Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Mortgage Repayments

The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, is not here. It is not that I expect him to be here to answer me but it would be preferable, given the importance of the issue. We need to resolve this matter. Many families were given a break on loans and mortgages. The Government figures are around 89,000. There is a now a roadmap for the pandemic which will be at least six months. We are all meant to be in it together yet the banks have refused to continue mortgage and loan breaks. The Government does not have a great deal of credibility when it comes to its relationship with the financial sector, especially this week. What will the Government do about this? It is not a regular player, it is a major shareholder in the banks. We need solutions for people because families are crying out for them.

We bailed out the banks to an enormous extent. They have not repaid society for that bailout in any substantial way. In fact, they have persecuted many mortgage holders who were in arrears and dispossessed many from their homes. We cannot have a repeat of that. The mortgage break ending opens up the prospect of that happening again. I heard Government spokespeople on the radio earlier saying that the banks would deal with people individually and take their personal circumstances into account. We have heard that nonsense before. What actually happens is that people suffer extreme anxiety and hardship and are pursued. That cannot happen in a context where the people are in financial difficulty because they have complied with public health measures directed by the Government. The Government must step in and provide that protection and ensure that those breaks for those who cannot manage to meet their mortgage and loan repayments are not persecuted and further punished.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, but I am disgusted that the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, is not here. I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State. We bailed out the banks and my children and grandchildren and everyone else's will still be paying them back, yet they have given two fingers to more than 80,000 people and families who had got a break, first for three months and then six. Let us just take one industry - music and entertainment - that provided so much solace and does so much for our mental health and well-being. The Taoiseach and others tell us we are all in this together but they and other small business people have been thrown overboard. They expected some bit of solace from the banks.

There is no legislation to deal with the banks and the Government has refused to introduce any, although many other EU states have brought in legislation to make the banks do so. We need legislation to force the banks on this. The Minister did not meet them until last Monday, three days before the freeze was due to run out. It was only a token meeting. The Minister has not dealt and is not dealing with the banks, and the banks have no interest in dealing with people sensitively one by one. They brought people through the courts throughout the pandemic. There were cases in the High Court taken by vulture funds and so on. The Government enabled the vulture funds by law to use hearsay. It is time the Government introduced legislation to put manners on the banks.

I apologise on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, who, unfortunately, cannot be here today.

Covid-19 has had a significant impact on many households and businesses, and the banks and other regulated lenders moved quickly to provide support to their impacted mortgage and other borrowers by putting in place payment breaks across the industry. The latest figures from the Banking and Payments Federation Ireland, BPFI, indicates that around 89,000 payment breaks were granted to mortgage customers, and breaks were also put in place for 32,000 SMEs and 4,000 corporate borrowers.

It is to be welcomed that some of the borrowers who had a payment break have now been able to resume loan repayments. Central Bank and BPFI data indicate that over 90% of borrowers that have finished a payment break have returned to full repayments on the existing terms. However, it is important that lenders continue to liaise and work with borrowers who are in a position to resume loan repayments and that flexible repayment arrangements are provided as necessary. In that regard, the BPFI has indicated that the broad repayment options for borrowers who can recommence loan repayments following a Covid-19 payment break are either to return to repayments over the existing term of the mortgage or loan or to extend the term of the loan to allow the borrower to spread the repayments over a longer period of time. These flexible repayment arrangements are important as they will facilitate and help many borrowers meet their loan commitments at the end of a Covid-19 payment break, but lenders should also fully explain the nature of the new repayment and outline the implications, in terms of cost and any other relevant factors.

The Minister for Finance is very conscious that many other borrowers continue to be impacted by the economic consequences of Covid-19 and are not yet in a position to meet their loan commitments. He is fully aware of the stress and uncertainty that these borrowers are still facing, and they will continue to need assistance and support from their lenders and from Government. For its part, the Government, is continuing to provide significant income support to people who cannot get back to work, while grants, credit facilities and other supports are also available to businesses which continue to be affected by the restrictions which are still necessary to control the pandemic. Banks and lenders also need to continue to support and work with their customers and borrowers who are still impacted by Covid-19.

As the House will be aware, the Tánaiste and the Ministers for Public Expenditure and Reform and Finance met the CEOs of the retail banks and Banking & Payments Federation Ireland yesterday, where that point was clearly and strongly made to them. In fairness, it was accepted by the lenders, as Deputy Mattie McGrath has acknowledged. At the meeting, the banks outlined their plans for their customers who will be coming off payment breaks and they indicated that this engagement was a priority for them. They also indicated that they would have approximately 2,500 staff actively working on this matter, they would seek to work with and understand the individual situation of every borrower, and they wished to put in place individual solutions for borrowers if and when required. They stressed that their focus was on engagement, assessment and solutions for those who are still impacted by the pandemic.

The recent change in the European Banking Authority, EBA, guidelines for Covid-19 payment breaks, which the Minister for Finance wishes to emphasise refers only to the closing date for an application for a Covid-19 payment break, does not restrict or hinder lenders from agreeing appropriate further support arrangements for borrowers on a case-by-case basis. Indeed, the EBA has made it clear that such continued Covid-19 supports can include further breaks on loan repayments. However, other options will be available to borrowers at the end of a Covid-19 payment break and may well be better overall for them. The best individual arrangement can only be found where there is a meaningful engagement by both the lender and the borrower. The Government is conscious that this applies to the lender in particular.

It is important that lenders live up to the commitments that they have made to the Government and, more importantly, their customers who are still experiencing genuine difficulty. In that regard, I welcome the statement by the Deputy Governor of the Central Bank, who has said that the Central Bank, which is the statutory regulator of banks and other lenders and has prime responsibility for protecting the consumer of financial services, will intensify its engagement with lenders to ensure they are engaging effectively and meaningfully and providing the appropriate post-payment break to borrowers who need it.

I am not sure that we got an answer. The only answer that I can take from the reply is that banks will be offering one-to-one solutions. We will now be relying on the innate goodness of banks, which has not been evident in this State to date. I want to know what the Government is actually going to do. This issue will not end today - we will have to revisit it in many forms.

We were told during the period of austerity that certain institutions and banks were too big to fail. While I welcome the fact that fewer people are looking for breaks, approximately 39,000 people have applied for a second break according to the Government's figures. We need to ensure that as many people as possible are covered. Unlike the institutions, the people are far too big to fail.

What we are seeing is in keeping with what the Government is doing with the pandemic unemployment payment, PUP. We must keep as many people safe during the pandemic as possible and give supports to people and businesses, but we are failing miserably.

Go raibh maith agat.

We need to see what actions the Government is delivering. We have heard the annoying and disgraceful news relating to the close relationship between Fine Gael in particular and the financial sector.

The Government's policy is to rely on the goodwill of the banks to be humane towards borrowers in financial difficulty. That is pathetic. To call it naive would be a gross understatement. Remember what these banks did to borrowers who got in trouble as a result of the financial crash. They harassed and harangued them and put them through the wringer. People tried to engage with the banks. Banks would appear before the finance committee and say that they were being reasonable and were open to engagement, but in reality they were hounding, harassing and dispossessing people where they could. These are the same banks that are part-owners of the Debenhams consortium, dumped 1,000 Debenhams workers on the scrapheap and are allowing them to be treated in the most contemptible way. The Government's policy is just to let them at it. That is not a fair or acceptable policy to protect music workers, event workers, taxi drivers and people involved in tourism, transport-----

I thank the Deputy.

-----and all sorts of other sectors who have lost income and employment because of Government measures. The Government needs to do more for them.

That reply was not the Minister of State's. It was useless, toothless and fruitless. There has been inertia in this and the previous Governments when it comes to dealing with the banks. We have no legislation, yet other European countries have introduced legislation to compel banks to deal with people during Covid.

The reply is cold comfort to people in the music industry, taxi drivers, small businesses and everyone else. We are all in this big boat together, but the Government has cut adrift the 50,000 small business people who have mortgaged their homes, bands and equipment. It will all be taken from them now. It has already started. They are out on an inflatable dinghy that is losing air fast, but the Government does not care about them. They need our support and help.

I cannot understand it. The Government is like a rabbit in the headlights and afraid of the banks. The banks have treated people dastardly for decades. There has been skullduggery and blackguarding. People have ended their lives through suicide, families have been destroyed and mental health issues have arisen because of the situation the banks created during the previous scandal. The current crisis is outside our control, but the banks are carrying on their merry way and the Government is intimidated by them. We need the Central Bank to deal with them, not sweet-talk them.

The first thing that the Government wanted to do for everyone who had any interaction with a financial institution was to protect his or her income, albeit not in the same way as happened in Northern Ireland, which Deputy Ó Murchú might be more familiar with than most of the Deputies present. Our Government has protected in excess of 1.3 million people through the PUP and what is now the emergency wage subsidy scheme.

Deputy Boyd Barrett might claim that Government policy is to sit back and do nothing, but the Government has in recent months done everything in its power, and gone beyond what most EU countries have done, to protect people's incomes in the first instance and then their jobs. In protecting their jobs, we are protecting their ability to make all of the payments within their scope, in particular their day-to-day living expenses. Perhaps the other jurisdiction on this island could learn a great deal from what has happened on this side of the Border. If Deputy Ó Murchú has any correspondence with the North, he might pass on what the Government in the South has done.

Deputy Mattie McGrath is right about the stresses that people are under. That is why the Tánaiste and the Ministers for Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform have engaged not only in the past week, but on a continuous basis through their departmental officials, with the CEO of every bank.

Deputy Boyd Barrett might choose not to recognise it, but we need a functioning banking sector in order to have a functioning business sector. He might want to nationalise them all and turn them into some sort of Cuban bank, but that does not work anywhere in the world in real terms except in North Korea and Cuba.

The people of Dún Laoghaire would not realistically want Kim Jong-Boyd Barrett's policies to be advocated.

Why not one big credit union?

The Government is committed to working with borrowers, lenders and everyone else because the country is in a financially precarious position, as are other European countries-----

I thank the Minister of State.

-----but making flippant, throwaway comments in the hope of getting a few lines in the newspaper-----

That is what the Minister of State is doing now.

-----does nothing for those who want to keep their jobs.

The Minister of State has got his headline now.

We have three more Topical Issues, so I ask for Members' co-operation.

Flood Prevention Measures

I have proposed this Topical Issue four times in the past three weeks. We have been trying to get the Minister of State's attention and to talk to him, but he has not acknowledged the Topical Issue or turned up to the Dáil to talk to us until today. I welcome his presence. At least he has attended today to listen to us.

Before I start, I congratulate the Minister of State on his new portfolio and wish him and his family well.

I will get down to business. People around Ireland, including Limerick, are being flooded in places that are not flood plains because of maintenance issues. There has been no maintenance because workers are only being taken on for a season. Recently, I was in Kilmallock, where my constituency office is. We had a flooding issue. The Minister of State was in Cork when it happened because he had to go to Skibbereen. There was a red weather warning and a culvert could not be opened, which meant that Main Street in Skibbereen got flooded. It was another maintenance issue that could have been avoided, but people's premises got flooded.

In Kilmallock, houses were flooded that are not on a flood plain. Is the Office of Public Works, OPW, responsible in this instance or is it a matter for the local authority? The problem is that no maintenance is being done. A couple of days after that flooding incident, we had another high wave and heavy rain and the locations that were already flooded - as I said, they are located in non-flood areas - were flooded again because the gullies and drains had not been cleaned. I have been involved in construction all my life and I grew up on a farm. I know about construction and I know about waterways. If things are not maintained, there will be problems.

Diggers were sent into the Kilmallock area by the OPW but there was only one driver. A 4-tonne digger was dropped on the Charleville Road and a small bit of maintenance was done on a bridge there. We found out later from Cian Ó Donaill that this bridge was not properly constructed in the first place. It was shown as an arch bridge on his map but when he went there, he found two 3 ft 6 in. pipes. This bridge was constructed in 1984 and it has never been maintained other than by the people who live adjacent to it to prevent their houses from being flooded.

The River Loobagh in Kilmallock has not been dredged in 15 years. A house located on the bridge off Orr Street in Kilmallock was flooded twice within a week. The Government sent Derek Higgins down to look at it and he told us there were no problems with the bridge and no problem with the eyebar. Yet when we sent him photographs of it, it became a problem and, in fact, our biggest problem. I am hoping that the Minister of State, as a Limerick man, can resolve these issues. I am not making this personal. My job is to point out the issues to the Minister of State and it is his job to make sure they are addressed. He must take control and ensure the OPW takes on the staff that are needed. Maintenance must be carried out all year round. The Minister of State is ultimately responsible for the maintenance of 11,000 km of waterway.

I have been a Minister of State for nearly five years and I have never refused to come into the House to be held accountable on any issue. Topical Issue matters are selected by the Ceann Comhairle, not by me. Any Member who wishes to come to me with a particular concern is welcome to do so. Just before Deputy O'Donoghue spoke, another Deputy came over to me to ask me something. I am surprised that Deputy O'Donoghue would set about making his contribution in the way he did.

I thank him for raising this important matter. At this time of the year, as we approach the winter season, it is opportune that we consider our preparedness as a country to respond to severe weather events such as flooding. I am acutely aware of the impact the recent flooding has had on individual households and communities throughout the State. Since taking up my current position, I have visited a number of areas affected by the recent storms, including Kenmare, the Kilmallock area, Clifden, Dunmanway, Skibbereen, Bantry, Bandon and Rosscarbery. I thank the OPW staff, the staff of the local authorities, including the one in the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's county, the fire services staff and others who assisted in this work.

The Government's framework for major emergency management underpins the co-ordination of responses to all emergencies in Ireland. Through that framework, the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government is the lead Department with national responsibility for co-ordinating the response to severe weather emergencies, including flooding. Local authorities are designated as the lead agency for response to flooding events within their administrative areas, not the OPW, and for ensuring effective arrangements are put in place to receive and respond to public service weather warnings issued by Met Éireann. 

I recognise the proactive planning of the local authorities, in this case, Limerick City and County Council, in putting in place temporary flood defences and putting response staff on standby in preparation for recent weather events. Its planning and rapid response to flood events helped to mitigate the damage and devastation that was caused. Each local area has its own individual plan in the event of flooding. An Garda Síochána, Civil Defence Ireland and the HSE are also involved and I thank them for their contribution.

In regard to arterial drainage maintenance, the OPW carries out a programme of maintenance on a total of 11,500 km of river channel and approximately 730 km of embankments. These maintenance works relate to arterial drainage schemes completed by the OPW under the Arterial Drainage Acts 1945 and 1995. The purpose of the schemes is to mitigate flooding for agricultural use.

The annual national maintenance programme typically involves some clearance of vegetation and removal of silt build-up. Completed on an average five-yearly cycle, work is carried out on approximately 2,000 km of channel each year.  Maintenance is continuously done on a cyclical basis under the Maigue catchment drainage scheme, including on channels in and around Kilmallock and Ballylanders. In Kilmallock, works were undertaken on the main channel to clear debris from bridges as recently as June 2020. There have also been rock-armouring works undertaken downstream of the town to address bank erosion. In Bresheen, the channel was maintained along its full length in the period from June to August 2019.  I acknowledge the work done by the OPW in this regard.

In the past two months, particularly intense rainfall events have caused serious flooding in the area surrounding Kilmallock and elsewhere. In some of these places, we have seen unprecedented river levels and properties being flooded that were never previously flooded. The flow recorded on the River Loobagh was a record event since records began in 1985. The OPW is now engaged with Limerick City and County Council to explore what works might be feasible under the minor works scheme to mitigate the risk in these areas.  The council has been supported through funding from the OPW under the minor flood mitigation and coastal protection works scheme. Funding of more than €2 million has been approved for 39 local-scale flood protection projects, providing local flooding solutions to 440 properties across Limerick since the scheme began in 2009.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I watched the works being done in Kilmallock and I offer my thanks to the fire service staff there and in all the other areas where there was flooding. A 4-tonne digger was dropped off Orr street, a driver operated it for five hours and then left the machine there for one week. A 4-tonne digger was also left on the Charleville Road for one week. There is only one driver and he is being pushed and pulled all over the place. We need year-round staff to do this work.

In Abbeyfeale, a homeowner came out the back door one morning and found that the yard was gone to within 7 ft of his house. The fisheries board would not allow a small bank of earth in the middle of a river that is 35 m wide to be moved so that a machine could be put in to save this person's house. The Minister of State called to that location along with local councillors, so he knows what I am talking about. The fisheries board would not allow what was needed to be done. Derek Higgins told us he cannot do any more work in Kilmallock because the fisheries board will not allow him to do it. The Minister of State saw for himself the flooding that took place in Newcastle West in 2008.

We need full-time, year-round staff to deal with these issues. We do not need a machine to be dropped here, there and everywhere and one driver being told to go to one place for five hours and somewhere else for another five hours. I know the Minister of State is a good person and he will try to deal with these issues. He needs to get a handle on the OPW and its staffing levels. It is not just the staffing levels at the OPW that need to be increased but also in the local authorities. Their streams are attached to the OPW streams, as we can see in all the maps. There is no point in having machines with one driver operating them. There must be adequate staffing and maintenance all year round.

I remind the Deputy that within a short time of the flooding in Newcastle West in 2008, a major flood relief scheme was completed there by the OPW. Similar schemes were completed in Cappamore and Dromcolliher. Major works are ongoing in Limerick city to protect King's Island and work has been completed in Coonagh. Immediately after I visited Kilmallock, the OPW completed a tree and vegetation control there and more work is ongoing in that regard. Work is also going on at Bresheen South where the channel meets the River Loobagh. The Deputy will know that silt and vegetation works have been done on the R512 at Gurteen, which is the on road to Ardpatrick. Silt removal works have also taken place in Kilmallock.

These works have been done in consultation with Inland Fisheries Ireland. Any delays are a source of frustration to me and to the OPW but we have to go through a planning process. The Deputy was a member of Limerick County Council for a period of time and he will know that OPW personnel cannot just arrive at a river and do whatever they like. There must be a planning process. The Deputy will know from his own occupation as a builder that one has to go through a process to do anything. In regard to specific personnel within the OPW, I would not like to respond to what individuals outside the House did or did not say.

It is important to point out that in other parts of County Limerick, such as Castleconnell and Athea, consultants have been appointed under the CFRAM report. Limerick city and environs is also going forward, again under a CFRAM report, which is a major flood risk assessment being carried out with more than €1 billion committed by the Government.

For the remainder of the schemes in Limerick that were announced in 2018, including Rathkeale, Foynes, Askeaton, Adare and Newcastlewest, work is progressing to develop each of these within the lifetime of the national development plan. One area the Deputy did not refer to, and maybe he was not aware of it, was the massive flood alleviation works in Foynes, which the Office of Public Works completed to the satisfaction of everybody in Foynes, during the period of the last Dáil. Not everything the OPW does is a bad job.

Architectural Heritage

I wish to address one of the unforeseen consequences of Covid-19 visiting our shores, which is the funding crisis for the restoration project of St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin. This is a national cathedral for the 400,000 strong members of the Church of Ireland. It is also an 800 year old national monument. Such is the cathedral's importance, its history and its place in Dublin and in Ireland that it attracts some 400,000 visitors to it and to its services annually. Managing that number of visitors would be a challenge in itself, but managing that number in such an historic setting and in such a historically sensitive building with some of the oldest roof timbers in Ireland, is a challenge.

A bigger challenge has been facing the cathedral since 2016 when a storm exposed the roof and two large holes appeared in the roof. Works that probably needed to happen long before then had to start and were undertaken by the dean, the administrators and the congregation. This is a huge project that will cost €9.1 million. The work started last year and the administrators have acknowledged the €200,000 grant the Department gave to the project. This funding is small, and dare I say paltry, given the importance of this building to the history of the city and of Ireland. It is a very delicate job and one cannot cut corners with it. We have seen with other restoration projects in Ireland how some costs can rise. As in Notre-Dame Cathedral, tragically, we can also see how these projects cannot be rushed, how care must be taken and a very delicate approach. One of the biggest scaffolding projects ever seen in the city has enclosed the whole cathedral currently, while at the same time allowing services and tourists to visit the cathedral.

Like the rest of Ireland, however, the problem is that the world stood still in March. The expected 3,000 to 4,000 visitors a day who would normally visit the cathedral have stopped coming and have not returned. This is when the donations dried up. This restoration project was to be self-funded by the church. It was not relying majorly on the State. While the cathedral administrators have acknowledged the €200,000 given by the State, they did not expect their funds and donations to dry up in such a severe way. They are seeking help to try to bridge the gap between what they expected to have at this stage and what the project needs to ensure the restoration continues in the two years remaining. I appeal to the Minister of State to put the hand into the pocket of the Government and to step up to the plate to help St. Patrick's Cathedral in its current dire need. I believe this historic building is of such importance to the city, for architecture and tourism that it needs intervention from the State to make sure the project can continue and that there is no delay in it.

I thank Deputy Ó Snodaigh for his very important Topical Issue matter. St. Patrick's Cathedral is the largest medieval church in Ireland. It has been recorded by my Departments national inventory of architectural heritage and rated of national significance. It is included on the Dublin City Council record of protected structures. Although substantially restored in the mid-19th century the cathedral still retains a significant amount of medieval fabric, including medieval roof timbers.

I am aware that the public health restrictions have been particularly difficult. I understand that 90% of tourists to this wonderful cathedral, come, in normal times, from overseas. St. Patrick's Cathedral is one of Ireland's most important historic structures, still operating for its original purpose 800 years after its construction. I assure the Deputy that my Department will continue to work closely with the Dean of St. Patrick's Cathedral and his colleagues with a view to bringing this very important restoration project to completion. A further application from St. Patrick's Cathedral would be most welcome in the next round of the historic structures fund, which I expect to announce in November.

My Department provides financial support for the protection of heritage buildings and historic structures through two grant schemes that are, in the main, administered by the local authorities. These are the built heritage investment scheme and the historic structures fund. This year, 450 heritage projects across every county in the State will benefit from a combined sum of more than €4.3 million under these schemes. This funding will support the owners and custodians of historic and protected structures as they carry out hundreds of small-scale, labour-intensive projects to repair and safeguard our built heritage, as well as providing vital support for local jobs in conservation, traditional skills and construction. Details of all projects approved for 2020 are published on my Department's website.

As Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, in 2019, my Department awarded €200,000 in capital funding to St. Patrick's Cathedral under the historic structures fund for works to its roof, to be drawn down as works progressed over the course of 2019 and 2020. This represents the maximum award that can be made under this scheme. In addition, funding has been provided by my Department over the past number of years for work at the boundary walls and at St. Patrick's Close.

My Department has a number of further measures at its disposal to facilitate the restoration of major historical or cultural sites. I am the owner or guardian under the National Monuments Acts of approximately 1,000 national monuments located at some 750 sites, and in such cases there is a statutory duty to maintain the national monument. Such maintenance is undertaken by the Office of Public Works. Local authorities are responsible under the National Monuments Acts for maintaining the national monuments of which they are owners or guardians. A wide range of other monuments, in the order of 130,000, are currently subject to protection under other provisions of the National Monuments Acts but my Department and the Office of Public Works do not have a direct role in their maintenance except where, as already noted, a monument is a national monument of which I am owner or guardian.

I should clarify, in relation to the text of the matter, the definition of "monument" for the purpose of the National Monuments Acts 1930 to 2014 is set out in section 2 of the principal Act of 1930. I note that the definition provides that it does not include any building, or part of any building, that is habitually used tor ecclesiastical purposes such as St. Patrick's Cathedral. The definition of "national monument" is also set out in the Acts. As something must be a monument before it can be considered a national monument, the exclusion of buildings habitually used for ecclesiastical purposes also operates in relation to whether a building can be considered a national monument.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Aire Stáit. There is quite a bit in the Minister of State's reply. I will try to deal with some of that. I acknowledge the built heritage projects mentioned in the response, but most of them are on a smaller scale. This, however, is a massive scale. It has the biggest scaffold for any roof project currently. The project will cost €9.1 million and will involve stripping away the whole roof.

During the two years that the roof is missing, the timbers in the roof will be reworked and, if needs be, treated. The new slates which come from the same quarry used when the roof was last fixed in the 1860s, cost €25 each and every one of them has to be taken by hand up and down the scaffolding. This is an enormous undertaking by any standards and anyone with an understanding of conservation and restoration will acknowledge that. This project does not really fit the criteria for the small grants that are available for restoration but it is of such major importance that the Government must provide a once-off grant for it.

The Minister of State is technically correct that St. Patrick's Cathedral is not a national monument because services are still held there. However, one could also argue that the GPO is not a national monument because stamps are still sold there. There must be some understanding at Government level of the national importance of this project. St. Patrick's Cathedral is a significant tourist attraction. It is of benefit to the local area as well as to the Church of Ireland congregation. Anything that endangers the cathedral, like leaving it exposed to the elements because the roof has been stripped back, needs to be addressed by the State. The Government needs to step up to the plate here.

St. Patrick's Cathedral is one of Ireland's most important historic structures, still operating as per its original purpose 800 years after its construction. The cathedral normally welcomes in excess of 600,000 visitors annually and is of strategic importance to the surrounding businesses. The major roof conservation project currently under way at the cathedral provides employment to many skilled Irish crafts people. As I indicated earlier, my Department has already provided substantial grant assistance to St. Patrick's Cathedral and would welcome a further application from the cathedral through Dublin City Council under the historical structure fund for 2021 when it launches later this year. In the meantime my officials stand ready and available to provide any professional assistance that may be required to the council and the cathedral staff in order to ensure the completion of the restoration project. I note the Deputy's very valid concerns in connection with this project and I will bring those concerns to the attention of the Minister of State, Deputy Noonan, who has specific responsibility for this area.

Heritage Sites

Yesterday at approximately 6 a.m. a house of very significant historical importance in my constituency was bulldozed to the ground. The house to which I refer is No. 40 Herbert Park in Ballsbridge, Dublin 4. The house is of significant historical importance because Michael The O'Rahilly, his wife Nancy and their six children lived there. People aware of Irish history will know that The O'Rahilly was one of the significant leaders of the 1916 Rising. In fact, he was the only leader of the Rising to be killed in battle. He died coming from the GPO heading towards a factory on what is now Parnell Street.

The act of bulldozing the building was completely against the historical interests of the people of Dublin and Ireland. Members of Dublin City Council had commenced a process to see whether this building could be put on the protected structures list kept by the council. That process had commenced but the building had not yet been put on said list. The council and councillors were in the process of conducting an appraisal of the building to see whether it merited inclusion on the list of protected structures. This was a building of such significant historical importance that it would have been added to the list. The reason it is of such historical importance is not simply because it was the house in which The O'Rahilly and his family lived but also because some of the most significant meetings leading up to the Easter Rising took place there. This was the house in which people such as Éamon de Valera, Pádraig Pearse and James Connolly met The O'Rahilly for the purpose of planning the rising which took place in Easter 1916. It is hugely regrettable that this demolition has happened. I ask the Minister of State to outline the Government's proposals to ensure that buildings such as this, which exist throughout the country, are protected because of their historical importance.

In an act of wanton vandalism on our revolutionary history, No. 40 Herbert Park, home of the 1916 leader, The O'Rahilly was demolished yesterday. The house was built in 1907 and The O'Rahilly, the only 1916 leader to die in battle, was the first occupant of the property. His widow Nancy lived here until her death in the 1960s. In 1913 The O'Rahilly became one of the founding members of the Irish Volunteers. He was in charge of the first major arming of Irish Volunteers from a consignment of German rifles and ammunition that were smuggled into Howth aboard the Asgard. He joined the garrison of the GPO and was killed on 28 April 1916 while leading a charge down Moore Street. The battlefield on Moore Street was also subject to unscrupulous developers who wanted to ignore our historical and cultural heritage. The O'Rahilly literally fought and died by Pearse's side.

While No. 40 Herbert Park is not significant in an architectural sense, it is immensely important in an historical and cultural sense. The Asgard gun-running operation was planned here and all of the signatories of the Proclamation met here. As Deputy O'Callaghan mentioned, Dublin City Council unanimously passed a Sinn Féin motion to protect this property and like many, I was shocked and saddened to see it levelled to the ground yesterday. The arrogance of the developer to completely ignore the democratic will of the people is a sad reflection on the systemic greed of some developers today. Dublin City Council has announced that it will be carrying out an investigation into the destruction of No. 40 Herbert Park. What assistance will the Department be giving to the council and what are the likely repercussions for the developer?

I thank Deputies O'Callaghan and Ward for raising this very important matter. I appreciate that both Deputies have considerable concerns relating to the demolition of The O'Rahilly's house at 40 Herbert Park, Dublin 4. I understand that permission for such works was granted by An Bord Pleanála on 8 September 2020. The Deputies should be aware that under section 30 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, Ministers and Ministers of State are specifically precluded from exercising any power or control in relation to any particular case with which a planning authority or An Bord Pleanála is or may be concerned, except in very specific and extreme circumstances which do not apply in this instance. Therefore, it would be inappropriate for me as Minister of State with responsibility for planning matters to comment on the merits or otherwise of the board's decision to grant permission for the demolition works in question or to express an opinion as to whether the works should have been progressed or not. Under planning legislation the decision as to whether to grant planning permission on an application, with or without conditions, is a matter for the relevant planning authority or An Bord Pleanála on appeal. In making decisions on planning applications a planning authority, or An Bord Pleanála on appeal, is required to have regard to the proper planning and sustainable development of the area, the provisions of the development plan, any submissions or observations received and relevant ministerial or Government policies, including any guidelines issued by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. An Bord Pleanála, in determining an appeal, decides the matter as if the application had been made to it in the first instance.

Under section 50 of the 2000 Act, anyone may apply to the High Court seeking a judicial review of any decision made by a planning authority or An Bord Pleanála where the person believes the validity of the decision may be in question. The application must be made within eight weeks of the authority of An Bord Pleanála's decision, which in this case has not yet lapsed. It is a matter for the relevant planning authority, in this case Dublin City Council, to decide on any further action it may wish to take.

With regard to the safeguards for protected structures, Part IV of the Planning and Development Act 2000 gives primary responsibility to local authorities to identify and protect architectural heritage by including particular structures on the record of protected structures, RPS. Inclusion on the RPS places a duty of care on the owners and occupiers of protected structures and also gives planning authorities powers to deal with any development proposals affecting them. I understand the building in question was not included on the current RPS of Dublin City Council.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I appreciate he is limited in what he can do because of the decision of An Bord Pleanála. However, we need to look beyond the planning decision that lies in the background of this demolition. The more important issue is that we, as a country, need to recognise the importance of our revolutionary period and the influence that revolutionary period has, not only on this country, but on our international reputation. I think we undersell ourselves when it comes to recognising the importance of that revolutionary period. It was an inspiration to the colonial world. When we look at countries which gained their independence from colonial powers, very many of them looked to the example set by Ireland during the revolutionary period that we are at present celebrating in the decade of centenaries. We need to recognise that. We need to go around the country and ask local authorities to identify those properties within their jurisdiction that are of historical importance, so we can preserve our vital revolutionary history.

I thank the Minister of State for what was a very complicated and convoluted response, although I am sure it is factually correct. However, I do not think the developer would have had a look at all that kind of stuff before he went in yesterday and bulldozed No. 40 Herbert Park. This was an act of sheer corporate greed, the like of which will destroy Irish history and heritage in this city if it is allowed to go on. The developer had blocked Dublin City Council from visiting the site despite two letters asking to visit it.

The O’Rahilly famously said, when he joined the fight for freedom from foreign occupiers in the GPO, "I have helped to wind up the clock. I might as well hear it strike." Yesterday, the developer wound up the clock of sheer wanton cultural vandalism of No. 40 Herbert Park. If the public condemnation is followed up with political will, then the developer will hear that clock strike. However, if this developer goes unpunished and is not punished in the strongest possible terms, then it will give the green light for more of our historical and cultural heritage to be destroyed. I ask the Minister of State this: for what died the sons of Róisín? Was it for greed?

I thank both Deputies for their responses. As I indicated earlier, it is inappropriate for me, as the Minister of State with responsibility for planning matters, to become involved in or to make any comment on this matter as the law simply precludes me from doing so. The planning authorities and the board are independent statutory bodies under the provisions of the planning Act and, as stated previously, are independent in the performance of their functions. The development works in question are a matter for the planning applicant concerned, the relevant local authority and the board, as appropriate, and I have no role in the matter.

The Deputies will also be aware that the record of protected structures is a reserved function of the local authority system and is primarily its responsibility. This matter will obviously be an enforcement issue for Dublin City Council and is wholly under its remit.