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 64, inclusive, resubmitted.
Questions Nos. 65 to 73, inclusive, answered orally.

Internet Safety.

John Deasy

Ceist:

74 Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if his Department has involvement in the new Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform initiatives on Internet safety; the plans these groups have to address the problem of explicit imagery being sent to children’s phones; his views on the compulsory registration of all pre-pay as well as bill phones and the compulsory inclusion of filtering software in all phones bought by children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14753/08]

The Internet lends itself to being used for a wide range of activities, both legal and illegal, and the protection of children from the potential of accessing harmful content is an issue of great concern. In this regard, I welcome the establishment by my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, of the Office of Internet Safety and the proposed Internet Safety Advisory Council. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform has overall responsibility for malevolent Internet activity and information on the remit of these new bodies can be obtained from that Department.

Separate from those initiatives, my Department, in conjunction with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, and other private sector and not-for-profit organisations, recently conducted a public awareness campaign called "Make It Secure", to promote the safe use of the internet. The campaign was designed to increase awareness among citizens of the most common security risks related to accessing and transacting on the Internet, such as identity theft, spyware, phishing and child safety, particularly with regard to the potential risks from social networking. The Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform participated in the work of the campaign both directly and through the Internet Advisory Board.

As Minister with responsibility for Communications, I will continue to support the mobile phone industry in their work on the safe and responsible use of mobile phones. The Irish Cellular Industry Association (ICIA) has taken many steps in this regard, including the promotion of public awareness, exploring the benefits of content filtering software, the launch of a Parents Guide and a Code of Practice, which represents the minimum set of standards for operators. There is legislation in place to prosecute the issue of nuisance and criminal calls, and the sending of pornographic images by mobile phones. It is an offence under Section 13 of the Post Office (Amendment) Act, 1951 as amended, to send by phone any message or other matter, which is grossly offensive, or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character. It is an offence under Section 10 of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act, 1997 to harass a person by use of a telephone. However, an important line of control rests with parents, and I would like to emphasise the role of parents in decisions concerning the purchase and use of mobile phones by their children. Their supervisory role is key to safeguarding them from the abuse of such technology.

On the question of a register of mobile phones, my Department has previously reviewed this proposal. Having consulted with the Office of the Attorney General and other interested parties, it was concluded that the proposal would be of limited benefit, in that it would not solve the illegal and inappropriate use of pre-paid mobile phones. A particular consideration was the ease with which an unregistered foreign or stolen SIM card can be used and the difficulties that would be posed in verifying identity in the absence of a national identification card system.

Fisheries Protection.

Catherine Byrne

Ceist:

75 Deputy Catherine Byrne asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he plans to increase the enforcement capacity of the fisheries boards to combat the growing problem of poaching; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15413/08]

Under the Fisheries Acts, primary responsibility for the management, conservation, protection and development of inland fisheries stocks rests with the Central and Regional Fisheries Boards. A considerable proportion of fisheries boards' resources and personnel time is devoted to the protection of fish stocks. I am not aware of any recent increase in poaching and no such increase has been reported to me. Funding of €35 million has been allocated in my Department's vote for 2008, for Inland Fisheries, including over €31 million for the operations and activities of the Fisheries Boards, including stock protection and enforcement efforts of the Boards. Furthermore, as in 2007, the Inland Fisheries allocation included additional funding this year, to cover enhanced protection and enforcement activities being undertaken by the Boards, while the new salmon management regime is introduced following cessation of the mixed stock fishery.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Tom Hayes

Ceist:

76 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if his Department is working with State agencies or companies to progress a pilot project on carbon storage as part of the power generation process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15445/08]

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

122 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the steps being taken to pursue the option of carbon capture and storage; the legislation required to advance this method of addressing CO2 emissions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14676/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 76 and 122 together.

The issue of carbon capture and storage (CCS) has emerged globally as a key dimension to the continued use of fossil fuels for electricity generation. Energy efficiency and renewables are, in the long term, the most sustainable solutions both for security of supply and climate change but EU and global emissions cannot be reduced to necessary levels without the use of other options such as carbon capture and storage. We are monitoring developments at EU level and globally in terms of research and development initiatives under way as well as specific projects in Norway, Germany, Algeria and elsewhere. Developments in the UK including work on regulatory frameworks are of particular interest from the Irish perspective. A number of different technologies are under investigation around the world, some of which involve dealing with carbon before or during the combustion process, and some of which remove carbon dioxide after combustion and then sequester them in various places — in underground aquifers, at the bottom of deep oceans, in salt caverns and in disused oil and gas wells.

The assessment of the prospects for geological storage of carbon in Ireland is at a relatively early stage. A study is underway by Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI) and the Geological Survey of Northern Ireland (GSNI). The study is examining the potential for carbon storage on the island of Ireland. In addition, the EPA has recently sought tenders for a geological assessment of the potential to store carbon dioxide in aquifers. The ESB is planning a pilot or demonstration project at its Moneypoint coal fired power station, under its new Strategic Framework to 2020, which includes a commitment to halve its carbon emissions within 12 years and to become a zero carbon emissions company by 2030. The potential use of one or more of the depleting Marathon field structures is also under consideration. These structures, however, could also prove suitable for much-needed strategic natural gas storage.

Given the complexity and range of issues and the number of stakeholders involved in progressing the Carbon Capture and Storage agenda, I have asked my Department to establish a cross-cutting group which will oversee a fully joined up approach to CCS developments at home and at EU and international level. The group will comprise the Department, SEI, GSI, EPA, the ESB, the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) and other players as necessary. The question of legislative underpinning for future carbon storage and capture projects will be kept under review in light of developments. The Commission's recent proposal for a Directive on the storage of carbon will be of particular relevance in this regard. The Directive will be enabling rather than mandatory and will provide a framework to manage environmental risks and remove existing legislative barriers.

Telecommunications Services.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

77 Deputy Michael Noonan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources when the value for money review on the metropolitan area networks will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14795/08]

Value for Money and Policy Reviews are carried out by Departments on Exchequer spending in the context of the Public Service Management Act 1997 and the Comptroller and Auditor General (Amendment) Act 1993. The objectives of a Value for Money and Policy Review are to analyse Exchequer spending in a systematic manner and to provide a basis on which informed decisions can be made. It is one of a range of modernisation initiatives aimed at moving public sector management away from the traditional focus on measuring inputs to a more holistic perspective, examining the effectiveness with which interventions operate. A Value for Money and Policy Review of Phase I of the Metropolitan Area Networks Programme is currently being finalised in my Department. Additionally, a policy paper on Next Generation Broadband is also being finalised. Both reports, which I intend to publish simultaneously in the coming weeks, will help to inform future decisions in this area.

Question No. 78 answered with Question No. 72.

Broadcasting Services.

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

79 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the steps he will take to ease the effects of the close down of analogue television in Wales on Counties Wexford, Waterford, Wicklow and Dublin; the time-scale of this impact; his views on the consequences of this signal shutdown; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14651/08]

The UK has a schedule to switch off analogue TV in different regions from 2008 to 2012 in favour of Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT). Analogue TV services in Wales, for instance, are expected to switch off in 2009. In the development of a switchover plan, the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) is working closely with its UK counterpart to ensure the continued protection of analogue TV in Ireland. Notwithstanding, it should be noted that as the UK switch-off of analogue TV progresses, reception in some Irish homes will be affected because Irish terrestrial analogue TV viewers will no longer be able to receive overspill of UK channels. Viewers on cable and satellite will not be affected by these changes.

In Ireland the development of DTT is well under way. The Broadcasting (Amendment) Act 2007, provides for RTÉ to develop a public broadcasting DTT service with space to carry RTÉ, TG4 and TV3. In addition, the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland is currently running a competition to provide commercial DTT services. In these circumstances it is expected that Irish digital terrestrial services, providing a significant range of television services, will be available in the south east of the country in 2009. Digital terrestrial services will offer more to viewers in terms of digital quality pictures and sound, more services such as programme guide information and more channel content.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

80 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he is satisfied that the greener homes scheme will have sufficient funding in 2008; if he has plans to increase the funding available over the course of 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14652/08]

The Greener Homes Scheme has proved extremely popular since it was initially launched in March 2006. There have been over 24,000 applications received to date under the scheme. The scheme, which was designed to stimulate take-up of renewable technologies in the domestic sector, is succeeding well beyond the initial expectations. I am satisfied that the Greener Homes scheme has been allocated sufficient funding for 2008 to meet existing and projected commitments. My Department is liaising closely with Sustainable Energy Ireland in relation to monthly outturns and take-up trends and expenditure under the scheme is being closely monitored. I do not anticipate a need for increased funding for the scheme this year.

Fuel Prices.

Michael D. Higgins

Ceist:

81 Deputy Michael D. Higgins asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the steps he is taking, in view of the unprecedented increase in diesel prices here, to curb these increases; his proposals to ease the burden on the consumer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14666/08]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

231 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he has had discussions with the regulator with a view to identifying the cause or causes for fluctuations between the prices of petrol and diesel; if he has sought an explanation as to the reason diesel is regularly more expensive than petrol having particular regard to the fact that diesel is more eco-friendly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14946/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 81 and 231 together.

I have no function in relation to oil, diesel or petrol prices. The Irish oil industry is fully privatised, liberalised and deregulated. There is free entry into the market. Prices at the pump reflect global market price, transportation costs, Euro/Dollar fluctuations and other operating costs. The Competition Authority is a statutory independent body with a specific role in the enforcement of competition law. The National Consumer Agency has specific responsibilities for protecting the rights of consumers. Its function is to ensure that competition works optimally for the benefit of consumers throughout the country. The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) is the independent body statutorily responsible for overseeing the liberalisation of Ireland's electricity and gas sectors. The CER has no role in regard to the oil industry. There are no proposals to bring forward measures to give the CER a role in regard to the Irish oil industry, given the roles and responsibilities of the Competition Authority and the National Consumer Agency.

Ireland's high dependence on imported oil makes us price takers, sensitive to the volatility of the markets and reflecting the combination of world prices and the relative strength of the Euro against the Dollar. According to the March and April International Energy Agency (IEA) Oil Market Reports, middle distillates, including diesel oil, reached new peaks in Europe in recent months due to weather-related demand and tight supplies, which have been exacerbated by low refinery throughputs. In the same period, Europe has seen lower imports of distillates from the US and elsewhere as cargoes have been diverted to Latin America, South Africa and the Middle East. The IEA also notes that US refiners have been producing substantially more barrels of petrol than usual and domestic US stocks have been well above their 5 year range. High stocks and low US prices are likely to have curbed flows of exports of petrol from Europe to the US, leaving Northwest European petrol stocks high. The combination of these market factors has contributed to the rise in diesel prices relative to petrol.

In an era of sustained high oil prices and concerns about supply, addressing our dependence on fossil fuel imports is a key imperative. The Government has committed to a range of actions in the Energy Policy Framework and the Programme for Government to break that dependency. In addition to accelerating the deployment of renewable energy in electricity, transport and heating, the implementation of wide ranging energy efficiency and demand management programmes are the major immediate priority. The roll out of the National Energy Efficiency Action Plan in the coming months will set out the Government's measures and programmes in detail. I am working with my colleagues, the Minister for Transport and the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, to deliver a sustainable energy future across all sectors, including the transport sector. Improved public transport, sustainable infrastructure, and radical energy efficiency and demand management strategies are key to achieving a sustainable energy future for Ireland's citizens and the economy.

Broadcasting Services.

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

82 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on providing a channel dedicated to the democratic discussions in Dáil Éireann and making it available on terrestrial television; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14655/08]

Section 28(2)(b) of the Broadcasting Act, 2001, mandates RTÉ to provide programmes of news and current affairs in the Irish and English languages, including programmes that provide coverage of proceedings in the Houses of the Oireachtas and the European Parliament. In addition section 45(4) of the Broadcasting Act 2001 mandates TG4 to provide programmes, primarily in the Irish language, of news and current affairs and to provide coverage of proceedings in the Houses of the Oireachtas and the European Parliament. Both RTÉ and TG4 devote resources and efforts, within the constraints of their programming schedules, to coverage and commentary of the proceedings of the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Whilst I would compliment Irish broadcasters on the extent and quality of their coverage, I still favour the establishment of a new Oireachtas channel, which would provide for extended free-to-air television coverage of the proceedings of the Houses of the Oireachtas and of other democratic fora. The programme for Government contains a commitment in this regard. I firmly believe that the roll out of Digital Terrestrial Television in Ireland provides an ample opportunity for the development and establishment of such a channel. In that regard, and on foot of discussions with the Joint Administration Committee and officials of the Commission of the Houses of the Oireachtas, I propose to bring forward legislative proposals in the forthcoming Broadcasting Bill to facilitate the development of such a channel.

Fuel Poverty.

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

83 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the position regarding the proposed publication of the findings of the Fuel Poverty Action Research Project; the most recent figure of the number of people living in fuel poverty; if he has plans to increase the budget of the warmer homes scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14654/08]

The final report of the Fuel Poverty Action Research Project is scheduled for publication in mid 2008. There are currently no comprehensive up to date national statistics available on the number of people experiencing fuel poverty in Ireland. The EU Survey on Income and Living Conditions, which is carried out by the Central Statistics Office each year, measures the number of households that have gone without heating at least once, over the previous year, due to lack of money. The most recent figures available from this survey indicate that in 2006, some 5.7% of households in Ireland went without heat at some stage during the year, a slight reduction on 2005. I am keeping the overall level of funding available to the Warmer Homes Scheme under review and in light of the level of demand for funding under the scheme I am increasing the amount of funding available to the scheme this year from €2.5m to €4m.

Telecommunications Services.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

84 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his preference for the functional or structural separation of Eircom; the advice he has received on this matter; if regulatory changes have been considered or agreed to facilitate such separation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14647/08]

I have no specific role in relation to any form of restructuring of Eircom. Eircom is a private company and is entitled to implement the corporate structure that best meets its needs provided that appropriate engagement takes place with the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), which is independent in the exercise of its functions, on any regulatory issues that might arise in a separated company. I understand ComReg has engaged consultants to assist in the review of Eircom's proposals for structural separation and this work is already under way. However, as the roll out of high quality, competitive broadband infrastructure is a key priority for Government and as Eircom operates an extensive network in this regard, their investment and organisational plans are of major interest to me and I welcome all plans to upgrade our communications infrastructure.

It might also be noted that there is some debate around whether customers would be best served by functional opening of the network or by a structural split between the retail and network divisions of the business. The key issue is the implementation of the operational model that provides the optimum competitive environment and promotes investment and innovation by all telecoms providers. The Government is due to produce a policy paper on Next Generation Networks shortly which will set out the policy framework in this area and I look forward to Eircom's input into the consultation process on this document in light of their investment plans in this area.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

85 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on the recent publication of figures from the Central Statistics Office, Information Society and Telecommunications 2007, that found that 54% of households here had a broadband connection compared to an EU27 average of 77%; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14641/08]

The provision of broadband services is, in the first instance, a matter for the private sector. Broadband service providers operate in a fully liberalised market, regulated, where appropriate, by the independent Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg. The role of the Government is to formulate regulatory and infrastructure policies to facilitate the provision of high quality telecommunications services by competing private sector service providers. The Central Statistics Office Information Society and Telecommunications survey has found that in the first quarter of 2007, 57% of Irish households had access to the internet compared to the European Union average of 54%. Of Irish households with Internet access in the first quarter of 2007, 54% had a broadband connection. This represents a significant increase on the 2006 figures when 26% of such Irish households had a broadband connection.

Although broadband is now widely available in Ireland there are still some parts of the country where the private sector will be unable to justify the commercial provision of broadband services. These areas are being addressed by the National Broadband Scheme (NBS), which will provide broadband services to areas that are currently unserved, and will ensure that all reasonable requests for broadband are met. The first phase of the NBS procurement process (Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ)) is now complete, and four candidates pre-qualified to enter the next phase of the procurement process. Following the withdrawal of the IFA/Motorola Consortium as a candidate, the remaining three candidates have now commenced "Competitive Dialogue" with my Department and are developing their proposed solutions to meet my Department's requirements for the delivery of broadband to the unserved areas of the country. It is anticipated that a preferred bidder will be selected and appointed in July 2008, with roll out to commence as soon as possible thereafter.

Ministerial Meetings.

Sean Sherlock

Ceist:

86 Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the number of formal meetings he has had with the Department of Transport in 2008; the topics for discussion at these meetings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14644/08]

I have regular discussions on an ongoing basis with my colleague the Minister for Transport. In addition there is regular contact between officials of both Departments. Topics of discussion have included a range of issues across the transport, energy and climate change spectrum as well as the Sustainable Travel and Transport Action Plan.

Telecommunications Services.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

87 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources further to the recent meeting of the International Advisory Forum on Broadband, the timeframe for publication of the report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14646/08]

My Department has prepared a Draft Policy Paper on Next Generation Broadband. The Paper reviews current communications infrastructure policy and analyses policy options in light of industry developments in relation to the optimum role for the Government in the planning and roll out of next generation broadband. In February of this year I convened a meeting of the expert International Advisory Forum to examine the Paper. The Forum critiqued draft options and recommendations on how to meet the challenges that lie ahead. The Forum members supported the broad thrust of the document and have provided valuable feedback. They offered some additional recommendations and advice on the future trends of the telecommunications and ICT industries and proposed that certain suggestions be explored further. The draft paper is currently being updated to take account of the Forum's contribution. This will be finished soon and I will shortly publish the paper for public consultation.

Broadcasting Services.

John O'Mahony

Ceist:

88 Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the progress made to date in the establishment of a digital terrestrial television transmission system; when he expects DTT broadcasting to begin; the plans he has in place to deal with the extra expense that will have to be incurred by people to buy receiving equipment in order to continue to receive free-to-air channels after switch-off; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14801/08]

The Broadcasting (Amendment) Act, 2007 provides for the development of digital terrestrial television in Ireland. Under this Act, RTÉ is required to provide a digital terrestrial television system with capacity to carry RTÉ, TG4 and TV3. The legislation also requires the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) to seek commercial applicants who are interested in providing commercial digital terrestrial television services. In this regard both RTÉ and the BCI are progressing and I expect that digital terrestrial television services should be available in Ireland from 2009.

I am confident that Ireland can meet the target EU analogue switch-off date of 2012. In the meantime, TV services will be simulcast on both analogue and digital networks so that viewers may choose to switch or to remain on analogue during that period. I consider that the digital terrestrial television services which will be made available in Ireland prior to that date will be attractive for the general public. Whilst there will be some cost in accessing digital television services for those who currently only have access to analogue, I do not anticipate that this will be excessive in the context of the services offered. I will, however, keep the matter under ongoing review, including, in conjunction with my colleague the Minister for Social and Family Affairs, in relation to those persons who are currently entitled to free television licences.

Postal Services.

Kieran O'Donnell

Ceist:

89 Deputy Kieran O’Donnell asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the terms of reference of the analysis of the wider economic and societal benefits of a postcode system here that was undertaken after the presentation of the National Postcode Project Board’s recommendation to Government in 2007; if this analysis has a deadline; the shortcomings of the NPPB’s recommendations this analysis intends to address; when a postcode system will be implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14797/08]

The National Postcode Project Board (NPPB) presented its recommendation as to the most appropriate postcode system for Ireland, the costs and benefits arising from its introduction along with a detailed implementation, promotion and maintenance plan. A proposal concerning the introduction of postcodes went to Government in May 2007 and Government decided that prior to the introduction of postcodes, further analysis to quantify the wider economic and societal benefits should be carried out. The work of the NPPB focused on quantifying the costs and benefits of postcodes to the postal sector including postal operators and customers and did not explicitly address non-postal costs and benefits. My Department has recruited consultants to assist it in carrying out this analysis, in order to establish a more complete estimate of the costs and benefits of postcodes to the public sector. This work will be completed shortly. On receipt of the analysis it would be my intention to revert to Government.

Telecommunications Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

90 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the degree to which high speed broadband is available throughout the entire country to all sectors; the degree to which he has had discussions with service providers and those seeking service with a view to bringing availability, standards and quality of service here into line with best international practice; if his attention has been drawn to the necessity to at least meet international levels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14696/08]

My Department has prepared a Draft Policy Paper on Next Generation Broadband. The Paper reviews current communications infrastructure policy and analyses policy options in light of industry developments in relation to the optimum role for the Government in the planning and roll out of next generation broadband. Part of the preparatory work on the paper involved consultation with service providers on their plans in this area. While recent reports confirm the continuing strong growth in broadband take-up — Ireland has the fastest broadband growth in the OECD — my officials' consultations with service providers confirmed that the market is starting to focus on increased quality at competitive prices. Speeds of up to 15 Mbps are now being offered to homes and businesses and competition is intensifying.

In addition to consulting with service providers, a group of national and international experts have critiqued the draft policy paper and the final draft will take account of this critique. When this is completed the paper will be published for public consultation inviting the views of both industry and user. I would expect that the paper will be published within weeks.

Seymour Crawford

Ceist:

91 Deputy Seymour Crawford asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he has a strategy to combat the growing problem of spam or junk e-mailing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15421/08]

Spam is a global problem and the capacity of an individual State to control it in isolation is very limited because spam can originate outside the State's jurisdiction. The combating of spam requires an approach encompassing legislation, education and awareness raising and cooperation between regulatory authorities, both nationally and internationally. The ICT industry and communications operators also have a role to play in devising technical solutions to protect their customers' privacy. As Minister with responsibility for Communications, my role is to provide national legislation underpinning EU legislation on spam and to provide for effective enforcement provisions.

Primary responsibility for the enforcement of the legislation in relation to the control of spam rests with the Data Protection Commissioner. The Commissioner has powers under the European Communities (Electronic Communications Networks and Services (Data Protection and Privacy) Regulations 2003, to prosecute offences relating to unsolicited communications for the purpose of direct marketing. The sending of each unsolicited communication or making of each unsolicited call constitutes a separate summary offence which carries a maximum penalty of €3,000. The Data Protection Commissioner also investigates complaints in relation to the receipt of spam. The 2003 Regulations are currently being updated on foot of the Communications Regulation (Amendment) Act 2007, and I intend to provide for fines on summary conviction of €5,000 and to provide for an indictable offence carrying a penalty of up to €250,000 or 10% of turnover, whichever is the greater. This will bring the penalties in line with the highest in the EU and should provide an effective deterrent.

Under the 2003 Regulations the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) also has a role in monitoring compliance with the Regulations in cooperation with the Data Protection Commissioner. ComReg is also empowered to issue directions from time to time for the effective implementation of the Regulations. The EU Commission has included provisions to reinforce legal action against spammers in its proposed reform of the legislative framework for electronic communications. This proposal is currently being considered by Member States in the Council Working Group on electronic communications. My Department has participated in an OECD Taskforce on spam control, which published recommendations in April 2006 on best practice. These covered legislation, enforcement, international cooperation, education and awareness, and the development of technical solutions. My Department, in conjunction with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, private sector and not-for-profit organisations and the Northern Ireland authorities, recently conducted a public awareness campaign on the fundamentals of secure Internet access and some of the most common threats.

Electricity Generation.

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

92 Deputy Pat Rabbitte asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on concerns from ESB unions regarding the roll-out of smart meters; if the roll-out will be funded by the ESB as originally planned; the position in relation to the roll-out of smart meters; when the roll-out will be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14649/08]

The roll out of a national smart meter programme, in line with the commitment in the Government's Energy Policy Framework and in the Programme for Government, is a central component of our strategy to significantly enhance management of demand for electricity and to achieve greater energy efficiency through the use of cutting-edge technology. The delivery of smart metering requires a collective response. That is why I have made it a priority for my Department to work intensively as part of the Steering Group overseeing the smart meter programme. The group is chaired by the Commission for Energy Regulation and consists of Sustainable Energy Ireland, ESB Networks, ESB Customer Supply and independent suppliers as well as my Department. There are also four working groups which are mandated to progress the complex technical aspects of smart metering including Tariffs, Billing/Data Services, Networks and Customer Behaviour.

Under the ESB's new Strategic Framework to 2020, the national smart meter programme will be financed under the ESB Networks Multi Annual Investment Programme. With installation of meters set to begin this summer, the objective is to complete the national roll out in 5 years. The recognised potential of smart metering in terms of increased energy efficiency, reduced costs, reduced harmful emissions, facilitation of micro and distributed generation and improved customer service, will deliver tangible benefits to all consumers of electricity. In regard to the concerns potentially raised by the ESB unions, the management of industrial relations within ESB is, in the first instance, a matter for the board and management of the company. I am aware of comments earlier this year by a representative of one of the constituent Unions of the ESB Group of Unions in relation to the roll out of smart meters. I am not aware, however, of any explicit concerns raised by the ESB Group of Unions in relation to the Smart Metering Programme.

Energy Resources.

John O'Mahony

Ceist:

93 Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to the scale of interconnection projects being advanced by other European countries, particularly the 580 kilometre 700MW interconnector being built between Norway and the Netherlands at a cost of €500 million; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that the time from decision to operation on this project will be slightly over three years; the reason that interconnection with Britain and north-west Europe is proceeding so incredibly slowly by comparison; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14802/08]

There are a significant number of interconnector projects planned and underway in Europe. Greater interconnection between Member States is a key urgent priority for the European Union to ensure the effective working of the internal market and security of supply. It is also critical for the integration of renewable energy into the grid. The EU Commission has identified in its Priority Interconnection Plan some 40 high-priority projects of European Interest, which includes Ireland's East/West interconnector. Enhanced interconnection right across Europe is critically important for Ireland as a peripheral regional energy market. The East/West Interconnector and potential interconnection with Europe in future is of national strategic importance.

The reality is that a significant number of European interconnection projects have experienced delays for various reasons. The complexity of planning and other approval procedures is the major reason for most delays. Relevant factors include opposition from local communities, complexity in identifying cross-border points, difficult terrain and the need for major grid reinforcements. In that context I am advised that the Norway–Netherlands interconnector project has been considerably longer than three years in the making. The need to accelerate the delivery of interconnection projects is underlined in the European Priority Interconnection Plan. The Commission is reviewing the existing guidelines for Trans-European Energy Networks with a view to requiring Member States to have planning and approval procedures completed in a maximum timeframe of five years.

The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) and EirGrid are working intensively to expedite delivery of the East/West Interconnector. The CER and EirGrid have planned the project to ensure that it is delivered in line with the 2012 target for completion. Where opportunities exist to undertake work in parallel, these are being taken. For example, the selection of the developer to construct the interconnector is being carried out in parallel with advancing the various planning processes, under the Strategic Infrastructure Act and the Foreshore Acts. Since the Government Decision to proceed with the interconnector in July 2006, a number of milestones have already been achieved. EirGrid has secured connection points for the interconnector on both the Irish and UK transmission systems, at Woodland in County Meath and Deeside in Wales. Detailed preparations are ongoing in relation to formal applications for planning and other consents. EirGrid is also finalising a seabed survey to determine the most suitable route for the undersea cable.

The CER and EirGrid will continue to work to deliver the project to schedule by 2012. EirGrid is targeting the end of 2008 to announce the successful bidder for the design and construction of the interconnector. 2011 is targeted for the completion of works with 2012 targeted for the start of commercial operations. The recently published Bill provides for the expansion of the functions of EirGrid to include the construction, ownership and operation of an interconnector, subject to the granting of relevant licences and authorisations by the CER. A high-level coordination group has been established to oversee the project and ensure completion to schedule. The Group is chaired by CER and comprises representatives of EirGrid and my Department.

EU Directives.

Kieran O'Donnell

Ceist:

94 Deputy Kieran O’Donnell asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the results of the examination by his officials of the third postal directive which was published in the Official Journal of the European Union in February 2008; when the public consultation process to examine the key issues arising from the directive will be held; if he has decided whether he will consolidate postal legislation here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14796/08]

My Department has reviewed the Directive with a view to establishing the key issues arising from it for Ireland and I intend to shortly hold a public consultation process examining these issues. The results of this process will assist my thinking with respect to the transposition of the directive into Irish law, including any possible consolidation of existing postal legislation.

Alternative Energy Projects.

David Stanton

Ceist:

95 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the progress that has been made in the development and introduction of a biofuels obligation scheme by 2009 as included in the Agreed Programme for Government; if his biofuel targets will be met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15468/08]

My Department is currently finalising a consultation paper in relation to the proposed biofuels obligation. The consultation process will be rolled out shortly and this will allow all interested stakeholders to submit their views on the proposal. Specific details of the obligation will be developed as part of the consultation process. Ireland's national biofuels obligation will take full account of EU developments in relation to biofuels policy and in particular the imperative to ensure sustainability. The proposed biofuels obligation scheme has the objective of enabling Ireland to move progressively towards meeting EU targets for biofuels penetration in a cost-effective way while taking full account of environmental sustainability in line with EU developments.

Electricity Generation.

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

96 Deputy Pat Rabbitte asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the position in relation to and his views on the 8000 MW of wind applications to the grid at the present time; the position regarding these applications; if the onshore providers awaiting access to the grid will be given less favourable status than offshore wind applicants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14648/08]

The processing of applications for connections to the electricity network is a matter for ESB Networks or EirGrid in the first instance. The processing of Gate Three applications and adjudicating on disputes in relation to connection requests and decisions are matters for the Commission for Energy Regulation. I have no statutory function in the matter.

Projects which have secured a connections offer and planning permission can apply to my Department's Renewable Energy Feed-in Tariff (REFIT) programme. The programme offers guaranteed prices to projects across a variety of renewable energy technologies. The provision of a higher price in any category over another is indicative of the higher average production costs in that category. A number of technologies have been added to REFIT in recent months. The different prices under the various REFIT categories do not indicate any preference or priority for any technology over another. The programme does not set out to pick winners in that sense but does aim to reflect the differing investment costs for level of payments required to ensure the completion of projects in the higher cost technologies. My recent announcement of a higher price for offshore wind projects reflects both the higher investment costs and operating costs in that category.

Postal Services.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

97 Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on the VAT advantage enjoyed by An Post in comparison with its competitors; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14799/08]

Paragraph (xia) of the First Schedule to the Value-Added Tax Act 1972, as amended, provides for an exemption from VAT for public postal services (including the supply of goods and services incidental thereto) supplied by An Post, including postmasters. Essentially, the exemption covers services provided within the "universal service" in the EU Postal Services Directive. Any specialised postal services, such as courier services provided by An Post or any other entity are liable to VAT. The VAT Directive of 2006 provides that Member States shall continue to exempt public postal services from VAT. In addition to a VAT exemption, the providers of public postal services, such as An Post, are required to fulfil universal service obligations. These obligations are not imposed on private operators.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

98 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on the report from ComReg that shows the quality of service for 2007 for An Post on next day delivery was 77% and that the target is for 94%; the steps he will take to ensure standards in the post industry are maintained; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14673/08]

I have no statutory function in relation to this matter. Matters relating to quality and levels of postal service are a matter, in the first instance, for the management and board of An Post. The Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, is responsible under the European Communities (Postal Services) Regulations 2002 for monitoring quality of service standards in relation to the postal service. I will shortly amend the postal regulations using powers conferred on me by the Communications Regulation (Amendment) Act 2007. Once amended, these regulations will permit ComReg to apply to the High Court for the application of a financial penalty to An Post, as universal service provider, in the event that the company fails to comply with a direction issued by the regulator including in relation to quality of service targets. In my own meetings with the management of the company I have however taken the opportunity to stress the Government's support for the quality of services targets that the company is seeking to achieve and encourage the company in adopting innovative changes in their operations to help meet them.

Energy Efficiency.

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

99 Deputy Emmet Stagg asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will provide a full report on all available insulation grants for householders; the funding being provided for same in 2008; the measures he is taking to provide householders with full information on all available assistance to access low carbon home heating systems and home insulation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14643/08]

I have provided some €4 million to Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI) in 2008 to fund the Warmer Homes Scheme, which is an increase over the €2.5m available to this scheme in 2007. This scheme provides insulation and other energy efficiency solutions to low income homes across Ireland. The service is coordinated by SEI and is delivered principally through community based organisations. The scheme is targeted at householders who are in receipt of the Fuel Allowance, Disability Benefit or Invalidity Benefit and is provided either free of charge or for a nominal fee (less than €100). Households are identified by community based installers working closely in association with other intermediaries including the St. Vincent de Paul Society, Health Services and GP networks.

In relation to promoting low carbon home heating systems, I have provided some €26 million to SEI in 2008 for the Greener Homes Scheme. The scheme provides grants to homeowners investing in renewable energy heating technologies, including solar panels, biomass boilers and stoves and heat pumps. I will shortly be launching the €5 million pilot Home Energy Saving Scheme. The pilot scheme will be delivered by SEI and through selected Local Energy Agencies. It will inform decisions in relation to the development and roll out of a national Home Energy Saving Scheme for householders in line with the Programme for Government commitment. My colleague, John Gormley T.D., Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, introduced a new Housing Aid for Older People Scheme on 1 November 2007. The scheme provides targeted support to improve housing conditions of older people. The scheme may assist with works that can improve the energy efficiency of homes, such as insulation, provision of central heating and repair or replacement of windows and doors. Application is through the local authorities.

My Department's Power of One energy efficiency awareness campaign makes available information and advice to householders on home insulation, with links from its website to SEI's guide to Home Insulation. SEI also provides information on its website on the main manufacturers and suppliers of energy efficiency products for the home building and home improvement markets in Ireland.

Telecommunications Services.

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

100 Deputy Emmet Stagg asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the steps he is taking to mitigate the growth of the digital divide; the method to ensure equality of access to information technology and Internet; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14642/08]

The provision of broadband services is, in the first instance, a matter for the private sector. Broadband service providers operate in a fully liberalised market, regulated, where appropriate, by the independent Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg. The role of the Government is to formulate regulatory and infrastructure policies to facilitate the provision of high quality telecommunications services by competing private sector service providers. The widespread provision of broadband services continues to be a priority for the Government. In that regard my Department has undertaken initiatives to address the gaps in broadband coverage. These include providing grant-aid under the Group Broadband Scheme (GBS) and investment in Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs).

Although broadband is now widely available in Ireland there are still some parts of the country where the private sector will be unable to justify the commercial provision of broadband services. These areas are being addressed by the National Broadband Scheme (NBS), which will provide broadband services to areas that are currently unserved and will ensure that all reasonable requests for broadband are met. The first phase of the NBS procurement process (Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ)) is now complete, and four candidates pre-qualified to enter the next phase of the procurement process. Following the withdrawal of the IFA/Motorola Consortium as a candidate, the remaining three candidates have now commenced "Competitive Dialogue" with my Department and are developing their proposed solutions to meet my Department's requirements for the delivery of broadband to the unserved areas of the country. It is anticipated that a preferred bidder will be selected and appointed in July 2008, with roll out to commence as soon as possible thereafter.

I should also mention that €0.97 million will be distributed by Pobal this year to support ICT initiatives aimed at disadvantaged communities. Finally, I understand that almost 1,500 public access Internet PCs are currently available in public libraries throughout the country.

Broadcasting Services.

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

101 Deputy Kathleen Lynch asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his proposals for banning junk food advertising aimed at young people; his time-frame for this proposal; if this will be addressed by the Broadcasting Bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14658/08]

Section 19(1)(c) of the Broadcasting Act, 2001, provides that the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) shall, upon being directed by the Minister to do so, prepare a code specifying standards to be complied with, and rules and practices to be observed, in respect of advertising, tele-shopping material, sponsorship and other forms of commercial promotion employed in any broadcasting service or sound broadcasting service which relate to matters likely to be of direct or indirect interest to children. The BCI is an independent statutory organisation responsible, inter alia, for the development of codes.

Under the newly adopted Audiovisual Media Services Directive, EU Member States and the European Commission are required to encourage media service providers to develop codes of conduct regarding inappropriate audiovisual commercial communication, accompanying or included in children's programmes, of foods and beverages containing nutrients and substances with a nutritional or physiological effect. This relates in particular to those such as fat, trans-fatty acids, salt/sodium and sugars, excessive intakes of which in the overall diet are not recommended. While Member States have until December 2009 to transpose this requirement I propose to use the opportunity afforded by the forthcoming Broadcasting Bill 2008 to bring forward proposals in this regard.

Electricity Generation.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

102 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the most up to date position in regard to the reconfiguration of the ESB and the separation of generation, transmission and distribution, including the transfer of assets; the degree to which discussions have taken place with management and unions in this regard to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14695/08]

Dan Neville

Ceist:

119 Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the process, including deadlines and timescales, that will surround the transfer of grid assets from the ESB to Eirgrid; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14793/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 102 and 119 together.

I would refer the Deputy to my Statement of 13th March on the future of Ireland's electricity sector. In that Statement I affirmed the Government's policy commitment in the Energy Policy White Paper and the Programme for Government to transfer the ownership of the electricity transmission assets from ESB to EirGrid. It is also fundamental Government policy that we retain the electricity and gas networks as strategic national assets in state ownership which will never be privatised. The unbundling of the transmission assets involves the resolution of complex technical, financial and operational issues as well as legislation. In the context, not least, of wide-ranging challenging priorities for ESB and EirGrid, I have proposed that an independent analysis of the transmission issues, including costs, benefits and regulatory impact assessment, be conducted in the context of EU developments and the all island single electricity market.

Statements by my predecessor and I, on this issue, have consistently underlined the need for transparent and inclusive engagement with all relevant stakeholders in the process of implementing Government policy in relation to transmission. Input to the process of independent analysis will accordingly be invited from the direct key stakeholders. These are the management and unions of ESB and EirGrid, the ESB Employee Share Ownership Trust, as well as the Commission for Energy Regulation and the Department of Finance. As I also announced in my statement, I intend to appoint a senior independent figure to chair this process. This will include the commissioning of independent consultants to carry out the technical and economic analysis.

All the direct stakeholders have pivotal roles to play in the process of engagement and analysis and in achieving outcomes that are good for EirGrid and ESB and which are satisfactory for all parties concerned and in the best interests of the economy and consumers. I look forward to getting this collective process under way following my appointment of the senior independent chair shortly. Government policy is clear in relation to ensuring the strategic future of both EirGrid and ESB as strong viable Semi State bodies with key roles to play in delivering national goals for emissions reduction, renewables and energy efficiency as well as security of supply and competitiveness.

I welcome ESB's announcement of its new Strategic Framework to 2020, which will see an unprecedented capital investment programme by the company at home and abroad in support of our goals for renewable energy, energy efficiency, emissions reduction and energy security. I look forward equally to EirGrid's forthcoming Transmission Development Strategy 2025. This will set out an ambitious national plan for investment in the transmission system over the next two decades in support of economic, social and regional development and the integration of renewable energy generation.

Telecommunications Services.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

103 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the steps which he is taking to ensure the availability of quality broadband throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15330/08]

David Stanton

Ceist:

110 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the percentage of the country which has access to broadband; when he expects there will be 100% coverage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15467/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 103 and 110 together.

The role of the Government is to formulate regulatory and infrastructure policies to facilitate the provision of high quality telecommunications services, by competing private sector service providers. The widespread provision of broadband services continues to be a priority for the Government. In that regard my Department has undertaken initiatives to address the gaps in broadband coverage. These included providing grant-aid under the Group Broadband Scheme and ongoing investment in Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs). There are still some parts of the country where the private sector will be unable to justify the commercial provision of broadband services. Accordingly, the procurement process for a National Broadband Scheme (NBS) is under way. The NBS will provide broadband services to areas that are currently unserved and will ensure that all reasonable requests for broadband are met. Homes and premises that are more difficult to reach are also being examined and potential solutions are being considered. Consequently, it is expected that all homes and premises in currently unserved areas will be offered a broadband service.

The first phase of the procurement process (Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ)) is now complete, and four candidates pre-qualified to enter the next phase of the procurement process. The four candidates were, in alphabetical order, BT Communications Ireland Ltd Consortium, eircom Ltd, Hutchinson 3G Ireland Ltd and IFA/Motorola Consortium. Following the withdrawal of the IFA/Motorola Consortium as a candidate the remaining three candidates participated in "Competitive Dialogue" with my Department and are developing their proposed solutions to meet my Department's requirements for the delivery of broadband to the unserved areas of the country. It is anticipated that a preferred bidder will be selected and appointed in July 2008, with roll out to commence as soon as possible thereafter.

Ciaran Lynch

Ceist:

104 Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the discussions he has had with the Department of Social and Family Affairs to ensure that older people will be entitled to avail of free broadband as per the programme for Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14660/08]

I have not had any discussions with the Department of Social and Family Affairs regarding this matter. I understand however, that under that Department's Telephone Allowance Scheme, where people access the Internet using a landline, the telephone allowance applies to their bill usage and will cover the cost of calls or Internet usage up to the level of their allowance. I also understand that the Department Social and Family Affairs is currently examining how best to address cases where a landline does not exist and customers are not availing of their allowance in respect of a mobile phone.

Natural Gas Grid.

Joanna Tuffy

Ceist:

105 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will comment on reports that Bord Gáis is positioning itself for a possible privatisation in three to five years; his views on this matter; the implications for the energy sector here; if he is in talks with Bord Gáis on same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14661/08]

The Government has no plans for the privatisation of Bord Gáis Éireann and there have been no discussions with Bord Gáis Éireann on the matter. The Government, in the Energy Policy Framework 2007–2020, recognises the fundamental role played by the Semi-State Energy bodies, including Bord Gáis Éireann, in the economic and social development of Ireland and underlines the strategic value of maintaining these bodies as strong, commercially viable State owned companies into the future. The Energy Policy Framework and the Programme for Government state clearly that the electricity and gas network infrastructures will be kept as strategic national assets in State ownership and that these assets will not be privatised.

Nuclear Plants.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

106 Deputy Liz McManus asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if, in view of his calls for a debate on nuclear power, he has plans to propose a change in legislation that would legalise the development of nuclear power stations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14664/08]

The use of nuclear fission for the generation of electricity in Ireland is statutorily prohibited under Section 18 subsection 6 of the Electricity Regulation Act 1999. It is also relevant in this context that Section 3 of the Planning and Development (Strategic Infrastructure) Act 2006 amends the Planning and Development Act 2000 to state that "Nothing in this Act shall be construed as enabling the authorisation of development consisting of an installation for the generation of electricity by nuclear fission". My position is clear and consistent on the question of a debate on nuclear power. I welcome and encourage debate on the issue and I have previously suggested the Oireachtas Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security as an appropriate forum for such a debate.

I would, however, stress that the Energy Policy Framework and the Programme for Government make it clear that the Government fully intends to maintain the statutory prohibition on nuclear generation in Ireland. Ireland's position on nuclear generation is shared by several EU Member States. The EU Reform Treaty reaffirms the fundamental right of Member States to determine their own choice between different energy resources and the general structure of their energy supply. Any debate on nuclear power should be set in the context of the actions, which the Government is taking to deliver fully sustainable and diverse energy resources in transport, heating and power generation. In each of the three areas of energy use I firmly believe that we have sustainable solutions. In my view the priority should be to accelerate delivery on our targets for renewable energies and energy efficiency. However, I would welcome a debate where those with a different view can advance their case for a different approach.

Regulatory Bodies.

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

107 Deputy Kathleen Lynch asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he has plans to enhance ComReg’s enforcement powers; his views on whether the powers given to Ofcom in the UK in this regard, particularly in terms of the levels of the fines it can impose, could be used as a model; if he is satisfied that the regulator is empowered to regulate the broadband sector effectively at present; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14656/08]

The provision of electronic communications services, including broadband is primarily a matter for private sector operators. Statutory responsibility for the regulation of electronic communications service providers rests with the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg). In relation to ComReg's enforcement powers, the Deputy may be aware that these were substantially enhanced by the Communications Regulation (Amendment) Act 2007 including:

the creation of new summary, indictable and continuing offences for breaches by operators of obligations imposed by ComReg;

the conferral on ComReg of competition law powers to allow it to investigate and prosecute anti-competitive behaviour or abuse of dominance in the electronic communications sector; and

the provision of increased information gathering powers and power to investigate overcharging.

As part of the preparatory work on the 2007 Act, international regulatory models were looked at. The final shape of the legislation reflects international best practice while also having regard to the constitutional position here. I am satisfied that the current suite of powers available to ComReg enables it to effectively regulate all the sectors for which it has responsibility, including the broadband sector. I have no further plans to change ComReg's enforcement powers.

Energy Resources.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

108 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the position regarding the publication date of the joint study on natural gas storage and liquefied natural gas on an all-island basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14653/08]

My Department and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment for Northern Ireland jointly commissioned a study in 2007 to assess the medium to long-term position with regard to security of natural gas supply on an all-island basis and the scope for an all-island approach to natural gas storage and Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG). The Executive Summary of the Report was published in recent days on my Department's website and on the website of Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Northern Ireland. It is not proposed to publish the Report in its entirety for reasons of confidentiality and commercial sensitivity.

The report assesses the security of national gas supplies for the island of Ireland in the context of our reliance on gas imports via undersea pipelines from the UK. The report examines possible supply/demand scenarios for natural gas between now and 2020 and recommends ways in which gas security of supply could be addressed. My Department and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Northern Ireland, together with the two Regulatory Authorities North and South are assessing the report's findings, which range from short and medium to longer term options, with a view to advising myself and my Northern colleague, Minister Nigel Dodds, on the costs, benefits, feasibility and advisability of the various recommendations, some of which are already in train.

Electricity Generation.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

109 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the steps which he is taking to ensure the availability of quality electricity supply throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15331/08]

The Government is committed to ensuring that electricity supply consistently meets the needs of Irish consumers and business. My Department liaises closely with the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), which has primary independent statutory functions with regard to monitoring and ensuring security of electricity supply, and with EirGrid as the independent Transmission System Operator. Reporting to the CER, EirGrid has responsibility for managing generation adequacy and monitoring generation capacity. In December 2007 EirGrid produced a Generation Adequacy Report (GAR) covering the period 2008 -2014. The GAR is produced annually by EirGrid and sets out the estimates for demand of electricity for the next seven years. This report provides a rigorous analysis of Ireland's electricity generation capacity to meet expected demand.

Our generating capacity must ensure an adequate margin between electricity supply and demand. Medium term capacity will be enhanced with the two 400 megawatts power generation plants currently under construction at Aghada and Whitegate for delivery in 2009/10 as well as the new electricity interconnectors scheduled for 2011 (North/South) and 2012 (East/West). The additional interconnector capacity will significantly enhance Ireland's security of supply. The provision of new flexible power generation plant and achieving our targets for wind and other renewable energy is equally critical. It is expected that connected wind capacity which is currently installed at a capacity of 804 megawatts will reach 2792 megawatts by end of 2014.

As with any power generation system, it is not possible to give definitive guarantees that generation adequacy will always be maintained. By their nature, high level forced outages on the system cannot be predicted. Plant outage, whether planned or unforeseen, must at all times be critically managed to maintain security of supply. EirGrid operates a range of demand control measures to assist in managing demand at peak times. These include reducing demand by agreement with large users in the interests of ensuring domestic customer supply is maintained. Key imperatives for electricity supply and demand are energy efficiency and a diverse fuel mix. Radically improving energy efficiency and achieving the ambitious renewable energy target set by the Government will significantly enhance security of supply and ensure that demand itself is managed in a fully sustainable way.

Question No. 110 answered with Question No. 103.

Telecommunications Services.

Michael D. Higgins

Ceist:

111 Deputy Michael D. Higgins asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources when he expects to receive the draft policy paper on next generation broadband networks; if he will implement the value for money and policy review of phase one of the MANs programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14637/08]

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 268 of 3 April 2008.

Energy Resources.

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

112 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the deadlines that have not been met in relation to the energy White Paper; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14650/08]

The Programme for Government underlines the imperative to secure long term energy security and sustainability and a low carbon future for Ireland, responding to the urgent and massive challenge of climate change. The comprehensive policy actions set out in the Energy Policy White Paper, reinforced and augmented by the Programme for Government, will result in a transformed landscape for the Irish energy sector. My priority is to oversee and drive sustained implementation of all our commitments in partnership with my Government colleagues and with all stakeholders.

The Energy White Paper sets out over 200 policy actions, measures, goals and targets that are designed to deliver on security of supply, sustainability and competitiveness over the period to 2020. By delivering consistently on all actions we are making fundamental changes to the way we provide and use energy, in order to ensure a sustainable energy future. These ambitious policy actions and measures have different timelines and challenges. Work is ongoing in relation to all the actions with delivery across a range of key immediate challenges for 2007, 2008 and beyond. I am satisfied that sustained and tangible progress is being proactively made across the measures in the Energy Policy Framework and the Programme for Government.

Electricity Generation.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

113 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the position regarding the grid development strategy; the time frame for publication; the benefits of this strategy; the budget allocated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14677/08]

The availability of reliable, secure and competitively priced electricity supply is critical to Ireland's economic social and regional development and the competitiveness of Irish industry. The challenge is underlined by the continued growth in electricity demand in our economy, the need to accelerate the growth of renewable energy sources and the imperative to reduce green house gas emissions. The Government's Energy Policy Framework and the Programme for Government commits to a range of actions to deliver a secure and sustainable energy supply. The finalisation and implementation of a Grid Development Strategy to 2025 by EirGrid will be pivotal in terms of planning and delivering vitally necessary transmission infrastructure at regional and national level to 2025 and beyond.

The Grid Development Strategy is being finalised by EirGrid, in consultation with stakeholders. EirGrid is the wholly State-owned independent body with responsibility for the electricity transmission system in Ireland, including the wholesale electricity trading system. EirGrid delivers connections, transmission and market services to generators, suppliers and customers. EirGrid is also responsible for planning and delivering the investment and construction of the transmission networks system and the delivery of the East West Interconnector. The Grid Development Strategy will provide a comprehensive plan for the development of the electricity transmission grid system over the next two decades. Enhancement of the electricity grid will support the increased integration of renewable electricity, and support balanced regional development by meeting the needs of business and domestic consumers across Ireland.

The Strategy will identify transmission network development options to cater for forecast demand, renewable electricity targets, future conventional generators and planned interconnection. It will build on the existing €770 million capital investment programme in the transmission networks under the National Development Plan. All investments in electricity transmission and distribution networks are funded through use-of-system charges approved by the Commission for Energy Regulation. The additional investment needs required for the implementation of the Grid Development Strategy will be the subject of discussion and agreement between EirGrid and the Commission for Energy Regulation.

Telecommunications Services.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

114 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on the EU Telecoms Commissioner’s views that retail prices in broadband must come down; if he will comment on her view that there would be no objection at EU level if the Government decided to buy or invest in Eircom’s network arm; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14674/08]

I welcome Commissioner Reding's recent praise for Ireland's progress in increasing take-up of broadband. In addition I acknowledge her comments on the cost of retail broadband pricing. However, we have already seen a steady fall in the price of retail broadband in Ireland which can be attributed to an increase in competition. In 2002 the cost of eircom's standard DSL product was €107.70 per month. It has decreased on various occasions over the last number of years. In Q4 2007 the cost of the standard eircom DSL package was €24.99. I would anticipate that, as more providers with varying offers via different technologies have entered the market, the prices will fall further. The introduction of pay-as-you-go mobile broadband will further extend the choice available to consumers.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Joe Costello

Ceist:

115 Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the grants available for individual wind turbines at a private house or for residential development; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14639/08]

There are currently no grants available to support the installation of individual domestic wind turbines. At my request Sustainable Energy Ireland is putting in place a microgeneration programme which will underpin and inform development of appropriate cost effective measures to support the deployment of small renewable generators.

Electricity Transmission.

Sean Sherlock

Ceist:

116 Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the position regarding the study on the comparative merits of overhead electricity transmission lines versus underground cables; when it will be published; if such a study will be carried out in every instance in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14645/08]

International consultants Ecofys have been appointed to undertake the independent study on the comparative merits of overhead electricity transmission lines versus underground cables. The consultants were appointed on 8th April 2008 following a tender process launched on 29 February on the Government's eTenders website. Ecofys, which is based in the Netherlands, with offices in twelve different countries worldwide, specialises in energy saving and renewable energy solutions. Ecofys will also utilise the services of Golder Associates, a global group of consulting companies specialising in ground engineering and environmental services. Golder has provided environmental consultancy services for a range of electricity generation and transmission related projects both in Ireland and the UK.

The independent study is being undertaken by Ecofys at a national, not a project-specific level and will offer professional advice on best international practice for the construction of transmission lines, thereby informing debate and decisions on national transmission development. It is not therefore intended that such a study would be carried out in relation to future individual projects which will in any event be subject to the full range of assessments and analysis as required under the planning process.

In tandem with the tender process, my Department placed advertisements in nine national newspapers requesting submissions from the public on the issue. Over 500 submissions were received by the closing date of 7th March. The consultants have been furnished with these submissions and will consider points raised, in their analysis of the merits or otherwise of underground and overground options. The consultants will also be available to meet with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, to discuss the details of the report, once published. The report is scheduled to be finalised by early June and will be published thereafter. The time frame for completion of the work is in line with the tender specification.

Electricity Generation.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

117 Deputy Michael Noonan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he has set a target for the percentage of electricity generation here that will come from renewables by the year 2020. [14794/08]

The Government's target as set out in the Energy Policy Framework and the Programme for Government is to increase the contribution from renewable energy sources to electricity by 33% by 2020. This national target is fully reflected in the legally binding target for Ireland proposed by the EU Commission in the Renewable Energy/Climate Change Package. I have stated previously that 33% should be our minimum level of ambition for 2020 in light also of the assessment in the All-Island Grid Study that a target of 42% renewables on the system is technically feasible for the island of Ireland. Our ambition is to achieve such a higher target given that the same study indicated that this could be done without significant additional costs to the market. There are many challenges inherent in reaching these targets, which I am working with colleagues and stakeholders to address. In addressing those challenges I believe that we will position the renewables sector to deliver an even higher share of electricity after 2020.

Postal Services.

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

118 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on whether it is appropriate that An Post has a specific role in postal regulation under clause 8(3) of S.I. 616 of 2002; his further views on whether this role should instead be granted to the regulator; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14800/08]

The postal regulations provide that An Post may apply to the High Court to make an order prohibiting the provision by an individual of services legally reserved for An Post. The reserved area has been gradually reduced since 2000 and the transposition of the third postal directive into Irish law will see the complete removal of the reserved area on 31 December 2010. Consequently, postal regulation 8(3) will no longer be relevant.

Question No. 119 answered with Question No. 102.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Joe Costello

Ceist:

120 Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on Ireland’s commitment to the biofuels directive in view of ethical concerns regarding land use for biofuels, particularly in developing countries; the percentage he estimates Ireland will import from developing countries in order to reach the target on biofuels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14662/08]

I am aware that growing concerns are being expressed on the consequences of increased global demand for biofuels for global food stocks as well as a range of sustainability concerns. The EU Commission's proposed Renewable Energy Directive sets a minimum mandatory target of 10% market penetration of biofuels in transport in all Member States by 2020. It also includes an explicit framework for sustainability criteria in relation to biofuels. These criteria are designed to ensure that biofuels deployed by Member States are produced in a way that ensures they do not contribute towards the degradation of the natural environment, including through the destruction of forests, wetlands or long established grassland. The criteria will also set strict targets for biofuels in terms of the Green House gas emissions they must save before they can be considered eligible as counting towards national targets. My Department is actively engaged in the EU Council Working Group, which is working to agree these criteria.

Currently, the feedstocks used for biofuels production are generally sourced on the open internationally traded commodities market with little or no information attached to these with regard to their origins. It is only by ensuring that Europe sets robust sustainability criteria that Member States will be able to track the source of these fuels, and mitigate the cumulative effect of unsustainable practices on developing countries. I therefore fully support the stated commitment by the Commission to ensuring that rigorous sustainability criteria are put in place and complied with under the new Directive.

I will shortly be launching the public consultation on the proposed Biofuels Obligation as set out in the Programme for Government. In that context EU developments on biofuels policy in light of emerging concerns in relation to sustainability for the environment will be reviewed and publicly debated. The recent introduction by the UK of a Biofuels Obligation will also be closely monitored for lessons to be learned.

Postal Services.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

121 Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on ComReg’s finding that only 77% of mail was delivered within one working day in 2007 compared to the target of 94%; his further views on whether this is an acceptable level of next day delivery; if he plans to give more powers to ComReg to enforce delivery targets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14798/08]

Matters relating to quality and levels of postal service are a matter in the first instance for the management and board of An Post and one in which I have no statutory function. In addition, the Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg, in accordance with the 2002 European Communities (Postal Services) Regulations, is responsible for the monitoring, measurement and regulation of the postal sector including measuring the levels of service to be achieved by An Post and ensuring that the company abides by its statutory universal service obligations.

In relation to the matter of additional powers being given to ComReg to enforce its delivery targets, I will shortly amend the postal regulations using powers conferred on me by the Communications Regulation (Amendment) Act 2007. Once amended, these regulations will permit ComReg to apply to the High Court for the application of a financial penalty to An Post, as universal service provider, in the event that the company fails to comply with a direction issued by the regulator including in relation to quality of service targets. In my meetings I have had with the company I have taken the opportunity to support the service level targets that have been set and encouraged An Post to be innovative in the development of its operations to make sure the targets are met.

Question No. 122 answered with Question No. 76.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Joanna Tuffy

Ceist:

123 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to the calls for a review of policies on promotion of biofuels by the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, due to the risks posed by rising world food prices as well as concerns expressed in relation to the risks of biofuels by the chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri; if he is taking steps to take into account the risk of biofuels and to review commitments in the national climate change strategy, his Department’s statement of strategy and the environment heading of the programme for Government, in relation to the mandatory use of biofuel mixes in transport fuels, and minimum requirements of use of biofuels in public service vehicles; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14486/08]

I am aware that the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, has called for a full review of international biofuels policy in light of increasing global food prices and food security concerns. I am also aware of the concerns about the environmental impacts of unsustainable biofuels production expressed by Dr. Rajendra Pachavri in the context of climate change.

I welcome the fact that the EU Commission is taking explicit account of concerns about the consequences of unsustainable biofuels development in the context of the proposed Renewable Energy Directive. The Directive proposes a target for all Member States of 10% market penetration of biofuels in transport by 2020. Crucially, the Commission is proposing the adoption of rigorous sustainability criteria for biofuels production and deployment. Our collective objective in the European Union must be to ensure that production and investment in biofuels is fully sustainable worldwide and does not have harmful consequences for developing countries in environmental and food security terms. I fully support the Commission's objective in relation to setting a sustainable framework for biofuels policy, which will see the EU taking a lead in this complex area.

Ireland is working with the Commission and other Member States to deliver an agreed sustainability framework. From our own national perspective I am working with all relevant Ministerial colleagues to ensure that our biofuels targets are met with full regard for sustainability at home and internationally. We will also continue to reflect EU and international developments as they emerge.

Departmental Expenditure.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

124 Deputy Michael Noonan asked the Taoiseach the policy decisions he has made to keep the current expenditure of his Department within the parameters allocated in his Department’s budget for 2008; the savings in 2008, and the full year savings of each such initiative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15563/08]

There is a decrease of €600,000 (2.7%) in the Administration Budget allocation for my Department in 2008, which has been achieved through the implementation of a range of efficiency measures including the increased use of shared services and better procurement practices. It is my Department's policy to ensure that all expenditure under the Department's vote is within the total allocation of the Revised Estimate for the year. In doing so, the Department seeks at all times to achieve best value for money in the procurement of goods and services, consistent with the continued delivery of the range of services which we provide in line with the Department's overall objectives.

Specific initiatives in 2008 include:

the use of Shared Services for the provision of Financial Management Services and transaction processing which is estimated to result in a saving of €140,000 in 2008 (full year cost);

measures to monitor and reduce energy use and increase efficiency. It is estimated that this could result in savings in the region of €21,000 per annum; and

an examination of the provision of telecommunications services. While it is anticipated that this should result in efficiency gains and possible savings, these cannot be quantified at this point.

The Department will continue to identify initiatives to increase efficiency which may contribute to further expenditure savings in 2008.

Housing Statistics.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

125 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Taoiseach if his attention has been drawn to the critical nature of the data on household vacancy rates as recorded in Table 46 of Volume 6 of the 2006 Census for projecting housing supply requirements; if he will seek a report or a detailed explanation from the Central Statistics Office on its interpretation of the high household vacancy rates as recorded in Table 46 specifically requesting a spatial analysis, an analysis of possible methodological shortcomings or possible inconsistent recordings by householders and enumerators, an explanation of the treatment of unsold new units, over the shop units, tenancy voids, semi-derelict units, units for sale and other non-standard units and an analysis of vacancy rates in terms of bed spaces or unit capacity; and if he will seek a revised estimate from the CSO of the number and rate of vacant housing units that would normally be available for occupancy. [15566/08]

Information on vacant dwellings arises as a direct result of the enumeration work carried out by enumerators at the time of a Census of Population. In the case of the 2006 census, attention was first drawn to the extent of vacant dwellings on publication of the Preliminary Report in July 2006. The tentative estimate at the time was 275,000 housing units. Table 40 of the Principal Demographic Results published in March 2007 provided a classification of the definitive number of unoccupied housing units distinguishing those where the residents were temporarily absent at the time of the census, vacant houses, vacant flats and holiday homes. This analysis which was provided on a county basis was also given as Table 43 in Volume 6 — Housing, and is reproduced in the table with this reply. A further spatial breakdown by electoral divisions, towns etc. has been made available on the CSO website since June 2007 distinguishing occupied and unoccupied housing units at the time of the census.

The CSO were aware from previous censuses, the most recent being in 2002, and from other household surveys such as the Quarterly National Household Survey, that conducting field operations was becoming more difficult. They therefore had to plan to mitigate these difficulties. The first decision they took was to stick to the tried and trusted model of using enumerators to deliver and collect census forms. The CSO employed 4,400 enumerators, each of whom covered on average about 350 households.

As part of their duties the enumerators had to list in their record books every building capable of being occupied on census night and mark the building on an up to date map of their enumeration area (EA). They then had to make contact with householders over a nine week period in April/May 2006, first to distribute blank census forms and then to collect the completed forms. Bearing in mind the increased complexity of Irish society with more people at work and greater mobility the enumerators made extensive use of calling cards in cases where contact with householders was not easy to achieve. The CSO issued each of the enumerators with a mobile phone and the phone numbers were entered on the calling cards to facilitate texting or phoning the best time for the enumerator to get the householder at home.

The enumerator's job entailed making personal contact with householders even where this involved multiple visits. The field supervisors contacted management companies for access codes in the case of gated communities of private apartments — a growing phenomenon as the CSO knows from some of its other surveys. From the CSO's experience with censuses they believe that using enumerators to establish personal contact with householders is the best method of ensuring a complete count and establishing which housing units are vacant at the time of the census. Alternative methodologies such as mailing out census forms and/or mailing back completed forms or transmitting them over the internet will not achieve the same coverage.

The fact that enumerators have responsibility for their own Enumeration Area is a powerful motivating factor. They have to account for every dwelling in their EA. When a household is temporarily absent on census night the householder is obliged to indicate where the household will be and if the address is elsewhere in the State the relevant enumerator checks to see that the household is enumerated there. Otherwise they will be approached later to fill out their census form at their original address.

The instructions issued to enumerators regarding the identification of vacant dwellings were very comprehensive. All buildings and places of possible habitation were visited. For regular habitable dwellings, before deciding that a particular dwelling was vacant enumerators were instructed to verify that that was indeed the case, by speaking with neighbours. They were to try to determine why the dwelling was vacant and note it in their records. Dwellings with a For Sale sign up and no sign of habitation were identified as vacant. If builders or decorators were visible contact was made to determine if the dwelling was occupied.

Holiday homes, which covered all dwellings which were only occasionally occupied, including city apartments used for week-end breaks etc. were identified by contact with neighbours. Derelict buildings (where the roof was partly or completely missing, or the entrance doors were missing) were not recorded, once the enumerator was satisfied that no person was living there. In the case of private accommodation with doors or windows bricked or boarded up (usually as a precaution against vandalism), enumerators were instructed that if the dwelling was habitable and they were clear that no one was living there to mark such buildings as vacant. Apartment/flat complexes being prepared for demolition where some flats were boarded up were not recorded unless someone was living in them.

Dwellings that were identified as "under construction" were not recorded as vacant dwellings. For census purposes, a dwelling was to be considered "under construction" if it was in the process of being built but was not yet ready for occupation. In the case of building sites where large numbers of houses were under construction, enumerators were instructed to make one listing in their record books. However, enumerators were specifically instructed in newly built housing estates that any dwelling that was ready for occupation but not yet occupied was to be separately listed and identified as vacant. In summary, the enumeration carried out by the CSO at the time of the 2006 census was comprehensive. As identifying vacant housing units can realistically only be done as part of a census operation it is not proposed to issue revised figures until after the next census has been carried out.

Census 2006

Occupancy Status

Vacant house

Vacant flat

Holiday home

Total

Geographic Area

Leinster

70,437

25,697

10,781

106,915

Carlow

1,857

310

308

2,475

Dublin City and County

27,122

18,765

418

46,305

Dublin City

12,557

13,424

111

26,092

Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown

4,661

2,207

60

6,928

Fingal

5,841

1,804

233

7,878

South Dublin

4,063

1,330

14

5,407

Kildare

5,363

1,359

116

6,838

Kilkenny

3,393

309

406

4,108

Laoighis

3,673

464

103

4,240

Longford

2,931

331

261

3,523

Louth

4,692

840

575

6,107

Meath

5,414

725

346

6,485

Offaly

3,023

307

220

3,550

Westmeath

3,894

850

271

5,015

Wexford

5,236

855

6,601

12,692

Wicklow

3,839

582

1,156

5,577

Munster

54,490

9,519

18,721

82,730

Clare

5,534

653

3,624

9,811

Cork City and County

20,200

4,228

6,561

30,989

Cork City

4,017

2,150

28

6,195

Cork County

16,183

2,078

6,533

24,794

Kerry

9,379

997

5,990

16,366

Limerick City and County

7,457

1,757

346

9,560

Limerick City

1,703

1,210

8

2,921

Limerick County

5,754

547

338

6,639

North Tipperary

2,796

311

557

3,664

South Tipperary

3,575

449

317

4,341

Waterford City and County

5,549

1,124

1,326

7,999

Waterford City

2,088

837

11

2,936

Waterford County

3,461

287

1,315

5,063

Connacht

33,068

4,745

11,062

48,875

Galway City and County

11,967

2,428

3,172

17,567

Galway City

2,430

1,349

205

3,984

Galway County

9,537

1,079

2,967

13,583

Leitrim

2,942

339

1,192

4,473

Mayo

9,136

946

4,216

14,298

Roscommon

4,564

383

942

5,889

Sligo

4,459

649

1,540

6,648

Ulster (part of)

16,940

1,637

9,225

27,802

Cavan

4,806

412

779

5,997

Donegal

9,725

1,043

8,275

19,043

Monaghan

2,409

182

171

2,762

State

174,935

41,598

49,789

266,322

Tax Code.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

126 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the respective cost to the Exchequer, in terms of tax receipts foregone, on the basis of projected 2008 activity levels, of cutting the 7% rate of stamp duty on residential property to 6%, 5% and 4%, while leaving the existing exemptions and thresholds unchanged. [15489/08]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

127 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the respective costs to the Exchequer, in terms of tax receipts foregone, on the basis of projected 2008 activity levels, of cutting the 9% rate of stamp duty on residential property to 8%, 7% and 6%, while leaving the existing exemptions thresholds unchanged. [15490/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 126 and 127 together.

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the estimated cost of reducing the current 7% rate of stamp duty on residential property to 6%, 5% and 4% is estimated at €94 million, €188 million and €282 million respectively, based on Budget 2008 projections. The corresponding estimated cost of reducing the current 9% rate of stamp duty on residential property to 8%, 7% and 6% is estimated at €13 million, €26 million and €39 million respectively, on the same basis. As these costs are a function of the actual and estimated number of transactions, and the price levels at which these transactions take place, they are therefore sensitive to cyclical changes in the housing market.

Public Sector Remuneration.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

128 Deputy Michael Noonan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the salaries, including Dáil Éireann salaries, of An Taoiseach, Tánaiste, Ministers and Ministers of State; the increases to these salaries that have been agreed by Government; the percentage increase in each case; the effective date of such increases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15512/08]

The following salaries are the current salaries in payment with effect from 1 March 2008 following the implementation of the third phase increase of 2.5% under Towards 2016 agreement.

Taoiseach

180,870

TD

97,747

Total

278,617

Tánaiste

141,594

TD

97,747

Total

239,341

Minister

121,956

TD

97,747

Total

219,703

Minister of State

53,219

TD

97,747

Total

150,966

The following are the salaries and percentage increases recommended by the Review Body on Higher Remuneration in Report No 42.

Recommended Rate

% Increase

Taoiseach

310,000

14.0

Tánaiste

270,000

15.6

Minister

240,000

12.0

Minister of State

165,000

12.0

The above recommended rates are a composite of the overall level of salary and incorporate both the relevant parliamentary salary and the office holder's salary. As the Deputy is aware, it was agreed by Government on 18 December 2007 that implementation of the increases recommended by the Review Body on Higher Remuneration in respect of political offices holders would be deferred and would be phased as follows:

4% from 1 September 2008;

half the balance from 1 September 2009; and

the remainder from 1 September 2010.

Theatre Licences.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

129 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the procedure and circumstances in which the Revenue Commissioners have the power to grant a theatre licence in respect of licensed premises which in effect permits late bars to open; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the Revenue Commissioners recently granted a theatre licence to a company (details supplied) in County Meath and that the granting of a theatre licence followed a refusal by the District Court of a dance licence in view of the concerns of local residents regarding late drinking leading to increased anti-social behaviour; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15515/08]

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the applicants in this instance were granted a licence for public music and singing under section 51 of the Public Health Acts Amendment Act 1890 and section 33 of the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Act 1961 at Dunshaughlin District Court on 15 November 2007. On foot of the receipt of this licence, an application was made to the Revenue Commissioners for a theatre licence under section 7 of the Excise Act, 1835. The application was accompanied by the public music and singing licence, a valid tax clearance certificate and a list of acts engaged to perform at the venue.

In accordance with the normal procedures, an inspection of the premises was carried out by an official of the Revenue Commissioners. As all legal requirements for the granting of a theatre licence had been met, a licence duly issued. The Courts have determined that, under the current law, the Revenue Commissioners may not refuse to grant a theatre licence solely on the grounds that the premises for which the licence is sought is a public house. The question of theatre licences is among the issues considered by the Government Alcohol Advisory Group appointed by my colleague the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Group has now reported and I understand that legislative proposals arising from the work of the Group were published earlier today. The matter of the refusal by the District Court to issue a dance licence is outside the remit of the Revenue Commissioners.

Registration of Title.

Michael Kennedy

Ceist:

130 Deputy Michael Kennedy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the progress on the handing over of title of open spaces and so on at an estate (details supplied) in County Dublin to Fingal County Council following the liquidation of the developer. [15516/08]

Fingal County Council has submitted an application for a Deed of Waiver in its favour for lands contained within Folio 45020F (Strand Estate, Donabate). The matter is currently receiving attention in the Chief State Solicitor's Office and its recommendation is expected shortly.

Departmental Expenditure.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

131 Deputy Michael Noonan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance the policy decisions he has made to keep the current expenditure of his Department within the parameters allocated in his Department’s budget for 2008; the savings in 2008, and the full year savings of each such initiative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15558/08]

The overall current expenditures for Vote 6 (Office of the Minister for Finance), Vote 7 (Superannuation) and Vote 12 (Secret Service) will be maintained within the approved budget limits. No policy decisions have been made in this context.

Tax Collection.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

132 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance when a person (details supplied) in County Galway will receive the money which was deducted incorrectly from their pension payment. [15579/08]

I understand that the money deducted in error will be refunded in the next pension payment on 1 May 2008. Any inconvenience caused is regretted.

Hospital Services.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

133 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo can expect to be called for an operation in view of the fact that this person’s operation has been cancelled on three different occasions and that this person is on the waiting list for two and a half years. [15499/08]

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.

Health Service Staff.

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

134 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of people working in the health services both part-time and full-time that are not included in the payroll system for dates (details supplied); if all these people are being paid through the accounts payable system; if not, the other ways they are paid; if everyone on the payroll system is included in the head count figure when calculating the total number of employees in the health services; if not, the number of people this is at 17 April 2008; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15502/08]

The main source of employment data in the health services is the Health Service Executive's Health Services Personnel Census. The census collects data on actual staffing levels for each staff grade in each health agency at a given point in time. The census is carried out quarterly at the end of March, June, September and December each year and is derived from payroll history in each agency. The health service employment ceiling approved by the Minister for Finance ceiling determines the health service census return, including the addition, or exclusion of certain grades (e.g. home helps) and agencies (see footnote 3 in the table below). Furthermore, overtime and agency costs are not captured in personnel census.

Grade Category

National Hospitals Office

Primary Community & Continuing Care

Corporate

Population Health

Total

Medical/Dental

6,049

1,821

35

102

8,007

Nursing4

21,481

17,353

161

14

39,009

Health and Social Care Professionals

6,257

9,333

54

61

15,706

Management/ Administrative2

8,141

6,822

2,782

310

18,055

General Support Staff

7,131

5,338

431

1

12,901

Other Patient and Client Care

4,667

13,102

14

44

17,827

Total

53,726

53,769

3,477

533

111,505

Notes

1 Excludes Home Helps.

2 Management/ Administrative includes staff who are of direct service to the public and include Consultant's Secretaries, Out-Patient Departmental Personnel, Medical Records Personnel, Telephonists and other staff who are engaged in front-line duties together with staff in the following categories Payroll, Human Resource Management (including training), Service Managers, IT Staff, General Management Support and Legislative and Information requirements.

3 The methodology under which employment figures are compiled changed during the course of 2007 with the addition of circa 4,000 wte not previously included in subsumed agencies such as the Health Service Executive-EA (HSEA), the Primary Care Reimbursement Service (GMSPB), Health Boards Executive (HeBe) and the Office for Health Management (now part of the HR function) together with many other posts in projects or post previously excluded such as HRBS/PPARS and Value-for-Money posts (all of which are largely in the Management/Administrative stream) together with the inclusion of student nurses and chaplains. This change was undertaken to represent health service employment on a like-for-like basis with employment ceilings and to more accurately represent a reconfigured health service's employment information.

4 The figure of 111,505 includes student nurses — if these are excluded the figure is 110,597.

The Executive is the appropriate body to consider the matter raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Health Services.

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

135 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Health and Children if changes are envisaged in the priority ratings for physiotherapy to persons with identified long-term illnesses, in particular, those suffering from muscular dystrophy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15506/08]

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.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

136 Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will make a statement on a matter regarding a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [15509/08]

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.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

137 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will support the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 5. [15513/08]

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 question raised by the Deputy. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy in relation to the matter raised.

Telecommunications Masts.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

138 Deputy Michael Noonan asked the Minister for Health and Children her views on whether the health of persons who live near telephone masts is endangered; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15517/08]

The World Health Organisation (WHO) assesses on an ongoing basis the many reviews carried out in this area and has indicated that exposures below the limits recommended by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) in their 1998 Guidelines do not produce any known adverse health effects. These guidelines are based on a careful analysis of all peer-reviewed scientific literature and include thermal and non-thermal effects. In 1999, the European Community introduced recommendations on the limitation of exposure of the general public to electromagnetic fields, based on the ICNIRP guidelines. The Commission for Communication Regulations (ComReg) monitors compliance with these guidelines with regard to telecommunication masts on an ongoing basis. Ireland complies fully with the limits set by the ICNIRP.

Pharmacy Services.

John O'Mahony

Ceist:

139 Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Health and Children the specific contingency plans being put in place to supply medicines to patients in Mayo affected by the ongoing pharmacists dispute after 1 May 2008; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15522/08]

The information sought by the Deputy relates to matters within the area of responsibility of the Health Service Executive under the Health Act 2004. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have the matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

140 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Health and Children the centres here where cervical smear tests are available for public patients; the waiting list in each for the test; the average waiting time for tests to be analysed and reported back to the patients; the waiting list and average analysis time for secondary test in the case of abnormalities in the first; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15523/08]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

141 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Health and Children the steps being taken to speed up the cervical smear test system to increase the chances of early detection of cancers or other abnormalities. [15524/08]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

142 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Health and Children the Health Service Executive hospitals and centres which previous to 1 April 2008 provided cervical smear tests for public patients and are no longer doing so; and the reason for not doing so in each case. [15525/08]

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

143 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason the Coombe Women’s Hospital, Dublin is no longer providing cervical smear tests for public patients, while the private facility on the campus is providing tests for private patients. [15526/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 140 to 143, inclusive, together.

The roll out of a national cervical screening programme is the most efficient population approach to preventing and controlling cervical cancer. The National Cancer Screening Service (NCSS) is planning to roll out such a programme on a national basis around the middle of this year. Women aged 25 to 44 years old will be screened every 3 years; women aged 45 to 60 will be screened every 5 years. The service will be available free of charge to eligible women everywhere in the country. Approximately 230,000 women will be screened annually, assuming an 80% take up by eligible women. All elements of the programme — call/recall, smear taking, laboratories, colposcopy and treatment services will be quality assured, organised and managed to deliver a single integrated national service.

Additional revenue funding of €5.0m was allocated to the NCSS in 2007 for the roll-out of the programme and an additional €15.0m has been allocated in 2008. An additional 30 posts have been approved to facilitate integration and roll-out of the programme. The Deputy's specific questions in relation to smear tests are the responsibility of the Health Service Executive (HSE). Accordingly, my Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy in this regard.

Health Services.

Ned O'Keeffe

Ceist:

144 Deputy Edward O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will arrange for a medical item to be replaced in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Cork. [15536/08]

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.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Ulick Burke

Ceist:

145 Deputy Ulick Burke asked the Minister for Health and Children if her Department will issue a comprehensive information leaflet for parents of children with special needs in the age group of up to five years in order that these parents will know the way, when and where to access the appropriate services, the service providers, the level of service to expect, and their entitlements to support from these service providers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15546/08]

On June 1 2007, Part 2 of the Disability Act 2005 was commenced for children under 5 years of age. Under Part 2 of this Act, children with disabilities have a right to:

an independent assessment of their health and educational needs arising from their disability

an assessment report

a statement of the services they will receive

make a complaint if they are not happy with any part of the process

The HSE produced an information leaflet for parents, which is available from GPs, pharmacies, hospitals and Local Health Offices. The leaflet is also available on the HSE website at

http://www.hse.ie/eng/FindaService/DisabilityServices/DisabilityAct2005/LeafletDisability Act.pdf.

Further relevant information is also available on the HSE website at

http://www.hse.ie/eng/FindaService/DisabilityServices/DisabilityAct2005/

or directly from Local Health Offices. In addition, the National Disability Authority published a leaflet entitled "New Disability Plans: What they mean for you and your family", which was distributed to all households in the country. This is also available on the NDA website,http://www.nda.ie.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

146 Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Health and Children her views on the concerns regarding respite care for a person (details supplied) in County Louth. [15547/08]

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.

Vaccination Programme.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

147 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Health and Children the latest situation in regard to the shortage of BCG vaccinations; and the effort in view of the ongoing problems the Government is making to source a different supplier. [15548/08]

I understand from the Health Service Executive (HSE) that, owing to regulatory difficulties experienced by the manufacturer of the BCG vaccine, there was a shortage of the vaccine from late 2007. This was a Europe-wide problem as the manufacturer in question is the only company which supplies the vaccine to the European Market. Unfortunately, it is not possible to stockpile the vaccine as it has a very short shelf life. These difficulties have now been resolved and new stocks of licensed vaccine are now available. I understand from the HSE that clinics have now resumed and that parents of any baby who has not received BCG vaccine will be contacted by their Local Health Office with an appointment to receive the vaccine.

Cancer Screening Programme.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

148 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason medical card patients are being charged for cervical smear tests; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that medical card patients are being charged €50 for such testing, which is vital for early diagnosis; and if she will take steps to ensure that medical card patients are provided with this service free of charge. [15549/08]

Cervical smear testing is not currently provided by GPs or family planning clinics under the scheme for medical card holders. However, where cervical smears form part of recognised protocols for the ongoing treatment of individual patient illnesses, they should be provided free of charge to eligible women under the General Medical Services (GMS) Scheme. Any necessary follow-up treatment is available to all women, including medical card holders, within the public hospital system.

The roll out of a national cervical screening programme is the most efficient population approach to preventing and controlling cervical cancer. The National Cancer Screening Service (NCSS) is planning to roll out such a programme on a national basis around the middle of this year. Women aged 25 to 44 years old will be screened every 3 years; women aged 45 to 60 will be screened every 5 years. The service will be available free of charge to eligible women everywhere in the country. Approximately 230,000 women will be screened annually, assuming an 80% take up by eligible women. All elements of the programme — call/recall, smear taking, laboratories, colposcopy and treatment services will be quality assured, organised and managed to deliver a single integrated national service. Additional revenue funding of €5.0m was allocated to the NCSS in 2007 for the roll-out of the programme and an additional €15.0m has been allocated in 2008. An additional 30 posts have been approved to facilitate integration and roll-out of the programme.

Currently, my Department is preparing legislation to clarify and update existing legislation on eligibility for health and personal social services. The Bill will define specific health and personal services more clearly; define who should be eligible for what services; set out clear criteria for eligibility; establish when and in what circumstances charges may be made and provide for an appeals framework. As part of this exercise, a review of the assessment criteria for medical cards in the context of financial, medical and social need is being undertaken and is expected to be completed by autumn 2008.

Departmental Expenditure.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

149 Deputy Michael Noonan asked the Minister for Health and Children the policy decisions she has made to keep the current expenditure of her Department within the parameters allocated in her Department’s budget for 2008; the savings in 2008, and the full year savings of each such initiative; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15560/08]

The Revised Estimates Volume for Public Services 2008 provides for net current expenditure of €508.8 million for my Department, Vote 39, and €583.8 million for Vote 41, the Office of the Minister for Children. Based on the returns for the 1st Quarter 2008 it is expected that expenditure for both Votes will remain within profile throughout the year.

Paediatric Illnesses.

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

150 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Health and Children the extent of the increase in the incidence of positional plagiocephaly or cranial asymmetry here since the adoption of back to sleep positioning recommendations; if, in view of US estimates that the condition affects up to 48% of infants, Irish maternity hospitals provide or will in future provide parents with advice in relation to dealing with and minimising the effects of the condition and the opinion of the chief medical officer on the treatment of positional plagiocephaly in infants; if a product (details supplied) is considered to be of assistance in the treatment of this condition; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15586/08]

Positional plagiocephaly or cranial asymmetry refers to the development of a flattened area either on the back or to one side of the head in infancy. It is related to a baby's sleep position, however there are other causes. Data on positional plagiocephaly is not routinely collected and therefore the incidence of this condition is not known. The diagnosis and treatment of this condition is a clinical responsibility and I have therefore asked the Chief Medical Officer to bring this to the attention of the Faculty of Paediatrics for their consideration.

Health Services.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

151 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children the position regarding a project (details supplied). [15588/08]

I identified the need to improve services for persons with cystic fibrosis as a priority in the Estimates process over recent years. Since 2006, additional revenue funding of €6.78m has been allocated to the HSE to develop services for patients with cystic fibrosis. I also asked the HSE to place a particular focus on the development of services at the National Adult Tertiary Referral Centre at St. Vincent's Hospital, where concerns had been raised regarding the need to improve facilities. A number of capital projects have been completed at the hospital and further developments are in progress.

In the longer term, a new ward block is to be built at St. Vincent's which will include 120 replacement beds in single en-suite accommodation. The new facility will accommodate cystic fibrosis patients and will include appropriate isolation facilities. The HSE advises that planning permission has been obtained, financial provision has been included in the HSE Capital Plan and the contract is to be awarded in 2008. It will be a condition of the contract that the design build period be no more than 24 months from the date of contract award. In the interim, work is underway on the refurbishment of accommodation to provide eight single en-suite rooms for patients with cystic fibrosis. The project is due to be completed over the coming months. The HSE advises that on completion of this first phase, work will commence to further increase the number of single rooms for patients with cystic fibrosis.

Grant Payments.

Dan Neville

Ceist:

152 Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for Health and Children when she will provide the extra funding to cover the respite grants administered by the Health Service Executive to allow people to take a break during summer 2008; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15631/08]

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.

Departmental Expenditure.

John Deasy

Ceist:

153 Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Health and Children the amount of interest paid to suppliers (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15634/08]

The amount of Prompt Payment Interest (PPI) paid by my Department in the years 2005 to 2007 was €16,216. The table shows the three suppliers paid the highest amount of PPI each year.

Year

Supplier

Amount

2005

Grayling Gilmore

6,288

QMP Publicis

6,056

Hunter Red Cell Ltd

694

2006

Icon Systems

253

Club Travel

186

Fitzpatrick & Associates

116

2007

Brindley Advertising

167

Brunswick Press Ltd

61

Office Depot Ireland Ltd

32

A total of €273 was paid by the Office of the Minister for Children for PPI in 2006, the only year in which PPI was incurred. Details of the three suppliers in receipt of the highest PPI payments in that year are IPPA, Brunswick Press Ltd and Freastal who were paid €114, €47 and €33 respectively. My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Health Service Executive to forward information directly to the Deputy regarding PPI it paid in the years 2005 to 2007.

Public Transport.

Barry Andrews

Ceist:

154 Deputy Barry Andrews asked the Minister for Transport if any decision has been made on the application for a licence under the Road Transport Act 1932 (details supplied); if his attention has been drawn to the benefits of the operation for users, for reducing congestion and the environment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15519/08]

The Road Transport Act, 1932, as amended, provides the statutory basis for regulating the provision of public bus services by private bus operators. In accordance with the legislation, private bus operators apply to my Department for licences to operate scheduled bus passenger services within the State. Applications for annual licences are generally dealt with on a first come, first served basis. The presence of a prior application for a licence from another private operator, or a notification from Dublin Bus or Bus Éireann for services on a similar route, necessitates that the consideration of any subsequent application must be held in abeyance until the prior application/notification has been determined.

In the case of the application referred to by the Deputy, on the 20 February 2007, my Department received an application from the operator concerned, for a licence to operate bus passenger services between Dalkey and Dublin Airport. At that time, my Department advised the applicant that the application was being held until such time as a decision on a prior application for services on a similar route from another private operator had been determined. This prior application has been finalised and the licence has issued. My Department understands from the licence holder that some services have now been introduced.

In the case of the service referred to by the Deputy, on the 16 July 2007 my Department was made aware that the operator concerned had commenced the operation of an unlicensed bus passenger service between Dalkey and Dublin Airport. My Department immediately contacted that Company and advised that failure to cease the operation of the service in respect of which a licence had not been issued under the Road Transport Act 1932, is an offence under section 7 of that Act. As the unauthorised service continued to operate my Department advised the Company that the matter was being passed to An Garda Síochána for its investigation. This matter is currently the subject of an ongoing Garda investigation.

I believe that a considerable shift from car dependence to public transport, cycling and walking will be required if a sustainable travel and transport system is to be delivered and congestion is to be reduced. Accordingly, my Department strongly supports the use of public transport. However, all such services must be carried out in a manner consistent with the statutory requirements that relate to their provision.

Air Services.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

155 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Transport if his attention had been drawn to the lack of rigour in enforcement of maintenance of aircraft requirements in the US in view of the fact that there has been a fine in one case and the grounding of a large number of aircraft; if he will ensure that the utmost vigour is applied in this area with regard to airlines within this jurisdiction; the steps he has taken to ensure that the foreign based aircraft observe such requirements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15532/08]

Safety oversight of civil aviation in Ireland is the responsibility of the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) under the Irish Aviation Act 1993. The IAA has informed me that the matter the Deputy refers to occurred in the United States and involved aircraft types which are operated by their respective airlines on internal flights in the US. The Authority has informed me that it carries out rigorous surveillance and enforcement in the conduct of its safety oversight functions. Furthermore the standards applied and the quality of the surveillance is subject to standardisation inspection by the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) on behalf of the EU Commission. The IAA is subject to several of these inspections per annum. These standardisation inspections are detailed and rigorous and provide independent assurance of the standards applied by the Authority.

The Deputy may also be aware that a harmonised approach to the effective enforcement of international safety standards in the Community has been established under Directive 2004/36/EC. This requires Member States to carry out surveillance on foreign aircraft operating into and out of the EU. The IAA is the Competent Authority in the State for the purposes of the Directive. The IAA carries out such inspections, the results of which are used in the determination of the EU blacklist of aircraft and airlines which are excluded from operating into the EU.

Ministerial Appointments.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

156 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Transport if he will confirm the inclusion of elected members of the seven local authorities on the proposed Dublin Transport Authority. [15539/08]

The Dublin Transport Authority Bill 2008 has been published and circulated to members of the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Bill provides for the establishment of a 10-member Authority (section 14) and 13-member Advisory Council (section 17). Membership of the Advisory Council will include 2 members of the Dublin Regional Authority and 2 members of the Mid-East Regional Authority, all four of which will be elected members of Local Authorities in the area.

Rail Network.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

157 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Transport the position regarding the delivery date for metro north. [15541/08]

Brian Hayes

Ceist:

159 Deputy Brian Hayes asked the Minister for Transport if he will provide a detailed breakdown of the full cost of the proposed metro north underground system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15583/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 157 and 159 together.

As I have stated previously, I am not in a position to publish the estimated capital cost of the Metro North project in advance of the completion of public procurement procedures. The publication of such commercially sensitive information prior to the completion of the competitive procurement process would prejudice the State's capacity to derive maximum value for money in respect of the project. The Railway Procurement Agency (RPA) will be issuing the tender documentation to the four bidding consortia in the coming weeks. Detailed planning and design work on Metro North is ongoing and RPA expects to lodge an application with An Bórd Pleanála for a Railway Order in the current year. The target date for completion of the project is 2013. The completion of the project will be critically determined by the outcome of both the planning and procurement processes. Once these processes have been completed the RPA will be in a position to provide greater certainty on the completion date of Metro North.

Departmental Expenditure.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

158 Deputy Michael Noonan asked the Minister for Transport the policy decisions he has made to keep the current expenditure of his Department within the parameters allocated in his Department’s budget for 2008; the savings in 2008, and the full year savings of each such initiative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15564/08]

My Department actively monitors expenditure to ensure that annual budgets are not exceeded. No excess is expected this year as these same expenditure monitoring arrangements are in place for 2008. In his Financial Statement to the Dáil in December 2007, the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance announced that the Government had agreed to an efficiency review of administrative expenditure across the public service. While there are no specific savings proposals planned for 2008, my Department has identified initiatives in respect of administrative expenditure under the aforementioned Efficiency Review to take effect from 2009. The Department is not in a position to estimate what, if any, savings might arise before year-end but the advancement of the initiatives associated with the Efficiency Review may lead to some reduction in demand on current budget expenditure in 2008.

Question No. 159 answered with Question No. 157.

Public Transport.

Joanna Tuffy

Ceist:

160 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Transport the reason his Department told Dublin Bus to withdraw buses or withdraw the departure of buses on the 25X route from south Lucan at a time when there is a need for more buses to and from Lucan to meet demand for public transport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15636/08]

I refer to my response to Parliamentary Question Number 135 on 9th April, 2008 in which I advised the Deputy that my Department has made no demand on Dublin Bus to cease any of its authorised Route 25X departures operating from the South Lucan area and has not refused any proposals from the Company for the provision of additional Route 25X departures.

Human Rights Issues.

Michael D. Higgins

Ceist:

161 Deputy Michael D. Higgins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, following the sending of three Brazilian students to Mountjoy prison upon their arrival here, he will give details of the contact which has been made by the individuals involved or their embassy with his Department. [15535/08]

On 28 March 2008, the Secretary General of my Department met with the Chargé d'Affaires of the Embassy of Brazil, at the latter's request, to discuss the case referred to by the Deputy. The meeting was conducted in a very positive atmosphere. As to follow-on, and as the requirements for those seeking permission to enter the State are the responsibility of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, the Secretary General has briefed the latter Department on his discussion with the Brazilian Embassy. Neither the individuals referred to by the Deputy, nor their families, have been in direct contact with my Department.

Departmental Expenditure.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

162 Deputy Michael Noonan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the policy decisions he has made to keep the current expenditure of his Department within the parameters allocated in his Department’s budget for 2008; the savings in 2008, and the full year savings of each such initiative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15559/08]

Under Vote 28 (Foreign Affairs), most of my Department's expenditure relates to administrative costs. Every effort is made, on an ongoing basis, to ensure that these costs are kept under control and that value for money is obtained for all public expenditure, including through the rigorous application of public procurement procedures. Similar controls are in place in relation to programme expenditure. In certain areas, such as support for the UN peacekeeping, it is not possible to predict exact expenditure in advance but, by using information drawn from a range of sources, the Department can generally anticipate likely requirements, and make the necessary budgetary provision. Under Vote 29 (International Cooperation), every effort is likewise made to keep administrative expenditure to a minimum, in order to release the maximum resources to the front line of the aid programme. I firmly expect, therefore, that the current expenditure of my Department will remain within allocation in 2008.

Work Permits.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

163 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 108 and 110 of 10 April 2008, when a green card will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15488/08]

The Employment Permits Section of my Department informs me that the issue of a work permit has now been approved in this case.

Departmental Expenditure.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

164 Deputy Michael Noonan asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the policy decisions he has made to keep the current expenditure of his Department within the parameters allocated in his Department’s budget for 2008; the savings in 2008, and the full year savings of each such initiative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15556/08]

My Department's budgetary allocation for 2008 was published in December 2007, in parallel with the presentation to the Dáil by the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance of the 2008 Budget. The allocation made to my Department will finance the programmes which I have prioritised for 2008, as well as funding the running costs of my Department and its agencies. My Department has a structured system in place to monitor expenditure against budgets on a regular basis. Monthly Expenditure Reports are prepared for, and reviewed by, my Department's Management Board. The Expenditure Reports identify, and explain the reasons for, any variances from budgetary targets. The reports serve to ensure that both current and capital expenditure remain within the parameters of my Department's budget. The monthly Expenditure Reports have not, to the end of March, identified any net savings which are likely to materialise by the end of the year. However, the situation will be kept under review on an on-going basis.

Consumer Protection.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

165 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment his views on whether retailers, particularly those who price goods in both euro and sterling, are not passing on to consumers the benefits of the strong euro exchange rate vis-à-vis sterling; if he proposes measures to ensure that these savings are passed on to consumers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15580/08]

I am aware of the concerns expressed by some commentators that the benefits of recent movements in exchange rates between the Euro and Sterling may not be passed on to consumers. I understand that the National Consumer Agency has raised these concerns in bilateral discussions with retailers. In the course of those discussions, retailers have advised that the benefits of recent exchange rate movements may not be fully reflected in their prices as in many instances they are tied into long term hedging arrangements, which do not make it possible for them to respond to short-term exchange rate fluctuations. As such, it may take some time for exchange rate movements to be reflected in pricing. This is also likely to be the case for goods that are pre-labelled, often far in advance of hitting the shops.

Notwithstanding such considerations, I understand that the National Consumer Agency remains concerned that in some instances the price charged by retailers reflects a price level that the retailer anticipates the Irish market will bear, and this may or may not take into account movements in exchange rates. For that reason the Agency continues through its advocacy and public information campaigns to raise awareness among consumers in relation to the price they pay for goods and services and particularly in relation to the importance of consumers achieving the best value for money when purchasing such goods and services.

The Deputy will be aware of the Agency's recent survey in the area of food prices. I understand that following the publication of its Grocery Price Comparison Survey, research carried out by the Agency indicated that a significant number of consumers have already changed their shopping behaviour based on the Survey's results. This clearly demonstrates the importance of price surveys and information campaigns of this nature in providing consumers with the necessary information so that they can make informed choices as to where they wish to purchase goods and services. I very much welcome the Agency's activities in this area and I would urge all consumers to consult the Agency's surveys in order that they can achieve the best value for their money. I am confident that the work of the National Consumer Agency, together with the awareness of consumers themselves, will help to ensure that consumers are sufficiently informed to direct their business to those retailers who do offer them a fair deal and the best value for money.

Work Permits.

Brian Hayes

Ceist:

166 Deputy Brian Hayes asked the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if an early decision can be taken in respect of a work permit application by a person (details supplied) in Dublin 24 which was sent to his Department on 2 April 2008 seeking a permit for a dependent work permit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15590/08]

The Employment Permits Section of my Department informs me that they have no record of a work permit being applied for in this case.

Departmental Expenditure.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

167 Deputy Michael Noonan asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the policy decisions he has made to keep the current expenditure of his Department within the parameters allocated in his Department’s budget for 2008; the savings in 2008, and the full year savings of each such initiative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15551/08]

A total of €424.542 million in current expenditure has been allocated to my Department in 2008. The proposed allocation of this expenditure across the areas for which I am responsible is shown in the Revised Estimates for the Public Services 2008 which was published in February. The various divisions of my Department will operate within the allocations made to them in 2008. At present, there are no indications that there will be savings on my Department's vote in 2008.

Arts Plan.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

168 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the progress of the work of the interdepartmental committee on public art; when it is expected this committee will complete its review of the guidelines for the per cent for arts scheme; when the new guidelines will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15584/08]

The Inter-Departmental Group, chaired by my Department, was reconvened in September last to review the working and implementation of the Per Cent for Art Guidelines. To date the group, which is representative of a wide range of Government Departments and agencies with construction budgets, has met on three occasions and significant progress has been made. The group is also examining ways in which information on public art could be made more easily accessible to the public and their plans on this are at an advanced stage.

Sports Capital Programme.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

169 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the number of applications to his Department for capital sports grants in County Kildare for each of the past three years including 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15724/08]

Under the 2008 programme, forty-four applications have been received from Kildare. The corresponding figures for the years 2006 to 2007 are 33 and 38 respectively.

Registration of Deaths.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

170 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if it is possible for a death certificate to issue in respect of a person in view of the circumstances (details supplied). [15500/08]

Michael Ring

Ceist:

171 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the death of an Irish person (details supplied) can be registered here. [15501/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 170 and 171 together.

The legislative provisions governing the registration of deaths are contained in the Civil Registration Act 2004. Section 38 of the Act makes provision for the registration in Ireland of the death of an Irish citizen domiciled in the State, which occurs outside the State in the following circumstances:

(a) If there was not at the time of the death a system of registration or a system that applied to that particular death in the country in which the death took place, or

(b) If it is not possible to obtain from the country in which the death took place a copy of or extract from civil records of the death.

Provision is also made in the Civil Registration Act 2004 for the registration of a death of a person aboard an Irish aircraft or Irish ship, or the death of an Irish citizen on board a foreign aircraft or foreign ship travelling to or from an Irish airport or port, as the case may be. The death of a member of the Garda Síochána or the Permanent Defence Force, or the spouse or specified members of the family of such a member, while the member was serving outside the State as such a member may be registered in Ireland. Where a family considers that these circumstances apply in respect of the death of a family member, an application may be made to an tÁrd Chláraitheoir, Government Offices, Convent Road, Roscommon, who will decide, on the basis of evidence available to him, whether such a death may be registered in the State.

The legislative provisions governing the registration of deaths, applicable in England and Wales, are quite similar to those in operation here and it is likely that the death in question falls to be registered there, under the appropriate legislation. Any such registration, and any death certificates issued on foot of it, would be acceptable for all the usual purposes here.

Social Welfare Code.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

172 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if it is possible to have job seeker’s allowance paid by electronic transfer; and if not, the reason this means should not be available to qualified recipients. [15520/08]

Customers in receipt of Job Seekers Allowance can choose to collect their payment using a Social Services Card at the post office or by Electronic Fund Transfer (EFT) at a financial institution such as a Bank, Building Society or Credit Union. In February 2008, some 46,000 (51%) of Job Seekers Allowance recipients were paid using a Social Services Card at the post office. In addition, some 37,000 (41%) of Job Seekers Allowance recipients were paid by EFT at a financial institution.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

173 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason rent supplement has been stopped for a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15527/08]

The Health Service Executive has advised that payment of rent supplement was suspended in this case pending a review of the financial circumstances of the person concerned. The Executive has further advised that it expects to be in a position shortly to complete its review and issue a written notification of its decision to the person concerned.

Departmental Expenditure.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

174 Deputy Michael Noonan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the policy decisions he has made to keep the current expenditure of his Department within the parameters allocated in his Department’s budget for 2008; the savings in 2008, and the full year savings of each such initiative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15562/08]

I have made no policy changes with a view to reducing expenditure this year.

Decentralisation Programme.

John O'Mahony

Ceist:

175 Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the timeframe, now that a site has been selected for the decentralisation of his Department to Charlestown, for the planning, design and building of the offices; when the building will be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15521/08]

I am advised by the Office of Public Works that the indicative timescale for the completion of the new headquarters for my Department in Charlestown is end-2010.

Departmental Expenditure.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

176 Deputy Michael Noonan asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the policy decisions he has made to keep the current expenditure of his Department within the parameters allocated in his Department’s budget for 2008; the savings in 2008, and the full year savings of each such initiative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15553/08]

My Department's estimate for gross expenditure for 2008 is €557.1m, comprising €398.6m and €158.5m in current and capital expenditure respectively. This figure was agreed as part of the normal estimates process and was published in the Revised Estimates Volume in February 2008. The progress of spending across my Department's Vote is monitored on a continuous basis in order to ensure optimal use of the available resources. In addition to providing frequent expenditure reports to both the senior management of my Department and to the Department of Finance, an Expenditure Committee meets regularly to monitor expenditure within the parameters of my Department's 2008 budget. I also meet formally with senior management on a monthly basis to consider expenditure trends and any issues arising.

The Deputy may be aware that, on foot of an announcement in the 2008 Budget of an efficiency review of administrative spending across the public service, each Department has been asked to examine such spending, both within its own ambit and of bodies under its aegis, and to provide proposals for administrative savings to the Department of Finance. Any proposals for changes to existing schemes or services that may emerge from this process will be fully considered by my Department and discussed, as appropriate, with the Department of Finance.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

177 Deputy Michael Noonan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the policy decisions she has made to keep the current expenditure of her Department within the parameters allocated in her Department’s budget for 2008; the savings in 2008, and the full year savings of each such initiative; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15550/08]

The gross estimate for my Department in 2008 is €1.868 billion. Some €1.439 billion of this relates to current expenditure on a range of measures including research and development, food safety and animal health, income and market supports, fisheries supports, grants-in-aid to state bodies and rural development support measures. It also includes administrative budget expenditure.

I am keeping all aspects of current expenditure under on-going, close scrutiny to ensure that the Department's budget is managed in a prudent and appropriate manner and in order to remain within the Vote allocations for the year. It is premature, at this stage in the year, to indicate what, if any savings, may occur. In addition, on the initiative of the Minister for Finance, Departments have been engaged in an efficiency review to identify measures which might be taken to effect efficiencies in service delivery. My Department has put forward a number of proposals which are being further examined with a view to identifying and introducing specific efficiency gains.

Coastal Protection.

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

178 Deputy Dinny McGinley asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if applications have been submitted by Donegal County Council under the coastal protection programme 2008; the number of areas submitted and their location; if they are being assessed at present; when it is expected that approval will be given; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15578/08]

In February 2008, my Department invited proposals from Local Authorities for inclusion in the 2008 Coastal Protection Programme. The applications are currently under consideration and the Coastal Protection Programme for 2008 is expected to be announced shortly. A list of the projects submitted by Donegal County Council is available from that Local Authority.

Schools Refurbishment.

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

179 Deputy Dinny McGinley asked the Minister for Education and Science if an application has been received in her Department for refurbishment of a college (details supplied) in County Donegal; when it was received; if it is being considered at present; when it is expected that a decision will be made on the application; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15485/08]

I can confirm to the Deputy that an application has been received from the college to which he refers for large scale capital funding. The application is being assessed in the Department's Modernisation and Policy Unit. The commencement and progression of all large scale building projects from initial design stage through to construction phase, including this project, will be considered on an on-going basis in the context of my Department's Multi-Annual School Building and Modernisation Programme.

Schools Building Projects.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

180 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding the proposed extension of a school (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15493/08]

The Developing Areas Unit of the Department is in receipt of an application for major capital works from the school to which the Deputy refers. This application was assessed and assigned a Band 3 rating according to the published prioritisation criteria. Earlier this year, the Department asked the school to complete an updated application for major capital works to reflect expanding enrolments. This application will be re-assessed in the context of rapidly developing areas and the proposed project will be considered in the context of the school building and modernisation programme.

Special Educational Needs.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

181 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will assist in a case (details supplied). [15507/08]

The National Council for Special Education is responsible, through its network of local Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs), for allocating resource teachers and special needs assistants (SNAs) to schools to support children with special needs. All schools have the names and contact details of their local SENO. Parents may also contact their local SENO directly to discuss their child's special educational needs, using the contact details available on www.ncse.ie.

SNA support in schools is intended to address the care needs of pupils with special educational needs. In many cases, the SNA will be providing care to help with toileting and feeding. It would be expected that very often this level of care should diminish as the child matures and consequently the level of SNA support required in the school will diminish also. Where a pupil in receipt of SNA support transfers from one school to another, this may mean that the SNA support in the child's former school is no longer required. I have arranged for the details supplied by the Deputy to be forwarded to the NCSE for their attention and direct reply.

Public Private Partnerships.

Frank Feighan

Ceist:

182 Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will explain public private partnership; the way it will operate in relation to education and specifically in relation to the issue of a school (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15529/08]

A Public Private Partnership is an arrangement between the public and private sectors to provide public services or infrastructure. It is recognised that both the public sector and the private sector have experience and skills in dealing with particular situations and PPP aims to tap into each of these sources and to allocate project risks to the party best able to manage them. The Government's Public Private Partnership Programme from 2006 to 2009 was announced in 2005 with €300m being provided for the provision of 23 new post-primary school and 4 new primary schools. €270m was allocated for the provision of 17 new Third Level projects in 9 locations. Under the NDP 2007-2013 and further €565m was allocated for the provision of PPP projects at first, second and third levels. A number of individual projects are procured together in a Bundle.

My Department is responsible for all aspects of the assessment and approval of project bundles, including the decision to procure as a PPP, the setting of project budgets, output specifications and other service requirements and agreeing the Public Sector Benchmark (compiled with the assistance of the NDFA). Once my Department has carried out these functions and handed the Bundle over to the NDFA, the NDFA will procure the project and will hand the bundle back to the Department after construction is complete and the schools operational. The indicative timeframe for the delivery of a PPP schools currently stands at approximately 4 years for the date the Bundle is announced. To date the Department of Education & Science has completed five post-primary schools under the pilot PPP schools. These schools were operational in January 2003, the second PPP project the National Maritime College was completed in October 2004. The Cork School of Music was completed and in operation by September 2007.

A preferred tenderer has been appointed for the 1st bundle of 4 schools in the current PPP programme and it is intended, subject to the completion of the planning process, that these schools will go to construction later this year. Pre procurement work on the 2nd Bundle is nearing completion and it is intended that this Bundle will be handed to the NDFA for procurement shortly. While the accommodation provided in a PPP school is similar to a school that is provided by traditional procurement there are differences in the operation of the school building post construction. Under the terms of a Project Agreement, cleaning, caretaking and maintenance of the schools are the responsibility of the PPP Operator for a period of 25 years. The PPP Operator is paid for these services by means of a Unitary Payment and a portion of that payment is based on the services being provided in a satisfactory manner. I intend announcing further PPP project bundles during the year and the school referred to by the Deputy will be considered in this context.

Clár Tógála Scoileanna.

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

183 D’fhiafraigh Deputy Dinny McGinley den Aire Oideachais agus Eolaíochta cad é an dul chun cinn atá déanta maidir le scoil úr (sonraí tugtha) a thógáil, an bhfuil suíomh úr aimsithe, an bhfuil an suíomh ceannaithe, cén staid ag a bhfuil cúrsaí pleanála don scoil ag an phointe seo; cén uair a chuirfear tús leis an obair; agus an ndéanfaidh sí ráiteas ina thaobh. [15530/08]

Táthar tar éis a iarraidh ar Oifig na nOibreacha Poiblí, a fheidhmíonn thar ceann mo Roinnse go ginearálta maidir le fáil suíomhanna do scoileanna, suíomh oiriúnach a aimsiú don scoil atá i gceist. Táthar tar éis suíomh oiriúnach a shainaithint agus tá fáil an tsuímh sin dulta ar aghaidh go dtí ardchéim. Machnófar ceannach an tsuímh agus an tionscadal tógála atá molta don scoil i gcomhthéacs an Chlár ilbhlianach Tógála agus Nuachóirithe Scoileanna atá ar siúl ag mo Roinnse.

Site Acquisitions.

Barry Andrews

Ceist:

184 Deputy Barry Andrews asked the Minister for Education and Science when a report from her Department’s architects arising from a visit to schools (details supplied) in County Wicklow in February 2008 will be made available for publication in order to continue progress on the project. [15531/08]

A site visit was carried out recently at the school referred to by the Deputy. A technical report on this visit is currently being compiled. The commencement and progression of all large scale building projects from initial design stage through to construction phase, including this project, will be considered on an on-going basis in the context of my Department's Multi-Annual School Building and Modernisation Programme.

Third Level Education.

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

185 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of students who registered for PhD. degrees in universities (details supplied) between the years 1997 to 2007 who were conferred with PhD. degrees, and who were conferred with masters degrees rather than PhDs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15533/08]

The numbers of Full Time and Part Time PhD enrolments and graduations since 1996/97 academic year for the seven universities is outlined in the table. It should be noted that the enrolments show the entire cohort of PhD enrolments in the given year, not just the first year enrolments. Under the current data collection methodology, data on the number of students who registered for PhD. degrees but who were conferred with master's degrees rather than PhDs, are not available.

Combined Full Time & Part Time PhD Enrolments

UCD

UCC

NUIG

TCD

NUIM

DCU

UL

Grand Total

1996 / 97

779

344

238

566

96

115

122

2,260

1997 / 98

795

389

232

631

99

189

175

2,510

1998 / 99

770

370

204

666

122

194

215

2,541

1999 / 2000

912

338

305

717

132

157

226

2,787

2000 / 2001

828

387

334

698

182

166

252

2,847

2001 / 2002

934

429

389

718

227

191

276

3,164

2002 / 2003

1,005

511

458

733

270

223

304

3,504

2003 / 2004

1,135

550

548

813

305

246

390

3,987

2004 / 2005

1,334

632

579

912

303

241

447

4,448

2005 / 2006

1,361

604

628

987

344

278

470

4,672

2006 / 2007

1,547

673

575

1,002

377

374

482

5,030

Combined full-time and part-time PhD Graduates

UCD

UCC

NUIG

TCD

NUIM

DCU

UL

Grand Total

1996

110

72

54

136

17

20

21

430

1997

104

70

44

146

16

36

16

432

1998

152

71

66

175

18

31

20

533

1999

168

103

65

140

12

40

28

556

2000

156

75

58

186

20

37

38

570

2001

151

101

38

166

23

25

61

565

2002

156

76

63

177

21

44

54

591

2003

180

98

51

172

24

61

47

633

2004

192

97

75

181

51

32

74

702

2005

182

122

61

196

38

73

72

744

2006

197

135

79

239

51

97

88

886

School Transport.

Ulick Burke

Ceist:

186 Deputy Ulick Burke asked the Minister for Education and Science if she has received a report on the Ombudsman’s findings regarding the refund of school transport costs to parents in a catchment area (details supplied) in County Galway; the number of refunds involved; and when the matter will be finalised. [15543/08]

My Department is carrying out a detailed review of records to establish the number of children who might benefit from the Ombudsman's recommendation. In that regard, my Department has liaised with the Transport Liaison Officer for County Galway regarding any relevant records held in that office. The review will be completed as quickly as possible.

Schools Building Projects.

Ulick Burke

Ceist:

187 Deputy Ulick Burke asked the Minister for Education and Science the position with regard to the school extension and refurbishment at a school (details supplied) that has waited for several years for sanction and approval with no indication from her Department; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15544/08]

I can confirm to the Deputy that the school to which he refers has made an application for major capital funding to my Department. Progress on all major projects, including the project in question, will be considered on an ongoing basis in the context of my Department's multi-annual School Building and Modernisation Programme.

Special Educational Needs.

Ulick Burke

Ceist:

188 Deputy Ulick Burke asked the Minister for Education and Science her views on the drawing up of a comprehensive information guide for parents of children with special needs in the age group of five to 18 years in order that these parents will know how, when and where to access the appropriate services for their children, who the service providers are, the level of service to expect, and their entitlements to support from these services whilst their children are attending second level; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15545/08]

Since its establishment, the National Council for Special Education (NCSE), with its national network of over 80 Special Education Needs Organisers (SENOs) has provided a structure for the delivery of an effective and speedy education service to children and families coping with disability on a daily basis. Working locally on the ground, the SENOs are a focal point of contact for parents and schools. It is open to parents to contact their local SENOs directly regarding their child's special educational needs and contact details are available on the Council's website or by contacting the Council's headquarters at 046 9486400.

In addition, the NCSE and my Department has made information available to schools by way of circulars and guidelines on the resources available to support pupils with special educational needs. This information may be accessed on the NCSE's website, www.ncse.ie, or on my Department's website, www.education.ie. It is my Department's intention, during the course of this year, to draw up information leaflets for parents of children with special educational needs setting out the special educational services available in schools and how these may be accessed.

Departmental Expenditure.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

189 Deputy Michael Noonan asked the Minister for Education and Science the policy decisions she has made to keep the current expenditure of her Department within the parameters allocated in her Department’s budget for 2008; the savings in 2008, and the full year savings of each such initiative; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15555/08]

My Department was allocated €9.05bn net in the 2008 Revised Estimates Volume, €8.24bn of which relates to current expenditure. Detailed decision making on my part was, of course, an integral part of the 2008 Budget process in my Department. The Department's expenditure is monitored on a continual basis throughout the year. Whilst there are some indications of emerging pressures in certain areas, I have, to date, made no specific decisions or amendments to programme expenditure in 2008. The position will continue to be monitored and I will take decisions as and when appropriate in the light of the circumstances as the year progresses.

Special Educational Needs.

Seán Barrett

Ceist:

190 Deputy Seán Barrett asked the Minister for Education and Science if Special Education Circular 02/05 will be revised to ensure that children with specific special needs or with a mild general learning disability in mainstream primary schools will receive continuous full-time special needs assistance and low incidence teaching hours; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15569/08]

As the Deputy is aware, my Department implemented a general allocation system of learning support/resource teachers to mainstream primary schools in September 2005. The system provides teaching resources to schools to enable them to cater for children with high-incidence special education needs such as borderline mild general learning disability and mild general learning disability and specific learning disability. The allocation is also intended to support those with learning support needs, that is, those functioning at or below the tenth percentile on a standardised test of reading and/or mathematics.

The system allows schools to respond quickly and effectively to the individual needs of children with special educational needs. The system facilitates flexibility in the delivery of interventions by schools in allowing for individualised tuition, group work, in-class support or a combination of these interventions, whichever is considered the most appropriate for the child in question. In circumstances where a child has low incidence needs, this automatically attracts an individual resource teaching allocation. Reference is made in Circular SP ED 02/05 to the deployment of additional teaching resources that are allocated to schools for the support of individual pupils with low incidence disabilities. I have no immediate plans to revise Circular SP ED 02/05.

When the general allocation model commenced, a commitment was given to carry out a review after three years of operation. This review was initiated recently and my Department has sought the views of the Education Partners concerning the model's operation. Special Needs Assistant support in schools is intended to address the care needs of pupils with special educational needs. Decisions regarding the extent of such support in each particular case are based on the care needs of the individual child.

Schools ICT Strategy.

Seán Barrett

Ceist:

191 Deputy Seán Barrett asked the Minister for Education and Science when she proposes to provide the promised €250 million provision for up-to-date information and communications technology in primary schools to replace the largely outdated and inadequate equipment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15570/08]

The National Development Plan 2007-2013 provides for the investment of €252m in ICT for Schools, both primary and post-primary, over the period of the Plan. As the Deputy will be aware, the Programme for Government sets out our commitment to implementing a comprehensive Schools' ICT Strategy. This strategy will address 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. The Strategy Planning Group I appointed to advise on the prioritisation of measures under the planned investment over the period of the NDP has reported. I will shortly be publishing the report of the Strategy Planning Group.

Physical Education Facilities.

Seán Barrett

Ceist:

192 Deputy Seán Barrett asked the Minister for Education and Science her plans to ensure that appropriate indoor physical education facilities will be provided in all primary schools; if provision will be made for an annual grant to be paid to all schools for the implementation of the PE curriculum; if it is her intention to employ specialist PE teachers in primary schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15571/08]

I assure the Deputy that the Government is committed to promoting strong levels of exercise for our children and young people– both in their community and at school. Over €2.6 billion has been provided for school building infrastructure between 2000 and 2006 and a further €4.5 billion is to be invested under the new National Development Plan 2007-2013. Close to €600m of this will be provided this year alone. In a new school building or refurbishment/extension PE facilities are included as part of the design.

At primary level, Physical Education is one of the seven curriculum areas and is an intrinsic element of the Primary School Curriculum. A revised curriculum in physical education at primary level was introduced in September 2005 supported by a national programme of professional development for teachers. The programme provides for six strands of activity — athletics, dance, gymnastics, games, outdoor and adventure activities and aquatics. Five of the strands are outlined for implementation for each of the four class groupings, junior and senior infants, 1st and 2nd class, 3rd and 4th class, and 5th and 6th class. The aquatics strand is designed to be implemented at one or more levels, depending on the availability of facilities. The recommended minimum timeframe set out for PE at primary level is one hour per week. All qualified Primary teachers are qualified to teach the full spectrum of the Primary Curriculum including Physical Education.

The PE curriculum has been designed on the basis that facilities in schools may vary. Many primary schools have a general purpose room and practically all schools have outdoor play areas which are used for teaching different aspects of the PE programme. A similar situation with sports halls and outdoor facilities applies at second level. In addition, many schools use adjacent local facilities, including public parks, playing fields and swimming pools. Primary schools received €2,000 each in PE equipment grants in 2006, at a total cost of €6.5 million. In addition, since 2000 my Department has provided in excess of €5.5m in grant-aid to primary schools to facilitate the provision of coaching or mentoring in connection with physical education or to purchase resource materials associated with the provision of physical education. Such materials and equipment would normally have a useful life of several years.

The extent and quality of local sports facilities has been improved dramatically in recent years, with more than €450 million invested by the Government since 1998 in over 5,000 projects through the Sports Capital Programme. At the same time, PE, general purpose and outdoor play facilities have been provided for schools all over the country through the School Building Programme. So, through an increased focus on exercise in school and in the community, the Government is working to encourage more children and young people to get active. Indeed, the ‘State of the Nation's Children' report published by the Minister for Children recently, found that children in Ireland are doing well on physical activity, ranking second across the 32 WHO countries in being physically active for at least 4 hours per week.

Capitation Grants.

Seán Barrett

Ceist:

193 Deputy Seán Barrett asked the Minister for Education and Science her plans to drastically increase the annual capitation grant to schools to realistically take account of the real administrational costs of running schools between secretarial and caretaking staffs, maintenance, lighting and heating, water supply and waste disposal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15572/08]

I want to assure the Deputy that the Government is fully aware of the funding pressures on schools. We are committed to doubling the primary capitation grant by 2012 and to significantly increasing the value of the ancillary services grant that is used by schools for the employment of support staff such as caretakers and secretaries. These commitments are a direct follow-on from the clear thrust of Government policy over recent years to improve the position of primary schools in particular.

Since 2001, the standard rate of primary capitation grant has been increased by 86%. In the same period, the value of the ancillary services grant has been almost doubled. In 2001, a primary school with 300 pupils was in receipt of less than €52,000 to meet its day to day running costs. That same school today is receiving almost €100,000. This excludes the salary of teachers and Special Needs Assistants which are paid by the Department. By any standards this is a very significant improvement within a relatively short period of time. In 2008, primary schools are getting €330 per pupil in such grants — €21 more per child than they got last year. At a national level, this adds up to an investment of around €167 million in standard day-to-day funding for schools. In addition to this, enhanced rates of capitation funding are paid in respect of children with special educational needs who attend special schools or special classes attached to mainstream schools.

Extra funding is also being targeted at schools serving disadvantaged communities. Indeed, funding for additional grants for the most disadvantaged schools increased by 15% this year, reflecting the Government's determination to prioritise those that need extra resources the most. While we continue to make real progress we must also be aware of the changing global economic environment. There is a need for careful management of the public finances in order to protect Ireland's prosperity in the period of slower (albeit still good) levels of economic growth. This prudent approach is the best way of ensuring that funding improvements for our schools can be sustained into the future. In the current economic environment, an extra €690m in 2008 for the education sector was a real achievement and evidence of this Government's continuing commitment to prioritising education.

Special Educational Needs.

Seán Barrett

Ceist:

194 Deputy Seán Barrett asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will take the necessary steps to ensure that all children with Down’s syndrome will have an automatic entitlement to the maximum allocation of low incidence teaching hours; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15573/08]

As the Deputy is aware, my Department has put in place a range of teaching and care supports for children with special educational needs, including those with Down Syndrome. Pupils with Down Syndrome may be entitled to additional provision in school, either under the terms of the general allocation system for children with high incidence special needs or through an allocation of additional resources where the pupil has been assessed as being within the low incidence category of special need. In such circumstances, the number of additional teaching hours allocated would range from three to five hours per week depending on the pupil's special educational needs including the level of general learning disability Applications for such support are made through the local Special Educational Needs Organiser (SENO) by the school. I am satisfied that the mechanisms are in place to provide appropriate resources for children with special needs in our schools, including those with Downs Syndrome.

Schools Building Projects.

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

195 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will take steps to expedite the provision of a new school building (details supplied) in County Westmeath which has been promised by her Department since April 2006; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that time is of the essence, as the intake into the school in the past few years has been quite high and pupils enrolling in the infant classes will have to pass through the sub-standard and overcrowded classrooms in the old school building; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15575/08]

The building project for the school referred to by the Deputy is at an early stage of architectural planning. Progress on all major projects, including the project in question, will be considered on an ongoing basis in the context of my Department's multi-annual School Building and Modernisation Programme.

School Staffing.

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

196 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will confirm having received the correspondence (details supplied) from a school in County Westmeath; if having reviewed the contents of same she will revisit the criteria for developing schools in order that children in similar circumstances are treated equally; if she will adopt the proposal in the correspondence which would be a creative and imaginative way to assist schools in these difficult circumstances and resolve the difficulty set out in the said school and other schools similarly affected; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15576/08]

I am aware of the correspondence referred to by the Deputy which relates to class sizes and developing schools criteria. The mainstream staffing of a primary school is determined by reference to the enrolment of the school on 30th September of the previous school year. The actual number of mainstream posts sanctioned is determined by reference to a staffing schedule which is issued to all primary schools each year. Data submitted to my Department by the Board of Management of the school referred to by the Deputy, indicates that the enrolment in the school on 30th September 2006 was 411 pupils. In accordance with the staffing schedule (Circular 0020/2007), which is available on my Department's website at www.education.ie, the mainstream staffing in the school for the 2007/08 school year is a Principal and 15 mainstream class teachers.

The staffing schedule for the 2008/2009 school year (Circular 0010/2008) was recently published on my Department's website at www.education.ie and a hard copy is in the process of issue to all primary schools. According to data submitted to my Department by the Board of Management of the school, the enrolment in the school on 30th September 2007 was 415 pupils. Based on this enrolment figure, the mainstream staffing in the school for the 2008/09 school year will therefore remain as a Principal and 15 mainstream class teachers.

However, within the terms of the staffing arrangements for primary schools there is provision for additional posts, referred to as developing school posts, to be assigned to schools on the basis of projected enrolments for the next school year. Under these arrangements, a developing school post may be sanctioned provisionally where the projected enrolment at 30th September of the school year in question equals or exceeds a specified figure. If the specified figure is not achieved on 30th September, sanction for the post is withdrawn. There are no plans to change these arrangements for the coming school year.

An independent appeal board is now in place to decide on any appeals on mainstream staffing in primary schools. Details of the appeal procedure are outlined in the staffing schedule and also in Circular 0024/2007 (Appeal Board for Mainstream Staffing in Primary Schools) which is available on my Department's website. The first meeting of the Appeal Board is scheduled to take place on 20 May 2008. Further meetings will be held in June and October, 2008. The closing dates for receipt of appeals are 9 May, 20 June and 10 October, 2008 respectively. The Appeals Board operates independently of the Department and its decision is final.

Schools Building Projects.

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

197 Deputy Charlie O’Connor asked the Minister for Education and Science if she will order an immediate evaluation of the need for a second level school at Kingswood Heights, Tallaght, Dublin 24, where her Department has a vacant site; if she will note the view in the local community that such a school should be provided; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15585/08]

There are no plans in my Department at present to provide a post-primary school on the site in question. The overall development of the site is kept under review in the light of the demographics of the general area and the availability of school places.

Tony Gregory

Ceist:

198 Deputy Tony Gregory asked the Minister for Education and Science, further to Parliamentary Question No. 463 of 17 April 2008, the timescale involved in the consideration of this matter in the context of her Department’s multi-annual school building and modernisation programme. [15635/08]

The Department is exploring as an option the provision of a new building on the existing school site. The further progression of the acquisition of the site and the associated building project will be considered in the context of the Department's multi-annual School Building and Modernisation Programme. It is not possible at this stage to indicate when a new school building will be available.

Departmental Expenditure.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

199 Deputy Michael Noonan asked the Minister for Defence the policy decisions he has made to keep the current expenditure of his Department within the parameters allocated in his Department’s budget for 2008; the savings in 2008, and the full year savings of each such initiative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15554/08]

As I indicated in my reply to Question No. 30 on the 10th April 2008, there are no proposals for cutbacks in the level of services provided by or through my Department in 2008. The gross total allocation for my Department in 2008 is €1,078m, comprising €888m in the Defence Vote and €190m in the Army Pensions Vote. This represents an increase of 7% on the 2007 allocation. The Defence Estimate includes additional funding of €37m for Defence Forces participation in the EUFOR mission to Chad, the bulk of which will be expended on transport costs. This additional funding will ensure that our troops in Chad will have the best possible equipment and facilities in a very challenging environment.

The agreed Programme for Government provides that, in addition to the approved strength of 10,500 Permanent Defence Force personnel, there would be up to 350 troops in training at any given time. However, as I already made clear to the House on a number of occasions, it was not possible to provide funding in this year's Estimate to implement that commitment. This is due primarily to the requirement to prioritise funding for the Chad mission. The pay costs for 350 recruits for a full year would be about €8 million. The ongoing investment in modern equipment and facilities for the Defence Forces will continue in 2008, as will the major programme to provide modern accommodation for the Defence Forces which has been ongoing over recent years.

I am satisfied that the level of funding provided in the Defence Estimate will be sufficient to meet all Departmental and Defence Forces' requirements for 2008. It is too early to say whether there will be net savings in 2008 but it is not expected that any such savings will be significant. As regards the Army Pensions Estimate, it is anticipated that there will be a requirement for a supplementary estimate in 2008 to cover, among other things, the cost of improvements in existing pension terms in the case of pre-April 2004 members of the Permanent Defence Force for which financial provision was not included in the 2008 Estimate. In that regard, my Department expects to conclude agreement with the representative associations in the near future on these improvements, as well as on the new pension scheme for personnel recruited to the Permanent Defence Force since April 2004.

Asylum Applications.

Thomas Byrne

Ceist:

200 Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position regarding the application for residency for a person (details supplied) in County Meath. [15491/08]

The person concerned applied on 30th March, 2005 for permission to remain in the State under the revised arrangements for non-EEA parents of children born in Ireland prior to 1st January 2005, commonly referred to as the IBC/05 Scheme. This application was refused on 17th August, 2005 as the person was outside the State and did not meet the criteria of the scheme.

On 29th November, 2007 the person concerned applied for asylum to the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner. This application was refused on 2nd January, 2008 and this refusal was subsequently upheld by the Refugee Appeals Tribunal on 7th March, 2008. On 7th April, 2008 the person concerned was invited to make an application for Subsidiary Protection under the European Communities (Eligibility for Protection) Regulations, 2006 (S.I. No 518 of 2006) and/or submit representations under Section 3 of the Immigration Act, 1999. The person will be informed of any decisions made regarding his status in the State in due course.

Prisoner Releases.

Tony Gregory

Ceist:

201 Deputy Tony Gregory asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if there are any prisoners convicted of paramilitary offences still in custody whose conviction fell clearly within the timeframe of the Good Friday Agreement as agreed at the time of its signing and not referring to the Adare prisoners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15494/08]

It is my understanding that there are no persons remaining in custody who have been deemed as qualifying prisoners under Section 3(2) of the Criminal Justice (Release of Prisoners) Act, 1998.

Garda Operations.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

202 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will make the document Traffic Collision Investigation Policy available to a road safety group (details supplied). [15504/08]

The document referred to is an internal operational Garda document and, accordingly, I would have no role in relation to it.

Citizenship Applications.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

203 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the recent announcement by the US immigration service that it has reduced the processing time for naturalisation applications to 13 from 15 months by adding staff and making more efficient use of the resources available to it, without making changes to the procedure itself; if he will take similar steps to reduce the waiting period for Irish naturalisation, which currently stands at 30 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15505/08]

The existing processing time for applications for certificates of naturalisation is approximately thirty months and this is primarily due to the significant increase in the volume of applications received in the last number of years. The Deputy will appreciate that the granting of Irish citizenship through naturalisation is an honour and applications must be processed in a way which preserves the necessary checks and balances to ensure that it is not undervalued and is given only to persons who satisfy the necessary qualifying criteria.

The procedures involved have been developed and refined over a number of years and I am satisfied that they are necessary to maintain the integrity of the naturalisation process. Consequently, having regard to the resources available, which are kept under constant review, there is a limit to the reduction in the processing time that can be achieved. As every country has different policies, procedures and resources for its Government Departments, it is not possible to compare processing times of applications. I have, however, recently allocated additional resources to the Citizenship section of my Department in order to make an impact in processing the backlog in hand and dealing with the ongoing increase in the number of applications being received.

Asylum Support Services.

John O'Mahony

Ceist:

204 Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of asylum seekers, male to female ratio and children resident in the Old Convent, Ballyhaunis, County Mayo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15508/08]

The Reception and Integration Agency (RIA) is responsible for the accommodation of asylum seekers in accordance with the Government policy of direct provision and dispersal. The RIA currently operates 63 centres across 22 counties accommodating over 6,800 asylum seekers. The information required by the Deputy regarding the number of asylum seekers currently in the Old Convent accommodation centre, Ballyhaunis, County Mayo is as follows:

No.

No. of adult males

51

No. of adult females

107

No. of children

157

Total

315

Parking Regulations.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

205 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will resolve a matter (details supplied). [15514/08]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the area referred to by the Deputy is a private estate managed by a property management company. The parking restrictions in the estate were put in place by the property management company and as such the removal of vehicles parked illegally or otherwise is the responsibility of that company. I am further informed that the estate has been visited by a member of An Garda Síochána who concluded that the parking of the vehicle in question was not dangerous.

Asylum Applications.

Frank Feighan

Ceist:

206 Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position in the case of persons (details supplied) in County Roscommon. [15528/08]

It is not the practice to comment in detail on individual asylum applications. As the Deputy will be aware, applications for refugee status in the State are determined by an independent process comprising the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and the Refugee Appeals Tribunal which make recommendations to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform on whether such status should be granted. A final decision on these applications will be made upon receipt of the decision of the Refugee Appeals Tribunal.

Crime Levels.

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

207 Deputy Dinny McGinley asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the incidents in border areas of County Donegal, including Lifford, Killygordon and Muff, where serious acts of criminality have taken place in recent times; if he is satisfied that adequate resources have been allocated to the Garda in east Donegal to deal with these recurring incidents; the steps being taken to counteract the spread of these incidents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15538/08]

The Deputy will appreciate that it would not be helpful for me to comment on the specific details of operations and initiatives put in place by the Garda to combat dissident activities. The Garda is aware of the incidents referred to and are satisfied that sufficient resources are available if required. Due to the proximity to the border with Northern Ireland, An Garda Síochána, in co-operation with the PSNI, is engaging in high visibility policing along the border to deter such incidents.

While the allocation of resources to specific Garda Divisions is a matter for the Garda Commissioner, I understand that as at 31 March 2008, the personnel strength of the combined Letterkenny and Buncrana Garda districts, within which the areas referred to are located, totalled 278. On the same date the personnel strength of the combined Donegal Divisiontotalled 479. In addition to existing Garda levels, the accelerated intake of 1,100 new recruits per annum is on course to meet the Government's current recruitment target and will, I believe, help to bolster the efficacy of the entire Force including the East Donegal Division.

Departmental Expenditure.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

208 Deputy Michael Noonan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the policy decisions he has made to keep the current expenditure of his Department within the parameters allocated in his Department’s budget for 2008; the savings in 2008, and the full year savings of each such initiative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15561/08]

The control of expenditure, budgetary management and financial management generally is a significant priority for top level management in my Department and its associated bodies. All expenditure across the five Votes that comprise the Justice and Equality sector is monitored on a monthly basis by the Department's financial management committee. It is much too early in the fiscal year to make firm projections in relation to savings (if any) across the Vote group. However, my Department is committed to remaining within the overall budget for the Vote group.

Citizenship Applications.

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

209 Deputy Olwyn Enright asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will revisit an application for naturalisation by a person (details supplied) in County Offaly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15581/08]

An application for a certificate of naturalisation from the person concerned was received in the Citizenship section of my Department in August 2005 and I decided to refuse the application. The reason for my decision was disclosed to the applicant in a letter dated 3 April 2008. There is no appeals process under the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended. It is open to the person in question to lodge a new application if and when he is in a position to satisfy the statutory requirements applicable at that time.

Young Offenders.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

210 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will ensure that all law abiding young people are treated fairly in the justice system (details supplied). [15589/08]

It is, of course, a basic principle of our criminal justice system that all people, including young people, are treated fairly if they come into contact with our system of justice. In relation to the details supplied, I appreciate there can be an issue within communities where teenagers and residents are, on occasion, at odds on whether particular activity or behaviour constitutes public order offences, as a result of the particular viewpoints of those involved. I believe community policing, particularly in co-operation with other agencies and communities generally, has a role to play in addressing such issues and in protecting the quality of life of all residents in our communities, including meeting the legitimate concerns of older as well as younger people. Finally, if the Deputy is aware of cases where law abiding young people are being treated unfairly, I suggest any such information should be brought to the attention of the relevant criminal justice bodies.

Residency Permits.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

211 Deputy Fergus O’Dowd asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the position regarding the long-term residency application made on 23 April 2007 for a person (details supplied) in County Louth; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15591/08]

The position in relation to long term residency is as follows: Persons who have been legally resident in the State for over five years on the basis of work permit/work authorisation/work visa conditions may apply to the Immigration Division of my Department for a five year residency extension. In that context they may also apply to be exempt from employment permit requirements. While applications for long term residency are under consideration, the person concerned should ensure that their permission to remain in the State is kept up to date. An application for long term residency from the person referred to by the Deputy was received on the 23 April 2007. I understand that applications received in August 2006 are currently being dealt with. As soon as a decision is made on the case, the person concerned will be notified.

Register of Electors.

Brian Hayes

Ceist:

212 Deputy Brian Hayes asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if there are methods for members of the Defence and security forces to be registered to vote and be on the electoral register without having their contact details being published and accessible by the public; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15582/08]

Under the Electoral Act 1992, members of the Defence Forces must be entered in the Register of Electors as postal voters and may register in respect of premises used for military purposes where they are resident or in respect of their home address as in the case of electors generally; the Postal Voters List gives details of the Army number, rank and unit of the elector concerned. Members of the Garda Síochána may be entered in the Register at the address where they ordinarily reside, as in the case of electors generally, and vote at their local polling station, or they may opt to apply for entry on the Postal Voters List; in the latter case, the address of the elector is to be entered on the List. Electoral law requires registration authorities to publish the Register of Electors (including the Postal Voters List) and make it available for inspection.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Joanna Tuffy

Ceist:

213 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the amount of money that has been paid out to date in respect of the commitment contained in the programme for Government to require carbon offsets of all official air travel in support of urban forests; the companies that have been paid; the sum of this money; the projects the money has been spent on; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15637/08]

Joanna Tuffy

Ceist:

214 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government how the amount to be paid to carbon offset each official air travel flight is calculated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15638/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 213 and 214 together.

I refer to the reply to Question No. 990 of 11 December 2007. Pending finalisation of the scheme, no money has been paid to offset air travel through investment in urban forests.

Local Authority Housing.

Ned O'Keeffe

Ceist:

215 Deputy Edward O’Keeffe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will sanction an application to his Department in respect of the downsizing scheme for the elderly and disabled as in the case of persons (details supplied) in County Cork. [15486/08]

Local Authorities have discretion under Section 11 of the Housing Act 1988 in the allocation of individual houses to meet the needs of particular cases. Regarding the approaches to downsizing, I have no plans at this time to issue a directive to local authorities; however, in the context of the Government's statement on housing policy, Delivering Homes, Sustaining Communities, I will continue to keep the matter under review.

Local Authority Staff.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

216 Deputy Michael Noonan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will clarify the terms of circular letter ref. W02/07 regarding expenses of local authority members on river basin district advisory councils; if it is mandatory for local authorities to pay such expenses to members who attend a river basin district advisory council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15510/08]

I have, in the circular letter referred to, directed that travel and subsistence allowances at standard rates are payable in relation to attendance by members of local authorities at meetings of a River Basin District Advisory Council. Such allowances are payable with effect from the date of appointment of the member to the Advisory Council and are additional to the annual expenses allowances otherwise payable to elected members of local authorities. Payment can be made by the appointing local authority or, with the agreement of the relevant local authorities, by the Advisory Council.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

217 Deputy Michael Noonan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if local authorities may pay overnight and travelling expenses to chairpersons of joint policing committees which have been established in certain local authorities on a pilot basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15511/08]

Councillors receive a fixed annual allowance which covers expenses incurred by them in attending meetings associated with their council business, including meetings of Joint Policing Committees. Separate expenses may not be paid in regard to matters covered by the annual allowance. The annual allowance (including the meetings' indices element of the allowance) and other financial supports payable to councillors were significantly increased with effect from 1 January 2007, following a review. In addition to the annual allowance, councillors may also receive ad hoc travel and subsistence expenses in respect of attendance at such events as conferences and training courses of relevance to their local authorities. Local authorities are responsible for the administration of the expenses system for councillors in accordance with the Local Government (Expenses of Local Authority Members) Regulations 2006.

Telecommunications Masts.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

218 Deputy Michael Noonan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he has set down guidelines or if he will do so regarding the distance the sites of telephone masts should be from residences in the interest of health and safety; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15518/08]

My Department published Guidelines for Planning Authorities on Telecommunications Antennae and Support Structures in 1996. The guidelines are intended to facilitate planning authorities, An Bord Pleanála, the licensed providers of mobile telecommunications services and the public by providing guidance on dealing with these developments within the planning system. The guidelines set out a locational hierarchy in relation to the siting of radio masts and advise that free-standing masts should only be located within, or in the immediate surrounds, of smaller towns or villages as a last resort. If such a location should become necessary, the masts and antennae should be designed and adapted for the specific location. In the vicinity of larger towns and in city suburbs, operators should endeavour to locate in industrial estates or in industrially zoned land.

The guidelines further advise that, only as a last resort, and if all the alternatives are unavailable or unsuitable, should free-standing masts be located in a residential area. Under Section 28 of the Planning and Development Act, 2000, planning authorities are required to have regard to any Ministerial guidelines in the performance of their functions. It is my intention to further develop these guidelines to take account of the latest developments in telecommunications technology and related issues, including in particular broadband.

Local Authority Housing.

Andrew Doyle

Ceist:

219 Deputy Andrew Doyle asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if funding is available for the remedial regeneration works to be carried out on estates (details supplied) in County Wicklow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15534/08]

My Department has given approval to a remedial works project at Vartry Heights in Roundwood. The local authority expect to tender for the works in the coming months. Approval has also been given to the local authority for firestopping works at Sycamore Drive and Mountainview Estates in Newtownmountkennedy. Funding is to be provided from the authority's internal capital receipts and works have begun. The local authority has indicated that this firestopping constitutes one element in a wider remedial works scheme; however, details of the overall proposal and cost estimates have not yet been submitted to my Department. No formal proposals under the remedial works scheme have been received for either Rathdrum or Woodview Park Estates.

Bernard Allen

Ceist:

220 Deputy Bernard Allen asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if there is a working group examining the proposed sale of local authority apartments and flats under the tenant purchase scheme; the terms of reference of same; when it was set up; the regularity with which it has met; the dates on which it has met since being set up; and the membership of that working group. [15537/08]

I refer to the reply to Question No. 537 of 11 March 2008. The working group comprises representatives of my Department and Dublin and Cork City Councils but has the option, depending on the issues to be discussed, of inviting representatives of other local authorities to attend group meetings.

Local Authority Funding.

John Cregan

Ceist:

221 Deputy John Cregan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the percentage of local government funding, on average, related to motor tax; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15542/08]

It is estimated that motor tax receipts will contribute some 22% of local authority current funding in 2008.

Departmental Expenditure.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

222 Deputy Michael Noonan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the policy decisions he has made to keep the current expenditure of his Department within the parameters allocated in his Department’s budget for 2008; the savings in 2008, and the full year savings of each such initiative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15557/08]

My Department is managing its expenditure in accordance with the 2008 Budget, public spending priorities, and in compliance with Public Financial Procedures, and seeks value for money, effectiveness and efficiency in this expenditure. At this stage I anticipate that the financial provisions for 2008 will be fully utilised for the purposes intended as set out in my Department's Estimate of Expenditure.

Planning Issues.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

223 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will undertake a review of the development levy process to establish the way the introduction of this system affects the independence of local authorities in reaching decisions on planning applications, and to seek recommendations on the way this stream of funding might be maximised without compromising a local authority’s responsibility to plan effectively and honestly and reach impartial decisions. [15565/08]

The Planning and Development Act 2000 introduced changes to the operation of the development contributions system, including the introduction of a statutory requirement that such contributions may now be levied only in accordance with a development contribution scheme drawn up by the planning authority and approved by the elected members following a public consultation process. Section 48 of the Planning and Development Act, 2000 provides that planning authorities may levy development contributions in respect of public infrastructure and facilities provided by, or on behalf of, the local authority that benefit development in the area. Supplementary development contributions may also be levied in certain cases under Section 49 of the Act.

In May 2007, my Department published a report arising from the deliberations of an Inter-Departmental Committee on Development Contribution Schemes. This report was also accompanied by updated policy guidance in the form of circular letter PD 5/07 to all planning authorities which focused on a number of key issues identified by the Committee. Authorities were reminded of the need for extensive consultation with stakeholders in drawing up and administering schemes, the importance of openness and accountability, and the importance of achieving a balance between an appropriate level of development contribution charges and the need to attract future investment into their areas.

In making decisions on planning applications, planning authorities are restricted to considering the proper planning and sustainable development of the area, having regard to a number of matters, including the provisions of the development plan, relevant Ministerial or Government policies, and any submissions or observations received. The applicant and any person who made a submission on the planning application may appeal the decision of a planning authority on a planning application to An Bord Pleanála. My Department will continue to keep the operation and scope of the development contribution system under review.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

224 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the extent to which draft framework plans that have neither been rejected nor approved by a local authority may have a bearing on the consideration of a planning application for land within the boundary of the draft framework plan; and the statutory basis for the approach of the local authority’s planning officials in this context. [15567/08]

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

225 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the extent to which draft local authority policy proposals that have neither been rejected nor approved by the local authority may have a bearing on the consideration of a planning application; and the statutory basis for the approach of the local authority’s planning officials in this context. [15568/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 224 and 225 together.

Section 34(2) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 provides that when making its decision in relation to a planning application, a planning authority must consider the proper planning and sustainable development of the area, having regard to

the provisions of the development plan;

the provisions of any special amenity area order relating to the area;

any European site or other area prescribed for the purposes of the conservation and protection of the environment including in particular the archaeological and natural heritage;

where relevant, the policy of the Government, the Minister or any other Minister of the Government;

the matters referred to in sub-section (4) of Section 34, i.e. examples of conditions that may be attached to planning applications;

any other relevant provision or requirement of the Act, and any regulations made under it.

In accordance with Section 34(3), a planning authority must also have regard, when considering a planning application, to any written submissions or observations concerning the proposed development made to it in accordance with the planning regulations. Section 18(3)(a) of the Act provides that when considering an application for permission under section 34, a planning authority must have regard to the provisions of any local area plan prepared for the area to which the application relates, and that the authority may also consider any relevant draft local plan which has been prepared but not yet made.

National Monuments.

Joanna Tuffy

Ceist:

226 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the monitoring that has taken place of works by the National Roads Authority in the vicinity of Rath Lugh to ensure this national monument is preserved and the preservation order on the monument is adhered to; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15639/08]

Joanna Tuffy

Ceist:

227 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he has considered establishing a liaison committee made up of stakeholders including officials from his Department and other relevant Departments, representatives of Coillte, the National Museum and the National Monuments Service to monitor the implementation of the preservation order at Rath Lugh and ensure a basis of communication to all interested parties regarding the steps that are being taken to ensure the preservation of Rath Lugh; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15640/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 226 and 227 together.

On 7 March 2008, in accordance with the provisions of Section 8 of the National Monuments Act 1930 (as amended), I placed a preservation order on the national monument known as Rath Lugh in the townland of Lismullin, Co. Meath. The monument had previously been the subject of a temporary preservation order, which was due to expire in late March 2008. The area of the monument and its buffer zone covered by the preservation order is adjacent to, but does not encroach into, the lands made available by the National Roads Authority (NRA) to the company responsible for constructing the M3 motorway. The area of the monument is delineated by reference to National Grid co-ordinates in an Ordnance Survey map attached to the order. A copy of the order has been laid before the Houses of the Oireachtas.

To assess the stability of the esker on which the monument at Rath Lugh is located I commissioned a report, which is available on my Department's website, www.environ.ie, from a firm of consultants with relevant expertise in this matter. The report I received recommended that a number of precautionary measures be put in place to ensure that the esker is not undermined during the nearby road construction works or in the longer term. My Department is working with the NRA to ensure the ongoing protection of the national monument including the implementation of the measures outlined in the consultant's report.

The NRA proposes to install a retaining wall system to secure the stability of the slope of the esker on which the national monument is located during the construction works and in the longer term when the motorway is in operation. The independent consultants I commissioned have reviewed the conceptual design for the retaining wall and have confirmed that the proposal is an appropriate solution. A copy of their report in this regard is also available on my Department's website. The consultants have listed a number of items that should be taken into account in considering the detailed design of the retaining wall. The NRA has agreed and a detailed design, which is currently being prepared, will be submitted to my Department prior to any work taking place.

I have arranged for weekly inspections to be carried out by my Department to monitor and assess the condition of the national monument at Rath Lugh. Furthermore, my Department is in regular contact with Coillte regarding the protection of the monument and has received Coillte's full co-operation in the matter. My Department and the National Museum of Ireland have also been in contact in the matter on a number of occasions. I am satisfied that appropriate arrangements are in place to monitor the effectiveness of the preservation order.

Electricity Generation.

Simon Coveney

Ceist:

228 Deputy Simon Coveney asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will clarify the contribution that wind will make to the electricity grid by the year 2020; and if he has policy in place to deal with the many developers who will continue to spend money on developing wind farms that have no prospect of connection to the grid due to the limitations outlined in his grid capacity study. [14996/08]

The Energy White Paper, 2006 sets out targets for electricity generated from alternative and renewable energy sources in Ireland of 15% of electricity consumed in 2010 and 33% in 2020. The dominant technology providing the required new capacity will be wind, both onshore and offshore. It is our objective also to ensure that additional capacity will be provided by biomass, small hydro and ocean energy as we work to realise the full potential of all our renewable resources.

The All-Island Grid Study published this January concluded that it is technically feasible to generate 42% of electricity on the island of Ireland from renewable energy sources by 2020. The study shows that we have the potential to do more than reach the target of 33% renewables. That target was always going to set the base rather than the limit of our ambitions and the government is committed to delivering the highest percentage of renewables possible by 2020. This will require major investment in our electricity transmission network, and significant investment from the renewables sector itself. There are other complex technical and policy challenges inherent in achieving this ambitious level of integration of renewable energy into the grid. The Grid Development Strategy 2025 which is being finalised by EirGrid will be critical in this regard.

I have announced a range of initiatives since the publication of the Grid Study to further support delivery of our renewable energy targets including enhancements to the REFIT programme. We are putting in place the necessary strategies to deliver on our national and EU targets as well as looking beyond those in terms of ambition. I have re-established the Renewable Energy Development Group as a high level forum to inform and underpin work to address the challenges and opportunities for the renewable energy sector. The group brings together the renewables industry, Departments, Agencies and other stakeholders to ensure a "Whole of Government" approach to the challenges. We will also be cooperating with Northern colleagues as we both work to achieve the development of renewable energy North and South.

Waste Disposal.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

229 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his policy on waste to energy production; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14928/08]

Under the Programme for Government we are strongly committed to a waste management hierarchy based on the cornerstones of reduction, reuse, recycling and marketing of recycled products. We are committed to ensuring that the National Waste Management System uses all available sustainable technologies to the highest operating standards and best international practice, including the use of waste for generating sustainable electricity. "Waste to Energy" solutions must be fully compatible with these national waste policy goals as well as the National Strategy for Biodegradable Waste, taking account of EU and international experience. All proposed waste to energy projects must therefore be compliant with the waste management hierarchy and compliant with any licensing requirements of the Environmental Protection Agency and, where appropriate, the EU Waste Incineration Directive.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

230 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the number of enterprises throughout the country seeking approval for the provision of alternative energy production, such as wind farms, bio-ethanol or bio-diesel or other forms of alternative energy production; if his attention has been drawn to the concerns of some such producers at recurring delays; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14944/08]

With the exception of the wind technology gate connection process in the electricity sector, I am not aware of any concerns expressed about recurring delays in securing planning permission or authorisations, where required, to harness or convert renewable and alternative energy resources. The planning process is a matter for individual local authorities and An Bord Pleanála and my Department is not involved in the process in any way. Proposals to construct electricity generating plants harnessing alternative energy sources require the prior approval of the Commission for Energy Regulation. Due to the large amount of wind projects currently in the grid connection queue (up to 8000 megawatts), there is a connection ‘gate' process in place to ensure an orderly progress onto the grid. Proposals to refine or blend bio-ethanol and bio-diesel for certain purposes may require the prior approval or consent of the Revenue Commissioners. There is no requirement to notify my Department regarding such proposals.

Question No. 231 answered with Question No. 81.

Offshore Exploration.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

232 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the number of commercially viable discoveries of oil, gas or other minerals in the past 12 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14948/08]

As was outlined in response to question number 278 on 12th March 2008, during 2007, two finds were made in the North Celtic Sea Basin off the south coast. Providence Resources Limited identified an oil accumulation at the Hook Head prospect in block 50/11 while Island Oil and Gas Limited encountered gas at the Schull prospect in block 57/2. In addition, Island Oil and Gas Limited successfully appraised its 2006 Old Head gas discovery in block 49/23. In all three cases further studies are continuing in order to determine whether these accumulations can be progressed to commercial developments. So far during 2008 no additional finds have been made.

No new economic deposits of non-petroleum minerals have been discovered in recent years. There have been some encouraging results, however. Exploration adjacent to the existing base metal mine at Navan, County Meath (Boliden Tara Mines Ltd), discovered additional resources with the potential to extend the life of that mine, while diamond drilling in northeast County Limerick by Minco and Xstrata Zinc, near Pallas Green, has encountered high grade intersections of zinc and lead. While these results are encouraging, it is too early to say whether an economic mineral deposit occurs in the area.

Alternative Energy Projects.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

233 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the precise growth in bio-diesel, ethanol, wind energy or other forms of alternative energy in the past six months; the extent to which a reduction in the use of imported fossil fuels has been achieved as a result; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14949/08]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

237 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the number of alternative energy production units that have become operational in the past six months; the extent of import substitution achieved as a result; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14953/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 233 and 237 together.

Statistical information on energy production, transformation, and related matters is collated by the Energy Policy Statistical Support Unit (EPSSU) of Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI) and published by SEI. The published reports are available from SEI directly or from its website. The latest published report is "Energy in Ireland 2006", which was published in late 2007. In this report, SEI report on indigenous energy production in terms of (ktoe) thousands of tonnes of oil equivalent. This measure shows that renewable energy production has risen from 235,000 tonnes of oil equivalent in 2000 to 367,000 tonnes of oil equivalent in 2005 and 420,000 tonnes of oil equivalent in 2006. Specific statistical information for the last six months is not yet available.

Telecommunications Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

234 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he has had discussions with the regulator and achieved any consensus in the matter of the availability of high speed broadband facilities in all areas throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14950/08]

The provision of broadband services is, in the first instance, a matter for the private sector. Broadband service providers operate in a fully liberalised market, regulated, where appropriate, by the independent Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg. The role of the Government is to formulate regulatory and infrastructure policies to facilitate the provision of high quality telecommunications services by competing private sector service providers. The widespread provision of broadband services continues to be a priority for the Government. In that regard my Department has undertaken initiatives to address the gaps in broadband coverage. These include providing grant-aid under the Group Broadband Scheme (GBS) and investment in Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs).

Although broadband is now widely available in Ireland there are still some parts of the country where the private sector will be unable to justify the commercial provision of broadband services. These areas are being addressed by the National Broadband Scheme (NBS), which will provide broadband services to areas that are currently unserved and will ensure that all reasonable requests for broadband are met. The first phase of the NBS procurement process (Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ)) is now complete, and four candidates pre-qualified to enter the next phase of the procurement process. Following the withdrawal of the IFA/Motorola Consortium as a candidate, the remaining three candidates have now commenced "Competitive Dialogue" with my Department and are developing their proposed solutions to meet my Department's requirements for the delivery of broadband to the unserved areas of the country. It is anticipated that a preferred bidder will be selected and appointed in July 2008, with roll out to commence as soon as possible thereafter.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

235 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if national emission targets are expected to be achieved on time without detrimental economic impact; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14951/08]

While overall accounting responsibility for national emissions policy is primarily a matter for my colleague the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the Environmental Protection Agency, it is the responsibility of Government as a whole to meet our overall climate change and energy targets. The Government has established a Cabinet subcommittee on climate change and energy security to ensure that a comprehensive and cohesive policy is in place to deliver in these critical policy areas. Already this subcommittee has established a multi departmental senior officials group to address the challenges posed to Ireland in achieving these targets and the work of this group will inform and implement policy in this area and feed in to the new carbon budget process, which my colleague, Minister John Gormley, introduced for the first time last year. This annual carbon budget will report on the effectiveness of our response in meeting these challenging targets.

Broadcasting Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

236 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which he has had discussions with the RTÉ authorities in the past 12 months with particular reference to the future structure of public broadcasting services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14952/08]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

239 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which he has had discussions with the private sector in regard to the future of broadcasting services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14955/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 236 and 239 together.

In the context of the development of broadcasting policy my officials and I have cause, on a regular basis, to meet with the various interests that comprise the broadcasting sector including but not limited to commercial broadcasters, public service broadcasters and independent producers.

Question No. 237 answered with Question No. 233.

Telecommunications Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

238 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the steps he has taken to accelerate the provision of high speed broadband to the industrial, educational, health and financial services sectors; when the quality and availability of the service here will be on par with the best in Europe; the reason for the delay in reaching such targets; the action he has taken or proposes to take to address the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14954/08]

The provision of broadband services is, in the first instance, a matter for the private sector. Broadband service providers operate in a fully liberalised market, regulated, where appropriate, by the independent Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg. The role of the Government is to formulate regulatory and infrastructure policies to facilitate the provision of high quality telecommunications services by competing private sector service providers.

The widespread provision of broadband services continues to be a priority for the Government. In that regard my Department has undertaken initiatives to address the gaps in broadband coverage. These include providing grant-aid under the Group Broadband Scheme (GBS) and investment in Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs). Although broadband is now widely available in Ireland there are still some parts of the country where the private sector will be unable to justify the commercial provision of broadband services. These areas are being addressed by the National Broadband Scheme (NBS), which will provide broadband services to areas that are currently unserved and will ensure that all reasonable requests for broadband are met.

The first phase of the NBS procurement process (Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ)) is now complete, and four candidates pre-qualified to enter the next phase of the procurement process. Following the withdrawal of the IFA/Motorola Consortium as a candidate, the remaining three candidates have now commenced "Competitive Dialogue" with my Department and are developing their proposed solutions to meet my Department's requirements for the delivery of broadband to the unserved areas of the country. It is anticipated that a preferred bidder will be selected and appointed in July 2008, with roll out to commence as soon as possible thereafter.

My Department has prepared a Draft Policy Paper on Next Generation Broadband. The Paper reviews current communications infrastructure policy and analyses policy options in light of industry developments in relation to the optimum role for the Government in the planning and roll out of next generation broadband. In February of this year I convened a meeting of the expert International Advisory Forum to examine the Paper. The Forum critiqued draft options and recommendations on how to meet the challenges that lie ahead. The Forum members supported the broad trust of the document and they have provided valuable feedback. They offered some additional recommendations and advice on the future trends of the telecommunications and ICT industries and proposed that certain suggestions be explored further. The draft paper is currently being updated to take account of the Forum's contribution. It will be published shortly for public consultation.

Question No. 239 answered with Question No. 236.

Postal Services.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

240 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his and the Government’s preferred options for the future of An Post, the postal service and the post office network; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14991/08]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

242 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the Government policy on the future of An Post; the role he expects the service to play in the communications sector in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14956/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 240 and 242 together.

The Government's policy with regard to the future development of the postal service is to ensureIrish customers, both business and residential, enjoy competitively priced, high quality postal services on a par with the highest quality standards in key comparator economies elsewhere in the EU. Electronic communications services, while providing threats to the postal service in the form of electronic substitution, will also provide opportunities in the form of e-fulfilment. It is Government policy that An Post remains a strong and viable company, in a position to compete in a liberalised market, provide a high quality, nationwide postal service and maintain a nationwide, customer-focussed network of post offices.

While the Government will support An Post and its network in any way it can, it is the responsibility of the board and management of the company to make strategic decisions regarding its future and how it will prepare itself for future competition, particularly in advance of the full liberalisation of the postal sector, set to happen in 2011. In preparation for competition, it is vital that the company restructures itself effectively and that management and trade unions in An Post work together to transform the company into an efficient, innovative and modern service provider by implementing the agreed restructuring programme and providing innovative new service arrangements for the public.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

241 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the discussions that have taken place with An Post, the postal unions and other interested bodies with a view to ensuring continuation of a reliable next day delivery postal service in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14943/08]

I have no role in the matter of the discussions that have taken place between An Post, the postal unions and other interested parties in respect of the future of postal delivery services. This is an issue for the Board and management of An Post to decide on. In addition, Communications Regulation (ComReg), the postal regulator, has responsibility for monitoring quality of service standards in relation to the postal service.

Question No. 242 answered with Question No. 240.

Mobile Telephony.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

243 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he has plans to introduce a cap on roaming charges, similar to the EU roaming charge cap, on mobile phone use in airplanes in Irish airspace; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15492/08]

I have no function in the matter raised by the Deputy. The EU Commission has recently issued a recommendation on the authorisation of mobile communications services on aircraft. The recommendation clears the way for airlines to allow their passengers use their mobiles phones while the aircraft is in flight. It is a matter for airlines and service providers to decide whether to offer the service or not. The introduction of a cap on charges for the use of mobile phones on aircraft travelling within the EU similar to the EU roaming charge cap, would be a matter for the EU Commission.

Telecommunications Services.

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

244 Deputy Dinny McGinley asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to the long delay in providing a broadband service to the Burtonport area, County Donegal; when this service will be extended to that area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15496/08]

The provision of broadband services is, in the first instance, a matter for the private sector. Broadband service providers operate in a fully liberalised market, regulated, where appropriate, by the independent Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg. The role of the Government is to formulate regulatory and infrastructure policies to facilitate the provision of high quality telecommunications services by competing private sector service providers. The widespread provision of broadband services continues to be a priority for the Government. In that regard my Department has undertaken initiatives to address the gaps in broadband coverage. These include providing grant-aid under the Group Broadband Scheme (GBS) and investment in Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs).

Although broadband is now widely available in Ireland there are still some parts of the country where the private sector will be unable to justify the commercial provision of broadband services. These areas are being addressed by the National Broadband Scheme (NBS), which will provide broadband services to areas that are currently unserved, including any unserved areas in County Donegal, and will ensure that all reasonable requests for broadband are met.

The first phase of the NBS procurement process (Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ)) is now complete, and four candidates pre-qualified to enter the next phase of the procurement process. Following the withdrawal of the IFA/Motorola Consortium as a candidate, the remaining three candidates have now commenced "Competitive Dialogue" with my Department and are developing their proposed solutions to meet my Department's requirements for the delivery of broadband to the unserved areas of the country. It is anticipated that a preferred bidder will be selected and appointed in July 2008, with roll out to commence as soon as possible thereafter.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

245 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to the difficulties suffered by both residential and business users in Clontibret, County Monaghan and neighbouring areas due to the absence or slowness of broadband services there; the actions he plans to take to improve this situation and when; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15497/08]

The provision of broadband services is, in the first instance, a matter for the private sector. Broadband service providers operate in a fully liberalised market, regulated, where appropriate, by the independent Commission for Communications Regulation, ComReg. The role of the Government is to formulate regulatory and infrastructure policies to facilitate the provision of high quality telecommunications services by competing private sector service providers. The widespread provision of broadband services continues to be a priority for the Government. In that regard my Department has undertaken initiatives to address the gaps in broadband coverage. These include providing grant-aid under the Group Broadband Scheme (GBS) and investment in Metropolitan Area Networks (MANs).

Although broadband is now widely available in Ireland there are still some parts of the country where the private sector will be unable to justify the commercial provision of broadband services. These areas are being addressed by the National Broadband Scheme (NBS), which will provide broadband services to areas that are currently unserved, including any unserved areas in Monaghan, and will ensure that all reasonable requests for broadband are met.

The first phase of the NBS procurement process (Pre-Qualification Questionnaire (PQQ)) is now complete, and four candidates pre-qualified to enter the next phase of the procurement process. Following the withdrawal of the IFA/Motorola Consortium as a candidate, the remaining three candidates have now commenced "Competitive Dialogue" with my Department and are developing their proposed solutions to meet my Department's requirements for the delivery of broadband to the unserved areas of the country. It is anticipated that a preferred bidder will be selected and appointed in July 2008, with roll out to commence as soon as possible thereafter.

Departmental Expenditure.

Michael Noonan

Ceist:

246 Deputy Michael Noonan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the policy decisions he has made to keep the current expenditure of his Department within the parameters allocated in his Department’s budget for 2008; the savings in 2008, and the full year savings of each such initiative; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15552/08]

I monitor current expenditure in my Department on an ongoing basis to ensure it remains within the parameters allocated in my Department's budget for 2008, and to ensure that efficient and effective use is made of taxpayer's money. At the end of March current expenditure was in line with profile. I expect that current expenditure in my Department for all of 2008 will be within estimate.