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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 12 Mar 2013

Vol. 796 No. 1

Other Questions

Septic Tank Registration Scheme

Timmy Dooley


79. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the number of septic tanks registered; the registration compliance rate broken down by county; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12697/13]

The Water Services (Amendment) Act 2012 requires householders whose properties are served by on-site wastewater treatment systems to register their system with their local authority. As of 12 March 2013, applications in respect of the on-site wastewater treatment systems of 392,952 owners who have registered online, by post or in person at their local authority offices had been processed. In addition, approximately 35,000 additional registration applications were awaiting processing by the bureau operated by the Local Government Management Agency on that date giving a total compliance rate of approximately 86%.

Registration facilities have been available since 26 June 2012 and have been comprehensively publicised. The deadline for householders to register was 1 February 2013. The Department is consulting with the local authorities regarding the approach to be taken in respect of unregistered systems. Owners of domestic wastewater systems who have not yet registered may still do so and there are no late payment fees payable.

I propose to circulate in the Official Report a tabular statement setting out the number of processed registrations for each county and city council up to 12 March.

Registrations processed as of 12 March 2013:

Water Services Authority

Estimated total number of on-site waste water treatment systems ¹

Number of on-site waste water treatment systems registered

Number of on-site waste water treatment systems registered as a percentage of the estimated total number

Carlow County Council




Cavan County Council




Clare County Council




Cork City Council




Cork County Council




Donegal County Council




Dublin City Council




Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council




Fingal County Council




Galway City Council




Galway County Council




Kerry County Council




Kildare County Council




Kilkenny County Council




Laois County Council




Leitrim County Council




Limerick City Council




Limerick County Council




Longford County Council




Louth County Council




Mayo County Council




Meath County Council




Monaghan County Council




North Tipperary County Council




Offaly County Council




Roscommon County Council




Sligo County Council




South Dublin County Council




South Tipperary County Council




Waterford City Council




Waterford County Council




Westmeath County Council




Wexford County Council




Wicklow County Council




¹Based on Census 2011

Have inspections begun and, if not, why not? How much funding is set aside by the Department for grant aid this year pertaining to rectification measures? How much grant aid has been set aside this year and next year? If the amount committed this year is not used for that purpose, can that funding be transferred to grants for disabled people about which we spoke earlier or housing aid for older people?

I am surprised that Deputy Cowen would not want to have a dedicated source of finance for the purpose of remediating septic tanks given that his party opposed this measure.

I asked a question. I made no comment.

Deputy Ó Cuív held public meetings around the country telling people not to register and not to pay. He then reversed engines after Christmas when he found there was a grant system. Through Deputy Cowen, I would ask Deputy Ó Cuív whether he will compensate people for the €45 he took from them as a result of advising them up to last September not to pay. This was an outrageous decision by Deputy Ó Cuív, his party and indeed Sinn Féin, which held public meetings telling people not to register and not to pay. Some Independents did the same. These Deputies have cost people €45 each for advocating up to the end of September 2012 that they not pay the sum of €5.

We will have sufficient grant assistance. We will not know the level of grant assistance required until the inspections start in July 2013.

Is provision made for this?

Provision has been made for this measure under the rural water programme. The Deputy cannot expect me to give him the estimate for 2014 in respect of whether money will be available next year. We will know precisely after 1,000 inspections what level of grant assistance will be required on the basis of the numbers that will pass and fail. We already have experience from Cavan.

Speakers have one minute each for a question-and-answer session.

In respect of the amount of money the Minister claims my colleague and others owe the State so to speak-----

Is Deputy Cowen going to pay it? Is Fianna Fáil going to pay it?

If the Minister will allow me to speak, I will give him the answer. The reason for many of those meetings was to try to force the Minister and Government to make a commitment to put a grant system in place for those people who would require rectification.

Who told them not to pay?

Until that was done, the Minister had not committed to it. Now he has committed to it, he will not tell me what is his estimate for provision for 2014. I do not expect him to tell me what it is next year because the Cabinet has not sat down to discuss it despite the fact that only four of them do so but I ask him to tell me what provision he has made for this year. He either has or has not made provision. I would imagine that he is obliged to tell the House what provision he has made as an estimate for this function this year. In the event of him not meeting the commitment in the estimate, can he then address an issue that is far more serious and about which we spoke earlier, namely, those less well-off and most vulnerable people, the disabled and those who do not have the clout that the Minister and many of his party have?

In the event of not meeting the commitment, can he make it available to the sector to which I refer, within the envelope of the Department's budget?

I have sufficient resources in the rural water programme to meet whatever grant applications are made arising from an inspection and remediation plan that meets the criteria I announced before Christmas.

What is the big secret?

Inspections have not been carried out as yet. It could be the case that none of them will fail. The Deputy asks me to provide money for a scheme. I am surprised that Deputy Cowen did not compliment the fact that 86% of the people of this country decided to ignore his party as well as Sinn Féin and Independent Deputies by registering online or by post-----


I gave them a grant system. I always said there would be financial assistance-----

The Minister was very slow. It took him 12 months to commit to it.

The Leas-Cheann Comhairle knows that I always said that financial assistance would be available-----


Settle down, please, Deputy Cowen.

I know I disappointed the Deputy when he said-----

You did not disappoint me.

I disappointed the Deputy enormously when I announced the grant scheme. If the household income is less than €50,000 then 80% of the costs up to a maximum of €4,000 will be available. If the household income is between €50,000 and €75,000, 50% of the cost, up to a maximum of €2,500 will be available. There will be no financial assistance available if the household income exceeds €75,000. I can assure the Deputy that there will be sufficient moneys in the Estimate to cater for people who are in a difficult situation arising from remediation.

Deputy Cowen got it wrong too.

Deputy Wallace is looking to speak. Please be brief, Deputy, as we are out of time.

I will definitely be brief. The Minister has indicated that inspection will only be applied to a minority of the tanks yet he says he is serious about cleaning up the water table. How, in God's name, can he be sure he can clean up the water table if he does not inspect all the tanks? On my second question, the Minister has capped the grant at €4,000. We know that in some cases a Bio-Crete system will be required which will cost €8,000 to buy and approximately €2,500 to fit. Will those people be caught for €6,500?

Deputy Wallace was also someone who opposed the registration process in this scheme. I am sure he will acknowledge that the people of Wexford, 75% of whom have registered-----

Fear is a great thing.

I am sure he will support me when I say that this is a very good response from the people of Wexford who ignored Deputy Wallace in the process. The inspections will be on a risk-based approach which I have outlined on a number of occasions.

The Minister never moved until after the all-Ireland.

Deputy Flanagan has troubles of his own.


Do not penalise him.

The plan has been approved by the Commission. It requires that a minimum of one thousand inspections are to be carried out by the Water Services Authority over the 12 month period commencing in July 2013.

The Minister did not answer my second question. I asked two questions.

We are out of time on this question.

Common Agricultural Policy Negotiations

Michael Moynihan


80. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his views on co-financing of rural development under CAP Pillar Two; the impact of Multi Annual Framework budget cuts to Pillar Two on rural development schemes here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12689/13]

The European Council agreement on the new multi-annual financial framework, MFF, is a good deal for Ireland and for Europe. The overall amount for the last MFF for 2007 to 2013 was €994 billion. The amount agreed for the 2014 to 2020 MFF is approximately €960 billion. Although this is slightly less than the previous financial period it is, nonetheless, a positive development in the context of the financial situation that prevails across Europe currently and particularly in relation to the significant budget available for the Common Agricultural Policy.

The agreement provides some €373 billion funding for sustainable growth - natural resources, largely agriculture and fisheries - and it supports a continuing strong CAP. It will deliver some €1.2 billion per year in direct payments to farmers under Pillar I and €313 million per year under Pillar II, including a specific allocation of €100 million for rural development under Pillar II. It will give vital support to our agrifood industry which is growing and continuing to create employment. Ireland also secured a further €100 million for the BMW region from the ERDF. All of this combined means that Ireland will be in a strong position for the next programming period of 2014 to 2020.

The next stage is for the European Parliament to agree to the deal. In parallel with these discussions, the negotiation processes for the large range of regulatory instruments required to implement the various parts of the MFF will continue. The MFF provides for flexibility regarding the co-financing rates for various areas of rural development including Leader, for which my Department has responsibility. Final decisions on the specific nature of the co-financing arrangements for the Leader elements of the rural development programme remained to be negotiated and in this context, my Department and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, will be taking forward the discussions with a view to obtaining the best outcome for Ireland.

This is similar to what happened with septic tank registration. The Minister wanted people to register before the grant was available. It would seem reasonable to make the grant available first. The Minister owes those involved €45 each.

That matter relates to a different question.

Deputy Ó Cuív got caught out.

The Minister owes them all €45.

We are on Question No. 80.

Deputy Ó Cuív was caught out.

If the Minister had announced the grant first, people could have registered for €5. If his conscience is picking at him now, it should be, because it was he who cost those people money.

What about that Minister?

What a hypocrite. Deputy Ó Cuív travelled around the country and told people not to pay.

This is typical of the Minister's scattergun approach.

What a hypocrite.

Sometimes it seems the Minister does not read. Sometimes I worry that he is not able to read.

The Deputy read a lot when he was in government.

I did an awful lot.

What did the Deputy do?

The Minister is absolutely right, and I thank him for the compliment.

The Deputy certainly read a lot but he achieved very little.

I was very assiduous about reading. However, the Minister never reads.

The Deputy will have to take my word for it that I do read.

If the Minister does read, he does not take the information in.

He certainly never pays any heed to what is on paper.

The Deputy should pay €45 back to the people he advised not to pay.

That is typical of the arrogance of this Government.

The Deputy has taken €45 out of the pockets of those in Connacht-Ulster. Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan's people were involved in that as well.

No; it was the Minister. If it is on his conscience, he should pay up.

The Deputy-----

I ask those on all sides to please desist. Deputy Ó Cuív should ask a question.

He robbed them of €45 each.

The second thing the Government has managed to do is to be involved in bringing about, for the first time ever, a decrease in the money available under the CAP. Will the Minister explain how what his party, in opposition, described as a purely Irish financial crisis has suddenly become a European one? Does he agree that the level of Leader funding that will be available on the next occasion will be much less than we achieved during the previous round? Will he indicate the negotiations he has had with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine regarding the breakdown of the €313 million available from Europe in respect of outside-the-farm-gate mechanisms such as Leader and inside-the-farm-gate schemes such as the installation aid, farm retirement, disadvantaged areas and agri-environment options schemes?

I regularly discuss these matters with my colleague, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Coveney. The negotiations between us on how the moneys agreed under the multi-annual financial framework some weeks ago will be divided are just starting. A stakeholder consultation was undertaken by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine and interested parties were invited to make submissions. More than 80 submissions are currently under consideration. I expect that, arising from these, both Departments will be engaging in negotiations in the coming weeks and months in order to obtain the best possible deal for the rural development programme. I acknowledge that there will be less money available in the next round.

Can we take it that the amount available will be at least 11% lower than previously? Could the reduction be as high as 20%? Will the Minister confirm that when inflation is taken into account, the MFF allocation for rural development will actually be 18% lower than was the case previously?

Countries other than Ireland have a difficulty in agreeing on the funding. The British Government-----

There will be 18% less money available.

-----wants to pull out of the European Union because it is of the view that too much money is being spent on the programmes involved. It is going to hold a referendum on whether the county should remain in the EU. The British Prime Minister has a say at the negotiating table and he obtained some of what he was seeking in respect of these matters. A significant amount of money remains available and it is not that much less than was available under the previous programme.

It is much less. It will be 18% less.

No; it is not that much.

There will be 18% less money available.

Let us see what will be the outcome of the negotiations. The overall budget will be reduced from €960 billion to €930 billion.

Inflation must be taken into account.

The person in possession should be allowed to continue.

I am providing the Deputy with the global figures, in volume terms, that have been agreed under the MFF.

What about inflation?

Inflation was not taken into account on the previous occasion either.

It was taken into account.

We are comparing like with like in the context of what Deputy Ó Cuív and the Government of which he was a member negotiated-----

The reduction is almost 20%. What about inflation?

Only the Deputy is interested in inflation. I am using the same figure that has been used for the past seven years and comparing it with the figure his Government negotiated. We are comparing like with like.

The Minister would do as well to compare it with the position that obtained in 1931. The amount involved would appear to be very good if he did so.

I am comparing like with like.

The Minister is not doing so, because money does not have the same value.

The Minister must conclude. We are almost out of time.

Obviously, the Minister does not understand inflation-----

May I answer the question? The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine and I will be in discussions and we will let the Deputy know the outcome in due course.

Water Charges Introduction

Dara Calleary


81. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will detail the charging system that will be imposed on non-metered homes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12694/13]

Brendan Smith


91. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the current timeframe for the roll-out of water metering across the State; the total number of houses to be metered; the number of homes exempted from metering; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12692/13]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 81 and 91 together.

The programme for Government and the memorandum of understanding with the European Union, the IMF and the European Central Bank provide for the introduction of domestic water charges. The Government considers that charging based on usage is the fairest way to charge for water and has decided that water meters should be installed in households connected to public water supplies. It has also decided that Irish Water, a new State-owned water company to be established as an independent subsidiary within the Bord Gáis Energy group, will be responsible for the metering programme.

There are, as reported in census 2011, approximately 1.35 million domestic properties connected to public water supplies in Ireland and the objective is to install meters in the maximum number of these properties. I have previously indicated that a proportion of these properties may not be metered in the initial metering programme owing to either the high cost or the technical difficulty of doing so. However, I expect that a large number of them will be metered in the longer term as shared service connections are replaced and further options relating to metering apartment blocks are evaluated.

The procurement processes for the metering programme are under way and it is expected that the installation of meter boxes and domestic water meters will begin in the middle of this year and will be rolled out as quickly as possible thereafter. The Water Services Bill 2013, which completed its passage through the Dáil last week, will assign the necessary powers to allow Irish Water to undertake the metering programme.

The Government has also decided to assign responsibility for the economic regulation of the water sector, including the setting of charges, to the Commission for Energy Regulation. The primary role of the regulator will be to protect the interests of customers and ensure a consistent and appropriate level of service is provided for them. As the metering programme will still be under way in 2014, an appropriate approach to charging customers who are not metered at that stage will be put in place. This will be structured in such a way as to ensure that it will represent a reasonable proxy for usage and be fair. The approach to charges for both metered and unmetered properties will be included in a public consultation process taking place this year as part of the regulatory process.

Initially, what percentage of the properties did the Minister believe could not be metered and would have to have a charge placed on them?

I expect that by the end of 2014 approximately 50% of households will be metered. An estimated 300,000 households may not be metered initially owing to the high cost or technical difficulties.

The Minister is saying that the number is 300,000.

Yes. That is our estimate.

Research I have carried out indicates that the figure could be as high as 500,000, which would be 36%.

That is high.

It seems to be very high. If it is too high, will the Minister's officials confirm to me in writing the basis on which they arrived at the figure of 300,000 because it smells of a "make it up as you go along" approach to the entire process? I do not want to retrack through the interim Bill introduced to the House last week, but the fact is that it was brought before the House in the absence of a good deal of information on an audit of existing networks and the exact cost of metering. An audit has not yet been completed of those who may be affected by the charges associated with water connections, but, in essence, we were asked to vote for that Bill in the dark. We have no problem with the concept of charging for water services, but we want an efficient system, not an inefficient one. We want inhabitants to see there is competency in respect of the information put before us, as elected Members. The figures being bandied about for the numbers of units that can and cannot be metered must be clarified quickly. However, that has not been done. While the interim Bill gives authority to begin metering, which is bad enough, it will be much more than an accident if the figures are not brought forward shortly.

I do know the source of the Deputy's figures. I can only go on what-----

I can go through them for the Minister.

A total of 320,000 units were built prior to 1960.

Many would argue that they cannot be fitted with meters. The number of apartments has risen by 27% since 2006. Combining apartments, bedsits, pre-1960 homes and holiday homes, which remain vacant for much of the year, brings the total to 503,140 units.

I thank the Deputy. We estimate that 300,000 households may not be metered. We are currently carrying out a survey in Wexford - Deputy Mick Wallace may have been surveyed himself - involving 9,000 houses in the last six weeks. A higher than expected number have been found already to have boundary boxes. We had estimated that 100,000 properties nationally had boundary boxes installed as part of the planning process over the last six or seven years, particularly at the height of the boom. We were very pleased to see that a significant number of houses in Wexford town had the boxes. Of the 9,000 surveyed, 2,000 had the boxes. That is a higher number. I expect that as the programme is rolled out, a significant proportion of properties will be metered between the direct installation of boundary boxes by the appointed contractors and the boxes which are already in place. We are also looking at an opt-in arrangement in provincial areas for people on public supplies. I am told by the technical staff in Irish Water that the figure for households that will have initial difficulties is 300,000.

Can the Minister make that information available?

I will try to be helpful and get the information from Irish Water for the Deputy.

Many apartment blocks have management companies which will probably take on the role of deciding who will pay what. It will be complicated and create problems. Many of these apartment blocks are in trouble. Can the Minister outline how metering will work in that context?

I have encountered many local authority properties where two houses are fed from one line. As far as the footpath, the line is the local authority's responsibility but then it goes inside the property boundary. We will have a situation where two, three or four houses - a lot of in-built houses that were built over the last while - go onto extra lines. It will cause an awful lot of expense if they have to be metered separately. In some cases, they may be forced to do that. There are a lot of issues to consider. There may be a leak in one house or one house may use more water than the other. How are we going to manage this? It is a very complicated system. Can the Minister comment on some of those issues?

It would be worth pointing out that the 2,000 houses with boundary boxes in County Wexford were built in recent years and the owners will have the comfort of knowing that they paid the highest indirect taxation in Europe when they were purchasing their homes. Given that water is not cheap, would it not be a better business plan to fix the pipes from which 40% of the water supply leaks into the ground before installing meters? Am I correct to say that there will be an entitlement to a certain amount of water for free before charges kick in? If that policy is intended to be put in place, how will it be managed for people who do not have a meter?

I am opposed to the charges as I am fearful that Irish Water will be privatised down the line. Some of the estates I represent in Bayside, mid-Sutton and Marino have numerous houses which are on what is in effect the same boundary box. How will that be addressed? Dublin City Council seems of its own volition to have carried out a programme of installing meters outside many city homes. Does the Minister have any figures on that? Is most of the city metered at this stage?

To reply to Deputy Dessie Ellis, there will be assessed charges for people in apartment blocks which we will not get around to metering. In terms of some of the types of terraced properties Deputy Barry Cowen mentioned, there will certainly be technical difficulties initially. The assessed charge will take account of the free allowance based on a certain amount of permitted litres per individual in a house. That will be brought in as part of the metered charge. It will be the free allowance process that we advocated in the programme for Government.

Many people expect the meters to be located on their private properties, which will not necessarily be the case; they may be located on the footpath or in a public space. We are working with the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources on the potential of smart metering to reduce the level of inconvenience in locating a boundary box or meter by taking into account the current state of water metering technology in order that we can learn from the smart metering programme under way in that Department.

I accept that when we install meters, there may be leaks between where a metre is installed and the dwelling. We are looking to see how we can help customers financially in dealing with this matter. A considerable amount of water may be wasted in some cases and, in the context of the water leakage programme, the customer may be provided with some financial support. Through no fault of the customer, there may have been a leak for a long time and the customer should not have to meet the financial responsibility in the first instance. With Irish Water, we are looking for a way to pay on the first opportunity to fix it.

Many houses have lead pipes, which cause problems.

We continue to have a major water rehabilitation programme in the Dublin area and a significant amount of money will be spent on replacing the pipe network, which is an ongoing programme.

The problem was with individual houses in Whitehall and Santry.

Leader Programmes Funding

Seamus Kirk


82. Deputy Seamus Kirk asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the number of Leader projects of proposed grant level in excess of €150,000 awaiting approval in his Department broken down on a monthly basis of lodging with his Department; the reason for the delay in approving these projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12700/13]

Funding of €314 million is available under the rural development programme 2007-13 for allocation to qualifying projects up to the end of 2013. There are 35 local action groups, LAGs, contracted on my Department’s behalf to deliver the rural development programme throughout the country and these groups are the principal decision-makers on the allocation of project funding. Such decisions are made in the context of the local development strategy of the individual groups and in line with departmental operating rules and EU regulations.

Projects that request funding of €150,000 or more are required to seek final approval from my Department. The assessment of these higher value projects usually involves detailed consultations between my Department and the relevant local development company. It frequently necessitates the provision of further documentation or clarifications. It may also, in some instances, result in modifications to the project proposed to ensure best value for money and compliance with all the necessary regulations, both national and European, governing the activities funded under the programme.

The policy in my Department is to work with the local development companies to ensure the projects submitted are fully compliant and can be approved rather than to refuse approval for funding. It can, therefore, take some time to come to a final conclusion. My Department will continue to work with the relevant LAGs to make a full assessment of the eligibility of these projects and will advise the LAGs once all queries have been addressed satisfactorily. My Department has 42 projects at various stages of assessment and I propose to circulate a table in respect of these in the Official Report. Some 36 of the projects in hand have been received in the period since October 2012, including 21 since the start of the year.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House


Date Received

Grant aid requested


Ballyhoura Development Ltd



Under Assessment

Carlow County Development Partnership Lt d



Under Assessment

Cill Dara Ar Aghaidh Teo



Under Assessment

Cill Dara Ar Aghaidh Teo



Under Assessment

Clare Local Development



Awaiting Info

Clare Local Development



Awaiting Info

Donegal Local Development Co Ltd



Under Assessment

Fingal LEADER Partnership Co



Awaiting Info

Fingal LEADER Partnership Co



Awaiting Info

Forum Connemara



Under Assessment

Forum Connemara



Under Assessment

Galway Rural Development



Under Assessment

Galway Rural Development



Under Assessment

Kilkenny LEADER Partnership



Awaiting Info

Kilkenny LEADER Partnership



Awaiting Info

Kilkenny LEADER Partnership



Awaiting Info

Kilkenny LEADER Partnership



Under Assessment

Kilkenny LEADER Partnership



Under Assessment

Kilkenny LEADER Partnership



Under Assessment

Kilkenny LEADER Partnership



Under Assessment

Leitrim Integrated Development Co Ltd



Under Assessment

Leitrim Integrated Development Co Ltd



Under Assessment

Louth LEADER Partnership



Under Assessment

Mayo North East LEADER Partnership



Under Assessment

Mayo North East LEADER Partnership



Under Assessment

Meath Partnership



Under Assessment

North Tipperary LEADER Partnership



Under Assessment

North Tipperary LEADER Partnership



Awaiting Info

Roscommon Integrated Development Company



Under Assessment

Roscommon Integrated Development Company



Under Assessment

Roscommon Integrated Development Company



Awaiting Info




Awaiting Info

South Kerry Development Ltd.



Awaiting Info

South Kerry Development Ltd.



Under Assessment

South Kerry Development Ltd.



Under Assessment

South West Mayo Development



Under Assessment

South West Mayo Development



Under Assessment

Waterford Leader Partnership



Under Assessment

Waterford Leader Partnership

01/02 /2013

€200,000 .00

Awaiting Info

West Limerick Resources Ltd



Under Assessment

West Limerick Resources Ltd



Under Assessment

Co Wicklow Partnership



Awaiting Assessment

Is the Minister telling me there were seven applications received before October 2012?

Of those under assessment, yes.

Is the Minister not surprised that so many queries are arising in respect of projects above the level of €150,000? Total responsibility for approving projects under the level of €150,000 rests with the local action groups which seem to be able to do so with competence. Why does the Minister think so many problems arise with larger projects examined using the exact same process? Why is there a need to delay these projects for up to ten months before approval is granted? Will the Minister provide an explanation as it seems projects under the level of €150,000 can be approved without difficulty?

I would like to think it is simple to approve every project, but that is not true of any project, whether under or over the level of €150,000. They must meet certain criteria and are subject to an EU audit. The larger the project, the greater the degree of care and the attention paid by the local action group. Larger projects often require the assistance of the Department in order to meet the obligations, rules and criteria laid down.

I hope the Deputy would agree that co-operation between the local development companies and the Department is quite good on these matters, and that the work of the local action groups, LAGs, in assisting the Department continues to be quite fruitful in getting these projects over the line in order to meet EU requirements. Otherwise, as applies in a number of cases, there would be open spot-check inspections by the European Commission for the purpose of ascertaining whether the rural development programme is adhering to the original criteria. Unfortunately, there are some cases in that category currently, and some of them are under pressure to meet the original criteria. I do not want that to happen in any major projects involving over €150,000.

As the Minister is aware, if we take two projects, one costing €140,000 and the other costing €160,000, a LAG can approve the former project without requiring Department approval, while the latter will require Department approval, even though there is not a great deal of difference in the costs involved. In one case the Department trusts the LAG to approve it but in the other case it can take up to seven months to obtain approval. Will the Minister agree that there are a large number of complaints from LAGs about the delays in approving projects over €150,000, and that the applications are lying around the Department and are not being processed? There is an urgency now, in view of the incredibly low spend that has been achieved under the rural development programme, in getting on with this job, approving projects and allowing companies to facilitate the applicants in proceeding with these projects. As the Minister is aware, for all non-community projects, the total maximum amount that can be approved is €200,000. Will the Minister tell me what is the magic difference between €150,000 and €200,000 that makes the approval process so slow and complicated for projects over €150,000, when all projects from zero to €150,000 can be approved solely by LAGs with no reference to the Department?

That is the programme the Deputy put in place when in government.

I know, but we were turning them out fast; that is the difference.

The Deputy did things differently.

We did it much differently.

I ask the Members to settle down.

We were efficient.

The Minister has only one minute remaining to reply.

The Deputy was very good; he was excellent. That is why the country is in the state it is in.

We were very efficient in the Department.

We have 42 projects.

Many people would tell the Minister that. It was a very well run Department.

The Minister has the floor.

If things had been so good, I would have inherited very few problems.

Unfortunately, when they took out the community and rural development functions-----

The Minister has the final reply.

-----they destroyed a very tight, well-run Department.

I ask the Deputy to have respect for the person in possession.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and I am glad he is in the Chair.

The Minister will have to up his game.

The process is one that the Deputy put in place and that cannot be changed until the end of this programme period, which is the end of this year. I am considering all those issues in the context of reform, including the high level administration that the Deputy put into the system.

Pyrite Panel Report Recommendations

Thomas P. Broughan


83. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when he will bring forward legislation to facilitate the establishment of a pyrite levy fund as recommended by the report of the pyrite panel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12509/13]

Willie O'Dea


93. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the timeframe for the implementation of pyrite resolution board legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12690/13]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 83 and 93 together.

I attach a very high priority to preparing the necessary primary legislation to underpin the imposition of a levy on the quarrying and insurance sectors, in conjunction with the Office of the Attorney General. The Department is currently advancing the drafting of the general scheme of a Bill. While there are particular complexities attaching to the proposed legislation, which require detailed consultations with other Departments, I am confident that these can be dealt with in a satisfactory manner and I will be in a position to bring proposals to the Government very shortly. It is my intention that the Bill be published and enacted in the shortest possible timeframe and there will be no delay on my part.

The Department continues to engage in discussions with a number of financial institutions, facilitated by the Irish Banking Federation, with a view to securing a loan facility which the not-for-profit entity would draw down to permit the earliest possible commencement of remediation works. It is intended that detailed negotiations with the prospective lenders on the terms and conditions of this facility will be concluded by the not-for-profit entity. Loan funds drawn down would be repaid over time from the proceeds of the statutory levies.

I have recently announced the establishment of the Pyrite Resolution Board and the appointment of Mr. John O’Connor, former chairman of An Bord Pleanála, as its chairman, together with three board members. I also indicated that I would be appointing a final member to the board from the not-for profit entity. Mr. Matt Gallagher, the immediate past president of the Construction Industry Federation, CIF, is the nominee from that entity and I have now appointed him as the final member of the board. I believe the membership of the board has the particular range of skills and experience necessary to oversee and ensure the successful operation of the remediation scheme, and to ensure that the public interest and the interest of the affected home owners are well served. The board will be working closely with the not-for-profit entity to deliver an efficient and effective remediation scheme for home owners who have no other option for redress open to them.

I understand the Pyrite Resolution Board has had a number of meetings and has now commenced work on drawing up the precise scope of the remediation scheme, including eligibility criteria, procedures and priorities. It is also in the process of developing its own website, where it will publish documentation and a system for receiving applications from eligible home owners.

The Minister has given us welcome news about the resolution board. Will we see the legislation by June? Earlier he envisaged a fund of around €50 million, perhaps €45,000 per home. Is that the sum he is considering? How many companies will be levied? Has he got down to that detail?

While the property tax exemption for houses affected by pyritic heave is welcome, there is a concern that damage may not be visible in many houses. It could be something that happens over decades. Should this be considered again? I am asked this question again and again, particularly by the Lusk Village action group. Many householders face massive property taxes on homes that have a low value.

While the Minister is present I would like to ask him about Priory Hall. Five hundred days-----

The Deputy is late for that question.

What is the Minister doing about Priory Hall?

I raised Priory Hall earlier.

In addition to the information about the timeframe, I ask the Minister what provision has been made in his Estimate towards setting up the board and a fund to be disbursed by the board for remedial works. If that is adequate, there is nothing to stop the Minister from giving indicative dates. We will not hold him to them, because he has been found wanting on commitments of that nature before.

I can let Deputies Ellis and Wallace speak if they are brief.

The Minister mentioned that he was talking to the banks about setting up a fund in lieu of getting the levy later. Is that still in the pipeline? It is very disappointing that this has not moved forward. I know the Minister has set up the panel, but we need to move quickly. There are 800 houses in serious need. This is urgent. Surely the legislation can be drawn up quickly so that we can agree it and move more quickly. How long do we have to wait? Will we be waiting two, three, four, five or six months? We need to move as quickly as we can. Many people face terrible problems.

When the fund is set up and money is available, would the Minister consider testing some of the homes in estates where pyrite has been found? If one builder built several houses in an estate - or all of the houses, as was often the case - he probably used the same stone from the same quarry to build them, and it is more than likely that other home owners in the estate will find out further down the line that they are also stuck with pyrite. The houses need to be tested, and surely money from the fund could be used to do that. Would the Minister consider doing that?

I remind Deputies that this fund is a last resort. People must go through all the other processes initially if they have insurance. This fund will kick in only where people have no redress as consumers. I am anxious to move and I assure Deputies that I will move as quickly as I possibly can. I was hoping we could do this through the Finance Bill but our legal advice was that it would not be possible, as a matter of safe law, to meet the requirements that would need to underpin this legislation in the Finance Bill. We are moving quickly. I expect the heads of the Bill to be before the Government in the next two weeks with a view to bringing the full proposals forward in the next Dáil session. I expect that all sides of the House will want to agree this Bill rather quickly. In the meantime we are getting on with setting the criteria that Deputy Wallace mentioned - that is, what constitutes a test and what shows that an entire estate is clean of pyrite. Deputy Broughan raised all of these issues too. I will not get into the property tax debate again. Either one has pyrite or one does not. The test will indicate-----

One might not be in the red category.

I am not getting into a subjective argument about this.

This issue has been hanging around for a while and the Government and I are anxious to do something about it as quickly as we possibly can. The Pyrite Resolution Board is working hard to ensure that the criteria and eligibility that Deputies Broughan and Wallace are talking about can be taken into account. If they wish to proceed with feeding the ideas they get from their constituents to the chairman of the Pyrite Resolution Board, that would be welcome too.