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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 3 Jul 2014

Vol. 846 No. 3

Topical Issue Debate

Education and Training Boards

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for giving me an opportunity to raise this important matter on Topical Issues. As the Minister of State, Deputy Cannon, will know, the Cavan and Monaghan Education and Training Board has submitted a detailed proposal to the Department of Education and Skills in respect of the delivery of training in Cavan and Monaghan from 2015 onwards. The Dundalk training centre has transferred to the Louth and Meath Education and Training Board with effect from 1 July, but no arrangements have been finalised to confirm the Cavan and Monaghan Education and Training Board's transfer share of the training function budget and the associated staffing. Through the new structures, an obligation quite rightly has been placed on the Cavan and Monaghan Education and Training Board to deliver on its training function, as enshrined in legislation. The situation that exists at present is not satisfactory, to put it mildly. It is a cause of serious concern to the members of the education and training board in counties Cavan and Monaghan. Equally, it will be a matter of concern for learners, staff, people wishing to access training and local enterprises in both counties.

I understand every effort is being made by officials in the Cavan and Monaghan Education and Training Board to make progress with the necessary proposals, in conjunction with the Louth and Meath Education and Training Board, but there has not been a satisfactory outcome to date. I want to make it clear that this lack of progress cannot be attributed in any way to the Cavan and Monaghan Education and Training Board. In that context, I can inform the House that the Cavan and Monaghan Education and Training Board has submitted detailed proposals to the Department about the transfer of training functions, the migration of information and communications technology systems, the transfer of the budget from 2015 onwards, the transfer of five further education and training staff from Cavan and Monaghan Education and Training Board from Dundalk training centre, the provision of additional further education and training staff for Cavan and Monaghan Education and Training Board and the proposed planning schedule. Each of those proposals was fleshed out in great detail in the submission the Cavan and Monaghan Education and Training Board made to the Department.

The Cavan-Monaghan area has been very fortunate over the years because the committed and diligent officials in the former VECs, and now in the education and training board, have worked extremely hard to deliver the progressive policies and programmes under their remit. We are fortunate that Mr. Martin O'Brien is the chief executive of the education and training board. I would also like to mention the work of Mr. John Kearney, who is the board's further education and training officer. Mr. O'Brien, Mr. Kearney and all of their staff want to deliver training as they are obliged to do under the legislation passed by the Oireachtas in the last two years. They have not yet received full engagement from the Louth and Meath Education and Training Board. This matter has been raised by my party colleague, Senator Diarmuid Wilson. My constituency colleague, Deputy Joe O'Reilly, who also has been very active on this issue shares the views I am expressing this evening. I hope the Minister of State can give me an assurance that the training functions that have been devolved to the education and training boards will be assigned to the Cavan and Monaghan Education and Training Board. The representatives of those two counties want to ensure the board is in a position to deliver training, upskilling and support to the people who need to access it at local level.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter and for giving me an opportunity to outline to the House the position regarding the delivery of training in Cavan and Monaghan from 2015 onwards. Through a series of Government decisions, it was decided to replace the 33 vocational education committees with 16 new entities, to be known as education and training boards or ETBs, and to establish SOLAS to replace FÁS. As part of the reform of the further education and training sector, as the Deputy has said it is envisaged that the ETBs will play a key role in delivering further education and training in an integrated manner. This involves the transfer of training centres from SOLAS to the ETBs. Seven training centres and their staff transferred to ETBs on 1 January 2014. A further 12 training centres transferred to seven ETBs earlier this week, on 1 July. Each training centre, including the training centre in Dundalk, moved to the ETB of the functional area in which the centre is located. Five ETBs, including Cavan and Monaghan ETB, did not receive a training centre. The Education and Training Boards Act 2013 makes no distinction between the 11 ETBs that are receiving centres and the five that are not. All 16 ETBs must ensure the delivery of education and training. This reflects the Government decision. The question to be considered by the five ETBs that did not receive training centres is how best they can deliver on the Government commitment.

There have been extensive discussions on this matter between the ETBs, SOLAS and the Department. Under the agreed position for 2014 that is in place, ETBs with training centres will retain primary responsibility for training and continue to provide services to areas which do not have training centres. The position for 2015 and beyond is under consideration at present. The ETB-SOLAS programme board, which is responsible for the stewardship of the ETB-SOLAS reform programme and is chaired by the Secretary General of the Department, agreed that a project should be established to examine the most likely options for a longer-term solution for the five non-training centre ETBs. A group comprising representatives of boards that are receiving training centres and boards that are not, as well as SOLAS and the Department, has been put in place and has concluded that each non-training centre ETB should engage with those ETBs having or receiving training centres and with SOLAS. This engagement should involve each non-training centre ETB preparing a joint proposal with the other ETBs, informed by the support of SOLAS. My Department is committed to assisting Cavan and Monaghan ETB in carrying out its role in the provision of further and training services. To this end, it invested more than €15 million in capital works in the Monaghan Institute of Further Education and training last year.

In addition, in January of this year, approximately €100,000 was provided for works at the Castleblayney Youthreach centre.

On 24 June, my Department received a proposal from Cavan and Monaghan Education and Training Board regarding the delivery of training in those counties from 2015 onwards. This proposal, together with other proposals received regarding the delivery of training in the areas covered by the five ETBs which did not receive training centres, is being considered in my Department.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I sincerely hope that the proposal from Cavan and Monaghan ETB will indeed be considered in detail and subsequently approved. It will not be acceptable to anybody in Cavan-Monaghan if we do not have our own training remit. We are fortunate that in the past two decades we have built up a very good further education structure in the area. For example, Cavan Institute received a completely new premises in the early 2000s. In 2009, an education campus was approved for Monaghan town, incorporating the Monaghan Institute of Further Education and Training. Our concern is to maximise the potential of those two facilities. We have the leadership within the education and training board and at official level, supported by the members of the committee and Oireachtas Members representing the area.

Louth and Meath as a two-county unit would have more than double the population of Cavan-Monaghan. There is no question that if we are the lesser element in a situation where training is delivered on a four-county basis, then we will suffer. We do not want to see that happening. As spokesperson on education for my party, I supported the Government's proposals for new further education structures, involving a greater synergy and the merging of some of the functions of the former VECs. However, we must ensure that the implementation of these proposals affords every area the opportunity to maximise training opportunities and ensure there is access to placements for people in the area.

The Minister of State told the House yesterday, in response to another Topical Issue, that 33 VECs have been replaced by 16 education and training boards, with the latter having "full responsibility" for the planning and delivery of education and training in their areas. He also highlighted, as we all have done in the course of debates on this issue, the need to have local input and the capacity to react to the local market and business needs. That will only be achieved in Cavan and Monaghan if training is provided by our own education and training board. I sincerely hope the Minister of State will ensure that the detailed proposal put forward by the training board is approved. It envisages a realistic timescale and will not involve any disruption during 2014. We need the proposal to be approved.

I stand over all the points I made yesterday. If the new structures for the delivery of further education and training are to work effectively, they must reflect the needs of learners within a particular region as well as the needs of industry and enterprise within that region. That is why we have given significant autonomy to each ETB to determine the type of training and further education to be delivered within its area. The paramount consideration for my Department in this and all matters relating to further education and training is to ensure the best and most meaningful intervention and support for each individual seeking that support.

I take on board what the Deputy and his Oireachtas colleagues in Cavan-Monaghan are saying on this issue. I agree it is desirable that certainty be brought to the position for 2015 and beyond well in advance of the end of this year. I assure the Deputy once again that the proposal put forward by Cavan and Monaghan ETB is receiving active consideration within my Department.

Construction Contracts

Some weeks ago I sought to raise allegations regarding social welfare and tax fraud at certain public capital programme construction sites with the Taoiseach on the Order of Business. Last week, Deputy Robert Troy raised serious concerns about alleged malpractice at the construction site at St. Patrick's College, Drumcondra, concerns which I echoed at the same Order of Business with the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn. Further allegations have been communicated to me to the effect that some of the companies involved in the construction of buildings funded by the State, in particular under the schools building programme, are employing individuals who are not registered for PAYE or PRSI. It is further alleged that some of these individuals may be claiming social protection benefits in Northern Ireland.

I have been informed that this matter, in particular the contract involving St. Patrick's College, has been raised with the Minister, Deputy Quinn, and his colleague, the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, by the whistleblowers concerned on a number of occasions. It is additionally alleged by these whistleblowers that any contractor or subcontractor involved in these projects would have to be aware that some workers are signing on in the North while working on their sites in the Republic.

The collapse of the construction industry from 2008 led to more than 150,000 construction workers losing their jobs. The very valuable public capital construction programme and the very modest revival of house-building to perhaps 10,000 units this year offered some hope at last to tens of thousands of unemployed construction workers. That is why whistleblowers in the construction industry are so profoundly alarmed by these allegations of hidden economy workers. Moreover, these practices could potentially be costing the State many millions of euro in lost tax and social insurance revenue.

As well as raising this issue directly with the Minister for Education and Skills, I have tabled parliamentary questions to the Ministers for Social Protection, Finance, and Public Expenditure and Reform to determine what actions are being taken to tackle the hidden or shadow economy in construction. The current regime of site visits, although it has uncovered some illegal practices on some sites, does not seem to represent the kind of strong invigilation needed to tackle the problems of alleged illegal behaviour associated with certain projects funded by the State. Whistleblowers have inquired as to why the Revenue Commissioners, the Department of Social Protection, the Department of Education and Skills and the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation have not more regularly inspected these sites. Will the Minister explain why he and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform did not insert a system of full compliance pre-entry checks for contractors, subcontractors and workers involved in the public capital programme? I understand such checks are the norm in the private sector, including, for example, at the huge Intel site in County Kildare where up to 4,000 construction workers were employed at one stage. The Minister also needs to explain why officials from the trade unions BATU and SIPTU are blacklisted and banned from the public sector project sites concerned, given the important role both these unions played in ensuring tax compliance during the Celtic tiger period.

Finally, one must ask whether an element of hypocrisy is at play in the public tendering construction process. I have a copy of the post-tender clarifications for a contract between JJ Rhatigan & Company, the main contractor, and Rapid Developments of 799 Lisburn Road, Belfast, a large subcontractor, for block and brickwork at the St. Patrick's College campus development site in Drumcondra. It has been put to me by whistleblowers that the costs identified in the post-tender clarifications are examples of unsustainable costings resulting from below-cost tendering. I am informed that figures set out in the document are some 50% lower than what is considered sustainable cost and pricing. Does the Government stand over unsustainable and even below-cost tendering for the €2.1 billion schools building programme and other public infrastructure projects? Given the report and anomalies identified above, what will the Minister do to address and answer the allegations reported to me, Deputy Troy and others, which I have outlined? I am not sure of the exact status of the Minister, Deputy Quinn, at this time.

He is still the Minister for Education and Skills.

In that case, I am disappointed he is not the Chamber given that this issue was brought to his attention last October. It is an issue deserving of urgent attention given the importance of the schools building programme, including to construction workers.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter as it gives me an opportunity to outline to the House the measures the Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, has put in place to ensure companies working on contracts awarded under the Department's schools building programme are compliant with tax and employment laws. In common with the rest of the public sector, all Department of Education and Skills capital works projects are tendered and awarded under the standard public works contracts, as required by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Government construction contracts committee, GCCC. The guidelines require a competitive process carried out in an open, objective and transparent manner to achieve best value for money in public procurement. Essential principles to be observed in conducting all procurement functions include non-discrimination, equal treatment, transparency, mutual recognition, proportionality, freedom to provide service and freedom of establishment.

Any contractor wishing to tender for any building project funded by my Department must sign a personal situation declaration under oath confirming the company's compliance with Regulation 53 of SI 329 of 2006, which requires the contractor, among other things, to confirm that the company has not been convicted for failing to fulfil an obligation to pay a social security contribution or to pay a tax or levy as required under a law of the country or territory. Where a contractor fails to provide this declaration, it is excluded from tender competitions being run by my Department.

Contractors must also produce a tax clearance certificate or demonstrate a satisfactory level of tax compliance before they are awarded a contract. Furthermore, where my Department becomes aware of issues on building projects it funds, these issues are brought to the attention of the relevant statutory authorities. I am keen to ensure that building contractors operating legitimately are protected while those who seek to avoid their obligations under the terms of the public works contracts will be reported to the statutory agencies and penalised, where appropriate.

I am happy that the vast majority of building contractors are compliant. However, given the large sums of public money involved in the capital spend of the education sector, my Department appointed Contractors Administration Services, CAS, in April 2013 to conduct random audits on school building projects in order to verify compliance with the relevant pay and conditions clauses in the public works contracts. In tandem with the appointment of CAS, my Department also provided an online complaint system on its website to enable individuals bring to the Department's attention cases where they are of the opinion that issues of non-compliance are taking place.

Contractors Administration Services are continuing to conduct audits on school and college building projects and any issues of non-compliance brought to the attention of my Department will be audited by CAS and should irregularities be uncovered in terms of non-compliance with employment law, enforcement and prosecution falls under the remit of NERA. My Department will liaise with NERA on the progress of the random audits by CAS and will report any discrepancies found to it. If an audit uncovers any other matters of concern in regard to tax compliance or social welfare fraud, such matters will be referred to either the Revenue Commissioners and-or the Department of Social Protection, as appropriate.

The Minister of State outlined a process for public tendering. Are the main contractors not responsible for all subcontractors and the workers of all subcontractors on a site? What can the Government do if it finds non-compliance? Can a contract be terminated? Could it apply to re-tender it? What kind of sanctions are in place for a main contractor who does not seem to be observing the rules the Minister of State outlined?

The Minister of State mentioned Contractors Administration Services but whistleblowers have asked me if CAS has the kind of expertise required. It seems to be mainly a private forensic accounting and auditing company. Why are the State agencies not ensuring the laws are being upheld? The Minister of State did not respond to my question on pre-entry checks on all workers and all personnel going onto sites. I referred to sites of companies such as Intel. When it was building all its fabs, there was very strict invigilation as to who entered the site.

Is there a race to the bottom in terms of the contracts themselves, one of which I have in my possession, and where the pricing system does not seem to allow for any kind of adequate wages or returns for the workers? Have the Minister of State's Department, other Departments and public tendering officials the expertise to invigilate cost structures? Why are trade union officials blacklisted from sites such as those in Drumcondra and Lucan? There are serious allegations that workers are being denied pay and pension rights on those sites.

Will the Government put the hidden economy monitoring group, which I understand involves a number of Departments and agencies, on a statutory footing and introduce a Bill to ensure there is no more of this chicanery and alleged serious criminality in the hidden economy, or the black economy, which is supposed to cost our country billions of euro in GDP each year?

The reason CAS was chosen as the body to carry out these random audits is that it has the expertise, including significant forensic accounting expertise, to determine whether labour law is being complied with on these various sites. So far, CAS has completed 16 random audits on school and college construction sites, with one audit ongoing. As a result of those audits, information in regard to five projects have been referred to the Revenue Commissioners, one to the Department of social protection and one to NERA. Again, these are the entities with the legislative backing and the expertise to take any action required in terms of punishment or sanction for the contractors concerned.

The Deputy will appreciate that while I am happy that the vast majority of building contractors are compliant with their obligations under the public works contract, the Department is also keen to ensure building contractors operating legitimately are protected while those who seek to avoid their obligations under the terms of the public works contracts will be reported to the statutory agencies and penalised, where appropriate. We have within the machinery of the State significant expertise and significant sanctions to be able to take action in instances where such transgressions take place. We are proactively addressing the issues raised by whistleblowers through CAS architecture.

Bank Branch Closures

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this issue. It was with great shock and disappointment that I learned this week of the decision of Ulster Bank to close nine branches across the country, including two in my constituency of Dublin South-Central. The branches in Inchicore and Kimmage are scheduled to close by the end of November. However, I take the opportunity to take the staff in the Inchicore and Kimmage branches for their courtesy and the professionalism shown to the customers over the past number of years. I bank in the branch in Inchicore. I am glad the staff will not lose their jobs but the move will have dire consequences for our local community as we will be left with no local bank facility after Ulster Bank pulls out.

More than 4,000 households live in Inchicore and it was once home to three main banks - Bank of Ireland, AIB and Permanent TSB - and a number of buildings societies but all of them have closed their doors. The closure of the Ulster Bank branch will be very inconvenient for local people who will have to travel into town to access over-the-counter banking services. It will also mean the loss an ATM service for the village, which will be a major inconvenience.

I understand the bank is moving more of its services online to cut costs but it must recognise online banking does not work for many people for a variety of reasons. Elderly customers, in particular, will be targeted. They are being punished due to their inability to access the nearest branches. There is no direct bus service to the nearest Ulster Bank branch in Palmerstown. For many years, the bank relied on the custom of local people but now those very people are being penalised for their loyalty. They are angry and frustrated at the closure of their local banks.

I share the concerns expressed by local business people that the closure will result in the loss of business locally in Inchicore and Kimmage, with fewer people coming into the villages to do business. The village of Inchicore can ill afford another empty shop unit as currently there are seven.

People feel especially hard done by when they see how banking institutions have been supported by the State and are now returning to profitability. They feel that they should also be supported but instead they feel abandoned. This is not the first announcement of branches closing and, sadly, it may not be the last. It is the end of retail banking as communities know it. We need to maintain a decent level of service for customers, young and old, and, therefore, I urge the Minister to engage with the banking sector to keep branches - at least one branch - open in our towns and villages where people can get a proper banking service.

I thank Deputy Catherine Byrne for raising this important topic. I am aware of the recent Ulster Bank announcement in regard to the closure of branches and sub-offices over the next few months. This is a commercial and operational matter for Ulster Bank.

Ulster Bank is part of the Royal Bank of Scotland group and the bank had previously announced its intention to reduce its network and this current announcement is confirming the locations.

It would not be appropriate for the Minister for Finance to become directly involved in the selection of branches the bank may decide to close. That said, I fully understand and appreciate the concerns of Ulster Bank customer and their employees at this time, in particular those in the Deputy's constituency. The statement that there will be no additional job losses as a result of the announcement is to be welcomed. I understand that staff will be redeployed within the branch network.

Ulster Bank has said it is reducing the number of branches in response to changing customer behaviours, in particular the use of mobile and online banking. The change is not unique to Ulster Bank customers and the move to increased usage of mobile and online banking is evident across the banking landscape. The national payments plan, which was agreed by Government last year, estimates that savings of up to €1 billion per annum could be made to the economy as Ireland migrates away from cheques and cash in favour of electronic payments. The Deputy may be aware that figures recently released by the Central Bank show that the number of business cheques written in Ireland has dropped by 21% since 2012. The Deputy may also be aware of e-Day, which is on 19 September. E-Day is the day from which all State agencies will no longer accept cheques from businesses or write cheques to them. I assure the House that consumers are not affected by e-Day.

The Minister for Finance has previously said he expected that the restructuring of the banking sector in Ireland and the recovery of the economy will present opportunities for the entry of new market participants. The Deputy may be aware that Bank of Ireland announced on 26 June last that it had agreed to sell the distribution platform, together with €250 million of mortgage assets at par, to Dilosk Limited. No deposits are transferring as part of the sale. That follows an amendment to its restructuring plan which allowed the bank to retain its life assurance subsidiary, New Ireland. The bank committed to certain substitution measures including the sale of the ICS distribution platform together with, at the option of the acquirer of the platform, up to €l billion of mortgage assets and a similar quantum of matching deposits. The purpose of the ICS substitution measure is to support new entrants in the Irish mortgage market thereby increasing competition to the benefit of the consumer.

Dilosk Limited has confirmed that it has applied for authorisation from the Central Bank of Ireland as a retail credit firm and once it is so authorised, it will be required to fully comply with all relevant consumer protection codes, including the code of conduct on mortgage arrears. Mortgage holders will therefore be afforded protection. Given the reduced number of lenders now operating in the mortgage market, this transaction is to be welcomed as it introduces a new entrant and should therefore contribute to greater competition.

The concerns of Ulster Bank customers and its employees at this time are fully understood, however, this decision is not one in which the Minister for Finance has any role. The bank will continue to have a substantial branch presence across the country and Royal Bank of Scotland has publicly committed to building on Ulster Bank's current position to make it a compelling challenger bank to the main domestic banks and to focus firmly on the customer. That is to be welcomed. The continued presence of a viable and active Ulster Bank in the Irish market will be important in fostering competition for banking services. It is vital that businesses and consumers have a range of banking options available when using financial services and accessing credit - all of which will become increasingly important as the economy recovers.

I listened with regret to the response of the Minister of State but I did not raise the matter in the expectation of a miracle. I raised it because of the human factor. I have been contacted by many local people, in particular elderly people, many of whom are unable to access transport or a bus service to the nearest bank, which means many of them will have to go to another bank and go through the entire process of changing where they bank. Such a change fills older people with fear and might prompt them to withdraw their money from the bank and put it under their mattress. I would be concerned about that.

The proposed change to mobile and online banking might be progress for the banks and result in significant savings but customers in the area welcomed the personal touch from staff in Ulster Bank following the closure of Bank of Ireland. I did not raise the matter because I expected a miracle and the decision to be overturned but because it was important to signal the human cost to customers in my local area. Banks have a responsibility to look after people who supported them for years. I thank the Minister of State for his reply.

In the first part of my contribution I outlined the position from the banking perspective. The Deputy accepted that the Minister for Finance cannot interfere in the closure of bank branches. Deputy Byrne is an experienced public representative. I have encountered the phenomenon in my constituency and I understand the fear to which she referred. Such fear and concern is real. People could decide to withdraw their money. I appeal to the Deputy to tell her constituents that it is not a good idea to take their money out of a bank and put it under the mattresses or elsewhere in their homes, because people with cash are often robbed or attacked in their homes. The banks should deal with customers individually. The Minister for Finance will impress on the banks the need to address the concerns of customers. If people in an area have become fearful due to the closure of a bank branch the bank has a responsibility to allay their fears. It is important that banks deal with the issue.

Deputy Byrne has made a strong case on the human aspect of the closure of branches of Ulster Bank. I will relay the matter to the Minister so that he can express those concerns to the banks and to ask them to deal with the concerns of individuals, who might withdraw their money for fear that the bank will close. We have witnessed the closure of bank branches in rural communities in particular and people have adjusted to the situation in time. I accept that they need help and support. Deputy Catherine Byrne, as a concerned public representative, has brought their pain to the attention of the Oireachtas. We cannot interfere but we will certainly help to allay people's fears.

NAMA Social Housing Provision

Thank you, a Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this matter. I refer to the inordinate delay in the handing over of 48 apartment units at Clare Village, Malahide Road, Dublin 17, from NAMA to Tuath Housing for allocation by Dublin City Council to families on the council's homeless list. There is a housing crisis in the country and a serious homelessness problem, which dates to the collapse of the property market and the cessation of building projects. To address the situation the Government instructed NAMA to make available vacant units under its administration that were built by builders who went out of business or otherwise into liquidation and whose units were lying idle. Clare Village, Malahide Road is a case in point.

There are half a dozen homeless families in my constituency who come to me on a regular basis. At the beginning of January this year they were informed through Dublin City Council that they were to be selected for the allocation of those particular units. They had been homeless for some time before that but they were hopeful of being housed in the near future. Their expectation was that it would happen within a short time.

I know of a number of cases of ongoing delays. I am full of praise for the homeless section at Dublin City Council because its job is difficult but is done properly and professionally.

In January a family was told it would be allocated a unit and could move in towards the end of March. The family had previously been in refuge and temporary accommodation and there are other such families who must move around. I do not know the reason but March passed and the family were not allowed to move in. Instead they were told they could move in towards the end of April but this did not happen either. At the beginning of April the family were told there were unspecified administrative difficulties but that they could move into the unit in eight weeks. This period has long passed. The family were then told they could move in at the end of June and this has now changed to the end of July. There is a pattern to this.

I asked Dublin City Council to explain the delay but it will not tell me nor the two housing associations that contacted it. This accommodation is under the control of NAMA and that is a difficult body to deal with because of the regulations under which it operates. One must be careful what one says if one contacts NAMA because one could be accused of lobbying.

The point is, there are half a dozen such families in my constituency and there are 48 apartments available, so families from across the city could be housed. Instead they are still in emergency accommodation and hostels waiting to occupy units that are ready. I do not know the reason for the delays. It could be a matter of legal conveyancing, administration or simply somebody not getting on with things, but it is unacceptable.

I answer this question on behalf of the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, who has special responsibility for housing but is unavoidably delayed.

I thank Deputy Seán Kenny for raising this matter and I have listened with interest to what he has said. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government continues to work closely and successfully with NAMA, the Housing Agency, local authorities and approved housing bodies on the delivery of social housing. To the end of the first quarter of this year 1,849 available units identified by NAMA have been confirmed by local authorities as being suitable for social housing. Some 684 units have been contracted or committed for social housing use. A further 451 properties are considered as being active transactions where terms are agreed or active negotiation is ongoing by all parties concerned or where a detailed appraisal, determining the most likely delivery mechanism, is being carried out. An additional 702 properties are to be further appraised, signalling likely delivery in 2015 and 2016. Some 367 units were delivered in 2013 alone, a significant increase on 2012. Updated information on the delivery of NAMA sourced units for the second quarter of this year is being finalised and will be made available shortly on the Housing Agency's website.

The Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, has no statutory function in the allocation of tenancies and she is precluded from intervening in the decisions made by housing authorities in the allocation of particular dwellings. However, the Department is working with Tuath, NAMA, Dublin City Council and the Housing Agency to expedite timely delivery of these units at Clare Village.

It is important to note that the process of delivery of units at Clare Village involves a significant multi-unit transaction. With this comes the added complexity of getting agreement from a number of parties who, while fully committed to the process, are operating within an environment subject to a range of legal and financial challenges, including ensuring compliance with the Multi-Units Development Act.

Within this context significant progress has been made, and I understand that contractual arrangements to secure these units for social housing, which involve the NAMA special purpose vehicle, National Asset Residential Property Services Limited, are expected to be finalised shortly. Once that process has been completed, the remaining lease agreements involving the various stakeholders, which are being progressed in parallel, can be completed. I understand that, barring any unforeseen events, these units are expected to be made available for allocation in the coming weeks.

I thank the Minister of State for that reply. I understand the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, has no role in the allocation of units but that is not the issue I was trying to raise. A decision has already been made in these cases to allocate apartment units. I am baffled by the complexity of this matter because it involves four bodies, Tuath, a voluntary body, NAMA, Dublin City Council and the Housing Agency, and a special purpose vehicle was mentioned also. There is a need for co-ordination on this.

It is very difficult to get a precise reason for the delay. I hope what the Minister of State said is correct and that the units will be available in a couple of weeks, but I am aware of similar developments that have seen months of delays. There should be a detailed analysis of the cause of the delays rather than references to multi-unit developments and the many bodies involved. I also seek a more specific answer on the timescale.

I am happy to raise these comments with the Department, along with the assurances on the timeline the Deputy seeks as they are not included in the speech I have given. I will ask the Department to contact the Deputy as a matter of urgency and I support the views he expressed. Regardless of the complexity of the matter, it is the intention of all concerned, particularly the Minister of State, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, to deliver these units as quickly as possible.