Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Questions (24)

Gerry Adams

Question:

24. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the reports that two senior executive officers in Louth County Council used their influence to have properties in their ownership purchased by the council for social housing despite serious questions of conflict of interest and the unsuitability of at least one of the properties; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44837/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

New social housing supply is delivered through a range of measures under my Department's Social Housing Investment Programme (SHIP), including the construction and acquisition of social housing units directly by local authorities and by approved housing bodies, the Social Housing Leasing Initiative, the Capital Advance Leasing Facility and the Rental Accommodation Scheme.

Louth County Council acquired 18 housing units within its administrative area during 2010 as part of the work programme financed under my Department's SHIP programme. My Department now understand s that two of these were in the ownership of Council employees. There are robust legislative procedures in place under the Local Government Act of 2001 and the Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995 which set out the requirements in relation to declarable interests and the conduct of public servants in exercising their functions. There are no exceptions to these requirements.

In 2010, when the units in question were acquired, local authorities had delegated sanction to acquire housing units. This delegated sanction applied where both the numbers of units and level of funding available for the acquisition programme had been agreed with my Department. When identifying properties for acquisition, housing authorities are required to ensure that all the relevant issues are considered, including tenure mix and estate composition, specific local needs and that the acquisitions are fit for purpose and appropriate for social renting. Housing authorities are also required to achieve best value for money in the acquisition of properties. It is an absolute requirement that the local authority obtains an independent valuation of each property by a suitable qualified person. I understand this requirement was adhered to in both these cases. My Department does not have a role in the selection of particular properties for acquisition by a local authority and would not, at any time, be aware of the identification of the vendor.

The matter of the alleged conflict of interest was brought to the attention of my Department in September. Following this, my Department was in touch with senior management in Louth County Council and requested a report on the matter. The County Manager subsequently commissioned an outside independent firm of auditors and risk assessment managers to undertake a comprehensive review of the Council's social housing investment programme in 2010, including the acquisition of 18 properties and, in particular, the procedures which applied in the case of the purchase of the two houses owned by local authority employees. I understand that the review process has just completed and that the independent consultants have presented their report to the County Manager. It is absolutely essential that the public has full confidence in the exercise of public service functions and that there is strict compliance with the legislative requirements in this regard.

In fairness to all concerned, I do not propose to comment further on the issue until such time as I have considered the findings of the report and the views of the County Manager.