level has increased from €57.14 to €163.58 per pupil in the same period. The amount of grant paid to an individual school is determined by the enrolment in the school.

The Department is not aware that schools are experiencing difficulties in recruiting ancillary staff under the current arrangements.

This Government has shown a strong commitment to improving primary school funding in recent years and I will continue to prioritise this area in the context of available resources.

In-Service Training.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

215 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science her plans to ensure that all teachers receive access to in-service education in key areas such as child protection, English as an additional language and special education in view of the fact that all teachers have responsibilities in these areas; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22041/07]

I would like to thank the Deputy for the opportunity to outline my Department's proposals in relation to in service training in key areas such as child protection, English as an additional language and special education.

The Child Abuse Prevention Programme (CAPP) and the Social Personal and Health Education (SPHE) support services have responsibility for child protection training at primary and post primary level respectively. My Department has now been able to identify the schools where there is a deficiency in training and the respective support services have been requested to target these schools in their training. In addition to these schools training will also be targeted at new appointees who have responsibility as Designated Liaison Person or Deputy Designated Liaison Person under the Child Protection Guidelines.

The provision of continuous professional development for language support teachers is a key issue for my Department and to this end officials in my Department have prepared a detailed proposal in relation to developing continuous professional development opportunities for teachers to assist them in meeting the needs of newcomer pupils. This proposal is currently under consideration.

In the interim my Department will continue to provide continuous professional development opportunities for language support teachers through Integrate Ireland Language and Training (IILT) and summer/online courses. Details of further supports available to teachers and advice in relation to meeting the needs of newcomer pupils are detailed in the recent Department Circular 0053/2007.

In the area of Special Educational Needs my Department currently funds the provision of a post-graduate Diploma in Special Educational Needs and Learning Support through seven colleges/universities. This is available to teachers at primary and post-primary level. My Department also funds a Graduate Certificate in the Education of Pupils with Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and Masters in Special Educational Needs (MSEN).

In addition, my Department funds an online certificate and Diploma in Special Educational Needs through St Patrick's College in Drumcondra, jointly with the Institute of Child Education and Psychology Europe. My Department also provides summer courses to train teachers in a wide variety of special educational needs. Continuing professional development and support is provided through the Special Education Support Service (SESS). The SESS has provided training for professional development of over 15000 teachers in areas such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Dyslexia and challenging behaviour. They have also provided targeted support for post-primary schools. Funding is also provided through the SESS for online training in Managing Student Behaviour, Inclusion, Dyslexia, Understanding Autism, ADHD, Applied Behaviour Analysis, Gifted and Talented Students and Teaching Troubled Children. These online courses are run by the Institute of Child Education and Psychology Europe. SESS provide a Local Initiatives Scheme which involves provision of professional development and support at individual teacher, school and/or group level, as identified by the individual teacher, school and/or group, across all areas of Special Education. Funding was provided for a range of courses including PECS, TEACCH, Sensory Integration, Asperger's Syndrome, Lámh, Floor Time, and Challenging Behaviour.

The provision of further training opportunities for teachers in the area of special education is also being considered by the Department in the context of the implementation of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs act.

School Accommodation.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

216 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science if the accommodation needs study for post-primary education in the Kilkenny area has been completed; and when its results will be made known to local providers in the area. [22042/07]

The School Planning Section of the Department is currently reviewing the accommodation needs for the foreseeable future for Kilkenny City and its Environs. Local schools will be advised should the outcome identify issues relevant to them.

Languages Programme.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

217 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science when all textbooks relevant to the revised primary curriculum in primary schools will be available in the Irish language for the use of all Gaeltacht schools and Gaelscoileanna; and if she will give an undertaking that in future all companies will be required to publish textbooks simultaneously in both national languages. [22044/07]

Apart from a small number of prescribed texts at post-primary level, mainly in the case of language subjects, decisions on which textbooks/resource materials to use in primary and post-primary schools are taken at school level.

Significant improvements are being made in regard to the provision of suitable high quality textbooks and teaching materials specifically for use in Gaeltacht schools and Gaelscoileanna through the work of an Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta. In 2006, my Department allocated €831,000 to An Chomhairle of which €400,000 was specifically designated for the provision of textbooks and other resources to support teaching and learning.

My Department also provided funding to An Chomhairle in 2006 for the acquisition by An Chomhairle of a Mobile Library to bring the full range of resources for teaching through Irish to all Gaeltacht and all-Irish schools. A full range of teaching resources (1 per subject) is now available for primary Gaeltacht and all-Irish schools.

In addition some €1m per annum is being invested under Scéim na nDearthóiri in a new set of materials for Gaeilge in Gaeltacht and Gaelscoileanna known as Séideán Sí for infant, senior infant, first class, second class and third class pupils. The packs include a teacher's handbook, books, posters, picture cards, compact discs, puppets and card games. This investment will continue until a complete set of resources for the 8 year cycle is available.

An Chomhairle works closely with An Gúm, Scéim na nDearthóirí and other agencies, including publishers, to address the deficit in Irish medium resources and materials. It has published an extensive resource directory on its website www.cogg.ie on materials and resources now available to support the teaching of Irish in the curriculum, and the teaching of other subjects through Irish, across primary and post-primary schools.

In-service Training.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

218 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science when in-service training will be provided for language teachers catering for newcomer children in primary schools. [22045/07]

My Department provides funding to Integrate Ireland Language Training (IILT) to provide Language Support Teachers with in-service training to assist them in meeting the English language needs of their pupils/students. Language assessment kits, based on best international practice are also to be provided to all primary schools during the 2007/08 school year. The kits will enable accurate initial and on-going assessment of language proficiency of newcomer children with a particular focus upon assessing whether language support needs to be provided beyond the current two year limit. My Department has also distributed a resource book ("Up and Away") for English Language Support Teachers to all primary schools which will serve as the basis for induction seminars for newly appointed Language Support Teachers. In addition, NCCA has published intercultural guidelines to support teachers and schools in developing a more inclusive learning environment and in providing students with knowledge and skills they need to participate in a multicultural world. A practical toolkit for schools has been also developed to facilitate capacity building for intercultural issues on a whole-school basis which will be targeted at mainstream classroom teachers. This will be distributed to schools in 2008.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

219 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Education and Science if she is satisfied that the current and projected intake into the colleges of education will be sufficient to enable the Government to meet its published targets of reducing the staffing schedule in primary schools from a general rule of at least one teacher for every 27 pupils in 2007/2008 by one point a year to one for every 24 children by 2010/2011; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22047/07]

I am satisfied that my Department will take the necessary steps to enable the Government to meet its targets in relation to the reduction of the staffing schedule in primary schools. My Department will continue to monitor the situation in the context of the needs of the system generally and in the light of available resources going forward.

Grant Payments.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

220 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will increase the VTOS/Youthreach/STTC/BTEI childcare grant in view of the fact that the maximum grant payable per child under the scheme has not changed since it was introduced in 1998 and the figure that was available nine years ago is now unrealistic in view of the cost of living increases and childcare costs increasing in the intervening periods and that an increase in this grant would help more parents come out of the poverty trap; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22050/07]

Grants towards the cost of childcare are given to VECs, to be used to assist with the provision of childcare support for learners in the Vocational Training Opportunities Scheme, Youthreach, Senior Traveller Training Centres and in the Back to Education Initiative. The aim of this support is to attract people whose attendance is currently prevented by childcare responsibilities to enrol on these programmes. This grant provides for: direct provision of crèche facilities in centres, or in rented premises, including staff, equipment/refurbishment, rental, insurance and other overheads; purchase of places on existing community or commercial crèches. This is subject to payment of a maximum of €63.50 per week per child for a full-day session, with pro-rata adjustments for sessions of lesser duration; payment of childminders, subject to a maximum of €63.50 per child per week for a full session, with pro-rata adjustments for part-time sessions. This is subject to (a) registration where required under the Child Care Act, (b) presentation of invoices on headed paper, and (c) a rolling sample check for tax clearance certificates. The scheme does not provide for payment direct to learners. The Department's grant is intended as a contribution to costs. The provision for this grant in 2007 is €6,350,000.

Schools Recognition.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

221 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Education and Science the status of the application for recognition of a school (details supplied) in County Clare; the reason there has been a delay in issuing a decision in this case; her proposals in regard to this specific application which seeks to address the education rights of some 50 children; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22069/07]

The application for recognition from the school referred to by the Deputy is under active consideration within my Department. When a decision has been made the relevant authority will be informed.

School Transport.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

222 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science if school transport will be provided for a number of school children (details supplied) in County Leitrim. [22098/07]

In general, to be eligible for school transport pupils must reside 3.2 kilometres or more from, and be attending, their nearest primary school. My Department's School Transport Section has forwarded the list of pupils, supplied by the Deputy, to Bus Éireann in order to determine their eligibility for school transport. My Department would advise the families concerned to liaise with the local Bus Éireann office regarding the outcome of their applications.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

223 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Education and Science if transport will be provided for a student (details supplied) in County Mayo. [22112/07]

Under the terms of the Primary School Transport Scheme, only eligible children qualify for free transport. In order to be eligible, children must live at least 3.2 kilometres from, and be attending their nearest national school. School transport for children with special educational needs is generally provided to the school nearest to the pupil's residence in which resources can or may have been allocated to support the child's educational needs. In view of the information supplied by the Deputy, my Department would advise the parents of the pupil concerned to liaise, in the first instance, with the local Special Education Needs Organiser. The question of school transport can then be considered.

Schools Building Projects.

David Stanton

Ceist:

224 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Education and Science further to Parliamentary Question No. 1402 of 25 January 2006, if progress has been made in the provision of a new school building to accommodate the pupils and staff of a school (details supplied) in County Cork; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22113/07]

This project which has been approved to start architectural planning is being considered in the context of the School Building and Modernisation Programme.

Special Educational Needs.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

225 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the action she has taken in 2007 to improve the facilities, support and back-up services available to parents of children with autism with particular reference to the requirement of a co-ordinated one stop shop service to assist parents in identifying the full scale of requirements and making the necessary provisions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22117/07]

As I advised the Deputy recently, my Department provides funding for the education of children with autism through the primary and post-primary school system, rather than any specific support services being provided for parents. Parents may contact their local Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO) directly to discuss their child's special educational needs using the contact details available on www.ncse.ie. The Deputy is aware that the National Council for Special Education is responsible, through its network of local SENOs, for the establishment of special classes for autism and for allocating resource teachers and special needs assistants to schools to support children with special needs. All schools have the names and contact details of their local SENO. The matter of diagnosis and therapy supports is an issue for the Health Service Executive.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

226 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the steps she has taken in 2007 to address the serious issue of classroom overcrowding; the number of schools wherein it can be clearly demonstrated that reasonable progress has been made in reducing pupil/teacher ratios in the classroom to a level comparable with best international practice; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22118/07]

As the Deputy will be aware, major improvements have been made in staffing at primary level in recent years. There are now 5,000 more primary teachers than there were in 2002. By the 2006/07 school year, we had reduced the average class size in our primary schools to 24, while the pupil teacher ratio was 16.4:1, including resource teachers etc. In that year, schools were staffed on the basis of a general rule of at least one classroom teacher for every 28 children. Given that the national average was 24, many schools benefited from much more favourable staffing ratios than this. Extra teachers were provided by the Government for the 2007/08 school year to improve primary school staffing so that schools would generally get at least one classroom teacher for every 27 children. While precise details of the number of schools involved are not readily available, I can assure the Deputy that schools throughout the country benefited as a result of this initiative.

Posts allocated on the basis of the improved staffing schedule are specifically for mainstream classes and should be deployed accordingly. School authorities are requested to ensure that the number of pupils in any class is kept as low as possible, taking all relevant contextual factors into account (e.g. classroom accommodation, fluctuating enrolment). In particular, school authorities should ensure that there is an equitable distribution of pupils in mainstream classes and that the differential between the largest and smallest classes is kept to a minimum. A further initiative in recent years that has been of direct benefit to primary schools has been the change in the criteria for developing schools.

For the current school year the threshold for getting a developing school post was reduced specifically to help schools that are seeing large increases in enrolments each year. Over 350 such posts have been sanctioned in the 2007/08 school year compared to 280 in 2006/07. The improvements we have made in school staffing in recent years are absolutely unparalleled. The Government is committed to providing more teachers to our primary schools over the next five years. We will also continue our focus on measures to improve the quality of education in our primary schools to ensure that increased resources lead to better outcomes for our children.

Special Educational Needs.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

227 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science her plans to improve the scale and quality of services available to children with special needs in mainstream education with particular reference to the need to ensure that all pupils have access to a good pupil/teacher ratio in the classroom; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22119/07]

The level of resources being made available by my Department to support students with special educational needs in mainstream education has grown significantly in recent years. This includes major improvements in staffing levels in primary schools. The Deputy will be aware that my Department implemented a new scheme for allocating learning support / resource teachers (LS/RTs) to schools to cater for the needs of children with high-incidence special educational needs such as dyslexia or mild learning difficulties in all primary schools in September 2005. The general allocation model was designed to ensure that each school has learning support/resource teaching support available to meet the needs of children with high incidence special needs. The scheme facilitates early intervention as the resource is in place in the school when the child enrols.

Significant improvements have been made in the staffing of schools in recent years. By the 2006/07 school year, the average class size in primary schools has fallen to 24, while the pupil teacher ratio was 16.4:1, including resource teachers etc. At post-primary level, the pupil teacher ratio has fallen from 13.9:1 in the 2001/2002 school year to 13.2:1 in the 2005/2006 school year. A further significant development has been the establishment of the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) which has been in operation since 1 January 2005 with over 90 members of staff working exclusively in supporting students with special educational needs. The NCSE was established under the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act (EPSEN) to improve the delivery of education services to persons with special educational needs arising from disabilities with particular emphasis on children. Since it was established in 2005, the NCSE has been responsible for allocating resources for children with special educational needs. The NCSE has a key role in the delivery of services and operates through a network of special educational needs organisers (SENOs) who act as a focal point of contact for schools and parents. SENOs are responsible for processing applications from schools for special needs supports and they convey decisions on the applications directly to the schools. These supports include resource teaching hours, special needs assistant (SNA) support and assistive technology and equipment.

At primary level, there are now over 6,000 teachers working directly with children with special educational needs, including those requiring learning support, compared with fewer than 1,500 in 1998. At post-primary level, over 2,450 wholetime equivalent teachers support special needs students compared with 200 in 1998. This includes 566 learning support teachers. Significant progress has been made in relation to increasing the number of SNAs in our schools who specifically cater for children with care needs. There are over 8,800 whole time equivalent SNAs in primary and post-primary schools supporting the care needs of these students compared with approximately 300 in 1998.

As well as this increase in the numbers of additional teachers and SNAs directly providing appropriate education and care supports for children with special educational needs, much investment has taken place in the provision of transport, specialist school accommodation, home tuition, assistive technology and equipment. For example, more than €3 million was spent last year on specialised equipment and materials and nearly €50 million on school transport for special needs pupils. My Department will continue its focus on measures to improve the quality of education in our schools to ensure that increased resources lead to better outcomes for our children. The Government is committed to providing more teachers to our schools over the next five years. The implementation of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act will support the maximum possible integration of students with special educational needs while always allowing for individuals for whom integration with mainstream peers is not appropriate.

School Accommodation.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

228 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the extent to which she has identified and addressed the issue of the poor quality and general standard of accommodation at a number of primary and post-primary schools throughout the country; her plans to address this issue in the near future; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22120/07]

I am satisfied that existing school infrastructure has been dramatically improved in recent years. During the period of the last National Development Plan 2000-2006 my Department accelerated the school building programme with record levels of investment and the streamlining of delivery systems. An aggregate total of well over €2.6 billion was invested in upgrading existing school infrastructure and providing new school accommodation at both first and second-level. This programme delivered over 7,800 building projects in addition to investment in site purchases; the annual minor works grant to all primary schools, science and technology initiatives, contingency works and grants for the purchase of furniture and equipment including improving equipment needed for new technologies and ICT.

Innovations in the delivery of school buildings such as Generic Repeat Designs and the use of the Design and Build model ensure that new school buildings are delivered in the fastest time-frame possible. My Department also adopted a policy of devolving much greater authority to local school management boards to manage and deliver smaller building projects, thereby freeing my Department to concentrate on the larger scale projects.

My Department has improved forward planning through greater cooperation between the Department of Education and Local Authorities and the publication of 10-year Area Development Plans.

The budget for 2007 is the first year of the roll out of the new NDP which will involve an investment of over €4.5 billion in school building infrastructure over the coming years to ensure that school places are available where needed. This investment will be the largest in the history of the State and will enable my Department to continue to take a proactive approach to the provision of modern school accommodation particularly in developing areas and the upgrade of existing accommodation. This year alone around over €540 million will be spent on school building infrastructure with over 1,500 projects on my Department's school building programme. Construction in 2007 alone will deliver over 700 classrooms to provide permanent accommodation for over 17,500 pupils, mainly in developing areas.

The main focus of the school building programme is to deliver additional capacity in the rapidly developing areas. It is projected that 100,000 additional school places will be required over the coming years, with over 10,000 extra children entering our schools each year. I am conscious of the need to provide more school places quickly and these are being delivered.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

229 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the position in regard to the full requirement in terms of accommodation and facilities at a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; her future plans in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22121/07]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

236 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the position in relation to an application for major capital funding by the management authority of a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; if she expects to be in a position to respond favourably to this request in the near future; the expected time frame for implementation of funding for this school; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22128/07]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

241 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the position in relation to an application for major capital funding for a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22133/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 229, 236 and 241 together.

I can confirm to the Deputy that the Department is in receipt of applications for large scale capital funding from the schools to which he refers. The projects have been assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria for large scale building projects. Progress on the proposed works is being considered in the context of the multi-annual School Building and Modernisation programme.

Special Educational Needs.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

230 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the extent to which speech and language therapy or psychological services are available throughout County Kildare with particular reference to the need to ensure quality services; her plans to meet these requirements as a matter of urgency; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22122/07]

The Deputy will be aware that all primary and post primary schools have access to psychological assessments either directly through the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) or through the Scheme for Commissioning Psychological Assessments (SCPA). Schools that do not currently have NEPS psychologists assigned to them may avail of the SCPA and have an assessment carried out by a member of the panel of private psychologists approved by NEPS, and NEPS will pay the psychologist the fees for this assessment directly. The prioritisation of urgent cases for assessment is a matter for the school principal in the first instance.

In addition NEPS provides assistance to all schools and school communities that experience critical incidents, regardless of whether or not they have a NEPS psychologist assigned to them. Also, in relation to all schools, NEPS processes applications for Reasonable Accommodation in Certificate Examinations and responds to queries in relation to individual children from other sections of my Department and from the specialist agencies.

I can inform the Deputy that the availability of speech and language therapy is a matter in the first instance for the appropriate arm of the Health Service Executive.

Bullying in Schools.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

231 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the extent to which she has been in contact with or received communication from various schools throughout County Kildare or the country in general, in regard to incidents of school bullying; if specific initiatives are contemplated to address this serious issue; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22123/07]

I share the Deputy's concern that any child would feel upset in school because of bullying and I assure him that supports are in place to enable schools both to prevent bullying and to deal with cases that may arise.

For a start, each school is required to have in place a policy which includes specific measures to deal with bullying behaviour, within the framework of an overall school Code of Behaviour and Discipline. Such a code, developed through consultation with the whole school community and properly implemented, can be the most influential measure in countering bullying behaviour in schools.

My Department has issued guidelines as an aid to schools in devising measures to prevent and deal with instances of bullying behaviour and to increase awareness among school management authorities of their responsibilities in this regard. These guidelines were drawn up following consultation with representatives of school management, teachers and parents, and are sufficiently flexible to allow each school authority to adapt them to suit the particular needs of their school.

My Department, through the National Centre for Technology in Education has also developed Policy Guidelines and Advisory Notes for schools and parents which deal with the issues of internet and mobile phone bullying.

I wish to draw the Deputy's attention to the "think b4 u click" internet safety campaign. This new campaign seeks to raise awareness and promote safe, responsible practice by young people when online.

The campaign has a strong peer-to-peer perspective and centres on an interactive online service, www.watchyourspace.ie developed by the National Centre Technology in Education (NCTE).

This site offers practical tips and advice and supports teenagers who use the web. A key feature is the advice given from teenagers to teenagers on how to cope with the fall-out from abuses and misuse of social networking and picture -sharing websites.

This new initiative perfectly compliments the other NCTE safety activities that are already up and running successfully such as Webwise, SAFT and the Once projects.

The National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) is at present developing further guidelines for schools on Codes of Behaviour, as provided for under section 23 of the Education (Welfare) Act 2000. Work on the guidelines is at an advanced stage and has been informed by broad consultation. It is envisaged that these guidelines will be made available to schools in the current school year.

Once the NEWB Guidelines are in place, my Department will commence the process of revising and updating its own "Guidelines on Countering Bullying Behaviour". This review will take into account issues such as legislative developments, the involvement of the support services available to schools, technological advancements such as use of the Internet, e-mail, mobile phones and camera phones and the latest developments in International best practice on dealing with bullying behaviour.

Through the combined work of the Department, the NCTE and the NEWB schools will have available to them extensive guidance to enable them fulfil their responsibilities in relation to this issue.

The Deputy may also be interested to know that dealing with bullying has also been incorporated in training for Principals through the Leadership Development for Schools programme.

I have also stressed to the teacher unions the importance of not just having a written policy on bullying but also ensuring a climate in which it is not tolerated in any form and in which children know that if they make a teacher aware of bullying that it will be dealt with.

The Deputy will also be aware that the education of students in both primary and post-primary schools in relation to anti-bullying behaviour is part of the SPHE curriculum. SPHE is now a compulsory subject both at primary level and in the junior cycle of post-primary schools.

In relation to the Deputy's query about reports to my Department, there is no requirement for schools to report incidents of bullying to my Department, nor do I believe that this should be the case. Responsibility for tackling bullying naturally falls to the level of the individual school as it is at local level that an effective anti-bullying climate must be established. I am, however, anxious to support schools in tackling bullying and it is for that reason that so many supports have been put in place in recent years.

School Absenteeism.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

232 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of personnel deployed to monitor school truancy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22124/07]

The Education (Welfare) Act, 2000 established the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) as the single national body with responsibility for school attendance. The Act provides a comprehensive framework promoting regular school attendance and tackling the problems of absenteeism and early school leaving. The general functions of the Board are to ensure that each child attends a recognised school or otherwise receives a certain minimum education.

An additional 15 staff have been allocated to the NEWB in 2007. This brings the current authorised staffing of the Board to 109 posts of which 90 are allocated to working directly in the service delivery area. The staffing complement is comprised of 19 HQ and support staff, 5 regional managers, 13 Senior EWO's and 72 EWO's.

It should, however, be remembered that the service provided by the Board is just one aspect of the comprehensive framework that this Government has put in place to improve school attendance and encourage more young people to finish school. In this regard, extra supports targeted at young people in disadvantaged areas include both educational initiatives such as intensive literacy programmes and the provision of breakfast and homework clubs. In fact, in addition to the NEWB, there are currently in excess of 600 staff within the education sector with a role in school attendance. Home School Community Liaison Coordinators, in working with parents, promote school attendance and its importance for success in school. School attendance is a central objective of School Completion Programme with attendance tracking a core feature and one of its preventative strategies. Access to these services is being increased with the continued roll out of services under DEIS the Action Plan for tackling educational disadvantage.

The Board operates through 5 regional teams, with bases in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford. A service is provided from 26 locations nationwide. Staff are deployed in areas of greatest disadvantage and in areas designated under the Government's RAPID programme. In addition, the Board follows up on urgent cases nationally where children are not currently receiving an education. Educational Welfare Officers play a pivotal role in implementing the service provided by the NEWB through monitoring school attendance and working to improve it. The EWOs also help parents that are experiencing a difficulty with getting a school place for their child.

Since January 2004, 20,000 cases involving students with reported school attendance difficulties have been resolved by the Board. The NEWB has also issued an Information Leaflet to every family with children of school going age advising them of their rights and responsibilities in relation to education and school attendance and where they can get help.

The first national data on school attendance has been collected and is being used to inform the Board's work. In relation to the effectiveness of the service, it is encouraging to note research findings that attendance at school in the areas where EWOs are working intensively improved by 4% in 2004/05 compared with the previous year. Attendance data relating to the 2005/06 school year is currently being analysed by the NEWB.

This Government is determined to do all that is possible to ensure that every child gets all the opportunities and support they need to enable them to achieve their potential and participate fully in education. I will be keeping the issue of the NEWB's staffing under review in light of the roll out of services, the scope for integrated working and any proposals that the Board may put to me in relation to clearly identified priority needs.

Education Welfare Service.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

233 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the strength of the National Welfare Educational Board with particular reference to the availability of front line staff adequate to meet requirements in all areas throughout County Kildare; the availability of such staff throughout the country; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22125/07]

The National Educational Welfare Board is developing a nationwide service on a continuing basis that is accessible to schools, parents/guardians and others concerned with the welfare of young people. For this purpose, Educational Welfare Officers (EWOs) have been deployed throughout the country to provide a welfare-focused service to support regular school attendance and discharge the Board's functions locally.

I am pleased to advise the Deputy that my Department's Estimates for 2007 includes a provision of €9.808 million for the National Educational Welfare Board. This represents an increase of 20% on the 2006 allocation and of 50% on the 2004 level.

This substantial increase in funding is a clear indication of this Government's commitment to prioritise investment in favour of those most at risk. Through increased investment and improved services we are determined to optimise access, participation and educational outcomes at every level of the system for disadvantaged groups.

An additional 15 staff have been allocated to the NEWB in 2007. This brings the current authorised staffing of the Board to 109 posts of which 90 are allocated to working directly in the service delivery area. The staffing complement is comprised of 19 HQ and support staff, 5 regional managers, 13 Senior EWO's and 72 EWO's.

The Board operates through 5 regional teams, with bases in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Waterford. A service is provided from 26 locations nationwide. Staff are deployed in areas of greatest disadvantage and in areas designated under the Government's RAPID programme. In addition, the Board follows up on urgent cases nationally where children are not currently receiving an education. Educational Welfare Officers play a pivotal role in implementing the service provided by the NEWB through monitoring school attendance and working to improve it. The EWOs also help parents that are experiencing a difficulty with getting a school place for their child.

In relation to the Deputy's specific question regarding County Kildare, I am informed that this county has been served for the past two years by an Educational Welfare Officer (EWO). With the increase in population being experienced in the county and the large number of schools, County Kildare was prioritised by the NEWB, in the recent increase in staffing allocation, for the appointment of an additional EWO. This will provide two posts for the county. The new post will provide a dedicated service to South Kildare, increasing capacity in that part of the county. The existing position will now serve North Kildare providing capacity there to deliver an increased service to the children experiencing school attendance difficulties in that area.

This Government is determined to do all that is possible to ensure that children get every opportunity and support they need to enable them to achieve their potential and participate fully in education. I will be keeping the issue of the NEWB's staffing under review in light of the roll out of services, the scope for integrated working and any proposals that the Board may put to me in relation to clearly identified priority needs.

Science Education.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

234 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science if she is satisfied regarding the uptake of third level places in the sciences; if numbers are adequate to meet future requirements; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22126/07]

There are now almost 9,000 students enrolled on science courses in our Universities and Institutes of Technology at level 8 (honours bachelor degree undergraduate level) and a further 1,300 at level 7/6. In the OECD's international indicator of scientific capability, Ireland is second highest of twenty-nine OECD countries in terms of the output of Science higher-education graduates. This international indicator uses a very broad classification of "science" which includes engineering, computing and mathematics as well as the traditional sciences. Ireland performs particularly strongly in terms of the output of science graduates at Higher Certificate and Ordinary Degree level. At the level of undergraduate and postgraduate Honours Degrees, we have the seventh highest output of science graduates.

The number of students enrolled on Science PhD courses increased by 8% from 1,300 in 2000/01 to 1,400 in 2006/07. Similarly increases of around 10% were seen in Masters Degree enrolments in the same time frame. Over 40% of PhD graduates in 2005 were in the Science disciplines.

According to the National Skills Bulletin for 2006, the overall figure employed in science occupations was 24,400. This figure represented 1.25% of total employment in the economy with employment largely in the manufacture of chemicals and chemical products, and in health and social work.

The report concluded that while no "significant current shortages have been identified in science occupations" in part due to foreign technicians entering the Irish jobs market under the work permit scheme, this may not hold true in the future. The bulletin pointed out that as many more graduate opportunities were being created through government investment in scientific research, any future decline in numbers taking science subjects at undergraduate level could lead to shortages of research scientists in the future.

In order to address any possible shortages, my Department is fully committed to strengthening the quality of science teaching and learning, promoting increased scientific literacy and encouraging more students to choose science subjects. Progress in these areas is a vitally important part of our national strategy to support competitiveness and employment.

Significant progress is being made in regard to curricular reform and in-service support for science at both primary and post-primary levels. In addition the Strategy for Science, Technology and Innovation 2006 to 2013 sets out a range of measures to further strengthen science teaching and learning and improve the uptake of senior cycle Physics and Chemistry.

Schools Building Projects.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

235 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the position in regard to the new school in replacement for a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22127/07]

Co. Kildare Vocational Education Committee as client/contracting authority for the project is currently progressing plans to re-locate the school and extend capacity to 1000 pupils. I understand that the project is at detailed design stage and has recently received Planning Permission.

Question No. 236 answered with QuestionNo. 229.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

237 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the position in relation to provision of facilities at a school (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22129/07]

I am pleased to inform the Deputy that the extension to the school in question has been completed and is in use since the beginning of the new school year.

Radon Gas Levels.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

238 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science if adequate and appropriate action has been taken to address the issue of radon gas in all schools throughout County Kildare to the satisfaction of the school authorities; if further corrective action is required; if RPII has been in touch with her Department in this regard; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22130/07]

My Department commenced a Radon Remediation Programme in 1998 when it commissioned the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland (RPII) to conduct a survey of radon levels in all primary and post primary schools.

The programme initially involved surveying radon levels in schools and subsequently carrying out mitigation works where appropriate. The programme is 100% funded by my Department and has cost approximately €6m to date.

All schools have been advised of the programme and where excess radon levels are located, funding is provided to schools for the mitigation works. Follow-up monitoring also takes place to ensure that the remediation action has been successful.

The radon reference level set for the workplace under the "Radiological Protection Act, 1991 ((Ionising Radiation) Order, 2000" (Statutory Instrument 125 of 2000)) is 400 Bq/m3. Notwithstanding the fact that the statutory reference level is 400 Bq/m3, my Department provides funding for radon levels exceeding 200 Bq/m3. Radon barriers are included in the design of all new school building projects.

School Accommodation.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

239 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science the degree to which school places and facilities at primary and school level exist in Clane, County Kildare to meet requirements; the degree to which current or proposed facilities exist to fulfil this need at present and for the foreseeable future; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22131/07]

An application for funding for a major capital project has been received from the school authority of St Patrick's Boys Primary School. The application has been assessed in accordance with the published prioritisation criteria for large scale building projects. It has been determined that in order to meet the long term needs of the school, the existing primary school requires to be developed into a 24 classroom facility (a three stream school) with appropriate ancillary accommodation. This has been agreed with the school authority. Progress on the project will be considered in the context of the multi-annual school building and modernisation programme.

In this context, the Department has also contacted St Brigid's Girls Primary school to review its long-term needs.

While the Department has no application for capital funding at post primary level, it is keeping the situation of capacity under review.

Schools Building Projects.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

240 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science when she or her Department will review stage three submission in the matter of a school (details supplied) in County Kildare for the provision of extra facilities; her plans to progress this matter in the next six months; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22132/07]

The process of pre-selecting the contractors for the proposed extension has been completed by the school's Design Team and they hope to be in a position to proceed to tender in the near future.

Question No. 241 answered with QuestionNo. 229.

State Examinations.

David Stanton

Ceist:

242 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will implement the recommendation of the Equality Tribunal in early 2007 in respect of appending footnotes to leaving certificate transcripts of students with disabilities who have been granted an accommodation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [22143/07]

As the Deputy will be aware, this Government has shown an unrivalled commitment to ensuring that children and young people with special needs get the extra support they need in order to reach their full potential at school. We have dramatically expanded investment in special education in recent years and we have improved access to the state examinations for young people with special needs.

Annotations on certificates only apply in situations where a core area of a subject is not assessed, or where the mode of assessment used has the same effect. This is used to ensure fairness and integrity vis a vis other students who have been assessed in these components, and in order not to mislead the end user of the certificate. The scheme was introduced following the report of an Expert Advisory Group, and the introduction enabled opportunities to be provided for exemptions where a candidate was not in a position to demonstrate achievement in a core area of assessment.

The findings of the Equality Tribunal on the issue have been appealed to the Circuit Court and a judgement is expected shortly.

I have also asked the State Examinations Commission to re-examine policy and practice in this area. It is important that our system continues to evolve in line with best practice, promoting high standards of quality and integrity while ensuring access, participation and benefit for all our students. I do not anticipate that changes will be made to practice in this area in advance of the outcome of the review and the findings in regard to the appeal.

Ministerial Expenses.

Leo Varadkar

Ceist:

243 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Defence the amount of money paid in expenses to each Minister of State in his Government Department; the headings under which they were paid for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22006/07]

The amount of money paid directly in expenses to the Minister of State in my Department and the headings under which they were paid for each of the past five years are detailed in the table set out below:

Year

Travel

Subsistence

Total

2002

Nil

Nil

Nil

2003

Nil

Nil

Nil

2004

€139.98

Nil

€139.98

2005

Nil

Nil

Nil

2006

Nil

€114.46

€114.46

Defences Forces Recruitment.

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

244 Deputy Pat Rabbitte asked the Minister for Defence if his attention has been drawn to the fact that vacancies for aeronautical engineers within the Air Corps are open only to officers and that members of the Defence Forces including Air Corps aircraft inspector sergeants and those with appropriate higher and MA degrees are excluded from applying; his views on whether this is in conflict with his stated declaration of commissioning suitable qualified non-commissioned personnel in all areas of the Defences Forces; if he will change this practice in order to recruit for such vacancies from qualified enlisted personnel in the first instance; when he plans to do this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22017/07]

The position is that enlisted personnel of the Defence Forces who hold the appropriate qualifications are eligible to apply for appointment as Aeronautical Engineer Officers through open competition.

The military authorities have advised me that there are three vacancies for Aeronautical Engineer Officers in the Air Corps. As has been normal practice, qualified officers in the Permanent Defence Force were canvassed and two officers expressed an interest in transferring into this area. The military authorities are currently processing these applications with a view to filling one of the vacancies. A Direct Entry Competition was advertised in the national press on 8 April 2007 from which the remaining two of these vacancies will be filled. The professional qualifications outlined in the governing conditions for this competition were the same as those which applied to the last Direct Entry Competition held, in 2001, to fill vacancies for Aeronautical Officers. The competition was open to all who meet the qualifying criteria, and this included civilians and enlisted personnel of all ranks.

Seven serving enlisted personnel in the Defence Forces and thirty-seven civilians applied for the two posts on offer. Two of the enlisted personnel were successful in the competition and will be commissioned in the near future.

I have in recent times made substantial changes in recruitment policy to promote recruitment from the ranks. For the cadetship competition, which is now the primary means of commissioning from the ranks, I have increased the maximum entry age to 28 and now award bonus marks to candidates with previous experience in the Permanent Defence Force (PDF) or Reserve Defence Force (RDF).

Results for the 2006 and 2007 cadetship competitions were encouraging with a total of 23 applicants with military service in the Defence Forces being successful in the 2006 cadetship competition and a further 18 applicants with military service being successful in the 2007 cadetship competition.

In addition, in the past two years, 3 members of the Defence Forces were commissioned as officers from Direct Entry Competitions for appointments as Engineer Officers in the Corps of Engineers and Conductors in the Army School of Music.

Following consultations with the representative associations, an internal Commissioning From the Ranks competition was held in June 2007. This competition provided an opportunity for enlisted personnel who have passed the cadet entry age to compete for entry on a potential Officers Course and ultimately, a commission. The competition offered the possibility of enhancing the Officer Corps with the skills and expertise of these personnel.

A total of 24 successful applicants, selected from the ranks of Junior and Senior Non-Commissioned Officers are in training in the Cadet School in the Curragh since 30 July 2007. On successfully completing the course these enlisted personnel will be commissioned as officers of the Permanent Defence Force next summer.

The Policy on the running of similar future competitions, to provide Non-Commissioned Officers with the opportunity of obtaining commissioned rank, will be formalised under the Defence Force Modernisation Agenda. I have also asked the Chief of Staff for his views on the prospect of facilitating suitably qualified enlisted personnel to compete internally for technical/professional posts in the officer ranks.

Pension Provisions.

Jimmy Deenihan

Ceist:

245 Deputy Jimmy Deenihan asked the Minister for Defence the rates of Defence Forces pensions as they apply to a Class A PRSI contributions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22095/07]

New rates are in the process of being finalized and I will forward the relevant rates to the Deputy shortly.

International Agreements.

Joe Costello

Ceist:

246 Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the countries in the Schengen travel zone; the countries that have applied to join; when they will join; if there is a database of personal and confidential information on the citizens of non Schengen States shared only by the Schengen member states; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22140/07]

The Schengen Convention, is an agreement among some European states which allows for the abolition of systematic border controls between the participating countries. It also includes provisions on common policy on the temporary entry of persons (including the Schengen Visa), the harmonisation of external border controls, and cross-border police and judicial co-operation.

A total of 30 states — including most European Union states and three non-EU states, Iceland, Norway, and Switzerland — have signed the agreement and 15 have implemented it so far. Ireland and the United Kingdom have applied only to take part in the police and criminal judicial co-operation measures and not the common border control and visa provisions. Border posts and checks have been removed between Schengen area states and a common ‘Schengen visa' allows tourist or visitor access to the area.

The fifteen states that have already implemented the agreement are Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. The Eastern and Central-European states, except for Cyprus, who signed the Schengen Agreement in May, 2004 are set to implement it on 31 December 2007 for land and sea borders and March 2008 for air borders although those dates are still subject to change. These countries are the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. Bulgaria and Romania aim to implement the agreement in 2011 and Switzerland aims to implement the agreement in November, 2008.

The Schengen Information System is a database accessible by competent authorities in countries that participate in the Schengen Convention and is only accessible to the extent of their participation. The most significant information held on the database pertains to details of wanted persons and misappropriated, lost or stolen objects and is not available to states that are not participating in the Convention. At EU level, plans are currently underway to extend the system to the relevant Eastern European states thus allowing free movement from these to other Schengen Member states. A new (second) generation of the system is also being developed and Ireland, along with the UK and Cyprus is scheduled to participate in this system following its development in 2009.

Asylum Applications.

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

247 Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the status of an application to remain in Ireland on humanitarian grounds for a person (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21973/07]

I refer the Deputy to Parliamentary Question No. 354 of Tuesday, 29 June, 2004 and the written reply to that question. The case of the person concerned is under consideration and the file will be referred to me for decision shortly.

Ministerial Expenses.

Leo Varadkar

Ceist:

248 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the amount of money paid in expenses to each Minister of State in his Government Department; the headings under which they were paid for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22013/07]

Details of expenses paid to the Ministers of State in my Department and the headings under which they were paid for each of the past five years 2003 to date are set out in the table below.

Home Travel and Subsistence

Foreign Travel and Subsistence

Official Entertainment

Expenses Allowance

Telephone/ IT/Medical

Minister of State Mr Willie O’Dea T.D.

2003

24,142

537

Nil

12,128

Nil

2004

27,828

1,004

Nil

9,796

Nil

Minister of State Mr Frank Fahey T.D.

2005

31,321

2,141

1,175

14,927

55

2006

33,979

2,315

2,153

12,128

484

2007

19,141

2,576

214

5,598

802

Minister of State Mr Sean Power T.D.

2007

Nil

Nil

Nil

3,265

Nil

Residency Permits.

Martin Ferris

Ceist:

249 Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if the application for residency by a person (details supplied) has been successful. [22018/07]

The position is that an application was received from the person concerned on 23 February 2007 for Subsidiary Protection under the European Communities (Eligibility for Protection) Regulations, 2006 (Statutory Instrument No. 518 of 2006).

His application was refused by my Department on 22 March 2007.

The applicant instituted Judicial Review proceedings on 10 May 2007 challenging the Subsidiary Protection refusal and accordingly, as the matter is sub judice, I do not propose to comment further.

Garda Training.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

250 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if more training is being provided or will be provided for Gardaí in relation to the requirements and implications of the Mental Health Act2001 in the performance of their duties. [22058/07]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that details of training provided regarding the Mental Health Act 2001 are as follows:

Continuous Professional Development:

A module on Mental Health Awareness is currently being delivered as part of the Continuous Professional Development (CP.D.) Core Programme 2007. This module includes information from the Mental Health Commission on the relevant legislation. A previous module on Mental Health was also included in the Continuous Professional Development (C.P.D.) Core programme 2005. The Core Programme is provided to all Gardaí and Sergeants.

Student/Probationer Training:

The Social and Psychological Studies programme provides the following training to Student/Probationer Gardaí in relation to Mental Health Awareness and the Mental Health Act, 2001. All of this training takes place on Phase III training in the Garda College.

Schizophrenia Ireland, as guest speakers on the Social & Psychological programme, provides training in relation to self experience and communication techniques for dealing with people suffering mental illness.

Social and Psychological Studies' staff provide lectures on Mental Health Awareness, section 12 and 13 of the Mental Health Act 2001, Depression, Suicide and Schizophrenia, appropriate communication and intervention.

Social and Psychological Studies' staff provide training through the developmental work and role-play scenarios which depict practical incidents that Gardaí may encounter relating to mental illness in the community. This role-play type training develops their skills and competencies in dealing with and intervening in such incidents. Phase III students are assessed on these role-plays. This training is complementary to and presented in conjunction with training provided on the subject areas of Legal Studies, Garda Practice & Procedures and Contextual Policing.

Social and Psychological Studies' staff liaise regularly with The Mental Health Commission in relation to training and new developments.

Under Legal, Contextual Policing and Garda Practices and Procedure Studies, student Gardaí receive tuition in relation to their duties under the Mental Health Act 2001. They also receive instruction in the Treatment of Persons in Custody in Garda Stations Regulations, 1987, where Regulation 22 deals solely with mentally handicapped persons.

On Scene Command/Garda Negotiator:

A module on Mental Health is included in both the Garda Negotiator and On Scene Command Course. This module is presented by Dr Harry Kennedy and his colleagues from the Central Mental Hospital, Dundrum.

Training and Continuous Professional Development in all modules are continually monitored and reviewed ensuring the necessary training is received by all members.

Weapons Licensing.

Tony Gregory

Ceist:

251 Deputy Tony Gregory asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform further to Parliamentary Question No. 1016 of 26 September 2007, if he will ask the Garda Commissioner to detail the expert opinion available to him that reloaded ammunition is not traceable. [22097/07]

I am informed by the Garda Commissioner that his Ballistic experts advise that reloaded ammunition, which utilises previously discharged cartridge cases a number of times, makes ballistic comparisons more difficult. As the Deputy will appreciate, each time the cartridge is discharged, markings are left on it thereby rendering the tracing of the firearm from which it was discharged extremely difficult.

Garda Complaints Procedures.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

252 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when his Department will reimburse a person (details supplied) in Dublin 7 following an incident in March 2007. [22100/07]

Claims against members of the Garda Síochána in circumstances such as those described by the Deputy are dealt with by the State Claims Agency and a file on the incident has already been forwarded to them. However I am informed by the Garda Authorities that no claim has been made to date by the person to whom the Deputy refers.

Prison Visiting Committees.

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

253 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the name of the present chairperson of the prison visiting committee at Limerick Prison; the qualifications they have for the position; the number of visits he has made to the prison; the number of meetings of the prison visiting committee which they have chaired in the past six months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22108/07]

A Visiting Committee is appointed to each prison under the Prisons (Visiting Committees) Act, 1925 and Prisons (Visiting Committees) Order, 1925. The function of Visiting Committees is to visit at frequent intervals the prison to which they are appointed and hear any complaints which may be made to them by any prisoner. They report to me any abuses observed or found by them in the prison and any repairs which they think may be urgently needed. The Visiting Committee have free access either collectively or individually to every part of their prison.

Members of Committees are appointed by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform for a term not exceeding three years. At that point they are automatically removed from the Committee and are either re-appointed for a further term or are replaced by new members. There are no specific criteria used in selecting individuals for appointment. The composition of each committee is drawn from as wide a spectrum as possible to ensure that the needs of prisoners are understood and met. This is the long standing practice used by successive Ministers in appointing members to the Prisons Visiting Committees.

Each Committee elects their own Chairperson and neither myself nor my Department plays any role in this selection process. I have been advised that the current Chairperson to Limerick Prison Visiting Committee is Mr Tony Lane. Since being appointed Chairperson in November, 2005, Mr Lane has made a total of twenty eight visits to Limerick Prison to date. I am further informed that he has chaired a total of five Visiting Committee meetings in the past six months.

National Drugs Strategy.

John O'Mahony

Ceist:

254 Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the steps he will take following the recent drug finds around the Irish coastlines, to prevent Ireland being used as an access point for the smuggling of drugs into Ireland via the coastline; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22150/07]

The recent drugs finds are a stark reminder of the difficulties faced by all of the agencies involved in trying to prevent drugs being imported into Ireland. We should not underestimate the difficulties posed by the nature and extent of a 3,000 mile coastline.

Under the National Drugs Strategy it is the Customs Service which has primary responsibility for the prevention, detection, interception and seizure of controlled drugs at importation. But, of course, the Strategy recognises the vital importance of cooperation between the members of the Joint Drugs Task Force of the Customs Service, An Garda Síochána, and the Naval Service.

While a certain amount may be achieved by random patrols of our coastline, the priority must be intelligence-based targeted activities by all the agencies involved. In terms of intelligence gathering and sharing of information, I can assure the Deputy that the agencies mentioned above are cooperating fully not only among themselves but with their counterparts in organisations such as Europol, the World Customs Organisation, the United Nations Drug Control Programme and the U.K. Serious and Organised Crime Agency. On the part of An Garda Síochána, for example, Garda liaison officers are based at London, Paris, the Hague, Madrid and Europol.

I am informed that the work of Customs in monitoring our coastline is based on risk analysis and intelligence-led enforcement. Mobile anti-smuggling teams operate from key strategic locations. These officers are engaged in intelligence gathering and in operational interventions. This type of enforcement strategy is in keeping with best international practice. The Customs Drugswatch programme is also in place to encourage the coastal and maritime communities to assist in confidentially reporting suspicious activity and a dedicated Freephone is in operation on a 24/7 basis.

In order to enhance the State's capability to protect the community from drug trafficking by sea, the Revenue Commissioners deployed the Revenue Customs Cutter, Suirbhéir, in 2004. The Commissioners constantly monitor the adequacy of the controls that are in place in response to emerging trends and risks as identified both nationally and internationally. Co-operation with other Customs Services and law enforcement agencies abroad is also an important aspect of this work and such co-operation and intelligence exchange is well established and effective.

Last Sunday in Lisbon, I attended the opening ceremony of the new Maritime Analysis and Operational Centre (narcotics) which is our latest law enforcement tool in the fight against drug trafficking. The Centre is intended to focus on targeting the sea and air cocaine routes from Central and South America into the European Union via western Africa. It will collect and analyse operational information, enhance intelligence through better information exchange, and ascertain the availability of assets to facilitate interdictions in accordance with the national laws of the participants involved. The U.K., Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, France and the Netherlands are signatories to the International Agreement establishing the Centre.

The Centre will be inter-agency and will be focused on interdicting large maritime and aviation drug shipments. The centre will maximise operational effectiveness through the pooling of resources and the coordination of intelligence. In the coming weeks arrangements are being finalised for the placement of a customs liaison officer and a garda drugs liaison officer at the centre. The Naval Service will deploy an officer there as the need arises.

Turbary Rights.

Frank Feighan

Ceist:

255 Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the position in relation to bogs in special area of conservation in County Roscommon; if farmers will be allowed to cut turf for domestic use on such bogs for the foreseeable future, particularly, in relation to Cloonkeen Bog in Castlerea, County Roscommon; if farmers will be compensated for their bogs when they are no longer able to cut turf; the rate in relation to same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22078/07]

Cutting turf on designated Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) is strictly limited in order to protect this internationally important type of habitat. A derogation was agreed in 1999 for turf cutting, for domestic use only, on less sensitive areas of bogs designated as SACs for a period of up to ten years — that is, until the end of 2008.

The area known as Cloonkeen Eighter is part of the Derrynagran Bog and Esker Natural Heritage Area (NHA 001255). Landowners on NHAs are also permitted to continue cutting turf for domestic use only for a derogation period of up to 10 years from 2004, that is to 2014 at the latest, as long as the cutting is not adversely affecting the conservation status of the bog.

A generous compensation package is available from my Department for anybody who agrees to end turf cutting on designated bogs. My Department will purchase freehold on designated raised bogs at €3,500 for the first acre or part thereof and €3,000 for each subsequent acre. Alternatively, the Department will purchase turbary rights on designated bogs at €2,975 for the first acre or part thereof and €2,550 for each subsequent acre.

Water and Sewerage Schemes.

Ulick Burke

Ceist:

256 Deputy Ulick Burke asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the names of the various schemes that require funding for water and waste water capital projects in County Galway that have been submitted to his Department for funds; the amount of funding in each case; the proposed starting date of these projects; the projects in progress; and funding allocated for their completion. [21960/07]

The most complete and up to date statement of Galway County Council's water services infrastructural requirements is set out in the Assessment of Needs produced by the Council in response to my Department's request to all local authorities in 2006 to carry out fresh assessments of the need for capital works in their areas and to prioritise their proposals on the basis of the assessments. I am arranging to forward a copy of the assessment to the Deputy. The assessment was taken into account in drawing up the Water Services Investment Programme 2007 — 2009, which I published in September 2007 and which is available in the Oireachtas Library.

Social and Affordable Housing.

Ulick Burke

Ceist:

257 Deputy Ulick Burke asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on a review of the affordable housing scheme income limits in view of the fact that many applicants are no longer qualifying for inclusion as their income is no longer adequate under the conditions of the present scheme and many applicants have to return to the social housing lists; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21961/07]

Applicants for affordable housing under Part V of the Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2006 or the Affordable Housing Initiative satisfy the income eligibility requirement if the mortgage repayments for suitable accommodation available in the market would exceed 35% of their net income. There are no plans to change this approach, which provides a mechanism for taking into account up to date net incomes, house prices and mortgage servicing costs in determining an applicant's eligibility.

In the case of the Shared Ownership and the 1999 Affordable Housing Schemes, the annual income limit for a single income household is €40,000, while the annual limit for a two income household is €100,000, using the formula of 2½ times the main income plus once the secondary income. These income limits are under review and I hope to be in a position to announce the outcome of that review shortly.

There is no minimum income qualifying requirement set under any of the affordable housing schemes. However, in approving an affordable home purchase, a local authority must consider the ability of the applicant to make the necessary mortgage payments and satisfy itself that the borrower's income is sufficient to meet the financial commitments involved.

Local Authority Staff.

Ulick Burke

Ceist:

258 Deputy Ulick Burke asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the shortage of staff at various levels in many local authorities which is being exacerbated by the current embargo in place, particularly in planning divisions of county councils and in housing, engineering, water and sewerage schemes causing delays in progress in providing these services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21962/07]

I refer to the reply to Questions Nos. 512 and 513 of 2 October, 2007.

Ministerial Expenses.

Leo Varadkar

Ceist:

259 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the amount of money paid in expenses to each Minister of State in his Government Department; the headings under which they were paid for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22009/07]

The information requested is set out in the following table:

Minister of State Noel Ahern TD

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

Ministerial Monthly Allowance

12,170

12,170

12,170

12,170

5,071

Travel & Subsistence

15,931

12,905

18,894

19,710

20,390

Misc. Expenses

871

Minister of State Pat ‘The Cope' Gallagher TD

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

Ministerial Monthly Allowance

12,170

9,128

Travel & Subsistence

53,483

35,477

Taxi’s

536

220

Misc. Expenses

325

Official Entertainment

470

676

Minister of State Tony Killeen TD

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

Travel & Subsistence

8,738

Minister of State Batt O'Keeffe TD

2003

2004

2005

2006

2007

Ministerial Monthly Allowance

2,028

13,185

11,156

6,085

Travel & Subsistence

10,971

48,723

62,638

32,240

Taxi’s

130

140

45

168

Misc. Expenses

121

299

Official Entertainment

317

46

Building Regulations.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

260 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the problems currently being experienced by hundreds of householders in the State in relation to the mineral pyrite being found in their homes; the structural damage that this can cause to buildings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22024/07]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

261 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he plans to introduce regulations requiring all infill material to be chemically analysed before being used in the construction of houses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22025/07]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

262 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he plans to conduct a full and comprehensive investigation into the use of pyrite by building developers in constructing homes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22026/07]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

263 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the structural damage that can be caused by pyrite used in the construction of buildings; if he plans to conduct a full investigation in order to ascertain the location of homes or buildings in which pyrite may have been used in their construction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22027/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 260 to 263, inclusive, together.

I refer to the reply to Questions Nos. 1150, 1151, 1153, 1155 and 1167 of 26 September 2007, in which I comprehensively addressed this issue.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

264 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the details of any initiative he may undertake in order to ensure that building regulations are fully complied with by those involved in the construction industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22028/07]

The Building Control Act 1990 assigns primary responsibility for complying with the Building Regulations to the owners and builders of buildings. Responsibility for enforcement of the Regulations is vested in the 37 local Building Control Authorities, who are empowered to carry out inspections of buildings and initiate enforcement action, where appropriate.

The Building Control Act 2007 contains provision, inter alia, to strengthen the enforcement powers of local Building Control Authorities. The Act introduces the option for local Building Control Authorities to bring summary prosecutions for all building code offences in the District Court, rather than by way of prosecution on indictment by the Director of Public Prosecutions in the Circuit Court. Authorities will also have wider powers to make application to the High Court or the Circuit Court to secure Orders where buildings do not comply with the requirements of the Building Regulations. The maximum penalties for breaches of the Regulations have been substantially increased under the Act, from £800 (punts) to €5,000 on summary conviction; from £150 (punts) to €500 in respect of each day on which the offence is committed after summary conviction; and from £10,000 (punts) to €50,000 on conviction on indictment.

Moreover, Building Control Authorities will be able to recoup costs incurred in taking enforcement action and to obtain the benefit of fines resulting from summary prosecutions brought by them.

I will be making the necessary Commencement Order for the above provisions of the Building Control Act 2007 this month.

Environmental Policy.

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

265 Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if the State, in procuring vehicles for the public service and for the Ministerial fleet in particular, should lead by example and purchase vehicles which generate less harmful emissions than other vehicles; if in this regard a bias should be shown towards cars that embrace bio fuel or hybrid technology in these procurement decisions rather than cars that are fuelled by petrol or diesel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22065/07]

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

266 Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if in the selection of official cars, he considers vehicles that are powered by diesel or petrol to be less sustainable vehicles from an environmental perspective than vehicles powered by biofuels or hybrid technology; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22066/07]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 265 and 266 together.

It is generally accepted that vehicles powered by biofuels and hybrid technology can have significantly reduced emissions compared to equivalent conventional models.

The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, which organises the purchase of the Ministerial fleet through the Government Supplies Agency, has purchased 7 hybrid cars for the Ministerial fleet, one of which has been assigned to me. In order to ensure that the most suitable vehicles are purchased, the requirements for the Ministerial fleet are subject to regular review and assessment, having regard to a range of criteria including overall cost, safety, emissions, fuel efficiency and the function of the vehicles.

As regards vehicles purchased by my own Department, the entire fleet of the National Parks and Wildlife Service, numbering some 150 vehicles, is capable of running on biodiesel.

More generally and in accordance with the National Climate Change Strategy, the Government is developing a Sustainable Transport Action Plan under which public sector fleet operators will be required to publish strategies to reduce emissions from their fleets including the increased use of biofuels. Dublin Bus and Bus Eireann have already been instructed by the Minister for Transport to move all their existing fleet to a 5% bio-fuel blend and to plan to achieve a 30% bio-fuel blend in all their new buses.

Ministerial Expenses.

Leo Varadkar

Ceist:

267 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the amount of money paid in expenses to each Minister of State in his Government Department; the headings under which they were paid for each of the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22004/7]

The information requested by the Deputy is being compiled by my Department and will be furnished to the Deputy within the next week.