Header Item Written Answers Nos. 472-486
 Header Item National Postcode System Expenditure
 Header Item Irish Water Funding
 Header Item Housing Assistance Payments
 Header Item Motor Tax Yield
 Header Item Tribunals of Inquiry Reports
 Header Item Tribunals of Inquiry Expenditure
 Header Item Wind Energy Guidelines
 Header Item Property Tax Administration
 Header Item Library Services Staff
 Header Item National Trails Office
 Header Item Building Regulations

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 868 No. 1

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Written Answers Nos. 472-486

National Postcode System Expenditure

 472. Deputy Michael Colreavy Information on Michael Colreavy Zoom on Michael Colreavy asked the Minister for Education and Skills Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan the projected cost to her Department to convert to using Eircode; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7605/15]

Minister for Education and Skills (Deputy Jan O'Sullivan): Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan My Department has not incurred any cost to date in relation to the implementation of Eircodes. It is intended to make any changes needed to support Eircodes along with changes to our systems which arise in the normal course of business and as a result, the costs incurred should be minimal.

Irish Water Funding

 473. Deputy Sean Fleming Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly when the Central Statistics Office will commence an assessment as to whether Irish Water is an off-balance sheet entity from the State's national accounts; the time frame involved in this process; when the Central Statistics Office will publish its findings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6699/15]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Alan Kelly): Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly A key component of the strategy to establish Irish Water is that Irish Water will be classified as a Market Corporation under Eurostat rules and as a result, will not, other than in relation to Government operating subvention, be included in the calculation of the General Government Balance (GGB). The Market Corporation Test is a requirement that income from customers be greater than 50% of production costs.

The Central Statistics Office is responsible for engagement with Eurostat on such matters, and my Department has met with that office and is providing the necessary information to facilitate this work. Early engagement with that office by my Department centred around understanding the rules by which a utility such as Irish Water would be considered as a market corporation. Based on this understanding, the Government is confident that the underlying funding model for Irish Water supports increased investment in the water sector through an off-balance sheet classification of the utility while at the same time providing for water charges which are affordable, clear and certain. The Government remains confident that Irish Water will pass the Market Corporation Test. The decision is ultimately a matter for Eurostat.

Housing Assistance Payments

 474. Deputy Mattie McGrath Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly when the housing assistance payment will be rolled out in County Tipperary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6731/15]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Alan Kelly): Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly The implementation of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) is a key Government priority and a major pillar of the Social Housing Strategy 2020, which I published on 26 November 2014. The HAP scheme will bring all social housing supports provided by the State under the aegis of local authorities. The scheme will remove a barrier to employment by allowing recipients to remain in the scheme if they gain full-time employment. HAP will also improve regulation of the rented accommodation being supported and provide certainty for landlords as regards their rental income.

Further to the enactment of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2014 on 28 July 2014, the first phase of the HAP statutory pilot commenced with effect from 15 September 2014 in Limerick City and County Council, Waterford City and County Council and Cork County Council. HAP commenced in Louth, Kilkenny, South Dublin and Monaghan County Councils from 1 October. Subsequently, on 18 December, Dublin City Council became part of the statutory HAP pilot, with a specific focus on accommodating homeless households. Dublin City Council is implementing the HAP pilot for homeless households in the Dublin region on behalf of all four Dublin local authorities.

There are now 860 households in receipt of HAP across the local authority areas taking part in the statutory pilot scheme.

During the legislation's passage through the Oireachtas in July 2014 an undertaking was given that a report would be prepared for the relevant Oireachtas Committee that would include a full review of the statutory pilot phase. Data for this report is being gathered from pilot sites and the report will be submitted to the Oireachtas Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht shortly, in advance of full roll out of the scheme, which is scheduled to begin on a phased basis later this year. Following the completion of the review, consideration will be given to the sequence of local authorities to commence HAP during the full roll out phase.

Motor Tax Yield

 475. Deputy Regina Doherty Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly if he will provide in tabular form the value of motor tax collected in County Meath from 1996 to 2011 by year. [6774/15]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Alan Kelly): Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly Data on motor tax receipts for 1996 is not readily available. Gross motor tax receipts for Meath were £10,338,934 in 1997 and £11,511,366 in 1998.

Details of receipts from 1999 to 2011 are set out in the reply to Question No. 239 of 18 September 2014.

Tribunals of Inquiry Reports

 476. Deputy Patrick O'Donovan Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly in view of recent announcements that the planning tribunal was withdrawing all findings of obstruction and non co-operation by persons who appeared before the tribunal, the level of expenses that will now become payable to the legal representatives of each of these persons; the subsequent effect on the total expenditure on the tribunal; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6806/15]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Alan Kelly): Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly The Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments (the Mahon Tribunal) was established in October 1997 and published its Final Report in March 2012. The work of the Tribunal at present is largely focused on the settlement of the remainder of third party and court costs incurred during the work of the Tribunal. My Department's role is to arrange payment of such fees and costs as have been directed by the Chairman of the Tribunal and approved by Legal Cost Accountants.

  On foot of a Supreme Court decision of March 2005, some parties against whom the Tribunal made findings of non-cooperation were entitled to claim their full costs. The process to claim payment of these costs is for a costs order to issue and for a bill of costs to be submitted. This is subject to examination by Legal Cost Accountants acting on behalf of the State. When a final agreed costs figure is settled, my Department proceeds to issue payment.

  The following parties have completed this process to date, and payments have issued as follows: €1,745,487.30 in respect of Joseph Murphy Structural Engineering (JMSE); and €1,142,879.67 in respect of Thomas Brennan & Joseph McGowan.   

  I have been advised by the Tribunal that the costs that now will be paid to a small number of third parties arising from issues that have arisen with certain adverse findings made by Mr Justice Flood in his 2nd and 3rd Interim Reports in 2002 and 2003, respectively, are costs which had these adverse findings not been made would have been properly payable to the said third parties at that time.

  The Tribunal estimated in 2014 that the total costs of its deliberations would amount to approximately €159m. This figure was calculated on the basis that all parties would receive all of their costs. The recent findings of the Supreme Court in relation to Mr. George Redmond will not therefore have any effect on this estimate.

Tribunals of Inquiry Expenditure

 477. Deputy Patrick O'Donovan Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly the total expenditure on the legal team acting for the planning tribunal; and in view of the findings of this tribunal now having been withdrawn with huge additional implications for the costs to the tax payer, if he will seek to recoup all or at least some of this additional money from the legal team. [6834/15]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Alan Kelly): Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly Court challenges relating to the withholding or redacting of certain information in witness statements, as well as against certain findings in interim reports of the Planning Tribunal relating to hindrance and obstruction by certain individuals, were initiated by certain parties at various times during the work of the Tribunal. Subsequent Supreme Court judgments found against the practice of redacting witness statements, and also against the non-co-operation and hindrance findings against specific individuals in some instances.

  This has now resulted in certain corruption findings against certain parties being withdrawn from the 2nd and 3rd interim Tribunal reports of 2002 and 2003 respectively. These judgments have also resulted in specific parties now being entitled to legal costs which had previously been refused, with the vast majority of the concerned parties now being awarded their full costs. Contrary to recent media reports, it is not the case that the 2nd and 3rd Interim Reports have been withdrawn in their entirety - certain adverse findings remain in place. It should also be noted that no findings in the Tribunal's Final Report and Recommendations are affected by these Supreme Court decisions.   

  The total cost of the Tribunal's internal legal team to end 2014 was €51,639,766.   

  The Tribunal estimated in 2014 that the total costs of its deliberations would amount to approximately €159m once all costs have been agreed and paid. This estimate was prepared in accordance with standard accounting practice and the agreed protocol on legal fees, on the assumption that all parties involved with the Tribunal, and who were entitled to apply for their costs, would receive all of their costs. The recent findings of the Supreme Court in relation to Mr. George Redmond will not therefore have any effect on this estimate.   

  The implications of the outcome of the relevant legal challenges against the Tribunal are being considered by my Department. Legal advice is being sought with a view to informing that consideration.

Wind Energy Guidelines

 478. Deputy Regina Doherty Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly his plans to issue guidelines to planning authorities to mitigate the impact of wind turbines on those living with autism. [6955/15]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Paudie Coffey): Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey My Department is currently conducting a review of the 2006 Wind Energy Development Guidelines focused specifically on noise, proximity and shadow flicker. As part of this process, my Department wrote to the Department of Health in September 2013 inviting any input that they might have on the health aspects, if any, of wind farms.

  Preliminary feedback was received from a Deputy Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of the Department of Health on 11 November 2013, which indicated that wind turbines do not represent a threat to public health. This feedback was based on a 2009 literature review conducted by the Australian Government's National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

  The Deputy CMO subsequently wrote to my Department on 11 April 2014 to advise that Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council had recently updated their evidence in relation to this matter. In that letter, the Deputy CMO stated 'This review again supports previous advice that there is no reliable or consistent evidence that wind farms directly cause adverse health effects in humans'.  The Deputy CMO also referred to the limited number of peer reviewed articles and research in this area and that Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council may recommend further high quality research.

  Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council released a further statement on 11 February 2015 stating that 'After careful consideration and deliberation of the body of evidence, NHMRC concludes that there is currently no consistent evidence that wind farms cause adverse health effects in humans.'

  My Department will continue to liaise with the Department of Health, particularly in relation to the findings of any further international peer reviewed research on this subject, including any potential implications for people with autism. The Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources has also been made aware of this ongoing dialogue in the context of the implementation of their renewable energy policy (including wind energy).

Property Tax Administration

 479. Deputy Olivia Mitchell Information on Olivia Mitchell Zoom on Olivia Mitchell asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly the local property tax allocation to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council; the amount by which this sum exceeds the general purposes grant of 2014; the amount of that excess which can be used for discretionary purposes; the amount which is to be allocated from the excess to the housing and road areas in order to release central Government funding for other purposes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6994/15]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Alan Kelly): Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly In accordance with the Government's decisions in relation to local retention of Local Property Tax, my Department has notified Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council of a revised provisional Local Property Tax (LPT) allocation of €34,757,156 for 2015. This allocation takes into account the passing of a resolution by the elected members to vary the basic rate of local property tax downwards by 15% for 2015, which had the effect of reducing the amount of the 2015 LPT allocation by €8,020,882. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council received a General Purposes Grant (GPG) of €5,724,579 from the Local Government Fund in 2014. Accordingly, the revised LPT allocation for 2015 exceeds the 2014 General Purposes Grant by €29,032,577.

Based on its surplus position when expected 2015 LPT receipts are compared to GPG allocations 2014, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council will be required to self-fund some services in Housing and Roads areas to the value of €26,358,950. It is a matter for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council to decide how to spend the remaining €8,398,206, in the context of the annual budgetary process having regard to both locally identified needs and available resources.

Library Services Staff

 480. Deputy Andrew Doyle Information on Andrew Doyle Zoom on Andrew Doyle asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly if he will provide an update on the application for additional library staff in Tinahely, County Wicklow; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7009/15]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Alan Kelly): Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly The moratorium on recruitment and promotion in the public service was introduced in March 2009 in response to the financial crisis. My Department operates a delegated sanction from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for implementation of the moratorium in relation to local authorities and any exceptions to the moratorium in local authorities require sanction from my Department.

Under section 159 of the Local Government Act 2001, each Chief Executive is responsible for staffing and organisational arrangements necessary for carrying out the functions of the local authorities for which he or she is responsible. In this regard, it is a matter for each Chief Executive, in the first instance, to ensure that the moratorium is implemented while the appropriate service levels are maintained.

My Department examines all staffing sanction requests on a case by case basis having due regard to the continued delivery of key services in the context of staffing and budgetary constraints. In considering sanction requests public safety, maintaining key front line services, and economic issues are given precedence.

My Department works closely with Wicklow County Council in relation to the Council's overall staffing requirements. Following consultation with the Libraries Development Section of the Local Government Management Agency, the staffing request submitted by the Council for a library position at Tinahely has been approved.

National Trails Office

 481. Deputy Michael Creed Information on Michael Creed Zoom on Michael Creed asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly to outline the operation of the walks scheme administered by his Department with the assistance of the National Trails Office; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7037/15]

 482. Deputy Michael Creed Information on Michael Creed Zoom on Michael Creed asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly the way individual land owners along a marked walk approved by the National Trails Office but currently inadvertently excluded from the walks scheme can apply for inclusion in the scheme and payment for participation in same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7038/15]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Ann Phelan): Information on Ann Phelan Zoom on Ann Phelan I propose to take Questions Nos. 481 and 482 together.

  There are now 39 trails covered by the Walks Scheme. However, due to budgetary constraints, it has not been possible to develop new walks under the existing Walks Scheme or bring developed trails onto the Walks Scheme since December 2010.     

  In 2014 annual payments to participants who maintained sections of trails that traversed their lands were in the region of €1.8m. The number of participants on the scheme currently stands at 1,896. It is intended that any additional efficiencies and savings that can be generated in the scheme will be put towards priority re-routes and improvements on the existing trails comprehended by the scheme.   

  I appreciate there were a number of marked walks which are approved by the National Trails Office but are not covered by the Walks Scheme. Only those trails where contracts had been signed and the Scheme was operational were in a position to progress onto the Walks Scheme up to the end of 2010.

Building Regulations

 483. Deputy Barry Cowen Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly the changes planned to the building control regulations introduced on 1 March 2014; the time frame for such changes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6707/15]

 484. Deputy Barry Cowen Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly the status of the Departmental review of the building regulations introduced on 1 March 2014; if the review will be published; the time frame for its completion; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6708/15]

 485. Deputy Barry Cowen Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly the estimated additional cost the building regulations have generated for one-off units; the original anticipated cost of the regulations according to his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [6709/15]

 486. Deputy Barry Cowen Information on Barry Cowen Zoom on Barry Cowen asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Alan Kelly Zoom on Alan Kelly the discussions his Department has held with the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland and Construction Industry Federation on the introduction and operation of the building regulations, introduced on 1 March 2014; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6710/15]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Paudie Coffey): Information on Paudie Coffey Zoom on Paudie Coffey I propose to take Questions Nos. 483 to 486, inclusive, together.

The Building Control Act 1990 places a statutory obligation on owners, designers and builders to design and construct buildings in compliance with the requirements of the Building Regulations. Following public concern with regard to the widespread failure to comply with regulatory requirements in all sectors of the construction industry, the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014 (S.I. No. 9 of 2014) were introduced to strengthen the arrangements in place by requiring greater accountability in relation to compliance with Building Regulations. Over 5,000 construction projects have commenced to date since the new regulations took effect on 1 March 2014 and thus require statutory certification of design and construction, lodgement of compliance documentation, mandatory inspections during construction and validation and registration of certificates.

I intend to announce details of the imminent review of S.I. No. 9 of 2014 early next month. A full report on the matter will be produced by the second quarter of 2015 and will inform further regulation in this critical area. I will arrange for a copy of the report to be made available in the Oireachtas Library in due course.

In relation to the additional costs for one-off housing units, I refer to the reply given in response to Questions Nos. 541 and 542 of 18 December 2014 which remains relevant. Price is determined by market forces and is therefore outside of the scope of my regulatory powers. Nevertheless, I recognise the importance of ensuring that the regulations do not impact unduly on one-off housing, particularly in relation to cost. As indicated previously, my Department, in conjunction with the Housing Agency and the construction professional bodies, is currently finalising additional guidance on an appropriate inspection plan for a typical one-off dwelling. This guidance will be helpful in better informing the market in relation to offering realistic and appropriately priced professional services for such work.

Detailed submissions from both the Construction Industry Federation and the Royal Institution of Architects of Ireland were among the 500 submissions from industry stakeholders and private individuals received by my Department during the consultative process which informed the development of S.I. No. 9 of 2014. Subsequently, both organisations participated in various working groups convened by my Department and the Local Government Management Agency to facilitate and support the smooth transition by all stakeholders to the new regulatory framework. Other organisations which participated included the Society of Chartered Surveyors of Ireland, Engineers Ireland, the Association of Consulting Engineers of Ireland, the Housing Agency and Fire Officers and Building Control Officers from a range of local authorities. My Department will continue to engage proactively and constructively with all key stakeholders and interested parties in reviewing and strengthening the arrangements in place for the control of building activity.


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