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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 5 Nov 2008

Vol. 666 No. 1

Written Answers.

The following are questions tabled by Members for written response and the ministerial replies as received on the day from the Departments [unrevised].
Questions Nos. 1 to 8, inclusive, answered orally.
Questions Nos. 9 to 95, inclusive, resubmitted.
Questions Nos. 96 to 105, inclusive, answered orally.

EU-ASEM Summit.

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

106 Deputy Pat Rabbitte asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the present position in North Korea; if North Korea was discussed at the recent Europe-China meeting; and if so, the intervention the Irish delegation made on this subject. [38394/08]

Following discussions in early October between officials from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the United States Government, the DPRK's reversal during the summer of its agreed nuclear disablement process appears to have been resolved. As a result, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) returned last month to the nuclear facilities in the DPRK, and work towards the decommissioning of these sites has now resumed.

In the wider context, the humanitarian situation in the DPRK remains of considerable concern. The country is suffering chronic food insecurity and high malnutrition rates, and remains reliant on external food assistance to meet the needs of its 23 million people. Recent studies indicate that the DPRK has been as vulnerable to the global crisis as other countries, with domestic costs increasing in line with global food prices, and the price of fuel surging by 50 percent in the second quarter of 2008.

The situation in the DPRK was discussed at the ASEM 7 Summit on 25 October, in the context of a broad review of international and regional developments. The official record of the Summit noted that the ASEM Leaders had welcomed the progress made in the recent Six-Party Talks discussions and "called on the relevant parties to continue to take positive steps to move forward the Six-Party Talks with the aim of early and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula in a peaceful manner." They also emphasized the importance of addressing the humanitarian concerns in the DPRK.

Time pressures and the number of topics on the agenda under this item did not permit an intervention by the Taoiseach on this issue.

Overseas Development Aid.

John Deasy

Ceist:

107 Deputy John Deasy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the effect the global credit crisis is having on Ireland’s development aid programme countries; and the practical steps he will take to assist those programme countries overcoming the effects of this global crisis. [38475/08]

Ireland's development aid Programme Countries are some of the poorest in the world. In recent years many of them have demonstrated slow but steady progress, both economically and socially. This progress, despite enormous and continuing challenges, is the result of new and stronger partnerships between international donors, such as Ireland, and developing country governments. These partnerships are driven by the overall objective of achieving the Millennium Development Goals. These Goals set specific targets for the reduction of poverty by 2015.

I am concerned that the global credit crisis may undermine international commitments to provide resources to meet the Millennium Development Goals and thus set back efforts to help the poorest of the poor, including those in Ireland's Programme Countries. I am equally concerned at the effect of the rise in the price of food and the lingering effects of recent oil price fluctuations.

To overcome the effects of the global credit crisis in our Programme Countries we will continue to focus on what has been shown to work. Our aim is poverty reduction through building the capacity to deliver basic services, encouraging policies to foster equitable economic growth, building the institutions of good governance and working with other donors and developing country governments to ensure commitments are met and that resources are well managed and give value for money.

We will also adapt our aid programmes in specific countries to meet local and national needs in the light of the credit crisis. For example, in Malawi, we are orienting our programme to meet the needs of rural people through interventions in the areas of agriculture and food security. This is an example of Ireland's flexibility in relation to our aid programme. We will continue to work closely with our Programme Country partner governments to meet emerging needs.

The global credit crisis must not allow the Millennium Development Goals to lose their centrality in the international agenda. They remain very central to our aid objectives. In 2008, I expect ODA expenditure to amount to 0.54% of GNP. We are the world's sixth most generous aid donor in terms of GNP. This demonstrates Ireland's commitment to play our part in progress towards the Millennium Development Goals.

UN Reform.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

108 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the progress that has been made on the agenda for reform of the United Nations, which was initiated by the previous Secretary General Mr. Kofi Anan. [38365/08]

The UN World Summit held in September 2005 agreed a package of UN reforms which, while not as complete as might have been hoped, represented an important advance. Work to implement these reforms has been proceeding since then on a number of levels.

As part of this reform, Ireland has been playing a leading role in the effort to reform the mechanisms through which the UN provides assistance to the developing world. The basis for this reform is the recommendations of the High Level Panel on System-wide Coherence. Essentially, these are proposals to improve the UN's internal coherence and its delivery of development assistance.

The Panel reported in late 2006 and its proposals mainly centre on the development of a unified UN presence at country level, i.e. that all UN agencies in a country would operate from a single office, with one leader, one programme and one budget. The core objective is to improve the delivery of aid by the UN in developing countries. Since the publication of the Panel report, pilot programmes have been established in eight countries, including in three Irish Aid priority countries — Vietnam, Tanzania and Mozambique.

The Irish Permanent Representative to the UN in New York, Ambassador Paul Kavanagh, together with the Tanzanian Permanent Representative, was appointed in January 2008 by the former President of the General Assembly to lead consideration of the recommendations of the Panel. They submitted a joint Co-Chairs' report to the President of the General Assembly in July 2008.

On 15 September 2008, the General Assembly adopted by consensus a Resolution on "System-wide Coherence" which welcomed the Co-Chairs' report and agreed to move forward on the four priority areas identified in their report:

(i) ‘Delivering as One' at country level, with the related aspect of Harmonisation of Business Practices; (ii) Funding; (iii) Governance; and (iv) Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.

As regards reform of the Security Council, Ireland's view is that a more representative, efficient and transparent Security Council is an essential aspect of reforming the UN to meet the many global challenges which we face.

Following extensive consultations, the previous President of the General Assembly brokered a deal on 15 September this year, which provides for intergovernmental negotiations on Security Council reform to commence at an informal plenary of the General Assembly. On 13 October, the President of the General Assembly announced that these negotiations will begin on 21 November.

I believe that the decision to set a date for opening of intergovernmental negotiations represents genuine progress on the matter.

Discussions are also continuing on the important issue of management reform. Despite progress in a number of areas, there remains much more to be done, particularly in relation to planning and budgetary processes and human resources management.

Diplomatic Contacts.

Paul Kehoe

Ceist:

109 Deputy Paul Kehoe asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number and range of formal diplomatic protests made by him or the Government to embassies or states to date in 2008; the issues on which the protests were made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38457/08]

Officers of my Department at home and abroad, and I personally, take every opportunity to raise relevant concerns in our ongoing bilateral and multilateral contacts with representatives of other Governments.

Officials at Irish Embassies abroad regularly make various forms of diplomatic representation in the countries to which they are accredited on behalf of Irish citizens abroad who may find themselves in need of consular assistance.

In terms of specific diplomatic demarches to other Governments, in March this year, following security measures directed at monks and other protestors in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, the Department of Foreign Affairs conveyed the Government's very serious concerns regarding the situation there, including the use of force and treatment of detainees, to the Chinese Embassy in Dublin.

In April and May this year, our Embassies throughout Africa carried out ten urgent démarches on behalf of the Government to relay our strong concerns nationally regarding the situation in Zimbabwe. These démarches expressed our alarm about the serious violence and intimidation being carried out against the Movement for Democratic Change and other opposition supporters, as well as the political impasse in the country. They also registered our dismay in relation to the failure to issue final results of the presidential elections more than a month after the event.

I have in recent days instructed that further démarches be made to members of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and to the African Union in respect of the current deeply disturbing stalemate in Zimbabwe.

Climate Change Strategy.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

110 Deputy Liz McManus asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the ongoing negotiations at the European Council with regard to finalising a shared and commonly held position on climate change. [38391/08]

Last month's European Council reaffirmed the climate change and energy commitments made at the 2007 Spring European Council, including the objective of concluding negotiations on the package of legislative measures designed to give effect to these commitments by the end of 2008. These 2007 commitments are for the EU to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 20% by 2020, and to consume 20% of total energy from renewable sources and 10% of transport fuel from biofuels by 2020.

The Taoiseach at the European Council made clear Ireland's continued support for these objectives. At the same time, he outlined Ireland's national concerns and our demand that emissions targets need to be achieved by the most cost-effective means. I had also set out our position at the October meeting of the General Affairs Council.

While the Presidency faces a difficult task if it is to conclude these negotiations in December, all Member States accept the importance of such agreement, in particular because of the impetus that this would provide to the negotiations in this area under the UN umbrella, which are scheduled to conclude in Copenhagen in December 2009.

Decentralisation Programme.

Damien English

Ceist:

111 Deputy Damien English asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the travel costs budgeted for, and the costs expected to arise, from the decentralisation of Irish Aid to Limerick; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38448/08]

James Bannon

Ceist:

115 Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of agencies and sections within his Department whose planned decentralisation has been postponed due to the budgetary considerations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38444/08]

Damien English

Ceist:

120 Deputy Damien English asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of civil servants in his Department whose jobs are being decentralised but who are themselves staying in Dublin and being assigned to other duties; the number of additional staff hired to fill such vacancies caused by decentralisation; the costs involved in 2008; the scheduled cost for 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38446/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 111, 115 and 120 together.

Under the Government's decentralisation programme announced in 2003, 125 posts attached to the Development Cooperation Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs were to decentralise to Limerick. The Division is the Headquarters of Irish Aid. Following sanction of an additional 20 posts by the Department of Finance in 2005, the total number of posts attached to Irish Aid Headquarters increased to 145. Of these, 138 are transferring to Limerick.

The total travel budget for Irish Aid in 2008 is €3.05 million. There is no specific allocation for travel costs related to decentralisation.

Of the 108 staff assigned to Irish Aid at the time decentralisation was announced, 14%, or 15 officials, were transferred to other areas of the Department or to other Departments as a direct result of decentralisation. It is in the nature of the work of the Department that staff transfer between Divisions at HQ, and indeed to Embassies abroad, on a regular basis. This routine rotation accounts for the balance of the staff transfers from Irish Aid.

As the decentralisation of Irish Aid did not result in any increase in the total sanctioned number of staff for the Department, there were no additional staffing costs in 2008 and none are anticipated for 2009. The number of staff joining the Department in order to decentralise to Limerick was balanced by the number leaving through retirement, promotion or transfer to other Departments.

The decentralisation of Irish Aid Headquarters has not been postponed due to budgetary considerations. The move to Limerick will be completed next week, when staff move into a new headquarters building.

Foreign Conflicts.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

112 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in political and humanitarian terms as pertains in Zimbabwe; and the prospects of power sharing structures emerging. [38380/08]

More than six weeks after the signing of a power-sharing agreement between Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party, and the Tsvangirai and Mutambara factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), there has still been no agreement on forming a Government, and the situation in Zimbabwe remains deeply worrying. Although political violence has diminished, it has not stopped. The rate of inflation has now reached unimaginable levels. As the Zimbabwe dollar has lost credibility and value Zimbabweans increasingly have to use foreign currencies, principally the US dollar and the South African rand, for transactions such as grocery purchases, property sales and rentals, legal fees and fuel sales. The World Food Programme estimates that 5.1 million people will require food assistance by January 2009.

The EU is continuing to act on its concern for the suffering of the ordinary people of Zimbabwe at this very difficult time. The European Commission has allocated an additional €10 million in relief assistance for people affected by the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe, while Irish aid to the affected people for the period 2006 to 2008 (to date) amounts to approximately €25m.

The failure of the two sides to reach a deal on 27 October on the allocation of Ministries is extremely disappointing. The issue has been referred to a full summit meeting of the South African Development Community (SADC). This summit has been set for 9 November in South Africa. It is Zimbabwe's neighbours, and above all South Africa and other members of SADC which have the greatest potential influence and leverage, and therefore the greatest responsibility to act. I have instructed our Ambassadors in SADC countries to convey our concerns to the authorities in these countries.

EU Foreign Ministers stated after our meeting of 13 October that the EU stands ready to support a transitional government which is taking steps to restore democracy and the rule of law in Zimbabwe. That commitment stands, and the EU very much hopes that the forthcoming SADC summit will result in the formation of a government of national unity which is credible and reflects the will of the Zimbabwean people, as expressed at the 29 March elections. Given the disappointing rate of progress in the talks on forming a Transition Government, my colleagues and I will not be in a position to consider lifting the EU's restrictive measures on the Zimbabwean leadership when we next meet on 10 November. Ireland supports a co-ordinated international approach to addressing Zimbabwe's problems, once an administration is in place in Harare which is committed to working with the international community to rebuild the country economically and politically.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Joe Costello

Ceist:

113 Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the continuing failure of the Northern Ireland Executive to meet, and the comments of Northern Ireland’s former Police Ombudsman that such failure may damage the prospects for the emergence of inclusive political structures; the discussions that have been held recently to which the Irish Government was party; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38378/08]

The Government is committed to the full implementation of all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement and the St Andrews Agreement, including the effective operation of all of the Institutions — the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, the North South Ministerial Council and the British Irish Council.

The effective operation of these Institutions, which came into existence on the basis of a mandate from all of the people of this island, is crucial in order to sustain and build upon the massive progress made in Northern Ireland over the last decade. The Government is therefore deeply concerned about the ongoing impasse in the Northern Ireland Executive and the impact which this is having on the operation of the North South Ministerial Council.

In relation to the comments of former Police Ombudsman Ms Nuala O'Loan, I would agree that we cannot be complacent and that all efforts must be made to avoid any situation which might be exploited by those on the fringes who would seek to destroy the peace and prosperity which the people of Northern Ireland have worked so hard to achieve.

The Government remains in close contact with the British Government and the parties in Northern Ireland. The Taoiseach and I held meetings with both Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness on Friday 17 October. I reviewed the overall situation in detail with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in London on Tuesday 28 October, and later that week with the deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness in Belfast. I welcome the statement of the First Minister, Peter Robinson, at his party's Conference on Saturday that he hoped the Executive will in a few weeks be able "to get through the present difficulties and to build for the future". I also take encouragement from the peaceful passing of last Sunday's parade and related protests in Belfast.

I am pleased that the parties are continuing to engage in discussions and both Governments will continue to offer support and assistance to the parties as they work to find solutions to their current difficulties.

Overseas Development Aid.

Joe Carey

Ceist:

114 Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps Irish Aid is taking to ensure that there is less bureaucratic duplication and more effectiveness when attempting to harmonise donor initiatives. [38484/08]

Making aid more effective is crucial if we are to reduce poverty in the long term and achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. These goals set out the globally agreed targets and benchmarks for poverty reduction.

We know from experience that excessive fragmentation of aid leads to duplication and wastage. It places a heavy burden on the recipients of aid and undermines country ownership and leadership.

In all of our Programme Countries, Ireland is an active member of the donor community and is working with governments and other donors to promote the principles of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness of 2005. All donors and recipient governments have signed up to the Paris Declaration. The aim is to work more effectively together to achieve value for money and development results. In line with this, we actively help the authorities at national and local level to develop and implement a national development plan that will lead to the reduction of poverty and ensure the poor have better health and education services and will be better able to secure employment.

Overall, therefore, Ireland is committed to working in a more harmonised and coordinated aid environment. We work very closely, for instance, with other donors in adopting a coordinated response to the needs and priorities of the countries in question.

Likewise, monitoring and evaluation of development programmes are undertaken jointly with other donors and with partner governments. Particular attention is paid to progress in relation to reducing the number of people living below the poverty line and increasing access to basic health, education and water and sanitation. Moreover, all of our programmes incorporate a focus on specific results that can be measured.

Question No. 115 answered with Question No. 111.

Foreign Conflicts.

Leo Varadkar

Ceist:

116 Deputy Leo Varadkar asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the further progress that has been made at the UN to ensure that Irish peacekeepers are in a position to continue to operate in Chad if and when it changes from an EU to a UN mission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38509/08]

Liz McManus

Ceist:

136 Deputy Liz McManus asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the most recent estimation of the Irish Government on the present position in Darfur; and if he will make a statement on Irish peacekeeping in Chad. [38392/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 116 and 136 together.

In resolution 1834 the United Nations Security Council expressed its intention to authorise the deployment of a UN military component to follow up EUFOR Chad/CAR in both Chad and the Central African Republic. This resolution also requested that the UN Secretary-General, in close cooperation with the European Union, continue planning and initiate the force generation and logistical, administrative, financial and other necessary arrangements with a view to a transfer of authority between EUFOR and the UN military component, subject to a new decision of the Security Council, on 15 March 2009.

Active preparations have commenced. Joint planning between the relevant staffs of the European Union and the United Nations is already underway and a technical team of EUFOR experts has visited New York. The UN Secretary-General is due to submit to the Security Council by 15th November a progress report on ongoing planning and preparations for this follow-on force, including options on the size, structure and mandate of the proposed UN military presence.

The Government is positively disposed, in principle, to Irish participation in a UN follow-on force. However, a formal decision to participate will need to await the outcome of ongoing discussions on the size, composition and mandate of the follow-on operation. Such participation will, of course, be subject to the "Triple Lock" of UN mandate and Government and Dáil approval.

The ongoing suffering of the people of Darfur is a matter of deep concern. The fracturing of the main rebel groups over the past year, and the apparent determination of the Government of Sudan to pursue a military solution, at a high price in terms of ongoing suffering for ordinary people, makes the search for peace even more difficult. The appointment of Djibril Bassolé as joint AU-UN chief mediator in June 2008 is a positive step, and I am hopeful that his committed efforts to bring the two sides together will be successful. To date, however, the process has been disappointingly slow, and a lack of political will is apparent on all sides. Despite these discouraging developments, there is no alternative to a political solution.

I strongly condemn the serious human rights abuses against civilians, particularly women and children, which have been a constant feature of the Darfur conflict. In this regard Ireland fully supports the crucial role being played by the ICC in the promotion of international justice, and deeply regrets the lack of co-operation on the part of the Sudanese government with the ICC to date. While the situation in Darfur is very complex there is a need to ensure that serious crimes, such as those which have been committed in Darfur, do not go unpunished.

In Darfur, ongoing conflict, including targeted attacks against aid workers and their assets, continues to constitute a major obstacle to humanitarian operations. Since 2006, the Government has committed over €48 million in assistance to the people of Sudan, including Darfur.

Human Rights Issues.

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

117 Deputy Kathleen Lynch asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the foreign policy and human rights issues that were discussed in the context of the recent trade delegation to China; if he will provide details of such meetings held between the delegation and Chinese authorities, as well as bilateral meetings the Irish delegation held while at the meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38386/08]

I myself did not participate in the recent visit by the Taoiseach to China but I am aware that the Taoiseach took the opportunity presented by a bilateral meeting with Premier Wen Jiabao on 23 October to review Chinese-Irish bilateral diplomatic, political and economic relations. In the course of the discussion, the Taoiseach raised the issue of human rights, as he did subsequently the same day in an address to the Chinese Foreign Affairs University.

As has been reported to this House on many previous occasions, foreign policy issues and human rights are regularly discussed with the Chinese Government, both in Beijing and Dublin. The Government continues to stress at such meetings the great importance that Ireland attaches to human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, and to urge the Chinese authorities to ratify the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Human rights issues also continue to be a constant and important point of dialogue with the Chinese authorities for the European Union, through the framework of the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue. This broad-ranging dialogue has allowed the EU to engage with China on such issues as freedom of expression, the death penalty, the independence of the judiciary, freedom of religion and minority rights, as well as to urge the Chinese authorities to abolish the "re-education through labour" system. Individual human rights cases are also raised. The next round of the dialogue will take place in Beijing on 28 November.

Foreign Conflicts.

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

118 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the recent American incursion into Syria whereby eight persons lost their life; the Irish and European Union reaction to this incursion; if this matter has been raised with the US administration by the European Union; and if so, the response that was elicited by such a discussion. [38383/08]

I am aware of reports of the incident in question, although the full details of the events are still unclear. The Syrian Government has said only that eight persons were killed, including civilians. The United States has made no official comment, but US sources are reported to have said that the attack successfully targeted an Iraqi leader of Al Qaeda who was active in channelling jihadist fighters and weaponry into Iraq, and in killings of US and Iraqi personnel. Four of the dead were said to be his sons. The Iraqi Government has backed up these reports, although it has otherwise expressed disquiet at the raid.

The EU has made no approach to the United States Government about this incursion. It is obviously regrettable that such incidents should occur, particularly if there is any loss of life of innocent civilians. The continuing violence afflicting Iraq requires the full cooperation of all parties to prevent the territory of Iraq's neighbours being used as a base for attacks within the country.

Despite this incident, there has been an improvement in relations between Syria and the EU in recent months, based on a more constructive Syrian stance on a number of issues. I hope that Syria will continue in this vein, and that the warming of relations can continue.

Question No. 119 answered with Question No. 105.
Question No. 120 answered with Question No. 111.

International Conventions.

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

121 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the situation with respect to proposals to extend the seabed sovereignty of Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38462/08]

I take it that the Deputy is referring to the legal regime governing the exploration and exploitation of Ireland's continental shelf. The regime governing the exploration and exploitation of the continental shelf in international law is set down by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Under that Convention a coastal state is entitled to a continental shelf 200 nautical miles (approx. 370 km) in breadth regardless of whether its continental shelf physically extends that far, subject only to the similar rights of its coastal neighbours. It may also claim a broader shelf where it can show that the natural prolongation of its land territory under water actually extends beyond that limit. A claim to extended shelf must be supported by scientific and technical data and be established to the satisfaction of the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, which was created by the Convention for this purpose.

Ireland's shelf naturally extends beyond 200 nautical miles both to the west and the south of the country. For the purposes of our claims we have divided our shelf into three sectors.

The first sector is to the south-west of the country on the edge of an area known as the Porcupine Abyssal Plain. This sector (which is approximately half the size of the State's land territory) is not disputed by any other state and was therefore the subject of Ireland's first submission to the Commission, made in May 2005. Based upon this submission, the Commission issued its recommendations on the limits of this claimed area in April 2007, allowing Ireland to designate an area of extended shelf of up to 39,000 square kilometres. The Government has accepted these recommendations and work is now in hand to designate the additional seabed enclosed by these limits as areas to which the Continental Shelf Act 1968 will apply.

The second sector of claimed extended continental shelf is in the Celtic Sea and the Bay of Biscay where there are unresolved boundary issues with the UK, France and Spain. This sector was the subject of a joint submission by the four countries in May 2006. It covers an area of approximately 80,000 square kilometres, which is slightly larger than the State's land territory. The joint submission was examined by a sub-commission established to examine the evidence submitted in support of it. The four states met with the sub-commission on a number of occasions, most recently in September. The meeting was positive and the sub-commission has now formulated its draft recommendations. These recommendations have in turn been transmitted to the full Commission and will be considered by it for approval in March 2009. The question of division of the area between the four states concerned will now be considered after the recommendations have been made.

Ireland also claims continental shelf in the part of the North-East Atlantic Ocean known as the Hatton-Rockall Area, which extends up to 500 nautical miles from the coast. Ireland and the UK agreed a maritime boundary on the continental shelf here in 1988 but this is not accepted by Iceland or Denmark (on behalf of the Færoe Islands), which also make extensive overlapping claims. The four countries have met regularly since 2001 in an effort to resolve the issues arising from overlapping claims but have recently concluded that they are unable to reach agreement at the present time. Nevertheless, the four are keeping the matter under regular review and, in the meantime, Ireland will proceed to make a national submission to the Commission in respect of the Hatton-Rockall Area by the deadline of May 2009.

EU Treaties.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

122 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the current or expected position in the event of the ratification by all other European countries except Ireland of the Lisbon treaty of reform; if he is in a position to achieve agreement with his EU colleagues to the effect that Ireland’s failure to ratify the treaty will not militate against this country’s political, social or economic interest in the future; if dialogue has been entered into in the matter of the forthcoming European election; if the elections can legally and effectively take place in the absence of ratification of the treaty by all member states; if a decision has been reached as to the way to proceed in the event of the failure by two or more countries to ratify the treaty or the ratification thereof by all other member states except Ireland; if this will have particular consequences for Ireland in the short or long term such as the emergence of a two speed Europe; if Ireland will be placed in the first or second such speed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38512/08]

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

128 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the Government’s position on whether the 2009 EU Parliament elections should be held under the Lisbon treaty rules or the current treaty rules; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38501/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 122 and 128 together.

At the October European Council meeting, the Taoiseach delivered a substantive progress report on developments in Ireland with regard to the Lisbon Treaty since the Council last met in June.

The European Council agreed that the Irish Government will continue its consultations and that the Council will discuss this matter again at its December meeting, with a view to defining the elements of a solution and a common path to be followed.

It is clear that the concerns of the Irish people need to be addressed as we seek a solution in the months ahead. At the same time, there is a strong desire among EU partners to see the Treaty ratified. To date 22 Member States have completed their ratification of the Treaty and a further two have completed their parliamentary procedures.

Throughout its 50-year history, the EU has developed a proud record of successfully accommodating the interests of all Member States. On this occasion also, there is great willingness on the part of other Member States to work actively with us in the search for solutions. It is in our interest to arrive at a solution that will secure Ireland's position within the Union and ensure that we can continue to derive maximum benefit from EU membership, including with regard to agriculture, regional policy, the environment and the European single market.

There is no doubt that the prospect of Ireland being the only country unable to ratify the Treaty would put us in a difficult position. It is very likely that this would have consequences in terms of our influence in Brussels. Our standing in the eyes of foreign investors could be affected by any uncertainty surrounding our position within the Union. It is in order to avoid such potentially negative consequences that we must work with our EU partners in order to find an agreed solution.

We are acutely aware that the Member States will want to know soon the basis on which next June's European Parliament elections will be held. This is also an important matter for the European Parliament. It is not possible at this point to set a precise timetable for developments in 2009. The situation is that, if the Lisbon Treaty has not been ratified by all 27 EU Member States in good time before June, the European Parliament elections will be conducted under the existing treaty provisions.

We have always been firmly opposed to any idea of a two-speed Europe and that continues to be the case. The other member States share this view. Such a development would not be good for Ireland nor for the Union as a whole. That is why there is such determination across the Union to arrive at a solution with regard to the Lisbon Treaty that all 27 Member States can endorse.

Food Prices.

Tom Sheahan

Ceist:

123 Deputy Tom Sheahan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps the EU is taking to reduce soaring food prices in view of the fact that the number of people suffering from hunger has increased from 850 million to 925 million in the past year. [38478/08]

Arising from the food security crisis in a number of developing countries brought on by escalating global food prices, the European Union is currently finalising the details of a special two to three year programme to encourage increased agricultural productivity in developing countries. The proposal is to use surplus EU funds to create a special fund earmarked for this purpose.

Under the terms of the current Commission proposal, funds are being sourced from a variety of existing instruments and technical discussions are ongoing. It is the intention of the French Presidency to finalise this proposal for the November Budget Council.

Ireland supports the proposal which is fully in accordance with one of the principal recommendations of the recent Report of the Hunger Task Force.

Overseas Missions.

Ciaran Lynch

Ceist:

124 Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if there is a difficulty in according a lead role in international missions, under the auspices of the UN or the EU, to countries with a record of colonisation in Africa; if, commercial links are inappropriate for such a leadership role; and his views on a specific role for countries without such a record. [38369/08]

The establishment and deployment of missions is a matter for decision by the Security Council for United Nations missions or the Council of the European Union for EU-led missions, respectively. The extent to which an individual country participates depends upon a number of factors, including their political will, their level of capability and the number of personnel and other assets they can offer to the mission.

The norm is that such missions are at the invitation of the government of the country concerned. In this context the mandate of the mission and the manner in which it is executed are of more relevance than a country's historical record or current political and commercial links. Both the United Nations and the European Union are committed to deploying missions that are neutral and impartial.

Foreign Conflicts.

Joe Costello

Ceist:

125 Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the position of the conflict in the Sahara between Morocco and the Sahara Arab Democratic Republic. [38377/08]

The Government has consistently supported the right to self-determination of the people of the Western Sahara. Ireland has not taken a position on the future of the Territory, be it full independence, autonomy, or integration under Moroccan sovereignty, so long as it is decided in a genuine exercise of self-determination.

We strongly support the continuing engagement of the United Nations in the search for a political solution in the Western Sahara based on the principle of self-determination. The term of Mr. Peter Van Walsum as the Special Representative of the Secretary General ended in August. Secretary General Ban is understood to be in the process of appointing a new Special Representative.

Under the auspices of the United Nations, representatives of the Government of Morocco and of the Polisario Front have held a series of four direct meetings in Manhasset, in New York, to discuss the future of the Territory of the Western Sahara. The most recent meeting was held on 16-18 March 2008. There has unfortunately been no substantive progress to report from these talks so far. Morocco has set out its vision of an autonomous Government in the Territory, operating under Moroccan sovereignty. In response the Polisario Front, representing the Saharawi people, has set out its position in favour of the creation of an independent State in close association with Morocco, and with protection for Moroccan vital interests. Morocco has refused, however, to discuss any proposals which include independence as one of the possibilities for the Territory.

Although there is clearly a broad gap between these two competing visions, I regard it as a positive and helpful development that both parties have set out their proposals for the future, and the measures they can envisage to accommodate the concerns of the other side. The most recent round also agreed some extension of confidence-building measures in relation to family links between Saharawi people in the Territory and in the refugee camps in Algeria. The parties have agreed to meet again, at a date to be decided.

Human Rights Issues.

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

126 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the Irish high level delegation to China indicated Ireland’s strong support and concern for human rights in Burma-Myanmar, in view of the recent opportunity offered by the ASEM meeting. [38387/08]

The strong Government position on the unacceptable situation in Burma has been consistently conveyed internationally, including and in particular to the countries in the Asia region, whose involvement we see as crucial to a resolution of the problems in Burma. I welcome in this regard the fact that the ASEM Summit, as its record makes clear, adopted a very positive position on the Burmese situation.

On the political situation in Burma for example, the ASEM leaders expressed support for the UN in its good offices efforts, and encouraged the Myanmar Government to conduct closer cooperation with the UN. They also encouraged the Myanmar government to "engage all stakeholders in an inclusive political process in order to achieve national reconciliation and economic and social development", and in this regard they called for "the lifting of restrictions placed on political parties and early further release of those under detention".

As I stated in my address to the United Nations General Assembly on 29 September, the Government's immediate focus is on the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, and increased engagement by the UN Secretary General and his Good Offices Mission. Alongside this, we are working towards securing international support to ensure that the elections to be held in Burma in 2010 are free and fair. In this context, we will continue to work pro-actively within the EU, including at the General Affairs and External Relations Council next week, where Burma will be discussed. The Government will of course also continue to provide practical support to the people of Burma and their representatives and supporters, at home and in exile.

Question No. 127 answered with Question No. 105.
Question No. 128 answered with Question No. 122.

Nuclear Weapons Programmes.

Charles Flanagan

Ceist:

129 Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views, based on evidence, advice and other sources, on which Middle East countries possess nuclear weapons, chemical weapons and biological weapons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38454/08]

The Government has no intelligence sources of its own in the Middle East from which to determine the truth of the various and widespread allegations made about weapons programmes in the Middle East, which is a highly militarised and conflict-prone region.

It is widely believed that Israel possesses a nuclear weapon capability, but this has never been formally confirmed. There is widespread international concern, which the Government shares, that Iran's civil nuclear programme may be being developed in such a way as to achieve a nuclear weapons capability. As I have previously reported to the House, the EU and others are active in trying to persuade Iran to abandon those elements of its programme.

Libya has admitted that it was formerly attempting to develop nuclear weapons, and has dismantled its programme under international supervision. The International Atomic Energy Agency is investigating reports of undeclared nuclear research activity in Syria, which Syria has denied, and no conclusive evidence has as yet emerged.

The former regime in Iraq was at one stage engaged in research into nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, but the stage of development reached, and when these programmes were abandoned, are matters of dispute and controversy. There is no suggestion that such activities continue in Iraq today.

The position of the Government has been clear and consistent. The Middle East is an area of high tension which contains many regional conflicts and has seen many wars. The escalation of military capabilities to new heights in such a volatile region can only make the situation more dangerous. We support the establishment in the Middle East of a zone free of all weapons of mass destruction, to include all states in the region.

Departmental Expenditure.

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

130 Deputy Olwyn Enright asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his Department will be requiring stricter auditing in its expenditure for the next budgetary year; the details of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38451/08]

My Department maintains a system of rigorous accounting and audit controls which recognises the various types of risk inherent in its operations at home and abroad.

In common with other Departments, the Department of Foreign Affairs is audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General. In addition, the Department has its own Evaluation and Audit Unit, which is staffed by professionals and has responsibility for the internal audit function. Using a risk-based approach, it carries out and oversees a range of audits, evaluations and Value for Money reviews appropriate to the Department's activities. These cover both Vote 28 (Foreign Affairs) and Vote 29 (International Cooperation) of the Department of Foreign Affairs. In view of the scale and complexity of the Government's aid programme, which is delivered in often difficult and challenging environments, clear priority will continue to be given to the audit of expenditure in this area.

In addition to the robust internal systems, the Department has an independent Audit Committee which reports to the Secretary General. It provides an independent appraisal of audit reports and of the Department's audit and evaluation arrangements. The Committee meets regularly with the Secretary General and annually with the Comptroller and Auditor General. It also publishes an annual report on its work.

The Government attaches the highest importance to ensuring effective audit and evaluation of all public expenditure. In my Department, regular reviews of the overall audit approach, audit work programmes and resource levels will continue to be undertaken by management to ensure that audit systems and coverage remain appropriate to the risks and challenges facing the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Overseas Development Aid.

Michael D'Arcy

Ceist:

131 Deputy Michael D’Arcy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps he is taking to combat increased levels of starvation in Zimbabwe. [38480/08]

I remain deeply concerned in relation to the food security situation in Zimbabwe. The lack of adequate levels of food is attributable to poor harvests and poor agricultural policies. Enormous damage has also been inflicted on the Zimbabwean economy by the policies of the Government there. Zimbabwe is witnessing hyper-inflation, high unemployment and a rapidly depreciating currency. The suffering of the population is compounded by the high HIV/AIDS prevalence rate, which has contributed to increasing levels of vulnerability.

In 2008 Zimbabwe is experiencing another poor main cereal harvest due to a combination of adverse weather conditions, a lack of key agricultural inputs (fertiliser and tractors) and crumbling irrigation systems.

More than 3 million people are already in need of assistance and this number could rise to as many as 5 million. This would represent over 40% of the population. The World Food Programme (WFP) resumed operations in September (following a Government suspension of activity), targeting about 3.25 million vulnerable people in 40 districts during the peak of the hunger period, which stretches from November to February.

Ireland has provided more than €25 million in aid to Zimbabwe since 2006. Irish Aid funding is targeted towards alleviating poverty experienced by the poorest and most vulnerable Zimbabweans. Our aid is disbursed through UN and non-governmental organisations and in 2008 support has been given to the World Food Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organisation as well to as to Irish NGOs for food assistance programmes. No assistance is channelled through the Zimbabwean Government.

In addition to our bilateral aid, support has been provided through the European Union humanitarian funding mechanism, as well as from the UN Central Emergency Response Fund to which Ireland is the sixth largest contributor. We have also sent a member of the Rapid Response Corps to work with UNICEF in Zimbabwe for a five month deployment.

Financial Institutions Support Scheme.

Terence Flanagan

Ceist:

132 Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the reaction at European level to the scheme here to guarantee financial institutions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38498/08]

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

154 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if officers in his Department have held meetings with representatives of other countries in which Irish banks are active giving details of the Government’s support or otherwise for Irish banks in their markets; and the regularity of such meetings over the past number of weeks. [38395/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 132 and 154 together.

Officials from my Department and the Department of Finance have been in communication with our European partners and the European Commission over the economic and financial situation. Our Embassies in EU countries have briefed our partners on the Government's bank guarantee scheme. The Minister for Finance met with Commissioner Kroes to discuss the scheme and there were comprehensive discussions with the Commissioner and her staff which led to the prompt approval of the scheme by the Commission. Other Member States have taken national measures in response to their particular situations.

The recent European Council also recognised the measures adopted by Ireland and other Member States in response to this exceptional economic and financial situation. The Council Conclusions confirm that national measures already approved by the Commission, which includes Ireland's scheme, continue to be applicable.

EU Council Meetings.

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

133 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will provide a report on the most recent meeting of the EU’s General Affairs and External Relations Council; the agenda items that were discussed; and his views on such discussions as were held at that forum regarding Zimbabwe. [38388/08]

I attended the General Affairs and External Relations Council, the GAERC, in Brussels on 13 October 2008. The meeting, which was chaired by the French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner, was the fourth GAERC under the French Presidency of the Council of the European Union and took place against the background of the international financial crisis.

The main item on the agenda was the preparation for the European Council on 15 and 16 October. My colleagues and I discussed the draft European Council conclusions which covered the economic and financial crisis, the energy and climate change negotiations, energy security, the immigration and asylum pact, the Lisbon Treaty and Russia/Georgia. These GAERC discussions contributed to the success of the October European Council. As Deputies will recall, the Taoiseach and I reported to this House on the outcome of the October European Council last Wednesday.

At the meeting I expressed support for Commissioner Wallström's invaluable work on a more coherent communications strategy for Commission. I made the point that the Union needs to be more effective in the way in which it communicates with citizens.

On the financial crisis the French Presidency briefed the meeting on the conclusions of the previous day's Eurogroup meeting. I was able to confirm to colleagues that the terms of Ireland's bank guarantee scheme had been approved by the Commission the previous evening.

On the Lisbon Treaty, I confirmed that the Taoiseach would provide the European Council with a substantive progress report on developments since June. I informed the meeting that the Taoiseach's report would cover the results of the independent research commissioned by the Government and the establishment of a special parliamentary Committee on Ireland's future in the European Union. I indicated that the Taoiseach would seek to identify some of the Lisbon Treaty-related issues that would need to be addressed between now and the December European Council.

Among the external relations items discussed at the GAERC were EU relations with Belarus and Uzbekistan and the situation in Georgia.

The current situation in Zimbabwe was also discussed. The Council agreed to continue observing closely the implementation of the agreement signed on 15 September by both sides in Zimbabwe. The Council also expressed concern at the delay in agreeing on a new power-sharing Government, and urged engagement by the South African Development Community (SADC), the African Union (AU) and the UN in the mediation process led by former South African President Mbeki. The Council also reiterated its concern about the humanitarian situation and the EU's readiness to re-engage with a new Government which brings a clear promise of change. It was agreed to consider imposing additional restrictive measures on those responsible, if implementation of the 15 September agreement continues to be blocked.

In the interim, the talks on the formation of a government of national unity have reached an impasse. This lack of progress is very disappointing, and we encourage SADC and the AU to redouble efforts to find a solution to the deadlock. The EU and Ireland stands ready to support a transitional government which begins to take genuine steps to restore democracy and the rule of law in Zimbabwe. However, we remain deeply concerned at the lack of progress to date in these negotiations.

EU Treaties.

Brian Hayes

Ceist:

134 Deputy Brian Hayes asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if Ireland’s failure to get a person (details supplied) appointed to the EU reflection group on the future of Europe was related to the Lisbon “No” vote; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38506/08]

The European Council agreed on 14 December 2007 to establish a Reflection Group and appointed Felipe González (former Prime Minister of Spain) as Chairman of the Group. Two Vice Chairs were also appointed: Vaira Vike-Freiberga (former Latvian President) and Jorma Ollila (former Chairman of Nokia). The Reflection Group is intended to look at the challenges facing Europe beyond 2020. The December 2007 European Council invited the Chair and two Vice Chairs to submit a list of nominees for membership of the Group. The list of nine names proposed by Mr González and his co-chairs was agreed by the European Council on 17 October last.

The list proposed by Mr González reflected his desire for a breadth of experience, not limited to the political world. While I am sure that the person named would have made an excellent contribution to the work of the group, Mr González had to weigh up a number of considerations in making his choice. There are just twelve members on the Reflection Group, which means that less than half of the 27 member States can be represented. The membership of the Group reflects a balance between larger and smaller states and includes people with experience in different fields, including business, academia and culture, as well as political life.

While the result of our referendum had no direct bearing on the composition of the Reflection Group, it is clear that the priority for Ireland in the coming period will be to find a solution with regard to the Lisbon Treaty that will secure Ireland's future position within the European Union.

US Visa Programme.

Noel Coonan

Ceist:

135 Deputy Noel J. Coonan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps he is taking to implement the new J visa system; and when it will be finalised for Irish citizens. [38481/08]

As the Deputy will be aware, the United States Deputy Secretary of State, John Negroponte, and I signed a Memorandum of Understanding establishing a new Working Holiday Programme between our two countries in Washington on 24 September.

This Agreement represents a very significant and positive development in our migration arrangements with the United States and will help foster the growth of new and lasting contacts between young people from both countries. In a very real way it represents an important investment in the long term health of this vital bilateral relationship.

Since the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding, my Department, in consultation with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform and the Department of Enterprise, Trade & Employment, has moved quickly to finalise arrangements for US citizens interested in working and travelling in Ireland. A comprehensive step by step guide and application form for US applicants has been prepared and distributed to our Missions in the United States. However, we do not propose to accept applications from US citizens until arrangements for Irish citizens are finalised by the US Administration.

The US State Department has informed our Embassy in Washington that it is actively working to finalise these arrangements. Our Ambassador in Washington also remains in close contact with the US Administration to help ensure that the Programme is fully operational at the earliest possible date.

Question No. 136 answered with Question No. 116.

Diplomatic Contacts.

Sean Sherlock

Ceist:

137 Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if in view of his warm relationship with the Irish people, he has congratulated Dr. Miguel D’Escoto on his election as President of the General Assembly of the UN. [38367/08]

In my address to the United Nations General Assembly on 29 September 2008, I did extend warm congratulations to Dr. Miguel D'Escoto on his election as President of the General Assembly for its 63rd session and offered my best wishes for the success of his term. I also had the privilege of a short courtesy meeting with Dr. D'Escoto on that occasion.

Our Permanent Representative to the UN in New York is in regular contact with the President of the General Assembly throughout the duration of the Session, on a full range of issues of mutual interest.

Official Engagements.

David Stanton

Ceist:

138 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the location and attendees of the meetings he has had over the past month regarding the Lisbon treaty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38491/08]

Since the referendum in June I have discussed the outcome and its implications with my counterparts in the Council of Ministers, and with leaders of the European Parliament and the European Commission.

The European Council agreed in October that the Irish Government will continue its consultations with a view to contributing to finding a way to resolve the situation. That is exactly what the Irish Government is doing.

Over the last month the Government has been very active in consulting with EU partners. At the beginning of October the Taoiseach again met President Sarkozy, in his capacity as President of the European Council, this time in Paris, a meeting which I also attended. I also accompanied the Taoiseach to the European Council meeting in Brussels on 15 — 16 October, during which the Lisbon Treaty was discussed and formal Conclusions adopted.

I have also had the opportunity to discuss the situation surrounding the Lisbon Treaty with many of my colleagues during bilateral meetings. On 2 October, I met with the Czech Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs, Alexandr Vondra in Dublin. I visited Brussels on 6 October and held separate bilateral meetings with the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso and with Commission Vice President, Margot Wallström, who is responsible within the European Commission for their communications strategy. I also had a bilateral meeting with Jo Leinen MEP, Chair of the European Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee, before I addressed a plenary session of that Committee concerning the Lisbon Treaty. My appearance before the Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee provided a welcome opportunity to engage in a dialogue with many of the members of that Committee.

In the margins of an informal meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Marseille on 3 November; and the EuroMed meeting in Marseille on 3 — 4 November, I met with Foreign Minister Moratinos of Spain and Foreign Minister Frattini of Italy, both on 3 November. I also availed of the opportunity to have a bilateral meeting with Foreign Minister Amado of Portugal in Marseille on 4 November.

I will be continuing my bilateral contacts with EU partners over the period ahead. My colleague, the Minister for European Affairs has also been active in meeting with his EU counterparts regarding the Lisbon Treaty and will continue to do so.

UN Personnel.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

139 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the posts at senior level within the United Nations administration held by Irish citizens; and the procedure for nomination, secondment, and general filling of such vacancies as arise at the UN and its agencies. [38366/08]

Senior officials are defined by the United Nations as Deputy Secretaries General, Under-Secretaries-General and Assistant Secretaries-General or those of equivalent rank. There are currently two such posts within the United Nations administration held by Irish citizens. Ms Patricia O'Brien is Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and Legal Counsel. Mr Peter Sutherland is the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration. While Mr Sutherland is listed as a senior official, he is based in London and works on a pro bono basis. An Irish national, Patricia O'Donovan, also occupies the post of Executive Director for Management and Administration in the International Labour Organisation, and as such, is a senior official as identified above.

Appointments to positions as Under-Secretary-General and Assistant Secretary-General, as well as to those of heads of the United Nations programmes and funds, are the personal responsibility of the Secretary-General, in accordance with his position as Chief Administrative Officer of the Organisation under the UN Charter. In deciding on appointments at the senior and policy-making levels, the Secretary-General takes into account primarily the qualifications and experience of candidates for Under-Secretary-General and Assistant Secretary-General and higher levels, with due importance given to ensuring equitable regional representation. Confirmation by the General Assembly of appointments made by the Secretary-General may be required in certain instances, for example, in relation to the post of Commissioner-General for the UN Reliefs and Work Agency (UNWRA).

The Secretary-General appoints a single Deputy Secretary-General following consultations with Member States and in accordance with Article 101 of the Charter of the United Nations. The term of office of the Deputy Secretary-General does not exceed that of the Secretary-General.

An informal group of independent advisers on senior UN appointments was established in 1997. It comprises prominent individuals who are familiar with the United Nations system. The Secretary General, as and when necessary, consults them with regard to senior-level appointments.

Regarding Irish staffing levels as a whole in the UN Secretariat, as of June 2008 Ireland had a total of 163 staff within the Secretariat, accounting for 0.41% of Secretariat staff. This included 75 staff in professional and higher categories.

Diplomatic Contacts.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

140 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on reports that EU Foreign Ministers are planning to write a joint letter to the new US President setting out the ways in which they hope the EU-US relationship can develop under a new presidency; and the principles being applied in the preparation of its contribution to this letter on the part of Ireland. [38376/08]

The election of a new Administration in the US provides a clear opportunity to re-assess and re-energise the transatlantic relationship. Under the French Presidency, the EU has been giving active consideration to this and Foreign Ministers have twice discussed what should be the priorities in our relations with the new Administration, most recently at a meeting which I attended in Marseilles on Monday. This non-exhaustive list of priorities will be conveyed to the President-elect.

There is agreement within the EU that there needs to be genuine dialogue and cooperation with the new Administration on all the major global issues we face — from climate change, food and energy security, through to the Middle East, Iran, and Russia. It is clear that an intensification of efforts to achieve progress towards a two-State solution in the Middle East must be a new priority for future EU-US cooperation. We must also work to encourage the US to engage more actively in multilateral fora.

At Monday's meeting, I stressed the importance of encouraging the new Administration to demonstrate movement on issues fundamental to our shared values — such as the closure of Guantánamo. In relation to Guantánamo, we must recognise that our joint efforts to combat terrorism and our work in upholding human rights require the early resolution of this contentious issue. I also called for human rights, a cornerstone of Irish and EU foreign policy, to be given due prominence in the EU-US dialogue.

Overseas Development Aid.

Andrew Doyle

Ceist:

141 Deputy Andrew Doyle asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his plans to extend the number of development aid programme countries. [38479/08]

The Government's aid programme, Irish Aid, provides assistance to over ninety developing countries. Nine have been designated as Programme Countries, with a commitment to long term strategic assistance. These are Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, Lesotho, Vietnam and Timor Leste. Support to Programme Countries is framed in agreed country strategies, with a comprehensive focus on poverty reduction through the implementation of each country's own national development plan.

The priorities for the aid programme remain as set out in the Government's White Paper on Irish Aid, which was published in 2006. It included a commitment to increase the number of key partner countries from eight to ten in the medium term. Malawi was designated Ireland's ninth Programme Country in 2007. An Embassy has been established in the capital, Lilongwe, and €10 million in programme assistance will be provided this year. This is focused on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable people, with a strong emphasis on sustainable food security, nutrition and improvements in agriculture. The Government will also provide a further €5 million this year for the development work of Irish and other NGOs in Malawi.

Irish Aid has also undertaken preliminary work on the identification of a tenth Programme Country. Further analysis will be required before any decision is taken. In keeping with the conclusions of the White Paper, Africa, which includes 34 of the world's least developed countries, will remain the primary geographic focus for Ireland's development programme in the years ahead.

Foreign Conflicts.

Sean Sherlock

Ceist:

142 Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the difficulties facing the UN mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo. [38368/08]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

151 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the initiatives he has taken or supported at EU or UN level to address current or potential humanitarian issues in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Rwanda; if steps have been taken to protect civilians and prevent ethnic cleansing and genocide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38513/08]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

277 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the EU proposes to take action or intervene by way of peace supportive measures in the Democratic Republic of Congo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38709/08]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

278 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which the EU or UN proposes to take initiatives to protect civilians in the ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38710/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 142, 151, 277 and 278 together.

The resurgence of fighting in the North Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is a matter of grave concern, both in terms of its implications for the humanitarian situation, and for the stability of the wider Great Lakes region. It has seriously undermined the Goma and Nairobi Peace Agreements, and placed the progress made over the past year in the Great Lakes peace process in grave jeopardy. The situation, notwithstanding a fragile ceasefire, remains volatile. I am particularly concerned by reports of widespread attacks on civilians by all sides in the conflict, and by the plight of the estimated 1.5 million people now displaced in DRC, more than a million of whom are in North Kivu. News of clashes yesterday is also disturbing.

MONUC, the UN peacekeeping force, which at 17,000-strong is the UN's largest peacekeeping operation, is mandated to use all means necessary to protect the civilian population. Since 2001, three Irish Defence Forces officers have been deployed with the mission as Military Liaison Officers. MONUC is now seriously over-stretched, and UN officials have called for extra troops and air assets. The UN Security Council is fully seized of the situation and has been discussing appropriate responses as a matter of urgency.

UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, has been heavily engaged in discussions in an effort to stabilize the situation. Secretary General Ban's appointment of the former Nigerian President, Mr. Olusegun Obasanjo, an experienced mediator in regional disputes, as his Special Envoy to broker a political settlement, is a particularly welcome development. The African Union (AU), led by its current chairman, President Kikwete of Tanzania, has also been to the forefront of efforts to restore calm. It is not as yet clear if there will be agreement to hold talks involving the DRC and Rwandan governments, as urged by the Secretary General.

The EU is the largest humanitarian donor to the DRC, and has played a key role in supporting peace efforts to date. Ireland fully supports the excellent work of the EU's Special Representative to the Great Lakes, Roeland van de Geer. Last week, the EU Commissioner for Development, Louis Michel, visited Kinshasa and Kigali to urge the Presidents of both countries to find a diplomatic solution to the current crisis.

I also commend the efforts of my British and French counterparts, David Miliband and Bernard Kouchner, who have been engaged in vigorous diplomatic efforts over the past week, and met with Presidents Kabila and Kagame during a visit to the Great Lakes last weekend, and briefed colleagues in Marseilles on Monday. At present it does not appear that there is likely to be an ESDP mission, with the focus instead being on support for the UN.

Ireland is a significant humanitarian donor to the DRC. Already in 2008, Ireland has committed over €11 million in humanitarian aid funding, and our support to the country since 2006 totals over €31 million. In response to this worsening crisis, the Government has set aside up to €1 million in extra funding for humanitarian relief in North Kivu. In addition, Irish Aid has allocated more than €8 million in funding to Rwanda since 2006. The EU has announced an additional €4 million in humanitarian aid for North Kivu.

The crisis in DRC will be high on the agenda when I meet with my EU colleagues at the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 10 November.

Question No. 143 answered with Question No. 105.

Freedom of Information.

Noel Coonan

Ceist:

144 Deputy Noel J. Coonan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of freedom of information requests made to his Department in 2005, 2006, 2007 and to date in 2008; the number of rejections; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38461/08]

The following tabular statement is a statistical breakdown of the Freedom of Information Requests processed by my Department over the past four years.

It is the policy of my Department to make all requests and replies made under the Freedom of Information Act, which are not of a personal nature, publicly available. The Freedom of Information Requests Database is available on the website of my Department and contains copies of the non-personal requests made since April 2004 to date. The website of the Department of Foreign Affairs is www.dfa.ie.

In addition to requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act, my Department responds to requests for information, outside of the Acts, on a regular basis. My Department also assists members of the public to formulate their requests in order to ensure that accurate information in a user friendly format is provided to the requesting party.

Received

Granted/Part-Granted

Refused

Withdrawn

Withdrawn & handled outsideFoI

2005

41

31

3

3

4

2006

49

34

7

5

3

2007

43

27

8

7

1

2008 (to date)

74

36

10

12

6

In addition, there are currently 10 requests pending response.

Question No. 145 answered with Question No. 105.

Human Rights Issues.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

146 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the deteriorating situation of human rights in Colombia; if he has voiced his concerns to Colombian representatives here. [38389/08]

I am closely monitoring developments in Colombia, including the human rights situation. Together with our EU partners, Ireland is keenly aware of the difficulties in the implementation of the Justice and Peace Law, the legal framework for the peace process in Colombia. I am particularly concerned about reports suggesting that the situation is deteriorating in relation to human rights defenders and victims. At the same time, this year has seen some notable successes by the Colombian government in its efforts to bring peace and stability to Colombia. These include the rescue of Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other hostages held by the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) on 2 July and the escape of former Colombian congressman Oscar Tulio Lizcano from the FARC in October. On 16 October, the FARC informed a group of Colombians, including prominent public figures, that it will exchange letters with the group to discuss the possible release of hostages the rebels are holding.

Ireland contributed €150,000 in 2008 to the Organisation of American States' Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which works in Colombia as well as other countries in the region. My officials are in regular contact with the Colombian Embassy in London, which is accredited to Ireland. In addition, Ireland has contact with Colombian government and civil society through our Embassy in Mexico City which is accredited to Colombia, and through information-sharing and joint action with our EU partners, some of whom have resident Missions in Colombia.

Trade Embargo.

Ciaran Lynch

Ceist:

147 Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on the recent vote at the General Assembly of the United Nations which condemned the illegal blockade of Cuba; and the position of Ireland and the EU in this regard. [38370/08]

Ireland and its EU partners believe that the United States trade policy towards Cuba is fundamentally a bilateral issue. However, the EU cannot accept that unilateral measures imposed by the US on specific countries limit the Union's economic and commercial relations with third countries, in this case Cuba. Furthermore, the EU rejects all unilateral measures against Cuba which are contrary to commonly accept rules of international trade, and believes that the lifting of the US trade embargo would open Cuba's economy to the benefit of the Cuban people.

For these reasons, and in spite of concerns regarding Cuba's human rights record, as in previous years Ireland and our EU partners therefore voted on 30 October 2008 in favour of the annual Cuban-tabled UN General Assembly resolution calling for an end to this embargo.

Human Rights Issues.

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

148 Deputy Jan O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the case of a person (details supplied), as well as other similar cases recently documented, who passed through Shannon Airport as part of this extraordinary rendition to Guantánamo Bay detention centre; if these testimonies prove that Ireland, Irish airspace and Irish airports are implicated in actions which are torture by another name; the implications for Ireland in this regard in view of the illegality of such torture; if in view of this material, it is proposed to end this tacit approval of such actions by the Irish Government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38384/08]

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

159 Deputy Kathleen Lynch asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, in accordance with its obligations under international law, the Government will supply such information as is deemed necessary by their legal representatives of individuals prosecuting a case or cases on the basis of breaches of such international conventions as the international Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and its related protocols. [38385/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 148 and 159 together.

The issue of extraordinary rendition has been raised on numerous occasions in this House. As has been made repeatedly clear, the Government is completely opposed to the practice of the extraordinary rendition of prisoners.

I wish to reiterate at the outset that none of the various investigations into allegations of extraordinary rendition have revealed any evidence, or even resulted in a specific allegation, that any person has on any occasion been subjected to extraordinary rendition through Ireland, including in the case mentioned by the Deputy.

The Government has received specific assurances from the US authorities that such prisoners have not been transferred through Irish territory, nor would they be, without our permission. These assurances have been confirmed at the highest level, including by Secretary of State Rice to my predecessor as Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Dermot Ahern T.D. and by President Bush to the former Taoiseach. The assurances are of a clear and categoric nature, relating to facts and circumstances within the full knowledge and control of the US Government.

The Government take very seriously the fulfilment of the State's obligations under international agreements to which it is a party, including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and will respond appropriately to any relevant requests made to it.

The Government has established a Cabinet Committee on Aspects of International Human Rights. As part of its remit, the Committee has reviewed the Programme for Government commitments in relation to our opposition to extraordinary rendition. The Committee has agreed that early contact should be made with the new US administration to seek a clear statement of intent that extraordinary rendition would cease and would not resume during the new President's term of office. Commitments are also being sought in regard to the closure of Guantanamo Bay and to the prohibition of intensive interrogation techniques such as water-boarding, which are internationally considered to constitute torture. I have asked our Ambassador in Washington to follow up on this as a matter of urgency.

With a view to strengthening as necessary the legislative provisions, the Committee is also to review the statutory powers currently available to the civil and police authorities regarding the search and inspection of aircraft, in the context of the obligations on the State under the Chicago Convention.

Question No. 149 answered with Question No. 105.

International Agreements.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

150 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the recently signed economic partnership agreement between the EU and 13 Caribbean nations took account of the concerns of many non-governmental organisations, including Irish NGOs, on aid, trade and the right to a form of development that would take account of differing indigenous, economic, social and cultural circumstances. [38390/08]

The Government has worked consistently to ensure that the negotiations for Economic Partnership Agreements between the EU and the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries should support the ACP countries' development needs and their poverty reduction programmes.

I welcome the signature on 15 October of an Economic Partnership Agreement between the EU and thirteen of the fifteen members of the Caribbean Forum of African Caribbean Pacific States (CARIFORUM). The Republic of Guyana subsequently signed the Agreement on 20 October. The EU has pledged to work with Haiti and other Caribbean partners towards signature by Haiti, the fifteenth CARIFORUM member State. In the meantime, as a Least Developed Country, Haiti will continue to benefit from free access to European markets.

I have had discussions with Irish and other NGOs on their concerns that the Economic Partnership Agreements offered to the ACP countries by the EU do not sufficiently address development needs. I have outlined the role which Ireland is playing to ensure that development needs are strongly supported in the Agreements, including the Agreement with the Caribbean States.

The negotiations leading up to the Agreement were launched in April 2004. The negotiating mandate was derived from the legally-binding 2000 Cotonou Agreement between the EU and the ACP states, the central objective of which is the "reduction and eventual eradication of poverty, consistent with the objectives of sustainable development and the gradual integration of the ACP countries into the world economy". The resulting Agreement is the first comprehensive North-South trade and development agreement in the global economy. It includes a package of measures to stimulate trade, investment and innovation and will help build a regional market among the Caribbean countries. It also promotes sustainable development and poverty elimination through a series of important transition periods and safeguard clauses and the implementation of enhanced development cooperation to support the implementation of the Agreement. This will include financial cooperation from the European Development Fund and from EU member States.

Question No. 151 answered with Question No. 142.

Human Rights Issues.

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

152 Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the present China-Tibet position; his further views on reported offers of discussions between Chinese authorities and the Dalai Lama instigated by China; his view on the possibility of progress in this regard; and if the European Union has offered itself as a mediator in an effort to help. [38375/08]

I welcome the fact that the eighth round of dialogue between the Chinese Government and representatives of the Dalai Lama has commenced in Beijing.

As I have stated previously in the House, the pace and substance of the dialogue have been unsatisfactory to date. Nevertheless, I believe that dialogue between the Chinese Government and the Dalai Lama or his representatives remains the most effective way to achieve the protection of Tibetan culture, identity, religion and human rights, and some measure of autonomy for Tibet within China. Our views have been communicated to the Chinese government on a number of occasions both in Dublin and Beijing.

I hope that this latest round of dialogue will help facilitate progress towards the achievement of these goals. The European Union has not been invited to act as a mediator in the dialogue process.

International Conferences.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

153 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will provide a report on the international donors’ conference on Georgia which was held in Brussels recently; the financial support Ireland has offered to Georgia since the summer of 2008; the way these moneys are broken down; the proposed talks between Russia and Georgia scheduled to take place in November 2008 in Geneva; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38381/08]

The EU- and World Bank-sponsored donor conference for Georgia on 22 October in Brussels proved a highly successful event. A total of 71 delegations attended, many of them led at a high level. Ambassador Marie Cross, Ireland's representative on the Political and Security Committee of the European Union, represented Ireland. A sum of €3.6 billion was pledged to Georgia's ongoing reconstruction and reform efforts, and Ireland indicated it would allocate €2 million in official development assistance to Georgia from 2008 to 2010.

In response to the crisis in Georgia in August, Ireland provided €100,000 to assist the relief efforts of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). A further €150,000 has been allocated to assist UNHCR with the provision of shelter and non-food items to the displaced. Irish Aid has also provided US$20,000 to the International Medical Support Services (IMSS) to assist with providing relief supplies and medical assistance to the displaced. Financial contributions have been made to support the deployment of a member of Ireland's Rapid Response Corps with UNICEF and to support the deployment of 4 Irish civilian monitors as part of the EU Monitoring Mission in Georgia.

Under the terms of the 12 August 6-point peace plan, the 8 September agreement, and in order to find a settlement of the current dispute in Georgia, peace talks were held in Geneva on 15 October under the co-chairmanship of the EU, the UN and the OSCE. Although the first session was somewhat restricted owing to disputes between the parties, it was agreed the talks would reconvene on 18 November. I would hope that at this meeting matters of substance can be addressed, including the plight of Internally Displaced Persons, which is becoming more acute as winter approaches. In this regard, I plan to visit Georgia in the near future in order to assess conditions on the ground and for discussions with political leaders there.

Question No. 154 answered with Question No. 132.

Departmental Expenditure.

Michael D'Arcy

Ceist:

155 Deputy Michael D’Arcy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if diplomatic posts at ambassador or lower level will remain unfilled due to budgetary constraints in 2009; his plans to reduce the funds available for diplomatic entertainment for the next budget year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38458/08]

My Department will comply with the requirement for all Departments to reduce their expenditure on payroll by 3%. This will be a very challenging target to achieve. Work is still ongoing and a wide range of options is being explored to reduce our expenditure in this area.

Among the options being considered is the non-replacement of some officers in positions both at headquarters and abroad. No decisions have yet been taken in relation to specific posts. Every effort will be made to ensure that, in achieving these payroll savings, there is no negative impact on frontline services to the public.

The budgetary allocations from which official and diplomatic entertainment is funded have been significantly reduced next year. There will, as a result, be a reduction in the funds available for these representational activities. However, the resources available will be targeted so as to ensure maximum impact in terms of outreach and effectiveness.

These administrative savings are being made in the context of an overall reduction of 7% in the resources available to my Department in 2009.

Northern Ireland Issues.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

156 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the consultations that have taken place with any, or all, of the parties to the Good Friday Agreement in relation to the Government’s proposals to merge the Irish Human Rights Commission with other agencies; his views on the implications for co-operation between human rights commissions on an all-island basis as envisaged in the agreement. [38364/08]

The Irish Human Rights Commission was established in July 2001 in accordance with the commitment contained in the Good Friday Agreement to establish Human Rights Commissions both in this jurisdiction and in Northern Ireland. The Agreement also envisages a Joint Committee of representatives of the two Human Rights Commissions, North and South, as a forum for the consideration of human rights issues on the island of Ireland. This Joint Committee was established in 2001.

As you will be aware, decisions in relation to the operation of the Irish Human Rights Commission are a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Dermot Ahern T.D.

As indicated in the Budget announced on 14 October 2008, the decision in relation to the Equality Authority and the Human Rights Commission is that they are to integrate their facilities, back office, administrative service and access for citizens. There was no provision for a merger of the two bodies. Neither is it envisaged that the changes will have any implications for the cooperation between the two Human Rights Commissions set out in the Agreement. Against this background the question of formal consultations with the parties to the Good Friday Agreement did not arise.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

157 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the progress that has been made in recent times in Northern Ireland with regard to such areas of contention as devolved policing and justice, the Irish language, education standards and use of the Maze prison site; the contribution the Irish Government has made to such issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38379/08]

While significant progress has been made towards the full implementation of all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement, the Executive is at present experiencing difficulties in coming to agreement on a number of issues.

The devolution of policing and justice remains the most pressing of these issues. It is the shared view of the Irish and British Governments that the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly should take on this responsibility as set out in the St. Andrews Agreement. While therefore it is primarily for the parties to reach agreement between themselves on when and how this should take place, the two Governments remain actively engaged and ready to assist the parties to resolve their outstanding difficulties on this issue. In this regard, I reviewed the overall situation in detail with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland in London on Tuesday 28 October, and later that week with the deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, in Belfast. In this regard also, I welcome the statement of the First Minister, Peter Robinson, at his party's Conference on Saturday that he hoped the Executive will in a few weeks be able "to get through the present difficulties and to build for the future". I also take encouragement from, and pay tribute to all involved, for the peaceful passing of last Sunday's parade and protests in Belfast.

Upon restoration of devolution in May 2007, the enhancement and protection of the Irish language in Northern Ireland became a devolved matter for consideration by the parties in the Executive. Minister Ó Cuív has discussed progress in this regard in his meetings with his counterpart in Northern Ireland, the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Mr. Gregory Campbell MLA, and his predecessor, Mr. Edwin Poots MLA. Minister Campbell has indicated that he will brief the Northern Ireland Assembly's Committee for Culture, Arts and Leisure in the coming weeks on progress that has been made in developing a language strategy. I will continue to carefully follow developments in this area, and to review them with the Secretary of State.

As devolved matters, the subject of education standards and any decision on the regeneration of the Maze/Longkesh site are for the consideration of the Northern Ireland Executive. I would encourage the parties, however, to find an agreed way forward on these issues as soon as possible.

Missile Defence Systems.

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

158 Deputy Emmet Stagg asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his assessment of the implications for Ireland of the building of a strategic missile defence system in Poland, into which the United States Government is to invest approximately US$4 million in preparation for its opening in 2011 or 2012. [38397/08]

There are no direct implications for Ireland with regards to the building of a strategic missile defence system in Poland.

The European Union does not have an agreed position on Missile Defence, a matter on which it has no competence as regards the decisions of individual member states and which is more appropriate for discussion within NATO.

From a national perspective however, Ireland's position in relation to missile defence systems is clear. We believe that the development of such systems can have many negative consequences, including creating or aggravating missile arms races. The most effective way to tackle missile proliferation and the attendant threats is to engage in serious work in the area of disarmament and non-proliferation. Ireland has traditionally played a very active role in such efforts, particularly within the framework of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and elsewhere.

Question No. 159 answered with Question No. 148.

Human Rights Issues.

Joanna Tuffy

Ceist:

160 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the recent developments in the House of Lords whereby former residents of the British Indian Ocean territory of Diego Garcia, exiled in the 1960’s when the colony was leased to the US to build an air base, were denied the right to return; his view of this ongoing transgression of the islanders right of abode; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38372/08]

The demand of the Chagossian natives to return to the Chagossian archipelago is a complex issue which also involves competing sovereignty claims and legal arguments.

In November 2000, the High Court in Britain ruled that the "wholesale removal" of the Islanders between 1967 and 1971 was an "abject legal failure" and that they could return to the small outlying islands in the group but not the largest, Diego Garcia. The ruling also granted the islanders British citizenship. Following this ruling, the British Government commissioned a study on island resettlement and concluded that it was "impractical and inconsistent with the existing defence facilities". A study commissioned by the Islanders refutes the idea that resettlement is "impractical".

In November 2002 the Islanders launched a separate case in the High Court in England claiming that they had been treated in such a way by the British Government as to entitle them to compensation and return of their property. In October 2003, the Islanders lost this claim for compensation. In June 2004 a royal decree was issued in Britain banning the Chagos Islanders from returning to the islands. In October 2004 the High Court agreed to a judicial review of the royal decree, and it was overturned in May 2006. This decision was supported by the Court of Appeal in May 2007. The British Government requested that the House of Lords examine this decision in June 2008, and on 22 October the Law Lords ruled that the royal decree was indeed immune from scrutiny, and the ban on returning to the islands should stand. The Law Lords ruling is the final judgement in the British legal system. The group have claimed that they may bring their case to the European Court for Human Rights.

The Government will continue to monitor the situation of the Chagossian Archipelago. We would wish to see the issue resolved by agreement between the parties, and in a manner which properly addresses the unfortunate situation of the Chagos Islanders. However, we note that the matter is one which has been pursued through the appropriate British legal and judicial channels.

Overseas Development Aid.

P. J. Sheehan

Ceist:

161 Deputy P. J. Sheehan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the percentage and the amount in real terms of the Irish Aid budget taken up with payments to consultants and advisers. [38482/08]

I am very conscious of the need to achieve value for money on consultancy expenditures. Irish Aid consultancy services are commissioned where specialised knowledge and/or skills are not available within the Department and where independent evaluation of programmes and projects is required. Given the overall scale, range and diversity of the Irish Aid programme, as well as our commitment to the highest quality, accountability and evaluation it is necessary, from time to time, to complement our in-house capacity with specialised skills and advice.

The details of consultancy expenditures for 2007 and to date in 2008 are as follows: In 2007 payments amounted to €4.22 million or 0.58% of the Irish Aid budget for the year. In 2008, the budget for payments to consultants is €4.12m. To date €3.9m has been expended, which represents 0.51% of the Irish Aid budget for the year.

Nuclear Disarmament Initiative.

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

162 Deputy Pat Rabbitte asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will make a statement on progress being made in relation to the future of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. [38393/08]

From Ireland's national standpoint, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) remains the corner-stone of the non-proliferation regime. It is the main international mechanism for controlling the spread of nuclear weapons, and contains the only multilateral obligation to nuclear disarmament in the text of a treaty by the five recognised nuclear weapons States (US, UK, France, the Russian Federation and China).

At the Seventh Review Conference in May 2005, there were fundamental differences between those who wanted the conference to focus on proliferation, and those — the majority — who emphasised the lack of serious nuclear disarmament by the nuclear weapons States. The failure of the 2005 Review Conference to reach an outcome makes it more important than ever to have a successful Conference in 2010, and Ireland will work hard to bring this about. Clearly, the views of nuclear weapons states are crucial. Since 2005, there have been annual preparatory meetings aimed at achieving this objective. The final such meeting ahead of the Review Conference will be held in New York during May of next year.

With the upcoming change of administration in the United States, there are indications that alterations to certain policies, including towards the NPT, may be in the offing. Such changes could help create conditions more conducive to a successful 2010 Review Conference.

Diplomatic Contacts.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

163 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will provide a report on the EU Co-operation Council with South Africa held recently in Cape Town; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38382/08]

The 9th meeting of the Joint Cooperation Council between the European Union and the Republic of South Africa took place in Cape Town on 3-4 November 2008. This meeting was one of a series of regular meetings between the EU and South Africa.

Among the topics discussed were the continued implementation of the Trade, Development and Cooperation Agreement, agricultural issues, other trade-related issues, regional integration and the Doha Development Agenda. While there are differences of emphasis between the EU and South Africa on some of these issues, the overall tone of the discussions was constructive and forward looking.

Ireland attaches great importance to the development of a strong partnership between the EU and South Africa, through the means of the Cooperation Council. South Africa is the single most important partner of the EU in the sub-Saharan region and a significant regional actor.

Hunger Task Force.

Tom Hayes

Ceist:

164 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the steps he is taking to implement the findings of the recent report from the Hunger Task Force. [38477/08]

The report of the Hunger Task Force was presented to the Taoiseach on 25 September at the United Nations in New York. It represents a year's work, commissioned by the Government, conducted by a group of eminent national and international experts. While recognising that hunger and food security is a complex area requiring a multifaceted response, the Report focused on three specific thematic areas which, if addressed, should make an effective contribution to reducing and eventually eliminating world hunger. These three thematic areas are:

Increase smallholder agricultural productivity in Africa;

Target maternal and infant undernutrition; and

Make hunger a priority at both national and international level and ensure that donor and recipient governments fulfil their commitments to its eradication.

I welcome this focused approach on these three thematic areas and I agree with the Task Force that progress in these specific areas will have a real impact. With the aim of moving the recommendations of the Hunger Task Force forward I am establishing a special unit within Irish Aid, to focus on agriculture and food security. I am also establishing a managerial task team to bring together the full range of expertise available within Irish Aid in the area of food security and related disciplines.

The first job of the food security and agriculture unit will be to carry out an audit of the work of Irish Aid which currently addresses food security across the programme. Based on that analysis, we will assess how best we can improve our performance across all of the three themes highlighted in the Report.

The commissioning of the work of the Hunger Task Force by the Government, before the current global food security crisis hit the headlines, was innovative and far sighted. The Report has been warmly welcomed, nationally and internationally. I can assure the Deputy that I intend to take the Report forward and ensure that Ireland can make a real difference, by our own efforts on the ground and by our influence internationally, to reduce the scourge of global hunger.

Human Rights Issues.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

165 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his plans to publish an action programme that will respond to the observations of the United Nations Human Rights Committee made recently under Article 40 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. [38363/08]

Ireland is required under Article 40 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to submit periodic reports to the United Nations on the progress made in implementing the Covenant's provisions.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee considered Ireland's third periodic report under the ICCPR, which was submitted in February 2007, at its meetings held in Geneva on 14/15 July 2008 and adopted concluding observations at its meetings held on 22/23 July 2008. Ireland's delegation for the consideration of the report was headed by the Attorney General, Mr. Paul Gallagher S.C., and the Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr. Seán Aylward.

In its concluding observations the Committee welcomed a number of legislative and other measures taken by Ireland to improve the protection and promotion of human rights recognised under the Covenant since the examination of the second periodic report, and noted progress made in a number of areas. The Committee also noted some subjects of concern and made a number of recommendations in this regard. The Committee, in accordance with its rules of procedure, has requested that Ireland should provide relevant information within one year, i.e. by 30 July 2009, on implementation of three of the Committee's recommendations (made in paragraphs 11, 15 and 22 of its concluding observations document) and has requested that information on all the remaining recommendations be provided in Ireland's fourth periodic report which is due to be submitted by 31 July 2012. I have arranged that relevant documentation relating to the Committee's consideration of Ireland's report, including the Committee's concluding observations, be placed on the Department of Foreign Affairs website so as to publicise the contents.

Ireland attaches high priority to the mandate and work of the UN Human Rights Committee. The concluding observations of the Committee are being closely examined by the responsible Departments and will be given full and careful consideration, in line with normal procedures, with a view to meeting the deadlines set by the Committee.

The Department of Foreign Affairs coordinates contributions from the various Government Departments with competence in areas of policy corresponding to particular articles of the Covenant. There are no plans to publish an action programme on the Committee's observations and this is not something that the Committee itself has recommended.

Overseas Development Aid.

Joanna Tuffy

Ceist:

166 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the recent earthquake in Baluchistan in Pakistan; the assistance that has been offered to those affected by the earthquake by Ireland, both financial or in terms of personnel; and if it is planned that there will be an EU sponsored deal to assist. [38371/08]

An earthquake of 6.4 magnitude hit Balochistan province in south-western Pakistan on Wednesday, 29 October. The epicentre of the quake was in the Chiltan Mountains, some 80 kilometres northwest of the provincial capital Quetta. The Government of Pakistan has confirmed 150 fatalities, with hundreds more injured and thousands left homeless.

The Pakistani authorities have made arrangements for the provision of relief items to the affected population. Pakistan has, unfortunately, extensive experience in responding to earthquakes and, to date, has not requested international assistance in responding to the earthquake in Balochistan.

UN agencies already based in Pakistan, such as the World Food Programme and the World Health Organisation, are providing support and the European Commission has said that it stands ready to provide humanitarian assistance, if requested. Ireland will continue to monitor the situation in Balochistan closely and will respond appropriately should the need arise.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

167 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the funding allocated from the Irish Aid budget in order to help alleviate the recent humanitarian crisis in Burma. [38483/08]

Cyclone Nargis was the worst recorded natural disaster ever to hit Burma. It struck the country on 2 and 3 May 2008 with winds up to 200 kph, sweeping through the Irrawaddy delta region and the country's main city, Yangon. It is estimated that 140,000 people were killed or remain missing as a result of the cyclone, with approximately 2.4 million people affected.

Over €1.3 million in humanitarian funding was provided by Irish Aid to assist those affected by Cyclone Nargis. This funding was provided primarily to NGO partners with existing programmes or partnerships in Burma, such as Trócaire, World Vision and Save the Children. Funding was also provided to the World Food Programme (WFP) for logistics support to humanitarian organisations, a particularly important and challenging area of work given the serious damage to infrastructure following the cyclone.

In addition, two separate shipments of essential relief items were provided from Ireland's supplies pre-positioned at the UN's humanitarian response depot in Brindisi, Italy and at the Curragh Camp in Ireland in May and June 2008. The total value, including transportation, of the essential supplies amounted to approximately €580,000.

The UN's Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) — to which Ireland is the sixth largest contributor — was also critical in responding to the most urgent needs of those affected by Cyclone Nargis. An initial tranche of funding was approved within one day of receipt of the grant request, proving the value of the CERF in distributing assistance rapidly and effectively to those most in need following natural disasters.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

168 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Taoiseach the number of persons who have been relocated to each of the decentralised locations established by units or agencies under his Department; the floor areas and occupancy capacity of each of the facilities concerned; and the date by which it is intended to complete the transfer of remaining staff. [38914/08]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

169 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Taoiseach the number of staff moves that have been necessitated by the decentralisation programme in units or agencies in his Department distinguishing the moves at managerial or technical level. [38929/08]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

170 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Taoiseach the facilities in Dublin which units or agencies under his Department, plan to vacate as a result of the decentralisation programme; the floor areas involved; and when it is planned that they will be realised. [38944/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 168 to 170, inclusive, together.

There are no proposals to decentralise my Department or any of the agencies under its aegis. It is a matter for those Departments to which staff from my Department have decentralised to assign such staff to locations outside of Dublin. The Department of Finance has responsibility in Government for the overall Decentralisation Programme.

FÁS Training Programmes.

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

171 Deputy Dinny McGinley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number and type of all courses available in a FÁS centre (details supplied) in County Donegal; if there are plans to expand or reduce the number of such courses; and the number of trainees in attendance there at present. [38562/08]

I am advised by FÁS that the following courses are run in-centre in the FÁS Training Centre, Gweedore:

1. Computer Applications & Accounts/Manual & Computerised Accounts & Payroll/Basic Keyboard & Computer Skills (these 3 courses alternate in-centre depending on demand)

2. Traditional Stonebuilding.

3. Carpentry & Joinery Apprenticeship (Phase 2).

4. Plumbing Apprenticeship (Phase 2).

5. Electrical Apprenticeship (Phase 2).

There are currently 68 apprentices and trainees attending the Gweedore Training Centre with a further 55 trainees on Contracted (External) Training. The following courses are run or are planned to run through Contracted Training in the various localities attached to Gweedore Training Services, subject to demand:

ECDL;

Computer Applications & Accounts;

Childcare Traineeship;

Healthcare Assistant Traineeship;

Beauty Therapy.

In the future, FÁS also plans to develop Gweedore Training Centre to deliver courses in the area of Renewable Energies, particularly solar and wind turbine. This is dependent on funding availability. A Dry Stonebuilding Course is currently being developed in partnership with the Stonebuilding industry and also the Donegal Stonebuilding Association. While there are no immediate plans to reduce either the availability of courses or the numbers trained the downturn in the construction industry may lead to reduced numbers in apprenticeship courses in 2009.

Price Competitiveness.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

172 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the details of the initiative she has taken to ensure that price reductions are passed on to the Irish motorists; the latest survey that she has carried out on this issue; and the initiatives taken by the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority in the past six months on this issue. [38577/08]

In September I requested the National Consumer Agency to undertake a survey into why pump prices for petrol and diesel have not fallen in line with the drop in the wholesale price of oil.

Whilst pump prices have decreased since September, notwithstanding the appreciation in value of the dollar against the euro during that period, I consider it important that there should be greater transparency between the manner in which the retail price for fuel paid by consumers follows changes in the wholesale price. I am advised by the Agency that work in relation to this matter is well underway. I understand that as part of its work, the Agency will seek to benchmark movements in prices in Ireland against those in other EU countries and that it will also seek to examine the frequency and the timeliness in which changes in the wholesale price are being passed on to consumers. I expect to receive the Agency's report into this matter next month.

Work Permits.

Pat Breen

Ceist:

173 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when a person (details supplied) in County Clare will qualify for a work permit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38598/08]

The Employment Permits Section informs me that the above named is already the holder of a work permit which is valid up to the 24/4/2010. Applications from non-EEA nationals seeking permission to reside on the basis of being married to an Irish citizen, are a matter for my colleague the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Trade Missions.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

174 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the breakdown of numbers in respect of the recent trade mission to China (details supplied). [38613/08]

Of the five County Kildare companies that participated in this Trade Mission to China last month, three are based in Maynooth, one in The Curragh and one in Athy.

Annual Leave Entitlements.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

175 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the entitlement of a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38650/08]

Section 19 of the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 provides that full-time employees are entitled to annual leave of four working weeks i.e. 20 days for such employees working a five day week.

Section 20 of the 1997 Act provides that the times at which the above statutory annual leave is granted to an employee shall be determined by the employer having regard to work requirements. However, this is subject to the employer taking into account the need for the employee to reconcile work and any family responsibilities and the opportunities for rest and recreation available to the employee.

In addition, the employer must consult in this matter with the employee or a trade union, if any, of which the employee is a member, not later than one month before the day on which the statutory annual leave is due to commence. Furthermore, the statutory annual leave must be granted to the employee within the leave year- 1st April in one year to 31st March the following year- or within the following six months.

If an employee considers that his or her employer is not complying with the above provisions of the 1997 Act it is open to him or her to refer the matter to a Rights Commissioner for adjudication and possible redress.

Departmental Staff.

Michael Creed

Ceist:

176 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of staff employed in her Department’s press office; if she will outline the role and function of her Department’s press office and its relationship with her own press office; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38867/08]

There are four Civil Servants and one Press Adviser employed in the Press Office of my Department.

The primary role of the Press Office is to inform the public via the media about the policies, functions and activities of the Department which is in the main achieved through press releases, speeches and briefings. A critical success factor in delivering the Department's overall Mission Statement is ensuring that business, employees, consumers, and the public generally have maximum knowledge and a proper understanding of Departmental policies and functions. This Office is a front line office communicating with the media about the public affairs of the Department.

The Press Adviser works closely with all staff in the Press Office.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

177 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the current and capital expenditure which has been incurred to date in respect of the decentralisation projects which have been deferred until a further review occurs in 2011. [38892/08]

The information requested by the Deputy is set out in the following tabular statement. The most recent figures for such costs are those as submitted to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Finance and the Public Service, via the Department of Finance, and relate to the period January 2004 to June 2008.

In addition the National Consumer Agency has confirmed that a total of €557.33 has been incurred in respect of non-capital expenditure and that no capital expenditure has been incurred.

Agency

Total expenditure

Capital Expenditure

Non-Capital Expenditure

Enterprise Ireland

Nil

Nil

Nil

FÁS

3,115,446

2,852,118

263,328

HSA

292,675

Nil

292,675

NSAI

24,500

Nil

24,500

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

178 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of persons who have been relocated to each of the decentralised locations established by units or agencies under her Department; the floor areas and occupancy capacity of each of the facilities concerned; and the date by which it is intended to complete the transfer of remaining staff. [38907/08]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

179 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the number of staff moves that have been necessitated by the decentralisation programme in units or agencies in her Department distinguishing the moves at managerial or technical level. [38922/08]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

180 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the facilities in Dublin which units or agencies under her Department plan to vacate as a result of the decentralisation programme; the floor areas involved; and when it is planned that they will be realised. [38937/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 178 to 180, inclusive, together.

As the Deputy is aware, the Minister for Finance, in his Budget 2009 address, announced that the proposed decentralisation of a number of bodies was being deferred pending a review in 2011. This impacts on five agencies under my remit viz. FÁS, Enterprise Ireland (EI), Health and Safety Authority (HSA), National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) and National Consumer Agency (NCA).

The number of advance staff moves that have taken place up to 31 October 2008 as part of the Government's decentralisation programme, both in my Department and those agencies under my remit as Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, are set out in the following tabular statement: this statement also gives the breakdown between technical staff and managerial (including administrative and non-technical staff).

The Irish Auditing and Accounting Supervisory Authority (IAASA) has fully decentralised to Naas, Co Kildare with a current staff compliment of eleven, four of whom are technical and seven are managerial staff (including administrative and non-technical staff).

In parallel with the decentralisation process, EI has strengthened its regional focus in recent years and now has a major presence in the Shannon Region in addition to its nine other regional offices. Certain functions previously carried out by Shannon Development under delegated authority from Enterprise Ireland reverted to Enterprise Ireland on 1st January 2007 and, as part of this process, a number of posts from Shannon Development transferred to Enterprise Ireland. The agency strengthened its regional presence by establishing its new Regional Development Headquarters in Shannon and also houses its County Enterprise Coordination Unit there. Six posts were assigned to the new office in Shannon from Dublin, to manage this new Regional HQ. Currently there are 66 staff working in the EI Shannon office, none of whom are technical. They are located in Shannon Westpark. In respect of the floor areas and occupancy capacity for the above, the information required by the Deputy is set out in the following tabular statement.

In respect of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, the total floor area of those facilities, which are decentralising, is approximately 3,300 square metres. The occupancy capacity of those facilities is estimated to be 164. The current situation regarding the full move of over 250 people from the Department is that the formal application for planning permission for the permanent building was lodged with Carlow Town Council on 18th April 2008. Planning permission, with conditions, was granted on 12th June 2008 subject to appeal. The Office of Public Works has since advised that two objection lodged against the planning permission have been referred to An Bord Pleanála. An Bord Pleanála website indicates that the appeal cases are due to be decided by 10 November 2008. In light of this, it is difficult to provide a target date for completion of construction of the permanent office which appears is unlikely to happen before last quarter 2010. Until this is decided upon, it is not possible to give an exact floor area or the occupancy capacity of the proposed new permanent building.

In view of the proposed review taking place in 2011, it is also not possible to give details of the full extent of the floor areas of the facilities which the relevant five agencies (viz. FÁS, EI, HSA, NSAI and NCA) will be required to vacate and the timescale attaching to same.

Body and Location

Total number of staff who have moved to 31/10/2008

Number of technical staff who have moved to 31/10/2008

Number of managerial staff (including administrative and non-technical staff) who have moved to 31/10/2008

Dept. of Enterprise, Trade & Employment (to Carlow)

99

Nil

99

FÁS (to Birr)

26

16

10

HSA (to Kilkenny)

32

27

5

NSAI (to Arklow)

Nil

NCA (to Cork)

Nil

Body

Floor areas

Occupancy capacity of each facility

Dept. of Enterprise, Trade & Employment (Carlow)

c. 1,800 square metres

100

FÁS (Birr)

c. 700 square metres

40

HSA (Kilkenny)

c. 900 square metres

55

EI (Shannon)

c. 1,750 square metres

73

IAASA (Naas)

c. 600 square metres

15

NSAI (Arklow)

Not applicable

Not applicable

NCA (Cork)

Not applicable

Not applicable

National Disability Strategy.

David Stanton

Ceist:

181 Deputy David Stanton asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the yearly expenditure to date on the national disability strategy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39273/08]

The Sectoral Plan of the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment was published in 2006, as required under the Disability Act, 2005, and forms a key element of the National Disability Strategy. The total yearly expenditure on disability services by the Department and its agencies under the Sectoral Plan since 2006 is as follows:

Year

Expenditure

€m

2006

68.145

2007

71.141

2008

77.772 (est.)

Total

217.058

Tax Code.

Joe Carey

Ceist:

182 Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Finance the analysis he has carried out on the effects a travel tax will have on the airline industry prior to recommending its introduction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38611/08]

Joe Carey

Ceist:

185 Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Finance the analysis he has carried out on the effects a travel tax will have on the airline industry; the effects it will have on the business community and in turn on the tourism industry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38612/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 182 and 185 together.

I announced in Budget 2009 that an Air Travel Tax will come into force in respect of passengers departing from Irish airports on and from 30 March 2009.

Ireland is not unique in regard to applying a tax on air travel. A number countries within the EU apply similar taxes including, the UK, France and the Netherlands. In addition, the Belgium Government recently announced its intention to introduce an air travel tax. The proposed rates for the Irish air travel tax are not unreasonable both for shorter and longer journeys, when compared to rates in other countries.

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

183 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Finance if a couple in receipt of a contributory old age pension would have to pay the 1% levy if they have over €17,500 in income; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38628/08]

The position is that the income levy will be applied to gross income except social welfare payments, including contributory and non-contributory social welfare pensions. It is intended, however, to provide a threshold which will exempt those on low incomes.

Full details regarding provisions, in relation to the collection, recovery, inspection of records, and other provisions required in relation to the income levy will be set out in the Finance Bill.

Tax Collection.

Tom Sheahan

Ceist:

184 Deputy Tom Sheahan asked the Minister for Finance if further to a previous request to have a matter (details supplied) rectified he will have it corrected promptly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38586/08]

I have been informed by the Revenue Commissioners that a general right to repayment of tax overpaid is provided for by section 865, Taxes Consolidation Act 1997. That section also imposes a statutory 4 year time limit on claims for repayment made on or after 1st January 2005.

Under the provisions of section 865, a repayment is subject to a valid claim being made (such as the submission of a ‘full and true' Return of Income), within 4 years from the end of the tax year to which it relates.

Section 865, and the Interest on Repayments provisions in section 865A, were designed to achieve the necessary balance between establishing a fair and uniform system for taxpayers (including parity of treatment between PAYE and self employed taxpayers), while, at the same time providing necessary protection for the Exchequer from exposure to claims going back many years.

The self-assessment system provides that taxpayers are obliged to make their tax returns by the specified return date. Income Tax returns for 2001, 2002 and 2003 had return filing dates of 31/10/2002, 31/10/2003 and 31/10/2004, respectively. Taxpayers were obliged to submit their Returns of Income, for the years listed, to the Offices of the Collector General on, or before, those dates.

In the case of the person mentioned Returns of Income for the years in question were filed in April 2008. For 2001 a paper return, dated 23/4/2008, was submitted to Tralee Revenue Office. For years 2002 and 2003 returns were filed via Revenue Online System (ROS) and are recorded as received on 25/4/2008. Those returns were processed and the resulting assessments showed tax overpaid for each year. However, as the 4 year time limit, for each of the years, had expired (on 31/12/2005, 31/12/2006 and 31/12/2007, respectively) the repayments could not be paid to this person.

Section 955, Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 is a separate piece of legislation, which also applies from 1st January 2005. This section places a 4 year time limit on the Inspector's right to make or amend an assessment. Under the provisions of section 955, no assessment or amendment to an assessment to Income Tax for any relevant tax year can be made any later than four years after the end of the tax year in which the taxpayer has filed a ‘full and true' tax return.

That section ensures that a taxpayer cannot avoid payment of tax, correctly due to the Exchequer, by delaying the submission of his Returns of Income while also providing the taxpayer who files a ‘full and true' return with the assurance that, apart from cases where fraud or neglect is suspected, the Inspector is precluded from making or amending assessments after the 4 year period set out in section 955 has expired.

Section 955(2)(a)(ii) repeats the time limit provisions contained in section 865 in relation to repayment of tax overpaid.

Question No. 185 answered with Question No. 182.

Tax Yield.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

186 Deputy Liz McManus asked the Minister for Finance the amount raised by way of special corporation tax levied on profits arising from petroleum leases every year since 1992 to date in 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38652/08]

I have been informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the information furnished on corporation tax returns does not generally require the yield from a particular sector or sub-sector of economic activity to be identified. In these circumstances the amount of tax revenues collected in respect of the activities specified in the question cannot be readily identified from the overall corporation tax yield.

Tax Code.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

187 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Finance the latest position regarding tax relief for non-reimbursed medical expenses, and in particular, pertaining to nursing home fees; and his proposals in respect of same. [38653/08]

The position is that, as indicated in Budget 2009, health expenses relief will be granted at the standard rate of tax only from 1 January 2009, with the exception of nursing home expenses which will be standard rated from 1 January 2010.

Full details will be included in the forthcoming Finance Bill.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

188 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Finance if, with respect to the proposed increase in capital gains tax from 20% to 22%, he envisaged an inverse relationship between the rate increase and declarations and receipts accruing from the tax as was purported when the rate was cut from 40% to 20%; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38850/08]

The Capital Gains Tax rate is being increased to secure additional funding which is being used to reduce the Stamp Duty on commercial property.

The estimated increased yield is proportionate to overall CGT yield and, as the rate increase is small, it is not anticipated that it will have the "inverse" impact on yield for 2009 envisaged in the question.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

189 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Finance if he will introduce a separate air travel tax regime for aircraft with fewer than 20 passenger seats, for luxury helicopters or for air freight; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38851/08]

All aircraft with fewer than 20 passenger seats are exempt from the air travel tax. This is one of the practical measures designed to exclude those small aerodromes that exist around the country where it would be administratively difficult to impose or collect the tax. I have no plans to introduce a separate air travel tax regime.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

190 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Finance if he will exempt IVF treatments from the reduction in tax relief from higher to standard rate relief; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38852/08]

The position is that, as announced in the Budget, Health Expenses Relief will be granted at the standard rate only from 1 January 2009, with the exception of nursing home expenses where temporary arrangements will apply. It is not my intention to make any other adjustments.

Financial Institutions Support Scheme.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

191 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Finance the safeguards in place to ensure that the Government can obtain sufficient sterling to meet its liabilities to British customers of Irish banks should one or more of the banks covered by the guarantee scheme fail; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38853/08]

The Credit Institutions (Financial Support) Scheme provides a guarantee for covered institutions until 29 September 2010. Among the key objectives of the Guarantee Scheme is to provide financial support to covered financial institutions with a view to protecting the public interest in maintaining the stability of the financial system in the State. The Guarantee Scheme contains various provisions which reduce the risk of a failure of a covered financial institution. In return for the guarantee a covered institution pays a charge which is credited to a designated account maintained at the Central Bank and acts as a reserve for any payment to be made under the scheme.

In relation to the specific issue raised by the Deputy, I am advised that there are no limitations on obtaining sterling using a foreign exchange contract for any payment that may arise under the scheme.

Tax Collection.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

192 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Finance the number of individual taxpayers he expects to avail of the cycle to work scheme in any full year in view of the full year forecast cost of the scheme to be €0.4 million; if he will estimate the cost to the Exchequer of administering the scheme; if he proposes to extend the scheme to the self-employed; if he proposes to introduce measures to minimise administration costs and maximise take-up of the scheme by small and medium enterprises and their employees; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38856/08]

The cost of the scheme will depend on uptake. The estimated full year cost of €0.4 million is based on an assumption that approximately 7,000 employees will avail of the scheme over the first five year period of the operation of the scheme (the exemption may apply only once in any five year period in respect of any employee).

The scheme has been designed with a view to ensuring that the administration costs for the Exchequer and employers will be minimal. The concept of a benefit in kind does not arise in the case of the self-employed. For self-employed persons all expenses "wholly and exclusively" incurred for the purpose of their trade or profession are allowable for tax purposes. However, there is no tax deduction for self-employed persons in respect of costs incurred by them in relation to travelling to and from their place of business. This general principle will remain unchanged.

The aims of the cycle to work scheme are to help reduce traffic congestion and environmental pollution and to promote healthy lifestyles. It will be open to all employers, both large and small. The scheme can provide savings in income tax, PRSI and levies for employees availing of it, which should help to ensure its success.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

193 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Finance the estimated receipts for 2009 from the income levy from people with incomes under €100,000 and €100,000 and above; the number of taxpayers who will pay in each income category; the number who will be exempt from the levy following the arrangement announced by him to exempt people on certain low incomes; the estimated reduction in revenue as a result of these exemptions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38857/08]

Full details of the income levy and the arrangements to exempt those on low incomes will be set out in the forthcoming Finance Bill. The associated statistics requested by the Deputy will also be available at that stage.

Tax Code.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

194 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Finance the treatment of older people in respect of the proposed income levy; if income from occupational pensions will be liable to the levy; if age exemptions will apply as in the case of income tax liabilities for people over the age of 65 years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38858/08]

The position is that the income levy will be applied to all gross income except social welfare payments, including contributory and non-contributory social welfare pensions. It is proposed to include a threshold which will exempt those on low incomes from the income levy. More detailed provisions, in relation to the collection, recovery, inspection of records, and other provisions required will be set out in the Finance Bill.

Tax Collection.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

195 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Finance the number of income tax payers who have a taxable income of €100,000 to €200,000, €200,000 to €300,000 and €300,000 and above; the number in respect of each of these income categories who are married couples; the number who are individual taxpayers; the number who are PAYE taxpayers; the number who are self-employed, carrying on a trade or business; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38859/08]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the information requested by the Deputy is provided in the following table. The numbers of earners in the various ranges of income are based on the adjusted data for 2005 projected forward in accordance with macroeconomic data relating to actual and expected growth in wages and employment.

Provisional distribution of income earners for Income Tax Year 2008.

Range of Taxable Income

Personal Status

ALL

PAYE

Self-employed

€100,000 or less

Single

1,428,300

1,335,100

93,300

Married

732,100

625,800

106,300

Widowed

73,200

64,700

8,500

Range Total

2,233,700

2,025,600

208,100

€100,001 – €200,000

Single

14,700

11,800

2,800

Married

93,100

81,800

11,300

Widowed

1,000

600

400

Range Total

108,900

94,300

14,600

€200,001 – €300,000

Single

1,800

1,100

700

Married

11,100

8,000

3,100

Widowed

200

100

100

Range Total

13,100

9,200

3,900

Over €300,000

Single

1,500

600

900

Married

8,500

4,100

4,400

Widowed

100

0

100

Range Total

10,100

4,700

5,400

Totals

Single

1,446,300

1,348,600

97,700

Married

844,900

719,700

125,200

Widowed

74,600

65,500

9,100

Overall Totals

2,365,800

2,133,800

232,000

It should be noted that the income ranges shown in the above table relate to taxable income as defined in the Revenue Statistical Report, 2006. A married couple who has elected or has deemed to have elected for joint assessment is counted as one tax unit. The figures are projected estimates rounded to the nearest hundred and may be subject to further revision.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

196 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Finance the number of taxpayers who declare income annually for income from property rental; the number of such taxpayers who derive annual rental income of zero to €10,000, €10,000 to €50,000, €50,000 to €100,000, €100,000 to €200,000, €200,000 to €300,000 and €300,000 and above; the number in respect of each of these income categories, who are married couples; the number who are individual taxpayers; the number who are PAYE taxpayers; the number who are self-employed, carrying on a trade or business; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38860/08]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the most recent year for which the necessary detailed information is available in respect of income from property rental is for the income tax year 2005. On the basis of personal income tax returns filed by non-PAYE taxpayers for that year the information requested by the Deputy is as set out in the following table.

Distribution of net rental income for Income Tax Year 2005.

Range of Rental Income

Personal Status

ALL

PAYE

Self-employed

€10,000 or less

Single/widowed

23,996

13,852

10,144

Married

44,285

30,368

13,917

Range Total

68,281

44,220

24,061

€10,001 – €50,000

Single/widowed

7,575

2,469

5,106

Married

19,109

9,966

9,143

Range Total

26,684

12,435

14,249

€50,001 – €100,000

Single/widowed

733

107

626

Married

2,565

781

1,784

Range Total

3,298

888

2,410

€100,001 – €200,000

Single/widowed

266

22

244

Married

1,007

177

830

Range Total

1,273

199

1,074

€200,001 – €300,000

Single/widowed

78

7

71

Married

272

29

243

Range Total

350

36

314

Over €300,000

Single/widowed

57

1

56

Married

287

12

275

Range Total

344

13

331

Totals

Single/widowed

32,705

16,458

16,247

Married

67,525

41,333

26,192

Overall Totals

100,230

57,791

42,439

Net rental income is income from the renting of land and property which is net of interest on borrowings and other expenses but before capital allowances.

It should be noted that any corresponding data returned by PAYE taxpayers in the income tax return form 12 is not captured in the Revenue computer system. However, any PAYE taxpayer with non-PAYE income greater than €3,174 is required to complete an income tax return form 11. This return is the source of the figures provided in this reply.

The information on incomes is based on income returns on Revenue records at the time the data were compiled for analytical purposes, representing about 98 % of all returns expected.

A married couple who has elected or has deemed to have elected for joint assessment is counted as one tax unit.

Departmental Staff.

Michael Creed

Ceist:

197 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Finance the number of staff employed in his Department’s press office; if he will outline the role and function of his Department’s press office and its relationship with his own press office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38869/08]

The press office in my Department is staffed by four civil servants and is headed at Assistant Principal level. The Press Officer is assisted by one Higher Executive Officer, one Executive Officer and one Clerical Officer.

The press officer is responsible for management of the Press Office which comprises responding to questions regarding the Minister for Finance or the Department of Finance from all members of the broadcast and print media, as well as members of the public; organising press events to inform the press and public on departmental matters; making necessary arrangements in association with the Minister's private office for public events at which the Minister for Finance is speaking, both at national and international levels; and editorial control of the Department's web site.

Staff in the press office review newsprint and other media on a daily basis and where appropriate bring media articles to my attention or the attention of relevant management staff. The current press officer is in situ since March 2008 and was appointed following an internal competition. I do not have a press office of my own.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

198 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the current and capital expenditure which has been incurred to date in respect of the decentralisation projects which have been deferred until a further review occurs in 2011. [38894/08]

A total of €18.8m has been spent on acquiring sites in respect of those projects which are being deferred pending a review in 2011. The locations in question are Birr, Cavan, Dungarvan, Edenderry, Thomastown, Thurles and Waterford. In addition, a site has been purchased at Knock, at a cost of €390,000.

Approximately €4m has been spent to date by the OPW on the costs of renting and fitting out of mainly Civil Service properties in advance party locations where permanent accommodation has been deferred pending a review in 2011. A further €1.194m has been expended by FÁS in respect of the advance office at Birr, €856,000 was expended by the Health and Safety Authority in respect of its Kilkenny advance office and approximately €305,000 has been expended by Pobal in respect of its premises at Clifden. Staff in such locations will remain in place.

In addition, I am informed by my colleague the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise Trade and Employment that in parallel with the decentralisation process, Enterprise Ireland (EI) strengthened its regional focus in recent years and now has a major presence in the Shannon Region in addition to its nine other regional offices. Certain functions previously carried out by Shannon Development under delegated authority from Enterprise Ireland reverted to Enterprise Ireland on 1st January 2007 and, as part of this process, a number of posts from Shannon Development transferred to Enterprise Ireland. The agency strengthened its regional presence by establishing its new Regional Development Headquarters in Shannon and also houses its County Enterprise Coordination Unit there. Six posts were assigned to the new office in Shannon from Dublin, to manage this new Regional HQ. Currently there are 66 staff working in the EI Shannon office.

The annual rent on the Regional Development Headquarters in Shannon is €336,600. The tendered contract sum for the fit out was €1.43m, including VAT.

Further details of non-property costs expended by location have been sought from relevant Departments. I will write to the Deputy separately in this regard shortly.

The Deputy may wish to know that total income from property disposed of in Dublin between January 2004 and December 2007 was €355.9m. In addition, property valued at €75 million was transferred to the Affordable Homes Partnership. The OPW has also agreed joint venture redevelopment schemes with a minimum value of circa €125m up to the end of 2007.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

199 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the number of persons who have been relocated to each of the decentralised locations established by units or agencies under his Department; the floor areas and occupancy capacity of each of the facilities concerned; and the date by which it is intended to complete the transfer of remaining staff. [38909/08]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

200 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the number of staff moves that have been necessitated by the decentralisation programme in units or agencies in his Department distinguishing the moves at managerial or technical level. [38924/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 199 and 200 together.

The following table gives a breakdown of the locations to where staff have re-located up to the end of October 2008 for my Department and for the agencies under the aegis of my Department. The table also gives details provided by the Office of Public Works of the occupancy capacity of these premises and their floor area.

Location

Occupier

No of Staff relocated up to 31 Oct 08

Technical/*Managerial Breakdown

Floor Area (Metres Squared)

Occupancy capacity

Expected Completion date of re-locations

Tullamore

Finance

127

Technical Staff — Nil Managerial — 30

3,391

130

Complete

Kilrush

Revenue Commissioners

57

Technical Staff — Nil Managerial — 01

585

65

Complete

Navan

Revenue Commissioners

101

Technical Staff — Nil Managerial — 06

1,763

130

Complete

Newcastlewest (Advance Office)

Revenue Commissioners

48

Technical Staff — Nil Managerial — 01

492

50

Qtr 4 2008

Athy

Revenue Commissioners

73

Technical Staff — Nil Managerial — 02

1,269

100

**

Listowel

Revenue Commissioners

51

Technical Staff — Nil Managerial — 01

1,140

65

Complete

Claremorris (Advance Office)

OPW

30

Technical Staff — Nil Managerial — 03

798

40

Qtr 4 2010

Trim (Advance Office)

OPW

32

Technical Staff — 01 Managerial — 05

382

30

Qtr 3 2009

*Managerial Level staff taken to be staff from Assistant Principal level and Upwards
**The issue of permanent accommodation will be decided pending the review of the decentralisation programme in 2011.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

201 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the facilities in Dublin which units or agencies under his Department plan to vacate as a result of the decentralisation programme; the floor areas involved; and when it is planned that they will be realised. [38939/08]

The following are the details of the office space surrendered or planned to be surrendered by my Department and the agencies under the aegis of my Department as a result of the decentralisation programme. The figures are approximate at this stage and are subject to review in light of ongoing business needs in my Department and in the agencies under the aegis of my Department.

Department of Finance. Under the decentralisation programme my Department surrendered approximately 2012 sq metres of space following its move to Tullamore in 2006. It is expected that a further 700sq metres will be surrendered by mid 2009 following the decentralisation to Kildare. Revenue Commissioners. I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that arising from the decentralisation programme they have to date vacated approximately 837sq metres and that they expect to vacate another 1500sq metres by the end of this year.

Office of Public Works. I am advised by the OPW that following on from the recent government decision to review the move of the OPW to Kanturk in 2011, the accommodation to be vacated by the OPW under the decentralisation programme is being reassessed at this time.

Price Inflation.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

202 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Finance the aggregate expected inflationary impact of the VAT and excise measures introduced in budget 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38830/08]

It is estimated that the VAT and excise measures introduced in Budget 2009 will add approximately 0.7 percentage points to CPI inflation in a full year. Notwithstanding these measures, inflation is expected to moderate in 2009 and beyond.

The Government's Budget Day forecasts show that CPI inflation is expected to average 2½% in 2009 (on the usual technical assumption of no further changes in interest rates), down from an estimated average of 4½% this year. On a harmonised basis, inflation is expected to average 1.9% over the period 2009-2011, in line with the European Central Bank's target. This easing in inflationary pressures is a welcome development at this time.

Medical Cards.

Lucinda Creighton

Ceist:

203 Deputy Lucinda Creighton asked the Minister for Health and Children the final savings expected in budget 2009 by the decision to withdraw universal access to medical cards for over 70s and the renegotiation of the doctors’ contracts; the amount it would cost to extend the medical card to all over 70s in view of the new renegotiated doctors’ contracts; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38847/08]

Following the recent Government decision to withdraw automatic entitlement to a medical card for persons aged 70 and over and to raise the means assessment threshold for persons in that age cohort, it is estimated that approximately 5% (20,000) of persons aged 70 and over will no longer qualify for a medical card.

The Government appointed Mr. Eddie Sullivan to make recommendations on a new single annual capitation fee to be paid to general practitioners in respect of medical card holders aged 70 and over in the community. Mr. Sullivan recommended a single capitation fee of €290, which would come into effect, subject to the proposed legislative changes, from 1st January 2009. Mr. Sullivan's recommendations were accepted by Government last week. Mr. Sullivan estimated that this would generate savings of the order of €16 million in 2009. In addition it is estimated that further savings of approximately €20 million will arise in 2009, in respect of reduced drug costs, superannuation costs, etc.

The Government believe that there is potential for significant savings of at least €64 million in drug costs under the GMS and community drug schemes, without compromising on patient care. Accordingly, it has decided to establish a process under the chairmanship of Dr. Michael Barry, to develop recommendations for good practice which will secure safe and effective prescribing for patients, while maximising the potential for the economy in the use of public funds. The initial report from Dr. Barry will be prepared by 1st December 2008.

Health Repayment Scheme.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

204 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children if the Health Service Executive will accept a duplicate health repayment scheme claim form in respect of a deceased person (details supplied) in County Mayo in view of the fact that the HSE states that it has no record of the claim lodged; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38555/08]

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

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

Hospital Waiting Lists.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

205 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Health and Children if the waiting list for an adult outpatient seeking a dermatology appointment in Tallaght Hospital is over five years long; if, in the interest of patient safety, they are currently not accepting referrals; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38559/08]

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

Health Repayment Scheme.

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

206 Deputy Enda Kenny asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will receive payment in respect of a claim made under the nursing home repayments scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38561/08]

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

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

Health Services.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

207 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason persons who have an over 70s medical card and VHI cover are not entitled to convalescent care in a public bed following discharge from hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38581/08]

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

208 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason a private patient is not entitled to convalescent care in a public bed following discharge from hospital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38582/08]

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

209 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason a person with a pre-booked admission for surgery has to make their own arrangements for convalescent care following discharge. [38583/08]

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

Entitlement to health services in Ireland is primarily based on residency and means. Any person, regardless of nationality, who is accepted by the Health Service Executive (HSE) as being ordinarily resident in Ireland is entitled to either full eligibility (Category 1, i.e. medical card holders) or limited eligibility (Category 2) for health services.

Persons in Category 1 are entitled to a full range of services free of charge including, inter alia, all in-patient public hospital services in public wards including consultant services. Persons in Category 2 (non medical card holders) are also entitled, inter alia, to all in-patient public hospital services in public wards including consultant services but subject to certain charges.

Individuals who opt to avail of in-patient services privately shall be deemed not to have full or limited eligibility for those in-patient services. In-patient care includes convalescent care. Membership of a health insurance scheme does not, of itself, imply private status.

If the Deputy is aware of a specific case in this context, he may wish to raise it directly with the Health Service Executive in order to have the matter investigated.

Proposed Legislation.

Ulick Burke

Ceist:

210 Deputy Ulick Burke asked the Minister for Health and Children when she will introduce the appropriate legislation banning the availability and sale of the herbal drug benzylpiperazine here; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38649/08]

The Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 and regulations made thereunder regulate and control the import, export, production, supply and possession of a range of named narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances listed in the Schedules to the Act. Substances are scheduled under the Act in accordance with Ireland's obligations under international conventions and/or where there is evidence that the substances are causing significant harm to public health in Ireland.

The list of scheduled substances is kept under review; in particular, my Department reviews any evidence that substances are being abused and are causing significant harm to public health.

Benzylpiperazine (BZP) is not currently a scheduled substance under the Misuse of Drugs Act. However, a risk assessment of new psychoactive substances carried out by the European Monitoring Centre on Drugs and Drug Addiction has found that the use of BZP can lead to medical problems even if the long term effects of the substance are still unknown. Against this background, the European Council decided in March 2008 to place BZP under control, which was deemed to pose an excessive risk as a ‘party pill', in accordance with the 1971 UN Convention on Psychotropic Substances. Member States must act as soon as possible, but no later than one year from the date of the decision, to introduce control measures and criminal sanctions. Work is under way in my Department with a view to introducing the necessary control measures here by way of statutory regulation within the given timeframe, to restrict the availability of BZP.

Health Services.

Frank Feighan

Ceist:

211 Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for Health and Children the position in relation to funding for the provision of a primary care centre in Castlerea, County Roscommon, which has been announced recently; and when it is envisaged this centre will be functioning as primary care centre in the area. [38657/08]

Under the Health Act 2004, the management and delivery of health and personal social services is the responsibility of the Health Service Executive. This includes operational responsibility for the establishment of Primary Care Teams and Primary Care Centres. 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.

Ruairí Quinn

Ceist:

212 Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will explain her decision to cut undergraduate nurse training places by 17% in budget 2009; the amount she estimates will be saved by this measure; her reasoning behind the curtailment of specialist practice courses and the add-on conversion programme as a consequence of these cutbacks; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that this cutback will impair the quality of front-line services in the health system here and will lead to higher overtime bills due to a shortage of fully qualified nurses; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38663/08]

The O.E.C.D. Public Management Reviews: Ireland — Towards an Integrated Public Service (2008) in its case study "Reconfiguration of the Health Services" notes:

"One statistical characteristic of Ireland is its very large number of practising nurses (15.2 per 1,000), which is twice the OECD average, just below Norway (15.4) but much higher than UK (9.1) or France (7.7). The number of nurses graduating every year is also high (14.4), above Norway (10.1), UK (8.6) or France (5.9). This contradicts the universal perception of a "shortage" of nurses, held by health actors in Ireland who were interviewed by the OECD. Partial explanations come from the fact that some 40% of nurses in Ireland work part-time (as compared for example with 26% in France for nurses working in hospitals)."

In outlining the detail of the 2009 Estimates for the health services, I announced that the H.S.E. is to deliver economy savings of €115m as part of Budget 2008. Among other issues this includes a reduction in nurse training expenditure in 2009. The total cost of nurse education to the Health Services, both undergraduate and post-registration, is currently in excess of €117 million per annum.

The number of places on the undergraduate degree programme will be reduced by 310 places. This means that from next year we will be providing 1,570 undergraduate places in the following courses:

General Nursing, 860 places

Intellectual Disability Nursing, 180 places

Psychiatric Nursing, 290 places

Midwifery, 140 places (no reduction.)

Children's and General Nursing Integrated 100 places (no reduction.)

Total, 1570 places

The reduction in places which will result in savings of €1.65 million approximately in 2009 and €3.3 million from 2010 onwards will be effected mainly in those areas that are not experiencing nurse shortages.

Nurses trained under the apprenticeship and diploma models undertaking part-time degree courses have been able to apply to their employer to have their course fees paid in return for a service commitment to the public health service. This initiative has been in operation since 2001 and was due for completion before now. It will be no longer be available for new entrants from 1 January 2009, resulting in a saving of €2m next year and about €3.8m per annum from 2010 onwards.

Further savings of €1.35m in 2009 will be achieved by reducing places on the various post-registration courses in specialist clinical practice.

These three cost saving measures will produce savings of €5m in 2009 and €8.45m in future years.

The investment in the undergraduate degree programme is a substantial and significant element of health service expenditure. My Department in cooperation with the HSE is initiating a study to review the clinical, educational, contractual and financial arrangements in place for General, Psychiatric and Intellectual Disability pre-registration nursing programmes established in 2002. (The undergraduate Midwifery and Integrated Children's and General nursing programmes are outside the terms of the review as they are relatively new programmes.)

The Review will assess the VFM achieved from monies allocated and utilised in the degree programme and will inform the scope for alternative approaches to nurse education.

The Review will also provide a systematic analysis of what is actually being achieved by expenditure under both capital and revenue headings and will provide sound evidence and a critical analysis of the preparation of nurses for practice. The findings will provide a basis to inform decision makers on the future direction of pre-registration nursing education programmes in Ireland.

The Review will be carried out in the context of nursing recruitment and retention patterns, future workforce projections and the overarching health service reform agenda.

There is no evidence that these savings, which represent less than 5% of overall nursing education expenditure, will impair the quality of front-line services in the health system here or that they will lead to higher overtime bills due to a shortage of fully qualified nurses.

Drug-Related Deaths.

Catherine Byrne

Ceist:

213 Deputy Catherine Byrne asked the Minister for Health and Children the status of the drug related death index; the number of drug-related deaths here to date in 2008, and each year since 2000; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38670/08]

In 2005 the Department of Health and Children and the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform jointly requested the Health Research Board to establish the National Drug Related Deaths Index (NDRDI). The Index was established to comply with Action 67 of ‘Building on Experience: National Drug Strategy 2001-2008': the Index is a census of drug and alcohol-related deaths and deaths among substance users in Ireland which is one of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addictions key indicators used to measure the consequences of the drug situation. The NDRDI database combines information from four sources: coronial records; hospital in-patient deaths (collected under the Hospital In-patient Enquiry Scheme); the methadone treatment database (Central Treatment List) and the General Mortality Register.

The Health Research Board will publish the first report of the NDRDI tomorrow (6th November 2008). The report will contain comprehensive data on drug-related deaths and deaths among drug users for the period 1998-2005 and I will arrange to have a copy of the report forwarded to the Deputy on publication.

The Health Research Board is currently collecting data for 2006 and 2007: however, data for 2008 are not available — due to a number of procedural issues in the Coroner's process, NDRDI data will always be a year to one and half years in arrears.

The publication of this report will mean that, for the first time, we will have accurate data on drug-related deaths and on deaths among drug users.

Health Repayment Scheme.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

214 Deputy Michael Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children when a person (details supplied) in County Mayo will receive payment under the health repayment scheme; and the stage their claim is at in view of the fact that they were told several months ago that their payment would issue in early July 2008 but this did not happen. [38676/08]

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

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

Services for People with Disabilities.

Tom Hayes

Ceist:

215 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for Health and Children the action she will take to deal with the issue of €83 million being diverted from disability services by the Health Service Executive since January 2008; if this money will be allocated to disability services; and if she will make a statement on the budgeting issues involved. [38684/08]

In the 2008 Budget, €50m was provided to the Health Service Executive (HSE) to fund a range of additional services under the Multi Annual Investment Programme for Disability. Although the commencement of the planned developments in disability services this year had been delayed due to a financial review, I am pleased to inform you that the Executive has informed the Department of Health and Children that it is now in the process of rolling out the planned developments. The HSE had indicated that due to the delayed start to some of these developments it expects to spend €33m of the €50m by the end of 2008. The resulting €17m time related savings were included in this Department's budgetary consolidation measures announced to the House in July 2008.

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.

Tom Hayes

Ceist:

216 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for Health and Children the locations at which the money allocated in the Health Service Executive budget for 2008 in respect of the roll out of the national screening programme for infants to detect cystic fibrosis was spent; the amount of money allocated in 2009 for this purpose; and if she will make a statement on the ongoing delays in this programme. [38685/08]

My Department has been advised by the Health Service Executive that it will not be possible to commence the programme of screening of newborns for cystic fibrosis as planned in 2008 and that the position will now require to be reviewed in the context of the total level of funding available to the HSE in 2009.

My Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to reply directly to the Deputy on the issues raised by him.

Parliamentary Questions.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

217 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason for the continuing failure of the Health Service Executive to reply to Parliamentary Question No. 387 of 17 June 2008. [38686/08]

My Department has been informed by the Health Service Executive that a reply was issued yesterday to the Deputy setting out the details requested for the HSE North West region. Having regard to the Deputy's question, my Department has asked the Executive's Parliamentary Affairs Division to ensure that a further response is issued to the Deputy providing the specific information requested in relation to Co. Donegal.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

218 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Health and Children the reason for the continuing failure of the Health Service Executive to reply to Parliamentary Question No. 188 of 10 July 2008. [38687/08]

My Department has been informed by the Health Service Executive that the compilation of the information sought by the Deputy is being finalised and that it will be forwarded to him shortly.

Health Services.

Tom Hayes

Ceist:

219 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for Health and Children if the Clonmel mental health care and day care unit is still planned for opening in February 2009; if staff have been recruited for this service; and if it will continue in view of budget constraints. [38691/08]

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 and funding for all health services has been provided as part of its overall vote. The Executive, therefore, is the appropriate body to consider the particular 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.

Medical Cards.

Tom Hayes

Ceist:

220 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for Health and Children her plans in relation to those people over 70 years who will lose their medical cards due to being over the income levels; if an arrangement will be made with health insurance companies to get cover for these individuals; if an arrangement will be made to enable them to be covered for existing conditions rather than waiting for years without insurance cover; if a solution has been reached in view of the judicial decision regarding risk equalisation; and the way the risk equalisation issue will impact on the numbers of older people with private health insurance in terms of the price of their premiums. [38692/08]

Following the recent Government decision to withdraw automatic entitlement to a medical card for persons aged 70 and over and to raise the means assessment threshold for persons in that age cohort, it is estimated that approximately 5% (20,000) of persons aged 70 and over will no longer qualify for a medical card.

Persons whose income is above the threshold and whose circumstances are such that it would cause them undue hardship to provide medical and surgical services for themselves may be eligible for a medical card at the discretion of the Health Service Executive.

With regard to private health insurance, under the Open Enrolment Regulations, insurers are entitled to apply waiting periods in respect of health insurance cover. It is a matter for the insurers to determine whether or not they would apply waiting periods to persons who may previously have had cover, gave it up and now wish to renew it. I am aware that insurers are sympathetic in such cases. For example, in the case of the VHI I understand that where a person has a break in cover, it will allow them to renew cover without having to serve any waiting periods arising from the break in cover, provided premiums are paid for the interim period. It is important to note that in the period since the granting of medical cards to all persons aged 70, the number of people in this age group holding private health insurance cover has increased.

On 16 July the Supreme Court found the 2003 Risk Equalisation Scheme to be ultra vires. Other elements of the regulatory framework including open enrolment, lifetime cover and community rating were not affected by the Court's decision. The Government remains committed to sustaining the principle of community rating in the private health insurance market. However, a community rated market which is unsupported by some form of risk equalisation mechanism is not sustainable. I am considering advice provided by the Attorney General, the Health Insurance Authority and the Department's consultant actuaries and will be bringing proposals to Government very shortly. Over 50% of the population choose to buy private health insurance. This level of coverage can be attributed to the fact that health insurance is affordable. It is affordable for all age groups because we have a community rated market. These are the reasons why we are working to maintain community rating across the market as a key principle of the regulatory framework.

Services for People with Disabilities.

David Stanton

Ceist:

221 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Health and Children the location of the 125 additional therapy posts in the disability and mental health services for which €10 million was provided in budget 2009; when she will begin recruitment for these posts; the number of posts and the grade to be filled in the various areas of expertise; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38695/08]

In Budget 2009, an additional €20m was allocated for health and education services for children with special educational needs. €10 million of this allocation will be provided to the Health Service Executive (HSE), and €10 million to the Department of Education and Science. It is intended that this additional funding will enable the services provided to children with special educational needs to be enhanced and strengthened. The additional €10m allocated to the HSE will provide for 125 additional therapy posts in the disability and mental health services, targeted at children of school-going age. This will provide an additional 90 posts in the disability services area, to include speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and psychologists for children's disability services. There will be 35 additional posts for the child & adolescent mental health services, including clinical psychologists, occupational therapists, speech & language therapists and social workers for new and existing multi-disciplinary teams.

The Deputy's specific question regarding location, recruitment, numbers and grades 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 Staff.

Michael Creed

Ceist:

222 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of staff employed in her Department’s press office; if he will outline the role and function of her Department’s press office and its relationship with his own press office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38871/08]

There are 6 Civil Servants (5.6 WTE) assigned to the Department's Communications Unit, which incorporates a Press Office, as well as an internal communications function. The Unit is headed by an: 1 Assistant Principal Officer, and also includes 2 Higher Executive Officers and 3 Executive Officers (2.6 WTE); one Higher Executive Officer and two Executive Officers work in the Press Office.

The Press Office is responsible for liaising with the media on my behalf, as well as on behalf of the Ministers of State and my Department. Among its functions are the timely processing of, and responding to, a large volume of media queries and requests for information on health issues from a wide range of media outlets. These include broadcast and print media at both local and national level and specialist medical publications.

The Press Office also makes the necessary media and communications arrangements for health announcements and works with sections in my Department to plan for upcoming launches, events and emerging issues. Liaison also occurs with Departmental sections to issue press releases and to provide timely responses to queries. An information sharing service is also provided whereby media alerts, transcripts, and notification of press announcements are provided to my Office, Ministers of State, Ministerial Advisers, MAC members and sections, as appropriate.

The Press Office also liaises with international organisations including the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) as well as providing representation on the National Public Health Emergency Team. In addition, liaison also occurs with the Government Information Services, other Departments and the HSE Press Office on issues regarding a coordinated response and more generally in relation to emerging issues. The Office also shares information with other stakeholders, such as the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.

There is only one Press Office in the Department of Health and Children. However, I do have a Special Adviser in my Department who acts as a media adviser.

Health Services.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

223 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will support a matter (details supplied). [38879/08]

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

Nursing Home Subventions.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

224 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children her estimate of the take-up of the fair deal scheme in each of the next five years; the funding shortfall from direct contributions by patients which will be carried by the State in each year; the funding to be met in each year by patients opting for deferral under the scheme; and the estimated annual recovery of funds deferred following the wind up of estates in each year. [38884/08]

The Nursing Homes Support Scheme, A Fair Deal, is designed to ensure that nursing home care is affordable for all who need it. As such, my colleague, the Minister for Health and Children, and I expect that the majority of subvented and unsubvented residents in private nursing homes will apply for the scheme upon its introduction. Thereafter, the scheme will apply to all new entrants to public, voluntary and approved private nursing homes who wish to avail of State support towards nursing home costs.

The following table sets out the most recently updated estimates of the total number of nursing home residents, the cost of contributions by residents and the cost of financial support by the State in the first 5 years of the Scheme. The costings take a whole of system approach. For example, they take account of existing public residents who will continue to pay public long-stay charges towards their care as well as those paying contributions under A Fair Deal. I would like to emphasise that figures are based on 2009 estimates, including estimated 2009 costs and prices. As the costings are extremely sensitive to assumptions about price and available capacity, the actual numbers supported under the scheme will be, to a significant degree, contingent upon the prices agreed between private nursing homes and the National Treatment Purchase Fund, and developments in the private nursing home sector.

Table 1: Long-Term Residential Care Costs — Estimate

Year 1

Year 2

Year 3

Year 4

Year 5

Estimated Approx. Number in Long-term Residential Care

23,300

23,800

24,300

24,800

25,300

Total Cost of Long-term Residential Care

€1,252m

€1,280m

€1,310m

€1,324m

€1,345m

Estimated total value of income contributions only from nursing home residents

€230m

€246m

€266m

€274m

€280m

Total Exchequer Expenditure Requirement (State support plus Ancillary State support)

€1,022m

€1,034m

€1,044m

€1,050m

€1,065m

Estimated total value of deferred contributions

€92m

€129m

€168m

€168m

€171m

Finally, the Deputy has asked about the estimated annual recovery of deferred funds following the settlement of estates. It is not feasible to estimate this with any degree of reliability. This is because the recovery of such funds will be contingent upon the a range of factors, including the life expectancy of nursing homes residents, the rate of further deferral by spouses, partners and connected persons, the life expectancy of such spouses, partners and connected persons and the time taken to settle individual estates. We will, however, continually monitor the amounts being recovered in order to underpin future assumptions and costings for the scheme.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

225 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children the distribution by the projected length of stay in nursing homes of persons to be admitted under the fair deal nursing home scheme which underpins the cost estimates in each of the next five years. [38885/08]

I would firstly like to clarify for the Deputy that the cost estimates which underpin the Nursing Homes Support Scheme, A Fair Deal, are based predominantly on average length of stay rather than on the distribution of nursing home residents by projected length of stay. However, the distribution data which was used to inform the costings for the scheme was taken from the Department of Health and Children's Long-Stay Activity Statistics.

The Long-Stay Activity Statistics 2006 offer the following distribution of long-stay patients by length of stay:

Less than 3 mths-24.5%

3 to 6 mths-12.7%

6 to 12 mths-13.6%

1 to 2 yrs-15.8%

2 to 4 yrs-17%

4 to 6 yrs-8.2%

6 to 10 yrs-5.8%

Over 10 yrs-2.4%

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

226 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children the current and capital expenditure which has been incurred to date in respect of the decentralisation projects which have been deferred until a further review occurs in 2011. [38896/08]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

227 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of persons who have been relocated to each of the decentralised locations established by units or agencies under her Department; the floor areas and occupancy capacity of each of the facilities concerned; and the date by which it is intended to complete the transfer of remaining staff. [38911/08]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

228 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of staff moves that have been necessitated by the decentralisation programme in units or agencies in her Department distinguishing the moves at managerial or technical level. [38926/08]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

229 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children the facilities in Dublin which units or agencies under her Department, plan to vacate as a result of the decentralisation programme; the floor areas involved; and when it is planned that they will be realised. [38941/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 226 to 229, inclusive, together.

As the Deputy will be aware my Department is not one of the Departments scheduled for decentralisation under the Government's Decentralisation Programme. To date fifty-five civil servants have transferred to decentralising Departments from my Department. Further details in respect of the transfer of these officers are available from the decentralising Departments.

Information in relation to units or agencies under my Department will be provided separately to the Deputy.

Medical Cards.

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

230 Deputy Jim O’Keeffe asked the Minister for Health and Children if she will confirm that EU nationals over the age of 70 years resident here who are entitled to medical cards under Regulation (EC) 1408/71 will continue to be entitled to medical cards irrespective of means. [38948/08]

Regulation (EC) 1408/71 coordinates health and social security arrangements among EU member states (it also applies in the remaining EEA member states and Switzerland). Under these provisions, people who are insured with (covered by) the healthcare system of one EU member state are entitled to receive healthcare in the public system of another member state in certain circumstances, at the cost of the member state in which they are insured. Such persons may include people who are employed in one member state and resident in another and their dependants, pensioners of one member state who reside in another and their dependants and visitors to one member state from another.

The provisions of Regulation (EC) 1408/71 supersede national eligibility provisions. Persons residing or staying in Ireland who are covered by these provisions are entitled free of charge to all medical treatment provided for by Irish legislation, where the cost of this treatment is payable by a member state other than Ireland; those residing here receive a medical card as evidence of their entitlement under the Regulation. Age is irrelevant to entitlements under the Regulation.

There has been no change to entitlements under the Regulation and therefore, no change in the position of persons of any age whose medical card is provided pursuant to these entitlements.

National Disability Strategy.

David Stanton

Ceist:

231 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Health and Children the yearly expenditure to date on the National Disability Strategy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39270/08]

The National Disability Strategy provides a framework of supports for people with disabilities. The main elements of the Strategy are:

Disability Act, 2005;

Education for persons with Special Educational Needs Act, 2004;

Sectoral Plans published in 2006 by six Government Departments;

Citizens Information Act, 2007.

The National Disability Strategy specifically provides for a targeted Investment Programme, which was announced in the 2005 Budget, of some €900m capital and revenue funding for the period 2006 to 2009, to build capacity in priority areas of support services for people with disabilities.

In respect of the health element of the National Disability Strategy, additional funding of €75m was allocated in both 2006 and 2007 and €50m in 2008. In the 2008 Budget, €50m was provided to the Health Service Executive (HSE) to fund a range of additional services under the Multi Annual Investment Programme for Disability. Although the commencement of the planned developments in disability services this year had been delayed due to a financial review, I am pleased to inform you that the Executive has informed the Department of Health and Children that it is now in the process of rolling out the planned developments. The HSE has indicated that due to the delayed start to some of these developments, it expects to spend €33m of the €50m by the end of 2008. The resulting €17m time related savings were included in this Department's budgetary consolidation measures announced to the House in July 2008.

In Budget 2009, an additional €10m was allocated to the HSE. The funding for 2009 will provide for 90 additional therapy posts in the disability services area, targeted at children of school going age.

With regard to the yearly expenditure incurred to date on the health element of the National Disability Strategy, this is a matter for the Health Service Executive. Accordingly, my Department has requested the Parliamentary Affairs Division of the Executive to arrange to have this matter investigated and to have a reply issued directly to the Deputy.

Public Transport.

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

232 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Transport if he will report on the recent settlement of a legal action taken by the operators of a company (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38576/08]

The case in question, Digital Messenger v the Minister for Transport, was settled between the parties on 28th October 2008. The principal element of the settlement provides for the carrying out of an enquiry under section 25(2) of the Transport Act, 1958 of the decision to authorise the re-routing of the Dublin Bus 41X service in Swords. The enquiry will result in a report being submitted to me for final determination. In addition, the settlement provides for my Department giving early consideration to applications for licences under the Road Transport Act 1932 currently within my Department for express bus services from Swords to Dublin City.

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

233 Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Transport the funding that has been allocated towards the roll-out of green routes and quality bus corridors (details supplied) in County Cork; if funding will still be available in 2009. [38675/08]

The Green Routes referred to by the Deputy constitute parts of a single Green Route under the terms of the Cork Area Strategic Plan (CASP), namely the Carrigaline/Ringaskiddy Green Route. The Green Route in question contains both City and County sections.

To date, my Department has provided a total of €466,522 in respect of the Carrigaline/Ringaskiddy Green Route. The bulk of this expenditure has been in the City Council area, though some design costs have been incurred in the County Council area.

€20 million will be available from my Department for bus priority and park and ride measures in the cities of Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford in 2009. My Department will be seeking proposals shortly from the local authorities in each of these cities with a view to the allocation of this funding.

It will be a matter for the Local Authorities concerned to make whatever proposals they consider most appropriate.

Rail Services.

Joan Burton

Ceist:

234 Deputy Joan Burton asked the Minister for Transport the expenditure allocated for 2009 in respect of preliminary work on metro west and the Dublin rail interconnector respectively; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38855/08]

Provision has been made for expenditure next year on both the DART Underground (as the Interconnector is now known) and Metro West, which will facilitate significant progress in planning and design. The precise allocation for the projects will be determined in the coming weeks taking account of the out-turn of expenditure in 2008.

Departmental Staff.

Michael Creed

Ceist:

235 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Transport the number of staff employed in his Department’s press office; if he will outline the role and function of his Department’s press office and its relationship with his own press office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38875/08]

There is only one press office in the Department in which there are four staff. The Press Office is responsible for the management and dissemination of information to the media.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

236 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Transport the current and capital expenditure which has been incurred to date in respect of the decentralisation projects which have been deferred until a further review occurs in 2011. [38900/08]

No expenditure, either current or capital, has been incurred in respect of the decentralisation projects which the Government has deferred pending a review in 2011.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

237 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Transport the number of persons who have been relocated to each of the decentralised locations established by units or agencies under his Department; the floor areas and occupancy capacity of each of the facilities concerned; and the date by which it is intended to complete the transfer of remaining staff. [38915/08]

10 posts from the Department's Road Haulage function and 40 Road Safety Authority Posts were decentralised to Loughrea and the move was completed in July 2007. The decentralisation of an additional 62 Road Safety Authority posts (which were not part of the original Government decision) to Ballina was also achieved. The Irish Aviation Authority (IAA) has recruited 36 staff for Shannon who are now located there. Details of the occupancy capacity of each of the facilities is a matter for the Office of Public Works. As a result of the recent Government Budget Announcement the remainder of the decentralisation moves for my Department have been postponed and are due to be reviewed in 2011. These are listed in the table.

Organisation

Location

Total No. of Posts due to decentralise

National Roads Authority

Ballinasloe

112

Irish Aviation Authority

Shannon

100

CIE Group

Mitchelstown

200

A combination of accident investigation functions & other safety related areas

Drogheda

37

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

238 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Transport the number of staff moves that have been necessitated by the decentralisation programme in units or agencies in his Department distinguishing the moves at managerial or technical level. [38930/08]

Work was completed in respect of the decentralisation of both Departmental and Road Safety Authority staff in July 2007. The decentralisation of 50 staff to Loughrea was among the priority moves in the Government's programme. This comprised 40 staff of the Road Safety Authority, including 2 staff at managerial level, and no technical staff. The move also involved 10 Departmental staff, that included 1 staff member at managerial level, and again, none at technical level. Decentralisation of an additional 62 Road Safety Authority posts (which were not part of the original government decision) to Ballina was also achieved. This included 1 staff member at managerial level, and 3 technical staff.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

239 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Transport the facilities in Dublin which units or agencies under his Department, plan to vacate as a result of the decentralisation programme; the floor areas involved; and when it is planned that they will be realised. [38945/08]

There are currently no plans by my Department to vacate any facilities in Dublin as a result of the decentralisation programme. Following the recent Government Budget announcement, the decentralisation programme for my Department has been postponed and is due to be reviewed in 2011.

Departmental Expenditure.

David Stanton

Ceist:

240 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Transport the yearly expenditure to date on the national disability strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39275/08]

My Department expended Euro 8.3 million in 2006 and Euro 10.6 million in 2007 under the National Disability Strategy on accessibility improvements to existing public transport infrastructure and facilities. For this year the allocation is Euro 14.0 million. This is in addition to the significant resources being provided under Transport 21 to ensure that accessibility is built into new public transport infrastructure and rolling stock as a matter of course.

Closed Circuit Television Systems.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

241 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if prosecutions can be mounted by the Garda on the basis of closed circuit television footage alone in respect of assaults; and if CCTV footage has been used by the Garda in the O’Connell Street area to identify those who become involved in attacks. [38578/08]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that CCTV footage has been extensively used by An Garda Síochána to assist in identifying the perpetrators of crimes, including crimes in the O'Connell Street area. In all cases where there is a question of law to be decided, an investigation file will be submitted to the Law Officers, who will then decide, based on the evidence available, whether or not proceedings should be initiated.

Human Rights Issues.

Mary White

Ceist:

242 Deputy Mary Alexandra White asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if the State recognises the self-chosen gender of transgendered people; and if not, his plans to change this situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38592/08]

I assume the Deputy is referring to the system of registration as operated under the Civil Registration Act 2004. Policy in the Act is a matter for the Department of Social and Family Affairs.

Mary White

Ceist:

243 Deputy Mary Alexandra White asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he has received recommendations from the Equality Authority regarding recommended measures to enhance equality for transgendered people; and if so, his plans to act upon such recommendations. [38594/08]

I have received no such recommendations from the Equality Authority. The Deputy will note that the prohibition on discrimination on the ground of gender in the Employment Equality Acts 1998 to 2008 and the Equal Status Acts 2000 to 2008, regarding employment and the supply of and access to goods and services respectively, also applies to transgendered persons.

Data Protection.

Mary White

Ceist:

244 Deputy Mary Alexandra White asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on whether an absence of an obligation to update the records of transgendered people is in breach of the Data Protection Act 1998, which states that the data shall be accurate, and, when necessary, kept up to date; and, if so, his plans to address the situation. [38595/08]

The Deputy will appreciate that it is not open to me as Minister to give legal advice on specific matters concerning the operation of the Data Protection Acts.

Immigration Statistics.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

245 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform further to Parliamentary Question No. 294 of 29 October 2008, the numbers of the top 20 nationalities registered with the Garda National Immigration Bureau as students. [38596/08]

In compliance with the provisions of Section 9 of the Immigration Act 2004, a register of Non-Nationals is maintained by An Garda Síochána. Student permission is granted under two different permissions (stamps). Stamp 2 allows limited access to the labour market without an employment permit and Stamp 2A prohibits working. The following two tables provide a breakdown of the number of students recorded on each stamp as at the 3rd November 2008.

Non-National

Stamp

No.

1

Chinese

Stamp 2

7,633

2

Brazilian

Stamp 2

4,828

3

Mauritian

Stamp 2

3,656

4

Indian

Stamp 2

2,452

5

Pakistani

Stamp 2

2,036

6

Malaysian

Stamp 2

1,431

7

American

Stamp 2

1,175

8

Korean

Stamp 2

1,134

9

Bangladeshi

Stamp 2

681

10

Mongolian

Stamp 2

587

11

South African

Stamp 2

355

12

Canadian

Stamp 2

341

13

Nigerian

Stamp 2

289

14

Japanese

Stamp 2

211

15

Kuwaiti

Stamp 2

181

16

Mexican

Stamp 2

165

17

Russian

Stamp 2

145

18

Argentinean

Stamp 2

126

19

Nepalese

Stamp 2

122

20

Turkish

Stamp 2

99

Non-National

Stamp

No.

1

USA

Stamp 2A

478

2

Chinese

Stamp 2A

278

3

Philippine

Stamp 2A

225

4

Mexican

Stamp 2A

168

5

Indian

Stamp 2A

106

6

Korean

Stamp 2A

102

7

South African

Stamp 2A

102

8

Japanese

Stamp 2A

92

9

Malaysian

Stamp 2A

86

10

Pakistani

Stamp 2A

86

11

Nigerian

Stamp 2A

82

12

Brazilian

Stamp 2A

73

13

Russian

Stamp 2A

72

14

Mauritian

Stamp 2A

42

15

Kuwaiti

Stamp 2A

35

16

Ukrainian

Stamp 2A

33

17

Australian

Stamp 2A

31

18

Zimbabwean

Stamp 2A

29

19

Canadian

Stamp 2A

27

20

Bangladeshi

Stamp 2A

26

Crime Levels.

Mary Upton

Ceist:

246 Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of bicycles reported stolen to the Garda in 2007; the number of bicycles recovered by the Garda; the number of persons prosecuted for stealing bicycles in 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38608/08]

The Garda Síochána Act 2005 makes provision for the compilation and publication of crime statistics by the Central Statistics Office, as the national statistical agency, and the CSO has established a dedicated unit for this purpose. I have requested the CSO to provide the statistics sought by the Deputy directly to her.

Crime Prevention.

Mary Upton

Ceist:

247 Deputy Mary Upton asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his views on establishing a Dublin divisional bike theft unit to attempt to reduce the number of bicycles which are stolen in the capital each year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38609/08]

I refer to the Deputy's Parliamentary Questions number 967 & 990 of 24th September 2008 in which I outlined the measures put in place by the Garda authorities to target this type of criminality.

I am advised by the Garda authorities that this type of crime is best addressed and targeted by Divisional and District management teams, as local crime trends can be monitored and appropriate crime prevention and detection initiatives can be put in place. An analysis of this type of criminality was carried out on a national level and it was decided that this can be dealt with through existing Divisional and District resources without the establishment of dedicated units on a national, regional or divisional basis.

Decentralisation Programme.

Charles Flanagan

Ceist:

248 Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the reason the decentralisation of the Equality Authority is being fast-tracked at a time when relocation has been halted in respect of most projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38614/08]

Charles Flanagan

Ceist:

250 Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the way decentralisation of the Equality Authority will save money in view of the fact that no Equality Authority staff members have applied to be transferred; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38616/08]

Charles Flanagan

Ceist:

251 Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the way he will integrate the corporate services of the Equality Authority and the Irish Human Rights Commission if one body is to be decentralised to Roscrea and the other is to remain in Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38617/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 248, 250 and 251 together.

There are already fifteen staff in rented accommodation in Roscrea. The Deputy will be aware that the decentralisation of the Equality Authority to Roscrea was announced by the then Minister for Finance in December 2003. Arising out of the most recent Budget statement from the Minister for Finance on 14 October this year, the review of the decentralisation programme identified a number of projects which were to continue to be progressed at this time, on the basis that those cases were already advanced.

In that context it was decided that an additional fifteen posts from the Equality Authority would transfer to Roscrea to join fifteen staff members already working there bringing the numbers serving there up to thirty. In addition, a number of my Department's other decentralisation projects will move ahead in the immediate future. These include the transfer of 186 INIS posts to Tipperary Town and 150 to Roscommon from the Property Regulatory Authority. It is also intended to facilitate the transfer of additional staff from the Equality Tribunal to Portlaoise. All this will result in the transfer out of Dublin of over eight hundred posts which is almost ninety per cent of my Department's overall target numbers.

It is not true to state that no staff have applied to be transferred to the Authority's office in Roscrea. Of the fifteen posts now due to transfer to Roscrea, around half of these posts will be filled by existing staff members, who are currently serving in the Authority and who have been appointed or promoted on the basis that they will work in Roscrea. The remaining posts will be sourced in the normal way from the Central Applications Facility.

Decentralisation to Roscrea will inevitably lead to a savings of significant resources for the tax payer particularly in the context of reduced rent costs when compared to the cost of renting expensive city centre accommodation in Dublin. I am sure that the Deputy will agree that the continued success of my Department's decentralisation programme will benefit all those concerned, including local organisations and individuals, towns and communities and in particular those people who are anxious to live and work in counties Laois, Tipperary and South Offaly.

In relation to the matter of integrating administrative and back office facilities between the Equality Authority and the Irish Human Rights Commission, my Department is currently examining the issues which need to be addressed in order to achieve these efficiencies. These areas are likely to include shared IT and telecommunications facilities as well as office accommodation which is being addressed in the context of the decentralisation to Roscrea of the remaining elements of the Authority. I also understand that the two organisations themselves have already had initial discussions in order to move matters forward.

Departmental Expenditure.

Charles Flanagan

Ceist:

249 Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the rationale for cutting the budget of the Equality Authority by 43% and that of the Irish Human Rights Commission by 24% when most agencies within his Department have had their budgets cut by between 2% and 5%; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38615/08]

Charles Flanagan

Ceist:

252 Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform his reasoning for the cuts to the equality and rights infrastructure here at a time when international experts are working on strengthening equality and rights protections in view of global economic turmoil; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38618/08]

Charles Flanagan

Ceist:

253 Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the reason his recent decision regarding the Equality Authority has pre-empted the outcome of a value for money review of the Equality Authority being carried out by an external agency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38619/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 249, 252 and 253 together.

The context in which financial provision has been made by the Government for the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Equality Authority for 2009 is as indicated in the Budget Announcement of 14 October 2008. In both cases, while I accept that reduced budgets will cause some difficulties, I also consider that there is sufficient funding provided in 2009 for these bodies to enable them to discharge their core activities.

The Value for Money review of the Equality Authority is an analysis of past performance in achieving the tasks set out in its strategic plan to date. The Budget decisions do not pre-empt the outcome of that review. I would also remind the deputy that the provision in 2009 for the Equality Tribunal — the body which adjudicates on claims of inequality — has been increased by 15%.

On a more general level, I should also state that as I indicated in my contribution to the budget debate I had decided that the main priority in the Justice area in 2009 will be tackling crime. In that regard, decisions about funding reflect that priority with the result that in a small number of areas budgets have been reduced significantly. Moreover, in line with Government policies generally I have asked all bodies to significantly reduce their spending on consultants, advertising and other non core items.

Questions Nos. 250 and 251 answered with Question No. 248.
Questions Nos. 252 and 253 answered with Question No. 249.

Crime Prevention.

Tony Gregory

Ceist:

254 Deputy Tony Gregory asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform further to Parliamentary Question No. 165 of 2 October 2008 if he will ask his Department officials to review his reply in the context of the research document provided by the Library of the Houses of the Oireachtas (details supplied) which links the two organisations in question. [38648/08]

I have reviewed the newspaper cutting which the Deputy has provided. The position remains as set out in my reply to him in Parliamentary Question No. 165 of 2 October 2008.

Cash Seizures.

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

255 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the amounts seized and returned to the State under sections 39 and 62 of the Criminal Justice Act 1994 each year to date in 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38655/08]

I am informed that the data being sought by the Deputy is currently being collated by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and will be forwarded in correspondence to officials in my Department as soon as possible. Upon receipt of this data, I will arrange for it to be forwarded to the Deputy.

Deportation Orders.

Sean Sherlock

Ceist:

256 Deputy Seán Sherlock asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the status of an application for leave to remain by a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38693/08]

The person concerned, accompanied by her three minor children, applied for asylum on 21 December 2004. Her asylum application was refused following consideration of her case by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and, on appeal, the Refugee Appeals Tribunal.

Subsequently, in accordance with Section 3 of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended), the person concerned was informed, by letter dated 29 September 2008, that the Minister proposed to make Deportation Orders in respect of her and her children. She was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of leaving the State voluntarily, of consenting to the making of Deportation Orders or of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why she and her children should be allowed to remain temporarily in the State. In addition, she was notified of her entitlement to apply for Subsidiary Protection in the State in accordance with the European Communities (Eligibility for Protection) Regulations 2006 (S.I. No. 518 of 2006). The person concerned submitted an application for Subsidiary Protection in the State, in respect of herself and her children, in accordance with these Regulations and this application is under consideration at present. When consideration of this application has been completed, the person concerned will be notified in writing of the outcome.

In the event that the Subsidiary Protection application is refused, the case file of the person concerned, including all representations submitted, will then be considered under Section 3 (6) of the Immigration Act, 1999 (as amended) and Section 5 of the Refugee Act, 1996 (as amended) on the prohibition of refoulement. When this latter consideration has been completed, the case file of the person concerned is passed to me for decision.

Departmental Staff.

Michael Creed

Ceist:

257 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of staff employed in his Department’s press office; if he will outline the role and function of his Department’s press office and its relationship with his own press office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38872/08]

Responsibility for providing a press service to my Department myself lies with a single Press Office which is staffed by a Press Adviser and four administrative staff. The principal responsibilities are to disseminate information to the media regarding my ongoing work as Minister and a lot of the Department and to provide prompt replies to press queries.

Garda Deployment.

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

258 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will support a matter (details supplied). [38883/08]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that the location referred to is in Clontarf Garda Sub-District and is patrolled by foot and mobile patrols from that Garda station. Patrols are supplemented as necessary by the District Mountain Bike, Detective and Drug Units, the Divisional Crime Task Force and Traffic Corps personnel.

A member of the local Community Policing Unit is also allocated to this area and liaises with the local community providing crime prevention and security advice. Any specific issues raised receive appropriate attention by local Garda members.

I am further informed that local Garda management is aware of two anti-social behaviour incidents this year in the general area referred to by the Deputy. Current policing policy in the area is predicated on the prevention of crime, including crimes of violence against persons and property, the prevention of public order offences and the maintenance of an environment conducive to the improvement of the quality of life of the residents. This strategy is, and will continue to be, central to the delivery of the policing service in this area.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

259 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the current and capital expenditure which has been incurred to date in respect of the decentralisation projects which have been deferred until a further review occurs in 2011. [38897/08]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

260 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of persons who have been relocated to each of the decentralised locations established by units or agencies under his Department; the floor areas and occupancy capacity of each of the facilities concerned; and the date by which it is intended to complete the transfer of remaining staff. [38912/08]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

261 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of staff moves that have been necessitated by the decentralisation programme in units or agencies in his Department distinguishing the moves at managerial or technical level. [38927/08]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

262 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the facilities in Dublin which units or agencies under his Department, plan to vacate as a result of the decentralisation programme; the floor areas involved; and when it is planned that they will be realised. [38942/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 259 to 262, inclusive, together.

My Department's decentralisation programme has been extremely successful. Five hundred and fifty posts have moved to office accommodation which has been sourced by the Office of Public Works. This is sixty per cent of the overall target numbers and the Justice and Equality family now has a presence in all of the seven locations covered by the programme.

The five hundred and fifty staff have been sourced from the Central Applications Facility in accordance with the protocols agreed between staff and management. This has necessitated the movement of staff both into and out of my Department and its agencies as well as the reassignment of existing staff within the Department. In all cases, this has been managed in a way that ensures that there is no diminution of services to the public. I would refer the Deputy to my replies to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 368 and 403 of 30 September 2008 and No. 344 of 21 October 2008.

The Deputy will be aware that the bulk of expenditure under the decentralisation programme is in respect of the provision of office accommodation and the associated capital costs and these are a matter for the Office of Public Works. In terms of non-capital expenditure, to date, my Department has incurred costs of around €2.5 m. in relation to the provision of office equipment, training and I.C.T. Arising out of the Minister for Finance's recent Budget statement, the review of the decentralisation programme identified priority elements including a number of my Department's projects which are to be progressed at this time. This will result in the transfer out of Dublin of over eight hundred posts which is almost ninety per cent of my Department's overall target numbers.

The Office of Public Works is responsible for the provision of office accommodation both in Dublin and in the decentralised locations. That Office is carrying out a rationalisation programme in respect of office accommodation in Dublin which has been freed up as a result of staff relocating under the decentralisation programme. My Department, along with all Government Departments, will of course collaborate with the OPW in that exercise.

EU Treaties.

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

263 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if the European elections due in June 2009 will take place under the terms of the Nice treaty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38567/08]

The powers and composition of the European Parliament are set down in the EU Treaties. If the Lisbon Treaty has not been ratified by all 27 EU Member States in order to allow it to enter into force before June, the European Parliament elections will be conducted under the provisions of the Nice Treaty.

The decision on the basis on which the European Parliament elections are to be held will be taken collectively by the European Council, probably in December.

International Conventions.

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

264 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the situation with respect to discussions to extend the seabed sovereignty of Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38569/08]

I take it that the Deputy is referring to the legal regime governing the exploration and exploitation of Ireland's continental shelf.

The regime governing the exploration and exploitation of the continental shelf in international law is set down by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Under that Convention a coastal state is entitled to a continental shelf 200 nautical miles (approx. 370 km) in breadth regardless of whether its continental shelf physically extends that far, subject only to the similar rights of its coastal neighbours. It may also claim a broader shelf where it can show that the natural prolongation of its land territory under water actually extends beyond that limit. A claim to extended shelf must be supported by scientific and technical data and be established to the satisfaction of the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, which was created by the Convention for this purpose.

Ireland's shelf naturally extends beyond 200 nautical miles both to the west and the south of the country. For the purposes of our claims we have divided our shelf into three sectors.

The first sector is to the south-west of the country on the edge of an area known as the Porcupine Abyssal Plain. This sector (which is approximately half the size of the State's land territory) is not disputed by any other state and was therefore the subject of Ireland's first submission to the Commission, made in May 2005. Based upon this submission, the Commission issued its recommendations on the limits of this claimed area in April 2007, allowing Ireland to designate an area of extended shelf of up to 39,000 square kilometres. The Government has accepted these recommendations and work is now in hand to designate the additional seabed enclosed by these limits as areas to which the Continental Shelf Act 1968 will apply.

The second sector claimed extended continental shelf is in the Celtic Sea and the Bay of Biscay where there are unresolved boundary issues with the UK, France and Spain. This sector was the subject of a joint submission by the four countries in May 2006. It covers an area of approximately 80,000 square kilometres, which is slightly larger than the State's land territory. The joint submission was examined by a sub-commission established to examine the evidence submitted in support of it. The four states met with the sub-commission on a number of occasions, most recently in September. The meeting was positive and the sub-commission has now formulated its draft recommendations. These recommendations have in turn been transmitted to the full Commission and will be considered by it for approval in March 2009. The question of division of the area between the four states concerned will now be considered after the recommendations have been made.

Ireland also claims continental shelf in the part of the North-East Atlantic Ocean known as the Hatton-Rockall Area, which extends up to 500 nautical miles from the coast. Ireland and the UK agreed a maritime boundary on the continental shelf here in 1988 but this is not accepted by Iceland or Denmark (on behalf of the Færoe Islands), which also make extensive overlapping claims. The four countries have met regularly since 2001 in an effort to resolve the issues arising from overlapping claims but have recently concluded that they are unable to reach agreement at the present time. Nevertheless, the four are keeping the matter under regular review and, in the meantime, Ireland will proceed to make a national submission to the Commission in respect of the Hatton-Rockall Area by the deadline of May 2009.

Undocumented Irish Emigrants.

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

265 Deputy Dinny McGinley asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his recent efforts on behalf of the undocumented Irish in the US and the prospects he holds for the action that can be taken in the immediate future. [38563/08]

The Government is strongly committed to trying to resolve the plight of the undocumented Irish in the United States. This remains a key priority and forms an integral part of the ongoing efforts to reform our overall migration arrangements with the US. The agreement reached on 24 September to establish a new Working Holiday Agreement between Ireland and the US is a very positive development in this regard.

I emphasised the Government's strong support for the undocumented during my visit to the US in September. Among the political figures with whom I discussed the matter were the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy; the Chairwoman of the House sub-Committee on Immigration, Zoe Lofgren; Congressman James Sensenbrenner and the House Friends of Ireland Group. While most are generally supportive of our position, they emphasised that passing immigration legislation will continue to present significant challenges for the foreseeable future. In New York, I met with the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform and announced the allocation of an additional $50,000 to that organisation, bringing total Government funding to the undocumented's main lobby group since 2006 to $235,000.

I can assure the Deputy that the Government will be prioritising the issue of the undocumented in our early contact with the new US Administration and Congress.

Diplomatic Contacts.

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

266 Deputy Charlie O’Connor asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he is monitoring political developments in Ukraine; his contacts in the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38647/08]

The collapse of Ukraine's governing coalition in September and the calling in October of the third parliamentary elections in three years are matters of concern. However, Ukraine is a young democracy and has already travelled a great distance in terms of reform, though clearly further reforms are necessary, including clarifying the roles of the President and the government.

The current governmental difficulties have come at a bad time given the present world financial crisis. At the same time, I was encouraged by the fact that all sides buried their political differences in order to ensure the passing of vital legislation last week which will allow Ukraine to receive a $16.5 billion IMF loan to maintain its economic and financial stability.

At the 9th September EU-Ukraine Summit, the EU reiterated its support for Ukraine's reform efforts and made clear its determination to complete negotiations on a new EU-Ukraine Association Agreement. In the meantime, the EU continues to work with Ukraine on its reform programme, and is exploring ways to further develop links with that country.

Finally I should say that I hope to be able to meet with my Ukrainian colleague in the period ahead to discuss bilateral and international issues.

World Trade Organisation Talks.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

267 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in regard to the World Trade Organisation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38699/08]

The most recent ministerial meeting held in the framework of the current round of WTO negotiations ended inconclusively in Geneva on 29 July 2008, although progress was achieved on many of the issues covered by the negotiations. In the end, the breakdown came as a result of disagreement, primarily between the United States and India, on a special safeguard mechanism (SSM) for agricultural producers in developing countries: in effect a mechanism to protect farmers in developing countries from surges in imports of agricultural produce.

Ireland had wanted to see an ambitious, fair and balanced outcome to the negotiations, one which would respect Ireland's national interests and reflect adequately the aim of the Doha Development Agenda to give greater prominence to development issues, especially the needs of the poorest developing countries. Ireland regretted the failure to conclude the WTO negotiations and we retain a clear interest in the evolution of fair and sustainable international frameworks to facilitate trade.

WTO rule making and multilateral trade liberalisation has had a profound impact on Ireland's development. Against that background, the Government's position with regard to the WTO negotiations has been balanced and consistent: we have always wanted to see a successful outcome, but not at the expense of unfair and unrealistic provisions in respect of agriculture. Ireland's view is that the EU had made very significant contributions to the negotiations and that the other WTO negotiating partners should make equivalent contributions. However, due to a combination of political factors in some major countries, it is most unlikely that the negotiations will be resumed before summer 2009.

Foreign Conflicts.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

268 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in relation to the war in Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38700/08]

As I stated in the House on 9th October last in reply to a Parliamentary Question, I am deeply concerned about the situation in Afghanistan.

The security situation, of course, gives grounds for particular concern. The UN Secretary General concluded in his most recent report on Afghanistan, issued on 23rd September, that the situation deteriorated markedly over the last six months. He noted that the influence of the insurgency had expanded beyond the traditionally volatile areas and had increased in provinces neighbouring Kabul. Incidents stemming from cross-border activities from Pakistan had increased significantly and attacks on aid-related targets and NGOs had become more frequent and more deadly. Tragically, the tactics of the insurgency, as well as military operations, had caused the number of civilian deaths to rise sharply.

Casualty figures for the period since the Secretary General's report give no grounds for optimism that the situation is likely to improve in the near future. The suicide attack on the Ministry of Information and Culture in Kabul last week, in which, in addition to the suicide bomber, at least two people were killed, shows the capacity of the insurgency to strike at Government targets in the heart of the capital. The recent killings of foreign aid workers are especially tragic and regrettable and will certainly impact on reconstruction efforts and humanitarian operations.

The crisis in Afghanistan is further complicated by the security situation in neighbouring Pakistan where Taliban and other foreign militants have been sheltered by regional leaders in areas bordering Afghanistan. As a result, cross-border insurgency from Pakistan into Afghanistan remains a significant problem.

One significant and encouraging development, however, is the recent improvement in relations between the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan and their agreement to cooperate to combat cross-border insurgency. I welcome, in particular, the meeting between the Foreign Ministers of the two countries in New York in September in which they reiterated their resolve to fight jointly extremist elements along the Pakistan-Afghan border and the "mini-jirga" tribal meeting in Islamabad last week, where Afghan and Pakistani leaders agreed to cooperate more closely to fight the insurgency on both sides of their common border.

One strategy that the mini-jirga agreed to adopt is to begin discussions with the "opposition" understood to mean the Taliban. This could certainly involve risk, but the approach of trying to dissociate the many Taliban members who are not strongly ideological fundamentalists from their hardcore, militant, leadership — leaving the latter more vulnerable to defeat — may be a risk worth taking.

EU Enlargement.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

269 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in regard to future enlargement of the European Union; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38701/08]

With the fifth wave of enlargement, twelve new countries joined the European Union, on 1 May 2004 and 1 January 2007, bringing the total membership from 15 to 27. In addition there are two candidate countries currently engaged in accession negotiations — Croatia and Turkey — and a third candidate country — the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, with which negotiations have not yet opened. The European Council at Thessaloniki in 2003 confirmed that the other countries of the Western Balkans have a European perspective, and the EU has reiterated that their future lies in the Union, once they have met the required political and economic standards and carried out the necessary reforms to align themselves with EU law.

The accession negotiations with Croatia are proceeding well and the Commission's annual assessment on their preparations for membership will be published today, 5 November. Provided Croatia can maintain the pace of its reform process, it may be able to complete its accession negotiations by the end of 2009.

The December 2006 European Council set out the principles governing the EU's approach to enlargement. Firstly, the EU will focus on those countries to which it has already given a prospect of EU membership. Secondly, each step forward by a country in the process depends on that country's own progress in meeting the necessary conditions at each stage of the negotiations. Thirdly, the EU must communicate the realities of enlargement more clearly to EU citizens and must also take account of the EU's capacity to integrate new members. Each country is judged on its own merits, with the pace of the negotiations depending on the results of reforms in the negotiating country.

Although some member states, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, would wish to extend a membership perspective to their near neighbours — Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia, such a move is not on the EU's agenda at present. Instead relations with the neighbouring countries of the Union are addressed under the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), which covers neighbouring countries to the south and east of the EU who do not have a membership perspective. The recent European Council instructed the European Commission to submit proposals for a future "Eastern Partnership" within the ENP to the Council in November.

Foreign Conflicts.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

270 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in regard to achieving equilibrium in the western Balkans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38702/08]

Ireland, together with its EU partners, attaches great importance to achieving stability in the countries of the Western Balkans, including through the European Union's Stabilisation and Association (SAA) process. This process provides the framework for co-operation on economic, political and legal matters and aims to bring countries closer to EU standards and principles. Stabilisation and Association Agreements have now been signed with all the countries in the region with the exception of Kosovo.

Recent developments in the Western Balkans have largely focused on Kosovo and the decision of the Kosovo Assembly to declare independence on 17 February 2008. On 18 February, EU Foreign Ministers agreed a common response to Kosovo's declaration of independence, noting the uniqueness of Kosovo's situation, and reaffirming the EU's willingness to play a leading role in strengthening stability in the region including by means of the planned ESDP rule of law mission, EULEX KOSOVO.

It also agreed that Member States would decide, in accordance with national practice and international law, on their relations with Kosovo. Since then, 22 EU Member States, including Ireland, have recognised Kosovo's independence.

With the coming into force of the new Kosovo constitution on 15 June, the EU's main aim is to enable a smooth transition from the current UN mission (UNMIK) to the EULEX KOSOVO mission, and to ensure that the international presence can operate effectively throughout Kosovo, including Serb majority areas in the North. The EU is working closely with the UN to achieve this. 234 Irish troops continue to serve in the UN-mandated KFOR peacekeeping force.

In recent weeks, there has been detailed discussion of current political developments in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and the need for reinforced EU engagement there. The EU will continue to encourage the Government in Bosnia-Herzegovina to make every effort to focus on its potential for EU membership. The forthcoming General Affairs and External Relations Council, to be held on 10 November, will discuss Bosnia-Herzegovina, including the future of Operation Althea, in which 44 Irish troops continue to serve.

Human Rights Issues.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

271 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the position in regard to each of the African countries currently deemed vulnerable in terms of human rights abuses, war or famine, ethnic cleansing and genocide; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38703/08]

The terrible events in the Democratic Republic of Congo in recent weeks, as well as the ongoing situations in Somalia, Darfur and Zimbabwe, serve to remind us that combating both the causes and effects of war, instability, poor governance and hunger in Africa is one of the most important tasks facing the international community in the 21st century.

Conflict has many causes and many manifestations, but poverty and inequality have proved to be the most fertile breeding grounds for violence and instability. Most armed conflicts occur in poor countries, and the causes and effect of conflict are exacerbated by poverty and corruption. The risk of strife, famine and unpunished abuses of human rights is greater where political, economic and administrative systems are weak, and Ireland's development co-operation programme focuses on all of these risks. Irish Aid supports specific actions designed to promote political stability, including by strengthening government systems and combating inequality. Irish Aid has a specific focus on governance, including the protection of human rights, in several programme countries. In our dialogue with partners in the EU and the UN, Ireland is a strong advocate for the developing world and for international peace and security.

The Government established a Hunger Task Force in 2007, with the aim of identifying the particular contribution that Ireland could make to tackle the root causes of food insecurity, particularly in Africa. The Report of the Hunger Task Force, which was presented at the UN in New York in September 2008, highlighted the continued threat posed by hunger, and made several very concrete recommendations on how this threat can be dealt with.

Promoting stability and supporting progress towards peace in Africa requires a huge international effort. UN-authorised peacekeeping missions have a major role in stabilising former and current conflict zones throughout Africa, not least the current EU-led military mission to Chad and the Central African Republic, EUFOR Tchad/RCA, in which the Irish contingent is playing a prominent role. Ireland has a strong tradition of contributing to UN-mandated peace-support missions in Africa. We have also provided support to the UN's Peace Building Fund and have been strongly supportive of the establishment of the Peace Building Commission.

African leadership and responsibility are crucial in addressing the issues of hunger, war and instability, and the African Union represents an important strategic partner for the European Union. Since 2004, the EU has supported the development of African-led peacekeeping in Darfur and elsewhere through its African Peace Facility. Peace, security, good governance and development were among the themes discussed by European and African leaders at the EU-Africa Summit in December 2007, which agreed a comprehensive EU-Africa Strategy to address these and other common challenges.

The challenges facing Africa are enormous. But there is some encouraging news. Many African economies are growing. The work of the International Criminal Court, which Ireland strongly supports, marks a real effort to end impunity for war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. While there are tragic exceptions, notably those I have already mentioned, many African countries now have less violence and civil strife than has been the case for many years. There is relative peace in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola, northern Uganda and southern Sudan, although international engagement will be needed for some time. Through our aid programme, Ireland will continue to address issues of poverty, conflict and instability, and to make a real and lasting difference in the lives of many.

European Union Development.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

272 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which he has observed an undercurrent of realignment within Europe in the context of the future of the European Union; if this entails Mediterranean, African, Nordic, British Commonwealth or other configurations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38704/08]

The current international situation poses very real challenges for the European Union. The Union's agenda at present is dominated by such issues as the international financial crisis, climate change, the Union's role in the world and the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. The recent European Council dealt with all these issues in a very positive and effective manner. The Union is clearly playing an important leadership role in the global arena, especially in relation to the financial crisis and climate change.

While I have not detected any significant realignment among the Member States in recent discussions within the European Council and the Council of Ministers, the fact is that all EU policies represent compromises between the Member States and their respective national positions. This is the way in which the EU has always functioned and its success requires openness to compromise on the part of the Member States, mutual goodwill and a commitment to shared objectives.

The EU's relations with neighbouring countries and regional groups are receiving considerable attention at present. When it comes to the conduct of external relations in a body as large and diverse as the European Union, there will always be issues of particular interest to certain Member States or groups of States, based on the existence of traditional economic and cultural ties with third countries.

Last week the EU participated in a Ministerial meeting of the Northern Dimension with the Nordic partners, Norway and Iceland, and with Russia. This week, I attended a Foreign Ministers' meeting of the Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean, which took place in Marseilles. This meeting involved the EU and countries from the Mediterranean and North Africa and is aimed at reinvigorating the Union's relations with this vital neighbouring region. Later this month, the European Commission will submit to the Council proposals for a future "Eastern Partnership" within the European Neighbourhood Policy.

The Union's role in the world and its relations with third countries and regional groupings is likely to be a matter of continued priority in the years ahead. Indeed, I would remind the House that a key aim of the Lisbon Treaty is to provide greater coherence in the EU's external relations, including through the appointment of a permanent President of the European Council and a High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

Trade Negotiations.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

273 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which he and his EU colleagues have discussed European African relations with particular reference to trade; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38705/08]

Relations between the EU and Africa are discussed regularly at the monthly meetings of the General Affairs and External Relations Council. The trade and development aspects of the relationship are integral to these discussions, in keeping with the primary objective of the EU's approach to development cooperation — the eradication of poverty in the context of sustainable development. It is clear that the development of trade, both regionally and globally, remains central to the achievement of sustained economic growth for the world's least developed countries, 34 of which are in Africa.

The EU-Africa Joint Strategy, which was adopted by the EU and 53 African States at a summit meeting in Lisbon last December, marks an important turning point in the relationship. It established a new partnership between the EU and Africa, based on the principles of interdependence, equality and respect, and a joint commitment to peace and stability, poverty reduction and sustainable development.

Currently the EU is engaged in the negotiation of Economic Partnership Agreements with the African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries. In this context, negotiations are continuing with the four regional African groups of countries. The negotiating mandate derives from the legally-binding 2000 Cotonou Agreement between the EU and the ACP States, the central objective of which is the "reduction and eventual eradication of poverty, consistent with the objectives of sustainable development and the gradual integration of the ACP countries into the world economy".

The Economic Partnership Agreements will next be discussed by EU Development Ministers at the General Affairs and External Relations Council which I will attend in Brussels on 10-11 November. The discussion will focus on how the Agreements can help build regional integration in Africa, which is critical for increased participation in the international trading system by the world's poorest countries.

With our EU partners, the Government also responds to the needs of African and other developing countries in the context of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). While the Commission negotiates on trade matters on behalf of the member States, Ireland has consistently played an important role throughout the current Doha Round of negotiations, in promoting a just and equitable outcome. The relationship with Africa, and the needs of the world's poorest countries, represent a crucially important element in discussions at Ministerial level on the negotiating mandate for the WTO Doha Round.

Diplomatic Contacts.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

274 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the extent to which the EU will improve relations with Georgia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38706/08]

The EU has been involved in conflict resolution efforts in Georgia from the start of the recent crisis and has played a key role in every step which has reduced tensions there. The pledge of assistance made at the 22 October donor reconstruction conference for Georgia, which the EU co-sponsored, will help Georgia to develop economically and rebuild the damage done during the fighting in August.

More generally, Georgia's relations with the EU are addressed under the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), which is intended to share the European Union's stability, security and prosperity with neighbouring countries to the south and east of the EU. It supports respect for human rights, rule of law, good governance, market economy principles and sustainable development. The ENP remains distinct from the issue of EU membership.

Given recent events, further moves to strengthen the relationship were decided at the extraordinary European Council meeting on 1 September. These include the possibility of the negotiation of a visa facilitation agreement and of a free trade agreement. Last month's European Council supported efforts to achieve modernisation and democratisation in eastern neighbourhood countries and instructed that proposals for a future ENP "Eastern Partnership" be submitted by the Commission later this month. Measures to further expand EU-Georgia relations in the economic, social and political spheres are likely to be included in this initiative.

I look forward to visiting Georgia myself later this month and hope to be in a position to assess how the EU, and Ireland nationally, can best develop relations with Georgia.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

275 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the attempts being made to establish better relations between the European Union and Russia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38707/08]

EU-Russia relations have inevitably been affected by events in Georgia, which have pointed to a new and worrying stance by Russia in relation to its right to intervene to protect its interests and citizens. Both Russia and EU Member States must abide by the international standards they have themselves signed up to through the UN, OSCE and Council of Europe.

However, the EU and Russia share important economic, political and security interests and will remain interdependent and essential partners on many issues, including international matters such as Iran and North Korea. The EU accounts for over half of all Russian exports and provides most of the foreign direct investment in Russia. The bilateral relationship is also reflected in the energy sector, where the EU imports a third of its gas and a quarter of its oil from Russia. The EU remains open to developing its strategic relationship with Russia on the basis of mutual respect and regard for common values.

An in-depth evaluation of EU-Russian relations was called for in advance of the next scheduled EU-Russia Summit on 14 November. This evaluation will be discussed at the General Affairs and External Relations Council next Monday, 10 November. Both the evaluation and developments on Georgia will be taken into account in deciding whether to lift the suspension, originally agreed at the 1 September extraordinary European Council, on negotiations for a new Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Russia.

Overseas Development Aid.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

276 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if food and other aid will be made available to persons in need in the Democratic Republic of Congo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38708/08]

I am very concerned at the continuing deterioration of the situation in the DRC which is worsening an already grave humanitarian crisis. Over 850,000 people were already displaced in North Kivu prior to the latest incidents. It is estimated that this figure has been increased by a further quarter of a million people.

Since 2006 Ireland has made more than €31 million available in assistance to the DRC. The majority of this has been in humanitarian funding and has been used to address the urgent needs of the people affected by the conflict in the DRC.

In addition to our already substantial assistance to the DRC, more than €11 million so far in 2008, I have set aside up to €1 million in extra funding for further humanitarian relief in North Kivu. In addition, members of our rapid response corps are available should a request for their involvement be made.

Questions Nos. 277 and 278 answered with Question No. 142.

International Co-operation.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

279 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if, following recent protective and supportive expressions of solidarity from Mr. David Miliband, discussions have taken place with his UK counterparts or other British Commonwealth countries with a view to establishing extra political, social or economic relations such as rejoining the Commonwealth; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38711/08]

As neighbours and fellow members of the European Union Ireland and Britain enjoy excellent cooperation across a wide range of issues. One focus of cooperation is of course our intensive engagement on matters relating to Northern Ireland.

In addition, the two Governments engage on matters of mutual interest through the British-Irish Council, established under the Good Friday Agreement to promote and support East-West relations, and the British-Irish Parliamentary Assembly, which acts as a link between parliamentarians in the Oireachtas, Westminster and the devolved Assemblies of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the Channel Islands.

Ireland and Britain also engage regularly on matters of shared interest in their capacity as members of the European Union, the United Nations and other international organisations.

The Government believes the current arrangements are well suited to the promotion of relations between our two countries, and has no plans for significant changes in this regard.

EU Treaties.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

280 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if there has emerged to date, evidence of a tendency to realign countries within the European Union with particular reference to the possible emergence of a two speed Europe; if in such circumstances Ireland is expected to become aligned with Eurosceptic countries or the British Commonwealth; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38712/08]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

285 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if his attention has been drawn to the influence of organised Eurosceptics in the context of the debate on the future of Europe; if a particular trend has been identified or established; if leading groups are known to have particular associations in more that one country; if economic or political objectives detrimental to Irish interests have been identified; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38717/08]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

286 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he and his EU colleagues have examined the wider implications of the influence of Euroscepticism with particular reference to the future of the union and the smaller countries in particular; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38718/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 280, 285 and 286 together.

The results of the comprehensive independent research, commissioned by the Government, which were published in September, confirmed that our people want Ireland to continue to be fully involved in the Union. Seventy per cent of Irish people agree that membership is a good thing, while just eight per cent disagreed. In that sense, the referendum result cannot be described as an expression of anti-EU sentiment. Ireland remains one of the countries most positively disposed to membership of the European Union.

It is evident, however, that many voters had genuinely-held concerns regarding aspects of the Treaty and these must be addressed. Between now and the December European Council, the Government will work closely with the EU Presidency, the other Member States and with the Union's institutions, with a view to defining the elements of a solution which will deal with Irish concerns and also be acceptable to our EU partners.

Our determination to ensure that Ireland remains at the heart of the European Union has been strengthened in light of the recent global economic and financial upheavals. Our membership of the Union, and particularly the support our financial system received from the European Central Bank, were vital in securing our national position. In the absence of these stabilising factors, the experience of other countries suggests that Ireland could well have encountered far greater difficulties.

It is clear that an element of Euro scepticism exists in most Member States. This is to be expected in open pluralist democracies like ours. However, there is no future for Ireland in aligning ourselves with marginal Euro sceptical elements across the Union. Our best interests will be served by remaining at the heart of the Union and working closely with countries that share our values and aspirations. The Government is firmly of the view that Treaty-based arrangements between sovereign States offer the best guarantee that the interests of small countries will be protected and advanced.

Ireland has always been strongly opposed to any concept of a two-speed Europe and that continues to be the case. The other EU Member States share this view. Any such development would not be good for Ireland nor for the Union as a whole. That is why there is such determination across the Union to arrive at a solution with regard to the Lisbon Treaty that all 27 Member States can endorse.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

281 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if European countries with Eurosceptic tendencies can withdraw from the Union while maintaining their existing trade arrangements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38713/08]

At present, the Treaties make no provision for the withdrawal of a State from the Union. Under the Lisbon Treaty, if ratified, this however would change, as explicit provision is made there for withdrawal.

The withdrawal of any country from the Union would have a profound impact, including on foreign trade. Such a move would require a country to re-negotiate the terms of its external trading relationships not only with the Union, but also with individual countries, such as China, the US and India. This would pose very major difficulties, especially of course for a small country.

I believe, in this overall context, that it is important to stress that it is the strong position of all EU Member States that their place is at the heart of Europe, a view which in Ireland's case was emphatically confirmed by the recent research of people's views commissioned by the Government and published in September.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

282 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has identified the possibility of a better deal for Ireland as indicated by some opponents of the Lisbon treaty of reform; if he has discussed with the proponents the progress to date in securing a better deal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38714/08]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

283 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he has identified willingness at EU level to renegotiate the Lisbon treaty of reform; if countries with whom Ireland has major trading links have put forward suggestions in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38715/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 282 and 283 together.

While there is no appetite among Member States for a renegotiation of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU always works on the basis of accommodating the interests of all Member States. It has in particular an admirable record of consistently finding satisfactory solutions to challenging issues.

From discussions with EU counterparts, it is clear that there is a strong desire among other Member States to find ways of accommodating Ireland. Our task in the period ahead will be to translate this general willingness to address Irish concerns into commitments that all Member States can endorse. It is, of course, strongly in our interest, including in the context of the current global economic and financial uncertainty, to find a solution that will fully protect Ireland's position within the Union.

Between now and the December European Council, the Government will work closely with the Presidency, the other Member States and the Union's institutions in the search for a solution that will serve Ireland's economic, political and wider interests in the years ahead.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

284 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the discussions which have taken place at EU level to facilitate the forthcoming European elections, if as appears likely, all 27 countries have not ratified the Lisbon treaty before that date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38716/08]

The Government are aware of the sensitivities surrounding the timetable for the coming year as it relates to the European elections which are due to be held in June 2009.

In Brussels on 6 October, I addressed a plenary session of the European Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee on the Lisbon Treaty. My appearance before the Committee provided a welcome opportunity to engage in a dialogue with many of the members of that Committee, to hear their views and to update them on developments.

Earlier this week, on Monday and Tuesday, I held meetings with my colleagues from Spain, Italy and Portugal en marge of a Foreign Ministers' meeting in Marseilles, during which we discussed a number of Lisbon-related issues, including the European elections.

It is not possible at this point to set an exact timetable for potential developments in 2009. If the Lisbon Treaty has not been ratified before June, the European Parliament elections will be conducted under the existing treaty provisions, as provided for in the Nice Treaty.

The decision on what basis the European Parliament elections will be held will be taken collectively by the European Council, probably in December.

Questions Nos. 285 and 286 answered with Question No. 280.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

287 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if he will identify the number of countries which have to date ratified the Lisbon treaty of reform; if it is expected that such countries may proceed with the European project leaving remaining countries an opportunity to rejoin at a later stage; if this is expected to be possible or beneficial to Europe or Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38719/08]

To date, the Treaty of Lisbon has been ratified by twenty-two Member States, with ratification awaited by Germany, Sweden, the Czech Republic and Poland. Two of these states have already completed their parliamentary procedures. It is anticipated that by January next year, Ireland may well be the only State not to have ratified the Treaty.

It is clear that the concerns expressed by the Irish people on 12 June this year need to be addressed. Similarly, there is an equally strong desire among our EU partners to see the Treaty ratified. There is, I should emphasise, great willingness on the part of other Member States to work actively with us in the search for a solution.

The Government have always been firmly opposed to any idea of a two-speed Europe and this continues to be the case. The other Member States share this view. Such a development would not be good for Ireland nor for the Union as a whole. That is why there is such determination across the Union to arrive at a solution on the Lisbon Treaty that all 27 Member States can endorse.

Human Rights Issues.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

288 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the situation in Burma; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38720/08]

As I have stated recently in the House, the situation in Burma remains of major concern. There has been a conspicuous absence of political progress since the events of September 2007, and repression by the military of monks, political activists and others continues. In May, the military junta pressed ahead with a fundamentally flawed referendum on a new Constitution for Burma. At the same time, they also extended the detention order on Aung San Suu Kyi for a further six months. I immediately condemned this action and renewed the Government's call for her release.

The Burmese regime has also failed to engage seriously with the UN Secretary General's Special Representative, Dr Ibrahim Gambari. This is gravely disappointing. The Government continues to support actively the work of the Secretary General, his Special Representative, the UN's Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Burma and the UN Rapporteur on Human Rights. I believe the role of the Secretary General personally is vital if the goals of democratisation and national reconciliation in Burma are to be achieved. In this regard, I believe that every effort must be made by the international community to ensure that the elections that the Burmese regime has promised for 2010 will be free, fair and fully inclusive, and likewise the process leading up to them.

Ireland remains committed to helping the Burmese people in their struggle for justice, democracy and development. In pursuit of this goal, the Government has engaged in diplomatic activity at Ministerial and senior official level with Burma's neighbours and in international fora. I welcome in this regard the fact that the recent Asia-Europe (ASEM) Summit, which the Taoiseach attended, adopted a very positive position on the Burmese situation. The support of countries in the Asia region is crucial to a resolution of the problems in Burma.

During my visit to the UN in September, I raised the situation in Burma in the course of discussions with senior UN officials and with the Foreign Minister of Indonesia, who is also deeply concerned about the situation there. The Government has also worked to enhance the EU's role in supporting the people of Burma, including securing the extension of EU sanctions against the regime in December 2007. I will be discussing the situation in Burma with other EU Foreign Ministers when I travel to Brussels next week for the General Affairs and External Relations Council.

The humanitarian situation following Cyclone Nargis is still very difficult but, thanks to facilitation efforts by the UN and ASEAN and the generous response of the international community, the Burmese people most affected are being actively assisted in their recovery efforts. In this regard, over €1.35 million in Irish Aid funding was provided to the emergency relief effort, as well as two airlifts of essential humanitarian supplies from our pre-positioned emergency stockpiles in Brindisi, Italy and in the Curragh.

We have also provided support to Burma's government in exile — the National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB), to civil society groups in Burma and to the Burma advocacy group, Burma Action Ireland.

Departmental Staff.

Michael Creed

Ceist:

289 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of staff employed in his Department’s press office; if he will outline the role and function of his Department’s press office and its relationship with his own press office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38870/08]

The Press Office in the Department of Foreign Affairs consists of a Press Officer assisted by three support staff. The Press Office serves the needs of the Department's three Ministers and the Department of Foreign Affairs as a whole. In addition, as part of the Ministerial private office staff, a Press Adviser has been appointed. I do not have a separate Press Office.

The Department's Press Office works with the domestic and international media to enhance their understanding of Irish foreign policy and of the Government's approach to Northern Ireland. The Press Office also promotes awareness overseas of Ireland and its achievements.

In carrying out its role, the Press Office arranges press briefings and press opportunities for the Department's three Ministers on matters of policy. The Office also responds to media enquiries that relate to Irish Foreign Policy and to other aspects of the Department's work.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

290 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the current and capital expenditure which has been incurred to date in respect of the decentralisation projects which have been deferred until a further review occurs in 2011. [38895/08]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

291 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of persons who have been relocated to each of the decentralised locations established by units or agencies under his Department; the floor areas and occupancy capacity of each of the facilities concerned; and the date by which it is intended to complete the transfer of remaining staff. [38910/08]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

292 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of staff moves that have been necessitated by the decentralisation programme in units or agencies in his Department distinguishing the moves at managerial or technical level. [38925/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 290 to 292, inclusive, together.

Under the Government's decentralisation programme announced in 2003, 125 posts attached to the Development Co-operation Division of the Department of Foreign Affairs were to decentralise to Limerick. The Division is the Headquarters of Irish Aid. Following sanction of an additional 20 posts by the Department of Finance in 2005, the total number of posts attached to Irish Aid Headquarters increased to 145. Of these, 138 are transferring to Limerick.

The decentralisation of Irish Aid has not been postponed due to budgetary considerations. No expenditure has therefore been incurred in respect of a deferred decentralisation project. Currently 95 staff of the Department of Foreign Affairs are working in interim office accommodation in Limerick City. The decentralisation of Irish Aid will be completed next week, when staff move into a new headquarters building in the city. The Office of Public Works has sourced the permanent office accommodation for Irish Aid in Limerick. They have stated that the floor space measures approximately 4,300 square metres, with capacity to accommodate a total of 170 staff, to allow for any future expansion.

Of the 108 staff assigned to Irish Aid at the time decentralisation was announced, 17%, or 18 officials, were transferred to other areas of the Department or to other Departments as a direct result of decentralisation. It is in the nature of the work of the Department that staff transfer between Divisions at HQ, and indeed to Embassies abroad, on a regular basis. This routine rotation accounts for the balance of the staff transfers from Irish Aid. While a small number of specialist or technical staff have left Irish Aid in recent years, none has done so as a direct result of decentralisation. Of the 18 officials transferred as a direct result of decentralisation, 6 were at Assistant Principal Officer level or higher.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

293 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the facilities in Dublin which units or agencies under his Department, plan to vacate as a result of the decentralisation programme; the floor areas involved; and when it is planned that they will be realised. [38940/08]

Under the Government's Decentralisation Programme, the Development Co-operation Directorate of the Department of Foreign Affairs, which manages the Irish Aid programme, is currently completing its decentralisation to Limerick. In the coming weeks, the staff of the Directorate will move into the new permanent Headquarters in Limerick.

We are advised by the Office of Public Works that, following the completion of this move, approximately 3,600 square metres of floor area will be vacated in the Directorate's current offices in Bishop's Square, Dublin 2.

Sports Capital Programme.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

294 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if money has been allocated in budget 2009 for a new sports capital programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38580/08]

In the 2009 Estimates for Public Services €56m has been provided in my Department's Vote to cover payments to be made under the Sports Capital Programme. The Deputy will be aware that the 2008 Sports Capital Programme was announced in July last and no decision has yet been made about the timing of further rounds of the Programme.

Departmental Expenditure.

Olivia Mitchell

Ceist:

295 Deputy Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if he will make the annual accounts of an organisation (details supplied) for each of the past five years available to Houses of the Oireachtas Members; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38635/08]

The body in question is a voluntary non profit-making organisation. It is not a limited company and, as such, is not covered by the requirement of the Companies Act, 1963, as amended, to publish accounts. In 2007 the body was allocated €5m and a further €6m in 2008 by the Department towards its Capital Development Programme. Expenditure under this programme for 2007 and 2008 is fully accounted for. The Annual Report and Accounts for the organisation are submitted to and debated at its Annual Congress and made available to its members. Copies are also submitted annually to the Department of Arts, Sport and Tourism and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, which provide the organisation with funding towards its programme.

As there is no legal requirement for the organisation to publish the accounts, my Department is not in a position to lay copies of the accounts before the Oireachtas. The public availability of the accounts is solely a matter for the organisation in question.

Departmental Staff.

Michael Creed

Ceist:

296 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the number of staff employed in his Department’s press office; if he will outline the role and function of his Department’s press office and its relationship with his own press office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38862/08]

My Special Adviser, at Principal Officer level, has responsibility for Press matters and works in close liaison with the Department's Press & Information Office. There are currently three members of staff employed in that office, one Higher Executive Officer and two Executive Officers, one of whom works on a mornings only basis. I do not have a separate Press office.

The Press & Information Office promotes the Department's policies, activities and achievements to the media and the general public. It issues press releases and speeches on behalf of the Minister and Minister of State to the media, and places them on the Department's website. In addition it liaises with agencies and bodies under the aegis of the Department in relation to important events and announcements. The Office also handles enquiries from the media on matters within the Department's remit, and with general enquiries from the public on services provided by the Department.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

297 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the current and capital expenditure which has been incurred to date in respect of the decentralisation projects which have been deferred until a further review occurs in 2011. [38887/08]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

298 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the number of persons who have been relocated to each of the decentralised locations established by units or agencies under his Department; the floor areas and occupancy capacity of each of the facilities concerned; and the date by which it is intended to complete the transfer of remaining staff. [38902/08]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

299 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the number of staff moves that have been necessitated by the decentralisation programme in units or agencies in his Department distinguishing the moves at managerial or technical level. [38917/08]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

300 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the facilities in Dublin which units or agencies under his Department, plan to vacate as a result of the decentralisation programme; the floor areas involved; and when it is planned that they will be realised. [38932/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 297 to 300, inclusive, together.

The entire Department of Arts Sport and Tourism, excluding the National Archives, was designated for relocation to Killarney, Co. Kerry, under the Government's Decentralisation Programme, which was announced in the 2004 Budget. The Department, which has a staff of 130, was designated an "early mover" by the Decentralisation Implementation Group (DIG).

To date, 79 members of staff, who opted not to relocate to Killarney, have been released through bilateral swaps and under the Dublin Arrangements to other Departments and Offices. Of these, 36 members of staff were at a managerial level i.e. Higher Executive Officer and above.

Some 76 members of staff have relocated to temporary accommodation in Fossa, Killarney. Of these, 37 staff are at a managerial level i.e. Higher Executive Officer and above.

The temporary accommodation in Fossa, has a total area of approximately 1,100 square meters. An area of approximately 830 square meters of office space has been vacated in Dublin while an area of approximately 1,100 square meters of office space is still being occupied by Department staff in Dublin.

The objective is to complete the decentralisation process of the Department by early 2009 by which time it will be operating from the new purpose built offices in Killarney, which has a total area of approximately 2,400 square meters. It will be necessary to retain some facilities for use by staff in Dublin to service the Minister and the Oireachtas, particularly when the Dail is in session, but the space for such facilities has yet to be determined.

The decentralisation of three State Agencies, under the aegis of the Department — the Arts Council, the Irish Sports Council and Fáilte Ireland — has been deferred pending a review in 2011. No capital expenditure has been incurred by these agencies in respect of decentralisation. Some minor current expenditure has been incurred related mainly to travel expenses on visits to the proposed decentralised locations.

Community Development.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

301 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the mechanisms available to a community group (details supplied) to protect its interest in view of the concerns raised in a report; his advice or assistance with such matters in view of the importance of the facility to the community; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38642/08]

Jack Wall

Ceist:

302 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if his Department offers emergency funding to a community to carry out necessary work on their community centre (details supplied) in view of the fact that the centre is the only one in the community and some 20 groups are now without a facility; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38643/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 301 and 302 together.

My Department funds two Programmes aimed at supporting the activities of community and voluntary groups with a focus on addressing disadvantage or where evidence of need has been clearly identified in their communities. The first Programme provides grants to smaller community and voluntary groups to support refurbishment work and the equipping of community facilities. The second Programme aims to enhance the capacity and activities of people and organisations working in the community and voluntary sector to improve governance and provide better quality services to the people they support. Both Programmes were advertised in the first week of June this year and applications are currently being accepted. Details in relation to all the programmes and schemes operated by my Department, including eligibility criteria, can be accessed on my Department's website at www.pobail.ie.

Departmental Staff.

Michael Creed

Ceist:

303 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the number of staff employed in his Department’s press office; if he will outline the role and function of his Department’s press office and its relationship with his own press office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38864/08]

There are currently 2.6 staff working in my Department's Press and Information Office. In addition my Department employs a Media Adviser.

I can confirm that I have no other press office.

The Press and Information Office: Provides information in Irish and English in response to queries from the public and stakeholders in relation to schemes and programmes run by the Department; Handles queries from the media in Irish and English in relation to schemes and programmes run by the Department; Informs the media and other customers of departmental decisions, announcements and events; Liaises with other Departments and the Government Press Office on interdepartmental issues; Briefs Department officials, the Minister and Minister of State on current issues arising in other Departments and pertinent announcements made by other Departments; Makes departmental announcements and Ministers' speeches available on the Department's website, www.pobail.ie; Monitors press cuttings relevant to the Department and its work; Organises media events and press briefings on behalf of the Department; Participates in the Department's Customer Service Steering Committee.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

304 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the current and capital expenditure which has been incurred to date in respect of the decentralisation projects which have been deferred until a further review occurs in 2011. [38889/08]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

305 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the number of persons who have been relocated to each of the decentralised locations established by units or agencies under his Department; the floor areas and occupancy capacity of each of the facilities concerned; and the date by which it is intended to complete the transfer of remaining staff. [38904/08]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

306 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the number of staff moves that have been necessitated by the decentralisation programme in units or agencies in his Department distinguishing the moves at managerial or technical level. [38919/08]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

307 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the facilities in Dublin which units or agencies under his Department, plan to vacate as a result of the decentralisation programme; the floor areas involved; and when it is planned that they will be realised. [38934/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 304 to 307, inclusive, together.

My reply relates only to matters which are the direct responsibility of my Department and does not cover matters in relation to property acquisition or property disposal, as these are issues for the Office of Public Works.

As the Deputy will be aware, the decentralisation of my Department's Headquarters to Charlestown, Co. Mayo, has not been deferred. To date, 100 staff have moved to temporary accommodation in Tubbercurry, where they currently occupy some 1,560 sq metres of space. There is full capacity in Tubbercurry at present and it is intended to move the remaining staff when the new Headquarters building in Charlestown is completed at end-2010.

My Department has now fulfilled its commitments in relation to decentralisation at Na Forbacha, Co. Galway. 11 staff have decentralised there, who are housed in an extension to the existing building in that location.

In relation to bodies or agencies that come within the ambit of the Department, I can confirm that the further decentralisation of Pobal to Clifden, Co. Galway, has been deferred and will be considered further in 2011. 25 staff have already moved to temporary accommodation in Clifden, where the floor area is 350 sq meters. There is capacity for 29 staff in the current building. A total of €222,943 has been spent to date on that temporary accommodation and no other costs have been incurred.

In relation to Foras na Gaeilge, 5 posts were approved recently to relocate to Gaoth Dobhair, Co Donegal, and the decentralisation of a further 25 posts will be further considered in due course in the North/South framework and in the context of the planned review in 2011. No capital or current costs have been incurred to date in relation to the decentralisation of Foras na Gaeilge. The issue of interim accommodation for the 5 Foras staff is being pursued with the Office of Public Works and Údarás na Gaeltachta.

In relation to the decentralisation programme to Tubbercurry/Charlestown and the number of staff moves that have been necessitated, I can confirm that 95 staff moved into my Department and 79 transferred out of it, either by way of bilateral transfers, transfers under the Dublin arrangements or by decentralising to other Departments. The remaining staff resigned, retired or transferred on promotion. Some 17 of the moves involved managerial grades and 4 are technical/professional. There have been 5 staff moves in relation to Na Forbacha, none in managerial grades and one Technical/Professional.

Of the 25 staff that were relocated to Clifden, these were recruited for that location. 2 of the staff in question are managerial and the remainder are technical/administrative. There have been no staff moves to date in relation to Foras na Gaeilge. The matter of vacating buildings in Dublin as a result of the decentralisation programme will be a matter for the Office of Public Works.

Human Rights Issues.

Mary White

Ceist:

308 Deputy Mary Alexandra White asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she has plans to amend the Civil Registration Act 2004, to make it compatible with the Human Rights Commission Act 2000, with particular regard to trans-gendered people. [38593/08]

This issue was the subject of a High Court judgment concerning the rights of a person, who has undergone gender reassignment surgery, to recognition of her acquired gender. On foot of a High Court judgement, delivered on 19 October 2007, the judge made a declaration, pursuant to Section 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights Act 2003, that Sections 25, 63 and 64 of the Civil Registration Act 2004 are incompatible with the obligations of the State under the European Convention on Human Rights by reason of their failure to respect the private life of the Applicant, as required by Article 8 of the Convention, in that there are no provisions which would enable the acquired gender identity of the Applicant to be legally recognised in this jurisdiction.

This is the first time that the High Court has made a declaration of incompatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights in respect of a provision of Irish law. As such, the High Court judgment is very significant and raises complex and far-reaching issues, not merely for this case but for future cases under the European Convention on Human Rights Act. The judgment has implications for a wide range of legislative and policy areas including taxation, social welfare, pensions, family law, criminal law, equality, employment, sport, financial services, health, education and so on. In that context, it is essential to obtain the confirmation of the Supreme Court that the judgment was warranted and to seek clarity on all its implications. As the judgment is the subject of an appeal to the Supreme Court, it is not considered appropriate for me to comment further at this time.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Terence Flanagan

Ceist:

309 Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position regarding a person (details supplied) in Dublin 5; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38636/08]

Under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on behalf of the Department by the community welfare division of the Health Service Executive (HSE), a diet supplement may be paid to a person who is receiving a Social Welfare or Health Service Executive payment where a special diet is prescribed as a result of a specified medical condition.

The Dublin/Mid-Leinster Area of the HSE has advised that the person concerned had been in receipt of a monthly diet supplement until March 2008 when a review of her entitlements was carried out. Following this review, the person concerned did not qualify for a diet supplement based on current diet supplement arrangements. Under these arrangements, which reflect the findings of a study commissioned from the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute (INDI) in 2006 on healthy eating, diabetes is not classified as a prescribed diet but rather comes within a healthy eating diet which a person can meet from their basic social welfare or HSE payment.

The Executive has further advised that the person concerned was notified of her right to appeal against this decision to an Appeals Officer in the HSE. However, an appeal has not been received to date in this case.

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

310 Deputy Olwyn Enright asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the criteria in respect of a person, whose spouse is in receipt of the old age contributory pension and receives qualified dependant allowance for same spouse; if the means test is applicable if both spouses are named on joint accounts, despite one of the spouses not having savings in their own right; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [38679/08]

An increase for a Qualified Adult (IQA) is payable in respect of a spouse/partner of a recipient of State Pension (Transition) or State Pension (Contributory), where the spouse/partner is being wholly or mainly maintained by the pensioner.

Payment of IQA is subject to the qualified adult satisfying a means test based solely on their means.

Where the pensioner and his/her spouse/partner have bank accounts or investments which are in joint names, or property owned jointly (excluding the family home), half the savings/income is assessed when determining entitlement to IQA.

In addition, any other direct income the qualified adult may have is taken into account in the assessing of their means for IQA.

Departmental Staff.

Michael Creed

Ceist:

311 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of staff employed in her Department’s press office; if he will outline the role and function of her Department’s press office and its relationship with his own press office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38873/08]

The Department of Social and Family Affairs has one Press Office which is staffed by three established civil servants:

Press Officer (Assistant Principal on secondment from another Government Department),

Press Officer (Higher Executive Officer) and

Deputy Press Officer (Executive Officer).

The role of the Press Office is to deal centrally with all queries from the media in relation to the schemes operated by the Department. The press officers respond to queries from social affairs correspondents, political correspondents and general news media. They also deal with requests for interviews with me as Minister and, as the need arises, with relevant senior officials. They draft and issue press releases to regional and national media on various initiatives which aim to inform the wider public of developments across the Department. The press officers also advise me and senior officials across the Department of developments in the media regarding the functions of the Department.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

312 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the current and capital expenditure which has been incurred to date in respect of the decentralisation projects which have been deferred until a further review occurs in 2011. [38898/08]

The Minister for Finance announced as part of Budget 2009 that a number of decentralisation projects are to be deferred pending a review in 2011. The projects relevant to this Department are:

Carrickmacross;

Carrick-on-Shannon (Phase II);

Donegal;

Drogheda (Citizens Information Board);

Monaghan (Combat Poverty Agency).

Since the commencement of the decentralisation programme in the Department, expenditure returns have been submitted to the Department of Finance detailing non-property costs associated with the programme for both this Department and the agencies under its aegis. The only item of expenditure recorded in respect of the above projects is a sum of €6,150 which was incurred by the Citizens Information Board. The Department has not incurred any property costs as these are a matter for the Office of Public Works.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

313 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of persons who have been relocated to each of the decentralised locations established by units or agencies under her Department; the floor areas and occupancy capacity of each of the facilities concerned; and the date by which it is intended to complete the transfer of remaining staff. [38913/08]

Under the Government's current decentralisation programme for the civil and public service, some 1,200 posts comprising the Department's headquarter sections and the Social Welfare Appeals Office are relocating to 6 locations — Sligo, Carrick-on-Shannon, Donegal Town, Buncrana, Carrickmacross and Drogheda.

To date, 212 posts have relocated from the Department's Dublin Offices to Carrick-on-Shannon and Sligo under the current programme — 140 posts to Carrick-on-Shannon and 72 posts to Sligo. The Office of Public Works (OPW) has leased a building in Carrick-on-Shannon for this Department's decentralisation programme, with a floor area of 3,716 square meters and 186 accommodation spaces available. An extension to the Department's existing Office in Sligo, which also accommodates the business units relocating under the programme of decentralisation, has been completed. The estimated floor area occupied by these newly decentralised business units is 2,600 square meters.

In addition, the Department has decentralised offices in Longford, Sligo, Letterkenny, Waterford, Dundalk and Roscommon and some 219 employees have transferred to these offices and other offices of the Department to fill vacancies created by the current decentralisation programme. Furthermore, a total of 258 employees of the Department have transferred to other Government Departments for the purposes of their decentralisation programmes.

The Government outlined in Budget 2009 that the decentralisation programme to Buncrana and Drogheda would proceed as planned. A site in Buncrana has been purchased, the building is under construction and the expected completion date of the project is late 2009. The OPW has purchased sites in Drogheda to accommodate the Department's Headquarters and the Social Welfare Appeals Office.

As outlined in Budget 2009, the Government has reviewed the Decentralisation Programme in light of the changed economic circumstances and the deterioration in public finances. The remaining elements of the programme for this Department have been deferred pending a review in 2011 in light of the budgetary developments.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

314 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the number of staff moves that have been necessitated by the decentralisation programme in units or agencies in her Department distinguishing the moves at managerial or technical level. [38928/08]

Under the Government's current decentralisation programme for the civil and public service, some 1,200 posts comprising the Department's headquarter sections and the Social Welfare Appeals Office are relocating to 6 locations — Sligo, Carrick-on-Shannon, Donegal Town, Buncrana, Carrickmacross and Drogheda.

To date, 212 posts have relocated from the Department's Dublin Offices to Carrick-on-Shannon and Sligo under the current programme — 140 posts to Carrick-on-Shannon and 72 posts to Sligo.

In addition, the Department has decentralised offices in Longford, Sligo, Letterkenny, Waterford, Dundalk and Roscommon and some 219 employees have transferred to these offices and other offices of the Department to fill vacancies created by the current decentralisation programme. Furthermore, a total of 258 employees of the Department have transferred to other Government Departments for the purposes of their decentralisation programmes.

To date, 502 applicants have accepted offers of transfer for the current decentralisation programme of which 276 are at managerial level (Executive officer or higher grades). 103 Officers at managerial level have moved to their decentralised location and 12 Officers at managerial level have transferred into the Department in preparation for decentralisation. A further 141 Officers at managerial level, who have accepted offers to relocate under the programme, are serving within the Department. In addition, 11 Officers, at managerial or technical level, who are currently serving in Agencies that operate under the aegis of this Department, have relocation clauses in their contracts.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

315 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the facilities in Dublin which units or agencies under her Department, plan to vacate as a result of the decentralisation programme; the floor areas involved; and when it is planned that they will be realised. [38943/08]

Under the Decentralisation programme, it is planned to relocate some 114 posts from the Department to Buncrana. The first phase of this proposed move will commence in early 2010 and will include 70 staff relocating from one Dublin based headquarter office (Gandon House). The estimated floor space vacated as a result of the relocation will be of the order of 750 square metres.

It is also planned to relocate certain business units from a number of the Department's headquarter offices in Dublin (including the Social Welfare Appeals office) to Drogheda. The Office of Public Works has purchased a parcel of lands from Drogheda Borough Council for this purpose. It is intended that the accommodation will be procured by Public Private Partnership (PPP), the procurement process to be conducted by the National Development Finance Agency (NDFA). In that regard, the accommodation requirements are being assessed and the matter of bringing the project to the point of procurement is being progressed by the Office of Public Works in consultation with the Department.

Accordingly, it is not possible at this stage to provide an estimate of the floor space to be vacated in the Dublin offices following relocation to Drogheda.

National Disability Strategy.

David Stanton

Ceist:

316 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the yearly expenditure to date on the National Disability Strategy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [39274/08]

My Department's Disability Sectoral Plan, published in 2006 in accordance with the provisions of the Disability Act 2005 and in line with the National Disability Strategy and Towards 2016, aims to develop services that not only give people with disabilities financial security but also encourage their maximum participation in society.

The Department of Social and Family Affairs has a pivotal role in providing income support for people with disabilities who may not be in a position to provide for themselves. In 2006, spending on income support, to some 248,000 recipients of disability or caring related social welfare schemes, was in excess of €2.38 billion. In 2007 disability expenditure of €2.62 billion benefited some 246,000 recipients while in 2008, 264,000 recipients were supported by a disability spend of €2.8 billion. Over €3 billion is being provided in Disability expenditure for 2009. In addition, people with disabilities may also benefit from other schemes such as state pensions.

I, with the support of my Government colleagues, am committed to continuing to prioritise the needs of people with disabilities and their carers over the term of this Government. The Agreed Programme for Government reiterates that the National Disability Strategy will be driven and managed from a whole of Government perspective and is overseen and supported by the Department of the Taoiseach.

Army Barracks.

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

317 Deputy Dinny McGinley asked the Minister for Defence the number of Army and civilian personnel employed in Lifford Military Barracks; if his attention has been drawn to the disruption that the closure of the barracks will have on those who are stationed there; if he will re-assess and repeal the decision to close the barracks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38560/08]

The consolidation of the Defence Forces formations into a smaller number of locations is a key objective of the White Paper on Defence. The dispersal of personnel over an extended number of locations is a major impediment to essential collective training. It also imposes increased and unnecessary overheads on the Defence Forces in terms of barrack management, administration, maintenance and security. The consolidation process is designed to facilitate higher training standards, while also freeing up under-utilised resources and personnel for operational duties.

The funding previously realised from the disposal of surplus barracks and properties has, together with pay savings, provided some of the resources required for infrastructure, training-area development and equipment procurement. In this regard, the White Paper states: "the thrust of the Government decisions in the White Paper is based on their recognition of the necessity to enhance the equipment and infrastructure available to the Defence Forces".

The withdrawal of the British Army deployments coupled with reduced paramilitary activity following the Good Friday Agreement has removed the rationale for having seven barracks/posts along the border. These will now be consolidated into three posts. Lifford Barracks is one of four military posts along the border being consolidated. These closures will progress the achievement of the vision of the Defence Forces set out in the White Paper.

There are 120 military personnel and 2 civilian personnel employed in Lifford Barracks. Based on previous experience it is anticipated that the impact on the local community will be negligible on the basis that most of the personnel serving in this installation live in the area and will probably continue to do so in the future.

The current plan has been put together in close consultation and cooperation with the Defence Forces General Staff. It provides an overall package that will serve the needs of the Defence Forces into the future.

Departmental Staff.

Michael Creed

Ceist:

318 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Defence the number of staff employed in his Department’s press office; if he will outline the role and function of his Department’s press office and its relationship with his own press office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38865/08]

There is a single Press Office in my Department comprising of the following staff:

Number

Position

1

Press Advisor

1

Press Officer (Assistant Principal)

1 (part-time)

Executive Officer

The role of the Press Adviser and the Press Officer in my Department is to provide, in conjunction with the Defence Forces Press Officer and the Government Information Services, a high quality press and information service to the media and the general public. The Press Officer is also the Information Officer and the Freedom of Information Officer while the Press Adviser advises me on media matters. Information is circulated by both the Press Adviser and the Press Officer to myself, officials within my Department, members of the Defence Forces, other Government Departments, members of the media and the general public as required.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

319 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Defence the current and capital expenditure which has been incurred to date in respect of the decentralisation projects which have been deferred until a further review occurs in 2011. [38890/08]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

320 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Defence the number of persons who have been relocated to each of the decentralised locations established by units or agencies under his Department; the floor areas and occupancy capacity of each of the facilities concerned; and the date by which it is intended to complete the transfer of remaining staff. [38905/08]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

321 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Defence the number of staff moves that have been necessitated by the decentralisation programme in units or agencies in his Department distinguishing the moves at managerial or technical level. [38920/08]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

322 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Defence the facilities in Dublin which units or agencies under his Department, plan to vacate as a result of the decentralisation programme; the floor areas involved; and when it is planned that they will be realised. [38935/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 319 to 322, inclusive, together.

The Deputy will be aware that the Government decision on decentralisation provides for the transfer of my Department's Dublin-based civil service staff, together with a number of military personnel, to Newbridge, Co. Kildare and for the decentralisation of Defence Forces Headquarters (DFHQ) to the Curragh. I am pleased to confirm that both projects are going ahead as planned.

The number of posts to be relocated to Newbridge is approximately 200 civil servants and 43 military personnel. A further 410 military personnel will decentralise to the new Defence Forces Headquarters at the Curragh.

No members of staff have moved to these locations to date. Construction of the building in Newbridge is underway and the Office of Public Works (OPW) have advised that the building will be completed by December 2009. To date close to 90% of clerical/administrative civil service staff are in place in preparation for the move to Newbridge. All staff will move to Newbridge together when the building is completed.

In relation to the decentralisation of DFHQ, a State owned site for the new building has been identified in the Curragh. The timescale for completion of the project will be determined by the outcome of the proposed tender competition that is currently being prepared by OPW. It is expected that tenders will be invited in the near future. Military personnel will move from Dublin to the new building when it is completed.

Site acquisition, building construction and fit-out costs for both these projects are borne on the OPW Vote. Property in Dublin vacated as a result of decentralisation is also a matter for the OPW. When the transfer to both Newbridge and the Curragh is complete, my Department expects to release properties at Infirmary Road and Glasnevin to the OPW for disposal and/or reallocation.

Social and Affordable Housing.

Sean Fleming

Ceist:

323 Deputy Seán Fleming asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if a citizen from Switzerland who is living here for some time is eligible to be considered for social housing; if there are specific rules or regulations to prevent this; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38623/08]

It is a matter for individual authorities to decide on the eligibility of applicants for social housing and the allocation of houses to eligible applicants within the terms of their approved Scheme of Letting Priorities.

The provision of social housing support by housing authorities is determined on the basis of a number of eligibility criteria, of which residency is one. These residency criteria are determined in the context of prevailing national and EU legislation. Circular HPS4/08 issued by my Department in February 2008, a copy of which is available in the Oireachtas Library, sets out the entitlements regarding access to social and affordable housing support generally for immigrants.

In general, nationals of European Economic Area countries (i.e. the EU 27, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) are entitled to seek housing support from a housing authority on the same basis as an Irish citizen if:

they are workers; this entitlement is guaranteed by Article 9 of EEC Regulation 1612/68 which deals with the freedom of movement of workers within the EEA;

they have established an entitlement to permanent residence here; or

they have established a right to rent supplement income support under the Social Welfare Acts (in particular they have satisfied the Habitual Residency Condition associated with this support).

National Monuments.

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

324 Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the body with which responsibility lies for the maintenance of famine graveyards here and in particular, his position regarding the Carr’s Hill famine graveyard in Carrigaline, County Cork. [38674/08]

The maintenance of graveyards is primarily a matter for the owners concerned. The management of public burial grounds is a matter for each local authority and one in which I have no direct function. My Department does not keep records of ownership of burial grounds.

I am advised that Cork County Council is endeavouring to establish the ownership of Carr's Hill graveyard and no decision as to maintenance can be made until this has been resolved.

Housing Grants.

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

325 Deputy Phil Hogan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the amount of funding set aside in respect of the home choice loan scheme; the amount he will loan out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38678/08]

I do not believe it would be appropriate, at the outset, to set definitive limitations on the period of operation of the Home Choice loan scheme or for the total loan finance to be made available, as the timing of the termination of the scheme will be dependent on a range of issues, particularly the extent to which the credit crunch eases and mortgage finance becomes more readily available from the financial institutions. However, the scope of the scheme's operation will be limited by a range of conditions, including the limitations to first-time buyers and new-build homes, and the maximum loan limit of €285,000. This is in line with the Government's stated policy objective of only intervening in the housing market in a very targeted manner. In addition, the level of interest in the scheme, and the numbers and value of loan drawdowns will be kept under close and regular review.

Local Authority Staff.

Joe Costello

Ceist:

326 Deputy Joe Costello asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he proposes to introduce legislation to compensate fire fighters who are injured in circumstances such as in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 7; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38696/08]

The determination of the conditions of employment of local authority employees is a matter for local authorities in accordance with section 158 (1) (b) of the Local Government Act 2001.

I have no proposals for such legislation.

Departmental Staff.

Michael Creed

Ceist:

327 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of staff employed in his Department’s press office; if he will outline the role and function of his Department’s press office and its relationship with his own press office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38868/08]

In line with Section 11 of the Public Service Management Act 1997 governing the appointment and role of Special Advisers, I have appointed an Adviser as Press and Information Officer in my Department. The Press and Information Officer is supported in his role by three civil servants — one Higher Executive Officer; one Executive Officer and one Clerical Officer — all of whom work in the Press and Information Office in the Department.

The role and functions of the Press and Information Office include: provision and oversight of press information and liaison on behalf of the Ministers of the Department; liaison, on the Ministers' behalf, with the Government Press Office and other Government Departments; liaison, on the Ministers' behalf, with Deputy Government Press Secretary; advice on external communications and publicity on behalf of the Ministers and the Department; provision of a daily news cuttings service, which is made available to all staff electronically; and preparation of speech material and press releases.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

328 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the current and capital expenditure which has been incurred to date in respect of the decentralisation projects which have been deferred until a further review occurs in 2011. [38893/08]

As set out in the recent Budget Day announcement, decisions on the implementation timelines for the proposed relocation of my Department's offices to Waterford, New Ross and Kilkenny have been deferred pending a review in 2011 in light of the budgetary situation. Decisions on the relocation of the Local Government Computer Services Board to Drogheda and the National Building Agency to Wexford have also been deferred.

The capital budget for the provision of office accommodation for my Department under the decentralisation programme is the responsibility of the Office of Public Works (OPW). No current expenditure, specific to the three locations outlined above, has been incurred to date.

The capital and current decentralisation budgets of relevant bodies under the aegis of my Department are an operational matter for the bodies concerned.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

329 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of persons who have been relocated to each of the decentralised locations established by units or agencies under his Department; the floor areas and occupancy capacity of each of the facilities concerned; and the date by which it is intended to complete the transfer of remaining staff. [38908/08]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

330 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of staff moves that have been necessitated by the decentralisation programme in units or agencies in his Department distinguishing the moves at managerial or technical level. [38923/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 329 and 330 together.

The Government announcement on 14 October 2008 confirmed that the decentralisation of my Department's Headquarters to Wexford (270 posts) will proceed as planned. However the transfer of posts to the three other locations in the South East — Waterford (225 posts), New Ross (125 posts) and Kilkenny (62 posts) — is being deferred pending the outcome of a review in 2011 in light of budgetary developments.

The transfer of the National Building Agency and the Local Government Computer Services Board, to Wexford and Drogheda respectively, are also deferred pending the review.

Under the Government's decentralisation programme, 206 staff have transferred into my Department in order to decentralise to the South East — Wexford, Kilkenny, New Ross and Waterford. Of these, 188 were general administrative staff and 18 professional/technical staff.

Some 78 staff have transferred out of my Department to other decentralising Departments and 63 staff have transferred out to Departments remaining in Dublin. Vacancies arising in posts transferring to one of my Department's four locations in the South East have been filled by staff wishing to decentralise to the South East and also through a series of internal staff moves.

My Department's Headquarter offices in Wexford are under construction, and expected to be completed by December 2008 and ready for occupation from February 2009. My Department will then transfer 270 posts into these offices commencing in Q1 2009. An advance office was established in Wexford on 25 June 2007 and is currently staffed by 43 people.

The total floor area of the advance office is 495 sq. metres and accommodates approx 45 staff. The total floor area for the Wexford Headquarter offices currently under construction is 4,847 sq. metres and will accommodate 270 people.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

331 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the facilities in Dublin which units or agencies under his Department, plan to vacate as a result of the decentralisation programme; the floor areas involved; and when it is planned that they will be realised. [38938/08]

As part of the decentralisation programme, 270 posts in my Department are due to transfer to the Department's new Headquarters in Wexford during 2009. A rationalisation programme is being developed in respect of the Department's remaining offices in Dublin. A number of smaller offices in the city centre will be vacated and the relevant staff transferred into existing accommodation, including the Custom House. While the precise details remain to be worked out it is intended that the consolidation will be completed in the course of 2009.

In line with the Budget Day announcement, decisions in relation to the relocation timelines for the Local Government Computer Services Board and the National Building Agency have been deferred pending a review in light of the budgetary situation in 2011.

National Disability Strategy.

David Stanton

Ceist:

332 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the yearly expenditure to date on the national disability strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39272/08]

My Department allocates funds annually to individual local authorities on the basis of priority areas identified in capital and current expenditure proposals submitted by them each year; Capital funds are intended to address the priority needs of people with a disability by providing and improving accessibility to public buildings, roads, footpaths, beaches, amenity areas, heritage sites and swimming pools. Current funding is directed towards disability awareness training, accessibility audits, adapting information systems and providing equipment to improve accessibility of public services.

They yearly expenditure to date on the National Disability Strategy is as follows:

2005: €10,568,148;

2006: €17,488,090;

2007: €15,074,001;

2008: €1,983,118 (year-to-date).

I have allocated a total of €15 million for 2008 and expect that the balance will be drawn down by the end of the year.

Tax Yield.

Liz McManus

Ceist:

333 Deputy Liz McManus asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the amount raised by way of special corporation tax levied on profits arising from petroleum leases every year since 1992 to date in 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38651/08]

Departmental Staff.

Michael Creed

Ceist:

334 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the number of staff employed in his Department’s press office; if he will outline the role and function of his Department’s press office and its relationship with his own press office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38863/08]

My Department's Press Office serves the Minister, Minister for State and the Department generally. This office is staffed by my Press Adviser, my Private Secretary and two civil servants, a Higher Executive Officer and a Clerical Officer. The Clerical Officer post which is currently vacant is due to be filled shortly.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

335 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the current and capital expenditure which has been incurred to date in respect of the decentralisation projects which have been deferred until a further review occurs in 2011. [38888/08]

The vast majority of property related costs in relation to Decentralisation have been paid directly by the Office of Public Works.

Earlier this year the Department agreed a short-term rental of storage facilities in Cavan and current expenditure to date in 2008 is €3200.

The total non-property (current) costs incurred by the Department in respect of the Decentralisation Programme since 2003 are €98,065. This figure is the latest cumulative data relating to expenditure by my Department, reported to the Department of Finance on Friday 24 October 2008.

This expenditure relates principally to advance moves of functions and staff resources to Cavan and Clonakilty. The majority of costs relate to the relocation of the entire seafood functions of the former Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources to Clonakilty and, as the Deputy will be aware, subsequent to the relocation to Clonakilty being completed, these functions were transferred to the now Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Food.

In addition, expenditure of €9,276 was incurred in respect of Bord Iascaigh Mhara and that agency is no longer under the remit of my Department. No expenditure has been recorded for the Ordnance Survey of Ireland (OSi) since it transferred to the remit of my Department.

Expenditure of €1,752 was incurred by the Central Fisheries Board. Information in relation to the level of expenditure by Sustainable Energy Ireland is being collated by my Department and will be forwarded to the Deputy in the near future.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

336 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the number of persons who have been relocated to each of the decentralised locations established by units or agencies under his Department; the floor areas and occupancy capacity of each of the facilities concerned; and the date by which it is intended to complete the transfer of remaining staff. [38903/08]

The Government's Decentralisation Programme involves the relocation of my Department's headquarters to Cavan and the relocation of three bodies under its aegis, namely Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI) to Dundalk, Ordnance Survey Ireland to Dungarvan and the Central Fisheries Board to Carrick-on-Shannon. These relocation proposals have been deferred pending review in 2011.

Some 54 staff members from my Department have relocated to interim accommodation in Elm House, Cavan, to date. Elm House is shared with a number of tenants and the exact area is detailed in lease agreements managed by the Office of Public Works. I can however, advise the Deputy that approximately 700 square metres of that building is occupied by my Department.

Two staff members from SEI have relocated to Finnabair Business Park, Dundalk to date. Management of this accommodation is an operational matter for SEI and I have no function in this matter.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

337 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the number of staff moves that have been necessitated by the decentralisation programme in units or agencies in his Department distinguishing the moves at managerial or technical level. [38918/08]

The Government's Decentralisation Programme involves the relocation of my Department's headquarters to Cavan and the relocation of three bodies under its aegis, namely Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI) to Dundalk, Ordnance Survey Ireland to Dungarvan and the Central Fisheries Board to Carrick-on-Shannon. These have been deferred pending review in relocation proposals in 2011.

Some 54 administrative staff have decentralised to my Department's offices in Elm House, Cavan. Of these, 18 are at Higher Executive Officer grade or above.

Two staff members from SEI, one manager and one programme manager, have decentralised to Dundalk, to date.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

338 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the facilities in Dublin which units or agencies under his Department, plan to vacate as a result of the decentralisation programme; the floor areas involved; and when it is planned that they will be realised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38933/08]

The original proposal under the Decentralisation Programme, announced in 2003, was that the Department's HQ in its entirety would relocate to Cavan. In addition, the seafood functions of the former Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources would relocate to Clonakilty.

As the Deputy will be aware, the move to Clonakilty of the seafood functions, now under the remit of the Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Food, has already been completed. The Deputy will also be aware that the proposed headquarters relocation to Cavan has been deferred and is to be reviewed in 2011.

Until that review is complete it is not possible to plan for space, which may be vacated by the Department or to provide accurate timelines for same.

I can advise the Deputy that, due primarily to the transfer of Departmental functions in 2007 and also to the decentralisation of an advance party to Cavan, my Department has, in conjunction with the Office of Public Works (OPW), significantly rationalised its accommodation requirements in Dublin on a phased basis.

While some of the former Departmental functions stationed in Leeson Lane, Dublin, were transferred to the Department of Transport in 2006, my Department has been engaged in a withdrawal of all Departmental functions from that building and expects the only remaining function, involving some 20 staff, to relocate to our Adelaide Road HQ early in 2009.

The Leeson Lane building is managed by the OPW and advice on relevant floor areas is a matter for that office.

In relation to the agencies under the remit of my Department, the proposed relocation of Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI) to Dundalk, the Ordnance Survey of Ireland (OSi) to Dungarvan and the Central Fisheries Board to Carrick-on-Shannon are also to be reviewed in 2011. The management of property and accommodation is an operational matter for the agencies themselves and I have no function in that regard.

National Disability Strategy.

David Stanton

Ceist:

339 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the yearly expenditure to date on the national disability strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39271/08]

Much of Sectoral Plan covering the activities of the Department and its Agencies, under the National Disability Act 2005, involves fully integrating the needs of persons with disabilities into policy, legislative and operational matters within the Department's remit.

In addition, matters relating to the National Disability Strategy and to serving the needs of persons with disabilities are mainstreamed, within the Department's remit, as an integral part of operational expenditure on such issues as health and safety and building configuration and maintenance.

For these reasons it is not possible to fully disaggregate expenditure on elements of these activities which relate to disability. Where it has been possible to disaggregate the data, I can advise the Deputy that expenditure since 2005 is set out as follows. I would emphasise that because of the critical need to integrate as much as possible of disability related activity into core functions the following costs represent the small portion of actual spend which is separately identifiable.

2005

24,000

2006

782,000

2007

182,000

2008

226,000*

*Provisional outturn.

Decentralisation Programme.

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

340 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will report on the decentralisation of Bord Iascaigh Mhara in view of the fact that no staff have reportedly agreed to relocate from the present location; if he will further report on new senior staff appointments that have been made due to the decentralisation of BIM; the costs in 2007 and 2008 of basing senior staff in Clonakilty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38654/08]

The Government, in its announcement of 14th October 2008, advised that it had reviewed the decentralisation programme and identified priority elements on which implementation should proceed.

Having considered the progress and commitments already made, the costs involved, the expectations of staff and the business readiness of organisations to transfer to new locations, the Government identified the projects ear-marked to continue at this time. Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) the Irish Sea Fisheries Board, is amongst the projects to continue.

BIM is the independent, statutory agency with responsibility for developing a sustainable Irish Seafood industry. The deployment of staff and financial management of the agency are matters for BIM, in which the Minister does not have a role.

Grant Payments.

Tom Hayes

Ceist:

341 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if special consideration will be given to a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary who wishes to apply for the farmers early retirement scheme. [38556/08]

The Early Retirement Scheme 2007 was suspended for new applications with effect from 15 October 2008. The limiting of the suspension of the Scheme will be considered at the earliest opportunity but with regard to the general budgetary constraints.

Bobby Aylward

Ceist:

342 Deputy Bobby Aylward asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he is confident that he will secure sufficient funding to protect future REP schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38557/08]

In deciding my Department's allocation for 2009, I have chosen to protect the Rural Environment Protection Scheme, including the 17% increase in rates, and to ensure that it can continue to accommodate farmers wishing to join in 2009. This reflects the value I place on a scheme that meets environmental imperatives and consumer demands for environmentally friendly food production. The provision for REPS in 2009 will be increased to €355million. I am committed to the long-term future of REPS as a measure that has brought great benefits not only to farmers but also to the community as a whole.

Joe Carey

Ceist:

343 Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will approve the application of a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38600/08]

There is no record of an application received in my Department under the Young Farmers' Installation Scheme and the Early Retirement Scheme (ERS3) 2007 from the persons concerned.

Joe Carey

Ceist:

344 Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will allow the processing and provision of farm installation aid and early retirement scheme applications which had been lodged with his Department but were not fully processed prior to the announcement in budget 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38601/08]

Applications under the Early Retirement Scheme (ERS3) 2007 and the Young Farmers' Installation Scheme received in my Department up to and including 14 October 2008 will be processed, and if they are in order payment will be made.

Joe Carey

Ceist:

345 Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the cost of financing the young farmers installation aid scheme and the early retirement scheme for the years 2005, 2006 and 2007; the number of individual applications that were made in these years outlined on a county basis; the number of applications with his Department but not yet approved on a county basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38602/08]

The cost of financing the Early Retirement Scheme for the years 2005, 2006 and 2007 is outlined in Table 1:

Table 1

Year

Expenditure

2005

61,835,263

2006

54,678,585

2007

53,348,930

Table 2 shows a breakdown by county of applications made under the previous Early Retirement Scheme (2000–2006) and under the current Scheme in the year 2007 (the applications under the current Scheme were in respect of the period from 6 June 2007, when the Scheme came into operation, up to 31 December 2007). This table also shows a breakdown by county of applications made under the current Scheme (made in 2007 and 2008) which have not yet been approved for payment.

Table 2

County

2005

2006

2007

Applications not yet approved for payment

Carlow

3

7

2

2

Cavan

13

7

1

6

Clare

22

17

4

4

Cork

50

66

20

54

Donegal

10

5

4

2

Dublin

0

1

1

1

Galway

7

15

8

9

Kerry

30

24

28

16

Kildare

1

7

1

6

Kilkenny

9

9

4

2

Laois

7

9

5

7

Leitrim

2

1

3

5

Limerick

24

20

11

23

Longford

0

0

0

0

Louth

4

2

6

3

Mayo

12

3

5

4

Meath

6

8

0

0

Monaghan

10

10

1

1

Offaly

6

9

5

4

Roscommon

4

3

1

2

Sligo

3

6

1

2

Tipperary

30

30

11

9

Waterford

13

14

6

4

Westmeath

12

4

1

1

Wexford

25

16

8

7

Wicklow

5

8

2

2

Total

308

301

139

176

In the case of installation aid for young farmers, a summary of the information is set out in the following table. A detailed breakdown on a county basis will be sent to the Deputy shortly.

2005

2006

2007

No. of Applications

799

925

479

No. of Payees

557

615

603

Amount Paid

€5.173m

€5.736m

€5.785m

Farm Waste Management.

Joe Carey

Ceist:

346 Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the discussions to date he has had with the EU agricultural Commissioner in order to seek an extension of the farm waste management scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38603/08]

The deadline of 31 December 2008 for completion of work by farmers under the revised Farm Waste Management Scheme introduced by my Department in March 2006 is a condition of the EU state aid approval for the Scheme. The European Commission has since reaffirmed that it expects Ireland to respect this deadline strictly.

Grant Payments.

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

347 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if his attention has been drawn to the circumstances surrounding the cancellation of the farm installation aid and the farm retirement pension scheme in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Clare and the inconvenience and cost that the discontinuation of both schemes will have on this family; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38632/08]

I have made provision of €56.7 million in 2009 to meet current commitments under the Scheme of Early Retirement from Farming and the Young Farmers' Installation Scheme but for the present, it has been necessary to suspend new applications for these schemes. The limiting of the suspension of the Schemes will be considered at the earliest opportunity having regard to the general budgetary situation.

Commonage Framework Plans.

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

348 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he plans to reduce sheep numbers again on the mountains; if stocking rates of 1.5 ewes per hectare will be used as a reference point; if this low stocking rate will be reduced further by deducting the percentage sheep numbers which were already culled since the destocking programme commenced; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that this reduction could be as high as 48% of the original number of sheep reared on the hill areas; if his Department officials had meaningful discussions with the sheep farmers involved; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38633/08]

The issue referred to arises from the implementation of the EU Habitats and Wild Birds Directives, which is a matter in the first instance for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government.

Destocking as set out in the Commonage Framework Plans was implemented in Ireland in 2003. In the light of scientific assessment, in subsequent years, of the condition of one Special Protection Area (SPA) in County Mayo and two Special Areas of Conservation (SACs) in County Galway, it was deemed necessary to implement additional grazing restrictions in order to address continuing overgrazing in these areas.

Following discussions with farmers and their representatives in which officials of my Department took part, the Minister, Deputy Gormley, has implemented new grazing regimes that go beyond the destocking requirements set out in the original Commonage Framework Plan. Under these arrangements, each farmer is allocated a grazing entitlement to the commonage proportionate to his or her share and the condition and habitat composition of the commonage. In some cases this will lead to additional destocking in overgrazed areas, where the farmer has insufficient land in suitable condition to sustain current flock numbers.

This model is applied in those areas where the recovery from overgrazing is very poor and compensation has been agreed with the farming organisations. Monitoring of the condition of commonage in other parts of the country will be used to assess whether similar interventions are required elsewhere.

Disadvantaged Areas Scheme.

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

349 Deputy Dinny McGinley asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the position regarding an application for disadvantaged area aid in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Donegal; and when payment will issue. [38637/08]

An application under the 2008 Disadvantaged Areas Scheme was received from the person named on 9 May 2008.

The Terms and Conditions governing the scheme require, inter alia, that applicants maintain a minimum stocking density on their holding of 0.15 livestock units per forage hectare declared for at least three consecutive months. However, where the holding of an applicant is identified as not meeting this minimum requirement, the person in question is invited to submit evidence of satisfactory stocking i.e. Flock Register, Horse Passports or details of a REPS or Commonage Framework Plan, which provides for a lower stocking level.

The person named was written to on 9 October 2008 and invited to submit appropriate evidence of the numbers of livestock maintained on his farm. On receipt of a satisfactory response from the person named, the application will be further processed with a view to payment at an early date.

Departmental Staff.

Michael Creed

Ceist:

350 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the number of staff employed in his Department’s press office; if he will outline the role and function of his Department’s press office and its relationship with his own press office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38861/08]

Press Office functions are carried out by a Press and Information unit of the Corporate Affairs Division in my Department which also performs a range of other functions. The provision and dissemination of information in relation to the wide range of schemes and services operated by my Department to my Department's various stakeholders is a particularly important and central activity of the Press Information Office.

The equivalent of 4.5 staff work full-time on media communications duties in this unit, all of whom are civil servants. This includes one civil servant at Assistant Principal Officer level who works as the Department's Press and Information Officer. I do not operate a separate Press Office, but am advised on media and information issues by a personal press adviser who works closely with my Department's Press Office.

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

351 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the current and capital expenditure which has been incurred to date in respect of the decentralisation projects which have been deferred until a further review occurs in 2011. [38886/08]

Following the decentralisation announcement in Budget 2009, the moves to Fermoy, Macroom and Enniscorthy have been deferred pending a review in 2011. Since the original decentralisation announcement, my Department made no specific provision for expenditure nor has there been any specific expenditure recorded by the Department in relation to these proposed moves.

The Office of Public Works deals with the acquisition of property for the decentralisation programme and had made progress in identifying sites at all three locations. All progress in relation to these sites has now been deferred pending the review in 2011.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

352 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the number of persons who have been relocated to each of the decentralised locations established by units or agencies under his Department; the floor areas and occupancy capacity of each of the facilities concerned; and the date by which it is intended to complete the transfer of remaining staff. [38901/08]

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

353 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the number of staff moves that have been necessitated by the decentralisation programme in units or agencies in his Department distinguishing the moves at managerial or technical level. [38916/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 352 and 353 together.

In total there has been an increase of 297 full-time posts in Portlaoise and 84 in Clonakilty since the decentralisation programme was announced. The Department's move to Clonakilty is now substantially complete.

Pending delivery of the permanent accommodation, the OPW has leased accommodation for the Department in Portlaoise on a temporary basis.

Premises

Area

Capacity

Blocks A & B, Grattan Business Centre, Dublin Road

15,920 sq. ft

100

2nd & 3rd Floors, Eircom Building, Knockmay Industrial Estate

14,224 sq. ft

153

Ground & 1st Floors, Grattan House, Grattan Business Centre, Dublin Road

4,359 sq. ft

35

Pending delivery of the permanent accommodation, the OPW has leased accommodation for the Department and the Sea Fisheries Protection Authority (SFPA) in Clonakilty on a temporary basis.

Premises

Area

Capacity

Block C, West Cork Technology Park (DAFF)

12,400 sq. ft.

100

Block G, West Cork Technology Park (SFPA)

9,363 sq. ft.

45

The Sea Fisheries Protection Authority, with a current staffing complement there of 47, was established directly in Clonakilty.

In addition to staffing issues, the completion of the decentralisation programme depends on the availability of the permanent accommodation. The Department awaits confirmation from the Office of Public Works (OPW) of the timescale for delivery of the building in Portlaoise. OPW announced last December that a consortium, the Macquarie Partnership, has won the tender for the project to build the permanent offices in Portlaoise (as part of a public private partnership including offices in Mullingar and Carlow) and planning permission for the new building was granted earlier this year. The permanent office in Clonakilty is due to be completed in quarter 1, 2009.

The 297 posts that moved to Portlaoise can be broken down by grade.

Grade

Number

Principal Officers

3

Assistant Principals

25

HEO/AO

59

Executive Officers

91

Staff Officers

5

Clerical Officers

98

Service Officers

1

Agricultural Inspectors

8

Assistant Agricultural Inspectors

5

Supervisory Agricultural Inspectors

1

Area Superintendents

1

Total

297

The 84 posts that moved to Clonakilty can be broken down by grade.

Grade

Number

Assistant Secretary

1

Principal Officers

3

Assistant Principals

8

HEO/AO

22

Executive Officers

27

Staff Officers

6

Clerical Officers

14

Service Officers

2

Engineers Grade 111

1

Total

84

Decentralisation Programme.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

354 Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the facilities in Dublin which units or agencies under his Department, plan to vacate as a result of the decentralisation programme; the floor areas involved; and when it is planned that they will be realised. [38931/08]

The material requested is being collated and will be sent directly to the Deputy.

Clárú Múinteoirí.

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

355 D’fhiafraigh Deputy Dinny McGinley den Aire Oideachais agus Eolaíochta an dtuigeann sé an dochar do chás na Gaeilge sa chóras oideachais de bharr an chinnidh atá déanta deireadh a chur leis an liúntas a íoctar le hoidí a oiltear thar lear, cad é costas na scéime gach bliain ó 2000 go dáta agus an ndéanfaidh sé athmhachnamh ar an scéim. [38573/08]

Ní mór do dhaoine ar mhian leo bheith cláraithe mar mhúinteoirí sa tír seo iarraidh ar an gComhairle Múinteoireachta a gcáilíochtaí a aithint. Nuair atá na riachtanais go léir comhlíonta ag na hiarratasóirí, agus nuair atá a gcuid cáilíochtaí aitheanta ag an gComhairle Múinteoireachta, féadann iarratasóirí cur isteach ar aitheantas mar mhúinteoirí bunscoile nó iarbhunscoile.

Chun aitheantas iomlán a fháil mar mhúinteoir bunscoile sa tír seo ní mór do mhúinteoirí cúrsa oideachais do bhunmhúinteoirí a bheith críochnaithe go sásúil acu. Ina theannta sin, os rud é gur múinteoirí ranga, seachas múinteoirí ábhair aonair iad bunmhúinteoirí in Éirinn, ní mór dóibh bheith in ann gach gné den churaclam a mhúineadh, an Ghaeilge san áireamh. Dá réir sin, ní mór do mhúinteoirí atá aitheanta go hiomlán bheith cáilithe chun an raon iomlán d'ábhair bunscoile a mhúineadh do pháistí d'aois 4 go dtí 12 bliana.

Deonaítear tréimhse cúig bliana d'aitheantas sealadach chun múineadh i ranganna príomhshrutha i scoileanna naisiúnta do mhúinteoirí a chuaigh faoi oiliúint lasmuigh den Stát, nach bhfuil cailíocht chuí sa Ghaeilge acu. Le linn na tréimhse seo, bítear ag súil go bhfaighidh na múinteoirí seo a gcáilíocht sa Ghaeilge. Chun an riachtanas Gaeilge a chomhlíonadh ní mór do mhúinteoirí dá leithéid seo pas a fhail sa Scrúdú Cáilíochta sa Ghaeilge agus teastas a chur ar fáil gur chónaigh siad sa Ghaeltacht le linn dóibh bheith ag freastal ar chúrsa faofa trí seachtaine, nó ní mór dóibh tréimhse oiriúnaithe a chur isteach.

In ainneoin an mhéadaithe de €302 milliún atá sa bhuiséad oideachais do 2009, éacht nach beag agus an eacnamaíocht mar atá sé, ní raibh aon dul as ach roinnt cinntí crua, deacra a dhéanamh. Ina measc siúd, bhí an cinneadh gan leanúint leis an deontas a íoctaí do mhúinteoirí a chuaigh faoi oiliúint thar lear i leith freastail ar chúrsaí sa Ghaeltacht. B'íocaíocht aon uaire de €431 in aghaidh an mhúinteora a íoctaí mar dheontas le múinteoirí a chuaigh faoi oiliúint thar lear agus iad ag freastal ar chúrsaí sa Ghaeltacht. Ba cheart a nótáil gur ceadaithe do mhúinteoirí a bhfuil aitheantas sealadach acu múineadh le linn na tréimhse cúig bliana i ranganna príomhshrutha i scoileanna náisiúnta, agus gur íoctar iad ag an ráta is cuí do bhunmhúinteoirí atá cáilithe go hiomlán. Gabhfaidh coigilt de tuairim is €200,000 leis an mbeart seo ag na leibhéil reatha.

I 2007, chaith mo Roinnse €198,000 ar an deontas seo agus chaith sí €212,000 i 2006. Níl eolas ar chostas an deontais i ngach bliain ar leith ó 2000 go dtí 2005 ar fáil go héasca i mo Roinnse.

Coláistí Samhraidh Gaeilge.

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

356 D’fhiafraigh Deputy Dinny McGinley den Aire Oideachais agus Eolaíochta an dtuigeann sé an ghéarchéim i measc coláistí samhraidh Gaeilge de bharr deireadh a chur leis an liúntas ón Roinn a íoctar le gach dalta agus go bhfuil todhchaí cuid de na coláistí i gceist; agus an ndéanfaidh sé athmhachnamh ar an chinneadh agus leanúint le híoc an deontais. [38574/08]

In ainneoin an mhéadaithe de €302 milliún atá sa bhuiséad oideachais do 2009, éacht nach beag agus an eacnamaíocht mar atá sé, ní raibh aon dul as ach roinnt cinntí crua, deacra a dhéanamh. Léiríodh na cinntí seo i measc na bhfógairtí Lá an Bhuiséid agus ina measc bhí cealú an deontais a bhí á íóc ag mo Roinnse do na coláistí samhraidh Gaeilge. B'é ráta an chúnamh deontais seo a cuireadh ar fáil ná tuairim is €50 in aghaidh gach mic léinn a bhí rollaithe ar chúrsa trí seachtaine i 2008, méid ab ionann is cuid bheag go leor den chostas foriomlán a ghabh le freastal ar an gcúrsa.

School Accommodation.

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

357 Deputy Dinny McGinley asked the Minister for Education and Science if an application has been received from a school (details supplied) in County Donegal for an increase in grant towards the provision of a resource room; if same is being considered; and if its allocation will be approved in order that the school can be brought to a satisfactory and acceptable standard. [38575/08]

An application for grant-aid for the provision of a resource room was approved for the school referred to by the Deputy. I can confirm the Board of Management have appealed for additional funding to be provided for the project. This appeal is currently under consideration and a decision will be conveyed to the Board as soon as possible.

Residential Institutions Redress Scheme.

Charles Flanagan

Ceist:

358 Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Minister for Education and Science the amount paid to claimants under the residential institutions redress scheme together with the amount in respect of legal and medical report costs; the number of cases outstanding and still to be heard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38579/08]

The Redress Board's primary function is to provide financial redress to persons who, as children, were abused while resident in Industrial Schools, Reformatories or other institutions that were subject to State regulation or inspection.

The closing date for receipt of applications was the 15th December 2005 by which time the Board had received 14,513 applications. The Board has received a total of 14,549 applications (including 36 late applications accepted up to 31st December 2007).

Up to 3rd November 2008, 12,280 applications were processed by the Board. The overall average award from the inception of the scheme is €64,892. Awards are determined by the Board having regard to the severity of the abuse, the severity of physical and psychological injury and the loss of opportunity resulting from the abuse. The level of awards range in value from €0 to €300,000.

Expenditure associated with the Redress Board to the end of 2007 was €745,591,963. Based on the total number of applications received, the final cost of the scheme may be in the region of €1.1 billion, including legal and administration costs. Any estimate of the final cost of the Scheme at this point will be tentative as the Board has approximately 2,269 applications to process and the level of award provided in these remaining cases may vary substantially.

With approximately 2,269 cases to be processed, it is difficult to say at this point when the Board will have completed its work. However, from experience, as the Board generally clears between 200 to 220 cases per month, an estimated timeframe is 14 months or towards the end of 2009. While the processing of awards should be completed in 2009, there will be some residual work to be completed by the Board in 2010.

Education Committees.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

359 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Education and Science his plans to address the concerns as expressed in a submission (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38588/08]

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

386 Deputy Emmet Stagg asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will reconsider his decision to remove the support services grants from schools such as a school (details supplied) in County Westmeath in view of the previous agreement reached in relation to those grants more than 40 years ago and in view of the implications of their removal. [38946/08]

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

387 Deputy Emmet Stagg asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the consequences of the removal of grants allocated by the secondary education committees (details supplied); if he will reconsider this decision in view of the special arrangements entered into with Protestant churches more than 40 years ago; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38947/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 359, 386 and 387 together.

The 2009 budget required difficult choices to be made across all areas of public expenditure. Decisions were made in order to control expenditure and ensure sustainability in the long term. In this respect, education, while protected to a much greater extent than most other areas of public expenditure, could not be entirely spared. I acknowledge the impact of funding restrictions in a number of areas, including at school level. However, these are the inevitable result of the challenging international economic environment and the need to manage Exchequer resources.

With regard to the removal of certain support services grants received by Protestant fee-charging schools, I wish to re-emphasise that the Protestant Block grant remains in place. Protestant fee-charging schools receive, and will continue to receive, this grant, which amounts to €6.25 million in the current school year. This payment covers capitation, tuition and boarding grants. It is distributed by the Secondary Education Committee among needier Protestant children. Applications are made by parents to the Central Protestant Churches Authority, which, on the basis of a means test, distributes the funds to individual schools on the basis of pupil needs. The retention of this grant demonstrates the importance that I, and this Government, continue to attach to ensuring that students of the Protestant faith can attend schools that reflect their denominational ethos.

In retaining this grant, the Government is being faithful to the separate arrangements that were agreed with the Protestant schools when the free scheme was introduced by Donagh O'Malley and, at the time, it was the payment of the block grant in particular for Protestant fee-charging schools that distinguished them from those Catholic schools that chose to continue to charge fees.

It is estimated that savings of €2.8 million will accrue to my Department as a result of the withdrawal of support services grants from Protestant fee-charging schools in 2009. It is important to note that the purpose of these grants was not to offset fees for disadvantaged Protestant students. Rather, they covered a range of support services. I have had to take decisions on a number of grants that have impacted on the funding of schools generally. With the Protestant Block grant protected, I can see no justification for treating the Protestant fee-charging schools in a special way, particularly given that Catholic fee-charging schools have not been in receipt of the grants in question at all.

With regard to the change in the pupil teacher ratio, it is important to emphasise that this applies to all fee-paying schools, regardless of denominational ethos. There is an inescapable fact that pay constitutes the bulk of current expenditure on education, and therefore measures impacting on the teaching resources available to schools were necessary. The specific measures I have had to take in relation to the staffing schedule have to be seen in this light. I had to take a measured and balanced view of what was reasonable in the circumstances. Each school management authority is required to organise its curriculum, teaching timetable and subject options having regard to pupils' needs within the limits of the approved normal staffing allocation.

A school authority may, however, encounter unanticipated difficulty in meeting essential curricular commitments to pupils within the normal staffing allocation. As part of the normal flexibility in the allocation system, my Department will, on an exceptional basis, consider requests by a school authority for a staffing concession as short-term support. Such curricular concession applications should clearly demonstrate how the management authority has engaged in effective school planning and inter-school cooperation, where appropriate, to demonstrate how it will deal with the matter in the medium term.

Mechanisms are in place for schools that wish to appeal their staffing allocations. The criteria for appeals are published by my Department and appeals are considered by an Appeals Board which operates independently of my Department. The positions of individual schools, including those referred to by the Deputies, will not be known until the staffing and budgetary allocations are finalised in the New Year.

Higher Education Grants.

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

360 Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Education and Science further to Parliamentary Question No. 553 of 29 October 2008, the section and subsection or article of regulation that precludes the students of distance learning courses from support under the higher education grants; the section and subsection or article of regulation that defines a distance learning course as a part-time course; the definition of a full-time course; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38597/08]

The statutory framework for the student maintenance grants scheme, as set out in the Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Acts, 1968 to 1992, provides for means-tested higher education grants to assist students to attend full-time third-level education.

Clause 1, 1.1 of the Higher Education Grants Scheme defines an approved course as a full-time undergraduate course of not less than two years duration or a full-time postgraduate course of not less than one year duration pursued in one of the approved institutions listed at Appendix 1 (A) and 1 (B) of the scheme. Distance learning courses do not meet this definition.

In the higher education sector, a course is considered to be full-time where the student is attending an intramural day course at a third level institution and devoting their whole working time to their academic studies.

Schools Building Projects.

Martin Ferris

Ceist:

361 Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Education and Science if a commitment given on 24 April 2007 to a school (details supplied) in County Kerry that it was one of 56 large scale building projects approved will be delivered upon; when the school will be advanced to the next stage of the design and building process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38606/08]

The building project for the school to which the Deputy refers is awaiting the appointment of a Design Team.

The progression of all large scale building projects, including this project, from initial design stage through to construction phase will be considered in the context of my Department's multi-annual School Building and Modernisation Programme. However, in light of current competing demands on the capital budget of the Department, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the progression of the project at this time.

Special Educational Needs.

Pádraic McCormack

Ceist:

362 Deputy Pádraic McCormack asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will reconsider an application for a home tuition grant in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Galway who suffers from a profound brain injury, epilepsy and who requires home tuition in view of the fact that they are unable to attend a special needs school due to the severity of their condition; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38607/08]

The Deputy will be aware that the home tuition scheme provides a grant to parents to facilitate the provision of education at home for children who, for a number of reasons such as chronic illness, are unable to attend school. The scheme was extended in recent years to facilitate tuition for children awaiting an educational placement and provide early education intervention for pre-school children with autism.

On the basis of the information provided in an application for home tuition last year, the child in question was not eligible for home tuition as he had the option of an appropriate school placement at that time. There is no record of an application for home tuition in respect of this year.

Schools Building Projects.

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

363 Deputy Eamon Gilmore asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress that has been made on the planned building programme for a college (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38626/08]

The planned building programme for the College referred to by the Deputy involves four individual major projects all of which are progressing.

Three projects, a Digital Media Building, Workshops and a Multi Purpose Hall form part of the first bundle of higher education projects that were announced earlier this year for delivery through the Public Private Partnership process. Pre-procurement work on the first bundle involving preparation of output specifications, determining the public service benchmark and securing outline planning permission is on-going. When completed for all projects within the bundle, the bundle will be transferred to the National Development Finance Agency (NDFA) for procurement.

The fourth project at the College involves an extension to the Quadrangle Building and is currently in architectural design. The project is being funded by direct Exchequer capital and some private resources being procured by the College.

School Transport.

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

364 Deputy Paul Connaughton asked the Minister for Education and Science the increases in school bus transport fees which will take place in 2009; if travel tickets can be paid for on a term by term basis in the future as at present; the current charges; if all students will be asked for some payment irrespective of whether they live inside the school bus catchment area boundaries; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38627/08]

I recently announced that the school transport charges for the 2009/10 school year will be as follows:

Pupil Category

Current Term Charge

Annual Charge

Daily Rate

Increase Sept. 2009 Annual Charge

Daily Rate

% Increase

Eligible Post Primary

Junior Cycle

56

168

1.01

300

1.80

78

Senior Cycle

78

234

1.40

300

1.80

28

Concessionary Post Primary

78

234

1.40

300

1.80

28

Eligible Primary

0

0

N/A

0

N/A

N/A

Concessionary Primary

40

120

0.66

200

1.09

67

Maximum Family Charge

165

495

2.96

650

3.89

31

Charges will continue to be waived in the case of eligible post primary children where the family is in possession of a medical card viz. approximately 19,000 cases. All eligible primary school children and children with special needs, or about 54,000 children, will continue to be exempt from charges.

The above charges will be payable in advance rather than on a term to term basis. I have, however, asked my Department officials to examine with Bus Eireann any potential options for flexibility in spreading the payments for families with more than one child.

Departmental Expenditure.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

365 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Education and Science his views in relation to a submission (details supplied) which expresses anger and frustration at the budget 2009 cuts in relation to his Department; his plans to overcome the problems as outlined in the submission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38644/08]

Jack Wall

Ceist:

366 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Education and Science his views in relation to a submission (details supplied); the actions proposed to address the matters; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38645/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 365 and 366 together.

I am aware of the concerns referred to by the Deputy. The 2009 Budget required difficult choices to be made across all areas of public expenditure. These decisions were made to control public expenditure and to ensure sustainability in the long run. In this respect Education while protected to a much greater extent than most other areas of public expenditure could not be totally spared.

We are dealing with an economic situation of unprecedented difficulty. The Government has a collective duty to respond to this and to take very difficult decisions in the national interest. In doing this we have attempted to afford some shelter to the education sector but given the scale of public expenditure on education it is simply not possible to avoid tough decisions. I fully accept that these decisions are not of themselves desirable and that they can only be justified by the imperative of securing the future economic stability of the country. I have called for cooperation from all the education partners in meeting the challenges facing us both as an education community and as a country.

I am confident that as the global economy improves it will be possible to build again on the significant achievements of recent years and do so in a manner consistent with overall prudent management of the Irish economy.

School Accommodation.

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

367 Deputy Charlie O’Connor asked the Minister for Education and Science the contacts with the board of management of a school (details supplied) in Dublin 24 in respect of the school’s future accommodation needs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38646/08]

The project for the school to which the Deputy refers involves the acquisition of a site for a new school building.

The progression of the project, from site acquisition and initial design stage through to construction phase will be considered in the context of my Department's multi-annual School Building and Modernisation Programme. However, in light of current competing demands on the capital budget of the Department, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the further progression of the project at this time.

My Department has engaged in the usual contact with the school authority in relation to the project.

Special Educational Needs.

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

368 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason there will be further delays in rolling out the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004; the deadline for the full implementation of the Act; if he will expedite the full implementation of the Act; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38656/08]

The Deputy will be aware that a significant number of sections of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act, 2004 have been commenced, principally those establishing the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) and those promoting an inclusive approach to the education of children with special educational needs. Specifically, the following sections have been commenced — 1, 2, 14(1)(a), 14(1)(c), 14(2) to 14(4), 19 to 37, 40 to 53.

As I have outlined previously, it is not possible to commence the EPSEN Act incrementally by age cohort, therefore the provisions of the Act especially those regarding assessments and individual education plans will have to be commenced for all children at the same time. This means that the necessary training arrangements, personnel and systems have to be in place at the time of commencement.

As required under the Act, the NCSE provided a report making recommendations regarding the implementation of EPSEN which suggested additional investment over a period of years of up to €235m per annum across the education and health sectors. Having considered the NCSE report, and consulted with the education partners, the Department of Health and Children and the HSE, my Department identified a range of options for the implementation of EPSEN. My Department's opinion is that the level of investment required would be greater than that envisaged in the NCSE report. In the light of the current financial circumstances, it is therefore not possible to proceed with full implementation in 2010 as originally envisaged. However, the Government will keep the matter under review and is committed to the full implementation of EPSEN at the earliest possible date.

I want to reiterate that children with special educational needs will continue to receive an education appropriate to their needs. I intend to build on the progress that has been achieved in recent years which has seen a huge increase in resources for special educational needs. The NCSE will continue to support schools, parents and children, and teachers and special needs assistants will continue to be deployed to schools to meet children's needs. As announced on Budget day, an additional €20m has been provided — €10m for education services and €10m for health services — to strengthen and enhance services, and continue the preparation for the full implementation of the Act at a later date.

State Examinations.

Frank Feighan

Ceist:

369 Deputy Frank Feighan asked the Minister for Education and Science if a concession by way of extra points in the leaving certificate is awarded to a student who has been seriously ill for some time. [38661/08]

The State Examinations Commission has statutory responsibility for operational matters relating to the certificate examinations including organising the holding of examinations, making arrangements for the marking of work presented for examination and issuing the results of examinations. I understand that the Commission does make reasonable accommodations in the certificate examinations in order to assist candidates affected by emergencies that arise from time to time. This is done in conjunction with the candidate's school.

I have forwarded the Deputy's query to the State Examinations Commission for direct reply to him.

Schools Building Projects.

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

370 Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science when a planned new school (details supplied) in County Cork will move to construction stage; and when the transfer from the temporary site to the permanent site will take place. [38671/08]

I wish to inform the Deputy that An Bord Pleanála has recently upheld the planning application in relation to the permanent building for this school. My Department will now proceed to construction without delay and will keep the school authorities informed of progress.

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

371 Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding a proposed extension to a school (details supplied) in County Cork. [38672/08]

The school to which the Deputy refers is at an early stage of architectural planning. In this regard, a Stage 2a submission is currently being examined by my Department.

The progression of all large scale building projects, including this project, from initial design stage through to construction phase will be considered in the context of my Department's multi-annual School Building and Modernisation Programme. However, in light of current competing demands on the capital budget of the Department, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the further progression of the project at this time.

Schools Refurbishment.

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

372 Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science the position regarding planned refurbishment work and a new building for a school (details supplied) in County Cork. [38673/08]

The project to which the Deputy refers involves the acquisition of additional land.

The progression of the project, from site acquisition and initial design stage through to construction phase will be considered in the context of my Department's multi-annual School Building and Modernisation Programme. However, in light of current competing demands on the capital budget of the Department, it is not possible to give an indicative timeframe for the further progression of the project at this time.

Educational Disadvantage.

Joanna Tuffy

Ceist:

373 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the impact the budget 2009 cutbacks will have on the quality of teaching and learning of pupils in a school (details supplied) in County Dublin which is a disadvantaged school; if his attention has further been drawn to the fact that the decision to reduce the language support teachers will have a serious impact on this school; if he will ensure that the DEIS concessionary post and other supports will remain in place at this school; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38677/08]

The 2009 Budget required difficult choices to be made across all areas of public expenditure. These decisions were made to control public expenditure and to ensure sustainability in the long run. In this respect education while protected to a much greater extent than most other areas of public expenditure could not be totally spared. Among those decisions was to advance the withdrawal of supports from non DEIS schools to the beginning of the next school year. The main focus of Social Inclusion Measures will be to retain resources in DEIS schools.

In terms of language support the budget measures will mean that the level of language support will be reduced from a maximum of six extra teachers per school to a maximum of two teachers per school, as was the case before 2007. However, the ongoing requirement for current levels of language support teachers in schools should also start to reduce in line with lower levels of immigration and in line with improvements in the levels of proficiency of those pupils for whom this resource has been available.

As I announced on budget day we will also provide for some alleviation for the position of those schools where there is a significant concentration of newcomer pupils as a proportion of the overall enrolment. This will be done on a case by case basis.

The allocation process for language support teachers is an annual one and existing provision is not rolled over automatically. Schools will be applying afresh in the spring and early summer of 2009 for the 2009/10 school year, based on their assessment of the prospective needs of existing pupils and any new pupils they are enrolling.

In terms of the staffing implications at individual school level, the allocation processes including notification to schools will commence early in the New Year. The allocation process includes appellate mechanisms under which schools can appeal against the allocation due to them under the staffing schedules. The final allocation to a school is also a function of the operation of the redeployment panels which provide for the retention of a teacher in an existing school if a new post is not available within the agreed terms of the scheme.

Ministerial Responsibilities.

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

374 Deputy Pat Rabbitte asked the Minister for Education and Science if delegation orders have been made in respect of the duties of each Minister of State at his Department; when each order was made; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38680/08]