Other Questions

Household Charge Cost

John Browne

Question:

60. Deputy John Browne asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the payment rate per local authority of the household charge to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54179/12]

Dara Calleary

Question:

71. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the total number of persons who have paid the household charge to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54181/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 60 and 71 together.

The Local Government (Household Charge) Act 2011 provides the legislative basis for the household charge. Under the Act, an owner of a residential property on the liability date is liable to pay the household charge unless otherwise exempted or entitled to claim a waiver. It is a matter for an owner of a residential property to determine liability and pay the charge. The Local Government Management Agency is administering the household charge system on a shared service basis with all councils.

I understand from the data recently provided that as of 29 November 2012, the number of registrations, including waiver registrations, for the household charge is 1.1 million. The table following details the total number of payments and waivers registered nationally and by local authority area. The figures are also presented as a percentage of the estimated total number of liable properties nationally and locally.

Overall, compliance continues to grow. It ranges from local authority to local authority, from 85% in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown to 55% in Donegal. It is a matter for each local authority to use the provisions of the legislation, combined with its local knowledge and judgment, to increase compliance. I expect that local authorities will use the available avenues to the fullest to help fund the services which are most important. The legislation empowers local authorities to bring and prosecute summary proceedings for an offence, and local authorities will pursue those who may have a liability and initiate court proceedings where it is considered appropriate.

I urge all liable persons who have not paid the charge to contact their local authority as a matter of urgency. Property owners who are unsure of their liability should also contact their local authority.

County/City Council

Estimated number of liable properties

Total registered (paid + waivers)

Registrations as a % of total estimated liable properties

Carlow

18,257

12,097

66%

Cavan

25,611

17,204

67%

Clare

45,786

33,046

72%

Cork City

41,649

28,125

68%

Cork County

143,887

93,123

65%

Donegal

65,331

36,139

55%

Dublin City

190,685

138,359

73%

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown

74,390

63,396

85%

Fingal

90,286

62,044

69%

Galway City

27,086

20,184

75%

Galway County

62,851

41,765

67%

Kerry

58,792

43,475

74%

Kildare

68,215

45,856

67%

Kilkenny

32,067

21,417

67%

Laois

26,185

16,475

63%

Leitrim

13,069

9,176

70%

Limerick City

20,380

14,131

69%

Limerick County

46,473

31,741

68%

Longford

12,928

8,761

68%

Louth

41,176

25,255

61%

Mayo

51,363

38,741

75%

Meath

60,652

38,278

63%

Monaghan

20,176

13,871

69%

North Tipperary

24,839

18,077

73%

Offaly

25,224

15,175

60%

Roscommon

23,888

16,124

68%

Sligo

25,281

17,821

70%

South Dublin

81,822

52,378

64%

South Tipperary

30,368

20,737

68%

Waterford City

15,753

10,661

68%

Waterford County

24,777

16,474

67%

Westmeath

29,872

20,448

69%

Wexford

56,030

36,695

66%

Wicklow

45,665

32,035

70%

National

1,620,814

1,109,284

68%

I thank the Minister of State. Will local authorities be funded by the Minister's Department regarding any further proceedings they have to take to get the household charge from those who have not paid to date? Also, notwithstanding what I said earlier about the household charge fiasco in the past 14 or 15 months, the property tax that is mooted and appears to have been agreed is due to commence in June next year. Is it expected, therefore, that half the household charge will have to be paid in the first six months of the year? Can the Minister of State confirm whether the penalty incurred on the second home tax will be continued with the property tax regime coming into effect in June? Regarding the costs that are to be borne by local authorities, will the Minister fund them or has he established what that cost will be and who is to fund it? Also, regarding the first half of next year, is it the case that all householders will be expected to pay 50% of a household charge based on the fact that the property tax will not be introduced until June of the following year? Can the Minister of State confirm also that second home tax and property tax will apply into the future, as was the case heretofore?

This time tomorrow the Deputy will have the answer to those questions. I cannot say what may or may not be in the budget.

The Minister of State has given out enough information so far, so he may as well go the whole hog.

No. I am trying to answer the Deputy's questions fairly. His questions are about the household charge and not about the property tax. As I said, the property tax, if there is one, will be fully debated tomorrow. The report on the property tax should be published shortly thereafter. There will be total transparency about what is happening and where it is happening. I am not in a position to discuss that now but I would encourage everybody who is liable who has not paid the household charge to pay it. I am sure the Deputy will agree with me that in not paying, they will continue to increase the charges on themselves because if they do not pay at the end of a year, they will owe €140 instead of €100, and at the end of two years, instead of owing €200, they will owe €240 plus the expenses incurred should it happen. I urge everybody to pay it to fund local authority essential services.

I ask the Deputy to be brief as there are four Deputies offering.

I will ask the question again in the hope I might get an answer this time. First, has an exercise been carried out on the cost of proceedings in the event of having to pursue people for these charges? If that has been costed, who is to bear that cost? Will the Minister of State fund local authorities because they do not have the funding themselves? Second, will the household charge be applicable for the first half of next year?

The household charge is in place for this year and if there are changes in the budget for next year, that policy will be announced tomorrow. If anybody is successfully pursued through the courts, the person who loses that case is liable for costs. I presume, therefore, that if a local authority is successful in a prosecution-----

Live horse and get grass.

-----it would be able to recover its costs from the person found to be liable.

Five Deputies are offering and I ask for their co-operation. I call Deputy Mick Wallace followed by Deputy Clare Daly.

The reporting by two gardaí of terminations of fixed charge penalties on a massive scale has been ignored by the Government since last January, and we are being blocked from discussing that in this Chamber. A public inquiry is now needed. Honest gardaí are being undermined. Those gardaí need protection. They went to the Garda confidential recipient for whistleblowers but did not get any satisfaction or protection. Instead, they got a warning when one of them said to one of the gardaí: "I'll tell you something. If Shatter thinks you're screwing him, you're finished." That is a disgrace.

Deputy, please. We are on the household charge. I call Deputy Daly. Is this the same issue?

This is a matter of national interest. Honest gardaí are being victimised because they have uncovered the systematic abuse of motoring charges and terminations to those of some very powerful and influential people in the State, including members of the Judiciary.

Judge Devins has been named in the newspapers, as have sports figures and other officials, including gardaí.

I ask the Deputy to resume her seat.

We have been denied the opportunity to raise this issue in other ways-----

No, I ask the Deputy to resume her seat.

We are talking about the loss of millions to the State.

This is Question Time and we are on Deputy Barry Cowen's question on the household charge.

We have tried to raise the issue and gardaí are being undermined.

I ask the Deputy to resume her seat. I will call Deputies Stanley, Joan Collins and Luke 'Ming' Flanagan.

Deputy Cowen did not ask the Minister of State how much the figure will be next year. Will people be charged the household charge until 1 July?

That is what I asked.

We have not received an answer to that and I do not know why because it is not a budgetary matter.

How will local authorities budget for this when there is such uncertainty? How will local authorities fill the gaps? I suggest to the Minister of State to merge the post of directors of services and senior executive officers in local authorities. It is a ridiculous situation that local authority sections have senior executive officers and directors of services. There are some 230 of them across the State and the positions could be abolished or merged as well as cutting the pay of county managers. Some county managers receive salaries equal to or greater than that of the President of France. Will the Government consider it next year? The figure must be reduced.

I also want to raise the national issue of corruption in respect of penalty points.

Please, Deputy, no.

It is outrageous. We have been trying to get the issue on the agenda and I submitted it as a topical issue.

We are on a question about the household charge.

There are fixed-term notices and judges are giving down charges-----

The Deputy can talk to the Ceann Comhairle-----

-----to people with penalty points and Mary Devins is named in this. It is outrageous.

I call Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan on the household charge.

I would also like to raise the issue of corruption when it comes to removing penalty points from people's licences.

This country should protect whistleblowers but it has never done so.

This is an orchestrated campaign.

This is one of the reasons we are in the hole we are in.

I ask the Deputy to resume his seat.

We need to protect whistleblowers, not punish them. We are being denied the right to talk about corruption. What is new? Nothing.

This is Question Time.

Pyrite Panel Report Implementation

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

61. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when the recommendations of the recent report of the pyrite panel will be implemented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54207/12]

Alan Farrell

Question:

62. Deputy Alan Farrell asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the response he has received from industry stakeholders regarding the repair of homes affected by pyrite; the contact that has been made with all stakeholders named by him for those who have not engaged with his Department to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54229/12]

Sandra McLellan

Question:

84. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will provide an update on restoration work being carried on pyrite effected homes and the proposed levy. [54248/12]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 61, 62 and 84 together.

The implementation of many of the recommendations in the pyrite report requires the involvement and co-operation of a number of parties, and implementation will be on a progressive basis. Given their particular impact on affected homeowners, priority is being given to the recommendations dealing with the establishment of a resolution board as well as the development of protocols for the testing and categorisation of dwellings and a remediation method statement, to which Deputy Ellis referred.

Following receipt of the pyrite report, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, engaged with representatives from the Construction Industry Federation, the Irish Concrete Federation, HomeBond, the Irish Insurance Federation and the Irish Banking Federation. Discussions with key stakeholders on possible funding for a remediation scheme are at an advanced stage and are expected to conclude shortly. The Minister will then be in a position to finalise arrangements for the establishment of the resolution board.

A sizeable number of dwellings have been, and continue to be, remediated under various remediation processes. In a number of instances responsible builders are directly undertaking remediation works. Remediation work is also being undertaken under structural defects insurance and other types of insurance and as a result of arbitration and mediation processes. Similarly, where pyrite has been identified in social housing schemes, the relevant housing authorities are pursuing a range of actions to have the necessary repairs carried out by the contractors in accordance with the terms of their contracts. In some cases the remediation work is now complete and in other cases it is progressing in accordance with the contract.

I thank the Minister of State for his response.

I am concerned that this is dragging on. As the Minister of State is aware, I have personal involvement in this matter. It is deeply traumatising, months after the report was published, that uncertainty continues as to what we propose to do with regard to the establishment of the resolution board and standardised testing. This is very important to residents not only in my constituency, but in the Minister of State's and right across Leinster. I am deeply concerned that, a number of months after the pyrite panel's findings were published, we are still uncertain as to who has not engaged with the Minister or with the panel with a view to finding resolutions to the issue.

We now learn that an amber category has been created. Residents in this category, many of whom live not far from myself, are aware of structural movement in their properties that does not conform with drying out or settlement but have not had their properties tested and do not have the means to have them tested. They are probably affected by the issue but because they are in the amber category, their homes will probably not be checked for pyrite. That is unacceptable. I agree that it is entirely the responsibility of the construction companies to ensure that the properties are up to standard. Given that the report is on the public record, however, the State should cajole those individuals into providing the testing that so many residents are seeking. The standardisation of testing is also important.

A key factor is that only five of the 1,200 quarries in the country have been identified as being involved in pyrite. I am not making little of the problem when I say that a total of five quarries are involved. The known spread of pyrite is around Fingal, counties Dublin and Kildare and parts of Meath and Offaly. It is a serious problem for anyone who has it. There can be pyrite heave when the building has actually moved. We saw in the report the appalling vista people face when their walls move out of place and doors cannot open. This is very significant and is adversely affecting thousands of people.

I accept what Deputy Farrell is saying about the amber category. There are estates where pyrite is definitely present and where there is absolute evidence of pyrite heave or movement. That does not mean every house in the estate has a pyrite problem. Pyrite reacts with water at a certain temperature to form gypsum and increases to twice its size. In such an estate, because the mix in the floors came from different locations, some houses may not be affected. Such houses are in the amber category. Every house where it is believed pyrite is present is watched. If there is actual movement in a house, it will definitely be dealt with. If there is not actual movement, the house will definitely be observed and watched. In Ireland, this observation can take between one and nine years. In Canada, for geographic and climate reasons, I understand it can take up to 20 years for something to happen.

It is fundamental to the Government and to the Minister that the issue is being dealt with. It will, ideally, be dealt with through a voluntary consensus agreement with no cost to the State but with rigorous oversight independent of the people concerned. I hope that is what will happen.

I accept the bona fides of the Minister with regard to his efforts to put in place a resolutions board. We have all given him the benefit of the doubt in that regard but this cannot be allowed to carry on indefinitely without arriving at a conclusion. I ask a specific question to that end.

The stakeholders are pivotal to making the solution cost neutral for the State. Have the Construction Industry Federation, the Irish Concrete Federation and the banks and insurance federations committed to the process, to a resolutions board and a rectification process and procedure? This should not be confined to the findings of the pyrite panel report but should take consideration, for example, of what Deputy Farrell has said about the amber category.

Have they given that commitment to the Minister since he met them in recent weeks? Have they committed to a levy or funding mechanism? If they have not, what is their difficulty with it and how long has the Minister given them to sign up to it? In the absence of committing to a financial resolution, he has promised to impose a levy. How far has he pushed that boat out? Our patience is wearing thin and we would like a timeframe for this that could be adhered to.

Everyone's patience is wearing thin on this, most of all the people who live in those homes. We are all ad idem in this Chamber that it must be dealt with, ideally through a voluntary agreement where the stakeholders, builders and vendors actually pay for it. The Minister is clear that he hopes this is finalised shortly and if that does not happen, he will put the levy in place.

Can the Minister of State not say he is committed to the concept and the fund?

All I can say in the absence of the Minister is that he believes the process is crystallising and hopefully there will be a resolution shortly. If there is not, there is an alternative for resolution.

It is important we find a resolution to this. There have been numerous promises made and I have attended many meetings on this. Are all of the companies engaging? There were suggestions some of them were not engaging and if that is the case, we were promised a solution would be imposed.

While we are talking about houses, there are also paths, roads and boundaries that have been affected by pyrite. The levy must be used to deal with that as well. Will that be the case? I assume it is the case because there are so many problems now with these estates and we do not know the long-term effects. Pyrite heave can appear at different times. There could be pyrite heave here in another four or five years. Are we going to take into account the people who will be affected in those situations? We do not know the exact numbers. Originally we were told there were roughly 11,000 affected but there could be many more, particularly when we take into account local authority housing that has been affected by this. We do not know the full effects so will people who suffer the effects of pyrite in future be taken into account? If legislation is needed, we do not want to hear it is not retrospective.

That is a good point. The report clearly states there is a moral duty on all of the people involved, building federations, concrete suppliers, the quarries and on HomeBond in particular, to resolve this issue. If a person buys a house in the future from a builder, where is the benchmark for guaranteeing the structure is sound? I understand that following a High Court case, HomeBond changed its position significantly on this: it had previously refused to honour any further agreements. Now, however, it is involved in the discussion and clearly we all urge that this be finalised as soon as possible. Everyone must step up to the mark and those who do not will be made to step up. It is far better for them to do it on a voluntary and transparent basis because we need that for the future of the building industry.

On road building, the report states that standards for road construction aggregate exclude the possibility of the use of pyrite.

I am talking about the roads in estates.

I was not going to say anything but the Minister of State was wrong on so many counts that I felt I had to speak. Five quarries were mentioned to the panel but the panel was given evidence of six quarries, and a seventh quarry with pyritic material in it is still operating. The amber system is not as the Minister of State described, it is for houses that have pyrite but the visible displays are not sufficient and they are deemed to be monitored as time goes on, which is the same as passing a death sentence on them. Premier Insurance, which was remediating houses in that state, is now not doing so, it is leaving the work off, which is completely unacceptable.

We need a systematic approach with all houses in the affected estates tested.

On the other issue, the Government has had in its possession knowledge of the systematic writing off of motoring offences for almost a year and it has done nothing. To deny us the opportunity is unacceptable.

This is totally out of order.

We have to have some opportunity.

The naming of persons outside the House is specifically regulated by Standing Orders and rulings of the Chair. The general practice is that such persons should not be named or referred to in such a way as to make them identifiable, particularly where to do so would be an unreasonable invasion of privacy or where the reference could be in the nature of being a defamatory utterance under Standing Order 59.

I know, but in the national interest-----

I want no more debate on the issue.

-----when tens of thousands of motoring offences-----

There are other ways that this can be raised.

-----are being written off-----

I call the Minister of State.

I am only quoting from the report and if the Deputy has information about other quarries, I would be very happy to receive that. The report refers to five. If there are six or seven, that is fine. Regardless of the number, we want them all sorted out.

The report outlines what amber represents and notes that the identification of pyrite in an estate does not necessarily mean that all dwellings in the estate are affected. The report states that because different contractors and suppliers are used for the hard core, it does not necessarily mean that all the houses will have pyrite. Any of them that do will be dealt with. Any of them that do not and are amber estates will need to be monitored properly to the satisfaction of everybody concerned, especially the people living in them. The Minister, Deputy Hogan, will reach agreement with these people on this matter.

As Deputy Farrell tabled the question, I call him briefly for a supplementary question.

On the reactive pyrite issue that the Minister of State just mentioned, the properties in that category will be virtually unsaleable. The clarity for those home owners of providing a standardised testing regime through the pyrite resolution board will be a necessary step in the resolution process. I know the Minister of State is aware of that and I wanted to put it on the record of the House.

On the voluntary compliance with the arrangement the Department and Minister are trying to agree, while I might be unpopular in saying so, I would rather some more time being taken to come to a final resolution on the issue rather than going down the legislative route, which would clearly take months if not years.

I concur with the Deputy. If we can sort it out without legislation, all the better. However, it must be sorted out independently and properly, particularly for the unfortunate home owners who must live with the issue.

Water and Sewerage Schemes Status

John McGuinness

Question:

63. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when the Environmental Protection Agency is due to publish its national inspection plan under the wastewater services Bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54194/12]

The Water Services (Amendment) Act 2012 provides that the Environmental Protection Agency will make the national inspection plan for domestic wastewater treatment systems. A public consultation on a draft plan was publicised by the agency on 11 October, and submissions received are being reviewed. A training course for the water services authority personnel who will be appointed to carry out inspections is also being finalised and this is being overseen by the water services training group. I understand the plan and the training course will be finalised shortly.

The training course for inspectors will be extended to suitably qualified local authority staff in early 2013. This will be followed by the commencement of inspections, which will be based on the national inspection plan. Prior to inspections commencing, an extensive information campaign to advise householders of how to comply with the legal requirements regarding operation and maintenance of on-site wastewater treatment systems will be undertaken.

Does the Government plan to fund rectification works for those who may fail the testing the Minister of State mentioned? As taxpayers - God knows how much they will be paying after tomorrow - do they not have the same right to water and sewerage services as somebody living in the middle of a town? They deserve the same level of facilities and services from the State. To that end the Government has responsibility to have in place means and mechanisms for those who through no fault of their own may find themselves at the wrong end of this inspection.

That being the case and in the absence of any rectification funding being available, the Minister is abandoning them. In doing so, he is not respecting their rights which they have by virtue of the fact they pay their taxes the same as anybody else who has those facilities at his or her doorstep.

The Minister has stated repeatedly that he is prepared to consider all possible options to provide financial support to householders whose systems are deemed, following inspection, to require substantial remediation or upgrading. Any financial support will have regard to the overall budgetary situation and the financial position of individual households. I understand this matter is under active consideration in the Department.

I would hope it was under active consideration within the Department many months prior to today and that, in coming forward with a proposal for next year's budget, funding for this purpose would be set aside under the auspices of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. Can the Minister of State confirm this? If he cannot, he need not tell us it will be forthcoming next year because there is not a red cent to do it. If that is the case, where stand those people who through no fault of their own find themselves at the wrong end of this implementation? Is the Minister of State concerned by the fact the Commission is pressing ahead with the court case in this regard?

The reason this was brought in by the Minister was to avoid potentially quite severe and continuous penalties under the Commission's legislative role. In an effort to avoid that but primarily to protect drinking water and water courses, it is very important that and issues around contamination of drinking water in particular are addressed.

In a separate and different category, there was an outbreak of cryptosporidium in County Galway some years ago which meant it was not possible to drink water from the taps in Galway city for months. One must balance two things: the health impact of faecal contamination and the improvement of the quality of the water supply. The Minister was very clear in what he said and while I will leave it to him make his statements at the proper time, his intention and commitment in respect of the matter raised by the Deputy are clear.

Will funding be available?

Any financial support will have regard to the overall budgetary situation and the financial position of individual households, and we know who is responsible for the overall budgetary position.

Building Regulations Application

Clare Daly

Question:

64. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if, in view of the increasing incidence of post construction exposure of non-compliance with fire safety regulations in timber frame construction and it would appear that all these structures were confirmed as fire safety complied by persons who were certifying their own work or may not have monitored the construction, he will allay the concerns of thousands of home owners by instructing inspections to competent fire safety specials of all timber framed apartment blocks to ensure their safety. [54251/12]

I acknowledge the distressing and stressful situations which individuals face when building works in their home are not completed to the required acceptable standard. Since 1 June 1992, all new, extended or materially altered buildings, including those which have timber frame structures, must be built in compliance with the requirements of the national building regulations. Primary responsibility for compliance with the requirements of the regulations rests with the designers, builders and owners of buildings. Implementation and enforcement of the building control system is a matter for the local building control authority. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has no function in assessing, checking or testing compliance or otherwise of specific works or developments.

The Department is liaising with local authorities in relation to significant building control issues that have arisen in several multi-unit developments. Local authorities have extensive powers of inspection and enforcement under current legislation and have used such powers on a number of occasions where circumstances giving rise to concern have arisen. I expect local authorities to continue to use all of the powers currently available to them to address serious building defects.

This is a major issue, especially with regard fire safety. While there is an obligation of compliance, an increasing number of examples of non-compliant post-construction and completed works have come to the fore. We are talking about Priory Hall, which was partly a timber frame construction, Belmayne, which was completely timber frame, Dundrum, where people were moved out of their homes because of fire safety issues and cannot go back because the remedial works would be too much, and Airside in Swords. I have no doubt there will be fatalities in this area because of inadequate fire regulations.

The Minister is not addressing the key point, which is that although builders and architects stated they were compliant and fire safety officers signed off on them, tens of thousands of timber frame homes are not compliant and represent a serious hazard for homeowners. Will the Minister of State consider asking the Department to undertake a programme of inspections by fire safety specialists using non-invasive methods such as thermal imagery to identify the faults and organise a programme of corrections? Otherwise, how can people have certainty? They live in total fear in their homes.

Deputy Daly put her finger on the issue. Non-invasive inspections are visual inspections in many respects, and unless someone is physically examining each stage of construction as it proceeds there cannot be absolute certainty about any construction. People certified the works were in order when they were not, as the Deputy rightly pointed out.

Local authorities and the building inspection regime are very active, and local authorities are pursuing people throughout the country. In Carlow 120 premises were inspected recently. In Clare, four large apartment blocks were inspected and closed since 2006. In Longford, fire safety issues which have arisen in three residential developments are being dealt with. In Fingal, enforcement action has been taken with regard to Martello Towers estate which was built by Newlyn Developments. Court deadlines for works were certified as having been met, but Fingal County Council has not as yet signed off on them. There are also many other cases. The Minister, Deputy Hogan, announced a number of measures to be advanced by the Department with a view to improving compliance with and oversight of the requirements of the building regulations and they are being discussed at present.

We know inspections have not been thorough enough. We know architects and engineers sign off on work without being present themselves and without having an assistant or employee inspecting on their behalf. Work is being covered up and one does not know the situation regarding the work carried out most recently. If supervision is not as good as it should be I suggest timber frame has become risky for use in construction in Ireland. Masonry is much safer. Timber would be fine provided all inspections are done at all stages and it is perfect. However unless this is done it becomes very risky.

In recent years log cabins have been built in tourism areas, such as by lakes. Local authorities seem to be very lax in checking them. Are measures in place to check the Scandinavian-style log cabins being built in scenic areas? Some people are saying they are sub-standard and not made of the right type of wood and not very good in terms of fire and safety. Perhaps they have fallen beneath the radar.

I have met fire officers in local authorities and they are very active. Highly professional staff examine all of these issues and I am sure that first and foremost in their minds is identification. In Offaly, 22% of valid commencement notices were inspected in 2010 where previously the level had been much lower, perhaps 10% or 15%. A total of 408 buildings were inspected with regard to fire safety in 2010. South Dublin County Council has taken enforcement and successive court actions against Coalport Building Company Limited. A file is with the DPP at present with regard to a development in Mullingar in County Westmeath. Cases are before the High Court in respect of fire safety issues in a six-storey 100 unit apartment block in Limerick. In July the Minister, Deputy Hogan, announced measures to be advanced with a view to making improvements. These are with regard to oversight of the requirements of the building regulations; the introduction of mandatory certificates of compliance by builders and designers of buildings confirming that the statutory requirements of the building regulations have been met; the lodgement of drawings at commencement and completion stage to show all of the requirements have been met; more efficient pooling of building control staff and resources to ensure more effective oversight; standardised approaches and common protocols to ensure nationwide consistency in the administration of building control functions; and better support and further development of the building control functions nationwide.

I would not like it to go out from the Oireachtas that any house constructed of timber is unsafe. Clearly, that is not so. There must be balance in this regard. We need to make it crystal clear that it is a priority for local government but I would not create unnecessary worry in people's minds.

EU Directives

Brendan Griffin

Question:

65. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will revisit the issue of restrictions on slurry spreading times, taking account of the implementation method in other jurisdictions, with a view to easing the difficulties that the current calendar based system is causing for farmers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [53802/12]

Set closed periods for the spreading of fertilisers, including slurry, are a requirement of the nitrates directive and are mandatory. The purpose of closed periods is to protect ground and surface water bodies, including drinking water sources, by prohibiting the application of fertilisers when such application poses an unacceptable risk to water courses. The closed periods in Ireland were decided following an extensive consultation and were discussed with farming bodies and the European Commission at the time.

Good agricultural practice involves the application of fertilisers as early as practicable in the growing season in order to maximise the uptake of nutrients and to minimise pollution to water. In this regard, the application of fertilisers in the months of November and December is not considered good farming practice and this has been the case long before the nitrates directive.

Closed periods for the spreading of fertilisers are part of Ireland's nitrates action programme. The regulations underpinning the programme were subject to a comprehensive review in 2010. Expert opinion was that the closed periods should remain unchanged in the programme. The action programme is due to be reviewed for a second time in 2013 and will be subject to full public consultation.

Housing Regeneration

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

66. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will provide an update on the regeneration of Knocknaheeney, Cork, including what is currently under construction and what has been completed; the number of families that have been rehoused; and the timeframe for completion. [54247/12]

The redevelopment of Knocknaheeney Block D, which comprised the comprehensive refurbishment of some 80 dwellings, the provision of new infill units, sheltered housing and the provision of community facilities, was completed over the past two years with substantial financial support from my Department. In light of the experience at Knocknaheeney Block D and the fact that over ten years had elapsed since the development of the original regeneration masterplan for the Knocknaheeney area, my Department instructed Cork City Council to undertake a review of the plan to ensure that it continued to be relevant and fit for purpose. This review was completed in 2011. The revised plan, which now covers a wider area including Hollyhill, was re-branded as the Cork City North West Regeneration Masterplan. This presents a much broader view, beyond a simple upgrading of the housing stock, to address underlying issues of social exclusion and socio-economic disadvantage. Issues such as connectivity and permeability, investment and employment have also been explored. Wide-ranging schemes of demolition and rebuilding, public realm upgrades including addressing areas of anti-social behaviour, and significant investment in social regeneration activities are all proposed. While my Department is satisfied with the broad thrust of the regeneration masterplan, it will be liaising with the city council on an ongoing basis to prioritise individual schemes for inclusion in annual work programmes.

Under the National Regeneration Programme, Cork City Council received an allocation of €12 million in 2012 in respect of its proposed programme of works which included completion of the works at Ard Sionnach housing estate as replacement social housing stock for units to be demolished as part of the regeneration programme, strategic demolitions and various estate and public realm works such as the closure of Hollyhill Lane, temporary refurbishments to houses and refurbishment of McSwiney Sports Hall. Phase 1 of a five-phase demolition programme has commenced with the relocation of 68 families, the majority of whom have transferred to nearby Ard Sionnach housing estate. I understand that demolition works will commence shortly. Work is also progressing on the other initiatives included in the 2012 work programme.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

Projected levels of activity in 2013 will be subject to the financial provision for housing, which will be determined in the context of the 2013 Estimates process. Having regard to the scope and extent of the overall proposed regeneration in Cork city and the potential availability of Exchequer funding in the coming years, it is not possible to indicate a timeframe for the completion of all elements of the masterplan.

There has been funding put forward in the regeneration for Knocknaheeney and the Glen, but the rest of the regeneration is important. Although it has not been mentioned in the past in terms of funding, I hope further regeneration in the Cork area will be looked at, that there will be a clear timetable in terms of how that is laid out and, according to the plan the Minister of State mentioned, this will be put in place over a period of time.

I have a fear that residents are being moved out of the estate into other housing and as Christmas approaches, they are sitting in uncertainty. Many have even bought furniture and household goods in anticipation of their move. We need to give them greater clarity and commitment as to when it will take place and how long it will take.

I visited the programme earlier this year and I felt that it was going well. It is working, residents are moving out to allow for demolition and they are staying within their own communities, etc. I felt that there was a positive response in Cork to it.

We will be allocating further funding next year and the year after to ensure that we continue with the programme. I have an element of detail for which we probably do not have time today, but it is proceeding in accordance with the plan. As Deputy Ellis will be aware, Cork City Council is also active in terms of moving on the socioeconomic side of it which was not part of the original plan.