Exploration Licences Approvals

Questions (330)

Michael Colreavy

Question:

330. Deputy Michael Colreavy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will grant an exploratory licence for the Lough Allen basin, County Leitrim, prior to the publication of the Environmental Protection Agency report; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11543/13]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

Three onshore licensing options were granted in February 2011, two over parts of the North West Carboniferous (Lough Allen) Basin and one over parts of County Clare. These licensing options conferred upon the holders the first right, to apply for an exploration licence over the areas concerned. I can confirm that two of the three companies, (Tamboran Resources and Enegi) have submitted applications for a follow-on exploration licence. Assessment of these applications has not as yet commenced.

I have made it clear on a number of occasions that any application for an exploration licence that proposed the use of hydraulic fracturing as part of an unconventional gas exploration programme would be subject to an environmental impact assessment. I have also made clear that such an environmental impact assessment would be informed by the findings of further research to be commissioned by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and that no decision would be made on any proposal for the use of hydraulic fracturing in exploration drilling in Ireland until there has been time to consider the outcome of this further EPA research.

The EPA recently announced the terms of reference for the more extensive second stage of its research into the use of hydraulic fracturing, the final results of which are expected in early 2015. The proposed terms of reference for this study are currently the subject of a Public Consultation and interested parties have until 8 March 2013 to submit written comments. In relation to the two applications received, my Department will shortly commence its evaluation, focussing on the technical rationale underpinning the applications, along with the corporate information provided. Where the outcome of this stage of the evaluation is positive, further consideration of the application will then be put on hold until after the findings of the new EPA research have been published.

Motor Tax Collection

Questions (331)

Joe McHugh

Question:

331. Deputy Joe McHugh asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will consider equalising motor tax payments for one-off, six-month and quarterly arrangements; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10949/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

There are no plans to equalise the payment option s for motor tax. The rates of duty currently applicable to half-year and quarterly discs are 55.5% and 28.25% of the annual rate respectively. The estimated annual income from the increased charges for half-year and quarterly discs is in the region of €22 million. Were changes to be introduced to charge for these discs on a pro-rata basis, the loss in income would have to be compensated for elsewhere in the motor tax system, or through the taxation system generally.

Tribunals of Inquiry Recommendations

Questions (332)

Patrick Nulty

Question:

332. Deputy Patrick Nulty asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the steps that he has taken to implement the recommendations of the Moriarty Tribunal since its publication nearly two years ago; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11039/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

In developing the Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012 I had particular regard to recommendations made in the Moriarty Tribunal Report, published in March 2011. This Act, which fundamentally changes the way politics is funded and conducted in Ireland, has been commenced through two commencement orders made in September and November 2012. Under the Act political parties are required to submit their annual accounts to the Standards in Public Office Commission for publication, based on guidelines to be prepared by the Standards in Public Office Commission.

This provision, which will come into effect in respect of the first financial year which commences after guidelines are published, addresses the Moriarty Tribunal recommendation that all income of political parties be disclosed. It goes beyond this recommendation by providing that the expenditure of parties is also reported and open to public scrutiny. The Tribunal recommended that all political donations, apart from those under a modest threshold, be disclosed. The threshold at which donations must be declared by a political party to the Standards in Public Office Commission will fall from €5,078.95 to €1,500 for donation statements made on or after 1 April 2013. The declaration threshold for a donation received by a candidate or elected representative has been reduced from €634.87 to €600 for donation statements made on or after 1 February 2013. There is a reduction from €5,078.95 to €200 in the threshold at which donations must be reported by companies, trade unions, societies and building societies in their annual reports or returns made on or after 7 November 2013. In addition, with effect from 1 February 2013, the threshold for donors other than companies, trade unions, societies and building societies, in reporting donations to the Standards in Public Office Commission, has been reduced from €5,078.95 to €1,500 for aggregate donations given in the same year.

The Moriarty Tribunal in its Report noted that the desirability and feasibility of a complete ban on private political funding is pre-eminently a matter for the Oireachtas, and for public debate and consideration, having regard to constitutional issues that might arise and to the national financial exigencies. With reference to this comment in the Tribunal Report, a noteworthy provision in the Act is the introduction of a ban on the acceptance of donations over €200 for political purposes from a corporate donor unless the donor has registered with the Standards in Public Office Commission. This came into effect on 1 January 2013. The Government’s objective is to restrict the influence of corporate donors. Such donations also need to be accompanied by a statement confirming that the donation has been approved by a general meeting of the members of the body, or by its trustees.

The Act provides for a reduction in the maximum amount that can be accepted as a political donation by an individual from €2,539.48 to €1,000. This €1,000 limit will apply in respect of donations to a member of either House of the Oireachtas, a Member of the European Parliament or a member of a local authority, as well as a candidate at a Presidential, Dáil, Seanad, European Parliament or local election. The maximum amount that can be accepted as a donation by a political party, an accounting unit of a political party or a third party has been reduced from €6,348.69 to €2,500. These new limits came into effect on 1 January 2013. This Act significantly enhances the openness and transparency of political funding in Ireland, issues that were central to the recommendations made in the Moriarty Tribunal Report.

Fire Service

Questions (333)

Robert Troy

Question:

333. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if retained fire fighters are currently part of the Croke Park 2 negotiations; the element of their pay that is classified as core pay and the element of their pay that is classified as an allowance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11045/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The local government sector was represented by both management and unions at the recent negotiations on an extension to the Public Service Agreement. The actual remuneration paid to retained fire fighters is a matter for each local authority and is not available in my Department. However, the current rates applicable to retained fire fighters are contained in the tables below.

Retained (Part-Time) Fire Service

Service

Station Officer

Sub Officer, Driver Mechanic

Firefighter

0 - 5 years

€15,438

€11,687

€8,402

5 – 10 years

€17,345

€13,130

€9,439

10 years +

€19,078

€14,442

€10,383

Hourly rate of attendance

Drill

Fire

Day

Fire

Day

Fire

Night/Weekend

Fire

Night/Weekend

1st Hour

Subsequent Hours

1st Hour

Subsequent Hours

Rate per Hour

€19.86

€39.72

€19.86

€79.44

€39.72

Fire Service

Questions (334)

Robert Troy

Question:

334. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the position regarding retained fire fighters who did not opt for the pension superannuation scheme as offered in June 2008; the reason their pay is deducted with a pension levy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11046/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2009 states that any public servant, who is a member of a public service pension scheme, is entitled to a benefit under such a scheme, or receives a payment in lieu of membership in such a scheme, is subject to a deduction from their remuneration. In 2008, retained firefighters were given the option of joining the Local Government Superannuation Scheme (LGSS). Retained firefighters who opted not to join the scheme receive, on retirement, a gratuity of 1/8th of the annual retainer multiplied by the number of years of actual service (up to a maximum of four times the annual retainer). This is a payment in lieu of membership of a pension scheme, and as such retained firefighters are subject to the deduction outlined in the Financial Emergency Measures in the Public Interest Act 2009.

Constitutional Convention Agenda

Questions (335)

Patrick Nulty

Question:

335. Deputy Patrick Nulty asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government in view of the ongoing emigration, his views on whether Irish citizens have a stake in their democracy, no matter where they live and that many still contribute to the State from abroad; his views on the fact that many countries have provisions for expatriate voting but that this is absent in the Irish context; if he will consider legislating for voting rights for Irish passport holders abroad for a period of up to 10 years after leaving here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11460/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Constitutional Convention will be considering issues relating to the Dáil electoral system and giving citizens resident outside the State the right to vote in Presidential elections at Irish embassies or otherwise. Proposals for change to electoral law will be brought forward in light of the decisions for change which may arise from this process.

Tribunals of Inquiry Reports

Questions (336)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

336. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the reason the transcripts of the Mahon Tribunal are copyrighted to private companies; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11527/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Mahon Tribunal currently retains copyright in all of its transcripts. The copyright in the transcripts for days 1 to 326 was originally retained by Doyle Court Reporters but was subsequently purchased by the Tribunal. The transcripts are presently available on the Tribunals website: (www.planningtribunal.ie).

Commercial Rates Impact

Questions (337)

Finian McGrath

Question:

337. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will support R.G.D.A.T.A. in their efforts to retain and develop further employment particularly in relation to commercial rates; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11687/13]

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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.

Local authorities have a leading role at local level in creating a pro-enterprise supportive environment to generate new jobs and sustain existing ones. They are committed to local economic development, and are well placed to respond to many of the needs of businesses, in terms of infrastructure, local promotion and other key enabling measures. Under the Action Plan for Jobs, the local government sector has developed a sectoral strategy, Supporting Economic Recovery and Jobs – Locally, to promote employment and support local enterprise, including measures in the area of business charges, local enterprise and business support arrangements, procurement support, local development and community based initiatives, the Green Economy and participation in employment support schemes. 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.

Rural Development Programme Funding

Questions (338)

Dara Calleary

Question:

338. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will confirm that the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine is preparing to transfer the operation of the rural development programme to his Department; if his attention has been drawn to theimplications of same for rural LEADER companies and small rural communities; the measures that will be taken to protect LEADER companies in the event that the functions of the programme transfer; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11701/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Managing Authority for the Rural Development Programme 2007-2013 is the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine with the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government already being the delegated paying agency for Axes 3 & 4 (LEADER Axes) of the Programme. There are no plans to transfer any other element of the Rural Development Programme to my Department. The funding arrangements and value of the next round of Rural Development Programme funding for 2014-2020 have yet to be determined. As part of the reforms set out by Government in Putting People First – Action Plan for Effective Local Government, greater alignment between local government and local development will bring greater coherence to the range of local development funding available.  I am keen to see a sustained focus on funding for communities as part of those reforms, supported by a streamlining of delivery structures. I anticipate a continued role for local development companies in the delivery of local development interventions, and funding for purposes such as rural development interventions will continue to be used for the benefit of rural communities.

Planning Issues

Questions (339)

Michael Colreavy

Question:

339. Deputy Michael Colreavy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the number of planning applications for wind farms which were approved between the years 1997 and 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10938/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The information sought in the question is not available in my Department.

Homelessness Strategy

Questions (340)

Dessie Ellis

Question:

340. Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if there are any plans to close a facility (details supplied) in Dublin 8; if yes, the reason for the closure of this youth homeless facility; and where the young persons currently availing of this facility will be placed. [11021/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

My Department’s role in relation to homelessness involves the provision of a national framework of policy, legislation and funding to underpin the role of housing authorities in addressing homelessness at local level. Statutory responsibility in relation to the provision of accommodation and related services for homeless persons rests with the housing authorities, in this instance Dublin City Council. My Department has no function, nor is it involved in, decisions on operational matters. I recently published a Homelessness Policy Statement in which there is an explicit emphasis on a housing-led approach as the primary response to homelessness. This should reduce the amount of time spent in homeless services, in particular bed and breakfast accommodation, eliminate the need to sleep rough and place prevention at the forefront of the delivery of services.

Water and Sewerage Schemes Status

Questions (341)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

341. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government further to Parliamentary Question No. 503 of 17 July 2012, the progress made in relation to the advancement of the Falcarragh sewerage scheme, County Donegal; when this project is likely to commence; the amount of funding allocated by his Department to the advancement of this project in 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11031/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Falcarragh Sewerage Scheme is included in my Department’s Water Services Investment Programme 2010 - 2013 as a scheme to advance through planning. Donegal County Council’s Preliminary Report for this scheme is under examination at present and a decision on the matter will be made as soon as possible.

NAMA Portfolio

Questions (342)

Clare Daly

Question:

342. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will ensure that the National Assets Management Agency release funds for an estate (details supplied) to ensure that requisite building and fire safety standards are implemented for all dwellings. [11035/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

Any works to be carried out on a privately owned estate are a matter for the management company and/or owner of that estate. The use of NAMA monies in this, or any regard, is a matter for NAMA alone. My Department has no function in relation to these matters.

Planning Issues

Questions (343)

Patrick Nulty

Question:

343. Deputy Patrick Nulty asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will review and implement in full the recommendations of the 1977 Kenny Report to regulate land valuations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11040/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Government has taken an extensive range of measures to ensure the more sustainable treatment of land and property in Ireland across both the housing and planning areas. The Government's housing policy statement published in June 2011 marked a radical departure for housing in Ireland. The statement clearly recognises the economic consequences of an over reliance on the property sector. It signalled a shift to a tenure neutral high level objective, and a clear commitment to restoring balance to the housing sector generally through a lesser reliance on home ownership. The statement also announced the standing down of all affordable housing schemes on the basis that these had been symptoms of, rather than solutions to, an overheated property market. A consultancy study for purposes of a review of Part V of the Planning and Development Acts has been carried out and I will publish the strategy in the near future.

In terms of planning, I recently issued guidance to planning authorities to update the way in which development contributions schemes are used to capture planning gain. The Government is also keenly aware of the strong synergy between a balanced, evidence based approach to forward planning and overcoming our economic challenges to prepare for recovery. In this regard, the Planning and Development (Amendment) Act, 2010 has strengthened regional co-ordination and the alignment of planning policies from national to local level, with the integration of core strategies; local authorities are engaging with the legislation and recognise the need for a plan-led approach for all proposed development. The requirement to include evidence-based core strategies in development plans is essential in rationalising the excessive zoning in some parts of the country, and moving to a position where all zoning is based on a quantifiable need that is community based rather than developer-led.

I am committed to a physical planning system that is better supported by: evidence-based requirements linked to key Government strategic policies e.g. through the National Spatial Strategy and capital allocations; a coherent basis to ensure planning and investment in infrastructure and services are focused on the most suitable locations; tackling the legacy of over-zoning and moving towards a more joined up approach to the delivery of critical services such as schools, public transport, water services and social housing; refocusing on revitalising city and town centres, and discouraging urban sprawl; engaging more directly with elected members at a strategic level by requiring them to bring together, in a concise manner, the key priorities of their development plan; and providing the necessary certainty about where development will take place.

Water and Sewerage Schemes Funding

Questions (344)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

344. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if funding will be provided to Galway County Council to connect 10 houses in Ballyloughane, County Galway, to the main Galway sewerage scheme phase three; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11129/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Water Services Investment Programme 2010 – 2013 provides for the development of a comprehensive range of new water services infrastructure in Galway City. The Programme consists of contracts under construction and to commence to the value of some €35.9 million in the City during the period of the Programme. Galway City Council submitted proposals to have works in the Ballyloughane area included in the Galway Sewerage Scheme – Phase 3 Works. Following examination of the proposals, my Department informed the Council in November 2012 that these did not provide the necessary justification for funding these works.

Private Residential Tenancies Board Remit

Questions (345)

Dara Calleary

Question:

345. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the extent and details of any proposed amendments being brought forward to amend the Residential Tenancy Board legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11173/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Residential Tenancies Act 2004 regulates the tenant-landlord relationship in the private rented residential sector. The Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB) was established under the Act to operate a national tenancy registration system and to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants in the private rented residential sector.

Following a review of the Act in 2009 the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No 2) Bill 2012 was published on 19 July 2012 and Second Stage in the Dáil concluded on 24 January 2013. The Residential Tenancies (Amendment)(No. 2) Bill 2012 builds on what has been achieved by the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 and by the PRTB and provides for the further development of the rental sector into the future. Among the main issues addressed by the amending legislation are the extension of the remit of the Residential Tenancies Act to Approved Housing Body tenancies; the Board of the PRTB to be reduced from 15 to 12 members; the separation of the governance and quasi-judicial functions of the Board; the merger of the PRTB and the Rent Tribunal; the simplification and streamlining of the mediation process.

While the Bill addresses a wide range of issues, there are some other aspects still under development which I hope to bring forward for consideration during the Bill's passage through the Oireachtas. In particular, I intend to provide for the establishment of a deposit protection scheme to address the illegal retention of tenants' deposits by landlords. I also hope to address a number of other key on-going concerns within the sector such as the over holding of rented property by tenants.

Water Meters Installation

Questions (346, 355)

Mattie McGrath

Question:

346. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the reason that there is a requirement for an average annual turnover of €400,000 to qualify under the water metering qualification system for the subcontractor panel; the reason for such a high turnover; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that this will limit the ability of small businesses to qualify to tender; if he will clarify exactly the way 25% of the water metering jobs are going to be given to small local businesses, graduates and the unemployed when such a requirement exists; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11180/13]

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Clare Daly

Question:

355. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will provide details of any contracts that have been awarded for the installation of domestic water meters. [11459/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 346 and 355 together.

I refer to the reply to Question No. 219 of 27 February 2013, which sets out the position in relation to the procurement process. The tender documents for the regional management contracts issued by Bord Gáis provide that at least 25% of the estimated 1,600 jobs that will be created directly as a result of the domestic water metering programme must be given to people from small local businesses, the unemployment register and to school leavers, graduates and apprentices. This will be a provision in the regional management contracts that will be awarded by Bord Gáis. At this stage, no contracts have been awarded for the installation of the meters. As the procurement process is currently underway it would be inappropriate for me to comment further.

Noise Pollution Legislation

Questions (347, 348)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

347. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the legislation and regulations governing issues of noise pollution with specific reference to noise pollution created by vehicles on roads in residential areas. [11210/13]

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Pearse Doherty

Question:

348. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the noise pollution restrictions that apply to a road (details supplied) in Dublin 20 and the person responsible for enforcing these restrictions. [11211/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 347 and 348 together.

Complaints about local traffic-related noise should be addressed to the relevant roads authority in the first instance. For national road schemes, potential noise emissions are addressed as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment process undertaken by, or on behalf of, the National Roads Authority. In addition, the Environmental Noise Directive (END) 2002/49/EC sets out certain requirements for the assessment and management of environmental noise from transport sources, including the making of strategic noise maps and action plans. It is important to note, however, that the Directive does not set binding limit values, nor does it prescribe the measures to be included in the action plans, leaving those issues at the discretion of the national competent authorities.

The END was transposed into national law by the Environmental Noise Regulations 2006 (S.I. No. 140 of 2006). The Regulations set out a two-stage process for addressing environmental noise. Firstly, noise must be assessed through the preparation of strategic noise maps for areas and infrastructure falling within defined criteria. Secondly, based on the results of the mapping process, the Regulations require the preparation of noise action plans for each area concerned. The fundamental objective of action plans is the prevention and reduction of environmental noise. The Regulations designate noise mapping bodies and action planning authorities for the making of strategic noise maps and action plans. Primary responsibility for both noise mapping and action planning is assigned to local authorities. For the Dublin Agglomeration, distinct noise maps have been produced for all roads as well as a related noise action plan for the period July 2008 to November 2013. The Regulations require noise mapping bodies to periodically review and revise noise maps. A new round of noise mapping was conducted during 2012. Individual maps, along with details on the revised population exposure statistics, can be viewed at the following link: www.dublincity.ie/WaterWasteEnvironment/NoiseMapsandActionPlans.

The production of the revised noise maps is the first step in the review of the noise action plan for the Dublin Agglomeration, which is to be completed by July 2013. The draft Noise Action Plan will shortly be made available for public consultation on the websites of the Dublin-based local authorities, with notices being placed in newspapers, inviting submissions from interested parties for consideration before the Plan is finalised. Further information in respect of the Palmerstown area may be obtained from the Environmental Health Section of South Dublin County Council, by email at cccounter@sdublincoco.ie or phone (01) 4149000.