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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 31 Mar 2022

Vol. 1020 No. 4

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

School Transport

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this matter, which has to do with the significant challenge facing school bus operators and the wider coach industry. The considerable increase in the cost of petrol and diesel has had an impact on every aspect of the transport sector but is having a particularly severe impact on the coach industry. From what we hear, the school transport system is on the verge of collapse because of a lack of Government support. The Coach Tourism and Transport Council of Ireland, CTTC, which represents many school bus operators, gave a stark warning to the Joint Committee on Transport and Communications last week when it stated that 95% of school transport providers were unable to guarantee service provision to the end of the school year in June.

I appreciate the Government has cut excise on petrol and diesel but that is not enough. More needs to be done given the record fuel prices. The Government stepped in immediately for the haulage sector and provided €100 per vehicle per week for two months. In contrast, the same has not been done for the school bus sector. School transport is an essential service. Almost 120,000 children use the scheme daily, with 90% of journeys carried out by private bus companies. From a climate perspective, school transport is something we should be encouraging and expanding radically. Without it, parents would have to take time off work or give up work altogether to drive their children to and from school. The knock-on impact on the wider economy of a collapse in these services would be significant. These operators cannot be left without support any longer.

School bus operators do not have fuel variation clauses in their contracts. This has made their businesses unsustainable. Many are operating under the terms and conditions of contracts signed as much as five years ago when fuel was far cheaper than it is today. Due to the lack of a surcharge or fuel variation clause, they have had to absorb the hike in fuel costs, which has wiped out any profit for the service they provide and has left very many of them making losses. Representatives of the CTTC stated that the current situation was unrealistic, unsustainable and unaffordable. Operators need support.

This is a vital service that serves communities throughout the country. All Deputies and councillors know the importance of the school transport system because they know people who are excluded from it every year and the major inconvenience caused by that for families in terms of organising their working week. What does the Department intend to do to support the school transport sector and get it to the end of this school year and beyond?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. It is timely to do so. Before I address it, I wish to give Members an outline of the extent to the school transport service.

School transport is a significant operation managed by Bus Éireann on behalf of the Department of Education. In the current year, as Deputy O'Rourke is aware, more than 121,400 children, including more than 15,500 with special educational needs, are transported daily to primary and post-primary schools throughout the country. This was at a cost of €289 million in 2021. The purpose of the Department's school transport scheme, having regard to available resources, is to support the transport to and from school of children who reside remotely from their nearest schools.

Regarding increasing fuel costs, as the Deputy will be aware, the Government's announcement of a reduction in excise on fuel will result in a decrease in the cost of fuel. The reduction of 20 cent per litre on petrol and 15 cent per litre on diesel will be in place until 31 August at an estimated cost of €320 million. This is a national measure aimed at easing the financial burden on contractors and families at this time.

In saying this, the Department of Education is aware that a number of contractors have highlighted concerns about the ability to sustain school transport services to the end of the school year given the recent increases in the cost of fuel. As the Deputy made clear, the contracts that are in place do not have fuel variation clauses and, as such, no such mechanism can be invoked.

In this context, the Department is considering, in consultation with relevant Departments and Bus Éireann, the implications that increasing fuel costs may have on the provision of school transport services. It is engaging with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on the matter. The Department of Education is also aware of the potential impact of the current situation unfolding in Ukraine, which is impacting on fuel prices further.

The Department's negotiations with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform have commenced, but I am not in a position to say what their outcome will be.

I thank the Minister of State. I am sure that, like me and other Deputies, he has been contacted by school bus operators. I have been contacted by operators from across the country in my capacity as transport spokesperson. One in my constituency has 24 school contracts. It signed those when diesel was at 90 cent per litre. It buys 14,300 litres of diesel per week, which lasts only ten days. It has 27 staff but does not know what the future holds for them.

I accept the Minister of State's response, in which he outlined the current state of affairs. If school bus operators were in front of him today, they would be asking him when a decision was going to be made. I said that many were running at a loss, but all of those that signed contracts when diesel was well below its current price are actually running at a loss. I accept that considerations are being made, but I implore the Minister of State. From my perspective and that of school transport operators, time is of the essence. If there is an unnecessary delay, there is a risk that some of these businesses, which could be kept on the road, will not be. That is not something any of us wants to see.

I appreciate the Deputy's points. There are 6,159 vehicles operating services under the school transport scheme, of which 5,880 are operated by private contractors under contract with Bus Éireann. A high proportion of operators are private contractors. Bus Éireann is receiving a significant volume of calls from contractors inquiring about the financial situation. One or two contractors have formally indicated that they may have difficulty maintaining their contracts through the school year. We hope that situation will not materialise in many cases.

According to a survey conducted by the CTTC, two thirds of its members have seen an increase in fuel costs of more than 50% over the past 12 months and would require an increase of approximately 30% to 35% in contract rates to compensate them and allow them to continue operating services.

I have outlined the scale of the difficulties involved. The Department of Education and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform are in discussions on the severity of the situation. I am conscious of the contrast the Deputy made with the road haulage sector. I do not want anyone to take it that I am saying it will be addressed, but we are conscious of that fact in our discussions.

School transport is being provided for pupils who have arrived from Ukraine and been enrolled in schools. The Department is making arrangements to deal with such cases, depending on where their accommodation is located. Further details on the additional requirements in terms of school transport for Ukrainian children and others who have come to Ireland will be issued shortly.

Health Strategies

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise this important issue.

Where is the neurorehabilitation strategy at within Government? In 2021, the World Health Organization identified neurological disorders as the most significant cause of acquired disability worldwide. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities calls on countries to strengthen, organise and extend rehabilitation services for people with disabilities. More than 25,000 Irish people each year struggle to get the neurorehabilitation services they need to prevent disability and support recovery from conditions, including strokes, acquired brain injury, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson's disease.

It cannot be overstated how important it is to have early and timely access to rehabilitation services to reduce secondary complications, improve health outcomes, improve function, reduce the length of time in acute hospital settings, and facilitate a return to home and community living. Ireland has less than half the number of specialised rehabilitation beds recommended for its population. Some 240 are needed in total and Ireland has just 120 and, at fewer than 12, the lowest number of consultants in rehabilitation medicine in Europe. Despite the recommendations of numerous reports, and decades on from when the issue was first highlighted, there is still no dedicated specialist medical rehabilitation unit in the south of Ireland.

There continues to be an overwhelming lack of neurorehabilitation services at all stages of the pathway for persons with neurological conditions. At a bare minimum, there should be one dedicated specialist neurological team per community healthcare organisation yet only three such teams are in place nationwide. The additional teams in CHO 6 and CHO 7 funded in 2019 have not yet been established. People who look at this are very concerned about it. One of the clear recommendations arising from a presentation to the Joint Committee on Disability Matters in November from those appearing before it related to when the neurorehabilitation strategy would be published. Where is it at? We got signals from the Government and Departments that it was being looked at and was going to be published but we need to see when that will happen. Unless we see it will be published, we do not believe there is a seriousness at Department and Government level to tackle the neurorehabilitation services that are so vital.

There is a long waiting list for access to services, which is largely based on a geographic lottery. People with neurological conditions spend significantly more time in hospital than is necessary and live in inappropriate settings, such as nursing homes for older people, psychiatric facilities or at home with families who simply cannot cope. They largely lead lives of exclusion and isolation distanced from social, community and economic life. Equally, their families experience a significant burden of isolation. These are the challenges. If we are serious about it, we need this strategy in place. From the experience of teams that were set up in 2019 in different CHOs, they are still not in operation or in place. They need to get staffing.

I hope the Minister of State has some good news for us. I would appreciate it if he takes seriously the concerns I have raised.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I am responding on behalf of my colleague, the Minister of State at the Department of Health with responsibility for disability, Deputy Rabbitte. I know that, as part of Deputy Moynihan's work on the disability committee, he has been very active in promoting this and other related areas. It is very important the committee continues to highlight his work.

I am glad to take this opportunity to set out the position regarding the status of the national policy and strategy for the provision of neurorehabilitation services in Ireland. Such services play a critical role in supporting recovery and in maximising the ability of those with neurological conditions at inpatient and community level. Programme for Government: Our Shared Future includes a commitment to advance neurorehabilitation services in the community. The HSE is leading the implementation of the recommendations of the national policy and strategy. The HSE neurorehabilitation implementation framework, From Theory to Action, was launched in February 2019. The framework outlines a ten-step approach that will see each HSE CHO introducing local implementation teams to oversee and guide the implementation process.

Considering the scale of the fundamental change proposed, the HSE is advancing a demonstrator project across CHO 6 and CHO 7. The focus of this project is to develop post-acute and community neurorehabilitation services in both these areas. Funding for the demonstrator pilot scheme became available from the Sláintecare redesign fund for quarter 4 of 2020, with full-year funding of €2.29 million available for 2021. This funding is available on an ongoing basis and includes provision for the establishment of ten additional inpatient beds in Peamount Healthcare. The implementation of the ten-bed neurorehabilitation unit in Peamount has improved timely and early access to post-acute specialist rehabilitation services for patients with complex disability.

This development is part of the overall HSE implementation plan for neurorehabilitation and the new beds introduce in the order of 3,500 additional specialist rehabilitation bed days per annum into the system. With average length of stay of approximately 90 days, this means that about 40 patients per annum will have their rehabilitation needs met in an appropriate setting outside of acute hospitals. The HSE has confirmed that work is under way to establish community neurorehabilitation teams in the demonstrator project areas. Once these community teams are in place, the HSE will have all the elements of the basic construct of a full managed clinical rehabilitation network across the demonstrator project.

Where are we with this? This has been talked about for some time. The biggest challenge is the additional teams in CHO 6 and CHO 7, funded in 2019, which is three years ago, that have not yet been established. That is an indictment of the system and a major challenge in respect of funding. The Minister of State mentioned a figure of €2.29 million available for 2021 on an ongoing basis. Has the funding allocated to neurorehabilitation over recent years been spent? This is the envelope of funding put into it at the very start of the years 2019, 2020 and 2021. The Minister of State may not have an answer to that but I would appreciate it if he could get departmental officials to come back to me.

When we consider neurorehabilitation in the context of prevention or assisting better outcomes for people, the State, the HSE and the Department must look at the places that are falling down in a major way. There needs to be a co-ordinated strategy. By any standards, we are a small nation and to have a different set of circumstances or different outcomes because of geographic location is simply not acceptable.

How much of the funding made available in CHOs 6 and 7 over the past three years has been spent? Is it likely that the €2.29 million allocated for neurorehabilitation, which is peanuts, will be spent this year? When will the national strategy be launched?

I will ask the office of the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, to make direct contact with the Deputy on the funding provided versus what was spent, the areas to which it was allocated and the funding that continues to be available, as I do not have that information to hand.

Neurorehabilitation services play a critical role in supporting recovery and maximising the ability of those with neurological conditions who will benefit from rehabilitation services in the community. The HSE is leading the implementation of the recommendations of the national policy and strategy and learning from the HSE demonstrator project in CHO areas 6 and 7. This will inform the implementation of the neurorehabilitation strategy across the community healthcare organisations. There has been tangible progress in the development of post-acute and community neurological teams and services. The implementation of the ten-bed neurorehabilitation unit in Peamount Healthcare has improved timely and early access to post-acute specialist rehabilitation services for patients with complex disability.

On a personal note, I visited the new neurological rehabilitation unit in Peamount, Newcastle, County Dublin, privately, not in connection with my official duties but in relation to people I know. The quality of the buildings and facilities provided on the campus by the HSE through Government funding in recent years is outstanding. The service is not just the best in Ireland but has some of the best facilities in the world. I hope people will see the benefit of that.

The HSE has also confirmed that the managed clinical rehabilitation network co-ordinator is in place supporting the triage of patients across the acute, post-acute and community continuum. The learning from the demonstrator project will inform the HSE executive implementation of the neurorehabilitation strategy across each of the community healthcare organisations.

Medicinal Products

Last week, following the announcement of the retirement of the Chief Medical Officer, I noted that the list of the CMO's accomplishments included the publication of the previous national rare disease plan. The plan was published in 2014 and extended until 2018. Since then, the old national rare disease plan has not been replaced. That made me wonder what we have done in the past four years about the publication of a new plan. A new plan is important because there are approximately 300,000 people in Ireland who suffer from a rare disease.

Last year, the Minister for Health allocated the largest budget to rare diseases - €50 million - in the history of the State. That was very welcome. However, the difficulty is not only that 300,000 patients need to see the publication of the plan but also the startling statistic that, globally, 30% of all children who are unfortunate enough to have a rare disease, whether they contract it or it is genetic, will die by the age of five years. That is a scary statistic and an unfortunate truth. In this country we are laggards in our provision for those with rare diseases. I say that because our national rare disease plan is yet to be published, despite the fact that "publishing an updated national rare diseases plan" is a priority in the programme for Government. We are two years into the lifetime of this Government. Can we have an update on the publication of that plan?

Linked to that is the Mazars report that was supposed to look into the higher technical assessment, HTA, process for the reimbursement of orphan drugs for rare diseases. It was commissioned in 2017 and was submitted to the Department of Health in 2020. It has essentially sat on somebody's desk for the last two years, unpublished, at a cost to the State of €86,000. The Minister of State might not have the details to hand but I would love to know where the Mazars report is. It is incomprehensible that we would spend so much money on a report and leave it to gather dust. It will contain valuable insights into how we plan for rare diseases in the future. I would love to know what is in the report. It must be damning or there must be something coming that will require dramatic change because we seem to be afraid to publish it. I want to see what will happen with the Mazars report and would appreciate an update.

I have been interested in this area since I met some affected families about two years ago. I have spoken before of how difficult it is to sit in people's kitchens and listen to them say that if they do not get access to a drug, their health will seriously deteriorate and in many cases they will die. It is very hard to have those conversations. As I have said previously to the Minister for Health, the average waiting time in this country to approve a drug for a rare disease is 1,200 days. People wait nearly four years to be told whether they will have access to a potentially life-saving drug. Even in that time, it could take 400 days just to negotiate with a pharmaceutical company. Many of the delays in the area of rare diseases are administrative and bureaucratic. Surely we can do things an awful lot better.

I thank Deputy Pádraig O’Sullivan for raising this matter, which is an area in which he has shown particular interest and knowledge. As he noted, having met people face-to-face, he understands the issue. It is important that the views of those who have first-hand experience of the need for orphan drugs are adequately reflected in Dáil Éireann.

All of us in this House fully appreciate how devastating a diagnosis of a rare disease can be for patients, families, and carers. I believe there is cross-party support for doing everything we can to help patients who live with these awful conditions on a daily basis. I know Deputy O'Sullivan has been a long-standing advocate in this area and I commend him on his recent orphan medicines Bill, which was widely supported in the House on its Second Reading. The Minister for Health looks forward to further positive engagements as this Bill progresses, as do I.

The Government's track record on both initiatives and funding for rare diseases speaks for itself. I will mention a few matters in the time available to me. Many of the recommendations of A National Rare Disease Plan for Ireland 2014–2018 have already been implemented, including the establishment of a national rare disease office incorporating the HSE national clinical programme for rare diseases. In 2021, the Minister met with all relevant stakeholders in this area, including the HSE, the national rare disease office and the rare diseases task force. The Minister secured the agreement of all parties for a number of priority areas for the coming period, including European reference networks, research and registries, access to services and medicines, diagnosis, and policy.

I am pleased to note that Governments have a long track record in supporting rare disease research through the Health Research Board, HRB. In the past ten years alone, the HRB has invested €14 million in rare disease research. On access to new medicines for the treatment of rare diseases, the Government has provided funding which has made a real and concrete difference. Budget 2021 allocated €50 million for the reimbursement of new drugs, enabling the HSE to approve 52 new medicines, 19 of which were for the treatment of rare diseases.

That includes a number of medicines that deal with innovative gene therapy treatments for spinal muscular atrophy following a joint assessment with Belgium and the Netherlands. Budget 2022 has allocated a further €30 million for the reimbursement of new medicines. I understand from the HSE that 27 new orphan drugs are currently undergoing a pricing and reimbursement assessment.

There is no getting away from the fact the overriding factor in medicines being approved for reimbursement is the availability of Exchequer resources. This is a challenge for all of us over the coming years as more and more of these medicines become available, though often at very high asking prices. It is estimated about 97 new medicinal indications, including treatments for rare diseases, will receive market authorisation in Europe over the next five years. These new medicines alone will have the potential to add hundreds of millions to the State's annual bill for medicines, which is already in the region of €2.5 billion per year.

On the assessment process, the Deputy will know the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Act 2013 introduced a robust statutory framework for pricing and reimbursement decisions. Under the Act, the HSE has statutory responsibility for decisions on pricing and reimbursement of medicines. The 2013 Act does not provide for a separate rule set for assessing orphan drugs. The EU health technology assessment, HTA, regulation of December 2021 will enable co-operation on clinical evidence requirements for HTAs in clinical trial design, thereby supporting innovation and addressing unmet medical needs.

I thank the Minister of State for the response. I am conscious it is not his responsibility or area of expertise but there are some things I have an issue with in the response. One is that the HSE has approved 52 new medicines, including Zolgensma. Many of these new drugs were approved through the Benelux arrangement the Minister of State referenced in his response. He went on to say about 97 new medicinal indications including treatments for rare diseases will be approved by the EMA in Europe in the next five years but Ireland's track record in this is pitiful. Of the last 47 drugs approved by the EMA, only eight have been approved here. I do not say lightly that we are laggards among our European counterparts, but we are. All the facts point to it.

Later, the response the Minister of State has references the €45,000 quality assisted life year, QALI, threshold and the fact orphan drugs do not have a specific pathway for reimbursement. That is precisely what my Bill, which was introduced here a number of months ago, aims to achieve. It would provide a specific pathway for orphan drugs to be assessed. We must look at other countries. The Swedes can do it properly, as can the Scots and the Danes. What I advocate in my Bill is no different to what those countries have implemented, and it has not broken the banks. Specific to my legislation is a reference that any drug approvals for rare diseases would have to be done subject to budgetary constraints. It is there in black and white. What keeps coming from the Department of Health is that this will weaken our hand at the negotiating table with pharmaceutical companies or that it will cost the State an arm and a leg. That is nonsense. I have said it here before and have no problem reiterating it.

I get frustrated because the most difficult conversation I have ever had with a person was sitting at that kitchen table, as I referenced. The waiting times I referenced earlier are fact. They are from a parliamentary question put by Deputy Michael Moynihan a number of years ago. I gave the statistic at the start about the number of children with a rare disease aged under five years who die, which is 30%. Every year lost negotiating and prevaricating around the price of a drug means lives lost.

I thank the Deputy for his reference to the note I circulated before I spoke, which deals with the HSE having sufficient scope from the legislation to consider the unique circumstances surrounding orphan drugs, such as small patient numbers. The evidence suggests these expensive orphan drugs are getting reimbursed even, in many cases, when they far exceed the National Centre for Pharmacoeconomics QALI of €45,000 the Deputy already mentioned in this contribution.

The pipeline for new medicines coming to market remains strong in Ireland and we are committed to funding access to new and innovative therapies, including those for rare diseases. Increasingly, products within the orphan drug designation have extremely high prices and budget impact. At this stage, one lesson we have learned from Covid is the importance of countries within the EU working together on the pricing, sourcing, contracting and placing of orders for these. Once they get regulatory approval in the different countries we have seen the value of this with respect to the delivery of drugs. It is something I have long called for and something we have learned from the pandemic. That principle should be extended into these areas as well.

On the Mazars report on the drug reimbursement process, this work stream was suspended to reallocate resources to support the pandemic response so I do not have a date for when it can be completed. The Deputy has previously mentioned online publication of the rare disease technology review committee meeting minutes and the HSE and Department support such publication with a view to improving transparency with respect to the committee.

On the issue of guaranteed weighting, which the Deputy has raised before, I understand the Department view is it is not possible at this time to commit to the assigning of guaranteed weighting for rare disease technology review committee recommendation in the assessment process.

I thank the Deputy. I will take the additional points he has raised directly back to the Minister at the first available opportunity.

Legislative Measures

There has been a significant growth in recent years of managed estates. The Multi-Unit Developments Act 2011, known as the MUD Act, specifies all new developments must have an owners' management company, OMC, in place. The Act provides the legal framework for their operation in managed estates. The OMC is established for three main reasons, namely, to manage and maintain common areas in MUDs, to be the legal owner of the common areas on behalf of the owners of the units and to be the legal owner of the beneficial or reversionary interest of each unit. The first two reasons concern the maintenance and management of the common areas. The third reason is the OMC is the legal owner of the beneficial or reversionary interest of each unit. Basically, the owners’ management company owns the freehold reversion of the entire development. The owners’ management company owns the common areas of the development on behalf of the owners of the units. It also means the owners’ management company owns a share of each individual property in the development. The members of the OMC are obliged to pay management fees, which would include service charges on a contribution to a sinking fund. Residents are also paying the property tax on top of these charges. Members are also bound by house rules.

An example is Cedarview, which is in Northwood in Santry, where we are seeing a number of concerns relating to the way the estate is managed, particularly in relation to private houses in the estate. For example, if someone wanted to put on a barbecue, put a house name on the property or put up a gazebo, he or she must ask permission to do so. There are similar examples that should not really be contentious but are being refused because of existing rules. The rules seem to be too rigidly interpreted. While an OMC has the right to alter, amend or add to the house rules of a development, I have found the rules do not always conform to being fair or reasonable for someone who has invested so much in a property and has paid sums of up to €500,000 for it. Some residents feel that they do not have full or proper ownership of their own homes. There is also a concern new estates being built adjacent to the existing estate, which is currently being managed by an OMC, would be grouped in with the same OMC. Residents have a concern they will lose their voice in managing their estate if the OMC is expanded to a point that they are overwhelmed by greater numbers. When it comes to an AGM their voice and concerns are diminished, especially if their concerns do not reflect those of the majority, thereby lessening their influence on their own area. There should be a constraint on how far an OMC can expand from the original established OMC.

The MUD Act was put in place to facilitate the fair, efficient and effective management of OMCs but it needs to be reviewed as the way OMCs currently operate needs to be better regulated and members should receive support and training to operate more efficiently.

A dispute resolution process for members should also be established.

Separately, management agencies, the private companies paid by OMCs to run the developments, need to be better regulated. Clúid Housing and the Housing Agency have put forward a number of recommendations which would give more structure to OMCs and the legislation should reflect that. This will benefit the OMCs and their members, and will give people a greater sense of ownership of their properties.

I thank Deputy Ellis for raising this important matter. As he may be aware, the Multi-Unit Developments Act 2011 was enacted with the primary purposes of reforming the law relating to the ownership and management of common areas of multi-unit developments and facilitating the fair, efficient and effective management of owners' management companies. These are companies registered under the Companies Acts, the members of which are the owners of residential units within the development, which are established for the purposes of ownership and management of such common areas.

A number of obligations are set out in the Act which include, but are not limited to, the following. An OMC must hold annual meetings and set annual service charges to cover the costs of maintenance, insurance and repair of common areas under its control and of the provision of common services to unit owners. An OMC must establish a sinking fund and it can also develop house rules for the operation and maintenance of the multi-unit development. This is not something that people can do on their own. The OMC develops the rules, to be agreed. The formulation of rules for private estates by management companies is governed by section 23 of the Multi-Unit Developments Act 2011. The OMC has ultimate responsibility for setting and enforcing house rules.

Section 23 allows an OMC to make house rules relating to the effective operation and maintenance of the development as respects the development or part of the development. These house rules are binding on unit owners, tenants of unit owners, and servants, agents and licensees of those tenants or unit owners. The rules are required to be consistent with the objective of advancing the quiet and peaceful enjoyment of the property by the unit owners and the occupiers, and the objective of the fair and equitable balancing of the rights and obligations of the occupiers and the unit owners.

Apart from the rules made by the OMC before the completion of the sale of the first unit in the relevant part of the development, house rules shall not be made or amended unless the rules have first been considered and approved by a meeting of the unit owners in the part of the development concerned. The Act requires notice of that meeting to be given to each unit owner not less than 21 days prior to the meeting and that the notice should be accompanied by a draft of the proposed rules. Once approved, the rules must be furnished to each unit, and each unit owner, by the OMC. The Act also provides that observance of the house rules by all those occupying the property, including their licensees, servants or agents, shall be a term in every letting of a unit in a multi-unit development.

The Minister would like to point out that there is also robust legislation providing for regulation of companies that provide property management services. Such companies are subject to a detailed legislative framework of licensing, regulation, monitoring and enforcement under the Property Services (Regulation) Act 2011. That Act also established the Property Services Regulatory Authority, PSRA, a statutory regulatory body specifically tasked with responsibility for licensing and regulating property services providers including auctioneers, estate agents, letting agents and property management agents.

The PSRA is empowered to investigate complaints of improper conduct made against licensed property services providers and to launch investigations on its own initiative for the purpose of ensuring compliance by property services providers with their statutory obligations. Where the PSRA makes a finding of improper conduct by a property service provider, it can impose a range of sanctions from issuing a reprimand, warning, caution or advice, to suspending or revoking a licence or directing the licensee to pay a financial penalty.

In most circumstances, a property management company is normally acting as an agent for the owner of the property or, in the case of a multi-unit development, as an agent for the OMC.

I thank the Minister of State for the reply. Most new estates have management companies. In many such estates houses are built with large numbers of apartments around them. In the past, local authorities were able to take private estates in charge but that is fairly difficult to do now. As far as I can see, that is not going to happen with most new estates.

I am trying to draw attention to the fact that people who own their own homes, who have paid anything from €200,000 to €500,000 for those homes, have to seek permission for virtually everything. If they want to erect a sign or install a disability bay, they have to ask. They are begging for permission for things related to their own properties, having spent a fortune on them. This really needs to be looked at. It is not fair that people cannot have a barbecue or put an alarm on their house unless they get permission. If the Minister of State bought a house in the morning, he would not expect to be told he cannot do X or Y in it or that he needs permission to do it. That is the problem. It really needs to be looked at because it is not fair on the people concerned.

As I said, there are three main areas of responsibility for management companies and the first two are reasonable, in terms of maintaining public areas and so on. The third area is the contentious one because it involves interference in the properties and control over private homes. OMCs can go into people's home. They have to seek permission to do so but the owners have to give them permission. I am talking here about private houses for which people have paid a fortune. There is something seriously wrong in that situation.

I wish to point out, based on my earlier contribution, that there is extensive legislation in place to regulate the formulation of rules by management companies that cover multi-unit developments. The Deputy is suggesting there are issues of over-regulation by some management companies in how they implement the rules but as I said, the rules have to be agreed at specially convened meetings of the property owners or their agents. People should always be aware of that. They must also be given 21 days notice of meetings at which any changes to the rules will be proposed.

In addition, section 24 of the Multi-Unit Developments Act contains provisions for the resolution of disputes regarding multi-unit developments. It provides that a person, including a member of an OMC, may apply to the Circuit Court for an order to enforce any rights conferred or obligations imposed by the Act. If the court is satisfied that a right has been infringed or an obligation has not been discharged, it may make such remedial order as it deems appropriate in the circumstances with a view to ensuring the effective enforcement of the right or the effective discharge of the obligation. The Act also contains provisions which encourage the resolution of disputes which may arise between parties by means of mediation rather than recourse to court proceedings.

The programme for Government commits to conducting a review of the existing management company legislation. The Department will engage with all relevant Departments in relation to advancing this commitment.

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