Adjournment Matters

Haulage Industry Regulation

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy O'Dowd.

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Baineann an cheist atá á ardú agam inniu leis an táille de £10 in aghaidh an lae, nó £1,000 sa bhliain, atá le gearradh ar thrucailí a bheidh ag taisteal ar bhóithre Tuaisceart na hÉireann. This charge, which is being proposed on foot of British legislation, will apply to trucks that are registered outside England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland when they travel on all British roads, including roads in the North of Ireland. It will mean that a £10 daily fee, or a £1,000 annual fee, will apply to Irish trucks when they travel on roads in the North. This will have a devastating effect on many Irish haulage companies that use HGVs over a certain tonnage. It will have a substantial impact on trucks in the Border counties, including the Minister of State's county of Louth. It will have a particularly significant effect on County Donegal, given the nature of the geography of the north west. Trucks that travel between County Donegal and Dublin will be severely penalised as a result of this additional charge.

It does not make sense. It will affect businesses and jobs and it will increase the cost of goods moving in and out of areas.

I wish to raise the matter with the Minister today. An urgent meeting is required between the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport and his British counterpart. I understand a meeting may have taken place today. Perhaps the Minister of State can enlighten the House on whether the issue was on the agenda of that meeting. Has it been discussed? What attempts are being made by the Irish Government to deal with the issue? Has an amnesty been sought for trucks from the Twenty-six Counties when they travel into the North?

The new charge does not make sense. We must protect the haulage business and accompanying jobs. Not only that, the cost of consumer goods will also be affected. The Government is aware of the situation as the issue has been raised previously. I hope it is making progress and will have the matter dealt with as quickly as possible.

Gabhaim buíochas don Seanadóir as ucht na ceiste seo a chur faoi bhráid an tSeanaid. Tá me ag tabhairt freagra thar cheann an Aire Iompair, Turasóireachta agus Spóirt, an Teachta Varadkar. Mar a dúirt an Seanadóir, tá cruinniú aige inniu leis an Aire i Sasana.

Since 1999 various EU directives have set common rules on distance related tolls and time-based user charges for heavy goods vehicles for the use of certain roads infrastructure. It is open to any state to introduce road user charges if it wishes.

The new road user levy which is being introduced by the UK Parliament as opposed to the Northern Ireland authorities applies to all HGVs weighing 12 tonnes or more for use of UK roads, including those in Northern Ireland. The levy will come into effect on 1 April 2014.

The concept of the scheme is that all HGVs over 12 tonnes, including those that are UK-registered, pay the charge. UK-registered HGVs will also get a reduction in their annual motor tax which is more or less equivalent to an annual charge, which they are charged for and pay annually with their motor tax.

The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Leo Varadkar, is very aware of the concerns of the Irish haulage industry regarding the introduction of a HGV road user levy by the UK authorities. On a number of occasions he has strongly expressed his concerns to both the UK and Northern Ireland authorities regarding the impact the levy will have on Irish hauliers. Furthermore, he has strenuously sought exemptions for roads in Northern Ireland to reduce the impact of the levy on Irish hauliers on the basis of the Irish Government's contribution towards the cost of roads infrastructure in Northern Ireland. The issue has also been discussed at transport sectoral meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council.

The Minister is in the United Kingdom where he has met Stephen Hammond MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, and he again pressed the issue at the meeting. Clause 3 of the UK HGV Road User Levy Act 2013 allows the Secretary of State to vary the extent of the scheme by order. The United Kingdom has proposed to include approximately seven miles of cross-Border road between the Republic and Northern Ireland. This would allow all operators to use these stretches of road without paying the levy, as it would be a breach of EU legislation to grant an exemption to just one country. In this context the Minister, Deputy Leo Varadkar, has sought an exemption for the A5, which is often used by operators starting a journey in the Republic to deliver goods to another location in the Republic and transiting the A5 during the operation. He also emphasised that Ireland has contributed £20 million to the A5 and has committed a further £50 million. He expressed the fact that he felt it was unreasonable that we contributed to the cost of a significant piece of infrastructure yet our hauliers are now expected to pay for it. Both Ministers agreed that further consideration would be given to exemptions by officials of their Departments.

I thank the Minister of State for his helpful response. I can see that progress is being made. I highlight the fact that as the charge is due to be introduced on 1 April, it is a pressing matter. I know that the Minister of State is aware of it because he comes from a Border county and I thank him for his response. We all have a role to play in trying to progress the matter as much as we can. I hope the discussions that have been initiated will prove fruitful.

I thank the Senator for his comments which I shall relay to the Minister.

Inter-Country Adoptions

I thank the Minister of State for attending to deal with this matter. I appreciate that the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is not present as we had an early start at 9.30 a.m. for the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children meeting that dealt with the whole area of child care. I appreciate that the Minister of State, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, has stepped in to represent her on this occasion.

My Adjournment matter deals with adoptions from India. I understand there is a difficulty and no agency has been appointed. The position may have changed in recent weeks. However, people who want to adopt from India are concerned about setting up a proper structure. What progress has been made in the matter? If progress has not been made, when are we likely to see it? When will a formal arrangement or proper procedures be put in place?

I thank the Senator for bringing this matter before the House. I am taking it on behalf of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.

The Republic of India has ratified the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Inter-Country Adoption. As a contracting state under the Hague Convention, the Adoption Act 2010 provides that adoptions by Irish prospective adoptive parents may be made subject to Irish and Indian requirements being satisfied in line with relevant laws and the provisions of the Hague Convention.

It is a matter for contracting states whether they wish to impose restrictions on whether and how inter-country adoptions of citizens of that state may be effected. In this regard, the Adoption Authority advised that there remains a general moratorium by the Indian Central Authority on India accepting adoption applications from other countries other than in special circumstances. The authority has recently received an announcement from CARA that India is accepting packs from non-resident Indian prospective adoptive parents for the adoption of Indian children in the normal category. This means that India remains closed to non-Indian prospective adoptive parents at this time in respect of its normal categories of children. The Adoption Authority understands that CARA is accepting applications in respect of special needs children which includes children over five years of age and sibling groups. The authority is attempting to establish from CARA a possible timeframe for the acceptance of application packs in the normal category from non-Indian nationals.

The Adoption Authority has advised that it is its position that it is necessary to have an Irish registered accredited body to facilitate inter-country adoptions from India in order to safeguard the process for the child and the adoptive parents. The authority has two applications for India from Irish agencies that are being considered. Any accreditation being considered by the authority can only apply to the Indian special needs programme at this time. The accreditation of agencies to facilitate adoptions is solely a matter for the Adoption Authority under law. The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has raised, with the Adoption Authority, the likely timescale of reaching conclusions on these applications. I understand it is intended to finalise the process promptly.

The authority advises that it is the policy of CARA to impose the following age limits and age differentials. Again, they are a matter for the Indian authorities and are not specific to Ireland. To adopt a child in the age group of zero to three years, the maximum composite age of the prospective adoptive parents should be 90 years, wherein the individual age of the prospective adoptive parents should not be less than 25 years and not more than 50. To adopt children above three years of age, the maximum composite age of the prospective adoptive parents should be 105 years, wherein the individual age of the prospective adoptive parents should not be less than 25 years and not more than 55. In the case of a single applicant, he or she should not be less than 30 years of age and shall not be above the age of 50. The maximum age shall be 45 years to adopt children in the age group of zero to three years and 50 years for adopting children above three years. Updates regarding inter-country adoptions from India will be posted on the authority's website.

On 3 March the Minister will meet a group of prospective adoptive parents who have declared an interest in adopting from India. She hopes the meeting will allow for a full exchange of views on the issues related to inter-country adoption from India.

I thank the Minister of State for his detailed reply but seek clarification. He has said the accreditation of agencies to facilitate adoptions is solely a matter for the Adoption Authority under law. Earlier he stated accreditation could only apply to the Indian special needs programme at this time. In other words, we are confining any adoptions from India to children with special needs. That is what I understood from his reply. Is that my correct interpretation?

That is what the Minister has written. I will take up that issue up with.

I presume it is a confined system. I welcome the proposed meeting with the Minister on 3 March and will convey this to the prospective adoptive parents who raised the issue with me. The reply is very detailed and I thank the Minister of State for it.

I will make the Minister aware of the Senator's comments.

Building Regulations Amendments

I raised a matter previously on the Building Control Act regulations and related statutory instruments of 2013. Was a regulatory impact assessment carried out on the impact of the changes to the regulations which will result in job losses for many architects, structural engineers and architectural technicians who no longer will be able to certify works from 1 March 2014?

I thank the Senator for bringing this issue before the House. I am taking this debate on behalf of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Phil Hogan.

The new Building Control (Amendment) Regulations will greatly strengthen the arrangements currently in place for the control of building activity by requiring greater accountability in relation to compliance with building regulations in the form of statutory certification of design and construction, lodgement of compliance documentation, mandatory inspections during construction and validation and registration of certificates. The new regulations are necessary following the widespread instances of failure by owners, designers and builders to comply with their legal obligations under the Building Control Act 1990 to design and construct buildings in accordance with the building regulations.

An extensive public consultation process was undertaken in 2012 to inform the development of the revised building control regulations which will come into effect on 1 March 2014. Comprehensive consultation documents were published, including Strengthening the Building Control System - A Document to inform public consultation on Draft Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2012, which sets out the context in which the reforms, which are now signed into law in the form of SI 9 of 2014 which supersedes SI 80 of 2013, will operate and the regulatory impact of these for building owners and industry stakeholders. This document is available on the website of the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government.

In summary, it can be said the arrangements being put in place for the control of building activity may result in additional design, inspection, certification and, possibly insurance costs which must ultimately be borne by the building owner-contracting authority. Such additional costs would be justified by the enhanced quality and standard of design and construction of the building project concerned in the light of several notable instances of non-compliant buildings which failed to meet minimum building standards. We all know of instances of this in the past year or so.

It is anticipated that the statutory inspection process will reduce the incidences of defective works on site and the resultant associated costs of carrying out remedial works will reduce accordingly. Owners will now be required to assign a competent person to inspect and certify the works. For buildings where this would not previously have been the case, industry sources suggest this requirement could add between €1,000 to €3,000 per housing unit to the overall building costs, although in reality this actual cost will be decided by market forces.

The Government is acutely aware of the employment and competition consequences that may result. Overall, the new regulations will have a positive effect on employment in the sector. The regulations will serve to ensure the involvement of competent registered professionals in the design, inspection and certification of buildings generally and competent builders in the execution and certification of works. In this way, owners, designers and builders will meet and account for their legal obligations under the Building Control Act 1990 which recent experience has shown to have been widely flouted. The cost of this, which must be borne by the responsible parties, will be justified by safer, compliant buildings in keeping with the legitimate expectations of consumers.

There have been wild exaggerations in circulation of the increased costs the regulations will impose on the self-build home sector. There has been no change in the technical performance standards. Any person who intended meeting their statutory obligations to design and build in accordance with the building regulations will face the additional design and certification costs referred to, but any additional building costs will be negligible.

The construction industry, in particular the residential sector, includes an unusually high number of SMEs. A large proportion of the work of such firms would involve repair, renewal and renovation work or extensions to existing dwellings. Such works would not come within the scope of the proposed Building Control (Amendment) Regulations. In addition such firms would operate as subcontractors on larger projects. In such cases the impact and the administrative burden would fall on the principal contractor. The impact of the proposed regulations on SMEs has thus been kept to a minimum.

I thank the Minister of State for taking my question. I know he is not the Minister in charge of this issue. The question I asked was whether a regulatory impact assessment was carried out on the Building Control Act regulations of 2013. The Minister of State knows that this question was not answered in the reply. In fact, my questions could have been answered by a simple "yes" or "no" answer. The Minister of State has had to take matters on the Adjournment for other Ministers and Members have argued that the question they asked was never answered in the course of the reply. I will take up the matter with the Cathaoirleach and the Minister. It is important the reply from the relevant Department answers the matter that was raised on the Adjournment. One of the proposals in the programme for Government is that regulatory impact assessments would be conducted continually. I believe that fewer than three have been done in some Departments in the past three years.

I thank the Senator for his comments. I assure him that I agree that the question asked must be answered. I regret that this has not been the case. I will take it up as a matter of urgency with the Department. It takes time and effort to raise a matter on the Adjournment and it should be answered in a direct way.

Youth Services Funding

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Fergus O'Dowd, who I know is responding on behalf of the relevant Minister. Last week my colleague, Councillor Mícheál Mac Donncha and I met the Kilbarrack youth project outside the gates of Leinster House, protesting at the cuts that have been imposed on their project that has been in operation for almost 20 years.

A recent meeting of the City of Dublin Youth Service Board has led the board members to believe they can no longer function or carry on the work, given the drastic decreases in funding in recent years. This particular project has worked in the past 20 years with more than 500 young people from an area of economic, social and educational disadvantage. They have faced the issues that are common to many other disadvantaged areas - drug addiction, teenage drinking and essentially a very disaffected youth population. Between 70 and 90 young people attend the project every week for peer education, health and sexual health education, sports, art, drama and leadership courses, which are pivotal for these young people. The staff have told us that the work of the centre and the voluntary commitment of the young people in the past 20 years has made this a more settled area. They are now faced with the closure of the project. The reality of what is happening to the project is not the exception but is fast becoming the rule across youth services throughout the State.

I have met many of those in the youth services sector in the course of the work I am conducting. At a time of mass youth unemployment and educational opportunities that are out of reach for many young people, the funding for youth opportunity should not be decreasing and should in fact be increasing. I know the Government held a referendum on children and has set up the Child and Family Agency, but at the same time it is cutting key supports such as supports for youth services. Youth services across the State give young people a positive focus and are undoubtedly helping to keep many away from the anti-social behaviour, addiction and homelessness that are plaguing society.

The youth groups believe the Government is culling and dismissing them by stripping away these valuable services from areas that need as much funding and resources as possible. What is worse is that the young people we met outside Leinster House in hurricane weather conditions in which one would not put out a dog believe their independence is being taken away by these cuts.

In the context of community and wider society, all evidence shows that investment in youth services is money well spent and it is widely accepted that these services provide for value for money. An Indecon report published last year found that every €1 invested in youth work saves the State €2.20 in the long run. We cannot shirk our responsibility in this regard. At a time of cuts, we must bear in mind these statistics as they go to the core of evidence-based policy-making.

It is important to highlight that cuts to youth services apply not only to the young people who attend youth clubs but will also impact on the structure and cohesion of local communities. It is short-sighted to continue with these cuts. Projects in areas such as Kilbarrack are important for the fabric of the community. It is illogical to get rid of them. It became clear in my recent discussions with young people and youth groups that these are frequently the only services provided by the State that enjoy the trust of young people. They work for young people irrespective of their circumstances and in a non-prejudicial manner. As such, they offer a vehicle for young people to develop into confident adults. The Government has a duty to protect rather than cut youth services.

The Minister for Finance, Deputy Michael Noonan, stated earlier this week that youth employment was the wind beneath the wings of extremism, which is on the increase. A recent report found that young people are not engaging with the European Union election process. If young people feel disenfranchised and believe the system is not working for them, they will become disengaged and refuse to vote. If we invest in services for the young or provide a youth guarantee, they will engage more with society. As the Indecon report emphasised, social structures are extremely important for the community, society and economy.

I thank the Senator for raising this matter which I am taking on behalf of the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald.

The Minister is conscious of the great benefits that can accrue to young people from involvement in youth work and the benefits for society as a whole. Youth projects and organisations present valuable opportunities to young people for their personal and social development. The youth affairs unit of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs supports the delivery by the voluntary youth sector of a range of youth work programmes and services for all young people, including those from disadvantaged communities. These schemes include the youth service grant scheme, which supports 30 national and major regional youth organisations, the special projects for youth scheme, rounds 1 and 2 of the young people's facilities and services fund, local drug task force projects and certain other programmes, including the local youth club grant scheme, youth information centres, Léargas - the Exchange Bureau - and Gaisce, the President's Award. These funding schemes support national and local youth work provision to some 400,000 young people and involve approximately 1,400 paid staff and 40,000 volunteers working in youth work services and communities nationwide.

This year the Department has provided funding of €50.53 million, including €750,000 for capital funding, for these schemes. The capital funding element comprises €250,000 for play and recreation initiatives and €500,000 for staff-led youth projects under the various schemes funded by the youth affairs unit of the Department. The focus of this financial support in 2014, as in previous years, is on the consolidation of existing youth work provision and on the safeguarding of front-line programmes, particularly in disadvantaged communities. Some additional funding that became available to the Department at the end of 2013 was of assistance in this regard and a number of local youth projects received a once-off grant to assist their sustainability in 2014.

The Department, in line with Government policy, has been required to achieve significant savings on schemes and services. The final allocations for the provision of youth services in 2014 takes account of the additional €1 million which the Minister secured in budget 2014 so as to offset the impact of the comprehensive review of expenditure on youth services and other identified efficiencies. As a result of the additional funding secured, the Minister was in a position to scale back the reductions in 2014 to 3.75 % compared with the 10% and 5%, respectively, proposed in the expenditure review.

The detailed notifications about the allocations and payment arrangements for this year have issued from the Department to all organisations and projects. As in recent years, national organisations and the grant administering agencies which administer youth funding on behalf of the Department are invited, where appropriate, to submit proposals to the Department for the reconfiguration of the funding allocations notified to them across projects and funding schemes to better meet local needs.

The Minister is aware of the challenges that the budgetary constraints raise for youth services. She and her officials will continue to meet representatives of many youth organisations and groups to try to ascertain how we can work together to ensure the most effective and efficient use of the resources available to continue to support the provision of quality and responsive youth services for young people.

The Seanad adjourned at 3.15 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Tuesday, 25 February 2014.