Commencement Matters

Water and Sewerage Schemes Funding

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy English.

Ar dtús, ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire Stáit go dtí an Teach seo ar maidin. The Minister of State is very welcome to the House this morning and I thank him for his presence. I want to discuss the issue of rural sewerage schemes. The Minister of State's Department has a multi-annual rural water programme that runs from 2016 to 2018. It is due to expire at the end of this year. One of the areas for which funding can be got is group sewerage schemes where clusters of households are on septic tanks, which in many cases are troublesome from an environmental perspective. As the scheme is due to expire, I am interested to know the Minister of State's plans for a new scheme and how it will evolve under his new announcement. There was huge demand in terms of uptake of the current scheme. I understand 17 local authorities made applications and 83 submissions for funding were received from those local authorities. Unfortunately, in its current guise the scheme is very limited, as the Minister of State is aware, in that only two schemes in the State are funded each year. I am sure he will agree that is inadequate, and I ask that he might address that to ensure every county would benefit from some form of funding to deal with this issue.

As I said, the scheme in its present guise is quite limited and onerous on members of the public. Householders who wish to form as a group to seek funding have to form a limited company, hire engineers and collect moneys. That is onerous on the groups involved. I would like to see the local authority taking complete control of such issues and taking the burden off people who, with all due respect to them, are not qualified to deal with them. In many cases, the local authority has an overriding function to ensure all matters are dealt with accordingly, so that should be taken from the local authority. I would welcome Minister of State's comments on that.

The other issue the Minister of State might comment on, while we are graced with his presence, is funding for individual septic tanks. When people were asked to register their tanks initially, it was done under the perception from Government that funding would be made available to householders with troublesome septic tanks. Unfortunately, when they registered, it became clear that was not the case. People are only eligible for funding where a member of a local authority discovers that a septic tank is not functioning properly. That is unfair and that scheme should be looked at also.

I thank the Minister of State again for his presence here and I would welcome his comments on both issues.

I think the Senator got two bites of the cherry, but I am sure the Minister of State will be able to handle it.

No better man. He is well able to do it. He is a typical Monaghan man. He squeezes as much as he can out of it.

I thank Senator Gallagher for raising these issues. I am happy to answer them as best I can. My Department's new multi-annual rural water programme 2016-2018 was developed through a working group of key stakeholders involving local authorities, the water services transition office, Irish Water, the National Federation of Group Water Schemes as well as my Department. The programme provides for the funding of demonstration group sewerage schemes through measure 4(d), where clustering of households on individual septic tanks is not a viable option, particularly from an environmental perspective.

In January 2016, local authorities were invited to submit bids under the programme. The invitation envisaged no more than two demonstration group sewerage projects being brought forward under the measure in any one year of the three-year programme. That is in line with the sanction received by my Department in December 2015 from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to increasing the maximum grant per house to €6,750, which is up from €6,500, to cover a limited number of new demonstration group sewerage schemes.

In addition, sanction was also given for these new demonstration group sewerage schemes, in exceptional circumstances, to benefit from a supplemental grant, subject to my Department’s approval, where the project represents the most economically advantageous option.

Where a supplemental grant is approved, the overall level of funding from the rural water programme is limited to approximately 90% of the cost per house subject to a minimum contribution of €2,250 per house.

It is important to acknowledge the inclusion of these demonstration group sewerage schemes within the overall new multi-annual funding programme. Last year, 2016, represented the first year in transitioning to the new funding framework for the rural water programme. Therefore, we are in the early stages of this new approach. The demonstrations will allow my Department, over the course of the programme, to determine the appropriate enduring funding levels and relationship with the current grant scheme.

As new demonstration group schemes have been identified for the duration of the programme, and given that only two demonstration projects can be advanced in any given year, my Department does not propose to modify the programme at this point. My Department will give consideration to the scope of the measure under the programme from 2019 onwards having regard to the implementation of the existing multi-annual rural water programme, which runs to the end of next year. My Department also will give wider consideration to the report of the Joint Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services as it relates to the rural water programme. That report is still being worked on. There is an interest and a desire in the Department to do more in this regard, but it all depends on what funding we get from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

The demonstration projects are moving forward. Given that the Senator has mentioned it previously, I know that he is interested in the Milltown project. A range of projects could be moved forward if we were able to secure funding, so we will keep that in mind as we roll out the programme, particularly its first phase.

Regarding funding for septic tanks, it was clear at the time that people were being asked to register their tanks in order that local authorities could manage the situation from an environmental perspective. There was never a commitment that money would be available for every issue. The then Minister, Mr. Phil Hogan, made it clear that, where a problem was identified following a test by a local authority, a grant would be made available if someone needed help correcting the environmental issue. There has been a low level of testing in some areas, but that testing is targeted on key areas where there are environmental concerns, generally near waterways. However, no major concerns have been raised about the grant.

Concerns were raised in this and the Lower House that thousands of difficult situations would arise, but that has not happened. As with many issues that are raised in the Houses in a big hullabaloo, the panic was not necessary and the situation has been relatively calm since. There have been a couple of cases and we might discuss them, but if an environmental risk is flagged to a local authority, it generally conducts tests on a number of septic tanks or bioCycles in the area to determine whether there is an issue. That can then lead on to the issue being addressed.

I thank the Minister of State for his response. I appreciate that his Department is under financial constraints and can only spend the money as it is given it, but he should consider extending the scheme and examining how it is constructed. Finding funding is an onerous and unfair responsibility on groups. Perhaps local authorities could be given sole control of the matter.

I take the Minister of State's point about individuals in both Houses jumping up and down but it is only because they have received representations from their constituents. There is an issue with septic tanks. Were a grant available to an individual householder to upgrade his or her septic tank without a prior inspection being required by the local authority, there would be many more applications.

I forgot to mention that I agree with the Senator, in that we can examine those onerous conditions. I have met many groups that have spent much money trying to organise something. We will consider the matter at the review stage. The Minister, Deputy Coveney, is committed to trying to find more money for this. We are on the same page.

This particular issue brought a great deal of ire down on poor Commissioner Hogan when it went through this House some years ago.

I do not know whether I would use the word "poor", but I take the Cathaoirleach's point.

Parking Regulations

I welcome the Minister of State. This matter relates to the direction given to local authorities regarding residential car parking. We can all say with certainty that this matter has caused a great deal of hassle in areas. Being Dublin-centric, I am speaking about Dublin. I will not address individual requests, angst or fights but there is a great deal of anger and disbelief about the requirement on people to pay for car parking outside their own front doors. We must examine all of the Dublin local authorities' by-laws in their entirety. Will the Minister of State ask local authorities to engage in public consultation in order to update by-laws and provide priority parking for residents on their own streets? Other people leave their cars in their areas and spend the day in town or at work or go on holiday and leave their cars behind for considerable lengths of time.

I asked the Oireachtas Library and Research Service to undertake a research paper on this matter. It is a wonderful research paper. The service examined the five European cities of Edinburgh, Exeter, London, Paris and Amsterdam. While they have no priority parking for residents, there are novel ways of providing residents with parking close to their homes. I would like to send the paper on to the Minister of State.

We need to modernise how people live in the city, with all of its demands on roads and parking. The idea is for people to make less use of their cars, but people will realistically have to use them and park them safely outside their own homes.

I thank Senator Devine for raising this issue. If it is okay, I will take the debate on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, who could not make it this morning.

I wish to clarify the Minister's role in this matter. The parking of vehicles on public roads is controlled either through the application of prohibitions and restrictions under road traffic (traffic and parking) regulations made by the Minister under section 35 of the Road Traffic Act 1994 or by by-laws made by local authorities under section 36 of that Act with respect to public roads in their functional areas. The power to make by-laws is, therefore, conferred on local authorities by the Oireachtas through primary legislation.

Under existing legislation, there is no power for the Minister to give direction to local authorities regarding public consultation so that city parking by-laws can be updated and residents given priority for parking within their estates. Responsibility for traffic management is devolved to individual local authorities, including those in the Dublin area, to enable them to manage and regulate affairs within their own functional areas. Through by-laws, local authorities have responsibility for determining where parking places will be, the level and payment of fees and the conditions to be applied.

Before making by-laws under the Act, local authorities are obliged to consult the Garda Commissioner, give public notice of their intention to make the by-laws and consider any observation or objection that results from that process. This process affords the opportunity to members of the public to have a say in and an input into the shaping of the policy to restrict or prohibit parking in specified circumstances on public roads in specified areas. Any feedback or representation received must be considered by the elected local authority prior to the making of any by-law.

It is appreciated that a certain inconvenience can be experienced by residents when parking congestion arises on a daily basis on public roads in residential areas. At some locations throughout this city, for example, motorists may use residential areas to park if they are working or as park-and-ride facilities while they commute onwards by bus, rail or tram to work and collect their vehicles later that day upon returning, which can cause parking challenges for residents. As the Senator mentioned, people might park in an area for a week while they go off on holiday.

However, there is no legislative provision to reserve parking on a priority basis on specified public roads exclusively to those who reside on them or in the relevant estates. The policy behind this reflects the fundamental principle under road traffic law that the use of public roads is for public purposes. This means that private individuals should not be able to exercise proprietary rights of any nature over our public roads.

While there is no provision for priority parking on public roads by residents, those who wish to avail of on-street parking in their own residential areas, where paid parking operates under by-laws made by the local authority, can apply for a resident's permit from the local authority, which allows them to park on their streets without having to pay the applicable parking rate for the duration of such parking. I trust that this clarifies the Minister's position for the Senator.

If the Senator has carried out research, like all Ministers, Deputy Ross will be glad to avail of that and will certainly have it looked over by the Department. I will personally make sure he gets it. The Oireachtas Library and Research Service does great research and I am sure the Senator has access to good research from her own. We are trying to be an open Government and, if there are good suggestions, we will look at them.

I thank the Minister of State. I was hoping the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport might have a bit more influence over transport issues within cities and urban areas. I have been conducting an online survey for the past month, asking about priorities in the Dublin South Central area. Issues of housing and health are coming up as top priorities, but they are followed by car parking. While it might seem a small thing, it is an important issue within a neighbourhood in terms of providing leisure space and a sense of ownership, and it is also conducive to good neighbourly relations. I will send this research to the Minister, Deputy Ross, and ask him to comment on it. If he makes a statement, we will try to work from there. I believe this is essential as we go forward, given roads in smaller estates which were built when it was not foreseen that we would all own a car are not capable of dealing with the level of parking demand.

I look forward to the day when parking takes over from housing as the No. 1 issue. It will come very soon, trust me.

State Airports

It is always nice to see the Minister of State and he knows he is always welcome here. He is a fine man in my books, apart from his politics.

I am disappointed the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport once again has chosen not to be here.

By way of clarification, the Minister said today did not suit him and that the matter could be deferred to another day that would suit him. Obviously, the choice had to be made. To be fair, the Minister, Deputy Ross, has been here several times. I gave out to Ministers last week so I must defend those who try to come here.

I take your point, a Chathaoirligh.

I want to raise the issue of Shannon Airport, which has confirmed it is introducing a range of cost-cutting measures which will include reducing the status of the airport and restricting the number of larger airlines transiting through the airport. Management at the airport met with the three unions representing staff a few weeks back to inform them of the plans, which will include the re-categorisation of the airport from category 9 down to category 7, which will limit the number of larger airlines transiting through Shannon.

This news came as a complete shock - a bombshell, in fact - to the staff working in Shannon. I can tell the Minister of State firsthand that many staff are now worried about how the airport has been struggling financially since it separated from the Dublin Airport Authority, daa. One of the staff said to me that staff feel Shannon cannot survive on its own. They feel this reduction in status reduces it to the same level as Knock or Kerry airports. They know it is losing money and they feel a category 7 airport is for smaller aircraft, effectively making Shannon a Ryanair airport for European destinations. Union officials are currently talking to staff at the airport to decide how to respond.

I want to put this in context. The original business plan for the airport painted a rosy picture of achieving 2.5 million passengers by 2021 and adding 3,000 new aviation jobs in the first five years as a stand-alone operation. Behind the spin and bluster, Shannon has completely failed to achieve anything like these figures. In reality, passenger numbers increased from 1.4 million to 1.7 million by 2015, but 2016 saw just a 2% increase in to 1.74 million, a figure way below growth in comparable airports. This compares to 3.6 million travellers who were going through Shannon in 2007. It is depressing to think that those passengers also include the hundreds of thousands of US troops who should not be there, but that is a whole other issue for another day.

Shannon management are now working on a new masterplan, as they describe it, or perhaps that should be a cunning plan, in the Blackadder Baldrick sense of the term. The reality is that instead of increasing jobs, the airport now wants to cut jobs via a downgrading of the status from category 9 to category 7. A key consequence is that Shannon would no longer be nominated as a diversion destination for aircraft travelling across the Atlantic. This is a very retrograde and short-sighted proposal. The name of Shannon Airport is synonymous throughout much of the Western world as a safe haven for flights that encounter difficulty. It is part of the unique brand that Shannon has had to offer for decades. Now, the management want to ditch this brand, with all the goodwill and name awareness it generates, in order to cut services and jobs.

It is increasingly apparent that management have no credible vision for the future of the airport and that the decision to hive off Shannon from the daa has been a significant mistake. The Minister needs to take responsibility. I would remind him of the words of his predecessor, Deputy Leo Varadkar, with regard to Shannon, when he said:

I think it is defeatist to think that we can’t achieve modest growth by 2021. Quite frankly, if Shannon can’t achieve that kind of growth by 2021, there is no future for the airport...

Clearly, right now, we are miles behind the targets we need to hit.

In conclusion, Shannon Airport has a proud history of transatlantic travel and international status. The people of Clare and Limerick are seeing that tradition and history being rolled up into a ball and thrown in the bin by current management, who made empty promises and have clearly failed to hit targets they themselves promised to deliver. Rather than job growth, we have job cuts, and we now have the prospect of relegating the airport's status, a shameful prospect that no Government should stand for. I ask the Minister to recognise the need for an urgent review of policy with regard to our regional airports, Shannon international airport in particular.

I thank Senator Gavan for raising this issue. It is always a pleasure to spend time in his company, which I appreciate. We are touching on a familiar subject when it comes to Shannon Airport. I am taking this matter on behalf of my colleague, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross. As the Cathaoirleach said, while he could not be here, he did offer to take this matter at another time. He is quite generous with his time, when he can be. As we know, Ministers must at times commit to other diary engagements and these debates often take place at short notice. I think it wrong to complain he is not here when he offered to deal with this at a more suitable time.

The Government's policy in regard to Shannon Airport is clearly set out in the national aviation policy published in 2015. The policy recognises that Shannon Airport holds a strategic importance for connectivity to the mid-west region and also serves as a gateway to the Wild Atlantic Way. I understand a major consideration for the Government in deciding to separate Shannon Airport from the daa in 2012 was the serious decline of passenger traffic at the airport. Shannon Airport was loss-making since 2008 and passenger numbers plummeted by over 60% from 3.62 million in 2007 to 1.39 million in 2012. A consistent decline on that scale was always going to be challenging to address and would take time. However, since its independence, Shannon Airport has not only succeeded in reversing a five-year decline in passenger numbers, but has recorded four years of successive increases, with cumulative passenger growth of over 24% in that period. That is not to be sniffed at and is quite a good percentage. In 2016, passenger numbers at the airport increased for the fourth consecutive year, with almost 1.75 million flying through the airport, a 2% increase on 2015, with a number of new airlines and services.

Shannon Airport Authority is a subsidiary company of Shannon Group, the commercial semi-State group established in September 2014. The group's strategy is to improve air connectivity, develop its commercial property infrastructure and enhance its portfolio of tourism heritage attractions, all of which will attract more people to live and work in the region. Shannon Group is an enabler, providing the right environment for foreign direct investment and indigenous industry to prosper.

The latest data from IDA Ireland shows the mid west was the fastest growing region outside of Dublin in 2016, with 16 companies that announced new or expanded operations, citing the global connectivity provided by Shannon Airport as a key reason for basing themselves on the west coast. The year 2016 saw the largest increase on record in employment growth by IDA client companies in the mid west, making this region the fastest growing nationally for foreign direct investment at more than 10%. I spend a lot of time in the Limerick and Shannon area, given my involvement in enterprise and job creation programmes and in trying to future proof companies and jobs. As the Minister has said, much of the feedback suggests that connectivity is a key part of business decision making. The Government and the various authorities involved recognise this, as is borne out in our policies.

The Shannon Group has advised that it is currently focused on providing quality infrastructure to entice more FDI and indigenous investment to the region. To this end, Shannon Commercial Properties, the group's property company, is investing over €26 million in property solutions at Shannon free zone to give the IDA and enterprise agencies the tools they need in attracting investment and jobs to the region.

I understand that Shannon Commercial Properties will have developed over 200,000 sq. ft. of state-of-the-art advanced manufacturing, warehousing and office space by the end of this year. This new business accommodation will assist the job creation agencies in enticing more employment and investment to the area.

Like any business owner, the Shannon Airport Authority is conscious of the need to control its costs so that it can remain competitive and continue to attract new airline business in an increasingly competitive international marketplace. In this regard, the company has engaged with staff and union representatives on a range of proposals, one of which is to operate at category 9 on a flexible basis rather than to operate permanently at that level on a 24-7 basis all year round. This proposal has led to claims of the airport being downgraded, which have been repeated here. That is not the case. What is being proposed is an optimal use of resources in line with best business practice, thus ensuring that resources are deployed more efficiently and when required. I am informed that this flexibility will enable the airport to operate at optimal manning levels in order that it might be as efficient and cost-effective as possible and contribute to a more efficient operating model at the airport without any material impact on flight operations.

The categorisation of an airport is from a fire and rescue perspective. It is dictated by the International Civil Aviation Organisation, ICAO. The categorisation is based on the size of the aircraft that operate through an airport and outlines the minimum number of fire appliances and fire-fighting media required to operate at the appropriate categorisation.

Shannon Airport currently operates at category 9 level on a 24-7 basis all year round. As I stated at the outset, the operation of the airport is the statutory responsibility of Shannon Airport Authority. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport believes that the airport authority is doing a satisfactory job in a very competitive environment. He believes that it should be encouraged in its efforts to run the airport as efficiently as possible, ensuring the future viability of the company for all of its staff and customers, and securing the airport's position as one of strategic importance for the connectivity of the mid-west region.

May I comment?

Very briefly. We are two minutes over the time that was allocated.

I thank the Cathaoirleach. I shall be very brief.

I thank the Minister of State for the reply. I am not encouraged by it because he did not address two of my key points. First, the promise of jobs in the Shannon area that have not materialised and, second, Shannon Airport no longer being able to accept aircraft on diversion flights, which is integral to the reputation of Shannon and its branding. To be frank, for him to say that there has been no downgrading is incorrect. The staff believe that the airport is being downgraded. There are no circumstances under which this Government should allow that to happen.

The Minister of State has no more to answer as he is not the line Minister. He has made his case.

I cannot speak about all of the parts of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. I can speak from a job creation point of view. In my previous post I spent a lot of time dealing with the educational institutions, at all levels, that are located in the Shannon area and in Limerick. Those institutions contribute to the job creation prospects of the area. They are flexible in terms of the courses they provide in conjunction with businesses in the area. I have no doubt that this is where we will see a growth in jobs in the future. A great deal of work is being done by the Shannon Airport Authority and across all of the different levels of education. Therefore, I am quite confident about future job creation in the area. My confidence also stems from the work being done by a number of Departments.

Rural Resettlement Scheme

The Minister of State is earning his keep this morning. I thank him for coming to the House to provide clarification on a statement made in respect of a Commencement matter tabled by Senator Conway on 14 December last year.

Mr. Jim Connolly asked me to bring this issue to the attention of the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. Mr. Connolly is the founder and Chair of Rural Resettlement Ireland. To date, over 800 families have been resettled in rural areas. The project has been hailed as a major contributor to rural regeneration. As the Minister of State will know, Rural Resettlement Ireland is a registered housing body that provides free services to anyone who wishes to relocate. Rural Resettlement Ireland received core funding from the Department every year until it was cut in 2012. That move resulted in the final and very regrettable closure of the organisation this year.

During a Commencement debate last December, the Minister of State said:

[T]o guarantee that the rental properties supported by RRI are sustainably managed and maintained, fees for the management and maintenance of capital loan and subsidy scheme supported properties continue to be available to it, subject to compliance with the relevant terms and conditions. These fees, together with loan and interest charges, amounted to more than €696,000 over the past five years.

From my discussions with Mr. Connolly, and having had sight of the audited 2016 accounts for the charity, this is at best an inaccurate figure due to unclear accounting or, at worst, an outright misrepresentation of the facts. To place the matter in context, the 21 social houses referred to represent only 0.25% of the 800 families resettled since 1990. The Department's management grant paid to all voluntary housing bodies is €436 per house or €9,156 per year, which amounts to €45,780 for five years. This is a far cry from the €696,000 referred to during the Commencement debate last December. While it is true that amortisation, which is an accountancy term, of the Government grant appears in Rural Resettlement Ireland's accounts, it relates to the normal method of building 21 houses with non-repayable mortgages. This does not translate into ongoing cash support in any way and to imply that it does is wrong. The immediate clarification of this aspect is a matter of personal and public significance to Mr. Connolly, who is seriously aggrieved by the statements.

The rural resettlement initiative is one of the most successful voluntary initiatives ever undertaken in this country. The scheme has provided one-to-one relocated services for 800 families who have rejuvenated rural communities. It has give the families an exceptional qualify of life in communities of their choice through sustained co-operation with the Department, State agencies, family and local services. Rural Resettlement Ireland built up a wealth of experience, wisdom and knowledge that cannot easily be replaced. Since its State funding was cut in 2012, Rural Resettlement Ireland has still managed to assist almost 40 families to move to rural areas in private rented housing. The work has been done entirely on a voluntary basis. I find it incomprehensible that this project had its funding cut in 2012 and is now being wound up during one of the worst urban housing crises that this country has seen. Instead of cutting funding to a recognised housing body with a wealth of experience, one would have imagined that it would have been viewed as a viable solution.

Earlier this year, when speaking about the Government's Action Plan for Rural Development of 600 towns and villages, the Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Heather Humphreys, said that people are needed to revitalise towns. In light of decreasing rural populations, initiatives that promote relocation should be encouraged. The Minister's grant aid for home purchase and renovation is laudable. However, we must remember that not everyone has the money to purchase his or her own home and, for many, long or medium-term rental is the optimum solution.

What Mr. Connolly and Rural Resettlement Ireland have achieved through relocation has been more enduring and successful than any Government policy. We need more, not less, of such inspirational commitment, which has been given over decades. Far from misrepresenting or discrediting the work of Rural Resettlement Ireland, however accidentally, we should applaud it and give it the due acknowledgement in respect of its indisputable success.

I ask the Minister of State to clarify the position regarding figure of €696,000 to which I refer. I also ask him to give serious consideration to the reinstatement of the grant aid to Rural Resettlement Ireland, which would allow us to harness the wealth of knowledge and experience that it has accumulated. I thank the Minister of State for taking the time to come to the House. I hope that he will answer my queries, particularly my call for the re-establishment of Rural Resettlement Ireland. We have been told that there are many houses available in rural Ireland, so all we need is to get Rural Resettlement Ireland and similar organisations up and running again.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue. The context of the question that was supplied to me is a little different from what he has asked today. I shall endeavour to answer all of his queries to the best of my ability.

Let me be clear; I took that debate in December. I thought I went out of my way on that occasion to praise the work done by Mr. Connolly and Rural Resettlement Ireland over the years. I wish to make it clear that Mr. Connolly and Rural Resettlement Ireland have done great work. I am very conscious of the more than 800 families that have been helped. I have watched numerous programmes that featured the work. Certainly, the debate on the previous occasion should not have left Mr. Connolly with the wrong impression. If I need to talk to him directly, I shall do so.

The original question tabled by the Senator did not feature this matter so I may be unable to reply to everything. We have discussed this matter on two occasions. I have definitely discussed it with Senator Conway and with other Oireachtas Members from the Clare area. I have complimented and recognised the work of Rural Resettlement Ireland. Mr. Connolly has engaged with the Minister's officials about ways to develop and fund new rural resettlement projects. There is a homeless situation in many of our larger cities and urban areas, yet there are many vacant properties in rural areas. We are trying to join the dots in terms of this matter. We have engaged with Mr. Connolly because of his expertise and we are happy to continue to do so. There should not any doubt about the quality of his work or that of his organisation. If anything I said last December gave that impression, then I am happy to correct same.

I shall clarify matters that relate to the rural resettlement initiative. From 2011 to 2016, my Department provided €696,228 to Clare County Council. This money was solely in respect of 21 properties developed by Rural Resettlement Ireland. The funding was provided under the terms of the capital loan and subsidy scheme, CLSS.

The capital loan and subsidy scheme, CLSS, provides capital funding via the local authorities to the approved housing bodies, including Rural Resettlement Ireland, to construct social housing for those on the waiting lists of the local authorities. More than 10,000 social homes have been delivered through the CLSS since it was commenced in 1991. Under the CLSS arrangements, local authorities access funding from the Housing Finance Agency through loan finance arrangements. In turn, the local authorities provide this funding to the approved housing bodies, AHB, by way of a non-refundable loan, provided that the approved housing body complies with the terms and conditions of the CLSS. The local authorities repay the loan finance received from the Housing Finance Agency over a 30-year period using the funding they receive twice yearly from the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. Of the overall amount of €696,228 provided from 2011 to 2016 by the Department to Clare County Council in respect of 21 Rural Resettlement Ireland properties, the sum of €662,220 relates to the servicing of the loans the council received from the Housing Finance Agency. A smaller amount of €34,008 relates to the management and maintenance subsidy paid to Clare County Council for the dwellings occupied by tenants of Rural Resettlement Ireland under the terms of the CLSS.

Unlike local authorities, approved housing bodies do not receive capital funding from the Department for the upkeep of their housing stock or for upgrading works. Instead, the approved housing bodies rely on rental income plus the management and maintenance subsidy to maintain their stock. Similar to the funding received for the servicing of the loans, the management and maintenance subsidy is provided to the approved housing bodies via the local authorities. To qualify for the management and maintenance subsidy, dwellings of the approved housing body must be let to tenants approved for housing by the local authority.

To clarify this matter, the figure of €696,228 provided by the Department between 2011 and 2016 relates to the 21 houses developed through the capital loan and subsidy scheme by Rural Resettlement Ireland at various locations in County Clare. The figure is broken into two elements: €662,220 of funding provided by the Department to Clare County Council towards servicing the loans, and the balance of €34,008 for the management and maintenance subsidy paid to Clare County Council. I can confirm, therefore, that none of the funding included in the €696,228 relates to the administration of the rural resettlement initiative. Separately, grant assistance was historically provided by the Department to Rural Resettlement Ireland as a contribution towards its administrative costs. In the five-year period to which Senator Craughwell refers, €30,081 of such funding was provided: €20,081 in 2011 and €10,000 in 2012. I hope this clarifies the matter and it was certainly not my intention in December that there would be any doubt around that. I am glad to have had the opportunity to clear that up. I am sorry I did not realise that was reason the Senator asked the question in the first place.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. There is no doubting his commitment to the housing crisis, or indeed that of the senior Minister. It might be no harm to contact with Mr. Jim Connolly and also to reconsider or to try to organise that the agency would not close but rather would continue to do its good work. We need to get people back into rural Ireland. I thank the Minister of State for attending.

Sitting suspended at 11.13 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.