Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2008: Committee Stage.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, to the House.

Section 1 agreed to.
SECTION 2.
Question proposed: "That section 2 stand part of the Bill."

Given that this is the definition section, it is a missed opportunity not to include within it a new statutory definition of homelessness. I made this point on Second Stage. The definition of homelessness currently does not include those who are in short-term rental accommodation. A broader definition modelled on the European-wide definition to include persons who experience inadequate or insecure accommodation, such as victims or survivors of sexual violence or so-called "domestic" violence should be included in the Bill. No formal amendments have been tabled on the definition section but it is important that the Government consider on Report Stage inserting a definition of homelessness in this section of the Bill. I hope to table amendments in this regard on Report Stage and I will also seek the inclusion in the definition section of an amendment on homeless action plans. It is important that we have a provision relating to this in the Bill.

Senator Bacik raised precisely the point I wish to raise. I find it astonishing there is no definition of homelessness in this section. We are relying on previous and clearly inadequate definitions. I am glad this matter has been raised and I strongly support what Senator Bacik stated. I will table amendments and I will be happy to support amendments tabled by Senator Bacik. It is important that this matter is cleared up and that the matter of homelessness is made central in the Bill. Homeless action plans are inadequately dealt with in the legislation as framed.

The Minister of State, as a former colleague in this House and as a good Minister of State, will be receptive to these matters and I am sure he will take on board that the principle function of Seanad Éireann is to amend legislation. If he is agreeable to amendments, it is in this House they should be taken.

I support my colleagues in their call for a definition of homelessness to be inserted in the Bill. I also wish to give notice that I intend to table amendments on Report Stage on obliging housing authorities to prepare housing action plans.

Fine Gael also would like to see included a definition of homelessness. A housing Bill is passing through the Oireachtas without a clear definition of homelessness which is one of the most significant challenges facing us with regard to housing. Will the Minister of State take on board the views of the House? It is clear that strong views are held on a clear definition of homelessness. Unless we know what we are talking about we cannot put in place the measures to address this challenge.

The House will have an opportunity to debate this matter when we discuss section 10. I commented on this matter on Second Stage and I stated that I am satisfied that the current statutory definition of homelessness which is contained in the 1988 Act is sufficient. We will carry out a review of the definition for operational purposes. Furthermore in the context of developing a new assessment for the need for social housing support we will provide for a nationwide consistent standard and an objective suite of criteria. The details of such criteria are best suited to secondary legislation and this is what the Bill proposes. We will have further opportunity to deal with this matter as we progress through the Bill today.

My friend and colleague, Senator Bacik, has pointed out to me that a definition is proposed by Senator Doherty in amendment No. 30 to section 20. The Minister of State will have a few minutes grace to review the situation this morning.

I made my comment on this and we will have further opportunity to discuss this matter as we progress through the Bill. This is the best way forward.

Question put and agreed to.
Section 3 agreed to.
SECTION 4.
Government amendment No. 1:
In page 8, between lines 19 and 20, to insert the following subsection:
"(2) The Minister may, by direction in writing, revoke or amend a direction undersubsection (1), including a direction under this subsection.”.

This amendment is required to provide explicitly that a Minister has the power to revoke or amend a general policy direction issued under this section. This provision would be particularly important where policy is changed after the appointment of a new Minister. A similar provision exists in planning legislation, in section 29(3) of the Planning and Development Act 2000.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 4, as amended, agreed to.
Sections 5 and 6 agreed to.
NEW SECTION.
Government amendment No. 2:
In page 8, before section 7, to insert the following new section:
"7—The Acts specified incolumn (3) of Schedule 1 are repealed to the extent specified in column (4) of that Schedule.”.

The acceptance of this amendment involves the deletion of section 7 of the Bill.

This amendment is required to correct references in section 7 to columns in Schedule 1 which specify that the short title of a Bill is to be replaced and the extent of the repeal. Section 7 as it stands refers to columns 2 and 3 of Schedule 1 where it should refer to columns 3 and 4.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 7 deleted.
Sections 8 and 9 agreed.
SECTION 10.

I move amendment No. 3:

In page 9, line 11, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".

This amendment is intended to replace the word "may" in the section with the word "shall". This would place a legal obligation on housing authorities to provide housing services which would significantly strengthen the legal obligations provided for in section 20, on which I have tabled amendments. Section 20 provides for the range of services which housing authorities will provide. Some of us argued for a constitutional right to housing which would be elevated above legislation. While it would not go so far, it is important to place, within this legislation, a more onerous requirement on housing authorities to provide this type of service. Will the Minister consider accepting this amendment?

The purpose of section 10 is to provide a summary of the main functions of the housing authorities and to act as a lead-in provision to the requirement to make housing service plans as provided for in sections 14 to 18. While I appreciate the objective of the proposed amendment, it would not have the impact envisaged by the Senator. It could oblige an authority to put in train arrangements to deliver support which is not required. I consider the most appropriate way to proceed in this area is to develop procedures whereby an individual or household can apply for social housing support, have their eligibility and need for support assessed and determined in a consistent and fair manner and be allocated to dwellings appropriate to their needs in good time. The provisions of the Bill, including section 10, provide for a coherent set of arrangements for achieving this and I cannot accept the proposed amendment which, if made, would not add to this process. I call on the Senator to withdraw the amendment.

Question put: "That the word proposed to be deleted stand."
The Committee divided: Tá, 23; Níl, 16.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • de Búrca, Déirdre.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ross, Shane.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Déirdre de Búrca and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Ivana Bacik and Pearse Doherty.
Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Government amendment No. 4:
In page 9, paragraph (a), to delete lines 19 and 20.

Section 10(a)(iv) lists sales or consents to sales under Part 3 of the Bill, that is, the incremental purchase scheme as a housing support forming one of three specific elements of the housing services provided by the housing authority under the housing Acts. However, the social housing support is also listed in section 10(a)(i) as a form of housing support and elements of the social housing support are listed separately in section 19(2). As sales or consents to sales under an incremental purchase are listed as social housing support in section 19(2)(c), they should not be listed as a stand alone housing support in section 10(a). Hence the proposed deletion of section 10(a)(iv).

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments Nos. 5 and 30 are related and amendment No. 52 is consequential on amendment No. 30. Is it agreed that amendments Nos. 5, 30 and 52 be discussed together? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 5:

In page 9, paragraph (a)(x), line 35, to delete “10 of the Act of 1988” and substitute “20, as amended under this section of this bill”.

Ar dtús báire, ba mhaith liom a léiriú nach bhfuil mé sásta nár ghlac an tAire Stáit agus na Seanadóirí ar thaobh an Rialtais le leasú Uimh. 3, a chuir mé siós chun brú a chur ar na seirbhísí déanamh cinnte de go gcuirfidh siad seirbhísí ar fáil ó thaobh tithíocht sa Stáit seo.

I wish to register my disappointment that amendment No. 3 was not accepted by the Minister and his Government colleagues. It was an important amendment that would provide for a rights-based approach in accessing housing services. It is clear from international best practice that where a rights-based approach is taken to public service provision, including housing, the service provision is more effective and unequal access to services is greatly reduced, resulting in a fairer and more equitable society.

Amendment No. 5 is a technical amendment which replaces a section of the Bill with a different section on the basis that amendment No. 30 would be accepted. Amendment No. 30 is the substantive amendment and applies to section 20, page 16, lines 42 and 43. It seeks to provide a new definition of homelessness. At present, homelessness is defined under section 10 of the Housing Act 1988. The definition has merit but it is far too restrictive and fails to capture the reality of homelessness.

The premise of the amendment is very simple. The first step in solving a problem lies in its definition. This applies to social policy and legislation as much as anything else in life. If we are serious about reducing and eventually ending homelessness, we must work from an agreed and comprehensive legal definition. Across the European Union, NGOs and academics use what is known as the European typology on homelessness and housing exclusion or ETHOS definition of homelessness. This includes people defined as "roofless", such as rough sleepers, people who are homeless, such as those living in emergency accommodation, and those living at risk of homelessness, whether in unsuitable or overcrowded accommodation or experiencing domestic violence.

The amendment seeks to incorporate the ETHOS definition of homelessness into law by retaining the valuable language in the existing definition while adding the broader ETHOS typology. This is the definition used by voluntary service providers across the country and by the Homeless Agency in Dublin. Interestingly, even the Government's new homelessness strategy includes a commitment to review the operational application of the existing definition in line with ETHOS, and includes a detailed explanation of the typology in the appendices of the strategy. Unfortunately, the Government has decided against the new legal definition. That makes no sense. I urge the Minister and the Members of the House to support the amendment.

Finally, with regard to the new homelessness strategy, The Way Home: A Strategy to Address Adult Homelessness in Ireland 2008 — 2013, I am deeply disappointed that the Government has not brought forward any amendments to incorporate the legislative commitments in that strategy into this Bill. In particular, I wish to highlight the need to place both the homeless fora and homeless action plans on a statutory footing as a matter of urgency. The homelessness strategy seeks to end long-term homelessness by 2010. However, time is passing quickly and if it is to be successful, it must be based on a firm and clear legal footing. I intend to bring forward an amendment on this issue on Report Stage.

I wish to stress Sinn Féin's support for this Bill. My amendments are proposed in a positive and constructive manner. My intention is to strengthen this Bill and its intent, which is to ensure better provision of housing services to those in need in order to build safe and sustainable homes and communities. The problems of homelessness can be turned around. Fianna Fáil's partner in Government, the Green Party, has been shamefully quiet on this issue and has a heavy responsibility to end the wrong of homelessness. Every night that one of our people must sleep rough is the fault of every Government Minister and backbencher. They have the power to end homelessness but they choose not to. There is no excuse.

Fianna Fáil and the Green Party must remember their political mandates and who gave them that mandate. A substantial, prosperous economy can be built only on foundations that are just and equal. The Government parties might not recognise this, but the people do. It is time the Government listened to the people. I urge the Minister to listen to my contribution and support amendments Nos. 5 and 30, which would provide for a new definition of homelessness in the Bill.

I strongly support Senator Doherty. He has done us a service by providing a definition of homelessness for the Bill. I am sure Members on this side of the House will put forward amendments and if I do not put them forward, I will certainly support those who do.

It is essential to have this definition of homelessness. I wish to comment on the wording of the amendment. The first thing one notices is that there is a sliding scale; it is gradated. Subsection (a) states, “(a) a person who has no accommodation available to them other than a night shelter, a public place or external space”. That is the extreme, but regrettably we know these people exist. There are people within 100 yards of this building who are homeless and who have no place to go. One such person is known to me and he has chosen to remain homeless. It is very difficult to know what to do in those circumstances. There are others, and with the increasingly hostile economic climate there will be many more. For this reason it is very important we address the situation of homelessness very clearly, directly and specifically.

I agree with the definition of homelessness provided by Senator Doherty with one reservation. I suggest when he tables the amendment on Report Stage, as I imagine he will if the Minister does not accept it, Senator Doherty might reconsider the question of people residing in mobile homes because there are people who live in perfectly good, adequate and decent mobile homes. There is something unexpectedly snobbish about this coming from Sinn Féin. It is almost as if we were dealing with trailer trash. Such people are not all Sarah Palins; there are some very decent people. I suggest Senator Doherty might re-examine the business of mobile homes. There are very good quality, well-maintained and comfortable mobile homes in which people live a quite adequate life. I do not believe they would be flattered by being described as homeless. With that reservation I support the amendment.

I urge the Minister of State to consider a definition of homelessness. I believe we are only taking Committee Stage of the Bill today and that we will not consider Report Stage. Is that correct?

I believe that is correct.

The Minister of State will have time to consider the question of a definition of homelessness. He would do us a service if he provided a definition and he should not allow it to go to the Lower House. The Minister of State was a Member of this House and we have been treated with scant respect by it in recent days. I believe he would be doing the political system a favour if he either provided a definition of homelessness himself or accepted the one proposed by Senator Doherty, by Senator Bacik, who has indicated she will provide one, by me or a combination of all three with, I am sure, the support of Labour and Fine Gael and the moral support of the soldiers of destiny.

I support Senator Doherty's amendment and I echo the words of Senator Norris on this matter. It is crucial a more comprehensive definition of homelessness is provided. I said this on Second Stage and I repeated it earlier. I am grateful to the make room campaign led by the four national voluntary organisations working in the area of homelessness and housing, namely, Threshold, Focus Ireland, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Simon Community.

They have been very helpful to several of us in working on the Bill. It is important there is a more comprehensive definition of homelessness. I say this, as did Senator Doherty, in the spirit of supporting and broadly welcoming the Bill, as I have previously said. A Bill dealing with housing in such a comprehensive manner is welcome. However, there is an omission and it would be a missed opportunity if we did not provide a better definition of homelessness.

In July of this year during a debate on housing, the Minister of State discussed the Government's new homeless strategy and its key objectives which are the elimination of long-term occupation of emergency homeless facilities, the elimination of the need to sleep rough by 2010 and to prevent the occurrence of homelessness as far as possible. These are very important aspirations, the attainment of which could be assisted by a proper definition of homelessness.

I note the assessment of the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government in 2005 of slightly more than 3,000 people experiencing homelessness. This is regarded by those in the voluntary sector who provide homeless services as an underestimate of the number of people who should be termed homeless. These organisations are of the view that the 2002 figures, which are in excess of 5,000 persons, may be a more accurate representation of homelessness.

To conduct the necessary assessments, to further the homeless strategy and to provide a statutory basis for homeless action plans, it is important to have a statutory definition of homelessness that is comprehensive and on which everyone agrees. I urge the Minister of State to consider these comments and adopt such a definition.

The Labour Party supports this Bill. Our amendments are tabled with the intention of improving the thrust of the legislation. I compliment Senator Doherty on providing a definition of homelessness and the Labour Party will support its inclusion. Clarity is required and we have seen from the exchange between Senators Doherty and Norris that there are issues relating to mobile homes and overcrowded dwellings. Regarding mobile homes, I understand Senator Doherty refers to the type of mobile homes found in people's back gardens which are without access to sanitation or water supplies. These are in place because the eldest son or daughter of the family cannot avail of housing elsewhere. As Senator Norris noted, there are examples of very good mobile homes, linked to sanitation supply, near shops and which are in effect reasonable dwellings. However, the definition should have greater clarity. The mobile homes referred to in the amendment are more likely to be unserviced and in place because of a real need on the part of the occupants.

Regarding the definition of overcrowding, there are many cases of which Senators are aware whereby young families must share rooms in their parents' houses. In such cases the young people concerned may start a family and may be unable to find accommodation. In some cases they end up sharing a bed with their young children because of the lack of social and affordable houses in certain areas. This issue must be addressed. At present overcrowding is usually just taken as one criterion in the assessment for whether a person should be housed from the social housing list. We need to strengthen the definition and I welcome the inclusion of this amendment, which I support.

It is generally agreed that this is a positive and progressive Bill dealing with housing. It would be a shame for it to progress beyond the House without a clear definition of homelessness. It is a significant challenge which we face and this is an ideal opportunity to address that challenge. This amendment serves to define and clearly enshrine or acknowledge in legislation what it means to be homeless. If we are to seek resources for housing plans or local authorities, we must acknowledge in legislation at the outset that homelessness is a problem and it must be clearly defined and understood. We also support this amendment.

Many Senators outlined their concerns on homelessness on Second Stage. One need only look around the streets near Leinster House at night to find clear evidence of what some people live through in this day and age, which is a very sad indictment of the system.

I refer to the voluntary and community agencies working at the coalface to deal with homelessness. Senator Bacik already mentioned Focus Ireland, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Simon Community and Threshold. These organisations work daily with various housing authorities and agencies and they see at first hand the shortfalls in the system. These organisations make recommendations for the good of those who are homeless and they are the voice of such people. I compliment the manner in which they have engaged with the parliamentary system and the Oireachtas on this Bill, as they speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. They raise the awareness among Senators, Deputies, civil servants and the Department of those in need and they do a very good job.

We support the amendment for this very reason. It clearly defines homelessness and I urge the Minister of State to consider the amendment as it can only strengthen what is already a very positive Bill. It is possible to build a consensus in the House and in the Dáil when the Bill goes there. This amendment can only strengthen the legislation and provide a stronger document.

I acknowledge the comments of my colleagues. This is a very good Bill, but there should be a statutory definition of homelessness and it is a pity there is no mention of homelessness in it, given there are so many homeless people. I understand more than 5,000 people are in this position. People are moving from the house of one relative to another, carrying their belongings in a refuse bag and sleeping on couches. The Minister of State opened a very good refuge in Mullingar last week. The people in that refuge are homeless and they have nowhere to go. These people need to have their rights defined clearly by this Bill so I ask the Minister of State to accept this amendment.

It is extraordinary that a Bill on housing does not contain a definition of homelessness and has little or no mention of homelessness. The Minister of State should take on board the amendments that we have put forward. People are putting forward amendments to improve the Bill. We would welcome the acceptance of such amendments or an assurance from the Minister of State that he will put down an amendment on Report Stage to deal with homelessness. We certainly cannot let the Bill go through the House without a proper definition of homelessness.

It has been mentioned that 3,000 people are on the streets, but the agencies claim the figure is much higher than that. I would be inclined to believe the agencies that are working with homeless people across the country.

Ba mhaith liom a rá leis an Seanadóir Doherty go bhfuil an leasú i mBéarla agus mar sin beidh an freagra i mBéarla.

In its new homeless strategy, the Government has decided that the statutory definition of homelessness will not be changed. However, we will review how the definition is applied operationally, for example, to ensure consistency in its application across local authorities. This has been made clear in the homeless strategy and in the course of engagement with representatives of service providers in the make room alliance.

Work is being undertaken by the Homeless Agency, in partnership with the Centre for Housing Research, to develop a position paper on a common operational definition for the Dublin area. This paper will form part of a review to be undertaken through the cross-departmental team on homelessness, in consultation with the national housing consultative committee. FEANTSA has devised a typology, entitled ETHOS, to assist in the understanding of housing exclusion and the risk of homelessness. To ensure awareness of groups that may be at serious risk of homelessness, reference is made to the wider ETHOS typology by the Homeless Agency and by non-governmental bodies. This is relevant to the planning and implementation of effective responses to homelessness, particularly in the context of prevention.

I do not propose to amend the definition of homelessness and I ask the Senator to withdraw amendment No. 30 and the consequential amendments Nos. 5 and 52. There are other elements of amendment No. 52 which are the same as amendment No. 53 and these can be dealt with later.

The statutory definition of homelessness is set out in the Housing Act 1988. It defines a person as homeless if:

(a) there is no accommodation available which, in the opinion of the authority, he, together with any other person who resides normally with him or who might reasonably be expected to reside with him, can reasonably occupy or remain in occupation of;

or

(b) he is living in a hospital, county home, night shelter or other such institution, and is so living because he has no accommodation of the kind referred to in paragraph (a), and he is, in the opinion of the authority, unable to provide accommodation from his own resources.

This definition is generally interpreted as including people living in temporary or insecure accommodation, people living in emergency bed and breakfast accommodation and hostels, people in HSE accommodation because there is no other accommodation available, rough sleepers and victims of domestic violence.

The suggested definition by the Senator in certain cases seems to deal with categories of persons who are possibly at risk of homelessness, but who are not actually homeless. For instance, a person whose house is repossessed might be able to source private rented accommodation with the assistance of rent supplement in certain cases. This may also be true for some of the other categories mentioned. Some of the other categories in paragraph (c) would be included anyway in a general assessment of housing need, such as for persons in unfit housing. There could also be difficulties with statutorily categorising all persons in mobile homes as homeless as this would not be acceptable to Traveller groups.

I launched the homeless strategy in August and this is the first serious attempt by the Government to address the issue of homelessness. The strategy has very clear aims, but it will not be implemented unless we have an implementation plan. That plan will be made available before the end of the year. It is very important that we have the implementation plan and the consultation process is ongoing.

I indicated that I hope to bring forward amendments on the homeless action plan during the Bill's passage through the House. I will deal with that on a statutory basis. I ask people to see things from my position. People are often in emergency accommodation for up to eight years so I have brought forward the homeless strategy with that in mind. One of the main aims of the strategy is that nobody will remain in emergency accommodation for more than six months and that we will deal with homelessness and sleeping rough by the end of 2010. That involves many stakeholders and I am involved in a series of meetings with them all. I have met some of them many times. We have a half-day meeting coming up soon with many of the stakeholders, where we hope to finalise our discussions.

I am very committed to this. In those Estimates for which I have responsibility, it is one of the areas where I have increased the allocation, by 5%, for next year. Almost €100 million will be available to deal with homelessness in 2009, made up of €62 million from my Department, over €30 million from the HSE and the remainder from local authorities. I am very committed to the issue of homelessness. The organisations involved have given public recognition of that. The homelessness issue will be dealt with in the implementation plan, which will be put on a statutory footing. I await our final discussions on that plan.

Go raibh maith agat, a Aire Stáit, as ucht do fhreagra. Caithfidh mé a rá nach bhfuil mé sásta. Sílim go bhfuil deis againn anois, sa reachtaíocht seo atá ag dul tríd an tSeanaid inniu, sár-mhíniú a thabhairt ar an t-ábhar atá á phlé againn. While I welcome the Minister of State's comments, I do not agree that a definition of homelessness as outlined in amendment No. 30 should not be included in the Bill. The original definition of homelessness is too narrow. It does not address the reality on the ground. Given that the Minister of State has clearly said that the Government has no intention of altering the statutory definition of homelessness, I have no option but to press the amendment.

I am heartened by some of what the Minister of State says, but I am disappointed with his response to the definition. I would like some information on that. I know there is a definition in the 1998 Act, but that dates from 20 years ago. We now have a more sophisticated and targeted approach in these matters. I would not like to think that we have not learned anything over the past 20 years that would be helpful in providing a definition of homelessness. I assume it is automatically carried over from that Bill. Perhaps the Minister of State will advise me how that is done technically because I do not see any definition here. It may be that it is included technically, but I would like to know how and where that definition is carried over from the 1998 Act. I am sure the Minister of State is correct in saying that it is, but I am not sure how. It would be helpful therefore if he would explain that. We will continue with this because we are disappointed.

I completely concur with my colleagues who have referred to the work of the make room group, as well as the four principal organisations: Focus Ireland, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Simon Community and Threshold. The Minister of State said he has been in discussions with what he calls stakeholders, but that word can mean various things. I assume that among the stakeholders would be this coalition of particular people who do remarkable work on our behalf, including the menial but essential job of providing soup and blankets. Is the Minister of State saying that the principal groups delivering services to the homeless are satisfied with the definition? I would be very interested to know that. It will weaken our case if he tells me that these people are satisfied because they are the stakeholders, apart from homeless people themselves. If the Minister of State tells me that they are happy with the absence of an updated definition of homelessness, I will take the opportunity to consult them this evening. If the Minister of State is correct and they say "Fine", so be it. I will have to withdraw my point.

I was pleased that the Minister of State spotted the argument about mobile homes. There are people who are happy enough in mobile homes and that issue can be met. I am sure the combined intelligence of my friends, Senators Doherty and Bacik, and even my own wit, might come up with something to cope with that while still covering vulnerable people.

I was impressed by the clear way in which the Minister of State dealt with the situation. It is obvious that he is on top of the job regarding his portfolio. I am 64 years old, however, and have difficulty in hearing. Therefore when he is making an important point, will he emphasise it a bit more for the elderly among us who may be hard of hearing, although not homeless or inadequate in other ways?

I will end on a positive note. I was pleased to hear the Minister of State's comments on emergency accommodation. Although some people have been in such accommodation for years, he has given the House a commitment that no Irish citizen shall be in emergency accommodation for more than six months. That is the ambition the Minister of State proposes to realise and I welcome it. I will be most interested to hear if his discussions with the people who deliver these services have entitled him to say that they are happy with this definition of homelessness.

I was slightly disappointed with the Minister of State's response. I heard what he said about mobile homes and it was something I intended to discuss. I know Senator Norris was hoping for some intellectual contribution from one of his Trinity colleagues, but I do not have their grey matter.

The Senator underestimates himself.

As regards mobile homes, I suggest that it is an opt-in. It is not a compulsory definition, which may annoy or upset people if they take it as a slur. If an individual or group thinks that because they are living in a mobile home they are homeless, let them opt in to the clause. It is not beyond the wit of the Minister of State's advisers to come up with a wording that would achieve the obvious aims of what we are trying to do.

I am disappointed with the Minister of State's response and I serve notice that we will be tabling amendments on Report Stage specifically on the obligations of local authorities to produce service plans for the homeless. If Senator Doherty wishes to push this amendment, he will have our support.

I was going to venture a suggestion on mobile homes, although not necessarily an intellectual one. Some qualifying word could be countenanced so that "mobile home" would not be included as an absolute term. One could refer instead to "inadequate", "unsuitable" or "insecure" mobile homes, to provide for the scenario whereby people want to be in mobile homes. They might otherwise feel it is in some way judgmental to suggest that mobile homes are automatically unsatisfactory, insecure or unsuitable accommodation.

I welcome the Minister of State's full answer but I am disappointed that he will not take on board our comments about the definition of homelessness. While he does not feel the statutory definition requires updating or changing, I understood him to say that he will review its application in an operational sense. I would like some clarification from the Minister because I am not quite sure what that may mean in practice.

I would never be so bold as to describe Senator Norris as elderly.

I will get my pension next year.

I will address the last question first. Senators are aware of the strategy on homelessness, but it is not worth the paper it is written on unless there is an implementation plan with a statutory back-up. That is the process I am involved in at the moment with all the stakeholders and it is our definite intention to publish the plan before the end of the year. We want to implement it, which means working to get people out of emergency accommodation and into either independent or assisted living under the rental accommodation scheme or other schemes. It is important to work on a co-operative basis, which is why I mentioned the stakeholders who have dealt with homelessness over the years on a voluntary basis. I am now attempting to assist them not alone with a strategy but also with a planned legislative framework so that people will not be in emergency accommodation for more than six months. I have good reason for saying that because I worked in the health services and the local authority system and it is not good for anyone's self-esteem to remain in emergency accommodation for a long period. It gives them no opportunity to re-establish their independent identities, which many of them have lost, nor to enter relationships. I am keen therefore that emergency accommodation should be just that, for emergencies only, and that we will move on from there.

Stakeholders have been informed of the Government's decision regarding the 1998 Act, which is mentioned in section 10 of this Bill. However, the 1998 Act and all other housing legislation work in conjunction with one another. That definition of homelessness therefore forms part of the law of the land. All the Acts from 1996 to 2008 will remain in force. The statutory definition of homelessness is a very good one that has withstood the test of time. The difficulty is not about the definition, but that we have not dealt with homelessness in a broad way. We have allowed that situation to develop over a long number of years, although I am not blaming anybody. I thank the voluntary organisations that have held the line in providing such services. We have not done it in a way that has allowed people to get into independent living or assisted living.

According to the April night count, 104 people were living rough in this city. While I do not want anybody living rough, we will have a small cohort of people who will not take a bed — we know this from the organisations on the ground. That said, we want to make sure they are offered a bed and that they are looked after if they do not want to take it. When we remove people from emergency accommodation, this frees up such accommodation. This will give us an opportunity to have a better range and suite of emergency accommodations than is perhaps available at this time.

As I said, we informed the organisations. I do not want to speak for them as they can speak for themselves and I will not talk on anyone else's behalf. They are aware of my position and they continue to work with me. If I were to interpret it, I believe the implementation plan is the important part for them. We have arranged for a half-day meeting with all the stakeholders in the Custom House some time in the coming weeks, and they have agreed to that.

In conclusion, having considered this in its entirety, I am happy the existing suite of housing legislation puts us on a new path. There is much in this Bill, for example, with regard to the incremental loans scheme. There is a broad range, although we are focusing on homes. The suite of supports available will be adequate and it provides the framework for assessing housing needs, which includes homelessness, as far as I am concerned. The final response before its implementation will be the plan, which I am sure will be debated in this House when it is available. As I said, I hope to have it before the end of the year.

In my discussions with the four principal elements of the Make Room grouping, they were extremely positive about the Bill and about the Minister of State's attitude. There is no question of a dispute or anything like that. However, I could not help noticing that the Minister did not actually say they are happy with the definition of homelessness. In fact, he scrupulously avoided it. Perhaps he is correct — he has just said he cannot speak for them — but the rest of his language is also instructive. He said they have been informed of the decision of the Government and that they continue to work with us. That does not reassure me 100%.

I am not suggesting there is any tension between the Minister of State and these groups because they are all moving very much in the same direction. One of the most heartening things is the Minister of State's very clear commitment to an implementation plan. I would support him in what I understand him to say, namely, that any amount of definitions are no use unless one has an implementation plan. This House on all sides will support the Minister of State in the most rapid development and action on the implementation plan.

If I might presume to one slight correction, when the Minister of State directed my attention to section 10 he referred to 1998. The Act in which I am most interested is that of 1988, not 1998. It is an understandable confusion as there are so many. However, it is reasonable to let the record show it is the definition contained in the Act of 1988.

It is 1988. I accept that.

I have listened to the Minister of State. I want to reiterate this is a serious missed opportunity——

Excuse me, Senator. I asked Members coming to the Chamber not to have phones with them. A phone is switched on and it is not fair to those trying to record the proceedings. Senator Doherty should proceed.

This is a missed opportunity. The existing definition of homelessness in the 1988 Act is too narrow. The Minister of State talked about the ETHOS definition but this does not incorporate that broader definition. He used phrases regarding the definition such as "can be interpreted to mean" and "in my view". This amendment seeks to make clear it is no longer a matter of the Minister's view or interpretation but that the definition of homelessness would be clear.

With regard to the mobile home issue, a suitable formula of words can be found to deal with any concerns Members have. I want to state clearly that it is nothing to do with Sinn Féin snobbery or thinking that people who are at risk of homelessness or who are homeless are trailer trash or anything like that. I bring these amendments in a constructive manner and with a clear agenda, namely, to strengthen the Bill and to deal with the issue of homelessness.

The Minister of State talked of "The Way Home" strategy and the ending of homelessness by 2010, which is just 13 months away. There is a need for legislation to be brought forward. He referred to the implementation plan. Of course, everybody is concerned about the implementation plan because they want to see action but they want to see action on some basis or according to some definition. Will it be the narrow definition of homelessness or the broader one that has been accepted and implemented by agencies working in this city and other areas? I have no doubt the groups at the coalface would like to have the broader definition of homelessness.

I urge the Minister of State to reconsider this matter and to accept the amendment or indicate he will come back with his own amendment that would be in keeping with the spirt of my amendment. If not, I will press the amendment. I am glad of the support indicated from other Senators.

I do not accept that the definition of homelessness in the 1988 Act is inadequate. It is very clear and deals with people who live in temporary or insecure accommodation. Much is covered. There is always a danger in tying down definitions that it may not work the way one wants it to. The implementation of the homeless strategy is what is important. We have a statutory framework in the 1998 Act, it is mentioned again in this Bill and we will have the implementation plan for that strategy by the end of the year.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. This will not be done alone by the Department responsible for housing or by local authorities, or even by the organisations. It must be a co-operative approach. While in many cases my Department and the local authorities may provide the funds, we are not in a position to provide the care. Many of these people have social and addiction problems and need the provision of care. This must involve the Departments, the local authorities, the voluntary organisations and the HSE and the health side. This homelessness strategy will be successful if there is a co-operative approach.

I intend to drive the strategy and the implementation plan when it is available. The implementation plan will get legislative back-up when it is agreed. I do not want to pre-empt the final terms of the implementation plan. I have my own ideas, as has the Department, but it is a co-operative approach and that is the reason the consultation process has been ongoing for some time. While other people were on their summer holidays I was working on the homelessness strategy, and many other people on the voluntary side were available also. We have a short time in which to get it up and running. There are less than two months remaining but we have two years in which to get the results. No one person, be it the Minister or anybody else, can do that unless he or she has the co-operation. It appears from the comments made in this House that there is great support for tackling the problem and as politicians we have a responsibility in that regard. I have a responsibility, as Minister with responsibility for housing, to remove the sore of long-term emergency accommodation and to give some self-esteem to those who have been in such accommodation for up to eight years.

I appreciate the points made by the Senators but I am not in a position to accept the amendment. I ask the Senators to understand my position on it and accept that the final piece of the jigsaw, namely, the implementation plan, is not in place.

Amendment put.
Question put: "That the words proposed to be deleted stand."
The Committee divided: Tá, 23; Níl, 16.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • de Búrca, Déirdre.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Burke, Paddy.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ross, Shane.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Déirdre de Búrca and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Ivana Bacik and Pearse Doherty.
Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Section 10, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 11.

Amendments Nos. 6, 7 and 12 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 6:

In page 10, subsection (1), line 7, to delete "works or services" and substitute "works, services and tenancy services".

I refer to section 11 and we are talking about housing services, which are an important function of local authorities across social and affordable housing, grants, loans, etc. Section 11 refers to ancillary services. If we examine where local authorities have historically delivered housing projects there has been a gaping deficit in the level of support services provided to support the people who live in those estates. We have had tenements in our history and sprawling estates, mainly in our cities, where houses were built and large multitudes of people housed without any support.

I am glad section 11 refers to ancillary services which include roads, shops, playgrounds, places of recreation, parks, allotments, open space, sites for places of worship, factories, schools, offices and other buildings or lands and other such works or services. It is good that the Bill acknowledges that where people live there is a need for supports such as education and recreation.

We are tabling this amendment because we need to acknowledge that tenants live in these housing estates. For a long time Irish property habits has focused on the rights and needs of home owners. The needs and considerations of tenants has been mostly an afterthought. New regulations for the standards of rented accommodation will be introduced only this year, after decades of ignoring horrifically low standards in tenants' conditions. The Bill should expand the definition of ancillary services to include services intended to support tenancies. Even with property prices falling, a significant sector of Irish society cannot afford new dwellings and will remain tenants. When drafting legislation, these people could be considered as much as home owners. For that reason the amendment specifies "works, services and tenancy services" to give a real acknowledgement and definition of tenancy services in legislation.

I want to speak on amendment No. 12 in section 15, which deals with the content of housing services plans. The amendment proposes that in page 13, subsection (2)(a)(i), line 23, after “supports” to insert, “including but not limited to, tenancy services, supported housing, tenancy sustainment, tenancy support and settlement, advice, advocacy and mediation services.” The rationale is that this amendment would provide a more detailed explanation of what housing support could mean.

I support the thrust of both these amendments but prefer Senator Hannigan's on behalf of the Labour Party because it includes Senator Coffey's amendment through its reference to "tenancy services". Senator Coffey made a very good case for this and this may be the way of the future, that more people will live in rented accommodation, as they do on the Continent. People will find it very difficult to afford houses, even with the collapse in house prices. It is important we move to a situation whereby tenants in rented accommodation should be also protected and live in decent conditions. The Minister has this in mind and the Government is moving on it, which I very much welcome. Substandard accommodation is not tolerable. I know of some appalling cases of people living in these dreadful, ghastly bed-sitters. The Government is taking action. I rent out an apartment in my house. I have just spent €50,000 on it and it is a hell of a good apartment. I am not milking money out of it and I have declared every penny, partly out of morality and partly because I am too stupid to fiddle tax. I find it a much better policy to be completely open and above board about it.

The other reason I support Senator Hannigan's amendment, which he advocated very well, is that he anticipated a ministerial response. I am in this House long enough to know that sometimes when one puts down such definitions the response is that the Minister agrees with it all but that the amendment is unnecessarily limiting and the recital incomplete. Senator Hannigan and his advisers cleverly anticipated and met this point by including the phrase "including but not limited to" as a pre-emptive strike in amendment No. 12. That is an important element of the amendment. I hope it will help to persuade the Minister of State to accept this amendment.

Section 11 of the Bill replaces and updates section 56(2) of the Housing Act 1966 which, as Senator Coffey has said, empowers local authorities to provide services which are ancillary to the provision of dwellings, such as roads, shops and playgrounds. The services in question are capital in nature. This section of the Bill envisages the provision of supporting infrastructure and amenities rather than services of the type proposed in amendment No. 6. The same issues apply in section 12 of the Bill which empowers the Minster to pay grants or subsidies to housing authorities in respect of specified services, including the provision of ancillary services. Section 10(b) of the Bill sets out the general functions of the housing authority in the provision of housing support and the management and maintenance of dwellings and estates. This would comprehend tenancy services.

Amendment No. 12 also attempts to tackle the issue of the provision of services to tenants. The effect of this amendment may be to confuse the understanding of "housing support", and place some limitations on such support, rather than to bring greater clarity to the matter. The tenancy issues mentioned in the amendment are covered in the definition of "housing support" in section 10 to the extent that they are within the remit of the housing authorities.

I accept what Senator Coffey and others have said about services. Senator Norris made a valid point about bedsits. It was important for us to take action in that regard. While I appreciate that many of the new properties that have come on stream in recent times have better facilities, we continue to have a hangover from other times. Bedsits like those developed in the 1960s, which do not have separate sanitary and kitchen facilities, will no longer be acceptable from 1 February next. The Bill also deals with the appearance of properties. In many streets, it is easy to identify the houses that are rented out as opposed to those occupied by private owners. We are giving responsibility to landlords in that regard. The local authorities are to be given funds to conduct inspections. I hope that will improve conditions. Bedsits will be gone.

I am conscious that a number of Senators have considered it appropriate to suggest amendments to clarify this point. I am prepared to ask the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel to examine this matter and ascertain whether a more explicit reference can be included in this legislation. In that light, I ask Senators Coffey and Hannigan to withdraw the amendments before the House. I will come back to the matter if I can get the Office of the Chief Parliamentary Counsel to agree to include a more explicit reference.

I am heartened to hear the Minister of State talking in this fashion. I am willing to withdraw amendments Nos. 6 and 7 for the time being. I hope the Minister of State can examine the matter and provide for further developments at a later stage.

I do not want to be tedious in taking the Minister of State up on his reference to bedsits. I accept that this matter is not directly connected to the matter under consideration. I hope an inspectorate will be established. Legislation to deal with substandard accommodation is of no use unless properties can be inspected. It should be possible to put out of business those who provide such accommodation. I suggest that the Minister of State might use his good offices to get the inspectorate to look at Nos. 5 and 6 North Great George's Street. It would be very welcome if he could do that. It would be no harm if the houses could be investigated or inspected to see the conditions inside them. I compliment my colleagues, Senators Coffey and Hannigan, on making their points, and the Minister of State on his generous response.

I welcome the Minister of State's response. I am willing to withdraw amendment No. 12, subject to receiving clarification from the Minister of State and his advisers.

I thank Senators for their understanding. I will come back to them. I assure Senator Norris that local authorities have been given funds to enable them to carry out inspections. Those moneys can be drawn down on the basis of the results achieved. Local authorities cannot draw down these funds until they produce their results. The local authorities are responding. In excess of 14,000 inspections have taken place.

Splendid; well done.

Approximately 240,000 residential properties that are being let out are on the books of our registration system. We are in a good position. We continue to expect local authorities to do the business.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Section 11 agreed to.
Amendment No. 7 not moved.
Section 12 agreed to.
SECTION 13.

As amendments Nos. 8 and 9 are cognate, they may be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 8:
In page 11, line 39, to delete "local authority" and substitute "housing authority".

These amendments replace two references to "local authority" in section 13 with references to "housing authority". All the receipts referred to in the section arise from specific functions carried out under the Housing Acts. Therefore, such moneys are received by local authorities in their capacity as housing authorities. The amendments provide for clarification.

Amendment agreed to.
Government amendment No. 9:
In page 12, line 7, to delete "local authority" and substitute "housing authority".
Amendment agreed to.
Section 13, as amended, agreed to.
Section 14 agreed to.
SECTION 15.

I move amendment No. 10:

In page 12, subsection (1)(b), lines 39 and 40, to delete all words from and including “any“ in line 39 down to and including “section 21” in line 40 and substitute the following:

"the demand for social housing as outlined in the assessment of need in its administrative area conducted in accordance withsection 21”.

This amendment relates to the content of housing services plans. We are not happy with section 15(1)(b) which states that in making a housing services plan, a housing authority must have regard to “any summary or summaries of social housing assessments prepared under section 21”. As we think the reference could be a little stronger, we propose to amend it so that a housing authority must have regard to “the demand for social housing as outlined in the assessment of need in its administrative area conducted in accordance with section 21”. We want to strengthen the reference to the need for social housing, thereby bringing this provision into line with other items under this section.

Section 15(1)(b), as drafted, requires housing authorities to have regard to the details of “social housing assessments prepared under section 21”. The summaries in question will identify the need for social housing, as aggregated from a more refined assessment process under section 20. That process provides for resources to be tailored to meet the identified needs of the individual. The proposed amendment would not add anything meaningful to this section of the Bill, or to the process in question. Therefore, I do not intend to accept it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 11:

In page 13, subsection (2)(a), lines 18 to 22, to delete all words from and including “The” in line 18 down to and including “following:” in line 22 and substitute the following:

"A housing services plan shall also have regard to the following and shall include such further information and priorities related to the following as the Minister may direct:".

This amendment has been tabled to strengthen the legislation. I propose to replace the reference in section 15(2)(a) to “The Minister may direct a housing authority to include in its housing services plan such information as he or she considers necessary, including, but not necessarily limited to, information on, and priorities relating to, each of the following” with a reference to “A housing services plan shall also have regard to the following and shall include such further information and priorities related to the following as the Minister may direct”. I want to ensure the items mentioned in section 15(2) are given similar statutory standing to those mentioned in section 15(1).

This amendment is unnecessary. Section 15(1)(g) provides that, in making a housing services plan, a housing authority must have regard to “any directions given by the Minister under subsection (2)”. Sections 15(1) and 15(2) need to be read together. Therefore, any directions given by the Minister in respect of the items listed in sections 15(2)(a)(i) to (v) must be taken into account by housing authorities. I ask the Senator to withdraw the amendment in light of that information.

The difference concerns the definitions of "may" and "shall". I will not press the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 12 not moved.

Amendments Nos. 13 and 20 are related and may be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 13:
In page 13, between lines 36 and 37, to insert the following subsection:
"(3) A housing services plan shall include the summary or summaries, prepared undersection 21, of the social housing assessments carried out in respect of the administrative area concerned.”.

These amendments involve the transfer of text specifying material for inclusion in housing service plans to section 15, which deals with the content of the plan, from section 16, which deals with the preparation of the draft plan and the making of the plan. This subsection is more appropriate to the section dealing with the contents of the service plan rather than the process of its making and adoption.

Amendment agreed to.
Section 15, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 16.

I move amendment No. 14:

In page 13, subsection (1), line 39, after "to" to insert "and seek responses from".

This relates to the preparation and making of draft plans. Currently section 16 (1) states, "A housing authority shall prepare a draft of the housing services plan and shall send a copy of the draft housing services plan to [a list of bodies]." We are seeking to amend the subsection in order that a copy of the draft plan will be sent and responses sought. We want to say up front this is not about giving out information but about consultation and involving local communities and organisations in the preparation of the plan.

I support the amendment. It strengthens the notion of consultation, which is often an empty term where it involves simply providing information. The amendment strengthens the provision by ensuring housing authorities also seek responses from the listed bodies. This does not impose an onerous obligation on them but it requires that responses would be sought, which is an important improvement to this provision.

I also support the amendment because without it, the plan may remain inert in certain aspects and we should seek active engagement with the plan. This Part is important because it deals with the assessment of needs and the provision of a plan by the appropriate authorities in response to that. It is a desirable objective to make the entire process active. Senator Hannigan's amendment goes a good distance to ensuring this will be done. All of us are showered with documents, surveys, plans, questionnaires and briefs. It is endless and an encouragement to respond would be no harm at all.

I support the general thrust of the amendment. Consultation should be a two-way street. Where housing authorities have gone to the trouble of preparing a housing services plan for their administrative area, it should be forwarded to the Minister, every local authority adjoining them and the Health Service Executive. I have not tabled an amendment but it should probably be forwarded to Oireachtas Members as well. I am not sure whether we are listed but we would have an interest. Perhaps we could have an input during the drafting stage of the plan. Consultation is a two-way street and it would be positive to have the views of the bodies listed included the plan. A track record of responses could be built up, which would also be positive.

I concur with Senator Coffey.

Section 16(1) requires the circulation by the housing authority of a draft housing service plan to the Minister. With regard to specified bodies and persons, amendment No. 21, which concerns section 16(3), clarifies consultation under section 16(1) is confined to the persons listed and it is clear from the amended subsection that written submissions or observations are anticipated from them. The proposed amendment does not add to the provision and I therefore ask the Senator to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 15, 16 and 18 are related and may be discussed together.

I move amendment No. 15:

In page 14, subsection (1)(d), line 1, after “bodies” to insert the following:

"or other bodies including community based organisations, networks, fora or other representative bodies; voluntary service providers, housing and/or homeless networks and fora; or any other body".

The amendment seeks to strengthen the consultation aspect of the service plan. Amendment No. 16 seeks to insert "or the provision of housing or homeless services" after "shelter" in the same subsection. This also seeks to strengthen the consultation process by naming these organisations.

Amendment No. 18 proposes to insert a new subsection, which states "any recognised association under section 128 of the Local Government Act 2001, and". This would ensure local residents associations are included in the consultation phase of the plan.

In general I support the thrust of the amendments because the development of community organisations and residents associations is valuable. This has been recognised in Dublin. For example, I am on the policing committee for the north inner city and I find that very valuable. The city manager has Oireachtas representatives for the local area in for lunch regularly with all the assistant city managers and that is extremely valuable. I strongly support the sense of the amendments. It is very much part of democracy to bring in community organisations, residents and so on because they are the people on the ground. I am slightly entertained by all the networks, fora, doo-dahs and what nots and, therefore, I am not quite sure about that as it is a little woolly but, on the other hand, I strongly support the intention behind the amendment.

I also support the thrust of the amendment which does not place unduly onerous obligations on housing authorities, which would be a concern given amendment No. 15 refers to "or any other bodies". The amendment does not require them to provide this information to a range of bodies, which would be too onerous.

These amendments generally seek to expand the list of bodies and persons with whom the housing authority formally consults on the draft development plan. I do not consider that the combination of amendments will add to the provision. I am satisfied that the list under section 16(1)(f) is sufficiently broad to cover the groups referred to in the proposed amendments. However, when work is completed on the homeless action plans, I envisage that the homeless fora may need to be included in that listing.

On amendment No. 16, which seeks to expand paragraph (d) of subsection (1) which provides that approved bodies must be consulted, it is important to state that such bodies must have, as primary objects, the relief of housing needs, poverty and hardship. It is also relevant in the context of the proposed amendment to state that they receive their approved status for the purpose of, inter alia, the provision of housing accommodation for homeless persons. The use of the phrase “approved bodies engaged in the provision of accommodation or shelter” in subsection (1)(d) is, I believe, sufficient to cover the work engaged in by approved bodies and the additional phraseology, as proposed, is not necessary in this instance. I have concerns that in trying to draw out the provision there is a danger of excluding a group that would have been covered by the more general term.

Specifically, on amendment No. 18, which proposes to include recognised associations under section 128 of the Local Government Act 2001, I am satisfied that subsection (1)(f) of section 16, which specifies that the draft plan may be made available to local community bodies or any other persons as the housing authority considers appropriate, is sufficient to cover anygroups which are active locally that are relevant. I ask the Senators to withdraw the amendments.

The housing services plan, which will be made within six months of the development plan, will have to have regard to that plan. The development plan, and the housing strategy therein, is subject to full public consultation. Consequently, a broad constituency of groups will have had an opportunity to make submission on overall goals, including the quantum of housing demand and need at that stage, and it would be inappropriate to repeat this process within a short time. The groups listed, and the local groups the manager might also include, will be those with particular interest——

I am sorry for interrupting the Minister of State, but the sos is ordered. I ask Senator Hannigan to report progress.

I thank the Minister for his partial response. I will not press the amendment.

Just report progress, we will resume on the Bill.

The Minister of State is off to lunch without accepting amendments. Can he give us any hope for the afternoon?

I hope to be here.

Sitting suspended at 1.35 p.m. and resumed at 2.30 p.m.

The Minister of State, Deputy Finneran, was replying to Deputy Hannigan.

I understood Senator Hannigan was in possession.

From recollection, the Minister of State was rudely interrupted and had not finished what he was going to state, although I declared I intended to withdraw the amendment which might help to expedite his response.

I was discussing section 128 of the Local Government Act 2001 which provides that a local authority may by resolution declare a body which promotes the interest of a local community to be a recognised association and allows for the provision of assistance to such an association and for the delegation of certain functions to it. The purpose of this provision is not to relieve local authorities of their statutory responsibilities nor does it imply any substitution of private effort for State and local government funded works. Its purpose is to provide a response to a genuine local demand to promote participation in and ownership of projects at local level, to harness the goodwill of recognised associations and to give purpose and meaning to the partnership model at practical level or to deal with particular local circumstances, such as works on an island, which may be more appropriately carried out directly by a local community.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Amendment No. 16 not moved.
Government amendment No. 17:
In page 14, subsection(1)(e), line 3, after “committee” to insert “in the administrative area concerned”.

This amendment is proposed to clarify that the Traveller accommodation consultative committees to be consulted by a housing authority on a draft housing services plan are those committees directly concerned with the plan and in the area covered by the plan. The qualification is already included where appropriate in the other paragraphs of section 16(1) relating to other categories of body to be consulted on the draft plan.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 18 not moved.

I move amendment No. 19:

In page 14, between lines 8 and 9, to insert the following subsection:

"(2) Where the proposals submitted by bodies referred to insubsection (1) are not incorporated into the housing services plan, the housing authority shall furnish reasons for not incorporating those proposals.”.

This amendment seeks to include a clause after the end of section 16(1) and its purpose is to bring the section in line with local area plans whereby if the manager decides not to take account of a proposal he or she provides a reason. A similar provision should be included as it would strengthen the idea of consultation. If these bodies go to the trouble of making a submission and commenting on the draft plan, it needs to be clear that their comments have been taken on board.

I do not believe the addition of a statutory requirement on the housing authorities to provide explanations will serve any useful purpose in this instance. The important characteristic of this provision is that it is undertaken in a public way with appropriate consultation opportunities, executive assessment by the manager and debate and adoption by the elected members of the council. Importantly, the Minister may, for stated reasons, require the housing authority to amend the draft plan in order that the adopted plan takes full account of the matters specified in section 15(1). The adopted plan must be made available for public inspection, including publication on the Internet. In these circumstances, I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. As one who spent some time on local authorities I feel this is necessary. Otherwise, I would be concerned that in some instances the managers will not respond and will not tell the various organisations why they failed to take account of their proposals. I cannot let this rest.

Under section 16(5), the manager is required to prepare and submit a report to elected members which will include any submissions or observations from the parties consulted. This report will be available for discussion by elected members in the context of adopting the plan.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided by electronic means.

I am calling for that vote to be invalidated because the bells did not ring in the main restaurant or any part of the House. I was in the presence of the Government Chief Whip and other colleagues, as well as Senator Ormonde and Senator Ross, and the bells did not ring for the vote.

The bells did ring.

How is it we heard them?

That might be the case.

No tellers have asked for the vote to be re-taken. The vote has been taken.

Can our names be noted?

On a point of order, I was in the corridors and they did not ring there either.

I was in Leinster House 2000 and I heard them.

I heard them in Grafton Street.

This is the second time this has happened in two weeks. There might be a problem with the system.

I was also in the restaurant and I did not hear them.

Do the tellers want the vote to be re-taken?

We do not really want that, but can the names of those who were in the restaurant be noted?

The names can only be recorded if there is a vote.

We want the vote to be re-taken.

Is Senator Ross proposing that the vote be taken again?

Yes, absolutely.

Who seconds the proposal?

Will others who want the vote to be re-taken stand?

Senators Cassidy, Ormonde, Ross, Glynn and Butler stood.

It is gerrymandering by Fianna Fáil again.

The vote will be taken again by manual means.

Amendment again put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 17; Níl, 22.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.

Níl

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • de Búrca, Déirdre.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Dominic Hannigan and Brendan Ryan; Níl, Senators Déirdre de Búrca and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.
Government amendment No. 20:
In page 14, lines 9 to 11, to delete subsection (2).
Amendment agreed to.

Amendment Nos. 21 and 22 are related and alternatives and can be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Government amendment No. 21:
In page 14, lines 12 to 14, to delete subsection (3) and substitute the following:
"(3) Written submissions or observations with respect to the draft housing services plan may be made by the persons specified insubsection (1) to the housing authority within 6 weeks from the date on which the draft plan is sent under subsection (1).”.

The Government amendment substitutes the existing subsection (3) with a new subsection (3) and makes two changes to the text. It clarifies that consultation is confined to the persons listed in Section 16 (1). It also provides that the period of submission for draft housing service plans begins from the date of issue of the draft plan rather than the date of its preparation. Under the provision as it stands delay in issuing the draft plan reduces the time available to the persons listed in section 16 (1) to comment on it.

Regarding the first change, while the former consultation process under section 16 is confined to persons listed in Section 16 (1), other interested parties are not excluded from the process. There is extensive public consultation in the preparation of a development plan which incorporates the housing strategy on which the housing services plan is based. In addition, as proposals for a draft housing services plan will be tabled before Members, the consultation process is very open and anyone can make known his or her views to elected representatives for input to the deliberative process.

I refer to the Opposition amendment No. 22. I am keen to ensure the creation and adoption of a housing services plan is carried out in a timely and efficient manner. No matter what timeframes are chosen, there always will be demands for extensions to those limits. However, I believe the limits in the Bill are reasonable and will help to concentrate minds to have a plan adopted. In those circumstances, I ask that the Senators withdraw their amendments.

Amendment No. 22 asks for an additional two weeks. This gives more time to respond to the proposed services plan, further strengthening the process. That is worth taking on board and I would ask the Minister of State to do so.

I support both amendments. It is important to allow for a more concrete method of consultation to take place whereby written submissions or observations can be made. I think six weeks may not provide enough time, however, and eight weeks would allow the bodies concerned a little more time to consider the information they have received from the housing authority and to make more comprehensive and more thoughtful submissions and observations. It is not about challenging the Minister of State on his amendment, but about extending the time to eight weeks rather than six weeks. I do not see a reason for keeping within the six-week limit. A further two weeks will not impose any undue burden on the housing authority. I welcome the Minister of State's indication that he might support this.

The housing services plan must be made within six weeks of the adoption of the development plan. I consider this to be an appropriate timeframe to ensure compatibility within the two documents. Within this period, the timeframe for preparation and consultation is properly apportioned. While there is a formal statutory requirement to consult, I would expect ongoing inter-agency group work during preparation of the housing strategy, so that the housing authority will be aware of the priorities mentioned by the groups when preparing a draft plan for consultation through formal engagements.

Considering what the Senators have said, I will have a look at this with the Parliamentary Counsel and I will get back to them. I am not giving any definite promise but we will see if we can accommodate the views of the Senators.

I am very grateful to the Minister of State for indicating that. It is very helpful that he is willing to look at the provision.

I agree with that sentiment. I thank the Minister of State for making that offer to us.

Amendment agreed to.
Amendment No. 22 not moved.
Section 16, as amended, agreed to.
Section 17 agreed to.
SECTION 18.
Government amendment No. 23:
In page 15, subsection (1), line 27, to delete "its" and substitute "the".

This amendment is required because there is no prior reference to the housing authority in the sentence. Therefore, it is not correct to "its housing service plan" in subsection (1).

Amendment agreed to.
Section 18, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 19.
Government amendment No. 24:
In page 16, subsection (2), lines 1 to 3, to delete paragraph (a), and substitute the following:
"(a) dwellings provided by the housing authority under the Housing Acts 1966 to 2008 or provided under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, other than affordable housing;”
This amendment is required to clarify that the provision of dwellings under the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2002 and Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 ranks as a social housing support, with the exception of affordable housing provided under either Act.
Amendment agreed to.

I move amendment No. 25:

In page 16, subsection 4(a), line 26, after “social” to insert “, economic or cultural”.

This amendment strengthens the provision on avoiding undue social segregation. It is supported by Focus Ireland and other groups which feel this would enhance the legislation.

I support the amendment. It adds an important extra dimension to the background to which the housing authority must have regard when performing its functions. Social background is a relatively broad provision, but to include "economic or cultural" extends it to encompass different groups that are already represented in our communities. I ask the Minister of State to indicate that he might perhaps consider amending the section.

This is the same phraseology that is used in Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, and is similar to the term "social inclusion" reflected in local government legislation. I am satisfied that the word "social" in its normal use, that is, pertaining to society, is sufficiently broad to encompass economic, cultural, ethnic and other issues. Therefore, I do not propose to accept the amendment.

I am slightly disappointed with that. When something is referred to in previous legislation in a particular way, that should not be a reason for not doing something which is beneficial and will enhance the Bill. Adding "economic or cultural" would extend the meaning, and we would not have to rely on what is customarily understood in the use of the word "social". I am disappointed with the Minister of State's response but I do not intend to push it to a vote. I ask that he reconsider.

The word "social", in its normal usage, embraces economic, cultural, social, ethnic and other issues. It is in existing legislation, so I do not propose to accept the amendment.

It has not been enacted previously.

The Minister of State said that the phrase included cultural and economic aspects. I am not sure if it does that. Margaret Thatcher drew a very clear distinction between society and the economy when she said that we had an economy and that society was a very detached object. To prevent that Thatcherite confusion, it might be worth looking at the Senator's amendment again. It is not automatic that "social" includes all these areas.

Social inclusion is in existing legislation. The interpretation has been that it encompasses economic, cultural, ethnic and other issues. By adding one or two pieces to it, we may be excluding something else. If we leave it as it is, it will be interpreted as including all those areas. I do not want to exclude any group or person.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I move amendment No. 26:

In page 16, subsection 4, between lines 29 and 30, to insert the following:

"(c) ensure adequate provision of housing to prevent and reduce homelessness.”.

Chapter 3 relates to the question of social housing support. The Bill should place homelessness as a top priority. This amendment is intended to advance that idea. The amendment aims to ensure that housing authorities have due regard to provide housing for homeless people in their housing service plans. The amendment would strengthen the Bill in the area of homelessness. The Minister of State spoke at length about "The Way Forward" strategy and about his proposals on the implementation plan. If this is set in legislation, it will give homelessness a high priority. Any housing authority member who reads this Bill will see that the Oireachtas has placed homelessness at the very top of its list of priorities. We propose this amendment in the hope that the Minister of State takes it on board.

I support the amendment. It is important to specify in this Part of the Bill that housing authorities must work to prevent and reduce homelessness. As was said in the context of earlier sections, it is important to see some reference to homelessness included in the Bill. I know the 1998 Act provides the definition and we have heard the Minister of State's views on that. We had a vote on the issue of that definition, but some specific reference is required to the need for housing authorities to provide this sort of service. A specific aim should be built into the legislation for such authorities to prevent and reduce homelessness. We should support that important principle in this legislation.

I support this amendment. It is a deficiency in the Bill that there is insufficient recognition of the significant problem of homelessness. I know it is the Minister of State's intention to deal with this, as he has clearly indicated. He has ambitious plans and we believe him, but in this section we have the matter of segregation between persons of different social backgrounds, as well as mixed dwelling types. Other categories are clearly specified, yet there is no mention of the homeless who are glaringly absent. Senator Coffey's amendment is very reasonable and I hope the Minister of State will be able to take it on board. Even if the Minister of State regards it as redundant to a certain degree, it does not conflict with the intention of the Bill or with his stated views in the House, as far as I understand them. If the Minister of State accepted the amendment, it would be an indication that it is worth our while arguing here because to date not one Opposition amendment has been accepted. I am watching with great interest to see if any Opposition amendments will be accepted whose constitutional remit is to amend and revise legislation in the best interests of the people.

I also support this amendment which speaks for itself. The prevention and reduction of homelessness should be a part of any local authority's strategy. Any housing strategy that does not include such a measured objective would certainly be deficient.

This amendment is not appropriate for inclusion in section 19. The section provides the general power for housing authorities to provide or manage the provision of social housing support and is essentially a restatement of section 56 of the Housing Act 1966. However, section 19 is more comprehensive with an updated power for housing authorities to provide what is now a broader range of social housing supports. It should also be read with section 10 which lists the broader range of housing supports, including specifically the provision of services for homeless people.

The proposed amendment seeks to include in subsection (4) a specific reference to the prevention and reduction of homelessness, but such an insertion is not appropriate to this subsection. Section 19 deals with how the housing authority delivers support, not the objectives of that support in terms of targeted households. While earlier sections deal with powers — for example, to acquire or build dwellings — subsection (4) provides that, in carrying out its social housing support functions, a housing authority must have regard to its housing services plan, as set out in chapter 2, but in particular the need to counteract segregation between persons of different social backgrounds and to ensure that housing authorities provide an appropriate mix of dwelling types and sizes and tenure types. This is an important provision in ensuring, in particular, that estates built by housing authorities have a good mix of house types for different sizes of household and are not mono-tenure. We are moving away from large-scale, mono-tenure social housing estates and, therefore, this provision is an important component of the drive to build sustainable communities.

The housing services plan referred to provides the platform for the ultimate delivery of housing supports and the new assessment and allocation provisions in sections 20, 21 and 22 give practical effect to this planning. It is in this area that the priorities are set for tackling the needs of different groups, including the homeless.

Section 20 is the basis for the new assessment of need and provides regulatory powers to set eligibility criteria and to describe and classify need, which will include homelessness. Section 22 provides housing authorities with a new system to ensure a better fit between needs and resources and to respond, as far as possible, to the expressed preferences of individual households. Allocations can be made to particular classes of household. In certain circumstances, a housing authority can allocate a dwelling outside the scheme of letting priorities — for example, where a household is displaced due to a fire or flood, both relevant in the case of homelessness, or some other emergency.

Under the new approach, each authority will adopt a new allocation scheme, which will allow for local discretion within the national framework. In this way, it is hoped to strengthen the link between local needs and the subsequent provision of resources, as well as ensuring consistency in the way in which applicants for social housing are prioritised.

As the Bill deals more generally with the issue raised by the Senator, I ask him to withdraw this amendment.

Together with a number of other Senators, I acknowledged the progressive nature and general thrust of the Bill, which will certainly improve housing services. We are adamant that homelessness should be given a higher priority in this Bill. The amendment merely seeks to insert an additional subsection (c) to section 19(4) to “ensure adequate provision of housing to prevent and reduce homelessness”.

As various Senators outlined, in the context of housing legislation, homelessness is an important and significant issue, which we wish to put to a vote. I propose that the amendment stands.

As I said, in line with the homelessness strategy, I intend to put on a statutory basis the homelessness action plan by bringing forward amendments during the passage of the Bill. I spoke about that plan before lunch today. Such plans will deal with the implementation issue as well as addressing the concerns that have been expressed. I know that they are two different sections, but I have put that on the record of the House. I reiterate that there will be an opportunity for the implementation plan to be placed on a statutory basis. I am not accepting the amendment on account of that, as I explained earlier.

Will the Minister of State clarify once more where he proposes to allow for the implementation of the homelessness strategy in this legislation? While I am sorry to ask him to reiterate this, I would appreciate it if he would do so because this is a very important matter. I do not doubt the Minister of State's genuine concerns in this area and I acknowledge the work he has done on the homelessness strategy, including The Way Home document he produced in August. As he said, however, a plan is not worth the paper it is written on without an implementation plan, resources and an acknowledgement by all sectors of society, from top to bottom. We are trying to frame legislation so that homelessness will be clearly identified and acknowledged. If the Minister of State can clarify that point we may consider withdrawing the amendment.

I support Senator Coffey again on this matter. The movement from this side of the House is in support of the Minister of State's stated objectives. Should it come to pass, however, that Senator Coffey feels compelled to call a vote, I suggest that we should go through the division lobbies in light of the earlier debacle. In addition to a physical vote, we might also secure the services of a town crier, dressed in 18th century costume, to go through the corridors ensuring that everybody hears the division bells.

Is the Senator speaking to the amendment?

Yes, that is an additional flourish to the amendment. I passed a number of people in the corridors and while I had the bells ringing in my ears, they were unable to hear them. Perhaps if there was a visual attraction as well, along the lines that I have suggested, they might turn up in the division lobbies.

On a point of order, are we now permitted to speak about flourishes to the amendment as well as the amendments themselves?

I will not comment on the workings of the bells of the House. To clarify the situation for Senator Coffey, it is during the passage of this Bill that I will put those provisions of the implementation plan on a statutory basis. They are included. In the strategy I announced in August, I referred to this. The Way Home strategy outlines the approach to local homeless action plans and indicates they will be put on a statutory basis.

Will the Minister of State clarify this point further? What he says is interesting in that he suggests it is within the passage of the Bill that these regulations are spelled out. However, I do not see them in the text of the Bill so how will that be done within the passage of the Bill? The Minister of State has unintentionally muddied the water because I am sure it must be after the passage of the Bill that he proposes to spell them out. The regulations may exist on paper somewhere in the Department but, as far as I know, they have not been laid before the House, although I could be wrong on this. I would welcome the Minister of State's illumination on this point.

We are only on Committee Stage. The implementation plan will be in place before the end of the year but it is not in place as we stand.

Not before the passage of the Bill. I think the Minister of State intends that the Bill should pass in anticipation of these matters, but those will not form part of the Bill. That is the point I am trying to clarify.

The position is we are working on the Committee Stage amendment and that work is continuing as we speak. It is a work in progress and it will be part of this legislation.

Will that happen in the Seanad? Will this come as an amendment from the Minister of State on Report Stage, given it is not in the Bill at present, or does the Minister of State anticipate that the Bill will take longer than just this afternoon and he will have an amendment for us the next time the House sits to discuss this matter?

I do not expect it will be in place during Committee Stage in the Seanad. However, as the Senator knows, the legislation will finally come back to the House in which it was initiated. For explanation purposes, there are a number of other provisions that are also being worked on by the Attorney General, such as the sale of flats in Dublin, which we may deal with later, and that type of issue. We are awaiting final clearance from the Attorney General on certain matters but not on this one. This concerns the implementation plan and I expect it will be included on Committee Stage in the Dáil.

This is unsatisfactory. It is the responsibility of the Minister of State's Department to present a complete Bill to the Seanad. While I am sorry to have to say this because I know he is working hard on this, as are his staff, the Minister of State has produced an incomplete Bill, which is not appropriate. I repeat that the Minister of State is attributing to the Dáil functions that properly accrue to Seanad Éireann. This Bill should be presented in this Chamber in full with all its working parts and not left as a kind of half moth-eaten document to be completed by the Dáil. It is not painting by numbers.

I do not for one minute doubt the genuine attempts of the Minister of State who, while he has been in office for a relatively short time, has done enormous work in the whole area of housing and homelessness, which I publicly acknowledge. However, I concur with Senator Norris. I am a relatively new Senator, having only been here since July last year, but I have a lot of respect for this House and the work it does. I am disappointed we more or less have a half-baked Bill, if I understand this correctly. There are implementation plans, housing strategies and regulations over which this legislation will form an umbrella. As Senators, we would like at an early stage to have the same opportunity to debate the full context of housing, homelessness and all that goes with it as has any Member of Dáil Éireann. Every Senator present has taken a genuine interest in the Bill and we have put down amendments for genuine reasons, to try to enhance what we acknowledge is a progressive Bill. For those reasons, I propose the amendment.

To echo what other Senators said, I would welcome clarification from the Minister of State as to what precisely he plans to do with regard to the homeless implementation plan. While this may be my misunderstanding, I understood him earlier to say he would put the implementation plan for the homelessness strategy on a statutory footing at a later stage this year. I understood that as meaning separate legislation would be brought before this House either later this year or early next calendar year to implement the homelessness plan.

I now understand it may be put as an amendment to this Bill, perhaps on Report Stage in the Seanad or at a later date in the Dáil, or even when the Bill returns to the Seanad. We would like clarification from the Minister of State as to exactly at which stage he intends to bring forward this provision to place the homelessness implementation plan on a statutory footing.

I do not believe any of us would hold him to it, but it is simply so we have some sense of when this is coming. It would short-circuit matters because we could stop putting amendments which the Minister of State then indicates he will accept or, in any event, do something about at a later date.

I reject totally that there is any question of this being a half-baked Bill. There is a simple explanation. The Bill was published in advance of the strategy, which came afterwards. I am sure the House would want me to put the implementation plan on a statutory basis as soon as possible. I am being as helpful as I can to the House and to the people in having it included in this legislation and in getting the matter of the homelessness implementation plan on a statutory basis and up and running as soon as possible so we can implement it, as I said, in 2009 and 2010. The simple explanation is that the homelessness strategy was announced by me in August of this year, which was after the Bill was published.

I call Senator Norris. We have given this a fairly good airing.

I will conclude because Senator Bacik and I have teased out the issue. Our difficulty is that while we welcome the implementation plan, this is all theory unless we put something into action. However, the Minister of State appeared to suggest that when it went to the Dáil, there would be a further legislative development which had not been considered at that point by this House. That is inappropriate and nothing the Minister of State has said so far has convinced me otherwise.

When will the Bill go to the Dáil? I presume it is not a matter that can be left forever because once this Bill passes in the Seanad in the next week or so, it will then go to the Dáil. The Minister of State is anticipating it being law by Christmas so it might very well go to the Lower House very rapidly. I want to know why we are not given the opportunity to scrutinise something that will apparently be scrutinised as part of the Bill in the Dáil.

I have been, as Senator Coffey very kindly pointed out, long enough in this House to know the way legislation works. If it was just a question of a completely separate set of regulations, it would not be an issue because provisions are frequently made for regulations to be determined afterwards by the Minister. This seems to be something more than that because the Dáil is being given the opportunity to consider it but we are being deprived of that opportunity. Perhaps as a sop, we may get an opportunity to put the Bill through on the nod, as amended by the Dáil, but that is not what this House was intended to do. I regret to have to say this to the Minister of State because I know he intends the best. We want to support him in this, particularly in dealing with the situation of homelessness.

While I can understand the concerns, to be fair to the Minister of State, these issues were raised on Second Stage by both sides of the House — I raised them too.

I agree, we want to offer support.

The Minister of State gave undertakings in responding on Second Stage, and he has repeated them here, that there will be an amendment in this area and in other areas such as the sale of apartments to tenants, not only in Dublin but in other parts of the country. That could happen on Report Stage here or it could be on Committee Stage or Report Stage in the Dáil.

That is not good enough.

In any case, because this House is instigating this Bill, it must come back here for final scrutiny. There will still be plenty of opportunity to consider this amendment as and when it comes, and to comment appropriately.

The House is being treated with contempt, given the way this has been introduced. The Minister of State gave undertakings on Second Stage but when amendments such as these are tabled on Committee Stage, Committee Stage should be postponed until proper amendments to deal with this specific matter are put before us. It is not acceptable to be told an amendment may be tabled on Report Stage or it may be amended in the Dáil. That is treating this House with contempt. The entire Bill should be postponed on Committee Stage if amendments such as these are being put before the House rather than dealing with the issue in a haphazard way such as we are doing now. We do not know what will come to us next week, before Christmas or after Christmas. We are being treated with contempt, and we will press this amendment.

The intention was not for this to reflect badly on the House in any way. If anything, the intention was to reflect favourably on the House by initiating the legislation here, as somebody who spent 14 years in this House. Senators will have an opportunity to debate every part of the Bill because as they are aware, a Bill must come back to the House in which it is initiated.

We are all aware that Government amendments, or any other amendments, can be brought forward at any time. It is important to remember that this Bill was published in advance of the homeless strategy but one other piece of the jigsaw, namely, the implementation plan for the homeless strategy, has yet to be finally agreed. As I put it to the House earlier, we will have a half-day gathering with the stakeholders to finalise our discussions in advance of the implementation plan which I expect to have published before the end of the year and then put on a statutory basis. Members of this House will have an opportunity to deal with it on that basis. The Lower House will deal with this matter after this House has dealt with it but as Members are aware, it can come back to this House if amendments arise at a later stage.

To hold back the Bill would not be in the best interests of the implementation of the homeless strategy or of the many provisions in this legislation, including the incremental loans scheme and other ones. This is a broad-ranging Bill and there is a great opportunity for both Houses to debate it. Following clearance from the Attorney General's office more amendments will be tabled. We are responding to a public need. I refer in particular to the strategy. We do not need the Attorney General's clearance on that but we need it on the area dealing with the sale of flats. I cannot bring legislation into this House that has not been cleared by the Attorney General's office. That would be foolhardy as it would be thrown out in some other forum. This House is being given priority in having the legislation initiated here.

I call Senator Doherty. We are beginning to rehash the debate on this amendment.

I was about to welcome the fact that the homeless strategy implementation plan would be put on a statutory footing as part of this Bill but having heard the Minister of State's latest comments, I am not sure if that is his intention. He said he hopes to publish it by the end of the year and that it will then be put on a statutory footing. We need some clarity on this issue. Will the implementation plan be part of this Bill regardless of whether it is amended in the Seanad or the Dáil? All of the parties broadly support the Bill and all we want to do is strengthen it. We focused on the homelessness issue as part of the Bill. It is not something that should arise as an additional amendment at a later stage. We should have the amendment at this stage but that is beside the point. Can the Minister of State give some clarification? Will the implementation plan be part of the final Bill and when does he expect the final Bill to pass all Stages in both Houses?

Senator Doherty has very succinctly expressed what I would like to find out. With regard to the Minister of State's wonderful jigsaw analogy, he will not win any prizes for a jigsaw that, as he admits, has a significant piece missing. I have done jigsaws in my misspent youth. The whole point was to get them finished. The Minister of State will not get a prize for an incomplete jigsaw, either in the real world or in this Chamber.

It is only the corner piece.

How green does Senator Boyle think this eye is? I will make one constructive suggestion and not continue with this matter. We must get ahead and have our vote. When the Minister of State has answered Senator Doherty's very reasonable questions and if it turns out that this material part of the Bill will not be given primary consideration in this House but left to the other House, I suggest the appropriate approach would be to go through the Bill to its conclusion of Committee Stage today, the next day or whenever but delay Report Stage, which will be gone through fairly rapidly, until this amendment is produced, at which point it can be discussed, as it should be, in this House. That is a compromise that allows the Minister of State to complete Committee Stage today and then introduce Report Stage. I imagine the period between when it is completed in this House and then goes to the Dáil will only be a matter or days. For the sake of a few days can we not have a complete Bill in this House if, as Senator Doherty has asked, this plan is to be an integral part of the Bill as passed by the Oireachtas?

The local action plans are part of the implementation plan. This issue will be put on a statutory footing but some of the implementation issues do not need to be put on a statutory footing. I want to make that distinction. Some of the implementation plan will need a legislative framework and some of it will not. I repeat that the statutory part of the implementation plan will be part of this Bill. That must be the fourth time I have said that.

I asked the Minister of State a specific and clear question and I would like an answer to it. Is he prepared to postpone Report Stage? It cannot affect the timetable for the passage of the Bill in any significant sense if he delays Report Stage until this House gets an opportunity to discuss it. Otherwise, I will begin to suspect the Minister of State's good faith in this respect. What is the point of sacrificing Seanad Éireann to which I know the Minister of State has some vestigial loyalty. He spent 14 years in this House and he was a good and valued colleague. Why are we not being given sight of an integral, significant part of the Bill until it goes to the Dáil? Why are we being requested merely to rubber-stamp it? That is not the function of this House.

I thank the Minister of State for clarifying the position because I and other Members were not clear as to his intentions in terms of the homeless strategy implementation plan. The second part of that question, and it arises out of the Minister of State's comment that he intends to publish the plan by the end of the year, is when he expects the Bill to be in effect. If he is only publishing the plan at the end of the year, we are talking about February. I presume the Houses will not convene until the end of January and therefore it will be February or March. Will the Minister of State outline to the House when he intends that this Bill will conclude all Stages?

It is a matter for the Houses to organise their business through the Whips. We cannot delay the progress on the legislation and I will not delay it. We have indicated here in respect of a number of amendments that we must go back to the Parliamentary Counsel. The same must apply to those that must be dealt with in the future. It is a work in progress and parliamentarians understand that. No piece of legislation walks through both Houses without amendments and Ministers going back, listening to Members and saying they will get the Parliamentary Counsel to examine them, as I have done on three or four occasions today. However I stated the sequence of events very clearly in my Second Stage speech and I outlined that we were still at a stage where some parts of it had to be dealt with by the Attorney General's office. Earlier today I said the implementation plan is to be in place by the end of the year. Then we can move whatever provisions need legislation into the legislative framework. It is a practical way of getting this major piece of legislation into place.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 17; Níl, 22.

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Prendergast, Phil.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.

Níl

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Paudie Coffey and Maurice Cummins; Níl, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson.
Amendment declared lost.
Section 19, as amended, agreed to.
SECTION 20.

As amendments Nos. 28 and 29 are related, and are alternatives to amendment No. 27, amendments Nos. 27 to 29, inclusive, may be discussed together.

Government amendment No. 27:
In page 16, lines 40 to 42, to delete subsection (1) and substitute the following:
"(1) A reference in this section to a household shall be read as including a reference to 2 or more persons who, in the opinion of the housing authority concerned, have a reasonable requirement to live together.".

The intention of section 20(1) is to qualify the definition of "household" in section 2 as "a person who lives alone or 2 or more persons who live together". Section 20(1) provides that for the purposes of section 20 as a whole, "a household includes 2 or more persons who, in the opinion of the housing authority concerned, have a reasonable requirement to live together". This extension of the definition is needed to ensure that two individuals in a relationship who are living separately because they are unable to provide accommodation for themselves — they may be living with parents or other relatives — can be considered as a single household for the purposes of evaluating their eligibility for housing support. As I am concerned to ensure there is no confusion in this regard, I am proposing amendment No. 27, which provides for a new section 20(1) of the Bill. The new section 20(1) clarifies that, for the purposes of section 20 as a whole, the term "household" as set out in section 2 shall be read as including a reference to two or more people who are currently living apart but have a reasonable expectation to live together. This meaning is in addition to the meaning of "household" for the purposes of this legislation as a whole, which is set out in the basic definition of "household" in section 2 of the Bill. According to that section, a "household" is "subject to section 20, a person who lives alone or 2 or more persons who live together". The proposed Opposition amendments seek to clarify the existing provision in a similar way, but they do not fully cover all possible household formations. I thank Senators for their proposals. I ask them to withdraw their amendments, Nos. 28 and 29, in favour of the Government amendment.

Do I understand correctly that the Minister of State has said, more or less, that the spirit of my amendment No. 28 is covered in his amendment? Am I correct in my assumption?

Yes. I have proposed an amendment on behalf of the Government. I think it clarifies better the situation.

Is that amendment No. 27?

Amendment No. 27 does not specifically state that a "household" can constitute an individual. It merely contains a reference to "2 or more persons". We need to push on with things. Amendment No. 28 is really just a drafting amendment to make it clear that, in certain circumstances, a "household" can consist of one person.

The Minister of State suggested that the spirit of my amendment No. 29, which seeks to specify that a "household" can consist of "a person who lives alone" as well as "2 or more persons", is catered for in his amendment No. 27. Amendment No. 27 does nothing of the sort. Will the Minister of State outline how the definition of a "household" covers what the Labour Party and I are trying to achieve in our amendments? We are trying to ensure a person living alone will be classed as a household under this section. This is more than a drafting issue as it will have implications for the services that can be provided. Will the Minister of State explain the difference the inclusion of a person living alone in the definition would mean to the section and why he will not include that formula of words?

I support what the Minister of State is doing but my reading of section 20(1) is that the Minister is seeking to expand the meaning of "household" for the purpose of the section beyond the meaning contained in section 2, the interpretation section. A household is defined under section 2 as "A person who lives alone or 2 or more persons who live together". Section 20(1) extends the definition to include two or more persons who are not currently living together but have a reasonable requirement to live together. If I am correct — the Minister of State is nodding — that is a progressive provision and I fully support it.

However, I am sorry I did not table an amendment and in the interest of greater clarity it might be preferable to provide in section 20(1) that a household shall include not only a household as defined under section 2 but also a reference to two or more persons who in the opinion of the housing authority have a reasonable requirement to live together. That would clarify that the extension of the definition in the subsection does not override the definition under section 2, which clearly includes a single person household but it also expands it to include two persons who have a reasonable requirement to live together. If the Minister of State indicates he will clarify his amendment to ensure it will always contain the additional inclusive element, I will fully support it. The problem is the subsection reads as if it supersedes the definition of "household" in section 2. I read it not to exclude single person households but to include households of two persons who wish to live together.

Senator Bacik's explanation was lucid and engaging. I am quite sure she is right and I hope the Minister of State will confirm that. It is important, however, that, as was intended by the amendments tabled by my colleagues, we continue to take into account the plight of single people and I understand the Minister of State has this very much in mind because we have been dealing with the question of the homeless for some time. Homeless people are not usually part of a couple. However, I would very much welcome a very clear statement by the Minister of State outlining what "a reasonable requirement to live together" means so that there can be nopost facto revision of this. Will two or more persons having a reasonable requirement to live together include a committed couple of the same sex? The reason I ask for this to be spelled out is the Government’s history regarding the Equality Authority and the mean-minded way it acted to deprive same sex couples of rights to which they were found to be entitled by the authority. I want to make sure “reasonable requirement” covers people who have a commitment and relationship and that they will not be deprived of it because their need to live together is not seen to be a reasonable requirement. In other words, I ask the Minister of State to spell this out and state that such couples shall be interpreted as being covered by this provision. If not, I shall table an amendment on Report Stage.

Senator Bacik's interpretation of the subsection is correct. The Parliamentary Counsel has agreed this text to cover this issue. It should be read, however, in conjunction with the definition of a "household" in section 2, which states: "‘household' means, subject tosection 20, a person who lives alone or 2 or more persons who live together”.

In response to Senator Norris, people in their application cannot be discriminated against on the basis of sex.

Or sexual orientation. Let the record show the Minister of State nodded.

I am grateful to the Minister of State for confirming my interpretation is correct and the subsection includes single person households, households defined under section 2 and this additional dimension. I accept the Parliamentary Counsel approved the new wording but it still lacks clarity, as confirmed by the comments of colleagues. The definition under section 2 is subject to this section and that means there is a lack of clarity. A reader of this section at a later date might well assume subsection (1) contains a new definition of "household" that excludes single person households. Until this is teased out more carefully, it will be quite easy to interpret it as having that meaning. Will the Minister of State countenance an amendment on Report Stage that would specify this subsection includes the definition of "household" under section 2? I anticipate tabling an amendment to that effect. It is a straightforward drafting matter to remove confusion for housing authorities in the future and ensure single person households and households defined in section 2 are included.

I thank Senator Bacik and the Minister of State for their clarifications. However, like the Senator, I am still concerned about the amendment, which states "subject tosection 20”. This means section 20 will have precedence and it clearly refers to two or more people. I do not doubt the Minister of State’s good intentions but, for the sake of clarity, the section needs to spell out that a household can mean an individual or more than two people.

I was interested in Senator Norris's comments and I thank the Minister of State for his clarification. It is clear one person's definition of the word "reasonable" can be different from another's. The definition of "reasonable" must be spelled out so that we can come back later to discuss this.

The Government amendment seeks to achieve the same outcome as my amendment, which is to ensure single persons living alone are included in the definition of "household" in section 20. It is not clear currently and the definition of "household", which contains a reference to section 20, can be interpreted differently. If the words "subject to section 20” were deleted, it would be clearer. The amendment is a move in the right direction and gives greater clarity to the original text but there should be no opposition to clarifying this issue because this is the Minister of State’s intention. I am willing to withdraw my amendment No. 29 if wording is inserted in section 20(1) to clarify the intention to include single persons living alone.

I am a little more concerned now and I shall certainly table an amendment. I am grateful to Senator Hannigan for drawing our attention again to section 20(1), which states: "For the purposes of this section a reference to a household includes 2 or more persons who, in the opinion of the housing authority concerned, have a reasonable requirement to live together." That envisages differing opinions by different housing authorities and, therefore, no absolute or objective criteria are in place.

In certain parts of the country there might well be a housing authority which had on it persons of strong views — views of this nature have been expressed not far from where I stand in this House — to the effect that one would need to be careful about encouraging persons of the same sex to enter into relationships and live together. We really need a clear guarantee, first, that there will be a uniform standard and, second, that this legislation clearly encompasses same sex relationships. It is not just a question of sex; it is a question of sexual orientation as well.

I would say to the Minister of State that since our battles in the 1980s when we got sexual orientation included as a matter of course in legislation, this applies automatically. It will not conflict with Government policy over the past 20 years but it should be clearly spelled out. There should be no wriggle room for homophobes in this legislation.

I have no problem with the intent of the amendment, as outlined by the Minister of State here and as he gave us his definition, but it is not clear as defined in the Bill. There is a need to define it in order to clarify the matter. There is a need for a clearer amendment than has been put before us here today.

I take on board the points enunciated by Senators Hannigan and Norris on uniformity. There is a need for uniformity where different local authorities are concerned and that also needs to be spelled out in the Bill.

There is work to be done. I certainly could not accept the Government amendment, even though I agree with what the Minister of State stated here and his intent. As the matter is outlined in the Bill itself, I could not accept the amendment as it is.

Following on from what Senator Norris stated, I ask the Minister of State for clarification. Obviously, the definition, as he stated, which is in section 2, stands for section 20, namely, that household will also include two or more persons who live together. The amendment the Minister proposes is that it would also include not only two or more persons who live together, but two or more persons who, in the opinion of the housing authority concerned, have a reasonable requirement to live together. The intention of what the Minister of State proposes is that three definitions of household will apply to section 20, namely, a person living alone, two or more persons living together, or persons, in the eyes of the housing authority, who would have a reasonable requirement to live together. I ask the Minister of State to clarify that.

Senators should refer in the first instance to the definition of household in section 2, which clearly refers to a person living alone. We should get that on the record here. That is clearly stated in section 2. Section 21 includes this definition but it qualifies it for the purposes of section 20 only. The interpretation put by Senator Doherty is correct.

It is also important to state that the Parliamentary Counsel has agreed this text as the format to cover precisely that issue. That is what the Parliamentary Counsel has proposed, and that is what is in the amendment. I have no difficulty going back to the Parliamentary Counsel to ask if there is a gap in that.

In answer to Senator Norris's point, the Minister will issue guidelines on assessment to housing authorities. The other aspect, of course, is that housing authorities must abide by equality legislation, and therein lies the guarantee that Senator Norris may be seeking.

I thank the Minister of State.

Rather than the Minister of State going back to the Parliamentary Counsel asking if there is a gap in this, would it be possible for him to go back with a recommendation, as per Senator Bacik's proposal, to improve it? Rather than asking is there a problem with this, would he offer a recommendation which this House believes would improve it?

I am grateful to Senator Ryan as I was going to make the same point. On a careful reading, it is inclusive of the definition in section 2. However, as I stated, for greater clarity I would ask that the Minister of State — to whom I am grateful for indicating he might go back to the Parliamentary Counsel — take back to the Parliamentary Counsel the wording I suggested, namely, that the reference to household shall be read as including not only a household as defined in section 2 but also a reference to two or more persons.

That would establish with much fuller clarity what exactly is included in this important provision. This is the basis then from which the housing authorities will determine eligibility, etc., which we will debate.

I was also pleased to hear the Minister of State say the Minister will make regulations providing for eligibility, which we will debate shortly. It is important that they be objective and that the criteria used for determining eligibility is consistent. The criteria for determining "household" must also be consistent and we need clarity in the primary legislation just as we will need clarity in the regulations which will stipulate, for example, how a housing authority will form the opinion that two or more persons have a reasonable requirement to live together. The devil will be in the detail, but I am hopeful that we will see consistent and objective criteria used to answer the concerns expressed by Senator Norris about this.

I would be willing to withdraw my party's amendment if the Minister of State can give a guarantee that he will go back and proactively recommend a rewording of this section.

First, I am satisfied — the Parliamentary Counsel having agreed this wording — that it is the best form of words, but I am responding to the House here. I will ask the Parliamentary Counsel to examine it but I will not recommend that it change it. It will be a matter for the Parliamentary Counsel to examine it on the basis of the discussion here.

It will not be regulations that will go to the housing authorities, as Senator Bacik stated. It will be guidelines. That is an important distinction. I already covered Senator Norris's point.

Considering the debate that has taken place here, I will have the Parliamentary Counsel examine the matter. This is an agreed text from the Parliamentary Counsel. The Parliamentary Counsel officials feel they have covered what I have in mind, namely, that two persons who are not living together at present and who wish to live together will be in a position to apply for accommodation and that the application is to be processed, and that is the text they have put forward. However, I will ask them to have examine it on the basis of the discussion here.

I am happy to withdraw my party's amendment at this stage because of the Minister of State's comments, but I will reserve the right to table an amendment at Report Stage if we are still dissatisfied on this.

As outlined, the Minister of State is still pressing ahead with the Government amendment. My understanding is he is not withdrawing that amendment and introducing another on Report Stage. In that case, despite what the Minister of State stated about assurances, etc., my party cannot support the amendment outlined here without any recommendation from the Minister of State. He stated he would not recommend that it should be changed. From that point of view, we cannot support the Government amendment.

Amendment put.
The Committee divided: Tá, 25; Níl, 16.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Doherty, Pearse.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • Phelan, John Paul.
  • Prendergast, Phil.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Camillus Glynn and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Paudie Coffey and Maurice Cummins.
Amendment declared carried.
Amendments Nos. 28 to 30, inclusive, not moved.

I move amendment No. 31:

In page 17, subsection (3), line 5, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".

This amendment would make an important change to section 20(3) by providing that a housing authority "shall" rather than "may" carry out a social housing assessment. This changes the provision from facilitative to prescriptive. Clarity is of great importance in this or any other Bill and it is particularly important given the debate we have had on the need for consistent and objective assessments of individual housing needs. In his Second Stage speech, the Minister of State said that an objective and consistent assessment of individual needs is "key to providing social housing supports". We are all in agreement on that. The Minister of State went on to say that such assessments are essential in determining a household's priority relative to the needs of other households and identifying the appropriate supports. He remarked that section 20 is "the basis for the new assessment of need" and provides regulatory powers to set eligibility criteria, classify need and determine the form of this assessment. That is absolutely correct.

However, in the interests of making the section clearer and ensuring there is a set of objective and consistent criteria for allocating social housing supports, the wording of this provision should be somewhat stronger. That is the objective of this amendment and amendment No. 32, each of which provides that a housing authority and the Minister, respectively, "shall" carry out certain functions. Rather than simply enabling them to do so, we should make it a requirement. This will strengthen the provisions of the Bill.

Although I voted against the Government's amendment No. 27, I am fully in agreement with the spirit of that amendment, namely, that housing authorities should be able to allocate social housing supports to households, including persons who do not currently live together but have a reasonable requirement to do so. That is eminently sensible and progressive. However, the wording could have been improved. Likewise, I support entirely the important provisions in subsections (3) and (4). All I seek in tabling these amendments is to strengthen those provisions to impose requirements rather than simply enabling. That will ensure greater consistency across different housing authorities.

There is much that is significant and progressive in the Bill. Section 19 provides for important new powers for housing authorities to provide housing supports, including the power to purchase or convert buildings and to refurbish dwellings. Given the high number of vacant dwellings in Dublin and throughout the State, it is important that housing authorities have this power. The word "may" is appropriate in some sections where we seek to empower and enable housing authorities, as it is in section 19(3). In other areas, however, we should place a requirement, as is the case in section 20(3) in regard to housing authorities and in section 20(4) in regard to the Minister. I ask the Minister of State to accept the amendment and thus require housing authorities to carry out assessments where households have been in receipt of supplement.

I support the amendment. It should be a necessity that housing authorities carry out these assessments. Subsection (3) is disastrously unclear. The Minister of State should bear in mind what has been said on this side of the House about Government amendment No. 27. Some of us voted against that amendment not because we considered it a bad amendment but because we felt it could be better. Although the legal position could, after considerable thought, be teased out and was made clear by a combination of the contributions of the Minister of State and Senator Bacik, who has significant qualifications in the legal profession, the average lay person would find great difficulty in doing so. There must be an attempt by the Government to make legislation clear and accessible to citizens, where possible. In the case of this provision, seasoned legislators who are not lawyers did not find it easy to understand.

Subsection (3) states: "A housing authority may carry out a social housing assessment where a household has been in receipt of a supplement under section 198(3) of the Social Welfare Consolidation Act 2005 towards the amount of rent payable by the household in respect of the household's residence for such period as may be prescribed." There are at least half a dozen ideas in this one sentence. Why is this subsection not split into shorter, simpler sentences? There is a grammatical conflict in terms of which verb governs which noun. As somebody who taught English, it reads to me that a housing authority may do this, that and the other for such period as may be prescribed. I assume this is not what is meant and that the phrase "for such period as may be prescribed" refers to the rent payable. However, the meaning of the sentence is that the assessment shall be for the period prescribed. It would be far clearer if the ideas, instead of being rammed together, were put into a series of short, simple and clear sentences.

I realise we cannot go through the entire Bill to tease it out and put it into plain, understandable English. However, I put down a marker in this regard. We should attempt to make legislation as accessible as possible instead of being larded with this type of gobbledegook. It is like Handel's Messiah.

The tenor never comes to the boil at all. No,Ulysses is perfectly clear.

This amendment is not necessary. The subsection is intended to allow housing authorities, where they consider it necessary, to assess households that have been receiving rent supplement for a specific period and have not applied for local authority housing. These would generally be households which become known to the housing authority by virtue of them being potential clients of the rental accommodation scheme. It is not necessary to compel housing authorities to assess these households as they have not applied to the housing authority for social housing support and might not wish to do so in the future. However, the authority has the power, if necessary, to assess such a household for social housing support at any time. If a household falling under this subsection requested a social housing assessment to be carried out, the housing authority is obliged to do so under subsection (2).

Clearly, the Minister can do it when he tries. It was perfectly obvious from the way he said it but it is not obvious in the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 32, 39, 47 and 62 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.

I move amendment No. 32:

In page 17, subsection (4), line 10, to delete "may" and substitute "shall".

This amendment again seeks to change a word in the Bill, but it is an important word. This would provide that the Minister "shall make regulations providing for the means by which the eligibility of households for social housing support shall be determined...". The amendment seeks to create an obligation on the Minister to make regulations.

I also seek clarification from the Minister of State. I understood him to say that guidelines rather than regulations would be made providing for how local authorities would determine eligibility for social housing support. It is clear in subsection (4) that the Minister has the power to make regulations providing for the means of assessment of eligibility. It is important that this would be done through regulations. There is great difficulty with this issue, as anybody who has knocked on doors during election campaigns will know. There is a lack of clarity in the criteria that are used by different local authorities, voluntary groups and the different entities that are providing housing supports to determine eligibility or housing need. This difficulty leads to much unnecessary distress and upset among individuals who are looking for housing support and the provision of services by housing authorities. They simply cannot find out what the criteria are.

I recently advised people living in my area about this. It is difficult for them to discover from their local authority where they are on the housing list, what points have been allocated to them, why certain points have been allocated to them but not to other households and so forth. It is hugely important to provide for a change in this Bill to ensure a more objective and consistent set of criteria is adopted by local authorities. It is not enough to empower the Minister to make regulations to do so. It is far more important to provide that the Minister must or shall make regulations to provide for the means by which eligibility shall be determined.

Those means are not exclusively set out in subsection (4). There is a discretion there for the Minister. There is a list of criteria by which eligibility should be determined but, clearly, he or she could add to that. Some other provisions might be included, for example, the method by which two or more persons would be determined to have a reasonable requirement to live together, as mentioned in subsection (1), to ensure that objective criteria were used in assessing persons who have sought to live together but are not currently doing so. It is important to change subsection (4) in the interest of strengthening rather than undermining the provision.

The strengthening of the provision would lie in the fact that the Minister would have to make regulations providing for the means by which housing authorities would determine eligibility for social housing support, in view of the difficulties there have been with inconsistency and the opacity or lack of clarity in the current criteria operated by different local authorities. As I said on Second Stage, the procedure for allocating housing in Northern Ireland was changed as a result of concerns in respect of different and overly selective criteria being used.

This issue will arise again in section 22, which applies to the allocation of dwellings. I will make the same points on that section. Again, subsection (4) of that section provides for an enabling power whereby the Minister may make regulations. I will ask that the Minister consider changing the word "may" to "shall", to prescribe that the Minister must make regulations to ensure local authorities provide more consistent criteria for determining eligibility.

These amendments generally seek to require a Minister to regulate, whereas the Bill uses the normal drafting convention that the Minister may make regulations. The amendments are unnecessary. It is the intention of the provisions that the Minister will make the necessary regulations. Drafting convention is that the power to make regulations is an enabling power, in the sense that it permits the Minister to do so, rather than compels him or her to do so. The language adopted here has been cleared by the Parliamentary Counsel and I do not propose to change it. I ask the Senator to withdraw the amendment.

For clarification purposes, when I spoke earlier I meant regulations backed up with guidelines.

I am grateful to the Minister for clarifying that there will be regulations backed up by guidelines. I am not sure why he cannot accept that regulations should be made by the Minister. Can he give a guarantee that the Minister will make regulations, and guidelines following from the regulations? I am not sure where the breakdown between regulations and guidelines will occur. Perhaps the Minister would clarify that.

It is an enabling power that permits the Minister to do so rather than compelling him or her to do so. This provision of an enabling power is in most legislation. The guidelines are a back-up to regulations.

I accept it is an enabling power. I am asking that it be made a compelling power. I note that section 20(2) provides an example of the use of the word "shall". It states, "Where a household applies for social housing support, the housing authority concerned shall ..... carry out an assessment...". My amendments relate to the Minister's power to make regulations. As this is such an important issue it would be important to prescribe that the Minister should make regulations. I intend to press the amendment.

It is not always necessary to make regulations. If it needs to be done, the Minister has the power to do it. That is provided for in the legislation.

Question proposed: "That the word proposed to be deleted stand."
The Committee divided: Tá, 24; Níl, 16.

  • Boyle, Dan.
  • Brady, Martin.
  • Butler, Larry.
  • Callely, Ivor.
  • Cannon, Ciaran.
  • Carty, John.
  • Cassidy, Donie.
  • Corrigan, Maria.
  • Daly, Mark.
  • de Búrca, Déirdre.
  • Ellis, John.
  • Feeney, Geraldine.
  • Glynn, Camillus.
  • Hanafin, John.
  • Keaveney, Cecilia.
  • Leyden, Terry.
  • McDonald, Lisa.
  • Ó Domhnaill, Brian.
  • Ó Murchú, Labhrás.
  • O’Brien, Francis.
  • O’Donovan, Denis.
  • Ormonde, Ann.
  • Walsh, Jim.
  • Wilson, Diarmuid.

Níl

  • Bacik, Ivana.
  • Buttimer, Jerry.
  • Coffey, Paudie.
  • Coghlan, Paul.
  • Cummins, Maurice.
  • Fitzgerald, Frances.
  • Hannigan, Dominic.
  • Healy Eames, Fidelma.
  • Kelly, Alan.
  • McFadden, Nicky.
  • Norris, David.
  • O’Reilly, Joe.
  • O’Toole, Joe.
  • Regan, Eugene.
  • Ross, Shane.
  • Ryan, Brendan.
Tellers: Tá, Senators Déirdre de Búrca and Diarmuid Wilson; Níl, Senators Ivana Bacik and Paudie Coffey.
Question declared carried.
Amendment declared lost.
Progress reported; Committee to sit again.