Business of Joint Committee.

Apologies have been received from Deputy Ciarán Lynch and Senator Paudie Coffey.

Item No. 1 on the agenda is the minutes. The proceedings of the meetings of 31 March and 21 April 2009 have been circulated. Are they agreed? Agreed. Are there any matters arising? No matters arising.

Item No. 2 on the agenda concerns several items of correspondence. No. 420 is a European World newsletter which we will note. No. 421 is a newsletter on environmental issues from Global International which we will note. No. 422 is the Irish Human Rights Commissionbulletin which we will note.

There is also a letter from the president of the Irish Human Rights Commission, Mr. Maurice Manning, requesting a meeting with the committee. He writes regarding a policy statement on section 62 of the Housing Act which was submitted to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy John Gormley. The purpose of the section is to protect and uphold the human rights of local authority tenants under Irish law in line with State obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights. He recommends a policy statement to the members of the joint committee be made at the earliest convenience and requests the opportunity to make a presentation to the committee on the human rights of local authority tenants under the law. Do members want to receive a submission on that? I understand the Bill concerned will come before us on Committee Stage. Perhaps we will invite him to make a submission to the members of the committee in advance of Committee Stage.

No. 423 is a newsletter on homelessness which we note. No. 424 is the European Water newsletter which we note. No. 425 is a press statement from the Department on the national tidy towns group which we note. No. 426 concerns the farm waste management scheme and planning permission and is a reply from the Minister, Deputy Gormley, to queries raised by this committee regarding possible delays to grant applications caused by planning permission periods. We wrote to him at the end of last year on that matter. Events have passed us by on this issue, but he said very few proposals for development under the farm waste management scheme came before An Bord Pleanála for a planning decision.

Are there any figures?

There is none. The last line of the letter says the board has pointed out that unless the issue of the grant was mentioned specifically in the applicant's correspondence to them by the board, there would be no way of identifying from their records the relevant cases in connection with a grant application and to date the board has had no correspondence from the farming community on the issue. Members have a copy of the letter.

As a former member of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I remember there was a very high profile case in Nenagh where a pig farmer exceeded the date of the grant because An Bord Pleanála held up the adjudication on the application. It must be familiar with the case as there was public discussion about it in the media and the House. There were others too but that was a high profile case. They asked the Minister at the time if he would grant the concession, if the board adjudicated on it before 1 February this year, and a moratorium on payment of the grant. I do not know what exactly happened.

Construction would not even have commenced by then.

No, it had not but everything was in order. However, An Bord Pleanála would not adjudicate in time. That is all I know about the case. I will get the farmer's name for the Chairman.

Has the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food dealt with the case?

An agricultural committee of the party discussed it.

I have no problem with sending the details of the case to the Minister.

I shall come back to the Chairman.

We all know that the door has been bolted at this stage. If there is a question of maladministration, we can——

I did not say it was maladministration.

Is it just a delay?

Yes. I respect the board's adjudication.

If the Deputy wants to forward the details of an individual case to us, we will forward them because An Bord Pleanála seems to be stating it is not aware of individual cases relative to the grant.

The next item is a newsletter from the Department about affordable housing. No. 428 is an invitation from the Environmental Protection Agency to a conference in Farmleigh on Monday, 27 April which was last week; therefore, we will pass on it.

No. 429 is a resolution from Galway County Council requesting a meeting with the joint committee. The county secretary is probably aware that we met representatives of Mayo County Council. The letter states:

At a recent meeting of Glaway County Council the following Resolution was passed "that a request be made to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Environment, Heritage and Local Government for a meeting to outline our concerns as to the excessive designations and its effects on future possible development of County Galway i.e. turf cutting, road construction, Planning etc. We propose to outline the failure to produce science by the Department in making the designations.

I suggest the council give us more details on the specifics of the designations. We will then consider the request.

Who requested the meeting?

This was notice of a motion on the agenda of Galway County Council.

I am disposed to meet the council because it is important that we subscribe in whatever way we can to local government. Town and county councillors are deeply concerned about planning and development, as the Chairman must be aware from his own experience as a councillor. We should hear the council but I go along with the Chairman's suggestion that we request information about the designations made.

We must be careful, notwithstanding what Senator Glynn said about the number of people we will bring here if we start receiving deputations from local authorities, of which there are 34. It would be interesting to know if Galway County Council has sent the motion to the General Council of County Councils, the umbrella body. If the general council agrees, it is a serious issue nationwide, not just a local Galway issue. If we are serious about the devolution of responsibility to local authorities, notwithstanding the national planning guidelines, we could be adjudicating on and listening to complaints here forevermore and would never get any other work done. I understand Senator Glynn's point but more information is required in this case.

That is the caveat I enter.

I am thinking about two items mentioned, turf cutting and roads. Would this be the correct committee to come to if one were discussing turf cutting? I would like to invite Bord na Mona to meet us because it was the largest producer of turf in the country. We could ask where it stands now because it is diversifying and using bogs for other purposes, with some of which we would not fully agree. I concur with the two previous speakers. We should write to the council and ask it to clarify what it wants. If this committee goes on and on visiting different places we will never report on the issue.

There is definitely not enough information in the letter we received. We need to seek more information.

A number of counties do not boast big areas of bog, although Galway has a fair area of bog, as does Westmeath and Deputy Fitzpatrick's county of Kildare. In that context, I do not think that we are opening the floodgates. The committee should take an interest in the matter. However, I reiterate the caveat that we should seek further information.

We will seek further information and take it from there. That is the safest thing to do. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The next item of correspondence, No. 230, is the report "Green Ireland: The Business of Climate Change" by Business in the Community Ireland. We note that.

The next item, No. 431, is a letter of thanks from the Regional Development Committee in Northern Ireland following its visit to Leinster House and its meeting with the committee. We note that.

Item No. 432 is an invitation to an environmental and energy management conference in Washington on 21 and 22 October 2009. We have a travel proposal as a separate item on the agenda and we will discuss the invitation as part of that.

Item No. 433 is four press statements from the Department on public libraries, the homelessness strategy, drinking water and social housing.

The next item, No. 434, expresses constitutional concerns about Google mapping in Irish cities. It is a complaint about the constitutionality of mounting Google map cameras on vans. I do not want to get into this as it is a constitutional issue. I think the letter was addressed to the Ceann Comhairle. We will forward it to the Joint Committee on the Constitution. If that committee believes there is an issue, it can address it.

Item No. 435 is about circulars from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. We have received a reply from the Secretary General to our complaint about circulars not being issued to us and arrangements to correct this. As Chairman, I have a problem with this. During our Estimates debate last week, I looked at the output statement that the Department produced for last year and I browsed through the list of statutory instruments it issued during the year. It was clear to me that I could pick out half a dozen that I had never seen or heard of. Our committee made it absolutely clear to the Department that it is to send us copies of all statutory instruments and all circulars to local authorities, yet we had to chase it two months ago and ask for back issues of circulars. There has been a clear understanding since the committee was set up that the Department is to send us every statutory instrument, but it has not done so. That is a disgrace.

We need a strongly worded circular to the Secretary General, the Minister or whoever saying that the committee is to get copies of all circulars to local authorities and all statutory instruments. It is not good enough to lay the documents before the Oireachtas. The relevant committee should get copies so that we know what is happening. I do not have a list of the ones we did not get, but I was shocked to find that there were several of them. We are agreed to send that letter to the Secretary General, who is responsible. Some sections provide the documents but it seems that others are unaware of the requirement to supply them. I am sure that members would have been interested in the topics of some of the statutory instruments. We will get copies of them now, but we do not want to have to chase them up. It is only by coincidence that we found out they were missing.

Item No. 436 is from Tom Roche of Just Forests in Rhode. It is a request to make a presentation on illegal logging. He approached a couple of members last year and he approached me two weeks ago to ask whether he could make a presentation on behalf of Just Forests about illegal logging and the import into Ireland of timber that does not meet international legal agreements. At our meeting before last, we agreed to meet him. I suggest we invite him to give a presentation at our meeting on 12 May. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The next item is No. 437, a magazine on EU affairs. It is an EU newsletter. We will note that.

No. 438 is the circular from the Department of Transport regarding the cutbacks in the road allocations on a county-by-county basis. We are all familiar with that at local level.

The next item is No. 439, the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2009. It is a list of amendments sought on Committee Stage of the Bill by the Disability Federation of Ireland. I suggest we note that. Members are free to utilise those suggested amendments on Committee Stage.

No. 440 concerns building energy ratings. It is a letter from Seán Dowd, Kilcoole, County Wicklow, who is an energy assessor, advising of the difficulties arising with building energy rating certification. I suggest we note the correspondence and forward it to the Minister for information.

There seems to be a problem with the delay in this scheme getting off the ground in that many people did their courses but did not get the necessary paperwork from the relevant Department. I have also come across a number of cases recently of technicians in architectural practices in particular being laid off. They are seeking to do a course to get involved in building energy rating and have some expertise already on it but there is no course available through FÁS to allow them do the necessary hours of training. I propose we write to the acting director general of FÁS to make it aware of this issue and ask it to provide a course for people who are being laid off in various parts of the building trade, particularly architectural technicians, with a view to getting them involved in this scheme.

Deputy Hogan might be aware of this but would it be possible for vocational education committees to provide the course?

FÁS and the VECs should come together to do it.

We should write to both of them.

Who do we write to in respect of the VECs? Is it the Irish Vocational Education Association?

And FÁS. We should write to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government for a comment on the contents of the letter.

It concerns building regulations and therefore the Minister, Deputy Gormley, is responsible.

We will write to the Minister, Deputy Gormley, for a response, and to FÁS and the IVEA.

We should write to Michael Moriarty, the chief executive officer of the IVEA.

Yes. Item of correspondence No. 441 is from the Immigrant Council of Ireland and concerns the exploitation of migrant women in Ireland. It is a letter advising of sexual exploitation and trafficking of women. We should note the correspondence and send it to the Sub-Committee on Human Rights of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs.

It is a very serious matter and it is happening more often than we are led to believe. It is something in which we should take a particular interest.

Should we send it to the Sub-Committee on Human Rights or the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights? It appears to be more a question for the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights.

What is happening is a serious offence against people, in this case females, and we should be very concerned about it.

In the first instance we will send it to the Joint Committee on Justice, Equality, Defence and Women's Rights. That appears to be the appropriate response.

That is the end of the correspondence. I want to acknowledge that five statutory instruments were copied to us which we will note. No. 101, European Communities (Good Agricultural Practice for Protection of Waters) Regulations — I presume that concerns the inspections that will not now go ahead; Nos. 136 and 137, Navan Town Boundary Alteration Order; No. 139, Water Services Act 2007 (Commencement) Order; and No. 141, Water Services Act 2007 (Waste Water Complaint Notice Form) Regulations.

The following two new circulars from the Department to the city and county managers have been copied to us for this meeting: the Wildlife Acts 1976 and 2000 on restrictions on the destruction of hedgerows and the destruction of vegetation on uncultivated land; and WPPR 07.09, local authority enforcement measures-grant scheme. The water services section of the Department sent us an e-mail with all the circulars issued since 2007. They include 11 issued in 2007 and five issued in 2008. We will note them. They have been made available to us.

The following four circulars were copied to us for our last meeting. They include a circular on the 8% reduction in professional fees; a circular that is an issue for the local authorities, namely, the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations; a circular on the authorisation of bring centres for farm plastics; and a circular on the European Communities (Environmental Liability) Regulations.

A backlog of circulars was copied to us for our last meeting on 31 March, consideration of which we deferred at that meeting. We also received circulars from local government personnel, the local government policy section and local services. The circulars are listed for members' information.

Eight further circulars were e-mailed with the reminder agenda. I refer members to the correspondence list circulated by the clerk. This is a catch up exercise on the circulars that were not issued to us. The circulars include one on construction procurement reform; one on construction procurement reform — training programme for local authority staff; one on the need to accelerate construction procurement reform; and one on guidance for corporate procurement planning local government sector. These are all 2007 circulars. In 2008 the circulars issued include one on construction procurement reform — progress on implementation and training and related matters; one on EU public procurement directives, revised thresholds for publication of contracts in theOfficial Journal of the European Union; and one on additional measures to the revised arrangements for the procurement of public works projects.

All of us know of small builders——

And not so small builders.

——who are trying to get work in the local authority sector. They find it difficult to get such work because of the procurement thresholds that apply and the paperwork involved. Many small businesses in the building trade go to a great deal of trouble and expense to tender for projects that they do not have a hope of getting. The tenders seem to be concentrated in the hands of the bigger companies. It is necessary to review this matter. We should write to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to ask him to review the manner in which small companies, in particular, are being pushed aside in the tendering process. We should also point out that the way the procurement and points system is being implemented at local authority level seems to be biased in favour of the larger companies.

I support Deputy Hogan on this matter. I am aware of the owner of a substantial company who employs almost 60 people who failed to be included in the tendering process on the basis of the pre-tender document he had to complete. He employed somebody to do that work but failed to get on the tender list; I do not know whether that was due to the work not being done right or if there was some other problem. That is unfair. It is not good enough. Another restriction that applies is that the tenderer must have X turnover the previous year and the requirement could be a turnover of €1.5 million. The turnovers of some of these companies might not come up to that mark.

It is difficult to achieve that turnover figure, if one is not able to get work.

This area needs to be seriously examined as quickly as possible. Builders who do quality work cannot qualify to tender for projects. It is fair enough if the tendering process takes place and people do not make the cut because of price. That is one aspect, but people are not being allowed to tender for the work. That is wrong.

Most of the contracting authorities have pre-qualification criteria. They weed the number of tenders down to five or six and ask those tenderers to submit a price. They seem to pick all the big contractors, as if local authorities want the comfort of a big contractor. We have all heard of cases of a contractor who has built a school and who is now not eligible to tender for the building of an extension to that school. People who built local authority schemes are not eligible to build schemes half the size of those they built in previous years. The system is daft.

We should invite in some Department officials to talk about that. It might be the best way of addressing it, as we do not want to bother the Minister with this.

Yes, we should do that because this is a bone of contention. This practice applies across all public services, including throughout the HSE, the OPW and so on. This matter has been raised at other committees and the response given by the Department of Finance is that it is a matter for the contracting authority to be flexible. That is passing the buck down the line. This arose at the Committee of Public Accounts recently when I asked that question. I was told they have flexibility, but they do not exercise it.

Whether they have flexibility, it is not being applied.

I propose that we invite two departmental officials to discuss this.

Yes, but we do not want to hear rosy theories about how this scheme is meant to operate. We only wish to hear from the officials about practical cases of how this is being implemented. There will be no theory statements. With no disrespect to whoever might come to the meeting, I can almost hear the script before I see it and it will tell us nothing. We do not want that.

We must ensure that those who have begun the tender will be able to complete it. It could be recorded because I have heard it so many times.

That is right. Many people are being excluded from the process.

I am aware of a company employing 60 people. It cannot tender for a simple contract to build a fire station, which is a €2.5 million to €3 million job.

We will ask the officials for case studies on the practical implementation of this.

There is another case in Sligo where the person who did not qualify even to tender ended up doing the job as a subcontractor to the contractor who got the work. What is happening is ludicrous.

There is full agreement on this.

We will reserve comment until the officials come before the committee.

Fine. I will move on to the circulars. I will not read them but just note the reference numbers. There is also a review session on public procurement training reforms, and document IPPP 7/2008, IPP, which is again about public-private partnerships and the National Development Finance Agency. Under local authority personnel circulars, there were Nos. 01, 02, 03, 04 and 05 from one year and Nos. 01, 02 and 03 from another year about pay increases, not implementing pay increases, travel and subsistence and subsistence abroad.

There are six local government policy circulars in 2009 dealing with combating poverty, ethics, policing committees and Oireachtas Members' access to information. The clerk will circulate copies of the one dealing with Oireachtas Members' access to information to the members. Then there are circulars LSS 3/09, LSS 01/09 and LSS 02/09 dealing with control of dogs, a lending remuneration scheme and environmental information for public libraries. We are up to date on those and will just ask for a copy of one of them.

There are eight circulars issued with reminder agenda on waste management packaging regulations, water services investment programme, drinking water response plans, payment tranche for housing inspections, urban and village regeneration programme, statistics questionnaire for affordable housing, the housing statistics bulletin, local authority house purchase application forms and enforcing building energy rating requirements. We will get information on that. That is a great deal of correspondence as we are playing catch-up. Those documents are available through the committee secretariat if members do not have the original copies.

The next item on the agenda is the review of our visit to the Dublin Docklands Development Authority on 21 April. It was a useful and interesting visit. Does anybody wish to comment?

I thank the Dublin Docklands Development Authority for allowing us to see the work taking place there. It also gave us an opportunity to look at the authority's master plan for the next few years. When Mr. Maloney and his team were before the committee on various occasions I was quite critical of the corporate governance regime and some of the risky property practices in which they engaged. My motivation was, first, that there is a right way under law to do one's business under corporate governance rules. A coach and four was driven through those rules for a period of time. It is also not appropriate for the Dublin Docklands Development Authority to bid up land values in an area where it is the planning authority. That policy has come home to roost. The great work done in the social, cultural and educational sectors and in employment and housing is put at risk as a result of some of the practices that took place, particularly in the former Irish Glass Bottle site.

This committee has a keen interest in protecting taxpayers' money. If, in any local authority area, we could ring-fence development levies that were generated in that location for a particular, defined geographical area, like Kilkenny city or Naas, so they did not have to give any of that money to south Kilkenny or any other part of the county, one could do an awful lot of work within a confined area. However, the amount of development levies generated there with the huge level of activity is massive, so we are talking about big money. This particular organisation has done an enormous amount of work. In reporting, it is subject and accountable to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. This committee should ensure that the practices that were loose over a number of years should be examined to make sure they will not happen again.

This committee does not have the expertise and we are not seeking it because it is already there with the Comptroller and Auditor General. As a member of the Committee of Public Accounts, the Chairman is well aware of what can be done in a detailed way, that our committee could not do. I would not ask the committee to support that, but I suggest that we should refer the last five years of accounts to the Comptroller and Auditor General for scrutiny. Ultimately, he will come back with a report which should take into account all the issues we debated here with the team.

I feel that the area in general has made massive strides when one sees the level of unemployment that was there years ago. It was a map similar to many other places around the country where there was blight 20 or 25 years ago. If we are serious about making sure we have appropriate practices in place for corporate governance and risk management, it would be a useful exercise for this committee to ensure that we refer this set of accounts for the last five years to the Comptroller and Auditor General for scrutiny. He can then come with recommendations that would ensure that the good work that is being done, particularly in social, cultural, educational and tourism affairs, will continue to proceed apace in future without any risk to the funding stream that is available to them at the moment.

Are there any other comments on the Dublin Docklands Development Authority?

I will be brief because I commented on it the last day. The docklands project is a clear example of how the Celtic tiger was utilised to its ultimate degree. Notwithstanding what Deputy Hogan said, what impressed me most was the involvement of local people. What had been an area of negatives is now one of positives. One can only be impressed with what one has seen there. The outturn from the various projects is being ploughed back in, if I may use that term, to enhance not alone what is there but also to generate additional activity and employment. In the main, it is a success story and I was deeply impressed by it. I am delighted for the area concerned because it is a positive that has been created from a negative. That is the best way to describe it. I wish the project well and if there is a hiatus hither or thither, then let us deal with it by all means. I suppose human error is the curse of being human, so if something has to be clarified or amended then let us do so. In the main, however, I think it is a great project and I was deeply impressed.

I was very impressed also with the initial presentation they gave us outlining all the work that has been done, work in the pipeline, work they hope to do in future, and how they co-ordinate all that. Their emphasis on community and education impressed me also. They took people from a low base to where they can compete with the best in the city of Dublin. While they did not have that level of education before, they now have it.

One small thing that impressed me was where they funded a barge which does pleasure trips up and down the River Liffey. Is it not a pity that Waterways Ireland would not consider such a project for towns and villages along the canals? One could have pleasure boats on the canal in Tullamore, Naas or a range of other places. That is an idea which could be very valuable and useful in other areas.

The authority has worked in partnership with communities, those who can provide funding and the Government in developing the project. An enormous amount of work has been done in a very short space of time. I wish the authority well in the future.

One could not but be impressed with the work being done and the difference it has made to the lives of the people living in the area, particularly with the number of young people going on to third level education. The authority has invested money in local community centres and sport facilities. Some 20,000 jobs were created in the area which was practically a derelict site. Many good things have happened and I wish the authority well for the future. It is a very positive development.

There have generally been positive views about the visit. Given the other issues on which the committee does not have the time or expertise to dwell, Deputy Hogan has requested——

We are kind and courteous.

That is correct. It was good to meet the community workers involved directly. Deputy Hogan has proposed that we ask the Comptroller and Auditor General to look at the annual reports of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority for the past five years with a view to considering the various corporate governance issues raised and report back to us. We will ask the Comptroller and Auditor General, not the Committee of Public Accounts, to do this. We will ask the clerk to write to the Comptroller and Auditor General on behalf of the committee referring to the accounts for a period of five years and enclosing a transcript of this discussion in order that he will understand from where we are coming and the recommendations made.

That is fine.

The next item is the library and research service which has again asked us if there is a specific topic we would like to consider. I do not believe we have considered that request. We will hold it over for a further meeting.

The next item is the report on the visit to the international waste management seminar held in Vienna in April 2008. The report is from Deputy Bannon whom we thank for representing the committee. Is it agreed to lay the draft report before the Houses of the Oireachtas? Agreed.

The next item is an invitation to attend the Local Governments for Sustainability, World Congress 2009 in Edmonton, Canada from 14 to 18 June, as discussed at the meeting held on 31 March. The estimated cost, based on economy flight tickets, has been circulated by the clerk, together with the details. The conference is entitled, Advancing Local Action for Sustainability. Following consultation with the convenors, Deputies Bannon, Fitzpatrick and Scanlon have indicated an interest in attending. If funding is forthcoming, is it agreed that the three members represent the committee at the conference, with the clerk? Senator Glynn indicated he might be able to to travel but may not now be in a position to do so.

It is. We have to refer any request to travel to——

I am interested in attending.

The estimated cost is approximately €2,500 per member. We will forward the request to the relevant committee which looks at these issues and await a response.

We will not develop permanent insomnia about that aspect of it.

We will forward a maximum of four.

There is one other. A second conference has been notified to us, the environmental and energy management conference in Washington on 22 October 2009. We deferred it at the last meeting. It is on Parliamentarians for Global Action.

That arose at the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security.

It went to the Ceann Comhairle.

That is an important conference because it will open opportunities to visit the climate change and energy security committees in Congress. That was one that we could not do previously in the other committee. This committee should liaise with Deputy Barrett's committee.

I understand the Joint Committee on Climate Change and Energy Security will attend. It seems important. If members are interested in attending, we should get a costing for it.

There is the lead up to Copenhagen in December.

We have time to get a costing and then refer it to the committee. We are trying to be reasonable — a maximum of two. We must get costings on it and we will have that at the next meeting.

Then we will send it to the committee reviewing travel.