Topical Issue Debate

Public Transport Provision

There is widespread shock and anger in the west Cavan area at the decision to cease daily bus services through Swanlinbar, Bawnboy and Ballyconnell.

At present there are three return services on the route, linking with bus services in Cavan and providing a good service for customers to Dublin and northwards to Enniskillen and Donegal.

The service is provided on behalf of Bus Éireann by two operators, Martin Leydon of Swanlinbar and McGeehans of Donegal. I know many of the people who avail of the service on a constant basis and they appreciate the excellent and reliable service of those operators that has been in place in the area over many years.

Last week, Councillors Sean Smith and John Paul Feeley spoke to me about the need to outline clearly to Bus Éireann and to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the absolute anger of the local community at this further attack on rural Ireland. Not alone does this service facilitate people from west Cavan, but many others availing of the service are from south Leitrim and south Fermanagh. People of all age groups use the service, including students, workers, elderly persons and people needing to travel to Cavan General Hospital or to Dublin hospitals. Councillor Smith detailed to me the exact difficulties that will be faced by so many people who spoke to him in recent days, who need this public transport and who are not in a position to hire taxis. Many individuals do not have immediate family members to bring them to hospital appointments or on other necessary journeys. Individuals and representatives of different groups have spoken to the local newspaper, The Anglo-Celt, and to the local radio station, Northern Sound, outlining the major setback this practical cessation of these services will mean for so many families.

To my knowledge, the route has attracted good customer numbers over the years. Indeed, a proposal was put forward by Ballinamore Community Council to extend the service. Such an extension of service would provide a direct route to Dublin for a large part of County Leitrim as well as for that important part of west Cavan and south Fermanagh.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this issue. I want to record my condemnation of the decision by Bus Éireann to withdraw completely the bus transport services from the towns of Elphin, Roosky and Dromad. I also echo the comments of Deputy Brendan Smith regarding the provision of services in Ballinamore. It makes no sense, in time or distance travelled, to change either Route 22 between Ballina and Dublin or Route 23 between Sligo and Dublin from the current route that services these towns to the route proposed by Bus Éireann, with two weeks' notice.

Services cannot be removed completely from communities. We are told the public service obligation, PSO, does not cover this decision, but we are also told the National Transport Authority, NTA, has responsibility to allocate funding under the PSO. Surely it makes more sense for the NTA to provide financial assistance to Bus Éireann to continue to provide these services to the communities involved rather than remove a service completely.

These communities lost their local hospital in the past 14 months and are now to lose the alternative bus service to the Midland Regional Hospital in Mullingar which could help to provide an alternative for hospital appointments. We were promised a streamlining of the budget of more than €200 million for rural transport and the PSO, along with funding for HSE non-emergency transport and school transport services. That streamlining has not been done although it could provide savings and assistance to Bus Éireann, not only to continue to provide existing services but to enhance them. We are also told there will be a tendering for bundles of services which could include profitable and non-profitable routes. That has not happened either, although it could help to address this situation and provide a service to the communities involved.

I want to add my concern and objection to the proposed changes to the Expressway routes due to be implemented from Sunday next. Services are being changed or withdrawn altogether where there are no alternative forms of public transport. I refer in particular to Route 22, the Ballina, Longford, Dublin Airport route, where the stops at Carracastle in County Mayo and Elphin, Roosky and Ballinafad are to be removed from the Expressway service.

I will focus in particular on the Carracastle stop. I ask the Minister or Bus Éireann what savings will be made by the bus taking the new route. It is nearer to travel from Charlestown via Carracastle to the N4 than the proposed new route. The new route will increase the distance travelled. I have been contacted by a number of people who use this service and who do not have transport to the nearest pick-up points in Charlestown or Ballaghaderreen. They have said that there was no consultation on these changes. I am asking that the changes be deferred until the communities are consulted and provided with an opportunity to increase the usage, if that is a problem. We all understand that savings must be made. I would like to hear the Minister's response to this question.

I thank the Members for raising this important issue. First, it must be stated that I have no personal or ministerial power when it comes to bus routes and route frequencies operated by Bus Éireann. The provision of bus services and the routes they take are operational matters for the company management in conjunction with the National Transport Authority, NTA, which is the licensing and regulatory body for public transport. However, as the Government is the sole shareholder in the CIE companies, the re-design of this and other Bus Éireann routes is something of which I am aware and in which I am interested, so I have made inquiries with the company on the matter.

Bus Éireann operate a mix of services. Some of these services are commercial. These include school transport and Expressway which competes on the open market with private operators. The company also operates public service obligation, PSO, services. This PSO payment is made for the company to carry out important and necessary bus services which would not be viable were they to rely on commercial revenue alone. Expressway services do not receive a subsidy, either directly or indirectly. Bus Éireann's services are not as direct as their competitors and, due to that and the recession, Expressway has lost passengers and revenue as customers have opted for private providers who operate a faster service by bypassing smaller population centres. In order to gain competitiveness and achieve a break-even position, Bus Éireann had to re-design its Expressway services.

I appreciate that changes to the bus services will inconvenience some passengers. Given the financial position that Bus Éireann and the CIE companies are in, however, there is no alternative for the companies but to ensure that commercial operations operate on a commercial footing, and that means following the routes that most passengers want.

Rural transport is a critical component of public transport services and it is vital for the development of a fully inclusive society, both from a social and economic perspective. In January last, the Government approved new arrangements for the development and implementation of integrated local and rural transport services. It was decided that the NTA would be assigned national responsibility for local and rural transport services integration, including the rural transport programme, RTP, and this has been effective since 1 April 2012. This new role for the NTA coupled with its existing national remit for securing the provision of public passenger transport services will enable the development of better links between local and rural services and scheduled bus and rail services. This is something which is fundamental to a wholly integrated transport network.

Local integration working groups have been established in some areas while in others RTP groups have been working informally with potential partners to identify transport integration opportunities. Work has commenced on the inclusion of the RTP services in the national journey planner and on the inclusion of RTP and school transport services in reviews of public transport services being undertaken by the NTA in the South-Eastern Regional Authority area, in the Border, Midland and West area and in the South and Mid-West area. Consideration of RTP services in these reviews will serve to highlight transport needs and offer opportunities for integration.

The integration process is set to achieve the efficiencies required in the face of the challenging fiscal climate in which the country finds itself. Some of the challenges involved in the integration process are quite complex, involve multiple players and involve matters not always within our control. Integration can deliver a more complete and cost-effective transport service in local and rural areas that better meets the transport demands of all users.

As I have indicated, Bus Éireann must ensure it meets the customer demand for limited stop services with quicker journey times in order that Expressway services are commercially viable. Failure to react to this market demand would result in a loss of Expressway services altogether. I appreciate the concerns of Deputies with regard to the impact on certain passengers arising from the re-design of certain Expressway routes and I have asked the chief executive of Bus Éireann to meet Oireachtas Members and brief them personally on the changes to services in the north-west.

I will also direct the NTA, in its ongoing reviews of the PSO services, to take account of those places that will no longer be served by commercial services. It should be noted that future cuts to the level of subvention for PSO public bus services will limit the scope for any new or additional services.

I appreciate the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, replying on this matter. I recall the Minister speaking eloquently and properly in Enniskillen about cross-Border co-operation and the real progress that has been made in the province of Ulster, especially since the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. The route I have spoken about is Enniskillen, Swanlinbar, Bawnboy, Ballyconnell and on to Cavan. The service is part of south Fermanagh and it has the potential to service an even bigger area in south Leitrim, as Deputy Naughten agreed, as well as west Cavan. Bus Éireann said in a reply to local media that it was due to low customer usage, but it refused to detail the records about the numbers travelling. To my knowledge, that route is very well used in the area. The reply given by Bus Éireann is unacceptable.

I appreciate the Minister making arrangements for Members of the Oireachtas to meet the chief executive of Bus Éireann but will the Minister put a direct request to Bus Éireann on my behalf that this route be considered a public service obligation? It is an addition to the Dublin to Donegal Expressway service. If necessary, we could avail of a very small amount of the large public funding that is given to Bus Éireann. Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal do not have access to rail services but I have read recently of new rail services that are not being utilised being provided in counties where there are both bus and rail services.

Will the Minister ask Bus Éireann and the National Transport Authority to postpone the decision regarding routes 22 and 23 until the communities involved are consulted? I cannot see the justification for a situation where all the bus routes being developed are to bypass communities across the middle of the country. Services are being withdrawn in communities throughout the midlands. It appears to be a case of Expressway services from one side of the country to the other and forget about the people in the middle. I estimate that approximately 20,000 travel passes are being misused either fraudulently or otherwise each year. That is a significant amount of revenue lost to both Bus Éireann and the Exchequer. Surely it makes far more sense to focus on that than on the communities involved in this case. Does the Minister not agree that the provision of bus shelters along many of these routes would increase the number of people using the services? Bus Éireann has failed to consider the provision of bus shelters along many of these routes.

I thank the Minister for his reply and for instructing the Bus Éireann executives to meet us. I ask him to instruct those executives to tell us what savings are being made through the withdrawal of certain routes. As I stated with regard to the Carracastle route, Bus Éireann will be travelling farther with the proposed new route. Also, will he instruct the executives to outline what alternative they will provide for people who have no other form of transport aside from public transport in those rural areas? I appeal to the Minister to instruct the executives to defer this decision until more consultation takes place.

I am informed by the company with regard to Swanlinbar, Bawnboy and Ballyconnell that between five and ten passengers per day use each service. I realise this is extremely inconvenient for the 20 people or so affected but there are probably as many people, if not more, who are not using this service because of the route it currently takes. That is the type of decision Bus Éireann must make when providing a commercial service. The chief executive officer of Bus Éireann met the Wicklow and Wexford Deputies today about a similar issue, and I will use my offices to ensure the Deputies meet the chief executive officer and senior management directly to discuss this. The Deputies know the area and the local issues far better than I, and ultimately Bus Éireann is the decision maker in this regard.

Expressway services do not receive any subsidy from my Department. Therefore, I do not have the power to instruct the company to defer or change its decision. Solutions can be found, however, albeit partial solutions. There was a similar issue in the midlands a few weeks ago and it was possible to identify public service obligation, PSO, alternatives for people. They might not be able to get the bus they wish but they can at least get a PSO bus to somewhere that is served by an Expressway service. In another case, it was possible to give a licence to a private operator on a no-subsidy basis to provide a feeder service to a bigger town where passengers could then take the Expressway service. They might not be able to get it in the town in which they live, but they at least have a service. Those are the types of options that can be explored.

On Deputy Naughten's question about fraud and travel passes, that budget comes from the Department of Social Protection. There is a working group of officials from my Department and the Department of Social Protection examining those issues. Given the scale of the deficit and the losses occurring across the CIE companies, like the budget we must do in December it will not be a case of either-or but a series of measures, including fare increases and service reductions, that will be required to allow us to continue to have public transport in the State.

Election Management System

None of us needs to be reminded of the appalling unemployment figures that were inherited from the previous Administration and with which the Government continues to grapple. In that context, it makes sense to award any State work available, where possible, to people on the live register. While I accept the guidelines issued by the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to returning officers throughout the country advise that consideration be given to unemployed people, it is clear from past experience that these guidelines, weak as they are, are being largely ignored and flouted.

Many of our returning officers have not even set up websites, although there is a common website format available to them. Of those who have, only a few have application forms available for election work. To my knowledge, none of these returning officers has made any attempt to advertise the fact that people can apply for these jobs. If a person is motivated enough to find these secret jobs, what happens next? The applicant fills in a form which asks for contact details and a personal public service, PPS, number. The only other information actively sought is an applicant's current employment status and whether he or she has worked previously in the role. There is a blank section to fill in other details but the form does not specifically ask about work experience, qualifications, information technology skills, administration skills and so forth. Why would our returning officers not seek this information from prospective employees?

I believe this so-called application process is largely a worthless and cosmetic exercise and that the jobs will be filled the same way they always have been, from the ranks of retired civil servants and the student children of those who are in the know. I do not believe I am being cynical in saying this. At least the returning officer in Wicklow, for example, is honest enough not even to pay lip service to this farce. A message on the Wicklow website about the employment of polling and count staff, dated 20 September 2012, states:

All jobs are offered first to people who have worked successfully with me in the past. Due to a nationwide revision of the number of voters assigned to each polling station, there will be fewer stations in this constituency for future polls. There are fewer jobs available and a surplus of experienced staff. For the moment, therefore, I will not be accepting any new applications.

This is a disgrace and must be rectified. The generous payment on offer to polling clerks and count centre officials could make a difference to a child's Christmas for an unemployed family, whereas for a retired civil servant on a State pension it means Christmas in Lanzarote. I know which I would prefer to prioritise and I hope the Minister will agree with me and introduce transparent and rigorously enforced requirements for the hiring of election staff, beginning with the forthcoming referendum.

I thank Deputy Nash for raising this important issue. The primary role of my Department in electoral matters is to provide an appropriate policy and legislative framework for a modern and efficient electoral system. Within that framework, local returning officers are responsible for all matters in connection with the actual conduct of elections and referenda, including the selection, appointment and training of polling station staff in accordance with the relevant provisions of electoral law. To assist returning officers, the Department issues guidance to them in advance of each election and referendum. In that guidance, it is emphasised that the smooth conduct of polls is dependent on maintaining a cadre of sufficiently skilled and experienced people. Having regard to the overall objective of the smooth conduct of the polls, returning officers are advised to employ competent and efficient persons as polling staff. They are also asked to give consideration, wherever possible, to employing suitable persons who are unemployed.

The approach taken in the Department's guidance strikes the right balance. However, I agree with Deputy Nash that it might not always have been the case that it was implemented in the spirit in which the guidance was issued to the returning officers. There are competent unemployed individuals who could, with appropriate training, undertake duties in the conduct of polls.

It would, however, be unwise to dispense entirely with the experience of some staff who are needed, particularly in large polling stations for supervision purposes, but there are positions such as poll clerk that could easily be assigned for electoral purposes in each polling station.

The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government issues a manual for presiding officers at each election and referendum. Local returning officers supplement this with appropriate training to ensure that all staff are familiar with their tasks and responsibilities but I will take this opportunity after Deputy Nash has raised this issue to contact returning officers again this week to emphasise the importance at this difficult time for families and individuals who are unemployed and to remind them of their duty, as laid out in the guidelines, to employ suitable people who are currently unemployed.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive outline of the situation. I am pleased he has taken the opportunity at this juncture to remind returning officers of their responsibilities. We are in a time of national crisis and we as Government have always attempted to prioritise the needs of the unemployed or underemployed. As I said earlier, €400 would mean a world of difference to those experiencing unemployment. It would help to pay the mortgage or for groceries and bills. We must use every opportunity and tool at our disposal to ensure those who are unemployed get the opportunity to earn a few extra euro to help with those bills in these difficult circumstances.

We all appreciate the work carried out by polling clerks and count centre staff. It is critical to the democratic process and electoral system and I thank those who assist in my constituency on a regular basis. Now, however, is a time of national crisis and we must use every tool at our disposal to ensure those who require support get it. The training is rudimentary but those who go through it gain a lot from it, along with access to local authority staff and returning officers. It gives them a unique opportunity to engage in the democratic system so it is vital we use every tool at our disposal to ensure returning officers in the upcoming referendum on 10 November, in so far as is practicable, employ as many people from the live register as possible and at subsequent polls.

I agree with Deputy Nash that this is a time national crisis and there are many competent people who are unemployed. I will get a report from returning officers after the referendum to establish if they made the necessary efforts under the departmental guidance and employed as many people as possible who are currently unemployed, particularly as poll clerks. I understand the presiding officer must have a greater level of training and supervisory experience to run a poll smoothly but the post of poll clerk does not require a lot of training and the responsibilities of the post can be fulfilled under the guidance of the presiding officer. If regulations are required in future to ensure the guidance document is fully implemented, I will consider that.

Road Safety Issues

Fáiltím an deis labhairt ar an ábhar seo. I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this issue. My predecessor, the former Deputy P.J. Sheehan, used the oft-quoted line that there would be nothing left in west Cork but bachelors, briars and bullocks. I am returning to that theme today, particularly to the issue of briars - I am not that concerned about the bachelors or bullocks. The former Deputy used to refer to the briars shaking hands in the middle of the road and I am here to inform the Minister that in many cases in west Cork, the situation has got worse since it was first brought to the attention of the House by my former colleague.

The current position of Cork County Council according to a recent reply is that it is not in a position due to resource constraints to patrol all roadside hedges and issue notices on a systematic basis. Nevertheless, notices are regularly issued, particularly when a specific problem is brought to the attention of staff. It is an objective of the roads directorate to follow up assiduously on any cases of non-compliance with such notices.

Essentially, if a person reports to the council that a particular landowner has overgrown hedges, the council will issue the landowner with a notice but those who are out walking or driving do not have the wherewithal to write down each landowner's details. It goes against the grain for many people to report on their neighbours or to set neighbour against neighbour by writing to the council seeking legal directives for people to cut their hedges. Under the law the Roads Act 1993 passes responsibility for this duty to the landowner but the council undertook this practice until 2009 and maintained the roadside hedges. Since 2009, it has abandoned that duty and left it to the law to take its course. The reality, however, is that the system is not working. To be fair to rural dwellers, when we canvass such areas, they do not make many demands of their elected councillors, and I have had the privilege of running in two local elections, but one issue of annoyance to them is that of overgrown hedges and I am anxious councils would take on board the responsibility to deal with this.

I live in the real world and I am not looking for Exchequer funding but I ask the Minister to speak to his officials and come up with a national policy whereby the Department would take the lead in the matter and instruct the councils to be more proactive. At a time when we are trying to achieve a greater level of compliance with the household charge, and people in rural areas have in general paid the charge with no difficulty while making few demands of the council in return - they do not get waste services or water - one issue that is very important to them is that the hedges are trimmed. People have shown goodwill by paying the household charge so a greater policy response on behalf of councils would go a long way towards addressing this problem rather than the abandonment that has taken place to date. As matters stand it is a matter for individual landowners and if they are reported, the council will follow up.

The compliance rate with the household charge in Cork is not as good as in the local authorities in Deputy Ellis's and Deputy Clare Daly's constituencies. They are having much more success in those local authorities.

Perhaps they are not as good at distorting figures in those authorities as they are in our constituencies.

The facts speak for themselves. Under the Roads and Road Vehicles (Transfer of Departmental Administration and Ministerial Functions) Order 2007 all remaining matters pertaining to the Roads Act 1993 were transferred to the Minister with responsibility for transport. Consequently, this matter is one which comes within the policy remit of my colleague the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. Perhaps the Office of the Ceann Comhairle might take note of that. The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport has a wide range of functions related to roads, including the legal framework for the provision and maintenance of roads, funding of the roads programme and promotion of road safety. The Department states that its overall objective is to provide, within the framework of a balanced and integrated transport policy, for the safe, efficient and cost effective movement of persons and goods by road. Specific objectives include those to ensure, as far as possible, the provision of a safe and efficient network of national, regional and local roads, and to ensure the optimum and safe use of the public road network.

The improvement and maintenance of regional and local roads is the statutory responsibility of each road authority. Works on those roads are funded from local authorities' own resources supplemented by State road grants. The initial selection and prioritisation of works to be funded is also a matter for the road authority.

It is also the case that section 70 of the Roads Act provides that the owner or occupier of land must take all reasonable steps to ensure that a tree, shrub, hedge or other vegetation on the land is not a hazard or potential hazard to persons using a public road and that it is does not obstruct or interfere with the safe use of a public road or the maintenance of such a road. Where a tree, shrub, hedge or other vegetation is a hazard or potential hazard to persons using a public road, or where it obstructs or interferes with the safe use of a public road, a road authority may serve a notice in writing on the owner or occupier of the land in question requiring the preservation, felling, cutting, lopping, trimming or removal of such tree, shrub, hedge or other vegetation within the period stated in the notice.

However, I can inform Deputy Jim Daly that I am examining the prospect of developing a new social employment scheme in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government in conjunction with my colleague, the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton. This could involve participants, who are unemployed at present, carrying out some of the work that is the subject of the topical issue raised by the Deputy. I hope the Minister, Deputy Burton, and I will be in a position to agree this scheme in the coming weeks with a view to having it rolled out in 2013.

I thank the Minister for his response, which I appreciate. I assure him that irrespective of the figures for County Cork as a whole, the good people of west Cork, albeit not because of my voice or representation of them, are well up-to-date in respect of their household charge payments. Were the figures to be broken down, the Minister would find them to be highly impressive. Notwithstanding that, I do not appreciate being pushed around from one Department to another, of being obliged to deal with the intricacies of the matter and of trying to find out who is responsible. I wish to bring the matter to the attention of the House and in particular, to the attention of the Executive running the country at present to get it dealt with.

I would greatly welcome an opportunity to have an input into the scheme proposed by the Minister. I proposed such a scheme to the previous Administration numerous times, when I referred to the social employment scheme and the number of people who were willing to partake in community projects and who would love to have something for which to get up in the morning but who unfortunately do not have a job to attend. Consequently, I would be anxious to see something like this because ultimately, an area like west Cork relies heavily on tourism and on the appearance of the countryside. In addition, there also is a leisure, health and safety aspect and while people are being encouraged to walk, it is not possible on many roads. Consequently, at a time like this of disappearing revenues, which many Members appreciate and understand, one can be creative, imaginative and more proactive in one's determination to get more for less. Basically, this is what I seek in this regard.

Briefly, I indicated to the Deputy that the road authority has the power to require the owner or occupier of the land to remove or trim the ditches on the side of the road as well. Consequently, it is not simply a matter for the local authority. However, the Deputy should use his good offices to make representations to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport to support the scheme the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Burton, and I are trying to develop and perhaps to add some funds to the scheme to make it more attractive for local authorities, thereby ensuring more participants in such a scheme in the future.

Pyrite Remediation Programme Issues

The Minister released the pyrite panel report before the summer recess with a great fanfare. The scale of the problem was identified and at least 10,000 home owners are in ownership of what essentially are valueless properties. At the time, the Minister assured Members the stakeholders involved, namely, the insurance industry, the construction industry, banking, HomeBond and so on were being given until the end of September to come up with solutions to fund the remediation works and to this problem and that if they did not do so voluntarily, he would impose a solution on them. It is now 2 October and I note that last week, the Construction Industry Federation's spokesperson, Tom Parlon, was highly voluble in stating that he, as a spokesperson allegedly for the stakeholders, has no solution to this problem. Consequently, the ball is firmly in the Minister's court with regard to telling Members the status of the fund to implement plan B, as he assured them at the start of the summer. Moreover, I might add this is required now both because of the failure of the stakeholders and because the State cannot shirk its responsibility for its role in this scenario. I refer to the fact that evidence existed for decades about the problem of pyrite in other countries such as Britain and Canada, as well as in the geological formations of the land around us. In addition, the fact the building regulations were changed in December 2007 and the HomeBond structural guarantee was changed in 2008 is indicative that both these schemes were defective and deficient in the first place. The State stood over a lack of regulation, a lack of testing and an inadequate guarantee system through HomeBond. Therefore, the State must take responsibility now. These home owners cannot wait any longer and a long-overdue requirement now exists for the Minister to tell Members from where the fund will come and what is the plan B to finally solve this problem.

The report and series of recommendations from the panel set up to examine the crisis regarding pyrite has been published. Slightly more than 10,000 homes were identified, 850 of which needed immediate attention and repairs. I note this does not include paths, streets or even some of the boundaries. There may be many thousands more, as problems with pyrite may not become manifest until later. This is not to mention the local authority housing projects, schools and community buildings in which pyrite has been discovered but which are not mentioned in this report. It is very disappointing that the agencies, including HomeBond for the insurance industry, the Construction Industry Federation, the Irish Concrete Federation and even the Law Society of Ireland did not engage with the Minister or his Department. I note HomeBond would not even engage with the committee as set up and some of the aforementioned bodies would not even engage with the pyrite action groups set up to pursue this matter. It is not good enough to state it is not the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and that it is a private matter. While this happened to private houses, there is an onus on Members to deal with this matter. There is an onus on the State, on the Minister and his Department to deal with this problem because people's homes are falling apart. Some of those affected are in negative equity and some have huge mortgages. The living standards of people have gone downhill and many are suffering from depression and other side-effects.

I also wish to flag the plight of five families in my constituency who are living in caravans at a site in Finglas. They are waiting for the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to provide funding to repair their houses, which contain pyrite. While they await that funding, I appeal to the Minister to look into this matter because these people have spent two years in these caravans in the most appalling conditions and this cannot be allowed to continue.

Deputy, I am afraid your time is up.

I will revert to the matter later.

I thank Deputies Clare Daly and Ellis for raising this matter. As they aware, I have stated on many occasions that the State is not responsible for the pyrite problem or liable for the costs associated with the remediation of pyrite-damaged dwellings. However, I believe the State has a role and a duty to assist home owners to find a resolution to the problem. This was one of my key objectives in setting up the independent pyrite panel, on which Deputies Clare Daly and Ellis have been briefed on a regular basis by those involved with the panel. Indeed, the panel follows the same theme in its report, identifying the State as having an important role in ensuring that responsible parties engage constructively in processes to deliver solutions for home owners. I note there are not 10,000 homes which are ready to fall down but that 850 require urgent remediation. The panel's report identified 10,000 home owners with a potential liability for pyrites. The cost for the remediation of pyrite-damaged dwellings must fall on those responsible and I welcome the report of the panel, which has a clear view on this matter. It was unambiguous in its view that the parties with direct or indirect responsibility for the pyrite problem should face up to their responsibilities and provide solutions for home owners and that the State is not responsible for the pyrite problem and consequently, not liable for the cost of remediation.

On receiving the pyrite report in June and reflecting on the panel's recommendations for stakeholders to provide solutions to home owners, I immediately began a series of discussions with the stakeholders with a view to securing a voluntary industry-led solution for home owners. I asked the stakeholders to give urgent consideration to the relevant recommendations in the report and revert to me with their proposals by the end of September. I have received responses from all the stakeholders in the last couple of days and am now in a position to give urgent and careful consideration to the content of these responses. I am not in a position at present to give a considered view but seek a few more days in which I will be in a position to read those responses in great detail to ascertain whether any meaningful input into the resolution of this problem has been given to me by the stakeholders.

I previously made it clear that in the absence of workable solutions from the stakeholders, I will consider an imposed solution along the lines recommended in the pyrite report. Recommendation No. 14 in the report recommends the establishment of a resolution board, which could be funded by the construction, quarrying and related insurance sectors. I do not believe it is a sustainable viewpoint that the taxpayer should be made liable for the costs associated with the remediation of pyrite-damaged dwellings and the panel noted its report the potential for those responsible readily to pass responsibility to the State. It would not be appropriate to allow this to happen.

It certainly is not sustainable for the home owners to continue the way they have been. Moreover, the figure probably is far in excess of 10,000 and many more than 850 require immediate works. In the same way as the Government and the Housing Finance Agency took over bad loans from county councils, there is a precedent for the State providing money upfront and then going after those responsible.

The people at home certainly cannot wait because home has become a nightmare for people whose homes have pyrite. It just not good enough for the Minister to ask to be given a chance to look at what they are saying. He has said it will take a few days, but what does he mean? The end of September was last week and he knew what was coming.

It was two days ago.

That was for a resolution. If he has been in discussion with them he must have an idea what they are saying and presumably anticipated the response of people such as Mr. Parlon that his organisation would do nothing and he should have had a plan B. If he is trying to tell us that the CIF has come in with something different from what Mr. Tom Parlon has said, then we would be very grateful to hear that. If the response is as outlined by him on the airwaves, then the Minister has a serious problem because the State is responsible for standing over poor building regulations, inadequate insurance and bad standards. There is no way those home owners will pay the bill for that.

I believe that is the first time I heard the stakeholders had responded and I am glad to hear that. I hope they came back with something positive but my suspicions are that they have not. I believe the State will need to put money up front. If we need to consider levies to get the money from the different industries and agencies, it will take a long time to accumulate through that method. Therefore we definitely need to put the money up front. I am concerned that we might need legislation in dealing with some of this.

We have seen something similar with the IMF and EU when it comes to interpretation. Will this be backdated? We do not want to get into an argument that this only applies from now and not retrospectively and I hope that does not happen. I also hope measures will be introduced to deal with this in the future with proper monitoring and proper accountability by all the industries concerned. We need to have a way of keeping an eye on this. We have not had accountability, which is something we need to address.

I am surprised Deputy Ellis would talk about building standards considering that some of his pals were involved in Priory Hall.

No pal of mine was involved in Priory Hall.

I will certainly not accept responsibility for him anyway.

I will not either.

The conduct of some of the professions and builders involved in such projects leaves much to be desired.

The Minister is right about that.

It had nothing to do with the Building Control Act of the day. Unfortunate people find themselves in their present position because the building standards of the time were not observed. I agree with Deputy Clare Daly that the home owners have waited a long time. I am the first Minister to do something about it in order to identify the problem and a potential solution. I will - after two days - now sit down and read these reports. I have only received them in the past couple of hours - 30 September was just two days ago. I will read what the stakeholders have recommended and will follow through if they have not given me the necessary proposals to deal with these matters effectively on behalf of these people who through no fault of their own are in these situations.

I have not been in discussion with stakeholders. In July I asked them to make recommendations on a voluntary industry-led basis in order to deal with these matters.

In his earlier contribution the Minister said: "I immediately began a series of discussions".

The Minister has the floor now.

I have asked them to come forward with a voluntary industry-led solution. The term "discussions" would mean that I would be meeting them on a regular basis - I met them once and asked them to report by the end of September.

I was quoting from the Minister's speech.

I do not need to ask them to come forward again. I will impose a solution of my own if they have not come forward with the necessary proposals as I requested in July.

Will the Minister give us an indication of what those would be?

In due course.