I thank Mr. Lemass for the information so far. I am interested to know more of the thinking behind how the Bill is framed at the moment. I suggest that Mr. Lemass might think through some of the issues between now and when amendments are tabled because I am not so sure technical amendments will deal with some of them.
We talked the last time about section 38 and in particular the issues around tenancy management and nominations and allocations. When we met the last time, I asked whether there was any kind of regulatory conflict or overlap between the Residential Tenancies Board and the AHB regulator. On the basis of Mr. Lemass's answers, I am satisfied that there is not; they are quite distinct.
I am concerned, however, that the Department and the local authorities currently take that responsibility in terms of ensuring that Government policy is properly adhered to. I am interested to hear more about the thinking behind giving those functions to the regulator and how that relates to the roles as they are currently constituted by the Department and by local authorities in their engagement with the AHBs.
The second point is the really big one and it relates to section 54. I urge committee members to think about this one quite carefully. I hear what Mr. Lemass said about the transfer of dwellings being voluntary. As Senator Kelleher outlined, however, we have a very large number of very small tier 1 AHBs, often involving only a handful of properties. Many of those have voluntary boards and over the next ten to 20 years it is highly likely that they will start to drift away due to age of members and so on. One could have a situation where significant numbers of properties fall under the radar with the regulator at a particular point. Who will look after those properties in the future?
This also gives rise to the question of a proper resolution process with a proper fund. I raised this matter previously. When certain banking legislation was being debated during the lifetime of the previous Oireachtas, an issue arose in the context of the resolution of credit unions that were in difficulties. There is quite an elaborate process in the legislation to work out what one does with an entity and its assets when its board is no longer in a position to adequately manage them. This also includes a fund, because if we are to transfer properties - either to another AHB or a local authority - who will cover the costs, what happens if there is significant cyclical maintenance that needs to be done and what happens if there is no sinking fund? These are not small matters. I say this because in my constituency we had a significant case where relatively new properties had to be handed back to the local authority. This was through no fault of the AHB that was managing them, it was more to do with building control failures. It was a significant volume of units. The remediation of those properties has led to a huge increased cost to the local authority, which is not getting any extra money. This has already happened. While I am not opposed to this aspect of the Bill, I am of the view that the process needs to be there and that we need a proper resolution and a processing fund. I am interested to hear our guests' thoughts on that.
A more general comment relates to section 47. It is about the kind of language that sets the bar against which the regulator can carry out investigations and so on. The kind of language to which I refer is "Where the Regulator considers it is necessary". In other legislation, it is usually where the regulator has "reasonable suspicion". This is important because we are talking about the reputation of not-for-profit organisations. The Department needs to look at that language. I am not in any way trying to prevent the regulator from going in. If the regulator has suspicions, then it should go in quickly. However, phrases such as "considers it necessary" or "is of the opinion" set a much lower bar. I urge the Department to consider that or to explain why it has chosen this wording.
Section 48 refers to interim reports. If I read the Bill correctly, the regulator can publish an interim report without an AHB having been given a copy of that report or an opportunity to respond. An interim report could have a series of serious issues around governance, management or so on. It could affect the reputation of the AHB or the managers. Again, I am not trying to stifle the publication of reports but if a report is to be published the individuals and the organisation to whom it refers should have sight of the report and an opportunity to respond. Correct me if I am wrong, but that is not the case with these proposed interim reports.
I am very glad to hear about the fees, and I hope the Minister accepts them. It is clear that a person should pay a fee for a service. For example, fees for reports are fine, and I welcome that.
I have two general questions. I hear what Mr. Lemass has said about the reclassification. Has there been any engagement, even an informal engagement, with the Central Statistics Office, CSO, or is such an engagement even permissible? While the group that Mr. Lemass sits on might have a view, ultimately the CSO has the expertise in this area. I am interested to know whether or not there was any engagement with the CSO. In the past, the Government has tried to get things off the balance sheet or off the books, and that failed because it is a complex process. Perhaps our guests could offer some reassurance in respect of that matter.
I also wish to follow up on a point made by Deputy Darragh O'Brien. I would like the legislation to be very explicit that all appointments for the regulator and the board are made through the Public Appointments Service process. The legislation does not currently say this. During a previous appearance before the committee, Mr. Lemass stated that it would be the intention to do that in any event. I would much prefer it to be in the legislation, because then a Minister does not have the option of bypassing the Public Appointments Service. I strongly support Deputy Darragh O'Brien in this regard.
The legislation could go a little bit further. Consider, for example, the Construction Instruction Register Ireland. The heads of the Bill, if not the Bill, stipulate different categories of expertise the Government would like to see on the board. Stipulating categories of expertise could be a very valuable aspect, disability being an obvious one and tenants advocates being another. Without wanting to give the Department too much work - I want to see this legislation through as quickly as possible - that kind of approach could make the board much more robust, which would serve everybody better.