Cuirim céad fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. Is mór an onóir dom labhairt anseo tráthnóna mar tá an seomra seo speisialta, stairiúil agus ornáideach. Ba mhaith liom moladh a thabhairt don Chathaoirleach, an Seanadóir Denis Ó Donnabháin; don Cheann Comhairle, an Teachta Seán Ó Fearghaíl; agus do Choimisiún Thithe an Oireachtais. Our temporary move to the Ceramics Room of the National Museum will in no way inhibit the work of Seanad Éireann, and I congratulate all the staff, designers, builders and technicians who have created our Chamber.
I thank the Minister of State for joining us to discuss this very timely issue. The dangers associated with carbon monoxide are promoted this week through Carbon Monoxide Awareness Week. The dangers are so immense that there is a need for constant vigilance in this area. I am increasingly concerned about landlords across the rental sector who are failing to carry out annual servicing of boilers such as oil and gas. All heat producing carbon monoxide emitting appliances need to be serviced annually. According to the HSE, on average six people die unnecessarily from carbon monoxide poisoning each year, and countless more present to their GPs and other health professionals with other symptoms from carbon monoxide poisoning, such as nausea, headaches, breathlessness and vomiting.
Owing to the fact that it is a colourless and odourless gas, carbon monoxide is highly dangerous and can kill in minutes if levels are high. In addition, large numbers of people are living in properties with poor health and safety measures in terms of heat producing, carbon monoxide emitting appliances. My Fianna Fáil Party colleague, Deputy Cowen, recently outlined a plan for an NCT-style system for the entire rental sector, and it is something which I believe is badly needed. There are regulations in place concerning gas safety and that new homes must have carbon monoxide alarms, but we need a more coherent approach from the Minister of State's Department.
In 2017, the 31 local authorities have budgeted to collect over €435 million in rent from local authority tenants, making the State the largest residential landlord. Throughout the year I have looked into the major ambiguity that exists with the mandatory servicing of oil and gas boilers across local authorities because there appears to be some confusion surrounding this issue. I followed up directly with the chief executive of each local authority late last year and asked for the number of local authority homes in each area and the corresponding number of boilers serviced. Some of the local authorities refused to answer the questions and others failed to respond despite repeated queries from my office and from elected councillors. Some said that it was not their responsibility. Others have an excellent system in place.
To give the Minister of State an indication of the level of ambiguity, let me read just two conflicting responses from two local authorities.
Meath County Council directly manages a housing stock of approximately 2,870 units, of which 179 contain a gas boiler and 620 an oil boiler. In the servicing regime for the said boilers, gas boilers are serviced annually while oil boilers are serviced biannually. On the other hand, Mayo County Council's tenant handbook, which forms part of the tenancy agreement, requires all tenants of houses provided by Mayo County Council to ensure that a yearly servicing of boilers is carried out. The council is not legally required to carry out annual servicing of boilers. This is nonsensical. We have two totally conflicting and divergent situations in two different local authority areas. If this is the case where the State or local authority is the landlord, what is it like in the private sector? The Minister should query this directly with each local authority and with landlord associations, housing associations and other relevant groups. Ideally, I would sit down with the Minister and his officials to discuss this matter further as I feel there are real and practical approaches that can be taken. In Ireland, on average six people die unnecessarily per year from carbon monoxide poisoning.