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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 5 Dec 2013

Vol. 823 No. 4

Other Questions

Unfinished Housing Developments

Brian Stanley


6. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the number of housing units in ghost estates that are to be demolished; the location of same; the criteria for same; and cost of these demolitions. [51819/13]

The national co-ordinating committee, chaired by the Minister of State with responsibility for housing and planning, was established as a response to the report of the advisory group on unfinished housing developments and has harnessed the expertise and goodwill of the construction and banking sectors, local authorities, residents' representatives and NAMA.

Local authorities are continuing to pursue developers and others to comply with their obligations under planning regulations. Developer-, funder- or receiver-funded site resolution processes will remain the main vehicle for tackling unfinished developments. Five hundred and fifty three developments have been brought to a resolution point in this way over the past 12 months. It is expected that such processes will continue to make significant inroads into the remaining 992 inhabited unfinished developments.

Additionally, my Department has available a special resolution fund of €10 million, which was provided in budget 2014, to address the completion of infrastructure in developments which could not be resolved because of absences of, or inadequacies in, planning securities and other unforeseen cost and risk issues. The fund will be operated by the local authorities and will be carefully targeted mainly to address difficulties with public infrastructure that have arisen in certain developments included in the Department's national housing development survey 2013.

It is also necessary to explore resolution of these developments which appear to be commercially unviable owing to location, build quality, commercial demand or other factors and where the most prudent course of action may be to seek the agreement of owners or funders to clear all or part of the site. Accordingly, the national co-ordinating committee established a group to oversee the development of a strategy for these residual developments and work with stakeholders in identifying and agreeing such sites for full or partial clearance, thereby improving the lives of existing residents and removing dangerous structures from public access. Some 40 such developments have been initially identified and fall to be addressed by the relevant owners, receivers and funders. The estates identified by the funders have not been identified to my Department for commercially sensitive reasons. The costs associated with this strategy are equally sensitive and I do not hold this information. Responsibility for the clearance of unviable estates remains with the funders and I welcome their participation in this pragmatic approach which will further underscore a return to a properly functioning property market.

I thank the Minister for his reply. There has been progress on the unfinished estates on which people live. If the money allocated is used in the same way as the €5 million already used, it will go a long way to sorting out some of the bad cases.

The no hope ghost estates are part of the legacy of the economic illiteracy in the State for many years. They blight the landscape and some are dangerous. There are apartments built in places where they will never be required. Imagine, there are apartments in Borris-on-Ossory where there would not be a huge demand for unfinished apartments, but there is a demand for two, three and four bedroom houses. I do not want to see anything being demolished that does not have to be. The criteria need to be clearer for anything that can be put to use. The Balcon site on the Dublin Road in Portlaoise is appalling. I want to talk to the Minister about it.

The Deputy is being very parochial today-----

-----in moving from Borris-on-Ossory to Mountmellick.

I agree with the Deputy that there are some serious issues to be resolved and that 40 such developments have been identified to be partially or fully cleared. I hope that work will be done early in 2014. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has sanctioned a new round of funding in the budget which will allow the Minister of State at my Department with responsibility for housing and planning , Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, to draw up lists in conjunction with local authorities of places where we can make further progress. We have made money available to deal with public safety issues to make these particular unsavoury locations safe. We need to resolve certain issues; some are in receivership, some are in liquidation, while in some cases there are no owners or funding available. Bonds will accommodate only part of the solution. We will ask local authorities early in the new year to give us their priority lists to identify where we can apply some of the €10 million to advance some of these projects.

On the site on the Dublin Road that I mentioned there are cables in the trenches with water. It will have to be levelled. It will be difficult to return some of these sites to agricultural use. The Minister has mentioned some where there is no developer or funder and no one is responsible. There is a huge need for local authority housing and there will be a need for sites, but land will become expensive again. If these sites were cleared and the State and local authorities have to step in, the Minister might take on board an idea I heard this morning, that where the State has to pick up the tab on estates on which there is some infrastructure, it acquire the sites, especially if NAMA is involved. This would be cost-neutral and the sites could be used for the development of affordable and social housing.

I agree with the Deputy. We will work with local authorities, particularly if projects are in NAMA, to get the best value for the taxpayer but also to provide much needed social housing for many people on waiting lists. If local authorities come forward with proposals along these lines, we will be glad to consider them.

It would help to pay back some of the €10 million the taxpayer is putting in.

Homeless Accommodation Provision

Dessie Ellis


7. Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his plans to deal with the very large increase in homelessness; and the deadline for the proposed delivery of 450 National Asset Management Agency units for dealing with homelessness. [51922/13]

Barry Cowen


37. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the steps he is taking to address the rise in homelessness here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51925/13]

As the Minister knows, there has been a huge increase in the number of people who are homeless. There are approximately 5,000 people who are homeless; 1,400 in emergency accommodation in Dublin each night, while there were 139 people sleeping rough in Dublin on 12 November. Recently two people who were sleeping rough died. These were tragic incidents. In the past six months the number of people in emergency accommodation has increased by 45.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 and 37 together.

Earlier this year my colleague, the Minister of State with responsibility for housing and planning, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, published the Government’s homelessness policy statement which outlined the Government's aim to end long-term homelessness by the end of 2016. The statement emphasises a housing-led approach which involves accessing permanent housing as the primary response to all forms of homelessness. The availability and supply of secure, affordable and adequate housing is essential in ensuring sustainable tenancies and ending long-term homelessness.

When the statement was published, a set of indicators which will be used to demonstrate the dynamics of homelessness as it is addressed was also announced. These indicators will give a clearer picture of homelessness in Ireland and, in quantifying its continuing extent, support the bringing forward of realistic and practical solutions. The Minister of State also established an oversight group to review the progress of the approach being advocated in the statement, identifying obstacles or practical solutions that can be taken on board.

Arrangements have been put in place to provide for the delegation of homelessness funding to the lead housing authority in each of the nine regions. The regional approach is considered more appropriate as it helps to bring a more strategic perspective to bear on action to address homelessness, including avoidance of over-concentration of homelessness services in certain centres and promoting appropriate regional availability of services, consistent with need. These arrangements seek to ensure the measures being pursued by housing authorities reflect the housing-led approach advocated in the policy statement. I agree with Deputy Dessie Ellis that this is a very serious matter which has escalated significantly.

With regard to NAMA units, my Department, the housing agency and NAMA continue to work together with housing authorities and approved housing bodies towards identifying suitable NAMA sites and bringing them into social housing use, in addition to dealing with some of the people who are assessed as homeless. To the end of September, 443 units have been completed or contracted under this process.

It is quite clear that the level of homelessness has escalated, for which there are several reasons. Landlords are cutting off the contracts of people in receipt of rent supplement and the people concerned then have to look for another rent supplement, but they cannot find a rental property anywhere. It is a major crisis and they cannot access a place. If one goes online, one can see that there are no places available. If the people concerned do not find a place, they will end up homeless, which is a tragedy. Rents in the private rental market have increased dramatically across the board and landlords are more inclined to push people out in order to secure higher rents, instead of taking rent supplement or people participating in the rental accommodation scheme. This issue needs to be addressed urgently. The Minister mentioned 450 units, but in three years the Government has delivered only 443 under NAMA.

NAMA identified 2,000 houses as suitable, but not all were suitable; therefore, work has to be carried out on them to make them suitable. The figure of 443 certainly represents some progress, but we would like to see more. I agree with the Deputy on that point. At the end of 2012, there were 4,837 people who were regarded as homeless and using emergency accommodation services in Dublin. At the end of September 2013, the equivalent number was 4,012; therefore, there has been some reduction but not enough. The daily average figure of new people presenting as homeless was 5.7 for the first nine months of the year.

The definition of homelessness involves several complex issues. Some people have been offered accommodation, but a small number - I do not want to overstate this - do not want to take it up, for one reason or another. People involved in outreach services in Dublin are working closely with rough sleepers and those who are homeless who do not want to take up emergency or private rented accommodation in order to help them to overcome some of their difficulties.

We have a major crisis in housing. There are approximately 112,000 people across the country on housing waiting lists, and the homeless are obviously included in that. We need to be more imaginative in how we approach this issue. We need to build more social housing. Perhaps the way to do this is to have the local authorities operate to the same criteria as voluntary housing bodies, which can borrow money. Perhaps local authorities should be able to use their stock to borrow the money to build more social housing.

It is no use putting homeless people into properties with rent supplement because many of them need all types of supports and a different type of housing. People find themselves homeless for a variety of different reasons. Unless we provide more social housing overall, we are going to be continuing to fight this battle in terms of homelessness and the housing lists.

That is the reason the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, succeeded in getting €30 million to kick-start the social housing programme with direct construction provision through the local authorities in 2014. She will be making an announcement in regard to these matters in terms of looking for calls for projects from local authorities in the next few weeks.

By the end of 2012, Dublin City Council had moved 879 homeless persons to independent living, and by the end of September 2013, a further 638 individuals had moved on to independent living, so there is a movement of people, although, obviously, it is still a major issue.

There is no doubt there is a crisis, particularly in Dublin. While I listened to the figures given by the Minister, my office is inundated with calls every day from people who are discriminated against because they are on a social welfare payment and landlords will not take them. There is also a major problem with single men trying to access accommodation. Even though the Minister is presenting figures, we are not seeing that movement on the ground, with people getting into accommodation.

While there was €15 million for local authorities, Dublin City Council could take that all on its own and it still would not have enough to deal with the housing crisis in Dublin. With the winter coming, we do not want to see a reaction to people dying on the street; the need is to get in there at the preventative stage. With regard to emergency accommodation, we need a dispersal of those facilities throughout the city.

Does the Minister accept that the refusal of the Government to build social housing has a direct impact on the homeless numbers? Given the scarcity of private rented accommodation in Dublin city in particular at the moment, rents are increasing and the number of units available is going to fall. We are not going to see a serious number of new units coming on the market in the near future because many of them have not even been started and there is not yet an appetite among the developers to build much, so this problem will increase.

With regard to NAMA, the Minister referred to the 4,000 units that were originally ear-marked. This is a body that has been in place for a few years. Does he agree that the lack of transparency in how NAMA works does not help matters and that things might move more swiftly if we could actually see what NAMA is doing?

In response to Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan, in recent years I have never ceased to be amazed at the amount of time spent by some people in emergency accommodation. The definition of emergency accommodation is certainly very open to question. An emergency could normally be expected to be for three or four weeks but it develops into six years on the north side of Dublin in many cases, which is a scandal and a waste of money from the point of view of the client. There is perhaps a vested interest in some cases in actually keeping people in that type of accommodation, which we are trying to address.

In response to Deputy Wallace, we are again going to work through local authorities in terms of direct construction provision. Contrary to what the Deputy might think, there is a lot of interest by builders and developers in regard to these matters. I am delighted we are using local authorities again to go back to the traditional way of building houses for families in local authority areas. There are 212 "voids" in the Dublin City Council area at present and we will be addressing those in 2014, in addition to some of the work Dublin City Council will be doing in terms of direct build. That will help to provide more houses for people.

As the Deputies who asked Questions Nos. 8 to 10, inclusive, are not present, we move on to Question No. 11.

Questions Nos. 8 to 10, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

International Agreements

Seán Ó Fearghaíl


11. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he has assessed the cost benefits of the Antarctic Treaty; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51930/13]

I have raised the question of the Antarctic Treaty both with the Tánaiste and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government on a number of occasions. Sometimes one meets with a certain sense of fun coming from the Government side in terms of the treaty, and this week the Tánaiste, or perhaps it was the Minister, Deputy Rabbitte, wondered were we going to bring on the huskies as far as this issue is concerned. The reality is that what is happening in Antarctica is of huge world significance and the protection of the Antarctic is vital. That is what I am trying to get at in this question.

I support the primary objective of the Antarctic Treaty, which is to ensure, in the interests of all mankind, that Antarctica continues to be used for peaceful purposes and will not become the scene or subject of international discord. The Antarctic treaty system at this stage includes the original treaty, the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals, the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources and the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the treaty.

The question of Ireland’s signature and ratification of the Antarctic Treaty has been considered by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in consultation with other relevant Departments, including my own. While no formal assessment of the cost and benefits of the treaty has been carried out by my Department, ratification would be likely to impose substantial administrative burdens arising from the necessity to review the corpus of environmental legislation to ensure compliance with the treaty. Additional administrative burdens would arise from the need to service relevant international meetings, together with other obligations arising from ratification should Irish citizens engage in activities coming within the remit of the treaty.

Given current issues which I have prioritised in various policy areas within the remit of my Department, including waste management, climate change, water services, local government reform and housing, my Department is not in a position to undertake the administrative burdens arising from ratification of the treaty at the present time.

While I appreciate the points the Minister is making, I do not agree with him. In excess of 40 countries have ratified the treaty at this stage. The year 2014 marks the centennial anniversary of the launch of the Endurance trans-Antarctic expedition of 1914-17. It is rightly seen as perhaps the most remarkable exploration in history, a tale of extraordinary leadership by Shackleton and a triumph of perseverance in the face of impossible odds. I suppose my interest in this is driven in part by the fact Ernest Shackleton was a Kildare-born individual. However, we must also face the reality that the encroachment of climate change and its disastrous consequences for the Antarctic underscores the need for a treaty system to be put in place. Other countries have done it. It may not be possible for us to do it immediately, given the financial constraints we accept the Minister and his fellow Ministers are under. However, I would like to hear some sort of a commitment from him that it would be the intention of the Government to do something about signing this treaty at some stage in the future.

I will give the Deputy some idea of what I am speaking about in terms of administration, which includes the following: the need to review the existing corpus of environmental legislation to ensure we comply with that treaty; the need to introduce a permit or licensing scheme for Irish citizens who may engage in activities coming within the remit of the treaty; the requirement that any such scheme applying to Irish nationals concerning activities in Antarctica which have an impact on the environment would need to be compliant with the provisions of the Aarhus convention on access to information, public participation in decision making and access to justice in environmental matters; and the provisions of EU directives, such as the public participation directive and the environmental impact assessment directive, might be of relevance. Therefore, any such ratification would potentially involve a significant legislative workload which, unfortunately, because of the cap on numbers in my Department and other current priorities, we are not in a position to deal with. Moreover, while the objectives of the Antarctic Treaty are commendable, Irish accession, in my view, would have minimal practical effect on the achievement of those objectives.

What the Minister said in conclusion is highly relevant. I would be practical in terms of my approach to environmental matters. We cannot save the world on our own. We cannot turn back the effects of climate change on our own. However, we can make a difference and we can fulfil the responsibilities that fall to us. What disappoints me about what the Minister is saying is his refusal to give us some sort of a commitment, or even to express the desire, that this is a treaty he would like to see the Irish Government sign up to in the future, when resources allow.

More than 40 other governments have acceded to this treaty system, irrespective of the administrative burdens. It is clear from the replies to the parliamentary questions I have tabled that no cost benefit analysis has been carried out by any Department. That is tragic. It underlines a lack of commitment in the area of climate change, which is highly regrettable.

In the absence of substantial research activity being carried out in Antarctica by the State, Ireland would not enjoy voting rights under the treaty even if it signed and ratified it. I do not know what useful purpose there would be in prioritising it, but we will work with our partners in the European Union, as we do on all issues relating to climate change, and we will make our views known where appropriate. However, it is not a priority in the Department's workload, and I will not be dishonest with the Deputy and say we will prioritise it in the near future.

The Deputies who tabled Questions Nos. 12 to 14, inclusive, are not present.

Questions Nos. 12 to 14, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

Electoral Reform

Seán Kyne


15. Deputy Seán Kyne asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will confirm that all necessary statutory instruments and orders will be signed by the end of this month in order that the provisions of the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act of 2012 will apply to all future elections. [51931/13]

This question relates to the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act and the regulations that must be signed by the end of this year to give effect to the legislation for the next local and general elections in terms of implementing the new rules.

The Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act (Commencement) Order 2012, signed on 27 September 2012, commenced sections 1, 2, 27 and 40 to 44, inclusive, of the Act with effect from that date. Sections 1 and 2 contain technical provisions. Sections 27, 40 and 41 introduced requirements on registered political parties to furnish an annual statement of accounts to the Standards in Public Office Commission, based on guidelines to be prepared by the commission.

The Act provides that before publication, the commission, following a consultation process, must submit the draft guidelines to the Minister for his or her consent to publication, with or without modification. Draft guidelines were submitted to me by the commission with a letter, on 14 November 2013, seeking my consent to publication. In performance of the statutory role assigned to me as Minister under the Act, I am currently giving consideration to these draft guidelines.

Sections 42, 43 and 44 of the Act provide that a registered political party will face a cut of half of its State funding under Part 3 of the Electoral Act 1997 if it does not have at least 30% women and 30% men candidates at the next general election. Seven years from the general election where this provision first applies, this figure will rise to 40%.

The Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act (Commencement) (No. 2) Order 2012, signed on 6 November 2012, commenced all remaining sections of the Act on different dates in 2013. Each of these sections is now in force. The sections commenced in 2013 provide for additional requirements and restrictions on the acceptance of political donations and apply to Members of, and candidates seeking election to, the Dáil, Seanad, European Parliament and local authorities, and to political parties, third parties and candidates at a presidential election. The thresholds for the receipt and declaration of political donations have been reduced; restrictions were put in place on corporate donations; cash donations over €200 have been banned and additional transparency requirements affecting the reporting of donations have been introduced. These provisions will apply at all future elections.

I welcome the fact that everything is in order in terms of implementing these regulations. They are wonderful and important initiatives in respect of banning corporate donations and introducing gender quotas. Obviously, we do not want this country to take the route of the United States, with big business being able to run politics. I welcome the Minister's statement that everything is in order with these regulations.

The Deputies who tabled Questions Nos. 16 to 24, inclusive, are not present.

Questions Nos. 16 to 24, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

Local Authority Housing

Brian Stanley


25. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the number of housing units now leased under the rental assistance scheme and social leasing schemes under local authorities; the cost of these two schemes to the Exchequer in 2013; and the projected cost for 2014. [51821/13]

This question is about the total amount spent on the rental assistance scheme and what is described as the social leasing scheme. This is in addition to the money spent on rent supplement. I ask the Minister to address this issue because there is concern about what has been spent in 2013 and the projected figure for 2014.

The rental accommodation scheme is operated by the Department in conjunction with the Department of Social Protection. Approximately €50 million will be spent in 2013 on assisting local authorities in providing essential accommodation under certain criteria for particular clients on their social housing lists. The same sum will be available in 2014, in conjunction with the Department of Social Protection.

There is €50 million for RAS in 2013 and there will be a similar figure for 2014. There is also a social leasing scheme, but the Minister has not given the figure for that. There is the RAS and the social leasing scheme, a long-term leasing scheme being undertaken by local authorities, which the Department encourages. I am seeking the figures for that scheme as well for 2013 and 2014. While RAS is a quick solution, in view of the fact that building and land costs are low at present there is an opportunity to invest in social housing infrastructure and to get a return on it over the next 20 or 30 years.

These schemes are extremely important for all local authorities. It is now the time of the year that local authorities prepare budgets for the following year, although Ennis Town Council has postponed its budget meeting until the new year. In the context of these schemes and the budget allocations, when will the Department give the allocations to town councils for 2014, given the uncertainty at present because some of these town councils will no longer exist after the middle of next year?

With regard to Deputy Stanley's question, I will get the figures for him on the social leasing scheme. I do not have them with me today, but I will provide the information for 2013 and 2014.

It is mentioned in the parliamentary question.

It is not included in my reply, and I apologise for that. I will refer back to the Deputy with the figure later today. On housing policy in general, the Department is reviewing the policy and the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, is very conscious that new initiatives are required. We must also get the incremental purchase scheme up and running, apart from the direct provision we are giving local authorities to get a construction programme going.

On Deputy Breen's question, it was 2 December 2012 when allocations were notified to local authorities for 2013. We are not far from the same date this year and I expect we will be in a position to make allocations under the general purpose grants and all of the other funding arrangements in a short while. Under the service level agreements with local authorities Irish Water will also make financial provisions amounting to €528 million.

The Deputies who tabled Questions Nos. 26 to 28, inclusive, are not present.

Questions Nos. 26 to 28, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

Unfinished Housing Developments

Dessie Ellis


29. Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the estates that are to be demolished due to their unfinished state; the criteria for deciding on these developments; and the timeframe in which these demolitions are expected to happen. [51923/13]

This is about the unfinished housing estates and the timeframe for their expected demolition. How many estates are involved?

A total of 40 estates are earmarked for demolition in 2014. They have been identified at this stage but, for commercially sensitive reasons, we are not able to give the Deputy their locations. We expect to proceed with that in 2014, with the co-operation of the unfinished estates resolution panel and the local authorities.

One of the problems with these unfinished estates is that it is planned to demolish so many. We are told that some of them will be demolished because of their location. The houses might be perfect but they might be demolished because there is no demand in those areas. That would be a tragedy. The Minister must examine that very carefully. In addition, many estates have been built that are not up to the proper standard.

It is not necessary to name them because the Minister is well aware of many of them. What steps will be taken to secure some estates which have deteriorated further? The Minister previously allocated approximately €6 million to secure them. Are further plans in place to secure some unfinished estates, many of which have not been taken in charge by local authorities? The process of taking estates in charge must also be expedited because many people are languishing in them.

It is sad to note that estates are being demolished when my local area lacks new homes. Will the Minister provide funding for housing in counties such as Kildare in which there is a shortage of local authority houses?

The Deputies correctly referred to demand for social housing and the need for new initiatives to address social housing provision. I alluded to a number of initiatives being taken by the Department. We are also reviewing housing policy to ascertain whether more can be done.

The condition of the 40 housing estates to be demolished is such that it would cost a substantial amount to rectify them. Legal issues also arise and the long process of obtaining compulsory purchase orders would probably be required. The option the unfinished estates committee is considering for the locations in question is a last resort. I suspect the 40 estates out of a total number of 1,500 unfinished housing estates are located in isolated rural areas rather than major urban areas.

The taking in charge of estates is a matter for local authorities, although I agree with Deputy Dessie Ellis that they should be more proactive in this regard. This is one of the issues I will raise with the County and City Managers Association in 2014 in an effort to advance the protocols and implement new measures to have more estates taken in charge.

Question No. 30 cannot be taken as the Deputy who tabled it is not present.

Question No. 30 replied to with Written Answers.

Fire Safety Regulations

Clare Daly


31. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government in view of the latest evacuation of residents due to non-compliance with fire safety building regulations in Navan and following similar exposure of non-compliance with fire safety regulations in the Fingal, Dublin city, south Dublin and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown council areas, if he will list the councils which have taken enforcement action against developers or contractors in relation to non-compliance with fire safety regulations since he took office in March 2011; and if he will provide an update on any progress or discussion on the new building regulations with architects, engineers and other professional bodies. [51907/13]

My question relates to fire safety. While Priory Hall has hit the headlines, other housing developments in all four Dublin local authority areas and Navan have been evacuated for fire safety reasons. The Minister's response thus far has been to state fire safety is a matter for local authorities. What action have local authorities taken in this regard? What does the Minister propose to do to compel them to carry out their functions? The lack of regulation in this area is placing lives at risk.

As the Deputy noted, I do not have direct responsibility for this matter, although I have responsibility for policy. While the fire safety Acts and their implementation are matters for each fire authority, we continue to be in touch with local authorities about this very important issue.

I have taken a number of initiatives this year with regard to problems in certain developments, albeit not on the scale of Priory Hall, which is a matter that is in the course of being resolved under the direction and chairmanship of Dr. Martin McAleese. I expect local authorities to continue to use all of the powers available to them to address serious building defects.

Earlier in 2013 I signed into law the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2013, which will enter into force on 1 March 2014. The Deputy will note the considerable opposition to my efforts in this regard from professional bodies. My objective is to ensure implementation of that to which people sign up and I am empowering the professionals to ensure this takes place. The new regulations are designed to ensure competence and professionalism become part and parcel of building projects generally. They will usher in a new era of quality in the construction industry.

The Department continues to liaise closely with key industry stakeholders with a view to ensuring the new statutory requirements are fully understood and will work well in practice. In this context, we have had six versions of a code of practice for architects. I am frequently criticised for failing to consult. One would not have six versions of a document unless one was engaged in consultations, the purpose of which is to ensure the code of practice is implemented. My Department continues to consult professional groups to ensure they fully understand the measures in the building control regulations will be implemented from 1 March 2014 onwards. We are not changing the legislation but the manner in which it is implemented.

Two important issues arise from the Minister's reply. The new regulations will not meet the challenges on the ground. This will remain the only country which does not have an effective government-backed audit or inspection scheme in the area of building regulations. Such a scheme is essential. The Minister will note that the Latvian Prime Minister was forced to resign as a result of a government decision to abandon a similar scheme.

The Minister's statement that he expects local authorities to use the powers available to them has been a consistent refrain. I have repeatedly brought to his attention that they have not done so in many cases. If he does not have the power to make them do so, he had better change the position. I will give one example of a case in point. The residents of a private housing estate, Martello, in my constituency have spent tens of thousands of euro on having professional reports compliled, which demonstrate a lack of compliance with fire regulations. Fingal County Council, either through a lack of resources or will, has failed to take this information seriously and proper inspections have not been carried out of works done, allegedly to make the development safe. Residents continue to live in dwellings which are not compliant with fire regulations, yet the local authority has not taken action. What action does the Minister propose to take to compel the local authority to act in the manner in which it should have acted in the first instance?

I will not assume the role the Deputy has assumed of being an inspector for fire service provision for a particular dwelling. If she provides me with details, I will have the case investigated. I will not micro-manage the system as fire safety is a devolved function to local authorities. Perhaps the Deputy has a close relationship with the local authority in question. If she makes representations to it, we may be able to resolve these issues together. I will be glad to investigate the matter if she provides me with details.

The Minister has details of the case because the residents have been in direct contact with him and the Taoiseach.

I did not see them.

The Department has definitely received them. I am not exaggerating in pointing out that the residents have expended tens of thousands of euro on professional reports. They started a process with the local authority in 2008, long before the Priory Hall case came to light. At the time they were asked to submit information on the matter and told that the local authority would examine it. This set off a chain of events, the outcome of which is that the residents' homes are still not safe according to professional evaluators. While I have raised this matter with him previously, I will submit the relevant information to the Minister. Rather than indicating that it will be examined, I ask him to ensure action is taken because the houses in question have not been fixed. The developer of the estate has been involved in other schemes which had to be evacuated. This demonstrable history of non-compliance has created fear. The local authority told residents that it was a case of buyer beware, that if they kicked up too much, they would be left carrying the can and that they should have checked before buying their homes. That is not good enough.

I take what the Deputy has said at face value as she is not prone to exaggeration. If she provides details of the case, I will be glad to investigate it. I provided a great deal of information on estates during my previous appearance in the House at Question Time. Perhaps the Deputy was pleased to receive additional information of which she might not have been aware.

I was delighted to receive it and I will take up the Minister's offer.

Question Nos. 32 to 35, inclusive, cannot be taken as the Deputies who tabled them are not present.

Questions Nos. 32 to 35, inclusive, replied to with Written Answers.

Pyrite Resolution Board Membership

Clare Daly


36. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government further to his statements, echoed by the manager of the Pyrite Resolution Board that Homebond's staff will be available for the pyrite remedial works scheme, the exact nature of Homebond's claimed expertise in assessing structural damage caused by pyrite-induced heave and in designing, monitoring and certifying subsequent remedial works [51812/13]

Residents are gravely concerned about comments from the Minister and departmental officials indicating that HomeBond may be involved in the pyrite remediation process. They also dispute the Minister's claim that the company has particular expertise in the area of pyrite remediation. I ask him to substantiate that claim.

I have always made it clear that I believe the parties identified in the report of the independent pyrite panel as having a responsibility to provide solutions for affected homeowners should contribute to the resolution of the pyrite issue. In the past 18 months or thereabouts I have tried to bring about a resolution of the issue involving these parties. Unfortunately, this did not prove possible.

The Pyrite Resolution Board which I established earlier this year on an administrative basis remains in discussions with HomeBond to agree the contribution it can make to the implementation of the remediation process. These discussions are ongoing and the exact nature of HomeBond's role or contribution has not yet been agreed between the parties. Nevertheless, I expect HomeBond to make a contribution, notwithstanding that it is a private company.

As far as I am concerned, the greater the contribution, the better for the role that they played in the past in terms of not complying with fulfilling that role.

The board will be responsible for overseeing the delivery of the pyrite remediation scheme and will be supported in this endeavour by the Housing and Sustainable Communities Agency. I understand that panels for contractors and other professionals will be established by the housing agency. In fact, that process is underway. In addition, a register of competent persons, who have undertaken appropriate training, has been established by Engineers Ireland to undertake the building condition assessments.

It is not envisaged that the board will commission building condition assessments, either directly or via a third party such as HomeBond. Building condition assessments will be procured directly by affected homeowners although, under the proposed arrangements, they may claim reimbursement of costs, subject to a maximum of €500, should their application be accepted into the pyrite remediation scheme subsequently.

I share Deputy Clare Daly's annoyance about the contribution that HomeBond has made. It has not been satisfactory to date and we continue to do everything we possibly can, notwithstanding it is a private company, to extract as much as we possibly can out of it to help the distressed homeowners in this case.

It is almost a year since the late Minister of State, Deputy Shane McEntee, announced the scheme. A year on, the scheme has not yet accepted live applications. Now that Engineers Ireland has established the register of competent persons and the training has been done, will building condition assessments, which in many instances residents have paid for, be accepted and will those files and applications be able to go live in advance of Christmas? It would be important that we get some indication of when those applications can go live.

Is it still the Minister's intention to bring forward the legislation to empower the pyrite resolution board to take funds or whatever? Does that legislation have to be in place first? Will we see it this side of Christmas?

The problem with HomeBond is that this was not a structural guarantee scheme even though it gave that impression. HomeBond still has €25 million in its accounts which it will not access for normal purposes because now it is a properly structured scheme. HomeBond's contribution should be in funds. Those funds should be taken off HomeBond because it has not the competent expertise in this area. It is the one that went out and examined houses and told the residents that they did not have pyrite and there was nothing to worry about, and then, when it emerged that they did have pyrite, stated that had nothing to do with it. The idea of HomeBond being involved in the remediation process is not acceptable.

The Minister announced that he was putting a certain amount of funding towards the resolution of pyrite in houses, but there are over 800 houses urgently in need and time is pressing. The timescale seems to be getting ever longer. Can the Minister give some indication of when he will have this scheme up and running?

As Deputies Clare Daly and Ellis will be aware, the State has no responsibility whatsoever in this.

I do not accept that at all.

That is the legal position. I know Deputy Clare Daly does not have to accept it.

Notwithstanding that, like Priory Hall, I have made a considerable effort to resolve this issue. I acknowledge the significant work of our late good friend, Shane McEntee, the first anniversary of whose untimely death is approaching. Because of that, I would be looking for the co-operation of all groups in the House between now and Christmas to put through the legislation to establish the pyrite resolution board which I will be putting to Government on Tuesday next.

Could we go back to Question No. 37 in the name of Deputy Cowen as the Deputy is now present? It was taken with Question No. 7.

These questions are in the names of Deputy Cowen and Deputy Ellis. Earlier this year, my colleague, the Minister of State for housing and planning, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, published the Government's homelessness policy statement in which the Government's aim to end long-term homelessness by the end of 2016 was outlined.

I indicated already, on Question No. 7, much of the response of the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, to these matters. The funding for homelessness in 2014 will be the same as the funding for 2013. She is conscious of the need to advance new arrangements, particularly with the over concentration of homeless services in certain centres. It is an issue where there has been a major increase in the number of those who are rough sleeping.

With the help of Dublin City Council and the social investment funds announced by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Howlin, we are identifying properties. With those, together with NAMA units that have been identified, I hope that in 2014 we will be able to make substantial progress on the numbers of persons who are classified as homeless. The numbers, at the end of September 2013, have reduced from those of the end of 2012, but nevertheless it is a most important issue on which we want to see even further progress made in 2014.

I ask the Minister to convey to the Minister of State with responsibility in this area that I advise caution on any commitments that will emanate from NAMA considering that 18 months ago Deputy Hogan told the House he expected up to 2,000 units would be made available from NAMA between then and now to address this issue of homeless, and those have not materialised. The Government should not place all its eggs in that basket again.

I ask for a review of the funding. When the Minister states the funding is to be retained next year at the level made available this year towards this sector, it is important that we analyse how that funding was spent and the amount of it made available to pay providers of emergency accommodation to ascertain whether there is value for money in that provision while there have not been specific targeted schemes to address the issue. There should be some pilot programmes brought to bear to see whether we can tackle this issue in a more meaningful way than has been done in the past. Grateful and all as we are, throwing money at the problem for the sake of it and funding those who provide emergency accommodation is not a solution that will bear fruit in the longer term.

Quite apart from that, my main point is to caution against a feeling that one always has the safety net of NAMA properties. As I stated, the Minister was proven wrong in that regard when a similar commitment was made of a more outlandish figure 18 months ago and it has not borne any fruit. Perhaps the House could be informed of a new approach that might bear better fruit than has been the case heretofore.

NAMA properties generally that were put forward were not only for the homeless but for all social housing provision. There have been a number of difficulties, not only with the financial allocations but also with the number of legal issues in relation to some of these estates.

I agree with Deputy Cowen that it is not an matter of throwing money at the problem. There is far too much being spent on emergency accommodation and that is why we have a policy. The housing-led approach is the policy. It is better for the client. Independent living accommodation with a social care plan is the way we want to address some of these issues. I can assure Deputy Cowen that the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, is looking at it in that context to provide a dispersed amount of accommodation, in particular in the Dublin regional area, to alleviate the current expensive solutions through emergency accommodation, particularly on the north side of Dublin.

Written Answers follow Adjournment.