Broadband Services Provision

Questions (413)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

413. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which standard, quality and speed of broadband here currently compares with the best available worldwide; his plans to maximise this country's position in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10332/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

There has been significant growth in the take up of broadband services and contracted speeds in Ireland in recent years. The most recent telecommunications data report by the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), reveals that the number of broadband subscribers has more than doubled to over 1.6 million between 2007 and 2012. Similarly, in the case of speeds, the number of residential customers contracted in a range between 2 – 10 Mbps increased from 41% of all subscribers in 2007 to 71% in 2012. The number of subscribers accessing speeds exceeding 10 Mbps increased from 0.2% to 24%.

EU and international comparisons of broadband services are complex to measure and interpret. For example, OECD surveys calculate an average of all advertised broadband speeds. The average speed reduces if there is a significant choice of products advertised at these lower speeds. In addition OECD calculations do not differentiate between services that are available nationally and services which are available in selected areas. Similarly, EU Commission statistics published on its digital scoreboard website, compare advertised versus actual speeds and are based on 2011 data. Comparisons between countries do not take account of distinct geographical and demographic challenges that face countries such as Ireland where the population is highly dispersed.

EU Commission statistics, published on its digital scoreboard website, which compare advertised broadband speeds across the EU notes that 84% of subscribers in Ireland access speeds in a range between 2-10 Mbps compared to the EU average of 87% in this range. In the case of speeds at or exceeding 10 Mbps, the EU Commission reports 29% availability over fixed lines in Ireland compared to an EU average of 48%. In the most recently available OECD data, Ireland’s penetration is ranked 13th in terms of wireless connections and 25th in terms of fixed line connections. The average speed reported by OECD for Ireland is 23 Mbps compared to an OECD average closer to 45 Mbps. Other international studies rank Ireland well in terms of actual speeds experienced by users.

The more recent ComReg report notes an overall trend of customers contracting at higher speeds. The proportion of customers contracting at or below 2 Mbps fell from 7% to 5% of all subscriptions between 2011 and 2012. Increasingly, subscribers are contracting at speeds in excess of 10Mbps.

Recent market developments are dramatically changing the landscape of high speed broadband provision in Ireland. During the preparation of Ireland’s National Broadband Plan, the commercial market operators indicated that they expect to provide 70Mbps to 100Mbps services to 50% of the population by 2015. The commercial sector is already committed to investments of the order of some €1bn and is accelerating its investment to deliver broadband speeds of 30Mbps to 150Mbps to homes and businesses. For example:

- Eircom is currently investing up to €500m in a phased deployment of fibre to the cabinet infrastructure, which is planned to make high-speed broadband available to some 1.2m premises. The network has already reached more than 230,000 premises and is expected to be launched over the coming months;

- UPC is investing €500m in its cable and fibre network, which is delivering speeds of up to 150Mbps. UPC aims to have this service available to 700,000 homes by 2015;

- Mobile telecommunications operators will be rolling out advanced mobile broadband products in 2013, following the recent multi-band spectrum auction.

The National Broadband Plan commits the Government to investing in areas where high speed services are not commercially viable and will not be provided by the market. My Department is making preparations to commence a formal national mapping exercise to inform the level of Government interaction that may be required and the areas that need to be targeted for a State-led investment. It will also form a critical input to an EU State Aid application in respect of any State-led intervention.

This will ensure that citizens or businesses, wherever they are located, have a broadband connection which meets their needs to interact effectively with society and business.

Mobile Telephony

Questions (414)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

414. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which mobile phone technology and quality of service here compares with the best available throughout Europe and worldwide; if it is possible to encourage the service providers to take any particular initiative to improve and upgrade the service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10333/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

The award of spectrum licences including the imposition and monitoring of associated quality and coverage requirements for the spectrum rights to provide mobile telephony services are statutory functions of the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) under the Communications Regulation Act, 2002 as amended.

Section 11 of the Act, requires that “Subject to this Act, the Commission shall be independent in the exercise of its functions” and such independence is also a requirement under the EU Directives which underpin the electronic communications regulatory framework in all Member States.

In late 2012 ComReg concluded a process to allocate access to radio spectrum suitable for use in the provision of mobile telephone services, including the current fourth generation “4G” standard technology. The “4G” technology is the most modern currently available to support mobile phone services, which the successful applicants are expected to commence rolling out later this year. It is a matter for ComReg to monitor compliance by the successful applicants with the terms and conditions of the spectrum allocation process.

Offshore Exploration

Questions (415)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

415. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the total number of oil, gas or drilling explorations that have taken place on and offshore in each of the past ten years to date; the number of commercially viable discoveries in that period; the extent to which modern technology is likely to facilitate a higher rate of viable explorations in the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10334/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

No oil or gas explorations/appraisal drilling onshore in Ireland has taken place in the last ten years. A total of fifteen explorations/appraisal wells were drilled in the Irish offshore since 2003, a breakdown per year is set out in the table hereunder.

There has been six discoveries of both oil and gas since 2003, however none have been declared commercial to date.

While there have been incremental advances in exploration technology in recent years, an increase in the level of exploration drilling is required if Ireland’s petroleum potential is to be realised.

Year

Number of wells drilled

2003

1

2004

1

2005

0

2006

3

2007

3

2008

4

2009

1

2010

1

2011

1

2012

0

2013 (to date)

0

Energy Prices

Questions (416)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

416. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent, if any, to which procurement at EU level can be beneficial in the context of energy price reduction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10335/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

The Government is most concerned at the impact of higher energy prices on residential and commercial consumers. It is the case however, that Ireland in the main, is at the mercy of international fossil fuel prices which dictate the retail price of electricity and gas, which is the key factor in the retail price of both electricity and gas. In particular, Ireland is a price taker for gas. Global gas and oil prices have risen sharply since the start of 2011 driven by events in the Middle East, North Africa and Japan and demand from emerging economies of China and India. There are clear indications that international oil and gas prices will rise further over the coming months. The Government remains firmly committed to increasing competition as the best means of exerting downward pressure on energy prices, and also towards ensuring diversity of energy supply to reduce our exposure to high and volatile external energy prices. This dependence on imported gas also underlines the need to promote and invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Effective procurement of energy services can also lead to significant organisational savings. My Department is working closely with private and public stakeholders on a National Energy Performance Contracting Policy Framework (the Framework) to help companies procure energy-related services including energy efficiency retrofits, energy supply and behavioural improvements. Recent experience from programmes run by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland demonstrates the substantial monetary benefits that good procurement can deliver. I expect to be in a position to publish the draft Framework within the next two months.

Ireland’s demand for gas is met almost entirely by imports across the gas interconnectors from Great Britain. The vast bulk of UK gas demand is currently being met by indigenous North Sea production and imports from Norway. Through the gas interconnectors Ireland has access to diverse sources of supply including UK indigenous production, Norwegian production and physical interconnection with mainland Europe. It is prudent, in light of Ireland’s dependence on gas imported from the UK, to work to reduce our reliance on this source. Bringing Corrib gas production on stream will further reduce our reliance on imports.

The European Commission recognises that Europe needs an internal energy market that is competitive and integrated with electricity and gas flowing where and when it is needed. The EU aims to fully integrate national energy markets to give consumers and businesses more and better products and services, more competition, and more secure supplies. In this regard I welcome the recent progress made on the SEM Market Integration Project, within the context that implementing the European Target Model is a positive development that will bring significant benefits to the consumers and producers of electricity on the island of Ireland. Of course actual physical cross border trading of electricity is only possibe to the extent that interconnectors can accommodate it and accordingly I welcome the recent completion of construction by EirGrid of the East West Interconnector (EWIC) a strategically vital infrastructure project.

I presided, last Friday, over the European Energy Council as part of Ireland’s EU Presidency and among the issues on the agenda was the Commission Communication on completion of the Internal Energy Market. This work will feed into the preparation of concrete and operational Council Conclusions on the further steps necessary for completion of the Internal Energy Market which I am aiming to bring for adoption to the June Energy Council.

Renewable Energy Generation Issues

Questions (417)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

417. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will indicate to which unit cost in respect of electricity generation has been made with a view to identifying the most viable alternative electricity-generating sources; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10336/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

I assume the Deputy is referring to price support schemes for renewable energy generation. Ireland operates a number of support schemes for renewable generation known as REFIT. The REFIT schemes operate by providing a floor price for renewable electricity exported to the grid from specified technologies over a 15 year period.

The reference rates for the REFIT 1 and REFIT 2 scheme per megawatt hour are as follows:

Large Wind

€69.235

Small Wind

€71.664

Hydro

€87.455

Biomass LFG

€85.026

Other Biomass

€87.455

The reference rates for the REFIT 3 scheme per megawatt hour are as follows:

Biomass Combustion

€88.693

Biomass Combustion - Energy Crops

€99.127

Large Biomass Combined Heat and Power (CHP)

€125.213

Small Biomass CHP

€146.082

Large Anaerobic Digestion (AD) Non CHP

€104.344

Small AD Non CHP

€114.779

Large AD CHP

€135.647

Small AD CHP

€156.516

The first Progress Report on the National Renewable Energy Action Plan (NREAP), which is available on my Department’s website, sets out the expected breakdown in renewable technologies in the meeting of our target.

It estimated that 3968MW of installed renewable capacity would be required in 2020 to reach 40% renewable electricity, provided our energy efficiency targets are met. Of that, 3,521MW is estimated to be met from onshore wind, 75MW from wave and tidal, 234MW of hydro generation and 274MW of biomass.

The First Progress Report on the NREAP also acknowledged that there had been some changes as regards technology compared to the published NREAP. This Plan indicated a particular expected breakdown in the trajectory between onshore and offshore wind. The Government has, however, decided since, that in meeting our legal obligation to deliver the 2020 renewables target, onshore rather than offshore wind should be pursued in the first instance, in order to minimise any support scheme costs borne by electricity consumers.

Wave and tidal energy are still at the RD&D stage of development.

As can be seen above, the lowest support scheme reference rates are those relating to onshore wind and onshore wind is expected to provide the greatest contribution towards achieving 40% renewable electricity by 2020.

Renewable Energy Generation Issues

Questions (418)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

418. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the proportion of electricity now generated through wind or alternative energy resources; the extent to which targets in this regard can be revised and updated with particular reference to the need to reduce dependence on imports; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10339/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

Under Directive 2009/28/EC Ireland was set a target of 16% of all energy consumption to be from renewable sources by 2020, up from 3.1% in 2005. Each Member State was required to have at least 10% renewable transport consumption by 2020 and was required to produce a National Renewable Energy Action Plan (NREAP), setting out how the overall target would be achieved across the electricity, transport and heating sectors.

Ireland set out in its NREAP that it intended to reach its target by 40% renewable electricity, 10% renewable transport and 12% renewable heating, which together amount to 16% of overall energy consumption in 2020.

At the end of 2012, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) estimates that almost 19% of electricity consumption was from renewable sources. The first progress report on the NREAP estimates that approximately 4000MW of installed renewable capacity is required in order to achieve our target. We need approximately 2100MW of additional new renewable capacity to be installed in the period to 2020 to achieve 40% renewable electricity.

This is a large amount of new generation and will be challenging to achieve. Significant new grid build and grid upgrade work is required in order to connect this large volume of new generation. In addition, significant operational changes are required to grid operation to ensure that the grid is capable of absorbing this significant amount of new intermittent asynchronous renewable generation while ensuring system security and stability.

While this will be challenging, EirGrid has launched a programme of work known as DS3 in order to manage the operational changes necessary to achieve 40% renewable electricity by 2020. This requires an ability for the system to securely cater for 75% instantaneous penetration of wind generation (i.e. that at least 75% of our electricity consumption can be from wind at times when wind is available). Currently the system limits this to 50% for operational and security reasons. Several operational and system changes are required to make this step change and it will be challenging, but work is underway to ensure that it is achievable.

There is still an enormous amount of work and effort required to ensure that Ireland achieves the challenging legally binding target assigned under Directive 2009/28/EC. There is no intention to revise this upwards in the current circumstances.

Social Media Regulation

Questions (419)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

419. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent if any to which communications technology can be utilised to prevent unwarranted, unwelcomed and uninvited electronic communication resulting in stalking or bullying; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10340/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

As the Deputy will be aware, Social Media are online platforms that allow people create, share and exchange information, and to comment amongst themselves in virtual communities and networks. To date, these media have not been subject to a formal regulatory regime akin to that used to ‘regulate’ traditional radio and television broadcast media, either in Ireland or in other jurisdictions. There is a range of reasons for this, not least the rapidly evolving nature of the technologies involved, the sensitivities around regulating media and the multi-jurisdictional nature of the Internet.

It is important to acknowledge the economic and social benefits that the widespread use of social media have brought to people, communities and to business. However, some of the issues that have arisen as a consequence of this bear consideration. These challenges include dealing with harassment and bullying online, as well as issues around defamation, data protection and even copyright.

There has been a very considerable amount of discussion on these matters in the recent past at EU and Council of Europe level, in which my Department has been involved. Indeed this matter is also the subject of a fundamental debate at EU and national level at present, a fact reflected by the recent decision of the Joint Oireachtas Committee to examine the issue.

As Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, I have policy responsibility for providing a supportive legislative and regulatory environment to facilitate the development of high quality communications infrastructure and services. However, I should highlight that I do not have sole responsibility for addressing as to how that infrastructure is used. Responsibility, in the context of abuse over the Internet in particular, also sits with the Minister for Justice and Equality, and the executive agency of his Department, the Office for Internet Safety.

It is clear that there are no simple answers to the challenges posed by the development and abuse of social media, not least because of the international basis of the services and because any possible policy responses fall across a range of Government Departments. In recognition of this complexity my Department maintains open and regular contact with all Departments and State Agencies with responsibilities in this area.

My Department also monitors international developments with a view to ensuring that domestic policy within its remit reflects best practice and that the regulatory framework is amended as necessary. In that regard, I look forward to the deliberations of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications, and I also look forward to meeting the Committee on this subject.

Postal Services

Questions (420)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

420. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent, if any, to which he continues to have contact with An Post with a view to ensuring the maintenance of the post office and services network and next day delivery throughout the country without exception; if alternative, complementary and or compatible services such as banking continue to be attracted by An Post with a view to ensuring its long term viability; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10341/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

Operational matters in relation to the post office network are a matter for the management and Board of An Post and one in which I have no statutory function.

As shareholder, however, I have a strong concern in relation to the ongoing commercial position of the Company and I regularly liaise with the Company in this regard.

An Post has many strengths and has the largest retail presence in the country. I have impressed on the Company the need to further exploit its unique position in this regard and have been supportive of its attempts to diversify its income streams and to win a wider range of commercial contracts offering higher margins.

I welcome the progress An Post has made towards diversification with its enhanced arrangement with AIB and its agreement with Aviva for the transfer of Aviva Ireland’s branch offices personal insurance business book to One Direct.

In the context of the public sector transformation agenda, I will continue to engage with my colleague the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform in relation to consideration, as appropriate, of the post office network for transactional elements of the business of Government Departments and Agencies, and have stressed to my Government colleagues that the network is ideally configured for over the counter transactions.

While I have overall responsibility for the postal sector, the Communications Regulation (Postal Services) Act 2011 charges the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), as the postal regulator, with the promotion of the development of the postal sector and particularly the availability of the universal postal service, the promotion of the interests of users and the facilitation of the development of competition in the sector. ComReg is in regular contact with my Department.

According to the Act, An Post is statutorily required, as the designated universal service provider, to provide a universal postal service. The essential element of this obligation is the collection and delivery of mail to every address in the State on every working day.

The universal service obligation ensures by way of regulatory obligations that a minimum set of services is provided at an affordable price for the benefit of all users, irrespective of their geographical location. It is a fundamental principle of the regulatory framework for postal services and is an explicit requirement of the EU Postal Services Directive which has provided for the gradual and controlled opening of the postal services market to competition.

Cloud Computing Issues

Questions (421)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

421. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which he envisages cloud computing to become of major, commercial impact in the context of economic recovery and job creation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10342/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

Cloud computing has the potential to revolutionise the IT investment model in Ireland and elsewhere. It allows companies to use the internet to efficiently access vast amounts of computing resources that would otherwise be beyond their reach. A report undertaken by A&L Goodbody and commissioned by Microsoft has suggested that Cloud Computing sales by Irish firms could be worth €9.5 billion per annum by 2014 and provide for 8,600 jobs as business migrates to the Cloud.

The Programme for Government commits to a range of initiatives aimed at making Ireland a leader in the emerging I.T. market of cloud computing. My colleague, the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Richard Bruton, T.D., has established a group to implement this commitment on Cloud Computing. The group, on which my Department is represented, has been tasked with addressing all aspects of cloud computing, including expenditure, IT, procurement, security, infrastructure, and industrial strategy.

I understand that the group submitted its report to Minister Bruton in June 2012 and, over the period July to December 2012, assisted in drafting a series of specific follow up actions which have now been included in the 2013 Action Plan for Jobs.

Gas Exploration Licences

Questions (422)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

422. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will indicate the continuing progress in the development of the Corrib gas field with particular reference to the likelihood of supply becoming available to the domestic and industrial consumer within the coming months; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10362/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

Completion of the Corrib gas field development works by the developer is the principal factor that will determine the date for first gas. Pending such completion, it is not possible to state a date for when gas from the Corrib gas field will become available.

It is estimated that construction of the onshore section of the pipeline, which began last year, including the construction of a 5km tunnel, will take in the region of three years. First gas cannot therefore reasonably be anticipated before end 2014.

EU Directives

Questions (423)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

423. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will provide an update on Ireland’s initial assessment under the marine strategy framework directive; if the atlas of the Irish marine environment which was being developed as part of the assessment has been completed; if so, if he will make this information accessible; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9806/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Marine Strategy Framework Directive aims to achieve good environmental status of the marine waters of the European Union by 2020 and to protect the resource base upon which marine-related economic and social activities depend. The Marine Institute, the national agency with responsibility for marine research and development, is assisting my Department in managing the implementation of the Directive.

The first stage in implementing the Directive involves an initial assessment of marine waters, the determination of good environmental status and the establishment of environmental targets and associated indicators. An atlas of the marine environment, which is essentially a repository of the data accumulated for the assessment, is also being compiled. Work commenced on the first stage in February 2012 and is currently being finalised. When this work is completed and reported to the European Commission, the various reports will also be available to the public for information and comment.

As part of the preparation for wider public participation, a document entitled Ireland’s Marine Strategy Framework Directive – Implementation was published on my Department’s website in December 2012. The publication is designed to build a greater awareness of the Directive and a dedicated e-mail address has been set up to facilitate comment from interested parties.

Commercial Rates

Questions (424)

Terence Flanagan

Question:

424. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his plans to instruct local authorities to reduce commercial rates for struggling businesses; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9917/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

Local authorities are under a statutory obligation to levy rates on any property used for commercial purposes in accordance with the details entered in the valuation lists prepared by the independent Commissioner of Valuation under the Valuation Act 2001.

The levying and collection of rates are matters for each individual local authority. The annual rate on valuation (ARV), which is applied to the valuation for each property determined by the Valuation Office to obtain the amount payable in rates, is decided by the elected members of each local authority in the annual budget and its determination is a reserved function.

However, in recent years local authorities have been urged by my Department to exercise restraint or, where possible, to reduce commercial rates. Local authorities have responded well to such requests. The latest available figures indicate that ARVs for 2013 have decreased nationwide on average by 0.33% compared to 2012. This follows a similar decrease of 0.31% in 2012, 0.64% in 2011 and 0.62% in 2010.

I recognise that these are difficult economic times for many businesses and I am continuing to keep all matters relating to rates under regular consideration in my Department.

Nitrates Action Programme Review

Questions (425)

Patrick O'Donovan

Question:

425. Deputy Patrick O'Donovan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when it is expected that the review of the nitrates action plan will be concluded; if consideration will be given to the recent problems associated with weather and difficulties that farmers have encountered as a result; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9938/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

A review of Ireland’s Nitrates Action Programme will be carried out this year. I will work closely with my colleague the nister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine in conducting this review, which will be informed by expert views and developments in environmental and agricultural research. In addition, the review will be subject to full public consultation in which all interested stakeholders can participate. Careful consideration will be given to all submissions received.

Public consultation for the review of the Programme will commence in the second quarter of 2013 with a view to concluding the process by the end of the year.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Questions (426, 427)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

426. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the extent to which carbon reduction targets are likely to be met in accordance with international agreements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10337/13]

View answer

Bernard Durkan

Question:

427. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the extent to which each European country continues to meet its targets in respect of carbon reduction; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10338/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 426 and 427 together.

I refer to the replies to Questions Nos. 258 of 14 February 2013 and 514 of 19 February 2013. Within the EU, compliance on an individual Member State basis is a matter for the Government of each Member State.

Rental Accommodation Scheme Expenditure

Questions (428, 469)

Dessie Ellis

Question:

428. Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the total cost of the rental accommodation scheme for the years 2011 and 2012 respectively; and the projected cost for 2013. [10486/13]

View answer

Terence Flanagan

Question:

469. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the amount of money that has been spent on the rental accommodation scheme and rental schemes over the past five years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10294/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 428 and 469 together.

Since 2008 and up to the end of December 2012 expenditure on the Rental Accommodation Scheme [RAS] came to just over €477 million. Since the scheme commenced in 2005 expenditure has totalled €512.3 million. This following table sets out the annual expenditure from 2008 to 2012:

RAS expenditure 2008-2012

Year

2008

€53,025,430

2009

€83,394,513

2010

€100,076,430

2011

€115,917,365

2012

€125,429,966

Total

€477,843,704

€150m has been allocated for the Rental Accommodation Scheme in 2013.

Building Regulations Amendments

Questions (429, 430, 434)

Billy Timmins

Question:

429. Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the position regarding concerns at the proposed changes to the Building Control Bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9550/13]

View answer

Maureen O'Sullivan

Question:

430. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will defer signing the new Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2012 until the report from the environment committee is published; if he will give due consideration to the alliance paper (details supplied) and non-registered architects' concerns over the pending legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9551/13]

View answer

Billy Timmins

Question:

434. Deputy Billy Timmins asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the position regarding concerns at the proposed changes to the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9661/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 429, 430 and 434 together.

I am currently finalising the Building Control Amendment Regulations 2013 for signature into law following a comprehensive public consultation process undertaken in 2012. Persons who are on the registers of Architects and Building Surveyors established in accordance with the Building Control Act 2007 or who are Chartered Engineers may sign the statutory certificates of compliance for designers and for assigned certifiers that will be introduced under the new regulations. Depending on their background and experience, members of the Architects Alliance may qualify for consideration for inclusion on the register of Architects or on the register of Building Surveyors which, as indicated, would also enable them to sign the statutory certificates being introduced under the new regulations. The new regulations will provide for a transition period of 12 months which will, among other things, give sufficient time for eligible persons who have not already done so to apply for registration. The transition period will also provide for a smooth transition to the new requirements in terms of projects currently on site.

The arrangements for the registration of Architects and Building Surveyors under t he Building Control Act 2007 are open, transparent and fair for potential candidates from a variety of backgrounds including those who are practically trained and have limited or no academic training or qualifications. I am satisfied that the statutory arrangements for registration that are currently in place are appropriate and I have no proposals to amend the Act presently.

I understand that the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Environment, Arts and Culture has recently been giving some consideration to the arrangements that are in place for the registration of practically trained architects under the Act of 2007. I look forward to considering the Committee’s conclusions and recommendations in due course. My own view as outlined above is that the existing statutory position is fair and reasonable but that it may be opportune at this point to consider what practical steps can be taken to facilitate and support practically trained people who are interested in doing so to pursue the opportunities for registration that are open to them under the Act.

I have asked my Department, in conjunction with the RIAI as registration body for the Register of Architects, to meet with members of the Architects Alliance to discuss further the concerns raised in the correspondence supplied.

Water Charges Introduction

Questions (431, 447)

Róisín Shortall

Question:

431. Deputy Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government further to Parliamentary Question No. 259 of 14 February 2013, his views on the principle that householders should get a basic free allowance of water and that charges should only apply for usage above that allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9583/13]

View answer

Paul Connaughton

Question:

447. Deputy Paul J. Connaughton asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his plans for the way Irish Water will charge for water for households; if consideration will be given to households with multiple occupants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10029/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 431 and 447 together.

I refer to the reply to Question No. 259 of 14 February 2013 which set out the Government’s proposed approach to domestic water charges. No decision has yet been taken on the level of, or approach to, the free allowance.

Priory Hall Development

Questions (432, 474)

Terence Flanagan

Question:

432. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when he expects the resolution process for the residents of Priory Hall, Dublin to conclude; if he has set a resolution date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9639/13]

View answer

Finian McGrath

Question:

474. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will provide an update on support for the Priory Hall, Dublin, residents. [10423/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 432 and 474 together.

Dublin City Council is the designated authority with powers to enforce the statutory requirements arising under the Fire Safety Act, the Building Control Acts and the Planning and Development Acts, all of which are at issue in relation to Priory Hall. The Council is also the designated Housing Authority under the Housing Acts. I am aware of the significant efforts that have been made by the Council to provide for the needs of residents to date and I understand that the Council will continue to work proactively on behalf of the residents towards achieving the much needed resolution of the issues at Priory Hall.

The resolution process, which I understand is on-going , arose in the context of legal proceedings which were adjourned to afford relevant parties the opportunity to work together, under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice Finnegan (retired President of the High Court), to identify a way forward in relation to the complex problems at Priory Hall. Given that the matter is before the courts, it would be inappropriate for me to comment further other than to continue to urge all concerned to afford Mr. Justice Finnegan the opportunity to complete the task which he is undertaking.

Disadvantaged Status

Questions (433)

Andrew Doyle

Question:

433. Deputy Andrew Doyle asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the special protection or regeneration status that exists for deprived areas; the criteria that would be considered for an area to qualify for any such status; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [9654/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

My Department’s National Regeneration Programme targets the country’s most disadvantaged communities; those defined by the most extreme social exclusion, unemployment and anti-social behaviour. Regeneration seeks to rebuild these communities by addressing not just the physical environment in which they live but also by investing in the social and economic life of the areas.

My Department currently supports an ambitious programme of regeneration projects, including large-scale projects like Limerick City, Ballymun and the former PPP projects in Dublin City and smaller scale projects in Cork City, Tralee, Sligo and Dundalk.

Responsibility for the compilation of regeneration proposals rests with the relevant local authority. Regeneration seeks to create sustainable communities through a combination of social, educational and economic initiatives and also by rejuvenating the built environment through a combination of demolition, construction and refurbishment of dwellings , having regard to urban design guidelines. Local authorities are required to adopt a holistic and strategic approach involving multiple local and national agencies in an integrated scheme designed to create sustainable communities and to address the underlying causes of deprivation in the area. There is a requirement for regeneration projects to deliver more than just an improvement in the housing standards of an area but to take a broader approach to addressing the socio-economic and infrastructure deficits that contribute to social exclusion and disadvantage.