I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy English, to the House.
Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016: Committee Stage
As amendments Nos. 1, 11, 12, 16 and 52 are related, they may be discussed together.
Section 1 contains the standard provisions relating to the Short Title, collective citations, construction and commencement of the Act. Subsection (1), which was drafted for the version of the Bill before it concluded its passage through the Dáil, provided for the standard collective citation. This amendment proposes to insert a new subsection to update the collective citation to indicate that this Bill, when enacted, and the Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2017 may be read together as one. Amendments Nos. 11, 12, 16 and 52 are minor drafting amendments that propose to update the collective citation of the principal Act so that the term "Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2018", rather than "Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2015", will be used upon the enactment of this Bill.
As amendments Nos. 2, 17 to 22, inclusive, 49 and 51 are related, they may be discussed together.
The purpose of these minor amendments is to correct the definition of "Minister" in section 2 of the Bill. They clarify that in light of the changes made to the title of the Ministry and the Department since the publication of this Bill in early 2016, the correct reference is to the "Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government". Accordingly, I will move amendments Nos. 17 to 22, inclusive, 49 and 51 as they are reached during this debate.
As amendments Nos. 3, 5, 6, 9, 10, 23, 47, 48 and 50 are related, and amendment No. 5 is consequential on amendment No. 6, they may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 3:
In page 6, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following:
" 'Strategic Transport Plan' is a transport plan drafted by a transport authority;
'transport authority' means either the National Transport Authority or Transport Infrastructure Ireland as defined in the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 and the Public Transport Regulation Act 2009 as amended.".
We have been in contact with the Minister of State and his Department on this amendment, which proposes that "transport authority" should be defined as "either the National Transport Authority or Transport Infrastructure Ireland". As we have come to an agreement on the matter, I will withdraw the amendment.
As amendments Nos. 4 and 7 are related, they may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 4:
In page 7, line 40, after “assess” to insert “and make legally binding determinations on”.
In supporting these amendments, I remind the House of what the Tribunal of Inquiry into Certain Planning Matters and Payments said in respect of the need for an independent planning regulator. In the relevant section of the tribunal findings, under planning, Judge Mahon stated:
Finally, with regard to enforcement, the tribunal is concerned that the recent changes to the planning system have resulted in an over-centralisation of power in the hands of the Minister for the Environment which is not subject to sufficient checks and balances. Consequently, the tribunal is recommending that the Minister for the Environment's ability to give directions to Regional Authorities and Local Planning Authorities should be entrusted to a planning regulator. However, the Minister for the Environment should continue to play a key role in adopting the national spatial strategy and the national development plan.
I intend to call a vote on this amendment.
We are dealing with amendment No. 4 at the moment. Is the Senator pressing the amendment?
The Senator has moved the amendment anyway.
I endorse what Senator Warfield has said. Clearly, the Mahon tribunal report made many recommendations, and we see some of those recommendations echoed with regard to the legislation. This is a really important opportunity for us to give effect to those recommendations in primary legislation. I am supportive of this amendment.
Section 4 seeks to make the regulator's evaluations and assessments of development plans and regional strategies legally binding. I understand the rationale behind this approach but I must reject the amendment. We discussed this matter in the Dáil also. The primary role of the office of the planning regulator, as set out in the Bill, is to evaluate and assess development plans and regional strategies, and to make statutory observations and recommendations on them. I do not believe it is necessary to amend the Bill to give the planning regulator the power to make legally binding determinations, and I do not believe that is what the Mahon report required either.
The Bill provides that the planning regulator will be independent in carrying out its functions. As currently drafted, it provides the regulator with sufficient powers to make recommendations to planning authorities and regional assemblies on development plans and on regional strategies, and for those recommendations to have sufficient weight. The planning regulator can submit observations or recommendations to the relevant planning authority on draft plans and strategies. A planning authority is then required to notify the planning authority and state the reasons its plan has been made in such a manner as to be inconsistent with any office of the planning regulator observations or recommendations. Where the planning regulator is subsequently of the opinion that the development plan or regional strategy, as made by the relevant planning authority, does not set out an overall strategy for the proper planning and sustainable development of the area or region concerned, the regulator shall recommend the use of the ministerial direction powers in the Act to ensure that the plan sets out an overall strategy for proper planning and sustainable development, and shall submit a draft direction to the Minister of the day for issue to the planning authority concerned.
The Bill further provides that where the Minister agrees with the recommendations of the planning regulator in relation to a plan or strategy, he or she will issue a direction to the relevant local authority or regional assembly. If the Minister does not agree with the recommendations of the planning regulator, the Bill provides that he or she is required to explain the reasons for the disagreement and must lay the reasons before the Houses of the Oireachtas and publish them on the Department's website.
While the introduction of the regulator explicitly recognises the need for oversight of the planning system, the Government's goal in establishing the office is not to overlap with the criminal justice system or to replace democratic decision making, but to ensure transparency, integrity, consistency and quality outcomes within the planning system. I believe the existing Bill has sufficient provisions to make certain that the recommendations of the planning regulator are given due weight within the planning process and that the regulator will have the necessary powers to succeed in the execution of its function.
At the moment, those decisions are made directly by the Minister of the day and I, as the Minister of State, make those recommendations on a weekly basis and often on a daily basis. We judge development plans and local area plans and make those decisions, but not in a very transparent way. I do not have to come into the Houses of the Oireachtas to explain decisions or talk about them. Under this Bill, the regulator will do all of that and he or she will make all of those observations and do all that work on a weekly or daily basis. When it is required, he or she will recommend that the Minister of the day, who could be anyone from this House in the future, from any party, will then make a direction. That is a very clear and transparent process, which I believe achieves what the Mahon tribunal wanted it to achieve. If the Minister does not agree with that direction, he or she has to come to the Houses of the Oireachtas and explain why he or she does not agree. That is a very clear and transparent process, and it is a very good planning system. We have gone far enough in this legislation.
We have to have some democratic accountability. Senators, councillors, Deputies and Ministers are elected to make final decisions on issues. I do not believe that the Mahon tribunal requires that we go beyond that, but there is a transparency element to this. A planning regulator will do all of that work and issue the suggested direction to the Minister. We believe that is sufficient and should give everybody the trust required in the planning system.
Amendment No. 7 seeks to grant the planning regulator an additional investigative function and while I acknowledge that it is well intentioned, I cannot accept it. In this regard, there must be clear lines of demarcation between the role of the planning regulator and other responsible bodies, particularly in the areas of corruption and planning decision making. In instances where there is any evidence relating to planning corruption or breaches of law, these are strictly a matter for investigation by An Garda Síochána. In the area of decision making on individual planning applications, the planning Acts already provide a clear hierarchy of decision making from the local authority to appeals by An Bord Pleanála and thereafter where matters are brought before the courts.
The Bill as drafted already has sufficient provisions regarding the investigation of complaints by the office of the planning regulator and ensures that these complaints can, where appropriate, be referred to more appropriate State authorities. Again, the regulator has the power to carry out the investigation and gather all the information, but then has to bring it to the next relevant authority to be dealt with thereafter. It provides proper channels to go through. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel.
The Bill provides that the planning regulator may at its own behest, or at the request of the Minister or on foot of a complaint received, carry out reviews and examinations to determine if a planning authority is carrying out its functions under the planning Acts. The Bill further allows the regulator to form its own opinion and make recommendations as appropriate to planning authorities and the Minister, and to other authorities if corruption or impropriety is discovered. That ability already exists for the regulator.
The Bill also provides that in relation to complaints made by any person to the planning regulator regarding a planning matter, it can refer the matter and any related documents to the competent authority, be that the Ombudsman, the Standards in Public Office Commission, An Garda Síochána or any other State authority, as required for appropriate investigation. That is the correct way to do business and, therefore, I cannot accept amendments Nos. 4 and 7.
Is Senator Warfield withdrawing amendment No. 4?
No. It should go to a vote. This is just another measure aimed at enhancing transparency.
Amendments Nos. 5, 6, 9, 10, 23, 47, 48 and 50 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 5:
In page 8, line 4, to delete “and”.
Amendments Nos. 10, 23, 47, 48 and 50 arise from previous amendments tabled by Fianna Fáil on Committee Stage in the Dáil which I indicated I was generally open to but could not accept as drafted.
Recognising the links between transport plans and overall planning objectives, I wanted to explore the possibility of conferring on the office of the planning regulator a function regarding strategic transport plans. In seeking to achieve a similar objective, I acknowledge Opposition amendments Nos. 3, 5, 6, 9 and 23 which have been put forward by Senator Murnane O'Connor. I agree with the Senator and her party colleagues in the Dáil that it is appropriate for the planning regulator to have a role in evaluating transport strategies. It is vital that our strategic forward planning is cognisant of an inclusive and wider transport infrastructure. However, upon further examination of the issue by my officials, it was considered appropriate that any function conferred upon the office of the planning regulator in this regard must relate to a specific statutory plan. The only transport strategy we have referred to in the Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2017 is the transport strategy, which is provided for in section 12 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008. This Act regulates the work of the national transport authority and comes under the remit of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport.
Consequently, I am proposing to give the planning regulator a specific additional function to evaluate and assess strategic transport plans made by the National Transport Authority. This is in line with the original Fianna Fáil proposals in this regard. I hope the Senator can understand the clarity I am providing in this respect. Following consultation on this matter between officials from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, it was agreed that the proposed role of the planning regulator would best be incorporated as a function in the Planning and Development Acts and also in the framework of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008.
Accordingly, I am opposing Opposition amendments Nos. 6, 9 and 23 in favour of Government amendments Nos. 10, 47, 48 and 50, which will achieve a similar objective in a cohesive manner that integrates with existing transport legislation. Specifically, amendments Nos. 10 and 47 will confer on the regulator the power to evaluate and assess strategic transport plans made by the National Transport Authority. Amendment No. 48 will amend the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 to make the office of the planning regulator a statutory consultee in the drafting of transport strategies as they occur under the Act. This means that in the future, the planning regulator's office will be consulted when a transport strategy is being developed by the National Transport Authority and the planning regulator will receive a draft of the plan at the same time as the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. The regulator will then simultaneously issue a notice to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, and the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government stating whether the overall plan is consistent with planning policy. The regulator can also make recommendations for any amendments required.
While the ultimate authority to determine the transport strategy will continue to rest with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, in cases in which the Minister does not accept or fully accept the advice of the planning regulator, he or she will have to inform the regulator in writing of the reasons for such a decision and will also have to consult the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government before finalising the strategy. This will be in addition to the provisions in the Bill that already place the planning regulator as the reviewer of regional, spatial and economic strategies. As such strategies are drawn up in consultation with the National Transport Authority and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, they will already be cognisant of strategic transport plans and wider transport concerns. This will mean the regulator will have a double lock on strategic transport planning, initially as a consultee in the formulation of transport strategies and again as the reviewer of regional, spatial and economic strategies that incorporate transport strategies.
Amendment No. 50, which will be moved later, is a minor amendment that proposes to update the legislation so that a reference to the "Dublin Transport Authority" is replaced by a reference to the "National Transport Authority", as it is now known. I think most Senators will agree that these changes represent a positive development. People want to have full access when it comes to planning and transport. I hope the approach I am advocating is agreeable to the House.
I thank the Minister of State.
I remind Members that we are discussing amendments Nos. 3, 5, 6, 9, 10, 23, 47, 48 and 50. If Senators have comments to make on those amendments, they should offer to make them now. When the individual amendments are reached later in this debate, they will be deemed to have already been discussed.
I move amendment No. 7:
In page 8, between lines 15 and 16, to insert the following:
"(c) to conduct investigations into allegations of planning corruption, impropriety or negligence so as to make findings of fact which can used by the relevant authorities to prosecute breaches of law. The Office shall have the legal power to secure any documentation and to call any witnesses which it deems relevant to the conduct of any such investigation,".
Government amendment No. 10:
In page 9, to delete lines 3 and 4 and substitute the following:
" "(v) in so far as relates to planning matters to which paragraph (f) relates,
(j) to evaluate and assess strategic transport plans made by the National Transport Authority in accordance with section 12 of the Dublin Transport Authority Act 2008 and to issue a notice as provided for by subsection (10) of that section.".".
As amendments Nos. 13 to 15, inclusive, amendment No. 26 and amendments Nos. 31 to 33, inclusive, are related, they may be discussed together.
I move amendment No. 13:
In page 10, between lines 39 and 40, to insert the following:
"(iii) the Water Framework Directive,".
This Bill proposes to insert a new section 31S into the Planning and Development Act 2000. The new section provides for various policies, objectives and requirements to which the regulator must have regard. This list already includes a number of EU directives. The purpose of amendments Nos. 13 to 15, inclusive, is to add the water framework, floods and air quality directives to that list. During the Dáil debate on this Bill, the then Minister, Deputy Coveney, undertook to do this on Committee Stage, but this did not happen. I am reintroducing these amendments in order to strengthen the Bill.
Amendments Nos. 31 to 33, inclusive, propose to include the same references in the proposed new section 20C of the 2000 Act, which lists the matters to be addressed in any successor to the national spatial strategy and the national planning framework. These three amendments require the successor to the national planning framework to address the water framework, floods and air quality directives, respectively. The then Minister, Deputy Coveney, also undertook to bring forward a text to this effect.
Amendment No. 26 requires that planning decisions and plans such as development plans, as well as any other decisions taken under the Act, are consistent with the national objective for transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient and environmentally-sustainable economy by 2050. These amendments, when taken together, merely tie together existing Government obligations. They try to bring coherence to the Bill and ensure it addresses all existing EU and national objectives in a comprehensive manner.
Many of these amendments are worthwhile. Amendment No. 14, which relates to the air quality directive, is especially important because of the need to protect air quality in our towns and villages. A high proportion of cars and lorries in Dublin city have diesel engines. Such engines affect air quality in city areas and have an extremely detrimental effect on the development of young people's lungs and brains. It is very important for us to support the EU air quality directive as a counterbalance to previous legislation that has encouraged the use of diesel engines. I support amendment No. 14.
I do not propose to accept the amendments proposed by Senator Grace O'Sullivan. The Bill ensures the office of the planning regulator shall have regard to the policies and objectives of the Government, planning authorities and any other public authorities, the functions of which have a bearing on proper planning and development.
Section 10 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, provides that local authorities must take account of many of the directives and plans identified in these amendments when they are preparing development plans. Section 23 contains similar provisions with regard to the preparation of regional, spatial and economic strategies. By extension, the planning regulator will be required to have regard to all of these matters when evaluating and assessing development plans and regional strategies.
The Bill provides that when the planning regulator's office is assessing and evaluating development plans, it shall address relevant legislative and policy matters relating to development plans, while taking account of the national planning framework and all relevant ministerial planning guidelines and policy directives. Consequently, I believe the provisions outlined in the Bill are sufficiently broad and comprehensive to ensure the planning regulator will have regard to all relevant policies and directives when assessing development plans and regional strategies. All the directives that are listed in these amendments will be part of that. Accordingly, I do not believe it is necessary to itemise in the Bill the myriad of plans and directives referred to in Senator O'Sullivan's amendments.
I support Senator O'Sullivan. I suggest it is common sense to mention the water framework, air quality and floods directives. Many Senators were councillors before they entered this House and have experience of how An Bord Pleanála interprets the phrase "shall have regard to". I think the Bill is strengthened by specifically mentioning the floods, air quality and water framework directives. I support these amendments.
When I consulted Green Party councillors on this Bill, they recommended that these amendments should be proposed. Like Senator Humphreys, I do not see a problem with naming specific directives in order to strengthen the Bill. I would like to hear the Minister's reaction to that.
It is not a problem, but it is just not necessary. It is built into the process that these matters must be taken into account when any development plan, planning application or planning regulation is being considered. Where do we stop? There are many other relevant directives in addition to those that have been mentioned. We have discussed this in the context of the national planning framework. I have discussed it with the joint committee as well. It is assumed in all planning law that this has to be there. If we start itemising, where will we stop? If we highlight two or three directives, such as the water framework and air pollution directives, we might ignore others. They are all part of it.
Any development plan or planning regulator must look at all government policies and directives that reference planning. This is just assumed in the Bill. It is very clear. There is no need to itemise the directives, and I understand there are many more than just the ones the Senator mentioned.
Is Senator Grace O'Sullivan pressing amendment No. 13?
I withdraw it.
Is Senator O'Sullivan withdrawing amendment No. 14 as well?
On a point of clarification, the Senator will be able to reintroduce these amendments on Report Stage if she so desires.
I take the Minister of State's response in good faith. If all these directives are implicit in the Bill, I am happy to withdraw these amendments.
Again, the offer is open to the Senator, or any Senator, to sit down with us before Report Stage if he or she has any doubt or seeks further clarity. If the Senator does not believe me or if I cannot prove something to her, we will be here again to discuss it on Report Stage but I ask her to trust me on this. The directives are very well covered and the amendments are not needed. However, we are happy to meet with her and discuss the matter with officials-----
Based on what the Minister of State has said, I will withdraw the amendments and bring them to Report Stage.
The Senator reserves the right to bring the amendments back if she so wishes.
Government amendment No. 20:
In page 32, lines 21 and 22, to delete “Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government” and substitute “Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government”.
I move amendment No. 24:
In page 44, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 2 of Principal Act
7. Section 2 of the Principal Act is amended by the insertion of the following definition:
“ ‘planner’ and ‘planning consultant’ means a person who is:
(a) a corporate member or fellow of the Irish Planning Institute; or
(b) a person who has been permitted access to pursue the profession of planner pursuant to Article 5 of S.I. No. 139/2008 - Recognition of Professional Qualifications (Directive 2005/36/EC) Regulations, 2008.”.”.
On Second Stage I addressed this issue and the opportunity the Bill presents to address a glaring deficiency in our planning law, that is, the lack of regulation of planners, or those who call themselves planners. The points I made at the time still stand: anyone in this House, or outside it, can legally refer to himself or herself as a planner. This has had highly detrimental consequences for many individuals and I believe such people calling themselves planners have been responsible for some of the poorer planning errors we have had in the past. I am very exercised about this. Even though this Bill concerns a planning regulator and relates to matters that arose out of the Mahon tribunal, it is an opportunity to address this glaring deficit. People like to believe that the professional whose services they are availing of has the necessary qualifications and training. I think they would also be glad of a register and a council that ensured a proper code of ethics and that ensured that the standard in practice was maintained, planners having achieved the qualifications and training they should have, and glad of some element of continuing professional development, CPD, being involved, as there is in many other professions. If one of the issues in this regard is that there are people working in the planning sector who have great experience but do not have the standard qualification, I am sure that CPD and grandfathering could address that. I have not had the chance to talk to the Minister of State since last we discussed this issue on the floor of the House. This is a very serious matter and one that this Bill could address.
I have tabled a very simple, straightforward amendment as a first step in this journey towards a proper register and regulation of planners that would define what a planner is and who can call oneself a planner. It defines a planner as
(a) a corporate member or fellow of the Irish Planning Institute; or
(b) a person who has been permitted access to pursue the profession of planner pursuant to Article 5 of S.I. No. 139/2008 - Recognition of Professional Qualifications (Directive 2005/36/EC) Regulations, 2008.”.”.
I believe the amendment can at least start the first step of this journey. We would still have some way to go, and I understand the journey could be more complex, but I seek with this amendment to start that journey and send a message to people that those who would profess to be planners and who are not properly trained would need to get that training organised for themselves if they wished to remain in the planning profession. This is critically important now because at the end of this week we will see the launch of the national planning framework. Our capital plan will also being launched, with €113 billion to be spent. These are very welcome developments and show the very serious intent of Government to plot a way forward.
One big issue that arises out of these two documents is the need for brownfield sites to be used and for Dublin to go higher rather than spread wider. My view, as someone who lives in Fingal, is that Dublin needs to go higher and places such as Fingal need to develop as well. The Fingal development plan for the next five years has land zoned for 49,000 units. Many people living in Fingal who have young families wish and hope their families could live in the area with them. We have also mentioned Dublin Airport, which contributes €8.3 billion to the economy. One example of its potential is that it has four office blocks capable of housing 4,000 workers. These people will want to live near their workplace. I know I had Senator Grace O'Sullivan's support when I spoke about short commuting distances. Why not live in the nice green, sandy-beached area of Fingal rather than in Dublin city if one works in Dublin Airport?
At a time like this we will need the innovation and expertise of well-trained planners, and they also need their reputation protected by a standard and a code to which they can allude and a qualification they can stand over, rather than having fly-by-night operators who are not planners calling themselves planners and bringing the reputation of the planners into disrepute. As I said, with high density in Dublin, we will need very clever, innovative approaches to providing green space and amenity space, and I have absolute confidence in our planners to do so. I do not, however, have confidence in those who purport to be planners and who are not properly trained to do so. I cannot emphasise enough how critically important this is. I feel if it is not accepted, it will be a missed opportunity and we will be doing the public a disservice.
I have great sympathy for what Senator Reilly is trying to achieve here. I must own up to a certain amount of hesitancy, however. I am not quite certain all planners should be required to be members of the Irish Planning Institute.
The amendment contains a subsection (b).
I am trying to be honest here, not trying to score points. I accept what the Senator is trying to achieve. I would like to see an element of consultation on the measure. What we need is good planning but what we have been through for a number of decades, certainly in the greater Dublin area, is a period of very poor planning. We also at one time tried to regulate architects, which is why I am a little nervous about doing this on the fly. I would like to see a consultation period. I would not like to see an endless consultation period because I believe we should achieve what the Senator is trying to achieve, but I would like to be certain we are putting down the right criteria in defining planners.
Perhaps when he responds the Minister of State will make clear whether he is accepting the amendment or how we could go about strengthening it speedily. Like him I would like to see everybody living within 30 minutes of their workplace because it makes sense.
In recent years we have been able to get green spaces right and the influx of what I call the new Irish has shown us how to use our public spaces better. For many decades our public spaces were ignored and became areas of anti-social behaviour. When they are designed correctly, in the right location, they become a resource like a person's front garden and are used in that manner.
I am very much open to the idea but I would like a little more time to consult and educate myself on this. The Senator might withdraw the amendment and resubmit it on Report Stage. I may be in a position then to support it, when I have considered the proposal in more detail and consulted with planners who have qualifications to see if this is the right way to go. Everybody in the Houses wants to achieve what Senator Reilly wants to achieve. We just have to ensure we do it in the correct manner.
Senator Humphreys has covered much of what I was going to suggest. I welcome this debate and spoke to Senator Reilly about it. He elaborated on this proposal in greater detail at its previous outing. It is a good one.
Over many years on a local authority I saw people present themselves as planners. Some of them were qualified but some unqualified, who had been in the business for 20 or 30 years and are exceptionally good. It is not all about textbooks and letters after one's name. There are people coming up to retirement who have learned the trade and have a really good feel for urban structure and design and development. I do not always buy into academia. I buy into experience as well. I have come across many developers who have tried to get stuff over the line in local authorities. We see how our country has been messed up by planners and developers and with the co-operation of both parties in some bad development. There are also many good developments.
We saw this in the health sector when the Government tried to bring in regulation for physiotherapists. We need to consult with people. The Irish Planning Institute, IPI, has become a very slick outfit in the past few years. It runs very good conferences. I took the time to look at its website today and I know some senior members of the organisation. It is a good organisation and is very responsible but I would not like to rule out other people. We need to have a short period of consultation to get a broad view of what the profession is thinking and how best to regulate it.
I agree with much in the proposal and understand why the Senator is making it. I understand the observations of his colleagues.
However, I do not propose to accept amendment No. 24 tabled by Senator Reilly proposing the insertion of definitions of the terms "planner" and "planning consultant" in the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. He said it is a small step but while it might seem a small step in the writing of it, this would kick off a much larger process. Senator Humphreys touched on that. There is a process to go through if we want to achieve this. We have not had the chance in the past week to discuss this but even that week would not have been enough for us to get this dealt with. I understand what the Senator is trying to do and would support it because the idea behind this Bill is to bring more transparency into the planning system, to have much better planning and more people involved in the process, and observing the national planning frameworks, county development plans and regional strategies that we have all been involved in over the past two or three years.
Planning has improved considerably over the past ten to 15 years. We want to improve it again, to make it clear and transparent and to put trust into the system. That means that when people hire what they think is a planner or planning consultant they can be sure they are getting someone qualified to do the job. That trust is betrayed if that person does not have the required skills. We see that in other professions and we are dealing with it bit by bit in them, and rightly so. I support the Senator but am not ready to put this into this Bill.
The terms "planner" and "planning consultant" are not mentioned anywhere in the principal Act and, therefore, I do not see any useful purpose, or legal requirement, to include such definitions in the principal Act. I acknowledge that several submissions have been received in the Department seeking to define these terms and to regulate the planning profession. Whereas I recognise the role and qualities of professional planners in the Irish planning system, there are a series of questions that remain to be resolved, such as the potential for anti-competitive challenges from workers from other EU member states with professional planning qualifications and how the regulatory function will operate practically in terms of regulation, policing and funding. These are issues we have discussed with the relevant bodies over the past couple of years but there have not been any solid proposals in this area. We would need those and I would be happy to engage with the relevant authorities.
I addressed a conference at the IPI last week. A group of people in the room were members of the IPI and have expertise in planning. We need that and want it but there is a process to go through. Inserting this amendment would not do the process justice and would not be fair to the system. It would be wrong to do that.
When we discussed this last week I mentioned precedent. Senators Humphreys and Boyhan referred to the regulation of specific professional groups. I namechecked the architects profession last week as provided for in the Building Control Act 2007. Without having any further flesh on the bones as to how a register of planners would operate, I am not in a position to accept this. We went through a similar process with the architects and there are still unresolved issues, years on.
If we are going to do this we need to do it the right way with proper consultation involving everybody. I would be happy to engage in that process and legislate or regulate for it later. There are quite a few fundamental issues that require further consideration and development in this regard. I want to proceed with caution in this matter for the moment. While we would all agree that it is something we want to achieve, we have to do it in a proper manner. I would not be in a position to take it on Report Stage. I and the officials give a strong commitment that we will engage on this and we can achieve it if we want to but that will take longer than putting it into this Bill.
I thank the Senators for their contribution. I accept Senator Humphreys's bona fides on this. The second part of the amendment relates to "a person who has been permitted access to pursue the profession of planner pursuant to Article 5 of S.I. No. 139/2008 - Recognition of Professional Qualifications (Directive 2005/36/EC) Regulations, 2008." That includes very specifically the Royal Town Planning Institute, RTPI, and others.
I have consulted widely with the IPI and have spoken to the president of the RTPI who does not have any particular problem with this. The issue of EU equivalence can be covered off under that SI.
There will of course be problems. There always are. I accept fully what the Minister is saying about architects and the fact that anyone could use that term up to a couple of years ago and that problems arose subsequently. Unfortunately, to make an omelette one has to break a few eggs. We cannot continue to run away from it on the basis that we may discommode certain people. No one rule will always be fair to everybody but the greater good demands that we do something about this, that we have protection for the public and that we protect the name of planners as well. It is not a case of pulling the ladder up after them but there are the IPI, the RTPI and our European brethren with whom in many professions we have equivalence of certification and acknowledgement of their degrees. The one I know most about is the medical profession. That is not without its problems. People may have the required professional capacity but not the language, which can be a big problem in medicine.
On the issue of regulating, policing and funding, we are not trying to reinvent the wheel. Again, we have plenty of precedence among the professions who are regulated by their council, who pay for that regulation by their subscription to the council, of which they must be a member in order to conduct their profession. Obviously the council polices the matter. The cost to the State will be negligible. I do not believe the Medical Council get any subsidy from the State that I am aware of, as it is funded by doctors themselves, even though there is a lay majority on the council now. I do not think any of those problems are insurmountable. I hear what the Minister is saying and I fully acknowledge it. At the outset, I said we had an opportunity in the Bill which has a specific purpose, to consider a different end. I reserve my position until Report Stage. I will consult further with the planners to whom I have been speaking as to whether we need to bring this amendment back.
Failing that, I am putting the Government on notice that I will bring forward a Bill, which I will seek to publish in due course, if we cannot make progress in the foreseeable future because I cannot think of a more important time for this to be done. As I have already outlined, and without reiterating what I said already, with so much building and development coming down the track and a wonderful opportunity to get things right, let us make sure the planners who are planning it are properly qualified and right.
I propose to withdraw my amendment and reserve the right to submit it on Report Stage.
To be clear, because I referred to architects. I am not saying that we cannot do this because of problems with that. There is a precedent set so we can do this, but a procedure was followed there. It was not simply a matter of tabling an amendment; we must flesh out our proposals more.
If the Senator proposes to table an amendment on Report Stage or to introduce a Bill, that is fine but that those who are interested in doing so need to engage with the officials from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and flesh it out. It is not teased out enough. I totally agree with Senator Reilly that it is fixable but we have to have detailed conversations and consultations. Let me be very clear, it is not that I am against accepting the amendment but I cannot accept amendments in isolation. It is not appropriate timing, because we need to do more work around it. We had engaged in that process but it has not been completed. More Members could be involved in that process and we could finish it out, however there is a bit of work involved.
There is no problem with introducing a Bill, but it would be better for those involved to engage with the Department in trying to initiate a Bill in a logical manner and achieve a result.
Amendment No. 25 is in the name of Senator Grace O'Sullivan. Is Senator Craughwell dealing with this?
Yes. We will withdraw it and re-enter it on Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 25:
In page 44, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 2 of Principal Act
7. Section 2 of the Principal Act is amended by the insertion of the following definition:
“ ‘satisfactory completion’ includes compliance of all houses with the Building Regulations.”.”.
I move amendment No. 26:
In page 44, between lines 9 and 10, to insert the following:
“Insertion of section 2 into Principal Act
7. The Principal Act is amended by the insertion of the following new section after section 2:
“2A. Planning authorities, the Office of the Planning Regulator, the Government, and other public authorities in the exercise of their functions under this Act, shall ensure consistency with the National Transition Objective established in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Act 2015.”.”.
Amendment No. 27 is a Government amendment. Amendments Nos. 27 to 29, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together by agreement.
I move amendment No. 30:
In page 44, between lines 18 and 19, to insert the following:
“Amendment of section 13 of Principal Act
8. Section 13 of the Principal Act is amended by the insertion of the following subsection after subsection (1):
“(1A) The initiation of a variation under this section shall be a reserved function.”.”.
The Minister of State will be aware that I have been in touch with the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government for a protracted period in seeking clarification on the role, power and right of an elected member in a planning authority, that is, elected councillors have the power to initiate a variation to a county development plan.
Clearly there are different practices across local authorities. There are a number of local authorities where councillors have initiated changes to the county development plans. There is a lack of coherence across the 31 local authorities in this matter. There was a case in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council in which the manager and the executive sought clarification and decided to get an independent view. Every time one looks for a view, one gets a different view from somebody else.
There is some ambiguity about the role and the function of elected members in initiating a variation of the county development plan. I am talking about a variation as opposed to any other mechanism, for instance, if a number of members of a local authority wished as a group to vary their development plan to have regard for a number of protected structures or an architectural conservation area - I am giving those examples as being not too controversial - some local authority members have been told by their chief executive that they cannot initiate this process.
I believe fundamentally, and there has been a judicial review on similar matters, that the making of a development plan is the most powerful instrument of an elected member in a local authority. In many ways this takes up a lot of members' time, in terms of ensuring that it is followed to the letter of the law. Members will know from their experience in local government that councillors guard that power and are very proud of their county development plans. They put in an enormous work into the county development plans. I do not have a problem with the executive initiating change and having a variation to the county development plan but it is important that members have the power and the right to initiate a variation. I say that under very definite circumstances. It is to be about process. It is not just members willy-nilly making up some idea, but it is going through a long process of giving notice. It is a public system that is transparent. A variation in the county development plan requires public consultation, a planner's report, various amendments, teasing it out and coming back. The executive has a role, as do the elected members. I want both parties to have a equal role in this. That is important.
The Minister of State will be aware that in County Meath, there has been controversy about planning issues. The elected members have successfully initiated variations. The power is there and the ministerial advisers should be telling him that it has happened. I took on the task of going around a number of local authorities to find out how many variations took place in a number of local authorities, particularly in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, because it is the local authority I know best. Clearly I can see that variations were initiated by the executive but there were also variations initiated by the elected members. It is a question of how do we start the process, how does an elected member come to a local authority and start the process. That is where the problem lies. I think there needs to be absolute clarity that elected members have a role and a function about initiating a variation of the development plan. If the members do not have any power to initiative a variation, in effect once they sign off on the county development plan, they can do sweet damn all in terms of making changes. Plans evolve, as the Minister of State knows. Plans have to have regard for change in circumstances. That is what I am trying to achieve. I do not wish to weaken or dampen down the powers or the functions of the executive. I want to put the reserved functions of the elected members on an even keel with the executive functions which the executive holds.
I am pretty much in agreement with Senator Boyhan. This is about strengthening local democracy and I support this amendment.
Local councillors take great pride in the development plan. Certainly on many occasions in Dublin City Council, local councillors had to go to An Bord Pleanála to keep the integrity of the development plan when the executive failed to do it. The prime example was when the then Jury's Hotel was given planning permission for an inappropriate development and local councillors had to appeal that decision to An Bord Pleanála, which then upheld the development plan. Anything that strengthens local councillors in respect of planning is good. Anything that clarifies clearly the reserved functions of councillors, to allow councillors to initiate a variation of the development plan along with the executive is important. Five years can be a long time in terms of a plan for a city or town. There is a need for the elected members of the council to know their reserved function and that they can initiate a variation of the development plan, even though it is tightly regulated and ensures there is proper consultation during the process.
I thank the two Senators for tabling the amendment. It is common sense and supports the local councillors with their work on the ground.
I do not propose to accept amendment No. 30 as proposed by Senators Grace O'Sullivan and Victor Boyhan due to its wording. It is important that there is a clear and robust planning rationale for embarking on a variation procedure in respect of a development plan. The current requirements in the Act recognise the fundamental role of elected members as decision-makers in this regard, which would be undermined by this proposed amendment as it seeks to permit the amalgamation of policy formulation with the decision process on policy. However, I know what the Senators are trying to get at.
It is important that we recognise the different roles of both elected members and the executive. Planning and local government legislation distinguishes between legal functions reserved for the elected members, on the one hand, and the executive functions of the executive on the other hand, and both are part of the planning authority's procedures.
The development plan variation and amendment process is intended to operate as a well-informed and open dialogue between the elected members and the executive regarding the wishes of the elected members on planning policy, in their local authority areas, and the legal responsibilities of the executive to advise the elected members of the council of their duties and responsibilities from a legal and technical perspective. Furthermore, there is a need to ensure that the integrity of the development plan and local area plan, as adopted by the elected members, is maintained and is not subjected to an ongoing review and change without the required level of technical examination. There is a danger that the overall coherence of the adopted plan will be undermined by piecemeal and frequent changes that would create uncertainty in the development plan process. I am not saying that would happen. I am saying that the wording of the amendment poses a danger and I am prepared to talk to the Senators in order to come up with a different wording. Both elected members and officials must work together in harmony. They must recognise their respective roles for the purpose of shaping the proper planning and sustainable development of the functional area of the relevant planning authority.
The actions involved in initiating a variation of a development plan include a number of steps such as: preparing for and undertaking a public consultation; reporting on the public consultation; and the subsequent preparation of recommendations for the members to consider further to the public consultation. From a practical perspective, the function under section 13 of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, which governs variations to the development plans and local area plans, requires that reasons be stated for the initiation of a variation. The reasons must stand up to scrutiny from the perspectives of proper planning and sustainable development, consistency with the overall national policy and the regulatory framework for planning, and fair procedure.
I, therefore, oppose the amendment tabled by Senators Grace O'Sullivan and Victor Boyhan. I do so on the grounds that their amendment could facilitate piecemeal and frequent changes to development plans and local area plans, which would give rise to and create uncertainty in the development plan process. I know what the Senators are trying to achieve with their amendment. I am prepared to discuss some other wording with them, which will also provide a clear definition. I am sure we all agree that we do not want a variation to become a regular occurrence as it would undermine the plans. It might also generate a legal doubt so it is best not to do so. I accept, however, that there might be a need to do so in certain circumstances.
In general, this process has worked quite well. It has been mentioned at a committee meeting that the process has not worked in a couple of cases. I am happy to meet the Senators to discuss the matter before Report Stage. We could review the cases that the Senators are aware of but that I am not aware of and try to agree on a new wording for the amendment. I cannot accept the current amendment because it does not achieve what they want. Perhaps we will not agree on a new wording and we will have to agree to disagree. Before the Senators decide to press their amendment I suggest that there may be time in the months ahead to discuss the matter and perhaps reach an agreement. I have sympathy with what they are trying to achieve with their amendment.
I do not have one issue with anything the Minister of State has said. I was a county councillor for many years and I have worked an awful lot with Fine Gael councillors, which is the political party to which the Minister of State belongs. I shall not withdraw my amendment. Instead, I shall go away, think about it and come back with the views expressed by members of his party. As I have told him, I have consistently been in dialogue with his officials for over a year who have continually told me that they will bring in guidelines. The last correspondence I received from them stated the guidelines will come in when the national planning framework is adopted. Will it? Is it a fait accompli? I have no difficulty with discussing this primary legislation here and now.
The variations that we have talked about have been, in many cases, initiated to facilitate the building of houses. The Minister of State has talked about the Government's policy entitled Rebuilding Ireland. He is not here in isolation but as part of a three-person ministerial team for whom I have respect. The Minister of State has said that it is okay for the chief executive of a local authority to initiate a variation but it is not okay for the members of his political party, or members of any political party or none to initiate a variation.
We have been lectured to and heard a lot of talk about devolving powers to communities and to the elected members of the Minister of State's party and other parties. However, when there is an opportunity to devolve power there is a reluctance to do so. I have no issue with what the Minister of State has said. I would like to read his speaking note but I think what he has said has been really positive. Of course there must be a process, analysis and a public consultation. Local authorities and planners are very familiar with the planning process and the statutory planning and public consultation process. They are all obvious things.
I want an open and transparent process. I want democracy and elected people to be empowered. There are controls in the form of a planning regulator and many of the Mahon recommendations have been adopted. All of that means we now have, hopefully, a cleaner, more open and transparent planning process than we have ever had and I thank all of the politicians who fed into that process. This Bill will go a long way to achieving all of that. What is the Minister of State and the Government afraid of?
In terms of the suggestion that elected members approach councils willy-nilly every day, there were approximately 14 variations in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. Most of them were related to proper development and recognised an economic need. The variations were supported.
I promise the Minister of State that I shall do two things. First, I will home in on five local authorities, including Meath and Dún Laoghaire, and produce a printout within a week of every variation that has taken place in the past ten years. I will give him a list of who proposed the variations, their party affiliations, their reasons for the proposals and where they went to and confirm whether homes have been built on the sites, whether there has been economic activity on the sites or if the sites went dead. I will not do the work all on my own. I shall call on officials who work in some of the local authorities and see how they respond to my request for information. I shall tell them that I want to supply the Minister of State with a list in order that we can talk about this process on the next Stage. I hope that something can be worked out here.
As he will know, the Government cannot talk about empowering local government, devolving powers to local government and empowering local county councillors from all parties yet at the same time come in here and say, "We cannot let these fellas run amok." That is what I believe the Minister of State has said about this matter. I believe we already have an open and transparent system. He has talked about the matter and played a role in providing a good, open and transparent system. My colleagues and I have introduced a Bill that will address many of the anomalies and many of the recommendations made by Mahon. All of that is in order. What has anyone to fear from democratically elected members exercising their power to vary a county development plan through a very controlled and open process?
I thank the Minister of State for his response. I look forward to working with him and I hope to engage with his officials in the next ten days.
I deliberately waited until the Minister of State had responded because I wanted to hear what he had to say. I found very little fault with what Senator Boyhan has said. We need more local democracy and we must reinforce and re-empower our councillors. Many of them have told me that far too much power has gone from their hands to the executive. I believe that we need to strike a balance. I could not disagree with a word the Minister of State uttered in terms of the fact that we need to be careful with the wording of the amendment. He has offered to meet the Senators to find a formula of words that can meet the requirements yet highlight the need for care, caution and reinforce the power of the locally elected and democratically elected representatives of the people.
I want to add to what both of my colleagues have just said. In recent years the power of local authority representatives has been debased, which is wrong in every sense of the word. They know what is going on and, therefore, we should listen to what they have to say. I fully support my colleague, Senator Boyhan, and I really think the Minister of State should take this matter on board. I know Senator Boyhan will produce the evidence that he has promised to provide. Do we really need to push the matter to that level?
Can we not take his word and accept the amendment? It is a relatively small change.
I am quite encouraged by the response of the Minister of State. This issue must be addressed. However, one must consider how a development plan is dealt with in practice. I was first elected to a city council in 1999 and, as a new councillor, had to try to deal with a complicated development plan that was a foot thick for a city. That plan was revised several times at each election. New councillors were coming in to deal with a major development plan and found it very difficult to grasp. The Minister of State is nodding in agreement so I presume he had a similar experience at some stage.
The amendment makes good common sense. Consultation will be better because it will deal with a variation of the plan. The process must be correct but the key issue in this regard is divining what councillors' responsibilities and powers are in regard to initiating a variation of the development plan. During my time on the council, managers often told me that they would love to implement a variation of the development plan in a particular area because housing development was required but because of the make-up of the council the manager would get his or her head chopped off and the variation would not be progressed. If councillors are prepared to show the leadership to initiate a variation of a development plan in order to allow homes to be built, in particular at a time when we so badly need homes, they must be facilitated to do so. However, proper controls must be in place.
Nobody wishes to undermine public consultation, proper scrutiny taking place or, most importantly, a role in the process for the community. There is now a totally different public attitude to this issue because people now understand the problems in regard to a city and the need for housing. They understand the problems of density and are far more open than was previously the case to consideration of a variation of a development plan, in particular when it is an improvement of the plan and one is rezoning from industrial to residential and wants to move from a brownfield site to building homes. We must empower councillors who are aware of such needs in local communities to be able to initiate that, as well as management.
The Minister of State should consider this amendment before the Bill goes to Report Stage. There is a sense that Senators wish to support the amendment and facilitate change. If the Minister of State can do the required work with Senator Boyhan before Report Stage, it would be of benefit.
To put Senator Boyhan's mind at ease, he will not have to book a week's holidays to do all of this work. I acknowledge that he has been engaging with my officials on this issue for the past year. There will be sufficient time to discuss the amendment further as there are many amendments I wish to bring forward on Report Stage which I also wish to discuss with him. We have some work to do for Report Stage and there will be time in the coming weeks or months to tease out this issue and I will sit down with the Senator to do that because I understand what Senators wish to achieve in this regard and I am all for it. It is essential to ensure that is done correctly.
When I was a councillor, I very much valued my role and decision-making ability in regard to the development plan. That function and policy was reserved for councillors. I do not want councillors and the work they do in that regard to be undermined by potential difficulties that could not be envisaged by anyone present but could be caused by councillors making an error in wording or initiating a variation policy that does not add value. The key is to find a wording that ensures we do not have to review all of their variations and that if changes are made to these powers, they are not unintentionally abused. It does not bother me of what party a councillor who initiates a variation plan is a member because a correct decision is a correct decision. Councillors are well able to do their jobs but we could undermine the original process if we get it wrong and I wish to tease that out with Senator Boyhan. There is time to do so and I will commit my time and that of my officials to ensuring we get this right before Report Stage.
I do not expect Senator Boyhan to travel the country to do all of this research although I am sure his fellow Senators and committee members would not mind if he went missing for a few weeks. Perhaps he might want to do it after all.
I will take two weeks' holidays.
I agree with the sentiments expressed by Senators Boyhan, Humphreys and Reilly on this amendment The Minister of State was a councillor, as was I. Councillors take their positions as representatives of their communities very seriously and would not initiate a variation to a development plan unless they thought it necessary. As the Minister of State is aware, councillors work on the ground every day of the week and know what is going on in their communities, which the executive may not know. I strongly support the thrust of the amendment. Councillors have to go before the people every five years to be adjudicated upon but the executive does not, which is another difference that should be taken into account in regard to this legislation.
Although it may not be relevant to this amendment, in December in the Lower House the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, indicated that he would bring forward an amendment on Committee Stage of the Bill in the Seanad to classify data centres as strategic infrastructure but I do not see any such amendment before us today and ask the Minister of State to enlighten us in that regard.
I thank Senator Wilson for raising that issue. As I stated, there are some amendments on which we are still working and hope to bring forward on Report Stage. Those amendments will include the issue raised by the Senator. Some amendments on the vacant site levy that, as we announced, will go from 3% to 7% will be dealt with on Report Stage because they are not ready for today.
Amendments will also be brought forward to deal with a new classification of communications and data infrastructure in order to designate data centres and strategic infrastructure development in the seventh Schedule to the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, in particular having regard to the economic significance of data centres, as referred to by Senator Wilson and mentioned by the Minister in this House and the Dáil.
There will also be amendments dealing with the special costs rule set down in section 50B of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended by the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2010, in regard to judicial reviews of development consents requiring screening for appropriate assessment under the provisions of Council Directive No. 92/43/EEC on the conservation of natural habitats and wild flora and fauna, otherwise known as the habitats directive.
Other amendments will facilitate further measures to improve eplanning in strategic housing developments, as well as exemptions regarding forest entrances on public roads.
These amendments were referenced at committee, in the Dáil and during statements earlier today in this House and we will bring them forward on Report Stage. A range of amendments will be brought forward on those topics and will be fully discussed on Report Stage and, if agreed to by the Seanad, will then have to go to the Dáil for approval.
I move amendment No. 31:
In page 45, between lines 31 and 32, to insert the following:
“(f) consistency with the Water Framework Directive;”.
We are withdrawing this amendment on the basis that it will be resubmitted on Report Stage.
I move amendment No. 32:
In page 45, between lines 31 and 32, to insert the following:
“(f) consistency with the Floods Directive;”.
I move amendment No. 33:
In page 45, between lines 31 and 32, to insert the following:
“(f) consistency with EU Directives on air quality;”.
Amendments Nos. 34 and 35 are related and may be discussed together. Is that agreed? Agreed.
I move amendment No. 34:
In page 46, to delete lines 26 to 29, and substitute the following:
“(8) The government shall submit the final draft of the National Planning Framework together with the Environmental Report and Appropriate Assessment Report for the amendment and approval by each House of the Oireachtas, and only after that approval can the National Planning Framework be considered to be on a statutory footing.”.
This amendment would cause the Government to ensure that there is a vote on the national planning framework in the Dáil and Seanad before it is placed on a statutory footing. Sinn Féin has engaged with the national planning framework consultation process from the start and made two detailed submissions articulating our concerns about the draft plan. There were huge gaps in the last document in regard to the north west of the country and there is also much vagueness in regard to the North-South dimension of the plan. There must be a stronger all-Ireland dimension or focus, in particular in the context of Brexit and its impact. There is no emphasis on socio-economic disadvantage within the document and the drafters must be mindful of the potential socio-economic impact of planning decisions.
Sinn Féin has stated on the record that unless there is a significant change to the plan we will not be in a position to support it. It is unclear what the procedure is for putting the national planning framework on a statutory footing. This has not been done before and, as such, we believe that the Dáil and Seanad should debate and vote on this important document before it is given a legislative footing.
I would like to speak about amendment No. 35, which is similar. That amendment would require the Government to submit the draft of the revised or new national planning framework, together with the environmental report and an appropriate assessment report, for the approval of each House of the Oireachtas before it is published.
I understand that the national planning framework is due to be announced this Friday in County Sligo. From the fact that it is being announced in County Sligo, I assume there is good news for Sligo, and I wish its people well. This is a plan that has been put together over a short period of time. Granted, there was time allowed for public consultation and submissions, but we do not believe that is sufficient. If the draft is anything to go by, many parts of rural Ireland, which is on its knees in many respects, will be closed down altogether. This plan involves the spending of €115 billion of taxpayers' money. I repeat, €115 billion.
Last October, we passed a budget of €60 billion, which was for a 12-month period, and both Houses of the Oireachtas had to vote. This is twice that amount, and the Government expects us as Members of this House, and our colleagues in the Lower House, to be satisfied with statements about what the Government will decide to do next Friday. For me, and for the members of my party, that is not good enough. This is the future of our families and the families to follow for many generations in this country. This infrastructure will be their future. There is an obligation on us to vote to approve or reject what the Government comes up with next Friday. This plan will spend €115 billion of taxpayers' money over the next several decades. The least we can expect is that both Houses of the Oireachtas could have a vote on whether it goes ahead or not.
I want to talk about the national development plan. At the very outset, I welcome it. We do not know the full and final detail of it, but we have had a lot of discussion. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government. It has been discussed there. We had an exhaustive debate about it and people expressed their views and concerns.
As someone who travels up and down the country, I am keenly aware of provincial newspapers and their power. I go to the library here on a weekly basis and pull out the provincial papers, because I like to get a sense of what is going on. It is sometimes very different to what is said here. Spin of all sorts comes from all sorts of parties, welcoming all sorts of initiatives and the fact that they had a part to play in them. I was in Laois yesterday, and I picked up the Laois Champion. I was in Donegal a few days ago and I had another look there. I saw many of my lovely friends and colleagues here making all sorts of claims to fame on the basis of what they got in this national planning framework. That is very interesting.
I am also conscious that a confidence and supply arrangement sustains this Government. Can I give a little bit of advice, for what it is worth? I would love the Minister to come before both Houses of the Oireachtas. I think it would be a clever political move. Sometimes people do not really want the things they bark and shout about. I learned that in politics a long time ago. I do not know why the Minister has any fear. He should call off his Sligo gig next Friday, if necessary. Why not? It is only a gig. It is only a part of the PR machine, though that is an important aspect of any plan. I call on the Minister to move on. Bring it back into these Houses. Call a spade a spade. Put it up to them. Ask them to vote for it. I guarantee him that he will have overwhelming support.
If it was put to them that there was a vote of both Houses, the people who complain about the national planning framework would have a different song to sing. What I am saying is that I think it is a good plan. It is about time that we had a co-ordinated approach to planning and development, underpinned by proper capital funding that is open and transparent and spreads right across this country. That is really important.
I hope that is what is going to happen. I am not privy to the inner details of the national planning framework, but it makes sense to have an overall national planning framework for our country. I know that Deputy English is the Minister of State, but I do not know why this gig on Friday is not called off. I do not know why Members do not come into the Houses, have a final debate and call for a vote on it. Is it not better to have a ringing endorsement of the national planning framework? Is it not better to put it up to the parties that sustain the Government? I believe they will support it. That is a challenge, and it is something the Government should consider.
I cannot endorse the plan as Senator Boyhan has, because I have not seen the plan. I have seen a draft plan.
That is what I said.
I look forward to seeing the plan. I hope it is not a case of "one for everyone in the audience". I hope the Government is not going to repeat the "Late Late Show", or repeat the many mistakes of previous Governments. I can name them individually, but I will not embarrass anybody.
I refer to the last Government.
The last Government brought this country out of bankruptcy.
Oh my God Almighty.
Fianna Fáil Members will probably remember what they did. If they want to talk about the last Government-----
If Senator Humphreys wants to rewrite history-----
There is no problem about rewriting history, because-----
Obviously. I can see that.
I am quite proud of the role I played in government. I am proud of going into Government when there was 15% unemployment and leaving with the country heading for 6% and below. I refer to the collapse of the banks and the bailout, when Fianna Fáil Ministers said the troika was not in the country while its representatives were quietly going in the back door of Government Buildings. I recall the embarrassment they had to face in the national media. I have no problem in talking about-----
What about the future?
-----what was done in the last Government. I will talk about the future now. Senator Wilson got up here and in many ways he threatened the Minister of State. He is a little bit like the boy who cried wolf. He will probably cause an election at some stage, because he will have to bring the Fianna Fáil-Fine Gael coalition down. Fianna Fáil is in coalition with Fine Gael.
This is one of the most important decisions that will be made for the next several decades, on how taxpayers' money will be invested in this nation. They are big decisions. I agree that this should not be done as a gig or a PR event in Sligo. It should be underwritten by statutory legislation, and there should be a vote in both Houses. Senator Wilson is nodding in agreement. His party has the power to enforce that. He should not just nod. He should do it.
Senator Humphreys will have the opportunity-----
Can I continue without interruption? I certainly do not want statements in this House in the coming weeks about the expenditure of hundreds of billions of euro in investment across the country. We want real decision-making. We talk enough about new politics, but we are not seeing it. We see a PR event in Sligo. We are not having a conversation about legislation and a vote in both of these Houses. That is why I strongly support the Sinn Féin amendment to this Bill. I hope Fianna Fáil will support the amendment, though it is a little bit like bolting the gate when the horse has galloped away, because the announcement will go ahead, and there is no underpinning legislation to force a vote in either of these Houses.
Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have deceived both Houses, and it is crocodile tears on the part of Fianna Fáil to say it wants a vote in both Houses. If Deputy Micheál Martin wanted a vote in both Houses, he could tell the Taoiseach to ensure that happens, but Fianna Fáil will not do that so we will have play-acting here that its members are really concerned. They are not. They are only interested in their own futures. I will support this amendment even though it probably will not achieve anything.
I call Senator Murnane O'Connor.
She should make sure she mentions Carlow.
I am a Carlow woman. I am coming in on my own amendment. I am very surprised by the words of Senator Humphreys, who was in Government with Fine Gael for five years. All of a sudden, Fine Gael is not the issue and Fianna Fáil is to blame for this. I tabled this amendment. The Senator can see my name, Senator Murnane O'Connor, under the amendment but he did not clarify that it was in my name. My amendment states, "In page 46, line 28, after “approval” to insert “by vote”." We are not playing politics here. I do not know whether Labour played politics with the Minister of State's Government previously. I guarantee the Minister of State, Fianna Fáil or not, I will call for a vote on this today and I will look for the House's support. The reason I will do so is that I am so disappointed that an announcement was made that on Friday the Government would launch the national planning framework for 2040. My colleagues in Fianna Fáil and I are very disappointed by this because it involves so many years of infrastructure, housing and job creation. This is not party politics. This is about giving people in rural Ireland and the cities the quality of life they deserve. This is why I tabled this amendment calling for a vote. It must go back to the Dáil and the Seanad. I call on the Minister of State not to launch the plan on Friday. Let it come back into the Houses of the Oireachtas so we can vote on it. I hope Senator Humphreys got all that.
I am sure the Minister of State has enjoyed the past few minutes, the little history lesson of who got what right when and how. I get tired coming in here listening to this nonsense. First and foremost, my colleague, Senator Boyhan, is correct. We will have statements in here over the next few days on the national planning framework. What the hell is that about? It is a waste of time because the plan will already have been launched at that stage. Senator Boyhan, whom I trust when it comes to such issues, is impressed by the plan, and that is significant for me. What is insignificant is the "gig", as he put it, next Friday. The gig should not go ahead. If we are to debate it in the House, let us debate it, vote on it, have it endorsed by the Oireachtas and take it out to the people and sell it to them.
I recently drove from Galway to Letterkenny down every back road I could find, through every village I could find, and I saw rural Ireland and where it is now. Let no one from any side of this House jump up and down and say what he or she did or did not do for rural Ireland because it did not fall into the state it is in today in a year, five years or ten years. It has been slowly degrading. I drove around the town of Mullingar last week and, my God, I have seen some disastrous places in my life, but Mullingar is in dire need of funding and support to bring it back to the proud town it once was. There is a beautiful Army barracks there that is open to the world but there are no soldiers in it anymore. One can go up along the west coast and through towns such as Foxford. Westport is a fantastic town, but anyone coming into some of the other towns in Mayo will see the state of them. Anyone can see the state of parts of Leitrim.
The plan is therefore needed and, in fairness to the Government, it has put a plan in place, but what the hell is wrong that the Government cannot bring the plan in here to the democratic heart of the country and allow a vote to take place on it? What is wrong with that? These statements are nonsense. They are a waste of time. People will stand up here next week and say with great indignation, "Damn this to hell," and "Damn that to hell," and "The Government did not do this and did not do that". However, if the Government made them vote on it before it kicked off with the gig in Sligo, they would have very little to say. I get tired of the goddamn history lessons. We get it in here every bloody week. We have people shouting at us about trolleys and housing. Are they expecting all these things to materialise out of thin air? The Government is doing the best it can, but would it for God's sake respect democracy, bring such plans to the House and let people who will shout their heads off next week about the plan do so before they vote on it? I agree with my colleague, Senator Boyhan. If Deputy Micheál Martin so wished in the morning, he could force a vote on this today, and that is the truth of the matter.
We will vote on it.
Let us have it.
I thought we were debating Committee Stage of the Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill. I have been watching the hypocrisy of Members regarding-----
That is an affront. The Senator cannot breeze in here and say that.
I have been watching and listening to the hypocrisy of Members here discussing the launch of the national development plan next Friday, which is worth €115 billion. The Taoiseach is right: the Members opposite are terrified because this is good news.
We are all complaining. How can we all be wrong?
There has been extensive consultation throughout the national planning framework process. I inform Senator Murnane O'Connor that there were stakeholder events in June 2016 and two formal six-week phases of public consultation in February and March 2017 and October and November 2017, together with 40 regional events and workshops and four engagements with various-----
Which were badly attended, by the way.
On a point of order, may I clarify what is actually happening here? The Leader has just stormed in here suddenly-----
I have not stormed in at all.
Will the Leader let me finish speaking? I just want clarification. What is happening?
My understanding is that the Leader is making a contribution on amendments Nos. 34 and 35.
We have different views. Not everyone criticised the plan-----
I am not saying the Senator did. I heard his remarks on the Order of Business, to be fair, but I am entitled-----
I ask the Leader to clarify what he is doing.
Senator Boyhan might allow Senator Buttimer to continue.
The Senator may have a viewpoint, to which he is entitled, and which I accept. I have a viewpoint and I want to create a proper debate with facts.
I agree with the Leader.
We are having a proper debate.
I am amused-----
I support the plan.
I understand that, and-----
On a point of order, the Senator has said Senators were hypocritical. I would like him to point out who was hypocritical in what they said because I would love to know what I said-----
I remind Senator Buttimer-----
I will not name names just to give the Senator a headline.
Senator Buttimer, Members should not-----
I will not name names just to give people some amusement.
I am the calmest one of all in this debate at present.
Senator Buttimer did not identify anyone but he is out of order in accusing people of hypocrisy.
We were told there was no consultation. Is that not correct?
Very little consultation.
I am outlining through the Chairman-----
I said Sinn Féin has engaged in every stage of the consultation, in fairness.
I am outlining through the Chairman the facts that Members opposite might not want to hear. It is incumbent on us, if we are to have a debate-----
No one criticised the consultation.
Senator Humphrey's contribution-----
The Leader just stormed in.
I did not storm in at all.
We will let him read his speech he has got typed up.
Members are entitled to contribute to this debate whenever they feel like it, subject to the rules.
There is an order for that.
We are on Committee Stage and Members can speak as often as they want. That is the factual position.
There are people here who know everything.
We have been discussing this for months in regard to the housing strategy, so we know what is going on in-----
I want to allow Senator Buttimer to contribute.
There are people who profess to have knowledge on every subject and that is fair enough.
The Senator should finish reading his speech.
I advise Senator Humphreys that we have had 40 regional events and 1,000 submissions from the general public, including 150 from Members of the Oireachtas, so let us not say there was no consultation and participation.
We have had to extend the consultation-----
Allow Senator Buttimer to continue without interruption.
I want to speak after him as I want to-----
The Senator is entitled to do that.
The key point is that there was a draft plan and now we will have the final plan. Let us have perspective. When I hear Senator Murnane O'Connor say that Fianna Fáil is not political, who does she think she is codding?
The Senator is a member of a political party.
I did not say that. I was speaking about people's quality of life.
I will allow Senator Murnane O'Connor to come back in.
I ask the Leader to correct that comment. I said it is about people's quality of life.
I will let the Senator back in. Allow Senator Buttimer to continue without interruption.
I want the Acting Chairman to let me back in because I need to speak on this.
We have a newly formed coalition against the national development plan who were out on the plinth this morning. How could they be against it when they have not even seen it?
The Leader wants us to launch it on Friday.
If that is not being political, then the Senator can call me Davy, because that is being opportunist and political, which her party - as Senator Humphreys said and on which I agree with him - did for generations and look where our country ended up.
Thank you, Davy.
The point is there was consultation and engagement. Let us not say there was not because there was.
I will bring in the Minister of State at this stage as we have had a round of the Members contributing and then I will bring in Senators Craughwell and Murnane O'Connor.
Let us do the business and not-----
Senator Humphreys is being personal again.
I am scratching my head thinking where do I start with this. There are two different debates - there are probably ten different ones - going on here and I will try to deal with both of them separately. I will try to separate legislation from this week's debate.
The Minister of State might deal with amendments Nos. 34 and 35.
I will do that. I do not propose to accept amendments Nos. 34 and 35 relating to the adoption of the national planning framework, as tabled by Sinn Féin Senators and Senator Murnane O’Connor, respectively. As background to my opposing them, I remind the House that the objectives of the national planning framework are fundamental to the achievement of long-term economic, social and environmental sustainability for Ireland. A more balanced distribution of population and employment growth is considered essential to safeguarding the economy’s growth potential and pre-empting the risk that economic growth would be seriously constrained by congestion costs.
The national planning framework is not about wins and losses for individual towns and villages. It is about the country and what is right for it.
It is about qualify of life.
Somebody has to make that decision at the end of the day and that is what governments are elected to do. They have to make a final decision. The legislation we are discussing in the context of these amendments refers to the draft legislation. I point that out in case people have not had a chance to read what is in the legislation. This relates to what is expected of future national development plan framework discussions. The legislation is not finished yet. The discussion will continue for a few more weeks or months, as we have a few Report Stage amendments to go through. We also have a few more meetings on it. Therefore, the discussion on it could continue for a bit longer. The current national plan was meant to be finished last November or December and it has dragged on a little longer than anyone would have hoped, albeit for the correct reasons. The two are not parallel, rather they are a little separate from the point of discussing legislation for now and for the future.
The legislation proposes that: "The Government shall submit the draft of the revised or new National Planning Framework, together with the Environmental Report and Appropriate Assessment Report for the approval of each House of the Oireachtas before it is published." It also states: "In preparing or revising the National Planning Framework, the Government shall have regard to any resolution or report of, or of any committee of, the Oireachtas that is made, during the period for consideration, as regards the proposed strategy or, as the case may be, the Framework as proposed to be revised.” That is what is in the legislation.
What the Senators are asking for in these amendments is that the final draft would have to be voted on before it becomes a statutory document. I disagree with that proposal. It was never the intention in putting forward the legislation that this is what would happen. A formal vote on the final national development plan was never envisaged under this legislation, rather it was envisaged that all parties would have a formal opportunity to discuss and input into the drafting process. In drafting the current plan, that is what we did. This has been facilitated through a motion approved by both Houses of the Oireachtas referring the draft national development plan, published last November, to the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government for its consideration and to submit a report to the Minister.
The two provisions in the Bill, as recommended by the Mahon tribunal, provide that we would have the involvement of the Houses of the Oireachtas. That is what we are trying to do with this legislation. It is also what we have tried to do in the debate we have had during the past three years on the national planning framework to be launched this week.
Regarding Sinn Féin's proposal that the final vote on the draft of the national planning framework must lie with the Houses of the Oireachtas, this is a planning and consultation document that has been under consideration for the past three years and there is a danger we might never get it finished. That is why governments have to eventually make a decision. It is provided in law that the Government must consider the Houses of the Oireachtas. That is what we are proposing in law.
In the spirit of that legislation, we have during the past year made sure that we have involved everybody as much as we could in the planning framework strategy that has come through. We have done that. That is why we have had debates in this House, we have had discussions on the floor of the Dáil and both Houses passed a motion that the committee would do the detailed work on their behalf and submit a report. That has happened. The committee did that work in October. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and I went to that committee, as well as to other committees, and the rural affairs committee also had a discussion on this. We teased through draft national planning framework documents line by line for hours. The committees made reports which fed into the process. I can assure Senators that during the past few weeks and months all the recommendations from those committees, all the questions that were asked and all that discussion has been part of our finalisation of this legislation. That is what has happened during the past few months.
As referenced by Senator Buttimer, the final consultation with the public was held last September or October. More than 1,000 submissions were received, 150 of which were from Oireachtas Members, councillors, Senators and so on, people involved in local government and people from different parts of the country. All those 1,000 submissions, including the 150 I referenced, have been read and worked on to reflect what we are trying to do here.
Consultation is the cornerstone of what we are trying to do with this new national planning framework. That is what it is about for two reasons. One is the recognition of new politics and that is what we have been trying to do here. We have recognised that it is a good way to involve both Houses of the Oireachtas and the committees. Everybody has had their say and there have been numerous meetings. Anyone who has asked me or the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, for a meeting to discuss this has got it. There has been no shortage of that.
I went to local authorities and begged councillors of all parties to make submissions on this. A year and a half ago I asked councillors to get involved in this process. We had 40 regional events during the past two years. We asked people to get involved in this process because we want their involvement in it. The legislation we are debating, which the Senators want to amend, recognises the importance of having that involvement in future plans. We have recognised that in the plan we are working on and we will try to honour the spirit of the legislation, even though it has not gone through yet. We have achieved that by having discussions here and in the committee.
After the committee report there was a nine-hour debate on this plan in the Dáil during which 45 Members made contributions. I do not know the length of time it was debated in this House after that. However, the consultation we propose should happen in future legislation has happened in this context and I would like to see it happen in the future. However, the Senators' request that the final vote on the draft plan would lie with the Oireachtas would take from a Government doing its job, which is to make decisions on behalf of the country to implement plans.
I would cite the example of the Action Plan for Jobs, which most people said could never work and would not work. The Minister, Deputy Richard Bruton, brought it forward under the previous Fine Gael-Labour Party Government. It involved many actions, many Departments, a great deal of money and many changes. If that plan had been brought to both Houses for a final vote before it could have been implemented, would we have the jobs recovery we have? We probably would not. We had to implement that plan straight away and get stuck in. Like the housing plan, it was a five-year plan. Everybody said it could not work but it did work. It disappointed many people that it worked. It helped to facilitate the creation of over 240,000 jobs in this country during recent years. If that had to be approved by way of a final vote by both Houses before the then Government could have acted, I am not sure we would have made any progress on it. I doubt we would have.
With the national planning framework, Ireland 2040, we have involved everybody as much as we could but at the end of day somebody has to make a decision and that is what governments are meant to do. That is the reason I believe the Senators' amendments go a little too far. I understand what they are trying to do. I have discussed this with the Minister, Deputy Eoin Ó Broin; perhaps a future Minister - I meant to say the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy.
Perhaps a new coalition.
We also had this discussion on Committee Stage. There has been a great deal of consultation on this plan.
The legislation we are debating will ensure that the same consultation will take place under future Governments, regardless of who is in them. This Government has made sure we have honoured the spirit of it on this occasion by having that consultation. If the Acting Chairman will allow me, I will take a minute or two on this point as people have referred to the plan. I have heard people say that it will kill rural Ireland. I have watched rural Ireland. People mentioned Westport and Clonakilty. In some of those towns, rural Ireland is flying and in other towns it is not. However, it has been declining for a long period of 30 or 40 years, not seven or eight years, because there was no national plan to address the problem. I strongly believe the national plan which we will launch on Friday will help save rural Ireland. It will give many towns and villages a purpose and a reason to function, develop, grow their populations and secure investment in their areas. Similarly, it will strengthen our cities and our regions to compete on an international level. They will compete with one another but also on an international stage to win jobs and investment. That is what having a national plan is about. I have no doubt about it. I am a Deputy whose constituency covers rural and urban areas. It is very close to Dublin and suffers the consequences of that, as well as some gains from that. I have no doubt in telling this House that the Ireland 2040 national planning framework to be launched on Friday will - if implemented, followed and invested in - save rural Ireland and future-proof this country. Future-proofing this country is what it is about. It is not about every town or village. Some people have said it should not be like the "Late Late Show" where there is one for everyone in the audience, but it might become that if there was a final vote in the Dáil. It is correct that the Oireachtas, through the Dáil, Seanad and the committee, has an involvement in the draft and that it would have this in the future. It is very important that it has that.
There is some confusion on the spend of €115 billion. That figure is separate to the planning framework that we will launch but they are being launched together because it is important that they are linked. While the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and the Taoiseach will announce the commitment of taxpayers' money, it is also true that it will have to go through a budget every year too. It is not correct to say that we are spending €115 billion of taxpayers' money without any say on the part of the Oireachtas. It will go through a budget. Every year, we come into the House for the current and capital budget. If we are to implement the proposed national planning framework, Ireland 2040, along with the capital plan, it must come through these Houses every year in order for the money to be allocated each year to the various Departments. Those are the correct channels by which to spend money. Other national plans have been announced with a commitment of money. Other Governments have done so in the past, and rightly so, and the Oireachtas votes on them year-to-year with the money to be allocated.
On the commitment to regional balance, in order to get that growth again it must include cities, towns and villages and that those national decisions are made. Consultation is absolutely built in. The reason we had this consultation is recognising new politics and how we do our business here, which is beginning to work quite well. I would hate for it to be spoiled over the next week over silly, petty arguments. There has been consultation on this for a long number of years. Anyone who wanted to could feed into this. I sat in on the first advisory meeting on this. We made sure that every Department and agency sat around the table on this plan, bought into it and had a role. Previous plans did not have that and they failed. I think it will be a top-class plan because of the consultation and the involvement of all Departments, all political parties, all councils which wanted to and all regional assemblies, and I have sat through many of those, which meant they all had a chance to feed into this. Everyone's view was taken on board, including all the Departments, and they were all part of this, which is why it will be a top-class plan but we must stand behind it and invest in it, and that includes the decisions we make every year after it. I have seen plans in the past that did not have that consultation and involvement. The reason for this legislation is it ensures that plans of the future have this involvement and consultation. That is what it is about. This debate has been confused about what we are doing this week and next week too.
There are many speakers who wish to come in so I will allow the Minister of State back in later.
As a final point, I note this House and the Dáil made a decision. The Houses asked a committee on Members' behalf to undertake a report and feed into it. That is what the House decided to do. Members voted on that and agreed to do it. I was at that committee, as was the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, along with many Members present. The committee did a lot of good work and submitted its report. Members have been directly involved in this process. They have been right in the middle of it and rightly so because we want the plan to be based on consultation, which it absolutely is.
I will allow the Senators to come back in at this point. Senators Murnane O'Connor, Craughwell, McFadden and Humphreys have indicated in that order. I remind Members that this debate will be adjourned at 5 p.m., so they have six minutes.
I thank the Minister of State for clarifying that. The Leader came in earlier and spoke about politics. It was announced that the 2040 framework plan would be launched on Friday. No one has seen it. We cannot debate something that no one has seen. That is the issue. As previous speakers have said, that is where we are coming from. The Government has made announcements about this €115 billion and this national framework plan, Ireland 2040. It has been in all the newspapers and on the radio, but when it comes to the Seanad or the Dáil, Members have not seen the plan. I will give the Minister of State credit where it is due.
We are not debating it today.
We did not see the official plan.
The Senator saw the draft. The draft has been out for public consultation for weeks.
I know that there was consultation-----
-----because we addressed this at our housing meeting. The Leader can come back in later. We had public consultations. I attended all of them in my area. I was there when Carlow's submission went in. I know about the consultations. I also know it had to be extended because there was very poor feedback, which the Leader did not mention. Our meeting agreed that we would put it out again and go back. I did attend all the meetings. I have County Carlow's submission for it with me.
It is a national plan, not a Carlow one.
I represent everybody. It is about quality in life for everybody. It is a national plan.
Yes. For Carlow.
It should be put to a vote in the Dáil and in the Seanad.
For what reason?
That is the way to go. The Planning and Development (Amendment) Bill 2016, as passed by Dáil Éireann, states: "The Government shall submit the draft of the revised or new National Planning Framework, together with the Environmental Report and Appropriate Assessment Report for the approval of each House of the Oireachtas before it is published".
The Minister of State has been very courteous in his dealings. Many amendments were moved today and the Minister of State has worked with Members in this regard. I want to give credit where it is due, such as with the transport authority. In fairness, he has been really good in his work on this but this issue is of great importance as it is a 2040 framework plan. We need to have it voted on in the Dáil. The purpose of my amendment today is to ensure it will come to the Dáil and the Seanad for a vote.
The Minister of State has worked very hard on this and I want to pay credit where it is due.
The Leader should know that both my colleague, Senator Boyhan, and I were most supportive of the plan.
On a point of order, I want to correct Senator Craughwell. I never criticised his contribution at all.
That is fine.
That is not a point of order.
I acknowledged that Senator Boyhan, to be fair to him-----
I will let Senator Buttimer back in but it is not a point of order.
To be fair, I did not criticise Senator Boyhan or Senator Craughwell. Senator Craughwell assumes-----
If the Leader repeats that, we will get to 5 p.m.
To be fair to Senator Boyhan, on the Order of Business yesterday-----
We are not going to get into that.
-----he spoke on the national plan and welcomed it.
Through the Chair.
Senators should not say what I did not say.
Senator Craughwell to speak without interruption.
When I finish, the Leader might extend time to allow further debate on this matter.
The bottom line is that I understand that if the Government had this debated in the House before it went to Sligo, it would have to cancel the brass band and switch off the media because there would be no big announcement.
Does the Senator want the Army Band to do it?
Absolutely. The Minister of State made an excellent point. There was bags of consultation. What would have been wrong with having the plan put before both Houses, albeit not next week when we will have statements until they are coming out of our ears, listening to people criticising it-----
-----when it is too late? Anyone who has a criticism now will have a field day next week in this House. They might have one tiny piece to criticise but they will blow it out of all proportions. It is the wrong way to go about it. It should have been put before the House.
Anyway, the Minister of State should bear in mind that he has a couple of supporters in his corner.
Senator Gabrielle McFadden was next. It is 5 p.m. and the order of the House was that this item was to be taken at 3 p.m. and adjourned no later than 5 p.m., if not previously concluded. I ask the Acting Leader to report progress.