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 9, inclusive, answered orally.

Gas Exploration

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

10 Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the discussions he or his officials have had with the authorities in Northern Ireland with a view to agreeing a joint policy North and South on hydraulic fracturing on an all Ireland basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2626/12]

Officials of my Department have had contacts with their counterparts in Northern Ireland in relation to the onshore exploration authorisations that are in place in the two jurisdictions.

The primary purpose of these contacts has been to facilitate an exchange of information in relation to the nature of the activities that have been licensed and their associated timelines. There has also been a sharing of information in relation to the regulatory processes that would apply in each jurisdiction should the promoters of these projects make applications to advance to an exploration drilling phase, or beyond.

The focus of these preliminary engagements has been on information sharing and not on seeking to agree a joint north south policy. In the case that a project in either jurisdiction were to advance to the next stage then it would be subject to the regulatory processes that pertain in that jurisdiction.

It is the case, however, that the environmental consideration of any proposed project in either jurisdiction will be subject to EU environmental legislation, including the provisions relating to consultation across borders where there could be a potential negative environmental impact in a neighbouring jurisdiction.

A meeting between authorities both north and south is planned for the coming weeks to provide an opportunity for a more detailed engagement and sharing of information between the respective regulators.

Mobile Telephony

Billy Kelleher

Ceist:

11 Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he intends issuing an instruction to ComReg as he is empowered to do under the Acts laying down the minimum coverage requirements for any new mobile licences; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2633/12]

The management of the radio spectrum is a statutory function of the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) under the Communications Regulation Act, 2002 as amended.

As set out in ComReg documents 11/60 and 11/75 and associated documents, ComReg is proposing to hold a multi-band award of spectrum rights of use in the 800 MHz, 900 MHz and 1800 MHz bands. These documents also detail ComReg's proposed minimum coverage requirement for spectrum rights so awarded.

In making its proposals ComReg notes, amongst other things, that the four existing mobile operators have achieved coverage levels exceeding those set out in their respective mobile licences. For example, for 3G services, Vodafone's coverage covers 90% of the population, 5% more than its obligation. Hutchison 3G, better known as "3", covers 96% of the population, 11% more than its obligation. O2 also covers 90.5% of the population, which is also more than its obligation.

ComReg also notes that coverage continues to be an important competitive differentiator. Any deterioration in coverage by any one network would undermine that network's attractiveness to its existing and potential customers.

The importance of maintaining the existing levels of mobile telephony and mobile broadband coverage has been raised with ComReg by my officials. While the outcome of the forthcoming multi-band spectrum release process can not be anticipated I understand that ComReg are not anticipating any reduction in coverage as a result of the process.

It is also important to note that ComReg's coverage proposals are designed to facilitate the possible entry of new operators in a manner that would ensure that "cherry picking" of high-density urban areas would not occur.

Finally, section 11 of the Communications Regulation Act, 2002 requires that "Subject to this Act, the Commission shall be independent in the exercise of its functions" and such independence is also a requirement under the EU Directives which underpin the electronic communications regulatory framework in all Member States.

In light of the above I do not propose to issue a direction in this regard. It is however up to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications to invite ComReg to make a presentation on its work including the issue of coverage requirements.

Energy Market Regulation

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

12 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on reforming the energy market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2534/12]

The Government's priority energy policy objectives are to ensure secure, sustainable and competitive energy supply for the economy and for consumers. The energy regulatory framework for energy markets must also reflect and address evolving energy policy challenges and deliver compliance with the requirements of both EU and national energy legislation.

The regulation of the electricity and gas market is the responsibility of the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER). The Electricity Regulation Act 1999 provided for the establishment of the CER as an independent statutory regulator. Since its establishment, there have been a number of changes to the regulatory framework, and to the CER's remit reflecting the evolving energy policy landscape and particularly as a result of EU legal requirements under successive Directives on the Internal Energy Market.

In addition to its responsibility for the gas and electricity markets, the CER's remit has been extended to include responsibilities for security of supply, petroleum and gas safety and consumer protection.

Overseen by the Departments North and South, the CER and the Northern Ireland Regulator developed and designed the Single Electricity Market (SEM) which has been operating in Ireland and Northern Ireland since November 2007. SEM is one of the first cross jurisdictional electricity markets of its kind in the world, a fact that was explicitly recognised by the EU Energy Commissioner at the time of the launch.

The two regulators are currently working together to develop Common Arrangements for Gas (CAG) on the island of Ireland, in the interests of consumers North and South and security of supply, taking into account the EU goal of 2014 for market integration.

The regulatory regime for the Irish electricity and gas market, including consumer protection is currently being enhanced by the legal requirements under the EU's Third Energy Package which is designed to deliver a fully integrated and transparent EU energy market to the benefit of consumers.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) is conducting its periodic in-depth review of Irish energy policy. The Agency reviews the energy policy of every member country every four to five years. On this occasion, and at my request, the IEA review includes, as part of its overall review, an assessment of the efficiency of the Irish electricity and gas sectors, as required under the EU/IMF Programme of Financial Support for Ireland.

Informed by the IEA assessment, my Department in conjunction with the CER will develop proposals for my consideration on any further action required to enhance the regulatory and market framework this year in line with the requirement in the EU/IMF/ECB Programme of Financial Support for Ireland.

I have previously announced that an Energy Policy Framework 2012-2030 will be prepared this year reflecting economic and energy developments at national, EU and international level. The Energy Policy Framework will also be informed by the outcome of the IEA's overall Energy Policy Review which will be published mid year.

Question No. 13 answered with Question No. 7.
Question No. 14 answered with Question No. 9.
Question No. 15 answered with Question No. 8.

Gas Exploration

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

16 Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he has received any applications for an exploration licence to conduct hydraulic fracturing drilling here since he last addressed the matter; if so, if he will provide the relevant details; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2577/12]

I have not to date received any applications for an exploration licence that would involve hydraulic fracturing.

In February of last year, my Department granted onshore Licensing Options to three companies over parts of the Lough Allen and Clare Basin respectively. The Licensing Options are preliminary authorisations and are different to exploration licences. The Options are for a two year period from 1 March 2011. During this period, the companies will evaluate the natural gas potential of the acreage largely based on studies of existing data. The companies will also undertake a preliminary environmental baseline/impact assessment and engage with the local authorities and other statutory agencies as required.

This work is largely office/desktop based and will not involve exploration drilling or hydraulic fracturing. In fact exploration drilling is specifically excluded under these authorisations.

By the end of the Option period in February 2013, the companies will have to decide whether to apply for a follow-on exploration licences or relinquish their acreage.

In the event that a company decides to apply for an exploration licence that includes proposals for exploration drilling using hydraulic fracturing, the company would have to demonstrate that this work could be undertaken without causing harm to the environment. The application would have to be set out in detail and be supported by an environmental impact statement.

My Department would then undertake a full assessment of the application, including an environmental impact assessment with a public consultation phase. As part of that public consultation, my Department would consult with other relevant statutory authorities such as the EPA, NPWS and Local Authorities in making any decision.

Work under these Licensing Options is at an early stage and it is too soon to conclude whether or not these authorisations will proceed to the exploration licence stage.

My Department is currently assessing two further applications for onshore licensing options.

Alternative Energy Projects

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

17 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which a greater extent of electricity can be generated from non-fossil means with particular reference to wind and other forms of electricity generation; the full extent of contribution of the national grid from non-fossil fuels at present; the potential over the next five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2566/12]

Directive 2009/28/EC imposes a legally binding target on Ireland for a 16% share of renewable energy in all energy consumed by 2020. Ireland has set targets of 40% electricity, 12% heating and 10% transport fuel to be from renewables by 2020. The combined effect of these sectoral targets is commensurate with the achievement of the overall 16% target. In 2011 around 15% of Ireland's electricity was generated by renewable technologies.

The latest modeling undertaken by Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) indicates that capacity of around 4000MW of renewable generation will be required on the system to deliver the 40% renewable electricity target by 2020. EirGrid's latest data, which is available on their website, shows that at the end of 2011, Ireland had 1900MW of renewable generation on the grid. This includes 1630MW of connected wind, 234MW of hydro and 46MW of additional other renewable generation.

In addition to projects already connected, there is around 1000MW from the Gate 1 and Gate 2 rounds which have contracted and are scheduled to be built out and connected over the next few years. Around 4,000MW of additional renewable capacity is provided for in the Gate 3 process. EirGrid's Grid 25 strategy and implementation plans are designed to deliver the necessary grid developments and grid reinforcements to underpin the new renewable generating capacity, as well as to support regional economic development.

EirGrid has also developed a world leading programme to manage the integration of high levels of renewable electricity on the system from a grid operations perspective over the coming years. The programme includes enhancing generation portfolio performance, developing new operational policies and systems, to efficiently use the generation portfolio to the best of its capabilities and regularly reviewing the needs of the system as the portfolio capability evolves.

Telecommunications Services

Kevin Humphreys

Ceist:

18 Deputy Kevin Humphreys asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he is satisfied with the international connectivity for broadband and information service cables here; the number of transnational connections Ireland has; if any strategic review has been performed in this area by him; if not, if he has any plans to carry out such a study; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2568/12]

The provision of telecommunications services, including international electronic communication connectivity, is primarily a matter for the private sector, regulated where appropriate by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg). The island of Ireland has many international telecommunications cables, providing international connectivity to the country. There are transatlantic subsea telecommunications cables providing direct connectivity between Ireland and the USA and subsea cables connecting Ireland to the UK and on to Europe through the UK.

I understand the availability and capacity of international connectivity services are more than adequate for foreseeable needs. As the Deputy may be aware, the telecommunications market in Ireland is fully liberalised and the State's ability to intervene in the market is limited to cases of demonstrated market failure and other limited situations. I am also aware that there are a number of international connectivity projects either planned or underway which, if delivered, would enhance the international connectivity of the country. I fully support and welcome the prospect of these projects coming to fruition, thereby improving the speed and availability of international connectivity in the country.

My officials are constantly monitoring developments in this area, including maintaining contact with the industry users of international connectivity to understand their requirements, and the providers of such connectivity, to understand how the policy environment might facilitate additional connections.

Alternative Energy Projects

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

19 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources when he hopes to announce approval of the REFIT programme for wind energy; the reason for its delay; if the EU has raised any further issues in relation to this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2628/12]

REFIT 2 is designed to support a range of technologies including onshore wind, landfill gas and small hydro technologies. I can inform the Deputy that last week my Department received State Aid clearance from DG Competition for Ireland's REFIT 2 application. I am advising the Government accordingly of my intention to open the scheme and with the Government's agreement, the scheme will be formally launched by my Department and open for applications at the earliest possible date.

Telecommunications Services

Luke 'Ming' Flanagan

Ceist:

20 Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will resolve the lack of broadband provision in the Moheraven area, Aughamore, County Leitrim; if he will make clear the reason persons of this area have been neglected by the national broadband scheme, forcing them to pay for a satellite broadband service which costs €100 to install and €300 per year in subscription fees; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2537/12]

Ireland's telecommunications market has been liberalised since 1999 and thus the delivery of broadband services is a matter, in the first instance, for the private sector commercial operators. In cases of market failure the Government will intervene, where it is appropriate and possible to do so. The National Broadband Scheme (NBS) represents such an intervention. EU State Aid and competition rules govern how states can intervene in areas where existing service providers operate. Accordingly, the NBS is prohibited from providing a service in served areas where to do so would give rise to an unacceptable level of market distortion. The mapping exercise undertaken by my Department at the time of designing the NBS in 2008, found that broadband services were available in the area referred to in the Deputy's Question and consequently the locality was excluded from the Scheme.

The Rural Broadband Scheme (RBS) was launched last year in recognition of the fact that despite the widespread availability of broadband throughout Ireland, there still remained individual premises that were unable to receive broadband provision, due to technical difficulties such as line of sight issues. This Scheme, which will be rolled out this year, is aimed at making a basic broadband service available to those individual un-served premises in rural non-NBS areas who wish to avail of such services. The combination of private investment and State interventions such as the National and Rural Broadband Schemes means that Ireland is on target to meet the EU Digital Agenda milestone of having a basic broadband service available to all areas by 2013.

The Deputy refers to the cost of satellite connectivity. The technology involved with satellite internet has meant that connectivity has tended to be more expensive than connectivity via other means. However, with technological advances, I am pleased to note that tariffs for satellite connectivity are becoming increasingly competitive with other technologies. The Government accepts that the widespread availability of high speed broadband is a key requirement in delivering future economic and social development. With basic broadband services now widely available across Ireland, the challenge is to accelerate the roll out of high speed services.

Under the NewERA proposals in the Programme for Government, there is a commitment to co-invest with the private sector and commercial Semi State sector to provide Next Generation Broadband customer access to every home and business in the State. The Next Generation Broadband Taskforce which I convened earlier this year has an important role to play in this regard. It comprises the CEOs of all of the major telecommunications companies operating in the Irish market, as well as CEOs of some other companies that provide broadband services. The purpose of the Taskforce is to discuss and report on policy issues and proposals in relation to the provision of high speed broadband across Ireland. I expect that the Taskforce will help to identify how best to deliver wider customer access to high-speed broadband generally and thereby assist in delivering on the commitment in the Programme for Government.

Offshore Exploration

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

21 Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will respond to concerns and a petition by local residents in the coastal areas close to the Kish Bank, regarding the potential dangers to the marine ecosystem, tourism and heritage, resulting from possible oil spills, heavy industrial activity and other environmental impacts if a company (details supplied) gain approval for their current drilling licence application; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2581/12]

Joan Collins

Ceist:

27 Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the way the State and the Irish people might benefit if the drilling application were to be approved in respect of a company (details supplied) and lead to a successful oil find, in view of the current licensing and tax regime surrounding the exploitation of natural resources such as oil and gas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2583/12]

Joan Collins

Ceist:

30 Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will respond to concerns and a petition by local residents in the coastal areas close to the Kish Bank regarding the potential dangers to the marine ecosystem, tourism and heritage, resulting from possible oil spills, heavy industrial activity and other environmental impacts if a company (details supplied) gain approval for their current drilling licence application; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2584/12]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

31 Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the benefits or otherwise that would accrue to the State and the Irish people if the drilling application were to be approved in respect of a company (details supplied) and lead to a successful oil find, in view of the current licensing and tax regime surrounding the exploitation of natural resources such as oil and gas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2582/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 21, 27, 30 and 31 together.

Standard Exploration Licence 2/11 was granted last year to a consortium comprising Providence Resources Plc and Star Energy Oil and Gas Ltd over an area of approximately 380 square kilometres in the Kish bank Basin. The exploration licence is for a six year period with an obligation to drill an exploration well during the first three years. Drilling operators are required to comply with best international practice when carrying out drilling operations offshore Ireland. My Department will only give an approval to drill once it is satisfied that all requirements of its Rules and Procedures for drilling operations, in particular those concerning health, safety and the environment, have been fully met.

Exploration Licence holders are required to engage a competent Independent Well Examiner to verify the safety of all drilling rigs, drilling equipment, pressure containment systems and drilling processes in advance of and during drilling operations. The well examiner has a role for as long as drilling operations continue and is required to verify any changes to drilling plans. Ongoing monitoring by the Independent Well Examiner, my Department's Advisers and my Department's technical specialists continues throughout the drilling of a well. I would of course be happy to respond to any concerns communicated to me or my Department by members of the public.

In relation to the benefits that would accrue to the people of Ireland under the fiscal licensing regime in the event of a commercial discovery being made, the profits from any commercial discovery would be subject to a tax rate of between 25% and 40% under the 2007 Licensing Terms. A commercial discovery could also help strengthen Ireland's energy security of supply and would have a positive impact on Ireland's efforts to attract an increased share of international exploration investment.

Telecommunications Services

Micheál Martin

Ceist:

22 Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the average broadband speeds available to residential and business customers in towns of less than 10,000 persons and in the open countryside; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2640/12]

Telecommunications service providers are required to provide certain statistical returns to the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), the independent market regulator. ComReg publishes quarterly statistical reports, based on these returns, which can be accessed on its websitewww.comreg.ie. Some of the information returned by service providers to ComReg is market sensitive and is published in aggregate form only. My Department does not have access to these returns other than in the form published by ComReg.

The reports published by ComReg provide statistical information at the national level only, with no further breakdown by geographic region or town size. The most recent report published by ComReg is the Quarterly Report for Q3 2011, i.e. up to the end September 2011. It reports that the number of customers contracting for broadband service more than doubled from 793,000 to more than 1.6 million between Q3 2007 and Q3 2011.

As regards broadband speeds, the Quarterly Report for Q3 2011 reports that the number of customers contracted at slower Internet speeds, using dial-up Internet service, reduced from 383,000 to 28,000 over that four year period. In terms of moving to higher speeds, at the end of September 2011, 73.2% of residential customers and 88.8% of business customers were using speeds of between 2mbps — 10mbps. I should also highlight that some businesses in regional and rural areas receive their broadband services via "leased lines" which are capable of providing "ultra fast" broadband speeds, e.g. 1Gbps (Gigabits per second), which is 1000Mbps (Megabits per second).

Natural Gas Grid

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

23 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on the Western Development Commission paper Why Invest in Gas which outlines the clear benefit of extending natural gas distribution network to the north west; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2533/12]

The Commission for Energy Regulation (CER), which is a statutory, independent body, has, since 2002, been charged with all aspects of the assessment and licensing of prospective operators who wish to develop and/or operate a gas distribution system within the State under the Gas (Interim) (Regulation) Act 2002. I have no direct statutory function in relation to the connection of towns to the gas network.

The CER, in 2006, approved a new network connections policy, which created the opportunity to reassess the feasibility of connecting certain towns to the gas network. In order for any town to be connected to the gas network, certain economic criteria need to be satisfied as a prerequisite. The policy allows for the appraisal of a town either on its own or as part of a regional group of towns.

This policy ensures that, over a certain period, the costs of connecting the town, or group of towns, to the network are recouped through the actual economic consumption of gas and the associated tariffs. Otherwise, uneconomic projects will increase costs for all energy consumers. Having regard to the CER policy on new towns connections, Bord Gáis Networks, and more recently Gaslink, have carried out a comprehensive review of towns not connected to the national gas network. In April 2010, Gaslink published its ‘New Towns Analysis Phase 3' report.

The study included a review of the feasibility of connecting 11 towns in the West and North West region which are the focus of the Western Development Commission paper, ‘Why Invest in Gas'. However, the Gaslink report found that none of the towns qualified for connection on economic grounds. Nevertheless, Gaslink continues to review towns which did not qualify for connection under the Study and other towns on an ongoing basis. The key factor which would qualify a town or group of towns in any future review would be a significant increase in demand for natural gas, probably resulting from the addition of a new large industrial or commercial facility.

Telecommunications Services

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

24 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views regarding the current range of problems facing Eircom in view of the critical national strategic communications infrastructure which the company controls and which needs major national investment in view of the ongoing poor broadband performance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2536/12]

Eircom is a private company operating in both the fixed line and mobile electronic communications markets in Ireland. The company is trading profitably in its day to day operations. Its current reported difficulties are related to its debt levels which must be addressed and resolved by the parties involved.

Eircom's fixed line network, in particular, is of strategic importance to Ireland, both socially and economically, given its universal reach. It is also designated by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) as the Universal Service Provider and has other regulatory obligations arising from its significant market power. Given eircom's designation as the Universal Service Provider and the other regulatory obligations arising from its market power, ComReg continues to monitor its provision of both wholesale and retail services. It would not be appropriate for me to comment in any way on the process currently underway to resolve its reported debt issues.

Seamus Kirk

Ceist:

25 Deputy Seamus Kirk asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the improvement or disimprovements in Ireland’s ratings for the availability of high quality broadband since he assumed office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2637/12]

The Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) publishes quarterly statistical reports on developments in the telecommunications market in Ireland on its websitewww.comreg.ie. ComReg’s most recent publication, for the quarter ending September 2011 (Q3 2011), reports total broadband subscriptions increased to 1.652m compared to 1.624m at end March 2011(Q1 2011).

At the end of both periods residential and business users were more likely to subscribe to packages between 2Mbps - 10Mbps. The number of non-residential customers in this band increased from 87.8% to 88.8% over the six month period. Residential customers are migrating to even higher speeds. This is confirmed by the reported increase in residential customers contracting at speeds above 10 Mbps which increased from 12.1% at end March 2011 to 19.8% at end September 2011. Consequently, ComReg reported a reduction in residential customers contracting in the 2Mbps — 10Mbps band, from 78.9% to 73.2% in the same period. I welcome this continued migration to higher speeds by residential subscribers.

The ComReg report also carries a survey of EU broadband prices conducted by Teligen, an international consultancy that reports on tariffs and services for comparison purposes. The residential DSL and cable basket for all speeds was based on a 1Mbps speed in Q1 2011, which is below the typical contracting speed in Ireland and a direct comparison is not appropriate. In the business DSL and cable basket of speeds between 4Mbps and 10Mbps Ireland ranked 10 in Q1 2011 (i.e. rank 1 has the lowest price, rank 10 was the tenth cheapest) and 17 in Q3 2011. Both of these rankings were cheaper than the benchmarked EU average. It is important to note that broadband retail prices are not subject to retail price regulation.

Kevin Humphreys

Ceist:

26 Deputy Kevin Humphreys asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the action that has been taken to guarantee Ireland’s international broadband connectivity security; his views on the volume of information flow from Ireland that is processed through London, England; his views that we should seek further connections by fibre cable that bypass the UK and connect directly to the European mainland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2580/12]

The provision of telecommunications services, including international electronic communication connectivity, is primarily a matter for the private sector, regulated where appropriate by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg). A number of existing international telecommunications routes are provided by multiple operators. Other operators are currently exploring the possibility of providing additional connectivity between Ireland and both Europe and the USA.

My officials monitor international connectivity developments and I am advised that the availability and capacity of international connectivity services is more than adequate for foreseeable needs. I would, however, welcome and support any project that enhances Ireland's international connectivity. I am aware of some projects that will add additional capacity over the coming months. I am also aware of other plans, one of which would connect Ireland directly to mainland Europe. International network security is crucially important and I understand that the network providers take all of the necessary precautions to protect their networks.

Question No. 27 answered with Question No. 21.

Offshore Exploration

Michael Moynihan

Ceist:

28 Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the percentage of the Irish seabed that is licensed for the exploration and extraction of hydrocarbons; the percentage of geologically significant areas for the exploration of hydrocarbons that have been licensed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2623/12]

The percentage of Ireland's designated continental shelf that is currently licensed for exploration or leased for production of hydrocarbons is 4.4%. The percentage of the area of sedimentary basin (i.e. geologically significant for hydrocarbons) within the designated continental shelf that is currently licensed for exploration or leased for production of hydrocarbons is 9.3%.

While Ireland has recognised potential as a petroleum producing area, the Irish offshore is relatively under explored. As a result Ireland's petroleum potential is largely unproven. This is likely to continue to be the case, until there is an increase in the level of exploration activity offshore Ireland and there is an increase in the level of exploration drilling in particular.

Telecommunications Services

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

29 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his views on Ireland’s ranking in recent international broadband league tables; if he is considering any new measures to ensure that all households and businesses have access to download speeds of 30 Mbps and that the digital divide does not increase further; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2535/12]

There has been significant growth in the take up of broadband services and contracted speeds in Ireland in recent years. The Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) has reported that between Q3 2007 and Q3 2011 the number of broadband subscribers has more than doubled from 793,000 to more than 1.6 million.

It is also the case that, at the end of September 2011, 73.2% of domestic customers and 88.8% of business subscribers were using speeds between 2 Mbps — 10 Mbps. Many subscribers are also migrating to higher speed products with 19.8% of residential subscribers using speeds in excess of 10 Mbps, according to ComReg's latest Quarterly Report (Q3 2011).

International comparisons of broadband services are complex to measure and interpret. In many instances, surveys measure an average of retail broadband speeds published on service providers' websites only. These comparisons do not take account of higher speeds, which are available in some countries (including Ireland) over leased lines to users of very high speeds and bandwidth. The international comparisons only consider retail services that are advertised. Big bandwidth leased line services are not advertised as retail services in Ireland.

It is also the case that the comparisons do not take account of the variety of speeds options advertised. Furthermore, broadband services that are advertised as part of a bundled package are not compared. Some commonly used high speed broadband services, available in Ireland as triple play products, are therefore excluded from the international comparisons.

Nevertheless, there is a recognition in the Programme for Government of a need to increase the quality of broadband available nationwide. Under the NewERA proposals in the Programme for Government, there is a commitment to co-invest with the private sector and commercial Semi State sector to provide Next Generation Broadband customer access to every home and business in the State. The Next Generation Broadband Taskforce which I convened last summer has an important role to play in this regard. It comprises the CEOs of all of the major telecommunications companies operating in the Irish market, as well as CEOs of some other companies that provide broadband services. The purpose of the Taskforce is to discuss and report on policy issues and proposals in relation to the provision of high speed broadband across Ireland. I expect that the Taskforce will help to identify how best to deliver wider customer access to high-speed broadband generally and thereby assist in delivering on the commitment in the Programme for Government.

The Taskforce will conclude its deliberations shortly. It is my intention to consider the findings, conclusions and recommendations of the report of the Taskforce and to move quickly thereafter to put in place the optimal policy environment for the delivery of high speed broadband.

Questions Nos. 30 and 31 answered with Question No. 21.

Energy Resources

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

32 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources when it is expected that product from the Corrib gas fields will be available to the consumer; the degree to which planning and licensing requirements have now been complied with; the issues if any, outstanding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2567/12]

Completion of the development works by the developer is the principal factor that will determine the date for first gas. Pending such completion, it is not possible to state a date for when gas from the Corrib gas field will become available.

The Corrib Project requires a number of statutory permissions in order for the developer to construct, operate and maintain the development. In February of last year, the then Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources granted consent to the Corrib Partners pursuant to Section 40 of the Gas Act, 1976 and Section 13 of the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act, 1960 to construct, but not commission, the Corrib Gas Pipeline, subject to 47 conditions.

The Deputy might also note that other licences and permissions beyond my statutory remit, including planning permission, Foreshore Licence and an Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Licence are also required with respect to the construction and operation of the Corrib Gas Pipeline. I understand that all of the relevant permits have now been granted. Legal challenges to the consents granted pursuant to both the Gas and Petroleum Acts and the Planning Permission granted by An Bord Pleanála were settled towards the end of last year. Works on the development commenced last summer. It is estimated that construction of the onshore section of the pipeline, including the construction of a 5km tunnel, will take in the region of three years. First gas cannot therefore reasonably be anticipated before 2014.

Human Rights Issues

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

33 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the steps he has taken in conjunction with his EU colleagues to address the undermining of individual and press freedom in Hungary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2679/12]

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

34 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the Hungarian constitution; and his further views on whether it is compatible with the democratic principles of the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2680/12]

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

35 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has met with Hungarian representatives to raise concerns regarding the series of measures taken by the Fidesz party; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2681/12]

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

36 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has met with his EPP colleagues in the Fidesz party to discuss concerns regarding the new Hungarian constitution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2682/12]

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

37 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he met with the Hungarian Prime Minister, Victor Orban, during his visit under the Hungarian EU Council Presidency in June; the issues they discussed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2683/12]

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

40 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has issued a formal protest with his EU colleagues regarding the Hungarian constitution; if not, if he would support such a protest; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2690/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 33 to 37, inclusive, and 40 together.

The Deputy is referring to the new Hungarian constitution which came into force on 1 January, its associated cardinal laws and the media law adopted in 2010. While the stated aim of the new constitution — the consolidation of democracy in Hungary — is commendable, aspects of the new Constitution and the cardinal laws have given rise to concerns expressed by many parties, including the European Commission, the Council of Europe and the United States. These include concerns about the impact on the fairness of the electoral system, and on the judiciary, the Fiscal Council and the national data protection authority.

The media law was revised following discussions with the European Commission, and the Constitutional Court of Hungary ruled in December that a number of its provisions were unconstitutional. The modified version of the law remains, however, the subject of continuing concern.

The medium for EU engagement with Hungary on this issue is the European Commission, as guardian of the Treaties. The Commission has written to the Hungarian authorities on a number of concerns including in relation to the judiciary. The European Commission has noted that it stands ready to make full use of its prerogatives to ensure that Member States respected the obligations that they have accepted as Members of the European Union. Foreign Minister Martonyi has recently written to EU Foreign Ministers and the European Commission on these issues. While recognising the very real concerns that the new Constitution and Laws have prompted, I welcome the Minister's intention to engage in discussion of the issues and I would encourage Hungary to engage substantively with the European Commission.

In response to the Deputy's question, I can confirm that I did not have a meeting with Prime Minister Orban during his visit to Ireland under the Hungarian Presidency of the EU.

EU Treaties

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

38 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has discussed the media campaign necessary to advance the fiscal compact treaty with his EU colleagues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2685/12]

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

39 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has discussed Ireland’s corporate tax rate during talks on the fiscal compact treaty; the person with whom he had the discussions; the response received; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2686/12]

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

48 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has discussed the issue of his criticism of the UK’s negotiating stance in the December EU summit with UK officials and representatives; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2699/12]

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

49 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the discussions he has held with UK representatives regarding UK-EU relations following the abstention of the UK from the fiscal compact treaty agreed at the EU December Summit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2700/12]

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

50 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the impact the UK’s decision to abstain from the fiscal compact agreed at December’s EU summit and growing risk of isolation from the EU will have on Ireland’s EU relations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2701/12]

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

54 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his views on the impact of the fiscal compact agreement of December 2011 in relation to national sovereignty and the principle of subsidiarity; if he has raised these issues with his EU colleagues and the President of the EU Council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2705/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 38, 39, 48 to 50, inclusive, and 54 together.

Since the onset of the current economic crisis in Europe, European leaders have been seized of the need to find a lasting resolution that allows us to put the crisis behind us and to focus on generating growth and jobs as a means of underpinning recovery.

Significant steps have been taken in this regard, including in strengthening budgetary discipline and in constructing stabilisation facilities and firewalls. Important progress on these elements, both of which are of importance to Ireland, was made at the meeting of the European Council last month. In particular, leaders agreed to further strengthen economic policy coordination within the euro area, by way of an intergovernmental agreement, to construct a new ‘fiscal compact'.

Negotiations are on-going on a draft Treaty to give legal effect to this agreement. A first draft text was circulated before Christmas and it is hoped that significant progress towards agreement will have been made before an informal meeting of the European Council scheduled for 30 January. Once agreement is reached, the text will then be prepared for signature and subsequent ratification by each of the participants according to their respective constitutional requirements.

The Government has been clear that we would have wished to proceed at the level of all 27 EU Member States. That would have facilitated inclusion of the new arrangements within the EU Treaties. Unfortunately it was not possible on this occasion. That in no way changes the reality that the UK is and will continue to be an active and important Member State of the European Union, with whom we cooperate very closely across a very wide range of policy issues. This will not change in any way in the wake of the decisions taken by leaders last month.

All Member States are represented at the ongoing negotiations, with the UK attending as observers. This is most welcome and work is being undertaken in a spirit of cooperation and compromise, while respecting vital national interests, as has been the guiding approach to previous European negotiations. I had a useful meeting with British Deputy Prime Minister Clegg in Dublin on Friday last, 13 January, at which we took stock of current developments in the EU, including progress in the negotiations on the intergovernmental agreement. The Deputy will also be aware that the Taoiseach also met with Prime Minister Cameron in London last week during which they agreed to pursue together cooperation with regard to the completion of the EU's Single Market.

The Government has been working intensively, at the negotiating table, in Brussels and in capitals, to make sure that our key points are understood and addressed appropriately. To that end we have offered our views both orally and in writing, including on the detailed elements of the text. Senior Irish officials have been very active in meeting their counterparts, and we have sought to secure the support of all potential allies on issues of importance to us. We will continue to do this as the process evolves.

In taking forward the work mandated in December, there has been no discussion of Ireland's Corporate Tax rate. What was agreed at last month's European Council does not open the question concerning our 12.5% corporation tax rate. As far as the Government is concerned the corporation tax rate issue is closed.

Only when a final text is available will it be possible to reach a view on what will be required by way of ratification in Ireland. The test will be whether the proposed Treaty is compatible with the Constitution. As the Government has confirmed previously, the Attorney General will study the legal implications carefully, and will advise on what steps will be necessary to enable Ireland to ratify. Until then it is simply not possible to be definitive. As the Government has made clear many times, if a referendum is required, one will be held.

Communications is and will continue to be an important aspect of any and all significant initiatives to be taken at European level. Effective communications with our respective publics, so as to ensure the broadest possible understanding of key issues and developments, is an important issue for all Member States. Lessons are leant and shared among partners in this regard, when appropriate. This is to be welcomed. However, this work is best led at the national level — in the first instance, by the elected representatives of the people — in the case of Ireland, by Members of the Oireachtas. The Government will continue the practice, initiated for the first time by this Government, of also having statements in this House ahead of each European Council meeting, as well as following such meetings, as was the practice previously. In addition, the Programme for Government commits Ministers to appear before the relevant Oireachtas Committees prior to travelling to Brussels for meetings of the Council where decisions are made.

In this context, I look forward to meeting at the end of this week with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs to brief Members on developments in the on-going negotiations on the intergovernmental Treaty and to engage with them on related issues.

Question No. 40 answered with Question No. 33.

Election Monitoring

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

41 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he discussed the disputed Duma elections in Russia held in December 2011 with his EU colleagues; if an EU course of action has been proposed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2691/12]

Ireland contributed five short-term observers selected by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. A member of the Oireachtas took part in the observation mission of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and a former member of the Oireachtas observed the election at the invitation of a Russian non-governmental organisation. The OSCE ODIHR Election Observation Mission issued a preliminary report on 5 December which pointed to a number of shortcomings in the election campaign and voting process, and in particular in vote counting.

The High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy issued a statement on 6 December noting the findings of the OSCE ODIHR preliminary report and expressing the expectation that the issues raised would be addressed by the Russian authorities "to allow for smooth and fair Presidential elections in the spring". The OSCE ODIHR final report was issued on 12 January.

The conduct and outcome of the Duma elections have clearly provoked a very broad reflection within Russia on the democratic process, including the large scale demonstrations last month.

It is encouraging that the demonstrations have been able to take place in a mostly peaceful environment.

I welcome the commitment made by President Medvedev on 21 December to undertake a comprehensive reform of the political system, including a return to a system of elections for governors, as well as lowering the administrative requirements for the registration of political parties and election candidates.

Looking ahead to the Presidential elections on 4 March, I also welcome the recent official invitation from the Chairman of the Central Election Commission to the OSCE ODIHR to monitor the elections. Ireland intends to contribute observers to this mission.

I have not been in direct communication with the Russian authorities on the matter but I encourage the Russian authorities to take account of the concerns that have been aired both within Russia and by its partners ahead of the Presidential elections in March to ensure that the conduct and the outcome of the election commands the widest possible support.

EU Enlargement

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

42 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he supports an application for EU membership by Bosnia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2692/12]

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

43 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has raised the 2009 European Court of Human Rights ruling on the Bosnian Presidency in respect of a potential application for membership of the EU by Bosnia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2693/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 42 and 43 together.

The Ruling of the European Court of Human Rights in December 2009 (Sejdic and Finci v. Bosnia and Herzegovina) held that the prohibition in the Bosnian Constitution against those from the Roma and Jewish minorities from standing for election to the Parliamentary Assembly and for the State Presidency violates the European Convention on Human Rights.

As outlined by the European Commission in its 2011-2012 Enlargement Strategy, compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights is an essential requirement of the Interim Agreement and the Stabilisation and Association Agreement between the European Union and Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In the absence of agreement on a new Bosnian government since the last elections in October 2010, there has been little meaningful progress towards harmonising the Constitution with the Sejdic and Finci ruling. Bosnia and Herzegovina is not yet, therefore, in a position to make a formal application for EU membership and it is likely to be some time before this is possible.

In general, however, Ireland has been, and will continue to be, a firm supporter of the EU accession process and would support the application of any country with a European perspective that meets the necessary requirements for membership and that upholds and promotes the ideals and values of the European Union.

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

44 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he supports an application for EU membership by Turkey; the reasons behind his position on the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2694/12]

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

45 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has raised the Turkish treatment of the ethnic Kurd minority at an EU level in respect of EU discussions on potential Turkish EU membership; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2695/12]

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

46 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has raised the treatment of homosexuals in the Turkish military in respect of EU discussions on potential Turkish EU members, EU-Turkish relations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2696/12]

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

47 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has raised the treatment of homosexuals by the Turkish State in respect of EU discussions on potential Turkish EU membership, EU-Turkish relations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2697/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 44 to 47, inclusive, together.

Our approach to EU enlargement is positive. Expanding the Union encourages a more prosperous and stable Europe and the process itself is equally beneficial to candidate countries in encouraging them to implement economic and political reforms and to strengthen their democratic values.

Respect for these norms as set out in the Treaties, the adoption of a European perspective which those values reflect, strict adherence to membership conditions, and the capacity of the EU itself to integrate the new member are all important factors in assessing the pace and progress of an applicant's accession. Turkey is introducing reforms required under the accession process, albeit sometimes not as quickly as might be hoped for. I remain confident that the prospect of accession will continue to promote fundamental reform, to strengthen democracy and human rights, and to bring about further modernisation in that society.

Respect for human rights and democratic standards form a key element of the enlargement negotiations with Turkey. In recent years, Turkey has been developing an outreach programme towards the Kurdish minority. The measures include greater recognition of the rights of the Kurdish population, including use of their own language in daily life and in public affairs.

Along with our EU partners, we will continue to encourage Turkey to implement further reforms, including further outreach to the Kurdish minority and proper recognition of their rights. Indeed, through the EU-Turkey human rights consultations, and the use of the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, we are engaging with Turkey on addressing our concerns in relation to the treatment of all minorities within the country, including the LGBT community.

The position of Turkey on these issues is not yet quite in line with the EU's values and ideals, but the government in Ankara is aware, from its continuing contacts with the Union that the issues of human rights and democratisation need to be fully addressed by a prospective member State.

Questions Nos. 48 to 50, inclusive, answered with Question No. 38.

Human Rights Issues

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

51 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has raised the issue of EU policy towards Uzbeki cotton and child labour use; the action he has advocated regarding same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2702/12]

The most recent meeting of the EU-Uzbekistan Cooperation Council took place in Brussels on 14 November 2011. During the Cooperation Council, the EU raised a wide range of issues concerning human rights and fundamental freedoms in Uzbekistan. Prior to the meeting, all twenty-seven Member States of the European Union, including Ireland, mandated the EU representatives at the Cooperation Council to raise with the Uzbek side the question of child labour in Uzbekistan and the Uzbek commitment to honouring its International Labour Organisation (ILO) obligations. The EU efforts in this respect are recorded in the Press release issued at the end of the meeting:

"The EU took note that Uzbekistan had ratified the ILO conventions against child labour and had adopted a national action plan to implement the conventions. The EU called upon Uzbekistan to engage with (the) ILO on implementation of the conventions, including through the ILO visit."

This issue will remain on the agenda for EU dialogue with Uzbekistan in the field of human rights and I have asked my officials to ensure that Ireland plays an active role in preparing the EU position for future EU-Uzbekistan Cooperation Councils.

EU Budget

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

52 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the discussion he has had with the President of the European Council on the EU’s multi-annual financial framework; the issues he raised; the timeframe for the MFF decision-making process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2703/12]

The Commission presented proposals for the EU Budget Multiannual Financial Framework for 2014 to 2020, the MFF, on 29 June 2011. Work on this legislative proposal is being led by the General Affairs Council. Detailed proposals are being discussed in the relevant sectoral Councils. The Polish Presidency presented a report on initial discussions of the MFF to the December European Council. Negotiations will intensify during the present Danish Presidency, and it is expected that a draft outline agreement will be presented to the June meeting of the European Council, at which point President Van Rompuy will have a role in the negotiations. It is hoped that the final agreement can be reached during the Cypriot Presidency in the second half of this year.

Important issues to be resolved during the negotiations will include the overall size of the EU Budget; the relative proportions to be allocated to different sectors, notably the CAP, Cohesion Policy, and Research and Innovation; and how the Budget will be funded. Ireland's approach to the negotiations is to engage constructively with our EU partners to ensure that the EU has a budget which reflects the Europe 2020 priorities, while taking account of the current budgetary consolidation imperatives in Member States.

EU Presidency

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

53 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the additional staff his Department will receive for the Irish Presidency of the EU Council in the first half of 2013; the estimated costs involved in holding the Presidency; the total staff estimated to be needed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2704/12]

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is being allocated some 68 temporary additional posts in 2012/2013 in order to plan and fulfil its EU Presidency responsibilities and activities in the first half of next year. The temporary additional staff will be assigned as appropriate at Headquarters and to Irish Missions abroad with Presidency responsibilities, most notably the Permanent Missions to the EU and the UN in Brussels, New York and Geneva respectively. Various recruitment options will be used, including redeployment from elsewhere in the Public Service and internships.

Wider logistical and technical planning is well underway and aims to put in place arrangements to ensure an efficient and cost-effective Presidency. While the costs and overall staffing numbers associated with the Presidency have yet to be finalised, the expectation is that they will be at the lower end of the range for recent EU Presidencies.

Question No. 54 answered with Question No. 38.

EU Strategy

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

55 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he has held any discussions in relation to the Europe 2020 strategy; the suggestions he has put forward on the issue; if he advocates any changes to the strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2706/12]

The Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth is a key topic of Ireland's ongoing engagement with European partners, both capitals and institutions. Ireland believes that the growth agenda must become a stronger focus at EU level. Growth is key to supporting the job creation necessary to address the unemployment crisis. It is also critical to restoring fiscal balances and regaining market confidence in debt sustainability. The Commission produced its Annual Growth Survey 2012 on 23 November, marking the starting point of the second European Semester of economic governance. The key message is that, faced with a deteriorating economic and social situation, more efforts are needed to put Europe back on track and sustain growth and jobs.

I support the five priorities suggested for the EU and Member States: pursuing differentiated, growth-friendly fiscal consolidation; restoring normal lending to the economy; promoting growth and competitiveness for today and tomorrow; tackling unemployment and the social consequences of the crisis; and modernising public administration. It is clear that we need to deliver better education outcomes; that we need to keep our focus on knowledge-intensive development; and that we need to improve participation and employment rates with sensible and job-friendly labour market policies. That is what the Europe 2020 Strategy is about.

A key challenge in the current environment is to create a climate of confidence for new investment, and to steer this investment in a direction that is smart, sustainable, and socially inclusive. We look forward to engaging constructively with the second European Semester. In line with this, we will update our National Reform Programme under the Europe 2020 Strategy by mid-April. Work to this end has begun, and will include developing a stronger alignment with specific EU-level initiatives that are supportive of national priorities established by our Programme for Government.

EU Directives

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

56 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the total number of EU directives, regulations and decisions that have been transposed into law here since March 2011; and if he will provide a detailed breakdown of each issue. [2708/12]

Responsibility for transposing EU measures into Irish law rests with individual Departments with responsibility for the relevant policy area. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has no EU Directives awaiting transposition. As Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade I have not participated in any debates on transposition relative to my areas of responsibility.

EU Presidency

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

57 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the issue he intends to prioritise during the Irish EU Council presidency in the first half of 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2709/12]

Ireland is aiming to run an efficient and cost-effective Presidency focused on making progress in promoting Irish interests through the EU's legislative agenda. Work by Ministers and their Departments to identify priorities and emerging issues in their policy areas that are likely to be of importance during Ireland's Presidency of the Council of the European Union in 2013 has been ongoing for some time. While it is too early to identify one specific issue as Ireland's main Presidency priority, job creation will be a particular focus. The Government plans to work closely with its EU partners to promote measures aimed at boosting Europe's competitiveness and to restore strong and sustainable economic growth in our Union. Another major cross-cutting issue that is likely to figure prominently during Ireland's Presidency is the next Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) which outlines plans for the EU budget from 2014. The Common Agriculture Policy, the Common Fisheries Policy, Cohesion Policy and Horizon 2020 (the EU's future framework programme for research and innovation) are just some of the important initiatives that are linked to the MFF process. The Government will support efforts by the Danish and Cypriot Presidencies during 2012 to reach agreement on the MFF. Even if agreement is reached, it will fall to the Irish Presidency to introduce implementing legislation.

While these are the main issues that the Government is likely to prioritise during Ireland's Presidency there is a range of policies and draft legislation across all of the EU's Council formations that the Government will seek to progress in 2013. Ireland's Presidency programme will be published in December 2012 and will, to some extent, be influenced by the progress made by Denmark and Cyprus during their Presidencies in 2012 and by issues already on the EU agenda. Intensive work will continue throughout 2012 at all levels of Government to define Ireland's Presidency programme and to identify key priorities.

The Government is also working to ensure close cooperation with the European Parliament during its Presidency, given the important role of the Parliament in the co decision process and in ensuring the effective delivery of Ireland's Presidency priorities.

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

58 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the measures he has taken to date in preparation for Ireland’s involvement in the EU Presidency in co-operation with Cyprus and Lithuania from the latter half of 2012; the discussions he has held with EU colleagues, in particular representatives from these specific countries; if any outside expertise has been sought; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2710/12]

Ireland will assume the Presidency of the EU during the first six months of 2013. An important element of these preparations is close cooperation and coordination with the preceding and succeeding Presidencies and the EU institutions. The Government is working closely with Lithuania which will also hold its Presidency in 2013. I met twice last year with the Lithuanian Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the Minister of State for European Affairs has also met on two occasions with her Lithuanian counterpart. There have also been extensive contacts at official level.

Cyprus precedes Ireland as Presidency. I hope to meet soon with my Cypriot counterpart to discuss Presidency planning issues. The Minister of State for European Affairs met with her Cypriot counterpart and the Cypriot Foreign Minister during a visit to Nicosia last November.

Contacts with our partners will intensify at all levels over the coming months.

Planning for the Presidency has been underway since 2010 and is being led by in Dublin by two inter-departmental groups that are coordinating Presidency policy and logistics preparations, and the Irish Permanent Representation in Brussels. Officials in Dublin and in Brussels have engaged extensively with their Cypriot and Lithuanian colleagues. Ireland is also working closely with the EU institutions in advance of its Presidency, and several high-level visits and meetings are being planned in the run-up to the Presidency, including visits of a number of Commissioners to Ireland over the coming months. Contacts between the Government and the European Parliament have also increased, particularly with key Committee Chairpersons and rapporteurs. As with all recent Presidencies, there has been close coordination between Irish officials and the General Secretariat of the Council on issues including the preparation of the Presidency calendar, and coordination of the Council's Trio Presidency programme (which is a Council document). The General Secretariat of the Council has also assisted most recent Presidencies by providing training for officials from the Presidency state. Training for Irish officials (particularly for officials who will be chairing Working Groups during the Presidency) will start in February.

EU Enlargement

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

59 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he is supportive of an application for EU membership by Serbia; the reasons for his position; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2711/12]

In relation to Serbia's application for EU membership, the Commission recommended in its Enlargement Strategy for 2012 that "the Council should grant Serbia the status of candidate country taking into account progress achieved so far and on the understanding that Serbia re-engages in the dialogue with Kosovo and is moving swiftly to the implementation in good faith of agreements reached to date". However, the December European Council deferred a decision on granting Serbia candidate status to the February General Affairs Council and the March European Council, pending further progress on the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue. Ireland has been, and will continue to be, a firm supporter of the EU accession process and would support the application of any country with a European perspective that meets the necessary requirements for membership and that upholds and promotes the ideals and values of the European Union.

Diplomatic Representation

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

60 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his view on the value of Ireland’s embassies in other EU States in informing his work and that of his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2712/12]

Active engagement with Europe and with the other EU Member States is a core element of Ireland's foreign policy, and the work of our Embassies and diplomatic missions in other EU countries is crucial in this regard.

Europe and the EU have a pre-eminent place in much of Government policy. The Government's programme emphasises the importance of restoring Ireland's standing as a respected and influential member of the EU, and of the wider international community.

Our Embassies in other EU Member States have an important function in disseminating information about Ireland. Embassy staff are face to face with our partners in EU capitals, and are active in cultivating close bilateral relations. Through the networks and contacts that they build, Irish Embassies ensure that policy-makers — and indeed the wider audience — in their countries of accreditation understand Ireland's priorities and interests, both in relation to EU matters, and the wider foreign policy agenda. In turn, through their engagement with key contacts, Irish Embassies have an important role in reporting back to the Irish Government on the priorities and interests of the other EU Member States. The advancement of Ireland's economic interests overseas is a key priority for my Department both at Headquarters and through our Embassy network, where we work closely with all of the State Agencies. Ireland's Embassies in EU countries are active in promoting Ireland's economic and trading interests. Responsibility for certain trade functions transferred to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on 1 June of last year. I chair the new Export Trade Council, which aims to strengthen cooperation across all key Departments and agencies involved in the promotion and development of trade and exports and putting in place a joined-up approach to promoting our trade, tourism and investment sectors.

Ireland's Embassies in other EU countries work closely with the State Agencies and private enterprise to identify opportunities for the high quality products which Ireland exports and to support the growth of Irish business overseas.

In addition, Trading and Investing in a Smart Economy, the Government’s Trade Strategy and Action Plan for the integrated promotion of overseas trade, tourism and investment, has identified priority markets for Ireland which include a number of key high growth potential economies such as Brazil, Russia, India and China. The Strategy also recognises the importance for Ireland of established markets in the USA and the European Union, given our strong knowledge and understanding of these markets, embedded relationships that include historical and cultural linkages, the nature of our FDI base and geographic proximity.

Local market teams chaired by the local Ambassador and comprising representatives of the locally based State Agencies have been established in the all of the priority markets, including those in the EU, identified in the Trade Strategy. These teams execute detailed market plans, and report on progress to the Export Trade Council, which I have set up to monitor implementation of our Trade Strategy.

Our embassies in Europe also play an important role in promoting Ireland's cultural and scientific programme and reputation, in close cooperation with other Government Departments and economic agencies. They also work to maintain contacts and build networks with the Irish Diaspora living in other EU Member States.

In addition, Irish Embassies in other EU Member States have an important role in providing assistance to Irish citizens. Every year my Department provides consular assistance to thousands of Irish citizens. As EU Member States include some of the most popular destinations for Irish citizens travelling abroad, our Embassies in these countries continues to fulfil an important role in assisting Irish citizens in times of distress.

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

61 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade his view on the closure of the Vatican embassy in regard to Ireland-EU relations owing to the Vatican’s role as diplomatic listening post; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2713/12]

The decision to close Ireland's resident Embassy to the Holy See and to appoint a non-resident Ambassador was made following a comprehensive review of the Mission network and against a background of the need for my Department to reduce its expenditure in the current difficult economic climate that we face. The Government has nominated the Secretary General of my Department, Mr. David Cooney, as our non-resident Ambassador to the Holy See and the Holy See has signalled its agreement to this appointment. As Ambassador, Mr. Cooney will be travelling to Rome regularly to maintain contacts with officials of the Holy See on issues of mutual interest, including global issues such as development, human rights and disarmament, and to represent Ireland at major ceremonies.

I do not believe that the decision to appoint a non-resident Ambassador to the Holy See will impact on our relations with the European Union. Indeed, a number of other EU member States are also represented at the Holy See by non-resident Ambassadors.

Passport Applications

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

62 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will review a matter (details supplied) regarding a passport. [2814/12]

I refer to my answer to PQ 30853 of 25 October 2011. As this matter is currently before the courts, it would be inappropriate for me to discuss the case further at this time.

Ministerial Appointments

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

63 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade when he expects to appoint an Ambassador to the Irish Embassy in Australia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2853/12]

The Government recently made arrangements to appoint Mr Noel White, currently serving as Director for Press and Information in my Department, as Ireland's next Ambassador to Australia. Mr White is expected to take up duty within the next month.

Diplomatic Representation

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

64 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the countries in which Irish embassies are located where there is not a reciprocal embassy in Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2857/12]

There are nine countries where Ireland maintains an Embassy abroad where there is not a reciprocal Embassy in Dublin. Of these, six are in Irish Aid priority countries: Malawi; Mozambique; Tanzania; Uganda; Vietnam; and Zambia. Our resident Missions reflect the special relationship with these developing countries.

The other countries where Ireland has resident Embassies without a reciprocal arrangement are Luxembourg; Singapore; and Sweden. Each of these three countries is accredited to Ireland on a non-resident basis and has appointed Honorary Consuls in Ireland. As well as our common membership of the European Union, Ireland has substantial trade surpluses with both Luxembourg and Sweden, which is also a valuable source of inward investment and tourism. Singapore is also a significant trading partner and an important regional business hub.

Fiscal Policy

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

65 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Finance if he has discussed Ireland’s corporate tax rate with his EU colleagues; if so, with whom; the response he has received; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2687/12]

The Deputy is well aware of the Government's continued commitment to ensure that Ireland's corporate tax rate remains unchanged. I recently restated this position in my Budget 2012 speech. Under the Euro Plus Pact for Stronger Economic Policy co-ordination for Competitiveness and Convergence which was agreed at the European Council in March 2011, Ireland as well as those other Member States who signed up to the Pact, are committed to discussions on tax policy co-ordination and to engage constructively with the CCCTB proposal. Ireland will honour these commitments.

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

66 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Finance if he has discussed the issue of a financial transaction tax with the UK regarding their relationship with the EU and the potential use of a veto on the matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2698/12]

As I have stated clearly in the past, if such a tax cannot be introduced on a global basis, I think it would be better if it were introduced on an EU-wide basis. This would prevent any distortion of activity within the Union. Our major concern is that, if an FTT is introduced, it could affect the financial services industry, especially in the IFSC, and lead to some activities moving abroad. If, as some countries have proposed, the tax was to be brought in under enhanced co-operation arrangements, we would fear we could lose business to London, since the UK is strongly opposed to this initiative. In the past, certain financial activities moved to London when other countries enacted similar taxes. The current draft proposal is still being discussed at EU Council Working Party level and will be considered again by the Council of Ministers later this year. I have made clear our views, as has the Taoiseach, in discussion with our European colleagues.

Economic and Monetary Union

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

67 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for Finance if he has held discussions with his EU colleagues on reforming the remit of the European Central Bank to include economic growth as well as price stability; if it will fully publish its board minutes and increase its transparency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2707/12]

As the Deputy is aware, the ECB is independent and its remit is set out in Article 282 of the Treaty. Article 282 (2) states that "The primary objective of the European System of Central Banks shall be to maintain price stability. Without prejudice to that objective, it shall support the general economic policies in the Union in order to contribute to the achievement of the latter's objectives". Currently there are no proposals on the table for reform of the European Central Bank's remit.

Job Creation

Robert Troy

Ceist:

68 Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Finance if NewERA will quantify the number of new jobs that have been created by his Department since its inception. [2714/12]

In September 2011 the Government announced the establishment of the New Economy and Recovery Authority (NewERA) within the NTMA and the establishment of the Strategic Investment Fund. NewERA will centralise the management of Government holdings in the commercial semi-state sector (initially the companies within NewERA's remit are ESB, EirGrid, Bord Gáis, Bord na Móna and Coillte) from a shareholder perspective. This role, based on the Shareholder Executive model already established in a number of developed economies, will involve oversight of activities such as capital expenditure plans, corporate strategy, acquisitions and disposals. NewERA is already working closely with the relevant Government departments and companies in this regard. The Shareholder Executive approach is designed to provide the Government with a portfolio view of investment returns from the sector and with a means of assessing the likely impact of commercial developments in the sector on long-term Government investment plans.

NewERA is also charged with assisting the development and implementation of Government plans for investment in energy, water and next-generation telecommunications with the long-term objective of employment creation and has commenced work with the relevant Government departments in these areas.

The Strategic Investment Fund will, following appropriate legislative changes to the investment policy of the National Pensions Reserve Fund (NPRF), channel commercial investment from the NPRF towards productive investment in the Irish economy. As well as money from the NPRF, the Fund will seek matching commercial investment from private investors and target investment in areas of strategic significance to the future of the Irish economy. It will comprise a series of sub-funds targeted at commercial investment in critical areas of the Irish economy, including infrastructure, venture capital and provision of long-term capital for SMEs. The NPRF will take a lead role in the development and implementation of each sub-fund.

In November 2011, the NPRF announced a commitment of €250 million to a new Irish infrastructure investment fund which is seeking up to €1 billion from institutional investors in Ireland and overseas and which will invest in infrastructure assets in Ireland, including assets designated for disposal by the Government and commercial State enterprises and also new infrastructure projects.

NewERA and the Strategic Investment Fund are important elements in the Government's strategy to promote economic growth and create jobs.

State Bonds

Peter Mathews

Ceist:

69 Deputy Peter Mathews asked the Minister for Finance if the State has ever issued a 30-year bond and, if not, the longest maturity on a bond the State has issued; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2654/12]

Data supplied to my Department by the Central Bank and the National Treasury Management (NTMA) show that the State has issued Government bonds with maturities of 30 years or more. A Government bond with a maturity of 38 years, a 6.5% Exchequer stock, was issued in 1967. This bond was redeemed early, in 2000.

The most recent bond with a maturity of 30 years was an 8.75% Housing Finance Agency (HFA) stock. It was issued in February 1988 and is due to be redeemed in February 2018. This bond was issued by the HFA and is guaranteed by the State.

Another bond with a maturity of 30 years, a 4% index linked HFA stock, was issued in April 1985 and is due to be redeemed in 2015. This bond was also issued by the HFA and again it is guaranteed by the State.

Personal Debt

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

70 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Finance the position regarding assistance in respect of persons (details supplied) in County Wicklow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2720/12]

It is not appropriate for me, as Minister for Finance, to become involved in the detailed mortgage position of an individual borrower and lender. However in the case mentioned by the Deputy, I note from a copy of a letter dated 29 December 2011, that accompanied the Deputy's question, that the decision of Permanent TSB not to grant an alternative repayment arrangement in this case can be appealed to Permanent TSB's Appeals Board.

State Banking Sector

Ciaran Lynch

Ceist:

71 Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for Finance if he intends to influence the setting of the variable interest rate charged by State-owned financial institutions on mortgage repayments to avoid the considerably higher repayments required of Permanent TSB customers over those of AIB; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2721/12]

The lending institutions in Ireland, including those in which the State has a significant shareholding, are independent commercial entities. Ultimately the pricing of financial products, including standard variable mortgage interest rates, is a commercial decision for the management team and board of each lending institution, having due regard to their customers and the impact on profitability, particularly where the cost of funding to each lending institution, including deposit pricing, is under pressure.

Neither the Central Bank nor I have responsibility for any variation in the variable mortgage interest rates charged by the two institutions. However the Central Bank has advised me that, within its existing powers, it will continue to engage with specific lenders which appear to have standard variable rates set disproportionate to their cost of funds.

National Pensions Reserve Fund

Eoghan Murphy

Ceist:

72 Deputy Eoghan Murphy asked the Minister for Finance the current standing of the National Pensions Reserve Fund; if he will provide a breakdown of investments including the discretionary portfolio, as well as money committed and information on the future investment plans of the fund. [2786/12]

I am informed by the National Treasury Management Agency, as the Manager of the National Pensions Reserve Fund, that, on 31 December 2011, the total value of the National Pensions Reserve Fund was €14.5 billion, comprising the Discretionary Portfolio of €5.4 billion and the Directed Portfolio currently held at €9.1 billion pending completion of an independent valuation review of the Fund's investments in Allied Irish Banks. The breakdown of the Discretionary Portfolio as at 31 December 2011 is as follows:

Asset Class

€m

% of Discretionary Portfolio

Large Cap Equity

1,346

25.1%

Small Cap Equity

141

2.6%

Emerging Markets Equity

375

7.0%

Quoted Equity

1,862

34.7%

Value of equity put options

264

4.9%

Eurozone Inflation Linked Bonds

78

1.5%

Eurozone Corporate Bonds

271

5.0%

Cash

856

15.9%

Financial Assets

1,205

22.4%

Private Equity

791

14.7%

Property

501

9.3%

Commodities

271

5.0%

Infrastructure

308

5.7%

Absolute Return Funds

170

3.2%

Alternative Assets

2,041

38.0%

Total Discretionary Portfolio

5,3721

100%

1Information in respect of the Discretionary Portfolio is, in the case of direct quoted investments, based on valuation as of close of business on 31 December 2011 and, in the case of indirect investment vehicles, based on the most recently available valuations.

It should be noted that the NPRF has a number of capital commitments as set out in the following table:

Capital committed at 31 December 2011

€m

Private Equity

Undrawn commitments

431

— to Irish funds €123m

— to international funds €308m

Property

Undrawn commitments

84

Infrastructure

Irish Infrastructure Fund

250

Water metering

Subject to certain conditions

450

Total

1,215

In September 2011 the Government announced the establishment of a Strategic Investment Fund which will take the form of a portfolio of funds investing in areas of importance to the Irish economy including infrastructure, financing for SMEs and venture capital. The NPRF will be a cornerstone commercial investor in these funds with the expectation of increasing total fund size by attracting other commercial co-investors. In November the NPRF announced a commitment of €250 million to a new Irish infrastructure investment fund which is seeking up to €1 billion from institutional investors in Ireland and overseas and which will invest in infrastructure assets in Ireland, including assets designated for disposal by the Government and commercial State enterprises and also new infrastructure projects.

Fiscal Policy

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

73 Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Finance the maximum Exchequer budget deficit he thinks is prudent for 2012, 2013 and 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2807/12]

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

74 Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Finance the maximum Exchequer borrowing requirement he believes is sustainable for the years 2012, 2013 and 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2808/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 73 and 74 together.

Budget 2012 estimated that the Exchequer deficits in the years 2012-2014 would be €18.9 billion, €14.1 billion and €10.2 billion respectively. By contrast, the 2011 Exchequer deficit was €24.9 billion.

It is the case that the global economic and financial environment is subject to a great deal of uncertainty at present and there are a wide range of different factors which could effect revenues and expenditure and thereby these Exchequer deficit estimates. One of the main aims of Government is to restore sustainability to the public finances and consistent with this is to achieve steady reductions in the borrowing requirement of the Exchequer. At this point, I am confident that the respective Exchequer deficits for the years 2012-2014, as forecast inBudget 2012, are both achievable and sustainable.

Tax Collection

Joanna Tuffy

Ceist:

75 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Finance the number of individuals assessed by the Revenue Commissioners on income arising from US social security pensions in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2809/12]

Joanna Tuffy

Ceist:

76 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Finance the number of individuals assessed by the Revenue Commissioners on income arising from UK social security pensions in 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2810/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 75 and 76 together.

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that individuals are not required when completing their tax returns to separately identify the country of origin of a foreign pension.

I am further informed by the Revenue Commissioners that income tax returns for the 2008 tax year and earlier tax years did not require a distinction to be made between different types of foreign pensions and, consequently, specific information on the number of individuals returning foreign social security pensions is not available for those years. The relevant statistical information as regards the number of individuals who returned foreign pensions in their tax returns for the tax years 2006 to 2008 is as follows:

Tax Year

Numbers of individuals returning all types of foreign pensions

2006

14,089

2007

15,385

2008

17,117

For the tax year 2009 (the most recent tax year for which complete information is available), foreign pensions are segregated as to State Welfare pensions and other pensions. The relevant statistical information as regards the number of individuals who returned foreign pensions in their tax return for the 2009 tax year is as follows:

Tax Year

Foreign State Welfare pensions

Other foreign pensions

Total

2009

10,646

10,889

21,535

Banking Sector Regulation

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

77 Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the current status of the reports completed by McCann Fitzgerald and Ernst and Young into certain corporate governance matters at the former Irish Nationwide Building Society; if the reports have been referred to the Garda and the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement; and the action being taken on foot of the content of the reports. [2845/12]

As the Deputy is aware a number of reports have been produced by Ernst and Young and McCann FitzGerald at the request of the INBS Board. Copies of all of these reports have been provided to the Central Bank under the terms of a protocol for limited disclosure agreed between the parties to preserve legal privilege over the material. A report was also been provided to the Garda in this regard. However, IBRC have been advised, given the on-going nature of the investigations by the Authorities as well as internal considerations within the bank, that the reports cannot legally be published at this time. Publication of the reports may be considered when the Central Bank proceedings are concluded, when any Garda investigation has been finalised (or any proceedings arising from such investigation concluded) and any civil proceedings contemplated by IBRC either concluded or otherwise disposed of.

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

78 Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if he has raised with Permanent TSB the fact that the standard variable interest rate it charges on mortgages is significantly in excess of the rate charged by other covered institutions; his views that the rate being charged is contributing to the bank’s mortgage arrears problem; his plans to address the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2846/12]

I have not raised this matter with Permanent TSB. The lending institutions in Ireland, including those in which the State has a significant shareholding, are independent commercial entities. Ultimately the pricing of financial products, including standard variable mortgage interest rates, is a commercial decision for the management team and board of each lending institution, having due regard to their customers and the impact on profitability, particularly where the cost of funding to each lending institution, including deposit pricing, is under pressure. Neither the Central Bank nor I have responsibility for any variation in the variable mortgage interest rates charged by the two institutions. However the Central Bank has advised me that, within its existing powers, it will continue to engage with specific lenders which appear to have standard variable rates set disproportionate to their cost of funds.

The Deputy will be aware of the report of the Inter-Departmental Group on Mortgage Arrears which was published last October. The report sets out a number of recommendations to address the situation of those in mortgage arrears. The report stated that the issue of mortgage difficulty can only be addressed in an efficient way on a case by case basis. Arising from the report, a number of developments are underway that will be of assistance to mortgage holders experiencing significant difficulty.

Motor Fuels

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

79 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Finance the amount of illegal diesel and petrol seized by Customs and Excise for the years 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and to date in 2012; the number of successful convictions secured in each of these years and to date in 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2852/12]

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners, who are responsible for the collection of mineral oil tax and for tackling the illicit trade in mineral oil products that they are acutely aware of the various illegal activities that lead to loss to the Exchequer of mineral oil tax. The most serious risk in this regard is the large scale laundering of markers from mineral oil (diesel), which is subject to a reduced rate of mineral oil tax on condition that it is not used in road vehicles. The Commissioners inform me that there is currently no evidence of any petrol-related activity posing a serious threat to the Exchequer. The following table lists the quantity of fuel seized from 2008 to date:

Year

Fuel seized (Litres)

2008

100,470

2009

283,817

2010

276,184

2011

1,045,181

2012 to date

4,200

In 2011 Revenue enforcement staff detected nine oil laundries and 327,000 litres of laundered fuel were seized, together with nine oil tankers and twenty-nine other vehicles. Sixteen persons were arrested in the course of these operations and files have been sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions, who has to date issued directions to prosecute on indictment in respect of two of the cases. In addition, a further 718,181 litres of illicit mineral oil has been seized, the large majority from retail outlets or in the course of delivery to such outlets. The following table lists the number of convictions secured in the years from 2008 to date:

Year

Commercial mineral oil Offences

Illegal use of Marked Mineral Oil in motor vehicles

2008

11

248

2009

6

216

2010

4

233

2011

2

218

2012 to date

0

1

Revenue employs a broad range of compliance and enforcement strategies to detect and counteract illegal practices involving mineral oils. These include ongoing analysis of the nature and extent of the problem; development and sharing of intelligence with agencies on both sides of the border; the conduct of intelligence driven operations using covert surveillance to identify oil laundry locations; seizure of illicit product, laundering equipment and vehicles; physical sampling at road checkpoints; and prosecution of those involved in illegal activities in relation to mineral oils.

In the latter half of 2011, Revenue commenced a vigorous campaign targeting specific locations nationwide, with the intention of immediate closure of unlicensed outlets and the challenging of other instances of non-compliance with mineral oil legislation. As part of this drive, warning letters have been issued to unlicensed retail outlets and a number of these have been effectively closed down by the actions of Revenue enforcement teams. This campaign is ongoing and Revenue is in the process of seizing illicit product and closing down a further number of unlicensed or otherwise illegal retail outlets.

Banks Recapitalisation

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

80 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Finance the payments that will be made to bondholders in the former Anglo Irish Bank in January 2012; the promissory note payments that will be made throughout 2012; if he will report on any other payments that will be made by the covered institutions and State in 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2855/12]

The information requested by the Deputy is set out in the following table. I understand the question, in relation to payments that will be made by the covered institutions and State in 2012, to refer to payments to bondholders of the covered institutions, and payments by the State to relate to payments in respect of the provision of capital to the covered institutions.

Bond Maturity for Covered Institutions 2012

€m

IBRC

AIB/EBS

BOI

IL&P*

Guaranteed

1,778

1,030

1,500

Nil

Unguaranteed Secured

1,000

410

Nil

Unguaranteed Unsecured

2,477

3,539

866

288*

*Includes €170m which is assumed to be repaid as a result of investor calls rather than final maturity of the debt.

The capital repayment on the promissory notes is €3.085bn (IBRC €3.06 and EBS €0.025bn)

It is not envisaged, at this point, that the covered institutions will require further State capital investment.

Troika Staff

Terence Flanagan

Ceist:

81 Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Finance the position regarding the staffing of the troika (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2944/12]

The staffing of the quarterly reviews by the European Commission, the ECB and the IMF are entirely a matter for the bodies concerned.

Scéimeanna Scoláireachta

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

82 D’fhiafraigh Éamon Ó Cuív den Aire Oideachais agus Scileanna an bhfuil aon athrú curtha i bhfeidhm nó le cur i bhfeidhm ar scéimeanna scoláireachta 1916, agus ar na scéimeanna scoláireachta tríú leibhéal Gaeilge agus Gaeltachta; agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina thaobh. [2669/12]

Mar a d'fhógair mé faoi Bhuiséad 2012, tá sé i gceist scéim aonair nua, stíl sparántachta agus bunaithe ar fhiúntas, a chur in ionad na cúig scéim scoláireachta don Ardoideachas atá ann cheana féin, lena n-áirítear Scoláireacht Sheachtain na Cásca 1916 agus na trí Scoláireacht Gaeilge. Beidh na dámhachtainí faoin scéim nua socraithe ag €2,000 an mac léinn. Beidh an sparántacht mar thacaíocht bhreise mar spreagadh agus chun ard-ghnóthachtáil a aithint do mhic léinn ó scoileanna DEIS. Beidh na mic léinn sin a mbronntar na dámhachtainí orthu i dteideal freisin iarratas a dhéanamh ar dheontais ard-oideachais.

Tá an t-athrú seo déanta agam d'fhonn an úsáid is fearr a bhaint as acmhainní ganna chun díriú ar na mic léinn is fearr feidhmithe sa chóhort dóibh siúd is mó a bhfuil cúnamh airgeadais ag teastáil uathu. Ní bheidh aon éifeacht ag na hathruithe seo orthu siúd a bhfuil scoláireachtaí acu cheana féin.

School Accommodation

Brendan Ryan

Ceist:

83 Deputy Brendan Ryan asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will remove the disused prefabs adjacent to the schools (details supplied) in County Dublin in view of the fact that they are falling into disrepair and becoming a centre for anti-social behaviour; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2684/12]

A nearby school has been authorised by my Department to explore the possibility of transferring the prefabs in question to its own site for continued use. It is anticipated that the prefabs will be removed from the current site in the very near future.

Schools Building Projects

Derek Keating

Ceist:

84 Deputy Derek Keating asked the Minister for Education and Skills the position regarding an application made for the provision of the building of classrooms and renovation work in respect of a school (details supplied) in County Dublin; if this will be included in his building programme for 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2796/12]

The building project for the school referred to by the Deputy is currently at an advanced stage of architectural planning. The Design Team are currently working on finalising the Stage 2(b) Submission (Detailed Design) which will then be submitted to my Department for review. The 2012 construction programme was published in December. Following on from this, my Department will shortly publish an outline five year programme on the projects to be constructed in that time. All school building projects currently in architectural planning, including the project referred to by the Deputy, will be considered in the context of that programme, taking into account the funding available, the building costs involved and the progression of other major projects required to meet demographic needs.

Site Acquisitions

Patrick O'Donovan

Ceist:

85 Deputy Patrick O’Donovan asked the Minister for Education and Skills further to Parliamentary Question No. 150 of 9 June 2011, the position regarding the regularisation of land at a location (details supplied) in County Limerick; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2811/12]

Further to my previous reply to the Deputy on this matter, I can confirm that my Department has received legal advice with regard to the proposed land swap as referred to by the Deputy. My Department is agreeable to this land swap and will issue the necessary permissions through the Office the Chief State Solicitor.

Disadvantaged Status

Clare Daly

Ceist:

86 Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Education and Skills if a social impact assessment has been carried out on the effect of increased class sizes in DEIS band 2 schools form September. [2815/12]

Clare Daly

Ceist:

87 Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Education and Skills the criteria that will be used to determine the allocation of alleviation measures to DEIS band 2 schools that are deemed worthy of continued extra support; by judging on a case-by-case basis, is he inclined to continue top up allocations where they can be proven to have had a positive impact. [2816/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 86 and 87 together.

Conscious of the concerns of some schools that will be adversely affected by the budget measures in relation to the withdrawal of certain posts under previous disadvantage schemes, I announced in the house last Wednesday that I have asked my Department to report to me in four weeks on the impact of the withdrawal of posts under these older schemes on DEIS Band 1 and Band 2 primary schools. I will then consider their position in the context of the staffing allocations due to issue to all schools. However, it is important to note that any changes to this measure will require alternative compensatory savings measures within the primary schools budget. A very difficult situation exists in the Education sector to find savings and control the increase in public sector numbers considering that one third of all public sector employees work in the education sector and unlike other countries, our school going population is rising rapidly. It is important to note that a key aspect of the EU/IMF Programme of Support and Ireland's overall budgetary strategy is a requirement to reduce the public sector payroll and remain within the new climate of fixed ceilings on teacher numbers.

Appointments to State Boards

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

88 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Education and Skills the number of appointments made to State agencies and State boards under his remit for the years 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and to date in 2012. [2851/12]

The information requested by the Deputy is provided in the following table:

Appointments made to Boards under the aegis of the Department of Education and Skills (by year)

Agency

2008

2009

2010

2011

2012(To Date)

An Chomhairle um Oideachais Gaeltachta agus Gaelscolaíochta

0

0

22

0

0

Commission into Child Abuse

0

0

0

0

0

Education Finance Board

1

9

0

0

0

Foras Áiseanna Saothair (See Note 1)

1

2

12

1

0

Further Education and Training Awards Council

4

1

1

11

0

Grangegorman Development Agency

0

13

16

0

0

Higher Education and Training Awards Council

2

1

1

10

0

Higher Education Authority

1

3

1

10

0

Irish Research Council for Science, Engineering and Technology

1

0

0

14

0

Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences

5

2

5

0

0

Léargas — The Exchange Bureau

0

2

1

0

0

National Centre for Guidance in Education

0

0

12

0

0

National Council for Curriculum and Assessment

0

27

1

2

0

National Council for Special Education

0

2

13

2

0

National Qualifications Authority of Ireland

1

2

1

7

0

Residential Institutions Redress Board

1

11

10

10

0

Residential Institutions Review Committee

1

6

6

6

0

Skillnets Ltd (See Note 1)

3

0

1

3

0

State Examinations Commission

0

5

0

0

0

The Teaching Council

0

38

2

0

0

Total

21

124

105

76

0

Note 1: Both FÁS and Skillnets Ltd were under the aegis of the then Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment until May 2010.

School Enrolments

Robert Troy

Ceist:

89 Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Education and Skills the details of all schools within counties Longford and Westmeath with fewer than 86 pupils. [2878/12]

A full list of schools in county order with their enrolments can be found on my Department's website at the following linkhttp://www.education.ie/home/home.jsp?pcategory=10917&ecategory=12016&language=EN.

School Inspection Reports

Terence Flanagan

Ceist:

90 Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Education and Skills further to Parliamentary Question No. 219 of 11 January 2012, if he will respond to the following (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2889/12]

I have previously clarified for the Deputy that the Board of Management of the school in question has advised that the recommendations of the HSE report have been implemented in full. My Department remains in regular contact with the school and is satisfied that significant progress has been made in this regard.

The Deputy refers to the further report which was compiled subsequent to the HSE report and following a visit to the centre in question by an inspector and a psychologist from my Department. The Board of Management of the school to which the Deputy refers has been informed that a follow-up visit by officials from my Department will take place in the coming weeks. Since this visit is not a whole school type inspection, formal engagement with parents is not envisaged.

I will await the outcome of the planned visit before a decision on any further follow-up action, including updating the parents, is taken.

Disadvantaged Status

Terence Flanagan

Ceist:

91 Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Education and Skills the name and address of all DEIS band 1 and band 2 schools in Dublin North East; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2891/12]

The information which the Deputy has requested is available on the Social Inclusion section of my Department's website at following link —http://www.education.ie/servlet/blobservlet/deis_school_list.htm.

Special Educational Needs

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

92 Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Education and Skills the number of all-girl primary schools in the country which will be affected by the reduction in learning support provision to four hours per mainstream teacher; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2943/12]

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

93 Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Education and Skills the economic savings which will be achieved by allocating four hours learning support provision per mainstream teacher to an all-girls school compared to five hours learning support provision per mainstream teacher to a mixed or all-boys school; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2945/12]

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

94 Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Education and Skills if the reduced learning support provision for an all-girls primary school of four hours per mainstream teacher will apply to a DEIS nand 2 primary school in view of the fact that children in disadvantaged schools exhibit more learning difficulties than children who are not regardless of gender; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2947/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 92 to 94, inclusive, together.

I wish to advise the Deputy that the revised arrangements, which will update schools' General Allocation Model (GAM) allocations, based on the number of class teaching posts in schools for the previous year, reflect existing arrangements whereby differing pupil teacher ratios are applied under the GAM in relation to boys, girls and mixed schools in order to account for differentials of prevalence of learning difficulty between boys and girls. The ratios which had previously applied are set out in my Departments Circular SP ED 02/05, which is available onwww.education.ie.

There are no plans to reduce the overall number of learning support/resource teachers provided to schools under the General Allocation Model (GAM). There will therefore not be any economic savings arising from the revised arrangements. GAM allocations for primary schools will be updated from September 2012, through a redistribution of the existing GAM learning support resources, based on the number of classroom teaching posts in each school in the previous school year, which are themselves based on the preceding years enrolments.

The rationale for applying differing ratios for boys and girls schools is based on international literature on the incidence of disability as well as international and national surveys of literacy and numeracy which indicate that there is a greater incidence of disability/learning difficulty in boys than girls.

The NCSE Report on the Implementation of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act, of 2006, also examined a range of sources to establish prevalence rates, including national databases, local and international studies and expert estimates, which indicated significantly higher rates of Mild General Learning Difficulty and Specific Learning Disability prevailing in boys, in comparison to girls.

The revised arrangements will apply to all schools from September 2012, including DEIS Band 2 primary schools. DEIS schools will be provided with an allocation on the same rules applying to schools generally.

However, children attending schools in Band 2 of my Department's DEIS programme will continue to benefit from a range of additional supports including in school and out of schools supports which support their participation and engagement in school including enhanced provision of literacy and numeracy supports.

DEIS Band 2 primary schools are provided with various supports which include additional capitation funding based on level of disadvantage; allocation of administrative principal on lower figures than generally apply in primary schools in urban areas; additional funding for schools books; access to the School Meals Programme; access to numeracy/literacy supports and measures; access to Home School Community Liaison services; access to the School Completion Programme; and access to planning supports.

Higher Education Grants

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

95 Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Education and Skills his views on the possible impact of abolishing postgraduate grants on his areas of responsibility such as promoting innovation, research, enterprise, investment and job creation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [36053/11]

While the areas of responsibility referred to are a matter for my colleague the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, student supports come under my remit. I appreciate the Deputy's concerns. However, this Government has had to take difficult and unpalatable decisions under Budget 2012. For this reason, unfortunately, less support will be available to some students going to college from next September.

While we have had to scale back the support for postgraduates, we are prioritising funding for the most disadvantaged students in this cohort. In this regard, though maintenance support will not be available, new students on the lowest income entering postgraduate courses from the 2012/13 academic year who meet the qualifying conditions for the special rate of grant will be eligible to have tuition fees paid up to the maximum fee limit under the Student Grant Scheme.

A limited number of other low-income students who would previously have qualified under the standard grant thresholds will qualify to have a €2,000 contribution made towards the costs of their fees.

In access terms, the requirement to pay postgraduate tuition fees would be likely to be a greater obstacle to entry than lack of maintenance support. The approach now being taken will continue to provide support for a relatively wide number of post-graduate students.

In addition to this, the Student Assistance Fund will continue to be made available through the access offices of third-level institutions to assist students in exceptional financial need. Tax relief is also available on postgraduate tuition fees and details in relation to this are available from the Revenue Commissioners.

FÁS Training Programmes

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

96 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Education and Skills the position regarding the FÁS redundant apprentice placement scheme; and if he will confirm if it has, or will cease [36258/11]

The Redundant Apprentice Placement Scheme (RAPS) was introduced in 2011 to provide opportunities for eligible redundant apprentices to undertake on-the-job training at Phase 3, Phase 5 and Phase 7 of the standard based apprenticeship programme.

I understand that in 2011, over 2,300 redundant apprentices were placed on the scheme, with 1,600 completing their on-the-job phase. A further 700 are currently progressing.

I am informed that the Redundant Apprentice Placement Scheme re-commenced on 9th January, 2012, for new entrants to the scheme, which is expected to provide up to 2,000 places during the year based on the progression of apprentice through the apprenticeship programme.

Flood Relief

Eric J. Byrne

Ceist:

97 Deputy Eric Byrne asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the measures that will be taken to ensure that flooding in an area (details supplied) are minimised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2655/12]

The Office of Public Works (OPW) is currently undertaking the Catchment Flood Risk Assessment and Management (CFRAM) Programme, which is designed to identify and assess areas, both coastal and inland, at risk of significant flooding.

The purpose of the Programme is to:

To assess and map existing and potential future flood risk, through the identification of flood hazard areas and the associated impacts of flooding;

To identify viable structural and non-structural measures and options for managing the flood risks for localised high-risk areas and within the catchment as a whole, and,

To prepare a strategic Catchment Flood Risk Management Plan (CFRMP) and associated Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) that set out the measures and policies that should be pursued by the OPW, the Local Authorities and other stakeholders to achieve the most cost effective and sustainable management of flood risk within the catchment.

Engineering Consultants RPS have been engaged to undertake the Eastern CFRAM Study, this is currently under way and will cover the River Camac.

In advance of the Study being completed, the OPW has been liaising, and is continuing to liaise, with Dublin City Council with a view to identifying feasible measures to mitigate the flood risk from the River Camac in the short-term.

In this regard, it is open to the council to submit a funding application to this Office under the Minor Flood Mitigation Works Scheme. The purpose of the scheme is to provide funding to local authorities to undertake measures to address small scale localised flooding problems within their administrative areas, for which straightforward solutions can be identified and implemented within a short time frame. Any application received will be considered having regard to the scheme eligibility criteria and the overall availability of resources for flood risk management.

The Deputy should note that pluvial flooding due to blocked or under capacity urban storm water drains, is the responsibility of Dublin City Council.

Departmental Expenditure

Eoghan Murphy

Ceist:

98 Deputy Eoghan Murphy asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the amount the Oireachtas pays each year for prepaid envelopes provided for Deputies and Senators, in total and per individual Deputy and Senator; the price paid per envelope; if any savings are achieved from An Post for this bulk purchase; if the money is paid up front or when the envelope is used; and if he or the Commission have investigated the possibility of achieving greater savings through a different arrangement, as well as the possibility of moving to a system in which envelopes are paid for on an as-per-use basis. [2787/12]

The Regulations in relation to free postal facilities for members of the Houses of the Oireachtas provide for monthly allocations of prepaid envelopes for both Deputies and Senators — currently 1,250 and 750 respectively — with additional allocations for party whips. The allocations were reduced in June 2011 from the previous levels as a means of achieving efficiencies. The administration of the free postal facilities is a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission. The Commission, therefore, is in the best position to provide to the Deputy the detailed information requested, and I understand that the Commission is currently reviewing the provision and use of Oireachtas envelopes.

Departmental Funding

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

99 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will introduce measures to ensure that the salaries of all CEOs, senior management and the board of any voluntary or other organisation that receives State funding are publicly available; if he will consider measures to cap the salaries of CEOs, senior management and the board of any voluntary or other organisation that receives State funding; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2856/12]

Apart from instances where statutory rates of pay apply, pay rates in the private sector are generally a matter for negotiation between individual employers and employees. Voluntary bodies are by their nature independent entities, are not public service bodies, do not employ public service staff and are not subject to the specific pay restraint and reduction measures that currently prevail in the public service. Accordingly, I have no powers to introduce measures to cap or ensure salaries paid in such bodies are made publicly available. However, I believe from a governance viewpoint it is incumbent on each individual body to account clearly and transparently for its expenditure of all funds under its control.

My responsibilities in relation to pay extend to the public service where the Government has a direct role in the determination of pay rates as employer. Pay rates in the public service have already been reduced by up to 15% and a progressive pension related reduction applied through the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Acts of 2009. More recently, the Government accepted my proposals to introduce a general pay ceiling of €200,000 for future appointments to higher positions across the public service, a general pay ceiling of €250,000 for future appointments to CEO posts within Commercial State Companies and a voluntary waiver system of up to 15% for current post holders who have salaries in excess of the relevant pay ceiling.

Departmental Expenditure

Sean Fleming

Ceist:

100 Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if he will provide a breakdown of the original projected cost for the reconstruction of Chesterfield Avenue in the Phoenix Park, including associated costs such as traffic management. [2879/12]

Sean Fleming

Ceist:

101 Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the reason for the delay to the original 12 week construction period for reconstruction to the Phoenix Park; and if he will outline any additional cost implications this delay may incur upon the Office of Public Works. [2880/12]

Sean Fleming

Ceist:

102 Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the revised completion date for the reconstruction of Chesterfield Avenue in the Phoenix Park. [2881/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 100 to 102, inclusive, together.

An allocation of €3 million was provided by the Minister of Finance to the Office of Public Works in 2011 to fund reconstruction works to Chesterfield Avenue in the Phoenix Park. The scope of works for the project was developed in accordance with this level of available funding. The principal elements of cost that arise in this project relate to the main road works contract (contract award price — €1.63m ex VAT) and the waste disposal contract (subject to a separate tender to be undertaken shortly and accordingly the budget provision cannot be released at this point). Costs associated with Surveys, Consultant Civil Engineer Fees, Bord Gáis charges and VAT constitute the other elements of the project cost.

Following a formal tendering process, Clonmel Enterprises Ltd was appointed as the Main Contractor for these works, which included full responsibility for the Temporary Traffic Management Plan. The Contract Award Price of €1.63 million (excluding VAT) was the lowest and most economically advantageous of the tenders received. A Work Programme of 12 weeks duration was indicated at the commencement of these works with works confined to normal working day hours i.e. no late working or working at weekends. Works commenced on site on 3rd October 2011. Two main factors have impacted on this programme to date. Firstly, an archaeological area was encountered — two ponds on the site of the former Star Fort — which necessitated additional works to ensure compliance with all statutory requirements. As a result, the project did encounter a delay and cost arising from the additional works associated with this. A final determination of the amount of this cost has yet to be made.

The second factor is weather related. The contract for Chesterfield Avenue did not commence until the works on nearby Blackhorse Avenue were first completed. Accordingly, given the eventual later timing of these works, consideration of weather conditions and the avoidance of any potential risk to the desired road finish became a critical part of the management of the works. As a consequence, certain elements of work scheduled for December 2011 were deferred. Work on this major project is being completed as expeditiously as possible and, subject to weather conditions, it is expected that the road will fully re-open for traffic in mid February 2012. Every effort is being made to ensure that inconvenience for the residents of the Park, those living close to and also those using the Park is kept to a minimum.

Industrial Development

Robert Troy

Ceist:

103 Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if the Industrial Development Agency has significantly increased its visitor numbers to the empty IDA park in Mullingar. [2715/12]

In line with the National Spatial Strategy, IDA Ireland's strategy "Horizon 2020" places renewed emphasis on the "Gateway" regions. The gateways in Ireland are regarded as critical growth areas for the future. Successful enterprise development and the creation of an attractive location are interdependent. Regions/gateways that support strong and dynamic enterprise are crucial to Ireland's return to balanced economic growth. In that context, the Midlands Gateway of Mullingar, Tullamore and Athlone are a key focus of IDA.

As well as marketing the region for new Greenfield investments, IDA continues to work with existing clients in encouraging them to broaden their mandate and to continue to re-invest in their sites within the region. IDA has informed me that it has invested significantly in developing the Business and Technology Park in Mullingar in order to make it attractive to overseas clients and that it will continue to promote this Park and other local private property solutions to secure new investments for Mullingar and its surrounding areas.

The table below sets out details on the number of site visits to Mullingar and to the broader Midlands Region in 2011:

First Time Site Visits to Midlands Region and Mullingar in 2011

Location

2011

Mullingar

3

Midlands Region in total

15

To date, in 2012, there has yet to be a site visit to Mullingar.

In seeking to attract FDI to Ireland, it must be acknowledged that the challenge in achieving an even spread of investment across the country is intensified as the sophistication of investments increase. These investments require a concentration of highly qualified and educated workers, supporting infrastructure and high level business services. Frequently, competition for FDI comes from city regions with populations in excess of one million people. Dublin is the only recognised city region of scale in Ireland.

In selecting locations to show companies, IDA Ireland seeks to include locations which have been affected by closures/job losses. Typically, a company is shown three or four selected towns, which can meet its requirements for skills, labour, site and/or buildings, infrastructure etc. While IDA Ireland seeks to influence the selection of location, the final decision on which location a company will visit and locate in is made by the promoting company.

Robert Troy

Ceist:

104 Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if there has been any talks between the Industrial Development Agency and a company (details supplied) regarding its interest in locating to the IDA in Mullingar. [2716/12]

IDA Ireland maintains close contact with all of its key strategic clients including this company. However, IDA must maintain the strictest confidence in relation to any potential projects, with non-disclosure agreements in many cases.

If a new investor or an existing client looking to expand requires assistance from IDA, typically, a company is shown a number of locations which can meet its requirements in terms of skills, labour, site and/or buildings, infrastructure, etc. IDA also seeks to include locations which have been affected by closures/job losses. While IDA seeks to influence the selection of location, the final decision on location is taken in all cases by the promoting company.

Job Losses

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

105 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if he has been in contact with a company (details supplied) in relation to its plans to centralise operations at St. James’s Gate in Dublin with the loss of in the region of 100 jobs in Dundalk and Kilkenny; and the steps he has taken to preserve the jobs. [2781/12]

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

107 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the steps that have been taken by him or his predecessor to preserve a plant (details supplied) in Dundalk since the centralisation of operations was first proposed in 2008. [2802/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 105 and 107 together.

The intention to close the existing breweries in Dundalk and Kilkenny in 2013 was announced by the company concerned in May 2008. At the time the company intended to expand part of St James's Gate and open a Greenfield facility in the greater Dublin area. In early 2009, the company announced they were reviewing their decision to establish the new brewery and last week they announced they intend to invest further in St James's Gate and continue plans to close Kilkenny and Dundalk.

While the decision on plant closure is a matter for the company, Enterprise Ireland has been and is actively engaging with the company on an ongoing basis in seeking investments to protect and grow jobs in Ireland. A number of investments in R&D programmes in the company's operations have been secured in recent years including programmes for which Enterprise Ireland approved grant support in August 2010 and in June 2008.

In April, July and December 2011, Enterprise Ireland met with the company to discuss the developments in St James's Gate and plans for Kilkenny and Dundalk. In October 2011 at the request of the company, the agency made a presentation to the staff of the Dundalk brewery on the future skills needs of manufacturing sector in Ireland and on the outlook for the manufacturing sector in Ireland.

While the company's announcement of a major new investment in St James's Gate that secures its future in Ireland is to be welcomed, I was disappointed to hear about the confirmation of the 2008 decision of the closures in Dundalk and Kilkenny. I am conscious of the anxiety that the proposed closures will create for the workers involved and their families as well as the local communities. Nevertheless, the announcement by the company that it is to invest in St. James's Gate is a huge vote of confidence in Ireland. Enterprise Ireland is continuing to work proactively with the company to ensure that the maximum number of jobs are retained in Ireland.

Departmental Records

Eoghan Murphy

Ceist:

106 Deputy Eoghan Murphy asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if any electronic data is stored in a commercially operated data centre. [2789/12]

I understand that my Department does not store electronic data in a commercially operated data centre. Day to day electronic communications may be routed through various systems, including commercial data systems, while in transit. Specifically, my Department's email communications are routed through a commercial email filtering service which can block potential spam emails and retain them for a period of time until they are either released by the intended recipient or deleted.

In relation to the Offices under the aegis of my Department, I understand that while the majority of electronic data is held internally across my Department's ICT infrastructure, or in shared hosting centres provided by other Departments, some electronic data is held in commercially operated data centres.

The Companies Registration Office uses an external commercial hosting service, in Ireland, to temporarily hold data for their bulk-data customers to download. The data is deleted after a fortnight on an on-going basis.

The Labour Court uses an external commercial hosting service, in Ireland, to host its website including information relating to recommendations in respect of cases referred to the Court under various types of employment legislation.

Both the Companies Registration Office and the Labour Court use ISO27001 certified hosting facilities.

The website of the Employment Appeals Tribunal is hosted in a secured hosting environment also in an Irish data centre. The data is used by the website to publicly list determinations issued by the Tribunal following completion of a hearing. The data is rendered anonymous by the Employment Appeals Tribunal prior to its transfer to the data centre.

Question No. 107 answered with Question No. 105.

Economic Migration Policy

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

108 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation if he has reviewed the new report from the UK Government’s Migrant Advisory Council on the impact of job displacement on workers in the UK; if similar studies have been undertaken here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2863/12]

Irish economic migration policy is formulated in response to Irish circumstances and, therefore, differs from UK economic migration policy.

In Ireland, an employment permit, such as a Green Card, will only issue where a prospective employee has a job, and, in the case of an application for a Work Permit, the employer must also prove that the position cannot be filled from within the EEA. A key element of Irish economic migration policy has been to ensure that general labour and skills needs are met from indigenous labour and the wider workforce of the EEA.

I am aware that the UK Government's Migrant Advisory Council has produced a recent report analysing the impact of migration to the UK I have asked my officials to examine it.

The Employment Permits Act 2006 allows for regular review of Ireland's economic migration policies. My Department keeps these policies under review on an on-going basis having regard to the emerging needs of the labour market, drawing on the work of the Expert Group on Future Skills Needs and Forfás and in consultation with relevant Departments.

For example, in early 2009, the Department undertook a review of employment permit arrangements to ensure their on-going relevance to the needs of the Irish labour market.

As a result of this review, more stringent eligibility criteria were implemented for prospective new entrants to the work permit schemes from 1 June 2009 onwards. The main features of the new measures included:

expanding the ineligible list of occupations for which permits can be issued;

increasing by 50% the fees charged at renewal stage for new permits issued after 1st June 2009, and

a reduction in the number of occupations for which Green Cards are issued.

More recently, the issue of economic migration and the current labour market has been reviewed in detail in the context of the Government's determination in December 2011 in respect of labour market access and the provisions of the Accession Treaties for Bulgaria and Romania.

Finally, it should be noted that, as our current employment permit arrangements are designed to be vacancy-driven, the number of permits issued over the last 3 years have been showing a consistent downward trend as evidenced by the Table below:

Permits Issued 2009-2011

Year

New

Renewal

Total

2011

3,178

2,010

5,188

2010

3,776

4,132

7,396

2009

4,134

3,976

7,502

I have also included a link to the UK report for information.http://www.ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/sitecontent/documents/aboutus/workingwithus/mac/27-analysis-migration/01-analysis-report/analysis-of-the-impacts?view=Binary

Job Losses

Peadar Tóibín

Ceist:

109 Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the steps he is taking to prevent job losses occurring in a company (details supplied) in County Meath. [2877/12]

The company in question has been in located in Navan, Co Meath for the past 40 years. The company employs approximately 100 people who operate the European shared services centre for the parent company.

Less than 8% of the work force is involved in the manufacture of four product lines. Two of these products are at end of life and the remaining two products are being outsourced to an existing Irish company (hence some of these jobs are remaining in Ireland). Staff currently employed in manufacturing are being offered redundancy by the company.

The company has confirmed that they are making a significant investment in their existing facility which they feel demonstrates a positive sign towards future company expansion and growth.

Employment Support Services

Terence Flanagan

Ceist:

110 Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Social Protection the position regarding supplement payments to employers (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2659/12]

JobBridge is a National Internship Scheme that provides work experience placements for interns for a 6 or 9 month period. The aim of the National Internship Scheme is to assist in breaking the cycle where jobseekers are unable to get a job without experience, either as new entrants to the labour market after education or training or as unemployed workers wishing to learn new skills. The scheme also gives people a real opportunity to gain valuable experience to bridge the gap between study and the beginning of their working lives.

The scheme provides for up to 5,000 work experience placements in the private, public and voluntary sectors. Interns receive an allowance of €50 per week on top of their existing social welfare entitlement for the period of the internship.

A PRSI exemption scheme applied previously (June '10-Dec '11) for companies who offered employment to their JobBridge interns. PRSI exemption does not apply in 2012.

There are no supplement payments made to employers and there are no plans to make such payments.

Pension Provisions

Robert Dowds

Ceist:

111 Deputy Robert Dowds asked the Minister for Social Protection if she accepts that a loophole exists in that there are not pension provisions for community employment supervisors as, technically, they do not appear to be regarded as public servants; and if there are any moves afoot to bring community employment supervisors under the public service umbrella and therefore eligible for a public service pension. [2800/12]

The Deputies will be aware of the position as set out in my reply to Questions Numbers 99, 89 & 102 on 1st December 2011. I do not accept that any loophole exists in the current arrangements with respect to this matter. Supervisors and assistant supervisors are employed by sponsor organisations in contract with FÁS (now the Department of Social Protection) for the operation of community employment (CE) and the delivery of the local services supported.

All sponsor organisations operated independently of FÁS in the discharge of their various functions in respect to the management of staff, participants, finance, and governance arrangements. These arrangements will not be changed with the integration of FÁS into my Department. Given the position of the majority of sponsor organisations as independent entities constituted under the Companies Acts, there can be no consideration that any of their employees could or should be employed as public servants. As such, the position regarding the making of pension provisions for CE supervisors and assistant supervisors remains unchanged.

Departmental Staff

Eric J. Byrne

Ceist:

112 Deputy Eric Byrne asked the Minister for Social Protection in view of the amalgamation of community welfare officer and FÁS with her Department, if she will outline the premises, locations, hierarchy and staff quota of each office in Dublin South Central; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2662/12]

The Community Welfare Service was transferred from the HSE to my Department on 1 October last and the Employment and Community Services were transferred from FÁS on 1 January last.

The offices in my Department in Dublin South Central are set out below. Staff numbers are set out in terms of full-time-equivalent units.

In the light of these recent transfers, an examination of all the premises and resources is currently being carried out within my Department with a view to reorganising these services and making them more efficient. Some realignment of services and reallocation of resources have already taken place in this regard, and additional immediate changes are expected in line with further integration, efficiency and suitability of premises.

Premises

Staffing

AP

HEO

EO

SO

CO

SVO

Total

Social Welfare Office, Rossmore Avenue, Ballyfermot, Dublin 10

0

5.5

6.3

5.5

16.4

1

34.7

Social Welfare Office, 126-128 Thomas Street, Dublin 8

1

6

7

4.8

14.8

1

34.6

Health Centre, Emmet Road, Dublin 8; Bluebell Community Centre, Dublin 12; 738 and 740 SCR, Kilmainham, Dublin 8

0

2

0

0

0

0

2

Village House, Dolphins Barn, Crumlin, Dublin 12

0

1

0

0

0

0

1

Employment Services Office, 45 Crumlin Road, Dublin 12

0

4

0

0

3

0

7

Employment Services Office, Training Centre, Ballyfermot, Dublin 10

2

8

1

0

7

0

18

Health Centre, 75 Terenure Rd North, Dublin 6W

0

3

0

0

0

0

3

Health Centre, Bride Street,Dublin 8

0

2

0

0

0

0

2

Health Centre, Parnell Road, Dublin 8

0

2

0

0

0

1

3

Health Centre, Cashel Road, Dublin 12

0

2

0

0

0

0

2

Health Centre, Curlew Road, Drimnagh, Dublin 12

0

1

0

0

0

0

1

Health Centre, Limekiln Lane, Walkinstown, Dublin 12

0

1

0

0

0

0

1

Health Centre, South Earl St., Dublin 8

0

3

0

0

0

0

3

Health Centre, Ballyfermot Road, Dublin 10

0

3

0

0

0

0

3

Health Centre, Blackditch Road, Dublin 10

0

1

0

0

0

0

1

Cherry Orchard Hospital, Dublin 10

1

0

0

0

1

0

2

The Maltings Business Park, Marrowbone Lane, Dublin 8

0

10

0

0

3

0

13

Community Employment Schemes

Eric J. Byrne

Ceist:

113 Deputy Eric Byrne asked the Minister for Social Protection the contractual arrangements between the sponsors of community employment schemes and their project workers; if the secondary benefits will be maintained by existing CE workers on the cancellations of their contracts; and the arrangements for new entrants. [2666/12]

Participants on Community Employment (CE) schemes are contracted on temporary, fixed-term annual employment contracts with the relevant CE Sponsoring organisation.

Secondary benefits are generally retained by participants on CE, provided they continue to satisfy the qualifying conditions, depending on their individual circumstances. Expiration of their CE contracts has no effect on the secondary benefits as the Department links their claims from before and after their CE participation.

As announced in Budget 2012, the payment of two qualified child increasesper child where the person is employed on a Community Employment (CE) scheme and in receipt of One Parent Family Payment, Deserted Wife’s Benefit/Allowance or Widow(er)s Pension, will be discontinued for existing participants and new entrants in January 2012. New entrants to CE are defined as persons who have not participated on the scheme in the last 12 months.

New entrants to the Community Employment programme will not be able to claim another social welfare-funded payment at the same time, but will receive the standard additional €20 CE participation bonus on top of their original payment amount. This measure affects persons in receipt of One Parent Family Payment, Deserted Wife's Benefit, Widow(er)s Pension, Illness Benefit, Invalidity Pension, Disability Allowance and Blind Pension. Those already on CE will retain their original social welfare payment (bar double child increases per child for lone parent-type payments, as detailed above) for as long as they are continuously employed on CE for a maximum period of three years, where applicable, based on their eligibility to continue participation.

Question No. 114 withdrawn.

Mary Lou McDonald

Ceist:

115 Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will provide the terms of reference of the current review of the FÁS community employment programme; the way the distinctive nature of the CE ring-fenced drugs rehabilitation projects which have a critical role in delivering the national rehabilitation strategy will be taken into account as part of this review; if she will give a commitment that no cuts will be implemented until after the reviews are completed and the agreed outcomes are finalised; if she will undertake to ensure that sponsoring projects including reps from CE drug rehabilitation projects are represented on the body responsible for the review; and that she provides details of the other members of the review group. [2756/12]

There are currently 1,143 Community Employment Schemes (CE) in operation with 23,300 participants. Under the designated ring-fenced places for Community Employment Drugs Rehabilitation places, there are over 800 CE places activated in support and rehabilitation of participants referred with Drug addiction issues. These places provide much needed support for those in recovery and provide a path towards re-entry to working and community life.

Given the rehabilitation needs of participants, a key feature of the CE Drugs Rehabilitation Schemes is the focus on training and certified learning. The Department of Social Protection are aware of the special functions of the CE Rehabilitation Schemes and recognise the favourable progression outcomes from the Schemes. To date, the progression outcomes for participants on the Drug Rehabilitation Schemes continue to compare favourably with the standard CE Schemes, despite the down turn in the economy.

The current review of financial resources initiated by the Department of Social Protection, commenced in January, with a time frame for completion by the end of March 2012. The outcomes will inform the overall approach to be taken by Department of Social Protection in prioritising spending while addressing the need for budget reductions.

At this stage, the agreed terms of reference for the review have been circulated to regional management. To ensure consistency in approach by the Department of Social Protection, a template/schedule outlining the areas for the financial review was designed and this is the basis of the review at scheme level.

The Terms of Reference for the Review is as follows:

To examine the income and funding of sponsoring organisations in terms of their ability to continue the programme with reduced funding from DSP. There are community and voluntary sponsoring organisations that receive funding from a multiplicity of state agencies.

To quantify the expenditure on training provided and the qualifications achieved by participants.

Alternative sources of support will be examined particularly with reference to funding from other state agencies to avoid duplication.

To establish if income is generated by scheme activity and the potential for utilisation of these funds to cover project costs.

The review is being undertaken in consultation with Sponsors and CE Supervisors at local level. In addition to this, the Department will meet with representative bodies and relevant state Agencies to gather views on ways to lessen hardships given the requirements of the reductions. The outcomes will be incorporated into the Report for the Minister.

Staff are advised where Schemes have committed expenditure to eligible costs and where this has been approved by the DSP under existing arrangements, this will be reimbursed.

Question No. 116 withdrawn.

Social Welfare Benefits

John Lyons

Ceist:

117 Deputy John Lyons asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will clarify the decision not to award domiciliary allowance to persons (details supplied) in Dublin 11; if a review of this decision took place in view of additional information; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2776/12]

An application for domiciliary care allowance was received on 22nd September 2011. This application was referred to one of the Department's Medical Assessors who found that the child was not medically eligible for the allowance. A letter issued on 24th November 2011 advising of the decision.

In the case of an application which is refused on medical grounds, the applicant may submit additional information and/or ask for the case to be reviewed or they may appeal the decision directly to the Social Welfare Appeals Office within twenty one days. Representations were received on behalf of the person in question in December 2011 and the Social Welfare Appeals Office has been requested to register an appeal in this case. The case will be reviewed by another medical assessor in advance of the appeal being heard.

Social Welfare Appeals

Paul Connaughton

Ceist:

118 Deputy Paul J. Connaughton asked the Minister for Social Protection when an oral hearing will take place in relation to a carer’s allowance appeal in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Galway; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2783/12]

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that the appeal from the person concerned was referred to an Appeals Officer who proposes to hold an oral hearing in this case.

There has been a very significant increase in the number of appeals received by the Social Welfare Appeals Office since 2007 when the intake was 14,070 to 2010 and 2011 when the intake rose to 32,432 and 31,241 respectively. This has significantly impacted on the processing time for appeals which require oral hearings and, in order to be fair to all appellants, they are dealt with in strict chronological order.

While every effort is being made to deal with the large numbers awaiting oral hearing as quickly as possible, it is not possible to give a date when the person's oral hearing will be heard, but s/he will be informed when arrangements have been made.

The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

119 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection the progress made to date in the determination of an appeal in respect of an application for invalidity pension in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2797/12]

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was registered in that office on 30th November 2011. It is a statutory requirement of the appeals process that the relevant Departmental papers and comments by the Social Welfare Services on the grounds of appeal be sought. When received, the appeal in question will be referred in due course to an Appeals Officer for consideration.

The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements.

Social Welfare Code

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

120 Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Social Protection in view of some commentary that some self-employed tradesmen may be claiming social welfare payments, the analysis that has taken place in relation to such commentary; if any pilot analysis has been examined covering any suburban or geographic area; if there is an ongoing analysis to ensure that persons working in this State from outside the jurisdiction are meeting with all the insurance contributions/taxation requirements; if she will outline the income a person is permitted to earn on a part-time basis while still claiming social welfare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2798/12]

Self-employed people can apply for the means-tested Jobseeker's Allowance if their business ceases or if they are on low income as a result of a downturn in demand for their services.

Legislation provides for the assessment of all income in cash and any non-cash benefits which the person or his/her spouse may reasonably expect to receive during the succeeding year. The means assessment guidelines state that where the income in the coming 12 months is not ascertainable, then the income for the last 12 months should be taken as a guide, allowing for any variable factors.

The means assessment for self-employment income varies across the Department's schemes. However, in general, where a person's means are in excess of the family rate applicable to the scheme, the payment is disallowed. For example, the family rate payable for a Jobseeker's Allowance claimant aged 25 or over with a partner and one child is €342.60, comprising the personal rate and increases for both a qualified adult and child.

Combating social welfare fraud and abuse is an integral part of my Department's day-to-day work and this includes ensuring that persons working in this State from outside the jurisdiction comply with all the relevant insurance contributions/taxation requirements.

The emphasis of the Department's control activities is on direct intervention and engagement. High visibility operations by the Special Investigation Unit are regularly and systematically undertaken. The effectiveness and cost-benefit of these operations and projects are continuously analysed and operational experience critically informs whether to continue, escalate or terminate specific projects. New control projects will be developed and introduced, where appropriate.

In the context of self-employed trades people who may be engaged in social welfare fraud, specific activities being undertaken include:

the active policing of the hidden economy sector where there is a prevalence of social welfare and abuse. Investigations in this context are undertaken through Joint Investigation Units with the Revenue Commissioners;

where intelligence or reliable reports are received about persons engaged in concurrent working and claiming, or under declaration of income, reviews of eligibility are immediately undertaken;

a series of high visibility site visits and employer inspections are systematically conducted to detect incidences of social welfare fraud. These visits and inspections are undertaken in those sectors where the risk of fraud is most prevalent;

multi-agency checkpoints are undertaken with the Garda Traffic Unit and the Revenue Commissioners. Persons driving commercially taxed vehicles are interviewed as part of these projects; and

a number of high visibility operations are being jointly conducted by Special Investigation Unit and local authority environmental officers to identify environmental offences and simultaneously detect incidences of social welfare fraud.

As Minister, I am very conscious of the need to protect public money and I am determined to ensure that abuse of the system is prevented and is dealt with effectively when detected.

Mattie McGrath

Ceist:

121 Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Social Protection her views on the fact that a family of five have been left without any income whatsoever because a second property has been assessed as means against them and have subsequently been refused a social welfare payment; what she proposes this family does to put food on their table when both parents are unemployed and without any source of income; her plans to review the assessment of capital as means when no income is being derived from the capital; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2801/12]

Social welfare legislation provides that the yearly value of "property owned but not personally used or enjoyed" is assessable for means testing purposes. Such property includes houses and premises owned by a claimant which may or may not be put to commercial use. However, it does not include property such as the home or, for example, a premises used by the claimant in carrying out a business.

For assessment purposes, the current market value of the property is established as well as the amount of any outstanding mortgages on that property. The balance (market value less outstanding mortgage) is assessed by reference to a formula. Where the current market value is less than the outstanding mortgage, no assessment is made. Any changes to the current arrangements would have to be considered in a Budgetary context.

The current market value of a property is the best estimate of what would be achievable if the property was offered for sale. Such an estimate will have regard to reductions in prices over recent years.

In establishing the current market value of a property, the Department may make enquiry of the State Valuation Office. The market value may also be established through receipt of a reasonable current valuation from a registered auctioneer, with reference to the purchase price and date of purchase of the property or, alternatively, the Department's inspector may agree a valuation with a customer having regard to the type and location of the individual property and prevailing market values in that area.

Where a claimant considers that a decision on his or her claim is based on a market value of a property which is too high, he or she may appeal that decision to the Social Welfare Appeals Office.

Finally, where a person is unable to meet essential costs from his or her own resources despite owning a substantial capital asset, an exceptional needs payment may be payable under the supplementary welfare allowance (SWA) scheme, and the affected person can, if they wish, contact the Department locally in this regard. Each application is determined by the person administering the SWA Scheme in the local area, based on the particular circumstances of the case.

Social Welfare Appeals

Sandra McLellan

Ceist:

122 Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Social Protection the reason it will take two weeks to notify a person (details supplied) in County Cork of a decision made on an appeal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2813/12]

I am advised by the social welfare appeals office that an appeals officer, having fully considered all the available evidence, disallowed the appeal of the person concerned by way of summary decision on 9 January 2012. The person concerned was notified of the appeals officer's decision on 13 January 2012. The social welfare appeals office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements.

Tom Hayes

Ceist:

123 Deputy Tom Hayes asked the Minister for Social Protection when a decision on an incapacity supplement appeal will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2819/12]

The social welfare appeals office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was registered in that office on 25 October 2011. It is a statutory requirement of the appeals process that the relevant departmental papers and comments by the social welfare services on the grounds of appeal be sought. When they have been received, the appeal in question will be referred in due course to an appeals officer for consideration. The social welfare appeals office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements.

Social Welfare Benefits

John McGuinness

Ceist:

124 Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Social Protection the action she has taken to reduce the processing time for applications for carer’s allowance; if her attention has been drawn to the fact that applicants are being informed that April applications are now being dealt with; if extra staff are needed in this section; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2848/12]

The average time taken to award a claim for carer's allowance to the end of September 2011 was 14 weeks. The average time to award for the last quarter of 2011 is unavailable. Due to the phased introduction of a new claims processing system in the carer's allowance area, new claims are being processed on the new system while older claims are still being processed on the old system. A major service delivery modernisation project is under way to improve the efficiency of administration of the carer's allowance scheme. This involves the development of information technology functions and associated business process reorganisation. The first tranche of new carer's allowance claims began to be processed under the new system in August 2011. It is anticipated that the new system will introduce significant processing efficiencies and a quicker and more responsive service to the customer. Accordingly, the project is being given high priority and involves a significant level of time and commitment from the relevant staff in the Department. This has had a short-term negative impact on claim processing times which is expected to continue until the completion of the modernisation project when all existing carer's allowance claims will be transferred onto the new processing system.

Some 7,660 applications are awaiting a decision at present, which represents a reduction on the figure of 8,540 at the beginning of September 2011. I acknowledge that the time taken to process carer's allowance claims at present is not satisfactory. I am satisfied that the Department is taking appropriate steps to resolve the situation. In addition to dealing with the approximately 330 new carer's allowance applications that are received each week, overtime working is being applied to help reduce backlogs that have built up chiefly as a result of the effort associated with the service delivery modernisation project. However, it is expected to be a significant number of months before the backlog is reduced to an acceptable level. While the new systems and processes will facilitate a significant improvement in overall processing times, it should be noted that the intake of new carer's allowance applications continues to increase and that individual claims may continue to take some time to process. Entitlement to carer's allowance is based on satisfying medical, means and residency conditions. In determining entitlement to the allowance, in certain cases unavoidable time lags are involved in making the necessary investigations and inquiries to enable accurate decisions to be made. Delays can also arise if those applying for the allowance are not in a position to supply all the necessary information in support of their claim. In the meantime, if a person's means are insufficient to meet his or her needs while awaiting a decision on a claim, he or she can apply for a means tested supplementary welfare allowance payment from their local community welfare officer.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

125 Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Social Protection if medical and or surgery benefit will be approved in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if she will expedite a response. [2849/12]

This application was initially disallowed as the person concerned had insufficient contributions or credits recorded for the relevant tax year. However, following a review, credits in respect of carer's benefit for the 2009 tax year have been updated and the claim has been approved. A letter to this effect has now issued to the person concerned.

Community Employment Schemes

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

126 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for Social Protection if a new applicant for community employment after 16 January who is a lone parent with two children should be entitled to more than €208 per week when they commence community employment. [2871/12]

As announced in budget 2012, new entrants to the community employment programme will not be able to claim another social welfare-funded payment at the same time, but will receive the standard additional €20 community employment participation bonus on top of their original payment amount. This measure affects those receiving one-parent family payment, deserted wife's benefit or allowance, widow(er)'s pension, illness benefit, invalidity pension, disability allowance and blind pension. Those already on community employment will retain their original social welfare payment (bar double child increases per child for lone parent-type payments, as detailed below) for as long as they are continuously employed on community employment for a maximum period of three years, where applicable, based on their eligibility to continue participation. The payment of two qualified child increases per child where the person is employed on a community employment scheme and in receipt of one-parent family payment, deserted wife's benefit or allowance or widow(er)'s pension, will be discontinued for existing participants and new entrants in January 2012. New entrants to community employment are defined as people who have not participated on the scheme in the last 12 months. A new participant to community employment who is a lone parent with two qualifying children will receive €208 for themselves and €29.80 per qualifying child, totalling €267.60 gross per week.

Social Welfare Appeals

John Lyons

Ceist:

127 Deputy John Lyons asked the Minister for Social Protection when an appeal for an invalidity pension will be decided in respect of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 9. [2883/12]

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal by the person concerned was registered in that office on 12 January 2012. It is a statutory requirement of the appeals process that the relevant Departmental papers and comments by the Social Welfare Services on the grounds of appeal be sought. When received, the appeal in question will be referred to an Appeals Officer for consideration.

The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements.

Sandra McLellan

Ceist:

128 Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Social Protection if a decision will be made in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2890/12]

I am advised by the Social Welfare Appeals Office that an oral hearing of the child benefit, disability allowance and domiciliary care allowance appeals of the person concerned took place on 28 November 2011 and the Appeals Officer is now considering the appeals in the light of all the evidence submitted, including that adduced at the hearing. The person concerned will be notified of the Appeals Officer decision when the appeal has been determined.

The carer's allowance appeal, by the person concerned, was registered in the Appeals Office on 28 September 2011. It is a statutory requirement of the appeals process that the relevant Departmental papers and comments by the Social Welfare Services on the grounds of appeal be sought. When received, the appeal in question will be referred in due course to an Appeals Officer for consideration.

The Social Welfare Appeals Office functions independently of the Minister for Social Protection and of the Department and is responsible for determining appeals against decisions on social welfare entitlements.

Turbary Rights

Patrick O'Donovan

Ceist:

129 Deputy Patrick O’Donovan asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if consideration was given to the option of participants in the turf cutters compensation scheme to access renewable fuels as opposed to peat or turf; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2652/12]

The issue of improving the energy efficiency of turf-cutters homes and/or the provision of a source of alternative renewable fuel to replace turf for those affected by the cessation of cutting on raised bog SACs has been raised at the Peatlands Council. There may be some potential for such approaches to offer an alternative to the compensation schemes already put in place by my Department. Both my Department and the Peatlands Council are giving consideration to the issue and how it might be progressed. No final decisions have been made in this regard.

Arts Funding

Simon Harris

Ceist:

130 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he will outline the supports and grants that exist for musicians; the way these schemes can be accessed by interested parties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2678/12]

Support for all music genres continues to fall within the remit of the Arts Council — the main channel through which State aid is provided to the arts. Under the Arts Act 2003, the Council is statutorily independent in the disbursement of its funds.

Insofar as my own Department is concerned, specific support to the music industry — and particularly to new and emerging artists — had been provided through the Business Expansion Scheme (BES), as extended to the music industry with effect from 6 April 1996 and for which my Department was the certifying authority. The BES for Music, under which investors could avail of tax relief in respect of music recordings, subject to certification by my Department, was specifically targeted to stimulate investment in the production, publication, marketing and promotion of new and emerging musical talent.

With effect from 1 January 2012, the BES has been replaced by the Employment and Investment Incentive (EII). Under the EII, the majority of trades qualify for relief, including that previously relating to musical recordings.

Under the EII, which is scheduled to operate until the end of 2013, applicants may now apply directly to the Revenue Commissioners, thus easing the demands on applicants and simplifying the procedures involved. Accordingly, any queries in relation to the EII should be directed to the Revenue Commissioners.

Departmental Staff

Robert Troy

Ceist:

131 Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the number of senior heritage specialists in the public service who are expected to apply to retire in February 2012; the level of expertise of such staff; and if the embargo will be lifted to ensure that such personnel will be replaced. [2743/12]

While 16 staff across my Department have, as of today, confirmed their intention to retire by end-February, I am advised that this does not include any senior heritage specialists.

Údarás na Gaeltachta

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

132 D’fhiafraigh Éamon Ó Cuív den Aire Ealaíon, Oidhreachta agus Gaeltachta cén uair dheireanach a bhí toghcháin ann d’Údarás na Gaeltachta agus an dáta deiridh de réir na reachtaíochta gur féidir toghcháin an Údaráis a ghairm; agus an ndéanfaidh sé ráiteas ina thaobh. [2812/12]

Reáchtáladh toghchán deiridh Údarás na Gaeltachta ar 2 Aibreán 2005. Faoi réir na reachtaíochta atá i bhfeidhm faoi láthair, ní mór an chéad toghchán eile a reáchtáil roimh 1 Deireadh Fómhair 2012.

Ní miste dom a mheabhrú don Teachta, áfach, gur thóg an Rialtas cinntí sonracha polasaí ar 31 Bealtaine 2011 maidir le struchtúr agus feidhmeanna Údarás na Gaeltachta, lena n-áirítear cinntí chun bord an Údaráis a laghdú go substaintiúil agus chun deireadh a chur leis an riachtanas do thoghcháin. Tá na dréacht-Chinn don Bhille Gaeltachta, a thabharfaidh feidhm do na cinntí seo, de réir mar is cuí, dréachtaithe ag mo Roinn agus tá sé beartaithe iad a chur faoi bhráid an Rialtais go luath.

Appointments to State Boards

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

133 Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he intends to appoint a third commissioner to the Commission for Energy Regulation; if so, the timetable and means of that appointment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2900/12]

I intend to appoint a third commissioner to the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) following a competitive process as early as possible this year. The Electricity Regulation Act 1999, provides for the Commissioners to be appointed by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, with the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

The process to fill the current Commissioner vacancy is underway. My Department is finalising the details of the recruitment process with the Department of Public Enterprise and Reform.

I can advise the House also that my colleague, the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government, has published on 16 January a public consultation on the establishment of a Public Water Utility, which includes the proposal to confer responsibility on CER for the economic regulation of water.

The proposal to broaden the remit of CER to encompass the regulation of water has obvious implications for the technical expertise needs and staff complement of the CER and will be a very relevant consideration in the process of filling the third post of Commissioner. I should say however that the necessity for a third full time Commissioner in the CER stands on its own merits in any event because of the complexity and breadth of the energy regulation brief.

I am anxious that the selection of a new Commissioner to the CER gets under way as quickly as possible with the open competitive process to be organised and overseen by the Public Appointments Service in the next number of months.

Gas Exploration

Martin Ferris

Ceist:

134 Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will report on his recent meeting on the LNG project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2942/12]

I have consistently welcomed the proposal by Shannon LNG to construct a LNG terminal near Ballylongford, County Kerry. Such a facility, together with the bringing onshore of Corrib Gas would provide important security of gas supply for Ireland. I met the promoters of the project soon after taking office last year and both my Department and the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) are in regular contact with Shannon LNG.

Most recently, the Taoiseach, myself, Minister Deenihan and Deputy Spring met with Shannon LNG on 21 December last. The meeting was a timely opportunity to review the state of play in relation to the project and to underline the Government's very positive interest in the potential investment. The meeting also discussed the central concern of Shannon LNG which is to obtain regulatory certainty at the earliest opportunity in relation to the future pricing and treatment of Ireland's two gas interconnectors. Together with all players and potential players in Ireland's gas market, Shannon LNG has a key commercial interest in the outcome of CER's ultimate decision on this very complex regulatory question and given the complexities there are many differing perspectives on what the decision should be.

The CER itself has been engaged in an extensive consultation process on the matter over the last number of months and has had considerable interaction with Shannon LNG itself as well as with all key stakeholders. In line with the stated need for all interested parties, including Shannon LNG, to have clarity and certainty on the future regulatory regime as soon as possible, the CER had originally signalled that it would come to a decision last autumn. The process has been delayed, regrettably, by Shannon LNG's own decision to lodge a number of complaints with the European Commission. This further delay in the process was discussed with Shannon LNG at the meeting on 21 December as was Shannon LNG's own particular perspective on the regulatory issues for decision by CER.

I want to remind the House that decisions on the regulatory treatment of the gas interconnectors and tariffing are statutorily a matter for the CER under the enactment of the Gas (Interim) (Regulation) Act 2002. The CER, as the independent energy regulator has a remit to protect energy consumers, ensure security of supply and support competitiveness. The CER has a duty to ensure that new sources of gas for the Irish Market do not result in unwarranted increases in the price of gas to business and domestic consumers.

I fully acknowledge the complexity of the decision which CER has to make and the need for various difficult balances to be struck. I very much hope that CER will be in a position to come to its decision next month thus bringing the regulatory certainty which Shannon LNG has repeatedly sought. I understand that CER are actively considering one further public consultation forum of stakeholder parties in the coming weeks. Given the multiplicity of perspectives on the matter, I am sure all stakeholders including of course Shannon LNG would welcome such a forum.

Postal Services

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

135 Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he intends to proceed with the introduction of a postcode system; if so, when does he intend to proceed with the necessary procurement process to allow for the introduction of such a scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2899/12]

A procurement process for a national postcode system is under way. This process, which is being managed on a ring fenced basis by my Department, necessarily constrains the amount of information I can share with you at this time.

By way of background, Ireland is the only country in the EU and the OECD which does not have a national postcode. In July 2009 the then Government approved the launch of a procurement process for a national postcode based on the report of the National Postcode Project Board in 2006. In 2010, my Department established a Postcode Steering Group and appointed PA Consulting to assist it with project management and implementation.

The procurement process for postcodes began on 17th January 2011 with the publication of a pre qualification questionnaire on the e-tenders websitewww.etenders.gov.ie for the appointment of a postcode management licence holder. Since then intensive work has taken place on what is a complex project. I expect to be in a position to put the matter of procuring a Postcode System to Government later this year.

The final decision to proceed with the implementation of a national postcode will, of course, be one for Government and will be based on appropriate financial, technical and operational considerations.

Telecommunications Services

Simon Harris

Ceist:

136 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to the lack of mobile telephone coverage in an area (details supplied); the impact this has on the local community; the steps he will take to compel private mobile telephone operators to significantly improve mobile telephone coverage in the area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2665/12]

The provision of mobile phone networks and services is undertaken by telecommunications service providers who operate in a fully liberalised market.

The regulation of telecommunications service providers, including regulatory issues surrounding mobile phone network coverage and quality, is the responsibility of the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) in accordance with its functions under the Communications Regulation Act 2002, as amended, and the EU Regulatory Framework for Electronic Communications.

ComReg is responsible for issuing licences to mobile phone operators and for monitoring compliance with the conditions attached to the licences. I am informed by ComReg that all of the operators have met their licence requirements in this regard and, indeed, that performance tends to exceed the minimum coverage requirements. However, it should be noted that as mobile telephony services are a radio based technology they are affected by several factors. For example, the local topography, including the surroundings, trees, terrain, buildings, etc. impacts on the quality of service. Additionally, the capacity of the network is impacted by the amount of subscribers using a particular base station at any given time. It is also the case that, from time to time, some residents from localities successfully oppose the construction of base stations in their areas which, of course, impacts on the ability of network operators to provide services in such areas.

Nicky McFadden

Ceist:

137 Deputy Nicky McFadden asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will provide an update on the progress of the rural broadband scheme; and if he will address the issue of cherrypicking in relation to broadband provision in rural areas. [2719/12]

The Application Phase of the Rural Broadband Scheme (RBS) closed on 29 July 2011. The Department received 5,000 applications and it is expected that up to 4,000 of these will qualify under the terms of the scheme.

The Verification Phase of the Scheme has now commenced. In this phase of the Scheme, the details of applicants are being passed to Internet service providers to assess whether a service can be offered to them without intervention from the State. A total of 35 companies are participating in this phase of the Scheme. It is possible that a significant number of applicants could be served by these companies and a service will be procured for the remainder who cannot be served. It is hoped to have this service rolled out by the end of 2012.

The Department will be writing to all applicants in February to let them know the position in relation to their application.

With regard to the provision of broadband services generally, the electronic communications market in Ireland has been fully liberalised since 1999. Despite steady growth and development of well-regulated competition in the provision products and services since then, companies will only invest where there is a clear commercial case for doing so. Where it is necessary and appropriate the Government makes careful interventions aimed at addressing market failure, such as the National Broadband Scheme and the RBS.

The combination of private investment and State interventions such as the National and Rural Broadband Schemes means that Ireland is on target to meet the EU Digital Agenda milestone of having a basic broadband service available to all areas by 2013.

Sustainable Energy Grants

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

138 Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the economic implications of the cuts to energy grants per budget 2012 in view of the fact that industry sources suggest that the State receives €5 for every €1 spent on grants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2731/12]

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 493 from him of 11 January last.

Telecommunications Services

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

139 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which the standard quality and availability of high-speed broadband throughout this country compares to that available in other EU and non-EU jurisdictions; the degree to which this is fundamental to economic recovery; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2822/12]

There has been significant growth in the take up of broadband services and contracted speeds in Ireland in recent years. The Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) has reported that between Q3 2007 and Q3 2011 the number of broadband subscribers has more than doubled from 793,000 to more than 1.6 million.

It is also the case that, at the end of September 2011, 73.2% of domestic customers and 88.8% of business subscribers were contracted for services using speeds between 2Mbps — 10Mbps compared to 52.5% and 30.3% respectively at end 2007, when ComReg commenced reporting in the current format. Many subscribers are also migrating to higher speed products with 19.8% of residential subscribers using speeds in excess of 10Mbps, according to ComReg's latest Quarterly Report (Q3 2011), compared to 0.2% at end 2007.

International comparisons of broadband services are complex to measure and interpret. In many instances, surveys measure an average of retail broadband speeds published on service providers' websites only. These comparisons do not take account of higher speeds which are available in some countries (including Ireland) over leased lines to users of very high speeds and bandwidth. The international comparisons only consider retail services that are advertised. Big bandwidth leased line services are not advertised as retail services in Ireland.

It is also the case that the comparisons are not weighted to take account of the number and variety of speeds options advertised. Furthermore, broadband services that are advertised as part of a bundled package may not be included in such comparisons. Some commonly used high speed broadband services, available in Ireland, such as triple play products, may not be included in some international comparisons.

Notwithstanding the progress in broadband delivery, there is a recognition in the Programme for Government of a need to further improve the quality of broadband available nationwide. Under the NewERA proposals in the Programme for Government, there is a commitment to co-invest with the private sector and commercial Semi State sector to provide Next Generation Broadband customer access to every home and business in the State. The Next Generation Broadband Taskforce which I convened last summer has an important role to play in this regard. It comprises the CEOs of all of the major telecommunications companies operating in the Irish market, as well as CEOs of some other companies that provide broadband services. The purpose of the Taskforce is to discuss and report on policy issues and proposals in relation to the provision of high speed broadband across Ireland. I expect that the Taskforce will help to identify how best to deliver wider customer access to high-speed broadband generally and thereby assist in delivering on the commitment in the Programme for Government.

The Taskforce will conclude its deliberations shortly. It is my intention to consider the findings, conclusions and recommendations of the report of the Taskforce and to move quickly thereafter to put in place the optimal policy environment for the delivery of high speed broadband.

Postal Services

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

140 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which he has had any discussions with An Post with a view to ensuring the continuation of the full or enhanced scale of services throughout the country at local and regional level, the utilising of the existing network of post offices and sub-post offices, the continuation of next day delivery services in all areas, urban and rural and the identification of suitable complementary services to those already undertaken which might in turn be economically beneficial to the service providers and helpful in the present economic situation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2823/12]

It is Government policy that An Post remains a strong and viable company, in a position to provide a high quality, nationwide postal service and maintain a nationwide customer focused network of post offices.

The Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Act of 2011 guarantees the ongoing provision of a universal postal service, the essential element of which is the collection and delivery of mail to every address in the State on every working day. Under this Act, An Post is designated as the universal service provider.

My officials and I meet regularly with An Post management to discuss issues of importance to An Post. However, decisions regarding new products and services and the role of developing commercial strategies for the post office network is a matter for the Board and management of An Post and one in which I have no statutory function.

Energy Costs

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

141 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which gas and electricity prices here, both to the domestic and commercial market, are competitive with those throughout Europe; the extent to which it might be expected that the prices here can be brought into line with or become the lowest in Europe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2824/12]

I do not have a statutory function in the setting of energy prices, whether in the regulated or unregulated market. Responsibility for the regulation of the electricity and gas markets is a matter for the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, which is an independent statutory body. Prices in the retail electricity market are now fully deregulated and from 1 October 2011 gas residential consumers are the only segment of the electricity and gas markets where prices are regulated. Prices in the electricity market and unregulated part of the gas market are wholly a commercial and operational matter for the suppliers. Ireland's electricity and gas markets, both wholesale and retail, are characterised by vigorous competition regulated by the CER.

The Government recognises that the cost of energy in Ireland is a serious competitiveness issue facing energy consumers during this difficult period for the economy. The provision of secure, sustainable and competitive energy supplies is critical for the economy and is a challenge we are determined to meet.

Global gas and oil prices have risen sharply since the start of 2011 driven by events in North Africa and Japan and high demand from the emerging economies of China and India. There are clear indications that international oil and gas prices will rise further over the coming months. These trends are leading to higher domestic electricity and gas prices, as reflected by recent increases in domestic electricity prices announced by the suppliers competing in that market and by CER's decision to allow an increase in BGE's regulated gas tariff for the residential sector.

Given Ireland's heavy reliance on imported gas and oil and relatively small market size, it is a price taker in the global fossil fuel market. The economy is therefore vulnerable to fossil fuel price fluctuations and price rises. Competitor countries are in many instances facing the same prospect and the objective in the context of higher global prices must be that we retain or improve our competitive position.

Ireland's concerns about high oil and gas prices are shared at EU level and fellow Member Countries of the International Energy Agency (IEA). The EU and IEA agree that high fossil fuel prices which pose a threat to economic recovery underline the need to reduce dependence on fossil fuels by radically enhanced energy efficiency measures and the development of renewable energy.

EU energy Ministers have focused in recent years on bringing about change in Europe's electricity and gas supply and consumption by setting EU targets for 2020 in relation to both energy efficiency and renewable energy. These EU developments have at the same time allowed for Member State subsidiarity in these matters, especially in relation to their fuel mixes. The successful implementation of these policies should contribute to a lesser dependence on fossil fuels, and therefore a lower vulnerability to global price increases in such fuels.

At a national level, our competitive energy market helps put downward pressure on prices. In addition, we must focus on all possible additional actions to mitigate costs where possible for business and domestic customers. This is essential for competitiveness, employment and for economic recovery. I am committed to working with enterprise and with the energy sector to ensure that the costs of energy are as competitive as possible through those measures at our disposal including sustained focus on energy efficiency and renewables.

The latest analysis of data published by EUROSTAT for electricity and gas prices is published by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland and covers the period January to June 2011. The figures show Irish electricity and gas prices performing well by reference to the EU average for medium to large business customers (above 2,000 MWh/annum). The VAT-exclusive electricity price in Ireland for these business consumers ranged from 10% to 17% below the EU average and from 13% to 19% below the Eurozone average. These customers accounted for 48% of the business electricity market. Prices for gas customers were below the EU average by 4% to 25% for most business gas categories.

Larger domestic electricity consumers, representing 64% of the domestic electricity market (over 5,000 kWh/annum) experienced price reductions between 6.1% to 7.6% over the period. The prices for these consumers were between 7% and 19% below the EU average.

In the first half of 2011 natural gas prices for household consumers fell by 3.3%. The EU average for gas price reductions for the same period was 1.4%. For this period the price of gas for Irish householders was 10% below the EU average.

Offshore Exploration

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

142 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent if any to which oil, gas or other mineral exploration onshore and offshore have shown positive or commercially viable results in each of the past three years to date in 2012; the number of exploration projects activated in that period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2825/12]

There have been no new commercial discoveries of oil and gas in the Irish on and offshore in the past three years. The only petroleum discovery in recent years that has been declared commercial but has yet to be developed is the Corrib Gas Field.

With regard to non-petroleum minerals there is a total of five hundred and fifty-eight active mineral Prospecting Licences. Details of these Licences can be found in the six-monthly report to the Oireachtas, which the Minister is obliged to lay before the House under the Minerals Development Acts, 1940 to 1999. These reports are also made available on my Department's website. While no new commercially viable deposits of minerals have been discovered in recent years, there have been some encouraging results.

The table sets out the position in relation to the number of mineral prospecting and petroleum exploration authorisations granted in each of the past three years to date.

Authorisations Granted during period 2009-2012

Year

Prospecting Licences (Minerals)

Petroleum Exploration Licences

Petroleum Licensing Options

2009

66

1

1

2010

93

0

2

2011

98

2

16

2012 (to date)

16

0

0

Energy Resources

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

143 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if all preparatory work in regard to making product available from the Corrib gas field has been complied with; if or when product is likely to become available to the consumer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2826/12]

Completion of the development works by the developer is the principal factor that will determine the date for first gas. Pending such completion, it is not possible to state a date for when gas from the Corrib gas field will become available.

The Corrib Project requires a number of statutory permissions in order for the developer to construct, operate and maintain the development.

In February of last year, the then Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources granted consent to the Corrib Partners pursuant to Section 40 of the Gas Act, 1976 and Section 13 of the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act, 1960 to construct, but not commission, the Corrib Gas Pipeline, subject to 47 conditions.

The Deputy might also note that other licences and permissions beyond my statutory remit, including planning permission, Foreshore Licence and an Integrated Pollution Prevention Control Licence are also required with respect to the construction and operation of the Corrib Gas Pipeline. I understand that all of the relevant permits have now been granted.

Works on the development commenced last summer. It is estimated that construction of the onshore section of the pipeline, including the construction of a 5km tunnel, will take in the region of three years. First gas cannot therefore reasonably be anticipated before 2014.

Alternative Energy Projects

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

144 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the proportion of electricity now generated through wind or alternative energy resources; the extent to which targets in this regard can be revised and updated with particular reference to the need to reduce dependence on imports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2827/12]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

147 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which the national grid has become less dependent on imported energy sources over the past five years; his future plans in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2830/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 144 and 147 together.

EirGrid's latest data, which is available on their website, shows that at the end of 2011, there is 1900MW of renewable generation on the national grid. This includes 1630MW of connected wind, 234MW of hydro and 46MW of additional other renewable generation. Ireland's achievement in terms of the level of wind integrated on to a small island system is recognised as ground breaking.

In addition to what is already connected, there is around 1000MW from Gate 1 and Gate 2 which have contracted with the system operators and are scheduled to be built out and connected. Around 4,000MW of additional renewable capacity is provided for in the Gate 3 process.

The strategic focus will continue to be on achieving Ireland's legally binding targets for renewable energy by 2020. In that context 40% renewable electricity is challenging but achievable and I would not be countenancing revision upward at this juncture.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

145 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the steps he can take to speed up access to the national grid for various wind energy projects in respect of which planning permission has been granted or is pending in all regions throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2828/12]

EirGrid's data, available on their websitewww.eirgrid.com, indicates that at the end of 2011, there were 1630MW of wind generation connected to the grid, making up the bulk of our total of 1900MW of renewable generation connected.

The latest modelling undertaken by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), (‘Energy Forecasts for Ireland to 2020 [2011]), indicates that capacity of around 4000MW of renewable generation will be required on the system to deliver the 40% renewable electricity target by 2020.

In addition to the 1900MW already connected, there is around 1000MW from Gate 1 and Gate 2 which have contracted with the system operators and are scheduled to be built out and connected. Around 4,000MW of additional renewable capacity is provided for in the Gate 3 process.

All Gate 3 offers have now issued, however it is not yet known what the final level of take-up of offers is. This should become clear this year, when constraint reports are issued by EirGrid, following which those in receipt of offers will have a fixed period within which to accept offers. EirGrid's Incremental Capacity Transfer (ITC) programme links the Gate 3 process and Grid 25 investment and plans to deliver the required increase in annual construction.

Even allowing for a level of attrition in the planned connection rate (the 3 Gate processes to date), there is still a fair amount of leeway in the overall figures to allow for the national target to be delivered. There is also the scope to put in place at an appropriate time a follow on plan-led onshore connection programme in the event of any necessary further capacity being required to meet the 2020 target.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

146 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the number of locations throughout the country currently producing bio-diesel or ethanol; the number of any such projects pending or awaiting approval; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2829/12]

According to the most recent Biofuels Obligation Scheme Annual Report, there were four entities producing biofuels participating in the Biofuel Obligation Scheme. Two of these companies were based in County Wexford, one was in County Kerry and one was in Galway.

Question No. 147 answered with Question No. 144.

Crime Prevention

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

148 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent, directly or through the regulator, he can obtain information relating to the number of burglar alarms or other alert systems that are reliant on wire or wireless systems in view of the vulnerability of any such system lacking GSM backup; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2831/12]

The provision of alarm or alert systems is a matter for the private marketplace. Neither my Department nor the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) has any role in setting the standards for what alarm systems are used or in the monitoring of their performance.

Energy Conservation

Robert Troy

Ceist:

149 Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources when the warmer home scheme contracts will be renewed or awarded for 2012 to enable approved contractors to continue to carry out work for applicants approved under the scheme. [2861/12]

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), who administer the Better Energy programme on my behalf, are currently in the process of contract renewal with the network of Community Based Organisations (CBOs) with a view to concluding contract renewals at the earliest possible opportunity.

In addition, an Invitation to Tender will shortly be published by the SEAI to establish a new panel of private contractors to augment this network. The public procurement process through the Official Journal of the European Union will take a number of weeks to conclude and a panel should be in place by early in Quarter Two.

Jack Wall

Ceist:

150 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources further to Parliamentary Question No. 166 of 12 January 2012, the criteria used to determine the proposed new list of applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2862/12]

In line with the Government's Affordable Energy Strategy, more focussed eligibility criteria are to be implemented in 2012 in order to ensure that those most at risk of extreme fuel poverty are prioritised.

Work will get underway shortly with the community-based organisations and other relevant parties to finalise new eligibility criteria which will ensure that Exchequer resources are directed where they can deliver the greatest good. It is the objective to have the criteria defined and published in Quarter 1 2012 and that these criteria will apply to all persons expressing an interest in receiving scheme services from January 1st, 2012. Those already on the waiting list as of 8th December 2011 will continue to be assessed on the basis of the current eligibility criteria (i.e. private ownership, receipt of fuel allowance, home pre 2002).

Electoral Divisions

Michael McCarthy

Ceist:

151 Deputy Michael McCarthy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the date on which the proposed boundary changes to Dáil constituencies will be announced by the Constituency Commission; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2664/12]

Section 9(1) of the Electoral Act 1997 requires a Constituency Commission to present its report to the Chairman of the Dáil no later than three months after the publication by the Central Statistics Office of the final results of the Census in respect of the total population of the State. I understand that the CSO intends to publish the final results of the 2011 Census at the end of March 2012.

Water Services

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

152 Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if the EU Commission has laid down that there will be fines imposed on Ireland if the Water Services Bill 2010 is not enacted by the 3 of February 2012; the date from which these fines will be imposed; if he asked for more time to enable the democratic process in the Oireachtas run its full course; the response to any such requests; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2667/12]

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

153 Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when he became aware of the deadline laid down by the EU for the passing of the Water Services Amendment Bill 2010 if we wish to avoid incurring fines from the Union; when he conveyed this information to the Chairperson of the Select Sub-Committee on the Environment, Community and Local Government of the Dáil; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2668/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 152 and 153 together.

On 12 July 2011 the European Commission formally requested that the European Court of Justice impose both a lump-sum fine and daily penalties on Ireland for having failed to take the necessary measures to comply with the Court's ruling of 29 October 2009. In its submission to the Court, the Commission stated that it considered the period which had elapsed since the Court's ruling to be sufficient for Ireland to have complied with the judgment of the Court. The Commission requested that the fines, including the daily penalty, should be calculated from the date of the ruling.

Ireland's defence to the Commission's application was submitted to the Court on 5 October 2011 and it requested that the Court should dismiss the Commission's application or, if the Court concluded that penalties are appropriate, that it should consider significantly reduced levels of penalties. The defence detailed the progress made since the ruling and stated that the drafting of the Bill required was then at an advanced stage.

Despite the priority given to the drafting of the legislation in order to comply with ECJ ruling, with the Bill being published on 3 November 2011, the Commission submitted an application to the Court on 23 November 2011 again seeking the imposition of a lump-sum penalty and daily fines against Ireland for failing to comply with the ruling. In its submission, the Commission again argued that more than enough time had elapsed since the ruling and that the Irish authorities should have achieved compliance.

In accordance with ECJ procedures, Member States are given an opportunity to submit a rejoinder to the Commission's application, setting out the reasons why fines and penalties should not be imposed. The deadline for the submission of Ireland's rejoinder in this case is 3 February 2012. This will be the final opportunity for Ireland to communicate with the Court before it considers the Commission's application.

The central strand of Ireland's defence in this case will be that the necessary legislative measures have been put in place. It is for this reason that the deadline of 3 February for enactment of the legislation is so important. I am determined to ensure the necessary measures are in place by the time Ireland submits its rejoinder to the ECJ in order to support the defence being presented to the Commission's application.

Local Authority Charges

Terence Flanagan

Ceist:

154 Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will clarify a matter (details supplied) regarding the household charge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2740/12]

John Lyons

Ceist:

156 Deputy John Lyons asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the reason an estate (details supplied) in Dublin 11 was not exempted from the household charge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2745/12]

John Lyons

Ceist:

157 Deputy John Lyons asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the reason an estate (details supplied) in Dublin 15 was not exempted from the household charge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2746/12]

Robert Dowds

Ceist:

158 Deputy Robert Dowds asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the criteria for determining which unfinished estates were in poor enough condition to entitle their residents to household charge waivers; and the reason an estate (details supplied) in County Dublin was not included under these criteria. [2763/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 154, 156, 157 and 158 together.

As part of the process of preparing the National Housing Development Survey 2011, launched by my Department in October 2011, local authorities provided details of all unfinished housing developments in their areas. Unfinished housing developments were divided into four categories as follows:

Category one, where the development is still being actively completed by the developer, or where no serious public safety issues exist;

Category two, where a receiver has been appointed;

Category three, where a receiver has not been appointed and the developer is still in place but effectively inactive; and

Category four, where the development has been effectively abandoned and is posing serious problems for residents

Other relevant factors for the purposes of the categorization process include,inter alia:

the state of completion of roads, footpaths, public lighting facilities, piped water and sewerage facilities and open spaces or similar amenities within the development;

the extent to which the development complies with the terms of applicable planning permission;

the extent to which it complies with the provisions of the Building Control Acts 1990 and 2007;

the provisions of the Local Government (Sanitary Services) Act 1964 as they pertain to dangerous places and dangerous structures within the meaning of the Act;

the extent to which facilities within the development have been taken in charge by the local authority concerned and

where there is an agreement regarding the maintenance of such facilities, the extent to which this agreement has been complied with.

This categorisation formed the basis for the list of those unfinished developments eligible for a waiver on the annual household charge.

Only households in developments in categories three and four are eligible for the waiver from payment of the household charge. This list of developments in which households are eligible for the waiver in 2012 is set out under the Local Government (Household Charge) Regulations 2012. A revised list of estates will be prescribed for 2013 after which time the waiver for unfinished housing developments will end. Throughout this period it is anticipated that the numbers of categories 3 and 4 developments will decrease significantly as my Department continues to work with local authorities and other stakeholders to resolve outstanding issues, including through the Public Safety Initiative.

Terence Flanagan

Ceist:

155 Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his views on a matter (details supplied) regarding the household charge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2744/12]

The Local Government (Household Charge) Act 2011 provides for the household charge. Owners of residential property on the liability date of 1 January 2012, subject to a limited number of exemptions and waivers, are liable to pay the household charge. There is no exemption in the legislation for those persons paying management fees to management companies.

The revenue from the household charge will support the provision of essential local services. Internationally, local services are administered by local authorities and financed by local service charges. In Ireland, local authorities are responsible for, among other services, public parks, libraries, open spaces and leisure amenities, planning and development, fire and emergency services, maintenance and cleaning of streets and street lighting. These are essential local services which benefit all members of the public.

Questions Nos. 156 to 158, inclusive, answered with Question No. 154.

Waste Management

Derek Keating

Ceist:

159 Deputy Derek Keating asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the protocol in place with the print media for the recycling of old newspapers; the arrangements in place for the storage of them; if he has any auditing arrangements to set up compliance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2768/12]

Government waste policy, in line with the internationally recognised waste hierarchy, is premised on the promotion of the sustainable use of natural resources and the reduction of negative environmental impacts. As an alternative to the imposition of statutory controls and obligations, the preferred approach is, in the first instance, to afford a relevant business sector an opportunity to formulate and implement proposals for an appropriate voluntary producer responsibility initiative.

In line with this policy my Department invited the Press industry to formulate a set of proposals for the voluntary management of the Irish newsprint supply chain. In response to this request the Green Press Partnership (GPP) was established in 2010, comprising key Irish press industry stakeholders. The main aim of the programme is to act as a platform for the environment initiatives specific to the requirements of newsprint waste.

To date this initiative has succeeded in introducing new reporting systems to measure performance and more efficiently manage the supply chain, also getting publishers to commit to using sustainable paper products in the production process. It has changed a long-established practice so that entire unsold newspapers and magazines are returned instead of being disposed of locally. In addition, two new sets of industry protocols — Environment Standards for the Press Industry and Code Of Practice for the Press Industry — have been agreed and published, both designed to ensure best environmental practice. The annual Newsprint Recycling Research conducted by GPP indicates that the recycling rate for newsprint has risen from 28% in 2002 to over 80% in 2010.

The GPP has also submitted further proposals which are currently being considered by my Department. These proposals cover four areas — policy, communication, efficiency and research — and include proposals on a carbon policy, green procurement policy, and an advertising space commitment to promote the culture of recycling. The Programme for Government makes a commitment to drive a waste reduction programme through the extension of Producer Responsibility initiatives and, in that context, my Department will shortly be conducting a review of all aspects of Producer Responsibility schemes. The results of this review will help determine whether the voluntary initiatives taken by the press industry to date are adequate or whether it would be more appropriate to require producers to take direct responsibility for the environmentally sound management of waste newsprint.

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

160 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when a national waiver scheme for waste management will be introduced. [2779/12]

The Programme for Government contains a commitment to introduce competitive tendering for household waste collection, under which service providers will bid to provide waste collection services in a given area, for a given period of time and to a guaranteed level of service.

A public consultation designed to inform the policy development process concluded in September 2011. A large number of responses were received from a broad spectrum of interests. As one might expect, a consensus is not apparent and, on almost all of the relevant issues, a considerable breadth of opinion was expressed including in relation to the issue of waiver schemes. All of the responses received, in addition to a summary document, are available on my Department's website.

I expect to be in a position to submit final proposals in relation to household waste collection to Government early this year. All policy proposals will be carefully considered by Government and will take account of the full range of issues and perspectives. The issue of waivers for low income households will be among the issues for consideration in this context.

Water Quality

Michelle Mulherin

Ceist:

161 Deputy Michelle Mulherin asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the measures required and the cost thereof to local authorities in Galway, his Department and central Exchequer to resolve the cryptosporidium outbreak in the public water supply of Galway City and county in 2007; and if he will provide similar information on any other outbreaks in any other part of the country which have been identified. [2795/12]

Under the European Communities (Drinking Water) (No. 2) Regulations, 2007, it is the duty of suppliers of drinking water to take the necessary measures to ensure that water intended for human consumption is wholesome and clean and meets the requirements of the Regulations. The Regulations provide that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the supervisory authority for drinking water supplied by water services authorities (the 34 county and city councils). The Regulations also provide that the water services authorities are responsible for the supervision of group water and private water supplies in their functional areas.

While my Department has in the past issued guidance to local authorities in relation to cryptosporidium in water supplies, since the Regulations came into effect, the EPA is the supervisory authority for public water supplies including cryptosporidium outbreaks. I understand that, in that capacity, the Agency issued a Guidance Booklet Risk Screening Methodology for Cryptosporidium to each local authority in January 2008.

The Water Services Investment Programme 2010-2012, a copy of which is available in the Oireachtas Library, provides for the commencement of contracts with a value of over €800m in relation to water supply infrastructure. This includes contracts to address deficiencies in the quality of supply, to improve the overall capacity of the system and to provide an accelerated programme of mains rehabilitation. The Programme also provides for the advancement of a further range of schemes through planning, for progression to construction in future investment cycles. Where a significant capital works programme is required to respond to a cryptosporidium risk, funding is provided by my Department under the Water Services Investment Programme. In relation to Galway City and County, the Programme provides for the development of a comprehensive range of new water and sewerage services infrastructure, with contracts to commence in the period with an overall value of some €133 million.

A Boil Water Notice was issued on 15 March 2007 in Galway City following the discovery of the cryptosporidium parasite in the City supply. Galway City Council's "old" Terryland water treatment plant was identified as the location where the cryptosporidium parasite entered the water supply system. The Boil Water Notice was lifted on 20 August 2007 after the old Terryland plant was taken out of service.

The lifting of the Boil Water Notice became possible because of (1) the supply of additional water from Galway County Council's Water Treatment Plant at Luimnagh to the City. This increased supply from the County to the City eliminated the need to take water from the old Terryland plant and (2) the provision of additional (including Ultra Violet light disinfection) treatment at the "New" Terryland Plant.

The City Council's proposals for some advance works involving upgrading of the "New" Terryland Water Treatment Plant to cater for the city's medium term needs was approved by the Department in March 2008. The Department subsequently approved funding towards the Council's €3.9 million contract for these advance works in December 2008. These works, which have increased water treatment capacity at the plant by 20,000 cu. metres per day (from 35,000 cu. metres per day to 55,000 cu. metres per day) are now substantially complete.

Since 2007, it is understood that cryptosporidium has been detected and precautionary boil water notices were issued for short periods on some water supplies, but there has not been an outbreak of confirmed water-borne cryptosporidium infection of water requiring major Exchequer investment.

The risk of cryptosporidium is one of the factors taken into consideration by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in compiling the "Remedial Action List" which identifies public water supplies which required detailed profiling to ensure that the supply is providing clean and wholesome water. EPA guidance, issued in 2008, identified the actions to be taken by local authorities when a supply is included on the Remedial Action List. These actions could include abandoning or replacing sources, upgrading treatment facilities or improving operational and maintenance arrangements.

Where an upgrade of facilities was identified as the appropriate solution, local authorities can seek grant aid through a special package of measures which my Department introduced in 2007. In addition to funding through the Water Services Investment Programme, this package included a new contingency funding arrangement under the Small Schemes Measure of the Rural Water Programme for schemes below the Water Services Investment Programme minimum cost threshold. Allocations of some €28 million has been approved for this purpose since 2008.

It is also open to local authorities to provide protection measures against cryptosporidium under the Small Schemes Measure of my Department's Rural Water Programme. Responsibility for the administration of this programme has been devolved to local authorities since 1997. The selection and approval of individual schemes for funding and advancement under the programme, within the overall priorities set by my Department and subject to the block grant allocation provided, is therefore a matter for the water services authorities.

Local Authority Charges

Terence Flanagan

Ceist:

162 Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his views on a matter (details supplied) regarding the household charge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2799/12]

The Local Government (Charges) Act 2009 and the Local Government (Household Charge) Act 2011 provide the legislative basis for the charge on non-principal private residences (NPPR) and the household charge respectively. Under the Acts (section 9 and section 12 respectively) collection of the charge is placed under the care and management of the relevant local authority. It is open to an individual who may be experiencing hardship in meeting their payment obligations under the Acts to make contact with the relevant local authority in the first instance to establish if there is a basis for addressing the matter.

Social and Affordable Housing

Pearse Doherty

Ceist:

163 Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, further to Parliamentary Question No. 549 of 11 January 2012, if he will provide a breakdown of the 2,000 housing units by number of bedrooms; if the units involved have been inspected by the relevant local authority or any departmental staff to determine if they are suitable for use as social housing; if not, when such inspections will take place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2804/12]

The information requested in the question is not currently available in my Department. In general, the suitability or otherwise of the units involved for social housing has not yet been determined. Inspections will be carried out for properties that are to become the subject of lease or purchase arrangements prior to the signing of the legal agreements.

Pearse Doherty

Ceist:

164 Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will provide a list of the total number of social housing tenancies provided under the social housing leasing initiative per year in 2009-11, inclusive; the average cost of these units by unit size in each year; the average length of the leases in each year; the local authority area in which these tenancies were created; and a breakdown of whether the tenancies were managed by the local authority or a voluntary housing association; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2805/12]

By the end of December, 2011 2,496 housing units were provided under the Social Housing Leasing Initiative as follows:

Leasing units operational

Year

2009

2010

2011

Total

Units

437

866

1,193

2,496

The current average annual cost of all units is €6,327. The average cost for units leased from the private or voluntary sector is €7,406. The cost of unsold affordable units is based in the interest paid by local authorities rather than the market rent and averages €5,725 per unit.

The cost per unit by unit size and year is set out in the following table:

Cost per year per unit type (excluding unsold affordable units)

Unit Type/ Year

1-bed €

2-Bed €

3-Bed and over €

Overall €

2010

6,605

7,231

7,359

7,040

2011

8,308

7,439

7,354

7,512

The current average length of the agreements, excluding unsold affordable units, is just under 11 years. All units in 2009 were unsold affordable units; in 2010 the average length of the agreements for all units except unsold affordables is just over 10 years, and in 2011 it is just over 11 years.

The breakdown by authority of the operational units is set out in the following table:

HA/Status

Operational

Athlone Town Council

17

Athy Town Council

21

Birr Town Council

4

Bray Town Council

1

Buncrana Town Council

26

Bundoran Town Council

1

Carlow County Council

17

Carlow Town Council

14

Cashel Town Council

1

Castlebar Town Council

20

Cavan County Council

3

Clare County Council

27

Clonmel Borough Council

14

Cork City Council

110

Cork County Council

314

DLR County Council

44

Donegal County Council

49

Drogheda Borough Council

4

Dublin City Council

470

Dundalk Town Council

66

Ennis Town Council

8

Fingal County Council

140

Galway City Council

123

Kildare County Council

88

Kilkenny County Council

28

Laois County Council

124

Letterkenny Town Council

32

Limerick County Council

13

Longford County Council

20

Louth County Council

24

Mayo County Council

16

Meath County Council

65

Monaghan County Council

1

Nenagh Town Council

24

North Tipperary County Council

7

Offaly County Council

37

Roscommon County Council

10

Sligo Borough Council

8

Sligo County Council

8

South Tipperary County Council

8

Sth Dublin County Council

276

Templemore Town Council

32

Thurles Town Council

6

Waterford City Council

13

Waterford County Council

48

Westmeath County Council

74

Westport Town Council

3

Wexford Borough Council

2

Wexford County Council

34

Wicklow County Council

1

Grand Total

2,496

The management of all 1,546 unsold affordable units is by voluntary bodies as are the 197 voluntary operational units. 421 units are managed by the local authority and the remainder are managed by the property owner on behalf of the local authority.

Coroners Service

Patrick Deering

Ceist:

165 Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the amount of moneys set aside by each local authority for the provision of coroner services; if he will provide a breakdown of the figures per local authority; if he will indicate if this service is subject to tendering; and if so, how often. [2832/12]

I have no function in this matter. Issues concerning the Coroner Service are a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality.

Tax Code

Terence Flanagan

Ceist:

166 Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will review a matter (details supplied) regarding the proposed property tax; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2833/12]

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

170 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the consideration to date on the type of structure of the proposed property tax; if it will be based on house or site size or on the valuation of the house and or site; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2867/12]

I propose to take Question Nos. 166 and 170 together.

I intend to bring proposals to Government shortly on the establishment, and the membership and terms of reference, of an inter-Departmental expert group to be tasked with making recommendations on the design of a property tax. It will then be a matter for the Government to decide on the structure and modalities of the property tax in due course.

Social and Affordable Housing

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

167 Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the number of applicants, individual or family, on local authority housing waiting lists by each local authority, county, city, borough and town council, and the required housing by size, one, two, three bed and so on, as of 31 December 2011. [2836/12]

My Department does not hold information on the number of households on local authorities' waiting lists. This figure continuously fluctuates as households are allocated housing and new households apply for housing support. Detailed information on the latest statutory assessment of housing need carried out in March 2011, including a breakdown by housing authority, is available on my Department's website —www.environ.ie or on the Housing Agency’s website at www.housing.ie. It is a matter for individual housing authorities to decide on the size of dwellings to be allocated to applicants on their waiting lists. This policy is decided in their Allocation Schemes, the making of which is a reserved function of the housing authority.

Local Authority Housing

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

168 Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the numbers of local authority dwellings in the ownership of each individual local authority or county, city, borough and town council, broken down by size and the number of bedrooms, be it one, two or three, as of 31 December 2011. [2837/12]

Data on Local Authority housing stock, broken down by county, city, borough and town council, are available on my Department's website,www.environ.ie and the most recent data published in this regard relate to 2010.

A breakdown of the number of bedrooms in each unit is not available. 2011 data are not available yet.

Local Authority Charges

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

169 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the plans he has to direct local authorities to revise their development contribution schemes in view of the introduction of the household tax and imminent introduction of the septic tank charge, water charge and property tax; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2866/12]

The adoption of individual development contribution schemes is a reserved function of the elected members of each planning authority. It is a matter for the members to determine the level of contribution and the types of development to which they apply.

In addition to the legislative framework my Department has also issued policy guidance on development contributions. Further draft guidance which will reflect current economic conditions is currently being prepared for public consultation.

Question No. 170 answered with Question No. 166.

Pyrite Contamination

Dominic Hannigan

Ceist:

171 Deputy Dominic Hannigan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when he expects the expert panel on pyrite to make its report; when he expects to make a decision on housing estates that have confirmed pyrite issues and their liability for the household charge; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2868/12]

I have asked the Chairperson of the Panel to complete its work as quickly as possible and submit a report to me early in 2012.

As regards the household charge, I will give further consideration to the position of home owners whose homes are affected by pyrite on receipt of the report of the independent Panel. The identification of dwellings affected by pyrite is quite complex and this issue will need careful consideration following receipt of the report.

Business Improvement Districts

Niall Collins

Ceist:

172 Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the number of business improvement districts, BID, operating here; the location of same; their annual budgets and the total amount raised by each individual BID. [2869/12]

The establishment of a business improvement district scheme is a matter for local authorities. I have no function in the matter.

Business Property Vacancies

Niall Collins

Ceist:

173 Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the overall business property vacancy rate here, broken down by each individual local authority. [2870/12]

The information requested in the question is not available in my Department.

Local Authority Charges

Terence Flanagan

Ceist:

174 Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the position regarding the household charge (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2893/12]

The Local Government (Household Charge) Act 2011 provides for the household charge. Owners of residential property on the liability date of 1 January 2012, subject to a limited number of exemptions and waivers set out below, are liable to pay the household charge.

The exemptions from payment of the household charge are:

Residential properties that are part of the trading stock of a business and have not been sold or been the source of any income since construction,

Residential property owned by a Minister of the Government, a housing authority or the Health Service Executive,

Voluntary and co-operative housing,

Residential property subject to commercial rates and wholly used as a dwelling,

Residential property owned by certain charities or discretionary trusts, and

Residential property which an owner has vacated due to long-term mental or physical infirmity (e.g. elderly person that has moved into a nursing home).

The waivers which apply concern:

Owners of residential property entitled to mortgage interest supplement, and

Owners of houses in certain unfinished housing estates.

I have no proposals to increase the number of people who are exempt from the charge.

There is a range of options available to pay the household charge. An online system is in place in the Local Government Management Agency (LGMA) to enable homeowners to pay the household charge by credit card/debit card or by direct debit. In addition, homeowners can make payments by cheque, postal order, etc. through the post to the LGMA. A bureau is in place in the LGMA to administer the charge on a shared service/agency basis for all local authorities. In addition, persons can attend their county/city councils to pay the household charge up to 31 March, 2012.

I am satisfied that a comprehensive suite of payment options is available to persons with a liability to pay the household charge.

Significant efforts will be made to ensure that property owners are aware of the household charge and the liability and payment dates. The LGMA and local authorities will shortly commence a national information campaign to advise people of the household charge and their responsibilities in relation to payment of the charge. A similar and successful advertising and information campaign was undertaken in the context of the €200 charge on non-principal private residences on its introduction in 2009 with further advertising taking place each year since. I am confident that those liable to the charge will be aware of their obligation to discharge their liability for the charge by 31 March 2012 and thereby avoid any late payment fees or late payment interest.

Water and Sewerage Schemes

Tom Fleming

Ceist:

175 Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will address health fears in County Kerry by immediately replacing all remaining lead pipe water supplies in the county; if he will make the necessary funding available; the length of time it will take to carry out the work; the total length of piping involved; the areas affected; the total cost of the project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2976/12]

Substantial funding towards local authorities' water conservation programmes, including replacement of lead pipes, is being provided under my Department's Water Services Investment Programme 2010-2012. Kerry County Council has completed its county-wide Watermains Rehabilitation Strategy required as part of its water conservation programme. This Strategy identifies specific defective water supply networks requiring rehabilitation and/or replacement. The Council is also identifying works to be included in the next phase of Countywide Watermains Rehabilitation.

Local authorities can seek funding for the replacement of lead water distribution mains under this programme, and in certain circumstances, the Department also allows for the funding of certain works that encroach onto private property from the public side in the decommissioning of common backyard services for water conservation purposes. No proposal in respect of a general countywide replacement of lead pipes in County Kerry has been received from Kerry County Council.

Courts Service

Robert Dowds

Ceist:

176 Deputy Robert Dowds asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on the situation in which the waiting time to get a full care order from the Family Court currently extends until April 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2751/12]

The management and administration of the courts, as the Deputy will be aware, is a matter for the Courts Service. The allocation of the business of the courts, scheduling of court cases and the management of court lists are matters for the judiciary and in particular the Presidents of the courts. The Deputy will also be aware that judges are, subject to the Constitution and the law, independent in the exercise of their judicial functions.

However, in order to be of assistance to the Deputy, I have had inquiries made and the Courts Service has informed me that all court cases are listed in such a way as to make optimum use of court time. The dates assigned to care order hearings depend on the anticipated duration of the case. Cases which are likely to require a longer hearing period are more difficult to accommodate in court lists and so later dates are assigned.

The Courts Service has stated that waiting times for hearing full care order applications vary and is dependent on the volume of cases before the court and the demand for such orders in an area. The Service has also informed me that it is not aware of a delay in the hearing of such applications of the level referred to by the Deputy. The Dublin Family Law Court is the only full-time Family Court and deals with the largest volume of full care order applications and the latest date to which the hearing of a full care order application has been assigned is currently 5 November 2012. The average waiting time (i.e., from the date the court is asked to set the case down for hearing) is 34 weeks but it has been possible to schedule cases of shorter duration within approximately 21 weeks.

While the Deputy's question relates to full care orders, it is important to mention that applications for Emergency Care Orders are heard either on the day of application or the following day. Furthermore, I am informed that where the parties to a case feel that there has been an undue delay in arranging the hearing of their case they should contact their local Family Law Office to establish whether an earlier date would be possible. As such proceedings take place in camera it is only open to the parties or their legal representatives to make such enquiries.

Services for People with Disabilities

Nicky McFadden

Ceist:

177 Deputy Nicky McFadden asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the arrangements being made for People with Disabilities Ireland, PwDI, and the Longford-Westmeath networks, subsequent to the cessation of funding on 1 January 2012; the amount of money that will be channelled to these PwDI networks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2656/12]

As I informed the Deputy previously, it was decided that funding to People with Disabilities in Ireland (PwDI) had to cease at the end of 2011. On the basis of a value for money review, it was clearly established that the vast majority of the money allocated to PwDI was being spent disproportionately. The largest proportion of PwDI's annual budget has been spent over the last number of years on the operation of its office headquarters and on administration rather than on the creation of projects which would directly benefit people with disabilities. This was an untenable situation that could not be allowed to continue as people with disabilities were benefiting very little from the allocation in real terms. However, there is no reason why the local PwDI networks around the country should not continue to be active as volunteer bodies and continue their work with people with disabilities.

It is my wish to ensure that people with disabilities directly benefit from any money allocated to this sector. With this in mind, I am currently overseeing the finalisation of a major Value for Money and Policy Review of Disability Services in the Department of Health to ensure that existing funding allocated for people with disabilities is spent to best effect. I am also interested in hearing what people with disabilities have to say on issues affecting them. I have established and am personally chairing a new National Disability Strategy Implementation Group to develop and progress disability strategy. The new group will include representation from a number of disability stakeholder organisations and also a number of people with disabilities who will be able to bring their lived experience directly to bear on the very important work of this high level group. This will ensure the voice and perspective of people with disabilities will continue to be heard in a more focused and cost effective way.

The Government must ensure that in 2012, and continuing thereafter, funding is allocated for maximum provision of services for people with disabilities, having regard to overall resource constraints which affect all sectors at this time.

Court Accommodation

Pearse Doherty

Ceist:

178 Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the purchase price of the proposed court house site in Dungloe County Donegal; if an allocation been made to build the proposed courthouse; his views that this scheme will prove value for money, taking into account that the court sits once a month in Dungloe; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2658/12]

Under the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998, management of the courts is the responsibility of the Courts Service. The Act provides that the Service is independent in the performance of its functions including the maintenance and provision of courthouse facilities.

However, in order to be of assistance to the Deputy, I have had inquiries made and the Courts Service has informed me that the proposed Courthouse site in An Clochan Liath (Dungloe), Co. Donegal was purchased in 2008 at a cost of €450,000, which represented the market value of the site at that time. Due to current economic conditions, there is no provision in the Courts Service budget in the current year to proceed to the construction phase of this significant capital investment project but the Service has indicated that it will seek planning permission, during 2012, for a new Courthouse at this site in the context of progressing certain existing projects to planning stage. The Courts Service has informed me that in the current economic context it is undertaking a review of venues around the country and the outcome of this review which includes costs and benefits may also have implications for any development in An Clochan Liath (Dungloe).

Citizenship Applications

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

179 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the current timeframe for processing citizenship applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2733/12]

The nature of the naturalisation process is such that for a broad range of reasons some cases will take longer than others to process. Accordingly, the use of averages in such a situation can be very misleading. However, as the Deputy will be aware, the measures I introduced last year have resulted in a significant increase in the number of cases decided. Over 16,000 valid applications were decided last year (compared to 7,785 for the full year in 2010) and some 7,500 invalid applications were also dealt with.

By late spring/early summer of this year it is anticipated that all standard applications, i.e. non-complex cases accounting for 70% of all applications, will be completed within 6 months. By way of comparison, when I was appointed such cases where taking over 2 years to complete.

Residency Permits

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

180 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the current timeframe for processing stamp 4 residency applications; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2734/12]

The grant of a stamp 4 permission to a non-national is a very significant immigration permission and enables the recipient to access the labour market and a whole range of other state services. In general, the conditions attaching to a stamp 4 permission are that the person concerned has permission to work or operate a business without the need for an employment permit or other specific authorisation; however additional conditions may be imposed on the person should circumstances require. Thus, a stamp 4 permission may be applied to a variety of immigration categories directly or where the person's circumstances may have otherwise changed, for example, through marriage to an Irish national or by the accrual of valid permission to remain in the State on another permission stamp such as to qualify them to seek to change their status to a stamp 4 permission.

The time taken to process a particular application for stamp 4 depends on the category or circumstances applicable to the person concerned and it would not be possible without this information to give any meaningful estimation of the processing time involved. However, all cases are dealt with as expeditiously as possible and in the more clear-cut cases this is a matter of weeks at the outside. It should be borne in mind though that, in addition to the particular circumstances of a case, the length of time taken to process an application is also subject to the time taken to carry out all necessary checks and to provide all necessary supporting documentation: in this regard, the cooperation of the applicant is crucial to helping the process along and eliminating undue delays.

If the Deputy has a particular case in mind I would point out that queries in relation to the status of individual immigration cases may be made directly to INIS by e-mail using the Oireachtas Mail facility which has been specifically established for this purpose. This service enables up to date information on such cases to be obtained without the need to seek information by way of the Parliamentary Questions process. The Deputy may consider using the e-mail service except in cases where the response from INIS is, in the Deputy's view, inadequate or too long awaited.

Prison Staff

Jack Wall

Ceist:

181 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the position regarding an application (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2754/12]

The person referred to by the Deputy was appointed to the position of Prison Officer on 23 March, 1998. It was decided to terminate his probationary services in October, 1998 following a period of sick leave and a failure to recommence training.

Prior to this decision being taken, the person concerned was fully informed of the reasons for the termination of his probationary services and given an opportunity to make a case for his retention in the service. He was provided with all relevant documentation, including internal Departmental submissions, which formed the basis of the decision and invited to submit an appeal. Having considered the facts, the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform decided to terminate his probationary contract of employment. That decision is final.

The person concerned has been requested on a number of occasions to return his prison uniform and identification card to Mountjoy prison but has failed to do so. Those items remain the property of the Irish Prison Service and should be returned. Further contact will be made with a view to arranging the collection of these items.

Garda Compensation Claims

Mattie McGrath

Ceist:

182 Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when a decision will be made by him on the authorisation of a garda compensation claim in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Tipperary; the reason for the delay in finalising this claim; if there is any accountability in terms of the length of time it has taken for the consultant psychiatrist to complete their report; his views that this delay is acceptable; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2791/12]

The delay concerning this application arose because the Chief Medical Officer has been awaiting a specialist medical report in order to advise on this application under the Garda Síochána Compensation Acts 1941 and 1945. The Garda authorities have been in contact with the solicitor of the applicant to resolve the issues surrounding this requirement. My Department understands that the Chief Medical Officer will shortly be in a position to conclude his report, thus clearing the way for a decision to be made on this application.

Asylum Applications

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

183 Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of persons in total, living here, who are covered by the Zambrano ruling, that is, non-EU citizen parents with EU citizen children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2839/12]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

184 Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of cases to date that have been processed under the Zambrano ruling; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2840/12]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

185 Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of qualifying parents, who were deported, who have been given leave to return as a result of the Zambrano ruling; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2841/12]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

186 Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of Irish citizen children, who had to leave the State with parents who were deported who have returned with their parents; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2842/12]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

187 Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of cases covered by the Zambrano ruling still to be processed; when he expects these pending cases covered by the Zambrano ruling to be completed; the reason there are such delays in processing these cases; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2843/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 183 to 187, inclusive, together.

By way of background for the Deputy's information, the European Union Court of Justice Judgment in the Zambrano case, delivered on 8th March, 2011, precludes an EU Member State from refusing a non-EU national parent who has minor dependent children, who are EU citizens, the right to reside in the Member State of residence and nationality of those children. In an Irish context, the Zambrano Judgment relates to certain non-EU national parents of an Irish born minor citizen child who are residing in this State with their Irish born minor citizen child or children.

It is not possible to state categorically the number of third country national parents who are residing here who would be impacted by this Judgment. However, my Department has identified approximately 1,700 cases where the Judgment may apply and where the third country national parents involved had no separate right of residency in the State. This figure does not include the cases of third country national parents of an Irish born minor citizen child who had an existing right of residency in the State by virtue of being present here lawfully as a worker, spouse, student, etc, and, as such, were in a position to apply directly to the Garda National Immigration Bureau for a status upgrade. Some 135 of those 1,700 cases involved persons who had legal challenges before the courts at the time the Judgment was delivered.

All of these cases have to be individually considered before a decision is arrived at to grant or refuse a right of residency. To date, my Department has made decisions in just over 1,000 such cases with over 850 of those decisions having been favourable. These decisions have been taken in the best interests of the welfare of eligible minor Irish citizen children. Approximately 700 such cases remain to be finalised. The Deputy should note that in the context of approximately half of the outstanding cases, documentation or clarification has been requested from the persons involved and those cases cannot be considered further until the relevant documentation or clarification has been received. Some of the other outstanding cases involve persons who have only recently contacted my Department seeking to assert a right of residency in the State based on the principles of the Zambrano Judgment while some of the remaining cases remain to be considered, for example, in the light of information which has been established in respect of the persons in question.

In terms of the cases of parents of an Irish born minor citizen child who left the State on foot of a Deportation Order, the position is that, to date, six such persons have been granted a visa to re-enter the State. It is not possible to establish the number of Irish citizen children who will be returning to the State with such parents as my Department does not retain such records.

My Department is working on the outstanding cases referred to above and will continue to do so until a decision has been made in every individual case. The implementation of the Zambrano Judgment in this State has been founded on my pragmatic initiative to reflect what is in the best interests of the eligible minor Irish citizen children involved while ensuring that the Irish taxpayer is not exposed to any unnecessary additional legal costs.

Proposed Legislation

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

188 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will expedite the publication of the Coroners Bill; the reason there is a delay in producing this legislation; the main measures he envisages in the Bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2858/12]

The Coroners Bill 2007 is before the Seanad having been restored to the Order Paper on my initiative. The Bill is in the course of being reviewed in my Department with a view, among other matters, to making it as cost-effective as possible. The Bill, as published, provides for the comprehensive reform of the existing legislation and structures relating to coroners and provides for the establishment of a new Coroner Service. The Bill incorporates many of the recommendations made by the Coroners Review Group in 2000 and the Coroners Rules Committee in 2003 and it aims to fulfil various obligations placed on the State by the European Convention on Human Rights and, particularly, the Article 2 requirement in relation to the investigation of deaths of persons involving the State.

The Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011 provides for some early reforms in coronial matters, including an amalgamation of the Dublin County and City coronial districts.

It is my intention to progress the Coroners Bill as soon as possible this year.

Special Areas of Conservation

Paudie Coffey

Ceist:

189 Deputy Paudie Coffey asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if the appropriate assessment works will be carried out in respect of aquaculture licensing in the Valentia-Caherciveen area of County Kerry; if he is satisfied that the programme of appropriate assessment is progressing at an acceptable rate; when he expects the granting of an aquaculture licence will be considered in respect of a company (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2983/12]

Brendan Griffin

Ceist:

192 Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if the appropriate assessment works will be carried out in respect of aquaculture licensing in the Valentia-Caherciveen area of County Kerry; if he is satisfied that the programme of appropriate assessment is progressing at an acceptable rate; when he expects that the granting of an aquaculture licence will be considered in respect of a company (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2792/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 189 and 192 together.

The application referred to is in respect of a site located in Valentia Harbour, which is designated as a Special Area of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive (Natura 2000 site).

All applications in ‘Natura' areas are required to be appropriately assessed for the purpose of environmental compliance with the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. My Department, in conjunction with the Marine Institute and the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) is engaged in a comprehensive programme to gather the necessary baseline data appropriate to the conservation objectives of ‘Natura' areas. This data collection programme is substantially complete. Data analysis of the data, together with the setting of appropriate conservation objectives by the NPWS, will enable all new, renewal and review applications to be appropriately assessed for the purpose of ensuring compliance with the EU Birds and Habitats Directives. This work represents a significant financial, administrative and scientific investment by the State in resolving this issue. The Appropriate Assessment of aquaculture applications is being dealt with on a bay-by-bay basis. Appropriate Assessments can only be undertaken following the setting up of Conservation Objectives by NPWS. Conservation Objectives in respect of this bay have not yet been set by NPWS.

My Department continues to make every effort to expedite the determination of this aquaculture licence application having regard to the need to comply with all national and EU legislation.

Grant Payments

Tom Fleming

Ceist:

190 Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when a REP scheme payment will issue in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2660/12]

The person named commenced REPS 4 in May 2008 and received payments for the first three years of their contract.

REPS 4 is a measure under the current 2007-13 Rural Development Programme and accordingly is subject to EU Regulations which require detailed administrative checks on all applications to be completed before any payments can issue. The administration checks in respect of 2011 payments have been finalised. During the course of the administrative check, an area discrepancy was discovered between the Single Payment Scheme application for 2011and the REPS 4 Agri-Environmental Plan of the person named. My Department is investigating the issue with a view to an early resolution and payment in respect of 2011.

Brendan Griffin

Ceist:

191 Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine when single payment entitlements will be made available to a person (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2739/12]

An application was received on 29 April 2011 requesting the transfer of 34.22 Single Payment entitlements from the joint names of the person named and his late wife to the sole name of the person named.

Following communication from the Transfer of Entitlements section, the testamentary status of the estate of the late wife of the person named was clarified, most recently on 16 November 2011 in a letter from the solicitor administering the estate.

The transfer of entitlements has now been processed and payment will issue as soon as possible.

Question No. 192 answered with Question No. 189.

Special Areas of Conservation

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

193 Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if farmers who have land in an environmentally designated area SAC, SPA, NHA may maintain existing drains and clean them when necessary without receiving permission from him or the local authority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2859/12]

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

194 Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if farmers who have land in environmentally designated areas such as SAC, SPA and NHA require permission to clean and maintain existing drains; if permission is required, from whom must the permission be received; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2860/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 193 and 194 together.

Drainage works that exceed 15 hectares on any type of farmland, irrespective of the location, require screening by my Department under the European Communities (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Agriculture) Regulations 2011. Proposed works below this threshold require screening if the works may have a significant effect on the environment. These Regulations were introduced to satisfy a European Court of Justice Judgement against Ireland.

Cleaning of existing open drains is exempt from the Regulations and does not require screening. Installing field drains where there were drains in the past may require screening, depending on the size or environmental impact of the works involved.

If the proposed land drainage work is an activity requiring the consent of, or is a notifiable action to, the National Parks and Wildlife Service under existing Regulations in relation to an SAC, SPA or NHA, then that body may refer the applicant to my Department for Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) screening.

The reclamation, infill or drainage of wetlands is subject to Local Authority planning permission under the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2011 and the European Communities (Amendment to Planning and Development) Regulations 2011.

A comprehensive guidance document on the new EIA regulations is now available on my Department's website.

Agricultural Exports

Michael McCarthy

Ceist:

195 Deputy Michael McCarthy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the manner in which budget 2012 supported the agricultural export sector; the supports that are available in this context; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2872/12]

Despite the on-going serious constraints in the public finances, Budget 2012 was a strong statement of support for the agrifood sector and recognition of the contribution which this export sector can make to economic recovery and future growth in the Irish economy.

The taxation measures announced in Budget 2012 reflect this Government's commitment to the agrifood industry and in particular to the expansion planned in the Food Harvest 2020 strategy, which includes a target of €12 billion for agrifood exports in 2020, a 42% increase compared to the 2007-2009 average. Specifically Budget 2012 includes supports which will help agrifood businesses to innovate and export, including improvements to the Research and Development tax credit; and a Foreign Earnings Deduction to apply where an individual spends 60 days a year developing markets for Ireland in the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

In addition, the Budget includes a new tax incentive for farm partnerships; a reduction in the rate of stamp duty on agricultural land; and restructuring of Capital Gains Tax retirement relief. As these measures have been designed specifically to encourage farming as a career for young people and to incentivise farm partnerships and greater productivity at farm level, I feel confident that the recent budgetary measures will help ensure that the Food Harvest 2020 targets are achieved or indeed exceeded.

More generally, the Budget provides support for marketing of food, drink, seafood and horticulture through the Grant-in-Aid in for Bord Bia. On the trade fair side alone, Bord Bia will participate at a number of key trade fairs in 2012 including SIAL China, Gulf Food, SIAL Paris, Speciality and Fine Food Fair, London, European Seafood Exposition and Fruit Logistica. Bord Bia Marketplace International 2012 will give over 170 Irish branded and private label suppliers opportunities to have pre-scheduled meetings with over 300 international buyers and 100 local food and beverage buyers and to meet over 170 Irish branded and private label suppliers in 3,500 pre-scheduled meetings. Bord Bia will also operate a range of research, information and promotion services based on deep understanding of markets and buyer and consumer requirements, specialised services for small business and programmes involving graduates working with food companies together with working closely with food producers and companies on co-operation projects to help companies achieve advantages of scale.

The Budget also includes further Department funding for Bord Bia to demonstrate the sustainability credentials of our grassland production systems in and through Quality Assurance systems and the sustainability credentials. This is a major strength and differentiating factor for Ireland.

In addition, funding for companies under the food competitiveness fund operated by Enterprise Ireland with funding from my Department will support companies in improving competitiveness through application of lean manufacturing techniques and leadership for growth programmes.

Departmental Schemes

Michael McCarthy

Ceist:

196 Deputy Michael McCarthy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in view of the decrease of €19 million to the REP scheme in recent times, the incentives that now exist to encourage farmers to use environmentally-friendly work practices; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2873/12]

My Department continues to implement the Rural Environment Protection Scheme (REPS 4) and the Agri-environment Options Scheme (AEOS) as agri-environment measures under the current Rural Development Programme 2007-2013. The schemes are designed to encourage farmers to go beyond basic good farming practice and to farm in a way that benefits the landscape, biodiversity and water quality. Both schemes have proven to be very popular with Irish farmers and confirms their commitment to farming to the highest environmental standards, a commitment that fits very comfortably with the vision of smart, green, growth as set out in my Department's Food Harvest 2020 strategy statement. There are over 46,000 participating farmers in both schemes.

Although the REPS scheme closed to new applicants on 9 July 2009, it was replaced by the more targeted AEOS in 2010 and 2011. My Department's ongoing commitment to agri-environment schemes is highlighted by the fact that since they were introduced in 1994 over €3.5 billion has been paid through these schemes to Irish farmers.

Despite the cut of €19 million in funding for REPS 4 which I recently announced due to the financial pressures facing my Department, I have made provision in 2012 for €243 million under agri-environment schemes. I am also considering the possibility of re-opening AEOS on an amended basis or limited scale in 2012. This decision will be taken in the context of my Department's expenditure ceiling for 2013 as agreed by the Government, and in particular, on how a new scheme might be funded within the reduced funding and resulting pressures on the Vote. I will make an announcement on this matter in due course.

Milk Quota

Michael McCarthy

Ceist:

197 Deputy Michael McCarthy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the way he will ensure that the abolition of the milk quota in 2015 will not lead to an over-production of milk; the measures in place to deal with extra milk supply following the move; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2874/12]

The decision to abolish milk quotas with effect from 1 April 2015 was made in the context of the CAP Health Check in 2008. Ireland strongly supported their abolition, on the basis that quotas were widely regarded by both the Irish dairy sector and market analysts as a brake on the potential of the Irish dairy sector to respond positively to market opportunities.

More than 85% of Irish dairy production is exported, and the price of milk in Ireland is ultimately determined by global demand and supply. Supply volumes are, in the final analysis, determined by market demand and ultimately by price considerations. Market prices are strong at present and the medium and long term prospects for the sector are good. Already we can see a strong supply response to these trends in Ireland, but of course milk quotas remain a significant constraint on Ireland's production until 2015, and I have been working hard at EU level to seek further flexibility in the regime to permit Irish farmers to respond to market demand. However, there is no indication to date that the Commission will adjust the current regime, and therefore producers will have to remain within quota until then.

The supply management arrangements that currently exist will no longer apply after 2015, and it is a matter for the processing industry to work with the milk producers to ensure a coherent and thriving dairy industry post quotas that will exploit the undoubted potential in existing and new markets, maximize efficiency at production and processing levels and respond effectively to market demand. The Dairy Activation Group report sets out the specific measures needed to be taken in the lead up to quota abolition to enable the sector take advantage of the projected growth possibilities and, through the Food Harvest 2020 implementation committee, I will continue to support the industry in this task.

Rural Development

Michael McCarthy

Ceist:

198 Deputy Michael McCarthy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the way rural development was provided for in budget 2012; the way this compares to previous budget years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2875/12]

The rural development measures operated by my Department are funded through the Rural Development Programme 2007-2013 has a budget of €5.103 billion over a 7-year period of which €2.494 billion will be funded by the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and €2.609 billion by the National Exchequer.

Under Axis 1 of the programme the main measures co-funded are the young farmers' installation aid scheme, early retirement, farm modernisation, TAMS and bio-energy. This Axis promotes competitiveness and innovation. A total of €483.5 million has been allocated to fund these measures.

Under Axis 2 of the programme, which contributes to climate change and the protection of biodiversity, support is given to the LFAs, Natura, REPs and AEOS schemes. An amount of €4.147 billion is allocated to these measures.

Axis 3 of the programme promotes the improvement of the quality of life in rural areas and encourages diversification of economic activity in rural areas including supports for non-agricultural activities. The Department of Environment, Community and Local Government administers and funds the Axis 3 and 4 measures which an amount to €448.6 million over the 7 years of the programme.

Given the difficulties in the public finances and the current budgetary constraints, it has been necessary to reduce the level of commitment resulting in €480 million being budgeted for in 2012 to support the various measures under the Rural Development Programme (RDP). This is down by €62.56 million on the actual expenditure of €542.813 million in 2011 and represents a reduction of €99.891 million when compared with the 2010 outcome of €580.141 million. Changes to schemes will be introduced, subject to Commission approval, to effect savings. Though there has been reductions in the budget allocations in recent years, good progress has been made in the implementation of the RDP. Expenditure under the Programme for the Axes 1 and 2 measures is close on €2.8 billion. This represents 55% of the total value of the Programme of €5.1 billion.

Training for REPs

2010 Actual

2011 Actual

2012 Estimate

Total

YFIS

2,522

397

150

3,069

Early Retirement

32,633

27,305

24,000

83,938

FIS

12,402

3,512

1,250

17,164

TAMS

0

462

20,250

20,712

Biofuels

592

358

1,600

2,550

Axis 1

48,149

32,034

47,250

127,433

LFA

208,195

233,757

190,000

631,952

Natura

0

0

0

0

REPS

323,797

262,915

185,000

771,712

AEOS

0

14,107

58,000

72,107

Total Axis 2

531,992

510,779

433,000

1,475,771

Total

580,141

542,813

480,250

1,603,204

Common Agricultural Policy

Michael McCarthy

Ceist:

199 Deputy Michael McCarthy asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the way Common Agriculture Policy reform encourages greater productivity in the food sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2876/12]

My vision for the current reform of the CAP is for a regime that encourages sustainable intensification of production. This means that we need a strong and well resourced EU agriculture policy that supports the twin goals of competitiveness and sustainability. We should stabilise and support farm incomes through direct payments while addressing market volatility through a safety net of market support measures.

In my view the current system of farm payments, as applied in Ireland, supports productivity. It allows farmers to become more market-orientated in responding to consumer demand and to direct their production efforts to providing the products that meet the needs of customers and consumers, while also supporting sustainability.

In that regard, the current CAP reform proposals from the EU Commission for distribution of direct payments within Member States give rise to some difficulties for me. My main concern is that the move to uniform regional or national rates will cause substantial transfers of payments in Ireland from the more productive farms to more marginal and less productive land and much of this movement is proposed to be front-loaded. My priority is to seek as much flexibility as possible for Member States to determine the payment models best suited to their conditions and to the development of their farming systems. I also believe that a lengthy transitional period is needed if there are to be any changes.

In relation to Pillar 2/Rural Development, I am concerned to ensure that we will have sufficient scope to strongly support competitiveness and sustainability in our farming systems, in accordance with our Food Harvest 2020 goals.

Foreign Adoptions

Michael McCarthy

Ceist:

200 Deputy Michael McCarthy asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she has received an update from the Adoption Association of Ireland and the Irish embassy in Ethiopia on the issue of establishing a bilateral agreement with that country as per her statement in Dáil Éireann on 1 December 2011; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2663/12]

Terence Flanagan

Ceist:

201 Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she will enter into an agreement (details supplied) regarding the adoption of children in view of the fact that there has been very positive results from adoptions to date; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [2747/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 200 and 201 together.

Adoptions from Ethiopia, effected under the transitional arrangements provided for in the Adoption Act 2010, are ongoing and are currently being examined, and recognised, by the Adoption Authority of Ireland (AAI). These transitional arrangements may lead to adoptions from Ethiopia taking place up to the end of October 2013. Adoptions from Ethiopia which are not covered by the transitional arrangements referred to above require a bilateral agreement between Ireland and Ethiopia. The negotiation of bilateral agreements on intercountry adoption with states who have not ratified the Hague Convention is governed by Section 73 of the Adoption Act 2010 which states that "the Authority, with the prior consent of the Minister, may enter into discussions with any non-contracting state concerning the possibility of the Government entering into a bilateral agreement with that State."

Before Christmas, I wrote to the AAI giving approval for the commencement of the process of examining the feasibility of a bilateral agreement with Ethiopia. The AAI have confirmed that, with the assistance of the Irish embassy in Addis Ababa, they have sought an expert legal narrative and description of the current Ethiopian adoption law. This will be examined by the AAI to test for compatibility and compliance with the Adoption Act 2010.

As the Hague Convention is designed to ensure a minimum set of standards in intercountry adoption, the Adoption Authority of Ireland have indicated that their first priority is to reach agreements on arrangements with other Hague countries. The AAI are currently developing administrative arrangements with a number of countries who are signatories to the Hague Convention, including the USA, Mexico and Vietnam. I am extremely conscious that the Authority have a full work programme in the terms of these countries as well as the ongoing priority engagement with Vietnam.

In addition, the Authority and my officials held exploratory meetings with the Russian authorities in December. A delegation visited Russia in relation to preliminary discussions around the potential for a bilateral on intercountry adoption. This was a follow up to previous discussions which took place earlier in the year, on the initiative of the Russian authorities. The assessment of non-Hague countries and the possibility of entering discussions on a bilateral is complex and resource intensive. I have to have regard to the resources available to the AAI and to my Department, and to the work priorities of both.

The Authority must also prioritise checks of legal compatibility with a wide range of jurisdictions in order to process applications for the recognition of the adoptions of children already adopted from abroad by Irish citizens. These are desktop reviews requiring legal advices but are urgently required to regulate the status of children already adopted.

UN Committee on the Rights of the Child

Robert Dowds

Ceist:

202 Deputy Robert Dowds asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs when she intends to make the third and fourth reports to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which were expected by 2009. [2750/12]

I can confirm that Ireland is to present a report to UN Committee on the Rights of the Child later this year. Ireland has already submitted two reports to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1998 and 2005/6 respectively. The report to be submitted this year will be Ireland's combined 3rd & 4th reports to the CRC covering the period from 2006-2011 (inclusive).

The preparation of the report is a complex process which will take some months to complete. An Inter-Departmental Liaison Group chaired by my Department has been established to prepare the report and this group met for the first time last month. My Department has also met with the Children's Rights Alliance (CRA) to brief them on the administrative arrangements for the new report.

Health Services

Robert Dowds

Ceist:

203 Deputy Robert Dowds asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the progress that has been made toward assessing all section 36 carers, that is carers who are members of a child’s biological family. [2752/12]

As this is a service matter, I have asked the Health Service Executive to respond directly to the Deputy with the most up-to-date information.

Child Care Services

Robert Dowds

Ceist:

204 Deputy Robert Dowds asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the steps she is taking to address the lack of services for young adults leaving State care at the age of 18 years. [2753/12]

Section 45 of the Child Care Act 1991 places a statutory duty on the HSE to form a view in relation to each person leaving care as to whether there is a "need for assistance" and if it forms such a view, to provide services in accordance with the legislation and subject to resources. All young people who have had a care history with the HSE, be it foster care, residential care, high support, or special care are entitled to an aftercare service based on their assessed needs. The core eligible age range for aftercare is 18 years and up to 21 years. This can be extended until the completion of a course of education in which he/she is engaged up to the age of 23 years of age.

Some 90% of children in care are in foster care and a large number of these remain living with their foster families, supported financially by the HSE, on reaching 18 years of age. These young people continue in education and training as planned. This remains a key component of aftercare for young people when they leave care. Children who have been in residential care, short term foster placements, multiple placements and those who have dropped out of education/training are most at risk and in need of support when they leave care. The most important requirements for young people leaving care are for secure, suitable accommodation as well as further education, employment or training and social support. Aftercare provision incorporates advice, guidance and practical support. An individual holistic needs assessment identifies a young person's need for accommodation, financial support, social network support and training and education in the months before their 18th birthday. The level of support required will vary for each individual.

There are approximately 45 dedicated Aftercare workers in the HSE and recruitment of 10 additional aftercare workers is currently underway. In addition, many social workers while not dedicated aftercare workers, provide aftercare as part of their workload. The HSE also provides funding and has agreements in place with a number of bodies including Focus Ireland, Clare Care and Simon, to provide full-time aftercare workers.

The National Aftercare Service is underpinned by a National Policy and Procedures Document which has been developed in cooperation with the key stakeholders including the voluntary sector agencies involved in Aftercare provision and my Department. The policy commits to promoting and achieving the best outcomes for young people leaving care and in ensuring consistency of support to these young people. The most vulnerable group of young people leaving care are those that have dropped out of education and training and those that have left residential care. Some of these young people have mental health problems or a disability. The HSE is alert to this group and the implementation group is working together to improve their circumstances. The HSE has committed to monitor implementation of this policy in the 2012 National Service Plan.

Health Service Staff

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

205 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs further to Parliamentary Question No. 477 of 8 November 2011, when a reply will issue from the Health Service Executive. [2894/12]

I have asked the Health Service Executive to update the Deputy as a matter of urgency.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

206 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 478 to 480, inclusive, of 8 November 2011, when a reply will issue from the Health Service Executive. [2895/12]

I have asked the Health Service Executive to update the Deputy as a matter of urgency.

Misuse of Drugs

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

207 Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Health his views on a tobacco product (details supplied) sold in head shops; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2651/12]

I am informed that the legal high product known as "Mad Alice" which usually contains a substance calledRCS-4. RCS-4 is a cannabis-related substance which was first reported in the EU in 2010. The Garda National Drugs Unit has informed me that RCS-4 first came to its attention in April 2011, following a seizure of the substance.

On November 1st 2011 the Government declared a range of approximately 60 legal high substances to be controlled drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Acts. Under this Declaration Order, a number of cannabis-related substances, including RCS-4, were controlled. Since November 1st 2011 it is an offence for a person to manufacture, import, export, supply or possess RCS-4 or products such as "Mad Alice" containing RCS-4.

I am also informed that the Garda National Drug Unit continues to monitor the few remaining ‘headshop' outlets closely and, at this time, there is no evidence of this product being available for sale in these outlets. My Department works closely with the Department of Justice and Equality, the Gardaí, the Customs Service, the Forensic Science Laboratory, the Irish Medicines Board, and others to monitor the emergence of new psychoactive substances.

Services for People with Disabilities

Robert Dowds

Ceist:

208 Deputy Robert Dowds asked the Minister for Health his plans for continuing therapeutic intervention for children with disabilities after the age of 6 years, which is the cut-off age for the early intervention programme. [2749/12]

Services have been developed by individual service providers or former Health Boards over time and reflect the individual experience and expertise of providers in meeting local needs. This has led to variations in the way services are configured and, in relation to the provision of therapy supports for children and young people with disabilities, the Health Service Executive (HSE) has recognised the need to enhance the level of consistency and standardisation in the way both early intervention services and services for school-aged children with disabilities are delivered. The reconfiguration of existing therapy resources to geographic based teams for children and young people with disabilities has been identified as a priority and is a ‘Key Result Area' in the Executive's National Service Plan 2012. National, regional and local level structures are being put in place to progress this initiative, which will have a positive impact on the provision of appropriate clinical services and supports to all children with disabilities, including those aged 6 years and over.

Medical Cards

Mattie McGrath

Ceist:

209 Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Health his views on the fact that a medical card was issued to an applicant and was subsequently withdrawn six weeks later when the applicant was issued with a general practitioner visit card; his further views on the fact that this is the third such case of this happening that I have brought to his attention in recent weeks; his views that this type of error is unacceptable and that the medical card issued should remain with the recipient until it expires; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2661/12]

As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

Departmental Reports

Pat Breen

Ceist:

210 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Health if he will provide an update on the status of a report (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2671/12]

The Health Service Executive is carrying out a viability review of all its long stay nursing homes.

This is expected to be completed shortly and will inform the Department's review of the provision of public residential care in the light of the need to meet national standards, regulations, local demographic pressures and public and private provision.

Health Service Staff

Joanna Tuffy

Ceist:

211 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Health if there is any curtailment on nurses’ entitlement to parental leave due to staff shortages in public hospitals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2672/12]

The Parental Leave Act, 1998 was introduced to implement Council Directive 96/34/EC of June 1996 on the framework agreement on parental leave. It came into effect on 3rd December, 1998 and provided for an entitlement for men and women to avail of 14 weeks' parental leave to enable them to take care of their young children. The Parental Leave (Amendment) Act, 2006 came into effect on 18th May, 2006 and made a number of improvements to the parental leave legislation.

Public hospitals are subject to the provisions of the Act as amended.

Hospital Services

Sandra McLellan

Ceist:

212 Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Health the number of beds and a breakdown of same at Youghal Community Hospital, County Cork. [2673/12]

Sandra McLellan

Ceist:

213 Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Health the number and grade of staff at Youghal Community Hospital, County Cork; if there is any plan to decrease this number and or the skillsmix; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2674/12]

Sandra McLellan

Ceist:

214 Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Health if he will confirm that the current number of beds will be maintained at Youghal Community Hospital, County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2675/12]

Sandra McLellan

Ceist:

215 Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Health if there are plans to close beds in Youghal Community Hospital County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2676/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 212 to 215, inclusive, together.

As these are service matters they have been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

Medical Cards

Dominic Hannigan

Ceist:

216 Deputy Dominic Hannigan asked the Minister for Health the number of medical card applications received in the years 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011; the number of medical card applications received in each month of 2011 in tabular form; the current time from when a medical card application is received to when a decision is made; the average time from when an appeal is received to when a decision is taken; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2717/12]

The information sought by the Deputy is not readily available. However, I have asked the Health Service Executive to supply this information to me and I will forward it to the Deputy as soon as possible.

Hospital Staff

Martin Ferris

Ceist:

217 Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Health if funding is still available for the post of consultant rheumatologist at Kerry General Hospital; and when the position will be filled. [2718/12]

As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

Medical Cards

John Browne

Ceist:

218 Deputy John Browne asked the Minister for Health when a medical card will be approved in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Wexford. [2722/12]

As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

Tom Fleming

Ceist:

219 Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Minister for Health if he will issue a decision on a medical card application in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kerry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2732/12]

As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

Health Services

Billy Kelleher

Ceist:

220 Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Health if private health care providers have recently expressed interest in the provision of primary health care; the names of the providers; the amount of investment proposed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2741/12]

The management and delivery of the health capital programme is a service matter. Therefore your question has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

Departmental Bodies

Patrick O'Donovan

Ceist:

221 Deputy Patrick O’Donovan asked the Minister for Health if he will consider the appointment of a national figure to lead the implementation of a national campaign and strategy on obesity, in a similar way to the effective campaign that has been conducted by the Road Safety Authority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2742/12]

In order to combat the health risks posed by obesity, the Minister for Health, in 2011, established a Special Action Group on Obesity which is a cross Departmental group chaired by the Department of Health and comprising representatives from the Department of Education and Skills, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the Health Service Executive, the Food Safety Authority of Ireland & Safe Food to examine and progress a number of issues to address the complex and multifactoral problem obesity. A range of measures relating to healthier eating and the promotion of physical activity are being progressed.

Medical Cards

John O'Mahony

Ceist:

222 Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Health the reason for the delay in issuing a medical card to a person (details supplied) in County Mayo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2758/12]

As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

John O'Mahony

Ceist:

223 Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Health the reason for the delay in issuing a medical card to a person (details supplied) in County Mayo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2759/12]

As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

John O'Mahony

Ceist:

224 Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Health the reason for the delay in issuing a medical card to a person (details supplied) in County Mayo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2761/12]

As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

John O'Mahony

Ceist:

225 Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Health the reason for the delay in issuing a medical card to a person (details supplied) in County Mayo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2762/12]

As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

John O'Mahony

Ceist:

226 Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Health the reason for the delay in issuing a medical card to a person (details supplied) in County Mayo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2764/12]

As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

John O'Mahony

Ceist:

227 Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Health the reason for the delay in issuing a medical card to a person (details supplied) in County Mayo; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2766/12]

As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

John O'Mahony

Ceist:

228 Deputy John O’Mahony asked the Minister for Health the reason a person (details supplied) in County Dublin has not been issued with a medical card; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2769/12]

As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

Hospital Services

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

229 Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Health the capital investments made at Letterkenny General Hospital, County Donegal since the year 2000; the details and purpose of each separate capital investment made in this period; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2770/12]

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

232 Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Health if he will provide the details of any capital investments made at Carndonagh Community Hospital, County Donegal since the year 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2773/12]

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

233 Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Health if he will provide details of any capital investments made at Buncrana Nursing Unit, County Donegal since the year 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2774/12]

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

234 Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Health if he will provide details of any capital investments made at Ramelton Community Hospital, County Donegal since the year 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2775/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 229 and 232 to 234, inclusive, together.

The management and delivery of the health capital programme is a service matter. Therefore your question has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

230 Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Health if he will list the any new services developed at Letterkenny General Hospital since the year 2000; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2771/12]

As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

Mental Health Services

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

231 Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Health the total cost of the new mental health unit opened at Letterkenny General Hospital in 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2772/12]

As this is a service matter the question has been referred to the HSE for direct reply.

Questions Nos. 232 to 234, inclusive, answered with Question No. 229.

Medical Cards

Patrick Nulty

Ceist:

235 Deputy Patrick Nulty asked the Minister for Health if he will expedite an application for a medical card in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; when the card will be approved and when it will issue; the reason for the delay; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2782/12]

As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

Sandra McLellan

Ceist:

236 Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Health if he will approve and expedite a medical card claim in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2817/12]

As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

Niall Collins

Ceist:

237 Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Health the position regarding an application for a medical card in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [2838/12]

As this is a service matter it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

Hospital Facilities

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

238 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Health his plans to reduce the parking charges at Beaumont Hospital, Dublin 9; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2850/12]

As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply.

General Medical Services Scheme

Simon Harris

Ceist:

239 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Health if his attention has been drawn to the difficulties facing medical card holders in obtaining prescribed mental health medications (details supplied); his plans to introduce measures to address this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2864/12]

Medical card holders who are given a prescription by a hospital or clinic must request a general practitioner participating in the GMS to transcribe the details onto a GMS prescription form in order for them to receive their medication free of charge, subject to any applicable prescription charges, under the GMS scheme.

It is considered worthwhile that patients have contact with their GP, establishing a valuable link between primary and secondary care services that might otherwise be less frequent. As GPs receive an annual capitation fee per GMS patient, no extra costs are incurred by such patients.

Medicinal Products

Simon Harris

Ceist:

240 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Health if he is engaged in negotiations to reduce the cost of medications here; his views that such a measure will produce savings for the taxpayer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2865/12]

The Department of Health and the Health Service Executive have taken a number of steps in recent years to reduce the State's medicines bill. Measures have included multi-million euro price reductions and substantial reductions in pharmacists fees and other supply chain costs. The current pricing mechanism agreement between the HSE and Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association expires on 1st March 2012. Officials from the HSE and the Department are engaged in meetings with IPHA with a view to agreeing a further agreement.

Medical Cards

James Bannon

Ceist:

241 Deputy James Bannon asked the Minister for Health the reason the primary care reimbursement service does not inform medical card holders of a change of status, for example, if 16 year olds have been taken off cover from the time of their birthday, their cards state validity, yet have been withdrawn unilaterally; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2886/12]

I have asked the Health Service Executive for a report on the issue raised by the Deputy. I will revert to the Deputy on the matter as soon as possible.

Care of the Elderly

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

242 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for Health, further to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 487-488 of 13 December 2011, when a reply will issue from the Health Service Executive. [2896/12]

The HSE has advised that it issued a reply to the Deputy on 9th December 2011 in relation to future residential services for Older People in the Cavan and Monaghan area. While the reply specifically refers to Lisdarn Unit the same position applies to St. Mary's, Castleblayney.

Surgical Procedures

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

243 Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Health his views on a matter (details supplied) regarding the Statute of Limitations (Amendment) Act 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2946/12]

I currently have no plans to seek a change in the law in this area. I intend to consider the evidence from research in relation to this matter before giving any detailed consideration to the need for a change in the law to the statute of limitations in relation to women who may have suffered following symphysiotomy and pubiotomy procedures in the past.

Railway Stations

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

244 Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will make provisions to improve facilities at Broombridge train station, Dublin in view of the conditions that are currently present. [2736/12]

As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for policy and overall funding in relation to public transport. Matters relating to improvements at individual railway stations are day-to-day operational issues for Iarnród Eireann in the first instance and I have no function in such matters. In the Greater Dublin Area (GDA), funding for Public transport infrastructure projects, such as the upgrading of rail stations referred to by the Deputy, is provided by my Department to the National Transport Authority (NTA) for allocation to projects and programmes. Noting this I have referred the Deputy's question to the NTA for direct reply. Please advise my private office if you do not receive a reply within 10 working days.

Sports Capital Programme

Seamus Kirk

Ceist:

245 Deputy Seamus Kirk asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport if he will advise of the financial provisions under the capital sports programme for 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2755/12]

A sum of €21.2m has been provided in 2012 for the D3 subhead, out of which sports capital grant payments are made. In addition, there is carryover of €3.6m into this subhead in 2012. I recently announced that the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport will be advertising two new rounds of the Sports Capital Programme between now and 2016. Officials in my Department are currently making the necessary arrangements with a view to launching a new round of the Sports Capital Programme early this year.

Integrated Ticketing

Robert Dowds

Ceist:

246 Deputy Robert Dowds asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the reason Leap cards are not being sold through DART or Irish Rail stations at present; and if there are plans to change that. [2793/12]

Responsibility to develop, procure, implement, operate and maintain the integrated ticketing system in the Greater Dublin Area (GDA) became the function of the National Transport Authority (NTA) with effect from 30th September 2010 in accordance with section 58 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008. I understand from the NTA, however, that Irish Rail's equipment supplier is close to completing the software and hardware enhancements necessary to sell and top-up Leap Cards from Irish Rail's ticket vending machines. This work will be completed and deployed by the end March, after which Leap Cards will be made available for sale via these ticket vending machines. In the same way as with the sale of Irish Rail smart cards, Leap Cards will not be sold in booking offices.

Taxi Regulations

Robert Dowds

Ceist:

247 Deputy Robert Dowds asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport when the taxi review is likely to be published. [2794/12]

I announced the Taxi Regulation Review on the 8th of June last in line with the commitment in the Programme for Government. The Review Group under my chairmanship completed its report in December last and I have circulated the report to relevant Ministers and their Departments with a view to early consideration of the outcome of the review by the Government. Once the Government has had an opportunity to consider the review, I expect to be in a position to publish it on my Department's website and to outline the Government's response to it.

Sports Capital Programme

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

248 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport his plans to reopen the sports capital programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2854/12]

Officials in my Department are currently making the necessary arrangements with a view to launching a new round of the Sports Capital Programme early this year.