Topical Issue Debate

Film Industry Development

I thank the Ceann Comhairle's office for selecting this issue for debate. Most people will agree with me that County Wicklow is the headquarters of the film industry in Ireland. For more than 40 years, Ardmore Studios in Bray was the Lone Ranger in the provision of studio facilities. In more recent times, larger studios have been opened in Ashford by Ashford Studios, which was set up by the O'Connell family. The film production company headed up by Morgan O'Sullivan has brought many productions to this country. At the moment we have "Penny Dreadful" being filmed in Bray and "Vikings" in Ashford.

The Action Plan for Jobs includes several initiatives to promote the film industry. One of these is the proposal to set up an expert review group to examine what measures are necessary to assist in the provision of additional studio space. A recent report by Grant Thornton highlights the need for funding for such infrastructure. A particular problem for the industry in Ireland is that film studios are classified under class 4, section 2 of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001, as amended, which means a fee of €3.60 per square metre is payable. This is proving prohibitive to the provision of this vital infrastructure.

In reply to a parliamentary question I tabled recently, I was told there are no plans to amend the planning fees at this time. To clarify, that is not what I asked. My question was whether film studios would be allocated a new class under the regulations. In other words, the specific class under which studios are currently categorised would not need to change, but it should no longer apply to them. As it stands, the applicable fee for large-scale studios has proven to constitute an inordinately high cost.

The second issue I wish to highlight is that when it comes to development contribution schemes, film studios are treated in the same way as other commercial premises on the scale, say, of an Ikea store. However, such a facility is really a totally different ball game, because it has footfall all year around and who knows how many cash registers in operation at all times. A film studio, on the other hand, might only be used for three months of the year at high intensity. It may well be part of an overall package which includes location shoots. One of the reasons Wicklow is so popular as a location for shoots is that it is less than an hour from the airport and has the backdrop of mountain and valley, including Glendalough. The Market Square in Rathdrum has been used in films about Michael Collins and in a number of advertisements because there are four different aspects to it. My in-laws own the post office there and at one stage it was being repainted three times a year for different productions. That gives a flavour of the potential which is there.

Studios are a vital element of our film industry and I am asking that they be recognised as such. I can short-circuit some of the expert review group's findings by predicting that what I am proposing here will be one of its recommendations. It is very pertinent that the Minister of State, Deputy Jimmy Deenihan, is here to respond to this matter. He has visited the studios in Ashford and is well aware of the issues. In his former role as Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, which included responsibility for the film industry, he acquired a good appreciation of the requirements of the sector. I look forward to his response.

I am delighted to be here to respond to this Topical Issue matter on behalf of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly. It gives me an opportunity to acknowledge the initiative shown by Mr. Joseph O'Connell and his family in establishing Ashford Studios, which is currently home to the "Vikings" television show, which is very successful in the United States and around the world. I have been on site there and seen the studio space, which is built to a very high specification. The same applies to Ardmore Studios, whose whole space has been taken over by the "Penny Dreadful" production, which is also very successful.

As Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, I was delighted to have the opportunity to extend section 481 provisions and increase the benefit to 32%, which is one of the best offerings in the world. I also introduced the so-called Tom Cruise clause whereby the fees paid to major actors from outside the European Union are treated as part of the overall budget. During my time in that Ministry I met with Steven Spielberg during a visit he made to Ireland. Mr. Spielberg told me he would love to work in this country provided he had access to a studio space of 60,000 sq. ft. I understand Mr. O'Connell is prepared to provide that space, with some assistance from Government.

Planning authorities in Ireland have been receiving 20,000 to 30,000 planning applications annually in recent years, down from a peak of more than 90,000 in 2006, which cover everything from house extensions to large developments. The consideration of planning applications by planning authorities is resource-intensive and expensive. A planning application must be extensively checked and validated to verify compliance with the regulations, with a view to ensuring, in particular, the right of the public to participate. Each application also requires thorough assessment, in line with the county development plan, and must comply with our obligations under EU environmental directives.

Planning application fees yielded in the order of €7.7 million of revenue in 2012 to local authorities to run a system which employed 1,343 staff, of whom 227 were professional and technical staff.

The annual financial statement for the local government sector states that in 2012, expenditure by local authorities on forward planning was nearly €37.2 million and on development management was just under €88.5 million, bringing total local authority expenditure on planning to €125.7 million.

It can be seen therefore that the amount of income received in fees is only a fraction of the cost of running the planning service. Section 2 of Schedule 9 of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001, as amended, sets out the scale of fees for all planning applications. These include €65 for the provision of a house, and €34 for maintenance, improvement or other alteration of an existing house, including any works for the provision of an extension. In respect of class 4, to which Deputy Doyle referred and which pertains to the provision of other buildings, the fee is €80 for each building or €3.60 for each square metre of gross floor space to be provided, whichever is greater. This is subject to a maximum of €38,000 for any planning application. Class 4 therefore includes the provision of buildings for commercial, retail, industrial and manufacturing purposes and includes studios. The fees of €3.60 for each square metre of gross floor space in respect of studios therefore are the same as for any other commercial development. It also should be noted that the fee payable for applications for permission for strategic infrastructure development made directly to An Bord Pleanála is the economic cost of dealing with these applications. In other words, the fee involved would be considerably higher than for applications to the planning authority. While the planning regulations generally are kept under review in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, I understand that the Minister, Deputy Kelly, has no plans to reduce the planning fees at this time either generally or in respect of studios.

I thank the Minister of State and appreciate he was reading from a script prepared by the office of the Minister, Deputy Kelly. Unfortunately, its last phrase reads "no plans to reduce the planning fees at this time". What I am asking is that this item of infrastructure be treated in a different way. I do not accept it is as onerous to process an application for a film studio as it is to process one for large commercial buildings. I acknowledge there is a visual impact and noise but there is very little by way of threats to damage the environment from effluent or anything else. The film industry is highly mobile and New Zealand and some parts of Eastern Europe are highly active and will compete. The section 481 provision is helpful and is a major incentive. Moreover, Ireland has the expertise and people who are involved in film production, be they actors or producers, like being around. They like Ireland and Dublin and like being near it. Consequently, it is important to recognise these facts and to talk to the people in the industry because unless this matter is addressed, we unfortunately run the risk of not having enough studio space, which is a limiting factor. Were it possible to provide the industry with the full package, of which this proposal is part, an additional 5,000 jobs and €1 billion annually into this country could be leveraged. I do not accept that the planning fees need to be reduced in toto. Consideration must be given to this item of infrastructure and to the film industry and we must decide whether it is worth pursuing. The State gives all kinds of incentives through the IDA and others to bring in jobs but this measure would benefit indigenous people to enable them to provide the infrastructure for this industry to locate and to pick Ireland. As they wish to do so, we should help them.

Again, I can understand where Deputy Doyle is coming from. Members should consider what has been achieved in Belfast, where an old building that had been used by Harland and Wolff has been turned into a studio. For example, they secured the "Dracula Untold" movie because they had the necessary space. In addition, the greater London area currently takes in approximately $1 billion of business from Hollywood in general because it has the requisite studio space. This is a critical issue and I agree with Deputy Doyle that it must be addressed in some way if we seek to continue the progress currently being made by a vibrant and growing film industry in Ireland. I remind Members again that the planning application fee in respect of the studio is €3.60 for each square metre of gross floor space to be provided, subject to a maximum of €38,000. This is the same application fee applicable to all types of building other than individual houses and agricultural buildings, that is, the same as for the provision of buildings for commercial, retail, industrial and manufacturing purposes. It is unclear why a special case should be made - I am reading from a script - for studios as opposed to all these other types of buildings. However, I should state that €38,000 is the maximum. Apart from consideration of planning fees, other incentives also should be given to those who are prepared to develop studios. In this case, I believe these people have invested a huge amount already with no State aid. Hopefully, when a review is carried out of the entire support structure for the film industry, this is a matter that can be considered. I will convey the points made by Deputy Doyle today to the Minister.

EU Regulations

On 1 July 2014, a directive entitled EN 1090 came into force in Ireland. To simplify the issue, it essentially means that people around the country who have small or large fabrication works must get new quality assurance certification. The first problem was nobody knew about it, even though it was being kicked around in Europe for eight years. As people got word of it - I only got word last December - they began to highlight the needs that arise in this regard because Members should bear in mind that these people have come through a recession. They are people running small to medium-sized enterprises around the country with one, two, three or five people working in them. In order to comply and to get this EN 1090 qualification, which is similar to an ISO standard, figures started to emerge of costs between €15,000 and €30,000. This has created pandemonium in the entire sector. I telephoned a few Departments but could get no information. I was obliged to telephone England to find out what people there were doing about it and to have it clarified. What it entails is that an ordinary person in an ordinary shed in any part of Ireland, be it the Minister's native place or anywhere else, who carries out work in four different categories, including for farmers and builders, must have all their welds tested. There are also requirements such as participation in a welding co-ordinator course and certification. As for the paperwork, when one gets people with letters after their names, they seem to charge high fees to get one in line. Moreover, these enterprises cannot price for work and work is being lost in different regions at present because of this.

There is a fear abroad among the smaller operators, many of whom are talking about shutting up shop. While everyone is in favour of creating jobs, we must hold on to what is in place. In fairness, I have been in contact with the local enterprise office, LEO, in County Roscommon and with the National Standards Authority of Ireland, NSAI, and we held meetings in Claremorris to try to explain to people what was going on. Ms Cáit Kenny in the Roscommon local enterprise office has been outstanding in trying to co-ordinate efforts to bring some reason to this issue. Prices were quoted that were extortionate. While bigger operators with 50 to 70 people working in them will stay in the business, unless something is done through the LEOs, Skillnets or SOLAS, the smaller operators in the different corners of Ireland, that is, those firms with two, three or four jobs, will be pushed out.

We need to get to grips with this matter. Going by my tally, Skillsnet can give 20% of funding towards training. There needs to be joined-up thinking on this with existing resources used to assist training programmes along with funding. The responsible authority in Northern Ireland has given 50% of the funding for training in all the different procedures. For example, to get a welding fabricator certification, welds will have to be sent away for inspection, as well as a new welder co-ordination test.

Everyone appreciates the economic recovery. We need to keep these types of firms in business as they are vulnerable, coming through patchy work over the past few years. They have kept going and stemmed the tide. While the directive has been in place since last July, if it is thrown at these welders and small welding firms now, some of them will give up. The LEO boards will explain how a large number of people are concerned about this directive being implemented. If SOLAS or Enterprise Ireland wants to get involved in the new training requirements, they will have to liaise with the LEOs because they know the different firms affected in their counties. Funding is needed to be given directly to those doing these courses. If it is not, much-needed jobs will be lost in all parts of the country.

I thank Deputy Fitzmaurice for raising this issue and for providing an in-depth overview of the challenges faced by the introduction of this regulation.

In general, the implementation of the construction products regulation setting out requirements regarding the CE mark for structural steel is a matter for the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government. Under the construction products regulation which came into full and direct effect across the European Union on 1 July 2013, all construction products covered by a European harmonised standard require a declaration of performance and must be CE marked before such products can be placed on the market. From 1 July 2014, the requirements of the construction products regulation applied to steel fabricators whose products fall within the scope of IS EN 1090-1:2009.

A European harmonised standard for steel, EN 1090-1:2009, execution of steel structures and aluminium structures - part 1: requirements for conformity assessment of structural components, was approved by CEN, the European Committee for Standardisation, on 15 June 2008 and was first published on 1 July 2009. The standard was subsequently published by the National Standards Authority of Ireland on 9 September 2009. The standard's applicability date as a harmonised European standard was 1 January 2011, as agreed by the European Commission in consultation with member states.

The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government informs me that, subsequently, the European Commission extended the standard's applicability date as it recognised there were a large number of small steelwork fabricators across the EU which would benefit from the extra time. It was anticipated the sector across the EU needed a little more time to adapt and prepare. It was agreed on 1 July 2014 as the date of the end of the co-existence period. Accordingly, when the co-existence period came to an end, CE marking became mandatory for fabricated structural steelwork that falls within the scope of IS EN 1090-1 placed on the market on or after 1 July 2014.

Since before the construction products regulation came into effect, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has indicated it has been working with a wide range of organisations in both the public and private sectors to ensure the construction industry was made aware of, and could prepare for, the regulation when it came into full effect across the European Union on 1 July 2013. In early 2012, the Department, working through the Building Regulations Advisory Body and in conjunction with the National Standards Authority of Ireland, the National Roads Authority, the Office of Public Works and the Building Materials Federation, prepared an information paper setting out the implications for manufacturers, importers and distributors of placing construction products on the market arising from the introduction of the construction products regulation on 1 July 2013.

This information paper was widely circulated to stakeholders across the construction sector by the Department, local authorities and by each of the participating organisations. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government also proactively promoted awareness of the construction products regulation at key industry conferences and workshops. In addition, a comprehensive three-month public consultation was held as an integral part of the development of the supporting European Union (Construction Products) Regulations 2013 setting out the framework for market surveillance in Ireland under the construction products regulation.

The Construction Products Regulations 2013, SI No. 225 of 2013, were signed into law by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government on 27 June 2013 to facilitate the application of the construction products regulation and providing for inspection of products on the Irish market by local authorities. These regulations came into operation on 1 July 2013.

A significant number of steel fabricators operating in the State have already established, or are in the process of establishing, the systems necessary to comply with their obligations under the construction products regulation and IS EN 1090-1. Since July 2014, structural steelwork and aluminium now fall under the regulation and, therefore, must carry CE marking to demonstrate they comply with the European Commission's harmonised standard EN 1090-1:2009 which relates to the execution of steel structures and aluminium structures.

While I know this is not the responsibility of the Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, with all due respect, someone in an office wrote that reply who does not have a clue what is happening on the ground. We know all the regulations and that they have been in place since 2014. However, there is a problem on the ground that is costing money for the smaller firms involved. The only firms in compliance with the regulations are the larger operators. Are we prepared to lose those small firms employing one to four people or will we follow the authorities in Northern Ireland in putting funding into training these small-sized fabricators to be compliant with these regulations? It is not the fault of these small firms, be they working out of a small shed in Kerry, Dublin or Mayo, that this regulation has been brought in on top of them.

Will the Minister of State go back to whoever wrote this reply to explain to them the real facts on the ground and how jobs will be lost? As a nation we do not want to lose jobs but promote them. The LEO boards are dealing with each group of welders in their respective counties. The boards need the funding for compliance training to save these jobs. The clock is ticking with many of these welding companies near the eleventh hour. When they look for work from the larger builders, they cannot tender because they cannot get the new welder certification. Someone has to get real and realise what is on the ground. Will the Minister of State bring that back to the Department responsible?

I will deliver that message to the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, for whom I am deputising.

Under EN 1090, there are requirements for conformity assessment of structural components which involves several steps that culminate in certification by a third party, known as a notified inspection body. In Ireland, the certification role is performed by the National Standards Authority of Ireland.

The Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation through Enterprise Ireland, the LEOs and in conjunction with the National Standards Authority of Ireland, have held a series of four general information workshops about the requirements under the construction products regulations at various locations. The role of the LEOs’ network is to provide guidance and assistance to small and micro-firms and to signpost these firms to other State agencies or bodies where appropriate.

One of the issues that came up at the information workshops was that of training courses for steel fabricators. In this regard, I understand the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has been in contact with the Department of Education and Skills about the SOLAS-administered metal fabrication apprenticeship programme. I know that Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice has a particular interest in apprenticeships. In the context of the SOLAS-administered metal fabrication apprenticeship programme, all apprentices who undertake it are made aware of the regulatory requirements. Skillnets, an employer-led training facilitator funded by the Department of Education and Skills through the national training fund, provides a number of training programmes through two of its training networks. The courses include a BA in engineering and a responsible welding co-ordinator and visual inspection programme. It is open to companies to explore with their local education and training board whether relevant training can be provided, usually on a contracted basis.

A key feature of the further education and training strategy is ensuring there are close connections between ETBs and enterprise in order that the needs of enterprise, as well as individuals, can be anticipated and factored into the annual service plans for further education and training. As the Department of Education and Skills reforms the further education and training sector, it is confident that enhanced collaboration between enterprise and the education and training sector will ensure further education and training provision will be relevant to the needs of enterprise. It may also be beneficial for companies to explore what economies of scale might be achieved for companies seeking upskilling in the same areas. I will convey the Deputy's concerns to the Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, and ask that he get back to him directly.

Hospitals Building Programme

The emergency department in Galway is the second busiest, if not the busiest, in the country, with 65,000 attendances last year. There is a not a week that goes by when I do not receive representations in the form of an email or a call from somebody sitting in the emergency department, or whose partner or child is sitting in it. The conditions in which they have to wait are appalling. The emergency department was built in the 1950s and in the interim period was redesigned in the mid-2000s to get over a particular hump. Clearly it is in need of replacement. Some of the statistics and facts we have seen and the admissions the HSE has made about it are stark. For example, it does not allow effective patient streaming; it does not comply with infection control standards; it does not allow the emergency medical programme or unscheduled care and patient experience targets to be met. It is simply not up to scratch and is failing the people of Galway and counties Roscommon, Mayo and Clare, all of whom feed into this acute hospital.

I have raised this issue with the Minister before and we had very positive and constructive engagement, for which I thank him, as well as for being in the Chamber to debate it. We have the hospital on record as stating its emergency department needs to be replaced. Patients, staff and doctors have told me from their personal experience that we need a new emergency department. Everyone, including the Minister, agrees. He has been very forthright in saying in the House that we need a new emergency department in University Hospital Galway. Everyone agrees that the emergency department is failing its patients and staff, but what are we going to do about it?

There are two options available - a €30 million or a €60 million new build, in which the maternity unit would also be replaced. I understand the HSE has opted for the latter as probably the more preferable option. Given this, the next step is providing the money to design a new emergency department. The hospital should be given the go-ahead to engage architects, engineers and surveyors who should get to know the site, design something and obtain planning permission for it. When we have this done - it will take at least one year to go to tender - we will be able to talk about funding. That work is crucial in accessing funding and having a capital plan. There is no point in allotting money for a building that has not been designed or making capital available for a scheme that is nowhere near starting. Let us give the relatively small amount of money required - less than €1 million, plus VAT - to undertake this initial work. That amount could be found in the budget and would go a long way towards advancing the project which the people of Galway and those living in the hospital's wider catchment area deserve. The unfair, undignified and improper setting in which patients are being treated cannot be allowed to continue in place. Simply saying it is wrong and needs to change is not enough.

I thank the Deputy for again raising this issue and giving me an opportunity to outline to the House the current position. During a previous Topical Issue debate last October we both acknowledged the high level of activity at the emergency department in Galway, with approximately 66,000 annual attendances, making it one of the busiest emergency departments in the State. The HSE is working closely with the special delivery unit, SDU, to better manage patient flow through the hospital. This collaboration has reduced the overall number of patients awaiting admission from the emergency department to the main hospital. In the first two months of 2015, 798 patients were on trolleys in Galway University Hospital. This represents a reduction of 309, or almost 28%, compared to the figure in the baseline year of 2011, when there were 1,107 patients waiting on trolleys at some point during those two months. However, it does represent a deterioration on the figure for last year. The level of overcrowding increased by 8.7% in January and February of 2015 compared to this time last year.

Galway University Hospital has recruited and allocated experienced general and paediatric nurses to the emergency department, as well as a fourth advanced nurse practitioner with a specific function in the management of minor injuries. As well as additional staff, a number of construction and infrastructural projects are under way such as the upgrade of the medical gas network, which is the first step to upgrading the maternity department. The construction of the clinical research facility is now complete and the facility is expected to be operational within the next four to six weeks.

The HSE is also in the process of appointing a contractor for the construction of a new clinical ward block which will provide 75 beds, with construction anticipated to start by the middle of April and due to be completed by the end of next year. Enabling works for the new 50-bed acute mental health department have started and it is projected that this facility will also be completed by the end of next year. The transfer of these services to a new unit will facilitate the construction of a new radiation oncology project, currently in design phase, on the old mental health services site.

When we examine trolley numbers and their pattern each week, it is clear that changes in working practices and the way things were done in the past will help to make better use of facilities and smooth out activity in hospitals. Today I received a briefing on the Irish hospitals redesign project which is being piloted at Tallaght hospital. This approach is invaluable in working out, with fresh and often external eyes, how hospitals can be better run and managed. I have mentioned Galway University Hospital as a potential candidate in the future should it prove to be a success at Tallaght hospital.

In the past I have acknowledged that the current physical infrastructure of the emergency department is not fit for purpose and requires investment. That investment must be considered within the overall acute hospital sector infrastructure programme and the overall capital envelope available to the health service, which is constrained. The HSE is concentrating on applying the limited funding available to infrastructural development in the most effective way possible to meet current and future needs. However, there will be limited funding available for new projects in the next multi-annual period, from 2015 to 2019. I have, however, asked the HSE to make some funding available to advance the development of the plans to upgrade the emergency department at Galway University Hospital. I will seek to have further funding for this project included in the 2016-22 capital plan, although that is a matter for the Government as a whole.

Debate adjourned.