Other Questions

Commission on Domestic Public Water Services

Question No. 6 is in the name of Deputy John Brady but the Ceann Comhairle has agreed that Deputy Ó Broin will take this question and Question No. 14, which is related to it. Is that agreed? Agreed.

John Brady

Question:

6. Deputy John Brady asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government the funding being made available by Government for the expert commission on water; and if he will provide a breakdown as to the way in which this funding is to be used. [35437/16]

Martin Ferris

Question:

14. Deputy Martin Ferris asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government when the Independent Commission on Water will report to him; and the timeline and detail for the establishment of the special Oireachtas committee to consider the detail of the report. [35460/16]

What was the funding allocation to the expert commission on the future of water charges before and after the budget? The Minister was not able to answer that question previously but perhaps he can give us one today. Is he in a position to provide an update on the formation of the commission, when he expects it to start meeting and when it will publish its report on the future of water charges?

We got €280,000 to spend on the costs, which are expenses related to the commission. That money has not been spent yet. Most of it is for the cost of providing staff from the Institute of Public Administration, IPA, to service the secretariat. That cost relates to a senior researcher, a researcher, administration support - as well as the involvement of the IPA's director general in assisting the commission - and other associated overhead costs. The cost of commission members travelling to and attending meetings of the commission makes up approximately €24,000. Other administrative costs include advertising and fees for members, which are modest. The members will get just over €3,000 each for the work they have been doing and the chairperson will receive €7,500. That is consistent, for example, with the type of fee that the chairman of an Oireachtas committee would get. The workload has been significant in the timeline to which those involved have been working. We have tried to keep that cost to a sensible level but, at the same time, we want to ensure that there is a proper secretariat and that the work is done as professionally as possible from a research perspective and so on.

The expert commission on domestic public water services will, we hope, make its report available to the new special Oireachtas committee on water at the end of this month. That is the timetable for which we are planning.

I have not had engagement with the expert commission, deliberately, because if I had, some people here would accuse me of trying to influence outcomes, etc. I have stayed out of this entirely, apart from setting up the commission. We are setting up a special Oireachtas committee. My understanding is that there was basic agreement at the Business Committee today as to its shape. There will be five Government Deputies, four Fianna Fáil Deputies, two Sinn Féin Deputies and five others, one from each of the smaller groups. I want to ensure that nobody is excluded. There will be four Senators --one Fianna Fáil, one Fine Gael and two others - because it is important that the Seanad is represented on the committee. It will be a group of 20 and we hope to set it up formally next week.

I spoke to Deputy Ó Snodaigh after the Business Committee meeting and he said the motion was not tabled, that it has been deferred until next week and, therefore, that will not come before the Oireachtas until the following week. That does not seem to tally with the Minister’s outline.

That is not my understanding.

When will the committee meet and how often? Will the Minister indicate when he wants it to report because many of us are eager to get on with the work once the expert commission’s report is produced? Is it the Minister’s desire that the committee should hold hearings? My view is that it should not to so and that we should just deal with the report and move to make recommendations to the Oireachtas.

While a figure of €280,000 may not seem large, €7,500 for a chairperson for three months, €2,500 per month, is significantly above what an Oireachtas committee chairman gets - in the region of €9,000 over a year. Is it a full-time position? How often has the commission met? What kind of work does it do?

Many of us are very keen to see the Oireachtas committee get on with its work. If it has been delayed, and my understanding is it has, I would like to understand why.

It is important to be accurate. This commission will have worked for five months, not three. The people we have asked to serve on it are knowledgeable, successful and busy individuals. This has taken up a lot of their time, I suspect. Approximately half of them are not Irish but the chairperson makes the majority Irish. They are all experts in their fields and if we want to get good quality people, the least we can do is cover the cost of their turning up for meetings. The secretariat and the research staff are needed. The commission has to avail of legal advice. That money has not yet been spent. That is what we have budgeted for in order to ensure that we can get a professional job done.

This is one of the most divisive political issues with which this Oireachtas has had to deal in recent years and that it will have to deal with in the future. We are talking about a €5 billion investment programme for Irish Water over the coming few years. It makes sense to spend a little money to ensure that we give the process the best possible opportunity of creating some political consensus around this divisive issue. That is how we have approached it. This is not my committee. I am not going to dictate how many times it meets, who it asks to appear before it, etc.

My understanding is that we can set it up next week, but we can discuss the matter further. That is the message I received from the Fine Gael Whip. Whether it is formally set up next week or the week after, it will still happen well in advance of the report coming out. The latter is important because I believe the report should go directly from the expert commission to the new committee in order that it can get on with its work and that it is not seen as being "handled" by Government in the period between the finalising of the report and its going to the committee. That is very consistent with the confidence-and-supply agreement. This is the process that is under way that I hope will produce a good outcome. The sooner that committee is set up, the sooner we can get on with it.

I have two further points of clarification. Will it be a matter for the committee to decide who will be its Chair? Also, my understanding was that the Business Committee was meant to agree today on the motion to be proposed to the Dáil next week and that this did not happen. Can the Minister explain why that is the case and outline the reason for the delay?

I am not a member of the Business Committee but my understanding was that there was an agreement, in principle, in terms of the number of Members of the Oireachtas on the committee, which will be 20. I understand that the Government is to bring forward a motion that is consistent with that next week in order to facilitate establishment. I am not aware of any objection. I made a point of telephoning a number of people to ensure that everyone was okay with what we are proposing before the meeting of the Business Committee. Many of us would have preferred a smaller group but I was very anxious that nobody would be excluded and that we would not have a d'Hondt system that would choose between the smaller groups for representation because people have very strong views on this issue. Now every group that wants to participate will have an opportunity to do so. There must be 20 members if we are to include the Seanad as part of the process as well. Hopefully, people are not going to start blocking the establishment of the committee before the commission's report is even finalised. That would be a very bad start to the process. My understanding is that agreement, in principle, was reached today and that we will bring forward a motion to that effect next week. If there is a different understanding, it can be dealt with by the Business Committee. It is not a big deal.

As a member of the party that co-signed the confidence-and-supply agreement that provided a pathway to deal with this process, my understanding of the Business Committee's deliberations today is similar to that of the Minister. The configuration of the committee, the number of members and the levels of representation on it were all agreed earlier today. A motion will be forthcoming from the Government during the course of next week to seek the approval of the Dáil for that committee to be put in place and a Chairman to be appointed, with a view to it being in receipt the week after of the expert commission's report and for it then, as Deputy Ó Broin stated, to decide upon the means and methods by which it will do its business before it refers the matter back to the Dáil for an ultimate decision.

The time is completely up. Even allowing for the two questions being grouped, we are way over time.

Question No. 7 is in the name of Deputy Curran. Deputy Barry Cowen is going to take it in his stead. Is that agreed?

Is the question grouped?

No. The previous two questions were grouped because they were similar, as Deputy Ó Broin pointed out to me. This is a question in the name of Deputy Curran and it has been suggested to me that it will be taken by Deputy Cowen.

If there are similar questions, I have no problem with it being grouped with them.

We were told they were grouped.

It is grouped with Questions Nos. 27 and 33.

Sorry. I did not realise that.

It is grouped with Questions Nos. 27 and 33, just to be helpful.

That is fine. There is no problem there. We are taking Questions Nos. 7, 27 and 30 together. Is everybody agreed on that?

Questions Nos. 7, 27 and 33. That is fine.

The Deputy sees the conspiracy in every sentence.

The questions are in the names of Deputies Boyd Barrett, Mitchell and Curran. That was not in front of me but I have no difficulty with it at all.

Housing Data

John Curran

Question:

7. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government the locations and number of houses in each location to be provided in the fourth quarter of 2016 under the rapid-build housing programme initiative (details supplied); if there are any delays being experienced in achieving the figure; if he will identify the general and the site-specific issues giving cause to these delays; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35415/16]

Denise Mitchell

Question:

27. Deputy Denise Mitchell asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government the total number of rapid builds currently under construction in Dublin; and if he will provide a detailed timeline for all of the rapid-build projects currently in the pipeline, indicating when they will commence, when they will be completed and when they will be tenanted. [35434/16]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

33. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government his plans for rapid-build housing; the planned per-unit cost of these homes; the speed at which they can be delivered; the comparison in both cost and delivery time with traditional-build council houses; if he will provide a breakdown of plans for these kind of houses, by local authority; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35480/16]

Undoubtedly, the greatest victims of the housing crisis in the midst of which we find ourselves are the homeless and those in emergency accommodation. There are massive records being set on a regular basis in peaks of homelessness, such as the 2,426 children in emergency accommodation. It is deeply frustrating and worrying for ourselves. We do not want to be seen to be angry about this, frustrated or ramming these figures down the Government's throat, but there was a provision made by the previous Government this time last year to provide 500 rapid-build units to address the immediacy and the urgency of the situation. Only 22 have been delivered. Can the Minister inform the House as to the logjams, problems and difficulties that have arisen by virtue of the fact that the Government has not been able to meet its predictions in that regard? If we learn of these problems and are made aware of them, perhaps we, as legislators, can help and assist in order to rectify them and ensure that they can be delivered more speedily in order that people can extricate themselves from the terrible predicaments in which they currently find themselves.

I will allow the Minister to respond and then the three Deputies responsible for tabling the questions may contribute.

I ask that the Chair give me a bit of extra time since I am dealing with three questions.

We will go easy on the Minister.

I am pleased that these questions have been asked. Often, the debate around rapid-build becomes very negative because the initial rapid-build project - which was something of a pilot project - was delayed and encountered problems. The easy thing would be for me to say that I am not going to answer for my predecessor and all the rest of it. However, the reality is that what the previous Minister, Deputy Kelly, did constituted a genuine attempt to try to bring a new technology into building social housing a lot faster. A whole series of things happened that slowed the process down. That probably frustrated Deputy Kelly more than anybody else. This is actually a really positive story and I want to go through what we are doing now.

My Department is working closely with the four Dublin local authorities in relation to the rapid delivery programme. A total of 22 rapid-build units have already been delivered and are occupied. A total of 350 rapid-build houses will be advancing through various stages of delivery, including construction, by the end of this year. A further 650 rapid-build homes will be advanced in 2017, with another 500 units to be delivered in 2018.

It should be noted that Dublin City Council is currently advancing a number of rapid-build projects, including four in Finglas, Darndale, Cherry Orchard and Drimnagh, which will deliver a further 131 homes. These homes will be handed over to Dublin City Council on a phased basis from the end of the year and delivery will be completed early in 2017. My Department is working closely with the council to expedite delivery.

In addition to these four projects, further work is under way across the four local authorities that will bring to 350 the total number of rapid-build homes advancing through various stages of delivery, including construction, by the end of the year. The additional sites in question are in Dublin city, Dún Laoghaire, Cherry Orchard, Tallaght, Blanchardstown and Balbriggan. Construction dates will be finalised in the context of completion of procurement and award of contracts. Sites are being identified and planning requirements advanced for a further 650 rapid-build homes in 2017 across the four Dublin local authority areas and also in Louth, Wicklow, Kildare, Meath, Cork, Waterford, Galway and Limerick. This will ensure that the commitment in Rebuilding Ireland to deliver 1,000 rapid-build homes in 2016 and 2017 is met.

The standard delivery timeframe for a traditional social housing construction project from inception to occupation can range from 12 months to three years, depending on the complexities of the project. All social housing construction projects, including rapid-build projects, must follow certain basic steps before construction can commence.

There has been significant pressure to ramp up delivery, which local authorities have been responding to positively. However, there are requirements, such as in the context of procurement, that have to be adhered to and that, in some instances, have caused delays. Notwithstanding this, I am confident that all parties are endeavouring to move the programme forward speedily.

We now have finality from the Government office of procurement to put a central procurement list together that local authorities from anywhere in the country can simply pick companies from, because those companies have been through the procurement tests, certification and so on.

I know that this has got off to a bad start in some ways. I have regularly had debates on that in media and elsewhere. However, I actually think a lot of private estates are going to be built with this technology as well. Rapid build is simply a different way of constructing houses.

Much of the assembly is done off-site in a factory-style setting where pieces are craned in and put together, which allows one to build houses faster and potentially create economies of scale.

After 20 years one will have to rebuild them.

No, one will not.

No, one will not. Deputy Broughan is talking nonsense.

They had to be rebuilt in Finglas.

The Minister should be allowed to speak without interruption.

All of the construction companies and developers that are tendering for this work are giving 60-year guarantees. Deputy Broughan should do his homework before he starts to ditch-----

Sixty years, yes. The Minister will not be around then and neither will I.

These are good solutions. Has Deputy Broughan been to Poppintree?

Could the Minister please address the Chair?

I went to the exhibition.

The exhibition was about modular homes. They are not the same as rapid build.

Houses had to be rebuilt in Finglas.

People should get their facts right before they start trying to undermine genuine efforts to get significant numbers of social houses built right across Dublin and in other parts of the country. It is not a silver bullet but one of the ways in which we can get the kind of numbers that others have been calling for here moving into good quality houses that have a lifespan of 60 years and longer is by using rapid-build technology. Many private houses are currently being built with this type of technology and will be in the future. Modular units and rapid-build technology are two different things and we should not mix them up to try to undermine genuine efforts to build good houses for people.

I do not doubt the Minister's good intentions, goodwill, willingness and effort to address this issue, nor do I doubt the frustrations of the previous Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, to which the Minister referred. In fact, that is very much self-evident on a regular basis. The Minister committed in the Rebuilding Ireland document and again here today to a further 900 to 1,000 units between the end of this year and early next year. That is fine. I wish the Minister every success and I hope those targets are achieved. However, I wish the House to be aware of the difficulties that were experienced by the Department, the providers and those whose responsibility it was to have 500 units in place within a year from the date of the announcement last year. If the Minister failed to reach that target, why was that the case? I just wish to ensure that the same mistakes are not made again in spite of the efforts on the part of the Minister, the Department and the local authorities. I acknowledge and welcome the extensive roll-out across other counties apart from Dublin because the housing lists, crisis and problems are evident throughout the country and not only in the main centres of population. Could the House be made aware of the difficulties that were experienced in order for us to be sure that the logjams have been cleared?

I will come back to the Minister.

We all agree that we need urgent delivery of social housing. As the Minister is aware, council housing is our preference. There is also no doubt that if there is a direct choice between rapid build and bricks and mortar houses, the majority of people would prefer bricks and mortar.

They are getting bricks and mortar.

The only case therefore for rapid build is if the houses can be delivered much quicker and if it is cheaper. The evidence in Dún Laoghaire is as follows, and I will listen if the Minister can tell me differently. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council is building ten council houses in Sallynoggin and we are told the project will take 12 months. It is also building 12 rapid-build houses on another site, when we wanted bricks and mortar, and it is said that the project will take 12 months, but the work can start straight away in Sallynoggin because there are no procurement issues while in George's Place, where the rapid build project is located, there has been a delay since September because of the procurement issues. Even when the work starts, it will take the same amount of time as traditional build, so why would one not do traditional build? In addition, could the Minister clarify the issue of cost because it seems there is no significant difference in cost either?

We will take all the questions together and then go back to the Minister.

As the Minister knows, Sinn Féin has supported the rapid-build projects where they have been undertaken so far and we are not looking to undermine this particular part of the strategy, but I share the concerns on a number of issues of both of the Deputies who have spoken on this side of the House. The use of language here is very important. The Minister talked about 350 additional units advancing before the end of this year. What we want to know is how many of those will be under construction by the end of this year and when will the units be finished? Likewise, for the 650 houses to advance next year, when will they be under construction and when will they be finished? What we want to know is when people will be moving into those houses. That is the first thing.

I share Deputy Boyd Barrett's concern about costs because, unfortunately, different levels of cost are being reported in the media and we do not know whether they are true. The Minister responded earlier in reply to Deputy Boyd Barrett and referred to 33,000 units owned or managed by local authorities. He included rapid-build houses in those figures. Rapid-build houses were originally meant to be emergency accommodation. I just want to know, of the numbers in the plan, how many the Minister intends to count as permanent social housing because that is a change from the plan of the previous Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, and I wish to get clarity.

I previously asked the Minister whether any of the rapid-build projects would include timber-framed homes because they were built mostly in the private sector and it seems to me that quite a few of them have had issues that came to light in various counties. We did have rapid-build housing previously in parts of the city, for example, south Finglas, and we had to go back and rebuild the houses. A lot of money was spent redesigning the houses and on other elements.

The Minister mentioned a number of sites in my constituency of Dublin Bay North. For years we asked the Government of which the Minister was a part, and the Government of which Deputy Cowen's party was a constituent part, for funding to build ordinary bricks and mortar houses on those sites but they would not give us the money. That is the reality. The production of homes by the Government since 2011 is an appalling statistic.

First, we should have been building many more social houses than we were able to in recent years but people conveniently forget the storm Ireland has come through. We were borrowing money with a lot of conditions attached, which made it virtually impossible to be able to fund the kind of social housing building programme that was needed during those years. We now have an economy that is recovering and we can afford to spend a lot more money. We are ramping up dramatically to deliver social housing through a social housing building programme as well as an acquisitions programme, getting vacant properties back into use and all the rest of it. One can build houses through conventional building methods and there can be a need to go back to repair them if they are badly built. Standards are the issue here. The technology must deliver standards, whether that is pre-assembly in a factory setting or by traditional-build methods, and technology is moving on. As my colleague, the Minister of State, Deputy English, said, there are steel-framed houses built with this technology in Dunshaughlin that are on sale today for more than €400,000. That is how houses are being built.

That is an awful price.

I agree it seems ridiculously expensive.

People are paying the price.

It is a case of using the best available technology to get houses built as quickly as we can to try to meet the demand for social housing. It is as simple as that.

If one looks at the reasons that the rapid-build programme has stalled and is taking longer than some had hoped, one can point to procurement, for example. It has taken the Office of Government Procurement some time to get the framework in place. We had hoped that would be done by the middle of summer 2016 but it is only being done now. There are reasons for that. Let us face it; there have also been protests. There was a lot of local resistance to a number of sites because of the kind of fears we have heard today, namely, that the houses would blow over in the next storm. That is not the case, but they were the fears expressed. There have also been some planning issues in terms of trying to progress the programme because of the suspicion around rapid build and whether it could offer the kind of quality we need, among other issues. We have moved on from much of that now. From a procurement point of view, we have clarity and speed, and from a Part 8 point of view, all of the 350 or so houses that will be at various stages of progress by the end of the year will have achieved planning permission and will have funding signed off and the work will be progressing.

I do not think that this is any more expensive than building so-called conventional houses. When one looks at the price in Poppintree, for example, when the final costs came in, it was not as high as many had predicted. There was a robust negotiation with the developer on that.

There was a very pointed question about what the houses would be used for, which is a very fair question. When we ramped up the numbers to go from 500 to 1,500, clearly this was about social housing provision as well as emergency accommodation.

My preference is that homeless people should be a priority in this context but when we are talking about the numbers I suspect we will deliver in the coming years from rapid build and of the tens of thousands of social houses we may build in the future, we may find that this technology becomes the norm, both in the private sector and in social housing build programmes. It would be wrong to say that all of these units will be for temporary emergency accommodation. That is unlikely in reality.

There is nothing wrong with timber-frame accommodation if it is constructed in the right way. In a climate like ours, the inner leaf can be timber frame but the outer one should be solid. Houses have to be built to a certain standard and to ensure that is done, we must have a proper inspection scheme. The Minister should reconsider getting the local authorities involved in inspecting the way things are done. It will make a huge difference and save the Government money in the long term. I have built timber-frame houses which I guarantee are of the highest quality, but always with a solid leaf on the outside. With regard to the time it would take, timber frame inside and conventional outside would be quicker than what is called total conventional.

I totally agree with what has just been said. It has taken some time to put a procurement framework in place. Companies are tendering to build these kind of houses and they will be building them years to come. I suspect this is not just about the 1,500 we are planning. I believe it will go well beyond that, but that is what we are committing to for the moment. I have been in and out of building sites all my life. The timber-frame technology is the norm in many countries and when it came into Ireland-----

It is banned for apartments in the United Kingdom.

It is the norm for houses in many cases.

The issue here relates to standards, quality, certification and consistency, and the need for a high-quality procurement process that ensures we get we will get all of the latter from reputable builders. As it happens, I believe the vast majority of these houses will not be timber frame. They will be steel frame, but that is incidental.

Traveller Accommodation

Mick Wallace

Question:

8. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government if he is satisfied with the implementation of the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998; if he has considered amending the legislation to include sanctions for non-compliance by local authorities with its provisions; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35482/16]

Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire

Question:

32. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government further to Parliamentary Question No. 264 of 25 October 2016, his views on the low drawdown level of funding by local authorities for Traveller accommodation; his further views on whether all of the funding will be drawn down by the end of the year; and the action he will take against local authorities who repeatedly fail to draw down the funding provided for this purpose. [35455/16]

In 2000, the Traveller accommodation budget was €70 million. In 2008 it was €40 million, and it was subsequently slashed to €4 million. It was increased slightly in the budget but it represents a cut of 90% on the most marginalised group in our society. Furthermore, there was an overall underspend of 36% in the Traveller accommodation budget allocated from 2008 to 2012. Are there any plans to address the huge problem of accommodation for the Traveller community?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 and 32 together.

The Deputy's question is mainly about getting the money spent but on the funding issue the funding has gone back up, and rightly so. In recent years approximately €5 million or €6 million has been spent on capital projects. Next year the figure will go up by 69%. The funding is increasing but ensuring that it is spent is another matter. We are reviewing the position in that regard.

A Programme for a Partnership Government commits to establishing a special working group to audit the current delivery and implementation of local authorities' Traveller accommodation plans and to consult with stakeholders on key areas of concern. This commitment has been underpinned in Rebuilding Ireland: Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, which provides for the commissioning by the Housing Agency of an expert, independent review of expenditure on, and delivery of, Traveller accommodation to underpin the work of the special working group.

The review, which will have regard to the targets contained in the local authority Traveller accommodation programmes, has already commenced and is due to be completed in quarter 2 of 2017. That will deal with all the issues raised at the conference earlier in November and the concerns about delivery and getting this money spent in the right areas and delivering the accommodation. It will provide factual information and thus provide a key platform for the special working group to progress its work effectively. The working group will be established by the statutorily appointed National Traveller Accommodation Consultative Committee, NTACC, immediately after completion of the review. We expect the working group to complete its work in an expedient manner and, as provided for in the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998, the national committee may then advise us on any appropriate measures for improving the provision and management of accommodation at local level.

The question relates to the drawdown of funding for 2016. My Department was in contact recently with the relevant local authorities in order to ensure that drawdown is maximised. The position will continue to be monitored closely by my Department over the coming weeks but we expect that this year's capital allocation will be drawn down. The same concern was raised this time last year that the money would not be spent, and it was spent. The Deputy is right that the money must be spent because we need to defend increases over the next couple of years.

We know that local authorities probably will not spend all the money this year and next year. Is there any way of sanctioning them because what is happening is a form of racism? Representatives of the Traveller groups came before the justice committee two weeks in a row and the main point is still Traveller ethnicity. They said that a national policy is something that should be a right for Travellers and not something that has to be demanded and that failure to do the latter means that this Government has no obligation to fully recognise Travellers' distinct difference in terms of accommodation requirements. Travellers are a nomadic tribe and we are not providing the type of halting site accommodation that many of them seek. We brought in laws in 1993 and again in 2000 that were racist in nature because the only ones that suffered as a result of them were Travellers who could not go onto a piece of land with a caravan or set up on the side of the road. One of Travellers told us that they did not have a homelessness problem 15 years ago because they could go anywhere. They have a huge homelessness problem now because they cannot go where they want to go and the houses are not available for them either.

To mid-October there was about a 30% drawdown from the local authorities. I accept the point the Minister is making about them having a couple of months left but last year a number of local authorities did not draw down any of their allocation. For example, Clare County Council and Cork County Council have not drawn down any of their allocations this year. What is the Department doing to ensure that the money is spent? I am not talking about the local authorities that have a good track record but, rather, about those that are not spending the money year on year.

In the estates in my constituency that are primarily occupied by Traveller families, the big demand is for new housing. Is it not the case that these Traveller families, who often endure severe overcrowding - with younger families on the housing list - have a special priority? That is something the Minister is directly responsible for because he has not allocated to Dublin City Council and Fingal County Council the resources to provide the housing that is urgently required.

We accept that the resources in this area were reduced, as they were in every other area. No area was singled out. Resources across the board were reduced. The aim of the Minister, the Department and myself is to try to drive that spend up. There are issues with regard to this money being spent in certain areas. Some local authorities excel in that regard and some do not. We are trying to get to the bottom of the reasons for that because it is not acceptable. Not all the reasons are to do with the local authority; it is a combination of reasons. We have put in place the expert panel to review this matter and I have no doubt we will then have action to try to drive the spend. In the context of concerns about whether the money going in the right direction, the Deputies should look at the trend. We increased the capital spend in 2015 by 22%. Next year it will be increased by 69%. We would not be doing that if we did not believe it was the right thing to do, nor would we be increasing the spend if we thought we could not spend it. In October last year the spend was approximately 27% or 30%, which is the same figure for this year. There will be a big push over the next few weeks - I know there are only seven or eight weeks left in the year - to get this money spent, and we intend to do that because Deputy Wallace is correct in stating that it should be spent.

Does Deputy Wallace have another supplementary question?

Some of the issues raised are matters for the Department of Justice and Equality, not for our Department.

Wexford has the fifth-highest Traveller population in the country. That population increased by 58.9% between 2003 and 2013 but there are no plans for any transit sites to 2018.

According to the plan, there are 128 Traveller households on the Wexford housing list but the lack of funding for new standard local authority accommodation will make it very unlikely that these houses will be delivered in the foreseeable future. There was supposed to be a review and I am wondering whether there is any update in respect of it.

I will admit, having listened to the Traveller representatives who came before the committee, that all of us in this House have been negligent in fighting for better conditions for Travellers. I wonder if the Government has an appetite for dealing with the issue of Traveller ethnicity because it would mean so much to them.

We are looking at that. The Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality, Deputy Stanton, is leading on that effort. I have had long conversations with the Minister of State in respect of it. The Government is looking at that issue.

In terms of the housing, it is important to understand the funding history here. My understanding is that the reason the funding for Traveller-specific accommodation decreased dramatically a number of years ago was that there was a policy decision that we would try to deal with Traveller housing needs within the broader social housing funding. In other words, instead of separating the needs of housing for Travellers and the needs for social housing, there was a merger of the two. Having learned some lessons, there is a need to significantly increase Traveller-specific funding relating to housing need and accommodation.

I was out in Carrickmines last week with the Connors family trying understand exactly what they are seeking from Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council in terms of solutions. I assure Deputy Wallace there is a serious effort within the Department to try to ensure increased budgets for Traveller-specific accommodation and that there is a political environment that can spend it locally.

Local Authority Staff Recruitment

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

9. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government if he will provide major additional funding for the four Dublin and other large local authorities to enable their housing, construction and planning departments to restore the levels of planning and construction expertise and staffing that local government had up to the early 1990s to engage in direct planning and building of social and affordable housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35229/16]

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

64. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government if he has received any requests from the four Dublin and other large local authorities for extra funding to enable them to employ additional skilled housing construction and planning staff to expedite local authority social housing programmes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [35228/16]

At the outset, I do not agree with Deputy Wallace in respect of timber-frame accommodation. Certainly, apartments which were built with timber frame have caused problems. It is something that has to be kept under strict review.

On the question, I mentioned to the Minister's colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, that 2,500 of our children will be in emergency homeless accommodation on Christmas Day. That is happening on the Minister, Deputy Coveney's, watch. The numbers of homeless families are growing. We have 45,000 citizens on housing lists in the Dublin local authorities. As a key element of this, the Minister told a colleague recently that he had sanctioned 500 additional posts in construction and planning roles in the major local authorities and I wondered whether he is prepared to take any further action on that.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 and 64 together.

The elected members of a local authority have direct responsibility in law for all reserved functions of an authority, which includes adopting the annual budget, and are democratically accountable for all expenditure by the authority. As such, it is a matter for each local authority to determine its own spending priorities in the context of the annual budgetary process having regard to both locally identified needs and available resources.

In terms of funding, the social housing element of Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness proposes a significantly increased level of ambition, aiming for the delivery of 47,000 social housing units through build, refurbishment, acquisitions and leasing, over the period 2016 to 2021, supported by Exchequer investment of some €5.35 billion. A further €200 million is being provided through the local infrastructure housing activation fund.

In addition, Rebuilding Ireland will deliver innovations to improve, support and accelerate delivery at local authority level. These include: building on streamlining and efficiencies already introduced for the social housing approval process; streamlining the Part 8 planning process for local authority development; and time-limited changes to the planning process for housing more generally, with large scale projects of 100 units or more being submitted directly to An Bord Pleanála for decision, following a pre-application consultation at local authority level.

Since the publication of Rebuilding Ireland, the focus has been very much on driving implementation and accelerating housing delivery. To this end, I have visited a number of local authorities and have met all local authority chief executives. I have assured them that they will have the necessary support and resources to deliver on the plan.

With regard to staffing associated with the delivery of housing, local authorities have been rebuilding their resource base for some time now. Since January 2015, my Department has received 551 staffing requests, of which 541 have been approved, with the remaining ten pending, awaiting further information. These posts are varied and relate to planners, technicians, surveyors, engineers, project managers, housing welfare officers, building inspectors, clerks of works and administrative staff. In response to issues raised regarding staff costs, arrangements have been put in place under which certain staffing costs associated with the roll-out of the social housing capital programme can be recouped as part of project costs, providing an important support for local authorities which also, of course, have a role to play in meeting the additional costs themselves.

Under the aegis of the Cabinet committee on housing, chaired by the Taoiseach, the Government will be keeping the implementation of the Rebuilding Ireland plan under careful review with published quarterly reports on implementation and progress.

We are involved - to answer Deputy Broughan's question directly - in an ongoing conversation with chief executives. If they need more staff to deliver on the kind of ambition that we have, as the Deputy can see, we generally respond to that. If they need more, as long as they can justify the case, we will certainly try and look at it favourably.

The time remaining is limited. I call Deputy Broughan and I will then call Deputy Ó Broin.

Is the reality that it is because of the policies of successive Governments the Minister's party and, in particular, Fianna Fáil, have led since the late 1980s that the professional memory of excellence in all aspects of housing construction and planning has been lost by local authorities? Does the Minister not have a clear responsibility to ensure that such professional excellence is brought back? Should he be asking the authorities to take up a much stronger role?

If we want to increase housing supply, we must get the local authorities involved. It must be remembered that in the city in which the Minister is sitting and in his own city, some of the best estates - estates which have developed well over the decades - were built by local authorities. Like many in this Chamber, I grew up in a county council house. The Minister and his predecessors have allowed that resource to be lost. The results, of course, are the dismal figures - all zero - for housing production on the part of the four Dublin local authorities, year in and year out. Only the other day I looked at the Dublin City Council direct construction programme to 2020. It is a dismal programme of approximately 800 units for the entire city and is part of the Minister's overall programme. In my constituency, it amounts to the building of a few dozen units each year. We have tens of thousands of people desperately seeking accommodation.

I have two brief questions. The Minister has said a number of times that funding is not an issue and that if local authorities bring forward more ambitious programmes than the ones they are currently pursuing, he will consider them. South Dublin County Council has budgeted to construct 600 new-build units. If it approaches the Minister and states that it wants to build twice that number, is he seriously saying that he will consider the proposal?

What is really killing local authorities is the length of time the approval process takes. For example, in Clondalkin this week we are starting to see the building of local authority houses the planning permission for which we, as councillors, approved at the start of 2014. Can the Minister give us an update on his commitment to shorten that four-stage approval process? We can have all the funding we want but if it takes 18 months to get bricks on the ground, it will cause problems for all of us.

I assure Deputy Ó Broin it will no longer take 18 months to get approval. There was an eight-stage approval process. It is now down to four stages. There is a real effort to streamline now.

We have given a commitment to chief executives that once they get projects across the line in terms of the Part 8 process and once they make applications in respect of those projects to the Department, we will ensure a quick turnaround in respect of them. We will send project teams to local authority offices to tease through the issues and get through the stages in days rather than weeks. That is what we are trying to do.

We must ensure that there is integrity in the decision-making process. We are spending millions of euro in public money and the important point is that we can account for all of it. We can account for the value that is being derived from those projects. We ensure that mistakes have not been made and that we are not paying too much for rapid-build projects or, for that matter, anything else.

We must have a robust process but the Department and I - people are working very hard on this - are committed to ensuring that we move through those stages far faster than has been the case previously and that we have face-to-face meetings to get that done, rather than having an e-mail or letter engagement which often gives rise to delays for all sorts of reasons. We will move on that.

With regard to south Dublin, we have told chief executives to be ambitious. We have signed off on many new projects for next year. If there are more, we will consider trying to accommodate them as long as the ambition is consistent with the policy direction around mixed-tenure developments and building good, balanced communities.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.