Other Questions

Housing Finance Agency Funding

Joan Collins


14. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government to set out the amount which has been drawn down from the €300 million Housing Finance Agency fund; the approved housing bodies and local authorities which have drawn down moneys from the fund; the purposes of each drawdown, that is, whether for social housing build or upgrading social housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28423/16]

What is situation with the €300 million in the Housing Finance Agency fund? Is it being used? If so, who by? What is it being used for? To date, what percentage of that money has been drawn down for social housing?

I am glad Deputy Collins has asked me this question because it gives me an opportunity to clarify the position. In 2015, a €300 million fund for investment in social housing was put in place by the Housing Finance Agency with the support of the Government. A sum of €150 million of this fund was provided by the European Investment Bank. This funding is available to approved housing bodies for the delivery and upgrade of social housing. A 25-year fixed rate of 3.25% is charged.

To date, 29 individual projects totalling €233 million have been approved for support from the fund. The funding is being provided to seven AHBs to develop a total of 964 new homes and for retrofitting and upgrading projects in respect of an additional 550 homes. The AHBs concerned include Clúid Housing Association, Oaklee House Trust, Túath Housing Association, The Iveagh Trust, Co-Operative Housing Ireland, Focus Housing Association and Respond Housing Association. I have become familiar with all of these organisations and they are all doing a great job.

Of the €300 million in the fund, €34 million has been drawn down to date. Given the nature of the projects the majority of the drawdown will occur in 2017. It is expected that the fund will be fully allocated for specific projects by the end of this year.

Given the success of this fund, initial discussions have commenced with the European Investment Bank with a view to establishing another fund. This would incorporate a €200 million contribution from the European Investment Bank and would be match-funded by the Government. This fund would be aimed at providing loans to both AHBs and local authorities to support the provision of social housing.

I thank the Minister for the reply. Is the Minister saying that €34 million has been drawn down to date? I understood a figure of €233 million had been drawn down. Will the Minister clarify the position?

There is a difference between what has been committed and what has actually been drawn down. We only draw down the funding when it is actually spent. We believe all this funding will be committed and allocated by the end of the year. What has actually been drawn down, that is, spent so far, is €34 million. However, to date, 29 individual projects totalling €233 million have been approved for support by the fund. In other words, they have effectively got approval to move ahead. Once they move ahead, the money will be drawn down. By and large, nearly all of that money will be drawn down next year.

Does the Minister expect to apply for the other tranche from the European Investment Bank when that money is drawn down, has been committed or the 29 projects have received consent to go ahead? The Minister has suggested the timeline for this is the end of next year. Does the Minister envisage that by 2018 there will be another drawdown from the European Investment Bank of €200 million?

Can the Government draw down more from the European Investment Bank?

Other European countries have drawn down a lot more from the European Investment Bank that could be put into supporting the work being done. It is positive that the money is being drawn down by those bodies and local authorities. It would be part of what is needed but does not take away from the emergency on our hands and more people will face homelessness. Next April the two-year cap on rent will be up. Will we immediately bring in another two-year cap because when that cap is lifted we will see many more homeless people on the streets?

We will have a new rental strategy in place by the end of the year. There will be plenty of consultation on that I hope with the committee and other parties before we finalise it. Whatever we do we need a fairly comprehensive and more progressive approach to a more stable rental market.

The Housing Finance Agency is trying to get as much money into housing as possible. Our problem is not accessing money, it is how to spend it in compliance with the rules. We can access money through the European Investment Bank and raise it as a State by issuing bonds for virtually nothing. However, spending that money is restricted under the spending rules. People are familiar with that because there have been endless debates in this House about those rules. We need to come up with new financing models that can allow us spend as much money as we can in terms of off-balance-sheet vehicles to do that and the Irish Strategic Investment Fund is working on funds and the Housing Finance Agency is also considering what it can do. In the meantime the European Investment Bank is happy to invest significant additional sums in social housing because that meets all of its guidelines and parameters. This is not a grant, it is a loan but over a long period and it is relatively cost-effective. It supports broader European policy around social housing and dealing with the housing crisis in Ireland. The money will be drawn down. The real challenge for us is to find ways to spend more money beyond what we are allowed to spend, even though we are spending a significant portion of what we are allowed to spend overall on housing.

Library Services

Eoin Ó Broin


15. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government the rationale for the proposed use of staffless libraries; and if he will reconsider the introduction of this policy in view of opposition from library staff and local communities. [28699/16]

What is the rationale for the proposed use of staffless libraries? These proposals have met with strong opposition from staff, library users and local communities. Will the Minister reconsider the introduction of this policy? There are many people with disabilities and visual impairment and this is a retrograde step in the use of libraries.

My Department is working with local authorities to extend the initial pilot phase of the open library service, an initiative under Opportunities for All, A Strategy for Public Libraries 2013-2017. As part of the "My Open Library" service, participating branches will open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days per week. Regular staffed hours will be complemented by unstaffed hours, thereby providing increased access for users and communities to a broad range of library services at times when access to these services and facilities would otherwise be unavailable. To be clear this involves increased access. We had this discussion last week. It is extra activity not a reduction in hours. The services will include book lending, Wi-Fi, computers and printing facilities, study spaces and community facilities. It will open up the space at night to make it available for communities to have meetings and use the library services.

The pilot is being extended to 20 or so branches on foot of the successful initial trial of the service in Tullamore, Banagher and Tubbercurry libraries. Feedback from users in these branches has been very positive to date. I heard in the debate last week that people had fears and concerns. There have been no problems in the pilot phase in the three libraries. There have been no difficulties. Staff are very happy, some have said publicly that they were delighted with the service and the increased activity. I do not really understand the issue here and why people are fighting back on this. There are other issues that people might have concerns about in libraries but this initiative is to increase the services by having additional opening hours to provide services.

The aim of the extended pilot is to gather further learning and to develop a model that may be rolled-out on a mainstream basis in the longer term. We are confident that the service will continue to grow in popularity with users and communities and will be supported fully by staff in the participating branches. Accordingly, we have no plans to reconsider the introduction of the service. We plan to increase and enhance it and I encourage more local authorities to avail of it.

The Minister of State says it provides increased services but we have seen in the past with other services that this can lead to privatisation and the big worry is that we are going down that road, which poses a threat to the staff and their jobs. People who are impaired or who have disabilities will not have the same access to staff members. They may need help and so on. Why not extend this as a normal process of opening the libraries up more for people and provide the staff to do that? I do not know why we are going to have a personal identification number, PIN, and other mechanisms to get into a library. A library is a place where there should be a member of staff to help people. What will happen if someone comes in and causes problems with anti-social behaviour? We expect a library to be silent. It would make more sense to have staff on hand.

Here we go again with the scaremongering. I heard this last week. This pilot scheme has run in three locations. There have been no difficulties or concerns. It is typical of Sinn Féin to try to raise red flags where there are no problems. This is a positive development. I understand what the Deputy says about people with disabilities wanting to access this. This is a start to increase the service. There is no danger to anyone’s job. This is not to replace staff. It is a commitment to increase the offering of the service and to build on it and collect data. The number of users has been very positive and that might lead in the future to having more staff in these hours because users show they want to use it over the Christmas holidays, bank holidays and at night too. The Minister wants to speak about Sligo.

I want to give some reassurance. We have had some difficult debates in respect of Sligo libraries.

I commend the Minister on his work in respect of that issue.

We have worked through those issues and have given sanction for some more staff to deal with those issues.

This is not the thin end of the wedge, this is a case of using technology to open library hours for much longer than is the case because people are working. I have seen the technology working in one of the libraries in Cork. A person is given a fob and can drop books back and collect others late into the evening when the library would normally not be open. This is using technology to extend opening hours. It is no more nor less than that. We have not rushed it. It has been a pilot project and so far it has been a great success.

No one is saying this is not working but there could be problems and it would have made more sense to provide staff. People and staff have said this, as have service users in the disability sector. I do not understand why it is such a big issue. It seems like cost-cutting instead of putting an extra few bob in place to provide more staff. Ultimately, it will probably lead to the privatisation of services. The Minister of State may laugh but I have seen that happen in the past. This is not a Sinn Féin issue. This comes from concerns raised by constituents across the board. Our libraries have been a great asset to the people, particularly those in working class areas who cannot afford to buy books. Not having someone on hand might work in certain places but not necessarily in others.

It is apt to say that our libraries are great assets and that we want to increase their use. This is a common approach across the world to extend their opening hours.

In an ideal world, and if we had the resources, we would provide more staff if they were required, but is it not better to have the libraries usable at night time, weekends, Christmas, Easter and bank holidays when they were not in the past? That is what we are trying to do. The intention is not to cut back on anyone's hours or do away with someone's job. There is a strong commitment to develop the library service and to increase the usage numbers, and the statistics on the three libraries that were involved in the pilot show increased usage. Members signed up to this because they wanted the service. They had asked for it. It is part of a consultation process, and it might lead to even greater services because people are showing that they want to go to their library at night-time, weekends, Christmas and Easter. We can adapt to that, but this is about gathering information and having the libraries open longer. It is common for someone in a university or other educational facility to use their fob to go into the library. It is the normal approach to doing business. This must be viewed as an enhancement of the service. The Deputy should not talk about the privatisation of libraries because that is so far from the truth. It is typical of the Deputy who cannot take a positive approach to what is a positive development.

Building Regulations

Charlie McConalogue


16. Deputy Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government the status of the work of the expert panel set up to examine the mica issue; when the panel will report its findings to his Department; if he has a timeline for a decision on putting a redress scheme in place to provide financial assistance to affected home owners following on from the panel's report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28425/16]

Thomas Pringle


43. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government when the independent panel on mica is due to report its findings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28644/16]

This is to ask the Minister of State for an update on the work of the mica panel established to examine the extent of the problem in terms of mica affected blocks which are leading to many homes having cracks in walls and other severe structural problems. What progress has the panel made so far? What is the deadline in terms of when it should report? I ask also for an update on the Government's plans for a redress scheme to assist home owners fix their homes following on from that report.

I thank the Minister of State for travelling to Donegal and meeting with affected home owners since I last raised this issue before the Dáil recess. The Minister of State committed to doing that in the Dáil and took the time to do that. He met many home owners and saw for himself the impact this problem is having and how damaging it is in terms of the houses affected and the lives of the families who live in them.

The Government has dragged its feet on this issue over the course of the past two to three years. Initially, it dragged its feet in terms of committing to setting up the expert panel to assess the problem and report on it. The panel, since it was set up, has also dragged its feet in terms of the report deadline. When it was set up initially, the deadline was 31 May. It was then pushed back to the end of October, and I believe now it has been pushed out to the end of this year.

Thank you, Deputy. I will call you again.

That is not acceptable, and I would like an update from the Minister of State on that.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 16 and 43 together.

The expert panel on concrete blocks has met on four occasions since it was established in April 2016 and is continuing to receive and review the information that has been made available to it on the problems that have emerged in affected homes in Donegal and Mayo. The accusation made by Deputy McConalogue that it is dragging its feet is unfair. It was set up in April. The members of the panel were in Donegal in May. I was there in July. The expert panel members were in Mayo in September. An offer was made to meet Oireachtas Members in July, although not everyone could turn up. Two out of seven Members turned up. The Minister of State, Deputy Joe McHugh, was asked to meet the panel again. That will happen next week. The members of the panel are doing the best they possibly can. It is a major issue and the problems must be analysed properly. It is unfair to accuse them of dragging their feet when they made themselves available as quickly as possible.

A substantial volume of information has been provided by affected home owners in both counties, as well as by Donegal and Mayo county councils, which will be of particular assistance in completing the necessary research to inform the preparation of the panel’s report.

Further meetings have taken place with key stakeholders including affected home owners, the elected members of Donegal and Mayo county councils, whom I have met also, local authority officials, and industry bodies. Additional meetings are anticipated with other stakeholders over the months ahead before the panel concludes its research into the problems that have emerged in the affected homes.

Ultimately, the aim of the panel’s terms of reference is to establish the facts behind the problems that have emerged in Donegal and Mayo and to outline technical options for addressing the problems identified to assist affected home owners.

It is anticipated that the panel will complete its report before the end of the year. I would have liked to have had it done by October or November. It might take a little longer, but in my view, and I have said this on many occasions when I met the home owners in their homes, we have to get it right, and the home owners agree with that approach. They did not ask me to rush it. They asked me to get right and to make sure the panel does the work properly. That is what it is doing. It is a strong panel which is doing good work. It is anticipated that it will complete its report before the end of the year. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, I and the Department will await the outcome of the report. We will have the report first and then we will analyse how we should proceed, but it is important, and I have had this conversation with other Deputies, that the panel members are given the space and the resources to do their work. Most of the groups the panel wanted to meet have met it. Some declined, but it managed to meet most of the stakeholders involved in this, and it is hoped it will be able to recommend solutions.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. He will know, having met the families, that this is an urgent matter for those affected by it because houses continue to deteriorate as time moves on, and the cost of having tests conducted on individual houses is prohibitive, being in the range of €2,000 to €3,000. Families are waiting for these tests to be conducted by the panel. They are waiting on the expert opinion of the panel as to the nature and extent of the problem and the remedies that can be brought to bear. Following on from that, they also await the Government's response on what help will be available because these families will need help to address the problems in their homes.

I said the Government has dragged its feet on this issue because it took too long to set up the expert panel. However, when it was set up, the report deadline given was 31 May. That was then pushed out to the end of October. In a reply to a parliamentary question from me last week and again today, it was pushed out to the end of this year. It could be done more quickly than that. It is possible to have it delivered more quickly, and I ask the Minister of State to engage with the members of the panel and ensure it is delivered by the end of the year. The Minister of State might also update us on the number of staff from the Department working with the panel as a secretariat.

I ask the Deputy to adhere to the clock, please.

The Minister of State might address also the point as to the Government's position on the supports that will be available to families to repair their homes following on from the report.

In terms of my meetings, I met the Mica Action Group in Donegal as well as the home owners in Mayo. They made it clear to me that they understood the importance of the expert panel doing its work correctly and producing a report we can use that outlines the causes and possible remedies for this problem. I cannot stress that enough. I do not know what information the Deputy has in terms of the expert panel doing its work more quickly. I do not want the panel to do the work more quickly if it is not done right. I want to have the report as quickly as possible in order that we can analyse it and decide what to do with it, but I would not ask someone not to do their job correctly. The Deputy might know of some scientific reason it can do it more quickly. I am not aware of it, but it was set up in April.

It is in the terms of reference given to the committee.

The Minister of State has the floor.

It was in Donegal in May. The panel members have had numerous meetings all summer. They are meeting again on 17 October. I believe they are doing their work. We have asked them about it. They have the resources to do the work as quickly as possible, but many home owners want to meet them. They visited the home owners in their houses in both Donegal and Mayo. They met local authority members and Oireachtas Members. The offer is there if the Deputy wants to meet them. They are doing their job right. When we get the report, we will analyse it and determine the best way to remedy the problem. Most people say they want a solution to the problems with their houses. To be clear, this was an issue from 1999 to 2008. It predates our Government, but we are trying to bring forward solutions to the problems.

In pointing out the dates to the Minister of State I am simply pointing out the terms of reference given to the committee by his predecessor, the former Deputy Paudie Coffey, at the outset. That was on 31 May. Obviously, the assessment made by the Minister of State's Department was that it was achievable to have the report dealt with in that time. I am not picking these figures out of the air. The Minister of State's Department set the deadline of 31 May. It then pushed that out to the end of October, and it has now it pushed out further to the end of December. As the Minister of State will understand, this is a source of great stress for families.

It is achievable to have the report dealt with in the period provided but I ask the Minister of State and his good offices to ensure that every support is given to the panel to have the work completed by the end of the year. Following on from that, it will be about the level of support the Minister of State's Department can provide to the families who cannot afford to fix these houses. Some of them cannot be fixed, but the panel will recommend what is possible in that regard. I ask the Minister of State to address the point about the support he will be in a position to offer following the report.

We have the Deputy's point.

The people the Deputy represents recognise that we have to wait for the report before we can come up with the best way forward. There was a process to be followed. I have seen the process in action in other situations and it has worked quite well. When I engage with people directly, they understand and are clear on what has to happen. I am not sure what the Deputy's difficulty is with that, but I have to wait until I get the report before we can do anything further. The Deputy is right that initially we had hoped to have a report in May, but the panel only came together in April. It was clear then that we would not have a report in May. I am sure the Deputy would accept that. No one expects magic. We have to give the panel enough time to do its work.

From the submissions and other details that have been received and the reports on people's homes, the panel members have gathered a good deal of data on many houses. There are more than 300 members of the Mica Action Group. Quite a number of houses are affected in Mayo as well.

Moreover, 450 local authority houses potentially are affected. Many houses are involved in this regard and we have a lot of information. As more information probably has come into the expert panel than it originally envisaged, the panel has asked for a little more time with the report. I accept that and will work with it but it is not being kicked out until next year or two or three years' time. It will be an additional couple of months, which is all right from my perspective if it leads to the proper analysis of the problem and the possible solutions.

Housing Assistance Payment Implementation

Thomas P. Broughan


17. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government the current uptake of the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme; if he will report on difficulties this scheme is facing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28433/16]

Barry Cowen


32. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government his views on how the restriction under HAP, whereby recipients are taken off the normal social housing waiting list and placed on a transfer list, is discouraging persons from taking up the scheme. [28632/16]

As the Minister is aware, the core problem with the operation of HAP, certainly in the Dublin region, is the great reluctance of families to take up the housing assistance payment because of the insecurity of the three-year tenure. They are often families who had been in private rented accommodation with rent supplement and had then effectively been evicted, became homeless and, like numerous people I represent, may have been homeless for a year or two. The Minister now wishes to put them back into insecure accommodation again. Can the Minister report on the working of the HAP implementation group in Dublin, whether he has met it and what kind of numbers are involved? Is the Minister's entire plan of relying on the private sector in respect of this area not completely misconceived?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 17 and 32 together.

Approximately 13,600 households are currently being supported by the housing assistance payment scheme across 19 local authority areas in which the scheme is operational, including eligible homeless households under the homeless HAP pilot scheme managed by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, DRHE, which I met just before Question Time began, for all four local authorities in the Dublin region. On average, approximately 224 additional households have been supported by HAP each week during 2016 and this figure continues to rise with 362 households commencing support under the scheme this week. HAP will be rolled out in nine more local authority areas before the end of 2016, with the remaining three Dublin authorities coming on stream towards the end of the first quarter of 2017. This will complete the full roll-out of the scheme.

The phased nature of the HAP roll-out has allowed for significant learning in the operation of the scheme. In this way, new HAP authorities have benefited from the experience of those authorities where the scheme has been operational longest. The HAP practitioners group, which is made up of local authority staff and was established following a review of HAP governance structures earlier this year, meets regularly to discuss issues or opportunities they identify to improve the operation of the scheme. My Department continues to work with key stakeholders, like the HAP practitioners group, who also are represented at the HAP project board to ensure the scheme's operation is as effective and efficient as possible.

As for HAP and social housing waiting lists, local authorities have been directed that HAP recipients who apply to go on the transfer list should get full credit for the time they spent on the waiting list and be placed on the transfer list with no less favourable terms than if they had remained on the waiting list. In practice, housing authorities inform HAP recipients in writing of their entitlement to apply to go on the transfer list when they are approved for HAP. As of mid-September 2016, more than 160 households have transferred from the scheme to other forms of social housing support.

In general, I am very satisfied with how the HAP scheme is operating and I consider it to be a key vehicle for meeting housing need, particularly in the immediate term, and for fulfilling the ambitions of the Rebuilding Ireland plan.

I cannot see how the Minister can be very satisfied. I regularly get letters for people I have been representing in which they are told Dublin City Council is pleased to confirm the household in question is eligible for HAP and should contact the place finder service. People then try but fail to get accommodation under it and the place finder service established by Dublin City Council does not appear to interact directly and vigorously with landlords on behalf of people who wish to become tenants. The Minister has just mentioned that people go off the housing list and on to a transfer list. On the Minister's watch, we are just passing the milestone of 1,000 households being homeless this very minute. The Minister is responsible for housing and the numbers are rising day after day and week after week. Six or seven months ago when he took up this job, the Minister told Members he would act vigorously to deal with it and sort it out. It has not been sorted and many children and families remain homeless. As the Minister is aware, the problem about HAP is that people do not wish to go-----

Perhaps after ten years in private rented accommodation and a number of years being homeless, the Minister wishes them to return to insecure accommodation and to go off the housing list.

It is just a ridiculous situation. In the Dublin region, the Minister does not have a solution.

I am unsure what the Deputy is proposing. Does he suggest we would be in a better position if we did not have HAP?

I suggested the Minister should go and build houses.

No, Deputy, let me answer.

Excuse me, Deputy, please let the Minister answer.

I suggest the Minister should-----

We are building houses.

-----equip the Dublin local authorities to directly build houses.

Let me answer the Deputy's question.

Deputy, please take your seat.

No more schemes-----

Yes, and that is exactly-----

-----no more rapid build-----

Deputy, please take your seat.

-----no more public private partnerships.

The Deputy has a magic pen.

Go out and build the houses. In many parts of the constituency-----

Deputy, please take your seat.

-----I am proud to represent, families would happily live in them. Acting Chairman, he is the responsible Minister.

You have made your point, Deputy, take your seat and allow the Minister respond and to answer the question.

I am glad we have-----

I know what I would have been doing if I was Minister for housing but the Minister is not taking action.

At least have the manners to listen to the Chair. If you are not going to listen to the Minister, please listen to the Chair. Now resume your seat.

I am glad we now have the Deputy on the record as saying "no more rapid build". You do not want us to deliver-----

Minister, will you please address the Chair and not the Deputy directly?

I do not want timber-framed houses.

They are not timber-framed houses.

I want quickly-built houses for the people who are in homeless accommodation tonight.

Deputy, I will move on to the next question unless you resume your seat now.

The Deputy has plenty of criticisms but no suggestions to make.

I made suggestions.

You will have your minute in a second, Deputy. If you interject again, I will not give you any more time on it; I am moving on.

We are delivering a lot of new social houses and are doing that as quickly as is physically possible. Moreover, we will do it in a way that learns from the mistakes of the past in respect of the need for mixed-tenure developments and so on. I note HAP has not even been rolled out in Dublin; the homeless HAP project has been rolled out.

This is just a cover for privatisation.

I did warn you, Deputy, and I will move on to the next question if you are going to continue interjecting.

The Deputy is judging HAP before it even has been introduced to Dublin City Council. It is a joke. Thus far this year, approximately 550 families and individuals have got secure tenancies under the homeless HAP project, which certainly is a great deal better than the alternatives that are available for them. Most of the HAP schemes are not on three-year tenancies. Some of them are for five years, others are for ten years and some are even negotiating 20-year tenancies. With respect, the Deputy should do his homework.

I did my homework. Incidentally, the Minister is aware that I sent him a detailed briefing of what I would like to do, starting with the declaration of a housing emergency. I ask the Minister to give some attention to the issue of the place finder service and to assisting people who are in homeless accommodation or are sleeping in cars and are literally homeless and who cannot access services. Will the Minister give some attention to ascertaining whether this service could be ramped up into being of real assistance to homeless families?

The general point is there is a reluctance regardless of whether a tenancy is for three, five or ten years. If one has been in insecure accommodation with the threat of being evicted at any time over the years, it is an appalling vista to be obliged to return to and spend one's entire life in such accommodation. I represent children, as obviously does the Minister also, who have grown up in a situation in which there has been no stable accommodation, which is completely unacceptable. As I stated, the Minister in particular must examine the way in which this scheme is not fit for purpose. It is not delivering and is not solving the problem. As I stated, there are 1,000 such families on this very day.

Thank you, Deputy. Please allow the Minister to respond.

First, I will take on board the comments in respect of the place finder service. However, I note HAP has not been rolled out in the Dublin City Council area yet. It is a specific homeless HAP pilot project, which is a different, albeit highly important, scheme because it has found sustainable tenancies for many people. The entire point of HAP is to take people out of the type of uncertainty the Deputy rightly talks about, which many people find themselves in or from which they are pushed, in the private rental sector. The point is to put in place a much more solid and sustainable tenancy under HAP in which the local authority deals directly with the landlord and does a deal with that landlord on a medium to long-term tenancy. In this scheme, the tenant then deals with the local authority rather than with the landlord. That is the entire purpose of trying to switch people from rent supplement, for example, onto HAP, namely, to try to get much greater certainty and to try to enforce standards, because HAP tenancies and facilities are inspected by my Department before they are approved.

HAP is not perfect but it is a big step in the right direction.

Irish Water Funding

John Brady


18. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government the impact on the financing of the Irish Water capital programme to 2021 from any reduction in water charge revenues arising from the outcome of the independent commission and the Oireachtas committee on the future of water charges. [28707/16]

Imelda Munster


30. Deputy Imelda Munster asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government if he will provide a breakdown of Irish Water capital funding between Exchequer and equity for each of the years 2016 to 2019, inclusive. [28697/16]

Deputy Martin Kenny is taking these.

The first question asks the Minister about the impact on the financing of the Irish Water capital programme up to 2021 from the expected reduction in water charges that may be the outcome of the independent commission and the Oireachtas committee on the future of water charges. The second linked question, Question No. 30 from Deputy Imelda Munster, looks for a breakdown of the capital programme over the next number of years.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 18 and 30 together.

We finally got to one on Irish Water. Irish Water's capital investment in the period 2017 to 2021 will be funded by a mix of debt and equity, including capital transfers from Government. This investment programme for the period 2017 to 2021 will be subject to review by the Commission for Energy Regulation, CER, and Government funding will be subject to future budgetary decisions.

On 30 September last, the CER published its consultation on the level of Irish Water's allowed revenue, including proposals on operational and capital budgets, for the 2017 and 2018 period with a view to a final decision being made by the CER in the fourth quarter of 2016. A copy of the CER's consultation paper is available on its website, www.cer.ie.

The capital contribution agreed by Government for Irish Water in 2016 is €184 million and this has already been paid to Irish Water to support its increased investment in public water services infrastructure. The balance of Irish Water's capital investment in 2016 is being supported through borrowing. The capital contribution for Irish Water in 2017 is being considered as part of the 2017 budgetary process.

The Government has established an expert commission to make recommendations for the sustainable long-term funding model for the delivery of domestic water and wastewater services by Irish Water. The commission will report to a special Oireachtas committee and consideration of recommendations on the funding model will ultimately be voted upon by the Oireachtas next year. The financial implications arising from this will be considered by the Government at that stage.

As Deputies will be aware, the Government is committed to retaining Irish Water as a single national utility in public ownership responsible for the delivery of water and wastewater services, and to protecting the €5.5 billion investment set out by Irish Water in its business plan 2014-2021 to continue to upgrade the vital national water infrastructure.

In a sense, the Minister did not answer the question. I suppose it is impossible to answer it as the matter is all in flux.

The concern many have is that when water charges go, and we all expect that is what will ultimately be the outcome of all this and it is certainly what the majority of Deputies in the House want, the Government should have a clear plan in place to support existing infrastructure and the development of new infrastructure throughout the country. We see a lot of problems with leaks. Certainly, in rural areas, such as where I live, there are significant problems.

I am particularly interested to hear whether the Minister has any plans to fund group water and sewerage schemes in the future, and also the grants and level of support that will be put in place for local authorities to get the infrastructure in place to ensure there is a proper, fully serviced water system in place countrywide. While Irish Water has done some work, unfortunately, it has fallen far short of the heralded expectations. We wait with bated breath for something meaningful to be put in place that will ensure a proper infrastructure will be put in place for all the people.

It is not possible to give an exact commitment until we know what the funding model will be. I am sure that will result in a lot of political debate between now and next March or April when the Oireachtas votes on it.

We are committed to the business plan that Irish Water has put in place and is implementing. What Irish Water has done on conservation of water by fixing leaks has generated significant savings in much of the country, but there is a lot more still to do. What it is doing around wastewater treatment is also significant. In my home county, there are currently 50,000 households pumping raw sewage into Cork Harbour, that is, approximately 35,000 wheelie bins full every day. Irish Water will have that problem fixed in the next 18 months by spending nearly €100 million on it. There is a lot to do here.

We have a funding package for group water schemes. That has been signed off with those schemes' representative body and I think they are happy with that.

The essence of all of this is wait and we will see what the Government can do. The model that has been put in place, where the Government set up this structure off the books and tried to borrow the money on the international markets to provide the infrastructure, simply has not worked and that must be recognised. Irish Water has been a failure. That is the reality for the people.

It is certainly a reality for the local authorities which have in many cases continued to do the work, and all we have seen is an additional layer of management put on top. It has been a total heartbreak for many, who have worked all their lives in local authorities and who have provided an excellent service for people, to find that they are merely cast aside as if they had been doing nothing all down the years. The fact is the local authorities and the good staff who worked in them did an excellent job with the limited resources they were given. We need to see adequate resources provided to ensure a proper infrastructure can be put in place.

I take the Minister's point that there are many instances where raw sewage is poured into the sea and into rivers, and there are significant problems to be addressed. The model of funding is one issue, but the lack of adequate funding is the real problem. There is not enough funding being put in place to provide a solution to the problem.

I am tempted not to get into the water charges debate here around ring-fencing adequate funding. If we are not careful, we will get into the realm of funding for medium-term and long-term water projects having to compete with immediate spending commitments that we must decide year after year on budgets. That is the whole point of having a sustainable funding model for what we need here.

Many staff who are involved in the water sector had been working in local authorities. I agree there were some really good staff but the problem was each local authority was doing its own thing. There were 31 systems, many of which were not connected with each other at all. There was no interoperability. There were no economies of scale. There was no central skill-set of staff because we did not have economies of scale. Irish Water is a single utility that can achieve many of the more national strategic goals that need to be attained around water that individual local authorities on their own could not do. I am not for one minute saying that local authorities were a disaster or whatever, but the outcome of having each local authority doing its own thing on water was a fairly bad outcome in terms of where the water infrastructure is today, and Irish Water is there to fix that.

Housing Policy

Richard Boyd Barrett


19. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government the amount of money projected to be spent on the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, housing assistance payment, HAP, and long-term leasing programmes over each of the years 2017 to 2021, listing the cost of each programme separately; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28687/16]

In my opinion, the dirty little secret about Rebuilding Ireland is that the majority of the so-called social housing the Minister intends to deliver will, in fact, be private housing. It will not work in the form of HAP. I was doing a tot on the graph on page 46 of the Minister's Rebuilding Ireland - an Action Plan on Housing and Homelessness. Approximately 80,000 of the social housing units the Minister plans to deliver between now and 2021 involve HAP. Then the Minister adds to those another 8,000 to 9,000 in leasing and another few thousand in RAS. I have made the point it will not work. Will the Minister tell me how much it will cost the Exchequer annually to fork out the money to those private landlords?

All three of the current expenditure funded schemes – the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, the housing assistance payment, HAP, and the social housing current expenditure programme, SHCEP, are critical components to the accelerated delivery of social housing envisaged under Rebuilding Ireland - an Action Plan on Housing and Homelessness. It is anticipated that more than 111,000 households will have their housing need met by one of these schemes in the period to 2021.

The annual cost of the three schemes to the Exchequer is made up of the continuing cost of supporting the tenancies and contracts in place at the end of the previous year and the additional cost of the new tenancies and contracts supported over the course of the year to which the allocation relates. The cost of the schemes in future years is, therefore, dependent on the number of housing units or tenancies falling to be funded within each of the schemes and the rental or lease payments involved.

In 2017, the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme will support an additional 15,000 households, the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, will support an additional 1,000 households transferring from rent supplement and the social housing current expenditure programme, SHCEP, is targeted to secure an additional 2,250 social housing units using a variety of different delivery mechanisms, with each unit secured under the long-term availability lease arrangement. This level of increased output will necessitate increased financial support for these programmes in 2017.

The annual Estimates process is currently under way and my Department is working with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to finalise the necessary allocations for the delivery of these schemes in 2017.

We are not getting an answer. My figures were broadly correct. That scale of outsourcing of social housing to private landlords will be ramped up again and again to a total of 111,000, as outlined by the Minister, through the HAP scheme, the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, and leasing. That is what he just said. That will happen between now and 2021. That is set out in Minister's graph. Stop shaking your head; you just said that.

The Deputy should address his remarks through the Chair; I am not shaking my head.

I am looking at the Minister's graphs and at the figures he just gave me.

The Minister did not answer the question regarding how much it will cost. If I picked him up wrong there, correct me. Under this plan, how many houses will be delivered up to 2021 by the HAP scheme, the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, and long-term leasing? I ask him not to tell me that he does not have estimated figures of how much that will cost the State. I can tell him that it does not take a rocket scientist to work out that it will cost us a fortune. That is as against directly building local authority houses, council houses that people who are on the local authority housing list want, which would generate a rental stream for us and mean that the State would have an asset.

Unfortunately, the reality is that we cannot do everything together. Not even the Deputy could deliver all the social houses within the timeframe that he seems to think is possible. The reality is that we have huge pressure on the system and there is no one silver bullet. What we need to do is to put sustainable, long-term tenancies in place where we can. We need to put long-term leasing arrangements in place where it is appropriate to do so. We need to have a very aggressive build programme, which we now have. I would ask for the support of local authorities in doing that and, for the most part, that has been forthcoming so far. A combination of all of those elements will deliver an extra 47,000 social housing units in terms of extra units into the system as well as an increasing number of people coming onto the HAP scheme, some of whom will move from rent supplement, which we are seeking to phase out, to have a much more sustainable, long-term supportive rental model, which will come under the HAP scheme. We are working with the realities we face to try to get good sustainable solutions for as many families as possible.

I want to correct the record with respect to an earlier remark. I want to stress that we are in favour of affordable housing; we are not against it. The Minister will not be able to deliver that unless he does what the Keane report proposed in the 1970s, which is to take control of all building land and make sure that we set the prices because the last affordable housing scheme failed catastrophically. It did not deliver any affordable housing because prices in the market went through the roof. The question is how do we control the market. The answer is that we build more social housing. That would provide low cost housing and it would also keep a lid on the market as a whole. Will the Minister answer the question about how much will this cost? It is obvious from what he is saying and from his report that the amount of money that will be going out from the Exchequer will increase exponentially over the next five or six years. I put it to him that would be money going out the door when he should be putting the money into local authority housing, which we would then own and from which we would secure rent. In the long term it would be better in that we would have better quality housing and it would represent better value for money for the State.

The truth is that it is a combination of both. Some people do not have any issue with being in long-term tenancies.

The Deputy has this ideological perspective that the State has to control all this land and property. We are going to increase significantly the State's stock of social housing and we will build that increased stock as quickly as we can. We have funding in place of more than €5 billion for the next five years to do that. On top of that, we want to learn lessons from the past, to put secure and sustainable tenancies in place for families and individuals who need the help of the State to do that. The most efficient way to do that is to pursue the course of action we are taking, which is to shift people from rent supplement, over time, onto the HAP scheme and to take on many extra people who, unfortunately, cannot afford to secure tenancies in the private rental sector but are happy to rent as long as they have support from the State. That is where the HAP scheme comes in. From the take up of the HAP scheme to date and from the feedback we are getting on it, it is very positive. Perhaps in Dublin the approach to the HAP scheme is a little different. That is because it has not been rolled out in Dublin yet, except in one of the local authorities. We will be able to judge that much more accurately this time next year when we have it rolled out across Dublin.

Are there no costings?

The Deputy will see all the costings and details in the budget next week; they will all be published next week

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.