Other Questions

Water Charges Administration

Seán Crowe

Question:

58. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will confirm that he will raise the option of the installation of block meters with a more cost effective option for domestic water meters; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33801/13]

Brian Stanley

Question:

59. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the way he envisages that public representatives will be included on the board of Irish Water; the number and when they will be elected. [33799/13]

John Browne

Question:

68. Deputy John Browne asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his plans for water charging; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33765/13]

Robert Troy

Question:

71. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the timeframe for the roll-out of water metering; when it will begin; when it is due to be completed; the number of units covered by water metering; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33762/13]

Brendan Smith

Question:

81. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the specific measures that have been taken to ensure at least 20% of those employed in the roll-out of water meter installation are drawn from the unemployment register; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33760/13]

Martin Ferris

Question:

88. Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will provide a detailed local authority by local authority breakdown of when he expects the installation of domestic water metering to commence. [33800/13]

John McGuinness

Question:

91. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the number of subcontractors appointed for the roll-out of water meters throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33758/13]

Brian Stanley

Question:

93. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if the forthcoming water services Bill allows the transfer of local authority water section assets, including land, installations, networks and other property, to Uisce Éireann without a section 183 ban passed by councils; and if it will allow the local authorities' outstanding debts and payments on public private partnerships to be absorbed by Uisce Éireann; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33798/13]

Brendan Griffin

Question:

835. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if a decision has been made on appointing regional subcontractors for the installation of water meters; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35378/13]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 58, 59, 68, 71, 81, 88, 91, 93 and 835 together.

The programme for Government and the memorandum of understanding with the EU, IMF and the ECB 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, therefore, decided that water meters should be installed in households connected to public water supplies. International evidence has shown that where meters have been installed, significant reductions have been achieved in the level of consumption, and this is also borne out by the water savings achieved with metering in the group water sector. Block metering or district metering is already widely utilised by water services authorities in the management of the water services network and should be seen as complementary, rather than as an alternative, to domestic metering. While district metering can assist the monitoring of consumption at a network level, it does not provide any information to individual households on their consumption or any incentive for customers to use water resources more efficiently.

The Government has also decided to establish Irish Water, a new State-owned water company to be established as an independent subsidiary within the Bord Gáis group. The Water Services Act 2013 provides that Bord Gáis will establish Irish Water as a company under the Companies Acts and conform to the conditions set out in the Act. The Act also provides that the memorandum and articles of association of Irish Water are to be in a form consistent with the Act, as may be approved by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government with the consent of the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. The arrangements for the appointment of directors to the board of Irish Water are set out in the articles of association.

The water sector reform implementation strategy, which is published on the Department’s website, is focused on ensuring appropriate policy and legal frameworks are put in place for Irish Water and the water sector. The implementation strategy provides clarity on the steps involved in this process and the key milestones and deliverables to be achieved this year. The transfer of assets and liabilities from existing water services authorities to Irish Water supports the overall objective of delivering efficiencies within the sector by allowing Irish Water to control assets, revenue and costs, thereby supporting better economies of scale in terms of capital investment and operating costs, and optimising borrowing capacity. The identification and valuation of the relevant asset base and the development of policy and legislation for the transfer of these assets is being progressed. Work is also under way on identifying the liabilities which will transfer to Irish Water.

Irish Water will be responsible for the domestic water metering programme and the collection of water charges. Regional management contractors are due to be appointed by Irish Water later this month following a public tendering process. They will have responsibility for appointing subcontractors. It is expected they will utilise the resources of the subcontractors from the pre-qualified panel created by my Department.

The installation of meter boxes and domestic water meters will be rolled out as quickly as possible. At least 25% of the estimated 1,600 jobs created directly by Irish Water’s domestic water metering programme will be given to people from SMEs, the unemployment register, school leavers, graduates and apprentices.

This social inclusion commitment will form part of the regional management contractor's contracts. It has been decided, following the previous review of the memorandum of understanding by the European Commission, the IMF and the ECB, that water charges will commence with effect from quarter 4 of 2014. It is expected, therefore, that Irish Water will issue the first bills to customers in quarter 1 of 2015. An exact date in this regard will be decided by the Government.

Will the Acting Chairman clarify whether questions Nos. 88 and 93 are being taken in this group?

How much time do I have to pose supplementaries?

As four questions in the group were tabled by Sinn Féin Deputies, there is one minute available in respect of a supplementary relating to each.

The Deputy need not necessarily take all of the time available on this occasion. There are four minutes in respect of the four questions.

Did Sinn Féin ask the same question in four ways?

I suggest Deputy Stanley use two minutes now and I will return to him later.

That is no problem. On 15 June, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, indicated that he would raise the option of installing block meters with his Department and Uisce Éireann and then make a statement on the matter. We are of the view that these meters present a more cost-effective option. When did the Minister raise the matter and what response did he receive? Would it be possible for copies of the response to be circulated to Members? This is a critical issue for members of the public who are going to be asked to pay for metering and water. Public money is being used for the project and district metering costs between €4 and €8 per house. That is significantly cheaper than other options. In the interests of transparency, will the Minister of State provide copies of the questions posed by the Minister and also copies of the responses he received.

Question No. 59 relates to the involvement of public representatives on the board of Uisce Éireann and the Minister of State did not provide a reply in respect of it. How many public representatives - councillors, etc. - will be on the board of the company? Will the Minister of State indicate where democratic accountability on this matter will lie in the future? For example, a year from now whom should I, as Sinn Féin spokesperson on the environment, community and local government, and my counterparts in Fianna Fáil and the other parties and local authorities, contact if we have queries? What will be the line of communication in this regard and from whom will we be able to obtain answers.

In Question No. 88 we asked for a detailed breakdown, on a local authority by local authority basis, of the cost of the installation of domestic water meters. We need to be informed as to what is going to be the position in this regard. Taxpayers in counties Laois, Offaly and Louth have a right to know how much they are going to be obliged to pay in respect of the installation of water meters.

In Question No. 93 we inquired whether the forthcoming water services Bill will allow for the transfer of assets, including sales, to Uisce Éireann. Will section 183 bans, passed by local councillors, be required in order to transfer the assets? There are some absolutely huge assets involved here - some of which are owned by local authorities and others of which came into their possession through group water schemes - and they are going to be transferred to Uisce Éireann. It is going to operate under the umbrella of a semi-State company, Bord Gáis, parts of which - according to its NewERA proposals - the Government is going to privatise.

I will answer those questions as best I can. In the context of the first of them, in my initial reply I provided a clear answer on block meters. A parallel process will obtain here. Block meters are essential and useful. They measure the amount of water going into a particular block of properties - be it 24 houses or 300 - and one can then ascertain how much of this is being used. They can also be used to identify the location of a leak in a particular area and, consequently, the street and home in which that leak is occurring. Block meters are an important aspect of district metering and, as I understand it, they are already being installed in most local authority areas.

In the context of the questions posed by the Minister, Deputy Hogan, and the responses he received, I will ask the Minister to respond to the Deputy directly because I am not familiar with the correspondence which has been taking place in this regard. The Minister made a commitment and I have no doubt that he honoured it.

In the context of public representation on the board of Irish Water and as I stated, the articles of association relating to the company include the process by means of which directors will be appointed. The information in this regard is obviously not yet in the public domain. However, I am in a position to say that Irish Water is required to prepare a memorandum of understanding in respect of the articles of association. I understand this has been done. The governance provisions, including the process relating to the appointment of directors, will be addressed in the articles of association. Any appointments to the board of Irish Water by Bord Gáis will be subject of approval by the Ministers for the Environment, Community and Local Government and Communications, Energy and Natural Resources.

The issue of accountability will be addressed in legislation to be brought before the House prior to Christmas. The legislation in question is in preparation and while the Government has agreed on the broad principles involved, the details in this regard will be decided in conjunction with the Attorney General and others.

The question on the cost of metering is an important one. We cannot state what will be the cost prior to the commencement of the process. However, there will be total transparency and accountability when metering is completed. It would be wrong to provide an actual figure in respect of costs prior to the procurement of the meters required. Until those meters are purchased, referring to actual amounts could lead to the cost to an increase in the cost to the taxpayer.

The Deputy's final question related to the transfer of assets. All assets are being assessed at present and date for their transfer to Uisce Éireann is 1 January 2014.

I welcome the opportunity, prior to the summer recess, to establish what progress has been made by Irish Water in respect of the provision of water services for the public at large. Has Irish Water yet provided the Government with a detailed audit in which it is outlined what will be the reinstatement costs countrywide, the cost of supplying directly to Dublin from reservoirs such as that at Garryhinch and up-to-date information on the issues which persist in Dublin and other places? When it won the contract, Irish Water indicated that it would provide such an audit in the months immediately following. However, it has yet to be made available and we have yet to be made aware of the costs involved in order that we might make at least a calculated guess at what might be the ultimate bill for the taxpayer.

What is the position with regard to local authority staff and the negotiations with them and Irish Water in respect of proposed contracts into the future? What will be the length of such contracts and will staff - contrary to the position which has obtained until now - be offered permanent positions?

The final matter to which I wish to refer relates to local authority representation. It is incumbent on the Minister of State to inform the House that he will use the powers relating to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government in order to ensure an adequate number of suitable local authority representatives will be appointed to the board. If nothing else, this will ensure that the tenuous link between local authorities and the provision of water services will be retained. Will the Minister of State confirm that the troika has given the Government permission to delay the imposition of charges for water on the public until after the local and European elections?

The Deputy's first question relates to the audit and the costs involved in bringing the network up to date before metering commences. Each local authority is involved in an ongoing process to identify the number of homes with single water supplies which can be upgraded immediately. Some homes have shared water supplies and for others the point of entry for the supply is to the rear of the property. There are issues in this regard and such properties may not be upgraded during the first phase. In excess of 1.05 million homes are expected to be metered. Those which will be upgraded first will be those in respect of which there is clarity about their location, access to the network etc. Costs are a serious issue and assessing the costs involved is part of the work that is ongoing. I am subject to correction but I understand this work is being carried out by local authority staff. Those staff will be working in the context of service level agreements between Irish Water and the local authorities and the company will obtain the necessary information by means of the terms of those agreements.

It is an important issue. Some of the new build is not as good as it was anticipated it would be but I do not have the full figures. They will all be part of the final build because, ultimately, our water infrastructure must be fit for purpose. If 42% of treated pumps, stored water, never get to a household, that is a significant issue.

The cost of the Garryhinch proposal is on the Dublin City Council website. The contract for that project is expected to be in the order of €5 million.

The question of staff transfers and the relationship between Uisce Éireann and the local authorities is a key issue. It has been subject to considerable negotiation and an agreement has been reached with local authority staff representatives, county managers and Uisce Éireann which will allow for service level agreements to continue beyond 2017, I understand, for at least a 12-year period. Therefore, there is certainty for staff in local authorities as to the work they will be doing should they wish to remain in the local authority.

I must interrupt the Minister as I have to bring in Deputy Joan Collins.

The establishment of Irish Water and the metering of water is a huge mistake, politically, economically and socially. The Minister of State said that the metering of water will lead to a significant reduction in the consumption of water but reports show that in London and elsewhere that happens initially but then the level of consumption increases as people revert to their general usage level because they need to. Initially they are cautious and then their usage increases.

We should have had a national plan under which we would have examined every home and building in this city and then a system should have been set up where clean water pumped through the system, for which we pay dearly, would be used for drinking water only, and the remainder of the water needed should have been serviced by rainwater harvesting and other such measures. That is what should have happened rather than what happened, which has led to the privatisation of our water services.

At the last environmental committee meeting in Dublin City Council, Tom Leahy, a councillor who is an expert in water metering, said that not one house had been checked to date in the Dublin City Council area in terms of the information gathering that the Minister of State mentioned. Has that happened? Are its staff out on the street checking every home to see if they can be metered? How long will the metering process take? Are members of the public supposed to pay for the cost of putting that infrastructure in place?

Regarding public representatives on the board of Uisce Éireann, the notion of having one county councillor on that board was mentioned here in the past year.

It was included in the initial Bill.

The Minister of State might clarify that point. In terms of the reform of local government, councillors will have to play a role in that respect. The local authority system is being swept to one side and councillors are being relegated to the sidelines. The Minister of State might clarify that point.

Regarding the local authorities and a breakdown of when this work will start, taxpayers' money will be used to pay for this. We were given a commitment that the work would start in July and today is 16 July. Can the Minister of State confirm if the work on the installation of water meters has started?

My point relates to the final point made by Deputy Stanley. Can the Minister of State inform the House if any contracts have been confirmed or agreed between the Department and Irish Water and, if so, is it an overall contract on a countrywide basis with subcontractors on a regional basis, or what configuration will it have? There has been much deliberation by us and others in recent months on foot of representations from many within the sector, the plumbing sector especially, who felt that they were outside the loop in terms of any possibility they might have of securing gainful employment from what is proposed. There is further concern that it might be all swallowed up by an overall contract and subsumed on a regional basis for those who have certain turnovers well in excess of that to which many might be accustomed, both in my local town or that of the Minister of State.

The issue of rainwater harvesting raised by Deputy Joan Collins is an important point. Conservation measures must go hand in hand with water metering in order to get public acceptance of what is happening. The selling of the message through Irish Water, Uisce Éireann, to the consumer is critical. I concur that all the issues need to be addressed in order that the public understands them. There will be an intensive national, regional and local campaign to provide information to consumers so that they will accept and acknowledge the fact that if they use less water they will pay less for it, but if they use more they will pay more. That is what metering is about, namely, that one accounts for the water one uses through what one pays for it. If we can encourage people to use less water, it will reduce the demand on the State for infrastructure down the road.

I do not accept that this move is politically and economically negative. Rather, I believe it is important because we will save money, we will have new synergies and a better water supply. The reality is that the evidence, nationally and internationally, and I have spoken to people about this everywhere I have visited, shows there is a significant reduction in consumption following metering. I have not seen a percentage less than at least 12% in this respect. I have seen figures as high as 50%, 60%, 70% and 80% in terms of the conservation of water in some places. I would not be worried about that aspect.

That is not what I have seen in reports.

I would be happy to share with the Deputy the information I have.

The question of privatisation does not, will not, cannot and is not arising. The next legislation in this area will make that absolutely clear. The existing legislation does not allow for privatisation. The legislation in the course of preparation will make that as crystal clear as is possible and I would be confident that will happen.

On the question of the start date, I would expect that there will be an announcement in the next few days on the awarding of the contracts and the names of the companies involved. There will be total transparency. It is not a matter for the Department but for Irish Water, Uisce Éireann. That announcement is imminent. In terms of clarity, there are some 159 approved subcontractors who are pre-qualified outside the eight different contracts and Irish Water is onrecord as stating the number of companies that will get those eight contracts is three. It is up to it to clarify that issue but there are other pre-qualified local contractors who are available to be used by the regional contractors.

They are not compelled - that is the point.

They are not compelled. That is a critical point, which I accept, but I assume they would have to have very good reasons not to opt for a company that is pre-qualified, local, that has the capacity and has tax clearance certificates. However, it does not preclude Uisce Éireann from doing-----

Three contractors have now been appointed.

I cannot say that. I believe that Irish Water has said that but I personally have not seen anything about that matter but that is what the firm is on record as saying. I understand, subject to correction, that there will be three regional contractors of the eight different regions followed by the subcontracting. The start date for metering will be announced shortly. It is imminent. When the companies are appointed I presume they will start the work straightaway. I would expect it to start-----

There is also the matter of the representatives on the board.

I agree the representatives on the board is an important point. Unfortunately, the Minister, Deputy Hogan, is not here to clarify the position regarding his proposals on that. As I said, it will also involve the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, but the Deputy's points are well made. I do not see any reason there will not be a satisfactory conclusion in terms of the principle involved. If that is fair enough, that is as far as I can go.

Question No. 60 is in the name of Deputy Kirk. I understand this question was dealt with partly under Priority Questions.

Will I read out the reply?

It is more or less the same reply.

Question No. 60 lapsed.

We will move on to Question No. 61 in the name of Deputy Mac Lochlainn.

Social and Affordable Housing Provision

Pádraig MacLochlainn

Question:

61. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will provide a breakdown of the social housing construction projects currently under way and the number of units that will be delivered and outline the timeframe, locations and cost. [33780/13]

In March 2013 I announced a capital provision of €275 million for allocation to 34 city and county councils in respect of a number of measures under my Department’s social housing investment programme, SHIP, for 2013.

The allocations included some €65 million for the local authority housing construction and acquisitions programme, some €40 million for the voluntary and co-operative housing construction and acquisitions programme, some €80 million for the construction of new homes and the refurbishment of existing properties under the national regeneration programme, some €15 million for the capital advance leasing facility and some €4 million in respect of Traveller-specific housing. Given the level of capital resources available, there is a shift away from the traditional local authority housing construction and acquisition programmes towards more flexible funding models.

In 2013, new social housing supply will be largely delivered through the social housing leasing initiative, the capital advance leasing facility and the rental accommodation scheme. The limited capital funding available is being targeted at the acquisition of built properties, including NAMA properties, the construction of new homes for people with specific categories of housing need and meeting general housing need in areas where the supply of properties for leasing is low. With a view to making optimum use of the capital funding available under the housing programme over the 2012-14 period, I announced funding of €100 million in July 2012 for a three-year housing construction and acquisition programme to deliver some 800 new units of social housing by the end of 2014. This includes a construction programme for 185 local authority houses and 111 houses for special needs accommodation for the voluntary sector. I propose to circulate in the Official Report tables identifying the projects included in the three-year programme and the regeneration and Traveller accommodation programmes.

The local authorities and approved housing bodies also augment their housing stock through targeted acquisitions programmes. Earlier this month, each city and county council was invited to submit proposals for the purchase of new permanent social housing units to meet specific identified housing needs, to be funded out of the capital provision for 2013. Local authorities were also invited to submit a programme of acquisitions by approved housing bodies, to be funded under the capital assistance scheme, which will facilitate people with a disability to live independently within communities. I will announce details of these acquisition programmes over the summer period. My Department supports a robust programme of social, economic and physical regeneration at six locations across the country, including Dublin city. Approximately 412 new units of accommodation will be delivered under construction contracts recently completed or under construction in 2013. The 2013 capital allocations to local authorities also include funding in respect of Traveller-specific accommodation as well as outstanding commitments on items such as final accounts, contingencies and retention sums on housing schemes completed prior to 2013.

Local Authority Construction Programme 2012-14
Capital Assistance Scheme - Construction Programme 2012-14
Halting Bays Currently Under Construction (2013)
Group Housing Schemes Currently Under Construction (2013)
Regeneration Schemes

As I have said previously, there seems to be an increased move towards the use of rent supplement and the rental accommodation scheme as part of the housing programme and a move away from the construction of more social housing. The local authorities are having problems. In the past, they used to buy back properties to house senior citizens and others. They used to be able to get financial contributions from such people. That is no longer happening. That avenue has been closed off to local authorities that are seeking to provide housing. The small amount of money that is being allocated for Traveller accommodation is inadequate. I believe we need to focus on building more social housing. The solutions offered by the rent supplement and rental accommodation schemes are temporary rather than permanent. They will not provide us with a long-term answer to the crisis we are facing. Almost 100,000 people are on housing waiting lists. Some 5,000 people are homeless. These figures are startling and are getting bigger. People on the mortgage to rent scheme are being put out of the places they are in because landlords want to sell their properties, or are under pressure to sell them. These people are ending up on the lists. While money is being provided, over the years there has been a hell of a big reduction in the amount of money put into capital projects. We need to be more realistic in our approach to how we are going to deliver more social housing.

We have addressed this issue many times. I am trying to do as much as I can under the various funding mechanisms we have at our disposal. There have been reductions in the housing capital budget in recent years. We are positioning ourselves to expand the construction programme as soon as the economy improves. As I have said, I am making a strong case under the various stimulus packages that are under consideration. In the meantime, we have to do whatever we can to provide housing for people. Yesterday, I launched a voluntary code for the approved housing bodies sector. The purpose of the code is to ensure the voluntary housing associations and the co-operative housing associations have proper governance and to facilitate them in raising money from banks, credit unions, pension funds and other sources. It is acknowledged that the sector has or will have the capacity to help to address housing need. In Britain, the voluntary housing sector is a significant provider of social housing. As not-for-profit organisations, the voluntary housing associations are set up for that purpose. That is one area where we want to see extra provision. Unfortunately, we will have to keep using all the various methods, including the private rented sector, which is much larger in other European countries than it is in Ireland. I want to ensure the sector is regulated in order that people can have as much security as possible in their homes, regardless of whom they are renting them from.

The time for this question has expired. We will come to this issue again under Other Questions. Perhaps Deputy Ellis can come in then.

RAPID Programme

Timmy Dooley

Question:

62. Deputy Timmy Dooley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the number of RAPID area implementation teams that have full-time co-ordinators at present in view of the importance of this programme and the importance of their having full-time co-ordinators; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33731/13]

The RAPID programme covers urban areas designated as disadvantaged by reference to a range of socio-economic criteria including the level of early school leaving, the proportion of one-parent households, the unemployment rate, the proportion of social housing and the age dependency ratio. The RAPID programme aims to ensure priority attention is given to tackling the concentration of poverty and social exclusion in these areas nationally. The programme has made significant progress in identifying the needs of disadvantaged communities and introducing appropriate local projects to respond to those needs. The primary role of the co-ordinators who are employed by the local authorities where RAPID areas are located is to co-ordinate and support the local area implementation teams. This is mainly done through working with the agencies represented on the area implementation teams in developing a strategic plan that identifies key local needs and priorities for local areas and the roles and responsibilities of local agencies in delivering a response to those needs. These responses are based on developing a more co-ordinated approach to service delivery between agencies, developing service integration initiatives and accessing local and national funding streams. The Department is not in a position to make a contribution to the 2013 salary costs for RAPID co-ordinators. The local government fund continues to provide significant general purpose funding to local authorities to assist in meeting day-to-day operational costs. It is understood from information received by the Department that seven local authorities employ full-time RAPID co-ordinators. In other local authorities with RAPID areas, this role is combined with other responsibilities. It is important that a focus is maintained on all RAPID areas, through the range of local and community development interventions which are available on an area basis. Enhanced alignment between local government and local development is intended to improve the targeting of such local development activity. In that context, there will be an opportunity for a stronger collaborative focus to be put on support for RAPID areas.

The Minister of State did not answer the question I asked about whether permission has been sought from the troika, as a going-away present, to defer the billing of households until after the local and European elections. Can he confirm whether that is the case?

Okay. No problem.

Most of the Minister of State's reply to this question involved a description of what the programme involves. Like many of my colleagues, I am well aware of what is involved. He eventually confirmed that there are just seven full-time RAPID co-ordinators throughout the country. It could easily be inferred that the Government has little or no interest in urban social deprivation. To emphasise that point, I would like to ask whether the Minister of State or any Minister has attended any national co-ordinating committee meeting this year, or since the Government came to office. How many such meetings have they attended? When did they take place?

I have no responsibility for that issue in the Department.

That is why I asked whether the Minister of State or any Minister has attended one of these meetings.

I want to answer personally. The Minister, Deputy Hogan, would be able to give the Deputy the details he is seeking, which are not mentioned in Question No. 62.

Therefore, I cannot give him an answer. I accept there are financial difficulties but clearly the budget for RAPID is a priority budget. In 2004, it was €3.276 million while it will be €3.077 million for 2013. Notwithstanding the difficulties we are in, that is not an insignificant amount of money. Of course, I would like more money to be given. Everyone would, but that is the reality within which we must work.

In respect of the Deputy's question about the troika, I thought I made it clear in the answer that charging for water will commence from the third quarter of 2014 but the first bill will not issue before 1 January 2015, for which the date for will be set by the Government.

The question about Dublin City Council was asked earlier. More than 500,000 houses have been assessed as to whether water meters can be installed at this time. I can get the Deputy the figures for Dublin city later.

I respect the Minister of State's answer in respect of his responsibility within the Department and how he is not able to answer for the Minister in this regard. However, as a matter of urgency, could he instruct his Department to furnish me with information on the national co-ordinating committee meetings of the RAPID programme and tell me about attendance, if any, by a ministerial representative since the Government came to office?

The Minister of State also gives credence to the fact that the Government's poor record regarding the RAPID programme is somehow a response to the diminishing local government fund. I might not agree with many of the measures the Government has initiated or instigated in respect of how it sees that fund being supplied into the future and how it might be increased. Considering the Government has made plans in that regard vis-à-vis the property tax, water charges and any consideration it might give to an alternative form of rates that might instigate a methodology that might be more appropriate, accountable and aligned with the current commercial realities, does the Minister of State see a mechanism by which the local government fund will be increased as opposed to the huge decreases we have seen in recent years? If that is the case, will it only be then that the Government takes a keener interest in areas like the RAPID programmes and ultimately represents them far better than through the talk and mantras made prior to the last general election?

The messages given by certain parties were acted on by the public, which can be seen in the paltry presence of the Deputy's party in this Chamber. I wish to make clear that in 2011, funding from my Department for RAPID was €2.269 million. This year, it is €3.077 million, so notwithstanding the serious economic difficulties we all face, the fact is that money was significantly increased, although it is nothing like what we would want it to be. The priority is clear and it has an increased priority in terms of last year's budget compared with this year's. It is a matter for individual Departments to report on the provision of funding and progress in delivery with regard to projects that are their responsibility in the different RAPID areas. Funding of the programme is a highly complex issue. The central ethos of the programme is to provide priority and front-loaded access for RAPID areas to existing funds and hence no overall defined RAPID budget was put in place. I am confident the Government is doing its best to give an increased priority to funding as it did in the past 12 months.