Departmental Staff Rehiring

Questions (505)

Thomas Pringle

Question:

505. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the number of temporary clerical officers that have been employed by his Department over each of the past three years; the number of those who have been retired public/civil servants; his views on whether his Department should employ retired staff in these positions in view of the level of youth unemployment here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31572/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

In the three years covering 2011 to 2013, my Department has not engaged any temporary clerical officers.

Septic Tank Inspections

Questions (506)

Nicky McFadden

Question:

506. Deputy Nicky McFadden asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the period of time he envisages it will take to inspect all of the approximately 12,000 septic tanks in County Westmeath; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31596/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Water Services (Amendment) Act 2012 assigns responsibility to the Environmental Protection Agency to make a National Inspection Plan for domestic wastewater treatment systems. The National Inspection Plan 2013: Domestic Waste Water Treatment Systems was adopted and published by the EPA in February 2013 . The Plan has been drawn up to best international standards and will underpin the risk-based inspection of septic tanks and other on-site treatment systems. It also has regard to the European Parliament and Council’s recommendations regarding the minimum criteria for environmental inspections in the Member States.

The Plan requires that a minimum of 1,000 inspections nationally are carried out by the Water Services Authorities over the twelve-month period commencing in July 20 13 and the EPA will review the Plan at that stage . The numbers of inspections for each county are included in the Plan. The number of inspections in subsequent years will be a matter for the EPA and I have no direct role in these matters.

European Parliament Elections

Questions (507, 533)

Gerry Adams

Question:

507. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when the boundaries for the forthcoming European elections will be confirmed following the accession of Croatia; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31620/13]

View answer

Andrew Doyle

Question:

533. Deputy Andrew Doyle asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government further to Parliamentary Question No. 60 of 12 June 2012, if in view of a decision taken at European level to reduce Ireland’s number of MEPs from 12 to 11 at the next European Parliament elections in 2014, the implications it has on the report; if he is considering forming a new Commission to report on electoral boundaries for next year’s European Parliament elections in view of the number of constituencies needing to be revised; if the new report will be taking submissions from the public in a suitable timeframe as per all previous Constituency Commission reports on Dáil and European Parliament boundaries; when submissions will be taken from the public regarding the boundaries; when the Commission will be reporting to Dáil Éireann; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32184/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 507 and 533 together.

On 28 June 2013, the European Council adopted a decision on the composition of the European Parliament for the 2014-2019 parliamentary term. This provides for 11 members to be elected in Ireland, a reduction from the present 12 members.

The Electoral, Local Government and Planning and Development Bill 2013, published on 27 June 2013, makes provision for the establishment of a committee to review European Parliament constituencies in the context of a change in the number of MEPs to be elected in Ireland. The provisions generally mirror those in place for a Constituency Commission including the membership but with shorter timelines for receipt of submissions and for presentation of a report to the Chairman of the Dáil.

I intend to establish a committee to review European Parliament constituencies as soon as practicable after enactment of the Bill.

Planning Issues

Questions (508, 509, 510, 511, 512)

Barry Cowen

Question:

508. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the reasons for the establishment of an independent planning enquiry into six local authorities; the estimated cost of such enquiries; the previous estimated cost of such enquiries in 2011; when they were discontinued; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31629/13]

View answer

Barry Cowen

Question:

509. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if his Department will use the original panel of planning consultants in place in January 2011 for the upcoming independent enquiry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31630/13]

View answer

Barry Cowen

Question:

510. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the total cost of the internal review of the planning irregularities conducted by his Department following the discontinuation of the original independent planning inquiry; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31631/13]

View answer

Barry Cowen

Question:

511. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the timeframe for the new independent inquiry and the safeguards he is putting in place to protect its independence; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31632/13]

View answer

Barry Cowen

Question:

512. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his views on the accuracy of the internal departmental review on planning irregularities in six local authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31633/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 508 to 512, inclusive, together.

The Planning Review Report I published, on 12 June 2012, was prepared internally by my Department. The only costs therefore were the salary and relevant travel costs of the officials engaged in preparing the report. I committed to having the Report assessed by an independent planning expert and, on 8 March 2013, I published the Independent Evaluation of the Planning Review Report June 2012 prepared by Mr. Hendrik van der Kamp at a cost of €12,096.00. The Planning Review Report produced strong recommendations which have stood up to independent assessment. Both reports are available on my Department’s website www.environ.ie.

On 14 June, 2013, the High Court made an Order quashing that part of the Planning Review Report relating to Donegal following a settlement between my Department and another party who had brought judicial review proceedings in respect of that part of the Report. The matter has now been disposed of to the satisfaction of both sides.

I am continuing my efforts to restore public confidence in the planning system by opening up the review process and the system to maximum scrutiny. Accordingly, and for the avoidance of any doubt over the validity of the process to date, I have decided to appoint independent consultants, following a new tendering process to be commenced shortly by my Department, to conduct an independent review of the application of planning practices and procedures in the other six local authorities included in the Planning Review Report in light of the settlement of the judicial review proceedings. I have also sought the Attorney General’s advice on how best to proceed in the case of Donegal County Council.

Local Authority Housing Repossessions

Questions (513)

John McGuinness

Question:

513. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the arrangements that are in place in each local authority to assist those that have fallen into arrears with their mortgage or other loans; if interest only or deferred payments or other options are offered to borrowers; the number of repossessions obtained or being considered by local authorities in the past three years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31646/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Government is acutely conscious of the difficulties many households are facing in terms of mortgage arrears. Where any borrower, either from a local authority or from a private financial institution, is facing difficulties in meeting mortgage repayments, they should engage proactively and constructively with the lender to seek to achieve an agreed solution. The services of the Money Advice and Budgeting Service are also available to such borrowers and support is available through the Supplementary Welfare Allowance Scheme. Local authorities have long been the lenders of last resort servicing the housing loans needs of less affluent members of society. In the present economic circumstances it is to be anticipated that the ability of some borrowers to service housing loans may become restricted and that a number of loans may fall into arrears. Section 34 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 provides local authorities with powers to deal flexibly with distressed borrowers, and they have demonstrated sensitivity over the years in dealing with such cases. In March 2010 my Department issued guidelines to local authorities, based upon the Central Bank’s first Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears, which continued the tradition of handling arrears in a manner that is sympathetic to the needs of the particular household, while also protecting the position of the local authority concerned. To reflect the content of the Central Bank’s revised Code of Conduct – which replaced the previous code from 1 January 2011 and was informed by the deliberations of the Expert Group on Mortgage Arrears and Personal Debt – my Department issued updated guidance in June 2012 to local authorities in consultation with the County and City Managers Association. This will further enable local authorities to provide a range of flexible repayment options for households in difficulty. In particular, the introduction of a Mortgage Arrears Resolution Process (MARP), which closely mirrors the suite of options available in the commercial sector, presents borrowers in difficulty with a range of alternative payment agreements, including those referred to, which can be accessed to ease the particular circumstances of each case. This process features a standard set of options including, in cases of certain unsustainable mortgages, the facility of mortgage-to-rent. Local authorities have been restructuring loans for some time using their own internal practices. The introduction of these revised guidelines standardises the approach across the whole sector, introduces a systematic structure to this area and provides borrowers with a transparent and accessible model for arrears resolution.

The total number of forced and voluntary repossessions obtained by local authorities in 2010, 2011 and 2012 are set out in the table:

Table

-

-

-

Repossessions

2010

2011

2012

Forced

16

54

73

Voluntary

73

49

64

Local Authority Housing Waiting Lists

Questions (514)

Regina Doherty

Question:

514. Deputy Regina Doherty asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will provide in tabular form for each respective year the number of persons from Ratoath, Ashbourne, Dunboyne and Dunshaughlin, County Meath that were taken off the local authority housing list and provided with housing in the past ten years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31666/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The information requested is not available in my Department but may be available from Meath County Council, which discharges the statutory function of allocating local authority housing in the county in accordance with the allocation scheme made by the elected members under section 22 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009.

Local Government Reform Expenditure

Questions (515)

Andrew Doyle

Question:

515. Deputy Andrew Doyle asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the amount that has been set aside by local authorities from 2007 to date in 2013 in order to cover the lump sums payable to members of local authorities who retire or fail to retain their seats at the local elections set to take place in 2014; the advice he and his Department have given or will give to local authorities on this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31699/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

Section 142 of the Local Government Act 2001 and the subsequent Local Authority Members (Gratuity) Regulations 2002 -2006 provide that , subject to certain conditions, a councillor who ceases to be a member of a local authority is entitled to receive a gratuity at, or after, the age of 50.

Where a person ceases to be a member before reaching the age of 50, whether voluntarily or as a result of failure to be re-elected, the gratuity will be paid when the person reaches 50 and will be based on the representational payment applicable at that point. The Local Authority Members (Gratuity) (Amendment) Regulations 2006 allows the gratuity to be paid before age 50 , where retirement is due to permanent infirmity or where the member dies in office.

There is an overall limit of 40 years’ service for the gratuity and ex gratia payment combined, with the service reckoned for the purposes of a gratuity calculated first and the residual number of years being used to calculate any ex gratia payment. Severance payments, of a type provided for in the ministerial and Parliamentary Offices Act 1938 (as amended), are not paid to any person who ceases to be an elected member of a local authority.

Having regard to the democratic process, it is not possible for local authorities to forecast the number of current elected members who will retire or fail to retain their seats following the forthcoming local elections. In this context, local authorities are expected to be prudent in making a provision for potential gratuity payments in their annual budgets as part of the normal budgetary process.

Non-Principal Private Residence Charge Administration

Questions (516)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

516. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when legislation to provide for the abolition of the non-principal private residence charge will be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31700/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Local Government (Charges) Act 2009 broadened the revenue base of local authorities by introducing a charge on non-principal private residences. The self-assessed charge is set at €200 and liability for it falls, in the main, on owners of rental, holiday and vacant properties.

2013 is the last year of operation of the Charge; I intend that draft legislation will be introduced following the summer recess to give effect to the cessation of the Charge.

It should be noted, however, that unmet 2009 to 2013 liabilities, and any associated late payment fees, will remain and will be pursued.

Housing Assistance Payments Expenditure

Questions (517)

Willie O'Dea

Question:

517. Deputy Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will consider providing extra funding for the housing aid for older people scheme to Limerick City Council in view of the fact that the backlog of applications is such that they are only now dealing with persons who applied in 2011; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31716/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

On 22 February 2013, I announced capital allocations to local authorities under the suite of Grants for Older People and People with a Disability amounting to €42.750 million. This year I allocated local authorities the full amount of their contractual commitments, which in the case of Limerick City Council amounted to €149,046. The balance of the available funding was allocated on the basis of each authority’s share of the new applications on hand in January 2013. This brought Limerick City Council’s overall allocation to €1,010,885.

A small capital reserve was set aside to deal with any acute or particular difficulty which might arise in the operation of the schemes over the course of the year. Limerick City Council applied for additional funding from this reserve and was notified of a supplementary allocation of €101,990 on 22 April 2013, bringing the Council’s overall allocation for 2013 to € 1,112,875. My Department is closely monitoring expenditure across all the measures under the housing programme. I will consider requests from local authorities for further funds to be allocated to the grants measure in the event of savings arising elsewhere.

Leader Programmes Funding

Questions (518)

Seán Ó Fearghaíl

Question:

518. Deputy Seán Ó Fearghaíl asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government further to Parliamentary Question No. 165 of 20 June 2013, the date on which his Department decided that childcare facilities were ineligible for Leader funding; the date on which this information was communicated to County Kildare Leader Company; if his Department has had any correspondence from County Kildare Leader Company in relation to this issue; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31720/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

In line with the ‘bottom-up’ approach to rural development under the Leader elements of the Rural Development Programme 2007-2013 , the Local Development Companies (LDCs) are the principal decision-makers in relation to the allocation of project funding. Such decisions are made in the context of the local development strategy of the individual groups and in line with Programme’s Operating Rules and EU regulations. The Operating Rules which issued to all LDCs in March 2009 clearly stated that childcare was ineligible under the Programme .

The project referred to was submitted to my Department in May 2013 for sanction to exceed grant-aid of €150,000. It was at this stage that my Department notified County Kildare Leader Company that it considered the project ineligible as it related to childcare. My Department has received additional correspondence from County Kildare Leader Company on this project and is awaiting further information from the company.

Local Development Companies

Questions (519)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

519. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government in view of the budget reduction for some of the local development companies and the implications for staff employed by these companies; if it is his intention to put in place funds to allow for redundancy payments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31753/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

There are 51 Local Development Companies (LDCs) contracted, on my Department’s behalf to deliver the Local Community Development Programme (LCDP) and the Leader elements of the Rural Development Programme 2007-2013 (RDP) throughout the country. The Local Development Companies (LDCs) are independent companies with their own board of management and memoranda and articles of association. My Department has no role in the internal operations of LDCs and, therefore, does not have a role in relation to staff or employment matters, which are for the Board of the company, as the employer, to manage.

The objective of the Local and Community Development Programme (LCDP) is to tackle poverty and social exclusion through partnership and constructive engagement between Government, and its agencies, and people in disadvantaged communities. It is a key tool of Government in providing supports for the ‘harder to reach’ in the most disadvantaged areas and communities. The funding provided under the LCDP may, however, be used towards statutory redundancy costs in certain circumstances. Also, the Department has made a separate Technical Assistance Budget available on two previous occasions, in 2009 and 2011, to fund statutory redundancy costs arising within the Local and Community Development Programme.

In the context of the Rural Development Programme (RDP) each Local Development Company is permitted to spend 20% of its total Programme expenditure on administration and overhead costs including any employment related overheads. There is no additional funding allocation outside of this to cover administration costs and in the context of the RDP there are no plans to introduce any further funds at this time.

However the Government recognises that like all other sectors of our economy, the community and voluntary sector has had to deal with reduced funding and financial shortages in recent years. Issues have arisen around the capacity of the sector to pay redundancy payments. The Government is considering a cash limited scheme to address this issue. Discussions between my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform are on-going in that regard and an appropriate memorandum will be brought to Government in due course. Pending a Government decision, provision for a redundancy support scheme for the sector has been made in the Revised Estimates for 2013.

Water Meters Installation

Questions (520, 523)

Terence Flanagan

Question:

520. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will provide a timeline for the rolling out of water meters and the implementation of water charges on households here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31755/13]

View answer

Andrew Doyle

Question:

523. Deputy Andrew Doyle asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if water calibration and verification of water meters will be part of the installation of water meters by Irish Water and the three companies who will be awarded contracts next month for the installation of water meters throughout the country; if it will be done at household, residential, district and commercial levels as they go about installing over one million meters at a pace of 27,000 per month; if he will outline the measures he is taking to ensure the metering of potable water will be compliant with EU regulations and directives; if he is satisfied that calibration will meet international standards; if he will outline the measures he will take to ensure the international standards will be met as water meters get older; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31936/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 520 and 523 together.

I refer to the reply to Question Nos. 6, 7, 17 and 30 of 12 June 2013 which sets out the timeframe for the rollout of water metering. Water meters used for domestic billing must comply with the EU Measuring Instrument Directive which sets standards of accuracy. This Directive is implemented in Ireland by the Legal Metrology (European Conformity Assessment of Measuring Instruments) Regulations 2007. The Legal Metrology Service of the National Standards Authority of Ireland is the statutory body responsible for regulating and supervising weights and measures, including meters, in Ireland.

Social and Affordable Housing Provision

Questions (521)

Martin Heydon

Question:

521. Deputy Martin Heydon asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will provide a further update on the review of the shared ownership scheme operated by local authorities; in particular the annual increases of 4.5% on the rental portion, which is causing considerable financial stress to owners who are trying to manage repayments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31805/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Government’s 2011 housing policy statement announced the standing down of all affordable housing schemes, including the shared ownership scheme, in the context of a full review of Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000.

The review of the shared ownership scheme is nearing completion and I expect to publish the review report and recommendations in the coming weeks. In advance of this, I have asked local authorities to refrain from applying the rental portion indexation due on 1 July pending publication of the review report and recommendations.

Waste Management Issues

Question No. 523 answered with Question No. 520.

Questions (522)

Luke 'Ming' Flanagan

Question:

522. Deputy Luke 'Ming' Flanagan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government further to a Parliamentary Question of 18 December 2012 regarding charges for plastic bags for segregating waste, when his Department will complete the report he referred to in his reply; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31815/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

Charges applied by waste management companies are a matter between those companies and their customers, subject to compliance with all applicable environmental and other relevant legislation, particularly the conditions attached to each waste collection permit issued under the Waste Management (Collection Permit) Regulations 2007 as amended.

An interdepartmental working group was established under A Resource Opportunity - Waste Management Policy in Ireland, which I published in July 2012, to report to Government with options to minimise the impact of waste charges on low income households. The working group, which comprises representatives of my Department and the Departments of Social Protection, Public Expenditure and Reform, Finance and the Tánaiste's Office, submitted its first report to Government on 11 December 2012. Government considered the report and the working group is continuing to examine the design and implementation of measures to address the issue with a view to submitting a second report to Government shortly.

Question No. 523 answered with Question No. 520.

Homeless Persons Supports

Questions (524)

Finian McGrath

Question:

524. Deputy Finian McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will support young persons trapped in homeless accommodation as a matter of priority. [31976/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

I recently published a Homelessness Policy Statement in which I outlined the Government's aim to end long-term homelessness by the end of 2016. The statement emphasises a housing-led approach which is about accessing permanent housing as the primary response to all forms of homelessness. The availability and supply of secure, affordable and adequate housing is essential in ensuring sustainable tenancies and ending long-term homelessness.

When I published the statement I announced a set of indicators which will be used to demonstrate the dynamics of homelessness as it is addressed. These indicators will give a clearer picture of homelessness in Ireland and, in quantifying its on-going extent, will support the bringing forward of realistic and practical solutions.

While it is clear that a proportion of funding must be used to provide sufficient bed capacity to accommodate those in need of emergency accommodation, it is equally important that resources are channelled to deliver more permanent responses in a more focused and strategic way. The arrangements for devolving homelessness funding to the lead housing authority in each of the 9 regions in 2013 seek to ensure that the measures being pursued by housing authorities reflect the housing-led approach, that actions are in place towards achieving the target of ending long-term homelessness by the end of 2016 and that evidence to support progress will be presented through the reports on the indicators.

While I acknowledge that the approach to all forms of homelessness, including child, youth and adult homelessness should be fully integrated, my colleague, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs is currently overseeing a review of the Youth Homelessness Strategy.

Leader Programmes Administration

Questions (525)

Brendan Griffin

Question:

525. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his views on correspondence (details supplied) regarding the Leader programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [31998/13]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

The new local development governance arrangements contained in Putting People First – Action Programme for Effective local Government reflect a balanced consideration by an expert Steering Group established to consider options for a more integrated and coherent approach to local and community development programming, both at local and national levels. Contrary to the view put forward in the correspondence referred to in the Question, the new arrangements will have not have a detrimental effect on local development services or constrain the delivery of those services. Rather the establishment of Socio-Economic Committees in each local authority area will facilitate a more strategic, joined-up approach to local and community development locally. Socio-Economic Committees will bring key local and community development actors together in partnership, with a focus on outcomes rather than organisational boundaries, thus enabling collaborative leadership at local level and, ultimately, improving services for citizens and communities.

Putting People First envisages an enhanced role for local government in local and community development. There is no intention to divert resources from local development to local authorities. Instead, the aim is to facilitate a joint consideration locally as to how those resources might be deployed through more collaborative and co-ordinated approaches, supported by a reformed and enhanced local government sector.

Similarly, there is no intention to undermine the expertise and staffing of local development companies. As key partners on the Socio-Economic Committees, local development companies will continue to have an important role in the delivery of programmes for which they are contracted by my Department and others. Independent of alignment reforms, however, the level of funding for local development programmes is a key issue for implementing bodies, and this remains to be decided as part of the Government’s estimates process and in the context of EU budgets.

With regard to Leader, the attempt to draw a distinction between community-led arrangements and local authority-led arrangements is unhelpful and misleading. The Leader or community-led local development methodology, under which an element of Rural Development Programme funding is delivered, envisages ‘bottom-up’ implementation of local development programming through a partnership of public and private sector socio-economic interests. Local authorities are considered essential partners to such an approach. All Leader implementation arrangements across EU Member States must and do have a significant local authority involvement. Indeed, in other Member States, local authorities are key enablers and drivers of the Leader approach.

At this stage, management and implementation arrangements for future Leader programmes in Ireland are being considered by an Alignment Working Group, comprising local government and local development representatives. While the Group has to complete its work, any new implementation arrangements for Leader and other community-led local development initiatives will be entirely consistent with EU requirements and will seek to secure optimum outcomes for citizens and communities. Any interpretation to the contrary is a misunderstanding of what we are seeking to achieve.