Other Questions.

Electronic Voting.

Dan Neville


42 Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his views on electronic voting; the cost of storing electronic voting equipment for 2007 and to date in 2008; whether this is an acceptable cost in view of the economic downturn; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27712/08]

As I recently informed the House, I am at present considering the next steps to be taken in relation to the electronic voting project. In this, I am taking into account the work of the Commission on Electronic Voting, which has examined the system, relevant experiences and developments internationally, the need to maintain public confidence in the electoral process, as well as the provisions in the programme for Government relating to electoral reform generally.

I am not in a position, therefore, to be definitive regarding the timing of future use of the system. I am conscious of the extensive work inherent in the recommendations of the Commission on Electronic Voting, including the replacement of the election management software, as well as adaptations to the equipment and further end-to-end testing. At the very least, it will be problematic to envisage use of the current e-voting scheme at the local and European elections in 2009.

Information provided by returning officers to my Department indicates that the total annual storage costs incurred by them in respect of electronic voting machines and ancillary equipment in 2007 is €489,000. In 2006, these costs amounted to €706,000. Based on recent provisional information from returning officers, a total of €139,000 has been expended to date in 2008 in respect of the storage of the electronic voting equipment. Full annual cost data is gathered by my Department at the end of each year and a more definitive figure will be available in due course.

In 2007, over 60% of the electronic voting machines — 4,762 in total — were moved to a central storage facility located at Gormanston army camp. Costs incurred to date in respect of the movement and storage of this equipment are approximately €328,000. These are largely one-off costs related to the preparation of the facility, transportation of the machines and the acquisition of storage containers. The available capacity at this location has now been fully utilised and my Department is examining other options for greater centralised storage of the remaining machines. Further costs will be incurred in the completion of these centralised storage arrangements, including buy-out costs of local leases.

With approximately €51.32 million having been spent on the development of the electronic voting project, it is reasonable to make adequate and appropriate provision for the storage of the machines. The Government decision to proceed with the movement of the electronic voting equipment to centralised premises, therefore, was the right approach, taking into account a range of factors, including costs of the current and centralised arrangements and the likely benefits to be realised.

In a previous reply, the Minister stated that he would not be afraid to make a tough decision, if necessary, on the e-voting machines. Obviously he did not get around to making any tough decision in the past few days, despite the announcement of €43 million worth of cuts in his Department. He has an opportunity now to make some savings by terminating the storage arrangements and selling or recycling the e-voting machines, although it now seems clear that will not happen.

Does the Minister accept that €51.3 million in the roll-out of electronic voting and €2.8 million, to date, on storage costs is an obscene amount of money to have spent on a project that is dead? At a time when €48.3 million must be saved in his Department, I urge him to re-examine those cuts and to deal with the issue of terminating the storage contracts and selling, at whatever salvage value can be obtained, the e-voting machines.

It is very interesting to hear the Deputy speak on this issue because I get the impression that if a decision is made in line with the Fine Gael manifesto, which is to scrap electronic voting, that——

I am glad to hear the Minister has read our manifesto. I have read the Green Party's manifesto which has changed considerably.

Fine Gael would welcome that decision with open arms.

The Green Party tore up its manifesto last June.

We will put down a marker here today.

The Minister should answer the question.

The marker is that Fine Gael is encouraging me to do this. I take it that if a decision is made along those lines, Fine Gael would be more than happy to welcome it. To return to the point made by Deputy Hogan, I have a funny feeling that Fine Gael would crow about waste.

This is an issue with which I must deal. I am looking at the best international practice. The problem, as the Deputy knows, is that countries like Germany use these machines and are happy with them. France is currently conducting a study on this to see if these machines can be tampered with in any particular way. I must give consideration to all of these matters.

I will talk to those dealing with the setting up of the electoral commission.

I am anxious to bring in other Deputies.

Hopefully, I am progressing that at a rate with which Deputy Hogan will be happy. The commission will have its report by the end of August. I would also like it to look at this issue and see what recommendations it can come up with.

Members of this House and the public have no faith in these electronic voting machines. The Minister needs to get that report and see what can be salvaged from this situation. Certainly, a considerable amount of money has been wasted in the storage of these voting machines. Does the Minister see these machines being used in the local or European elections next year? When will they be used? Otherwise, what is the point in having them in the first instance?

In my original reply, I said that it would be quite problematic for these machines to be used at this stage in the local and European elections.

Deputy Hogan may ask a brief supplementary.

I know the Leas-Cheann Comhairle is being very patient.

Lots of latitude.

I know the Minister had a difficulty with e-voting machines when there was no verifiable paper trail before the election but, like everything in his party's manifesto, it has been torn up. Does he accept that those machines are effectively obsolete? Does he also accept that this is a more meaningful way of making savings in his Department rather than the proposal he came up with this week?

The Deputy knows only too well that the commission on electronic voting carried out an analysis. He also knows that in respect of the voter verified audit trail, VVAT, issue, it was not part of the terms of reference. However, the submissions made reference to VVAT and the need for it. It looked at that issue in some detail.

We know that retrofitting will cost about €22 million, which is probably a conservative estimate. That is the figure it came up with. If the Deputy is suggesting that we spend——

The Minister should justify that.

The question is whether it is the Deputy who is justifying that.

The Minister is the one who mentioned the figures.

Those are the questions with which I must grapple.

The Minister should justify it but he cannot. It is more hot air like the incinerator.

Services for People with Disabilities.

Terence Flanagan


43 Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the obligation there is on local authorities to ensure easy access to public buildings for the elderly and people with disabilities; if they are obliged to conduct audits of buildings under their control and carry out works where necessary; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20941/08]

My Department's sectoral plan, as provided for in section 36 of the Disability Act 2005, was developed in consultation with people with disabilities to assist the Department and local authorities in supporting an inclusive society with accessible buildings, facilities, services and information. There are statutory provisions, codes of practice and guidelines available to assist local authorities in providing the measures required in the sectoral plan.

Following the completion of accessibility audits, local authorities are required to draw up implementation plans setting out programmes to give effect to the commitments and objectives contained in the Disability Act 2005 and the Department's related sectoral plan. Each implementation plan, when adopted, will be published and placed on the authority's website with targets and timeframes for carrying out the required works. Priority will be given to local authority buildings and other facilities to which people with disabilities most frequently require access, including footpaths, public amenity areas, information and other services. To date, 22 implementation plans have been received by my Department. A further six local authorities have completed accessibility audits with significant progress being made towards finalising their implementation plans.

My Department provides €15 million annually to local authorities to assist them in carrying out actions under the national disability strategy. The Department is monitoring progress on the implementation of the plans and seeks reports, as appropriate, as required by the sectoral plan.

I thank the Minister for his response. How often will audits of public buildings take place and what targets has the Minister put in place for local authorities to make public buildings more accessible?

We have taken a number of measures in the Department. We have established the local government disability steering committee and the Disability Act sectoral plan advisory committee, introduced the Building Control Act 2007 to provide for disability access certificates, initiated a review of Part M of the building regulations, introduced the revised housing adaptation grants scheme for older persons and people with a disability in November 2007 and implemented a new protocol governing liaison between housing authorities and the HSE on the assessment of the accommodation needs of people with a disability. A second protocol which deals with support costs for social housing projects for people with a disability is expected to be finalised by the third quarter of 2008. New development management guidelines for planning authorities were issued in 2008.

Building regulations and other statutory instruments were introduced. The local government Disability Act steering committee and the publications of the National Disability Authority, including statutory codes of practice made under the Disability Act 2005, provide guidance and advice to assist local authorities in providing services to people with a disability. Local authorities have competent professional, technical and administrative staff to ensure that services are provided for what I call best practice standards.

Local authorities are still allowing buildings to be constructed that do not have proper access for the disabled. An example relates to affordable housing. I dealt with a constituent who was offered affordable housing by a particular council but when she went to examine it, she found that she could not move her wheelchair around the building. Apparently, the apartments were built in keeping with Part M of the building regulations.

We need a two-pronged approach. The most cost-effective way is to ensure that any new public or private building that has been given permission has proper access.

I agree with the Deputy. I have the implementation plans here and can give that detail to Deputies Tuffy and Terence Flanagan. The list is too long to read out now but I can give the Deputies all that information. It goes through all the county councils, the implementation plans received and comments about where they are in respect of those plans.

Social and Affordable Housing.

Michael Creed


44 Deputy Michael Creed asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the impact that the downturn in the construction industry will have on the provision of social and affordable housing; the number of units he expects under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 for the next six months; if he is examining alternative methods of delivering social and affordable housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27673/08]

Delivery of homes under Part V of the Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2006 is, necessarily, subject to a number of variables. These include the volume of housing development for which planning permission is granted, the finalisation of individual agreements between local authorities and developers, the timing of commencement and phasing of individual developments and the general level of activity within the sector itself.

Local authorities have been advised from the outset of Part V to conclude agreements with developers at the earliest possible stage to ensure that housing to be provided under agreements is delivered in a timely manner. Accordingly, most of the homes that are delivered this year under Part V will be as a result of agreements reached with developers up to 12 months ago, or longer in some cases, and should therefore not be impacted by the recent reduction in residential development activity generally.

While it is difficult to predict precisely the likely future output from Part V in any given period, particularly because of timing factors, I expect that Part V delivery this year will exceed the 3,246 homes delivered through this mechanism in 2007. It will, therefore, continue to play a significant part in achieving progress towards the ambitious targets for social housing and for the delivery of affordable homes set in the national social partnership agreement, Towards 2016. I expect that it will be later in 2009 before the recent reductions in overall housing output begin to impact on Part V delivery. In terms of planning for future delivery, consideration is being given to the enhancement of the existing affordable housing mechanisms by introducing a new affordable housing product based on an equity loan arrangement.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House.

An incremental purchase scheme, targeted at households with an income lower than that required for affordable housing, is also being advanced.

In terms of the broader social housing programme, a wide range of supply options are available to local authorities. Apart from Part V, these include design-build contracts, acquisitions, public private partnerships, turnkey projects and lease options under the rental accommodation scheme, as well as the traditional construction contracts tendered by authorities. The potential for new and innovative approaches to delivery and funding of housing programmes is kept under review by my Department on an ongoing basis.

There is a major problem with supply in the affordable housing area. I refer to the PPPs and the breakdown in the five McNamara PPPs with Dublin City Council. It is the young and the most vulnerable who are waiting. Some 8,000 people are on the Dublin City Council waiting list, 3,056 people on the affordable housing list in——

A question, please.

——South Dublin County Council, 4,500 on the affordable housing list in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and 750 people on the affordable housing list in Fingal County Council. We want to see new thinking in this area.

The Minister stated recently that if councils are not using the money hoarded to build houses under Part V, he will confiscate it. The Minister might advise us how much money has been taken from local authorities that have not produced the goods or delivered on Part V. What other measures is he taking to ensure Dublin City Council reopens its affordable housing list?

Deputy Flanagan referred to PPPs and the regeneration projects, which are the subject of a Private Members' motion last night and tonight. I made a statement on this situation last night. We are in consultation with Dublin City Council and I hope to meet it in the coming week to discuss this issue. I have met one of the groups involved and will meet with the other two this week.

Regarding Part V, we have not received the housing assessment needs from the Dublin county councils yet. We have received responses from 51 of 88 local authorities but none of the Dublin local authorities has responded. All were to be in by 31 May but we have not received them. We sent a further request for them to be delivered as soon as possible. We will then be in a better position to know the overall situation.

The question refers to other options that I did not address in my reply. I am bringing forward initiatives in the equity loan and incremental schemes. There are major opportunities for people under these schemes, which will hopefully be included in the housing Bill we will bring forward.

In the context of this question and providing social and affordable housing, there is great apprehension about funding for the Limerick regeneration project. I would like the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, to state that the Government is committed to providing funding, the amount of funding in 2009 and that people in Limerick can be assured that funding can be provided. The regeneration project is important to Limerick and the people living in the areas concerned.

This was the subject of a question I answered in the House some weeks ago. Off the top of my head, some €20 million was allocated to this project in 2008.

It is €10 million. A sum of €10 million is in the budget.

I am not sure of the figure but I will provide a definite figure to the Deputy. The budgetary situation in 2009 has not been decided yet and it is a matter for discussion about all projects and housing developments for 2009.

Do I gather from that response that the Minister of State is committed to providing the funding and will specify the amount of funding? The Government announced this project amid fanfare. Is the Minister of State committed to providing the funding?

The Government is committed to the Limerick regeneration project. It would be inappropriate for me to give any figure for 2009, which I do not have at this stage.

Is the Minister of State committed to providing the funding?

I stated that the Government is committed to the Limerick regeneration project.

What about funding?

Obviously, if the Government is committed to the project, it must be funded.

Will it be Government funding?

That is beyond the scope of the question.

Ciaran Lynch


45 Deputy Ciarán Lynch asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the number of applicants for social housing, by local authority, and in total in tabular form; the steps being taken by him to ensure that the number of people on social housing waiting lists is reduced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27578/08]

A statutory assessment of housing need is carried out every three years by all housing authorities. The last assessment took place in 2005 and indicated that there were 43,684 households on local authority housing waiting lists. Detailed information on this assessment is available on my Department's website. Local authorities are currently carrying out the 2008 statutory housing needs assessment, the results of which will be published in due course.

Information on housing need, broken down by housing authority, has been a major consideration in the allocation of Exchequer resources for the national social housing investment programme. This year alone, my Department has allocated a record amount of over €1 billion to support construction and acquisitions projects by local authority across the country, with a further €200 million for regeneration and renewal projects. In addition, close to €300 million in capital grants and loan funding is being provided to support a significant programme of activity by the voluntary and co-operative housing sector.

The Government's housing policy statement, Delivering Homes, Sustaining Communities, and the National Development Plan 2007-2013 reflect the strong commitment to expand social housing provision contained in the social partnership agreement Towards 2016. Under the agreement, 27,000 social housing starts are to be delivered over the period 2007-09. Good progress is being made in meeting this target with some 9,000 new social housing starts achieved in 2007. The resources being made available for social housing under the National Development Plan 2007-2013 will allow for the needs of some 60,000 households to be met over the full period of the plan.

Why is the assessment of housing need so old? Surely this should be updated at least yearly. I am sure there are more than the 43,600 to which the Minister of State refers. The reply referred to 9,000 housing starts in 2007. From my experience as a councillor, I know this to be a meaningless statistic because it has no relationship to the houses built and allocated to people on the housing list each year. The record of the Government on housing over the past 11 years has been abysmal. The National Economic and Social Forum had a target of some 10,000 each year to get rid of waiting lists. That has never happened.

I dealt with someone last year who had been on the housing list for eight years. She lived in the most dire conditions imaginable and was suicidal. I do not want to give details but it was a situation that one would not believe. This is the kind of story that representatives come up against. People are on housing lists for years and we are throwing money away on the private rental supplement. The Government policy has been to rely on the private market to solve problems. In years gone by there was more emphasis on building social housing, which is the key.

A question, please.

Will the Government do anything to fast-track the building and delivery of social housing? Now is the chance, when there are problems in the construction industry, to put construction workers building social housing in order to provide people with homes and the security that goes with it.

The first question concerned housing assessments. The last was in 2005 and we await the return of the others. Some 65 out of 88 have been returned. That is the system at present but I take the point that it could be annual. It is a three year assessment at the moment.

The Deputy referred to my reply citing building starts. The target was 9,000 and the number of starts was 9,061. Social housing completions for 2007 are 9,469 so we are well ahead of target. My Department had a major input into the programme in 2007.

What measures will the Minister of State take to ensure local authorities ensure all boarded up houses and any houses in disrepair are turned around as fast as possible? There are houses in my constituency which are not handed out to those on social housing lists as soon as possible. The Minister of State stated that 43,000 people are on social housing lists. How many years does he expect it will take for these people to be housed? Will the Minister of State review the remit of the affordable housing partnership and ensure it will achieve better value for money?

We have approximately 5% social housing and not too long ago, perhaps 30 years ago, we had approximately 30%. Last year, we had approximately 9,000 houses but we needed 10,000 year on year for the previous five years. We need front-loaded social housing construction. Will the Minister of State ensure construction workers build these houses now so people can get roofs over their heads? It would stop the waste of money on private rented supplements and over time those people can buy their houses.

Our target is 27,000 new homes up to 2016 and we are well on target for this, with more than 9,000 this year. With regard to the question from Deputy Flanagan, this matter was debated by the Seanad yesterday and information was relayed to us that there may be empty houses. Some local authorities tell us they are in a position to turn around the houses inside of four weeks. We will seek an audit on how many empty houses exist.

The Minister of State can start in Roscommon.

Local Government Elections.

Willie Penrose


46 Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the plans he has to introduce spending limits for candidates in the 2009 local government elections; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27585/08]

In accordance with the programme for Government, I recently published the Green Paper on local government reform, Stronger Local Democracy — Options for Change. The Green Paper outlines a range of issues for consideration, including the establishment of expenditure limits at local elections.

The submissions made in the course of the preparation of the Green Paper were generally supportive of some expenditure limit. The Green Paper outlines two main options with regard to such limits for local elections, to introduce a fixed expenditure ceiling or to link limits to a proportion of Dáil expenditure. It states that care needs to be taken to ensure against overly bureaucratic rules and suggests that it may be useful to engage on the issue on a cross-party basis. In this regard, I have written to the Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government with a view to engaging with the committee and to explore the scope for an all-party approach to this issue.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle was the Minister who introduced section 72 of the Electoral Act 1997 which would allow the Minister to make regulations limiting election expenditure in local elections. I would like a straightforward commitment from the Minister that he will introduce limits on spending in next year's local elections. The Green Party and the Labour Party have a lot in common. Neither party receives pots of money from business. No matter what one may state about this, both parties know we are similar in this regard and the Minister could address the uneven playing pitch.

The Minister, who is a member of the Green Party, is introducing bits and pieces which I welcome and we have a lot in common. This type of measure would make a real difference. A date can be fixed for local elections in a way which it cannot for general elections. It is absurd that we have spending limits in general elections and not in local elections. Somebody could spend €100,000 on a local election campaign and while this is rare, it happens. A fraction of this is spent on general election campaigns.

If it is so absurd why did the Labour Party not introduce it when it had the opportunity?

We introduced the legislation and we brought in the limits for general elections.

However, it was not done for local elections. I recognise that it was a progressive move on the part of the Leas-Cheann Comhairle when he was Minister to introduce such measures and the same Government introduced other measures, such as the Freedom of Information Act. I have always been on the record with regard to these matters.

Last week, Deputy Tuffy's colleague, Deputy Ciarán Lynch, recommended an approach to electronic voting which I referred to a committee where it could be discussed and an article on this was published inThe Irish Times. I have done the same with this matter. I want to get all-party consensus on this issue and this should be possible. It is recognised that we have an anomaly whereby limits are in place for general elections but no such limits exist for local elections.

The Minister will have our full co-operation in case he thinks I am down on him all day.

I thank the Deputy and I appreciate it very much.

We had examples in the past where there were expenditure figures for local election candidates of approximately €100,000, which is ridiculous.

We know one or two of them

This is not tolerable. It is like the United States, with the best democracy money can buy. We must get away from this.

Consensus is good and I have no problem with it. Has Fianna Fáil stated the Minister can do this in time for next year's local elections?

Will it allow the Minister to do so?

When I say "all-party consensus" I include my Fianna Fáil colleagues——

Has it agreed yet?

——with Fine Gael, the Progressive Democrats——

There are no Progressive Democrats.

——the Labour Party, Sinn Féin and Independents. Everyone can come and bring a little bit to the party. I am sure we can make progress on this.

Special Areas of Conservation.

Denis Naughten


47 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government when he will implement the commitment to review the derogation on turf cutting on designated bogs with the view to extending the right beyond 2008; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27138/08]

Denis Naughten


66 Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government his plans to review proposed restrictions on turf cutting on designated bogs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27139/08]

Jack Wall


70 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the plans he has to introduce grants to compensate people affected by the end of the ten-year derogation on the cutting of peat in bogs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24953/08]

Jack Wall


88 Deputy Jack Wall asked the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government the plans he has to deal with the end of the ten-year derogation of cutting peat in bogs in view of the importance of this way of life to rural Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24951/08]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 47, 66, 70 and 88 together.

There is a certain amount of confusion regarding the impact that restrictions on turf-cutting are having or will have. Turf cutting is restricted on a very small number of Ireland's bogs. Of the 1,500 to 1,600 raised bogs in Ireland, only 139 are designated as special areas of conservation, SACs, or natural heritage areas, NHAs, and only 32 of these are subject to the ten-year derogation that comes to an end this year. While a similar ten-year derogation period will apply to the balance of the 139 designated bogs, turf cutting may continue as before on the vast majority of bogs.

Raised bogs are found mainly in the Irish midlands, from Kildare to east Galway and from south Leitrim to Tipperary. Less than 1% of Ireland's original active raised bog remains. However, this tiny proportion represents 60% of western Europe's remaining raised bogs.

Under the EU habitats directive, Ireland is obliged to designate certain priority habitat sites as areas for conservation, including some raised and blanket bogs. The habitats directive was transposed into Irish law by the EC Natural Habitats Regulations 1997. Under these regulations, all peat extraction was proposed to be ended on designated bogs. However, a derogation period of up to ten years was introduced by the then responsible Minister in respect of domestic turf cutting.

An agreement reached between the Government and the farming representative organisations in 2004 provided that the Department would review whether there are particular circumstances in which domestic turf cutting could continue beyond the derogation period without damaging the bogs.

Recent scientific reports on bog monitoring and turf cutting found that continuing damage at a rate of approximately 2% to 4% per annum was occurring because of domestic turf cutting. In the light of this scientific evidence, it would not be appropriate to extend the ten-year derogation and turf cutting on the 32 raised bogs designated prior to 1999 should therefore cease at the end of the current season as scheduled. The situation with regard to extraction of peat from blanket bogs is different, primarily because this habitat can accommodate a certain amount of turf cutting without significant damage and is in a better position to renew itself without active intervention.

My Department operates a compensation scheme for persons to stop turf cutting in designated raised bogs. This covers both special areas of conservation and natural heritage areas. It provides payments of €3,500 for the first acre and €3,000 for each subsequent acre of freehold, as well as an incentive bonus of up to €6,000. This has enabled the State to acquire either the freehold or the turf cutting rights on 6,500 acres of designated peat land. Arbitration is available in cases where the turbary owner believes that compensation should be higher. I am providing the Deputies with a schedule of all designated raised and blanket bogs identifying, in particular, those designated in or prior to 1999.

I thank the Minister for his response. Initially, a ten-year grace period was provided to allow those who own bogs to secure an alternative fuel source but they have not been given assistance by the State to facilitate them in sourcing alternative fuels. In 1997 the cost of oil was $24 a barrel whereas now it is $140 a barrel. In light of that, will the Minister explain what assistance his Department has provided to facilitate turf cutters to secure alternative fuel sources?

Why can he not furnish information about the scientific evidence to Members? He gave a commitment to provide it to me on 1 July but I am still waiting on it and his Department cannot furnish it to me. Was the scientific study carried out on all 32 designated bogs due to cease turf cutting at the end of this year? If turf cutters are permitted to cut turf by hand or with a sleán, what is the scientific difference between doing that and using the hopper? The Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, will be well able to explain the implications of this, having footed plenty of turf in his time.

There is a misapprehension about this. The hopper is permitted but the sausage machine is causing the difficulty.

There are no sausage machines.

They are obsolete.

The Minister is completely out of touch.

I am not out of touch. I am outlining the current position. We are not dealing with hoppers.

What about sausage machines?

Allow the Minister to continue, without interruption.

The Deputy wants answers and clarity and I am providing that. I take the Deputy's point.

We are going back to the wheelbarrow.

Will the Minister reiterate this only affects sausage machines?

That is what we are dealing with, not hoppers. Last night, the Deputy's colleague correctly stated people voted "No" in the recent referendum because they were resentful about their right to cut turf being affected and a campaign of misinformation was pursued on this matter.

Why did the Minister not correct this?

We need to clarify this. All of us have a duty as elected representatives to tell people the truth regarding this matter. People say they cannot use the traditional hopper for turf cutting, which is not the case.

Deputy Naughten asked what my Department has done. Only last week we provided exemptions for microrenewables in order that people in the affected areas can erect wind turbines and install solar panels and so on without planning permission. We are making it easier for people to heat their water and so on through CHP plants, which Deputy Hogan welcomed. I will give Deputy Naughten the scientific advice if he wants it.

The Minister ignored my statement last night that the EU habitats directive declares its central aim is, "to promote the maintenance of biodiversity, taking account of the economic, social, cultural and regional requirements". The interpretation over the years has been based solely on scientific evidence. Can he reconcile that with the directive?

Will the Minister deliver on one commitment? Will he reiterate to his officials policing this issue on the ground that this concerns sausage machines and not hoppers?

I can do that but my officials are well aware of that, particularly those on the ground. They try to engage the public and I have spoken to rangers. I met the ranger in Galway recently who informed me about the campaign of misinformation on this matter.

Deputy Naughten contacted my Department regarding the scientific information. My officials indicated they are compiling it and they will have it for him as quickly as possible. I will ensure that happens.

Deputy Ulick Burke raised the compatibility of preserving SACs and economic activity. We have had a ten-year derogation which it was hoped would give people the opportunity to put alternative arrangements in place.

The Minister referred to alternative sources of fuel last night. What does he mean?

This issue of restricting turf cutting must be put in perspective, as it involves 32 bogs this year. I recently listened to "Sunday Miscellany" and a romantic story about the end of the turf cutter.

Romantic Ireland is dead and gone.

Turf cutting can continue on our blanket bogs and that message needs to be disseminated.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.