Other Questions

For the benefit of Deputies six minutes are allowed for each question, two minutes for the Minister's reply and four minutes for supplementary questions with a limit of one minute per supplementary question and one minute for the Minister's reply to a supplementary question.

Proposed Legislation

Michael Colreavy

Question:

42Deputy Michael Colreavy asked the Minister for the Environment; Community and Local Government the progress that has been made on the road map to develop a Climate Change Bill; and the contact he has had with his counterparts in the Northern Assembly. [39073/12]

Catherine Murphy

Question:

44Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment; Community and Local Government if he will give a commitment on the introduction of climate change legislation before the end of December 2012; if he will outline the intended role he envisages for the sub Committee on the Environment, Community and Local Government in helping to draft the heads of the proposed legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39039/12]

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

The programme for the development of a national climate policy and legislation, which I announced last January, is progressing on schedule.

In terms of key milestones, the public consultation has been completed. It attracted a very strong response, with in excess of 600 submissions being received. Details of the consultation response are available on the Department's website, together with summary information on the overall outcome.

On the policy analysis element of the programme, the secretariat to the National Economic and Social Council has submitted its interim report to me. As indicated in the programme, I will release the report shortly and will then invite views from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht.

Looking ahead to the next stage of the programme, I will make the heads of a climate Bill available before the end of the year for consideration by both the Oireachtas committee and stakeholders.

As I stated previously, and clearly signalled, in the policy development programme, I foresee a central role for the joint committee in regard to the policy development process. I attach particular importance to input from the committee on the critical issue of coming to a clear national understanding on how to meet our binding EU and wider international emission reduction commitments as well as pursuing national objectives in a low carbon global economy. I look forward to receiving the committee's report on national climate policy development and appropriate legislation in June 2013.

As the climate policy development programme matures, I also look forward to sharing our experience and achievements with my counterparts in Northern Ireland in the context of ongoing bilateral engagement and exchanges on environment policy matters.

The response from the Minister was confusing because earlier this year he said the heads of the Bill would be published this year. The Taoiseach informed me in July that it would be 2013, which was the first time that date was mentioned. Perhaps the Minister will clarify the difference between himself and the Taoiseach on this matter.

As the Minister said, the consultation process is over. At what stage is progress given the fact the Taoiseach gave a different date from him? If the date is different, it deviates from the roadmap and the commitments the Minister gave to the committee and the Dáil. We will hold the EU Presidency from January and the Minister, like myself, is a good European.

I am delighted to hear it.

We do not want to be seen to be the odd man out here. The Minister will be president of the Environment Council and it will be embarrassing if we do not make substantial progress on this matter.

I welcome what the Minister said that he will liaise with Minister Attwood in the Northern Ireland Assembly on this matter. I would encourage him to do that and that, as far as possible, we have a joined up all-Ireland policy on climate change because climate change will not stop at the Border. We need good environmental policy North and South. Perhaps the Minister will clarify the issue of the difference between himself and the Taoiseach on this matter.

As usual, there is no difference between the Taoiseach and myself on this matter. He indicated, as have I, that the heads of the climate change Bill will be available for publication at the end of the year.

He said 2013. It is on the record.

The Deputy probably misunderstood him. The legislation will be enacted in 2013.

No, I heard him.

If the Deputy needs any clarification-----

A Cheann Comhairle-----

Speak through the Chair. Thank you.

If the Deputy needs any clarification, that is the clarification he needs. Last January, I set out what the roadmap would be and it is on schedule.

I took note of it.

Deputy, listen to the reply. We will let you in again if we have time.

All Ireland policy stop with various policies. It is a good one to have on climate change but not so good on household charges. The heads of the Bill are on track for publication through the committee at the end of the year. The legislation will be enacted in 2013. I do not think there is any reason to be embarrassed.

Will there be a linkage between the approach to climate change in the Bill and energy security because there is a distinct linkage between them? It is not about whether it will be enacted next year apart from the embarrassment of holding the EU Presidency and not having the legislation in place.

Does the Minister agree that it is critical we have energy security and that it is linked to climate change? If, for example, we are to encourage people from the private sector to invest in renewable energy, there must be some certainty but we are pushing this further down the road.

Is it intended to link the two? What dialogue is taking place between the Minister and the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources in regard to that linkage? In the absence of a secure energy supply, we are not going to be at the races in terms of guaranteeing growth in our economy. Renewables will play a key part in that growth.

I agree with Deputy Catherine Murphy that it is important that all Departments, and particularly the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, act in a co-ordinated and integrated way with my Department on the issue of climate change. The Cabinet sub-committee on climate change holds regular meetings in which we seek to co-ordinate our response and ensure Departments are exploring and, indeed, implementing policies that will reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and deal with the issue of energy security.

I know the Ceann Comhairle has a personal interest in this matter because he was the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security in the last Dáil, which brought forward draft legislation and a number of meaningful policy documents in this area. We are looking at these in terms of implementing a package of measures to respond to our obligations under the EU.

On 10 July 2013, the Taoiseach stated-----

The legislation has already been promised.

He stated that the heads of the Bill would be published in 2013. On the question of economic development, environmental protection and sustainability, does the Minister accept that we have to send out positive signals? There have been significant developments in the energy sector, particularly in the midlands, but there are concerns about where we are going as a country in terms of the further development of that sector. Does he recognise the importance of this area?

Deputy Stanley will be aware that the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources recently published an energy policy setting out the milestones through which he is seeking to implement a more robust regime for renewables. Targets have been set for energy policy for 2020 and 2050. The Minister is conscious not only of his EU obligations, but also of the importance of reducing our dependence on imports of oil and less reliable fuels in driving our economic recovery and future development. His new energy policy clearly sets out the priority he attaches to the areas to which the Deputy referred.

I expect to put the heads of the climate change Bill before the Oireachtas committee before the end of this year.

One of the measures that has been at the centre of what the Minister describes as the recovery of this country was the proposal in his party's manifesto to invest €7 billion in green infrastructure. The absence of the legislation required to give coherence to this area makes it difficult for people. Much of this money will come from the private sector. We are sending a poor message and it appears that the private sector is making decisions for itself in the absence of a policy framework. We are probably missing significant opportunities for securing investment at an early stage by virtue of the fact that the legislation is being delayed until the middle of next year. Is there any prospect of it being brought forward in a speedier timeframe? Can our committee, for example, play a stronger role in doing that? Even the trimming of several months from the timeframe would be valuable rather than accepting that it will not be ready until the middle of next year.

When I set out a roadmap in January the Deputy opposite did not believe it would happen and now it is going to happen, she wants to bring forward the timeframe for the sake of bringing it forward. We are going to try to get it right on this occasion. My predecessor tried to bring forward climate change legislation but encountered enormous difficulties not only within his own Government, but also with outside stakeholders. We will get one opportunity to do this properly and I am determined to work with the committee to get the balance right with regard to everyone's obligation to deal with this important issue.

The Deputy referred to NewERA in relation to investment in key infrastructural developments. During this term, we will bring forward legislation on water and proposals on broadband and energy. We are considering the sale of non-strategic State assets in order to provide investment in this area of activity. We said there is no reason why, over a five year period, we could not spend €7 billion from those resources and from private sector investment. That is still on track.

Local Government Reform

Willie O'Dea

Question:

43Deputy Willie O’Dea asked the Minister for the Environment; Community and Local Government the status of his local government reform document; the timeframe for its publication; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39000/12]

Brian Stanley

Question:

56Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment; Community and Local Government his plans to reform town councils; and if so, the criteria he will be using and the consultation that will take place with the public and with elected representatives. [39071/12]

Catherine Murphy

Question:

69Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment; Community and Local Government the date on which he intends to publish new proposals for the reform of local government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39040/12]

Brian Stanley

Question:

74Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment; Community and Local Government the stage of his proposals for local government reform; when same will be made public; and the programme of consultation with the public and elected representative that will take place. [39076/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 43, 56, 69 and 74 together.

The Government's broad policy approach in this area was set out in the programme for Government. In line with this, I intend to publish shortly a detailed policy statement and action programme for the reform of local government. The programme will set out a clear vision for the future of local government and proposals to achieve it, with particular focus on strengthening structures generally at regional, county and sub-county levels, expanding the role of local government, maximising operational and organisational efficiency and improving governance, oversight, local political and executive leadership and citizen engagement.

The reform programme will also reflect other work under way in regard to various aspects of local government, including local authority mergers, efficiency implementation, local government funding and alignment of local and community development with local government. The statement will outline implementation arrangements for the reform programme and certain issues which will be the subject of further policy work in the future.

Work on the development of these policy proposals has been informed by the extensive analysis and consultation that has taken place in regard to reform over the years. In recent times, I have received submissions from, and held discussions with, the local government representative associations, with individual local authority members and with interested groups. Some months ago, I also invited each individual councillor in the country to submit views to me on a number of issues relating to local government reform.

Publication of the policy statement will provide a further opportunity for public comment and input ahead of the development of legislation to provide for these reform measures and this legislation will be brought forward in 2013, in time for the local elections in 2014. The content of local government reform legislation will be a matter for Government decision in the first instance and will, of course, be the subject of Oireachtas scrutiny and debate in the normal way. In due course, I will be letting the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht know the exact details of this legislation and of the implementation of our policy statement.

I thank the Minister for his answer. When he brings forward his local government reform package I hope he does not simply seek to grab headlines and score political points by cutting councils and councillors for the sake of it. I am aware of the need for streamlining in this area. We cannot have, for example, up to 115 representatives in one county. I am also aware that local authorities have lost many of their functions over the years. They are no longer responsible for primary roads or waste collection and the Government now proposes to remove their responsibility for water services. Lack of funding has led to the deterioration or curtailment of other services, such as library facilities and fire services.

I hope whatever reform package the Minister introduces will give more power to local authorities. Whether in welfare, education or health, local authorities must be given more leverage to become better functioning authorities, which they can do with a proper reform package.

There has been much debate by the Minister's colleagues in Government about the performance of the Croke Park agreement and how each Department has effected the required savings. What savings has the Minister achieved in his Department, within the parameters of the agreement? Can he keep us constantly updated on such savings and let us know the savings he envisages in the coming years until a new agreement is put in place?

It is only right that Ministers begin to account for the management of their Departments. It is too easy to appeal, in soundbites, to certain sections of their own supporters and say that savings cannot be effected when pay is not on the table.

I am glad Deputy Cowen has decided to acknowledge that the decisions I make regarding my Department are not made for any populist reasons.

That is for sure.

I am doing what I believe is right and it does not matter to the members of the public if the public or private sector delivers services as long as they get a good quality service. The public wants services from local authorities that are delivered effectively and effectively. Over the last three years, 8,000 staff have left the local government system, with numbers falling from 37,000 to 29,000 and those staff are still expected to deliver the same level of services. All of the various allowances and matters under benchmarking, which I opposed at the time, have imposed an enormous cost on the delivery of those services to the consumer. That is why so many local authorities got out of the waste collection system, because it was much more expensive to operate than in the private sector.

This year we will save €195 million by putting in place measures to achieve efficiencies through better procurement, IT and HR centralisation and shared services and over the next year we will see those savings accruing to the local government sector. They will not all be achieved this year but there will be €195 million savings as set out on in detail in the local government efficiency review group.

Estimated savings of €800 million could be made in local government in the next few years. Those savings have been identified by the local government efficiency review group out of the €7 billion we are providing in current and capital expenditure to the local government sector. There are opportunities to deliver better and more effective services without the traditional structures that have built up over the years.

I have listened carefully to the Minister's reply and I am no clearer where this is going. It is in the programme for Government that local government reform will be introduced. On that subject, we are at one with the Minister; reform is needed and it has not happened under previous Governments. Local government must be modernised because the system does not match up properly. Town councils in some areas with a small population have huge powers while other large towns have town commission status. There are all sorts of anomalies in the system that we have discussed before. The Minister told me a number of times he would announce the reform programme before the summer recess but we have not heard anything. I have listened carefully to the Minister over the summer and I heard nothing about this. We need that reform. When will we have the policy statement and when can the House discuss it? When will the Oireachtas committee be able to discuss the services local authorities should provide and their functions, powers, finances and boundaries? Are we talking about county councils or town and district councils?

I acknowledge the savings that have been made and that local authority numbers have fallen from 37,000 to 29,000 and that this new staff complement is doing the same amount of work. That is a testament to those working in local authorities. One area the Minister might examine is directors of services and senior executive officers. There are two grades at the top of departments in small councils. We should examine if there is a need for both. Could a manager not liaise directly with a senior executive officer and do the same job?

I am anxious to see the Minister's proposals and would like to know when we will have the discussion.

The proposals on local government are before Government and I hope we will be in a position to clear them in the next week or two. The efforts being made to achieve this, because it is so important, are significant. Deputy Cowen mentioned the level of savings that could be achieved through doing things better and differently. In the last two and half years in local government, €553 million has been saved by delivering certain services differently, with some being outsourced and some being privatised, and others organised using structures that achieve better outcomes. That thinking informs some of the 106 recommendations made in 2010 by Mr. McLaughlin's group on local government efficiency. The public expects that.

The Deputy is particularly interested in structures on an all-Ireland basis and structures are being significantly reduced in Northern Ireland. The outcome of our discussions on these matters will lead to reductions in the number of authorities and public representatives. Those are not all of the proposals we will make, they are just two of many.

We do not have a local government system in this country in the real sense of the word, we have a local administration. If we are to change that, it will not happen as an event but through a process. Could the Minister outline how he sees that playing out? Will there be legislation next year followed by a process over a period years after that? What will be the final shape of the local government system?

When the last Government issued a Green Paper on local government, it was very frank about the mistrust between local and national government and how that has persisted since the foundation of the State. If we are to have a real system of local government, that must be addressed and there must be a transfer of powers between the administration to those who were elected. Will that form any part of the changes that will be made?

When we talk about reform, the only aspects that are discussed are the efficiencies from the point of view of costs. I acknowledge those are important but they are not the only issues that must be covered. We are missing an opportunity to reform the entire political system by not reforming the local government system in the first instance. I hope this will be an ambitious plan. Will the Minister outline the final shape envisaged for local government and the timeframe involved in shaping it?

The policy statement will be implemented between now and the 2014 local elections, that is the timeframe for the enactment of the legislation and the establishment of the new structures. The Boundary Commission must be established and report in good time to allow people to decide which electoral area they wish to stand in and to allow candidates and parties to get organised. On the last occasion, the Boundary Commission report was published in June 2008 for elections in 2009. I hope to give more time than that during this process for those who wish to consider standing.

I agree with Deputy Murphy in that we have had local administration rather than local government. I am anxious to secure agreement from my colleagues in Government that the process of devolution of powers from central Government and national agencies to local level is at the heart of the policy statement.

In line with those proposals for 2014, can the Minister inform us if there will be a directly elected mayor for Dublin by then?

The Deputy must wait until I get Government approval for the suite of measures on local government reform before I can answer that question.

Does the Minister agree that a more democratic and autonomous local government system would be in our best interests if we are to get citizen participation in local communities? We need a bottom up approach rather than top down, which is what we have had for a long time.

I agree with Deputy Wallace and I was taken with Deputy Cowen's remarks earlier that we are removing functions from local government when we have the most centralised system in the world thanks to his predecessors in Government taking away powers from local authorities and giving them to agencies and quangos. I want to see the reorganisation of local government structures resulting in more decisions being made at local level and community and with local development programmes aligned with local government to a greater extent.

The issue we must grapple with, the funding of such services, must also be addressed. Funding is critical for power at local level and that challenge exists for all local representatives who are genuinely interested in local government and its funding. It must be possible to raise and spend money at local level more openly and freely on the basis of local priorities.

Three other Deputies have indicated and we are running out of time so I ask them to put their questions. The Minister will then reply.

Does the Minister agree there is a certain contradiction between him saying he aspires to more devolution and greater powers at local level while Government policy seems to be removing decision making from local authorities? How will he square that circle against the backdrop of a public sector recruitment embargo? Is it not the case that he is engaged in a slash and burn butchering of the number of councils and dressing it up as reform when it is just a continuation of thestatus quo?

Will the Minister consider empowering councillors with the ability to represent people in respect of medical card applications and social welfare inquiries? Deputies currently do many of these jobs through the Oireachtas inquiry lines and this would free up the time of parliamentarians to deal with legislative issues. If the number of councillors is reduced, will he consider making these positions fully salaried to address the jumping through hoops process that exists whereby councillors drive all over the country attending conferences and so on, which is a waste of everybody's time? Will the Minister consider these proposals as part of the overall reform of local government?

The last Boundary Commission report was published in 2008 and it caused problems for councillors, particularly a few in the Minister's party who were caught out on the wrong side of a boundary. Given the local elections will be held in June 2014, if the commission is to report earlier this time, it would have to do so late this year or early next year to improve on what the previous Government did. I hope the Minister will do that.

With regard to the North, there have been huge local government reforms but huge powers have also been devolved to local government.

My question relates to Deputy Daly's question. Does the Minister not feel it is ridiculously ironic that he is telling the House he will bring forward a reform document that will empower local authorities and give them more functions and legislative powers while, at the same time, he is taking away water facilities and the water protection system? He is taking away the local knowledge that was most evident during our big freeze the winter before last. That local knowledge and expertise is being taken away from local authorities. What can he give them that is not being taken from them? He wanted to blame the previous Government for centralising local authority facilities and services.

I will retain local knowledge and the involvement of the local government system in Irish Water, as I said earlier. I will devolve as many functions as I can with the agreement of my colleagues. The agreement of Cabinet colleagues and agencies is needed on such issues. I intend to ensure devolution as far as possible.

In response to Deputy Daly, I am in favour of greater devolution. If she feels that 114 local authorities for a country of this size and in the current circumstances is too few, I disagree with her.

No, I do not, but the Minister might give them a few powers.

I am anxious to ensure we have sufficient representation, greater democratic input and greater decision making at local level, as I said in reply to Deputy Wallace. I expect to bring forward a Boundary Commission report in March or April next year.

With regard to Deputy Griffin's questions, local councillors make representations. As a former councillor, I made many representations on national issues, especially where offices were located locally. That is what I intend but I subscribe to the Deputy's overall principle that we need to ensure more powers are vested in local councillors in order that Parliament can have more of an opportunity to deal with national issues.

Question No. 44 answered with Question No. 42.

Water Meters

John McGuinness

Question:

45Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for the Environment; Community and Local Government the current time frame for the introduction of water metering; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38988/12]

The programme for Government and the memorandum of understanding with the EU, IMF and ECB provide for the introduction of domestic water charges and the establishment of a new State-owned water utility. The Government considers that charging for water based on usage is the fairest way to charge for water and it has decided that water meters should be installed in households connected to public water supplies. International evidence has shown that where meters have been installed, significant reductions have been achieved in the level of consumption, and this is also borne out by the water savings achieved with metering in the group water sector.

The Government has also decided that Irish Water, a new State-owned water company to be established as an independent subsidiary within the Bord Gáis Éireann group, will be responsible for the metering programme. The Government recently approved the preparation of legislation to assign the necessary powers to allow Irish Water to undertake the metering programme. The objective is to have the Bill enacted by the end of this year. Pending the enactment of the legislation, my Department will work with local authorities to progress aspects of the metering programme, including the carrying out of surveys of domestic connections. It will also progress the tender documentation in parallel for elements of the meter infrastructure.

Local Government Fund

Barry Cowen

Question:

46Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for the Environment; Community and Local Government if he will outline the reduction in the Local Government Fund allocation to each local authority area in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [38983/12]

I assume the question refers to general purpose grants from the local government fund. As indicated in the reply to Questions Nos. 37 and 41 , the two principal sources of revenue for the local government fund are the proceeds of motor tax and the income from the household charge. The Local Government (Household Charge) Act 2011 provides that income from the household charge be paid into the local government fund. The proceeds from the household charge are being redistributed on an equalised basis to local authorities within the context of the annual allocations of general purpose grants.

General purpose grants contribute towards meeting the reasonable cost to local authorities of providing services to their customers. Some €651 million in general purpose grants had been allocated to local authorities for 2012. I have decided to withhold general purpose grant funding to local authorities in the third quarter of this year in light of the level of compliance, so far, with the household charge. It is estimated that €160 million will be collected each year as part of the local government budget, and this was part of the budget at the beginning of the year for each local authority. As of 14 September, €103 million had been collected nationally. A total of €15.69 million was withheld from the third quarter general purpose grant payment, which represents a reduction of between 1% and 3% of the total general purpose grant allocation for 2012.

I am keeping the income generated from the household charge under constant review. It is up to individual local authorities to address potential funding shortfalls arising from non-compliance with the legislation and to pursue those who may have a liability and initiate court proceedings, where it is considered appropriate. Local authorities can progressively recoup their original general purpose grant allocation through improved household charge compliance. The final amount of general purpose grants available for 2012 will be revisited and reviewed in the final quarter of the year to take account of the then financial position, including progress on securing an increased household charge yield. I am confident that the level of general purpose grants, together with other Government grants and subsidies and income raised from local sources, is appropriate to meet the costs of providing a reasonable level of local authority services to communities.

The tabular statement sets out the information requested in respect of individual county and city councils.

Local Authority

Withheld from Quarter 3 General Purpose Grant Payment

Carlow County Council

246,235

Cavan County Council

419,804

Clare County Council

243,631

Cork County Council

979,559

Donegal County Council

1,016,872

Fingal County Council

545,285

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council

343,583

Galway County Council

779,835

Kerry County Council

417,043

Kildare County Council

564,622

Kilkenny County Council

412,407

Laois County Council

409,600

Leitrim County Council

291,318

Limerick County Council

453,821

Longford County Council

330,750

Louth County Council

278,293

Mayo County Council

641,589

Meath County Council

644,835

Monaghan County Council

340,589

Tipperary North Riding County Council

376,593

Offaly County Council

386,784

Roscommon County Council

436,249

Sligo County Council

325,113

South Dublin County Council

475,210

Tipperary South Riding County Council

462,782

Waterford County Council

507,283

Westmeath County Council

414,356

Wexford County Council

481,697

Wicklow County Council

369,163

Cork City Council

446,103

Dublin City Council

1,172,960

Galway City Council

123,887

Limerick City Council

203,098

Waterford City Council

154,343

I cannot understand how the Minister can be so confident that local authorities will meet the demands of their constituents in providing services next year, given the difficulties they face towards the end of this year, by virtue of him penalising them for something they had nothing do with. With regard to the household charge and its child, the property tax, how long has the Minister had the Thornhill report on his desk? Has he brought it to Government? Has it been discussed at Cabinet? When does he expect to make a recommendation?

The property tax report, or the Thornhill report as it is known, has been with me since June and I will bring it to Government in the context of the budgetary matters that will be under discussion over the next few weeks.

There must be many pages in it.

It is a budgetary matter.

It must be an excessively big document when one thinks the Minister has had it since June and has not brought it to Cabinet yet.

I have read it.

The whole country can talk about options that might or might not be in the report while the Minister decides what he wants to take from it. This fanfare must come to an end. The Minister has to bring about a proper budgetary and management system. The whole thing is in complete disarray.

It goes back to-----

It goes back to the troika and all the rest of it. We are hearing that for the past few years.

The budget is in December.

Deputy Cowen will be aware that as part of the negotiated agreement, with which he is well familiar----

That the Government did not renegotiate the agreement, having promised it would.

-----a property tax was in the text. The EU-IMF require us to implement such a tax. The interim tax was the household charge, which will help to develop the database to ensure people get a bill in 2013 and beyond. The Minister for Finance will bring forward the property tax and it will be part of the Budget Statement.

Does the Minister think it is completely unacceptable that Clare County Council is blackmailing applicants for higher education grants in the context of the household charge-----

Deputy, we have dealt with that. This has nothing to do with the question.

-----and threatening the future of young people and their career and education prospects?

Thank you, Deputy. There is a Deputy sitting here who has been waiting for the past three quarters of an hour for his question. I thought the Deputy had a question when I gave him the floor. I call Deputy Higgins.

The Minister is not from County Clare, thank God.

I ask the Minister to acknowledge that since the household tax is almost an austerity tax to bail out the speculators and bondholders, it is absolutely immoral for him to cut back on funds for services from central taxation that will affect the lives and livelihoods of ordinary people. Does the Minister not agree further that it is an outrage that county councils would threaten students with their grants-----

I thank the Deputy and ask him to put his question in respect of what is on the Order Paper.

-----to try to blackmail their parents into giving up their completely justified boycott against this tax?

We have already dealt with that issue.

As Deputy Higgins is aware, the Government is trying to broaden the tax base from a standing start with no database and it will do that.

The Minister should listen to Peter Bacon, who has ridiculed that idea. He rebuts it.

The Deputy must be the only socialist in the world who is against that-----

Is it okay to blackmail people?

-----as one of the few so-called socialists in the place. However, the Government will broaden the tax base. Unlike Deputy Higgins, it does not wish to impose any more tax on workers.

Who will pay the property tax? Will it be someone from Mars?

We will turn to Question No. 47.

Apparently, a Cheann Comhairle, there are secret pots of gold under every house.

Thank you, Deputy. Please speak through the Chair.

The Deputy should try the fracking.

Thank you. Please speak through the Chair.

Septic Tank Registration Scheme

Micheál Martin

Question:

47Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for the Environment; Community and Local Government the number of septic tank owners that have signed up to the registration system; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39006/12]

Martin Ferris

Question:

50Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for the Environment; Community and Local Government the financial supports that will be put in place to assist households upgrading their septic tanks to meet the new standards. [39072/12]

Charlie McConalogue

Question:

76Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for the Environment; Community and Local Government if he will outline the details of the septic tank registration information campaign he has undertaken; the money budgeted for the campaign; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39011/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 47, 50 and 76 together.

The Water Services (Amendment) Act 2012 provided for the establishment of a new system for the registration and inspection of septic tanks and other domestic waste water treatment systems. The 2012 Act augments the duty of care placed on the owners of on-site waste water treatment systems, under section 70 of the Water Services Act 2007, to ensure their systems do not endanger public health or the environment. The basic standard to be met by all on-site systems is they are operated and maintained correctly and do not endanger public health or the environment. Following a public consultation process earlier this year, I made regulations in June specifying standards for the operation and maintenance of treatment systems. The standards set out in the regulations are consistent with what owners should be doing as a matter of course to ensure their systems are working properly.

I also made separate regulations in June setting out the procedures for householders to register details of their treatment systems with their local authorities. The Local Government Management Agency, LGMA, has developed for the 34 county and city councils, on a shared service basis, an online registration facility and the agency is also tasked with managing a central bureau to process payments of the registration fee. There are just ten days remaining for people to avail of the reduced registration fee of €5 and thereafter, up to the end of February 2013, the fee will be €50 and I encourage householders to register as soon as possible. Application forms are available from local authority offices, public libraries and citizens' information centres or the fee can be paid online at www.protectourwater.ie. I have asked the local authorities to distribute an information leaflet to all homes in un-sewered areas advising householders of how they can register, as well providing some practical advice on the operation and maintenance of septic tanks. In addition, the LGMA has placed advertisements with local newspapers and radio stations informing the public about the requirement to register and in particular about the reduced registration fee available until 28 September.

Revenue from the registration fee will be used to cover the costs of developing and maintaining the register and associated costs, including publicity and awareness measures.

Will the Minister penalise local authorities if he does not achieve the level of registration he expects or seeks in this regard as well? I note the Minister has been in possession of the Thornhill report since June and Members are waiting to find out when he will finish reading it before bringing it to the Government. Second, for how long has the Minister had to hand the recommendations in respect of the guidelines that might form a uniform guideline to be applicable nationwide in respect of standards for septic tanks? I presume the Minister has made no provision for funds that might be available for those who do not meet such guidelines for standards when he eventually publishes them.

The Minister should indicate the number of people who have registered as I have not heard an answer to date. In a similar question to the previous speaker, will the local authorities be penalised on a pro rata basis in this regard? I refer to the financial supports that will be available because people are taking a leap of faith in this regard. While they may not be happy to so do, some people are registering. However, as matters stand they have no certainty or clue as to what kind of financial support will be in place. I am thinking in particular of low-income households that cannot afford to carry out the upgrades that will be required as per the inspections.

The Minister to wind up.

The standards for septic tanks were agreed by the Oireachtas joint committee early last July and they are standard nationwide for each local authority. Consequently, they are well known by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht and I assume everyone is clear with regard to them. A total of 76,000 have registered to date with the Local Government Management Agency.

Will the Minister penalise local authorities?