Business of Joint Committee.

Apologies have been received from Deputy Cuffe and Senator Coffey. The minutes of the meeting of 1 September have been circulated. Are they agreed? Agreed.

The next item on our agenda is correspondence received by the joint committee and circulated since the last meeting. The first item is the annual report of the Housing Finance Agency which we will be discussing as the main business of the meeting. We will note this correspondence.

We have received a letter from An Bord Pleanála in response to a letter issued to the board on 14 July in connection with the waste facility in Usk, County Kildare. People will remember that there were a couple of High Court reviews and we asked for details of costs. The board states in its letter that costs have not been fully submitted or completed at this stage and that the information is not available. I suggest we note this correspondence.

I would like the committee to agree that when any correspondence such as this is discussed in public session, it should be placed in the public arena. I will ask the secretariat to make arrangements to ensure copies of such correspondence are made available on the website in case people wish to look up the details of the meetings at which they are discussed. In due course these will be scanned and the correspondence we discuss in public session will be available to all and sundry. If there is a particularly sensitive item, we may decide not to publish it, but where we discuss correspondence in public session, it should be available to the public. The House facilities are very poor at placing copies of correspondence, company minutes and transcripts of meetings on the Oireachtas website. We will ask the secretariat to come back to us with information on the potential timeframe for this. To make things easier, if there are ever queries from members of the public or journalists about items we discuss in public session, we should ensure the secretariat is in a position to issue them without having to obtain specific clearance each time. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The next item is observations on the McCarthy report from the Irish National Community and Voluntary Forum. We will note this correspondence and perhaps send it to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government because it will come under the budget heading for that Department. We will ask the Minister to consider the work carried out by this forum. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The next item is highlights from Repak's activity report which I suggest we note. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The next item is a communication from Repak about self-compliance with packaging regulations, which consists of recommendations and conclusions from Repak in response to our list of self-compliant companies. The correspondence also seeks a meeting with the committee. Members will recall that previously there was a mechanism whereby people could deal with their obligations under the waste packaging regulations by either registering with Repak or individually registering with a local authority. We received a list from each local authority — although this was not available previously — of the companies which were registering locally, which will provide information for the Department and Repak on companies which may not be following either route with regard to meeting their packaging responsibilities. Repak has thanked us for getting the information which we circulated previously and is seeking a further meeting. We will agree to have a meeting but not set a date at this stage. We will discuss the matter again in due course as part of our work programme. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The next item is a letter from the Minister about the BurrenLIFE project in response to our letter following up on the meeting we held with this organisation. Does any member have a comment on the documentation for the BurrenLIFE project? It is an acknowledgement from the Department which will come back to us again on the issue.

The next item is a letter from Deputy Hogan requesting a follow-up meeting with the chairperson and acting CEO of the Dublin Docklands Development Authority. As we know, there have been many developments in that organisation since we met the chairperson earlier in the year. Perhaps Deputy Hogan would like to comment on this.

It is very unusual, as the Chairman knows from his time on the Committee of Public Accounts, for an annual report to be furnished but no annual accounts. I have been in correspondence with the chairperson who is doing her best to resolve these outstanding matters, but this would be an opportune time for such a meeting. I suggest the chairperson come before the committee at the end of October, as the authority is likely to present its annual accounts to the Minister around that time, to give us an update on the changes made since her arrival, the accounts and valuation process. Valuation seems to be an important theme with regard to property. In her correspondence the chairperson indicated that she was waiting to hear about the NAMA methodology to be used. That in itself creates implications for all State agencies in how they value their properties — not just the DDDA but also the IDA and local authorities. It would be interesting to find out about the progress made and receive information on the valuation of properties that have been controversial undertakings by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority in the last couple of years. I ask that we arrange a date around the end of October to discuss these matters.

Is it agreed that we write to invite the authority to appear before the committee? Agreed. We will agree a mutually suitable date and arrange the meeting.

The next item is the annual report of Irish Water Safety, which we will note. I apologise for skipping one item, a letter from the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government following up on our meeting with the Private Residential Tenancies Board in which he states he is carrying out a review and asks for submissions. It is a letter for our information. Members might wish to make submissions individually. That is probably the best way to approach the matter. Is that agreed? Agreed.

The next item is a request from the Simon Communities of Ireland to meet with the committee to discuss homelessness. I understand we have had correspondence from the MakeRoom lobby earlier. I think there is an umbrella group for some of the organisations that deal with homelessness.

It is the Simon Communities of Ireland's 40th anniversary this year and given the work it does we should facilitate it.

I did not appreciate it was its 40th anniversary. We will agree to set a time to invite the group in.

The next item is a letter from Mr. Howard McConnell, managing directed of Coatings Limited, complaining about the EPA's issuing of licences for some of its products and materials. Do members have any comments on it? If there is a lot of information I would prefer to hold it over. I have not studied it and there is a lot of information so we will hold it over and try to deal with it fully the next day.

The next item is a request from Deputy Denis Naughten to meet with the committee to discuss flooding in the Shannon callows.

I agree with his request because part of my constituency is also affected, namely, the vicinity of Lanesboro and Newtowncashel in Longford where, at certain times of the year, people in those areas cannot leave their homes except by boat. It is an issue that needs to be addressed. I tried to raise the matter on several occasions when I was in the Seanad and the matter has to come to a head sooner rather than later, in the interests of fair play for those who are afflicted by serious flooding in those areas.

What can the committee do?

Several promises were made over the years, going back to the time when Éamon de Valera was Taoiseach and very little has happened. Fianna Fáil has been in government for most of those years and we should have a programme in place to try and address the management, rather than the draining, of the Shannon.

I understand it was discussed in the Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in 2006.

Promises were made then that have not been carried out.

I understand it was discussed at the end of November 2006 and the joint committee said it would meet with the people concerned in 2007, but the general election intervened and the matter has not been back on the agenda since. We will try to honour the previous commitment.

At that time I brought in a video which showed the seriousness of flooding in the Longford-Roscommon area.

We will put the matter on our work programme.

I want to be helpful. Has the OPW ever carried out a study of the problem and is it available to give us a report? The matter has come up so often I am sure it has plenty of documentation on it. In the meantime we should request a summary of whatever studies it carried out to see if there is a solution.

I suggest that at the next meeting I come back with a proposal on who we might communicate with in advance because Deputy Naughten stated he wanted the OPW, the ESB, the National Parks and Wildlife Service and BirdWatch Ireland to be involved in this, so it is not just a question of listening.

I am not trying to hold up the proceedings of the committee on this issue. It is an effort to get some information.

To streamline it.

If memory serves me, Tom Parlon, when he was Minister of State in charge of the OPW, undertook to prepare a comprehensive report, which has never seen the light of day.

At our next meeting we will decide exactly what to do, and if that includes obtaining information from the OPW in advance we will seek it. We will put it on our work programme.

The next item is a list of correspondence regarding EU legislation concerning a list of decisions taken at committee on 3 September. It is for information purposes only so we will note the correspondence. The next item is the Europe's World newsletter. It is noted. The next item is the GLOBE think tank on environmental policy's newsletters on environmental issues, which is a European policy update and an invitation to attend a GLOBE international conference in Canada on 24 to 26 March 2010.

We should look for costings on that.

It will be next year.

It would be a useful event to inquire into. It has been proven to be interesting in the past. It would be important for the clerk to find additional information on it.

We will assemble the information and provide it at a future meeting. The next item is a press release relating to the result of the national Tidy Towns competition. We congratulate all involved and note the correspondence. The next item is a press release from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Governmenton environmental information services and the Ask about Ireland website. It is noted.

The next item is a further press release from the schools climate change competition. It is noted. The next item is a press release from the National Trust's conference. It is noted. The next item is a ministerial press release on the launch of the capital funding schemes for the voluntary and co-operative housing sector. It might be raised in the context of today's meeting with the Housing Finance Agency. It is noted.

The next item is a paper from the European Urban Knowledge Network on the environment and sustainability. It is noted. The next item is an autumn newsletter on environmental issues from Friends of Europe. It is noted. The next item is a letter from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government regarding logging. The committee will recall we had a meeting where we dealt with the issue of procurement of timber. The Minister attached a reply already received from the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on Ireland's views on forest law enforcement, governance and trade. It is noted. It has been circulated to all local authorities.

The next item is a launch of the Private Residential Tenancies Board's annual report by the Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Michael Finneran. It is noted.

The next item is a number of circulars issued to the Department. Circular No. WPRR 06/09 is a pilot project to support the waste management, certification of historic unlicensed waste disposal and recovery activity. It is noted. The next circular is the national hazardous waste management plan 2008-2012. It is noted. The next item is the county and city development boards' good practice exchange guide. It is noted.

Other circulars include the supplement to the register of electors, postal voting for military personnel, a memorandum for the guidance of local returning officers for the Lisbon treaty and communication arrangements for the referendum. They are noted. The next circular is the Twenty-Eighth Amendment of the Constitution (Treaty of Lisbon) Bill 2009: Approved Bodies at the Referendum. It is noted. The next circular concerns arrangements for the distribution of polling information cards. It is noted. A further circular concerns the closing date for the incentivised early retirement scheme. It is noted.

I wish to raise one matter under the topic of circulars, which every Deputy will be interested in. It was brought to my attention at local level in Laois. A circular was sent by the Department of Transport regarding the management of regional and local roads on 18 August to each director of services for roads, town clerks and city and county managers. It is a short circular and states the Department is directed by the Minister for Transport to inform those concerned that he has entered into an agreement with the National Roads Authority under which it will undertake the management of the investment programme on behalf of the Minister with effect from 1 September 2009.

It appears that the Department of Transport, which overseas road policy — we know until now the NRA had responsibility for the management of national primary and national secondary routes — has issued a circular to local authorities, which I was not aware of until I heard it locally, stating that since 1 September authority for the management of regional and local roads is now being transferred out of the Department to the NRA.

This will sound alarm bells. An NRA inspector will have to make decisions on every stretch of local country roads. I am bringing this to the committee's attention. I became aware of it through my own local authority. People will want to discuss the contents of the circular here. We checked with the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, which had no knowledge of the circular.

I want to request agreement from this committee. We have a good system in place by which the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government issues circulars to local authorities and this committee is given a copy of each of those so we now know what is involved. It is clear to me that in the case of other Departments such as the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Education and Science or joint policing committees, circulars are being sent directly to city and county managers from other Departments and because they affect local government, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government should be informed about them and this committee should also receive copies. I have confirmed with the Department that no system is in place whereby the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is kept informed of circulars issued to local authorities from other Departments. This is a lack of joined-up government and no one can definitively state to this committee what circulars have been sent to local authorities. This is not good enough. It is neither good government nor good practice. This committee will write to the Minister asking him to contact every other Department to ask that copies of any circulars being sent to local authorities should be sent to the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and to include this committee on the mailing list. I have come across this by accident, so to speak, and I am sure there have been a lot more such incidents.

I know members will wish to comment. It is a big development and it means we will have the NRA looking at it and it means there will now be a layer of engineers over the local engineers deciding what local road should be tarred.

Should we not consider having a special meeting on this matter?

We could have a special meeting next week.

I have plenty to say on that proposal.

The Dáil will not sit next week because of the Lisbon treaty referendum. We could have a special meeting next week. I know it is a matter of policy of the Department of Transport but it directly affects local government issues.

Whose policy is it?

The Department of Transport.

Was that issued by the Minister for Transport, Deputy Noel Dempsey?

No, it was issued by a senior official in his Department on behalf of the Minister. I do not wish to identify the official but I spoke to him this morning on the topic.

I agree with the sentiments expressed by Deputy Brady that we have a special meeting on this issue and that we invite the relevant officials and Minister, if necessary. This flies completely in the face of devolution and adds another layer of bureaucracy to the local issues which we all have to deal with daily. I agree with the proposal to have a special session on this issue.

I could not identify where the circular came from. I have been informed now that it came from the Department of Transport. We also contacted the NRA. I have just been handed a copy of a circular dated 27 August 2009 which the NRA has issued to each local authority on this topic and addressed to each county and city manager and director of services. Copies will be circulated. The circular states it is intended initially at least that the management of the regional and local roads programme will use the existing system and procedures. It states that a senior engineering adviser and one engineering inspector who currently work in the programme are to be seconded to the NRA. I am informed this is from the NRA. It states that these personnel will assist in ensuring the continuity and management of the programme. It states that in due course, the NRA may introduce changes to procedures as necessary, including improvements to enhance the operation of the roads grant claim and payment arrangements.

Would it be appropriate for the Chairman to read that information into the record of the House?

It is only one page long. Do members wish to hear this? This is the circular that has been issued by the NRA to local authorities which states:

27 August, 2009. NRA Circular: RLRU No. 1/2009

Re: Management of Regional and Local Roads Programme

Dear Manager/Director/Town Clerk.

The Department of Transport and the National Roads Authority have agreed that the Authority will undertake the management of the regional and local roads investment programme on behalf of the Minister with effect from 1st September 2009.

There will be no change of the status of the programme, in that, maintenance and improvement of regional and local roads will remain the responsibility of individual road authorities to be funded from their own resources. State grants may be made to supplement these resources.

It is intended, initially at least, that the management of the regional and local roads programme will use the existing system and procedures. One Senior Engineering Adviser and one Engineering Inspector, who currently work on the programme, are to be seconded to the Authority to assist in ensuring continuity in the management of the programme. In due course the Authority may introduce changes to procedures as necessary, including improvements to enhance the operation of road grant claims and payment arrangements.

All correspondence, including 2010 Grant Applications, are to be submitted to the Authority with effect from 1st September 2009. The Department of Transport will continue to deal directly with all aspects relating to the payment of regional and local roads grants in accordance with established procedures in the period 1 September – 31 December 2009. It is intended that the Authority will assume this role from 1 January 2010. The Authority will prepare recommendations for grant allocations which will be considered and determined by the Minister for Transport. Communications regarding the regional and local roads investment programme should be sent to the following address: RLRU at the National Roads Authority.

This is quite significant as it has far-reaching implications. I suggest a special meeting next week. It will be new information for a lot of people.

With regard to the local authority aspect of our electorate, it is incumbent on us to defend their position. This is another step away from local democracy.

We know the NRA has responsibility for national primary and national secondary routes. It has concentrated its efforts on the national primary routes but the national secondary routes throughout the country are in a deplorable state because of underfunding. We are all aware of this in our regions. The N55 is a disgrace. The Automobile Association reported on it a couple of years ago as being the most dangerous stretch in Europe. This is not good enough and this body is supposed to be taking over responsibility for regional and county roads. We are all aware that most local authorities have a five-year roads plan in place so this will scuttle those plans.

Who should we invite?

We are going to have a special meeting so there is no point in having it today.

We will arrange the meeting for next Wednesday. Obviously we want the chief executive of the National Roads Authority and who do we want from the Department of Transport? Is the Secretary General of the Department the appropriate person?

They will not be long telling the Chairman who the appropriate person is if they want to get someone else.

We will contact them immediately after the meeting. We will apologise for the short notice. In fairness to this committee we were not informed of this big change so it is not our fault the notice is short.

We should not apologise for anything. I am very upset this decision has been made without reference to this committee. It should be flagged in some way to this committee before such a decision is made. I would not apologise for anything.

The Deputy is correct.

I initially suggested that the circular letters should be issued along with the agendas of these meetings and the purpose of that suggestion was to ensure information going between the Department and the local authorities would also be available to the committee.

I congratulate the Chairman on uncovering that other Departments were also communicating with local authorities. I support the call for the meeting next week but before we move on to the main order of business today, we need to set aside a couple of moments to work out the agenda for next week's meeting and to consider with whom we are meeting. There could well be a series of meetings arising out of this and we may need to meet as a committee rather than just bringing in the NRA and lashing into them, so to speak. We might need to have a meeting to find out, to get some scope on this and then meet the NRA the following week.

I agree with the Deputy and I think that is a very good approach.

Is it suggested that we meet next week as a committee?

We need to meet as a committee next week to get a handle on what is happening.

We have no more information than these two sheets of paper.

I think we could do the two together. We could meet in private session for half an hour beforehand and then bring in the relevant people because we will need to meet them.

We are going to try to stay away from the motorways and the national primary routes because we could talk forever about toll roads. We should stick to this decision because this decision will probably be landed on the desks of all members of local authorities at their next monthly meetings. Will we proceed with that meeting next Wednesday morning or afternoon? We will meet in the afternoon and we will contact the chief executive of the NRA and the Secretary General requesting their presence. If they have other serious work to do we will ask them to postpone that for the day. Is that agreed? Agreed. Will we meet in private session for half an hour beforehand? We will meet at 2 p.m. but we will circulate these items this evening.

Could we hold the meeting earlier — perhaps at noon? That might not suit people who have to travel but I only live down the road.

Should we say noon so that we can finish early in the afternoon?

There is one other item to discuss.

It is straightforward for the NRA to report to us but it is a different matter for the Secretary General of the Department of Transport, who would not normally report to this committee. However, this is a local government issue.

The Minister for Transport is in charge of the local government fund for roads so the matter is related to the transport sector.

It is a local government issue.

Is it possible to have the meeting at 2 p.m? Some of us have to travel long distances.

I accept that.

It is in the hands of members.

I am sorry for being late for this meeting because I missed the reference to the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny. We need to look at our work programme because, as everybody campaigning on the Lisbon treaty will know, there are various directives where the Irish Government and departmental officials seem to lean very heavily on the pen in comparison to other European jurisdictions. This is particularly the case in regard to the water framework directive. I attended a meeting with my county manager and directors of services yesterday and they emphasised the level of water quality we require over and above what others require and the implications of that for our water services programme. The Joint Committee on European Scrutiny will have come across many directives relating to European legislation on the environment. Should we write to that committee to ask its members whether they have carried out any study of the manner in which directives are being implemented in this countryvis-à-vis other countries? I have evidence to suggest that, on water framework, we are considerably above the standard we require and that will have major implications for the funding arrangements for the water services programme and the question of whether the State is fined in 2015.

We will do that. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Another issue arises under the same heading. The issue of turf cutting comes up very often on the doorstep in the west of Ireland. People are being prevented from cutting turf, although there is a derogation this year because of the bad weather. Could we invite the relevant people from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government so that we can ask about the plans going forward? I understand that people will be stopped from cutting turf on 139 bogs across the country.

The Deputy probably missed the meeting on 21 July but we had a detailed discussion with departmental officials on that exact topic. I have no problem revisiting the issue if other details come to light.

I was away at that time. Did the officials give a full list of the bogs in question?

Is it available?

Yes. The bogs affected are provided on a county-by-county basis. We were told the directive applied to 4% of the bogs in Ireland, though some people think it is 94%.

That is 100% for the person affected.

Correct. My constituents are more interested in getting their compensation.

I asked at a previous meeting for the representatives of the turf cutters' association to be heard, along with public representatives, and we should facilitate them. Some people earn their living by cutting turf and there is a lot of concern out there. In these times, we should give any hope we can to people that they can sustain their livelihood. Can a date be set by the committee to facilitate that request?

Another issue coming up a lot at the moment relates to calendar farming. We will have to take a serious look at this, sooner or later. It has been a major issue in the past few years and the weather has played a significant part. It is not practical to expect farmers to work by the calendar, whether they are ploughing or spreading slurry or artificial fertiliser. The sooner we address it the better as it imposes another hardship on hard-pressed farmers.

Deputy Brady is the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

I agree with Deputy O'Sullivan.

This relates to the nitrates directive.

Yes. It comes before my committee time after time, though it is also an issue relating to the environment. In the past few years farmers have experienced dreadful weather and it is crazy to spread slurry during a downpour because it is simply washed into the drain. A month later, or even in January, the weather could be suitable but it cannot be spread at that time. There should be a system in each county whereby an official can advise farmers as to the weather for the coming weeks. Common sense should prevail over calendar farming as it is not possible in this country, given our weather. It is a crazy situation which has to be addressed.

What does the Deputy propose?

I suggest we bring in the officials to discuss the nitrates directive and calendar farming.

I take it I will not be cutting across the Joint Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries and Food by doing so.

Absolutely not. Some members of that committee are present today and would appreciate an invitation to the meeting.

We will invite them.

I support Senator Glynn's suggestion of bringing in the turf cutters' association.

That is two more groups so we will have to leave it at that. We will certainly invite officials from the Department to discuss the nitrates directive and calendar farming. We might arrange another date for a meeting with representatives of turf cutters so we will put it on our work programme.

I thank the Chairman.

We move on to item 3, the draft travel report. A draft report has been circulated on the visit by a delegation of the joint committee to the 96th annual conference of the Association of Municipal Authorities of Ireland in Killarney from 10-12 September 2009. Our thanks go to Senators Coffey and Glynn for representing the committee. Is it agreed to approve the draft report and lay it before both Houses of the Oireachtas? Agreed.

It was a most useful and informative conference. The session on Thursday relating to local government was very good. It dealt with impending changes to local government and certain aspects of the report of an bord snip nua, especially that which recommends the abolition of town councils. That would be an act of calculated lunacy. It took us a long time to get democracy in this country and I suggest we do not go back to the bad old days.

Sitting suspended at 4.09 p.m. and resumed at 4.11 p.m.