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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Thursday, 28 Jun 2012

Vol. 770 No. 3

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 15, inclusive, answered orally.

National Asset Management Agency

Martin Ferris

Ceist:

16 Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the steps he is taking to ensure that housing secured for leasing under the National Asset Management Agency will not leave tenants isolated from community and services. [31217/12]

Sandra McLellan

Ceist:

31 Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the reasons properties offered by the National Asset Management Agency for leasing were deemed unsuitable. [31216/12]

Pearse Doherty

Ceist:

43 Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will give an update on the development of the National Asset Management Agency properties for social housing; and if he will endeavour to secure housing from NAMA for local authority ownership. [31205/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 16, 31 and 43 together.

Since the announcement in December 2011 that NAMA would commit to providing up to 2,000 units for social housing by the end of 2012, my Department, the Housing Agency and NAMA have been working together with housing authorities and approved housing bodies towards achieving this target. The units being advanced through NAMA will in general be provided through the Social Housing Leasing Initiative under the standard terms and conditions that apply.

To date over 2,000 units have been examined with a view to determining their suitability for social housing. Of the original number, 701 have been deemed unsuitable by housing authorities. Housing authorities assess the suitability of these properties with regard to location, local demand, the nature of the accommodation and sustainable community principles.

A further 372 have been withdrawn, usually by property owners, as circumstances have changed. In some cases the properties concerned have been let on the open market or sold and are no longer available as vacant units.

At present demand has been confirmed for nearly 1,200 available units and these are currently being processed. It is important to note that while demand has been confirmed in respect of practically all residential developments proposed by NAMA, the requirement to provide for an appropriate mix of tenures and to avoid undue segregation in housing means that local authorities will only ever deem a certain proportion of units within individual developments suitable for social housing. Discussion and negotiation has commenced in respect of these properties involving approved housing bodies, local authorities, the property owners, financial institutions, receivers and other relevant parties.

Of these 1,200 properties, contracts are signed in respect of 58 units, 405 of these units are at various stages of the approval process and 719 are being appraised. It is expected that units will be tenanted in the second half of the year. NAMA continues to work with a view to identifying additional units suitable for inclusion in the programme.

Regeneration Projects

Pádraig Mac Lochlainn

Ceist:

17 Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will provide an update on the Limerick Regeneration Project including new housing units in the process of being built and currently finished both vacant and occupied. [31213/12]

Earlier this year I announced an allocation of €27.5 million to support ongoing physical and social regeneration in Limerick. In accordance with the original Establishment Orders of 2007, the five-year term of office of the Limerick Regeneration Agencies is now ending with responsibility for the management and administration of the regeneration programme transferring to the new Limerick Office for Regeneration. The focus in 2012 is on transitioning from the planning, preparatory relocation and demolition works within estates to construction of new houses and apartments and the refurbishment of existing homes.

Some 33 housing units are nearing completion at Clíona Park. Contracts have been agreed and construction will shortly commence on 29 new housing units at Vises Court and a further 35 units of sheltered housing at Southill. It is intended to acquire 10 almost-completed units and 10 sites at Wallers Well. Planning permission is awaited in respect of around 80 new housing units at Lord Edward Street. Once planning approval is secured, it is intended to commence the tender process as quickly as possible with a view to having a contract in place by end 2012. Small infill developments are being progressed through the planning stages for new houses at a number of locations around Kings Island.

Household Charge

Timmy Dooley

Ceist:

18 Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the plans he has developed in relation to collecting the household charge from both home owners who have not paid and from home owners in arrears on instalment payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31160/12]

The Local Government (Household Charge) Act 2011 provides the legislative basis for the household charge. Under the Act, an owner of a residential property on the liability date of 1 January 2012 is liable to pay the household charge, unless otherwise exempted or entitled to claim a waiver. The household charge is on a self-assessment basis and it is a matter for an owner of a residential property on the liability date to determine if he/ or she has a liability and, if so, to declare that liability and pay the household charge.

The Local Government Management Agency (LGMA) administers the household charge system on a shared service/agency basis for all county and city councils. Instalment payments were available by direct debit only and persons opting to pay in this way had to register their details with the LGMA before 1 March 2012. This deadline was necessary in order to meet banking requirements for direct debit arrangements.

Under section 5(1) of the Act, the owner of a residential property, who on a liability date, is liable to pay a household charge to a relevant local authority, or who is entitled to a waiver from payment of a household charge under section 4(4), must make and provide to the relevant local authority a declaration stating that he or she is so liable or so entitled, as the case may be. Under section 5(2) of the Act, the declaration must, in the case of a person who is liable to pay a household charge, be accompanied by payment of the household charge in respect of the property concerned.

The Act further provides for offences where a person contravenes these statutory requirements. In addition, late payment penalties apply where payment is not made by 31 March 2012 and household charges and late payment penalties are a charge against the property which will have to be discharged in the event of the sale or transfer of the property concerned.

Section 12 of the Act places collection of the charge under the care and management of local authorities. It is therefore a matter for each individual local authority to utilise the provisions of the legislation, including data sharing with the Electricity Supply Board, Private Residential Tenancies Board, Revenue Commissioners and the Department of Social Protection, in the context of any undeclared properties that may be identified.

The legislation empowers local authorities to bring and prosecute summary proceedings for an offence under the Act and local authorities will pursue those who may have a liability and initiate court proceedings where it is considered appropriate.

Local Authority Housing

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

19 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will review the criteria covering the issuing of local authority mortgages and shared ownership schemes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29035/12]

In advancing loans for house purchase by lower income borrowers it is of critical importance that local authorities make such funding available on the basis of sound lending criteria. My Department and individual local authorities have a responsibility to ensure that the borrower can sustain the loan over the full term. Of equal importance, in view of recent developments in the domestic property market, is the imperative for a local authority to ensure that prudence and pragmatism are applied to all aspects of the management of its housing loans book. In a time of limited resources, deploying those resources in a focused and effective manner ensures the management of its loans portfolio can be achieved as efficiently as possible.

The current credit policy has been in effect since 2009. It was deemed appropriate at that time to update the elements associated with local authority lending and to have a homogenous regime in place that ensured best practice was followed across the sector. All applicants are now assessed according to the same criteria, and their applications subjected to the same independent scrutiny. It is desirable to make adequate lending provision available to local authority tenants who wish to avail of the tenant purchase schemes, while also adhering to prudent lending practices, and the current guidelines achieve equitable consideration of all applications.

While it is the case that the rate of refusal of applications has increased it is also clear that the loans issued since the introduction of the revised credit policy are more likely to be fully performing. I am happy that the current mortgage loan model is fair, adequately meets the needs of prospective borrowers, and facilitates participation in housing acquisition initiatives such as the tenant purchase schemes.

Question No. 20 answered with Question No. 14.

Social and Affordable Housing

Thomas Pringle

Ceist:

21 Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the number of social housing units that will be provided in 2012 and 2013 in each local authority; the manner in which they will be provided whether by direct provision of council houses, by leasing arrangements with private landlords or by discussions with the National Assets Management Agency; if he will provide details of any agreements already in place with NAMA; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31260/12]

Joan Collins

Ceist:

22 Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the number of social housing units that will be provided in 2012 and 2013 in each local authority; the manner in which they will be provided whether by direct provision of council houses, by leasing arrangements with private landlords or by discussions with the National Assets Management Agency; if he will provide details of any agreements already in place with NAMA; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31265/12]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Ceist:

26 Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the number of social housing units that will be provided in 2012 and 2013 in each local authority; the manner in which they will be provided whether by direct provision of council houses, by leasing arrangements with private landlords or by discussions with the National Assets Management Agency; if he will provide details of any agreements already in place with NAMA; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31220/12]

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

35 Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he has reviewed the recent Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council housing waiting lists; if he is satisfied that the local authorities mentioned are currently effectively discharging their housing function; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29025/12]

John Halligan

Ceist:

41 Deputy John Halligan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the number of social housing units that will be provided in 2012 and 2013 in each local authority; the manner in which they will be provided whether by direct provision of council houses, by leasing arrangements with private landlords or by discussions with the National Asset Management Agency; if he will provide details of any agreements already in place with NAMA [31262/12]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

50 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the extent to which the full requirements in terms of local authority housing needs are being met at present with particular reference to the means of those who may have lost their jobs and as a consequence their homes through repossession or who are currently on existing housing waiting lists; if he will review the procedures whereby such applicants are admissible to the local authority housing waiting lists; if it is anticipated that extra housing units will be provided directly or indirectly by way of specific housing programme or by way of excess stock in the private sector for eligible and suitable applicants who meet the relevant income criteria with the objective of ensuring that empty housing estates around the country are utilised to obviate the need for rent support; if he has quantified the full extent of the requirement both in terms of the existing housing waiting lists and those seeking to access such lists; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31189/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 21, 22, 26, 35, 41 and 50 together.

The Government's housing policy statement, published in June 2011, clearly identifies that the priority for Government will be to meet the most acute needs of households applying for social housing support.

I am determined to ensure that the social housing programme is framed in a manner which optimises the delivery of social housing and the return for the resources invested. To achieve this it is essential that we tailor the use of available Exchequer supports to prevailing conditions and explore the full range of solutions to address housing needs. The social housing capital budget has been reduced from €1.535 billion in 2008 to just over €333.7m for 2012, and the financial parameters within which we will be operating for the coming years rule out a return to large capital funded construction programmes. Nevertheless, the Government is committed to responding more quickly and on a larger scale to social housing support needs through a variety of mechanisms, including through increased provision of social housing. In spite of the challenging circumstances within which local authorities are forced to operate, a tentative projection of 4,000 to 4,500 housing units is anticipated for 2012.

Projected levels of activity in 2013 will be subject to the financial provision for housing, which will be determined in the context of the 2013 Estimates process.

Delivery of social housing will be significantly facilitated through more flexible funding models such as the Rental Accommodation Scheme and leasing, but the Government is also committed to developing other funding mechanisms that will increase the supply of permanent new social housing. Such mechanisms will include options to purchase, build to lease and the sourcing of loan finance by approved housing bodies for construction and acquisition. There is also obvious potential, across a range of housing programmes, for the Government's objective of sourcing and providing suitable residential units for use as social housing to be aligned with the commercial objectives of the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA).

Some of the units provided under the leasing scheme will the sourced from NAMA. Given the number of variables involved it is not possible at this stage to provide a reliable estimate of the number of units that will be fully transferred to social use by the end of 2012. To date over 2,000 units have been examined with a view to determining their suitability for social housing. Discussion and negotiation has commenced in respect of nearly 700 properties involving approved housing bodies, local authorities, the property owners, financial institutions, receivers and other relevant parties. Of these 700 properties, contracts are signed in respect of 58 units and it is envisaged that these will be delivered later in the summer. 386 of these units are at various stages of the approval process and 254 are being appraised

The relevant sections of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 dealing with social housing support and related Social Housing Assessment Regulations 2011, were commenced on 1 April 2011. These set out the standard procedures for assessing applicants for social housing in every authority. The implementation of these Regulations is currently under review by my Department.

My Department does not hold information on the number of households on local authorities' waiting lists at any given time. This number inevitably 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.

Question No. 23 answered with Question No. 14.

Social and Affordable Housing

Mary Lou McDonald

Ceist:

24 Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will provide extra funding to deal with the serious issues surrounding the maintenance of social housing, particularly flat complexes. [31206/12]

Dessie Ellis

Ceist:

40 Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his plans to put in place an emergency fund to support local authorities which have vacant units and large housing waiting lists but are unable to fund refurbishment or maintenance work required for retenanting. [31208/12]

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

42 Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his plans to improve turnaround times on social housing units which have become vacant. [31207/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 24, 40 and 42 together.

I refer to the reply to Questions Nos. 457, 458 and 459 of 19 June, 2012 which sets out the position on these matters.

Water and Sewerage Schemes

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

25 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his plans to enhance the group sewerage scheme grant; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29034/12]

The rate of grant available for Group Sewerage Schemes is €2,031.58 per house or 75% of the cost of the scheme, whichever is the lesser.

I have accepted a proposal from the National Rural Water Services Committee, who have a role in advising me on rural water policy, that the rate of grant be reviewed during 2012. They will be examining this issue, taking into account, inter alia, the results of a pilot programme funded by my Department to test a range of small-scale wastewater collection and treatment systems under Irish conditions. I am, therefore, keeping the matter under active review.

Question No. 26 answered with Question No. 21.

Waste Management

Kevin Humphreys

Ceist:

27 Deputy Kevin Humphreys asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his views on whether the 600,000 tonne incinerator at Poolbeg, Dublin, is still required when Ireland is likely to meet its targets for 2016 under the landfill directive; if he will seek a derogation to 2020 under the landfill directive as 12 other European countries already have; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that the recent Environmental Protection Agency waste report indicated that Ireland had sufficient landfill capacity for a further 12 years at current rates; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29032/12]

In accordance with the provisions of the Waste Management Acts, the preparation and adoption of a waste management plan, including in respect of infrastructure provision, is the statutory responsibility of the local authority or authorities concerned, and under section 60(3) of the Act the Minister is precluded from exercising any power or control in relation to the performance by a local authority, in particular circumstances, of a statutory function vested in it.

I understand that the parties to the contract in respect of the Poolbeg facility are in a period of review. As the project is being advanced by Dublin City Council, acting on behalf of the four Dublin local authorities, questions concerning its status, and any issues relating to contractual matters, should be directed to the City Council.

Regardless of estimates of remaining landfill capacity, the Waste Framework Directive and a sustainable approach to the management of waste require that Ireland must end its overdependence on landfill. That process of infrastructural diversification must be guided by adherence to the waste hierarchy. Accordingly, I have no plans to seek any derogation in respect of the compliance requirements of the Landfill Directive; I intend that Ireland should meet its obligations under the Directive, with the deployment of appropriate policies and measures, such as the landfill levy.

The Programme for Government commits to the development of a coherent national waste policy, adhering to the waste hierarchy, which will aim to minimise waste disposal in landfill and maximise recovery. I expect to be in a position to submit final proposals in relation to national waste policy to Government in the coming weeks.

Water Services

Robert Dowds

Ceist:

28 Deputy Robert Dowds asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will confirm that the recreational use of the country’s reservoirs currently allowed by local authorities will be fully protected when the new water authority is established. [29033/12]

The Government decided in December 2011, based on the recommendations of an independent assessment, to establish a public water utility company, Irish Water, to take over the operational and capital delivery functions of local authorities in the water services area. Following further evaluation, the Government decided that Irish Water should be established as an independent state owned company within the Bord Gáis Group.

Bord Gáis Éireann (BGE) has key capabilities that can be brought to bear in the establishment of Irish Water, and these skills will be paired with the experience and commitment to service in local authorities and the specific water and wastewater capabilities and expertise that exist in local government to build the new organisation.

Work is now focused on the finalisation of an implementation strategy which will address transformation planning in more detail. The implementation strategy is being developed in collaboration with other relevant Government Departments, local authorities, BGE and NewERA. This strategy will provide the platform for dealing with a broad range of implementation issues during the transitional phase, including dealing with matters which cross the boundaries between Irish Water functions in relation to water services and those functions which will remain the responsibility of local authorities or other State bodies which impact on the water environment. It is also envisaged that service level agreements will be put in place between Irish Water and local authorities to ensure continuity of service in relation to operations until 2017 at the earliest.

The implementation strategy will, therefore, provide a mechanism for clarifying in due course issues such as the use for recreational purposes of reservoirs which will become the responsibility of Irish Water in the future. While Irish Water's primary purpose will be to ensure security of supply and compliance of drinking water with relevant standards, there are often synergies between these roles and opportunities to provide amenities for local and tourist use. I expect that these issues and the experience of local authorities will be taken into consideration in the relation to future operations.

Question No. 29 answered with Question No. 14.

Planning Issues

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

30 Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when he will publish his response to the recommendations contained in the Mahon tribunal report; if the appointment of an independent planning expert (details supplied) means that he will now not proceed with the establishment of an independent planning regulator as recommended by the report of the Mahon tribunal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31203/12]

I aanticipate that the Government will consider a comprehensive analysis of the recommendations of the Final Report of the Mahon Tribunal in the coming weeks, including the recommendation for the establishment of an independent planning regulator with publication of its considered response to the recommendations to follow shortly thereafter. The proposed appointment of an independent planning expert in the context of the Planning Review Report, which I published on 12 June 2012, is separate from the ongoing examination of the Tribunal's recommendations.

Question No. 31 answered with Question No. 16.

Local Authority Housing

Gerry Adams

Ceist:

32 Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his plans to improve communication between local authorities and tenants to ensure that means tests are updated accurately and any arrears developing are discussed at an early stage. [31210/12]

Local authority rents are set in accordance with a rent scheme adopted by each housing authority. The making and amending of these rent schemes are an integral part of a housing authority's housing management functions, subject to broad principles laid down by my Department in Circular letter HRT 3/2002 of 6 March 2002 under Section 58 of the Housing Act 1966 (as amended). Section 31 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 will replace, once commenced, existing provisions in relation to differential rent schemes. Regulations and guidelines for housing authorities in relation to differential rent are currently in preparation in my Department. While it is not the intention to implement a national standardised differential rent scheme, the proposed regulations will more clearly set out the matters that may be included in a local rents scheme, including procedures for rent reviews.

Local Government Reform

Éamon Ó Cuív

Ceist:

33 Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the status of his local government reform document; the timeframe for its publication; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31180/12]

I refer to the reply to Questions Nos. 3 and 5 on today's order paper, which sets out the position on this matter.

Tourism Promotion

Mattie McGrath

Ceist:

34 Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government in view of the efforts to promote tourism with the Gathering Ireland 2013, the extra efforts that he will make to encourage and assist communities and local authorities to clean up and enhance their areas to ensure that small villages, towns and country roads are litter free, clean and presentable to improve Ireland’s image among the tourists; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29029/12]

In April 2012, I announced the provision of €2,150,000 in grant funding in 2012, to assist local authorities in their efforts to tackle the problem of litter through awareness raising, enforcement and the maintenance of key tourist areas across the country. €900,000 was made available under the Anti-Litter and Anti-Graffiti Awareness Grant Scheme, €750,000 under a new Litter Enforcement Grant Scheme, and a further €500,000 under the Tourist Season Anti-Litter Grant Scheme.

The grants to local authorities under the Awareness Grant Scheme cover a broad range of measures to raise public awareness and promote anti-litter and anti-graffiti activity at local level. There is a particular focus on involving schools, young people and voluntary initiatives by community groups. The new Litter Enforcement Grant Scheme is intended to support the enforcement activities of local authorities through measures such as the deployment of mobile CCTV equipment to catch fly tippers and illegal dumpers. The €500,000 provided under the Tourist Season Scheme is intended to encourage local authorities to ensure that key tourist attractions are well presented during the peak summer season.

My Department also continues to provide support to a number of other anti-litter initiatives, including the Tidy Towns Competition, in which there are two new Special Awards of particular interest this year — the Fáilte Ireland Tidy Tourism Town Award of €10,000 and the Gum Litter Task Force Award of €5,000. Other initiatives of relevance include the National Spring Clean, the Irish Business against Litter (IBAL) Litter League, the Protecting Uplands and Rural Environments (PURE) project and the Green Schools Programme. In addition, I will shortly be launching a national anti-litter awareness campaign targeting fly tipping and small scale illegal dumping.

Funding arrangements in respect of these grant schemes and anti-litter initiatives for 2013 have yet to be finalised, but will be considered in the context of available resources and the performance of existing schemes.

In addition, Axes 3 and 4 (LEADER) of the Rural Development Programme (RDP) 2007-2013, which is currently being implemented on my Department's behalf by 35 Local Action Groups, aims to improve the quality of life in rural areas and promote the diversification of the rural economy. Over €300m in funding will be available through my Department for the delivery of the Programme over the current programming period. In the context of support for rural communities, funding can be provided for the upgrade, maintenance and development of community areas and amenities in eligible towns and villages. A large number of Tidy-Towns initiatives have already received funding from the LEADER elements of the RDP since it commenced in 2009.

Question No. 35 answered with Question No. 21.

Proposed Legislation

Clare Daly

Ceist:

36 Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will consider amending the Environmental Protection Agency Act 1992 by deleting section 15, thus ending the legal immunity of the agency. [31091/12]

I refer to the reply to Questions Nos. 611 and 612 of 6 June 2012 which outlines the position in this matter.

Local Authority Housing

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

37 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the extent to which he continues to receive information from the various local authorities in respect of arrears of shared ownership or annuity loans; if, as a result he will initiate legislation to address the ongoing situation whereby borrowers are expected to meet repayments in respect of the rental equity which are greater than that applicable to the mortgage equity; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31188/12]

My Department recently commenced collating data in respect of local authority mortgage arrears. Data to end December 2011 indicate that 6,363 of all local authority mortgages (including those drawn down for the purposes of purchasing houses under the various affordable housing schemes, including shared ownership and tenant purchase) are in arrears of more than 90 days. This represents 28% of the total number of loans.

Under the Shared Ownership scheme the rent charged on the local authority's equity in a shared ownership transaction is to cover the funding costs to the Housing Finance Agency which are based on borrowings at the prevailing interest rates. Any difference between the rent and prevailing interest rate is reflected in the capital outstanding on the property, i.e. if the rent charged in any period is greater than the prevailing mortgage interest due on the local authority's share the purchase price of the outstanding equity will be reduced accordingly.

Local authority mortgage holders — including those who purchased under shared ownership — also benefit from extremely keenly priced interest rates which generally run at around 0.5% lower than the best rates available in the market and currently stand at around 1.5% below average variable rates available in the market. This is a very substantial differential. To take account of the current housing market conditions, the Government's housing policy statement, published in June 2011, announced the standing down of all affordable housing schemes, including the shared ownership scheme, in the context of a full review of Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000. That review is now underway and it is expected to conclude later in the year. Any future changes to legislation governing affordable housing schemes, including shared ownership, will be informed by that review.

Rental Accommodation Scheme

Dessie Ellis

Ceist:

38 Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the fact that under the rental accommodation scheme landlords can decide to sell property which is part of the tenancy agreement; and the measures he plans to put in place to protect tenants and ensure more secure housing conditions. [31218/12]

In general, accommodation provided under the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS) in governed by the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, as amended. Under this legislation a landlord is permitted to sell a rented property under certain conditions and subject to compliance with the provisions of the Act and the terms of the RAS agreement.

Local Authority Housing

Jonathan O'Brien

Ceist:

39 Deputy Jonathan O’Brien asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will put in place guidelines for the detenanting of social housing complexes undergoing renovation to ensure that remaining tenants are not left vulnerable and isolated. [31212/12]

I refer to the reply to Question No. 463 of 19 June, 2012 which sets out the position on this matter.

Question No. 40 answered with Question No. 24.
Question No. 41 answered with Question No. 21.
Question No. 42 answered with Question No. 24.
Question No. 43 answered with Question No. 16.

Building Regulations

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

44 Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if an assessment will be undertaken by local authorities of all unfinished estates to determine if residential accommodation is compliant with the Building Control Act 2007 and Building Control Regulations 1997-2010; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31187/12]

There are no plans currently under consideration within my Department for an assessment along the lines suggested.

The Building Control Act 1990 clearly places responsibility for compliance with the Building Regulations on the owner of the building concerned and on the builder/developer who carries out the works.

The Building Regulations set out the legally enforceable minimum standards which a new building must achieve. Enforcement of the Regulations is primarily the responsibility of the 37 local Building Control Authorities who have strong powers to serve enforcement notices for non-compliance or to institute proceedings for breaches of regulatory requirements within a period of five years from the date the building has been completed.

Any existing homeowner who has purchased a home in an unfinished estate, and who may be concerned about compliance with the requirements of the Building Regulations, should be advised to report any such concerns to the Building Control Authority in the Local Authority responsible for the area in which they live.

Remediation of defects is a matter between the parties concerned, the owner and the builder/developer and their insurers. If satisfactory resolution cannot be achieved through dialogue and negotiation the option of seeking civil legal remedy may be considered.

Energy Usage

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

45 Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if, in view of the planned development of an EU energy efficiency directive and domestic energy efficiency targets adopted by previous Governments, he has developed a plan of specific energy efficiency targets for local authorities and other agencies under his Department to achieve in a set timeframe; if he has considered such a programme of energy savings in the context of the overall reduction in local government funding; if he will outline the details of such a plan, if available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31202/12]

The European Communities (Energy End-Use Efficiency and Energy Services) Regulations 2009 transposed Directive 2006/32/EC into Irish Law. Part 4 of the Regulations outlines a number of obligations relevant to individual public bodies (including local authorities) in relation to improving their performance with regard to energy efficiency. In this context, Ireland's National Energy Efficiency Action Plan in 2009 included a commitment that the public sector would aim to achieve a 33% improvement in its energy efficiency performance by 2020.

Directive 2006/32/EC and a number of related Directives are currently being recast by the European Commission in the form of the proposed Energy Efficiency Directive.

All public bodies, including local authorities, are responsible for devising and implementing their own plans as necessary to meet their shared obligations in line with the above-mentioned regulations. A network of local energy agencies is available to advise and assist local authorities in relation to meeting energy efficiency requirements.

Appointments to State Boards

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

46 Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will consider an overhaul of the composition of the Building Regulations Advisory Board; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31204/12]

Section 14 of the Building Control Act 1990 provides for the establishment of the Building Regulations Advisory Body (BRAB) to advise me on matters relating to the Building Regulations.

The BRAB is comprised of nominated representatives of key construction industry stakeholders (both private and public sectors) and includes a member nominated by the National Consumer Agency. It provides expert advice on proposed changes to Building Regulations and has no executive function. Building Regulations are subject to ongoing review by my Department, working in conjunction with the BRAB. All proposed changes to the Building Regulations must also be subjected to public consultation and a rigorous Regulatory Impact Analysis before being signed into law. Every reasonable effort is made, and will continue to be made, to ensure that the broadest possible range of interests, not least those of the consumer, are included in the ongoing review of the regulations.

I will shortly be seeking expressions of interest from persons willing to serve on the Building Regulations Advisory Body. This opportunity will be advertised publicly on my Department's website in the near future. I anticipate a high level of interest and I look forward to making suitable appointments in the coming months.

Public Sector Pay

Peadar Tóibín

Ceist:

47 Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his plans to reduce pay to the top earners in his Department particularly those earning more than €100,000 per year. [31214/12]

All matters relating to the rates of pay of civil servants are dealt with at central level by my colleague the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

Regeneration Projects

Aengus Ó Snodaigh

Ceist:

48 Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his plans to meet with the St. Teresa’s Gardens Regeneration Board to discuss plans for regenerating this area and the funding requirements. [31211/12]

I refer to the reply to Question No. 433 of 19 June, 2012 which sets out the position on this matter.

Local Authority Housing

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin

Ceist:

49 Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his plans to stop local authorities refusing to carry out maintenance work on units in which tenants are in arrears. [31209/12]

I refer to the reply to Question No. 460 of 19 June, 2012 which sets out the position on this matter.

Question No. 50 answered with Question No. 21.

Human Rights Issues

Pádraig Mac Lochlainn

Ceist:

51 Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will press the Government of Bahrain to allow international human rights observers genuine access to Bahrain. [31409/12]

Pádraig Mac Lochlainn

Ceist:

52 Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will request the Government of Bahrain to make public its policies and procedures for the issuance and use of tear gas by its security forces. [31410/12]

Pádraig Mac Lochlainn

Ceist:

53 Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will join with the UNHRC Navi Pillay in calling for all the convictions made last year in the Court of National Safety to be overturned. [31411/12]

Pádraig Mac Lochlainn

Ceist:

54 Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will continue to press the Government of Bahrain to unconditionally drop the charges against the 11 medics whose convictions were confirmed on 14 June against 28 medics in a separate trial and at least three more also being prosecuted; and that charges be dropped against the leaders of the Bahrain Teachers Association, Mahdi Abu Deeb and Jalila al Salman both sentenced after trials in the Court of National Safety. [31412/12]

Pádraig Mac Lochlainn

Ceist:

55 Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will press the Bahrain Government to permit the existence of civil societies in order that the community can support itself at a grass roots level, for example, Bahrain Rehabilitation and Anti-Violence Organisation, an NGO registered here. [31413/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 51 to 55, inclusive, together.

I have already made clear on a number of occasions, including in this House, my own deep concern and that of the Irish Government and people regarding the general human rights situation in Bahrain. As I have advised the House previously, it is my view that civilians should never be tried in military courts. In the course of the recent Universal Periodic Review of Bahrain by the UN Human Rights Council, Ireland recommended that all decisions of the National Security Courts should be subject to review in ordinary courts, and that laws should be enacted that would prohibit civilians being tried in military courts in the future.

My concerns about individual human rights cases have been formally communicated to the Bahraini authorities through diplomatic channels on numerous occasions. In relation to the cases of the medics, and as I made clear in a statement issued on 15 June, I regard it as a welcome development that nine doctors were acquitted and that a further five had their sentences reduced to terms already served. However, I am very concerned that prison sentences have been imposed on four doctors, including two Irish-trained doctors, arising from events at the Salmaniya Medical Complex in March 2011. I have urged the Bahraini authorities to extend clemency in relation to the cases of these four doctors, given the great concerns and doubts which have surrounded their case from the start and in the wider interests of promoting urgently needed reconciliation within Bahrain. Officials in my Department have received assurances from the Bahraini Ambassador in London that these doctors will not be re-arrested pending any appeal they may make to the Court of Cassation.

I am also following closely the case of the leaders of the Bahrain Teachers Association, whose hearing has been postponed until 8 July. This case has also been raised directly with the Bahraini Ambassador in London. I believe that charges arising from the exercise of such basic rights as freedom of expression or association should be dropped against defendants if there is credible evidence suggesting mistreatment or torture in custody, as in the case of Mahdi Abu Deeb. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture has not received any response to his request for information concerning allegations of Mr Deeb's torture in custody. I would urge the Bahraini authorities to continue their engagement with the Special Rapporteur on Torture and to implement swiftly the recommendations made by the Bahraini Independent Commission of Inquiry in its report last November, particularly the call for effective investigations into allegations of human rights abuses.

I am aware of, and commend, the work that the Bahrain Rehabilitation and Anti Violence Organisation is endeavouring to undertake in providing treatment and counselling for the victims of torture. Officials in my Department met with Dr Nada Dhaif, Chairwoman of the Bahrain Rehabilitation and Anti Violence Organisation, during her recent visit to Ireland. Ireland will continue to encourage Bahrain and all countries in the region to ease restrictions on civil society, as promotion of the role of civil society is fundamental to achieving greater respect for human rights across the region. At Bahrain's Universal Periodic Review in May, Ireland recommended that Bahrain amend any articles of its Penal Code that can be used to prosecute individuals for the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly or association, and that it bring its law in line with international standards established by the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights.

I believe the Bahraini Government should adopt a more positive approach in allowing full access to observers from international human rights organisations who wish to visit Bahrain. However, the key to genuine human rights reform lies with Bahrainis themselves, who should be facilitated in their efforts to develop national human rights organisations which can seek to hold the Government accountable. I again urge swift action to implement in full the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. The Commission made a number of recommendations that would ensure better protection for human rights in Bahrain. The early implementation of these recommendations would help re-build trust between the two communities in Bahrain as part of a process of national reconciliation. I also share the concerns expressed by human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch about the inappropriate use of tear gas resulting in the deaths of protestors. This also underlines the requirement for follow-up to the report of Bahrain's Independent Commission of Inquiry, particularly the need for an extensive programme of public order training for the public security forces.

The only viable path forward for Bahrain is reconciliation and dialogue. A way must be found to chart a new and inclusive future for Bahrain. I urge the Bahraini authorities and the opposition to engage genuinely and meaningfully in a national reconciliation process.

Passport Applications

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

56 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the reason for withdrawal of passport from a person (details supplied) in County Carlow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31449/12]

Entitlement to Irish citizenship is governed by the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended (the Act). Section 6A of the Act provides that persons born in the State on or after 1 January, 2005, where neither parent is an Irish or a British citizen or otherwise entitled to reside in the State or Northern Ireland without restriction, may claim citizenship by birth in the State (and thereby establish eligibility for a passport) only where the parent has been lawfully resident in the State for three of the four years preceding their birth. The person in question was born in the State on 27 October, 2005. At the time of this person's birth, her mother was a Dutch national. Section 6B(2) of the Act makes particular provision for parents from EU Member States whereby such nationals may make a declaration in a prescribed form concerning their residence in the island of Ireland within the four years immediately preceding the birth of their children. This declaration is supported by the submission of the parent's EU passport and by documentary evidence of that parent's residence in Ireland. That parent will then be regarded as having resided in the island of Ireland for the declared periods for the purposes of section 6A of the Act, unless the contrary is proved.

The person in question was issued a passport in January, 2007. However, the Passport Service subsequently had cause to review the application for the issued passport and determined that the period of the mother's residence in Ireland was insufficient to entitle her daughter to Irish citizenship. Therefore, as the person concerned was not an Irish citizen, the mother was informed that the issue of a passport to her daughter was an error. In a replying letter from the mother's solicitor, dated 20 June, 2007, the Passport Service was advised that the mother had accepted that she did not have the required residence under the Act to demonstrate her daughter's entitlement to Irish citizenship. The Department replied on 22 June, 2007 and advised that as the child was not an Irish citizen, the issued passport would be revoked and invalidated. This was done on 24 July, 2007. A request to return the passport went unheeded until a further passport application on behalf of the person concerned was received recently by the Passport Service. The revoked passport was included with the application.

The current application provides no evidence that would demonstrate a change in regard to the entitlement of the person concerned to Irish citizenship. Accordingly, the Passport Service wrote to the parents on 15 June, 2012 indicating its intention to refuse a passport to their daughter under the terms of the Passports Act, 2008 and the grounds for this decision. They have been given a date of 16 July, 2012 to submit additional information in regard to this proposed decision. To date no reply has been received directly from them in this matter. If no reply is received by the deadline, the applicant will be refused a passport and her application will be cancelled.

Departmental Expenditure

Tom Fleming

Ceist:

57 Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the cost of running the passport service in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and to date in 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31482/12]

An annual revenue/cost statement for Passport Service for the period 2008-2011 is set out below. Figures for 2012 will not be available until the Department's Appropriation Account has been signed after the end of the financial year.

Passport Service — Revenue/Cost Statement 2008-2011

2008

2009

2010

2011

Total Revenue

€29,720,000

€31,687,000

€32,995,000

€35,880,000

Current Expenditure

€37,723,000

€36,245,000

€34,135,000

€31,363,000

Capital Expenditure

€435,000

€467,000

€1,625,000

€295,000

Total Costs*

€38,158,000

€36,712,000

€35,760,000

€31,658,000

*The cost figures do not include the cost of a range of shared services provided to the Passport Service e.g. financial management, human resource management and legal services provided by the Department.

Passport Applications

Tom Fleming

Ceist:

58 Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the total number of passport applications processed in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and to date in 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31509/12]

The total number of passport applications processed for the period 2008 to 24 June 2012 is detailed as follows:

Year

Applications

2008

664,638

2009

642,777

2010

675,324

2011

679,946

2012 — to 24 June

418,406

Passports Applications

Tom Fleming

Ceist:

59 Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade if he will provide a detailed breakdown of the cost of issuing a passport, renewing a passport, replacing a passport and issuing an emergency passport; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31515/12]

The fee for a standard 10-year adult Irish passport, where the application is made through passport express, is €80. A 3 year passport costing €16 is available to infants (children under 3 years of age). Minors (children aged 3 to 17) may obtain a 5 year passport for €26.50. The fee for a standard 10-year adult passport submitted other than through Passport Express is €95. The rate for infants is €31 and €41.50 for minors.

The fee structure remains the same regardless of whether the applicant is a first time applicant, is renewing their passport or has lost their previous passport. In cases where a passport is required urgently (within 5 working days), an additional administrative fee of €55 for adults and €30 in respect of minors is charged. As regards an Emergency Passport booklet, an interim document with limited validity, the full fee of €95 is charged which is subsequently offset against the cost of a full Passport.

Departmental Staff

Simon Harris

Ceist:

60 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the procedures in place to manage sick leave in his Department; the sick leave entitlement in place in his Department; the combined amount of sick days taken by staff in his Department in 2011 and to date in 2012; the financial cost of this sick leave; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31564/12]

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform is responsible for the sick leave regulations and procedures that apply to civil servants. The Deputy will also be aware that, under the Public Service Agreement 2010-2014 ("Croke Park Agreement"), the civil service is committed to achieving a substantial reduction in sick leave absences. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has adopted a proactive approach in this area, including through the following: sick leave and patterns of absence are routinely monitored; individual cases are regularly referred to the Chief Medical Officer for advice; uncertified sick leave limits are strictly adhered to: staff receive written warnings on each occasion where they have taken 5, 6 and 7 days uncertified sick leave in any calendar year and pay is deducted in respect of any uncertified sick leave above 7 days per annum; salary is reduced to 50% where cumulative sick leave absences exceed six months in any a calendar year; salary is discontinued, or paid at pension rate, where sick leave absences exceed twelve months in any period of four years; salary increments are delayed or withheld in full where staff have taken excessive sick leave; sick leave is taken into account in promotion competitions and in the selection of staff for posting abroad; return to work forms are required to be completed by the supervisor and counter-signed by the staff member in respect of all absences due to illness; supervisors are required to hold sick leave review meetings with staff in cases where sick leave is a regular occurrence; subsidised vaccinations against the flu virus are made available to headquarters staff every autumn and; subsidised general medical check-ups are offered to headquarters staff every second year.

Details of the sick leave taken by staff of my Department during 2011 and the first quarter of 2012 are set out in the following table. As no additional staff were employed specifically to cover sick absences there was no actual extra cost involved. However, based on a formula provided by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform the notional cost is also indicated.

Year

Total number of sick days

Number of which were certified by a Doctor

Number of which were uncertified

Notional cost €000s

2011

8,832

7,984

848

1,376

2012 (Q1)

1,809

1,596

213

264

Public Sector Reform

Simon Harris

Ceist:

61 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the tangible results that have been delivered in his Department through the implementation of the Croke Park agreement; the implementation plan in place in his Department to ensure reforms envisaged through this agreement are delivered on; if he is satisfied with the pace of reform in his Department and the agencies under his remit; the further reforms the taxpayer and Irish citizens may expect to witness in the running of his Department and its agencies through the public sector reform agenda; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31579/12]

The Public Service Agreement, 2010-2014 (the "Croke Park" Agreement) provides a framework for public service management and staff to work together to reduce the cost of delivery of public services while also maintaining or improving the quality of those services. An Implementation Body was established to drive the implementation of the Agreement across all sectors and ensure that early, robust and verifiable reforms were secured that would in turn lead to verifiable and sustainable savings in the cost of public service delivery. My Department's initial Action Plan under the Croke Park Agreement was submitted to the Implementation Body in October 2010, followed by a second iteration in early January 2011. The initiatives in the Action Plan, which build on-going reforms in the Department's business processes, are kept under continuous review and have yielded significant savings in the administrative costs of running the Department. These reforms are contributing to the effort to meet the challenge of maintaining the range, quality and geographic scope of the policy, programme management, promotional and frontline citizen services provided by the Department with the reduced resources available.

The Department regularly reports to the Implementation Body, most recently in early May, on progress being made in implementing the actions specified in our Action Plan as well as on savings being achieved. These progress and savings reports are published on the Department's and the Implementation Body's websites. The Deputy will also be aware that the Government recently noted the contents of the Implementation Body's second annual progress report, for Quarter One 2011 to Quarter One 2012, the key conclusions of which included:

that, during the period in question exchequer pay bill savings of €650m were achieved, driven by a reduction of 11,530 in staff numbers;

that the parties to the Agreement had continued to meet their commitments in terms of facilitating further reductions in staff numbers and in the cost of delivering public services as well as staff redeployments across functional boundaries and reconfiguration of organisations and services; and

that industrial peace had been maintained across the public service. Within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, substantial and ongoing savings have been achieved inter alia through overall staffing reductions of approximately 12%, Mission closures in the Holy See, Tehran and Dili, re-grading or suppression of diplomatic posts in various other Missions, negotiated rent reductions, cutbacks in premium overtime payments and increased use of video conferencing technology.

My Department is fully cognisant of the extremely difficult economic and budgetary circumstances facing the State and of the need to introduce further reforms and achieve further savings. Under my direction, it remains fully committed to ensuring that its responsibilities are fulfilled and that the frontline services it provides to the public are delivered as cost-effectively as possible. It is working hard to achieve reforms and savings within the specified timeframes and I am very satisfied with the progress being made in this regard. There are no State bodies under the aegis of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Tax Credits

Joanna Tuffy

Ceist:

62 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Finance if he will give an update on a person’s (details supplied) application for incapacitated child allowance; if this decision can be appealed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31324/12]

The position is that a person can make a claim for Incapacitated Child Tax Credit in accordance with Section 465 of the Taxes Consolidation Act, 1997. The Revenue Commissioners have published an information leaflet, IT18 that outlines the criteria for entitlement to the credit. This information leaflet is available onwww.revenue.ie. I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that an application for the credit has been received from the person concerned. However, some additional information is required to establish if the person in question has an entitlement to the credit. The Revenue Commissioners have written to the person concerned in this regard and, once the information is supplied, a decision will be made on the claim without delay.

Should the Revenue Commissioners consider that the application does not meet the conditions in accordance with Section 465 of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 then the person in question may appeal the decision to the Appeal Commissioner. This is done by giving notice in writing to the person's local Inspector of Taxes within 30 days of the date of the determination by Revenue.

VAT Rates

Brendan Griffin

Ceist:

63 Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Finance if he will consider a reduction on the VAT rate on products in periods of the year that record very low consumer sales; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31360/12]

VAT is governed by the EU VAT Directive, with which Irish VAT law must comply. The VAT Directive provides that the supply of goods and services by taxable persons is subject to VAT at rates specified in the VAT Directive. Member States must apply a standard VAT rate of between 15% and 25% to the majority of economic activity. In Ireland the standard rate is 23%, and under the VAT Directive any reduction in this rate would necessarily apply to all activity at that rate. It is also possible for Member States to apply up to two reduced rates of between 5% and 15% on goods and services as specified in the VAT Directive. Ireland applies two such reduced rates of 9% and 13.5%, however most of the activity at the 13.5% rate applies under a derogation of the VAT Directive that states they must apply at a rate of 12% or more. While it is possible within these rules to reduce the VAT rates for periods of low consumption, such a move would be very costly to the Exchequer and impractical from an administrative point of view.

Banking Sector Regulation

Joanna Tuffy

Ceist:

64 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Finance if he will provide an update on any oversight by the Regulator or other agency in respect of recent delays in processing payments to customers by Ulster Bank; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31362/12]

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

67 Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if he will ensure that measures are put in place to ensure that customer credit records are not adversely affected as a result of recent IT problems experienced by Ulster Bank; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31430/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 64 and 67 together.

I am very conscious of the difficulties that Ulster Bank customers find themselves in. The Central bank has advised me that they have been in contact with Ulster Bank at the highest level to press the bank to resolve the situation as quickly as possible and ensure that customers are treated fairly. The Central Bank's concern is to ensure that all customers are supported and accommodated by the Bank until the system is fully operational again and the Bank has made this clear at a meeting with Ulster Bank senior management. They have emphasised the importance of clear communication and support to consumers. Ulster Bank reiterated its commitment to ensuring access to funds for customers through its branch network and where a customer is in hardship or requires funds they should contact Ulster Bank via the branch network or call centers.

The Central Bank has also advised me that Ulster Bank has committed to ensuring that no customer will be at a financial loss and will provide up-to-date and clear information to customers. However the current focus is to get all transactions processed and following that they will commence the process of refunding customers for any interest or fees and charges that have occurred as a result of this incident. Ulster Bank has also confirmed that it will work with the Irish Credit Bureau to ensure that customer ratings are not impacted. Both the Bank and my officials are getting regular status updates and are closely monitoring the situation to ensure that the situation is resolved as quickly as possible.

Departmental Contracts

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

65 Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Finance the reason banking transaction contracts in Health Service Executive payments are awarded to the subsidiary of a foreign bank than an Irish controlled bank; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31397/12]

I have no function in relation to decisions taken by the Health Service Executive.

Banking Sector Regulation

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

66 Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if he has asked the Central Bank of Ireland if it is satisfied that the commercial banks have adequate business continuity and disaster recovery plans in place in order to protect consumer interests; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31429/12]

S.I. No. 395 of 1992 requires every credit institution to have robust governance arrangements taking into account the technical criteria set out in Annex V to the Capital Requirements Directive (Directive 2006/48/EC). Under Annex V, credit institutions are required to adopt policies and processes to evaluate and manage exposures to operational risk, including low-frequency high-severity events. Contingency and business continuity plans are required to be put in place to ensure a credit institution's ability to operate on an ongoing basis and limit losses in the event of severe business disruption. The supervision of banks with regard to compliance with these requirements is a matter for the Central Bank. The Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Bill 2011 provides for further powers for the Central Bank to require procedures for identifying, monitoring, reporting on and managing risks as well as the procedures, systems and checks to be adopted for banks to meet their obligations to consumers.

Question No. 67 answered with Question No. 64.

European Council Meetings

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

68 Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance if he will provide an update in respect of recent discussions at ECOFIN in relation to a proposed financial transaction tax; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31431/12]

At last week's ECOFIN meeting it became clear that EU-wide unanimity on the Commission's Financial Transactions Tax (FTT) proposal would not be achieved and a number of member states will now seek EU agreement to introduce an FTT on an "enhanced co-operation" basis. Ireland opposes enhanced co-operation in tax matters and will not be one of the enhanced co-operation countries. However, I indicated at the meeting that we would not stand in the way of those countries who wished to introduce an FTT. It is not clear at the moment whether the required number of countries (nine) will agree to enhanced co-operation. We will continue to monitor the issue, in particular to ensure the compatibility of any proposed measure with the internal market and with existing taxes on financial transactions such as our Stamp Duty on transfers of shares in Irish companies.

National Asset Management Agency

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

69 Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance his views on whether the work of the National Asset Management Agency is being undermined by developers attempting to avail of bankruptcy in the UK; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31432/12]

I am advised by NAMA that for a debtor to avail of bankruptcy in any given jurisdiction he/she must first of all establish that jurisdiction as his/her centre of main interest (COMI). The establishment of COMI is a matter for the relevant authorities in the jurisdiction in which bankruptcy is sought. NAMA further advises that in its position as a secured creditor it is generally neutral on the locus of bankruptcy proceedings as long as location does not prejudice the Agency's potential recoveries from the bankruptee.

I am also advised by NAMA that the comparatively shorter duration of bankruptcy in the UK is not a consideration for NAMA as the bankrupt's assets remain in the control of the bankruptcy trustee long after the bankrupt may have been discharged from bankruptcy and any failure to make full disclosure may result in the period of bankruptcy being extended, in the case of the UK beyond the initial one year period. NAMA advises that it is currently challenging the release from bankruptcy in Northern Ireland of one debtor, due to non-cooperation with the bankruptcy trustee.

NAMA advises that its position on the locus of bankruptcy proceedings is partially based on positive on-going engagement with several trustees in bankruptcy of NAMA debtors who have been adjudged bankrupt in the UK. The Agency points out that the bankruptcy regime in the UK is well established, sophisticated and that trustees in bankruptcy under the UK system possess extensive powers to compel production of legal and banking information, on a cross-border basis, from the bankrupt. These powers have been used in bankruptcy cases involving NAMA debtors to uncover significant undeclared assets.

The position of unsecured creditors is fundamentally different. Unsecured creditors, whose claims are subordinate to that of secured creditors, may seek to bolster their position by pursuing bankruptcy proceedings against a debtor. It is worth noting that bankruptcy proceedings are rarely brought by secured creditors and usually in cases of non or lack of full disclosure.

Bank Guarantee Scheme

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

70 Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Finance the discussions, if any, his officials had with the ECB prior to the payment this week of €1.1 billionn to unsecured unguaranteed bondhholders in IBRC; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31433/12]

As the Deputy is aware four senior, unsecured and unguaranteed bonds with a total value of €1.1bn fall due for redemption by IBRC this week. This senior debt, unsecured as it is, is an obligation of the bank and the bank will redeem the bonds as they fall due. Following the redemption of the four bonds this week IBRC will have approximately €160m in unsecured, unguaranteed bonds which are due to be redeemed between now and 2018. The Government has always set out that we would like to see burden sharing on unguaranteed bondholders in Anglo Irish Bank. However, it has been clearly stated that Ireland would not act unilaterally and we would proceed only with the agreement of the European Central Bank and our EU partners.

I set out in Committee last week that the Government has raised this issue with the ECB upon entering Government and I also had a formal meeting with former ECB President Trichet and Commissioner Rehn on 17th September last year to discuss this specific issue. Our European partners have expressed strong reservations about burden sharing for senior bond holders. The position of the ECB and Europe at political level has hardened since March 2011 and when private sector involvement (PSI) was agreed for Greece, the communiqué from the Heads of State and Government which accompanied the agreement stated Greece was unique and that PSI would not apply anywhere else.

The value of the support that we are receiving from our European partners now and in the future outweighs any short term gain from imposing burden sharing on senior bonds in the face of European opposition to such a move. You will also appreciate that there are serious implications for the bank and the State in the event that the bank defaults on repayment of debt. That said however, we still have unfinished business with our partners to find the most cost effective way of resolving IBRC over the long term. The Government's aim is to ensure that the overall cost of resolving IBRC and the costs of resolving the difficulties in the banking sector generally are kept to a minimum. It is also essential that we break the negative feedback loop between banking debt and the sovereign and I will continue to pursue this approach.

Personal Public Service Numbers

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

71 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance if he will regularise the position whereby a person (details supplied) in County Kildare appears to have two PPSs, one recognised by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and the other recognised by the Revenue Commissioners in view of the fact that the confusion may render them ineligible for various entitlements with an approaching deadline; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31464/12]

I have been informed by the Revenue Commissioners that they were aware two PPS numbers were in use but they had been linked in their records. However, the numbers have now been consolidated under the Department of Agriculture number and the Department of Social Protection has been informed of this.

Mortgage Protection Policies

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

72 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance the number of reported incidents whereby insurance companies have refused to honour mortgage protection policies for various reasons in each of the past five years to date; if any particular action is contemplated in such cases [31481/12]

I have been informed by the Financial Services Ombudsman that, since 1 January 2007, his Office has received the following number of complaints in relation to mortgage protection insurance policies:

Year

Total number of complaints received

2007

91

2008

80

2009

129

2010

182

2011

200

2012 (to date)

88

As the Deputy will be aware, the Ombudsman is independent in the carrying out of investigations of complaints from consumers and in his determinations thereon. It would not be appropriate for me to comment on any findings which he has or will issue in regard to this matter. However, if the Ombudsman requests that further action by way of legislation reform is required, I will consider the matter in due course.

Job Assist Scheme

John Lyons

Ceist:

73 Deputy John Lyons asked the Minister for Finance if he will provide a breakdown on the take-up of the Revenue job assist programme by employers; if he will clarify if figures on the number of jobs created under the scheme are available; and if it is possible to provide this information on a constituency or area-specific basis. [31514/12]

Sections 472A and 88A of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 provide tax incentives for both employers and employees, to help the long-term unemployed to return to employment. The relevant information available in relation to the numbers of employees and employers who availed of the Revenue Job Assist scheme for the income tax years 2010 and 2011 respectively, the latest years for which the necessary detailed information is available, is set out in the following table (to the extent that it is available):

Employers

Employees Availing of Revenue Job Assist

Year

Numbers

Numbers

2010

342

650

2011

794

Not Yet Available

An estimated breakdown of the figures on a geographical basis is available on the basis of Revenue tax regions and is set out as follows:

Revenue Region

Numbers of Employees 2010

Dublin

215

East South-East

132

Border Midlands West

137

South West

119

Other/Unidentified

4

Total

606

Revenue Region

Numbers of Employees 2011

Dublin

275

East South-East

146

Border Midlands West

132

South West

134

Other/Unidentified

107

Total

794

*While the tax affairs of some employers are dealt with in the Large Cases Division the tax affairs of their employees are dealt with in other Revenue regions.

It should be noted that the region associated with an employee is the region in which wages and salaries are paid by the employer even though the employee may work or reside elsewhere. The information relating to the breakdown of employees by Revenue tax regions is based on income returns contained in Revenue records at the time the data were compiled for analytical purposes, representing approximately 93% of all returns expected. These are lower than the total figures provided in the earlier part of this reply because the latter, in accordance with normal practice, are grossed-up at aggregate level to adjust for the perceived level of incompleteness.

Departmental Staff

Simon Harris

Ceist:

74 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Finance the procedures in place to manage sick leave in his Department; the sick leave entitlement in place in his Department; the combined amount of sick days taken by staff in his Department in 2011 and to date in 2012; the financial cost of this sick leave; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31563/12]

The management of sick leave is taken most seriously in my Department, and the procedures in place, and entitlements to sick leave (including the applicable limits), are as set out in my Department's Circular 09/2010 — Management of Sick Leave. Sick leave absences and any patterns emerging are monitored and analysed through my Department's Human Resources Management System (HRMS), using standardised reporting tools that are utilised across the entire civil service. As per the guidelines in Circular 09/2010, local managers are supported by Human Resources (HR) to hold regular sick leave review meetings with staff as required, as well as resumption of work meetings with staff following longer-term sick absence(s). All long-term sick leave cases, i.e. absences greater than four weeks, are automatically referred to the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for advice on how to proceed with the management of these cases. The services of the newly re-organised Employee Assistance Service are also available to all staff of my Department to assist them with any medical (or related issues) for which they may require support.

Reports on the financial cost of sick leave are run bi-annually from my Department's HRMS, and in 2011, there were 2,030 sick days recorded, at a cost of €362,701. The relevant information for the first half of 2012 will be available shortly, and these figures will be forwarded directly to the Deputy by my Department, as soon as they are to hand.

Public Sector Reform

Simon Harris

Ceist:

75 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Finance the tangible results that have been delivered in his Department through the implementation of the Croke Park agreement; the implementation plan in place in his Department to ensure reforms envisaged through this agreement are delivered on; if he is satisfied with the pace of reform in his Department and the agencies under his remit; the further reforms the taxpayer and Irish citizens may expect to witness in the running of his Department and its agencies through the public sector reform agenda; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31578/12]

The Integrated Progress Report on the Action Plan for my Department and its agencies under the Croke Park Agreement is available onwww.finance.gov.ie. It outlines the summary of main progress achieved in the 12 month period 1 April 2011 to 31 March 2012 among them being the appointment of a new Secretary General in March 2012. Following this appointment, the Department was restructured.

As set out in the Statement of Strategy: "As a result, during 2012 and 2013, we will actively engage in a threefold action plan. This will firstly involve training our existing teams so that they can develop greater technical, management and leadership skills necessary to the challenge. Using the performance management evaluation system, we will review our staff and identify any skills which need enhancing so as to use the training resources most effectively. We will challenge and acknowledge the efforts of our key performing staff by further developing their skills and add to the value they contribute to the Department. In parallel, we will be adding to our teams to supplement our skills base where gaps are identified. This will also be necessary for succession planning for the work of future generations of our department."

The addition of any new staff will occur through a combination of employment via open competition and the secondment of staff from other areas of the Civil/Public Service and private sector.

State Examinations

Robert Dowds

Ceist:

76 Deputy Robert Dowds asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will consider permitting fifth year students to sit the leaving certificate ordinary level maths paper and allowing them to take the higher level paper in sixth year if they so wish, in order to encourage students concerned about the necessity of having at least a pass grade in maths for entry to third level courses to take the higher level paper without the worry that a failure in that exam will bar them from entry to third level courses. [31282/12]

This matter has been raised on a number of occasions. The considered response of my Department and the State Examinations Commission is that this proposal would lead to an unsound educational experience for students. The Ordinary Level syllabus and Higher Level syllabus are both designed to be covered over a two year period. It would be a considerable challenge to encourage those who followed an Ordinary Level syllabus in the first year of the cycle to take Higher Level in the second year. There is a strong risk they would not take Mathematics at all in the second year. By the time these students reach further studies, they could have had an entire year without any Mathematics at all and would therefore be in a worse position than they had been a year earlier.

Special Educational Needs

Seán Crowe

Ceist:

77 Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will provide a list of the 2012-13 resource teachers and special needs assistant posts allocations and the schools they have been allocated to in the Dublin 1, 3, 5, 7 and 9 areas. [31296/12]

I wish to advise the Deputy that the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is responsible, through its network of local Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs), for processing applications from schools for special educational needs supports including Resource Teaching and Special Needs Assistant (SNA) support, to support children with special educational needs. The NCSE operates within my Department's established criteria for the allocation of such supports and the budgetary and staffing resources available to my Department.

SENOs are currently notifying schools of their Resource Teaching and SNA allocations for 2012/13, based on the number of valid applications received and, in the case of SNA support, the extent of the care needs of qualifying children.

The NCSE has published information in relation to resource teaching and SNA allocations on a county by county and school by school basis on its websitewww.ncse.ie. The information requested by the Deputy in relation to is therefore available on the NCSE website.

School Staffing

Ciaran Lynch

Ceist:

78 Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for Education and Skills when a decision will be made regarding the appointment of a concessionary post to a school (details supplied) in County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31313/12]

The school referred to by the Deputy submitted an appeal to the Primary Staffing Appeals Board which was considered by the board at its meeting on 14 June. All appeals submitted to the Primary Staffing Appeal Board were considered in accordance with the published appeals criteria set out in my Department's Staffing Circular 0007/2012 which is available on the website. The board sough further information in the case of this school. This information has now been provided and the school will be informed of the outcome of the appeal as soon as it is available.

The Appeals Board operates independently of the Department and its decision is final.

Appointments to State Boards

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

79 Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will outline the appointments he has made to State boards and agencies under his remit; the process involved in such appointments; if any appointees were required to appear before the relevant Oireachtas Committee; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31355/12]

The attached document provides the relevant details of all appointments (and re-appointments) made to bodies under the aegis of my Department since my appointment as Minister on 9 of March, 2011

The Deputy should note that, in accordance with Government policy, expressions of interest have been sought through the Public Appointments Service (PAS) from suitably qualified and experienced persons for consideration for appointment to the following boards of Bodies operating under the aegis of my Department: Leárgas Ltd — The Exchange Bureau in December 2011; The Higher Education Authority in December 2011; The Qualifications and Quality Assurance Authority of Ireland (to be newly established) in December 2011; The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) in February 2012; The State Examinations Commission (SEC) in February 2012; The Teaching Council in February 2012

In making any direct Ministerial appointments, I am not necessarily confined to those who make such expressions of interest but will ensure that all of those appointed have the relevant skills and competencies for the positions.

As the Deputy will be aware the government has taken a number of decisions relating to the appointment of members to State Boards. One such decision is that individuals who are being proposed for appointment as chairpersons of State boards will be required to make themselves available to the relevant Oireachtas committee to discuss the approach they will take as chairperson and their views about the future contribution of the body or board in question. My Department has provided the names of recently appointed chairpersons to the Joint Committee on Social Protection and Education in this respect.

Breakdown of appointments since March 2011

Agency Name

Number Appointments/re-appointments

Names

Notes

Education Finance Board

2 re-appointments7 appointments

Mr. Sean Benton (Chairperson)Mr. Peter OrmondMr. Stephen McCarthyMs Norah GibbonsMs Inez BaileyMs Bernadette FahyMs Marian DunningtonMr. James QuinnMs Dolores Rooney

This Board is effectively a caretaker board which will serve for a number of months pending the establishment of the Statutory Fund. It is envisaged that the new Fund will assume the functions of the Board and the Board will be dissolved when the fund is set up. Mr. Ormond and Ms Fahy are re-appointments.

Foras Áiseanna Saothair

1 appointment

Mr. Michael Moriarty

Mr. Moriarty, who is General Secretary of the IVEA, was appointed in July 2011 because of his expertise in the area of Vocational Education which will be particularly useful in the context of the future integration of the FÁS training division and the VECs and the creation of SOLAS, the new further education and training authority.

Further Education and Training Awards Council (FETAC)

11 re-appointments (See Note 1)

Mr. Donal O’Rourke (Chairperson)Dr. Padraig WalshMs Margaret O’ConnellMr. Rory O’SullivanMr. Joseph O’LearyMs Deirdre KeyesMs Bridie DalyMs Margaret MernaghMr. John MulcahyMr. Tony PetitMs. Shira Mehiman

As FETAC’s term of office expired in December 2011, and to meet with statutory obligations, eligible members of the outgoing Board were re-appointed to the Board until such time as the new QQAAI is established. All 11 re-appointed in December 2011.

Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC)

2 appointments8 re-appointments (See Note 1)

Dr. Maria Hinfelaar (1st appointed 9/6/2011)Mr. Aengus Ó Maoláin (1st appointed 1/7/2011)Prof. Séamus Smyth (Chairperson)Dr. Finola Doyle-O’NeillDr. Marion PalmerDr. Íde Ní FhaoláinMs Mary Mc GlynnDr. Diarmuid O’Callaghan

As HETAC’s term of office expired in December 2011, and to meet with statutory obligations, eligible members of the outgoing Board were re-appointed to the Board until such time as the new QQAAI (see note 1) is established. All 8 re-appointed on 21st December 2011.

Higher Education Authority

7 appointments3 re-appointments

Mr Gary Redmond (President USI)Prof. Anthony StainesMs Siobhan HarkinMr. Gordan RyanMs Kathleen Lough(re-appointed)Mr. Paddy CosgraveDr. Brian ThornesDr. Mary Canning (re-appointed)Mr. Bahram BekheradniaDr. Jim Mountjoy

Mr. Redmond was re-appointed in July 2011 by virtue of hisre-appointment as President of the USI. All other members appointed by Government on 6th March 2012.

Irish Research Council

12 appointments

Dr. David Lloyd (Chair)Prof. John BrewerMr. Ivan CoulterProf. Anita MaguireProf. Orla FeelyProf. Alan SmeatonDr. Thomas CooneyProf. Caroline FennellProf. Rowena PeccheninoProf. Sheila GreeneProf. Sean RyderDr. Eucharia Meehan

The two councils IRCHSS and IRCSET were stood down on the 18th of March 2012 and a new body the Irish Research Council (IRC) came into being on the 19th March 2012.

Léargas

7 appointments 1 re-appointments

Mr Michael McLoughlin (Chair)Ms Fidelma CollinsMr Hugh MacConvilleMr Stephen GouldingMs Gillian BoyleMs Geraldine SkellyMr Cormac DoranMs Catherine Hazlett

Ms Geraldine Skelly was reappointed to the board in May 2012, Mr Cormac Doran and Ms Catherine Hazlett were appointed to the board in May 2012 and all others were appointed on the 12th June 2012.

National Council for Curriculumand Assessment

25 appointments

Brigid McManus (Chairperson)Declan Kellehen, (Vice Chairperson)Michael Redmond (Vice Chairperson)Clive ByrneDeirbhile Nic CraithMarie GriffinNóirín HayesChristina HenehanPhilip IrwinBernie JudgeDr. Daire KeoghMarie Therese KilmartinMary LillisPádraig MacFhlannchadhaDr. Rose MaloneHilary McBainPatricia McCrossanDr. Kara McGannJim MooreMichael O’BrienSeán Ó CoinnBryan O’ReillySr. Betty O’RiordanBríd Uí RiordánEileen Salmon

All 25 members of the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment were appointed on the 1st of April 2012

National Council for Special Education

1 appointment

Ms. Maureen Costello

Director of the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) appointed in September 2011.

National Qualifications Authority of Ireland

1 appointment5 re-appointments(See Note 1)

Mr. Gary Redmond (1st appointed 24/6/2011)Prof. Anne ScottMs Marie BourkeMr. Eamon DevoyMs Audry DeaneMr. Tony Donohue

All re-appointed on 31st March 2011 with exception of Mr. Redmond.

State Examinations Commission

5 Appointments

Mr. Richard Langford (Chair)Mr. Joe Harrison (Deputy Chair)Mr. Martin CarneyDr. Brian FlemingDr. Caroline Hussey

Mr. Langford and Mr. Harrison were appointed to the board on the 3rd of April 2012, all others appointed on the 1st of May 2012

Skillnets Ltd

1

Mr. Mícheál Ó Fiannachta

A Departmental official appointed in June 2011.

State Examinations

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

80 Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Education and Skills the number of retired teachers employed as superintendents in this year’s State examinations; the number of retired teachers employed to conduct the oral examinations; the number of retired teachers employed to correct examination papers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31356/12]

The State Examinations Commission has statutory responsibility for operational matters relating to the certificate examinations. This includes the employment of superintendents for the examinations. In view of this I have forwarded your query to the State Examinations Commission for direct reply to you.

Psychological Assessments

Marcella Corcoran Kennedy

Ceist:

81 Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy asked the Minister for Education and Skills when a child (details supplied) in County Offaly will receive a psychological assessment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31359/12]

I can inform the Deputy that all primary and post primary schools have access to psychological assessments either directly through my Department's National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) or through the Scheme for Commissioning Psychological Assessments (SCPA) which is administered by NEPS.

NEPS in common with other psychological services encourages a staged assessment process whereby each school takes responsibility for initial assessment, educational planning and remedial intervention, in consultation with their assigned NEPS psychologist. Only if there is a failure to make reasonable progress in spite of the school's best efforts, will a child be referred for individual psychological assessment. This system allows the psychologists to give early attention to urgent cases and also to help many more children indirectly than could be seen individually.

Children who manifest very special or urgent needs in school and who have not been previously assessed by a psychologist and are brought to the attention of a NEPS psychologist by the Principal teacher will usually be assessed by the psychologist within that school term. Normally, principals of schools prioritise those children in need of psychological assessment in consultation with the assigned psychologist.

I have made enquiries in regard to the pupil mentioned in your question and can confirm that the School Principal is aware of the students situation, as is the NEPS psychologist assigned to the school. The child benefits currently from learning support provided in the school and has been and is the subject of an assessment of need under the Disability Act. I understand also that further action is being pursued with local HSE services in this regard and following resolution of these demands the question of the relevance or appropriateness of an educational psychological assessment can be consider by the school in conjunction with the parents and assigned NEPS psychologist.

Should the parents of the child have any questions or concerns in this regard I would advise that they raise them with the School Principal in the first instance. Should school authorities have specific difficulties with regard any of the foregoing I would suggest that they should contact the assigned NEPS psychologist or relevant local NEPS Regional Director (in this instance NEPS Mullingar Office Tel: 044-9337023) to discuss the matter.

School Staffing

Dan Neville

Ceist:

82 Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for Education and Skills the position regarding an application for payment of compassionate gratuity in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Limerick; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31408/12]

The person referred to by the Deputy was an employee of the Board of Management of the Limerick Model School. The Board of Management has made an application, under the terms of the Superannuation Act 1887, seeking to award the individual concerned a gratuity payment on retirement. My officials, in consultation with officials of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, are currently considering this application. A response will issue to the Board of Management in due course.

Special Educational Needs

Dan Neville

Ceist:

83 Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will approve a special needs assistant in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Limerick. [31419/12]

I wish to advise the Deputy that the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) is responsible, through its network of local Special Educational Needs Organisers (SENOs), for processing applications from schools for special educational needs supports including resource teaching and Special Needs Assistant (SNA) support, to support children with special educational needs. The NCSE operates within my Department's established criteria for the allocation of such supports and the staffing resources available to my Department.

All schools had been advised to apply to the NCSE for resource teaching and SNA support for the 2012/13 school year by 16th March, 2012 and schools are currently being notified by SENOs of their resource teaching and SNA allocation for 2012/13, based on the number of valid applications received and, in the case of SNA support, the extent of the care needs of qualifying children.

SNAs should be deployed by schools in a manner which best meets the care support requirements of the children enrolled in the school for whom SNA support has been allocated. It is a matter for schools to allocate support as required, and on the basis of individual need, which allows schools flexibility in how the SNA support is utilised.

All schools have the names and contact details of their local SENO. Parents may also contact their local SENO directly to discuss their child's special educational needs, using the contact details available onwww.ncse.ie.

Higher Education Grants

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

84 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Skills if consideration will be given to a late application for a higher education grant in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31450/12]

The decision on eligibility for grant assistance under the student grant scheme is a matter for the relevant grant awarding authority, i.e. local authority or Vocational Education Committee. It is a matter for each grant awarding authority to determine at its own absolute discretion whether or not to accept a late application. As this is a matter between the applicant and the grant awarding authority concerned, any queries in relation to the student's grant application, correspondence issued to the applicant or outstanding documentation should be directed to the relevant VEC.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

85 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Skills if persons (details supplied) in County Kildare qualify for higher education grants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31451/12]

The decision on eligibility for a student grant is a matter for the relevant grant awarding authority. The Deputy will appreciate that in the absence of all of the relevant details that would be contained in an individual's application form, including those relating to nationality, it would not be possible for me to say whether or not a student would qualify for a grant. The nationality requirements for the student grant scheme are set out in section 14 of the Student Support Act 2011 and regulation 5 of the Student Support Regulations 2012.It is the student, and not his/her parents, that must meet the nationality requirements in their own right to qualify for a student grant.

Schools Building Projects

Brendan Ryan

Ceist:

86 Deputy Brendan Ryan asked the Minister for Education and Skills the position regarding the building application for a school (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31496/12]

The major building project for the school referred to by the Deputy is at an early stage of architectural planning. The Design Team are currently working on the Stage 2a Submission (Developed Sketch Design) and, when complete, the school will forward this submission to my Department for review. Assuming no issues arise, the project will then proceed to stage 2(b) which includes planning permission and the preparation of tender documents.

Due to the financial constraints imposed by the need to prioritise the limited funding available for the provision of additional school accommodation to meet increasing demographic requirements it has not been possible to advance all school building projects concurrently. The project referred to by the Deputy was not included in the five year construction programme announced in March.

Schools which have not been included in five year construction programme will continue to be progressed to final planning stages in anticipation of the possibility of further funds being available to the Department in future years.

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

87 Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Skills his plans to provide accommodation for a new school (details supplied) in County Meath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31503/12]

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

88 Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Skills when planning permission was applied for a school (details supplied) in County Meath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31504/12]

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

89 Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Skills when it was first decided to proceed with building a new school (details supplied) in County Meath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31505/12]

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

90 Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Skills his contingency plans in the event of planning permission for a school (details supplied) in County Meath being refused or delayed; the other schools and organisations he has contacted in relation to same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31506/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 87 to 90, inclusive, together.

In March 2011 approval was given for a number of new primary schools to commence operation in September 2011 and 2012 to cater for demographic needs. Approval was granted for two new primary schools in Ashbourne; one under the patronage of An Foras Pátrúnachta to commence operation in September 2011, and the second under the patronage of the patron referred to by the Deputy to commence operation in September 2012.

My Department is working closely with the Patron and Meath County Council in relation to ensuring that appropriate temporary accommodation required for September 2012 is in place.

My Department has also sought the assistance of, and is working closely with, the relevant Local Authority in relation to identifying and acquiring a suitable permanent site for the school referred to by the Deputy. However, due to commercial sensivities attaching to site acquisitions generally, I am not in a position to comment further at this time.

Schools Refurbishment

Tom Fleming

Ceist:

91 Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Minister for Education and Skills the schools in County Kerry that have been approved for works to be carried out under the summer works scheme programme, the works that will be carried out at each school; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31518/12]

As the Deputy is aware, the Government's Medium Term Infrastructure and Capital Investment Framework, which was published on 10th November last, sets out the demographic challenge facing the education system. Total enrolment in both primary and post-primary schools is expected to grow by almost 70,000 between now and 2018 — over 45,000 at primary level and 25,000 at post primary — and will continue to grow up to at least 2024 at post-primary.

In view of the need to ensure that every child has access to a school place, the delivery of major school projects to meet future demographic demands nationally will be the main focus for capital investment in schools in the coming years. The five year programme announced on 12 March last is focused on meeting those demographic needs.

In the context, therefore, of the financial constraints imposed by the need to prioritise available funding for the provision of essential school accommodation, it is not possible for me to advance with a summer works programme this year.

Higher Education Grants

Michael McGrath

Ceist:

92 Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Skills if his attention has been drawn to the difficulties that self-employed persons are having with regard to the new student grant system in view of the fact that they are required to produce accounts for the 2011 calendar year for the purposes of the grant scheme even though many of them would not be due to complete these accounts until later in the year; the action they should take in this instance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31521/12]

The new online grant application system has not changed the basis on which the income of self employed persons is determined.

In the case where an accounting year end differs from the tax year, the income shown in the business accounts for a year which ends between 1 January 2011 and 31 December 2011 is acceptable for the purposes of the Student Grant Scheme.

This is the basis on which income was determined in previous years and is the same as used by the Revenue Commissioners to compute income for the tax year.

School Staffing

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

93 Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Education and Skills the position regarding an appeal in respect of a school (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31541/12]

All appeals submitted to the Primary Staffing Appeal Board were considered in accordance with the published appeals criteria set out in my Department's Staffing Circular 0007/2012. The school referred to by the Deputy submitted an appeal which was considered at the April meeting of the Primary Staffing Appeals Board. That appeal was unsuccessful on the basis that the school did not meet the published appeal criteria and the school management was notified accordingly.

The school submitted a further appeal under a separate criterion for the June meeting of the Appeals Board. The Board deferred a decision on the appeal at it's meeting on 14 June to the October meeting when confirmation of the enrolment projected by the school for 30 September 2012 will be available.

The Appeal Board operates independently of the Department and its decision is final.

School Patronage

Simon Harris

Ceist:

94 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Education and Skills when he expects a decision to be made in relation to the patronage of a new second level school at a location (details supplied) in County Wicklow, the criteria for deciding such patronage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31551/12]

The assessment of the applications received for patronage of new second level schools, including in the area referred to, is being finalised and it is expected that the New Schools Establishment Group will be in a position shortly to make recommendations to me for consideration and final decision.

Special Educational Needs

Simon Harris

Ceist:

95 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will provide details of the National Council for Special Education’s review of the policies relating to special educational needs here; when he expects to receive this review; if he will ensure structures are in place for parents of children with special educational needs to input into this important review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31552/12]

The Deputy may be aware that the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) has a formal role under the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act 2004 to advise me as Minister in relation to any matter relating to the education of children and others with disabilities.

It is my intention that the significant resources to support children with Special Educational Needs are deployed to ensure the best possible outcomes for students.

I have therefore asked the NCSE to provide me with comprehensive advice on how the educational system currently places and supports children with special educational needs in schools. This advice will include: — the identification and assessment of children with special needs- the nature of supports provided for children- the way in which supports are allocated to schools and — how these supports are configured.

The NCSE has advised my Department that representative groups including parent representatives have been consulted as part of the development of this policy advice. The advice is expected early in 2013.

Schools Building Projects

Noel Grealish

Ceist:

96 Deputy Noel Grealish asked the Minister for Education and Skills if he will outline all current projects on the 2012 schools building projects list; the current status of each project on the list; the amount of money that has been spent in 2012 on each project; the total monetary commitment for each project; if all projects under the 2012 school building projects list are under construction; if he will provide a timeframe for commencement and completion of each of the projects; if all the projects will go ahead, and if not, the reason for same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31555/12]

On the 19th of December 2011 I announced details of 56 major school building projects planned to advance to construction in 2012. A further 60 schools under construction at that time also form part of the 2012 building programme. These projects are part of a €430m education infrastructure plan for 2012 and represent the first phase of a €2 billion five-year plan.

Of the 116 schools included on the 2012 building programme, 8 schools will be delivered by Public Private Partnership (PPP). A preferred tenderer was appointed in September 2011 following which planning applications were made and subsequently granted. It is anticipated that a contract for the construction of the entire bundle of 8 schools will be awarded in the coming months. Details of the current status of the remaining 108 schools are regularly updated and available under the School Planning/Building section of my Department's website atwww.education.ie. With regard to your request for details of the “amount of money that has been spent in 2012 on each project” and the “monetary commitment for each project”, you will appreciate that it would be inappropriate to release such commercially sensitive information. To do so would not be in the public interest as it would undermine current and future tender competitions. However, I can confirm that for 2012 a total of €209m was allocated to major school projects of which €105m has been expended to date.

Departmental Staff

Simon Harris

Ceist:

97 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Education and Skills the procedures in place to manage sick leave in his Department; the sick leave entitlement in place in his Department; the combined amount of sick days taken by staff in his Department in 2011 and to date in 2012; the financial cost of this sick leave; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31561/12]

Over the last number of years my Department has introduced various measures to both monitor and manage sick leave. Since 2010 when an officer returns to work from a period of sick leave a return to work form must be completed by their immediate line manager and where necessary a return to work meeting is held. These forms are returned to Personnel Section and held on the individuals personnel file. Personnel Section closely monitors the forms being returned and if a pattern persists further action is taken.

Since late 2011, sick leave statistics are presented to the Management Advisory Committee (MAC) of my Department on a quarterly basis. Further statistical sick leave information is also being disseminated to individual Principal Offers/Managers in respect of their areas of responsibility.

Other measures currently in place to manage sick leave:

Absences of more than two days must be accompanied by a medical certificate and where appropriate the relevant Department of Social Protection certificates;

All absences in excess of four weeks are automatically referred to the Chief Medical Officer (CMO);

Most long term absences have a further referral to the CMO after three months;

Personnel closely monitor cases where patterns have been identified;

Employee Assistance Service offered extensively;

One to one meeting with the Personnel Officer.

The Department of Finance circular 25/78 governs the conditions that apply to sick leave for officials within the Civil Service. Under these conditions an official can at most take 7 uncertified sick days with pay within a 12 month period. However, my Department has a policy that in the event an official incurs 5 days uncertified, that a letter issues to the person concerned and reminds them of the conditions governing sick leave and the implications it can have in relation to the award of salary increments and promotion.

Since 2010, my Department makes a biannual sick leave return to the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform outlining the sick leave taken by staff in the Department and the cost of same. The two returns for 2011 follow. However, the return for the six months to June 2012 has not yet been compiled. I will have the return forwarded to the Deputy once it is available.

Sick Leave Return Department of Education and Skills — 6 months to June 2011

Standard Framework for Reporting on Sickness Absence

Sick Days

Description of Calculations

Calculations

(A) No. of sick days

Total no. of days lost to sick absence

7,864.01

Average no. of sick days per FTE1

(A) divided by the total no. of FTEs

6.17

No. of sick days per employee who availed of sick leave

(A) divided by the total no of employees reported as availing of sick leave

10.74

Average no. of sick days per employee

(A) divided by the total no. of employees serving

5.79

(B) No. of certified sick days

(A) marked as certified sick leave

7,214

(C) No. of uncertified sick days

(A) self reported by officers

650.01

Lost time rate

(A) divided by the total no. of days in a standard working year (multiplied by number of FTEs) and represented as a percentage

5.61%

Instances

(D) Total no. of instances

1, 528.00

No. of instances per employee

(D) divided by total no. of employees serving

1.12

Average no. of instances per FTE

(D) divided by total no. of FTEs

1.13

Average length of each instance

(A) divided by (D)

5.46

(E) No. of certified instances

1,103

Average length of each certified instance

(B) divided by (E)

6.54

(F) No. of uncertified instances

425

Average length of uncertified sick instance (days)

(C) divided by (F)

1.52

Cost of Absences

Overall cost of absences

€1,021,770

Cost of certified absences

€937,315

Cost of uncertified absences

€84,455

1Full-time equivalent employees.

Sick Leave Return Department of Education and; Skills — 6 months to December 2011

Standard Framework for Reporting on Sickness Absence

Sick Days

Description of Calculations

Calculations

(A) No. of sick days

Total no. of days lost to sick absence

7,618.1

Average no. of sick days per FTE2

(A) divided by the total no. of FTEs

6.07

No. of sick days per employee who availed of sick leave

(A) divided by the total no of employees reported as availing of sick leave

11.39

Average no. of sick days per employee

(A) divided by the total no. of employees serving

5.72

(B) No. of certified sick days

(A) marked as certified sick leave

7,047.46

( C )No. of uncertified sick days

(A) self reported by officers

570.64

Lost time rate

(A) divided by the total no. of days in a standard working year (multiplied by number of FTEs) and represented as a percentage

5.52%

Instances

(D) Total no. of instances

1,351

No. of instances per employee

(D) divided by total no. of employees serving

1.01

Average no. of instances per FTE

(D) divided by total no. of FTEs

1.08

Average length of each instance

(A) divided by (D)

5.64

(E) No. of certified instances

876

Average length of each certified instance

(B) divided by (E)

8.05

(F) No. of uncertified instances

475

Average length of uncertified sick instance (days)

(C) divided by (F)

1.20

Cost of Absences

Overall cost of absences

€932,531.62

Cost of certified absences

€862,679.58

Cost of uncertified absences

€69,852.04

22 Full-time equivalent employees.

Public Sector Reform

Simon Harris

Ceist:

98 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Education and Skills the tangible results that have been delivered in his Department through the implementation of the Croke Park agreement; the implementation plan in place in his Department to ensure reforms envisaged through this agreement are delivered on; if he is satisfied with the pace of reform in his Department and the agencies under his remit; the further reforms the taxpayer and Irish citizens may expect to witness in the running of his Department and its agencies through the public sector reform agenda; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31576/12]

The Implementation Body published its second review of the Public Service (Croke Park) Agreement on 13 June 2012 which reviewed progress made and savings achieved during the second year of the Agreement. A copy of this review is available on the Implementation Body websitewww.implementationbody.gov.ie. The first review of the Public Service Agreement was published in June 2011 and is also available on the Implementation Body website. These 2 reviews contain details of the tangible results that have been delivered in the Education sector under the Public Service Agreement.

A revised Action Plan for 2012 for implementation of the Public Service Agreement in the Education Sector has been signed off on by the Implementation Body and is also available on the Implementation Body website. This contains specific details of the measures to be implemented in the Education sector and also specific timeframes for the delivery of those measures.

Ministerial Staff

Joanna Tuffy

Ceist:

99 Deputy Joanna Tuffy asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform regarding reports that Government advisers and press staff have or are due to receive increments the reason those political appointees to Government positions who are on temporary contracts, including those for whom the pay cap was breached, are treated differently from the elected Members of the Oireachtas for whom increments were abolished in 2007; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31537/12]

There is no direct link between the pay and duties of Special Advisers and that of members of the Oireachtas. Elected members of the Dáil are on a single rate of pay equivalent to the maximum point of the incremental scale applicable to the Principal Officer standard scale. The pay for Special Advisers is based on the Principal Officer standard scale of the civil service. This was deemed by the Government to be the appropriate pay level for Special Advisers.

The Guidelines on the Staffing of Ministerial Offices recommend that appointment as Special Adviser be at the minimum of the scale (€80,051), but exceptions have been made where there has been evidence of higher earnings in the previous employment and where a business case was made to secure the appointment of an individual with particular skills and expertise. The Principal Officer standard scale is an incremental scale and the Guidelines provide that where a Special Adviser is placed on a salary point below the maximum of the scale he or she may be paid an annual increment until the maximum of that scale is reached.

Departmental Staff

Simon Harris

Ceist:

100 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the procedures in place to manage sick leave in his Department; the sick leave entitlement in place in his Department; the combined amount of sick days taken by staff in his Department in 2011 and to date in 2012; the financial cost of this sick leave; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31568/12]

The management of sick leave is taken most seriously in my Department, and the procedures in place, and entitlements to sick leave (including the applicable limits) are set out in the Department of Finance Circular 09/2010 — Management of Sick Leave.

Sick leave absences and any patterns emerging are monitored and analysed through my Department's Human Resources Management System (HRMS), using standardised reporting tools that are utilised across the entire civil service. As per the guidelines in Circular 09/2010, local managers are supported by Human Resources (HR) to hold regular sick leave review meetings with staff as required as well as resumption of work meetings with staff following longer-term sick absence(s). All long — term sick leave cases, i.e. absences greater than four weeks, are automatically referred to the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for advice on how to proceed with the management of these cases. The services of the newly reorganised Employee Assistance Service are also available to all staff in my Department to assist them with any medical (or related issues) for which they may require support.

Reports on the financial cost of sick leave are run biannually from my Department's HRMS. My Department was established in July 2011 and in the period July 2011-December 2011, 419 sick days have been recorded at a cost of €76,928. The relevant information for the first half of 2012 will be available shortly, and these figures will be forwarded to the Deputy from my Department as soon as they are to hand.

Public Sector Reform

Simon Harris

Ceist:

101 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the tangible results that have been delivered in his Department through the implementation of the Croke Park Agreement; the implementation plan in place in his Department to ensure reforms envisaged through this agreement are delivered on; if he is satisfied with the pace of reform in his Department and the agencies under his remit; the further reforms the taxpayer and Irish citizens may expect to witness in the running of his Department and its agencies through the public sector reform agenda; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31583/12]

I wish to refer the Deputy to the detailed progress report on my Department's Action Plan under the Public Service Agreement 2012-2014 (Croke Park Agreement) published on my Department's website (www.per.gov.ie). My Department was established on 6 July 2011 and I am pleased to say that in the areas of better human resource management, better business processes and delivering for the citizen tangible progress has already been achieved in many areas and in the case of others work is underway to deliver in accordance with the Plan.

Departmental Staff

Simon Harris

Ceist:

102 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the procedures in place to manage sick leave in his Department; the sick leave entitlement in place in his Department; the combined amount of sick days taken by staff in his Department in 2011 and to date in 2012; the financial cost of this sick leave; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31566/12]

My Department introduced an Attendance Management Policy in March 2011. The policy is based on Department of Finance Circular 09/2010 on the Management of Sick Leave. It sets out clear procedures for reporting, recording and management of sick leave and is intended to help managers adopt best practice approaches to attendance management. It seeks to encourage excellent attendance while clearly acknowledging the need for staff to take sick leave when unwell.

The granting of sick leave and whether it is with or without pay is a matter for the Department. In accordance with the Sick Leave regulations staff members may be granted up to 7 days uncertified sick leave in a twelve month period. Full pay may be allowed up to a maximum of six months in one year and half pay thereafter subject to a maximum of twelve months sick leave in any period of four years. Where sick leave with pay is exhausted a staff member may be granted sick leave with pension rate of pay subject to the condition that there is a reasonable prospect of resumption of duty with ability to render efficient service.

A total of 9,723 person days sick leave was taken by staff in my Department in 2011 at a cost of €1,398,863. In the first quarter of 2012 staff of my Department took a total of 2,454 person days sick leave at a cost of €394,358.

Public Sector Reform

Simon Harris

Ceist:

103 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation the tangible results that have been delivered in his Department through the implementation of the Croke Park agreement; the implementation plan in place in his Department to ensure reforms envisaged through this agreement are delivered on; if he is satisfied with the pace of reform in his Department and the agencies under his remit; the further reforms the taxpayer and Irish citizens may expect to witness in the running of his Department and its agencies through the public sector reform agenda; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31581/12]

I can advise the Deputy that the following documents are available on my Department's website at:www.djei.ie:

Details of the Public Service Implementation Plan to 2014 for my Department, its Offices and Agencies, and

Progress Report and associated Savings Report for the period April 2011 to March 2012.

I would like to draw the Deputy's attention in particular to some key areas in which progress has been made including the adoption in full by my Department of electronic payments to staff in respect of payroll and travel claims; modernisation of processes at the Companies Registration Office through the development of innovative e-filing solutions to assist businesses to file and make returns; the development of the Health and Safety Authority's "Taking Care of Business Process", which provides businesses with online tools to assist with the preparation of risk assessment and safety statements thus making it easier and cheaper for businesses to comply with legal requirements under health and safety legislation. In total, my Department, its Offices and Agencies reported sustainable savings of €1.8m for the period April 2011 to March 2012 in relation to initiatives introduced under the Croke Park Agreement.

Other reforms to be delivered under my Department's Integrated Reform Delivery Plan include the streamlining of the institutions and the processes of the four Employment Rights bodies that come within my Department's aegis and, the planned further integration of the Equality Tribunal. Already, a number of initiatives have been introduced under this project such as the launch of a single complaint form to replace the 30 forms previously in use, the development of a single portal that provides information on all areas of employment rights and, the trialing of an early dispute resolution service.

Other salient developments in process include the intention to merge the National Consumer Agency and the Competition Authority, to establish a "one-stop-shop" for micro-enterprises through the dissolution of the existing City and County Enterprises Boards (CEB's) and the formation of Local Enterprise Offices (LEO's), the restructuring the State Airports and Shannon Development and the re-alignment of tourism and enterprise support functions in the region.

I am satisfied with the pace of delivery of these reforms to date, which have and are producing tangible benefits for the customers of the Department, its Offices and Agencies. I am determined to ensure continued reform where possible across all areas of my Department's remit.

Departmental Contracts

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

104 Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Social Protection the reason banking transaction contracts in her Department’s payments are awarded to the subsidiary of a foreign bank than an Irish controlled bank; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31397/12]

The Department has not awarded any payment contracts to any foreign bank or to any subsidiary of a foreign bank.

The Department offers a range of payment options to most customers. This includes:

payment at a local post office via electronic information transfer (EIT);

payment through a bank, building society account or certain credit unions via electronic funds transfer (EFT) of the customer's choice, or

payment by cheque.

Bank of Ireland are the Department's primary bankers. All EFT payment files are routed through them for onwards transmission to other financial institutions in the case of customers who have accounts with banks other than Bank of Ireland. Where social welfare customers choose to do their banking is of course a matter for themselves.

Treatment Benefit Scheme

Barry Cowen

Ceist:

105 Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will provide, in tabular form, the year on year average processing times for treatment benefit scheme applicants from 2007 — 2012 inclusive. [31531/12]

Barry Cowen

Ceist:

106 Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will provide, in tabular form, the year on year average payment waiting times under the treatment benefit scheme from 2007 — 2012 inclusive. [31532/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 105 and 106 together.

The application and treatment process under the Treatment Benefit scheme is as follows.

The customer, or the dentist/optician/audiologist on their behalf, contacts the Department to enquire about their entitlement to Treatment Benefit. Once approval has been given, usually within 24 hours if the enquiry is by e-mail/fax or within minutes in the case of a phone enquiry, the customer is able to proceed with the treatment immediately.

When treatment is completed, the application form is sent to the Department for payment. Payments issue on a regular monthly basis to panellists, the dentist or optician. Payment is not made to the customers themselves, unless in a very small number of cases were treatment is obtained outside the state. Valid claims received by the Department in a calendar month are processed and paid during the following month.

In general the only cases that take longer to process are those for which further information is required, for example if customers has worked elsewhere in the EU and must have their employment contributions considered to allow them to qualify. However these represent a very small minority of cases.

The relevant figures for claims processed within 21 days is as follows:

Year

%

2007

87%

2008

80%

2009

81%

2010

97%

2011

100%

2012 (to date)

100%

Question No. 107 withdrawn.

Rent Supplement Scheme

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

108 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Social Protection the position regarding payment of rent in respect of persons (details supplied) in County Wicklow; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31286/12]

The person concerned is currently in receipt of rent supplement and will be paid at the end of this month (payment date — 28 June 2012).

Pension Provisions

Paschal Donohoe

Ceist:

109 Deputy Paschal Donohoe asked the Minister for Social Protection if a person (details supplied) in Dublin 7 is entitled to receive the widower’s pension; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31287/12]

There is no record in the Department of an application for Widower's Contributory Pension having been received from the person referred to by the Deputy. An application form has been issued to the person.

On receipt of the completed application, the Deciding Officer will examine the person's entitlement to Widower's Contributory Pension and he will be notified of the outcome.

Question No. 110 withdrawn.

Social Welfare Appeals

Jack Wall

Ceist:

111 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Social Protection the position regarding an invalidity appeal in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31357/12]

The Social Welfare Appeals Office has advised me that an appeal, by the person concerned, was registered in that office on 10 May 2012. It is a statutory requirement of the appeals process that the relevant Departmental papers and comments by or on behalf of the Deciding Officer on the grounds of appeal be sought. When received, the case will be referred to an Appeals Officer who will make a summary decision on the appeal based on the documentary evidence presented or, if required, hold an oral hearing.

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.

Back to Education Allowance

Robert Troy

Ceist:

112 Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Social Protection the reason so many persons in the same financial situation as they were this time last year, if not worse, have not received their back to school allowance or have received correspondence asking them to reapply; and if she will confirm if there is delay at present with issuing the allowances. [31361/12]

The back to school clothing and footwear allowance (BSCFA) entitlements of some 115,350 families in respect of 205,125 children have now been automatically established with reference to their primary scheme entitlement with no application form required. Letters issued to the people concerned informing them of their entitlement and notifying them that payment will issue in week commencing 16 July.

Customers who do not receive an automated payment are required to complete an application form which will be processed from a centralised unit in the Department. The Allowance is means tested so customers who are in receipt of benefit payments, on Community Employment or Back to Work schemes will be required to complete an application form.

A text message acknowledging receipt of application forms will issue this year to everyone who submits a claim form. Some 7,600 claims have been received to date and a text message has issued to 6,886 people who requested confirmation of receipt.

I can confirm to the Deputy, that there are no delays in the issuing or processing of application forms in relation to this allowance.

Carer’s Allowance

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

113 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection if full payment will issue in respect of an application for carer’s allowance in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31375/12]

I confirm that the department is in receipt of an application for carers' allowance from the person in question.

The medical component of this application is currently being assessed. On completion of the necessary investigations relating to all aspects of the case, a decision will be made and the person concerned will be notified directly of the outcome.

Pension Provisions

Martin Heydon

Ceist:

114 Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Social Protection the position regarding proposed changes to the Pensions Act to amend the order in which assets of a pension scheme must be applied in the event of a winding up, if she still proposes to introduce these changes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31381/12]

The Government agreed to the drafting of legislation to provide for a more equitable outcome for all scheme members who have contributed to the pension fund. I published initial proposals that I had hoped to include in the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill 2012. This is a complex and sensitive issue that requires any proposed solution to achieve the desired level of equity for all scheme members.

Officials from my Department are currently undertaking a detailed examination of possible alternative options and following consultations with stakeholders will bring forward revised proposals which will be considered for inclusion in a forthcoming Social Welfare and Pensions Bill.

Back to Education Allowance

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

115 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection further to Parliamentary Question No. 63 of 14 June 2012, if she would be willing to grant back to education allowance in view of the fact that the person in question is only two months short for the qualifying payment and has been on illness benefit since December 2011; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31415/12]

A person wishing to pursue the back to education allowance (BTEA) must satisfy a number of conditions such as being of a certain age, in receipt of a prescribed social welfare payment for a specified time period, commencing a full-time course of study leading to a recognised qualification in a recognised college and progressing in the level of education held by the client with reference to the national framework of qualifications.

In the case of illness benefit, the eligibility criteria for participation in BTEA require a person to be in receipt of the benefit for at least two years prior to commencement of their approved course of study. A waiting period is considered essential given that BTEA confers entitlement to income support for an extended period and is considered necessary in the context of targeting scarce resources at those most in need. It is not possible, within the scope of the BTEA scheme, to authorise an application for payment where the basic qualifying conditions have not been satisfied.

Rent Supplement Scheme

Tom Fleming

Ceist:

116 Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Minister for Social Protection the number of persons on rent allowance in County Kerry in 2008, 2009, 2010 2011 and to date in 2011; the total amount paid out for each year; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31422/12]

There are approximately 93,000 persons in receipt of rent supplement for which the Government has provided €436m in 2012.

The total number of recipients of rent supplement in County Kerry from 2008 to date is provided in the attached tabular statement. The total amount paid in respect of recipients in County Kerry is not available.

Rent Supplement Recipients in County Kerry 2008 to date:

Year

Recipients

2008

2,252

2009

2,398

2010

2,339

2011

2,278

2012(1)

2,198

(1)At 22 June 2012.

Disability Allowance

Paschal Donohoe

Ceist:

117 Deputy Paschal Donohoe asked the Minister for Social Protection when a decision will issue on the disability allowance claim in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Mayo; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31436/12]

I confirm that an application for disability allowance has been received from the person concerned. The application has been referred to a Social Welfare Inspector for a means investigation. A decision on her entitlement to disability allowance will be made on receipt of the Social Welfare Inspector's report and the person will be notified directly of the outcome.

Disability Allowance

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

118 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection the progress, if any, in the determination of entitlement to disability allowance in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31462/12]

The person concerned has recently been awarded disability allowance. Weekly payment will commence on 18 July 2012. Any arrears due to the person concerned will issue shortly after that date. The person has been notified directly in writing of this decision.

Question No. 119 withdrawn.

Disability Allowance

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

120 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will accept a new application for disability allowance in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31465/12]

Disability Allowance is a weekly allowance paid to people with a specified disability who are aged 16 or over and under age 66. This disability must be expected to last for at least one year and is subject a medical examination, means test and a habitual residency test.

If the person concerned believes that she satisfies the above conditions for receipt of a disability allowance payment, then it is open to her apply for it.

A disability allowance application form and information booklet has been posted directly to the person concerned today. She should complete and return this form in the freepost envelope provided, upon receipt of which, her entitlement will be examined and a decision will be made. It will assist the Department to make its decision if full, comprehensive and up-to-date evidence in support of her claim is supplied by the person in question and her treating physician at the outset.

Pension Provisions

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

121 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will review the entitlement to contributory pension in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31466/12]

A person aged 66 years, who satisfies certain eligibility conditions, may qualify for a standard rate State pension (contributory) if the person concerned:

has entered into insurable employment before reaching age 56,

has at least 520 weeks full-rate PRSI contributions paid,

has a yearly average of at least 48 paid and/or credited full-rate contributions from 1979 to the end of the tax year immediately preceding their 66th birthday, or

(for a reduced standard-rate State pension) has a yearly average of at least 10 paid/credited contributions from the date they commenced insurable employment to the end of the tax year preceding their 66th birthday.

Alternatively a person may be eligible for a reduced rate mixed-insurance State pension (contributory) if s/he has a combination of full-rate and modified rate paid contributions, satisfies the eligibility conditions as outlined, and if the 520 contributions condition is satisfied by a combination of 260 full-rate (minimum) and 260 modified-rate contributions.

The person concerned applied for State pension on 8 May 2012. Her application was disallowed on 18 June 2012 as her PRSI record showed a total of 303 paid full-rate contributions, and an overall yearly average of 8 contributions only, from her commencement of insurable employment in November 1971 to 31 December 2012.

The Department's PRSI record for the person concerned includes the contributions paid by her during her employments over the period 1971 to 1974. The Department has recently written to the relevant school administration to confirm details of her employment in that school in 1968/69, and is awaiting a reply. On receipt of these details, her claim for State pension (contributory) will be reviewed.

Domiciliary Care Allowance

Pat Breen

Ceist:

122 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for Social Protection when a decision on a domiciliary care allowance will issue to a person (details supplied) in County Clare; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31501/12]

An application for domiciliary care allowance (DCA) was received on the 3rd October 2011. This application was referred to one of the Department's Medical Assessors who found that the child was not medically eligible for DCA. A letter issued on the 30th November 2011 refusing the allowance. The person concerned subsequently lodged an appeal against this decision.

As part of the appeal process, the case was forwarded to another of the Department's Medical Assessors for further consideration, including a review of any new information supplied. The Medical Assessor examined the new information on the 21st June 2012 and has found the child eligible for DCA with a recommendation of a review in 3 years. The deciding officer has revised the original decision and the person in question will be notified of the payment arrangements in the coming days.

Question No. 123 withdrawn.

National Internship Scheme

Martin Heydon

Ceist:

124 Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Social Protection the options available to persons on lone parent allowance who wish to apply for the JobBridge scheme but who are struggling with child care costs; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31507/12]

The National Internship Scheme (JobBridge) provides internship opportunities of either 6 or 9 months for unemployed individuals in organisations in the private, public and community voluntary sectors. At present, it is limited to individuals who are currently in receipt of Jobseekers Allowance, One Parent Family Payment, Disability Allowance or signing for Social Insurance Contribution Credits for a total of three months (78 days) or more in the last six months. Participation on the Scheme is voluntary.

The Scheme has made significant progress to-date. Over 8,000, internship placements have commenced since the launch of the Scheme in July 2011. There are currently 4,896 interns undertaking internship placements and there are in excess of 2,000 internship posts currently advertised on the JobBridge websitewww.jobbridge.ie. Currently, while there is no childcare support for individuals taking part in the Scheme, the host organisations may have childcare facilities available.

Job Initiatives

John Lyons

Ceist:

125 Deputy John Lyons asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will provide a breakdown of the take-up of employer job PRSI incentive scheme by employers; if she will provide the figures of the number of jobs created under the scheme; and if it is possible to provide this information on a constituency or area-specific basis. [31511/12]

The employer job PRSI incentive scheme allows an employer who employs an additional member of staff, who had been unemployed for 6 months or more, to be exempted from paying employers' PRSI for 18 months. The job must be new and additional, be for at least 30 hours a week and last for at least six months. In 2010, a total of 736 employers were awarded exemptions in respect of 1,202 employees. A total of 660 employers were awarded exemptions in respect of 923 employees in 2011. To date in 2012, 239 employers have been awarded exemptions in respect of 311 employees. A breakdown by county is detailed in table 1 and 2.

Table 1 shows a breakdown by county of employers approved for the scheme since 2010:

Table 1

County

Employers 2010

Employers 2011

Employers 2012

Carlow

10

11

6

Cavan

18

12

5

Clare

28

21

6

Cork

76

71

29

Donegal

27

23

4

Dublin

193

177

71

Galway

46

45

10

Kerry

19

18

4

Kildare

26

23

8

Kilkenny

13

14

8

Laois

5

4

3

Leitrim

10

4

1

Limerick

31

39

8

Longford

4

4

1

Louth

24

17

12

Mayo

14

12

9

Meath

27

17

11

Monaghan

20

15

5

Offaly

11

11

2

Roscommon

9

6

4

Sligo

22

25

3

Tipperary

24

19

9

Waterford

19

15

8

Westmeath

13

15

5

Wexford

30

20

6

Wicklow

17

22

1

Total

736

660

239

Table 2 shows a breakdown by county of employees approved for this scheme since 2010:

Table 2

County

Employees 2010

Employees 2011

Employees 2012

Carlow

27

11

13

Cavan

34

20

7

Clare

35

35

8

Cork

141

120

44

Donegal

46

38

5

Dublin

303

231

87

Galway

99

50

12

Kerry

25

26

4

Kildare

32

39

9

Kilkenny

16

14

9

Laois

5

4

3

Leitrim

12

4

1

Limerick

63

52

9

Longford

9

6

1

Louth

33

22

15

Mayo

15

18

15

Meath

37

24

17

Monaghan

28

19

5

Offaly

13

15

2

Roscommon

19

7

4

Sligo

37

41

5

Tipperary

51

27

10

Waterford

41

23

12

Westmeath

23

15

5

Wexford

32

33

8

Wicklow

26

29

1

Total

1,202

923

311

Part-Time Job Incentive Scheme

John Lyons

Ceist:

126 Deputy John Lyons asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will provide figures on the number of long-term unemployed persons who have taken part in the part-time job incentive scheme by year to date; and if she will provide the take up of the scheme on a constituency basis. [31512/12]

The information requested by the Deputy is not routinely collated by my Department. I am however informed that the number of participants on the Part-Time Job Incentive Scheme is manually collated on a regional basis in October and April each year. At the end of April 2012 there were 193 participants on the scheme. The following tables detail the number of participants of the scheme by county at 30 April 2012, and the total number of participants of the scheme at 31 October in each of the preceding five years:

County

Number

County Total

Cavan

10

Clare

4

Cork

County

7

14

Cork

City

7

Donegal

1

Dublin

City Centre Local Offices(Apollo House, Bishops Square, Kings Inn and Thomas Street)

23

64

Dublin

County Local Offices(Balbriggan, Dun Laoghaire and Swords)

8

Dublin

Other Local Offices(Ballyfermot, Ballymun, Blanchardstown, Clondalkin, Coolock, Finglas, Kilbarrack, Navan Road, Nutgrove and Tallaght)

33

Galway

County

1

8

Galway

City

7

Kerry

5

Kildare

5

Kilkenny

6

Laois

1

Leitrim

2

Limerick

County

2

3

Limerick

City

1

Louth

3

Mayo

18

Meath

1

Monaghan

2

Roscommon

3

Sligo

1

Tipperary

12

Waterford

County

2

14

Waterford

City

12

Westmeath

2

Wexford

11

Wicklow

3

Total

193

Participants at 31 October

2007

2008

2009

2010

2011

Part-Time Job Incentive Scheme Recipients

210

184

173

161

180

Action Plan for Jobs

John Lyons

Ceist:

127 Deputy John Lyons asked the Minister for Social Protection if all staff in local offices have received suitable information and training in the new part-time job incentive and employer job PRSI incentive schemes being offered by her Department; and if suitable unemployed people are being identified by her Department and informed directly of these new schemes. [31513/12]

As announced in February 2012 under the Action Plan for Jobs, the Government agreed to simplify and extend the Employer Job PRSI Incentive scheme for new recruitment to the end of 2012. The duration of exemption, which previously applied for 12 months, has been increased to 18 months from 1 January 2012.

Under the scheme, if an employer employs an eligible employee who has been unemployed for 6 months or more, they are exempt from paying employers' PRSI for 18 months. The job must be new and additional, be for at least 30 hours a week and last for at least six months. Other changes introduced include, allowing time spent on the work placement programme and JobBridge (National Internship Scheme) to count towards the qualifying period for the scheme and allowing persons to undertake short FAS courses without impacting on their eligibility to qualify as an employee under the scheme.

The Employer Job PRSI Incentive scheme is administered centrally and it has been promoted extensively. All the main employer bodies were contacted to ensure they were fully aware of the scheme and its enhancements in 2012, and to request that they ensure all their members are aware of it's existence and benefits.

The Part-Time Job Incentive (PTJI) Scheme is an administrative scheme and is not covered by legislation. It was set up by Government decision in December 1986 and no recent changes have been made/announced in relation to it. All relevant departmental staff are aware of the operational procedures of this scheme and it's eligibility criteria. The PTJI is one of a number of schemes available to job seeking customers. Such customers are advised of the availability of these schemes through information leaflets, direct contact with departmental staff and through the department's websitewww.welfare.ie.

Community Employment Schemes

Tom Fleming

Ceist:

128 Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Minister for Social Protection the amount of funding provided to each community employment scheme in County Kerry; the number of participants in each scheme in the county; the level of funding and activity not affected by the current review; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31522/12]

There are currently 1,003 community employment (CE) participants in Kerry and a breakdown by project is set out in the following table, along with their 2011 budgets. The CE financial review which has been underway for the past few months is due to be finalised very shortly and budgets for 2012 will be agreed once the review is complete.

2011 Budget

Project Name

Project Location

Participants

Materials and Training

An Riocht Stadium Ltd

Castleisland

16

€24,000

Ballymacelligott CE Ltd

Ballymacelligott

44

€66,000

Crageen Employment Ltd

Castleisland

27

€40,500

Island Crown Ce Group Ltd

Lyreacrompane

28

€42,000

Kingdom Care

Tralee

17

€25,500

Meitheal an Leith Triuigh Teo

Castlegregory

18

€7,000

Pt-Time Creative Work

Tralee

16

€24,000

Shankill Family Resource Centre

Tralee

18

€27,000

St Brendans Pk/Dynamos

Tralee

19

€28,500

Tralee Congress Info Centre

Tralee

16

€24,000

Abbeydorney Dev. C.O Abbeydorney

Abbeydorney

18

€27,000

Asdee Ballylongford

Ballylongford

16

€24,000

K.D.Y.S. Listowel

Listowel

19

€28,500

Kileen C.E. Ltd.

Tralee

23

€34,500

Listowel Area C.E

Listowel

24

€36,000

Lixabbey C.E. Ltd

Lixnaw

23

€34,500

Northeast Kerry C.E.

Tarbert

23

€34,500

Saothair Na Nabhann

Ballybunion

16

€24,000

Sean Meitheal Ltd

Listowel

21

€31,500

St. Brigids

Tralee

22

€33,000

Adapt Kerry Ltd

Tralee

16

€24,000

All Kerry Tourism Marketing Ltd

All Kerry

10

€15,000

Beaufort Community Council Ltd

Beaufort

17

€25,500

Castlemaine Community Services Group ltd

Castlemaine

17

€25,500

Comharchumann Forbartha Chorca Dhuibhne Teo

Ballyferriter/Dingle

20

€30,000

Glenbeigh Community Council Ltd

Glenbeigh

18

€27,000

Irish Wheelchair Association

Kerry

16

€24,000

KCYMS Management Ltd

Killorglin

27

€40,500

Killorglin Community Council Ltd

Killorglin

18

€27,000

Killorglin Sports and Leisure Ltd

Killorglin

19

€28,500

Udarás na Gaeltachta

Dingle

21

€31,500

ACARD Ltd.

Caherciveen

18

€27,000

Caherciveen Social Services

Caherciveen

16

€24,000

Friends of ABLE

Tralee

33

€49,500

IRD. Waterville

Waterville

16

€24,000

Kerry Congress Information

Caherciveen

17

€25,500

North and East Kerry Dev.

Tralee

25

€37,500

Portmagee Dev. Group

Portmagee

16

€24,000

Sneem Dev. Co op Ltd.

Sneem

16

€24,000

Udaras Na Gaeltachta

Ballinskelligs

19

€28,500

Valentia Island CE. Project

Valentia Island

18

€27,000

Cumann Iosaef

Tralee Town

37

€55,500

Cunamh Energy Tralee Town

Tralee

16

€24,000

Fitzgerald Statium

Killarney

16

€24,000

Kenmare District Comm Grou[

Kenmare

16

€24,000

Kilcummin Rural Development

Killcummin, Killarney

16

€24,000

Kilgarvan Community Dev

Kilgarvan

16

€24,000

Killarney Area Sports and Leisure

Killarney

16

€24,000

Killarney C E Scheme

Killarney

19

€28,500

Killarney Council of Trade Unions

Killarney

16

€24,000

Rathmore Social Acton

Rathmore

18

€27,000

1,003

€1,504,500

Domiciliary Care Allowance

Tom Fleming

Ceist:

129 Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Minister for Social Protection if she will confirm that parents of children diagnosed with autism, aspergers and other similar conditions are entitled to a domiciliary allowance payment; the reason there is so much inconsistency in respect of this payment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31529/12]

In order to qualify for domiciliary care allowance (DCA), a child must have a disability so severe that it requires the child needing care and attention substantially in excess of another child of the same age without the disability and must be likely to require this level of care and attention for at least 12 months. Qualification for the scheme is not based on the particular disability of the child but on the level of additional care required because of the disability. An application for DCA in respect of a child with Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Asperger's Syndrome and all similar conditions is processed in exactly the same manner as an application for a child with any other disability.

Invalidity Pension

Dan Neville

Ceist:

130 Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for Social Protection the position regarding an invalidity pension application refusal in respect of a person (details supplied) in Co. Limerick, the reason for refusal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31540/12]

I am advised by the Social Welfare Appeals Office that an Appeals Officer, having fully considered all the evidence, disallowed the appeal of the person concerned by way of summary decision. Under Social Welfare legislation, the decision of the Appeals Officer is final and conclusive and may only be reviewed by the Appeals Officer in the light of new evidence or new facts. Unfortunately, the Appeals Officers decision that issued intimated that an oral hearing took place in this case. This was a typographical error for which the Appeals Officer wishes to apologise.

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.

Rent Supplement Scheme

Simon Harris

Ceist:

131 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Social Protection the discretion or flexibility which her Department and its community welfare officers have when it comes to allowing persons in receipt of rent supplement to remain in a property above the rent limits set by her Department; the advice she would give to person’s who find themselves unable to find a property within the limits set in their locality; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31546/12]

The purpose of rent supplement is to provide short-term income support to eligible tenants living in private rented accommodation whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation costs and who do not have accommodation available to them from any other source. The overall aim is to provide short term assistance, and not to act as an alternative to the other social housing schemes operated by the Exchequer. There are approximately 93,000 persons in receipt of rent supplement for which the Government has provided a sum of €436 million for 2012.

New maximum rent limits came into force on 1 January 2012. The general practice is that rent supplement is not paid where the rent is above the relevant limit. However, rent supplement may be paid where the rent is above the relevant limit in the following circumstances:

Where there are special housing needs related to exceptional circumstances (in particular, for example, a person with a disability in specially-adapted accommodation or homeless persons whose housing needs cannot be met within the standard terms of the rent supplement scheme etc.);

Where the person concerned is entitled to an income disregard and has sufficient income to meet his or her basic needs after paying rent, taking into account the appropriate rate of rent supplement that is otherwise payable in the case. "Sufficient income" in this context means the relevant basic supplementary welfare allowance rate less the prescribed minimum contribution to rent; and/or

Where the tenant will be in a position to re-assume responsibility for his/her rent within a short period. For this purpose, a guideline period of no longer than 6 to 8 weeks is suggested but where there are exceptional circumstances, an extension up to a total of 12 weeks may be allowed.

The revised rent limits are applicable to new rent supplement tenancies and existing tenancies on review. Where rents are in excess of the limit, customers are being asked to contact their landlord and renegotiate the rent. Where landlords do not agree to reduce the rent within the limits, Departmental officials will discuss the options open to the tenant, including seeking alternative accommodation. Department officials dealing with rent supplement tenants will continue to ensure that their accommodation needs are met; there will no incidence of homelessness due to these changes.

Domiciliary Care Allowance

Simon Harris

Ceist:

132 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Social Protection the consultation she has had with parents of children with autism or autistic spectrum disorder in relation to the domiciliary care allowance scheme; details of what this consultation involved; the meetings she attended with such parents parents’ groups or support groups; any meetings her officials attended with such parents; parents’ groups or support groups; the measures she will put in place to guarantee that the concerns of parents are to the fore of her policy review of the DCA scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31550/12]

My officials have during the last eight months met parents and advocacy groups on a number of occasions to discuss issues relating to the administration of the domiciliary care allowance (DCA) scheme. During the course of these meetings participants were provided with details of the processes that operate as part of the application, review and appeal elements of the scheme. The medical assessment process was outline in detail by the Chief Medical Assessor to both representatives from the Carers Association and Autism Ireland at meetings in recent months.

The review of the operation of the DCA scheme that I recently announced will commence shortly, the working group will include representatives from the Departments of Social Protection and other relevant Departments, as well as the National Disability Authority. It will also include representatives from organisations representing parents/guardians of children who are in receipt of the allowance. The review will examine the policy objectives and legal provisions underpinning the Scheme. In addition, it will review the Scheme's current administrative, medical assessment and appeals processes, including an examination of the duration of review periods for the Scheme.

As part of its work, the Group will research best practice in other countries and will have the Medical Guidelines and the Report of the Expert Medical Group, which underpin the operation of the Scheme, reviewed by a suitably qualified medical expert. As part of the review, a consultation process with parents and representative groups will be undertaken to ensure that parents and their representatives have an opportunity to make their concerns known in relation to the administration of the Scheme.

Departmental Staff

Simon Harris

Ceist:

133 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Social Protection the procedures in place to manage sick leave in her Department; the sick leave entitlement in place in her Department; the combined amount of sick days taken by staff in her Department in 2011 and to date in 2012; the financial cost of this sick leave; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31569/12]

Officers from my Department who are absent on sick leave are required to comply with civil service policies on the management of sick leave, as outlined in Department of Finance Circular 09/2010 and with the Department's Attendance Management Policy. Where a sick absence lasts more than two working days, a medical certificate must be submitted. Repeated short term absences and sick leave absences of more than four weeks duration, which are regarded as long-term absences, are routinely referred by my Department's HR Division to the office of the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) for review. The CMO will decide whether an appointment/confidential telephone consultation with the occupational health doctor or nurse is required, whether a confidential medical report from the treating doctor should be sought, or whether no further occupational health intervention is required due to a self-limiting medical condition. Failure to comply with sick leave policies is regarded as serious misconduct which may warrant consideration of disciplinary action under the Civil Service Disciplinary Code.

All officers are entitled to payment during sick leave absences in accordance with their terms and conditions of employment in the Civil Service. Full pay during properly certified sick absence (provided there is no evidence of permanent disability for service) may be allowed up to a maximum of six months in one year and half pay thereafter, subject to a maximum of twelve months' sick leave in any period of four years or less. Following on from this, payment can continue at a pension rate of pay, which is subject to the condition of a reasonable prospect of a resumption of duty, with an ability to render regular and effective service. An Officer's level of sick leave is taken into account when consideration is being given to the award of an increment or when an officer is being considered for promotion.

The total working days available in my Department in 2011 were 1,138,631 of which 71,680 days (6.3%) were lost due to sick leave, at a cost of €9,169,057. The most up to date figures for 2012, which are in respect of the period January to March 2012, show that there were 25,006 (6.8%) days lost due to sick leave absences from a total of 367,240 available working days, at a cost of €3,198,517. The Deputy should note that the figures provided for 2011 include sick leave (for the final quarter) in respect of the approximately 1,100 additional staff integrated into my Department from the HSE with effect from the 1st October 2011. Figures for 2012 include sick leave from these staff and also the additional 700 staff from FÁS who joined the Department with effect from 1st January 2012.

Public Sector Reform

Simon Harris

Ceist:

134 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Social Protection the tangible results that have been delivered in her Department through the implementation of the Croke Park agreement; the implementation plan in place in her Department to ensure reforms envisaged through this agreement are delivered on; if she is satisfied with the pace of reform in her Department and the agencies under her remit; the further reforms the taxpayer and Irish citizens may expect to witness in the running of her Department and its agencies through the public sector reform agenda; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31585/12]

My Department's Action Plan, and those of the agencies under the aegis of my Department, namely the Citizens Information Board and the Pensions Board, were prepared in January 2010, having regard to the economic and budgetary environment at that time. My Department subsequently prepared a single integrated Action Plan in January 2012 which encompassed the actions to be taken forward by my Department as well as those key actions being proposed by each of the agencies under its remit and which took account of the Programme for Government, the Comprehensive Review of Expenditure and Budget 2012 and the Public Service Reform Plan.

Three reviews of the implementation of the agreement, as requested by the Implementation Body, were undertaken by my Department and the agencies under its aegis, in respect of the progress and savings achieved for the periods January 2010 to March 2011, April 2011 to September 2011 and October 2011 to March 2012. The following is a summary of the main outcomes identified in those exercises:

Organisational change and integration in my Department:

Full transfer of 1,033 Community Welfare Staff on 1st October 2011.

Successfully delivered the commitment in the Programme for Government to transfer 758 staff and services from FÁS Employment Services in January 2012.

Full integration of the Redundancy and Insolvency Scheme from the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation; the Rural Social Scheme and the Community Services Programme and the Office of Social Inclusion from the Department of Community Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs.

Significant savings were achieved under the following initiatives:

New administrative arrangements were introduced in 2011 for the Back to School Clothing and Footwear Allowance scheme which had previously been administered by the Community Welfare Service. Administrative savings of approximately €1 million were achieved by having applications processed by a centralised unit in my Department's office in Letterkenny.

Further savings of €2.43m were achieved by my Department, and the agencies under its aegis, between January 2010 and March 2012 through administrative efficiencies and process re-organisation.

Claim processing volumes increased by 13% in 2011 (2.35m claims cleared) while backlogs were reduced by 9%.

Greater numbers of staff are being serviced by central support areas without proportional increases in staff numbers, following the transfers of functions outlined above. For example, the ratio of HR Management staff to overall staff has increased from 1:66 to 1:76 since 2010.

The Department now provides data matching services for up to 80 other agencies and, jointly with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, provides life event notifications to over 50 agencies.

The phased introduction of the Public Services Card commenced October 3rd 2011.

Several new IT systems have been developed and implemented to cater for improved customer service with faster claim processing times, increased level of information provision and query handling processes.

The Department is committed to meeting the objectives of the Public Service Reform Plan published by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on 17th November 2011. A high level integrated reform delivery plan has been developed, outlining the key Departmental milestones under the various reform programmes and containing a wide range of organisational specific reform commitments, as well as cross-cutting elements of reform. The integrated plan aligns key elements from the Programme for Government, the Comprehensive Review of Expenditure and the Public Service (Croke Park) Agreement.

Full implementation of the Department's Action Plan requires major organisational change, involving changes in structures, business processes, administrative, operating and governance systems, practices and procedures, supported by significant human resource and ICT changes. All targets to the end of March 2012 have been met and all actions are on schedule for delivery in accordance with the specified timeframes.

The Citizens Information Board (CIB) has commenced a Single Point of Initial Telephone Contact project which aims to create a single point of telephone contact for the citizen for CIB and its delivery partners, namely the Citizens Information Services, Money Advice and Budgeting Service, and the National Advocacy Service. CIB also implemented a new regional structure and introduced an advocacy service.

The Pensions Board introduced a new on-line data portal for pension schemes which went live in February 2011. The system facilitates the payment of fees, processing of scheme amendments, scheme registrations, submission of annual scheme information returns and the annual renewal of Registered Administrators renewals.

I am satisfied that the Department is striving to provide an effective service to its customers in the most efficient manner that can reasonably be achieved and is fully committed to delivering on the Action Plan in order to secure service improvements and efficiencies.

Turbary Rights

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

135 Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the amount of money the State has spent on the aerial observation of persons cutting turf for the period from the 22 April 2012 to 22 June 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31495/12]

My Department has incurred expenditure in the sum of €16,943 on aerial surveillance of turf cutting on raised bog Special Areas of Conservation in the period in question. This work was carried out by a private contractor hired by my Department. The issue of costs incurred by the Air Corps, which also provides this service to my Department, is a matter for the Department of Defence.

Luke 'Ming' Flanagan

Ceist:

136 Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he will provide a summary of the number of letters and written communications sent by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, formally Dúchas, informing turf bank owners and turbary rights holders that their bogs had been given special area of conservation candidate status between the years 1997 and 1999; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31305/12]

Luke 'Ming' Flanagan

Ceist:

137 Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if his Department has at present a team working on discovery of title of turf bank ownership; and if this is the case the reason such work was not carried out in the years 1997 to 2004 when his Department and the National Parks and Wildlife Service, formally Dúchas, were under obligation to inform the owners of turf banks and the owners of turbary rights of the special area of conservation candidate status of their bogs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31306/12]

Luke 'Ming' Flanagan

Ceist:

138 Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he will provide a summary of the number of letters and written communications sent by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, formally Dúchas, informing turf bank owners and turbary rights holders that their bogs had been given special area of conservation candidate status between the years 2002 and 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31307/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 136 to 138, inclusive, together.

In 1997, before the commencement of the designation process for Ireland's network of Special Areas of Conservation (SACs), including its raised bog sites, my Department as then configured undertook an information campaign which involved issuing letters to some 230,000 rural households advising people in general terms of the forthcoming designation programme and where they could obtain further information of the proposed designations.

Subsequently, the Department issued some 1,457 letters and site specific information packs to individuals identified as being potentially affected by the proposed designations of those raised bog SACs nominated between 1997 and 1999, and a further 3,534 letters and site-packs to persons potentially affected by the proposed designations in 2002 of the remaining raised bog sites. I am advised that these letters included maps of the sites, as well as details of restrictions to activities therein, compensation provisions and the manner in which an objection might be made to the proposed designation.

The Department has sourced its land-ownership information from a number of sources, including the Property Registration Authority, the Land Commission, the Land Parcel Identification System used by the Department of Agriculture, and the electoral register. It should be noted that the development of the Land Direct system by the Property Registration Authority in recent years has allowed much more comprehensive land-owner identification. This has improved the Department's ability to reach as many interested parties as possible. While I understand that every reasonable step was taken over the years to identify landowners and notify them directly, the Deputy will appreciate that it is not possible to guarantee that all such persons can be identified. It is commonplace, particularly in bogs, that individuals' interests are not registered at all, or not in their own names. Turbary rights, in particular, are not always up to date or accurately reflect actual land use activity.

I am advised that, to cater for this contingency, copies of maps of the proposed raised bog SACs and copies of the Government Notices relating to those sites were displayed in public access points such as Garda Síochána stations, local authority offices, local offices of the Department of Social Protection, local offices of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and offices of Teagasc located within or contiguous to the sites concerned. Proposals to designate the raised bog sites as SACs were also advertised in the appropriate local newspapers and radio advertisements were also run on local stations.

A free-phone number was also operated to facilitate the dissemination of information to those who had been alerted through these publicity measures.

In total, some 610 individual objections were received in my Department against the inclusion of land within raised bog SAC sites.

In 2011 my Department issued letters to some 6,700 landowners and users advising them of the cessation of turf cutting on the 53 raised bog sites and of the availability of a range of compensatory measures available. Some 4,000 of these had also been written to in 2010 advising them of the cessation of cutting on 31 raised bog SACs.

My Department is currently focused on making initial payments to turf cutters under the Cessation of Turf Cutting Compensation Scheme and organising for the delivery of turf to their homes. In this regard, my officials are continuing to work closely with turf cutters, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, as successor of the Land Commission, Bord na Móna and the Property Registration Authority to improve the Department's data sets and to assist people in providing the necessary proof of legal interest with their applications under the scheme.

National Parks and Wildlife Service

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

139 Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the number of prosecutions taken by the National Parks and Wildlife Services over the past ten years; the nature of these prosecutions and the number that have been successful; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31383/12]

My Department is compiling the material requested by the Deputy and will forward the information to the Deputy as soon as possible.

Turbary Rights

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

140 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if in the context of turf cutting, conservation in respect of Hodgestown Bog, Donadea, Naas, County Kildare, is currently covered by National Conservation Order or the National Heritage Area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31452/12]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

142 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if he will use his discretion to alleviate the impact on traditional turf cutters in County Kildare whose turbary plots are governed by national heritage areas conservation areas as opposed to special areas of conservation with the possibility of substituting alternative areas for conservation under national criteria thereby enabling traditional turf cutting to continue while utilising an equal area adjacent in lieu thereof; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31454/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 140 and 142 together.

Hodgestown Bog, located four kilometres north-west of Prosperous in Co. Kildare, was designated as a Natural Heritage Area (NHA) on 20 September 2005 (S.I. No. 586 of 2005).

In May 2010, the then Government decided that turf-cutting should come to an end on all raised bog NHAs at the end of 2013. The Programme for Government undertook to review the situation with regard to NHAs and the future of turf-cutting on such sites will be considered as part of that review.

It is expected that the review will be completed prior to the commencement of the 2014 turf-cutting season. The issues referred to by the Deputy will be fully explored as part of the review process.

Turbary Rights

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

141 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the position regarding the discussions with turf cutters at Ballynafagh Bog, County Kildare; if relocation of the special area of conservation will be affected to meet the of local traditional turf cutters while meeting conservation requirements in full; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31453/12]

Discussions have been ongoing with turf cutter representatives from Ballynafagh Bog Special Area of Conservation. Progress has been made with a view to the relocation of qualifying turf cutters, in a manner similar to relocation arrangements already concluded with groups from Clara Bog in County Offaly and Mountbellew in County Galway.

While awaiting relocation, qualifying turf cutters can avail of the payment of €1,500 or the delivery of 15 tonnes of cut turf, under my Department's Cessation of Turf Cutting Compensation Scheme.

Question No. 142 answered with Question No. 140.

Departmental Staff

Simon Harris

Ceist:

143 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the procedures in place to manage sick leave in his Department; the sick leave entitlement in place in his Department; the combined amount of sick days taken by staff in his Department in 2011 and to date in 2012; the financial cost of this sick leave; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31557/12]

As the Deputy will be aware, my Department was established on 2nd June 2011. In common with all other Government Departments, sick leave in my Department is managed in accordance with Civil Service norms as set out by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in Circular 09/2010 on the Management of Sick Leave. The information requested by the Deputy is set out in the following table:

Sick days

Cost of Sick Absences

2011 (2nd June-31st Dec)

3,978

€646,247

2012 (1st Jan-25th Jun)

2,493

€375,353

Total

7,471

€1,021,600

Public Sector Reform

Simon Harris

Ceist:

144 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the tangible results that have been delivered in his Department through the implementation of the Croke Park agreement; the implementation plan in place in his Department to ensure reforms envisaged through this agreement are delivered on; if he is satisfied with the pace of reform in his Department and the agencies under his remit; the further reforms the taxpayer and Irish citizens may expect to witness in the running of his Department and its agencies through the public sector reform agenda; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31572/12]

As the Deputy will be aware, my Department has prepared a Croke Park Action Plan, which sets out actions and efficiency measures for the Department and the bodies funded from its Vote Group to end-2014. Details of progress, efficiencies and savings arising from the implementation of that Plan can be accessed through the link below:

http://www.ahg.gov.ie/en/Publications/CorporatePublications/CurrentPublications/

I should say that progress on the implementation of this Plan is monitored and reviewed regularly, and delivery on each of the actions is on target. The Deputy will, of course, note that the progress reports mentioned above outline the plans for further reforms and savings which my Department and the bodies funded from its Vote Group Plan expect to make over the coming period.

Broadcasting Services

Niall Collins

Ceist:

145 Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he has requested ComReg, in writing or by any other means, to conduct a review process of digital terrestrial television tariffs in accordance with the consultation process under section 130 of the Broadcasting Act 2009; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31310/12]

RTÉ has developed a series of tariff models for carriage on the Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) service and these have been available to broadcasters for several years.

In 2011, RTÉ contracted with TV3 and TG4 for inclusion on the SAORVIEW DTT service during the simulcast period i.e. the period when both the analogue and DTT networks are operating together.

Section 130 of the Broadcasting Act 2009 provides a discretionary role for me in relation to DTT tariffing and in summer 2010, ComReg was requested to advise me on tariffing for Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) in order to ensure that the RTÉ DTT tariffing process was fair and equitable.

ComReg hired Deloitte to provide specialist expertise with this work. The initial ComReg analysis of the RTÉ simulcast DTT tariffs concluded in June 2012. I am currently considering this analysis with a view to consulting with the broadcasters.

Advertising Standards

Clare Daly

Ceist:

146 Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will consider advertising standards in relation to non commercial advertising with particular reference to the recent contentious and objectionable advertising campaign conducted by an organisation (details supplied). [31399/12]

The matter of advertising on billboards does not come within the remit of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and I have no role in that regard. My role in providing a governance structure for advertising extends only to broadcast media, and to a small component of online advertising, that of video on demand. I understand that the subject matter of this advertisement campaign is a matter for the Department of Health.

Broadcasting Services

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

147 Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will delay the changeover to SAORSTAT from analogue (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31402/12]

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

148 Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the reason SAORSTAT has no engineers operating on the ground to assist persons to make the changeover and give technical advice; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31403/12]

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

149 Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if households are going to be left without television service and have no alternative but to buy Sky, if his Department will pay for the unnecessary burden and cost on these householders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31404/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 147 to 149, inclusive, together.

As I made clear on 21st June at the special digital switchover briefing session to which all Oireachtas members were invited, the date of analogue switch off will not be changed. On Wednesday, October 24th this year, 118 days from now, the analogue system will cease to operate. The Broadcasting Act 2009 requires RTÉ to provide digital coverage to the same extent as analogue coverage, which stands at 98%. SAORVIEW offers 98% population coverage so by itself fully meets RTÉ's legislative obligations for a replacement national digital TV network to replace the analogue TV network when it switches off on 24 October.

The development and provision of SAORSAT satellite platform is a purely commercial decision by RTÉ and not one in which I have a function. RTÉ has introduced SAORSAT to provide a free to air TV service to the 2% of the population who cannot receive SAORVIEW. With the launch of SAORSAT, Ireland has 100% coverage of RTÉ and TG4 for the first time in the history of the State and everyone can chose to migrate to a free to air Digital TV service either through SAORVIEW or SAORSAT. In these circumstances there is no compulsion to acquire a pay TV option in order to access the free-to-air channels.

Representatives from SAORVIEW attended the special digital switchover briefing session on June 21st for Oireachtas members. At this briefing session practical and technical information on SAORSAT and SAORVIEW was provided. According to SAORVIEW, equipment for both SAORVIEW and SAORSAT is readily available throughout Ireland. SAORVIEW highlight that over 400 retailers nationwide stock SAORVIEW approved equipment. SAORVIEW TV equipment costs from €50 whilst the SAORSAT set top box costs around €180. More and cheaper SAORSAT equipment is anticipated including a SAORSAT TV set.

While SAORVIEW provides the digital network, it is up to individual households to arrange for installation of the required equipment and SAORVIEW recommend households use the services of a local reputable installer. Information on SAORSAT, approved SAORSAT equipment, technical specification and information on professional installation is also available on the SAORVIEW website,www.saorview.ie and also on the RTÉ Networks Limited (RTÉNL) website, www.rtenl.ie. The SAORVIEW helpline is also available to assist people.

In relation to local information, I have been informed by SAORVIEW that they have organised a number of regional information events for the public and also for installers. In addition, my Department has put in place an extensive and comprehensive national information campaign to ensure that everyone is fully aware of the move to digital TV. I have also signed an agreement with national voluntary organisation, the Wheel, to operate a nationwide community outreach digital switchover programme (Outreach Programme). The aim of the Outreach Programme is to ensure vulnerable people receive one-to-one help in making the switch to digital and that everybody is made aware of the switchover so that no TV viewers are left without a TV service once the national analogue TV service switches off on October 24th 2012.

Alternative Energy Projects

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

150 Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in view of the possibility of Irish windfarms exporting energy to England which could bring a much needed jobs boost to our country, the assistance that he will give to supporting such a project; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31405/12]

Last week, building on the June 2011 British Irish Council agreement on developing an all islands energy approach, I had the latest in a series of bilateral meetings with UK Energy Minister Charles Hendry on plans to develop renewable electricity trade between the two countries. Both sides agreed to work towards concluding a Memorandum of Understanding by the end of the year. This will be a critical step in ensuring that cross-Border renewable trade can take place. Officials from both Departments are examining a range of issues around the electricity market, regulatory and technical grid areas to underpin the creation of cross jurisdictional renewable electricity trade.

Increased interconnection between the two islands offers Irish developers the prospect of being able to access a much larger electricity market. The electricity market in GB is around ten times the scale of the electricity market in Ireland. In the short term there are opportunities for on and off shore wind and biomass projects, but in the medium to longer term as technologies mature and become commercially deployable, there will also be opportunities for wave and tidal developers. The volume of trade that could develop has the potential to become very significant over time. Ireland has a renewable energy resource that is significantly in advance of this island's market scale. The challenge for developers will be to come forward with projects of scale that are economically viable and environmentally acceptable. There are several large developers already seriously examining projects and some of these proposals also involve developing pumped hydro storage options.

There are clearly construction jobs while the projects are being built, but if projects of scale can be developed, then there will be an opportunity to capture some of the development value chain in Ireland as well as the job opportunities in the operations and maintenance areas. Both Enterprise Ireland and the IDA are taking account of opportunities as part of their overall Cleantech market development and are actively engaged with companies in this promising economic sector.

Fisheries Protection

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

151 Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the measures he will take to assist small enterprises occupied with eel fishing and curing in view of the effects on this activity arising from the ban on eel fishing. [31455/12]

Following scientific research conducted by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) indicating that the European eel stocks are in a critical state, the EU introduced Council Regulation 1100/2007, the objective of which is to achieve recovery of the stocks to previous high levels. The Regulation required that all Member States prepare a national Eel Management Plan (EMP). Ireland's plan was approved by the European Commission in July, 2009. Bye-laws, Conservation of Eel Fishing Bye-law No. C.S. 303, 2009 and Conservation of Eel Fishing (Prohibition On Issue Of Licences) Bye-law No. 858, 2009, were signed by the then Minister in 2009 prohibiting the capture of eels. There was no provision for compensation for those who previously engaged in this fishery on a commercial basis.

The then Central and Regional Fisheries Boards (now Inland Fisheries Ireland — IFI) engaged with the eel fishermen representatives to investigate possible diversification schemes; however, no specific funding was identified for diversification. I understand that a number of former eel fishermen have been contracted by the ESB to undertake Trap and Transport operations to mitigate the impact of hydropower schemes as part of the eel management plan. There is no property right attaching to public eel licences and consequently the issue of compensation is not relevant or appropriate, given that the closure of the fishery was applied for conservation reasons under the Fisheries Acts. Given that context, I am sure you will appreciate that in the current economic climate there are no resources available to provide for compensation payments.

The National EMP is currently being updated following the provision of three additional years of scientific research and monitoring of the status of eels stocks. The latest independent Standing Scientific Committee report on eels is available on the IFI website and a link to this web page is also available on my Department's website. IFI's three-year eel monitoring report is also available online. Ireland's EMP Implementation report, which details progress on Ireland's 2009 EMP, is due to be submitted to the EU shortly.

In relation to the information contained in these reports and prior to consideration of the continuation of existing measures, a public consultation period has commenced. The closing date for receipt of submissions to be considered as part of the review of eel plans for Ireland was set as Monday 2nd July 2012. However, on foot of presentations made to stakeholders as part of the consultation, I have decided to extend the closing date to 11th July to facilitate the receipt of submissions from as many stakeholders as possible. Submissions made during the public consultation period, which included a number of public meetings/seminars, will be considered in formulating proposals for the management of the eel fishery for the coming years. Three public meetings on the EMPs have been held during the last week, in Clonmel, County Tipperary on 19th June, in Athlone, County Westmeath on 20th June and in Carrick on Shannon, County Leitrim on 21st June. Copies of all relevant documents (EU Report, Scientific Report and Monitoring Report) were available at the public meetings and are also available on IFI's website (www.fisheriesireland.ie) or through the link on my Department’s website (www.dcenr.gov.ie).

Departmental Staff

Simon Harris

Ceist:

152 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the procedures in place to manage sick leave in his Department; the sick leave entitlement in place in his Department; the combined amount of sick days taken by staff in his Department in 2011 and to date in 2012; the financial cost of this sick leave; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31559/12]

My Department manages sick leave in accordance with its Attendance Management Policy which is based on Department of Finance Circular 09/2010 which sets out sick leave entitlements of civil servants. In 2011 a combined (certified and uncertified) total of 2,383 sick leave days were taken by staff in my Department at a total cost of €430,640. This is a reduction of 29% in days taken and a 21% reduction in cost in comparison with 2010 figures mainly due to the implementation of a new Attendance management Policy.

In 2012, to date staff in my Department have taken a combined (certified and uncertified) total of 1, 021 days at a total cost of €165,355.

Public Sector Reform

Simon Harris

Ceist:

153 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the tangible results that have been delivered in his Department through the implementation of the Croke Park Agreement; the implementation plan in place in his Department to ensure reforms envisaged through this agreement are delivered on; if he is satisfied with the pace of reform in his Department and the agencies under his remit; the further reforms the taxpayer and Irish citizens may expect to witness in the running of his Department and its agencies through the public sector reform agenda; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31574/12]

The Integrated Action Plan and Progress Reports, relating to the Public Service Agreement 2010-2014, for my Department and the Agencies under its aegis are available on the Department's websitewww.dcenr.gov.ie. There has been a reduction of approximately €2 million or 11% in the payroll costs of my Department since the commencement of the Agreement. Savings of over €3 million have also been made under the Agreement in the non-pay administrative budgets of the Department and the Agencies under its aegis, to date.

I am satisfied that the reforms are being implemented in line with the Agreement and that my Department and the Agencies will continue to pursue the reform agenda under the Croke Park Agreement.

Planning Issues

Patrick Deering

Ceist:

154 Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will introduce legislation to deal with high trees and hedges which affect neighbouring properties and residents. [31364/12]

I refer to the reply to Question No. 404 on 26 June, 2012, which outlines the position in the matter.

Rental Accommodation Scheme

Tom Fleming

Ceist:

155 Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the number of persons on the rental accommodation scheme in County Kerry in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and to date in 2012; the total amount paid out for each year; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31427/12]

Since the beginning of 2008 and up to the end of May 2012, some 1,050 households have been transferred from Rent Supplement to RAS and other social housing options in County Kerry. The following table sets out the annual transfer numbers:

Year

2008

2009

2010

2011

To end May 2012.

No. of Transfers

266

280

231

212

61

Recoupment made by my Department to the local authority in respect of the years requested is set out in the following table:

Year

2008

2009

2010

2011

To end May 2012

€ m.

€1.94m.

€2.65m.

€3.14m.

€3.47m.

€1.9m.

Social and Affordable Housing

David Stanton

Ceist:

156 Deputy David Stanton asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the amount of capital a person is allowed to possess in order to qualify for social housing under his Department guidelines; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31285/12]

Section 20 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 dealing with social housing support was commenced on 1 April 2011 and the related Social Housing Assessment Regulations, 2011 were made. A new standard procedure for assessing applicants for social housing was introduced in every housing authority. The Regulations contain, among other eligibility criteria, maximum income limits, which were subsequently amended upwards by the Social Housing Assessment (Amendment) Regulations 2011. The income bands contained therein refer to the net income of households that is net of income tax, PRSI and the Universal Social Charge. The Regulations do not provide for the assessment of capital, although ownership of alternative accommodation is taken into account in making decisions on eligibility for social housing support.

Irish Water

Brian Stanley

Ceist:

157 Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the cost of funding the establishment of Irish Water; and the way that it is to be funded. [31327/12]

The Government decided in December 2011, based on the recommendations of an independent assessment, to establish a public water utility company, Irish Water, to take over the operational and capital delivery functions of local authorities in the water services area. Following further consideration as to whether Irish Water should be established as a new entity or whether existing bodies in the semi-State sector could undertake the function, the Government decided that Irish Water should be established as an independent State-owned company within the Bord Gáis Group. A detailed breakdown for the cost of establishing and running Irish Water is not at present available. The Department is currently finalising the implementation strategy for the water sector reform process will focus on implementation and transformation issues and will give further clarity on the next steps that will be taken in this reform process.

The move of water sector functions from local authorities to a semi-State company operating in a regulatory environment, and the new funding regime which will include the introduction of domestic water charges in due course is a major organisational change. The setting of water charges, both domestic and non-domestic, will be a matter for the regulator within an overall policy and pricing framework which will be developed by the Government. Irish Water will have the power to collect water charges which will provide an income stream to support third party funding through accessing funding on financial markets with a view to Irish Water becoming self funding over time. The new funding model will also be influenced by ongoing capital requirements for investment; operational costs; efficiency gains arising from the new organisational form; levels of government funding; and the new utility's ability to access funds on financial markets.

With regard to future funding requirements for Irish Water, this will be determined through engagement with the economic regulator on the level of charges, securing of operational efficiencies and the appropriate level of capital investment, and the extent to which Irish Water will be able to access financial markets to fund its investment programme. The nature and duration of continuing Government funding will be determined as part of the budgetary and estimates process within this context.

Legislative Programme

Brian Stanley

Ceist:

158 Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if the drafting of the climate change Bill has begun; and if not when he intends starting this process. [31328/12]

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

172 Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the fact that if the climate change Bill 2012 is not drafted in the immediate future it will not be ready for publication by the fourth quarter 2012; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that this will not present an image of Ireland taking the matter of climate change seriously, will not give Ireland and advantage to implement measures to counteract climate change and that this will therefore threaten Ireland’s potential leadership role in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31395/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 158 and 172 together.

I refer to the reply to Question Nos. 143, 144 and 156 of 13 June 2012 which sets out the position in this matter.

Local Government Reform

Brian Stanley

Ceist:

159 Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if the final report on the Alignment of Local Government and Local Development has been published; and when it will go to Cabinet. [31330/12]

Brian Stanley

Ceist:

187 Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his views on the alignment of local government and local development; the consultation that he intends to have with stakeholders and those affected by the changes, particularly community based organisations. [31458/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 159 and 187 together.

I intend to bring proposals to Government in the coming weeks covering an extensive programme of local government reform and these will include proposals on enhanced alignment between local development and local government. The latter will be based on the work undertaken by the high level Steering Group that I established to consider the best way forward regarding alignment of local government and local development. The Group presented a broad range of recommendations with implications for both the local government and local development sectors and I have had the opportunity to consider these with a view to determining the future development structures and arrangements that will deliver the maximum benefit for communities and citizens.

Enhanced alignment of local government and local development will allow a better targeting of scarce resources, and better co-ordination of the activities of local government and local development, and will bring the resources of both sectors together in a constructive way to improve services to citizens. This will be the key focus in the proposals I will shortly bring to Government.

I understand that the Steering Group carried out extensive consultations with stakeholders during its deliberations, including local development companies, local authorities (elected representatives and city/county managers), Community and Voluntary Fora, Volunteer Centres and representative bodies for community and voluntary organisations. Consultation will continue with these and other stakeholders as the Group's recommendations are being implemented.

Household Charge

Brian Stanley

Ceist:

160 Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the number of households that still have to pay the household charges; the way in which and when the money raised will be allocated to local authorities [31331/12]

Brian Stanley

Ceist:

166 Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the number of households that have paid the household charge; the number of these that are entitled to waivers; and the action he will take to meet the shortfall in the funding of local authorities. [31338/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 160 and 166 together.

The Local Government (Household Charge) Act 2011 provides the legislative basis for the household charge. Under the Act, an owner of a residential property on the liability date of 1 January 2012 is liable to pay the €100 household charge, unless otherwise exempted or entitled to claim a waiver. The household charge is on a self-assessment basis and it is a matter for an owner of a residential property on the liability date to determine if he/she has a liability and, if so, to declare that liability and pay the household charge.

The Local Government Management Agency (LGMA) is administering the household charge system on a shared service/agency basis for all county and city councils. I understand from data provided by the LGMA that, as of 22 June 2012, a total number of 967,816 declarations have been made, equating to over €94.5 million. Some 17,607 households had claimed a waiver. It is estimated that some 1.6 million residential properties are liable for the household charge.

The Local Government (Household Charge) Act 2011 provides that income from the household charge is to be paid into the Local Government Fund. This funding is provided to local authorities in general-purpose grants, making it possible for me to equalise distribution and ensuring that those local authorities with lower populations than others do not suffer unduly as a result. General purpose grants are paid on a quarterly basis. General Purpose Grants contribute to meeting the difference between the cost to local authorities of providing a reasonable level of services and the income available to them from local sources and from specific grants. The two principal sources of revenue for the Local Government Fund are the proceeds of motor tax and the income from the Household Charge. General purpose grants from the Local Government Fund are designed to bring about equalisation, over time, so that each authority will have sufficient resources, either from central grants or from its local income base, to provide a reasonable level of day to day services to its customers. For the purposes of allocations, a range of factors is taken into account, including each local authority's expenditure on, and income from, its services, and the overall amount of funding available for distribution.

The income generated from the household charge is kept under constant review. However, it is up to individual local authorities to address any potential funding shortfalls arising from non-compliance with the legislation and to pursue those who may have a liability and initiate court proceedings, where it is considered appropriate.

Brian Stanley

Ceist:

161 Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the assurances that he will give that the household charge is not passed on to tenants in private rented accommodation. [31332/12]

Sandra McLellan

Ceist:

168 Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if a landlord is permitted to pass the household tax or future property tax on to the tenant by making it a condition of the tenancy agreement (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31350/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 161 and 168 together.

The Local Government (Household Charge) Act 2011 and the Local Government (Household Charge) Regulations 2012 provide the legislation underpinning the household charge. Under the legislation, an owner of a residential property on the liability date of 1 January 2012 is liable to pay the household charge by 31 March 2012, unless otherwise exempted or entitled to claim a waiver. Section 1 of the Act provides a definition of "owner" for the purposes of the Act, which, in relation to a residential property, means—

(a) a person (other than a mortgagee not in possession) who—

(i) in the case of a residential property that is let under a lease or held under a tenancy for a term not exceeding 20 years, is entitled to receive the rent under that lease or tenancy whether in his or her own right or as trustee or agent for another person, or

(ii) in the case of a residential property that is not so let or so held, would, subject toparagraph (b), be so entitled if the residential property were so let or so held, whether in that person’s own right or as trustee or agent for another person,

or

(b) where the property is let under a lease or held under a tenancy for a term exceeding 20 years, the person (other than a mortgagee not in possession) who is the lessee under that lease or tenant under that tenancy.

A tenant holding a lease of less than 20 years' duration, whether in public or in private rented accommodation, is not an owner of the property in which he or she is living and is therefore not liable in respect of that property. The charge is assessed on the basis of ownership of property, not on individuals personally. The legislation governing tenancies generally is a matter for my colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality.

Departmental Bodies

Brian Stanley

Ceist:

162 Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the Departments that will be represented on the High Level Inter-Departmental Group for Sustainable Development; and the persons who will attend these meetings. [31333/12]

I will chair the High-Level Inter-Departmental Group on Sustainable Development (HLGSD) which will coordinate and drive overall implementation of Our Sustainable Future — A Framework for Sustainable Development for Ireland. The HLGSD will report on progress to the Cabinet Committee on Climate Change and the Green Economy, chaired by the Taoiseach. My Department has written to the Secretaries General of the following Government Departments inviting them to nominate representatives, at Assistant Secretary level, to the HLGSD. As the closing date for receipt of nominations is 6 July 2012, a full list of representatives is not yet available but will be forwarded to the Deputy as soon as possible after that date.

Government Department

Agriculture, Food and the Marine

Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht

Communications, Energy and Natural Resources

Children and Youth Affairs

Defence

Education and Skills

Foreign Affairs and Trade

Finance

Health

Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation

Justice and Equality

Public Expenditure and Reform

Social Protection

Taoiseach

Transport, Tourism and Sport

Office of Public Works

Local Authority Funding

Brian Stanley

Ceist:

163 Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if extra resources and funding will be made available to local authorities to meet the demands under Our Sustainable Future framework. [31335/12]

Our Sustainable Future is a joined-up approach to policy making on sustainable development and sets out clear measures, responsibilities and timelines in an implementation plan that will ensure we improve our quality of life for current and future generations.

It will be a matter for individual sectors led by the relevant Departments to promote and coordinate delivery of the measures in Our Sustainable Future. It is envisaged that some measures will not entail additional costs and I would highlight that some can actually lead to significant cost savings e.g. the use of eco-design, integrated pollution prevention and control, and green public procurement. Other measures that entail initial costs in the short term can yield proportionately much greater cost savings over the longer term e.g. climate change adaptation measures. In overall terms, however, where additional costs arise in regard to implementation, these will have to be met from within existing resources.

The local government system is critical to the delivery of a wide range of important services that support sustainable development. The implementation of the Report of the Local Government Efficiency Review Group is critical in ensuring that resources are utilised efficiently in the discharge by local authorities of their functions, including those relating to sustainable development issues. A policy statement on local government reform is also in preparation with the aim of making local government stronger and more coherent, efficient, effective and ultimately more responsive to the public. The policy approach and recommendations in Our Sustainable Future will be taken into account, where relevant, in finalising this statement.

Water Meters

Brian Stanley

Ceist:

164 Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the number of households here who have had water meters installed in the past 10 years; and if these meters will be compatible with his proposals to charge for water. [31336/12]

Since 2001, local authorities have been responsible for the installation of water meters on supplies to non-domestic customers. Where properties had mixed commercial and domestic use, meters were installed and the customers were given an allowance for the domestic element of the water usage. As the non-domestic metering programme was devolved to the local authorities my Department does not have information on the number of mixed commercial and domestic properties which have been metered.

The rural water programme, which is also devolved to the local authorities, funds,inter alia, the up-grading of group water supplies. In recent years, where some group supplies were being upgraded, meters were installed on all connections including households. However, my Department does not have information on the number of households which have been metered in such cases.

The Government considers that charging based on usage is the fairest way to charge for water and it has decided that water meters should be installed in households connected to public water supplies. International evidence has shown that where meters have been installed significant reductions have been achieved in the level of consumption and this is also borne out by the water savings achieved with metering in the group water sector. Irish Water, a new State-owned water company to be established as an independent subsidiary within the Bord Gáis Eireann Group, will be responsible for the metering programme.

Waste Management

Brian Stanley

Ceist:

165 Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will provide an update on proposals for regulation of the waste collection industry. [31337/12]

The Programme for Government contains a commitment to introduce competitive tendering for household waste collection, under which service providers would bid to provide waste collection services in a given area, for a given period of time and to a guaranteed level of service, a system otherwise known as ‘franchise-bidding.' 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. A consensus is not apparent and, on almost all of the relevant issues, a considerable breadth of opinion was expressed. All of the responses received, in addition to a summary document, are available on my Department's website,www.environ.ie. I expect to be in a position to finalise proposals for Government in relation to household waste collection in the coming weeks. All policy proposals will be carefully considered by Government and will take account of the full range of issues and perspectives.

Question No. 166 answered with Question No. 160.

Local Authority Housing

Tom Fleming

Ceist:

167 Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the number of housing applicants on the local authority waiting list in a town (details supplied) in County Kerry; the number of vacant houses available under different schemes in this area; his plans for these houses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31348/12]

Tom Fleming

Ceist:

169 Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the total number of housing applicants on all local authority waiting lists in County Kerry; the total number of vacant houses available under the various schemes in the county; his plans for these houses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31389/12]

Tom Fleming

Ceist:

171 Deputy Tom Fleming asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the total number of housing applicants on the local authority waiting list at a location (details supplied) in County Kerry; the total number of vacant houses available under various schemes in this area; his plans for these houses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31392/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 167, 169 and 171 together.

Information on the number of households on local authority housing waiting lists or information in relation to the number of vacant houses available for social letting at any given time is not available in my Department. The number of households on waiting lists continuously fluctuates according 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 websitewww.environ.ie and on the Housing Agency’s website at www.housing.ie. Local authorities provide information on the proportion of stock that is vacant at the end of each year and this information is collated and published as part of the annual Service Indicators in Local Authorities Report. Copies of the 2010 report are available from the Local Government Management Services Board and may be downloaded from their website (www.lgmsb.ie).

Under my Department's Social Housing Investment Programme, local authorities are allocated capital funding each year in respect of a range of measures to improve the standard and overall quality of their social housing stock, including the regeneration of large social housing estates and flat complexes, estate wide remedial works schemes, a retrofitting measure to improve the energy efficiency of older apartments and houses and funding for extensions and adaptations to meet the needs of tenants with a disability etc. Given the constraints on capital budgets for new stock, my Department has in recent years placed a greater emphasis on local authority social housing improvement works programmes and on the early return of vacant units to productive use.

A total of €18 million is being provided this year for improving the quality and energy efficiency of older housing stock. Beginning in 2011, my Department required local authorities to focus the energy retrofitting programme on bringing vacant stock back into productive use. The 2012 programme will build on the achievements of 2011 when more than 2,600 vacant units were refurbished and made available for re-letting. While local authorities may undertake work on tenanted properties, there is a continuing focus on making vacant properties available for re-letting as quickly as possible. Grants of up to €15,000 per house are generally available for improving the fabric of the house with a further grant of up to €3,000 where additional essential works are needed. Over the course of 2010 and 2011 a total of 4,492 houses were improved. I intend to review the operation of the Social Housing Improvement Works Programme, including the energy efficiency measure, with a view to possible changes aimed at improving the targeting and overall effectiveness of the various measures.

Question No. 168 answered with Question No. 161.
Question No. 169 answered with Question No. 167.

Planning Issues

Robert Dowds

Ceist:

170 Deputy Robert Dowds asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will instruct An Bord Pleanála to make submissions which have been made to it publicly available through its website during the appeals process. [31391/12]

While Section 146 of the Planning and Development Acts 2000-2010 provides that the files on appeals can be inspected by members of the public three days after the appeals are determined by the Board, in practice the Board circulates substantive submissions received to interested parties for their information during the course of an appeal.

This is done where, in accordance with Section 131 of the Act, An Bord Pleanála forms the opinion that, having regard to the particular circumstances of an appeal (e.g. where it considers that a new matter has been raised), it may circulate the submission, inviting observations from the relevant parties.

I have no plans to instruct An Bord Pleanála to make submissions publicly available through its website during the appeals process.

Question No. 171 answered with Question No. 167.
Question No. 172 answered with Question No. 158.

Social and Affordable Housing

Sandra McLellan

Ceist:

173 Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the person whose responsibility it is to maintain a repossessed shared ownership house in the possession of a local authority; if it is acceptable that one year after it was repossessed that it has been let fall into such disrepair that it has now become a health hazard infested by rats, is overgrown with six foot long grass and the fence is falling into the neighbours property; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31417/12]

Sandra McLellan

Ceist:

174 Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the procedures in place to ensure that houses repossessed under shared ownership are properly maintained while unoccupied; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31418/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 173 and 174 together.

Repossession remains extremely rare for local authority borrowers, with only 128 repossessions across all local authority areas carried out between 2005 and 2010. Clearly, where repossession does occur it is only as a last resort, and my Department is aware that it generally involves those households in arrears who refuse to engage with the local authority lender.

It is a matter for local authorities to ensure that properties that are repossessed are secured or maintained after repossession. My Department has no function in the matter. However, it is generally the case that a local authority will look to sell a repossessed property on the open market as quickly as possible in order to minimize their own exposure to financial loss in respect of the loan finance provided through them to the borrower.

Water Services

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

175 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the progress made to date in the creation of water management facilities throughout the country with particular reference to the need to recognise the importance of adequate drinking water supplies into the future; the plans afoot to provide storage and treatment facilities to meet the requirements in terms of domestic drinking water over the next fifty years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31437/12]

The overall strategy of investment in water services is to ensure that the timing and scale of investment facilitates economic and other development, achieves compliance with statutory requirements and promotes environmental sustainability objectives. The main vehicle for achieving these objectives for public domestic water supplies is the multi-annual Water Services Investment Programme.

The current Programme, which runs to the end of 2013, provides for the commencement of contracts with a value of over €800million 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 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.

The development of the programme followed a comprehensive review of investment requirements initiated in 2009 involving an assessment of needs for water and sewerage services by each water services authority and taking account of reports by the Environmental Protection Agency on drinking water quality and an assessment by Forfás of the requirements of enterprise in Gateways and Hubs, as well as River Basin Management Plans.

In addition, a detailed project appraisal is undertaken during the planning phase of each scheme, which determines issues such as the appropriate source of water, projected future demand and the most cost effective solution to meeting needs. There is, therefore, a strong evidence base, from technical assessments, environmental monitoring and policy studies to underpin the strategic direction of water services capital investment.

In order to create efficiencies, improve service delivery and achieve cost savings in the delivery of water services, the Programme for Government provides for the establishment of a new State-owned national water authority to take over responsibility for managing and supervising investment in water services infrastructure. The Department is currently finalising work on the implementation strategy for the establishment of Irish Water. This strategy will take account of the need to ensure that this critical public service is delivered efficiently during the transition and that there is no loss of momentum in the delivery of key projects.

Water Supply

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

176 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the extent to which it has been possible to eliminate leakage in the water supply system; the percentage of the infrastructure currently deemed free from leakage; the extent of work still to be done in this area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31438/12]

My Department's Water Services Investment Programme 2010-2013 places a high priority on water conservation. Funding is particularly targeted at areas where the level of unaccounted for water is unacceptably high. In the year to end September 2011, some 200 kilometres of public water supply pipes were replaced or rehabilitated under this programme.

Since the national water conservation programme was implemented in 2003, over €208 million has been specifically invested in water conservation measures by my Department. In addition, local authorities fund active leakage control, detection and repair from their own operational budgets. Most of the effort to date has been focused on putting in place the water management systems to allow for active leakage control and better planning of mains rehabilitation. Most local authorities have now prepared watermains rehabilitation strategies, which set out the priority mains for replacement and repair and provide the platform for accelerated investment in this area over the coming years. The primary objective of this programme of work is to reduce water loss and leakage in the distribution networks to an economic level and to address high levels of unaccounted for water.

Over time, this investment coupled with ongoing active leakage control should lead to marked reductions in unaccounted for water and improve service to customers. Progress is monitored on an annual basis through the local authority service indicators and through the collection of data from local authorities. The most recent published comparative figures for unaccounted for water in each county are set out in the report Service Indicators in Local Authorities 2010 which was published by the Local Government Management Services Board in December 2011, a copy of which is in the Oireachtas Library.

The proposed water metering programme will complement the continuing programme of investment in water mains rehabilitation and replacement. The installation of water meters will encourage households to conserve water, reduce consumption and will ensure that customer side leaks can be identified and fixed. Metering will, therefore, achieve significant reductions in the volumes of water that are required to be produced and treated and will lead to savings in the operational costs of delivering water services and in deferred capital expenditure.

Air and Water Pollution

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

177 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the extent to which air and/or water pollution has been detected in each of the past five years to date; the trends if any emerging; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31439/12]

With regard to detection of air pollution, ambient air quality monitoring and assessment in Ireland is carried out in accordance with the requirements of Directive 2008/50/EC on ambient air quality and cleaner air for Europe, also known as the CAFE Directive. The CAFE Directive consolidated and replaced the earlier Air Quality Framework Directive and the first three so-called "daughter" directives.

The CAFE Directive has been transposed into national legislation by the Air Quality Standards Regulations 2011. These regulations set limit values/target values for the following pollutants: Sulphur Dioxide; Nitrogen Dioxide and Oxides of Nitrogen; Particulate Matter (PM10 and PM2.5); Lead; Benzene; Carbon Monoxide; and Ozone. In addition, the Arsenic,Cadmium, Mercury, Nickel and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Ambient Air Regulations 2009 transpose the fourth "daughter" Directive 2004/107/EC and specify target values and monitoring requirements for arsenic, cadmium, mercury, nickel and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

The EPA publishes a comprehensive annual report on air quality, the most recent being the report, Air Quality in Ireland 2010 — Key Indicators of Ambient Air Quality, published in September 2011. This report provides an overview of ambient air quality trends in Ireland in 2010 based on data from 28 monitoring stations. The Report confirmed that air quality in Ireland is of a high standard and remains the best in Europe. In 2010, measured values for the above mentioned pollutants were all below limit and target values set out in legislation. However, levels of particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide continue to remain of concern in some areas. Trends over time and future outlook for individual pollutants are also noted in the Report.

The EPA, local authorities, Inland Fisheries Ireland and the Marine Institute all monitor rivers, lakes, transitional and coastal waters plus groundwater quality under the Water Framework Directive on a three-year cycle. This extensive monitoring programme provides a good overview of current water quality and trends as they develop.

Water quality trends emerging in recent years include a notable decline in the incidence of serious pollution events from 39 sites in the 2004-2006 period, to 20 sites in the 2007-2009 period and currently down to 11 sites. There has also been a stabilisation in the length of river channel regarded as unpolluted, at approximately 71% of the length surveyed. However, the period has also been marked by a steady decline in the number of river sites at high ecological status.

Comprehensive reports on water quality are published every three years by the EPA and are available for download atwww.epa.ie.

Community Development

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

178 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the extent to which his Department in concert with community groups continue to deal with community issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31440/12]

My Department continues to have responsibility for a range of community focused programmes and actions, in line with its high level objective to facilitate integrated development at local level and foster vibrant, sustainable and inclusive communities and to support the Community and Voluntary Sector in its contribution to an active, democratic and pluralist society.

My Department funds a range of programmes and initiatives to support communities including,inter alia, the Local and Community Development Programme, the LEADER elements of the Rural Development Programme, the Forum on Philanthropy and Fundraising and a range of schemes in the Community and Voluntary Sector such as the Scheme to Support National Organisations.

A number of other Departments also fund community-based programmes and schemes. This combined investment in the community and voluntary sector reinforces the Government's commitment to sustaining vibrant and strong communities in Ireland.

Register of Electors

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

179 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the remaining inaccuracies in the voters register; whether it is intended in conjunction with An Post or otherwise to create a structure whereby the register can be accurately and regularly updated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31441/12]

The preparation of the Register of Electors is a matter for each local registration authority — the city and county councils. It is their duty to ensure as far as is possible, and with the cooperation of the public, the accuracy and comprehensiveness of the register. The publication of the draft register in November each year in preparation for the coming into effect of the register on the 15th of February following allows for corrections to be made. The public is invited to check the draft during this period so that people can make sure that they are correctly registered. Any errors or omissions in the draft should be brought immediately to the attention of the registration authority. Claims for the addition or deletion of names are ruled on by the county registrar who is a legally qualified court officer. The ruling is made in public and any person may attend and give evidence. Also, if a person is not included in the register of electors currently in force but considers that he or she qualifies for registration — for example if they have come of age to register or if they have changed address — the person may apply for entry in the supplement to the register which is open year round subject to certain practical limits in the weeks before a polling day.

Social and Affordable Housing

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

180 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he has given any consideration to facilitating a tenant purchase scheme for tenants of voluntary housing associations, wherein provision was made under the capital allowance or other schemes which were paid for in full by the Exchequer; the total number of houses operated under such schemes; the likely benefit to the Exchequer in the event of a sale to tenants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31442/12]

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

181 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he has given any consideration to the possible sale of local authority houses to the tenants; if any evaluation has been done as to the total number of houses likely to fall within the category of possible sale to tenants; if consideration has been given to the potential benefit to the Exchequer arising from any such disposal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31443/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 180 and 181 together.

The Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2009 introduced a new approach to the sale of social housing whereby social housing tenants, including tenants of approved housing bodies, could acquire new local authority houses and existing apartments under the Incremental Purchase Scheme (IPS). The details of this scheme are available on my Department's website.

The IPS is intended to replace tenant purchase schemes provided for under Section 90 of Housing Act, 1966 (as amended). The existing tenant purchase scheme, which has been in existence since 1995, is being wound down from the end of this year. Arrangements for the termination of this scheme were communicated to housing authorities on 6th June, 2012 in Housing Circular 23/2012.

It is my intention to replace the tenant purchase scheme with a new scheme based on the incremental purchase model for tenants of existing local authority housing. Legislation is required to underpin the new model which it is hoped to introduce in 2013.

While there is no provision at present for the purchase of individual houses by tenants in voluntary and co-operative housing schemes, my Department is currently in consultation with the voluntary housing sector regarding the development of an enabling regulatory framework that will support the expanded role for the sector, including options for purchase.

The IPS approach was evaluated as part of the preparatory work for the 2009 Act which showed that there were potential benefits to the State and to the local community in adopting the new approach. While the sale of local authority dwellings does reduce the stock of social housing available for letting there are compensating social and economic benefits attaching to maintaining the option of selling dwellings to tenants.

The tenant purchase of local authority dwellings is also evaluated in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform's thematic evaluation series paper entitled Social Housing Supports.

Voluntary Housing Sector

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

182 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if and when it is anticipated that the necessary legislation to regulate the voluntary housing sector will be put in place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31444/12]

The Government's Housing Policy Statement, published in June 2011, identifies approved housing bodies (AHBs) as key partners in the delivery of social housing. This recognises both the constrained funding levels available for local authority construction programmes and the capacity and track-record of the voluntary and cooperative housing sector.

AHBs are uniquely placed to help drive the achievement of the housing supply responses set out in the policy statement. However, the move from capital funded programmes of construction and acquisition by approved housing bodies to more revenue funded options does present challenges for them. As such, I intend to develop an enabling regulatory framework for the sector that will provide support and assurance both to the sector itself and to its external partners as it takes on the expanded role envisaged for it in the policy statement.

I will develop this framework in consultation with the sector but I expect that it will:

assist approved housing bodies to develop key governance and management structures to facilitate an expanded remit;

provide independent scrutiny and validation of such bodies' competences; and

place sustainable housing management policies and practices at the heart of a coordinated approach to the development of the sector.

The development of a regulatory framework will take time. In the meantime, I am engaging with the sector on the development of a voluntary code which, I would hope, most approved housing bodies will sign up to over time. This code, which I intend to circulate for wider consultation in the coming weeks, will serve as a learning opportunity for the sector and for my Department as we develop a longer-term statutory framework that will best support the sector. I expect that the code will set out,inter alia, key basic principles of good governance and financial management and will also set out the range of reporting obligations that currently apply to the sector.

Local Authority Housing

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

183 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when it is expected to put in place a local government capital housing programme with particular emphasis on the need to meet the requirements of the vast number of housing applications currently on the housing lists of various local authorities some of whom have been on such lists for more than ten years; if he will draw up a programme to address the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31445/12]

The Government's Housing Policy Statement, published in June 2011, sets out a vision for the future of the housing sector in Ireland based on choice, fairness, equity across tenures and on delivering quality outcomes for the resources invested. The overall strategic objective is to enable all households access good quality housing appropriate to household circumstances and in the particular community of choice.

My Department's Social Housing Investment Programme (SHIP) is being restructured to allow for the delivery of new social housing through more flexible funding models such as the Rental Accommodation Scheme and the Social Housing Leasing Initiative, each of which will play their part as long-term social housing supports. The constraints on the public capital programme will rule out a return to very large capital funded social housing construction programmes by local authorities in the medium term. Of the €390 million available under the SHIP for 2012, some €112 million is being provided for local authority social housing construction and acquisition programmes. A further €70 million is being provided for special needs housing provision by the voluntary housing sector under my Department's Capital Assistance Scheme (CAS). I intend to announce details shortly of a limited programme of investment in new social and voluntary housing under SHIP and CAS for the period to end 2014.

Local Authority Housing

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

184 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when it will be possible to introduce a local authority loans system to facilitate the needs of first time house buyers in the medium to lower income sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31446/12]

There are already two types of house purchase loan available from local authorities: standard annuity loans targeted at lower income first time buyers and those under the Home Choice Loan scheme which are available to qualifying middle income first time buyers affected by the "credit crunch".

The terms and conditions governing the operation, including eligibility terms, of annuity mortgages and the Home Choice Loan are set out under the Housing (Local Authority Loans) Regulations 2009 and the Housing (Home Choice Loan) Regulations 2009 respectively. These are available on my Department's website:www.environ.ie. There has been a low rate of uptake which suggests that access to credit is just one of a number of reasons for the low level of transactions in the housing market at present and that wider economic sentiment has a more significant impact on sentiment in the housing market.

It is not the intention of this scheme — or of any other Government intervention in the housing sector — to incentivise or entice people into the market. It is not intended therefore that the Home Choice loan would be modified to offer any such inducement or offer. It is designed only to facilitate credit worthy households who have been affected by conditions in the mortgage market.

As such, the scheme is a temporary one which will be withdrawn once conditions in credit markets return to normal patterns. Recent data published by the Central Bank would indicate that that point has not yet been reached.

Social and Affordable Housing

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

185 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when it is likely that local authorities in conjunction with the Housing Finance Agency can again assume the full role of a housing authority wherein provision is made by way of a direct house building programme or a loan scheme to fund house purchase for persons in a particular category in view of the inability of the current structure to deal with the issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31447/12]

The social housing capital budget has been reduced from €1.535 billion in 2008 to just over €333.7 million for 2012, and the financial parameters within which we will be operating for the coming years rule out a return to large capital funded construction programmes. Nevertheless, the Government is committed to responding more quickly and on a larger scale to social housing support needs through a variety of mechanisms, including through increased provision of social housing. In spite of the challenging circumstances within which local authorities are forced to operate, a tentative projection of 4,000 to 4,500 housing units is anticipated for 2012.

Projected levels of activity in 2013 will be subject to the financial provision for housing, which will be determined in the context of the 2013 Estimates process. Delivery of social housing will be significantly facilitated through more flexible funding models such as the Rental Accommodation Scheme and leasing, but the Government is also committed to developing other funding mechanisms that will increase the supply of permanent new social housing. Such mechanisms will include options to purchase, build to lease and the sourcing of loan finance by approved housing bodies for construction and acquisition. There is also obvious potential, across a range of housing programmes, for the Government's objective of sourcing and providing suitable residential units for use as social housing to be aligned with the commercial objectives of the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA).

In terms of loan finance for first time buyers, there are already two types of house purchase loan available from local authorities: standard annuity loans targeted at lower income first time buyers and those under the Home Choice Loan scheme which are available to qualifying middle income first time buyers affected by the "credit crunch". The terms and conditions governing the operation, including eligibility terms, of annuity mortgages and the Home Choice Loan are set out under the Housing (Local Authority Loans) Regulations 2009 and the Housing (Home Choice Loan) Regulations 2009 respectively. These are available on my Department's website:www.environ.ie.

There has been a low rate of uptake which suggests that access to credit is just one of a number of reasons for the low level of transactions in the housing market at present and that wider economic sentiment has a more significant impact on sentiment in the housing market.

It is not the intention of this scheme — or of any other Government intervention in the housing sector — to incentivise or entice people into the market. It is not intended therefore that the Home Choice loan would be modified to offer any such inducement or offer. It is designed only to facilitate credit worthy households who have been affected by conditions in the mortgage market.

As such, the scheme is a temporary one which will be withdrawn once conditions in credit markets return to normal patterns. Recent data published by the Central Bank would indicate that that point has not yet been reached.

Fire Service

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

186 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his plans for the future development of the fire services, currently operated by the local authorities on a part time or voluntary basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31448/12]

It is a statutory function of individual fire authorities under Section 10 of the Fire Services Act 1981 to provide a fire service in its functional area, including the establishment and maintenance of a fire brigade, the assessment of fire cover needs, the provision of a premises and the making of such other provisions as it considers necessary or desirable.

Outside of the main cities which have full-time firefighters employed, fire services are provided by a retained staffing system. Retained firefighters are employees of fire authorities, and are organised to provide a full professional fire service for their communities. They are equipped, supervised and operate to the same procedures as their full time colleagues. At the end of December 2011, there were 2,077 retained firefighters employed by local authorities. The retained services provide an excellent model of service delivery where, to a substantial degree, a contingent rather than a continuous capability is required. I have no plans to change fundamentally what I regard as an excellent community service delivered by the local authorities.

There are very few voluntary fire service units countrywide. Historically, Councils assisted these units through the provision of some equipment, training and funding. However, Council responsibilities and liabilities under the health and safety at work legislation have seen some Councils withdraw from such support in recent years. My Department's National Directorate for Fire and Emergency Management has recently consulted with stakeholders in relation to its draft policy document Keeping Communities Safe, which sets the future directions for the Irish Fire Service. The submissions received are currently being analysed. The draft policy document sets out an integrated approach to efficient fire safety in Ireland through achieving an appropriate balance between prevention of fires, having appropriate fire protection facilities in place in buildings and through appropriate and effective fire brigade response. It proposes guidance and standards for fire service delivery, underpinned by a risk categorisation approach, and examines service delivery structures. When finalised, the policy document will be circulated to all fire authorities for appropriate implementation. The Keeping Communities Safe draft document is available on my Department's website atwww.environ.ie.

Question No. 187 answered with Question No. 159.

Household Charge

Pat Breen

Ceist:

188 Deputy Pat Breen asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if any plans will be put in place to allow An Post to take payments for the household charge in view of the fact that this would be very convenient for many persons. [31516/12]

The household charge is on a self-assessment basis and it is a matter for an owner of a residential property on the liability date of 1 January, 2012 to determine if he/she has a liability and, if so, that person is required to declare that liability by completing the household charge declaration form and to pay the household charge by 31 March, 2012.

There is a range of options available for persons to pay the household charge. An online systemwww.householdcharge.ie is in place in the Local Government Management Agency (LGMA) to enable homeowners to pay the household charge by credit/debit card. In addition, homeowners can make payment by cheque, postal order, credit or debit card by completing the relevant payment details on the declaration form and posting it to Household Charge, PO Box 12168, Dublin 1.

A bureau is in place in the LGMA to administer the charge on a shared service/agency basis for all local authorities. In addition, all county/city councils have been requested to have arrangements in place for persons to attend their principal offices to pay the household charge. An Post has assisted in broadening the number of local outlets where the household charge declaration form is available and the form has been available outside the counter in the network of 1,152 local post offices. I am satisfied that there is a comprehensive suite of payment options available to persons to pay the charge.

Tidy Towns Committees

Peadar Tóibín

Ceist:

189 Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the funding available to assist tidy town committees in their work; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31520/12]

The guiding principle of TidyTowns is volunteerism and self-help, using one's own skills and resources. There is no specific funding scheme for TidyTowns groups but they, like any community group, can qualify under other schemes. The TidyTowns Unit of my Department is responsible for the payment of prize monies, provided through sponsorships, to the various category winners in the TidyTowns and associated competitions. In 2011 prize money of €208,900 was disbursed to 235 winners.

My Department provides funding through the LA21 Environmental Partnership Fund to assist small scale, local, non-profit environmental projects aimed at increasing environmental awareness and developing sustainable communities. Community groups, including TidyTowns groups, can apply for funding for a variety of environmental projects. Application for funding is made to the relevant local authority who matches the funding provided by my Department. A total of 517 projects were funded under the scheme in 2011. My Department is providing funding of €337,000 for the scheme in 2012. An invitation to community groups to submit proposals for the 2012 scheme is currently open; submissions are to be returned to the relevant local authority by 11 July.

In addition Axes 3 and 4 (LEADER) of the Rural Development Programme (RDP) 2007-2013, which is currently being implemented on my Department's behalf by 35 Local Action Groups, aims to improve the quality of life in rural areas and promote the diversification of the rural economy. Over €300 million in funding will be available through my Department for the delivery of the Programme over the current programming period. The RDP is designed to address directly many of the challenges facing rural communities including the need to increase economic activity and stimulate job creation; improve access to basic services for rural dwellers and encourage rural tourism based on sustainable development of natural resources.

In the context of support for rural communities including those involved in TidyTowns initiatives, funding can be provided for the upgrade, maintenance and development of community areas and amenities in eligible towns and villages. A large number of TidyTowns initiatives have already received funding from the LEADER elements of the RDP since it commenced in 2009 and the level of funding commitment to these kinds of initiatives is significant. If any individual or community group wishes to find out more about these funding opportunities they should contact their Local Action Group (LEADER Company), the contact details can be found on my Department's websitewww.environ.ie.

Non-Principal Private Residence Charge

Brendan Griffin

Ceist:

190 Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his views on the non-principal private residents charge; if he will consider introducing an appeal mechanism for persons who are living abroad and were unaware of this charge and now face penalties for non-payment. [31533/12]

The Local Government (Charges) Act 2009, as amended, broadened the revenue base of local authorities by introducing a charge on non-principal private residences. The charge is set at €200 and liability for it falls, in the main, on owners of rental, holiday and vacant properties.

Under the Act, it is a function of a local authority to collect non-principal private residence charges and late payment fees due to it and all charges and late payment fees imposed and payable to a local authority are under the care and management of the local authority concerned. In this regard, application of the legislation in particular circumstances is a matter for the relevant local authority. Interpretation of the legislation is a matter for legal advice in individual cases and ultimately a matter for the courts.

I have recently issued guidelines to local authorities in relation to the operation of the "care and management" provisions of the Local Government (Charges) Act 2009 in the context of individual situations where genuine hardship in having to discharge a liability in a single payment can be demonstrated. The guidelines set out the modalities for local authorities in relation to entering into payment arrangements for the discharge of outstanding liabilities in instalments over a specified period. Inquiries in this regard should be directed to the relevant local authority.

Planning Issues

Simon Harris

Ceist:

191 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his plans to reform the planning system here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31542/12]

As Minister for Housing and Planning I am responsible for ensuring that a strong policy and legislative framework exists to support the consistent operation of an efficient, effective and transparent planning system. Forward planning sets a clear hierarchy of plans from the National Spatial Strategy to Regional Planning Guidelines, Development Plans and Local Area Plans to ensure a clear strategic framework for decision making across the various spatial levels.

A very extensive suite of statutory planning guidelines across forward planning and development management is already in place to promote best practice in planning authorities. My Department is developing further guidance for planning authorities in a number of areas, for example, development contributions, and local area plans.

I am committed to a physical planning system that is better supported by:

evidence-based requirements linked to key Government strategic policies e.g. through the National Spatial Strategy and capital allocations;

a coherent basis to ensure planning and investment in infrastructure and services are focused on the most suitable locations;

tackling the legacy of over-zoning and moving towards a more joined up approach to the delivery of critical services such as schools, public transport, water services and social housing;

refocusing on revitalising city and town centres, and discouraging urban sprawl;

engaging more directly with elected members at a strategic level by requiring them to bring together, in a concise manner, the key priorities of their development plan; and

providing the necessary certainty about where development will take place.

The Planning Review Report I published, on 12 June 2012, together with the response to report of the Mahon Tribunal in regard to the planning recommendations, within the coming weeks, will form a package of further reforms to underpin a fair, open and transparent planning system.

An Bord Pleanála

Simon Harris

Ceist:

192 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the specific terms of reference that are in place outlining the role and remit of An Bord Pleanála; his views on whether these terms of reference are adequate; his plans to review or revise same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31543/12]

An Bord Pleanála was established in 1977 under the Local Government (Planning and Development) Act, 1976. It is responsible for the determination of appeals and certain other matters as set out in the Planning and Development Acts, 2000 to 2011 and determination of applications for strategic infrastructure development including major road and railway cases. It is also responsible for dealing with proposals for the compulsory acquisition of land by local authorities and others under various enactments. The Board also has functions to determine appeals under Water and Air Pollution Acts and the Building Control Act. Full details of the board's role and remit, together with its Strategy Statement 2011-2014, can be viewed on its websitewww.pleanala.ie.

The Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2010 introduced a range of measures to improve the throughput and performance of An Bord Pleanála. The performance of An Bord Pleanála also remains under ongoing review through mechanisms in place under the Croke Park Agreement. In terms of the future remit of the Board, the Government will consider a comprehensive analysis of the recommendations of the Final Report of the Mahon Tribunal — some of which relate to the Board — in the coming weeks.

An Bord Pleanála

Simon Harris

Ceist:

193 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will provide details of the nominating process for appointing members to An Bord Pleanála; the number of members currently on the board; the date on which each member was appointed; the nominating bodies for each member; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31544/12]

Appointments to the Board of An Bord Pleanála are governed by sections 105 to 107 of the Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2011 and articles 56 to 65 of Part 7 of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001, as amended. Ordinary members are appointed from among nominees put forward by organisations specifically prescribed for the purpose of making nominations for appointments as ordinary members of An Bord Pleanála. The position of Chair is advertised publicly. The Board is currently made up of eight members (seven ordinary members and a Chair) as set out in the following table:

Board Member

Period of Appointment From

Period of Appointment To

Nominating Body

Mary Kelly (Chair)

29/08/2011

28/08/2018

Public Competition

Mary MacMahon

27/11/2011

26/11/2013

Reappointed at end of previous term

Conall Boland

01/01/2012

31/12/2013

Reappointed at end of previous term

Fionna O’Regan

07/02/2011

06/02/2016

Engineers Ireland

Gabriel Dennison

21/05/2012

20/05/2017

IBEC

Paddy Keogh

21/05/2012

20/05/2017

Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (also nominated by Irish Council for Social Housing )

Michael Leahy

14/05/2012

13/05/2017

Irish Rural Dwellers Association (also nominated by Chambers Ireland)

Nicholas Mulcahy

21//05/2012

20/05/2017

Construction Industry Federation

Waste Management

Simon Harris

Ceist:

194 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when he will make a decision on whether or not to instigate a local investigation into the granting of a waste permit in an area (details supplied) in County Wicklow as per the expressed wishes of elected councillors of a local authority which was communicated to his Department more than two years ago; the communications he has had with the local authority since receiving this request; his views on whether it is acceptable that such a period has lapsed between receiving this request for an inquiry and a decision being made on this request; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31545/12]

Since the request for the Minister to hold a public local inquiry under section 212 of the Local Government Act 2001 into aspects of the handling of the grant of a waste permit for the creation of a borrow pit at Ballybeg in County Wicklow, including into the role of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, the matter has been the subject of communications between my Department and Wicklow County Council including some of its elected members. The correspondence included copies of minutes of meetings of the Council in January and February 2010, responses to queries on the operation of the borrow pit and the County Manager's Report of 25 January 2010 to the Council and a request from the Deputy, then a Councillor, to the Minister in 2010 to confirm whether the enquiry would proceed. Similar requests have been received from other Councillors. The issue has also been the subject of recent correspondence between members of the Council and the office of the Minister of State, Deputy O'Sullivan.

This matter was investigated by the County Manager in 2003 and by the Local Government Audit Service (LGAS) in 2005. The LGAS report was examined by the Commissioner for Environmental Information who is also the Ombudsman. The reports and related correspondence are in the public domain, having been made available to public representatives in Wicklow. The request for an inquiry was received from Wicklow County Council following a Special Meeting on 26 January 2010. No new information or evidence was submitted with this request.

No decision has been taken in relation to the Council's request at this time.

Departmental Staff

Simon Harris

Ceist:

195 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the procedures in place to manage sick leave in his Department; the sick leave entitlement in place in his Department; the combined amount of sick days taken by staff in his Department in 2011 and to date in 2012; the financial cost of this sick leave; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31562/12]

Entitlements and provisions in relation to sick leave are set out in the relevant sick leave circulars issued by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

Measures that have been put in place in my Department to monitor and manage sick leave include the following:

On foot of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform Circular 09 of 2010, which provides for a general framework for the management of sick leave, my Department prepared and issued Sick Leave Guidelines to give clear guidelines to managers on effectively managing staff sick leave.

Staff at HEO level and equivalent grades have recently completed Human Resources Training for line managers, which included practical examples and practical guidance on attendance management. This training is now being extended to staff at Assistant Principal Officer level.

My Department has systems in place for the monitoring and recording of sick leave absences with a particular focus and appropriate follow-up action on uncertified/ certified sick leave thresholds.

Staff that are absent for more than four weeks are routinely referred to the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) and long term absentees must also receive CMO clearance to return to work. My Department regularly liaises with the CMO on how best to manage difficult cases.

My Department's Employee Assistance Officer is available to give support and advice on all matters including sick leave a confidential basis.

My Department has a Disability Liaison Officer who is available to assist staff with disabilities.

The total number of sick leave days taken by staff in my Department in 2011 was 7,304 and the cost of absenteeism was approximately €1.236 million in 2011. For 2012, the most up to date figures available are for the first quarter (January to March 2012). Over this period the total number of sick leave days taken by staff was 1,623 days with a total cost of approximately €270,000.

Public Sector Reform

Simon Harris

Ceist:

196 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the tangible results that have been delivered in his Department through the implementation of the Croke Park Agreement; the implementation plan in place in his Department to ensure reforms envisaged through this agreement are delivered on; if he is satisfied with the pace of reform in his Department and the agencies under his remit; the further reforms the taxpayer and Irish citizens may expect to witness in the running of his Department and its agencies through the public sector reform agenda; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31577/12]

An integrated annual progress report under the Public Sector (Croke Park) Agreement 2010-2014 for my Department and its agencies was published on my Department's website in May 2012. An integrated Action Plan for the implementation of the Agreement by my Department and its agencies was also published on my Department's website in March 2012.

I am satisfied with the pace of reform reported in the recent annual progress report and with the plans for future reforms, as outlined in the integrated Action Plan. The progress report, the Action Plan and other relevant information are available on my Department's website atwww.environ.ie/en/AboutUs/PublicSectorAgreement2010-2014/.

Rights of Way

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

197 Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will reconsider proposals regarding the registration of rights of way (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31401/12]

The position is that Part 8 (Chapter 1) of the Land and Conveyancing Law Reform Act 2009 updated the law concerning the acquisition of easements, including rights of way. Section 35 of the Act, which entered into operation on 1 December 2009, contained specific provisions in respect of easements acquired by prescription, i.e. acquired on the basis of long enjoyment of the easement concerned. It originally provided that such an easement would be acquired at law only on registration in the Land Registry or the Registry of Deeds of a court order under that section.

Parts 12 and 13 of the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011 contain amendments to the 2009 Act and the Registration of Title Act 1964 which simplify the procedures for acquiring easements based on prescription. They were drafted in consultation with the Law Society and the Property Registration Authority (PRA).

The amendments permit the PRA to register such an easement without a court order under section 35 of the 2009 where it is satisfied that there is an entitlement to it. Where the PRA is not satisfied that there is such an entitlement, such as where there is disagreement between the parties concerned, a court order under section 35 of the 2009 will continue to be required. This is similar to the procedure which applies in respect of applications for registration of title based on adverse possession of the land.

The rules applicable to the new arrangements are set out in the Land Registration Rules 2011 (S.I. No. 559 of 2011) which are available on the PRA web site (ww.prai.ie). The procedures to be followed are set out in a Practice Direction entitled ‘Registration of Easements and Profits a Prendre acquired by Prescription under Section 49A' which is also available on the website.

Garda Stations

Simon Harris

Ceist:

198 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will make arrangements for a Garda station (details supplied) in County Wicklow to be painted and for wheelchair access to be provided as a matter of urgency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31549/12]

The programme of replacement and refurbishment of Garda accommodation is based on agreed priorities established by An Garda Síochána. The programme is progressed in co-operation with the Office of Public Works, who have responsibility for capital expenditure in respect of Garda accommodation.

I am advised by the Garda authorities that they are currently engaging with the Office of Public Works in relation to work to be carried out at the station referred to by the Deputy. In particular, I understand that the Garda authorities have prioritised the station for the purposes of the carrying out of a Universal Access Audit.

Garda Stations

Charlie McConalogue

Ceist:

199 Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the opening hours of a Garda station (details supplied) in County Donegal; his plans to increase the opening hours of this station and the number of Garda assigned to this station; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31290/12]

The Deputy will be aware that the Garda Commissioner is responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel, throughout the Garda Síochána and I have no function in that matter.

I have been informed by the Commissioner that Malin Garda station is open to the public from 6pm to 7pm Monday to Friday. When Malin Garda station is not open Public Access Call Box and Call Diversion is in place to Buncrana Garda station which is open on a 24 hour basis. An increase in the opening hours of Malin Garda station would necessitate the employment of additional Garda personnel on indoor administrative duties who may be more effectively employed on outdoor policing duties.

I have been further informed that the strength of Malin Garda station on 31 May 2012, the latest date for which figures are readily available, was three. Malin Garda station forms part of the Buncrana district of the Donegal Garda division. The personnel strength of the Buncrana district and Donegal division on the same date was 75 and 433, respectively. In addition, there were 29 Garda civilians and 24 Garda reserves attached to the Donegal Garda division on that date.

Legal Services Regulation

Sandra McLellan

Ceist:

200 Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will appoint an ombudsman to deal with solicitors and complaints against them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31321/12]

During the Second Stage debate on the Legal Services Regulation Bill 2011 which concluded on 23rd February, I recalled to the House the decision taken in May 2011 not to proceed with the appointment of a Legal Services Ombudsman. This is because the oversight model proposed in the Legal Services Ombudsman Act of 2009 does not meet this Government's policy commitment to greater independence in the regulation of the legal professions. The Legal Services Regulation Bill, therefore, sets out an alternative and more independent supervisory regime. These provisions are also part of our national EU/IMF/ECB undertakings in support of structural reform, greater competitiveness and early economic recovery. The new regulatory system to deal with the legal sector will take the form of an independently appointed and operated Legal Services Regulatory Authority; independent procedures to deal with complaints of professional misconduct, and the establishment of an independent Legal Practitioners' Disciplinary Tribunal. The Bill also provides for a more modern, consumer-friendly and transparent legal costs regime under the Office of the Legal Costs Adjudicator that will take-over the existing functions of the Office of the Taxing-Master. With the establishment of this alternative regulatory regime to meet current Government policy the Legal Services Ombudsman Act of 2009 will be repealed. Committee Stage of the Legal Services Regulation Bill is expected to take place after the summer recess.

Ministerial Transport

Dara Calleary

Ceist:

201 Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of ministerial fleet cars disposed of since he came to office; the funds raised; the number of cars remaining; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31322/12]

Vehicles within the Office Holder fleet form part of the overall Garda fleet.

In that context I am informed by the Garda authorities that, following a competitive tender competition, 17 vehicles allocated to the Office Holder fleet were disposed of by public auction in 2012 and that the total amount secured for the Exchequer was €44,448. Currently, there are 22 vehicles allocated to the Office Holder fleet and I understand that the Garda authorities are reviewing the future vehicle requirements for the fleet.

Anti-Social Behaviour

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

202 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will support a matter regarding policing and anti-social prevention measures in the Howth area, County Dublin. [31326/12]

I am informed by the Garda authorities that local Garda management is aware of difficulties being experienced by local residents through anti-social behaviour, particularly during periods of good weather when there is an influx of visitors to the locality.

I am further informed that policing measures are in place to address difficulties experienced by local residents due to public disorder and other alcohol related anti-social behaviour. This includes areas being designated as "hotspots" for such activities, additional high-visibility patrols being directed by local Garda management, including regular patrols by uniform and plain-clothes units, including the Community Policing and Garda Mountain-Bike Units, local Detective and Drug Unit personnel, supplemented as required by Divisional Crime Task Force and Traffic Corps personnel. Incidents of public disorder and other anti-social behaviour are dealt with by way of caution, fixed charge penalty notice or by initiating criminal proceedings.

The local Community Policing Unit is actively engaged in this area, with four Community Gardaí specifically allocated. Members of the Community Policing Unit actively engage with stakeholders, including the local authority and transport service providers, to ensure a safer environment for the local community.

A number of Neighbourhood Watch schemes has been established recently and a new Business Watch scheme has also launched, providing Gardaí with a vital link with businesses in the area.

Local Garda management also participates in the Fingal Joint Policing Committee, with the local authority and local public representatives. The Committee is endeavouring to address issues of public disorder and anti-social behaviour and An Garda Síochána is supportive of various initiatives being introduced.

Current policing plans in the area are designed to address issues of crime and public order offences. Local Garda management closely monitors the allocation of all resources in the context of crime trends, policing needs and other operational strategies in place on a District, Divisional and Regional level, to ensure optimum use is made of Garda resources, and the best possible Garda service is provided to the public. I am further informed that this situation is being kept under review.

Visa Applications

Patrick Deering

Ceist:

203 Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the reason a person (details supplied) married to an Irish national was refused entry into Ireland; and if their case will be reviewed. [31365/12]

The person referred to by the Deputy is a national of the Philippines and in accordance with Statutory Instrument 345 of 2011 Immigration Act 2004 (Visas) (No. 2) Order 2011 is required to be in possession of a valid Irish visa when seeking entry to the State.

The visa application was received in the Visa Office, Dublin on 16 November 2011. Following full consideration, the visa officer decided to refuse the grant of the visa for the following reasons:

Evidence of finances provided was deemed incomplete. An up to date bank statement for at least six months must be submitted;

The granting of the visa may result in a cost to public funds and resources.

It was open to the person concerned to appeal the decision of the Visa Officer within two months of the date of refusal, in this case before the 8 February 2012. Correspondence in relation to this application was received in the Visa Office, INIS on 23 January 2012, however, no reference to an appeal was made in this correspondence. On 17 February a reply issued which advised the applicant that it was open to her to make a fresh application for a visa at any time in the future.

A letter of appeal was received in the Visa Office, Dublin on 6 March 2012. As this appeal was received after 8 February 2012 it was not considered and was returned to the applicant.

However, I can inform the Deputy that a fresh application from the person in question was received on 15 May 2012 and a decision to grant the visa was made on 25 June 2012.

Queries in relation to general immigration matters 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.

Patrick Deering

Ceist:

204 Deputy Pat Deering asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the reason a person (details supplied) married to an Irish national was refused entry into Ireland; and if their case will be reviewed. [31366/12]

The person referred to by the Deputy is a national of the Philippines and in accordance with Statutory Instrument 345 of 2011 Immigration Act 2004 (Visas) (No. 2) Order 2011 is required to be in possession of a valid Irish visa when seeking entry to the State.

The visa application was received in the Visa Office, Dublin, on the 18 November 2011. Following full consideration, the visa officer decided to refuse the grant of the visa for the following reasons:

No evidence of a relationship being in existence prior to the marriage was provided. For immigration purposes it is not sufficient for a relationship to have developed over the internet or by telephone/sms. A relationship must include a number of face to face meetings (excluding webcam) between the parties. An applicant must satisfy the visa officer that the relationship isbona-fide.

Evidence of finances provided was deemed incomplete. An up to date bank statement for at least six months must be submitted.

In addition the visa officer felt that the granting of the visa may result in a cost to public funds and resources.

An appeal against this refusal was received on 10 February 2012 and the original decision to refuse the application was upheld by the visa appeal officer on 22 February 2012.

It is open to the person concerned to make a fresh application at any time in the future, however, they should be in a position to address the issues of concern raised by the visa officer. Queries in relation to general immigration matters 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.

Asylum Applications

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

205 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the progress made to date or current expectation in the matter of determination of residence/naturalisation entitlement in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31467/12]

Arising from the refusal of her asylum application, and in accordance with the provisions of Section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended), the person concerned was notified, by letter dated 23 November, 2009, that the then Minister proposed to make a Deportation Order in respect of her. She was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of leaving the State voluntarily, of consenting to the making of a Deportation Order or of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why a Deportation Order should not be made against her. In addition, she was notified of her entitlement to apply for Subsidiary Protection in accordance with the provisions of the European Communities (Eligibility for Protection) Regulations 2006 (S.I. No. 518 of 2006).

The person concerned submitted an application for Subsidiary Protection. When consideration of this application has been completed, the person concerned will be notified in writing of the outcome.

In the event that the application for Subsidiary Protection is refused, the position in the State of the person concerned will then be decided by reference to the provisions of Section 3(6) of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended) and Section 5 of the Refugee Act 1996 (as amended) on the prohibition of refoulement. All representations submitted will be considered before a final decision is made. Once a decision has been made, this decision and the consequences of the decision will be conveyed in writing to the person concerned.

Queries in relation to the status of individual immigration cases may be made directly to the 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 the INIS is, in the Deputy's view, inadequate or too long awaited.

Residency Permits

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

206 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if a full review of the circumstances in the context of determination of residence entitlement will be undertaken in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31468/12]

The person concerned and her two children applied for asylum on 25 October 2006. The two children were included on their mother's asylum application. In accordance with Section 9 of the Refugee Act 1996 (as amended), the person concerned and her two children were entitled to remain in the State until her application for asylum was decided. The person concerned and her two children's asylum applications were refused following consideration of their case by the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner and, on appeal, the Refugee Appeals Tribunal.

Arising from the refusal of their asylum application, and in accordance with the provisions of Section 3 of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended), the person concerned was notified, by letter dated 6 April 2009, that the then Minister proposed to make Deportation Orders in respect of her and her two children. She was given the options, to be exercised within 15 working days, of leaving the State voluntarily, of consenting to the making of Deportation Orders or of making representations to the Minister setting out the reasons why Deportation Orders should not be made against her and her two children. In addition, she was notified of her entitlement to apply for Subsidiary Protection in the State in accordance with the European Communities (Eligibility for Protection) Regulations 2006 (S.I. No. 518 of 2006).

The person concerned submitted an application for Subsidiary Protection. When consideration of this application has been completed, the person concerned will be notified in writing of the outcome.

In the event that the application for Subsidiary Protection is refused, the position in the State of the person concerned and her two children will then be decided by reference to the provisions of Section 3(6) of the Immigration Act 1999 (as amended) and Section 5 of the Refugee Act 1996 (as amended) on the prohibition of refoulement. All representations submitted will be considered before a final decision is made. Once a decision has been made, this decision and the consequences of the decision will be conveyed in writing to the person concerned.

Queries in relation to the status of individual immigration cases may be made directly to the 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 the INIS is, in the Deputy's view, inadequate or too long awaited.

Naturalisation Applications

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

207 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the progress made to date in the determination of naturalisation in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 15; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31469/12]

I am advised by the Citizenship Division of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) that a valid application for a certificate of naturalisation was received from the person referred to by the Deputy in April, 2011.

The application is at an advanced stage of processing and the applicant will be informed of my decision in due course.

It is recognised that all applicants for citizenship would wish to have a decision on their application without delay. Considerable resources are deployed to process applications and these resources together with the necessary administrative arrangements are kept under review.

As well as being a significant event in the life of its recipient, the granting of Irish citizenship through naturalisation as provided for in law is also a major step for the State which confers certain rights and entitlements not only within the State but also at European Union level and it is important that appropriate procedures are in place to preserve the integrity of the process.

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.

Naturalisation Applications

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

208 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the progress made to date in the determination of eligibility for naturalisation in the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 15; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31470/12]

I am advised by the Citizenship Division of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) that a valid application for a certificate of naturalisation was received from the person referred to by the Deputy in April, 2011.

The application is at an advanced stage of processing and the applicant will be informed of my decision in due course.

It is recognised that all applicants for citizenship would wish to have a decision on their application without delay. Considerable resources are deployed to process applications and these resources together with the necessary administrative arrangements are kept under review.

As well as being a significant event in the life of its recipient, the granting of Irish citizenship through naturalisation as provided for in law is also a major step for the State which confers certain rights and entitlements not only within the State but also at European Union level and it is important that appropriate procedures are in place to preserve the integrity of the process.

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.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

209 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if the residency record to date enables a person (details supplied) in County Dublin validate an application by them for naturalisation in view of the fact that they have resided permanently in jurisdiction since 1996; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31471/12]

I am advised by the Citizenship Division of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) that there is no record of an application for a certificate of naturalisation from the person referred to in the Deputy's question.

It is open to any individual to lodge an application for citizenship if and when they are in a position to meet the statutory requirements as prescribed in the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 as amended. The on-line Naturalisation Residency Calculator available on the INIS web-site atwww.inis.gov.ie can be used as a guide to whether an individual satisfies the naturalisation residency conditions and, if not, give an indication of how long they should wait before making an application.

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.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

210 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality further to Parliamentary Question No. 137 of the 17 May 2012, when a valid application for a certificate of naturalisation will be entertained in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin who has a record of previous and uninterrupted residency here since 1996; if some means can be found to regularise their position; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31472/12]

An application for a certificate of naturalisation from the person referred to in the Deputy's Question was received in the Citizenship Division of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) in April 2012.

On examination of the application submitted it was determined that the person in question did not meet the statutory residency requirements as set out in the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended. The person concerned was informed of this in a letter issued to him in May, 2012.

It is open to any individual to lodge an application for citizenship if and when they are in a position to meet the prescribed statutory requirements. The on-line Naturalisation Residency Calculator can be used as a guide to whether an individual satisfies the naturalisation residency conditions and, if not, give an indication of how long they should wait before making an application.

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.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

211 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the progress made to date in the determination of naturalisation in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Carlow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31473/12]

I am advised by the Citizenship Division of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) that an application for a certificate of naturalisation was received from the person referred to by the Deputy in June, 2008.

The application is currently being processed with a view to establishing whether the applicant meets the statutory conditions for the granting of naturalisation, such as good character and lawful residence, and will be submitted to me for decision as expeditiously as possible.

It is recognised that all applicants for citizenship would wish to have a decision on their application without delay. Considerable resources are deployed to process applications and these resources together with the necessary administrative arrangements are kept under review.

As well as being a significant event in the life of its recipient, the granting of Irish citizenship through naturalisation as provided for in law is also a major step for the State which confers certain rights and entitlements not only within the State but also at European Union level and it is important that appropriate procedures are in place to preserve the integrity of the process.

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.

Residency Permits

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

212 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the current or expected position in regard to residency/naturalisation in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Carlow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31474/12]

I am informed by officials in the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) that the first named person made an application for a permanent residence card to the EU Treaty Rights Unit on 18 October, 2011. The applicant was informed by letter dated 11 April, 2012 of the decision to refuse his application for a permanent residence card.

A request by the applicant for a review of the decision to refuse a permanent residence card was received on 17 April, 2012. This application is currently under consideration by EU Treaty Rights Review Unit and a decision is expected to issue to the applicant in the next few weeks.

I am informed by officials in the Citizenship Division of INIS that there is no record of any application for a certificate of naturalisation being made by the persons concerned. It is open to any individual to lodge an application for citizenship if and when they are in a position to meet the statutory requirements as prescribed in the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 as amended.

I should remind the Deputy that queries in relation to the status of individual Immigration cases may be made direct to INIS by e-mail using the Oireachtas Mail facility which has been specifically established for this purpose. The service enables up-to-date information on such cases to be obtained without the need to seek this information through the more administratively expensive Parliamentary Questions process.

Family Reunification

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

213 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the position regarding an application for family reunification in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Limerick; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31475/12]

I am informed by the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) that the person referred to by the Deputy made a Family Reunification application in April 2011.

The application was forwarded to the Office of the Refugee Applications Commissioner as required under Section 18 of the Refugee Act 1996. The investigation was completed in December 2011 and a report was forwarded to INIS.

I am further informed by INIS that the application is currently under consideration, that a letter issued by INIS to the legal representatives of the person in question on 16th May 2012 and that INIS is currently await a response.

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.

Naturalisation Applications

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

214 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if he will confirm that all required documentation has been received to facilitate the eligibility of an application for naturalisation in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31476/12]

I am advised by the Citizenship Division of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) that a valid application for a certificate of naturalisation was received from the person referred to by the Deputy in March, 2008.

The application is currently being processed with a view to establishing whether the applicant meets the statutory conditions for the granting of naturalisation. If further documentation and/or clarification of any matter related to the application is required, staff in the Citizenship Division will write to the applicant requesting it. Otherwise, he will receive a letter in due course informing him of my decision on his application.

It is recognised that all applicants for citizenship would wish to have a decision on their application without delay. Considerable resources are deployed to process applications and these resources together with the necessary administrative arrangements are kept under review.

As well as being a significant event in the life of its recipient, the granting of Irish citizenship through naturalisation as provided for in law is also a major step for the State which confers certain rights and entitlements not only within the State but also at European Union level and it is important that appropriate procedures are in place to preserve the integrity of the process.

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.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

215 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if and when a valid application for naturalisation will be accepted in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31477/12]

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Parliamentary Question No. 124 of Thursday, 14th June 2012 which sets out the reasons why the application from the person referred to by the Deputy was refused.

It is open to any individual to lodge an application for citizenship if and when they are in a position to meet the statutory requirements as prescribed in the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 as amended.

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.

Reply to Parliamentary Question No. 124 of Thursday, 14th June 2012:

The person referred to in the Deputy’s question currently has permission to remain in the State until 18 October 2012.

I am advised by the Citizenship Division of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) that an application for a certificate of naturalisation was received from the person concerned in March, 2006.

Section 15 of the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956, as amended, provides that the Minister may, in his absolute discretion, grant a certificate of naturalisation provided certain statutory conditions are fulfilled. The conditions are that the applicant must:—

be of full age

be of good character

have had a period of one year’s continuous residency in the State immediately before the date of application and, during the eight years immediately preceding that period, have had a total residence in the State amounting to four years

have, before a judge of the District Court in open court, in a citizenship ceremony or in such manner as the Minister, for special reasons, allows—

(i) made a declaration, in the prescribed manner, of fidelity to the nation and loyalty to the State, and

(ii) undertaken to faithfully observe the laws of the State and to respect its democratic values.

As the person referred to by the Deputy stated that he did not intend to have his usual or principal place of residence in the State after naturalisation, which is one of the statutory conditions for naturalisation, his application was deemed ineligible. The person concerned was informed of this in a letter dated 19 May 2006.

It is also open to any individual to lodge an application for citizenship if and when they are in a position to meet the statutory requirements as prescribed in the Irish Nationality and Citizenship Act 1956 as amended.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

216 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the procedure to be followed in order to facilitate regularisation of residency and valid application for naturalisation in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Donegal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31478/12]

The person concerned and her two children had their permission to remain in the State extended for a three year period, until 14 August 2013. This decision was conveyed to the person concerned and her son, who is a minor, by letter dated 4 August 2010. The daughter of the person concerned was also notified of leave to remain in a separate letter dated 4 August 2010. This communication advised the person concerned and her daughter of the conditions attaching to their permission to remain and of the requirement that they attend at their local Garda Registration Office to have the registration process completed. One of these conditions is that the persons concerned must each be in possession of a valid passport.

The person concerned and her son registered with their local Garda Registration office and had their leave to remained renewed up to 14 August 2013. The daughter of the person concerned did not produce a valid passport and therefore could not register and was asked to return with a valid passport in order to register. It appears that she has not completed the registration process to date and it is recommended that she should attend her local Garda Registration Office with a valid passport, without further delay so that the registration process can be completed.

A valid application for a certificate of naturalisation from the person referred to in the Deputy's question was received in the Citizenship Division of my Department in April 2008. That Division wrote to the person concerned on 16 October, 2008 requesting she fully complete her application form and submit supporting documentation in order for her application to be processed further. In the absence of a response to a further letter dated 22 January, 2009 from the Citizenship Division the application has been deemed ineligible.

It is open to the person in question to lodge a new application for a certificate of naturalisation if and when she is in a position to meet the statutory requirements.

Queries in relation to the status of individual immigration cases may be made directly to the 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 the INIS is, in the Deputy's view, inadequate or too long awaited.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

217 Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the progress made to date in the application for naturalisation in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31479/12]

I am advised by the Citizenship Division of the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) that an application for a certificate of naturalisation was received from the person referred to by the Deputy in November, 2011.

The application is currently being processed with a view to establishing whether the applicant meets the statutory conditions for the granting of naturalisation, such as good character and lawful residence, and will be submitted to me for decision as expeditiously as possible.

As well as being a significant event in the life of its recipient, the granting of Irish citizenship through naturalisation as provided for in law is also a major step for the State which confers certain rights and entitlements not only within the State but also at European Union level and it is important that appropriate procedures are in place to preserve the integrity of the process.

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.

Road Traffic Offences

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

218 Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Justice and Equality his views on correspondence (details supplied) regarding speeding offences; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31538/12]

The issuing of fixed charge notices for relevant offences is a matter for An Garda Síochána.

I am informed by the Garda authorities that when a fixed charge notice is issued to a motorist for an alleged speeding offence all necessary information is contained thereon. The image of the offending vehicle's registration plate is included on the notice. The recorded speed at which the vehicle was travelling at the time of the alleged offence and the prescribed speed limit at which it is alleged to be in excess of are also specified.

As the Deputy will be aware, the relevant road traffic legislation, for which my colleague the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport is responsible, provides that the recipient of a fixed charge notice has the option of paying the fixed charge or allowing the matter to proceed to be dealt with by the courts, where, on conviction, a person may be liable to a fine and additional penalty points.

I am also informed that excessive or inappropriate speeding continues to be a significant contributory factor in fatal and serious injury collisions. In that regard, safety cameras only operate on sections of road which have a history of collisions occurring where speed was a contributory factor. The locations of these speed enforcement zones are in the public domain and are available on the Garda website. Surveys are conducted on an ongoing basis to ensure the appropriate deployment of safety cameras on our roads.

Departmental Staff

Simon Harris

Ceist:

219 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the procedures in place to manage sick leave in his Department; the sick leave entitlement in place in his Department; the combined amount of sick days taken by staff in his Department in 2011 and to date in 2012; the financial cost of this sick leave; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31567/12]

The management of sick leave within my Department is implemented in accordance with Civil Service policy as set out in Department of Finance Circular 09/2010 — Management of Sick Leave.

The criteria for the payment of sick is set out in Department of Finance Circular 25/1978. Full pay during properly certified sick absence may be allowed up to a maximum of six months in one year and half pay thereafter subject to a maximum of 12 months sick leave in any period of four years or less. For the purposes of calculating the periods of sick leave on full and half pay, six months and 12 months are, where sick absence is not continuous, reckoned as 183 days and 365 days respectively, including Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays falling within a period of sick leave.

Sick leave for single or two day absences, in total not exceeding seven days in any period of 12 months, may be granted without medical certificate.

In 2011 the number of sick days taken by staff amounted to some 18,700 at a cost of approximately €3 million, representing a lost time rate of 3.5%. The corresponding figures in respect of 2012 are calculated up to 31 May 2012, and are 7,789 and €1.2 million. It should be noted that the standard method of calculating sick days in the Civil Service involves the inclusion of Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays.

Public Sector Reform

Simon Harris

Ceist:

220 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the tangible results that have been delivered in his Department through the implementation of the Croke Park agreement; the implementation plan in place in his Department to ensure reforms envisaged through this agreement are delivered on; if he is satisfied with the pace of reform in his Department and the agencies under his remit; the further reforms the taxpayer and Irish citizens may expect to witness in the running of his Department and its agencies through the public sector reform agenda; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31582/12]

The Public Service (Croke Park) Agreement is facilitating a major change and transformation programme across the Justice and Equality sector. Overall, services have been maintained while the numbers employed across the Vote Group for which I am responsible have fallen from 24,768 at end 2009 to the current Employment Control Framework (ECF) target of 22,610. In addition, the Agreement has, against the backdrop of substantial pay cuts in the public service, helped to maintain industrial peace in the Justice and Equality sector.

The Implementation Body on the Public Service Agreement, in its recently published second Progress Report, confirmed that the following tangible results have been delivered across the Justice and Equality sector.

An Garda Síochána:

Operational services being maintained while numbers of gardaí were reduced by 7.7% from 14,753 to 13,622 during the first two years of the Agreement. New roster arrangements, the first significant change in 40 years, were rolled out on a national basis from 30 April 2012. The new arrangements match the supply of Garda personnel to peak demand for services, particularly at weekends.

A new performance management system has been developed for An Garda Síochána and piloting of the new system commenced in January 2012.

Civilianisation initiatives were progressed to free up gardaí for front-line duties. These include the deployment of civilian staff to the Garda Communications Centre and the launch of a pilot project at Dublin Airport with civilian staff from the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service (INIS) deployed to Dublin Airport to carry out certain immigration control functions.

Non-pay savings of €24 million were achieved through changed working practices, outsourcing of repair and maintenance of the Garda fleet and other administrative efficiencies.

Irish Prison Service:

A joint task review of all institutions and services in the prison system has been substantially completed under the Agreement. The implementation of the findings of the reviews in each institution and service is ongoing and has facilitated the reduction in required staffing levels across the prison estate by 326 during the first two years of the agreement. This reduction in staff has taken place while service activity levels have been maintained, and improved in the case of prisoner regimes.

The redeployment of almost 140 highly trained prison clerical and administration Officers into more front-line roles within the Prison Service is underway. These Officers will be replaced in their clerical and administration duties by a new grade of Prison Administration and Support Officers, recruited from currently serving Civil Servants in other areas of the Civil Service at a significantly reduced cost.

A reform of prison structures and management is currently taking place involving the merging of eight separate prisons into three Prison Campus structures in the Mountjoy Campus (Mountjoy Prison, St Patrick's Institution, the Dóchas Centre and the Training Unit), the West Dublin Campus (Cloverhill and Wheatfield prisons) and the Portlaoise Campus (Portlaoise and Midlands prisons). These structures will deliver significant savings in terms of reduced management structure and shared service delivery across a number of prisons. A review of the management structures across all other prisons is currently taking place to facilitate the identification of further efficiencies.

Non-pay savings of €6.5 million were achieved by the Prison Service through the reconfiguration of canteen and cleaning services, the implementation of a new prisoner phone system and efficiencies in procurement.

Courts Service:

Front-line court sittings have been prioritised and maintained while implementing staffing reductions of 11% since 2009. 87% of Courts Service staff are now deployed to front-line roles. In this context to date under the agreement combined court offices have been established in eight counties while three stand-alone offices have been closed. The Courts Service Board has taken decisions to close 16 court venues over the past year.

Digital Audio Recording is now being operated by staff in all court jurisdictions.

Five County Registrars have been appointed as Vice chairs of the Employment Appeals Tribunal.

Non pay savings of €0.9 million were achieved.

In addition, several cross-sectoral initiatives are achieving savings and producing efficiencies. These include: the production by the Probation Service of "same day" Community Service and pre-sanction reports; increased use of video-link between the Courts and Prisons reducing the need for the Gardaí and Prison Service to transport persons in custody to and from court and work has commenced on the introduction of a pre-trial procedure with a view to introduction on a pilot basis in two Circuits from this coming October.

The Department and agencies in the sector are also utilising technology, rationalising structures and re-organising work practices as part of their Implementation Plans. is yielded non-pay savings of approximately €6.8 million including savings achieved by INIS of €2.4 million through changed work practices and other efficiencies and savings of €3.6 million in the direct provision system for asylum seekers through increased efficiencies and contract negotiation. At the same time, additional workloads associated with the introduction of new Citizenship ceremonies require flexibility from staff including weekend working when required.

The Implementation Plans of the Department and of all the agencies in the sector together with progress reports are published on their websites. My Department has set up a Programme Office, centrally located in the Department, to co-ordinate these plans in order to drive reform in a cohesive way.

Overall, considerable progress has been made and I am satisfied with the pace of reform but I share the Implementation Body's conclusion that the pace of change must now be accelerated. My Department is increasingly focused on maximising interagency co-operation where that has the potential to achieve savings and ensuring that modern management practices and communications technologies are fully exploited to get the best return on expenditure not only from agencies themselves but from the system as a whole. Later this year I intend to publish a White Paper on Crime which will incorporate a National Anti-Crime Strategy with a view to putting in place a policy direction and framework for tackling crime. The Strategy will promote an integrated approach to criminal justice and will be focused on the transformation agenda.

Defence Forces Personnel

Joe Higgins

Ceist:

221 Deputy Joe Higgins asked the Minister for Defence in the redress of wrongs process, after a General Officer Commanding has made a ruling on a case, if a third party has authority to change such a ruling. [31416/12]

Under the provisions of section 114 of the Defence Act a member of the Defence Forces who thinks themselves wronged in any matter may submit a formal complaint seeking redress. It is the responsibility of each authority through whom such a complaint is forwarded, including a General Officer Commanding, if he or she is satisfied as to the justice of the complaint, to take such steps as lie within his or her power for giving full redress to the complaint. At the end of this process, if the person who made the complaint is not satisfied that his or her complaint has been being redressed, they may refer their complaint to the Chief of Staff, who shall inquire into it and give his directions thereon. If following investigation of their complaint by the Chief of Staff, a person is not satisfied that their complaint has been redressed to their satisfaction, they may refer their complaint to the Ombudsman for the Defence Forces for investigation under the provisions of the Ombudsman (Defence Forces) Act 2004.

Army Barracks

Robert Troy

Ceist:

222 Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for Defence if he will make provisions available in order that Columb Barracks, Mullingar, County Westmeath, will be leased out to various organisations from Westmeath; in view of the fact that there are many organisations that would be interested in using the premises, however works will need to be carried out on the barracks to make it suitable to lease; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31457/12]

As with previous rounds of consolidation under the Defence Forces modernisation programme, barracks once vacated are being disposed of with the proceeds being used to fund the upgrading of Defence Forces equipment and infrastructure. Since the announcement of the Government decision on barrack closures my Department has written to each Government Department and various agencies and local authorities seeking expressions of interest in acquiring any of the properties to benefit the local community as a whole but with particular emphasis on job creation measures.

As a result I can confirm that agreement has been reached with Mayo County Council for the purchase of Mitchell Barracks Castlebar. The Council has already taken over the property under a caretaker agreement pending full completion of the necessary legal paperwork to complete the transfer of Title. There have also been discussions between officials from my Department and a number of other State agencies in relation to the sale of Kickham Barracks Clonmel, and Cavan however these discussions are still ongoing. Some discussion has also taken place in relation to Mullingar Barracks however no substantial progress has been made towards achieving a sale.

The retaining of Mullingar Barracks by my Department, completing necessary works, administering multiple leases and fulfilling the many responsibilities of a landlord would put a significant administrative and financial burden on my Department. Given the current resources available and the need to provide investment funding for the development of the Defence Forces I do not feel that the multiple leasing arrangement proposed is feasible and does not meet the purpose of the lands disposal programme as outlined in the White Paper.

I can assure you that every effort will be made to dispose of the barracks so as to maximize the benefits to the local community.

Departmental Staff

Simon Harris

Ceist:

223 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Defence the procedures in place to manage sick leave in his Department; the sick leave entitlement in place in his Department; the combined amount of sick days taken by staff in his Department in 2011 and to date in 2012; the financial cost of this sick leave; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31560/12]

The procedures for managing absences due to the ill health of staff are governed by a range of circulars issued by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, in particular circular 9/10 on the Management of Sick Leave in the Civil Service. Under the circular, line managers are required to play a proactive role in managing sick leave in their areas and in engaging with their staff on absences due to ill health. All absences due to ill health are recorded on the HR database, HRMS, and are routinely monitored and managed as appropriate, in conjunction with the Office of the Chief Medical Officer. Since the introduction of circular 9/10, the sick leave rates for the Department have fallen from 5.5% in 2010 to 4.2% in 2011. The number of days lost to ill health and the related value is set out as follows:

Period

No of Working Days Lost

Cost €

1/01/2011 to 31/12/2011

3,349

€487,976

01/01/2012 to 31/05/2012

956

€132,711

Public Sector Reform

Simon Harris

Ceist:

224 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Defence the tangible results that have been delivered in his Department through the implementation of the Croke Park agreement; the implementation plan in place in his Department to ensure reforms envisaged through this agreement are delivered on; if he is satisfied with the pace of reform in his Department and the agencies under his remit; the further reforms the taxpayer and Irish citizens may expect to witness in the running of his Department and its agencies through the public sector reform agenda; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31575/12]

Under thePublic Service Agreement 2010-2014, detailed action plans have been developed by the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces to underpin the change and reform process envisaged by the agreement. The Action Plans were first developed in October 2010 and later iterations of the Action Plans reflect the outcomes of the Comprehensive Expenditure Review and the Government’s Public Service Reform Plan Action. The Action Plans are available on the Department’s website at www.defence.ie. In accordance with Paragraph 1.16 of the Public Service Agreement, the Agreement’s Implementation Body conducted its Second Annual Review of the savings and progress being achieved on implementing the Action Plans in each sector. The review period for this exercise was the 12 month period 1st April 2011 to 31 March 2012.

The Defence Sector Reports have now been published on the Implementation Body and Department websites. In this regard, a total of €16.4 million has been saved by a range of measures in year two of the Plan including a significant reorganisation and restructuring of the Defence Forces within the reduced numbers and funding; redeployment of over 1,250 military personnel across the organisation; the closure of four barracks leading to an estimated efficiency gain of €5 million, and additional annual savings of €1.3 million in respect of utilities, security duty allowance and maintenance; and the introduction of merit based systems of promotion at all levels. In addition to savings achieved in the Defence sector, the Department also achieved savings of €2.2million in year two on the civil side of the Department through reduction in civilian employee staffing numbers, restructuring and changes in work practices.

The Department is fully committed at all levels to implementing the Croke Park agreement, both as part of the Civil Service sector and in relation to the Defence sector. I can confirm for the Deputy that all officials, representative associations and unions in the Defence Sector are fully apprised of the crucial importance of delivery of all actions in our Action Plans. A high priority has been accorded to driving and monitoring the implementation of required savings and efficiencies. Specific measures planned for 2012 include high level proposals such as the extensive reorganisation of the Defence Forces to reduce the number of Brigades from three to two, the completion of the process of barrack closures and redeployment of personnel, and the implementation of a Medical Review to deliver more efficient medical services. These reforms are an ongoing collective challenge in the period ahead and will continue to be monitored by reference to the Defence Sector Action Plans.

Fishing Communities

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

225 Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will support the Howth, County Dublin, fishing community in 2012 and 2013 as a matter of priority. [31325/12]

As Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine I am, and will continue to be fully supportive of all members of the Irish fishing community.

Marine Resources

Clare Daly

Ceist:

226 Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine his views on whether the marine resources of the State belong equally to all citizens and that the environmental pillar should have equal status regarding information and access to his Department for meetings as the fishing industry and other stakeholders. [31349/12]

Marine resources cover a very broad spectrum and from a general perspective I support the view that they should be protected and managed sustainably in the interest of the Irish nation as a whole.

The environmental pillar are recognised as one of the important stakeholders with an interest in the marine sector. I met the Environmental Pillar specifically on Marine issues in recent weeks and they have been invited to, and have attended relevant meetings and events, such as the Monitoring Committee for the Fisheries Operational Programme and a meeting on the Sustainability Impact Assessment for TACs and Quotas for 2012.

Farm Improvement Scheme

Sean Conlan

Ceist:

227 Deputy Seán Conlan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the reason a person (details supplied) in County Monaghan has not received their payment in respect of farm improvement scheme supplement some 12 months since they made their application; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31354/12]

The person concerned is an applicant under the Farm Improvement Scheme. Further documentation was required from the applicant in this case following submission of the payment claim. The examination of the additional information supplied should be completed shortly and payment will issue as soon as it has been found that all the terms and conditions of the Scheme have been complied with.

John McGuinness

Ceist:

228 Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if a payment under the farm improvement scheme due to a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny issued in view of the fact that all works were approved during construction and the project cleared a health and safety check after construction; and if he will expedite the matter. [31490/12]

The person concerned is an applicant for grant-aid under the Farm Improvement Scheme. However, as the completed investments were found not to be in compliance with the technical specifications of my Department, no grant-aid has yet been paid in this case. My Department has recently been in contact with the applicant setting out the alterations which must be carried out in order to enable the grant-aid to be paid.

Sugar Industry

Michael Moynihan

Ceist:

229 Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the steps he has taken in re-opening the Irish sugar beet industry; the communications he has had with other EU member States on this issue; the support he has received from other EU member States; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31523/12]

In 2011 I met with two groups who individually carried out feasibility studies into the revival of a sugar/bioethanol facility in Ireland. I stated at both meetings that I was in favour of the total abolition of the sugar quota, when the current regime ends on the 30 September 2015. I also stated at both meetings that if there is to be a new facility, that only one would be sustainable and that it would have to make sound commercial sense and stand on its own feet.

I have strongly supported the abolition of sugar quotas from 30 September 2015 as part of the ongoing CAP reform discussions and at each Council of Ministers meeting since October 2011, which has addressed this issue, I have intervened to fully support the Commission proposals for quota abolition. During the course of Commissioner Ciolos's visit to Dublin in January 2012, I informed him of the growing momentum in Ireland for the revival of the sugar industry.

I also informed the Commissioner that while Ireland supports quota abolition in 2015, if the regime continues beyond that date, Ireland does not want to be deprived in the interim period of the option to recommence production. I can assure the Deputy that I am actively involved in the negotiations between Member States on all aspects of the CAP Reform Proposals, including those concerning the EU sugar regime, which are continuing.

Agri-Environment Options Scheme

Michael Moynihan

Ceist:

230 Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the plans he has for the re-opening of an agri-environment option scheme in 2012; the timeframe for his decision and implementation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31524/12]

I am actively considering the possibility of re-opening Agri-environment Options Scheme (AEOS) to allow for the submission of applications either on an amended basis from the existing scheme and/or on a limited scale, including the possibility of re-opening for applications later in the year. The full year cost of any new scheme will have to be met in 2013 and any decision to re-open AEOS will be taken in the context of consideration of the resources available and the need to remain within the agreed expenditure ceiling for my Department in 2013. I will make an announcement as soon as I have reached a decision on the situation.

Ministerial Expenditure

Michael Moynihan

Ceist:

231 Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine if he will outline his total photography costs at home and abroad from March 2011 to June 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31525/12]

Photographers are booked for the purpose of recording key events attended by Ministers, such as the launch of schemes and programmes, new initiatives and visits by inward delegations. Where possible, the Press Office uses in house photography. The policy for booking a photographer for official purposes, is that, my Departments Press Office seeks three quotes in advance of each photo-shoot to keep cost's to a minimum.

Photography Payment Details March-December 2011

Date

Details

Amount

26 MARCH 2011

O’Gorman Photography

€363.20

30 MARCH 2011

Fennell Photography

€350.56

1 APRIL 2011

John Power Photography

€124.85

7 APRIL 2011

Edmund Ross Studios

€567.50

7 APRIL 2011

Edmund Ross Photographer

€397.25

8 APRIL 2011

Barry Cronin Photographer

€491.16

12 APRIL 2011

Fennell Photography

€473.19

14 APRIL 2011

Fennell Photography

€505.20

18 APRIL 2011

Fennell Photography

€779.96

19 APRIL 2011

Fennell Photography

€285.23

5 MAY 2011

Fennell Photography

€506.58

10 MAY 2011

Fennell Photography

€240.57

16 MAY 2011

Gerard McCarthy Photography

€215.65

28 MAY 2011

Fennell Photography

€1,582.19

2 JUNE 2011

Fennell Photography

€1,732.19

9 JUNE 2011

Fennell Photography

€1,170.28

10 JUNE 2011

Barry Cronin Photographer

€784.23

15 JUNE 2011

Fennell Photography

€276.52

23 JUNE 2011

Fennell Photography

€30.86

29 JUNE 2011

Gerard McCarthy Photography

€227.00

14 JULY 2011

Gerard McCarthy Photography

€374.55

4 AUGUST 2011

Gerard McCarthy Photography

€295.10

6 AUGUST 2011

B.L. MacGill Photographic Images

€300.00

25 AUGUST 2011

Fennell Photography

€272.89

14 SEPTEMBER

Lensmen Photographic Agency

€73.81

25-27 SEPTEMBER 2011

Fennell Photography

€6,762.85

3 OCTOBER 2011

Press 22

€624.25

18 OCTOBER 2011

Fennell Photography

€213.72

20 OCTOBER 2011

Barry Cronin Photographer

€995.68

8 NOVEMBER 2011

Fennell Photography

€497.83

8 NOVEMBER 2011

Fennell Photography

€541.96

15 NOVEMBER 2011

Fennell Photography

€851.25

15 NOVEMBER 2011

Barry Cronin Photographer

€595.71

23 NOVEMBER 2011

Fennell Photography

€416.56

25 NOVEMBER 2011

Photography by Dermot Sullivan

€200.00

25 NOVEMBER 2011

B.L. MacGill Photography

€200.00

26 NOVEMBER 2011

Barry Cronin Photographer

€588.96

12 DECEMBER 2011

Barry Cronin Photographer

€670.82

Photography Payment Details January-1 May 2012

Date

Details

Amount

18 JANUARY 2012

Maxwell Photography

€564.26

9 FEBRUARY

Lensmen Photographic Agency

€666.88

27 FEBRUARY 2012

B.L. MacGill Photography

€200.00

5 MARCH 2012

Barry Cronin Photography

€602.12

21 MARCH 2012

Fennell Photography

€211.09

2 APRIL 2012

John Power Photography

€113.50

30 APRIL 2012

John Sheehan Photography

€340.50

17 May 2012

Marta Trzeciak-Nash

€150.00

22 May 2012

Fennell Photography

€157.50

Advertising Standards

Michael Moynihan

Ceist:

232 Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the steps he has taken to ensure that certain cheeses are not banned from television advertising; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31526/12]

I am aware of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland's (BAI) review of the Children's Commercial Communication Code and the potential impact this may have on advertising of cheese. As the Deputy will be aware, the BAI comes under the remit of the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.

I have received strong representations from the dairy industry highlighting the possible effects that a ban on the advertising of cheese would have, and which some believe is based on a flawed nutrient profiling model. I have written to the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and outlined the issues involved from the point of view of the Irish agri-food sector. However, I must point out that the BAI is an independent body and I have no function or role in its activities.

Disadvantaged Areas Scheme

Michael Moynihan

Ceist:

233 Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the time-frame in which he expects the EU Commission to make a decision on the changes to disadvantaged areas scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31527/12]

The purpose of the changes announced to the 2012 Terms and Conditions of the Disadvantaged Areas Scheme is to achieve the required savings, prompted by the budgeted expenditure under the 2012 Scheme being reduced to from €220 million to €190 million. However, in order to make these savings, it is proposed to make technical adjustments to the Scheme criteria, rather than simply apply an across-the-board cut, either by reducing the maximum payable area, or reducing the rates of aid payable, or by a combination of both.

Choosing to opt for the technical adjustments ensures that the aid payment is focused on farmers whose farming enterprises are situated exclusively in DAS areas and who are making a significant contribution to achieving the objectives of the Scheme, which are defined in the governing EU legislation as follows:

To ensure continued agricultural land use and thereby contribute to the maintenance of a viable rural community;

To maintain the countryside;

To maintain and promote sustainable farming systems which, in particular, take account of environmental protection measures.

By virtue of the Scheme being part of our 2007/2013 Rural Development Programme, it was necessary that the proposed changes to the Terms and Conditions of the 2012 Scheme be formally submitted to the EU Commission for their approval. This process initially involves informal contact at official level, following which a formal written submission is made. On receipt of the submission, the Commission invites the views of the various relevant EU Directorates, who each must assess the proposals in so far as their specific remits are concerned. My officials, in a recent bi-lateral meeting with their EU Commission counter-parts, again outlined, in detail, the logic underpinning the proposals. As agreed at that meeting, a further detailed submission (which had formed the basis of the bi-lateral discussions) was then forwarded to the Commission Services. It is expected that the Commission response will be forthcoming within the coming weeks.

Appointments to State Boards

Michael Moynihan

Ceist:

234 Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the number of positions on State boards he has nominated since March 2011; if those individuals went in front of the relevant Oireachtas Committee for questioning by the committee members; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31528/12]

In accordance with the Government's decision in 2011, I invite expressions of interest from persons interested in being appointed to the boards of State Bodies operating under the aegis of my Department. In making any board appointments, I am not necessarily confined to those who make such expressions of interest but will ensure that all of those appointed have the relevant mix of knowledge and expertise to contribute to the board.

In the case of a number of the State Bodies, the board appointments, whilst made by me, are not made at my sole discretion and instead individuals are nominated by various organisations for appointment by me as specified in the relevant statutes. These are the Aquaculture Licensing Appeals Board, Teagasc, National Milk Agency, Veterinary Council of Ireland and Horse Racing Ireland.

There have been a number of appointments to State Boards during my tenure and the details of these are outlined in the accompanying table. The Chairs appointed have yet to be called before the relevant Oireachtas committee but are aware of this requirement.

Body/Agency

No of Board Members

No of Board appointments since March 2011

Name

Aquaculture Licensing Appeals Board

7

2

Brendan BriceCamilla Keane

An Bord Bia

15

9 (including the Chair)

Michael Carey (Chair)Gary BrownMichael CroninRhona HollandJohn KingstonBrody SweeneyJohn ComerMary J ByrneJohn Bryan

Bord Iascaigh Mhara

6

1

Kieran Calnan (Chair)

Bord na gCon

7

6

Philip Meaney (Chair)Matt MurphyBrendan MooreTim GilbertTony McNameeWilliam O’Dwyer

Coillte

9

2

Oliver McCabeDavid Gunning

Horse Racing Ireland

14

3

Noel MeadeNeville O’ByrneMary O’Connor

Marine Institute

9

1

Paul Hyde

Teagasc

11

1

Thomas Cooke

Veterinary Council

19

5

Michael SheahanPeadar Ó’ScanaillMichael SadlierDeirdre CampionMartin Blake

Food Exports

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

235 Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the likely prospects in respect of exports from the food and beverage sector for the remainder of 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31554/12]

The food and beverage sectors operate in a global marketplace where volatility has become more prevalent in recent years. Over the last two years, the value of Irish food and drink exports has increased by €1.8 billion or 25%, according to Bord Bia, due to high global market prices and also increased demand both in previously existing and in new markets.

Factors influencing exports from Ireland include currency exchange rates for the Euro against sterling and the US dollar, availability of credit and increases in supply or demand in key production regions. Global prices have reduced in 2012 for some commodities, including milk powder and some cereals. In addition, economic challenges in some of our key export markets may lead to reduced demand for Irish produce over the year as a whole. However, beef is performing well, the dairy sector is actively pursuing new markets and the drinks sector is maintaining its previous success. Overall, while recognising the challenging global market conditions, I am hopeful that our agri-food exports in 2012 will once gain perform strongly.

Departmental Staff

Simon Harris

Ceist:

236 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the procedures in place to manage sick leave in his Department; the sick leave entitlement in place in his Department; the combined amount of sick days taken by staff in his Department in 2011 and to date in 2012; the financial cost of this sick leave; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31556/12]

Sick leave policy for the Civil Service is determined centrally by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER).

Sick leave in my Department is managed and reported on as directed by Circular 09/2010 "Management of Sick Leave", as issued by DPER on 30th July 2010.

Sick leave entitlements of staff in my Department are the same as those that apply across the Civil Service generally and as detailed in Circulars 7/1978 and 25/1978: "Sick Leave" and 9/2004: "Sick Leave and the Organisation of Working Time Act".

A total of 30,796 days were lost to sick leave across my Department in 2011 with a corresponding cost of €4.6 million.

A total of 12,463 days have been recorded on my Department's HRMS system as being lost to sick leave to date in 2012, at a cost of €1.87million.

Public Sector Reform

Simon Harris

Ceist:

237 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the tangible results that have been delivered in his Department through the implementation of the Croke Park Agreement; the implementation plan in place in his Department to ensure reforms envisaged through this agreement are delivered on; if he is satisfied with the pace of reform in his Department and the agencies under his remit; the further reforms the taxpayer and Irish citizens may expect to witness in the running of his Department and its agencies through the public sector reform agenda; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31571/12]

The structured framework provided by the Croke Park Action Plan has been instrumental in achieving significant saving in administrative expenditure by the Department while maintaining and improving service quality. These savings have centred on a reduction in staff numbers and overtime, local office reorganisation, improved work practices, centralisation of procurement, increased use of shared services, the promotion of on-line services and a reduction of inspection costs.

In the past three years the Department's staff numbers have reduced by 550 or 14%. In the same period the Department's non-commercial state agencies saw a reduction in staff numbers of 224 or 12%. Overtime payments have reduced by some 10%.

Some of the major factors facilitating staff and administrative saving in the Department arise from the local office reorganisation project. This project involved the comprehensive restructuring of the Department's public office network, the closure of 42 offices and their replacement by 16 enhanced regional offices. Saving arising from this initiative, as calculated and independently verified by Grant Thornton, amount to €79.6 million to end of March 2012 —€61.9 million of which is attributable since the beginning of the Croke Park Agreement.

The Department conducted a detailed review of its procurement procedures, which was subsequently validated by Accenture. As a consequence of this review the Department established a Central Procurement Unit which will monitor and advise on procurement expenditure and ensure procurement throughout the Department is conducted in a co-ordinated and strategic manner and achieves optimum value for money.

The Department is now providing a range of shared services facilities including: full ICT infrastructure support to the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and different levels of ICT shared services to Teagasc, Bord Bia, Bord Iascaigh Mhara and the Sea Fisheries Protection Agency. The Department has also agreed to provide the Department of the Taoiseach with a new ICT service on a shared services basis and has carried out a range of inspections for the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.

The number of on-line Single Payment Scheme applications has increased from 43,465 in 2010 to 54, 372 in 2011, an increase of 25%. The Department has introduced on-line mapping into its 2012 iNet release — allowing farmers or their agents to submit maps on-line thereby giving immediate effect to amendments and dispensing with the need to submit papers maps.

The Department has designated its Management Services Division to lead its response to public sector reform, specifically to monitor, drive and report on the Department's PSA Action Plan and to lead and co-ordinate the Department's response to, and participation in, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform led initiatives arising from the Public Sector Reform Plan. In addition, progress on the Departments PSA Action Plan is monitored on a quarterly basis by an internal implementation steering group chaired by the SG.

The Department is committed to a process of ongoing reforms which include Teagasc rationalisation which, when completed, will see the number of its advisory offices reduce from 91 to 51, improved staff attendance patterns, further non-pay savings arising from procurement efficiencies and further efficiencies arising from a programme for increased staff flexibility, and a continued programme of internal reviews. To date such reviews have been instrumental in reducing staffing levels from 4,800 in 2005 to just over 3,500 currently — a reduction of 27% while the cost of running the Department has fallen by €60 million or approximately 20% since 2008.

Finally, the continuing development of on-line service is targeted at increasing AIM uptake among herd owners from 12,500 to 25,000 by 2014 and to increase SPS uptake among applicants by 25% in the same period.

School Absenteeism

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

238 Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she will detail truancy levels experienced in the education system in each year since the National Educational Welfare Board was established; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31317/12]

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

239 Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she will provide the most recent truancy levels on a county basis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31318/12]

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

240 Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she will provide the most recent truancy levels for Dublin on an area basis; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31319/12]

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

241 Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she will outline the progress made to date in tackling truancy in schools; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31320/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 238 to 241, inclusive, together.

Since the commencement of the Education (Welfare) Act, 2000 all recognised schools are obliged to submit an Annual Attendance Report to the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) on the levels of school attendance each year. An overall analysis and reportderived from this data is produced by the Education Research Centre (ERC) on behalf of the NEWB.

The Deputy may be aware that I launched the publication of the most recent data for the 2009/2010 school year on 7th June 2012. This is the sixth in a series of reports based on data collected by the NEWB on non-attendance in primary and post-primary schools through the Annual Attendance Report. Data for the years 2003/04 through to 2008/09 are the focus of earlier reports which can be used to monitor the levels of attendance, expulsions and suspensions across all of the country's primary and post-primary schools. The latest report deals with data for the academic year 2009/10 and links to the data reported previously. These reports are available in full on the website of the NEWB atwww.newb.ie and will provide the Deputy with access to the information sought.

I am advised by the Board that data is not collated in such a way as to allow all the breakdowns requested. Specifically, information is not published below county level as the Board is prohibited under the Education Act, 1998 from producing information that may identify individual schools and lead to the formulation of league tables.

Combating the issues underlying poor attendance requires concerted action and close collaboration among schools, school support services and other stakeholders involved with children, young people and their families. The complex issue of school attendance has been the subject of significant policy attention in recent decades and was addressed systematically in the Education (Welfare) Act 2000. This Act established the National Educational Welfare Board (NEWB) in 2002 — mandating it with supervising and implementing the provisions of the Act to effectively ensure that "each child attends a recognised school or otherwise receives a certain minimum education”. The legislation establishes a framework for promoting regular school attendance, participation and retention as well as tackling the manifold problems of absenteeism and early school leaving. In particular, the NEWB has a key role in responding to instances where children are not attending school regularly, or where there is concern about a child’s educational welfare. The Act also charges the NEWB with responsibility to maintain a register of children who are being educated outside of recognised schools.

Since mid-2009 the Board has an expanded remit which includes responsibility for the Home School Community Liaison scheme and the School Completion Programme in addition to the Educational Welfare Service. Under the extended remit, the Board is obliged to devise and implement a single strategic approach to school attendance, participation and retention. The integration process has been firmly centred upon the requirement to build a unified education support service guided and informed by research evidence, policy and the experience of teachers, parents, students, service staff and communities. The Board is planning to commence implementation of an integrated practice framework and case management system based on the principle of "One Child, One Team, One Plan” for the coming academic year (September 2012). This integrated service model is designed to respond to the complexity of issues that impact on school attendance, participation and retention.

From the analysis of the most recent data available the Board reports a number of positive developments which reflect an enhanced focus on school attendance and retention:

There has been the highest annual attendance returns ever to the NEWB from schools in 2009/10: 97% from Primary and 96% from Post Primary;

In 09-10 69,471 days less than 08-09 have been lost through student absences (on a % comparison);

The numbers of student days lost in 09/10 (taking primary and post primary schools together) is running at 6.8% and is at the lower end for the five year period 2005 to 2010;

The percentage of students who sit the Leaving Certificate overall has risen by more than 6% to 87.7% in eight years.

The progress being achieved demonstrates an important return on the State's investment as we know that, for every child diverted from early school leaving and towards higher educational achievement there are considerable long-term social and economic benefits. Although absenteeism reduced in 2009/2010 the number of children who miss school each day remains a significant cause for concern and identifies the need for a sustained and focussed approach to supporting student attendance, participation and retention. Therefore, we must ensure that available resources continue to be effectively targeted at those most at risk of educational disadvantage.

The Deputy may also wish to note that the National Educational Welfare Board has initiated a National Attendance Awards programme this year which acknowledges the outstanding achievement of so many children who have excellent attendance in schools all around the country. It is also an endeavour to acknowledge the massive contribution of schools and parents in supporting children to make school a priority. In addition, the Board is working to produce Guidelines for Schools on the Development of Attendance Strategies as outlined in Section 22 of the Education (Welfare) Act, 2000. Formal guidance will provide clarity to schools in terms of responsibilities under the Act and practical support towards enabling children to maximise their attendance, participation and retention in schools. This is a significant piece of work which draws on the experience and knowledge of a range of expertise and will be available to schools in the next academic year.

Court Procedures

Charles Flanagan

Ceist:

242 Deputy Charles Flanagan asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs her views on the in-camera rule in relation to court cases with regard to child care and protection; if she envisages any change thereto; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31352/12]

The Independent Child Death Review Group has highlighted in its report what it considers to be the restrictive nature of the in camera rule and the fact that court proceedings relating to child welfare and protection cases are held in private. The Review Group has called for a review of the operation of the rule.

I believe there is scope for more transparency in this area. We need to put in place a mechanism which will ensure that the learning from such cases is shared across the system in order to improve services, while continuing to protect minor's interests and maintain anonymity. This would also allow the public to gain some insight into how the child protection system operates.

With this in mind it is my intention to bring forward new regulations, following consultation with my colleague the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Courts Service, to allow access to child welfare and protection proceedings for the purpose of reporting on such proceedings. I believe this can be achieved as long as it is approached sensitively and with due regard to the interests of those who are the subject of proceedings.

Youth Services

Simon Harris

Ceist:

243 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs if she has any funding scheme in place for the provision of youth cafes in communities; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31547/12]

A total of €1.7m has been allocated by my Department to support the provision of youth cafés, to date.

The first tranche of funding was provided over 2010-11 under a dedicated competitive scheme operated for my Department by Pobal. As a result of that scheme a total of €1.5m was allocated for a specific measure to support the provision of Youth Café facilities in Ireland and a total of 64 projects were approved for funding in two strands. Strand 1 provided larger scale funding for the establishment of 16 brand new youth café facilities, which have been gradually coming on stream. Strand 2 provided small-scale funding for upgrades to a further 48 existing youth cafés. An additional €200,000 was made available by my Department in December 2011 to support a further 18 youth projects in providing or maintaining youth cafés facilities.

My Department estimates that between 75-100 youth café facilities now operate across the State. These facilities are proving hugely beneficial to local communities in terms of broader engagement with young people. In addition, my Department supports a range of youth services and volunteer-led youth groups which offer similar resources and spaces for young people locally.

The distribution of the 2012 capital funding available for youth projects including youth cafés, is under consideration at present. I expect to announce plans for the distribution of this funding in the very near future.

Family Support Services

Simon Harris

Ceist:

244 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the progress that has been made on ensuring that child and family social work services are available on a 24/7 basis rather than simply during traditional work hours; when she expects that such out-of-hours services would be available nationwide and the plan she has in place to ensure this happens; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31548/12]

Two out-of-hours pilot projects, one in Donegal and the other in Cork, were commenced by the HSE in 2011. The Donegal project started mid-year and the Cork project started in the third quarter. Both projects were internally evaluated by the HSE, which then commissioned an independent external assessment, undertaken by Trinity College Dublin. The outcome of this assessment process will inform further decisions in the coming months on progression to a national out-of-hours service model. Clearly whatever model emerges will need to address the challenges of varying demographic demands in both rural and urban settings.

What is important is that children in crisis, no matter where they are, have access to 24-hour social work assistance and this is what the HSE's National Director for Children and Family Services and I are working towards.

It should be noted that at present the Health Service Executive provides out-of-hours emergency services for children at risk in the greater Dublin area through the Crisis Intervention Service, and outside the greater Dublin area through the Emergency Place of Safety Service.

The Crisis Intervention Service provides out-of-hours emergency social work assistance to young people aged under 18 years. The service operates across the greater Dublin area (Counties Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow). Referrals are made by service providers outside of normal working hours, i.e., gardaí, hospital and ambulance service personnel. Outside the greater Dublin area, the HSE operates an Emergency Place of Safety Service whereby gardaí can access an emergency placement for children found to be at risk out-of-hours. This service involves the placement of a child in a family setting until the next working day, when the local social work service assumes responsibility for the case. As part of this service gardaí have access to advice and information from a non-HSE social work off-site resource which is provided on a contract basis.

Departmental Staff

Simon Harris

Ceist:

245 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the procedures in place to manage sick leave in her Department; the sick leave entitlement in place in her Department; the combined amount of sick days taken by staff in her Department in 2011 and to date in 2012; the financial cost of this sick leave; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31558/12]

Procedures for the management of sick leave in my Department are in accordance with Department of Finance circulars, in particular Circulars 25/78 and 09/2010. These arrangements recognise that staff may from time to time encounter challenges to their health and well-being and that management of sick leave must be done in a fair and consistent manner with the objective of addressing the cause of the sick leave and ensuring regular attendance. Managers' responsibilities under these circulars include: Being clear on the subject of attendance expectations; Ensuring an efficient and effective workplace culture; Assisting in the maintenance of a motivational atmosphere; Maintaining supportive contact with officers on sick leave and conducting sick leave review meetings as appropriate on their return to work.

Staff are obliged to provide regular and effective service and have a responsibility for their own sick leave and in particular adherence to the sick leave regulations. They must also: Comply with all office instructions regarding health and safety; Be familiar and comply with the sick leave regulations/policy; Maintain regular contact with the Department during periods of sick absence; Take all reasonable measures where possible to manage health and well-being with a view to returning to full health; and Co-operate fully with all rehabilitative measures to facilitate an early return to work. In general, full pay during properly certified sick absence, provided there is no evidence of permanent disability for service, may be allowed up to a maximum of six months in one year and half pay thereafter, subject to a maximum of twelve month's sick leave in any period of four years or less. Sick leave for single or two-day absences, in total not exceeding seven days in any period of twelve months, may be granted without medical certificate. Management information systems are in place to to record, monitor and analyse patterns of sick leave. Failure to comply with the sick leave regulations in considered as serious misconduct and the disciplinary code may be invoked. Abuse of sick leave arrangements may lead to penalties including withholding salary increments, withdrawal of sick leave privileges and ultimately dismissal.

Repeated short term absences are carefully monitored and may be referred to the Chief Medical Officer for the Civil Service (CMO). The CMO's office incorporates the Civil Service Occupational Health Department (CSOHD) and all long term absences, defined as an absence greater than four weeks duration, are also forwarded to the CSOHD for review. This office provides advice on medical fitness for work as well as any work modifications or interventions that will facilitate an early return to work.

During 2011, a total of 1,155 days were lost in my Department due to absence with an associated cost estimated at €0.188 million. To date in 2012, 741 days have been lost due to absence at an estimated cost of €0.140 million.

Public Sector Reform

Simon Harris

Ceist:

246 Deputy Simon Harris asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs the tangible results that have been delivered in her Department through the implementation of the Croke Park agreement; the implementation plan in place in her Department to ensure reforms envisaged through this agreement are delivered on; if she is satisfied with the pace of reform in her Department and the agencies under her remit; the further reforms the taxpayer and Irish citizens may expect to witness in the running of her Department and its agencies through the public sector reform agenda; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [31573/12]

My Department recently prepared a Progress Report in relation to the Annual Review of the Public Service Agreement 2010-14. The Progress Report report covered the following areas:

1. Better Human Resource Management;

2. Better Business Process;

3. Delivering for the Citizen.

For each of these areas, the report documents the progress in relation to the relevant activities/commitments, indicates the target date for implementation and outlines the progress achieved.

The Progress Report is available on my Department's website atwww.dcya.gov.ie. My Department will continue to report regularly on implementation in accordance with the agreement to ensure delivery of the commitments of both the Department and its agencies under the agreement.

Health Services

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

247 Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Health if additional funding will be provided in respect of a training centre (details supplied) in County Cavan in view of increased enrolments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31288/12]

As the Deputy's question relates to service matters I have arranged for the question to be referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy

Medical Cards

Jack Wall

Ceist:

248 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Health the position regarding an appeal against the decision to refuse an application for a full medical card in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31292/12]

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

Alcohol Pricing

Niall Collins

Ceist:

249 Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Health the steps he will take to curb the selling of alcohol at very cheap prices and below cost; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31293/12]

In its report on alcohol, the National Substance Misuse Strategy Steering Group recommended, among other things, the introduction of a legislative basis for minimum pricing per gram of alcohol. As minimum pricing is a mechanism of imposing a statutory floor in price levels for alcohol products that must be legally observed by retailers, its primary function would be thus to discourage at-risk levels of alcohol consumption. This recommendation is being actively considered as part of the development of an Action Plan in advance of proposals being drafted for Government.

Hospital Waiting Lists

Sean Fleming

Ceist:

250 Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for Health if an MRI scan in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare will be expedited; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31300/12]

I am determined to address the issues which cause unacceptable delays in patients receiving treatment in our hospitals. In this regard I have established the Special Delivery Unit (SDU), which will work to unblock access to acute services by improving the flow of patients through the system and by streamlining waiting lists. The SDU is working closely with its partner agencies, mainly the HSE and the NTPF.

As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply. Should the patient's general practitioner consider that the patient's condition warrants an earlier appointment, he/she would be in the best position to take the matter up with the consultant and hospital involved.

Substance Misuse

Billy Kelleher

Ceist:

251 Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Health if he will respond to the public health recommendations in the recent report of the strategic response group to build sustainable street-level drug services and address related public nuisance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31302/12]

I welcomed the launch last week by the then Lord Mayor of Dublin, Councillor Andrew Montague, of the Report of the Strategic Response Group entitled "A Better City for All". I note the participation of various organisations in the group and I support their objective of reducing anti-social behaviour in Dublin city centre.

There are 52 clinics within the four Dublin Local Authority Areas of which only six are city centre based. The city centre clinics cater for 1,082 people, which is less than a quarter of the overall Dublin figure.

I fully support the development of services in local communities, particularly through GP involvement, but I would point out that 85% of those availing of services in the Dublin city centre clinics are from the local area. Some concentration of services in the city centre is needed as some people wish to avail of services outside their local area. This is the norm in other EU countries. One of the city centre based services is the Drug Treatment Centre Board. It fulfils a more national role in relation to drug treatment generally and also treats people with more complex problems.

HSE clinics, as well as a number of voluntary service providers, have "good neighbour" policies and protocols in place and a strong focus on inter-agency working. Some provide a range of outreach and drop-in services to encourage engagement with a view to moving more people into treatment. CCTV is used at some centres to monitor movements and as an aid in deterring anti-social behaviour. Drug treatment centres work closely with An Garda Síochána with the aim of minimising any potential problems.

Misuse of Drugs

Billy Kelleher

Ceist:

252 Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Health if he will outline the progress made to date in seeking to update the misuse of drugs legislation in relation to tackling the street sale of benzodiazepines; and if he will outline the discussions, if any, he has had with the Department of Justice and Equality in relation to tackling the street sale of such drugs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31303/12]

Billy Kelleher

Ceist:

253 Deputy Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Health if he will outline any discussions he has had with the Irish Medicines Board in relation to the street sale of prescribed drugs such as Benzodiazepines; the role that the Irish Medicines Board will play in relation to tackling this matter; if he will outline if any additional powers are needed by the IMB in tackling this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31304/12]

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

My Department is reviewing the Misuse of Drugs Regulations with a view to tackling the problem of prescription drugs such as benzodiazepine and z-drug medicines being traded illicitly. Part of that review includes a wide-ranging consultation process with key stakeholders, including the IMB and the Department of Justice and Equality as well as Customs and the Garda Síochána, on proposed amendments to the Regulations. These proposed amendments include the introduction of an offence of possession as well as import and export controls on such drugs, thereby assisting the law enforcement roles of Customs and of the Garda Síochána. The views expressed during the consultation process, now nearly complete, will be considered in any decision taken regarding amendments to the Misuse of Drugs Regulations.

Health Service Allowances

Jack Wall

Ceist:

254 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for Health the reason a person (details supplied) in County Kildare is in receipt of a reduced rate of mobility allowance; if a re-assessment will take place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31314/12]

As the Deputy's question relates to service matters I have arranged for the question to be referred to the Health Service Executive for direct reply to the Deputy.

Orthodontic Services

Joe Carey

Ceist:

255 Deputy Joe Carey asked the Minister for Health when a person (details supplied) in County Clare will receive orthodontic treatment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31363/12]

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

Ambulance Service

Maureen O'Sullivan

Ceist:

256 Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan asked the Minister for Health if he will assure that in the event of an ambulance being called in an emergency situation for a long-term ill patient the ambulance can be directed to bring the patient to the hospital they have been attending and where their files are held, instead of being brought to a hospital which does not have that information [31382/12]

The HSE National Ambulance Service (NAS) provides emergency pre-hospital care and emergency patient transport. When a 999 ambulance call is received, the caller is connected with the ambulance command and control centre for that area. The details of the call are recorded on a Computer Aided Dispatch System (CAD), with Advanced Medical Priority Dispatch (AMPDS).

The AMPDS system is designed to triage a call, so that the most appropriate resource is dispatched to the patient. The system allows an ambulance to be dispatched while the caller is still providing details of the patient's condition. The controller can also provide pre-arrival instructions to the caller, to allow initial medical assistance to be available and administered to the patient without delay.

In all cases, in line with the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council Emergency Priority Dispatch Standard, the nearest available ambulance is tasked to the highest priority incident. The highest priority incidents are ECHO (life-threatening cardiac emergency) and DELTA (life-threatening non-cardiac emergency).

The NAS transports patients who are classed as emergencies to the closest appropriate hospital in the designated catchment area. Appropriate hospital may not mean the nearest facility, but rather the one best suited to meet the patient's immediate needs, as set out in NAS Appropriate Hospital Access Protocols.

In certain circumstances, the NAS will, if possible, transport a patient to the preferred hospital for the existing condition, providing the medical teams in the requested receiving hospital agree that:

1. the hospital will accept the patient out of the area, in writing;

2. the longer transport time will not affect the patient negatively;

3. the emergency is consistent with the ongoing clinical issues;

4. the family and patient are in agreement; and

5. appropriate resources are available.

It should be noted that such arrangements are not the norm and are put in place in exceptional circumstances relating to specific injuries or conditions. Such arrangements should be discussed with the patient's GP and the relevant hospital consultant in the first instance.

Hospital Waiting Lists

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

257 Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for Health the position regarding a hip operation in respect of a person (details supplied) in County Wicklow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31386/12]

I am determined to address the issues which cause unacceptable delays in patients receiving treatment in our hospitals. In this regard I have established the Special Delivery Unit (SDU), which will work to unblock access to acute services by improving the flow of patients through the system, and by streamlining waiting lists, including the management of referrals from GPs by hospitals. The SDU is working closely with its partner agencies, mainly the HSE and the NTPF.

As a priority, public hospitals were instructed to ensure that, by the end of 2011, they had no patients waiting more than 12 months for treatment. I can confirm that the vast majority of hospitals achieved this objective. During 2012 the SDU will support hospitals in the delivery of a nine month maximum wait time for in-patient or day case surgery.

As this is a service matter, it has been referred to the HSE for direct reply. Should the patient's general practitioner consider that the patient's condition warrants an earlier appointment, he/she would be in the best position to take the matter up with the consultant and hospital involved.

Advertising Standards

Clare Daly

Ceist:

258 Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Health the measures he proposes to take in relation to regulating anti-abortion advertising. [31400/12]

The Minister for Health has no remit in relation to this form of advertising and does not propose to take any action in relation to this matter.

Services for People with Disabilities

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

259 Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Health if he will provide figures for autism in County Kerry in respect of persons from 0 to 18 years of age; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31406/12]