Defence Forces Equipment.

Ceisteanna (10)

Liz McManus

Ceist:

9 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Defence when it is intended to proceed with the plans to acquire a fleet of light armoured vehicles for the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3299/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

The Defence Forces commenced a programme to acquire Mowag APC/light armoured vehicles in 1999. To date, 40 of those vehicles have been received, and a further 25 vehicles are scheduled for delivery this year. The total cost of the programme is approximately €84 million.

In addition to that programme, the Defence Forces have a requirement for a smaller light armoured vehicle, designated as a light tactical vehicle, which can be used to protect troops engaged in peace support operations in areas where the use of the larger Mowag APC would be inappropriate. For instance, the movement of between one and three personnel in high-risk confined areas and general surveillance work are among the key roles of the vehicle.

Funding for the programme must be considered in the context of the APC programme and the changed financial situation, and it has been agreed with the military authorities that the programme for the acquisition of the vehicles will not proceed at present. In the meantime, the Defence Forces will continue to conduct further studies regarding the type and specification of vehicle required.

Defence Forces Recruitment.

Ceisteanna (11, 12)

Joe Sherlock

Ceist:

10 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Defence the reason persons who are coeliacs are not regarded as suitable to be members of the Naval Service; if he will reconsider that policy, especially in view of the negative message that it sends out and the full role coeliacs play in other walks of life; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3284/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

Coeliac disease is an inflammatory bowel disorder which results when susceptible persons eat food containing gluten, a natural substance found in many common foodstuffs, including bread. The treatment is to adhere to a strict gluten-free diet. Strict adherence to such a diet results in complete relief from symptoms and is believed by current medical opinion to protect against complications of the disease such as osteoporosis and malignancy. Poor dietary control, on the other hand, may result in immediate illness and major complications in later life.

The professional advice of the expert medical military authority, the Director of the Medical Corps, is that the special dietary requirements of a person with a coeliac condition cannot be guaranteed throughout the range of possible operational circumstances which can be encountered in service in the Defence Forces.

Under the range of operational conditions in the Defence Forces, it is impossible for the military to guarantee an adequate supply of gluten-free food. Therefore, coeliacs in the Defence Forces are strictly limited in the range of duties to which they can be assigned, and the condition is seen as essentially incompatible with satisfactory military service. As a result, coeliacs are not accepted for enlistment into the Defence Forces, and recruits who are diagnosed as coeliac before they have been finally approved are not considered to meet the medical standard for final approval.

When a serving member of the Defence Forces suffers late-onset coeliac disease, he or she is medically downgraded according to the severity of the condition, and appropriate restrictions on duty are recommended. He or she is normally able to serve the remainder of his or her contract. In such cases, however, the condition may preclude further extension, re-engagement or continuance of service. It is fully accepted that people with this condition can have a full and normal life in most civilian occupations. However, I am satisfied that certain restrictions must apply in the case of Defence Forces personnel based on the exceptional nature of their occupation. It is not correct to interpret the Defence Forces position as a "negative" message regarding coeliac disease. The Defence Forces policy is based on the considered professional opinion of the military medical authorities.

It will always be the case that certain medical conditions will be incompatible with the demands of military service, although those conditions do not affect suitability for civilian employment.

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

11 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Defence the number of medical doctors serving as officers in the Defence Forces; the way in which it compares with the establishment level; the steps being taken to fill outstanding vacancies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3289/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

The military authorities advise that the current establishment for medical officers in the Permanent Defence Force is 51, and the current strength is 20. In common with other public sector health service providers, the Medical Corps encounters difficulty in the recruitment and retention of medical personnel. The Department of Defence, in consultation with the Director of the Medical Corps, is seeking ways to recruit additional medical personnel, notwithstanding those difficulties.

Over recent years, however, the Medical Corps has had difficulty in attracting more than one or two medical officers per year into the service. Part of the difficulty in attracting applicants may be due to the unique nature of military medical officer appointments. Service in the Medical Corps is not a professional training employment similar to non-consultant hospital doctor appointments or vocational training schemes in general practice.

Where no military medical or dental officer is available, suitable local arrangements are made with civilian medical and dental practitioners to ensure that the appropriate level of professional care is available to members of the Defence Forces.

Defence Forces Strength.

Ceisteanna (13)

Dan Boyle

Ceist:

12 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Defence if he intends to improve Ireland's military capacity as required under the new European constitution; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3378/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

The European and international aspects of defence policy were considered in great detail in the drafting of the Government's White Paper on defence, which was published in February 2000. The roles of the Defence Forces as decided by the Government include the participation in multinational peace support, crisis management and humanitarian relief operations in support of the United Nations and under a UN mandate, including regional security missions authorised by the UN.

Ireland and the EU both recognised that primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security rests with the United Nations. The EU is currently seeking to enhance and build on existing co-operation with the UN, as can be seen in the recent joint declaration on co-operation in crisis management signed by the EU and the UN in September 2003.

The draft EU constitution has yet to be agreed and remains under discussion among member states. In that regard, Article 40.1 of the draft constitution states that the common security and defence policy shall provide the Union with an operational capacity drawing on assets civil and military. The Union may use them on missions outside the Union for peacekeeping, conflict prevention and strengthening international security in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter. The performance of those tasks shall be undertaken using the capabilities provided by the member states.

The development by the EU of a capability to carry out Petersberg Task operations, such as humanitarian, peacekeeping and peace support operations in support of the United Nations, is fully in accord with Ireland's policy regarding participation in overseas missions. To that end, the EU has made great progress in developing the security and defence policy in a relatively short period of time.

We have already seen some tangible results of the EU's operational capability, through the EU police mission, or EUPM, and the military mission "Operation Concordia", both of which have been supporting the EU's stabilisation and association agreement with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM. We have seen the French-led EU deployment of "Operation Artemis" in support of UN Mandate 1484 in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the police mission in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia known as PROXIMA. All those operations have, even in the short time for which they have been operational, supported peace and stability in their areas of operation.

The Government is committed to the future participation of the Defence Forces in Petersberg task-type operations in accordance with the provisions of the White Paper on Defence and our national decision-making procedures. In that regard, national sovereignty remains the underlying principle regarding participation in the European security and defence policy. Ireland will only participate in operations authorised by the UN as comprehended by the appropriate legislation, that is, the Defence Act 1954, the Defence (Amendment) No. 2 Act 1960, and the Defence (Amendment) Act 1993, where there is Government approval, and where the number of armed troops exceeds 12, a resolution of the Dáil.

Article 40.3 of the draft constitution states that "Member States shall undertake progressively to improve their military capabilities". That proposal is fully in accordance with the objectives of the White Paper on defence, the major objective of which is to ensure that Ireland has a world-class military organisation. Much has already been achieved by the Defence Forces under the White Paper process regarding improving efficiencies, cost effectiveness and modernising capabilities. The Government is committed to the continuation of that process.

Our policy recognises the primacy of the UN in the area of international security. The proposals contained in the draft constitution have no implications for Ireland's participation in UN peace support operations such as our current deployment to UNMIL in Liberia.

Army Barracks.

Ceisteanna (14)

Mary Upton

Ceist:

13 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Defence if the contract for the sale of Clancy Barracks has been concluded and signed; the reasons for the long delay in concluding the matter, in view of the fact that it is almost 18 months since the completion of the sale was announced; the conditions attached to the sale of the property; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3302/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

A contract of sale in respect of Clancy Barracks was exchanged on 22 December 2003 and the relevant legal formalities are progressing with a view to sale closure in March-April 2004.

In addition to the Law Society of Ireland "general conditions of sale", special conditions relating to particular title issues specific to the property in sale apply. These include such matters as the necessity, in the case of a small portion of the property, to seek the sanction of the High Court for its sale arising from a lease covenant; the requirement for a general tax clearance certificate; and position regarding boundary walls, listed buildings and closing date.

Ministerial Transport.

Ceisteanna (15, 16)

John Gormley

Ceist:

14 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Defence the amount of occasions the Government jet has been used since its delivery to the Government in December 2003; the purposes for which the Government jet was used; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3375/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

38 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Defence the number of official trips undertaken to date by the new Bombardier Learjet 45; the destinations in each case; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3292/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 14 and 38 together.

In July 2003 the Government decided to approve the purchase of a Bombardier Learjet 45 light business jet for the ministerial air transport service, MATS. The Learjet operates in tandem with the Gulfstream IV in providing a ministerial air transport service for members of the Government.

The Learjet 45 arrived at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel, on 19 December 2003 and the Air Corps then embarked on an intensive training programme. The Learjet entered operational service as part of the ministerial air transport service on 19 January with a trip to Brussels. In the month of January it has undertaken a total of seven ministerial air transport missions.

The destinations were as follows:

Date

Destination

19 January

Brussels

20 January

Brussels

21 to 23 January

Monrovia

24 January

Zurich

25 January

Zurich

26 January

Brussels

28 January

Brussels/London

It should be noted that the GIV aircraft remains in service and has carried out 14 missions during the same period. Also, due to the demands arising from the EU Presidency it has been necessary on four occasions to make use of the Beech King aircraft which is now primarily used in a training role. My Department does not hold details in relation to the purpose of MATS trips. This is a matter for each individual Minister.

Overseas Missions.

Ceisteanna (17)

Joan Burton

Ceist:

15 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Defence the arrangements which have been put in place to allow personnel serving in Liberia to remain in touch with their families at home; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3287/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

Defence Forces personnel serving with the United Nations Mission in Liberia, UNMIL, are provided with the following range of services to allow them to remain in touch with their families at home. A home connect telephone system allows personnel dial direct from Liberia via satellite to any phone, fixed or mobile. This facility is normally available from 16.00 hours daily and throughout the weekend and private telephone booths are provided within the camp for this purpose. Another service provided is that of postal arrangements. The Defence Forces have set up a PO box facility with An Post for letter post only. The post is collected twice weekly from this facility and delivered to Defence Forces headquarters for onward transmission to UNMIL; and Internet facilities are also provided for all personnel through an Internet cafe in Camp Clara, the headquarters of the 90th Infantry Battalion, UNMIL. The computers that are available to personnel have both e-mail and video link conferencing facilities. The video conference facility has been used recently by families of personnel serving with UNMIL. A radio service is also provided. I am advised that a Defence Forces VHF radio station transmits throughout the camp and includes broadcasts of Irish radio programmes.

Search and Rescue Service.

Ceisteanna (18, 19)

Eamon Ryan

Ceist:

16 Mr. Eamon Ryan asked the Minister for Defence his views on the recent privatisation of air search and rescue services which has followed the Government's withdrawal of the Air Corps from search and rescue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3384/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

24 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Defence the search and rescue bases now maintained and operated by the Air Corps; the role he expects the Air Corps to play in search and rescue operations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3285/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 16 and 24 together.

The Irish Coast Guard has overall responsibility for the provision of maritime search and rescue services within the Irish search and rescue region. The Air Corps provides the search and rescue, SAR, service off the north west coast while CHCI, a private operator, provides the service from Dublin, Shannon and Waterford.

In the period from late September 2003, there was an unusually high incidence of sick leave among the Air Corps rearcrew — winchmen and winch operators. As service continuity within the north west SAR operation could not be guaranteed with the existing rearcrews, the GOC of the Air Corps posted 13 of the 17 personnel to other duties. The four remaining crew were due to return to duty, but three opted to transfer out of SAR. As a result, the north west SAR operation was limited in that it was unable to provide a winching service. While most other aspects of the SAR service continued to be provided, the lack of a winching capability severely eroded the level of service on offer and potentially compromised the safety of mariners.

In view of this, I asked my officials to work with the Air Corps to determine when it might be in a position to return to full SAR service. This examination took place against a background where CHCI, the provider of all other SAR services in the State, had submitted a proposal to the Irish Coast Guard indicating that it could provide a service within a relatively short timeframe.

As I have said in the past, the safety of Air Corps personnel is of paramount importance. Training new winchcrews and enabling them to acquire the requisite experience, including experience in theatre, would have meant that the Air Corps would have been unable to return to a 24 hour full SAR service until March 2005. In addition, because of the small scale of the Air Corps SAR operation, it would continually be at risk from the loss of small numbers of experienced personnel. In view of this, I advised my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, of the situation and of my decision to withdraw the Air Corps Search and Rescue Service in the north west.

We can never lose sight of the fact that search and rescue is an emergency life saving service, which seafarers must be able to rely on in all circumstances. In the absence of the Air Corps being able to provide the required level of service, and given the level of ongoing risk of the service not being available because of a lack of trained backup Air Corps personnel, the reliability of the service offered by the Air Corps would always be in question. The Air Corps will continue to provide its current limited service, while the coast guard makes alternative arrangements for the return of a full SAR service in the north west. It is expected that these arrangements will be in place within a matter of weeks.

This was not an easy decision. The Air Corps has a long and distinguished tradition in providing search and rescue services and I know this decision was a real disappointment for them. I am also aware of the very significant efforts of Air Corps management and staff to maintain an operational SAR service in the north west, in particular, the dedication and commitment of key personnel within the north west search and rescue operation. However, the provision of this essential emergency service requires that a full team be available 24 hours a day and seven days a week. The Air Corps was not in a position to provide this.

Air Corps Equipment.

Ceisteanna (20, 21, 22)

Michael D. Higgins

Ceist:

17 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Defence his plans for the provision of a new fleet of light utility helicopters for the Air Corps; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3294/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Michael D. Higgins

Ceist:

28 Mr. M. Higgins asked the Minister for Defence the progress which has been made by the interdepartmental working group to seek alternative solutions for the provision of funding for helicopters required by the Air Corps; when he expects to receive the report of the group; when he expects a decision to be made on this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3293/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Ceist:

31 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Defence further to his announcement in December 2003 for the procurement of a new fleet of light utility helicopters, when the tendering process will begin; the number of helicopters being considered for purchase; the expected cost; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3381/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 17, 28 and 31 together.

When the decision to cancel the tender competition for medium lift helicopters was made in July 2002, I asked my officials to initiate a review of the provision of helicopters services, in conjunction with the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, to determine how best to meet the State's obligations in search and rescue, while taking account of the current financial position.

In parallel with this, a joint military-civil board was established to review the overall rotary wing requirements for the Air Corps, in particular, the possible procurement of modern light utility helicopters for the Air Corps, to replace its current fleet of Alouettes and Gazelles.

In view of the overlapping issues relating to the acquisition of both light utility and medium lift helicopters, the work of both groups was incorporated into the report of the joint civil-military board on rotary wing requirements of the Air Corps. This report was completed towards the end of last year and was the subject of detailed consideration by senior civil and military management in my Department, having regard to the costs of the overall programme, the need to prioritise investment in the context of limited resources and the demands on the Defence Vote arising from other investment priorities.

While the report was under consideration, certain developments occurred in relation to the Air Corps search and rescue service in the north west, resulting in my decision to withdraw the Air Corps from this mission. Against this background, senior civil and military management in my Department have requested the board to revisit its report to identify any changes, which should be made, having regard to the decision on search and rescue. However, they have also recommended to me that we should immediately proceed with the acquisition of light utility helicopters, as a matter of priority, the exact number of aircraft to be determined by the board following its review of the statistical data.

Since the board is now reviewing the data to determine the number of helicopters to be purchased, I cannot state with certainty the exact number of aircraft to be purchased. However, I am advised that it is likely to be between four and six aircraft. In regard to overall cost, at this stage in a tender competition it would be inappropriate of me to speculate as to the cost involved or the resources we have identified for the procurement of the aircraft. Costing assumptions have been made by the board in the context of its analysis and report. However, this information is obviously commercially sensitive.

The specification for the helicopter is currently being drafted along with the tender documentation and I am advised that the formal competition should commence in the next few weeks.

Defence Forces Property.

Ceisteanna (23)

Seán Ryan

Ceist:

18 Mr. S. Ryan asked the Minister for Defence the progress made to date in the investigation into the circumstances in which a number of civilians came into contact with an unexploded tear gas canister near firing ranges at the Curragh; if the device had been used by military personnel based at the US embassy; the number of occasions in each of the past five years in which such personnel have been allowed to use Defence Forces property; if terms or conditions are attached to such use; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3307/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

The matter to which the Deputy refers is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the military police. I am advised by the military authorities that the investigation will be completed as soon as outstanding statements are taken from the relevant parties.

My understanding is that the device to which the Deputy refers was discovered following the use of the range, on a courtesy basis, by military personnel from the US embassy. Military personnel are required to discharge their personal service weapons at least once a year and US embassy personnel have used the Army range on five occasions over the past five years in this regard.

The arrangements for the use of the range are agreed in advance following a request from the US embassy. The use of the range on the day is monitored and controlled by a range supervisor from the Defence Forces, in accordance with standing Defence Forces' practices.

As it is now some time since this event occurred, I have asked the military authorities to expedite their investigation and to submit a report to me as soon as possible. Once the current investigation is completed, I will consider whatever recommendations may be made to me in relation to the ongoing management and control of military ranges.

Defence Forces Personnel Plan.

Ceisteanna (24)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

19 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Defence the progress made to date with regard to an integrated personnel management plan for the Defence Forces as recommended in the White Paper on Defence; when it is expected that the plan will be introduced; the progress of the consultation with the representative organisations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3290/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

The White Paper recommendation for an integrated personnel management plan, or system, and other related White Paper recommendations are now enshrined in the programme for Government of June 2002.

Under the programme, we are committed to, among other things, the introduction of an integrated personnel management system, known as the IPMS, for the Defence Forces which will deal with the broad range of human resources management and development issues. These include, manpower policy and planning, equality of opportunity and treatment and the right to dignity at work, recruitment, terms of enlistment, induction, training, education and development, physical and medical fitness, career planning and guidance, promotion, the regulatory framework, retirement, and pensions. In effect, what is envisaged is the development and implementation of a fully comprehensive human resources strategy for the Defence Forces — Army, Naval Service and Air Corps. I am pleased to say that we have made very good progress.

Initial proposals for an IPMS were developed by the military authorities and then referred to the top level civil-military strategic management committee for further development. Some of the key proposals were then put to the associations representing officers and enlisted personnel late last year in the context of the negotiations on the application to the Defence Forces of Sustaining Progress. Those negotiations also involved the preparation of an action plan covering the development and implementation of a range of modernisation elements, including key IPMS elements. I am pleased to say that the negotiations were successful in the period before Christmas and that both associations signed up to Sustaining Progress and to the implementation of the action plan over the period to mid-2005. The implementation process is now under way.

Defence Forces Training.

Ceisteanna (25)

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

20 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Defence further to Question No. 31 of 4 December 2003, if he will elaborate on the conflict scenario envisaged in the first ever joint EU-NATO crisis management exercise CME/CMX 03 November 2003 and the success or otherwise of the exercise; the military level Ireland was represented at in the exercise and NATO's involvement in the exercise; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3379/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

The European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO, conducted their first ever joint crisis management exercise, CME/CMX 03, from 19 to 25 November 2003.

The scenario for the exercise, initially developed by the EU in accordance with the principles of the UN Charter, involved a conflict on the fictitious island of Atlantia between two ethnic groups over a contested area and a request to the EU from the UN Secretary General to consider supporting the implementation of a framework agreement between the parties. This scenario led to the consideration of options for a possible EU Petersberg tasks crisis management operation under Article 17.2 of the Treaty on European Union. The exercise tested planning for an EU-led military operation with recourse to NATO assets and capabilities. It also tested civilian instruments of the EU in the context of civilian operational planning.

CME/CMX 03, which was purely a desktop exercise, was conducted in Brussels and in national capitals. It tested a range of standing arrangements for consultation and co-operation between the EU and NATO in times of crisis, and the other relevant elements of Berlin plus arrangements at the strategic politico-military level, in the event of an envisaged EU-led operation with recourse to NATO assets and capabilities.

During the conduct of the exercise, EU-NATO meetings took place at the levels of political and security committee-North Atlantic Council, politico military group-policy co-ordination group and European Union military committee-NATO military committee, including experts from the EU and NATO in liaison with the Deputy Supreme Allied Command Europe, DSACEUR, as potential EU operation commander. These meetings took place in accordance with applicable standing arrangements for consultation and co-operation between the EU and NATO, in the event of an envisaged EU-led operation with recourse to NATO assets and capabilities.

In Dublin, the Departments of Foreign Affairs, Justice, Equality and Law Reform and my own Department, including the appropriate military authorities, participated in the exercise. CME/CMX03 was considered to be successful. It proved a good test of EU crisis management procedures and of the standing arrangements for consultation and co-operation with NATO in times of crisis.

Naval Service.

Ceisteanna (26)

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

21 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Defence the total establishment level for the Naval Service as set out in the White Paper on Defence; the current number of personnel; the steps being taken to ensure that personnel numbers are brought up to the recommended level; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3295/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

As part of the modernisation process, in December 2000, I authorised a new organisation for the Naval Service which saw an increase in personnel numbers from 959 serving at that time to a new establishment of 1,144.

The establishment and strength of the Naval Service, as advised by the military authorities, is provided below. The figures provided are as at 31 December 2003 in respect of the Naval Service. The Government remains fully committed to the policy of ongoing recruitment to ensure that an overall PDF strength of 10,500 is achieved and maintained.

It is proposed to recruit a further 14 cadets from the 2004 cadetship competition. The ongoing recruitment campaign for enlistment in the Defence Forces, which I have approved, is designed to address any shortfall in personnel in the Defence Forces, including the Naval Service.

Given the specialist nature of many of the additional positions, it was not possible to fill them until such time as personnel had completed the necessary training. It was always accepted that it would take a number of years for all appointments to be filled by suitably qualified people. Some 93 recruits were enlisted in the Naval Service in 2003 while 14 cadets and eight direct entry officers were also recruited during 2003.

In 2002, 100 recruits, nine engine room artificers and six electrical artificers were enlisted in the Naval Service. In addition, 13 qualified personnel, comprising four watchkeeping officers, four marine engineers and five electrical engineer officers were also appointed. Some 16 cadets were also enlisted from the 2002 cadetship intake. In 2001, 62 recruits, six cadets, one marine engineer, two watchkeepers and three electrical artificers were recruited to the Naval Service.

Where the need arises, competitions are organised to recruit specialist personnel by direct entry. Competitions have been advertised in recent years for marine engineer officers, watchkeeping officers, electrical engineer officers, electrical artificers and engine room artificers in the Naval Service.

Establishment and Strength of the Naval Service

31 December 2003.

Officers

NCOs

Privates

Total

Establishment

189

537

418

1,144

Strength

139

467

473

1,079

Defence Forces Pay.

Ceisteanna (27)

Paul Nicholas Gogarty

Ceist:

22 Mr. Gogarty asked the Minister for Defence the way in which pay scales for military personnel are compared to those in other EU states; if he will provide the comparisons for all grades; if he intends to improve the pay and conditions of military personnel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3382/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

A wide range of different rates of pay for military personnel can be found across the European Union. This reflects the enormous differences in development levels and labour market conditions between member states. The differing rates are also influenced by such matters as the conditions of entry, terms of service, workloads, taskings, superannuation provisions and the taxation and social welfare regimes that apply in the various EU countries. In addition, the nature of national defence organisations themselves is quite varied.

Rates of remuneration and conditions of employment in the Irish public sector are never set by reference to those obtaining in another EU member state. What is much more relevant is a comparison of the relative levels of pay across the various sectors of the Irish public sector. In this regard, it is my understanding that the level of remuneration in the defence sector has maintained relativity with the levels available in other public sector employments.

The Public Service Benchmarking Body was set up in July 2000 to undertake a fundamental examination of the pay of public service employeesvis-à-vis the private sector. The benchmarking process was a genuine attempt to set pay levels for the Irish public service in the context of the Irish economy — not the economy of any other EU country. Benchmarking is an open, independent and progressive way of tackling the setting of appropriate pay levels and the process provided the Defence Forces' representative associations with an opportunity to present their case in regard to their members' pay levels.

The public service benchmarking body reported in June 2002 and announced increases in pay rates for members of the Defence Forces ranging from 4% to 15%. The first phase of the increases was paid late last year, the second phase will be paid later this month and the third and final phase is due with effect from 1 June 2005. Payment of the second and third phases is dependent, in the case of each sector, organisation and grade, on verification of satisfactory achievement of the provisions set out in the Sustaining Progress agreement, on co-operation with ongoing change, satisfactory implementation of the agenda for modernisation and the maintenance of stable industrial relations and absence of industrial action in respect of any matters covered by the Sustaining Progress agreement.

Army Medical Corps.

Ceisteanna (28)

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

23 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Defence his plans for the future development of St. Bricin's Hospital; and if it is his intention to maintain it as a primary medical provider for Defence Forces personnel. [3359/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

The reorganisation of the medical corps, under the Defence Forces review implementation plan in November 1998, was embraced as an opportunity to redirect the focus of military medical care in the Defence Forces from a predominantly hospital based service to one in which primary care, occupational medicine and field support would continue to be further developed.

St. Bricin's Military Hospital is the logistics base facility of the medical corps. Its functions are to provide: a primary care facility for the Dublin garrisons; a military medical occupational medical service base for the Defence Forces; an in-patient capability for the Defence Forces both in Ireland and in support of overseas deployments; and a medical logistics base for the provision of medical equipment, pharmaceutical supplies and strategic medical supplies for the Defence Forces.

There are currently four medical officers, one dental officer and two pharmacists serving in the hospital. There are also two civilian doctors providing a part time service to out-patients. The most dominant factor influencing service delivery at St. Bricin's Hospital is medical manpower. The hospital is working to capacity given the available personnel resources. The hospital is not equipped, and would not have the staffing resources, to provide more sophisticated or other specialist services, other than those provided at present. There are no plans to change the current role of St. Bricin's Hospital. The hospital is undergoing a general refurbishment programme, including fire safety works and rewiring. The hospital complex also provides accommodation for the Army Pensions Board.

Question No. 24 answered with QuestionNo. 16.

Defence Forces Equipment.

Ceisteanna (29)

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

25 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Defence if he will report on the Government's recently agreed €10 million purchase from a company (details supplied) of the Javelin anti-tank missile system; if his Department contacted the Foyle ethical investment campaign before making this purchase; if this armaments purchase is consistent with Derry City Council's recent decision to adopt a policy to reject inward investment related to the arms trade; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3391/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

In early 2000, a case was forwarded by the military authorities for the initiation of a replacement programme for the Milan medium range anti-tank guided weapon system, which was originally purchased for the Defence Forces in 1982. The primary role of the replacement system was to provide protection to Irish troops against armoured threats while serving overseas.

A tender competition was initiated in May 2000 and following a detailed evaluation of tenders by a military board, the Javelin medium range anti-tank guided weapon system manufactured by a US joint venture, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, was recommended for purchase. A letter of agreement for the acquisition of the Javelin system was signed with the US Government in January 2003. The value of the agreement is approximately €12.7 million, inclusive of VAT. Payments under the contract are scheduled over the period 2003 to 2005. The main delivery under the contract will be in 2005. However, an advance delivery of some items will take place this year to facilitate the training of military personnel.

It is important that we continue to provide modern equipment for our personnel for training purposes and service overseas. The Javelin system is capable of being deployed with the new Mowag APCs and will provide personnel and the APCs with effective, anti-armour protection while on overseas service. The purchase of the Javelin system is part of the full package necessary to ensure that Irish troops can continue their participation in peacekeeping operations throughout the world.

As I noted earlier, the tender competition for the acquisition of the replacement system was initiated in 2000 with the letter of agreement signed in January 2003. The resolution by Derry City Council was adopted in January 2004 and related to inward investment. My duty, as Minister for Defence, is to ensure that the Defence Forces are suitably equipped, in particular for the valuable and highly regarded role they have played in peace support operations in so many parts of the world. In acquiring such equipment my Department has regard to wider national policy issues and any guidance on offer from the United Nations.

Decentralisation Programme.

Ceisteanna (30)

Dan Boyle

Ceist:

26 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for Defence if a survey of staff has taken place in his Department regarding decentralisation; the impact decentralisation will have on his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3377/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

No survey of the type described by the Deputy has been conducted in my Department. Civil-military working groups have been set up to consider the practical aspects of the transfer of staff to Newbridge and the Curragh. In that regard, appropriate measures will be put in place to ensure there is no adverse impact on the operations of the Department and Defence Forces headquarters.

European Security and Defence Policy.

Ceisteanna (31, 32)

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

27 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the extent of the discussions he has had with his EU counterparts in the area of European defence and security and the European response force; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3395/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

During the Italian Presidency an informal meeting of Defence Ministers was held in Rome on 3 and 4 October 2003 and an EU Defence Ministerialen marge of the General Affairs External Relations Council was held in Brussels on 17 November 2003. As I have previously reported to the House, these meetings provide a useful forum for Ministers to exchange views on the continued development of the European Security and Defence Policy, in particular the development of EU capabilities to carry out Petersberg Task operations.

Two meetings of EU Defence Ministers will be held during Ireland's Presidency. The first, an informal meeting, will take place in Brussels on 5 and 6 April 2004, while the second will be held in the framework of the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 17 and 18 May 2004.

As part of my preparations for Ireland's Presidency of the EU I met informally with a number of my counterparts bothen marge of previous ministerial meetings and through visits to capitals. The purpose of these discussions was to exchange views on Ireland's prospective mandate for the Presidency.

Question No. 28 answered with QuestionNo. 17.

John Gormley

Ceist:

29 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Defence the progress that has been made in the establishment of the EU's new armaments agency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3376/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

The conclusions of the European Council held at Thessaloniki in June 2003, tasked the appropriate bodies of the Council to undertake the necessary actions towards creating, in the course of 2004, an intergovernmental agency in the field of defence capabilities development, research, acquisition and armaments. Work towards creating the agency was progressed under the Italian Presidency by way of anad hoc preparation group, AHPG, comprised of senior officials from the defence ministries of the EU member states and acceding states.

On 17 November 2003, the General Affairs and External Relations Council decided to create a small agency establishment team to take work forward on the financial, legal and administrative aspects of the setting up of the agency, with a view to the team starting work in January 2004. The Secretary General-High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Mr. Javier Solana, was invited to implement that decision.

As part of the mandate for the Irish Presidency, the European Council invited the Presidency to take forward work on the further development of European military capabilities including, "to advance the establishment, in the course of 2004, of an agency in the field of defence capabilities development, research, acquisition and armaments". On 28 January 2004, the Secretary General-High Representative announced the appointment of Mr. Nick Witney from the United Kingdom as the leader of the agency establishment team. It is envisaged that the team will submit proposals to the Council relating to the creation, structure and launching the agency in the course of 2004.

The Secretary General-High Representative will continue to operate to ensure that member states are kept abreast of developments. The overall aim of the agency will be to support member states in their efforts to improve European defence capabilities in support of European Security and Defence Policy. Improvements in competitiveness and efficiencies in the defence equipment sector may yield some future economies of scale which might be of benefit to the Defence Forces and I will maintain a close interest in this aspect. Participation by member states in the agency will be voluntary.

Defence Forces Reserve.

Ceisteanna (33)

Liz McManus

Ceist:

30 Ms McManus asked the Minister for Defence if he will report on the progress made to date with regard to the planned reorganisation of the Reserve Defence Force; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3301/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

On 15 January 2003 I approved, in principle, the report of the reserve Defence Forces review implementation board for the implementation of the recommendations of the special steering group on the reserve, which had reported to me in September 1999. The Permanent Defence Force is now organised in a three brigade structure and a Defence Forces training centre. The reserve Defence Force will be similarly reorganised and restructured and it is envisaged that the implementation of these changes in the reserve Defence Force will take place over a period of approximately six years.

The White Paper on Defence recognised that a notable and important feature of the existing FCA organisation is its countrywide, geographical spread. This particular aspect will, in general terms, be retained in the future. The full organisational and establishment details of the new reserve will be determined in the course of the ongoing detailed implementation process. Plans are being prepared within each brigade for the amalgamation of FCA units in line with the proposals outlined in the steering group report. The objective of this process is to ensure that better training and other facilities will be provided to members of the reserve Defence Force. No decisions have yet been taken on the location of proposed newly amalgamated units but the military authorities have advised me that all proposed amalgamations will provide an optimal environment for personnel in the relevant areas to partake in the new enhanced reserve Defence Force.

Members of the FCA are already seeing the benefits of the reorganisation process in terms of better clothing and improved equipment and more and better quality training. As the process develops we will see additional benefits in terms of a clearer role for the reserve, a better overall organisation structure, and opportunities for suitably qualified reserve personnel to serve overseas. We will also see benefits from the closer integration of the reserve with the Army.

I must emphasise I am mindful of the need to preserve and to retain the many traditional and well established strengths of the current reserve system, not least the admirable spirit of individual voluntary commitment, close social links with local communities and a good depth and scope as regards nationwide geographical spread. Planning is ongoing by the military authorities but no final decision on the amalgamation of FCA units will be taken until I have had the opportunity to examine and approve the final amalgamation proposals.

Question No. 31 answered with QuestionNo. 17.

Defence Forces Strength.

Ceisteanna (34)

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

32 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence if he envisages increasing the strength of the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps given Ireland's likely commitment to overseas peacekeeping; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3392/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

The White Paper on Defence of February 2000 sets out a figure of 10,500 personnel for the Permanent Defence Force, comprising 930 for the Air Corps, 1,144 for the Naval Service and 8,426 for the Army. Ireland's commitment to collective security is pursued through the UN, which has the primary role to play in the maintenance of international peace and security. Ireland has a long record of participation in UN international peacekeeping, monitoring and observer missions and it is the Government's intention that the Defence Forces will continue with involvement in appropriate international missions of this nature.

In October 1998 Ireland signed a memorandum of understanding with the United Nations on the UN standby arrangements system, UNSAS. Through the UNSAS, Ireland offered to provide up to 850 military personnel for overseas service at any one time to meet peace support and humanitarian commitments, whether UN or NATO led. A similar commitment was made in an EU context in 2000. The figure of 850 equates to some 10% of the Army and is not an inconsiderable commitment in this regard. This level of commitment was envisaged within the overall strength levels provided for the Defence Forces in the White Paper.

Ireland's commitment under UNSAS does not entail an obligation to participate in any particular mission. Requests for Defence Forces personnel to serve on overseas missions are considered on a case-by-case basis in the prevailing circumstances, within the context of UNSAS. Any decision to dispatch a contingent of 12 or more members of the Defence Forces to a specific mission must have a UN mandate, a Government decision and Dáil approval. Our commitment of 850 troops to UNSAS is the same commitment as might be deployed on EU or NATO led, UN authorised operations.

There are no proposals to effect any increase in the strength of the Defence Forces. It is my intention to maintain the established Government policy of ongoing recruitment to the Defence Forces.

EU Presidency.

Ceisteanna (35)

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

33 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Defence if he has an estimate of the additional costs likely to accrue to the Defence Forces as a result of additional security duties arising from the Irish Presidency of the EU; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3297/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

The Garda Síochána has the primary responsibility for law and order, including the protection of the internal security of the State. Among the roles assigned to the Defence Forces is the provision of aid to the civil power meaning in practice to assist, when requested, the Garda Síochána, which duties include the protection and guarding of vital installations, the provision of certain security escorts etc.

With regard to the EU Presidency, the Defence Forces will continue to render such assistance as may be appropriate when requested by the Garda. The level and demand for Defence Forces assistance will depend on ongoing security assessments undertaken by the Garda. As this threat can vary over time and depending on the circumstances pertaining, it is not possible to predict the additional costs which may arise in respect of security duties undertaken by the Defence Forces during the course of the Presidency.

Defence Forces Deployment.

Ceisteanna (36, 37)

Joe Sherlock

Ceist:

34 Mr. Sherlock asked the Minister for Defence the position regarding the possible use of Defence Forces personnel in prisons in the event of industrial action by prison officers; the training which has been given to the personnel who will be used in this role; the consultation there has been with the representative organisations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3283/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Dinny McGinley

Ceist:

39 Mr. McGinley asked the Minister for Defence if there are plans to deploy members of the Defence Forces to prison security in the case of industrial action by prison officers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3358/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 34 and 39 together.

At its meeting on 29 September, 2003, the Government set up a group comprising the Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform and Finance and myself to deal with the evolving industrial relations situation in the prison service, including the putting in place of contingency arrangements in the event of industrial action. Prior to that there had been direct contacts at official level between the Irish Prison Service and my Department and the Defence Forces and I understand also with the Garda authorities. It continues to be the hope of the Government that this matter can be settled without recourse to industrial action.

However, I can confirm that a considerable amount of contingency planning has been undertaken regarding the possible use of Garda and Defence Force personnel in the event of industrial action in the prisons. I can also confirm that, in such a situation, the Defence Forces will play a significant role. Pursuant to that role, Army personnel have been engaged in a familiarisation process which has included a series of visits to the prisons.

As the Deputy will appreciate it would be inappropriate to provide details of the contingency plans being put in place. Suffice it to say that the Government has a duty to ensure that the prison system continues to operate in all circumstances.

Since the deployment of military personnel is specifically excluded from the scope of staff representation, the question of discussion or consultation with the Defence Forces representative associations does not arise.

Defence Forces Recruitment.

Ceisteanna (38, 39)

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

35 Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Defence if he will consider setting a target for female membership of the Defence Forces, in view of the continuing low level of female personnel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3305/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

60 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the number of women currently in the Army, Naval Service and Air Corps; if this represents an increase or decrease over the past six years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3535/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 35 and 60 together.

The Government is committed to a policy of equal opportunity for men and women in the Defence Forces, including the Reserve Defence Force, and to the full participation by women in all aspects of Defence Forces activities.

Women are eligible for service in the Army, Air Corps, Naval Service and in the Reserve Defence Force and to compete for promotion on an equal basis and under the same general conditions as those which apply to men. Female officers are generally being promoted at the same stage in their career as male officers. All female personnel undergo the same training and receive the same military education as their male counterparts.

The military authorities advise that the trend for general service recruitment has been that 9% of all applicants have been female and that on average 9% of enlistments have been female. It is obviously not possible to predict what the relevant percentages will be in any future intakes of recruits, but there is no reason to assume that this pattern will change to any great degree. Some 15.4% of applicants for the 2003 cadetship competition were female. Some 15.5% of successful candidates were female.

Under the terms of the Employment Equality Act, 1998, the Defence Forces is prohibited from introducing recruitment policies that discriminate on grounds of gender. In order to encourage increased participation by women in the Defence Forces I decided in March 1998 to reduce the height requirement for all female recruits to 5' 4" and this height requirement now also applies to male recruits.

The Defence Forces does however, take positive steps to encourage female applicants. Examples of these are: (a) advertising — where possible, all graphical advertisements and booklets produced for the Defence Forces show both male and female personnel and emphasise the fact that all applicants are assessed on an equal basis; (b) recruitment fairs — stands at recruiting fairs are generally staffed by male and female personnel; and (c) visits to schools — when the Defence Forces is invited to give talks at all female or mixed schools, every effort is made to have a female speaker.

Over the past six years, the strength of female personnel in the Defence Forces has grown from 244 at the end of 1997 to 484 at the end of 2003. In percentage terms this represents an increase from 2.11% to 4.61% of total strength.

The strength of females in the Defence Forces, as advised by the military authorities, is provided in the form of the following tabular statement.

Strength of Females in the Defence Forces

31 December 2003.

Lt Gen

Maj Gen

Brig Gen

Col

Lt Col

Comdt

Capt

Lt

Total Offrs

Army

0

0

0

0

1

11

30

33

75

Air Corps

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

2

3

Naval Service

0

0

0

0

0

0

2

14

16

Sm

Bqms

Cs

Cqms

Sgts

Cpls

Total NCOs

Ptes

Cadets

Total

Army

0

0

3

1

10

87

101

206

15

397

Air Corps

0

0

1

0

0

7

8

9

1

21

Naval Service

0

0

0

0

0

1

1

44

5

66

Commissioned Officers.

Ceisteanna (40)

Eamon Gilmore

Ceist:

36 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for Defence the total number of personnel from the other ranks commissioned as officers in the Defence Forces in each of the past five years; if there are plans to increase the numbers commissioned from the ranks; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3291/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

A total of 28 non-commissioned officers have been commissioned as officers in the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service in the past five years.

Potential officers courses, POC, are held for non-commissioned personnel from time to time within the Defence Forces. Personnel who successfully complete such courses are commissioned as officers in the Permanent Defence Force. Participants on such courses are selected on a competitive basis. In addition, from time to time non-commissioned personnel who hold appropriate qualifications are commissioned to fill specialist appointments where vacancies arise. Eligible non-commissioned personnel may also apply for the annual cadetship competitions. The requirement for potential officer courses and commissioning from the ranks, CFR, competitions is reviewed from time to time and is being specifically addressed in the context of the integrated personnel management system or IPMS which is one of the major policy initiatives provided for in the White Paper on Defence. The IPMS will make specific and ongoing provision for the introduction of regular schemes to commission enlisted personnel as officers in the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service. A proposed IPMS has been considered by the Department's civil-military strategic management committee. Some key elements of the IPMS are now being advanced as part of the action plan under Sustaining Progress.

Draft conditions governing the appointment of enlisted personnel of the Permanent Defence Force to be officers of the Naval Service are under discussion with the representative associations. As the discussions with the representative associations are ongoing, it would not be appropriate to comment on any of the specifics of the proposed draft conditions. However, it is the intention that a potential officers course will be run as soon as these discussions are completed.

Naval Service Personnel.

Ceisteanna (41)

Brendan Howlin

Ceist:

37 Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Defence the steps being taken to address the long periods that Naval Service personnel must spend at sea; the plans he has for a return to the two years on-two years off rotation for personnel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3296/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

As part of the modernisation process, in December 2000 I authorised a new organisation for the Naval Service which saw an increase in personnel numbers from 959 serving at that time to a new establishment of 1,144. There are currently 1,079 serving in the Naval Service.

The Naval Service endeavours to operate a planned approach to sea-shore rotation of personnel based on a two year period of commitment to sea-going duties followed by a two year period ashore subject to the exigencies of the service. However, where there are shortages of skilled personnel within the Naval Service, it may be necessary for personnel to carry out sea-going duties more frequently.

The reorganisation of the Naval Service was designed to ensure that when fully implemented all personnel would spend alternate periods of two years in a shore-based appointment followed by two years in a ship-based appointment. In this regard, I should point out that two years in a ship-based appointment does not imply that people spend two years at sea. On the other hand, some Naval personnel are keen to spend more time at sea and, where possible, they are catered for. Overall the broad range of strategies adopted by the Naval Service including continuous recruitment, direct entry officer schemes, direct entry and internal technician schemes, are all focused at achieving sufficient numbers of trained personnel so that the planned approach to sea-shore rotation, based on a two year cycle, is maintained. This helps to ensure that Naval Service personnel do not spend long periods at sea.

I am aware of the particular difficulties regarding the deployment of Naval Service personnel, especially engineering staff, engine room artificers and electrical artificers. The position with engine room artificers is that the number of such appointments in the Naval Service was increased from 76 to 85 following the reorganisation of the Naval Service.

A total of 75 engine room artificers are serving at present. The situation will continue to improve as significant numbers of trainee engine room artificers complete their training and come on stream over the next four years. A further 30 apprentices-trainee technicians are currently at various stages in the training process. They will all come on stream over the next four years and will both meet the current shortfall and replace any further wastage that may occur. The position with electrical artificers is that the number of such appointments in the Naval Service was increased from 42 to 48 following the reorganisation of the Naval Service. A total of 33 are serving at present. A further 25 are at various stages in the training process and will come on stream in the coming years.

Given the specialist nature of many of the additional positions, it was not possible to fill them all until such time as personnel had completed the necessary training. It was always accepted that it would take a number of years for all appointments to be filled by suitably qualified people.

While the increased number of specialist appointments could not all be filled instantly, thus creating some transitional short term difficulties, I am assured by the military authorities that the arrangements in place to provide suitably trained and qualified personnel should see an early improvement in the situation.

Question No. 38 answered with QuestionNo. 14.
Question No. 39 answered with QuestionNo. 34.

Defence Forces Equipment.

Ceisteanna (42)

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

40 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for Defence if there are arms purchases for the Defence Forces in 2003 and planned purchases in 2004, including which companies they were purchased from and the costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3380/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

The purchase of arms, ammunition and other defensive equipment on an ongoing basis is a pre-requisite for ensuring that the Defence Forces are fully equipped to carry out their day-to-day roles at home and overseas. The amount expended on such equipment in 2003 was just over €33 million. The provision for 2004 is €34.54 million.

In addition to arms, ammunition and other defensive equipment, major equipment purchases for the Defence Forces are also provided for from this provision, with payments normally spread over a number of years once a contract is signed.

An example this year is the delivery of an additional 25 armoured personnel carriers from Mowag of Switzerland that will give the Defence Forces a total of 65 Mowag APCs. The value of the contract for the additional 25 is some €33 million inclusive of VAT with payments spread over 2002 to 2005. The acquisition of the Javelin medium range anti-tank guided weapon system from Raytheon-Lockheed Martin in the USA at a cost of €12.7 million approximately is also being provided from this provision with payments over 2003 to 2005. The ongoing programmes for the acquisition of nuclear, biological, chemical, NBC, equipment and night vision equipment, NVE, for the Defence Forces are again funded from this provision.

The Department acquires its defensive equipment from a wide range of countries and companies with the main focus being on achieving the best value for money for the acquisitions.

Defence Forces Property.

Ceisteanna (43)

Mary Upton

Ceist:

41 Dr. Upton asked the Minister for Defence the Defence Forces property which has been handed over or is planned to transfer for the purposes of the new affordable housing initiative agreed in Sustaining Progress; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3303/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

The Government has committed to an ambitious scale of delivery of affordable housing through Sustaining Progress affordable housing initiative and through existing affordable housing schemes. The announcement in July last year of the proposed release of Department of Defence lands at Magee Barracks, Kildare and Gormanston, County Meath, was a critical first step in ensuring early delivery of affordable housing under this initiative. In addition, the Government agreed in December 2003 to the release of a further series of State lands for inclusion in the affordable housing initiative including Department of Defence sites at St. Bricin's Hospital, Dublin and at the Camp Field, Collins Barracks, Cork. The modalities of the transfer of these sites are under active consideration.

Overseas Missions.

Ceisteanna (44, 45)

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

42 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Defence if he will report on his visit to Irish troops in Liberia; his assessment of the military and political situation in Liberia; the problems posed by child soldiers to the Irish troops; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3388/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

44 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Defence if he will make a statement on his recent visit to the Irish contingent serving in Liberia. [3286/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 42 and 44 together.

I have already given the House a very comprehensive report on my visit to Liberia in reply to earlier questions. In relation to the political situation, there has been a relatively smooth transfer of political power from the interim Government of Mr. Moses Blah to the national transitional Government of Liberia led by Chairman Bryant. This successful transition should lead to credible national elections in 2005.

Although political in-fighting between and within the various factions could produce short-term difficulties, it has been assessed that all the factions involved are totally committed to the peace process.

A key priority is the disarmament, demobilisation, reconciliation and reintegration project, DDRR. The initial effort on 7 December while securing over 8,500 weapons, resulted in major conflict as significantly more persons turned up to hand over their weapons than had been projected. On 15 January 2004, a new plan to restart the DDRR was agreed by all the military factions incorporating a timeline to allow the faction leaders educate their fighters on all aspects of this new plan before physical disarmament would take place. The fact that so many turned up on the first day for the DDRR process would reinforce the view that there is a strong desire among the population at large for a return to normal civil society and the rule of law.

I am advised by the military authorities that, to date, no direct or indirect threat or aggressive behaviour has been directed at Irish personnel by child soldiers. It is assessed that child soldiers will remain a potential danger, as reports continue to indicate widespread drug use and alcohol abuse amongst them. UNMIL hopes to send these child soldiers to school and reintegrate them into a normal society.

Defence Forces Personnel.

Ceisteanna (46)

Joan Burton

Ceist:

43 Ms Burton asked the Minister for Defence the number of Defence Forces personnel tested to date under the new drug testing programme; the numbers who tested positive; the action which is taken when a member tests positive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3288/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

Drug abuse has long been recognised as a serious and escalating problem in our society. While there have been relatively few drug related problems in the Defence Forces, it is recognised that the Defence Forces, as a component of the wider community, mirror the community at large. The implications of drug abuse in an organisation where personnel have access to firearms are too obvious to require elaboration. A compulsory substance testing programme was introduced on 1 February 2002, as part of a Defence Forces substance abuse programme, following a long consultative process involving the Office of the Attorney General, the deputy judge advocate general and the Defence Forces representative associations.

Before the launch of the programme, an education programme and awareness briefings were conducted throughout the Defence Forces. All personnel were issued with a booklet devised to inform them of the purpose of the new compulsory random drug testing programme, the administrative procedures involved and the sanctions for those who test positive. All necessary measures, including pre-enlistment screening, education, compulsory random drug testing, monitoring and sanctions, will be taken to maintain a drug-free environment in the Defence Forces. The primary objective of compulsory random drug testing is deterrence. In order to provide a credible level of deterrent, the testing programme has been devised to maximise the possibility of random selection for testing. A trained drugs testing team is responsible for taking urine samples for compulsory random testing in the Defence Forces. Testing commenced on 14 November 2002 and the programme is now in its second year of operation. The target of testing 10% of the Permanent Defence Force has been achieved.

A randomly selected member of the Permanent Defence Force may be required at any time to provide a urine sample which will be tested for evidence of use of controlled drugs, the abuse or misuse of other substances or the detection of the metabolites thereof. A member of the PDF who refuses to provide a urine sample or who provides a urine sample which tests positive shall be liable to retirement, discharge or relinquishment of commission or withdrawal of cadetship as appropriate under the provisions of Defence Force Regulations. A total of 1402 all ranks have been tested to date and there have been four positive tests. Personnel with confirmed positive test results are discharged or retired in accordance with the relevant regulations.

Question No. 44 answered with QuestionNo. 42.

Working Visas.

Ceisteanna (47, 48, 49, 50)

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

45 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if it will be possible to employ a person from Bali here in 2004 on a working visa when all conditions of employment are perfectly legitimate; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3450/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

46 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the circumstances under which US nationals can be employed here on working visas; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3451/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

47 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the circumstances under which Chinese nationals can be employed on working visas here when it can be demonstrated that their employment is perfectly legitimate, they are not a burden to the State and their specialist work is not provided by another EU country; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3452/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

48 Mr. Kenny asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment if it is proposed to issue new working visas to foreign nations to work here in 2004, outside the nursing profession; the circumstances under which such working visas will apply; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3453/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Enterprise)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 45 to 48, inclusive, together.

I assume the Deputy is referring to the issue of work permits after EU enlargement. From 1 May 2004, the ten accession countries will be party to the treaties governing the European Communities. Their citizens will, in general, enjoy the same rights as current EU citizens, although this will not apply to provisions in respect of labour market access. Each member state will be able to exercise discretion in respect of the extent of access to their respective labour markets during a transitional period, which was agreed at EU level. Ireland has decided to afford full labour market access to the nationals of the new member states on the same basis as current EU nationals, with effect from the date of accession. In recent months, my Department has been giving concrete expression to the provisions of the accession treaties, whereby preference must be given to nationals of the accession states over nationals of other non-EEA states. Since 31 January last, employers sending work permit applications in respect of accession country nationals no longer have to advertise the position with FÁS.

An expanded EU labour market of 25 countries will provide a widened pool of skilled labour from which Irish employers will be able to meet their ongoing skills needs. Just 35% of our overseas labour needs have come from the accession states in recent years. Given our continuing need for overseas labour and the relatively high unemployment levels in some of the accession states, it is clear that there is ample room to improve the percentage of overseas workers coming from the states in question. If my Department is satisfied that the requisite skills are available in the expanded EU, a work permit will not be granted to bring somebody from elsewhere into the country to fill the vacancy in question. An increase in labour market participation from within the expanded EU will not only provide an opportunity to show solidarity with new member states, but it will also mean a reduced need to attract labour from elsewhere in the world.

It should be noted that my Department does not discriminate, positively or negatively, between nationals of the various non-EEA countries. A work permit granted in respect of personnel from outside the expanded EU is granted on the basis of the skills, experience and qualifications of the person in question. My Department is satisfied from its experience in recent years that the great bulk of Ireland's overseas labour needs can be met from within the enlarged EU. However, skilled, highly-paid employees can still be sourced from the wider world after May 2004. Any work permit application where the conditions of employment are not in line with employment rights legislation will be refused, as has always been the case.

Groceries Order.

Ceisteanna (51)

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

49 Mr. O'Shea asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment the proposals she has in relation to the groceries order (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3474/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Enterprise)

I am continuing to review the groceries order. I hope to conclude my consideration of it in the near future. I have received a significant amount of correspondence in the course of the review to date. The views of all interested parties will be taken into consideration before I decide what action is appropriate or desirable in that regard.

Job Creation.

Ceisteanna (52)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

50 Mr. Broughan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment when the task force on job creation and investment in the Drogheda and south Louth area which was established by her Department following the closure of the Tellabs factory in Drogheda, County Louth in 2001 will publish its recommendations to address the significant job losses in the area in the past two years; the composition of the task force; the number of times it has met since its establishment; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3522/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Enterprise)

I established the Drogheda interagency task force in August 2001 in response to the impending closure of the Tellabs manufacturing operation in Drogheda. The task force, which operated under the chairmanship of IDA Ireland, also had representatives from Enterprise Ireland, FÁS, the Louth County Enterprise Board and Dundalk IT. I asked the force to liaise with the public and private sectors and community bodies which could assist in promoting Drogheda for investment and job creation. It held six formal meetings and was involved through its members in a number of initiatives with other parties in the Drogheda area. The final report of the task force was submitted to me on 10 October 2002. While some confidential information relating to specific companies is contained in the report, a copy without this confidential element will be forwarded to the Deputy. The main focus of the task force, which completed its work in October 2002, was on attracting a replacement industry and helping the Tellabs employees to secure alternative employment. I understand that the vast majority of the former staff of Tellabs have obtained alternative employment. I assure the Deputy that the state development agencies continue to work closely with the local bodies to promote Drogheda for new investment and development.

Defence Forces Strength.

Ceisteanna (53, 54, 55, 56, 57)

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

51 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence if it is intended to increase the strength of the Naval Service having particular regard to possible requirements in the context of European defence and security, air, sea rescue and the fight against drugs and trafficking in human beings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3526/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

52 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the current strength of the Air Corps; his plans to increase the numbers having particular regard to possible requirements in the context of European defence and security, air sea rescue and the fight against drugs and trafficking in human beings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3527/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

53 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the number of personnel currently trained and available for air sea rescue or other emergency operations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3528/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

55 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence if adequate trained personnel are available to meet the requirements in respect of air sea rescue or other emergency operations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3530/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

56 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence if he intends to increase the strength of the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3531/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 51, 52, 53, 55 and 56 together.

The White Paper on Defence, which was published in February 2000, sets out a figure of 10,500 personnel for all ranks of the Permanent Defence Force. The White Paper states that the Air Corps should have 930 personnel, the Naval Service should have 1,144 personnel and the Army should have 8,426 personnel. There are no proposals to increase the strength of the Permanent Defence Force above the White Paper figure of 10,500. I intend to maintain the established Government policy of ongoing recruitment to the Defence Forces. Recruitment into the Permanent Defence Force will continue to maintain the strength at a level required to meet military needs, as set out in the White Paper. This means that a personnel level of 10,500, across all ranks, will be maintained in the Permanent Defence Force. The strength of the Army, Air Corps and Naval Service by rank is set out in the following table. The figures provided are the latest available from the military authorities and are correct as at 31 December 2003.

Lt Gen

Maj Gen

Brig Gen

Col

Lt Col

Comdt

Capt

Lt

Totl Ofrs

Sm

Bqms

Cs

Cqms

Sgts

Cpls

Totl NCOs

Ptes

Cadets

Total

Army

1

3

6

37

118

351

279

232

1,027

33

41

142

249

1,066

1,555

3,086

4,305

99

8,517

Air Corps

0

0

1

2

13

33

23

65

137

7

4

53

15

129

206

414

340

11

902

Naval Serv

0

0

1

2

14

39

22

61

139

7

7

76

14

200

163

467

445

28

1,079

While individual members of the Naval Service and the Air Corps have served overseas in varying roles, it is not proposed at this time to deploy the Naval Service or the Air Corps in peacekeeping operations in the future. The question of deploying the Air Corps was considered in the White Paper on Defence. Given the domestic demands on Air Corps resources, it was decided that it would not be feasible for it to operate beyond the domestic context.

The primary day-to-day activity of the Naval Service is fishery protection. This commitment represents a considerable challenge for the service, which is working hard to optimise operational performance in this regard. Against this background, it is not proposed to deploy Naval Service elements on overseas peacekeeping operations, which would serve to divert effort from the important issue of improving performance and vessel utilisation. There is no commitment of Naval Service or Air Corps resources in Ireland's declaration under the EU Helsinki headline goal or the UN standby arrangements system. The Naval Service provides a fishery protection service in accordance with the State's obligations as a member of the EU. Fishery protection patrols are complemented by assistance provided by the Air Corps in the form of aerial surveillance by the two Casa maritime patrol aircraft. Fishery protection activity accounts for over 90% of Naval Service patrol time. As the need arises, the Naval Service and the Air Corps co-operate with the Garda Síochána and the Customs and Excise in respect of drugs, arms and human trafficking operations.

The Irish coastguard has overall responsibility for the provision of maritime search and rescue services within the Irish search and rescue region. The Air Corps provides the search and rescue service off the north-west coast while CHCI, a private operator, provides the service from Dublin, Shannon and Waterford. A decision has recently been taken to withdraw the Air Corps from search and rescue in the north-west, as the Air Corps is not in a position to provide a full 24-hour search and rescue service until March 2005. In the interim, the Air Corps will continue to provide its current limited service while the coastguard makes alternative arrangements for the return of a full search and rescue service in the north-west. It is expected that the arrangements will be in place within a matter of weeks.

The military authorities advise that the number of personnel trained for search and rescue operations is as follows:

Qualified Pilot Officers — Sikorsky

8

Qualified Pilot Officers — Dauphin

5

Winch Operators

1

Winch Men

1

Winching crew undergoing training

4

General purpose crewmen

25

Regarding other emergency operations, there are sufficient trained crewmen to operate the air ambulance service provided by the Air Corps.

Question No. 54 answered with Question No. 1.
Questions Nos. 55 and 56 answered with Question No. 51.

Defence Forces Property.

Ceisteanna (58, 59)

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

57 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the extent to which the housing requirements of Army overholders have been met; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3532/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

Personnel on being discharged from the Permanent Defence Force are obliged to vacate married quarters within a short period of the date of their discharge. The provision of housing is primarily a matter for the local authorities and married military personnel have an equal claim on such housing to other members of the community in the same income category.

The individuals overholding 54 married quarters were written to in August 2002 and requested to vacate the properties. To date five of the quarters have been vacated and one other has been purchased by the occupant. A further ten of the properties have been offered for sale and a number of those sales are likely to be finalised in the near future. My Department is continuing to examine all options, including affordable housing and voluntary and co-operative housing schemes, for the rehousing of those overholders, who would in the normal way be eligible for local authority housing. The Department will remain in contact with the overholders pending resolution of the issue.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

58 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the total realised from the disposal of military barracks or other installations closed down in 1998; the number of such installations yet to be disposed of; the cost of maintenance, security or other fees to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3533/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

On 15 July 1998 the Government approved a programme of evacuation and sale of six barracks considered surplus to military requirements. The barracks in question are located at Ballincollig, Fermoy, Castleblayney, Naas, Kildare and Clancy Barracks, Dublin. The sale of approximately 91 acres comprising Lot 1, Murphy Barracks, Ballincollig, to O'Flynn Construction for €41 million was completed in 2003. In addition, the sale of Lot 2 to the sitting tenant for €1.05 million — my Department's reversionary interest in approximately 6.2 acres of the barrack lands — was completed last year. A further area comprising more than 27 acres at Murphy Barracks will be handed over to Cork County Council for community use. Agreements have also been reached for the sale of a site, comprising about 2.7 acres, to the Southern Heath Board and a further plot of around 1.7 acres to the Department of Education and Science; receipts in excess of €2.8 million will accrue to my Department in respect of those disposals. An area comprising 0.545 acres has been set aside on foot of a request from the Office of Public Works for a plot of ground to facilitate extension of the existing Garda station located on Main Street, Ballincollig. My Department is in correspondence with the OPW on arrangements for transfer of the lands concerned, including the matter of a consideration therefor.

A plot of 19.218 acres at the former Fitzgerald Camp, Fermoy, was sold to Cork County Council in 2001 for €973,889 for development in conjunction with the IDA. Castleblayney Military Post, Monaghan, comprising approximately 10 acres, was sold to the North Eastern Health Board for €761,843. Seven acres at Devoy Barracks, Naas, County Kildare, were ceded free of charge to Naas Urban District Council, while a further 14 acres were sold to that authority for €8,888,167. The balance of the barracks lands — one acre — was sold to Kildare County Council for €380,921. Magee Barracks, Kildare, comprises an area of 65 acres. At present approximately 15 acres of the property are being used by the reception and integration agency of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform to accommodate asylum seekers and a further site comprising one acre approximately is being used by Kildare County Council as a temporary halting site for 20 persons. On 1 July 2003, the Government decided to release this property to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for inclusion in a new affordable housing initiative agreed under the national partnership agreement, Sustaining Progress. An offer of €25.4 million was accepted from Florence Properties Limited for the sale of Clancy Barracks, Dublin, comprising 13.65 acres approximately. A contract of sale was exchanged in December 2003.

The security, maintenance, consultancy and other costs to date in respect of those barracks identified for closure in 1998 are as follows:

Security

Maintenance and other costs

Murphy Barracks, Ballincollig #

1,451,418

257,113*

Fitzgerald Camp, Fermoy #

330,813

42,633

Castleblayney Military Post #

131,289

10,548

Devoy Barracks, Naas #

472,654

16,959

Magee Barracks, Kildare #

123,291

15,677

Clancy Barracks, Dublin

602,619

177,036

# Now sold or no longer in the administration of my Department (no further costs will be incurred by the Department of Defence).

*Includes costs relating to the integrated area action plan.

On military security duty allowances alone, it is estimated that savings to date amount to almost €2.3 million in respect of the six barracks closed. In addition, there have been significant savings on utility costs, such as telephone, gas, and electricity charges at each of the evacuated barracks, which would have amounted to more than €0.350 million in the case of Murphy Barracks.

Partnership for Peace.

Ceisteanna (60)

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

59 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Defence the position in relation to likely requirements arising from PfP; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3534/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Defence)

The details of Ireland's participation in PfP to date is set out in our four individual partnership programmes, IPP, copies of which have been lodged in the Oireachtas Library. Activities consist of training courses, seminars, workshops, conferences, staff exercises and table-top exercises. Ireland's fourth IPP, covering the period 2004 to 2005, has been completed in consultation with the Departments of Foreign Affairs, Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Health and Children and Communications, Marine and Natural Resources.

As provided for in the presentation document for PfP, Ireland also participates in the PfP planning and review process, known as PARP. In common with the other EU neutrals, Ireland is using the PARP process in connection with planning for the Petersberg tasks. The scope of our involvement in PARP is focused on enhancing interoperability and familiarity with operating procedures in a multinational environment. Participation in PfP activities is entirely voluntary and is based on the principle of self-differentation, that is, a state selects for itself the nature and scope of its participation.

Question No. 60 answered with QuestionNo. 35.

Departmental Funding.

Ceisteanna (61)

Tom Hayes

Ceist:

61 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if he will allocate special funding towards the All-Ireland Sheep Shearing Championships 2004, which will be held in County Donegal in June 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3439/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Agriculture and Food)

While this Department endeavours to be as supportive as possible of important events in the agricultural calendar, the provision of financial support is exceptional and normally confined to one-off events of international significance. For national shows and competitions sufficient funds should be provided by the relevant industry interests and groups involved and through commercial sponsorship. Accordingly, there are no plans to provide funds for events such as the All-Ireland Sheep Shearing Championships in 2004.

Departmental Offices.

Ceisteanna (62)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

62 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food , further to Question No. 66 of 4 December 2003, if further information is available; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3508/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Agriculture and Food)

The Office of Public Works, through the Office of the Chief State Solicitor, is in the process of completing the lease arrangements for temporary accommodation in Roscommon town for my Department.

Grant Payments.

Ceisteanna (63)

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

63 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food if the full amount of beef premium due to a person (details supplied) in County Cork will issue; and if so, when. [3557/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Agriculture and Food)

The person named lodged one application under the 2003 special beef premium scheme on 2 January 2003 in respect of 45 animals. The 80% advance payment of €4,248.00 which issued on 16 October 2003 was in respect of 34.2 animals. The 20% balancing payment of €1,386.00 together with the shortfall of €1,296.00 on the advance payment, will issue to the person named in late March or early April when the general balancing payments are scheduled to commence.

The shortfall in the advance payment of the person named came about for a number of reasons. The person named input three parcels of land on his 2003 area aid application in respect of 53.66 hectares. However, as the person named did not have the entitlement to claim one of the parcels, the area concerned was disallowed and appropriate penalties applied. Under EU rules, where an applicant makes an area overclaim of between 3% and 20% a penalty of double the difference must be applied in determining the area eligible for payment purposes. As the person named had an overclaim of between 3% and 20% this resulted in the eligible forage area found being reduced by twice the difference between the area declared and the area found resulting in an "adjusted area" of 41.21 hectares. The 80% advance payment of €4,248.00 that issued on 16 October 2003 was based on this "adjusted area".

However, EU regulations provide that where it is established that stocking density has not been exceeded, payment can be made on the basis of the area found rather than the "adjusted area". It has only now been possible to determine a final figure for stocking density for 2003 for the person named given that applicants are entitled to lodge special beef premium applications up to 31 December. This figure confirms that the stocking density has not been exceeded thus establishing entitlement to full payment on the 45 animals applied on.

EU Directives.

Ceisteanna (64)

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

64 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Agriculture and Food the position of the proposed nitrates directive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3558/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Agriculture and Food)

The implementation of the nitrates directive is in the first instance a matter for the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. A draft action programme giving effect to the directive, which was prepared by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in conjunction with my Department and in consultation with Teagasc, was presented in December last to representatives of the main farming organisations and other stakeholders. A period of eight weeks is being provided for stakeholders to submit in writing their comments on the document to either or both Departments. This period runs until 19 February.

Tax Reliefs.

Ceisteanna (65)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

65 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Finance the discussions that the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government has had with his Department regarding the feasibility of introducing a preferential taxation system for elderly people downsizing from their family home to OPD type accommodation close to services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3505/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Finance)

There have been no specific discussions between my Department and the Minister for Environment, Heritage and Local Government regarding the feasibility of introducing a preferential tax system for elderly people downsizing from their family home to OPD type accommodation close to services. However, there were general discussions last year on housing taxation matters between the two Departments.

Financial Services Regulation.

Ceisteanna (66)

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

66 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Finance the reason section 52 of the Consumer Credit Act 1995 has not been implemented by him or the Central Bank; when it will be implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3514/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Finance)

Section 52 of the Consumer Credit Act 1995 grants consumers a statutory right to discharge their obligations under a credit agreement before the full term of the agreement and also to a reduction in the total cost of credit where they avail of that right. Section 52 provided that the Central Bank could approve formulae for calculating such reductions in the case of lenders who are credit institutions and that the Director of Consumer Affairs could approve formulae in any other case. These functions have now been transferred to the new Irish Financial Services Regulatory Authority under the Central Bank and Financial Services Authority of Ireland Act 2003.

I am advised that IFSRA, in formulating its strategy in terms of its statutory responsibilities under the 2003 Act, has identified the development of early repayment formulae as a priority and will be addressing this issue in the near future.

Both the 1995 and 2003 Acts provided for the option of prescribing formulae by ministerial regulation. This approach would merely have the effect of replacing an approved formula with a prescribed one, and might be more difficult to extend to new or unusual forms of credit as they emerge. A prescribed formula might also inhibit competition by preventing the offer of more favourable terms by creditors. I will await the outcome of the work within IFSRA before considering this option.

Garda Stations.

Ceisteanna (67)

Charlie O'Connor

Ceist:

67 Mr. O'Connor asked the Minister for Finance the position regarding reports that proposals will shortly be sought for the development of the site at Tallaght Garda station; if his attention has been drawn to the huge local interest in this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3454/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Finance)

A feasibility study on the redevelopment potential of the Tallaght Garda station site was drawn up by the Office of Public Works following consultation with South Dublin County Council in December 2003. A proposal to go to the market to acquire a development partner for the site is under preparation.

Any proposal to redevelop the Garda station site would require the agreement of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform having regard to the operational requirements of the Garda Síochána in the Tallaght area.

Tax Reliefs.

Ceisteanna (68, 69, 70, 71, 72)

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

68 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the amount of pension relief availed of by taxpayers classified by income range, itemising both the amount of tax relief received and the number of taxpayers in each income range. [3455/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Finance)

As part of my reforms in the pensions area and with the aim of encouraging more people to increase their pension coverage, I increased the contribution limits for retirement annuity contracts in section 19 of the 1999 Finance Act for the tax years 1999/2000 and onwards. The new limits ranged from 15% of net relevant earnings for contributors up to 30 years of age to 30% of net relevant earnings for contributors over 50 years of age. Prior to this, the limit was 15% for persons up to the age 55 and 20% for those aged 55 or over. The increase was particularly significant for those over the age of 50, who would normally be in a much better position to fully fund their pensions than those in younger age groups who might not be able to contribute as much as they would like due to other family and financial commitments. At the same time, I also imposed an annual contribution earnings cap of £200,000 which is now €254,000. There had been no such earnings cap prior to this and the cap has not been increased since 1999.

Similar contribution limits and an earnings cap also apply in the case of the new PRSAs which were introduced by the Pensions Amendment Act 2002.

I provided for the same higher limits for employee contributions to occupational pension schemes in section 10 of the 2002 Finance Act. The limits in these schemes are subject to the same annual earnings cap of €254,000 and contributions have also to be in conformity with the overall existing maximum pensions benefit rules applied by the Revenue Commissioners.

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that the only relevant information available is in respect of income tax relief allowed for contributions to retirement annuity contracts for the income tax year 2000/01, which is available to the self-employed and to employees not in occupational pension schemes.

The information is contained in the following table. Corresponding information is not available in respect of contributions to occupational pension schemes.

Income Tax 2000-2001

Retirement Annuity — by range of Gross Income

Range of Gross Income

Totals

From

To

Number of claimants

Amount of deduction

Reduction in tax

7,000

1,177

1,955,819

78,893

7,000

8,000

445

460,313

58,009

8,000

9,000

482

517,362

72,595

9,000

10,000

605

677,315

104,375

10,000

12,500

2,085

2,556,593

414,447

12,500

15,000

3,018

4,048,740

716,147

15,000

17,500

3,748

5,251,284

995,191

17,500

20,000

4,534

6,702,992

1,383,079

20,000

22,500

5,039

7,913,913

1,827,405

22,500

25,000

5,170

8,673,220

2,401,776

25,000

27,500

5,222

9,570,368

2,885,250

27,500

30,000

4,802

9,484,550

2,925,870

30,000

32,500

4,656

9,943,080

3,055,705

32,500

35,000

4,263

9,537,566

2,926,141

35,000

37,500

4,130

9,663,805

2,903,120

37,500

40,000

3,933

10,038,129

3,257,816

40,000

42,500

3,631

9,501,707

3,293,735

42,500

45,000

3,435

9,713,142

3,530,458

45,000

47,500

3,086

9,011,157

3,504,334

47,500

50,000

2,914

9,281,690

3,636,036

50,000

60,000

9,270

35,138,405

14,619,369

60,000

75,000

8,409

43,294,064

18,686,681

75,000

100,000

6,608

50,258,905

21,959,343

Over 100,000

11,041

250,248,583

109,779,797

Totals

101,703

513,442,702

205,015,573

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

69 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance the total value of funds in tax exempt managed funds such as approved retirement funds. [3456/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

There is no requirement in law for the managers of tax exempt managed funds such as approved retirement funds to provide the Revenue Commissioners with details of the amount of funds held in such investment vehicles.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

70 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Finance if research has been done regarding the number of taxpayers receiving pension relief in any year in excess of €100,000. [3457/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

As part of my reforms in the pensions area and with the aim of encouraging more people to increase their pension coverage, I increased the contribution limits for retirement annuity contracts in section 19 of the 1999 Finance Act for the tax years 1999/2000 and onwards. The new limits ranged from 15% of net relevant earnings for contributors up to 30 years of age to 30% of net relevant earnings for contributors over 50 years of age. Prior to this, the limit was 15% for persons up to the age 55 and 20% for those aged 55 or over. The increase was particularly significant for those over 50, who would normally be in a much better position to fully fund their pensions than those in younger age groups who might not be able to contribute as much as they would like due to other family and financial commitments. At the same time, I also imposed an annual contribution earnings cap of £200,000 which is now €254,000. There had been no such earnings cap prior to this and the cap has not been increased since 1999.

Similar contribution limits and an earnings cap also apply in the case of the new PRSAs which were introduced by the Pensions Amendment Act 2002.

I provided for the same higher limits for employee contributions to occupational pension schemes, in section 10 of the 2002 Finance Act. The limits in these schemes are subject to the same annual earnings cap of €254,000 and contributions have also to be in conformity with the overall existing maximum pensions benefit rules applied by the Revenue Commissioners.

I am informed by the Revenue Commissioners that statistics are only available in respect of income tax relief allowed for contributions to retirement annuity contracts. On the basis of these statistics there were six claimants who each received tax relief of an amount in excess of €100,000 for the income tax year 2000/01 in respect of their contributions to retirement annuity contract schemes. Statistics are not available in respect of contributors to occupational pension schemes claiming tax relief in excess of €100,000 on their contributions.

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

71 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Finance the plans he has to introduce capital gains tax and stamp duty relief for elderly people downsizing in accommodation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3506/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

If tax concessions were introduced for older persons wishing to trade down, it would have the effect of increasing the supply of larger (and generally more expensive) houses relative to demand. This would be of benefit to people at the top end of the market. However, the demand for property relative to supply at the lower end of the market would increase and this would adversely affect first-time buyers, in particular, who would have to compete for such houses with a larger number of people consequently. Persons trading down normally have the cash up front to pay for smaller houses and would generally have no stamp duty liability on a new house or a small liability on a second hand property.

It should also be noted that people trading down can already avail of the principal private residence relief which is a substantial exemption from capital gains tax. If the house has been occupied for the full period of ownership, full exemption applies. Otherwise, the relief granted is in proportion to the period of occupation over the entire period of ownership. This relief, combined with the capital sum received on the sale, means that most older people with large homes already have sufficient financial incentive to trade down.

I consider these reliefs to be sufficiently generous and appropriate and accordingly, I have no plans to introduce further concessions for any category of individual wishing to trade down.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

72 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Finance if a tax refund in respect of rent paid will be made in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3542/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

I am advised by the Revenue Commissioners that the taxpayer may make a claim for rent paid in respect of private rented accommodation. Form rent 1 was issued to the taxpayer today outlining the information required to process the claim. The information may be supplied by completion of the form rent 1 or by telephone at 1890-444425.

Tax Code.

Ceisteanna (73)

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

73 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Finance the progress made on the tax free allowances for a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath; the level of income they would have to be in receipt of, before tax would be levied on them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3546/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Finance)

I refer the Deputy to my answer of 25 November 2003, Official Report, Volume 575, No. 3 Question No. 144, page 582.

The Revenue Commissioners inform me that the details provided are insufficient to clearly identify the person concerned. If the Deputy supplies sufficient detail to identify the taxpayer, for example, his occupation and/or his Personal Public Service Number, I will then be in a position to arrange to supply a full reply.

Pension Provisions.

Ceisteanna (74)

John Gormley

Ceist:

74 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Finance his views of whether members of the INTO will be met to discuss the proposed changes to pension terms for new entrants to the public service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3554/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Finance)

When I announced my pension reform package in the budget, I stated that the public service unions would be fully informed about the implementation of the reforms before their planned introduction with effect from 1 April 2004. The process of informing the public service unions is already under way, and several meetings have taken place between the public service unions, including the INTO, and officials of my Department, the Department of Education and Science and other Departments. The minimum pension age for existing public servants is not in any way affected by the Government decision.

Disabled Drivers.

Ceisteanna (75)

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

75 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Finance how many people apply each year in each health board area for a primary certificate, in respect of the disabled drivers and disabled passengers tax concessions scheme; the number refused; the number who appealed; the success rate on the appeal; the normal delay before the appeal is heard; and if there are arrangements for appeal hearings outside of Dublin. [3556/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Finance)

The information requested by the Deputy is not available in my Department either in respect of applications in each health board area or in respect of total applications for a primary medical certificate in the time available. I have asked the Department of Health and Children to write to the relevant health boards requesting this information, and I will forward it to the Deputy when it has been made available.

My Department is not involved in the operation of the disabled drivers medical board of appeal but I am informed that, in 2003, there were 251 appeals lodged to the board which held three half day meetings in 2003, and examined 25 appellants over the course of these meetings, seven of whom were successful in their appeal. There is a waiting time of over two years to be seen by the board. I am advised that the backlog of appeals approximately 500 is caused by a number of factors, in particular the general increase in applications for a primary medical certificate, and the significant number of persons who are aware that they do not meet the medical criteria specified in the regulations but who nevertheless insist on exercising their right of appeal. This is an indication of the level of demand for the tax relief under the scheme. To date, the board has held all meetings in Dublin, with the exception of two meetings that were held in Cork in 1995 and 1998.

Higher Education Grants.

Ceisteanna (76, 77)

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

76 Mr. O'Dowd asked the Minister for Education and Science if further financial assistance is available for a person (details supplied) in County Louth who is in receipt of a grant and studying abroad as part of their course; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3432/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

My Department funds three means-tested maintenance grant schemes for third level education students in respect of attendance on approved courses in approved third level institutions: the higher education grants scheme; the Vocational Education Committees' scholarship scheme; and the third level maintenance grants scheme for trainees. The statutory framework for the higher education grants schemes is set out in the Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Acts 1968 to 1992. The local authorities administer the schemes on behalf of my Department. The other two schemes are administered, on behalf of my Department, by the vocational education committees.

On the basis of the details supplied in this case, my Department is unable to confirm whether the student in question is in receipt of a grant under one of these schemes. However, the decision on eligibility for third level grants is a matter for the relevant local authority or VEC. These bodies refer individual applications to my Department only in exceptional cases, where, for example, advice or instruction regarding a particular clause in the relevant scheme is desired. It appears that no such advice or instruction has, to date, been sought in the case of the student, to whom the Deputy refers.

If an applicant considers that she or he has been unjustly refused a maintenance grant, or that the rate of grant awarded is not the correct one, she or he may appeal to the relevant local authority or VEC. Where an individual applicant has had an appeal turned down in writing by the relevant local authority or VEC, and remains of the view that the body has not interpreted the schemes correctly in his or her case, a letter outlining the position may be sent to my Department. Alternatively, the local authority or VEC, may in exceptional circumstances, seek clarification on issues from my Department. It is not open to me, or my Department, however, to depart from the terms of the maintenance grants schemes in individual cases.

Apart from the maintenance grants schemes and the free fees initiative, under which my Department meets the cost of tuition fees for eligible undergraduate students in approved institutions, financial support is also available to students, in approved third level institutions, through the student assistance fund. The objectives of the fund, which is ESF-aided, are to assist students, in a sensitive and compassionate manner, who might otherwise, due to their financial circumstances, be unable to continue their third level studies. The fund is administered on a discretionary and confidential basis by each third level institution and provides direct financial support to disadvantaged students to assist them to remain in college.

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

77 Mr. O'Dowd asked the Minister for Education and Science if financial assistance is available for a person (details supplied) in County Louth who is studying in Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3433/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

My Department funds three means-tested maintenance grant schemes for third level education students in respect of attendance on approved courses in approved third level institutions and one grant scheme for students pursuing post-leaving certificate courses: the higher education grants scheme; the vocational education committees' scholarship scheme; the third level maintenance grants scheme for trainees; and maintenance grants scheme for students attending post-leaving certificate courses.

The statutory framework for the higher education grants schemes is set out in the Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Acts 1968 to 1992. The local authorities administer the schemes on behalf of my Department which reviews the schemes annually. The other three schemes are administered, on behalf of my Department, by the vocational education committees. The decision on eligibility for maintenance grants is a matter for the relevant local authority or VEC. These bodies refer individual applications to my Department only in exceptional cases, where, for example, advice or instruction regarding a particular clause in the relevant scheme is desired. It appears that no such advice or instruction has, to date, been sought in the case of the student to whom the Deputy refers. If an individual applicant considers that she or he has been unjustly refused a maintenance grant, or that the rate of grant awarded is not the correct one, she or he may appeal to the relevant local authority or VEC.

Where an applicant has had an appeal turned down, in writing, by the relevant local authority or VEC, and remains of the view that the body has not interpreted the schemes correctly in his or her case, a letter outlining the position may be sent to my Department. Alternatively, the local authority or VEC may, in exceptional circumstances, seek clarification on issues from my Department. It is not open to me, or my Department, to depart from the terms of the maintenance grants schemes in individual cases.

Until such time as an application has been decided on by the relevant local authority or VEC, all inquiries regarding an individual application should be directed to the body concerned rather than to my Department.

Psychological Service.

Ceisteanna (78)

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

78 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Education and Science the circumstances under which parents may be asked to pay €340 for psychological assessments for their children; if all such assessments are supposed to be offered free by the NEPS; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3434/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

In schools served by the National Educational Psychological Service individual psychological assessments are provided free of charge. Schools that do not yet have access to the psychological service provided by NEPS may avail of the scheme for commissioning psychological assessments. Under this scheme, school principals may commission individual psychological assessments from members of a panel of psychologists approved to carry out this work. The cost of the assessments is borne by NEPS.

In order to ensure equitable distribution of the available funding, there is a quota for the number of individual assessments each school may commission. The quota is two assessments per 100 students and this should be sufficient to ensure that urgent assessment needs are met. A parent could be asked to pay for a psychological assessment only if the school had used up its quota of assessments under the SCPA. Any difficulties in this regard should be brought to the attention of the manager of the SCPA in NEPS.

Schools Building Projects.

Ceisteanna (79)

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

79 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science if he will provide funding to facilitate a safe parking area at Scoil Bhríde, Clara, County Offaly; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3441/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

Under a new initiative called the summer works scheme a total of €31 million is set aside in the 2004 school building programme for capital grants for small-scale improvement works to primary and post primary schools. This new initiative replaces all existing small-scale building project schemes and applications made under these schemes with the exception of the grant scheme for minor works, commonly called the devolved grant scheme, that applies to primary schools.

I announced details of the SWS in December 2003. An advertisement for the scheme was subsequently posted in all national print and principal or chief local-provincial print media in December. Full details of the scheme are published on my Department's website atwww.education.ie. The closing date for receipt of applications was Friday, 30 January 2004. It was open to the authorities of Scoil Bhríde to apply for funding for the works in question under this scheme. Applications under the SWS are now being assessed and I will publish a list of schools to receive the allocated funding by the end of February.

Notwithstanding this scheme, I must point out that individual school authorities are responsible, in the first instance, for ensuring the safety and welfare of children and others in their care. In accordance with the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989, it is the responsibility of school management authorities to have a safety statement in place in their schools. Schools are obliged to identify possible hazards, assess the risks to health and safety and put appropriate safeguards in place. Primary schools are given an annual allocation of €3,809 plus €12.70 per pupil under the grant scheme for minor works which can be used entirely at the discretion of school management to address basic health and safety issues relating to the school infrastructure and its external environment.

Educational Projects.

Ceisteanna (80)

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

80 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the assistance that is being given to the 50 schools invited to participate in the devolved funding project; his views on whether each of the schools will be in a position to fully participate in the project in 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3442/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

The small and rural primary schools initiative operates on a devolved basis and allows boards of management to address the accommodation and building priorities with a guaranteed amount of funding and minimum involvement from my Department. The amount of the grant ranges between €100,000 and €350,000, depending on the pupil enrolment and the size of the school. This initiative is aimed at schools with a maximum of four classrooms.

Information meetings were held in Tullamore, County Offaly on 8 and 9 January and all the schools were invited to attend and were given an opportunity to ask questions and seek clarification regarding the terms of the scheme. I have arranged for a copy of the terms and conditions of the initiative to be forwarded to the Deputy.

Schools Refurbishment.

Ceisteanna (81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86)

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

81 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason Muckross Park College, which is at stage 4 of the planning and building process since early 2003, has not been advanced since; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3443/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

82 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science when he intends to address the situation whereby Muckross Park College has undersized facilities for its library, art classroom, home economic classroom, music room, computer studies room, geography room, maths room and canteen; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3444/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

83 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the fact that Muckross Park College has no indoor physical education facilities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3445/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

84 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science if the new junior certificate science curriculum and the new leaving certificate science curriculum can be taught at Muckross Park College; if the proper facilities are available to allow all the experiments to be carried out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3446/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

85 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a number of classrooms at Muckross Park College, Donnybrook, Dublin 4 are located in pre-fabs and do not meet the best practice health and safety requirements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3447/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Olwyn Enright

Ceist:

87 Ms Enright asked the Minister for Education and Science when new school buildings will be sanctioned for Muckross Park College, Donnybrook, Dublin 4; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3449/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 81 to 85 inclusive and 87 together.

I am pleased to advise the Deputy that Muckross Park College is one of 32 additional schools that will benefit from the further €30 million investment in school buildings that I announced yesterday. These schools will bring to over 200 the number of schools with significant building projects to be authorised to go to tender and construction during 2004. My Department will be contacting the school regarding the delivery of the building project.

Schools Building Projects.

Ceisteanna (87)

Mary Wallace

Ceist:

86 Ms M. Wallace asked the Minister for Education and Science the progress made with regard to the provision of the much needed portacabins at Laytown school, in County Meath; if all relevant documentation is now with his Department; the timeframe on the provision of the portacabins which are so urgently needed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3448/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

The Laytown School was given the approval to engage an architect or engineer last July to develop plans for the provision of two temporary classrooms at the school. I have asked the school building unit of my Department to contact the school management as soon as possible to progress the matter.

Question No. 87 answered with QuestionNo. 81.

Departmental Working Group.

Ceisteanna (88)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

88 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Education and Science, further to Question No. 190 of 2 December 2003, if the working group has yet reported to him; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3472/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

The interdepartmental working group established to consider the internationalisation of education services received a total of 25 submissions. The group met a number of interested parties who made presentations and answered queries on issues that arose. The group is now in the process of drafting its report and recommendations based on the submissions and discussions held. I expect to receive the report in the near future and I propose to then bring it to Government.

School Placements.

Ceisteanna (89)

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

89 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science the situation regarding the case of a person (details supplied) in Dublin 9; and if a resolution has been found in this case. [3473/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

As I previously informed the Deputy, an official from my Department has been in contact with the parents of the child referred to by the Deputy and has advised them on their rights under section 29 of the Education Act 1998 to appeal a refusal to enrol.

Section 29 of the Education Act 1998 provides for an appeal by a parent or guardian to the Secretary General of my Department where a board of management of a school or a person acting on behalf of the board refuses to enrol a student in the school.

The National Educational Welfare Board, which was established under the Education (Welfare) Act 2000, is the single national agency with responsibility for school attendance. The principal function of the board is to ensure that every child in the State attends a recognised school or otherwise receives an appropriate minimum education. The parents of the child in question have been advised to contact the board to obtain its advice and assistance in securing a place for their child.

Third Level Fees.

Ceisteanna (90)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

90 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Education and Science , further to Question No. 662 of 30 September 2003, if he plans to review this decision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3509/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

As indicated in my previous reply to the Deputy, I have no plans for extending the free tuition fees scheme to include part-time students at this time.

Student Support Schemes.

Ceisteanna (91)

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

91 Mr. O'Dowd asked the Minister for Education and Science if there is financial assistance available for a person (details supplied) in County Louth who is studying in Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3511/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

My Department funds three means-tested maintenance grant schemes for third level education students in respect of attendance on approved courses in approved third level institutions and one grant scheme for students pursuing post leaving certificate courses. These are the higher education grants scheme; the vocational education committees' scholarship scheme; the third level maintenance grants scheme for trainees; and the maintenance grants scheme for students attending post leaving certificate courses.

The statutory framework for the higher education grant schemes is set out in the Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Acts 1968 to 1992. The local authorities administer the schemes on behalf of my Department. My Department reviews the schemes annually. The other three schemes are administered, on behalf of my Department, by the vocational education committees.

The decision on eligibility for maintenance grants is a matter for the relevant local authority or VEC. These bodies do not refer individual applications to my Department except in exceptional cases where, for example, advice or instruction regarding a particular clause in the relevant scheme is desired. It appears that no such advice or instruction has, to date, been sought in the case of the student referred to by the Deputy.

If an individual applicant considers that she or he has been unjustly refused a maintenance grant, or that the rate of grant awarded is not the correct one, she or he may appeal to the relevant local authority or VEC.

Where an individual applicant has had an appeal turned down, in writing, by the relevant local authority or VEC, and remains of the view that the body has not interpreted the schemes correctly in his or her case, a letter outlining the position may be sent to my Department. Alternatively, as already indicated, the local authority or VEC may, in exceptional circumstances, seek clarification on issues from my Department.

However, it is not open to me or my Department to depart from the terms of the maintenance grants schemes in individual cases. Until such time as an application has been decided on by the relevant local authority or VEC, all inquiries regarding an individual application should be directed to the body concerned rather than to my Department.

School Transport.

Ceisteanna (92)

Ned O'Keeffe

Ceist:

92 Mr. N. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Education and Science if he has received a report from Bus Éireann regarding school transport in respect of children in County Cork (details supplied). [3512/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

Bus Éireann has advised my Department that the family to whom the Deputy refers reside 4.9 miles from their nearest appropriate school and 1.5 miles from the route of service to this school.

As a rule, primary school transport routes are planned so that, as far as possible, no eligible child will have more than 1.5 miles to travel to a pick-up point. Pupils living off the main route of a service are generally expected to make their own way or to be brought to convenient pick-up points along the main route. Home pick-ups were never envisaged as being part of the school transport scheme as the cost involved on a countrywide level would be prohibitive.

My Department does not propose to make alternative arrangements for the family concerned as their current level of service is within guidelines, and these guidelines also apply to closures and amalgamations. However, there is a facility available under the scheme whereby parents of eligible children may pay for a private extension of service. If the family concerned are interested in the above, they may contact my Department's school transport section, Clonminch, Tullamore, County Offaly, for details.

Psychological Service.

Ceisteanna (93)

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

93 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Education and Science when psychological assessment can be arranged for persons (details supplied) in County Kildare in view of the fact that they both have special needs and are attending Scoil Na Mainistreach, Celbridge, County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3544/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

As the national educational psychological service, NEPS, is not yet in a position to provide a service to Scoil Na Mainistreach, Celbridge, the school may avail of the scheme for commissioning psychological assessments, SCPA. Details of this scheme have been circulated to all schools and can also be found on my Department's website.

I understand that this school has not used its quota of assessments allowed under the scheme. The parents of the children mentioned should therefore approach the school principal with a view to commissioning individual psychological assessments for them under the terms of the scheme.

Special Educational Needs.

Ceisteanna (94)

Willie Penrose

Ceist:

94 Mr. Penrose asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason the provision of a resource teacher has been denied to a person (details supplied) in County Westmeath despite the fact that an application has been approved by his Department; if he will indicate when they will have the benefit of a resource teacher; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3545/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

I am aware of the case referred to by the Deputy. My officials will be in contact with the pupil's school shortly concerning the matter.

Schools Building Projects.

Ceisteanna (95, 96)

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

95 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Education and Science if it is his Department's policy to maintain and develop schools in the Dublin inner city area; the way in which Christian Brothers, Westland Row, conforms to this policy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3547/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Enda Kenny

Ceist:

96 Mr. Kenny asked the Minister for Education and Science the proposals his Department has for the provision of education at Christian Brothers, Westland Row, Dublin 2 as of 1 February 2004; whether this involves the refurbishment of the existing premises at Westland Row or the entering into of negotiations for a greenfield site in the Dublin docklands area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3548/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 95 and 96 together.

My Department is in receipt of an application for a new school from the principal of Westland Row CBS. Since the school is one of three post-primary schools serving the needs of the south inner city area of Dublin, with a combined current enrolment of 444 pupils, my Department is exploring the possibility of a single school development in the area with the relevant trustees. As part of this process, accommodation options for such a development are being examined.

The issue of a site in the area of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, DDDA, was raised in the context of the application for a new school from Westland Row CBS. However, following discussions with the DDDA, officials from the school planning section of my Department are satisfied that a site in the docklands for a new post-primary a new school is not a viable option due principally to the limited area of the sites available.

National Council for Special Education.

Ceisteanna (97)

John Gormley

Ceist:

97 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Education and Science his views on whether the new national special education council should include a member of the INTO; the steps he intends to take to ensure that the INTO is represented on this council; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3549/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

In establishing the new national council for special education I did not set out to create a council which was representative of any particular sectoral interests, as I believe it is very important that the council should operate in a cohesive, non-representative way. I have put in place a group of people with a wide range of knowledge and experience in this area. I did consult with the INTO, along with other representative groups, prior to making appointments to membership of the council.

Teaching Qualifications.

Ceisteanna (98)

Jim O'Keeffe

Ceist:

98 Mr. J. O'Keeffe asked the Minister for Education and Science the reason teachers with Montessori degrees are not permitted to sit the Irish exam, and as a consequence continue to be regarded as unqualified and untrained in respect of any service in a post in a mainstream primary class; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3555/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Education and Science)

Under the terms of Circular 25/00, Montessori teachers with specified qualifications are given recognition to teach in certain settings only. These include resource teaching posts, special classes and special schools where there is no requirement to teach Irish. Access to and remuneration for these posts is on a qualified teacher basis.

The Irish examination, SCG, is designed for teachers trained outside the state whose primary teaching qualifications are acceptable for recognition purposes but who do not possess the necessary qualification to teach Irish and/or teach through Irish to the required standard.

It is not as a consequence of lacking a qualification to teach Irish that Montessori teachers are not recognised to teach in mainstream classes. It is a matter of the content and scope of their undergraduate course. The content of the courses leading to the award of the Montessori qualifications specified in the circular have not, to date, been considered as equivalent to course content delivered in the five colleges of education. However, a comparative study on course content in one of the specified Montessori courses and that delivered in the five colleges of education has now been completed. The report is currently being considered by my Department and any requirement for change in the recognition process for Montessori teachers will be determined in the course of this consideration.

Marco Polo Programme.

Ceisteanna (99)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

99 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources the details of the applications made by his Department, or any State agency or semi-State company under the control of his Department, under the EU Marco Polo programme; the agencies involved, the funding sought and the purpose of such projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3475/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources)

Regulation (EC) No. 1382/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council provides for the establishment of the Marco Polo programme. This programme was introduced to reduce road congestion, improve the environmental performance of the freight transport system within the Community and enhance intermodality, thereby contributing to an efficient and sustainable transport system. The regulation provides that the financial framework for the implementation of the Marco Polo programme for the period 1 January 2003 to 31 December 2006 is €75 million.

The Marco Polo programme is intended to support actions in the freight transport, logistics and other relevant markets. These actions should contribute to maintaining the distribution of freight between the various modes of transport by helping to shift the expected increase in international road freight traffic to short sea shipping, rail and inland waterways or to a combination of modes of transport in which road journeys are as short as possible.

The regulation provides that projects shall be submitted by a consortium of two or more undertakings, established in at least two different member states or in at least one member state and one close third country. At the request of my Department, the Irish Maritime Development Office has assisted in the preparation of applications to the European Commission for financial assistance under the programme.

I am informed that two ports companies operating under the aegis of my Department submitted applications. First, Shannon Foynes Port Company, as part of a consortium with Dutch Shipping Agents, Voigt and Company and Royal Burger Group, has sought assistance of €675,000 in respect of a proposed new scheduled container service between Foynes and Rotterdam. It is estimated that the proposed service will result in 337 million tonnes-kilometres being shifted from road to the shipping mode.

Second, Dublin Port Company, as part of a consortium with the Port of Livorno, Italy, has also sought funding under the Marco Polo programme. The total amount of assistance sought is €420,000. The proposed project, titled EUROPORTCONNECT, will develop a common training education and learning needs analysis study that will establish a baseline for all training and development needs within the maritime transportation industry.

Electricity Generation.

Ceisteanna (100)

Michael Ring

Ceist:

100 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources if his Department will assist Mayo County Council to provide a scheme of public lighting at the emergency facilities services (details supplied) in Ballyglass, County Mayo. [3482/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Communications, Marine and Natural Resources)

The provision of public lighting for Ballyglass, County Mayo is solely a matter for Mayo County Council.

Yacht Club Funding.

Ceisteanna (101)

Finian McGrath

Ceist:

101 Mr. F. McGrath asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism if the maximum support to Clontarf yacht and boat club will be given in its application for equipment replacement for the ageing rescue fleet and junior sail training facilities; and if he will strongly support the valuable work of this club. [3552/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

The national lottery funded sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, allocates funding to sporting and community organisations at local, regional and national level throughout the country. The programme is advertised on an annual basis. The 2004 sports capital programme was advertised in the national newspapers on 30 November and 1 December 2003. The closing date for receipt of applications was 16 January 2004. Some 1,300 applications were received before the closing date, including one from the organisation in question. All applications are currently being evaluated against the programme's assessment criteria, which are outlined in the guidelines, terms and conditions of the programme. I intend to announce the grant allocations for the programme as soon as possible after the assessment process has been completed.

Youth Services.

Ceisteanna (102)

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

102 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism the amount of money which was allocated in grants for facilities to youth clubs in the Dublin area last year; the percentage of overall grant allocation in Dublin and nationally which this constituted; if he has satisfied himself that the criteria for grant allocation give sufficient recognition to the work of youth clubs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3560/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism)

The national lottery funded sports capital programme, which is administered by my Department, provides funding to voluntary sporting and community organisations at local, regional and national level throughout the country towards the provision of sport and recreational facilities. The programme is advertised on an annual basis. The aims and objectives of the programme are as follows: to develop an integrated and planned approach to the development of sport and recreational facilities; to assist voluntary and community organisations with the development of appropriate facilities in appropriate locations that will maximise use in terms of participation in sport and recreation — the facilities should be high quality, safe, well designed and sustainable to both the user and the provider; to prioritise the needs of disadvantaged areas in the provision of facilities; and to encourage the multi-purpose use of facilities at national, regional and community level by clubs, community organisations and national governing bodies of sport, NGBs.

As the primary purpose of the programme is to assist in the provision of sports facilities, few applications are received from youth clubs or other organisations involved in the youth services sector, responsibility for which rests with the Department of Education and Science. For example, only one application was received in the name of a youth club from Dublin under the 2003 sports capital programme. The Deputy will also be aware that the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs provides capital funding towards the provision of youth facilities in disadvantaged areas under its young people's facilities and services fund.

However, an analysis of the general category of community or mixed projects in Dublin under the sports capital programme shows that a total of €4,775,000 was allocated to 19 projects in Dublin under the 2003 programme. The community or mixed category includes all projects involving shared facilities and community type facilities, including community centres and sports halls, in which youth clubs tend to be active. An overall total of more than €14.1 million was allocated to 103 projects in Dublin under the 2003 programme. Virtually every one of those projects are engaged in providing for youth sport and I would be happy that the programme caters for the needs of the youth of Dublin and of the entire country in the provision of sporting and recreational facilities, with an overall total of €266 million allocated to more than 3,500 projects since 1998.

Animal Experiments.

Ceisteanna (103)

John Gormley

Ceist:

103 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Health and Children his views on an end to animal experiments and vivisection; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3515/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

The use of live animals in scientific research and other experimental activity is strictly controlled in accordance with the Cruelty to Animals Act 1876, as amended by the European Communities (Amendment of Cruelty to Animals Act 1876) Regulations 2002. I signed these regulations in December 2002 for the purpose of giving full effect to Council Directive 86/609/EEC on the protection of animals used for experimental and other scientific purposes. One of the objectives of the directive is to reduce the numbers of animals used for experiments by encouraging the development and the validation of alternative methods to replace animal methods. The Act, as amended, provides,inter alia, that an experiment shall not be performed if another scientifically satisfactory method of obtaining the result sought, not entailing the use of an animal, is reasonably and practicably available. Directive 86/609/EEC is currently under review at European level and a number of issues are being examined, including the further promotion of the development of alternative methods. My Department has nominated a representative to the technical expert working group dealing with the review.

The European Commission established the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods, ECVAM. ECVAM was established to promote the scientific and regulatory acceptance of alternative methods which are of importance to the biosciences and which reduce, refine or replace the use of laboratory animals. Ireland supports the work of ECVAM and is represented on its scientific advisory committee. My Department will continue to monitor developments in this area.

Nursing Home Subventions.

Ceisteanna (104, 105)

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

104 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children if the pilot scheme for providing a subvention towards home care is available to persons on the waiting list for residential care required by physical or mental disability. [3458/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

Since my appointment as Minister of State, I have been encouraging the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the health boards to introduce personal care packages for older people as an alternative to long stay residential care. Personal care packages are specifically designed for the individual concerned and could possibly include the provision of a home help service, home subvention payments, arrangements for attendance at a day centre or day hospital and other services such as twilight nursing. Personal care packages allow older persons the option to remain living in their own home rather than going into long stay residential care.

The pilot project referred to by the Deputy, which is aimed at supporting older people in the community, is currently being evaluated by the authority and the results of the evaluation will no doubt inform the authority's consideration to roll out this programme to other care groups.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

105 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Health and Children the terms of the recent scheme introduced whereby beds in acute hospitals which were blocked by persons requiring long-term nursing home care have been vacated by means of an enhanced nursing home subvention towards the accommodation of these patients in private nursing homes; and if he plans to further extend this scheme. [3459/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

I propose to take Questions Nos. 104 and 105 together.

As the Deputy may be aware, my Department under the bed capacity initiative allocated extra resources to both the Eastern Regional Health Authority and the Southern Health Board to ease pressure on beds in the acute hospital system and to provide more step down accommodation for older people, who were being inappropriately cared for in acute hospital beds. A sum of €3.8 million was allocated to the Eastern Regional Health Authority and €1.7 million to the Southern Health Board in July 2003. A total of €12.5 million has been allocated for this purpose in 2004.

Dunne Inquiry.

Ceisteanna (106, 107)

John Gormley

Ceist:

106 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Health and Children the status of the Dunne Inquiry; when it is expected to report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3476/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

John Gormley

Ceist:

107 Mr. Gormley asked the Minister for Health and Children if the Dunne Inquiry is in difficulty in view of the fact that it continues to miss its own deadlines for reporting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3477/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 106 and 107 together.

The post mortem inquiry is a non-statutory inquiry chaired by Ms Anne Dunne SC. Since the beginning of 2003, the inquiry has concentrated on the investigation of the post mortem policy, practice and procedure of the three main paediatric hospitals, that is, the National Children's Hospital, Tallaght, the Children's University Hospital, Temple Street and Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children, Crumlin. Up to mid October, the inquiry had heard 56 hospital and non-hospital witnesses at oral hearings and had accumulated almost 3,500 pages of transcripts of oral evidence.

The chairman has informed me that the inquiry has received considerable co-operation from each of the hospitals with which it is currently dealing and that the inquiry's non-statutory nature has not thus far significantly hampered its substantive work. The chairman is mindful of the need to have her report completed as soon as is reasonably practicable following the completion of the oral evidence.

Health Board Services.

Ceisteanna (108, 109)

Michael Ring

Ceist:

108 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children the outcome of the assessment committee meeting held by the Western Health Board on 28 January 2004 for a person (details supplied) in County Mayo. [3480/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

As the Deputy will be aware, the provision of health services in the Mayo area is, in the first instance, the responsibility of the Western Health Board. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply directly to him as a matter of urgency.

Michael Ring

Ceist:

109 Mr. Ring asked the Minister for Health and Children the outcome of an assessment committee meeting held by the Western Health Board on 28 January 2004 for a person (details supplied) in County Mayo. [3481/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

As the Deputy will be aware, the provision of health services in the Mayo area is, in the first instance, the responsibility of the Western Health Board. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply directly to him as a matter of urgency.

Health Board Funding.

Ceisteanna (110)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

110 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Health and Children when his Department received a request from the Western Health Board for additional resources to fund its adult audiology services in County Roscommon; the specific funding allocated by his Department to provide this service; the discussions his Department has held with the Western Health Board regarding this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3501/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

As the Deputy is aware, the provision of community audiology services is a matter for the health boards or authority in the first instance. The provision of services, including community audiology services, forms part of the discussion between my Department and the health boards or authority in relation to their service plans.

Since 2000 my Department has provided additional ongoing funding of more than €2 million to the health boards or authority for a range of developments in the community audiology service. My Department has no record of any recent request from the Western Health Board for additional community audiology resources for adults in County Roscommon. However, as the provision of community audiology services in County Roscommon is a matter in the first instance for the Western Health Board, my Department has asked the chief executive officer to write directly to the Deputy regarding the community audiology service there.

Diabetes Services.

Ceisteanna (111)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

111 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Health and Children further to Parliamentary Question No. 214 of 14 November 2002 in relation to diabetes services, the actions taken to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3503/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

A range of services for persons with diabetes is provided by the health services generally and many initiatives have significant benefits for persons with diabetes and in the prevention of the disease. A particular case in point is the cardiovascular health strategy, which made a number of recommendations on the prevention of heart disease and these will help to reduce the occurrence of cardiovascular disease in persons with diabetes. People with diabetes mellitus should be targeted by GPs to tackle cardiovascular risk factors. The strategy recommends that diabetics should be treated in the same manner as those non-diabetics that have had a myocardial infarct. The 47% increase in the frequency of prescriptions for cardiovascular disease for people covered by the General Medical Services (Payments) Board reflects the increase in the numbers now being detected and treated with chronic heart failure.

As regards secondary prevention, people with diabetes have a worse prognosis after myocardial infarct and should be treated intensively. In this regard, the first phase of the heartwatch programme, which is being carried out under the cardiovascular strategy with the Irish College of General Practitioners and the Irish Heart Foundation, includes up to 1,000 people with diabetes in the Midland Health Board.

The third area of prevention under the cardiovascular health strategy refers to the implementation of the health promotion aspect of Building Healthier Hearts. This, coupled with the implementation of the national health promotion strategy for 2000 to 2005, is of direct benefit to diabetics. The population approach being adopted through the implementation of these strategies to address healthy eating and increase exercise in the population, especially among children, should, in the long-term, reduce the numbers developing diabetes.

In recent years part of the €54 million funding for the implementation of the cardiovascular health strategy is providing for the appointment of 17 additional consultant cardiologists and 300 other hospital based professional staff, resulting in a substantial increase in cardiology diagnostic and treatment services and providing more accessible, equitable and better quality care for patients with cardiac conditions.

As regards another major complication of diabetes, namely, end stage renal disease which requires dialysis and possible transplantation, the evidence suggests that diabetes is the leading cause of this condition in western countries and some estimates indicate that between 30% and 50% of all patients beginning kidney dialysis are diabetics. A pilot Irish renal register which was compiled a number of years ago indicated that diabetes caused end stage renal disease in 14% of patients beginning dialysis. The incidence of this condition and, therefore, the numbers requiring kidney dialysis in the future are expected to rise significantly as a result of the growing prevalence of diabetes and the ageing of the population in future years.

In anticipation of this and other requirements for dialysis, significant investment of approximately €20 million has been made over the past number of years to develop renal services in response to this increased demand. This investment is supportive of the development of services on a regional basis so that patients do not have to travel long distances for dialysis and has facilitated the approval of five additional consultant nephrologists with the commissioning of a number of new dialysis units around the country. Furthermore, I have established a group to undertake a national review of renal services. This group will be charged with formulating a national framework for the future development and delivery of services in this area with a consequent improvement in services for the large number of diabetics who require this treatment.

Another area of frequent complication is that of retinal eye disease, which leads to blindness. The evidence of the value of screening for this condition is strong and my Department is currently supporting a pilot screening project in the North Western Health Board which has set the following criteria: annual examination for those with diabetes; quality assurance written into the service and a programme integrated into the care plan for each patient. A total of €340,000 has been provided by the Department for this project. It is anticipated that the first patients will be screened in April 2004.

In the development of health promotion activities and materials, the Department works in partnership with the Diabetes Federation of Ireland on the development of its materials. These developments include a national media campaign, Ireland needs a Change of Heart, which includes an all-island physical activity campaign, Get a Life, Get Active, and the recent physical activity campaign, Let it Go; the national healthy eating initiatives and, at regional level, a broad range of service developments and initiatives in the areas of smoking cessation, nutrition, physical activity and dissemination of good practice. These services work in co-operation with the Diabetes Federation of Ireland. The Department supports the employment of a diabetic nurse specialist by the Diabetes Federation of Ireland who has enhanced national awareness of diabetes and developed a detailed direction for early detection and prevention of diabetes and many health promotion initiatives.

The primary care strategy, Primary Care: A New Direction, intends to develop a model of care that will provide an appropriate structure to enable the shift in care from secondary specialist care to primary generalist care and deliver the full range of health, personal and social services appropriate to this setting. A primary care project that was established in the Southern Health Board as part of the implementation of the primary care strategy and which illustrates this point is located on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry. The team has selected shared care of diabetes as one of its key initial priorities. It covers the entire population of the Dingle Peninsula and has been developed in co-operation with the GPs, the health board and Tralee General Hospital. The main features of the programme include the establishment of a register, the use of opportunistic screening in domiciliary and practice settings for diabetes, a quality assurance and audit mechanism and participation in the diabetes quality of life study being led by UCC. It is an example of how structured shared care in primary care can be developed in a manner which works for both hospitals and primary care and, most importantly, of how, especially in such a remote region, dependence of acute hospital care for people with diabetes can be appropriately reduced. Through further roll-out of the primary care strategy, further development of such programmes can be expected.

The national steering committee of the primary care strategy recently produced a framework for quality assurance in primary care. These guidelines have recommended that diabetes be chosen as the specific initial focus for the development of quality indicators in primary care.

I recognise that more work needs to be done. After detailed consideration and having had a series of meetings with the Diabetes Federation of Ireland to consider its strategy document, Diabetes Care: Securing the Future, I asked the chief medical officer to chair a working group consisting of officials of the Department of Health and Children, service providers and the Diabetes Federation of Ireland. The first meeting of the group took place last week. It will examine the current and predicted epidemiology of diabetes, health promotion and preventive initiatives, including screening, current service provision, including the need to achieve better integration of care using current resources and facilities and the expansion of shared care programmes, future needs in terms of service provision and staffing. The group hopes to report to me by this summer.

Nursing Home Beds.

Ceisteanna (112)

Emmet Stagg

Ceist:

112 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for Health and Children the number of elderly persons awaiting allocation of a long-term care place in State nursing homes and public beds in private nursing homes in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3510/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

As the Deputy will be aware, the provision of health services in the Kildare area is, in the first instance, the responsibility of the South Western Area Health Board, under the aegis of the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has, therefore, asked the chief executive of the board to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply directly to him as a matter of urgency.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Ceisteanna (113)

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

113 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Health and Children if funding will be made available to the autistic children's support group, north Kildare/RehabCare, for after school activities and a Saturday club; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3541/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Health and Children)

Responsibility for the provision of funding for services to persons with intellectual disability and those with autism in the Kildare area is a matter, in the first instance, for the Eastern Regional Health Authority. My Department has, therefore, asked the regional chief executive of the authority to investigate the matter raised by the Deputy and to reply directly to him.

Airport Development Projects.

Ceisteanna (114)

Damien English

Ceist:

114 Mr. English asked the Minister for Transport if he will consider allocating funding towards a 625 meter airstrip, hangar and reception centre in Stevenson's Field, Dromore, County Donegal for the benefit of business and tourism in the area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3438/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Transport)

The long standing policy of the Department as regards the development of aviation facilities is that private interests may provide and develop airports in whatever location they wish, provided the requirements of the Irish Aviation Authority are met and planning permission is secured. It is for the promoters to satisfy themselves that an airport can function as a viable commercial entity. This Department does not have any plans to provide financial support for the development of any new regional airports.

Haulage Licence.

Ceisteanna (115)

Phil Hogan

Ceist:

115 Mr. Hogan asked the Minister for Transport when a decision will be made in respect of an application for a haulage licence for a person (details supplied) in County Kilkenny; and if he will make a decision on the matter. [3470/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Transport)

An application for a road freight carrier's licence has not been received in the name of Joey O'Neill at Ballyogen, Graignamanagh, County Kilkenny. When an application is received it should take no longer than ten working days to issue. All incorrect applications received are returned immediately to the applicant for amendment.

Rural Transport Initiative.

Ceisteanna (116)

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

116 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Transport the details of the allocation to Longford Community Resources Limited for the rural transport initiative for 2003 and the proposed funding for 2004; if his attention has been drawn to fact that the cost of providing the service in 2003 amounted to €95,000 but that the 2004 allocation has been reduced to €55,000; the reason the higher sum will not be paid by the Department in 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3497/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Transport)

My Department has not reduced the allocation for the RTI. On the contrary €4.4 million was earmarked for the initiative in the national development plan. A sum of €6 million has already been provided for the initiative in the two year period ending December 2003. A further €3 million will be provided in 2004. Specific allocations for RTI projects are made from this funding by Area Development Management Limited. It manages the scheme on behalf of my Department.

I understand from ADM that the RTI funding allocation for 2002 and 2003 for Longford Community Resources Limited was €101,349. As the project could not roll-out its services in 2002 only a minimal amount of the funding was expended that year. As a result a disproportionate amount of the two year allocation of €93,652 was concentrated on 2003. The company was also allocated €6,720 arising from the extension of the free travel scheme to the RTI in 2003. The 2004 RTI allocation for Longford Community Resources Limited is €58,064 before any allocation in respect of the free travel scheme or funding that the project might acquire from other sources.

North-South Ministerial Council.

Ceisteanna (117)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

117 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Transport further to the 2002 annual report by the North-South Ministerial Council, the progress to date on the seven areas under discussion in the transport sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3504/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Transport)

Transport is one of the six agreed areas of co-operation under the NSMC. At the council's inaugural meeting in December 1999 it was agreed that transport co-operation would focus primarily on road and rail safety and strategic transport planning.

In December 2000 the first meeting of the NSMC on the transport sector took place. Ministers reviewed existing co-operation on transport issues and discussed the matters identified for enhanced co-operation by the December 1999 inaugural NSMC meeting. A further transport sector meeting took place in 2002 prior to the suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly in October of that year. That meeting focused on road safety issues. As the relevant Northern Ireland Minister was unavailable, it was not possible to hold meetings at ministerial level about other aspects of co-operation in the transport sector.

At present the two Governments are working with the Northern Irish political parties to bring about the conditions that will allow the restoration of devolved Government in Northern Ireland. Notwithstanding the fact that the NSMC cannot meet at present, co-operation and contact with the Northern authorities has continued on a practical level in the transport sector. I met Ms Angela Smith, MP and Minister at the Northern Ireland office, on 11 February 2003. Meetings have also taken place at senior official level between my Department and the Departments for Regional Development and for the Environment in Northern Ireland. The meetings focused on cross-Border road and rail developments, road and rail safety issues, the road haulage sector and the future development of Derry Airport.

The Exchequer continues to provide financial support under EU rules for the current air services between Derry and Dublin operated by the Scottish carrier Loganair.

Transport Report.

Ceisteanna (118)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

118 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Transport if he received a report from a company (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3507/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Transport)

No reports have been received in my Department from Iarnród Éireann regarding the matters alluded to by the Deputy.

Rail Services.

Ceisteanna (119, 120)

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

119 Mr. B. Smith asked the Minister for Transport the position regarding the proposal to extend rail passenger services to Navan, County Meath; if further consideration will be given to the provision of such a service to Kingscourt, County Cavan as there is an existing rail line that was upgraded and used for freight purposes until a few years ago; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3550/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Brendan Smith

Ceist:

120 Mr. B. Smith asked the Minister for Transport if the proposal to provide a rail service to Kingscourt, County Cavan will be given detailed consideration as this proposal was not considered by the strategic rail review consultants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3551/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Transport)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 119 and 120 together.

The strategic rail review examined the feasibility of restoring rail services to Navan via two routes — a Clonsilla to Navan link and a Drogheda to Navan connection. While it concluded that there was no economic case for reopening either link, Irish Rail is examining the possibility of reopening part of the Clonsilla to Navan line to provide commuter services for the rapidly growing communities in west Dublin and Meath.

The provision of passenger services between Navan and Kingscourt was not examined by the review. It considered that there was no evident demand for such services. No direct proposals were submitted at the time the report was being prepared arising from the public consultation process. No local policy or integrated planning framework exists in support of the development of rail links to the Kingscourt area.

Irish Rail has informed me that the line from Drogheda to Navan and Kingscourt is in poor condition and no longer in regular use. It has no plans to reopen the line.

Community Policing.

Ceisteanna (121)

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

121 Mr. O'Dowd asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when he will sanction the appointment of community gardaí to deal specifically with anti-social behaviour in Drogheda; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3435/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

The Garda authorities are responsible for the detailed allocation of resources, including personnel. It informed me that the personnel strength, covering all ranks, of Drogheda Garda station as at 2 February is 90. This compares to a figure of 82 on 31 December 1997 and represents an increase of 8 or 9.75% in the personnel allocated since that date.

It is the responsibility of the divisional officer to allocate personnel within a division as he or she sees fit. A community garda, with responsibility for the southside area of Drogheda, was appointed in Drogheda Garda station in 2000. The situation will be kept under review. When additional personnel become available the needs of the station will be considered within the context of the overall needs of Garda divisions throughout the country.

Residency Permits.

Ceisteanna (122)

Róisín Shortall

Ceist:

122 Ms Shortall asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the actions he is taking to deal with the considerable backlog of cases awaiting decisions in his Department in respect of residency based on marriage to Irish nationals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3461/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

There is an ongoing increase in the number of applications received of the type referred to by the Deputy. There were 156 in 2001 and 271 in 2003. Applications of this type are dealt with on a strict chronological basis and are currently taking approximately ten months to process. The resources allocated to process such applications are dependent on the prioritised work requirements of my Department's immigration division.

Penalty Points System.

Ceisteanna (123)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

123 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform further to Parliamentary Question No. 91 of 15 October 2003, the revised dates for the introduction of the computerised penalty points system. [3502/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I refer the Deputy to my reply to Question No. 133 of 29 January.

Prisoner Transfers.

Ceisteanna (124)

Kathleen Lynch

Ceist:

124 Ms Lynch asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the facilities available to the prisoners transferred from the Curragh to the Midlands Prison; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that they have still not received their personal belongings, including clothing; his views on whether, due to the category of prisoners involved, special measures should be put in place to ensure their protection and wellbeing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3518/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

On 19 and 20 of January 85 prisoners were transferred to the prison from the Curragh Place of Detention. The prison is a well equipped modern institution and the prisoners transferred are accommodated in single cells. The facilities available in the Midlands Prison are considered to be at least on a par with those previously experienced in the Curragh Place of Detention.

The logistics associated with a move are not inconsiderable. For example, standard procedure in our prisons is that all property, personal or otherwise, of those committed to custody must be recorded and searched in accordance with the regulations. The procedure also applies to the property of prisoners transferred from one place of detention to another. Due to the number of prisoners and the large volume of property the procedures required were extended over a number of days. The issue has been resolved and all of the prisoners concerned have received their personal belongings and clothing.

It is normal procedure to segregate prisoners in the system who may be at risk from other prisoners in the general prison population. The procedure has been applied in this instance and the prisoners transferred are located on a new protection landing in the Midlands Prison.

Stardust Report.

Ceisteanna (125)

Thomas P. Broughan

Ceist:

125 Mr. Broughan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he received a copy of the recent report on the Stardust fire of 1981 that was prepared for the relatives committee of the victims; and if the Garda Bureau of Criminal Investigations should urgently re-examine the disaster given its conclusions. [3525/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

Representatives from my Department, the Department of Health and Children and the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government have held a number of meetings with representatives of the Stardust Victims Committee. During the meetings the committee stated that it had new evidence on the cause of the fire. My Department responded that any new evidence would be examined. It awaits receipt of the documentation.

Naturalisation Applications.

Ceisteanna (126)

Tony Gregory

Ceist:

126 Mr. Gregory asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, further to Question No. 575 of 25 March 2003, if the application referred to has been dealt with; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3559/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

On 29 January an application was approved and a letter issued to the person concerned.

Electronic Voting.

Ceisteanna (127)

Fergus O'Dowd

Ceist:

127 Mr. O'Dowd asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if arrangements can be made to demonstrate the working of the electronic voting system to the general public; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3437/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Yesterday I launched a major education and awareness campaign on the use of electronic voting and counting at the forthcoming European and local elections. The campaign will include television, radio and press advertising; the development of an electronic voting website; the provision of a Lo-call information line; a mail shot to every household; and a nationwide roadshow that will allow voters to see and practice on the voting machine. The campaign will also seek to raise awareness of the elections and to encourage people to vote.

Local Authority Playgrounds.

Ceisteanna (128, 129, 130, 131, 132, 133, 134)

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

128 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of local authorities that have appointed an officer with responsibility for development of play in accordance with the objectives of the National Children's Strategy 2000. [3485/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

129 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the section of each local authority that has responsibility for playgrounds. [3486/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

130 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if guidelines are in place for local authorities on playgrounds. [3487/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

131 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the training for people with responsibility for playgrounds. [3488/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

132 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the way playgrounds are funded in the State. [3489/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

133 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the safety standards that playgrounds comply with. [3490/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Ciarán Cuffe

Ceist:

134 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of playgrounds per head of population nationally. [3491/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 128 to 134, inclusive, together.

I refer to the reply to Question No. 151 of 3 February. Section 67 of the Local Government Act 2001 empowers local authorities to promote the interests of the local community in relation to amenity, recreation and other functions. This includes the provision of playgrounds and play areas. It is a matter for each local authority to determine the extent to which playgrounds and play areas should be provided and to allocate resources accordingly. There is no specific provision for the funding of local authority playgrounds in my Department's Vote. However, it provides significant financial support to local authorities through the local government fund that is usable at the discretion of the authority.

The provision of open spaces, recreational facilities and amenity areas in local authority housing schemes is also a matter for housing authorities in the first instance. Certain facilities of this kind may be funded from my Department's capital allocations where the work is undertaken in conjunction with the provision of new local authority housing or the refurbishment of existing housing under the remedial works scheme.

In 1987 my Department issued a parks policy for local authorities. It outlined a national policy for the provision, development, administration and maintenance of a graded system of parks, open spaces and outdoor recreation areas by local authorities. In November 1998 it also advised local authorities of the need to ensure that equipment and surface materials used in local authority playgrounds and in play areas for children in new and existing local authority housing estates conform with appropriate standards.

Decisions on the assignment of functions to, and the training of, any member of staff of a local authority are a matter for local authority managers and I have no function in the matter. The same applies to the section of the local authority that is responsible for playgrounds. In most local authorities playgrounds are the responsibility of the director of services with responsibility for the environment.

Election Management System.

Ceisteanna (135)

Dan Boyle

Ceist:

135 Mr. Boyle asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the reason no official record exists of all results of elections to local authorities that have occurred in the State since 1922; and if his Department intends to compile such a record and make such a record publicly available. [3517/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government)

Each local authority should have available in its records the results of elections to the authority since 1922. In addition, results for local elections since 1974 are available for reference in my Department.

Community Development.

Ceisteanna (136, 137, 138)

Denis Naughten

Ceist:

136 Mr. Naughten asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, further to Question No. 331 of 2 December 2003, if a decision has been made on this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3440/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs)

I intend to introduce a scheme for the enhancement of outdoor school play facilities in small rural schools in CLÁR areas. There has been an overwhelming level of interest shown in the proposed scheme.

I am pleased to inform you that the Minister, Deputy Dempsey has made funds of up to €0.5 million available to co-fund the scheme, which will supplement the €1 million allocation from my Department this year. I am currently finalising the scheme and hope to be able to proceed the funding of facilities shortly thereafter.

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

137 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the progress which has been made on the evaluation of regional support agencies funded by his Department; when this will be completed and published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3495/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

138 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the progress which has been made on the review of the community development support programme; when this review will be completed and published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3513/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

I propose to take Questions Nos. 137 and 138 together.

I refer the Deputy to the comprehensive replies given yesterday to Question No. 151, associated Questions Nos. 153, 156, 163, 172, 173 and 185, and Question No. 205.

Social Welfare Benefits.

Ceisteanna (139, 140, 141, 142, 143, 144, 145, 146)

Brian O'Shea

Ceist:

139 Mr. O'Shea asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the proposals she has to achieve the key target of the anti-poverty strategy to achieve a rate of €150 per week in 2002 terms for the lowest rates of social welfare to be met by 2007. [3471/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Family)

The 2004 budget provided for a €10 per week increase in the rate of the lowest social welfare payments and these new rates came into effect at the beginning of January. This represents an increase of 8%, which is well ahead of projected inflation of 2.5%.

This level of increase ensures that the standard of living of all those in receipt of the lowest rate of payment was, once again, significantly enhanced and was a significant step towards the achievement, by 2007, of the commitment contained in the national anti-poverty strategy, NAPS, in regard to the lowest rates of payment.

Over the period since 1997, the value of all social welfare rates has increased in real terms. In this regard, the rate payable to persons in receipt of supplementary welfare allowance and short-term unemployment assistance, the lowest rates in 1997, have increased by nearly €51 per week, an increase of more than 62% compared with inflation of 26.9%.

Overall, social welfare expenditure has increased from €5.774 billion in 1997 to a projected €11.262 billion in 2004, an increase of €5,488 million or 95%. Looking ahead, my priorities include making further progress towards implementing the NAPS commitment in relation to the lowest rates of payment along with the other commitments in regard to social welfare contained in the NAPS, Sustaining Progress and the programme for Government. The progression of all of the commitments will be a matter to be decided having regard to available resources.

Gay Mitchell

Ceist:

140 Mr. G. Mitchell asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if a supplementary welfare grant will be awarded to a person (details supplied) in Dublin 12; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3436/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

The supplementary welfare allowance scheme which is administered by the health boards provides for a single payment to help meet essential, once-off, exceptional expenditure which a person could not reasonably be expected to meet out of his or her weekly income. These payments, which are known as exceptional needs payments, are made at the discretion of the health boards and neither I nor my Department has any function in deciding individual cases. The principal consideration in making such a payment is that the need must be of an exceptional nature.

The South Western Area Health Board was contacted on behalf of the person in question and has advised that his application for an exceptional needs payment was refused by the community welfare officer on the grounds that on this occasion the need was not considered to be of an exceptional nature. If he is not satisfied with the decision it is open to him to appeal against the decision to the health board appeals officer.

Richard Bruton

Ceist:

141 Mr. R. Bruton asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if she has carried out an assessment of the introduction of a non-means tested payment to carers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3462/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

142 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position in relation to the means test for the carer's allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3466/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Billy Timmins

Ceist:

143 Mr. Timmins asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if a person in receipt of a carer's allowance can also apply for an old age pension; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3467/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

I propose to take Questions Nos. 141 to 143, inclusive, together.

The carer's allowance is a social assistance payment which provides income support to people who are providing certain elderly or incapacitated persons with full time care and attention and whose incomes fall below a certain limit.

As with all other social assistance schemes, a means test in which the income of both the applicant and his or her partner is assessable is applied to the carer's allowance to ensure that limited resources are directed to those in greatest need.

Provision has been made in successive budgets for substantial increases in the income disregards under the scheme. From April 2004, the weekly income disregards will increase to €250 for a single carer and to €500 for a couple. It is estimated that abolition of the means test for carer's allowance could cost in the region of €180 million per annum.

In relation to paying carer's allowance concurrently with another social welfare payment, such as an old age pension, the primary objective of the social welfare system is to provide income support and, as a general rule, only one social welfare payment is payable to an individual. Persons qualifying for two social welfare payments always receive the higher payment to which they are entitled.

The review of the carer's allowance, which was published in October 1998, considered the introduction of a non-means tested continual care payment to be given, following a needs assessment, to carers caring for those who are in the highest category of dependency.

More recently in 2003, I launched a study on the future financing of long-term care. The study considers a range of benefit delivery mechanisms, including the continual care payment, as well as the issue of a needs assessment. It suggests that consideration be given to a flexible system whereby, following needs assessment, the person in need of care and their carer would select in-kind services or a cash payment or a mix of both. As there are significant issues discussed in the study, including those in relation to benefit design, cost and financing of long-term care, my officials are currently preparing a consultation document to accompany the study. This document will focus all interested parties on the specific issues we need to address. I expect that this document will be ready for circulation by the end of this month.

On completion of this consultation process, a working group, which will include all relevant parties, will examine the strategic policy, cost and service delivery issues associated with the care of older people. The issue of a continual care payment will be considered, as will other proposals, in the course of the consultation process.

Pat Rabbitte

Ceist:

144 Mr. Rabbitte asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs her proposals to increase financial supports provided to lone parents to bring them more in line with support provided to other carers of children; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3493/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

I understand that the reference in the Deputy's question to "other carers of children" refers to the allowance paid to foster carers.

The one-parent family payment, OFP, was introduced in 1997 when it replaced a number of schemes for different categories of lone parent. These schemes included lone parent's allowance, deserted wife's benefit and allowance and the non-contributory widow and widower's pension for those with dependent children.

The scheme is based on the contingency of lone parenthood and the need for social welfare support for parents with children where a person has not secured adequate, or any maintenance from the spouse or the other parent. The scheme also supports and encourages lone parents to consider employment as an alternative to long-term welfare dependency while at the same time supporting them to remain in the home if that is their wish. It is generally accepted that the most effective route out of poverty for lone parents is through paid employment. Accordingly, policy under the scheme is to encourage and facilitate lone parents in moving into the paid labour force so that they may avoid long-term welfare dependency. The main element of this policy is an earnings disregard of €146.50 per week.

Foster care, on the other hand, is part of the child protection and welfare service and is the responsibility of the Minister for Health and Children. The foster care allowance is paid in respect of children who have been taken into the care of the health board under the provisions of the Child Care Act, 1991, for their care and protection, and placed in foster care or relative care. Foster care is the main form of alternative care for those children who cannot be looked after in their own home. Under the regulations, a health board must assess the needs of a child placed in care, the suitability of the prospective foster or relative carers and draw up a child care plan. The implementation of the child care plan places significant responsibilities and duties on foster carers, whether relatives or non-relatives. The foster care allowance is paid in recognition of these additional responsibilities and the additional costs of looking after foster children. The current rates of payment are €289.50 per week per child under the age of 12, and €316.50 per week per child aged 12 and over.

I am satisfied that the social welfare arrangements in place for lone parents are appropriate and support general policy in this area which is to provide income support for lone parents while at the same time encouraging them to consider employment as a realistic alternative to long-term welfare dependency.

Joe Costello

Ceist:

145 Mr. Costello asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the position regarding the new regulations governing rent subsidies for homeless people seeking to access accommodation; if the regulations will apply to local authority tenants who have been evicted for rent arrears and who would previously have been able to obtain a rent subsidy from the health board; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3496/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

The recent changes made to the supplementary welfare allowance rent supplement scheme will not affect the ability of homeless people to access accommodation. Specific provision has been made for vulnerable groups such as the homeless, the elderly and those with disabilities.

In the normal course, rent supplement is not paid to an individual who vacates local authority accommodation. Local authority tenants who have been evicted for rent arrears are not ordinarily able to obtain a rent subsidy from the health board. This situation applied prior to the introduction of the latest regulations.

The new measures do not restrict the discretion available to health boards to deal with exceptional cases. In this regard a health board may provide assistance where, in the opinion of the board, the circumstances of the particular case so warrant.

Where a local authority tenant is evicted for rent arrears the health board would normally liaise with the local authority to examine the most suitable solution to address the person's accommodation needs. It would also consider the circumstances which gave rise to the arrears and may refer the person to the money advice and budgeting service for advice and support in addressing the problem.

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

146 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs the reason the supplementary rent allowance has been reduced from €898.00 per month to €536.20 per month in the case of a person (details supplied) in County Kildare; if this reduction is the result of recently announced budgetary cuts; if her attention has been drawn to the impossibility of obtaining accommodation at the lower rate and the likely hardship caused to this person as a result; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [3539/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

The supplementary welfare allowance scheme, which is administered on behalf of my Department by the health boards, provides for the payment of a weekly or monthly supplement in respect of rent to eligible people in the State whose means are insufficient to meet their accommodation needs.

Rent supplements, which are subject to a means test, are normally calculated to ensure that a person, after the payment of rent, has an income equal to the rate of supplementary welfare allowance appropriate to his or her family circumstances, less a minimum contribution of €13. In addition to the minimum contribution each applicant is required to contribute towards his or her rent any additional assessable means that he or she may have over and above the appropriate rate of basic supplementary welfare allowance.

The South Western Area Health Board was contacted on behalf of the person in question and has advised that she had been in receipt of a reduced rate of basic supplementary welfare allowance pending the outcome of her application for one-parent family payment. The rate of supplementary welfare allowance was reduced by the value of her maintenance payments. On the basis of her income at that time she was required to pay towards her rent only the standard minimum contribution of €12, increased to €13 from 5 January 2004. Her net income after paying her rent and receiving rent supplement was €129.60 per week.

She was subsequently awarded full rate one-parent family payment and, accordingly, the amount of rent supplement payable fell to be revised to take account of the change in her financial circumstances. As rent supplements are subject to a means test, the reduction in the amount of rent supplement in this case is a direct result of the increase in the individual's income and is not related to any recent changes to the scheme. Following the revision, her net income after paying her rent and receiving rent supplement is now €138.60 per week. The board has confirmed that the person in question is currently in receipt of the maximum amount of rent supplement appropriate to her family circumstances.