Planning and Development Bill 2020 [Seanad]: Instruction to Committee

I move:

That, pursuant to Standing Order 187, it be an instruction to the Dáil in Committee on the Planning and Development Bill 2020, that it has power to make amendments to the Bill

which are outside the scope of the existing provisions of the Bill, in relation to:

(a) amendments to Part XA of the Planning and Development Act 2000, for the purpose of requiring An Bord Pleanála to refuse an application for substitute consent in the absence of exceptional circumstances and enabling members of the public to make submissions and observations in relation to the question as to whether such circumstances exist; and

(b) amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, for the purposes of increasing notice periods in relation to notices of termination served on tenants under tenancies of dwellings during the period from 11th January, 2021 to 12th April, 2021, for failure to pay rent due and prohibiting increases in rents on tenancies of dwellings during that period.

The purpose of this motion is to instruct the Dáil in committee that, pursuant to Standing Order 187, it has the power to make amendments to the Planning and Development Bill 2020 which are outside the scope of the existing provisions of the Bill. In this regard, I will introduce amendments to the Planning and Development Bill 2020 on Committee Stage later this evening.

The Committee Stage amendments to this Bill are twofold and comprise amendments to Part XA of the Planning and Development Act 2000 and amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act 2004. The amendments to Part 2 of the Planning and Development Bill 2020, relating to substitute consent under Part XA of the Planning and Development Act 2000, are as follows.

In order to comply with the findings of a Supreme Court judgment of 1 July 2020 relating to substitute consent legislation, it is necessary to amend the substitute consent provisions under Part XA of the Planning and Development Act 2000 to provide for exceptional circumstances to be considered in a second stage application for substitute consent at section 177K of the planning Act along with the necessary ancillary provisions to ensure that additional public participation is facilitated, where required, with respect to the consideration of exceptional circumstances as well as on the wider application. Until recently these urgent legislative proposals were being drafted by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel in anticipation that the amendment to the planning Act could be introduced by way of European Communities 1972 Act regulations to implement incidental, supplementary and consequential provisions to the EIA directive into national law. The Attorney General advised three weeks ago, however, that the 1972 regulations approach should not be used and that instead the provisions should be introduced as soon as possible by way of primary legislation in amendments to the Planning and Development Bill 2020. The necessity to introduce these technical amendments into existing substitute consent provisions in the planning Act is a matter of urgency as these provisions will facilitate the earlier resolution of the terms of the separate November 2019 judgment of the Court of Justice of the EU against Ireland in case C-261/18, the second Derrybrien wind farm case. Without these proposed amendments to ensure that the substitute consent process is in compliance with the EIA directive, the ability of the State to meet the terms of this CJEU judgment has been called into question, with all the significant costs of delay from the accruing daily fines that go with it.

The Residential Tenancies Act amendment to the Planning and Development Bill 2020, specifically Part 3 of the amended Bill, are as follows. The time-critical provisions contained within the proposed new Part 3 of the Residential Tenancies Bill provide for enhanced protections for those tenants who are facing rent arrears due to Covid-19 and as a result are at risk of losing their tenancy, subject to certain conditions, from 11 January 2021 until 12 April 2021, effectively extending the protections we brought in in July of this year right through to April 2021. The temporary tenancy protections provided under the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act 2020 are due to expire on 10 January, and it is not possible to assess or forecast the full and continuing economic impact on tenants in the residential rental sector of successive restrictions on the movement of people during 2020 and possibly 2021. The proposed amendments need to be introduced as a matter of urgency in this Bill ahead of the expiry date of the protections under the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act on 10 January 2021. It is critical that these provisions are enacted before 11 January to ensure that those tenants who continue to need protection due to the economic impact of Covid-19 can continue to rely on those protections for a further period until 12 April 2021. Through the enhanced tenancy protections under Part 3, the Government aims to balance carefully and in a calibrated manner the legitimate interests of both the property owner and the tenant during the Covid-19 pandemic.

I look forward to our debate on the motion. I will seek to respond as best as I can to any specific questions or legitimate points that are made.

I have a few legitimate points to make.

I fully accept the need to use such a motion to introduce amendments that are Covid-related because of the emergency nature of the pandemic. However, the use of this mechanism to introduce what is essentially an entirely new Bill to address the legal problems with existing substitute consent legislation is wholly inadequate. It is important to remember that this issue has not just been sprung on us. The first Derrybrien European Court of Justice case was in 2008. The second case, as the Minister mentioned, was in 2019. The €15,000 per day fines have been accruing since then and will continue to accrue, even if we pass this legislation today, until at least June or July of next year. That will result in a total of up to €15 million in fines. We also had the Supreme Court judgment on a related substitute consent matter in the summer of this year. We are therefore led to believe that the Attorney General was working on regulations from July, when that Supreme Court decision was taken, through to November. Only three weeks ago, we are told, the shift was made to legislation. Again, this is not in any way a criticism of any official in the Department, but to expect officials to write such complex legislation in three weeks and then to give Members of the Oireachtas literally hours to consider it is wholly inadequate.

My big concern about this is not an objection to the intention behind the legislation. Modest and all as it is, I support it. My worry is the mistakes and genuine human errors that people working late into the night on complex legislative formulas are likely to make. One possible error I wish to bring to the Minister's attention now, in case we do not get to amendment No. 21, relates to that amendment and to the proposed subsection 6(b)(1A), the new proposal to introduce essentially a second consideration of exceptional circumstances when the substantive matter is before the board. My concern is this: against what definition of "exceptional circumstances" will the board make its deliberations? Will it rely on the existing legislative provisions for exceptional circumstances outlined in subsection 177D(2) of the existing planning Act or something else? The Minister's amendment does not make that clear. My big concern is that, as we know already, when substitute consent leave or notice applications are being considered, the existing legislative provisions of - I am forgetting the words because this is so damn complex - exceptional circumstances do not apply in all those cases. It is incumbent on the Minister to say at some stage today whether that legislation, specifically subsection 177D(2), will apply to all substantive considerations by the board of applications for substitute consent at the second stage, as per his amendment.

The Minister does himself and his Department no favours by not giving us more time to scrutinise this. I am not yet convinced he could not have introduced a full Bill, gone through pre-legislative scrutiny and then asked the committee and the Oireachtas to prioritise it early in January. If we had done that, we would have had more time and it would still have been in place in time for the board to consider these matters and make the decision within the timeframe it will probably make that decision by next summer. Therefore, spending just a little more time to get this right would have been the right way to do it and would not have incurred any additional fines.

I wish to acknowledge not only the two detailed briefings we got from the Minister's officials but also the very detailed written answers they gave to the committee at my request. I believe they stayed up until 1 a.m. drafting those to email them to us, and that has helped us enormously. I am not convinced, however, that the majority of us, and I include myself in this, are fully assured that the text of the legislation before us does exactly what the Minister says he wants it to do, or that it is the best formulation of the text to address the Supreme Court decisions and the two European Court of Justice decisions referred to and does not contain accidental human errors, mistakes or unintended consequences. On that basis, while I will not oppose the Minister's motion, I urge him not to get into the habit, which his predecessors did, of bringing in complex legislation at the last minute and denying the House the rightful opportunity to scrutinise it fully, irrespective of whether we are for or against the legislative proposals coming from the Government.

I do not intend to use all my allotted time as there are many amendments we wish to discuss on Committee Stage. As Deputy Ó Broin stated, this is not really the way we should be doing business. The Labour Party has no issue with the motion as proposed, but to present the House with the emergency-type rationale the Minister has given for the Bill is not good enough. I commented previously that it seems to be two Bills wedged into one. As a legislative body and a Parliament, we must be equipped with the time to scrutinise Bills in a proper fashion. When a Minister comes to the House and apologises for the lack of time but explains that there is an emergency nature to the legislation, the Government did not realise how important it was, and then expects Deputies to screech in here and the Bill to be passed immediately, it leads Members to believe that we are not giving the Bill the scrutiny and deference it deserves. Any Bill that comes before the Oireachtas needs to undergo such a level of scrutiny. On that basis, I do not intend to make a long-winded contribution. The Labour Party accepts the rationale behind the motion, but to deal with such complex matters on the second-last sitting day before the Christmas break leaves a lot to be desired. These issues have such significant implications for people who are in housing need, as well as for the democratic process of the development plan. I repeat that if the Minister were a member of the Opposition, he would be saying the exact same thing I am saying.

This issue is not a new one. The initial directive on environmental impact assessments has been in place since 1985. There has been plenty of time to get this right but choices have been made not to get it right. The first case on this issue, the Derrybrien case, was taken in 2008, 12 years ago, so there is no immediate rush on this issue such that it would necessitate the Bill going through the House without sufficient time allowed for scrutiny of it. I remember the Minister stating how much he respects the Constitution a few months ago in the course of speaking against an Opposition Bill on housing. He attacked that Bill on the basis that he believed it was unconstitutional in terms of trying to increase rights around housing. He believed it was in contravention of Bunreacht na hÉireann. What I am saying on the Bill before the House tonight is that the Minister needs to respect the Constitution in terms of our role as legislators. It is not showing respect for the House to bring in legislation in this manner, circumventing proper scrutiny and not allowing proper time for Members to do their job on the Bill. Earlier this year, people went out to vote for Deputies. They elected us to do our jobs correctly. This process is not allowing us to do our jobs correctly. The Joint Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage wanted to carry out pre-legislative scrutiny on the Bill but the Minister circumvented that by sending it straight to the Seanad. That was his choice. He can wave his hand all he wants, but this is important to us and we need to send a clear message to the Minister that this is not an acceptable way to do business. It is not respecting the Dáil or the need for proper scrutiny and proper time for it. In my view, it is not respecting the Constitution and our role as legislators. I ask that this be the last time that the Minister and his Department take this approach.

I appreciate the hard work that has been done by the officials on the Bill. I appreciate that it is necessary legislation, but we have a necessary role in this as well and that must be respected. In my view, it is not being respected in this case. It is not sufficient to state that the Government has advice from the Attorney General and it has other legal advice and, therefore, the Oireachtas does not need time to scrutinise the Bill, get properly informed on it and have proper debate and discussion of it. I wish to state in the strongest possible terms that this is not the way to do business. This Dáil must be respected. It must be given a proper amount of time to scrutinise and engage with legislation.

Deputy Boyd Barrett has the next five-minute slot.

I thank the Acting Chairman. That is very generous of him. I made my points on Second Stage but I will briefly summarise them because the Minister was absent at the time. I am unsure whether he is aware of the points I made.

I responded to those points in the Deputy's absence.

I heard those comments and I will deal with them in a minute. Actually, I will deal with them now. The Minister should not attribute quotes to me that I never made. I never, ever used the phrase "tsunami of evictions". A very well known housing activist who is not a Member of this House used that phrase. In my opinion, his concerns were just concerns, given the heroic role he plays in dealing with the homeless in this city and his awareness of how most of the people with whom he has to deal were evicted from private rented accommodation.

As we are on the topic, it is disappointing, given that the Minister has brought in a number of unrelated issues in one Bill in this completely unacceptable way of doing business, mixing moderately good things with some really not good things, that he did not do something really important, such as address the issue of vulture funds evicting people and using the issue of sale as the excuse for so doing. As I warned the Minister, as soon as the level 5 restrictions and the pause on evictions that goes with them was lifted, the vulture fund that owns St. Helen's Court in Dún Laoghaire moved in on the tenants. This week, I had to go down there with the tenants and face the vulture funds and their heavyweight barristers, who pretty much stated that the evictions may be immoral and driven by profit, but they are within the law. That is essentially the argument made by the barrister for the vulture fund. On a previous occasion, the vulture fund tried to evict ten of the tenants but the so-called Tyrrelstown amendment protected them. The vulture fund got legal advice, reduced the number to eight and it moved to evict those eight tenants as soon as level 5 was lifted. Why did the Minister not close that window? Those tenants will now almost certainly be evicted. They will then rock up at my office and the offices of Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, looking for homeless HAP or emergency accommodation. The Minister could have stopped that through this legislation if he had listened to the facts. Similarly, I just heard today that, following the lifting of the pause on evictions, residents in Rathmines were evicted this week in the teeth of Christmas and in the midst of a pandemic. The Minister should have brought in a Bill to stop that from happening.

On substitute consent, we will discuss the issue further on Committee Stage. The Bill contains the bare minimum required to deal with the Supreme Court judgment issued in July and the ruling of the European Court of Justice ruling. A lot more needs to be done. I heard the Minister's response to my comment that there is systematic abuse of substitute consent. I say there is systematic abuse because it involves the big guys deliberately trying to do the minimum in terms of environmental impact. It is not the number of applications for substitute consent. Some of these big, profit-driven developers try to do the absolute minimum in terms of public consultation and environmental impact assessment. Substitute consent, that is, retention, is a mechanism essentially to sort of get them off the hook after the fact. I welcome the moderate measures forced on the Minister, but a hell of a lot more needs to be done. This will be a live issue with more developments of giant wind farms and so on, both onshore and offshore.

On the issue of real, physical public meetings not having to take place, that is justified under Covid but it is pretty depressing having to substitute real public meetings for Zoom meetings or Microsoft Teams meetings. It is not good for the human spirit, democracy or planning. It has been forced on us in Covid, but to make it permanent is fundamentally wrong. That wrong move should not have been included in a Bill that we would otherwise support, albeit not with great enthusiasm, for the modest improvements it contains. The Minister should not have included that measure. It is controversial and fundamentally misguided.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak again on this Bill. I wish to raise a number of matters. The first relates to the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme and how we are dealing with it and landlords. I will put a twist on it. It is important that the landlord is protected as much as the tenant. In some cases if the tenant is not able to pay his or her part to the county council, the HAP scheme will not pay the rest of the money to the landlord. This becomes a problem for everybody. We should conduct an overview of the HAP scheme. We should also examine the income thresholds and the thresholds of support being given to people. There is a discretion to provide a 20% top-up, but the threshold should be lifted and the discretion should be left in place in certain cases.

I have encountered a great deal of uncertainty. Many of the landlords I know never wanted to be landlords but ended up in that position. They end up in a situation where they are trying to pay a mortgage on a property. When they see what is happening, they become very evasive about signing up to the HAP and are, in fact, refusing to do so. That is putting more pressure on people who are trying to find private rental accommodation and trying to get support for that. If the only way we can do this is through HAP, it must work for both the landlord and the tenant so it is fair for everybody.

When we think about planning and the goals of planning, it can be very complex. We must unblock some of the system to ensure it becomes less complex. Issues arise for various reasons when trying to make housing available and to make what is available affordable. The planning process needs to be streamlined. I believe the planning process, in itself, is fine. There is a statutory timeline for the local authority to issue its decision, a statutory time for objections, and An Bord Pleanála, in fairness, deals with the appeals to the board in a relatively reasonable time. However, it all goes wrong when the judicial review occurs. When that starts, there is no end to it in terms of time. There is no statutory obligation for the review to take place within a certain amount of time. This is creating uncertainty. It is eating into confidence in the planning system. In turn, that is turning people away from getting involved in developing housing. The housing market at present is dysfunctional because very little private housing is being developed, especially in the regions. This is something we must examine.

This legislation is being introduced to solve some immediate problems, partly due to Covid-19 and partly due to the Derrybrien situation. It is only the first step. I would support the Minister in reforming the planning legislation to ensure we give confidence back to investment in this country and to people who want to come here. We do not wish to see a repeat of the Apple situation in Athenry, which is in my constituency. Likewise, we do not want a repeat of the Derrybrien situation as well. Again, that is in my constituency. Perhaps they are a plague on everybody in our constituency, but I do not believe so. However, they are two prime examples where we are not getting things right at each end.

I appreciate that the Minister has been in the job for six months. He has a major job to do given all the responsibilities he has. I will support every positive move he makes to ensure the local authorities can make decisions in a timely way, that they have a clear direction and that they are not fearful of legislation or legal activity. I believe there is a legal paradise in the planning process at present where everything goes to the courts for judicial review and we end up with very little in return. The Minister has a job on hand and I will support him in bringing about positive change.

I expected great things from the Minister in his office. I wished him well and still do, but dealing with legislation and with two issues, trying to put the good into the bad, is a type of liquorice allsorts. If we could take out the bad parts, it would be great, but we cannot. There is an effort to try to deal with evictions and deal with the situation of people who are forced onto the housing lists and are on them forever without getting anywhere. However, the Minister changed the Bill fundamentally from what was introduced in the Seanad. It had three pages, but there are now many Parts in it. There was also no pre-legislative scrutiny. It is a bad way to do business. If the Minister were in the Opposition and somebody else was where he is now, he would be railing against it. Why is the system of governance so dysfunctional?

The Minister said he does not want to be responsible for €15,000 per day in fines, and rightly so. He should not be. Why did it take so long to get this rectified? I realise the past eight months have been difficult due to Covid, but why did it take so long to rectify something like that? Why are we dragged kicking and squealing to resolve some issues in Europe when on other issues we are the first to implement them? If it is to do with farm inspections or the like, we are leading the posse to terrorise farmers. We are doing it even in the middle of the Covid pandemic, and I understand there is an EU directive that only vital inspections should be carried out at this time. One can pick and choose. As I said, it is like a pick-and-mix or liquorice allsorts.

With regard to the planning situation, people's rights are being trodden on. Then we can add the situation with public meetings. The Minister tells us it is only for emergencies, such as Covid-19, but once the practice is established, unfortunately, it can last and be made to last. I am very concerned about that. We should not have it. The Minister should be able to pass legislation to give this space, be it eight, ten or 15 months of a delay. My county's urban planning is already delayed, so why can the Minister not introduce legislation? He introduced emergency legislation to remove the moratorium and legislation relating to the hearsay clause in the middle of a Health Act to suit the vultures.

The enforcement that is taking place is shambolic in the extreme. As regards developers who built estates, there are a couple of estates in Tipperary town and they are approaching their seventh or eighth Christmas without lights. Imagine trying to find the way around the estate. They are fine estates really, but there were problems with the sewers and the drainage and no lights. It is shame that families have to live through that. It is the same in an estate in Monard in Tipperary. It is ten years without lights. Imagine the danger of that.

In addition, there is a situation in Tipperary that is unreal. It is a shooting range, the Woodlands Range Sports and Recreations Club. There have been criminal convictions of the owners and managers of the club for reckless trading with guns. Windows in cars have been shot through. The neighbours there have objected. They are afraid of their lives, but the council has been dragging its feet for the past two years. It goes into court every couple of months and agrees to a postponement. There is no follow-up. From talking to the senior executive officers, they say they have engaged a solicitor. There is a big firm of solicitors and it sends in a junior solicitor. He just nods and will get paid for the day, while the case is put off repeatedly. The last day was Tuesday this week. The neighbours have made the objections and the planning has been refused because it is dangerous and there is no access to it, for good reasons. However, it is still going on two years later. Families cannot get closure. There are criminal convictions, and I salute the gardaí, Superintendent Whelan and the inspector from Cahir Garda station, who had to do this.

A lethargic effort was involved in getting the enforcement finished. They rock into court every couple of months and the solicitor walks in and nods the head and there is a fee for the day and it is put off instead of dealing with it. There is no specified end date, and everything is found to be outside planning. If enforcement proceedings are taken, there should be a set timeline for them to be concluded, unless someone takes a judicial review or challenges the process in a higher court. We must specify in legislation that a conclusion will be brought to an enforcement situation, especially if there is a dangerous situation involving the use of high-powered weapons being used on a site that has been trading recklessly. People are afraid and they have no solace or redress.

The Bill proposes to amend the Planning and Development Act. I do not wish to discuss that, as it has been discussed by others. I wish to discuss the changes to the Residential Tenancies Act, because that is very important. In August, the Oireachtas passed the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Bill 2020. The protections afforded by the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act, RTVA, will expire on 11 January 2021 and it is proposed to pass the Bill before the House to extend the protections.

The RTVA was intended to provide breathing space for a narrow cohort of people who have sustained rent arrears during the Covid-19 pandemic, but it did not address the issue of rent arrears directly. It offered no real solution for tenants in arrears and the actions required from tenants were cumbersome and bureaucratic. When the Bill was being considered, Threshold noted that it fell short of what was promised. These shortcomings will not be addressed by the amendments to the Act either.

Threshold has put forward a comprehensive plan to address the issue and it is worth outlining some of what it says. Threshold is concerned that the process is designed with an assumption that the rent arrears notice is valid and that the tenant requires budgeting advice. It may be the case that tenants are funnelled into this process and away from advice on the validity of the notice. There is a concern that tenants lack recourse to a body such as Threshold to advise on the validity of a notice.

In the months since the passing of the RTVA, the experience of the Act has not been encouraging. We understand that up to the end of October, the RTB had only received 286 self-declaration forms and only six referrals were made to the Money Advice & Budgeting Service, MABS, on foot of the Act. As with the previous legislation, a tenant who makes a declaration that is false or misleading in any material respect shall be guilty of an offence and liable on summary conviction to a class B fine, with a value of between €2,500 and €4,000, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, or both.

The inclusion of a criminal sanction for making a false declaration can only operate to discourage tenants from making a declaration. There is no evidence to suggest that tenants are likely to make false declarations and therefore no need to impose a sanction. Later sections of this Bill allow a landlord to make a declaration that he or she should be allowed to evict despite the protections offered, and no similar criminal offence is created in respect of that declaration. The creation of criminal offences in this Bill applies only to tenants seeking to avail of its protections but not to landlords seeking to escape its operation.

Under the provisions of this Bill, a tenant will be required to make a written declaration to the RTB and his or her landlord that he or she is a "relevant person" to avail of the protections from 11 January 2021 to 12 April 2021. He or she will be required at the same time to serve a notice on the RTB requesting it to assist him or her to obtain advice from MABS. Within five days of making the declaration, the tenant will also be required to serve a notice on his or her landlord requesting a consultation to agree a rent payment arrangement. It is not clear what will occur if a landlord refuses such a request, or if a tenant, as is often the case, does have the contact details of the landlord.

The Bill builds on the cumbersome and bureaucratic process contained in the RTVA and adds new layers of complexity. The low uptake of people availing of the protections of the RTVA may well be attributable to the complexity of the legislation and the difficulty in navigating the declarations, time limits and notices required. The protections of this Bill will not automatically apply to tenants who declared as relevant persons under the RTVA where they have not engaged with the RTB to get MABS advice or entered into a rent repayment arrangement with their landlord. It would appear such tenants will only have five days from the date of commencement on 11 January until 16 January to apply to the RTB to seek assistance and advices from MABS or to enter a repayment plan if they have not already done so. The timeline on this is not clear in the briefing document. It appears that people who do not act within this very short timeframe will lose their protections on 16 January. There does not appear to be any clear rationale for this short timeframe, which takes in the Christmas and new year period.

Threshold suggests that tenants be afforded until 15 February to meet these requirements, which is reasonable. The protections of the new legislation will not apply where a tenant who makes a declaration does not serve a notice on the RTB requesting assistance to obtain MABS advice, or where a tenant is in rent arrears to the value of five or more months' rent on 10 January 2021. There does not appear to be any need to include a provision that the provisions will not apply where a tenant is in rent arrears for five months. Threshold recommends that the five-month timeframe be removed, which is also reasonable.

The protections shall cease to apply where a tenant fails or refuses to provide the RTB or MABS with required information or documentation, as might be requested for the purposes of obtaining the requisite MABS advice. The measure is problematic and we will have to revisit it again.

First, I wish to address a point on process. No one wants to come in to the House with significant pieces of legislation in a short space of time. It is not my intention to do that on a regular basis, nor have I done so, but there is an urgent imperative to extend tenancy protections to tenants who need them. Let us remember as well that thankfully only 2% of tenancies end up in dispute. Just under 400 tenants, a relatively small amount, sought the self-declaration protection. The fact that the protections are in place and that people, including landlords, are aware of the protections has a positive effect as well.

We did issue 450,000 circulars to tenants and landlords. We are actively engaged with Threshold. I met with Threshold again on Monday, as it is part of my homelessness delivery task force. It has an input into legislation. I am in the process of planning a national campaign on tenants' rights and advice for next year that will run right the way through the year in conjunction with Threshold and other agencies. That is something we should do.

There is also an imperative to protect the Exchequer. There is a reality with what we are dealing with on substitute consent. I understand the reason Deputy Ó Broin raised a point but it was not the case that these provisions were drafted in three weeks. They were worked on for a number of months by way of them being regulations and they were then transposed into primary legislation, so a lot of the work was similar. They were not rushed in a three-week or four-week period. I wish to assure Deputy Ó Broin of that. That was done on the basis of the Attorney General's advice that it would be better and more robust if the measure was on a primary legislative footing. Because of the planning element to the Bill it was decided that we would deal with substitute consent here.

Let us look at what the taxpayer has had to pay already. There was a €5 million lump sum fine. The sum of €15,000 is being paid a day, which led to another €2.475 million in fines every six months. My Department is paying that fine, but I do not agree that my Department should be the one paying the fine. Leaving that aside, I have a duty as well to try to rectify a situation where the taxpayer is being fined and the State is losing money. We have an opportunity to resolve it, and to do so quickly. I have taken the first opportunity to do so. While some people may feel that they have not had the required time to assess these provisions, it has been acknowledged by most Deputies who are present in the House right now that the officials provided very detailed briefings both in person and in writing. They answered detailed questions that were put by Members. I do respect this House. I think Deputy Cian O'Callaghan knows that. I also respect Bunreacht na hÉireann, the democratic process and the legislative process.

I have had the honour of being involved with this since 2007 in both the Dáil and Seanad, and I am now serving as a Minister in a Government. As an Oireachtas we have a duty to protect our citizens. Fundamentally, behind these provisions is an extension to the August provisions that are working. Some criticised them at the time, which is their right, and said that these provisions would not work. They said we would see an alarming increase in evictions and homelessness but I am thankful we have not.

We will not be complacent about this and I know every Deputy in the House wants to ensure we can work together to drive down homelessness, protect tenants' rights and ensure people live in good, secure, permanent and affordable accommodation. That is why this week, just last Monday, we put out a call for our first cost-rental affordable rental scheme. These new tenancies will be tenanted in 2021 for those above the social housing limits. The single biggest public house building campaign in 2021 will be undertaken by me and this Government next year to deliver 12,750 new public homes. These are real measures that will be taken.

I have taken notes of a number of comments from Deputies and we will get the opportunity as we move through the amendments to deal with them in more detail. We have dealt with the substitute consent matter. Deputy Canney mentioned the housing assistance payment. I will deal with the matter of false declarations. If a landlord makes a false declaration, it would be, correctly, an offence. That is provided for in the legislation.

Question put and agreed to.