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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 5 Dec 2013

Vol. 823 No. 4

Priority Questions

I wish to clarify that we have no difficulty with Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív taking Question No. 1 on behalf of Deputy Barry Cowen.

It has already been ruled that it is not possible to do that under the new Standing Orders. There is no provision for Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív to take the question. I had to refuse Deputy Shane Ross recently on the same issue.

May I read the reply?

It can be circulated. I am sorry, but that is what is stated in Standing Orders.

I am sorry to interrupt, a Cheann Comhairle, but do you mean the question cannot be taken at all?

It cannot be taken at all.

Therefore, there will be no answer.

It will be answered in writing.

The question was to ask the Minister-----

No, we are not taking the question.

And I cannot read the answer.

It cannot be taken.

Is Question Time cancelled?

No, that question cannot be taken.

Question No. 1 replied to with Written Answers.

Water and Sewerage Schemes Funding

Brian Stanley


2. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the progress made in the past 12 months on phase 2 and phase 3 of the Mountmellick sewage scheme; and the progress in having those houses in the town that are using septic tanks connected to the mains network. [51817/13]

Shall I read the question?

If the Deputy wishes, he has 30 seconds in which to make a comment about his question prior to the Minister's reply.

Do the same rules apply as previously?

The Minister has two minutes in which to reply; the Deputy has one minute in which to put a supplementary question and the Minister has one minute in which to reply.

Therefore, the Minister is first.

If he so wishes, the Deputy has the right to address his question for 30 seconds before the Minister responds. That is provided for in the new Standing Orders.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his clarification.

Mountmellick sewerage scheme, phases 2 and 3, is listed in the current water services investment programme 2010–13 as a scheme to progress through planning. The scheme aims to improve the wastewater infrastructure to meet the needs of existing development within the town. Phase 2 will involve the upgrade and expansion of the existing collection network and treatment facilities, while phase 3 will look to the long-term ultimate development of Mountmellick, including a new sewage collection system to serve undeveloped areas within the town boundaries.

An Bórd Pleanála granted conditional planning permission for the scheme in May 2012. A preliminary report has been submitted to my Department for the scheme and is under review. The council is reviewing certain areas within the town boundaries with regard to properties served by septic tanks. In addition, an application for a wastewater discharge licence has been made to the Environmental Protection Agency. The outcome of the council’s review and the decision on the application for a wastewater discharge licence will feed into the assessment of the preliminary report.

From 1 January 2014, Irish Water will be responsible for the delivery of water services capital infrastructure. Accordingly, it is preparing a capital investment plan for the period 2014 to 2015 which will provide for the transition of projects included in the water services investment programme 2010-13.

I thank the Minister for his reply. The reason I raise the issue is the takeover by Uisce Éireann of services from 1 January 2014. I note that it is putting in place a capital investment plan for 2014. I hope the project can be included, given that there are 80 houses with septic tanks in various parts of the town. There are others in the Garoon, Mount Manor, Pond Lane, Debicot and Chapel Lane areas. Clearly, there is a health and environmental issue, as there is poor percolation, given the number of septic tanks within such a small area. There is a high water table in the Mountmellick area and also a problem with the existing network. This is acknowledged by virtue of the fact that phase 2 of the scheme is supposed to lead to the upgrade of the network. The Minister is correct in saying that in May 2012 conditional planning permission for the scheme was granted by An Bord Pleanála. In my question I asked what progress had been made in the past 12 months, but according to the reply it appears that not much progress has been made. The design work has been done for the scheme. If Mountmellick, the second largest town in the county, is to develop in a sustainable way and it is to attract industry, it needs a proper drainage and sewerage system.

We are making progress. Mountmellick sewerage scheme is included in the programme for the period 2010 to 2013. As I said, the Environmental Protection Agency has to adjudicate on the application for a wastewater discharge licence. It is an independent agency and I cannot interfere in that process. The application was lodged just a few months ago arising following the decision by An Bord Pleanála to grant planning permission. The process is taking its course and I hope the decision can be made in the next couple of months.

I understand the application for the wastewater discharge licence has been with the EPA for the past four or five months. I understand it is one of the necessary pieces of the jigsaw to be put in place. At this point there should not be any further delay. My information is that the council has supplied all of the necessary information and that the project is ready to proceed. The design work has been done. All that is required is for the wastewater discharge licence application to be sorted out as the sewerage plant has been upgraded. I have a letter, dated 17 September 2007, issued during the boom and sent by a former Minister to local people stating no less than €12 million had been allocated. I recognise that this is not the Minister's fault, but I highlight the fact that it was not done. As the town is expanding, it needs this infrastructure. When Uisce Éireann opens for business, we must try to have it include this as one of its capital projects in the period 2014 to 2015.

I have just told the Deputy that all of the projects listed in the water services investment programme 2010-13 will transfer to Irish Water on 1 January 2014; therefore, the project will be included in the capital investment plan for the period 2014 to 2015. We cannot progress the project any further until we receive the EPA licence. It will not move backwards when responsibility is transferred to Irish Water. I hope it will progress much more quickly than in 2007.

Homeless Accommodation Provision

Maureen O'Sullivan


3. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will provide an update on supported temporary accommodation; if he will further provide details of matters outstanding on the pathways to home programme; if he has had any discussion with the Department with responsibility for addiction on the need for distinct drug-free accommodation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52069/13]

My question relates to the homeless situation. We have the pathways to home model and I am focusing in particular on the support of temporary accommodation aspect of the model. I seek an update on the position because we know about the crisis in the situation, in particular for those coming out of drug treatment or those still in addiction.

My Department's role in respect of homelessness involves the provision of a national framework of policy, legislation and funding to underpin the role of housing authorities in addressing homelessness at local level.

Statutory responsibility for the provision of accommodation for homeless persons and related services rests with housing authorities. It is a matter for individual authorities to determine the level and category of accommodation to be included in their funding programmes. Emergency accommodation options may include hostel, bed-and-breakfast type accommodation and temporary supported arrangements.

The Government's homelessness policy statement, which was published by my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy O'Sullivan, earlier this year emphasises a housing-led approach to homelessness. This is about accessing permanent housing as the primary response to all forms of homelessness and it should reduce the amount of time spent in homeless services, especially emergency accommodation.

Homelessness is a complex phenomenon and measures to address it require an integrated approach across Government. The combined forum of the cross-departmental team on homelessness and national homelessness consultative committee provides an opportunity for all statutory and non-statutory stakeholders to discuss and consider appropriate approaches to tackling homelessness. The Health Service Executive and the Department of Health are represented on this forum.

As the lead authority for homelessness in the Dublin region, Dublin City Council works in partnership with a range of voluntary and statutory agencies to deliver services to people experiencing homelessness under the pathway to home model. The Dublin region has been implementing an integrated model of service provision to homeless people which includes supported temporary accommodation. More than 1,500 beds are provided nightly to homeless people in Dublin and of these approximately 80 beds have been provided under the current cold weather initiative.

The delivery of care, personal and health supports for recovering drug misusers is not the responsibility of my Department or housing authorities. It is a matter within the competence of the Health Service Executive.

I thank the Minister for that answer. Part of the problem is that accommodation for those in recovery from addiction is falling between two stools, the Minister's Department and the Department of Health. My question relates to the difficulty with drug-free accommodation especially in the Dublin area generally. Anyone who has worked with those in addiction knows that we need the optimum circumstances for those who are in recovery to continue in recovery.

There are difficulties at the moment with some of the hostel accommodation. Since there is a crisis, those who are currently using are being put in the same accommodation as those who are drug-free. I met a group of young men recently in one of these hostels. It is a matter between Dublin City Council, Depaul Ireland, YMCA and the HSE and they are working on this together. However, it simply does not make sense for these young men and women who are in recovery. They have come through the rehabilitation process and are linked with projects. They have their lives back on track and are doing remarkably well. Now, that recovery is being made vulnerable because those currently using and living chaotic lives are moving into the same accommodation. Where is the drug-free accommodation? Where are we on that?

I agree with Deputy O'Sullivan that it is a serious issue. The need to continue to have in place abstinence-based facilities and programmes for people exiting drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres is acknowledged. Dublin City Council is working in partnership with the HSE and the non-governmental service providers to increase the quantum of units required for abstinence-based residential facilities. It is expected that approximately 50 units will be brought on stream early next year. Part of the work required is to develop protocols for the discharge of people that are exciting residential treatment to ensure a homeless prevention approach is taken. However there is, and will continue to be, abstinence-based homeless accommodation provided in the region. If Deputy O'Sullivan has any further information on how we can assist people further, in addition to the 50 units we have provided for early next year, I would be pleased to speak to her about the individual circumstances she has outlined.

I am pleased to hear the support for and commitment to the abstinence-based approach. Another group for which this is relevant are those who are coming out of prison who managed to use the facilities in prison to become drug-free. Given that we have a housing crisis in Dublin this particular group are further down the pecking order.

I will go back and discuss the projects with the groups and whether there are any further information or suggestions that they can propose. Anyway, a recent example of how the matter was handled was not good. The first the young people in the accommodation knew of it was when they saw other young people coming in with their chaotic lives. I recognise, ultimately, that recovery from addiction is a personal responsibility but we can assist it. The last thing anyone wants is for people who are in recovery to relapse because they are the people who are at the highest risk of suicide from overdoses.

I understand there is a management transfer arrangement seeking to be worked out between Depaul Ireland and Dublin YMCA. The discussions about this have been going on for many years. There is hope that this particular agreement can be worked out. The transfer is being supported by Dublin City Council and the HSE.

Leader Programmes Expenditure

Éamon Ó Cuív


4. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the total allocation for projects under the Leader programme 2007-2013; the latest date for companies to submit payment claims to his Department under the programme; the spend to date in actual amount and as a percentage of the allocation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52067/13]

My question relates to the spend under the Leader programme. What spend has been achieved to date? Now that we are entering the home straight, how we can to ensure a full spend under the programme?

During 2011, the European Commission approved a change in the maximum co-funding rate from 55% to 85% in respect of Leader. This has had the effect of reducing overall funding available under the programme. The overall value of the Leader elements of the Rural Development Programme is currently €370 million. Of that up to 20% can be spent on administration, leaving a minimum of €296 million available for projects and animation activities. Several local development companies have indicated that they will spend less than the 20% allowed under the regulations for administration and this money can be diverted into funding for projects.

To date €285.5 million has been committed with a further 30 projects to the value of €9.1 million still under assessment. My Department is in ongoing contact with the relevant development companies to resolve outstanding issues as quickly as possible. These issues can be procurement or planning or whatever. I expect that this process will be finalised in the coming weeks. In addition, projects to the value of €1.8 million are currently under appeal.

Under EU regulations expenditure can continue under the programme up to the end of 2015. However, I anticipate that most local development companies will complete their expenditure before the end of 2014, with a small number completing them in early 2015.

The total project spend under axes 3 and 4 of the programme is currently €175 million, which represents 59% of the estimated project funding available. In addition, I anticipate that up to a further €8 million will be spent on projects before the end of 2013. The LDCs also administer a food measure under axis 1 of the programme. To date almost €2.2 million has been committed under this measure with expenditure of €318,172.

The Minister said 59% of the money has been spent. Will he clarify whether that includes project money and administrative money? Will the Minister provide the percentage of project money? Allowing that there is €300 million for project money, what percentage of the project money has been spent? I understand that a high percentage of the administrative money has been spent as we come to the end of the programme.

When looking at the Exchequer returns I noticed that there was an under spend of €172 million in gross capital expenditure by the Department. How much of the under-spend relates to the Leader programme? With an €8 million spend between now and the end of the year, how much does the Minister anticipate will relate to Leader by the end of the year? Will the Minister be able to carry forward all of the under-spend to 2014?

As Deputy Ó Cuív knows better than anyone, it is a multi-annual funding programme, which has regularly underspent the annual allocations since it began in 2009. The Department has been in a position to carry over significant amounts of unspent money into the following year and the same will happen on this occasion. Leader spending has increased each year since 2009 and I anticipate that in the order of €50 million will become available to carry forward in 2014 to fund Leader projects.

Final decisions will be made in a wider context of the Department's overall capital allocation as published in the Revised Estimates Volume. I assure Deputy Ó Cuív that in respect of the figures I referred to there is a draw down in the order of 59%. I was keen to ensure that 100% commitments would be made in the programme. There was a major problem with that throughout 2013 whereby people were inclined to be slow about making those commitments. The measures and action we took ensured that we focused their attention on getting projects in and getting them over the line in respect of any difficulties they might have with regard to planning and procurement. There are still some issues to be resolved but I have adopted a flexible approach to ensure that we have the maximum commitment.

I understand that Europe is more flexible than it has been in the past about deadlines and that is useful.

We are nicer to them than the Deputy was.

I got on very well with them. It would allow the Minister to ensure there is a full spend, which is important. The Minister said he would be carrying forward €50 million into next year. The basic allocation was €96 million for Leader in the Estimate. There was a huge underspend in his Department, which I cannot believe. Imagine all the economic activity it could have achieved. Some €172 million of economic activity is being put aside, but that is a question for another day.

Will the Minister confirm that there will be a big drive to try to get as much money as possible out before the end of the year and that every application ready to be funded will be funded by the end of the year? In other words, where the work is done and the application comes in for the payout, those payouts should be expedited and, as much as possible, paid out before the end of the year. Does that mean the Minister will have achieved an expenditure of €81 million under Leader by the end of the year, if he is only carrying forward €50 million? I take it all of this underspend relates to water and sewerage schemes and other things.

Deputy Ó Cuív can take it I am doing everything I possibly can to move projects in the Leader programme. There are just 30 outstanding projects to be assessed between now and the end of the year.

I am talking about the spend.

I have no difficulty paying out. I do not delay anybody in getting money. We have sufficient moneys for the projects in the system currently. There are 30 outstanding projects, some of which are in the Deputy's consistency, that are waiting for assessment. If I get any project approval and submission for over €150,000, I do not delay anybody in regard to-----

If somebody actually completes the project and applies for the cheque, will the money be transferred before the end of the year?

If everything is in order, there will be no difficulty. There will be no time lag in regard to paying out any moneys available. The underspend does not apply to the Leader programme.

Traveller Accommodation

Mick Wallace


5. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if, in view of the €50 million underspend by local authorities on Traveller accommodation discussed at committee level in May and the current crisis in Traveller accommodation, he will now exercise his powers, under section 111 of the Housing Act 1966, to order local authorities to perform these housing functions within a specified period; in the event of non-compliance, if he will invest himself with those powers of performance; and if not, if he will set out his plans to sort out Traveller accommodation with just €3 million for 34 councils in 2014. [52159/13]

The State has failed the Traveller community and probably never more so than over the past few years with austerity. In light of the €50 million underspend by local authorities on Traveller accommodation, will the Minister exercise his powers under section 111 of the Housing Act 1966 to order local authorities to perform their housing functions within a specific period of time, or invest himself with the powers to make it happen?

In accordance with the provisions of the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998, responsibility for the assessment of the accommodation needs of Travellers and the preparation, adoption and implementation of multi-annual Traveller accommodation programmes designed to address these needs rests with individual housing authorities. The Department pays up to 100% of the cost of providing and maintaining Traveller-specific accommodation, designed to meet the needs of Traveller families.

The vast majority of Traveller families have opted for, and are accommodated in, standard housing provided by local authorities and financed under my Department's housing programme, or in private rented accommodation with rent supplement support. It is open to Travellers to opt for any form of accommodation, and local authority Traveller accommodation programmes are intended to reflect these preferences.

Over the past ten years, €282 million was paid to housing authorities from a capital budget of €343 million, amounting to about 80% of the available funding, resulting in a quantifiable improvement in the standard of living of Travellers. In 1999, prior to the first Traveller accommodation programme, the number of Traveller families was estimated at 4,790. Approximately 25% of these families then lived on unauthorised sites. Last year's annual count of Travellers identified a total of 9,991 families in the State. Notwithstanding the doubling of the numbers since 1999, only 3.3% of families were living on unauthorised sites in 2012. That said, more remains to be done, and I expect the next round of the Traveller accommodation programme for the period 2014 to 2018 will address this need.

There are robust monitoring procedures already in place and I have no plans to change the existing arrangements for the delivery of Traveller-specific housing. The national Traveller accommodation consultative committee, comprised of Traveller representatives, local authority elected members and officials, an official from the Northern Ireland Housing Executive and an independent chair, is specifically tasked with overseeing the implementation of Traveller accommodation programmes and with advising me on policy or any particular issue which the committee feels should be brought to my attention.

My Department will continue to review progress by housing authorities in adopting their new programmes in 2014 and in implementing the strategies contained in these programmes. Housing authorities will also be required to carry out a mid-term review of their programmes and to identify obstacles to delivery and ways of overcoming these.

The State's efforts in this whole area have been toothless and ineffective. The Minister spoke about private accommodation being available to Travellers. Since the recession, the State has reduced capital spending for construction of social housing for all people, sending people into the private rental market and expecting them to organise housing through that means. This causes major problems for members of the Traveller community because they do not have the same access to the private rental market that settled people have. Even among marginalised groups Travellers are at the bottom of the pile, and much of the time they end up living in sub-standard accommodation that no one else will take and in locations where there are no facilities. If, as many people would argue, we think we have problems with the Traveller community, they are of our own making. We are not doing enough to integrate them into normal society. The Government's policies discriminate against this marginalised group.

I do not agree with Deputy Wallace, because the position on the ground is clearly different from he has said. The position is clearly evident in the results of the 2011 assessment of housing needs. Of the 1,824 families on the housing list at that time, 1,789 opted for a standard house while only 18 opted for a bay on a halting site. Six families opted for group housing. Local authorities are doing everything they possibly can for Travellers in the same way as they are for any other group on the housing list in order to get them standard housing accommodation. If Traveller representative groups disagree with any of these conclusions, they have an opportunity through the national Traveller accommodation consultative committee to bring forward evidence that this not the case. I would certainly be prepared to review the situation if I got evidence.

If the Minister is saying that what I said is not true, will he tell me why 11% of Travellers are homeless, why they have a suicide rate of 10% and why psychologists say that Government policies are adding to their identity problem and causing mental health issues as well as depression and suicide? Will the Minister consider the Irish Traveller Movement's position in which it argues for a national agency to deal with Traveller accommodation issues instead of relying on local councillors who are concerned about losing votes in the next election and having to deal with planning objections by residents who are blatantly discriminatory or concerned about the value of their properties dropping? Traveller housing is a difficult, complex and multi-layered issue, but this does not mean that local councils can shirk their duties to provide social housing to a marginalised sector of society which has a high level of homelessness. As far as I can see, the Minister is shirking his responsibility. He has a statutory duty and he is not recognising or fulfilling it.

I do not share Deputy Wallace's opinion. We have provided additional funding for Traveller accommodation, and the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, has said on a regular basis that if additional funding is required, particularly in an emergency, we will look at it in the same way as any other application for housing in a particular area. Everybody has a responsibility to try to help out people who are less well off in our community. Traveller representatives on the national Traveller accommodation consultative committee regularly brief the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, and if the evidence about which Deputy Wallace is talking is reflected in their contribution at this committee, we will certainly look at it.