I welcome the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, back to the House.
Housing (Regulation of Approved Housing Bodies) Bill 2019: Committee and Remaining Stages
I move amendment No. 1:
In page 19, line 29, after “statement,” to insert “engage in consultation with relevant sector bodies, and”.
I listened to the Minister's arguments on the previous Stage of the Bill. I am content to withdraw this amendment, but I would like some reassurances that the Minister will issue guidance and direction to the new regulator, outside of legislation, that it should have an independent but connected relationship with the approved housing bodies, particularly in the formation of strategy. I am willing to withdraw the amendment once I get those reassurances.
I thank the Senator for proposing this amendment. It is good practice to consult on such statements of strategy and that is commonly done. The new Office of the Planning Regulator, which I established earlier this year, had a six-week public consultation process. The Senator mentioned the balance between the independence of a regulatory body and the need for engagement and consultation with the bodies it is regulating, about which I have previously spoken. If, for whatever reason, the new regulator decided not to consult with other bodies, section 23 of the Bill empowers me to direct the regulator to do so. If that direction is not followed, under section 21, my approval is needed before the statement can be published. I cannot imagine that any Minister would allow something like that to be published if it had not gone through the proper consultation first. I hope those assurances are sufficient for the Senator. I appreciate her co-operation on this amendment.
I move amendment No. 2:
In page 42, line 12, to delete “an interim report” and substitute “a report”.
I listened to the Minister's comments during the previous Stage of this Bill, where he clarified the purpose of an interim report. I am satisfied as to the intent of the report, provided it is not used as an opportunity to name and shame an approved housing body without due process and time for that body to put its house in order. I again seek reassurances from the Minister on this matter.
The intent of the report is the opposite of what the Deputy has suggested. Where allegations are made against a housing body and an investigation is commenced, which may take some time, an interim report would allow some of the clouds hanging over that body to be lifted, at least in terms of public opinion. It might clarify that there are no concerns around financial governance, for example, if that were part of the investigation. Nevertheless, section 47(4) of the Bill allows for parts of an interim report to be omitted if fair procedures relating to the rights of housing bodies to respond to something in the interim report are not followed. I understand the Senator's worry, but the intent is the opposite of what she fears.
I thank the Minister for this Bill. We have too many approved housing bodies in this country. It is good that this Government has decided to introduce a method to properly regulate them. There is no doubt that most, if not all, approved housing bodies do a good job. However, I wonder sometimes if it is necessary to have so many, all with CEOs, financial controllers and so on. Perhaps we should be encouraging various such bodies to merge to try to create efficiencies. It is important to have a regulator. Local authorities and the Department are questioned and are held accountable. It is good to see that there will be more oversight of approved housing bodies which get millions of euro in State funding. The Bill is welcome and I thank all parties for their co-operation in passing it.
This is good legislation. Regulation of approved housing bodies is so important. They have played a big role in rebuilding Ireland. We have to acknowledge that. We have had really good builds. Regulation is very important and this is best for all going forward. Hopefully we will build many houses.
My admiration for housing bodies and the work they do is clear. I try to support them at every stage possible. Regulation is a part of that support and is an important part of what we are trying to do when it comes to housing. I thank my officials for their work in progressing this Bill. I thank Senators for their co-operation, particularly Senator Kelleher for her co-operation with her amendments. It is good to get this regulation in place. I thank those who have been working in a voluntary code in the Housing Agency for the past number of years. Their next phase begins now as they transition from a voluntary regulator to a statutory regulator provided for by this legislation. I wish them well in their work.