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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 8 Dec 2021

Vol. 1015 No. 5

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Flood Risk Management

I hope the Minister of State has been briefed on the severe flooding in Bantry yesterday as a result of Storm Barra. From early yesterday morning, when the storm made landfall, the fire brigade and Cork County Council were out doing everything they could to prevent flooding. Substantial parts of the square were flooded, with more than 20 premises affected. Most challenging is the fact this is the fourth time Bantry has flooded in 18 months. In the words of Danielle Delaney, chairperson of the Bantry Business Association, without a major flood defence scheme, Bantry will continue to be flooded and the workers on the ground are fighting a losing battle. Reports from the town yesterday indicate the remedial flood relief works carried out by Cork County Council did prevent further flooding, but the capacity of sand banks and pumps is limited. A permanent flood defence scheme is the only solution and it is one Bantry needs immediately.

When I last spoke to the Minister of State with responsibility for the OPW, Deputy O'Donovan, on this matter in September, I highlighted the increased risk Bantry faced in the winter months. As the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, will be aware, I regularly seek updates from the OPW on the Bantry scheme, along with others in Cork South-West. At every stage, I have welcomed progress, and I appreciate there is a set-out process, but it is taking too long. Phrases such as "almost completed" and "it is expected the preferred tenderer will be notified in the coming weeks" are not good enough as the town floods again. Yesterday, there was Storm Barra, only the second storm this winter, but there will be more, with each bringing the risk of flooding to Bantry and other areas. Will the Minister of State assure Bantry businesses and homeowners that this will be prioritised by the OPW?

I commend the emergency services, the fire services and Cork County Council, which were out since 5 a.m. on Tuesday trying to battle back the north Atlantic, an impossible task without a flood defence. I am assured some of the measures they took prevented further damage, but we have to acknowledge their incredible efforts. It is now expected that every time there is a southerly wind and a high tide, Bantry will be flooded. On this occasion, in the region of 23 premises, properties and businesses were impacted by this flood, and for some it was the fourth occasion within a period of about 16 months that they have experienced flooding. That makes Bantry the most frequently flooded town in Ireland right now, and it is not good enough. We need to help them.

I understand why the Minister of State, Deputy O’Donovan, cannot make it to this debate. He and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform visited Bantry on a couple of occasions in August 2020. After that, there was the announcement of the €6.7 million flood relief scheme for Bantry. We were told the tender process for that scheme would start, which it did, but in September of this year, I was told the preferred design team would be appointed within a couple of weeks. It is now December and still a formal design team has not been appointed.

A number of weeks ago, Cork County Council recommended the appointment of a preferred design team and I want to know why that preferred design team still has not been appointed. We need to expedite this scheme and streamline the process. A public consultation period has to happen, as does the design, and we are no further towards that. Skibbereen, Bandon and Clonakilty can all sleep safely knowing their towns are protected; Bantry deserves the same protection.

I apologise on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan. He is not in a position to attend the debate due to family issues. I spoke to him late last night and he has no issue talking to the Deputies.

The flood risk management plans launched in May 2018 included a recommendation to progress the project-led development and planning of a flood relief scheme for Bantry. As Deputies will be aware, a steering group comprising representatives from the Office of Public Works and Cork County Council is in place to progress the Bantry flood relief scheme. The plans, with outline designs of possible measures, estimated a preliminary total project cost of €6.7 million for the scheme, which will protect 198 properties. The viable scheme option for Bantry, as identified at the catchment-based flood risk assessment and management, CFRAM, level of assessment and having an estimated cost of €6.7 million, consisted of fluvial flood defences comprising walls and embankments and tidal flood defences comprising sea walls, and is expected to provide protection against a 100-year fluvial flood or a 200-year tidal flood.

On 11 March 2021, Cork County Council, in partnership with the OPW, issued the tender documentation for the procurement of engineering consultants via etenders.ie and tenders were returned on 30 July 2021. An assessment of these tenders has been completed by Cork County Council and it is expected consultants will be appointed in the coming weeks. I acknowledge Deputy O’Sullivan was told that a couple of months ago but I cannot answer why they have not yet been appointed. Once consultants have been appointed to progress the flood relief scheme for Bantry, consultation with statutory and non-statutory bodies, as well as the public, will take place at the appropriate stages to ensure all parties will have the opportunity to input into the development of this scheme.

In the meantime, Cork County Council has engaged a contractor to treat some of the invasive species in preparation for a flood relief scheme for the town. The flood relief scheme will be funded from within the allocated €1.3 billion for flood risk management over the period of the national development plan to 2030.

Provision for the cost of the scheme is included in the OPW's multi-annual capital allocation. Cork County Council is also progressing the preparation of the consultant's brief, which is expected to issue in quarter 1 of 2022, to carry out the repair and reconstruction of the Main Street culvert. This has been identified as a significant element contributing to flooding on Main Street, New Street and north and south of Wolfe Tone Square in recent months. The OPW is liaising with Cork County Council on the integration of these works with the flood relief scheme for the town.

In March 2021, an application under the minor flood mitigation works and coastal protection scheme for interim works to mitigate flooding in Bantry, which includes installation of non-return valves and provision of mobile pumps, was submitted to the OPW by Cork County Council. This application for funding of approximately €140,000 has been approved and the council is progressing these works. A preferred tender has been identified for supply and installation of the non-return valves. The contractor's health and safety information and insurance are being finalised to allow the appointment of the contractor be confirmed. In addition to the proposals I have outlined, prior to forecasted extreme weather events such as the current event, Storm Barra, local area staff from Cork County Council are implementing interim measures to assist and mitigate flooding, such as the deployment, as Deputy Cairns said, of sandbags at Sand Quay and mobile pumping.

Any acceleration of the process will be essential in getting the badly needed flood defences. I will take up the Minister's offer to meet us on the matter. Bantry and the wider community of the town need permanent flood defences as soon as possible. In the meantime, the town needs additional support to deal with the inevitable flooding it faces.

I have previously raised the point that a proactive engagement with the community during the consultation phases, one which is based on a partnership model, will help alleviate any potential tension points and ultimately help improve the scheme. When we discussed this matter in September I noted that Bantry would benefit from the minor flood mitigation works and coastal protection scheme. Funding has only been approved for sites up to the end of September. I hope Bantry will be included in any further announcements for the final quarter of this year. Any short-term investment will have manifold benefits for Bantry and its community and businesses. They cannot wait any longer.

I stress again the importance of expediting and streamlining the scheme and getting it right. However, I welcome the interim measures the Minister of State outlined. I also stress that we are having more frequent and severe weather events. Our coastline is being battered, as the Minister of State knows well, being from Waterford. It is not just towns being flooded. Piers are being washed away and coastal walkways are collapsing into the sea because of these more frequent weather events. We do not have a strategy or fund in place to protect these areas of coastline. A perfect example of this is the well-known O'Sullivan walkway in Adrigole on the Beara Peninsula. It is part of the Beara trails. The walkway is essentially collapsing into the sea due to these frequent, severe weather events. What we need is a fund to protect such amenities in the future. I would like the Minister of State to bring that point back to the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath.

I thank Deputies Cairns and Christopher O'Sullivan, who are both more aware than I am that Bantry experienced significant flooding at around 6 a.m. yesterday. It appears that the source of the flood water was a mixture of tidal effluvium and pluvium as the main culvert through the town was also running full at the time of flooding. As the Deputies said, the fire brigade was on site and pumped water over the quay wall. It is estimated that 23 properties flooded on the south side of the square and New Street. It is difficult to know at this stage the level of the water but it is estimated that floodwater reached 1.5 inches on one property on New Street, the Gift Shop. The floodwater abated around 8 a.m. and the fire brigade pumped the last of the water from the north side of the quay.

I know how difficult it is when flooding occurs. I was in business for many years and to have water entering a premises is soul-destroying. Trading for businesses has been difficult enough over the past while. Coming into the three-week window before Christmas when trading is so important to stave off the challenges in the new year when things are much quieter, it is very difficult.

I agree with the Deputies on the importance of expediting the scheme and I will also raise the issue they mentioned. I am familiar with the Beara Peninsula. I holidayed in the area last year and have relatives living there as well. Coastal erosion on the Waterford coast is also a challenge for those of living in the area. I will raise these matters with the Minister and Minister of State. I empathise and sympathise with the businesses that were flooded yesterday morning. We know flooding very well in Portlaw and it is the worst type of mess to try to clean up afterwards, especially when it gets into electrics. I hope things were better overnight. I thank Members for their time.

Flood Risk Management

I thank the Minister of State for coming in this morning. I know she has a very busy portfolio and this is not her domain. Like my colleagues, Deputies Cairns and Christopher O'Sullivan, I will take up the offer to meet the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan.

The Enniscorthy flood defence scheme is a project which has been kicked down the road far too many times in the past ten or 15 years. The minutes of a Wexford County Council meeting in June 2012 outline the plans put forward by the Office of Public Works. Two current Members of this House, the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Deputy Browne, and Deputy Mythen, were present at the meeting, at which a representative from the OPW noted that Enniscorthy had major tidal issues; that the OPW could estimate the flood at Scarawalsh; that climate change would affect flooding in the town; that the removal of the Seamus Rafter Bridge and construction of a new bridge further downstream, as well as the introduction of glass walls, would be needed; and that the cost to the town if no scheme was put in place would be €66 million, whereas the scheme would cost between €25 million and €40 million.

Since then there have been many false dawns. Every time the river bursts its banks we hear the issue raised again, yet we still have no action. Enniscorthy has no flood defence. The only constants on the topic are local independent councillors Jackser Owens and John O'Rourke, both of whom have asked me to raise this issue. Anyone familiar with the town will know the problems associated with flooding and that many business and homes are located in places that are prone to flooding should the River Slaney burst its banks. There are obvious consequences for the owners from a general damage and disruption point of view, but also from an insurance point of view and for their peace of mind. However, most of them cannot get insurance on their properties.

The experts looking at all aspects of this project have decided that the glass wall system, the removal of the new bridge, deepening and widening of the river and the general improvement of the aesthetics at the quayside is the best plan. What we need to see now is action. The video overview of the plan is very impressive and will transform the quayside in Enniscorthy.

However, since the meeting of June 2012, there has been significant flooding in the town, particularly in 2015. There have been other minor incidents since, which have caused significant damage. A progress report was published about a month ago, on 5 November. It states the project was submitted for review in April 2021. The issue with that is that we have no word on who is reviewing it or how long the review will take. At the end of the day, there are 236 properties affected by the lack of a flood defence in Enniscorthy. It is a significant issue. Today, more than 12,000 people in the town are affected by a boil water notice. There is disarray. This has gone on for far too long. We were promised an answer by the end of 2021. We are three weeks from the end of 2021. When will the review of the scheme be completed and when will the scheme be signed off to go to construction?

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. I hope Enniscorthy did not flood in the last day or two during Storm Barra. We have experienced flooding far too often, especially due to the various climate challenges we face.

I thank the Deputy for her question in regard to the much-needed Enniscorthy flood relief scheme.

The Enniscorthy, River Slaney, flood defence scheme is being proposed by Wexford County Council, on behalf of the Office of Public Works, as a scheme under the Arterial Drainage Acts 1945 and 1995. This is a significant scheme within the €1.3 billion flood relief investment programme of the Office of Public Works nationally, as part of the national development plan from 2018 to 2030, from which the relevant funding for the Enniscorthy scheme will be made available. On completion, the scheme will protect 236 properties in the town, as the Deputy has mentioned.

The proposed scheme includes river channel widening, river deepening, bridge relocation and the construction of extensive glass panelled flood walls through the town. The estimated total project budget will be approximately €51 million when other costs such as fees, site investigation works, environmental mitigation, VAT, property-landowner compensation and future maintenance costs are taken into consideration.

The scheme is going through the confirmation process under the Arterial Drainage Acts, following submission to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform for assessment in mid-2020. It is important to note that under section 7E of the European Union (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Arterial Drainage) Regulations 2019, the Minister can "(a) make an order confirming the scheme; (b) refuse to confirm the scheme; or (c) refer the scheme back to the Commissioners for revision in specified respects".

There is a statutory obligation incumbent upon the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to ensure that all aspects of complex legal and environmental compliance issues are satisfactorily resolved before a decision can be made on the Enniscorthy scheme, on the basis of the options available to him. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform is currently awaiting finalised reports and recommendations from the expert environmental consultants on this matter before making a determination. A decision on the Enniscorthy flood relief scheme, as per the three options available to the Minister, will be made at the earliest possible opportunity.

As for the question posed by the Deputy, subject to ministerial confirmation it is hoped that construction will commence in 2022 with an estimated construction period in excess of three years. Another question is whether the funding is secured. The OPW has made provision for the full scheme costs in its multi-annual budget projects and remains committed to progression of the project. In terms of the land acquisition, the vast majority of works will be completed on lands owned by Wexford County Council. Other landowners impacted by the scheme have been consulted and are fully aware of access or purchase elements that may affect their properties. There are no major obstacles expected in this regard.

I thank the Minister of State. As she will appreciate, most of what she has told me I already know and the people already know. The question that people are asking is as follows. Why is it taking so long?

The reality is that 236 properties are affected. All of the stakeholders that were engaged in the discussion, such as Irish Rail and property owners, are all aware. They are all in agreement and are all ready to sign legal agreements post confirmation that this project is going ahead. As far as I can see, there seems to be only one Department delaying this whole project. Nothing has been asked for since April 2021. At every council meeting that I attend at Enniscorthy district level, this project comes up. The Independent councillors bring it up only to be told by the party councillors that there is nothing to ask for and nothing to see yet, since April, there has been no level of constructive engagement to move this project along.

The Minister of State has said that it is hoped to commence construction in 2022. How is that even possible or conceivable at this point when we do not know if the project is going to be signed off on and we do not know if the funds are in place? Yes, the funds are accounted for by the OPW and you can see that over 12 years, the costs have risen to €51 million. The longer this project is delayed, as the Minister of State will appreciate and we all know now, and the longer we leave things then we will need to do another review. There is more public moneys spent and more taxpayers' moneys wasted each time we delay and another environmental study has to be carried out.

I ask the Minister of State, on behalf of the people of Enniscorthy, to ask the Minister to have this project signed off by December 2021 or to give a serious clarification as to why that is not going to happen.

I understand the importance of this project. Enniscorthy has a long history of flooding. Following the extreme flood event that occurred in 2000, the Office of Public Works, in conjunction with Wexford County Council, undertook a study of the flooding problems in the town so it is not that it is a unique situation. I come from Waterford and the Deputy is well familiar with the glass wall defences on the city quay. The difference that they have made is unbelievable. I can remember the quay flooding and sandbags stacked in front of shops. Since those flood defences have been put in place there has been a massive difference.

If the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform confirms the scheme, then the tender for the new bridge construction will be advanced first, and the Deputy obviously knows that. Following contract or appointment the bridge works will be the first major element commenced with flood defence works along the river commencing thereafter and running in parallel. Enabling works involving service diversions are expected to commence in the coming months.

Turning to the query on foreshore licences in the original question, I have been advised that the foreshore consent application process is being managed by the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. The public consultation process is complete and the foreshore consent documentation has been referred to the marine licence vetting committee for assessment. The documentation is currently being assessed by independent environmental consultants.

Finally, I wish to acknowledge the huge amount of work that the Office of Public Works, Wexford County Council and their consultants have put into the development of this important scheme. I hope that we will see the progression of flood defence works in Enniscorthy at the earliest possible opportunity. I will convey the thoughts and concerns of the Deputy to the Minister, and I thank her for her time.

Mental Health Services

I raise the issue of funding for voluntary mental health services in general. This week, within my constituency of Tipperary, one particular organisation raised concerns about its future due to funding shortfalls. I sent a letter to the Minister of State on a matter that concerned the CARMHA, or Connect And Recover from Mental Health and Addiction, organisation on Monday and thank her office for an acknowledgement. I hope my correspondence results in the Minister of State being able to contact the organisation and finding a way to get some sustainable funding for them.

Let me describe the CARMHA organisation, which is based in Nenagh. It provides free counselling and peer support services for addiction and mental health services, which is otherwise termed as dual diagnosis. The organisation was established in 2018 as a direct response to the unmet personal and community needs identified around addiction and mental health issues in rural Ireland. The service has been developed through a collaboration between addiction and mental health professionals, people with lived experience of addiction and mental health issues, family members and a group dedicated community workers. CARMHA provides its services in an integrated way and has a very successful track record. That track record is attested to by the fact that the service has catered for many referrals from the Probation Service, among other State agencies, since it has opened. This week, representatives of CARMHA took the step of going on Tipp FM to tell us that their funding is running so low that if things do not improve, the service will be closed by the new year.

I am aware that the Minister of State has said in previous correspondence that the Department of Health no longer provides any direct funding for organisations and that the HSE funds a range of service providers under either section 38 or section 39 of the Health Act. Before she tells me that I want to tell her that the organisation has been knocked back before. It previously had discussions with the HSE and was left with the distinct understanding that the services it provides do not fit the criteria for funding. When this is told to an organisation providing such an important service and that is as clearly committed to its purpose as is CARMHA, then it is not going to pack up and finish up. The organisation may be disheartened by the Department's response but it will still continue on because what it does matters. With the support of the public and some very kind donors it continues to provide for those who need them. CARMHA is now at the point where the Minister of State must intervene. I cannot overstate the urgency of this matter and the future of this service depends on her response.

The Minister of State must be aware that organisations such as CARMHA started up to address an unmet need. They made, and continue to make, a huge effort to help the people who need the services that they deliver in the surroundings that they provide. Will the Minister of State do something similar? Will she call CARMHA and find a way forward with it? Unless the organisation gets real support, then the people of Nenagh will lose a service that they have fully backed all along, the people who use this service will be severely impacted and the health services will have one less service on which to rely.

As Minister of State with responsibility for mental health, the Minister of State is in a unique position to at least assist CARMHA in sourcing the funding it needs so that it and, more importantly, the people who use its services, can have the certainty that the services it provides now will remain available and funded into the future. Otherwise, in the new year, the lack of sustained funding may cause CARMHA to close its doors for good, which would be a travesty for Nenagh and the people from further afield who use its services.

The Minister of State is in a unique position to help and do something special here. I urge her to act fast. I am aware, through an Teachta Mark Ward, that the additional €10 million announced for mental health provision, which must be spent by the end of the year, has still not be spent. Many community groups that applied have not heard anything back about their applications. I ask the Minister of State to explain that. Will community groups that receive funding by the end of the year be able to carry it over into next year? These groups, including CARMHA, need sustained funding to ensure the services they provide today will be available tomorrow and into the future.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important matter. The continued enhancement and improvement of our mental health and suicide prevention services remains a priority for me. I was pleased, therefore, to secure unprecedented funding of €1.149 billion for HSE mental health next year. This is an increase of €47 million over 2021.

Next year's new development funding will provide for the recruitment of 350 new staff across mental health and will allow for new initiatives in community mental health teams, including CAMHS, out-of-hours supports, specialist eating disorder services and mental health services for older people. It will provide for dedicated funding to progress the national clinical programme on dual diagnosis for people with addiction and mental health difficulties, including the recruitment of staff in this particular area. The details of these new measures are being finalised as part of the HSE national service plan 2022, which will be published shortly.

A key approach of our new mental health policy, Sharing the Vision, is to improve access to all relevant services, including more integrated and person-centred care. Sharing the Vision recognises that people with a dual diagnosis should have access to appropriate mental health services and supports by addressing existing service gaps and developing stepped, integrated models of care. The national implementation and monitoring committee is tasked with driving and overseeing implementation of the policy's recommendations, including those relating to dual diagnosis. I am pleased to say it is progressing well in its work. Importantly, the dual diagnosis programme has a draft model of care, which takes account of service user views. It describes the clinical pathway for service users with substance misuse and moderate to severe mental health difficulties, with links to primary care substance misuse, community mental health and acute services. This is informed by international best practice and the experience of a national working group.

It is of note that the national drugs strategy, Reducing Harm Supporting Recovery, sets out the Government's strategy to address the harm caused by substance misuse in Ireland up to 2025. The Department of Health provides over €130 million to drug and alcohol services to support the strategy. In line with Sharing the Vision, there will be an enhanced focus moving forward on the development of tiered, integrated supports between primary care, addiction services and specialist mental health services to ensure the best possible outcomes for people with a dual diagnosis. The HSE already provides support for such work, where it aligns with the local objectives identified in the HSE service plan. This is done through a service level agreement for NGOs providing services to, or on behalf of, the HSE.

With respect to funding that is available for CARMHA, every organisation that wishes to apply for ongoing funding must make a business case to its local HSE community healthcare organisation, CHO, office. In the case of CARMHA, the relevant office is the CHO 3 office for north Tipperary. There is a process in place and service level agreements are arranged with many agencies. Criteria must be met, and the criteria are analysed. After all, taxpayers' money is at stake. There are over 1,000 voluntary organisations in the country. CARMHA must apply, through the local HSE CHO office, for funding to see if it can reach a service level agreement if its services are needed by the HSE.

I appreciate where the Minister of State is coming from and that CARMHA has to apply for funding like other organisations. As I indicated earlier and in previous communications with the Minister of State, CARMHA has already applied for funding. What it and similar groups need is long-term funding to ensure their survival. Let us be honest, CARMHA and similar organisations are filling a gap and their services are needed because vital resources are missing in other areas. I ask the Minister of State to contact the organisation directly with a view to finding a solution so that it and other groups can continue to fill that gap.

As I said, the Probation Service and other services are sending people to CARMHA and similar organisations. The State itself is sending people to organisations like CARMHA because it knows there are gaps in the system. While I appreciate that public money is involved, I do not think the Minister of State will find anybody who will say that CARMHA does not provide value for money. Hundreds of people use the services it provides. If CARMHA and other groups have to close at Christmas or in the new year, it will put extra pressure on our health service. The Minister of State will be under pressure to provide more funding. Can some of the €10 million in funding be used to help these kinds of groups?

Deputy Kerrane completed a survey recently on the cost of living. Of more than 14,500 people who responded, 77% noted that the increased cost of living had a negative impact on their mental health. This is the kind of problem we are facing. Organisations such as CARMHA will be vital in trying to deal with that. I ask the Minister of State to pick up the phone and contact the organisation.

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. I met representatives of CARMHA previously in Tipperary when I met many organisations. Addiction is a responsibility of the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan. With respect to available funding for organisations that provide support to those with mental health difficulties, every organisation that wishes to apply for ongoing funding must make a business case to its local HSE CHO office. In the Deputy's case, the relevant CHO is CHO 3. As I said, there is a process in place and criteria to be met. As Minister of State, it goes beyond my function to pick up the phone and tell the HSE or any community healthcare organisation to allocate funding to a particular organisation. There are different governance issues and criteria that must be met. These are clearly set out and any organisation can apply for funding.

I will be making an announcement at the end of week on how the €10 million will be spent. The matter is currently being finalised. Community groups, departments of psychiatry, various community homes and day-care centres for those with mental health issues will all benefit from it. I wanted to bring the needs of the service user to the fore in this. There has not been a call-out for voluntary groups yet, so Deputy Ward was misinformed. I explained that to him in the House last week. The call-out will be in January and will be overseen by Mental Health Ireland. Any organisation that is affiliated to Mental Health Ireland, of which there are over 1,000, can apply for funding in January following the call-out. There will be strict criteria in relation to governance, for example, requirements that applicant organisations have a bank account, chairman and secretary. These are the normal procedures that have to be followed when taxpayers' money is being spent. Details will emerge by the end of the week. All the organisations can apply for funding early in the new year.

Housing Schemes

I thank the Minister of State for facilitating this important matter. In 2004, 62 apartments were part of an affordable housing scheme at Poolbeg Quay, at the end of Sean Moore Road in Ringsend. There was huge excitement for those who got apartments and disappointment for those who did not.

In 2004, these affordable homes - two-bed apartments - cost, on average, €146,000. The residents bought them in the belief they would be of a high quality. It was not unreasonable for people to think, when they invested so much money and got mortgages, that checks would have been carried out in order that they would have homes fit to live in for many decades. People expect their homes to be built properly. People do not expect their homes to be hazardous and defective just 17 years after being built. Surely, it cannot be the residents' fault for not detecting these defects. One would imagine the arms of the State and the big business involved would not allow this to happen.

We must ask ourselves how have we reached a situation whereby ordinary families, such as the residents of Poolbeg Quay, Ringsend, have to pick up the tab for what seems to have been a systemic failure. Most people assume that banks or mortgage suppliers will carry out checks. There is an assumption that they will ensure that everything is done correctly so that a building is good for living in. Some 59 of the residents have their mortgages with Dublin City Council. Three have sold their apartments and paid the clawback amount.

Some 17 years after they were built, there is serious damage to these apartments. There is major water ingress into the apartments, which are in serious need of repair. The roofs are in a dangerous condition. Recent quotes the residents got estimate that it will cost €250,000 to fix them. That is €250,000 which the residents do not have. If the residents were unable to pay their mortgages, it would be an issue for Dublin City Council because the mortgages are with the council. The residents are in a 20-year clawback arrangement with the council. This matter has everything to do with Dublin City Council, which cannot be allowed to wash its hands of this matter. Dublin City Council should have carried out building inspections. Given the fact that the council was facilitating loans, it had a responsibility to ensure that the apartments were built to certain standards. Proper inspections should have been carried out. The council should also have inspected the apartments as part of its building controls. The council signed off on these apartments in the context of the loans issued.

The builder is deceased. However, the builder's companies cannot be allowed to walk away. I have been contacted by residents of Poolbeg Quay who are devastated by this turn of events. The big worry is that it will turn into another Priory Hall. We cannot leave people out to dry because others failed them. Will the Minister of State meet with the residents and listen to their stories? When he hears the details, I know he will support them. They need the support of the State, be that through the council or a direct scheme. I urge him not to forget the residents and not to turn his back on them. I ask that he meet with and listen to them.

I tried to do some background research into this matter earlier because I was not terribly familiar with the scheme. I know the Deputy raised this issue a number of weeks ago. I thank him for raising it again this morning. I will outline the Department's response.

The programme for Government sets out a number of commitments in respect of the important policy area of building defects and provides for an examination of defects in housing, having regard to the recommendations of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government in its report, Safe as Houses? A Report on Building Standards, Building Controls and Consumer Protection. These commitments are further supported by actions contained in the Housing For All strategy. In this context, the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, established ä working group to examine defects in housing under the chairmanship of Mr. Seamus Neely, former chief executive of Donegal County Council. The plenary working group has been meeting monthly since last March, with the exception of August, in addition to having subgroup meetings. The group's terms of reference were adopted in May and are focused on purpose-built apartment buildings, including duplexes, constructed between 1991 and 2013 in Ireland. The Minister considers it worthwhile to state these terms of reference for the information of the House.

The primary term of reference of the working group is to examine the defects having regard to the recommendations contained in chapter 4, item 4, of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government's Safe as Houses? A Report on Building Standards, Building Controls and Consumer Protection. Item 4 is entitled "Addressing the legacy of bad building and poor regulation".

The second term of reference of the working group is to establish the nature of significant, widespread fire safety, structural safety and water ingress defects in purpose-built apartment buildings, including duplexes, constructed between 1991 and 2013 in Ireland. This is being done through consultation with affected homeowners, homeowner representative organisations, owners' management companies, relevant managing agents, public representatives, local authorities, product manufacturers, building professionals, industry stakeholders, insurance providers, mortgage providers and other relevant parties.

The third term of reference is to establish the scale of the issue. This will include work to estimate the number of dwellings affected by defects identified, including those already remediated. The fourth term of reference is to consider a methodology for the categorisation of defects and the prioritisation of remedial action. In the case of defects with fire safety implications, the working group is considering how the framework for enhancing fire safety in dwellings can be applied to mitigate the risks arising from fire safety defects pending the remediation of defects and the code of practice for fire safety assessment of premises and buildings, which is currently being developed by National Directorate of Fire and Emergency Management.

The fifth term of reference is to suggest mechanisms for resolving defects in the context of legal rights, duties and obligations of developers, builders, building professionals, insurers, mortgage providers, building control authorities, fire authorities, owners' management companies, owner-occupiers, renters and landlords. The working group will also evaluate the potential cost of technical remediation options and pursue options on possible financial solutions in order to effect a resolution in line with the programme for Government commitment to identify options for those impacted by defects to access low-cost, long-term finance.

The Minister is satisfied the group is working effectively and efficiently on this complex matter, and I look forward to a report in due course following completion of the deliberations. It would not be appropriate for me to comment on specific residential developments at this juncture. I assure the Deputy, however, that when the Minister receives the report of the working group, full consideration will be given to its contents. I will take back to the Minister the request the Deputy made in respect of his meeting the residents in this specific case. There is no doubt that the residents, having bought their homes in good faith, have been left in an awful situation.

This is effectively putting the Government on notice regarding the issues that residents of Poolbeg Quay, Ringsend, are experiencing. The financial worry is leading to huge stress and concern. It is having a real impact on residents and families and their mental health. It is important that the Government does not abandon them. The residents are not going to leave this matter. They will ensure everything is done in order to get what they deserve, which is justice and equality. The big institutions should not be allowed to walk away from issues they should have resolved. They should not have left it to the residents to pick up the tab in respect of those issues. That is what is happening here.

The residents have significant mortgages. The worry of paying this back, while also trying to fix the significant defects, is massive. The people who got mortgages and invested in these properties did not expect that, after 17 years, some of their homes would not be capable of being lived in . The latter is going to be the case shortly unless repairs are carried out. It is vital that those repairs be done. I urge the Minister and the Minister of State to meet the residents. They are very reasonable, but they are in a difficult position. All they are looking for is fair play and support. Dublin City Council is trying to wash its hands of the matter. That cannot be allowed to happen. We do not want another Priory Hall. We want the residents of Poolbeg Quay, Ringsend, to be treated fairly. The issues are easily resolvable, and it is important they be resolved as soon as possible.

I assure the House of the Government’s commitment in respect of this important policy area of building defects, which is reflected in the programme for Government and in Housing For All. The Government is committed to dealing with the issue of defects in housing. In this regard, we will continue to drive regulation in the construction sector and more sustainable methods of construction in order to ensure that the mistakes of the past are not repeated.

I am of the view that the issue of addressing defects in housing requires detailed consideration. The working group established by the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, is the most appropriate forum for considering the complex issues involved. As I have already mentioned, the working group's focus is on significant widespread fire safety, structural safety and water ingress defects in purpose-built apartment buildings, including duplexes, constructed between 1991 and 2013. The working group continues to meet regularly in this regard. In its deliberations, the group is engaging with a range of interested parties including homeowners, public representatives and local authorities. Consultation with the relevant parties has commenced and further arrangements in this regard are currently being put in place. While I appreciate that the work may not be proceeding as fast as some stakeholders would wish, I am of the view that it is important that we give the working group time to undertake this work, as set out in the broader terms of reference I outlined earlier. The Minister looks forward to receiving the report of the working group on its deliberations.

I will take that request for the Minister to meet the residents back to him. It really is unacceptable that, having bought homes in good faith under an affordable housing scheme, they are now left with this awful legacy from that era.

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