Business of Joint Committee

Apologies have been received from Deputies James Bannon and Christy O'Sullivan and Senator Paudie Coffey.

The first item on the agenda is the minutes of the meeting of 15 December 2009. The committee is joined by some non-members who are very welcome.

I call Deputy O'Flynn on the minutes.

Although I am not a member I wrote to the committee asking it to investigate the flooding in Cork and other areas before Christmas. I know the letter was dealt with at the last meeting.

It is in the minutes.

Rather than inviting officials from the different authorities to a meeting of the committee I suggest that committee members should travel to Cork and see the devastation caused and meet other interested bodies and those who wish to meet the committee. An official meeting of the Joint Committee on the Environment, Heritage and Local Government could be held in Cork City Hall where the city manager would provide premises. I would like the committee to consider looking at what happened to the waterworks in Cork which left 20,000 people without water for an entire week. It could look at the €8 million to €10 millions worth of damage caused to the brand new library of Cork County Council and to the serious damage caused to a nearby hotel and to private properties and businesses in the city centre. There was damage to the quay wall with consequent flooding of the Mercy Hospital and the UCC Glucksman art gallery.

I propose that the committee should come to Cork to see this damage at first-hand and go to the dam at Inniscarra to see the position there, meet with the ESB and question it about its spillage policy, and so on. There is no better place to do this than in the city and county of Cork where the different areas of flooding can be seen and what happened there. I hope I will get the support of the Cork Deputies and Senators and the other members of the committee. This would be very helpful to the committee before it completes its work on flooding.

There are other areas such as Bandon and Skibbereen and Senator O'Donovan may wish to speak about them. I ask the committee to consider this proposal seriously.

I second the proposal by Deputy O'Flynn that the committee should go to Cork and meet, not only the statutory authorities but the residents and business people affected by the flooding. We should call for an independent investigation into what happened regarding the flooding in Cork, as Deputy Hogan suggested earlier. It is important that this committee go to Cork and meet the people there rather than bring them to Dublin. We should meet the people in the city and in west Cork who were affected by the flooding. I hope we can find solutions.

I thank the committee for allowing me to speak. I am not a formal member but I support the proposal by Deputy O'Flynn that the committee should visit Cork. However, it is critical that other areas such as Bandon and Skibbereen where the Army is currently deployed be examined. I have no problem with and support the concept of this committee visiting Cork. However, it is also critical to consider other areas such as Bandon and Skibbereen where the Army is operating as we speak. It is possible that these areas could be flooded for the third time in eight weeks. The communities there have lost millions in revenue from a business point of view and more than 80 business premises and several hundred houses have been flooded in Skibbereen. It is a very critical situation given that any place there is likely to be flooded for the third time. Bandon got a severe doing too and if the committee is coming to Cork, it would also be appropriate that the two other towns, namely, Bandon and Skibbereen, are visited too.

People are in fear of their lives. People have had to leave their homes for the third time in areas where the Army is sandbagging as we speak and high tide is due at about 2.15 p.m. With the heavy winds, rain and melting snow it is quite likely that the people of Skibbereen will again be flooded before it gets dark tonight. We should also consider these towns and let us not forget the other towns that have suffered apart from the city. I do not denigrate the comments of Deputy O'Flynn. What he said is correct and it is very important. However, towns such as Bandon and Skibbereen must be incorporated in such a visit as well.

As I understand it, the committee is formally engaged with an appointment in Cork in the coming weeks. Will the clerk clarify this, please? We are due to go to UCC. What date is set for that?

We have suggested 4 February, although I am unsure what day of the week that will be. Actually, it is Thursday, 4 February.

Time is of the essence.

Certainly, there are peculiar aspects with regard to Cork and there is urgency in this regard. The meeting this afternoon is the beginning of a series of meetings we will hold. As the Chairman stated, we will meet Mr. Hogan this afternoon. We have met the Department of Social and Family Affairs. There is a critical need for the committee to meet what one might describe as the service recipients of the emergency services and to ascertain their feedback on the situation. It is critical that we meet people from Cork and there will probably be other areas of the country where people will wish to meet us as well. There is merit in Deputy O'Flynn's proposal. I realise the proposal has come from people who are not members of the committee but it is something we should take on board.

If one travels to Cork, Fermoy is on the map as well. It is the first town one meets and has a historical problem with flooding. It was devastated during the last floods some weeks ago. Residential and business people suffered very severely, but mainly residential people. There is an ongoing flood programme in place there and works are being carried out at present on the northern side of the town. The southern side is not on target for that work at present and it would be appropriate if the committee visited the area for half an hour. We could take it through and meet several residents and members of the council to establish what is taking place to help the situation there. The committee might then revert with a further proposal that would speed up the programme in some places.

I concur with the comments of the other Members. It is very important that we go to Cork because it has been devastated as a result of recent flooding and I am very supportive of any such efforts. However, I do not believe it is something we can do in half a day when it is tied in with something else. We should set aside at least two days to carry out the two projects to establish the full extent of the problems. There is no use in going to Cork to be seen to be there. We should go there to do something and to meet whatever people we need to meet.

It is very important that we meet the ESB as a matter of urgency because it controls many rivers, a matter of which I was not fully aware. In particular, it controls the dams on the River Liffey from where I come. It also controls rivers in Cork and the Shannon. It is important we meet such agencies to establish how they can improve the flood protection regimes. I welcome the suggestion that we go to Cork and I suggest we do so as soon as we possibly can.

I agree with the previous speakers and I refer to the remarks of Deputy Fitzpatrick. Fortunately, Sligo was lucky on this occasion. However, any given town or village along the Shannon has been very badly flooded. I refer to the comments of Deputy Fitzpatrick on the ESB, which has a major role to play in this regard. I visited houses where there was up to one foot of water outside. The residents were trying to keep the water out and watching it very closely. I visited houses where people checked their homes at five o'clock in the morning and everything was fine but by six o'clock there was 18 inches of water in them. That did not take place because of the rain alone. Something else happened. I do not know and I do not understand what exactly took place because I am not familiar with how these things work. However, something took place to allow such a level of water into the system, which meant there was one and a half feet of water inside houses within one hour. That does not take place from rain alone and I believe the ESB has questions to answer in this regard. We should invite the ESB to a meeting of the committee to discuss the matter once and for all to establish what took place.

I lend my support to Deputy O'Flynn and the other Members from Cork in respect of their request. There is no better way to see the devastation except to be there and see the damage that has been done. We were lucky in my part of the country, but I saw the reports on television and in newspapers of the devastation and the suffering of the unfortunate people and businesses. At this stage we should compliment the people. Their response was tremendous. There were pick-up points for clothing, household goods and so forth in our area. The response was unbelievable and those involved were almost unable to cope with all the clothes, bed clothes, furniture and other things donated. The people must be complimented on their response.

At this stage we will conclude on this matter. It is the main item of our agenda but this particular Cork issue arose in the minutes before we started on the main business. Before the Christmas break, we stated that we would hold several meetings early in the new year and I trust one of these will include a visit to Cork with a view to having a report issued by the end of February. There appears to be general agreement on this because it was worst affected by the floods. We could spend the next year studying this matter, but by the end of February we will be able to make several key conclusions or recommendations. I realise work will be ongoing afterwards but I take on board the points made. Certainly, one day's work comprising several visits with various groups and one afternoon simply will not suffice. Would a Monday be more appropriate? I am unsure if a Thursday is appropriate because we will be in the Dáil. We need a full Monday.

We need a full day.

What about a Thursday and Friday? We could stay overnight on the Thursday.

It depends on what time we get out of here. It will be a Friday or a Monday, one or the other.

If we are going down on other business, why not stay down there?

We will call on the clerk to draw up an itinerary and liaise with Cork City Council and Cork County Council.

I welcome the commitment of the Chairman and his proposal. However, we should consider the sizable geography of Cork. The only town that has really been hit three times in eight weeks, Skibbereen, must be visited. Situations developed there that were created and they did not simply happen because of heavy rainfall. I have no wish to point the finger but if the committee were to visit Skibbereen, Bandon and spend some time in the city it would be a very long day. It would be remiss of me as a representative of west Cork not to highlight this matter if the committee went to Cork but did not visit Skibbereen, which has been hit three times in eight weeks. There is vast ongoing devastation and it is likely to reoccur. I have serious concerns. I welcome the commitment of the Chairman, but one day is hardly enough.

We will consider the possibility of leaving on a Thursday afternoon and spending all day Friday down there, if that can be achieved. It may be possible to incorporate the previously planned activities on the Thursday.

We might consider coming down on Sunday evening, starting on Monday and returning on Tuesday morning.

It will be on a Thursday evening and Friday or a Monday starting early, having travelled down on Sunday night.

The logistics must be worked out by the committee members anyway.

We will consult the clerk. What Cork Deputies are on the committee? Obviously, we will invite all Cork Oireachtas Members to join us on the day. Transport must be arranged to visit the locations and so on. I trust the Chair of the Chairmen's committee will approve the travel budget to go to Cork.

That will be done. Then we will get someone from the press to write about it.

We will ask the clerk to put something together with a view to going in a few weeks time. We will have a meeting next week when we will have the draft itinerary.

As part of the liaison, the Middle Parish group in Cork should be contacted, as it was most affected in the city.

Feed the names to the clerk.

I have written to the committee regarding the Middle Parish in Cork and requested that the group be invited to the meeting. I hope it will be facilitated.

Anyone with suggestions should feed them to the clerk in the next few days and we should have an itinerary by the next meeting.

Will Fermoy be considered? It will probably be flooded again by tomorrow morning.

I have an open mind, we will see what is feasible.

When the rain comes from the south west we get huge flooding.

Could we have a document that would tell us what areas flooded and what areas were due flood relief works?

We will ask the OPW and the local authorities to provide advance information to the committee, not just on the day we arrive but the week in advance so we are knowledgeable when we arrive.

The clerk will liaise with the local authorities. Those of us who know what happened will feed into the clerk.

Are the minutes approved? Agreed.

I will not to deal with the work programme for 2010 today. The first item of correspondence is a newsletter from Globe International. Then there is a list of EU proposals from the Joint Committee on European Scrutiny.

On that matter, one of the major items coming down the tracks is the implementation of the habitats directive. Perhaps we might discuss the implementation of that directive with officials from the Department in the next few weeks, with particular reference to how it has been implemented in other European countries.

That is agreed, we will write on that basis and put it in our work programme.

The next item is the Europe's World newsletter, followed by the report and accounts for 2008 of the Radiological Protection Institute of Ireland. The next item comes from the Institute of Public Health, an annual update on fuel poverty and health. There is then a download from the website of An Bord Pleanála regarding the construction of a smart business park in Carton Demesne. We must hold that until the next meeting because there is a great deal of documentation on it.

The Joint Committee on Enterprise, Trade and Employment will go to Carton next Monday.

We do not want to duplicate.

That is what I am saying. I am on the other committee so I will go anyway. Instead of duplicating work and discussions, however, perhaps members of this committee might join the other committee.

I wanted to go but there is a British-Irish sub-committee meeting here in Dublin that I must attend as vice-chairman.

Perhaps the correspondence on the An Bord Pleanála issue could be forwarded to the other committee, unless it has already received it. After the visit we will decide what to do next.

It would be appropriate because we are dealing with slightly different issues. Perhaps the Chairman and the clerk might join the group on that day.

I might not be in a position to but we will see if it would be appropriate for the clerk to join the group representing this committee, along with any member of the committee who wants to travel.

Any member of the committee who wants to go in my place is more than welcome. I am not a member of that committee but because I am an Oireachtas Member for Meath West, I was invited.

If no one else wants to go, will Deputy Fitzpatrick report back?

I will, but Deputy Scanlon also wants to go.

The next item is the ministerial press release on the publication of the Dog Breeding Establishments Bill 2009. We will not have a debate on this today.

I will put down a marker because I will certainly have something to say about it when it comes up. Looking at a programme last night, I note that there is a void in the legislation pertaining to illegal dog fighting. The programme was absolutely horrendous.

What programme was that?

It was on TV3. Illegal dog fighting is a total disgrace in this day and age. Something must be done. We need legislation and we should push for it because it comes under the aegis of this committee.

That matter will come before the committee. The next item relates to electoral reform and University College Cork. Deputy Lynch raised the meeting in UCC to discuss electoral reform and the date suggested is 4 February 2010. I ask him to liaise with the clerk to tie in our dates.

We have spoken about that to some degree. The idea behind it comes from a recent meeting in UCC of the Committee on the Constitution where members, along with local Oireachtas Members, met students from UCC. It took the Oireachtas from this building so it could be seen in action in other parts of the State. It was a success and instigated the idea of bringing this committee to UCC. The committee has more or less signed up to the idea.

We will discuss it at our next meeting. The next item is a press release from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government on the temporary closure of the hunting season for water fowl. The next item relates to population targets and regional planning guidelines. It is a reply to queries raised at our last meeting and documentation has been attached. Deputy Hogan had asked for this information. Is it so that we can consider it as part of the discussion on the legislation? At the last meeting we asked for this information from the Department.

It is to inform members of what will be discussed on Committee Stage of the Planning and Development Bill.

We will note it. The next item is a request from the Local Authority Members Association to make a presentation on the Planning and Development Bill. I will say up-front that we have not acceded to that. We will probably be on different sides of the argument and representations should be made through the Department.

The Bill is gone through the Houses.

I spoke on it before Christmas. Committee Stage comes next and the concerns can be raised on that Stage.

I feel we should hear them. I hate to be the fly in the ointment but this directly affects local authority members. There are aspects of the Bill I was not 100% happy with and we should hear these people because they have a mandate from the public and are members of planning authorities.

The problem is that if we invite the LAMA, we must invite the local authority policy making groups, which are more important in these matters. LAMA is a trade union for the purpose of serving local authorities. I understand where the Senator is coming from but this is a role for the Oireachtas. If they want to make a submission on problems with the legislation, local authority members can rely on Oireachtas Members to articulate them effectively.

In response to Deputy Hogan, the Local Authority Members Association, LAMA, represents the members. The Association of County and City Councils, ACCC, represents the corporate body — that is, the authorities. I adhere to the view that we should hear from them.

In the first place, we need a submission.

The ACCC has not written seeking to address the committee on this legislation. We have one request before us from LAMA, to which we should accede.

If we meet one, we might as well meet them all on the one day.

LAMA has written asking to make a verbal submission to the committee. We should write to ask it to make a written submission in the first place.

The three groups.

I agree with that.

The legislation is two thirds of the way through the Houses of the Oireachtas.

That is the unfortunate thing.

Reading through the documentation supplied to us — the regional planning guidelines review, gateways and hub population targets — the whole problem is the issue of population targets. When one applies that to small towns and villages, nothing can happen in them because we are guided by the population targets. There will be no more development in settlements based on the guidelines before us because developers will not provide the infrastructure needed in these villages to allow development to take place.

In rural Ireland and in rural Kildare, there is a big issue about one off houses and whether we should encourage or discourage them. If we are to discourage them, we must encourage people to move into smaller settlements — the smaller villages. The only way we can do that is by having small developments in these villages. It is not profitable for developers to provide the infrastructure and the houses under the present guidelines.

The legislation is going through the Houses of the Oireachtas.

We will tease that out on Committee Stage of the Bill.

We will have a major discussion on Committee Stage.

Much of this should be thrashed out at county level in the county development plans. Councillors should not be bullied by officials into putting things into their plans which mitigate against the local communities. Currently, things in development plans mitigate against local people.

The legislation will come before this committee on Committee Stage and there will be ample opportunity to discuss these matters.

Deputy Fitzpatrick has articulated the fundamental issue of the Bill. It is a question of whether one wants a top down or a bottom up approach in regard to planning and development. We will have to have a mixture of both. What is in the proposals in the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill is that it will all happen at the top. This is what we must tease out on Committee Stage.

It is based on the national spatial strategy which is years out of date and which has been superseded by events.

We will have an interesting debate on that. We will bring in whatever expertise we need during Committee Stage, which is our right.

To go back to the core issue and the reason I spoke in the first place, the Bill is still going through the Houses of the Oireachtas. It has gone through the Upper House, which is fair enough, but it is on Committee Stage in the Lower House. Therefore, it is pertinent to hear the three local authority groups.

We will ask for three written submissions to start with.

Post receiving those submissions, let us bring them in.

We will see when receive their submissions.

Yes, by all means.

The next item of correspondence is 2010/709 regarding legal costs and An Bord Pleanála. I raised this as Chairman and it was in its annual accounts. Members may remember there was a qualification by the Comptroller and Auditor General in the annual accounts of An Bord Pleanála. When we looked at the legal costs, we found that €3.3 million was outstanding in recoverable legal costs. We asked for a breakdown of how old these costs were. It has given us the figures year by year, which we can circulate. The information is from 2004 to 2008.

Some €2.5 million in legal costs have been awarded to An Bord Pleanála by the courts which it has not yet recovered. More to the point, and to quote An Bord Pleanála documentation, there is a residual amount of €816,046 which is prior to 2004. That amount was awarded to An Bord Pleanála six years ago but it has not yet collected it. It raises two issues — first, it did not make a significant enough effort to collect it and second, it is showing it as an almost €1 million asset on its balance sheet. It is unlikely it will collect much of it given that it dates back to 2004 and earlier. We will ask An Bord Pleanála to address that in its financial statements in the future.

The next item, 2010/07, is the Chambers Ireland magazine,InBusiness, winter 2009.

The next item is circulars issued since our last meeting, namely, BC 11/2009, Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2009 — SI 351 of 2009 — disability access certificates, PD 0/09, provision of planning enforcement data——

There is a very interesting statistic in that. Some 13,000 enforcements were enacted but only two ended up in court convictions. Perhaps some clarification could be given to the committee in regard to the breakdown of that.

There is an enforcement table with the 2008 figures. It states that 12,700 cases were investigated. Some cases were dismissed. Some were resolved through negotiation — 5,600. The figure in regard to warning letters is 10,000. The figure in regard to enforcement notices is 3,000, warning letters complied with, 3,600 and enforcement notices, 4,000. The number of enforcement notices that complied with planning is 1,700. The number of prosecutions is 1,063 and the number of total convictions is 191. The number of applications for court orders is 125. Out of the 1,063 prosecutions, convictions amount to a little more than 10%.

The first table refers to the number of cases subject to complaints that were investigated. The figure is 12,709. The number of prosecutions initiated came to 1,013. The number of convictions on summary prosecutions was 178. The number of convictions on indictment was two. What is the difference between convictions and summary prosecutions and convictions on indictment?

The Deputy should write to the Department.

If two is the real figure that ended up in convictions out of almost 13,000 cases——

I am not sure whether one relates to the Circuit Court and the other to the District Court. We will ask the Department to clarify it.

That is an alarming figure.

There is no solicitor among us to answer that question. We will ask the Department to explain it in layman's English.

The next circular is LG 26/09, representation payment for councillors. The next is WP 11/09, the land fill levy increase from 31 December 2009. The next circular issued was copies of previous circulars.

The next circular is EL 17/09, revision of pay to local authority staff — application of pay adjustments in accordance with the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2009. That was applied to all public servants from 1 January.

The next circular is notice on Casual Trading and Services Directive. The next circular is LG 27/09, funding for the community and voluntary fora and the next is RLR 1 of 2010, winter maintenance on roads form the Department of Transport.

The statutory instrument issued since the last meeting was SI 556 of 2009, Building Regulations (Part F Amendment) Regulations 2009. That concludes correspondence for today's meeting.

We will now deal with the emergency response co-ordination committee.