Priority Questions.

Local Authority Housing.

Fergus O'Dowd


56 Mr. O’Dowd asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will consult local authorities to put in place a uniform national policy on the housing by local authorities of convicted low, medium and high risk sex offenders; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11306/05]

Persons, including former prisoners, who are unable to provide housing for themselves from their own resources are entitled to apply for social housing provided either by a local authority or a voluntary body. It is a matter for individual local authorities to decide on the allocation of tenancies to various categories of needs on their waiting lists in accordance with their schemes of letting priorities. My Department has not been approached by housing authorities to facilitate the development of guidelines for the housing of particular categories of former prisoners, nor is it clear that such guidelines would be advisable or practicable having regard to the complex and variable circumstances which might be involved in particular cases.

That is an appalling and disgraceful answer about a serious and fundamental issue. In situations where local authorities have housed sex offenders, the absence of a policy has given rise to vigilantism. A low risk sex offender was housed in an estate in my constituency and their name and those of their family were published in the media and their photo was posted on walls and houses. The absence of a policy created a serious problem.

It is not good enough for the Minister of State to hide behind his ridiculous answer. This is an extremely grave issue. He should examine what has happened in the US where convicted sex offenders have murdered young children. It happens with increasing regularity, at least once or twice per month. There was the appalling murder of two girls in England. We need to ensure that those on the sex offenders' list and at high risk of re-offending——

The Deputy should confine himself to the question.

Does the Minister of State agree that local authorities should in every case submit the name of proposed tenants or residents to the Garda to check whether they are on the sex offenders' list? If they are, the local authority should insist that a risk assessment be done to ascertain whether the person is a high, medium or low risk to the community in which it intends to house them. As it stands, nobody is aware when a high risk sex offender or paedophile goes into a community where there are many young children, schools, sports centres and play areas. The Minister of State is saying that the local authority should not get involved, which is appalling and unacceptable.

I agree that it is a serious, difficult and sensitive situation. The question is whether a blanket rule should be issued by the Department or whether matters be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. I understand the sensitivity but legislation exists to deal with this issue. Letting priority schemes are administered by local authorities according to guidelines. They have the right to exclude certain people, such as drug users or those convicted of drug offences in the past. However, there is legislative back-up for these measures.

The Sex Offenders Act 2001 put many safeguards in place and prison authorities, the Garda and the Health Service Executive are aware when these people are released from prison and they track and monitor them. The information is supposed to be confidential and only made available to those who need to know. I do not know how information relating to the case to which the Deputy referred got out into the community. Legislation exists but it is doubtful whether formal guidelines from the Department are the way to go in such sensitive matters. So far local authorities handle them under their letting priorities schemes. They have not asked for guidance and it is an evolving situation. However, it should continue to be dealt with sensitively and on a case-by-case basis in conjunction with the authorities, the Garda and the HSE.

The Minister of State agrees this is a serious issue and that, in the absence of a policy, communities can be subjected to vigilantism. He and the Government should demonstrate leadership in the area and consult local authorities as to the best policy for each of the three categories. This is the case in other countries when dealing with low, medium and high risk offenders. Will the Minister of State give a commitment to initiate such a policy and discussion? I welcome that the Garda and health authorities are aware of these issues, but local authorities are the key players in housing and they are not always aware. They do not need to know the totality of each case, but they should refer all names to the Garda to identify sex offenders.

If such appalling acts occur in other countries, it will be only a matter of time before they occur here. We must deal with the issue in a rational manner. The current policy is to do nothing which has led to unacceptable acts of vigilantism. Will the Minister of State initiate discussions with the local authorities, the Minister for Health and Children and the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform with a view to debating the issue and drafting a White Paper or discussion document? I do not expect him to have the answers today, but he should take the matter seriously, take action and demonstrate leadership.

I regard the matter as serious but we must consider how to deal with it. Legislation exists in the Sex Offenders Act 2001 which places responsibility on the prison authorities, Garda and health services. The Deputy has not convinced me. How did the information get out in the case to which he referred?

I can help the Minister of State. The local authority could refer the names to the Garda.

People coming out of prison, no matter what they have been convicted of, have a right and entitlement to apply for housing.

Absolutely. There is no doubt about that.

They must be housed somewhere. However, legislation exists and local authorities are not in the loop.

Will the Minister of State do something about the issue?

He will talk about it but not do anything.

We have not been involved in the housing aspect, but I will consider what the Deputy has said. However, I am reluctant because there is another side. I am unsure whether we can make progress on the matter by involving the housing departments of local authorities.

Archaeological Sites.

Eamon Gilmore


57 Mr. Gilmore asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when he intends to decide on the application submitted to him from the roads authority for carrying out a programme of archaeological works and mitigation measures along the proposed route of the M3 through the Tara-Skryne valley; if he has received a letter from the director of the National Museum setting out his serious concerns on the implications of the proposed route; if he has responded to the letter; if he intends to publish the letter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11278/05]

I thank the Deputy for tabling this question and giving me the opportunity to address some of the mythology which has been rampant in recent days. The National Monuments (Amendment) Act 2004 provides that, where a motorway scheme has been approved by An Bord Pleanála, associated archaeological works or excavations that are to be undertaken in connection with the approved road must be carried out in accordance with directions issued by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government following consultation with the director of the National Museum of Ireland. This procedure is designed to ensure that appropriate standards apply to carrying out such archaeological works.

In the case of the M3 motorway, an application for carrying out a programme of archaeological works and mitigation measures along a portion of the route in the vicinity of Tara has been made by the roads authority to my Department and is at present being considered. I have, in accordance with the Act, consulted the director of the National Museum of Ireland and have received a reply with comments on the directions. The reply also raises other issues. I have asked my Department's chief archaeologist to report to me on the matters the director raised. I intend to make my decision on those advices as soon as possible. When I have made my decision all the papers relating to the directions, including the letter from the director, will be available in accordance with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Acts.

I welcome that the material will be available under the Freedom of Information Act after the Minister has made his decision. Will he publish the correspondence from the Director of the National Museum now, as this is a matter of public interest? As he is aware, the Director of the National Museum was prevented from attending the Oireachtas committee to say what he thought of this. Can the Minister be more specific as to when he will make a decision on this matter? This issue has been around since well before Christmas and I am surprised the Minister has not advanced it further than he has.

Will he acknowledge that he has discretion in the decision on whether to grant consent in respect of the M3? Will he confirm that position? I have a copy of the Act. Some of the press reports of what the Minister said, which I acknowledge may not be entirely accurate, have tended to suggest that he is giving a line that his hands are tied by the An Bord Pleanála decision and that he is a minor actor in this area. Will he confirm that the decision as to whether consents are granted in respect of the M3 are at his discretion and that should he chose to issue a direction or make a decision which is at variance with the road scheme An Bord Pleanála approved, there is a procedure in the National Monuments Act that the matter will go back to An Bord Pleanála? Rather than it being a case that the Minister is entirely in the hands of An Board Pleanála and the roads authority on this matter, the reverse is the case. It is important that the Minister would confirm that he is the decision maker on this and that the decision on the requests made by the National Roads Authority are at his discretion.

I wish to correct a point the Deputy made. I am sure he inadvertently said that this matter has been around since well before Christmas. As it turns out, I met the director and we had a consultation meeting on——

When did the Minister get the request from the National Roads Authority?

I met the director on 1 March. That was when——

When did the Minister get the request from the National Roads Authority?

If the Deputy was to let me reply I would give him a comprehensive answer. I met the director as soon as the directions were prepared in my Department and I handed them over in their totality. The director gave me a comprehensive response and that has gone back to the chief archaeologist. It is not true to say that this issue has been hanging around since before Christmas.

When did the Minister get the request from the National Roads Authority?

With regard to——

I will ask this question as a formal supplementary if the Minister wishes.

I am telling the Deputy that is not relevant.

When did the Minister get the request from the National Roads Authority?

When I got the request from the National Roads Authority it was submitted in the appropriate manner to the officials of my Department.

When did the Minister get it?

I will let the Deputy have the exact details.

Was it before Christmas or after it?

Was it before Christmas?

Yes, but that is not the issue.

Then this was an issue before Christmas.

Allow the Minister to reply. The Minister is in possession.

The Deputy is being foolish as he always is.

No, I am not.

The Minister should withdraw that remark.

The reality is that the directions reached the director of the National Museum on 1 March. He gave me a comprehensive response and that is with the chief archaeologist. Those are the facts.

Deputy Gilmore kindly quoted the National Monuments Act. The position is as stated in the Act. The Deputy has a copy of it and can consult it. Under the Act, where there is an approved scheme, any works of an archaeological nature connected with that scheme would be carried out in accordance with directions I issued. The directions allow for proper standards to be specified for carrying out the archaeological works. My role is limited to issuing of directions on works that can be carried out along with the approved road network. I make it clear, and have done so in an abundance of press statements in recent weeks, that I have no intention of abusing that power. I will act within the provisions of that Act very specifically.

With regard to the suggestion, which has been frequently made in public comment, that I should issue requirements for alteration of the route of the M3, the Deputy and other Members present know that is not within my remit. That is primarily a matter for the NRA and the Meath County Council. My role relates specifically to regulation of the archaeological works to be carried out in connection with the approved road. The House, including the Deputy, can be assured that I will focus, to the letter, on the requirements as laid on me by the National Monuments (Amendment) Act 2004.

I thank the Minister for acknowledging, however grudgingly, that he got the request from the National Roads Authority prior to Christmas, as I put it to him originally.

In respect of his powers under the National Monuments Act, will he confirm that its provisions are expressed in the terms that he may grant a consent at his discretion, which also means that he could decide not to grant a consent, which is also at his discretion? In respect of any consent or direction he might make in regard to the M3, if that involves a change in the motorway scheme, there is a procedure under section 14(b) of the amended Act to give those directions to a road authority, the road authority then informs An Bord Pleanála and it has certain steps to take where it involves a change in the road scheme. I again invite the Minister to confirm that it is at his discretion, first, not to issue the consents and, second, to give directions, as Minister with responsibility for heritage, in respect of Tara, and if that requires changes to be made to the road scheme, that is provided for in the National Monuments Act by way of a communication to An Bord Pleanála. Will the Minister confirm that is the position?

I have already said to the Deputy that the position I have in law is set out clearly in the National Monuments Act.

That is correct and the Minister has a free hand and discretion.

I have also said on numerous occasions that I will not use the powers I have under it to second-guess a planning process that has already been exhaustively pursued in that regard.

The Minister has wide powers under it.

I made it very clear that I will operate on the advices I have received and they will be accommodated.

The Minister is prejudging it now.

The Deputy is correct that the NRA submitted the material before Christmas. The material had to be examined in the Department.

We must move on to Question No. 58.

The Department had to produce its review and it was passed appropriately and as soon as possible to the National Museum. The director of National Museum gave me a comprehensive response and I would do less than justice to him if I were to say——

I call Question No. 58.

Building Regulations.

Ciarán Cuffe


58 Mr. Cuffe asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if he will make a statement on the concerns raised by a person (details supplied) in regard to the revision of the energy performance aspects of the Building Regulations in their presentation to the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment and Local Government on 6 April 2005. [11277/05]

A number of misleading claims were made following a recent meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on the Environment and Local Government in regard to energy performance aspects of the Building Regulations.

I am grateful to Deputy Cuffe for this opportunity to state that I reject absolutely the allegations that were made by an individual that energy conservation standards under Part L of the Building Regulations are being driven by special interests in the construction industry. As I pointed out, independent research has shown that Ireland's thermal performance and insulation standards for new dwellings, as revised in 2003, are among the highest in the EU. Since their introduction in 1992, under the Building Regulations successive Ministers have progressively increased the insulation standards for new dwellings and they are due for further upward adjustment in 2008.

I stress that, since 1996, proposals for amending Building Regulations are formulated in an open and transparent way, which protects against any improper or undue influence being exercised by any particular sectoral interest. My Department drafts the amending regulations and any related amended technical guidance. The draft amendments are then considered, and usually amended, by the Building Regulations Advisory Body. This body was established under section 14 of the Building Control Act 1990 and includes nominees from various construction industry organisations, local authority managers, the Chief Fire Officers Association, and the Irish Building Control Institute. The Minister then approves publication of the draft amendments, for public or industry comment, usually within a period of three months. The draft amendments are then revised in light of the comments received, in consultation with the advisory body.

The other principal claims made by the individual in question, who has a vested interest in this industry, at the recent meeting of the Oireachtas committee relate to the implementation of the EU Energy Performance of Buildings Directive. I intend shortly to approve publication by Sustainable Energy Ireland of a draft action plan for the implementation of this directive. The action plan will provide for progressive implementation over the period from 2006 to 2009, starting with new dwellings. There will be a period of three months for comment by the general public, elected representatives, the construction industry, the auctioneering and legal professions and other groups. The action plan will then be finalised, in the light of comments received, and submitted for my approval prior to transmission to the EU Commission.

My Department has not shown bias against the timber frame method of construction. If the gentleman in question had taken the time or trouble to consult the statistics issued by his own industry group he would have discovered this. On the contrary the Department funded a major study by independent consultants of timber frame housing in Ireland. We are in the process of implementing positive recommendations arising from that study, in consultation with the Irish Timber Frame Manufacturers Association. I reject absolutely the claims made by the individual.

I am concerned that the Government is allowing the construction of second-rate homes rather than meeting the requirements of EU standards. An official from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government stated that it would be difficult for hollow block construction, used widely in the Dublin area, to survive if standards were raised. This comes from a memorandum dating back seven years. I am deeply concerned that we are lagging behind what other countries in Europe are insisting upon in energy performance standards. Only two weeks ago regulations were introduced in the UK requiring every new or refurbished home to have a condensing boiler. We have no such insistence in Ireland. One of Ireland's biggest boiler manufacturers——

The Deputy should ask a question.

——is exporting its goods to the UK because it has no market here. I am concerned——

The Deputy should ask a question.

——that we are not meeting best practice in Europe. Does the Minister believe we are meeting best practice? In reality the standards in Ireland are lagging behind. Regardless of what his officials might say, the "as built" construction in Ireland does not meet building regulations and in some cases is performing at half the values prescribed in the building regulations due to bad workmanship on site. Is the Minister satisfied that we meet the requirements of EU regulations? Will he ensure that Ireland meets the requirements of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive from 1 January 2006 or is he content to put energy performance on the long finger as he has done with the Kyoto Protocol, the climate change strategy and the building regulations?

If the Deputy were to consult recent statistics published following surveys carried out in this and other countries, he would discover that his hypothesis that we are at the bottom of the league is simply wrong.

I did not say that. The Minister is putting words into my mouth.

We are not at the bottom of the league.

I did not say we were.

I will take it that he did not say that.

I said we were lagging behind.

He should know that if we are second from the top we could hardly be lagging behind.

That may be true in theory but not in practice.

The Deputy cannot have it both ways. The Deputy stated that we were lagging behind when he knows that the recently published data shows that in some areas we are second from the top and in one area we are at the top. As he knows this to be the case, to mislead the House does no service to the debate. The Deputy referred to an internal memorandum on hollow block construction written several years ago.

Some 200,000 homes have been built since then.

As the Deputy knows some very significant changes have occurred since then. We should confine ourselves to the facts. As the Deputy knows the European directive allows deferment of full implementation until January 2009. Article 7 deals with the certification of new buildings. Without going into too much turgid detail, we will not be found wanting and will not be behind.

However, the Government will defer implementation.

We will not behave in a way different from any other country. The Deputy may have missed part of the detail of my reply.

We need to move on to the next question.

As successive Ministers have since 1996, I intend again upgrading regulations in 2008. These regulations were first introduced here in 1992 and all my predecessors have had some involvement in improving the regulations.

Will energy labelling on homes be introduced from 1 January 2006 or will it be deferred for three years?

I intend operating within the provisions of the directive. I will consider the matter and make my decisions as appropriate during the course of the year.

I thank the Minister for his clarity.

I thank the Deputy for that comment. If we make a deferment in January, Ireland will not be the only member state doing so.

House Prices.

Tom Hayes


59 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if a special meeting of the social partners should be convened to discuss the housing problem, with a view to establishing proposals to bridge the affordability gap that excludes many first-time buyers from the housing market; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11307/05]

Housing and accommodation form one of the ten special initiatives under Sustaining Progress. Consequently, the Government already has an active engagement with the social partners on housing issues. The housing forum is the main mechanism for engaging with social partners on the initiative. Separate ongoing contact also takes place with the parties to the pay agreement in the context of developing the affordable housing initiative, which is one of the elements of the special initiative.

Issues of affordability derive from the unprecedented housing demand arising from sustained economic growth and demographic change experienced in recent years. Government policy focuses on achieving an appropriate supply response and using targeted measures to provide access to housing and accommodation for lower income groups. The success of policies to date is reflected in that 2004 was the tenth year of record overall house completions with almost 77,000. Work in progress under targeted affordable housing measures, including the AHI, indicate that approximately 12,000 units will be delivered in the next three years.

Recently NESC, which also includes the social partners, concluded its major study on housing issues. While we are carefully considering the issues raised, it is important to note that the report recognises that the general thrust of housing policy is correct. The housing forum is considering what changes are required to its work programme in the context of the issues raised by NESC for further examination. I am happy that through these arrangements we have effective engagement with the social partners, which allows for a meaningful input to the development of housing policy.

Would such a special meeting with nothing else on the agenda involving people with much to contribute in this area not focus people's minds and bring forward new ideas?

I chair the housing forum involving the social partners. It has nothing on the agenda except housing. It is a special initiative and meets every quarter. No one simple solution to this issue exists without increased supply, which is why we have been working on that aspect for some years. Ten or 11 years ago only 22,000 to 23,000 houses were built annually. Last year the figure increased to 77,000. Most people would agree, therefore, that supply currently equals demand and we can expect stability in prices from now on.

While the number of new houses has increased, many young people cannot get on to the housing ladder. What message does the Minister of State have for the approximately 42,500 young people who have been frustrated in their efforts to buy a home?

I accept that the rise in house prices in recent years has caused difficulty for some people in a certain income bracket. This is the reason the Government introduced a number of targeted measures to provide affordable houses for this group, an objective we are achieving. A couple of thousand affordable houses are built each year and we expect the figure to increase to approximately 12,000 over the next three years.

Other measures have also been taken. In the previous budget, for example, the Government removed the requirement for first-time buyers of second hand houses to pay stamp duty, an effective measure which benefited many of those to whom the Deputy referred by as much as €12,000.

First-time buyers are still buying a large number of houses. Figures for last year indicate that people who previously lived at home or in rented accommodation now buying their first homes took out approximately 40% of mortgages. This is a significant proportion of house buyers. The problem many first-time buyers currently face is obtaining an initial deposit rather than a mortgage. I am not trying to say price does not count — it does — but if one compares affordability, that is, the percentage of take home pay required to service a mortgage, one finds that people paid a greater proportion of their take home pay to service their mortgages ten or 15 years ago than they do now. The Government is conscious, however, that the position has worsened since the mid-1990s and is trying to help those in a certain income bracket who need help. The four schemes and the stamp duty reduction we introduced all help such people. As I stated, the main problem is often finding the initial deposit.

Finding a deposit is the core problem for those trying to get on the housing ladder. Does the Minister of State intend to bring firm proposals to Government to help such people whom Deputies encounter at every constituency clinic? It would be helpful to take meaningful action in this regard.

Under the 1999 affordable housing scheme, buyers can obtain a local authority loan of up to 97% of the cost of a house. Until now, the State provided all loans for affordable housing but recently we concluded a deal with the Bank of Ireland under which it will offer up to 97% of the value of houses available as part of the four affordable schemes. I believe other financial institutions will follow the bank's lead and enter the market. While the political parties and others mention various schemes, I have no further announcement to make on the issue today.

Radon Gas Emissions.

Emmet Stagg


60 Mr. Stagg asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the call of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland that all homes being placed for sale on the market should be tested for radon gas and, when necessary, remediation should be included in the mortgage approval process; if his attention has been drawn to the results of recent research commissioned by the RPPI which showed that while more than three quarters of the population were aware of deadly radon gas and its dangers, the public was far too slow to take action to address the issue; the steps he intends to take to encourage people to take remedial action, in view of the fact that radon gas is believed to cause up to 200 deaths each year; if he intends to provide for a scheme to assist those living in pre-1997 houses to take remedial action to provide adequate protection for their homes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11279/05]

I am aware the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland has made a submission to the Law Reform Commission advocating the inclusion of radon measurement in future legislation on house conveyancing. I am also aware of the institute's recently published findings to which the question refers. The RPII has also written to all the major banks, building societies and insurance companies on this matter. I will be interested in the outcome of these approaches when the groups in question have considered this issue.

It should be noted that mandatory radon certification for the sale of houses has not been policy to date and it is my understanding that it is not policy or practice in other jurisdictions. The Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland recently issued a questionnaire on the issue and, while it did not receive comprehensive replies from all recipients, the response to date has been negative.

Carrying out necessary radon remediation works in respect of private houses would normally be a matter for the householder but it would be open to solicitors representing purchasers to make queries relating to the radon status of houses under purchase on behalf of their clients.

Over the years successive Government's, through the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland, have committed significant resources to assessing the extent of the radon problem throughout the country and increasing public awareness of the issue. From 1992 to 1999, the institute carried out a national survey of radon in domestic dwellings aimed at assessing the extent of the radon problem in homes. The survey involved measurement of radon for a 12 month period in a random selection of homes in each 10 km x 10 km grid square of the country.

In February 2002 my Department published a booklet entitled, Radon in Existing Buildings — Corrective Options, advising designers, builders and home owners on remediation options for reducing radon in existing houses. As Deputy Stagg will be aware, upgraded building regulations introduced in June 1997 require all new houses which commenced construction on or after 1 July 1998 to incorporate radon protection measures. My Department has recently published an updated edition of Technical Guidance Document C, TGD-D, on Part C of the building regulations that deal with site issues, incorporating enhanced radon prevention measures for new buildings commencing on or after 1 April 2005.

In recent months the institute has taken several initiatives to further heighten awareness of the radon issue. In November last year it hosted the third national radon forum in Dublin to raise awareness of radon as a health risk. Also in 2004 the organisation published a revised version of its booklet, Radon in Homes.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

It recently distributed an information poster on radon for display in doctors' surgeries, advising people to have their homes checked for radon. In February this year research on awareness of the institute was published which addressed a number of issues related to the organisation, including radon awareness. I understand this is the research to which the Deputy referred in this question.

The institute has also commenced a radon awareness campaign that will involve a series of nationwide public information seminars on the dangers of radon and will be targeted at selected high radon areas. The institute and my Department will continue to use all appropriate opportunities to raise public awareness of radon and encourage householders with radon concentrations above the reference level to undertake remediation works. I am satisfied the information is readily and regularly made available to the public. Ultimately, it is a matter for individual householders to assess the question of measurement and, where appropriate, remediation.

I thank the Minister for his predictable reply. Is he aware that radon is a naturally occurring gas with no colour, smell or taste? According to the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland report, this gas, about which the Minister has issued booklets, causes 200 preventable deaths per annum. Is the Minister aware that, according to the RPII, 250,000 people and 100,000 homes are exposed to this risk? Is he not concerned that one of the hotspots identified by the institute is his constituency of County Wicklow? Surely he is aware that deaths are preventable in this case. The cost of treating one cancer patient with lung cancer up to the time of death is estimated to be €1 million, while the cost of preventing deaths caused by radon gas is €15,000. Will the Minister consider re-introducing the grant scheme I introduced in the mid-1990s to encourage and assist people to exclude this deadly poison from their homes?

As the Deputy is aware, the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland and my Department have been active in promoting awareness of this issue. The Deputy is correct that the take-up of access to a cheap form of assessment has been disappointingly poor, as the RPII has noted. We will continue to press the issue of awareness of radon and encourage householders with radon concentrations to take remediation works. I am satisfied the information readily available to the public should encourage greater awareness of and concentration on the issue.

The Deputy referred to a scheme he announced in the mid-1990s. If he checks the record, he will find that no funding was allocated for it.

I agree with the Deputy that this is a serious issue. It is an issue that homeowners must take seriously. I wonder how many Members of the House, for example, have had radon testing carried out. I know that the RPII sent kits to many Members recently. I was at the institute recently, and it made the point that it is very cheap to have one's home tested and that it would be very prudent for people to do so. I will continue to encourage that to happen.

I wish to put the record straight. The sum of £1 million, or €1.27 million, was made available for the scheme but when Fianna Fáil returned to office it abolished it. It is true that none of the money was spent. Will the Minister reconsider that the cost to the State of treating lung cancer patients is enormous? One can prevent patients from contracting lung cancer for a very small amount of money. Even if the issue is only about money and not about people, their suffering and the human disaster whereby 200 people die per year, the Minister would save the State a massive amount of money and release one third of all the cancer places in hospitals by introducing this measure and preventing these deaths.

I appreciate the Minister's Department is not a health department. The matter is being dealt with by the wrong Department and I wrote to the Minister's predecessor as well as the former Minister for Health and Children about it. Responsibility for the issue should be transferred. What is the Minister's opinion on the matter? Perhaps he will take it further as responsibility for this matter should be transferred from his Department to the Department of Health and Children. It is a major health issue whereby 200 preventable deaths occur each year.

That is an interesting suggestion. Like so many complex issues, it touches several Departments. I do not agree with the Deputy on the latter point, although it was well made. It is more appropriately dealt with by the Department that, for example, sets building regulations and deals with that issue. One should remember that because of the good work done by previous Ministers, from 1998, all houses have been obliged to have the appropriate membranes installed and the appropriate steps taken. However, I give Deputy Stagg credit for making the point. I encourage homeowners to be more aware of this risk and to follow it up. I am aware that people do not wish to hear bad things about their homes. In reality it is very cheap, no more than a small number of euro, to have the test done and it would be better for people to take responsibility for the issue themselves.