Irish Water Funding

Question No. 23 answered with Question No. 19.

Questions (22, 45)

Sandra McLellan


22. Deputy Sandra McLellan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will provide full details of public funding from the Exchequer, the National Pensions Reserve Fund or any other sources that have been transferred to Uisce Éireann to date; and the projected figures for 2014 onwards. [44818/13]

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Pearse Doherty


45. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government in view of the fact that the installation of domestic water meters has commenced, the amount the full project will cost; and if he will provide a breakdown of current and capital spend for Irish Water. [44811/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 22 and 45 together.

The Water Sector Reform Implementation Strategy, which is published on my Department's website, is focused on ensuring that appropriate policy and legal frameworks are put in place for Irish Water and the water sector. A key objective of the reform programme is to rationalise the cost of the current service delivery and ensure more efficient operation of water services by moving from 34 water services authorities to a single body; following enactment of comprehensive legislation later this year, these functions will transfer to Irish Water.

Bord Gáis has put in place appropriate programme management arrangements to establish Irish Water, prepare for the transfer of assets, liabilities and functions from local authorities from 1 January 2014, provide for customer service and billing and implement the domestic water metering programme. Expenditure on this programme is a matter for Bord Gáis/Irish Water and these costs are not being funded from the Exchequer. The National Pensions Reserve Fund has provided a bridging loan facility to Irish Water to meet the costs arising to the end of 2013. This includes the initial stages of the domestic water metering programme, the full cost of which is €539m excluding VAT.

Following the transfer of water services functions to Irish Water from 1 January 2014, a new funding model will be in place to meet both capital and operational costs of the new entity. Irish Water's costs in the coming years will be funded through a mix of revenue from the domestic and non-domestic sector, third party finance (such as the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, EIB, bank lending and capital markets facilities) and State support which may be in the form of both equity and subvention.

The Exchequer proposes a direct equity investment of €240m towards the capital funding of Irish Water in 2014. This will support projects to be included in Irish Water's Capital Investment Plan and will ensure that the entity is in a position to take on the water services investment programmes of the 34 water services authorities, including some 80 projects currently in progress. Irish Water will also finance some of its costs and the liabilities transferred from local authorities through borrowings in 2014.

The establishment of Irish Water and its financial relationship with the local government sector will have a considerable impact on local authority financing from 2014. Work is also underway on the funding model for Irish Water's operational costs, to ensure that Irish Water can fund the Service Level Agreements being put in place with local authorities for the delivery of water services in 2014.

Question No. 23 answered with Question No. 19.

Local Authority Housing Issues

Questions (24)

Gerry Adams


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.

Housing Assistance Payments Administration

Questions (25)

Seán Crowe


25. Deputy Seán Crowe asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the way the housing assistance payment scheme will work; the persons who will be eligible for same; its role in the housing system; the areas that will pilot the scheme; and if there is a timeline for roll out across the State. [44845/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

In March 2012, the Government approved in principle the transfer of responsibility for recipients of rent supplement with an established housing need from the Department of Social Protection (DSP) to local authorities using a new Housing Assistance Payment (HAP). On 18 July 2013, the Government approved the introduction of HAP including the provision of funding to the local authorities to cover the costs of accommodating HAP claimants. It was also agreed that the DSP would provide for the implementation of the mandatory direct deduction of rental contributions from the welfare payments of HAP recipients and local authority tenants. My Department and the Department of Social Protection continue to work closely on the legal, policy and operational issues involved in developing and introducing HAP.

My Department is also working closely with the County and City Managers Association (CCMA) in overseeing plans for the implementation of HAP, but more specifically at this stage in relation to the test phase, which is planned for 2014 (subject to the enactment of the relevant legislation). A Project Implementation Team is in place and will be responsible for detailed planning and implementation during the testing and roll-out phases.

The CCMA has identified Limerick as the lead authority to drive implementation in the local government sector. The other authorities currently nominated for the test phase are:

- South Dublin County Council

- Louth County Council

- Kilkenny County Council

- Waterford City Council

- Cork County Council

- Monaghan County Council

A detailed business process design exercise for HAP involving input from all the relevant key stakeholders has recently been completed. The Implementation Team will now, in conjunction with my Department, develop a plan for testing the scheme in the selected authorities in 2014 (subject to the required legislation being in place), with full roll out of the scheme to follow once the test phase is complete. Consideration, where possible, will be given to what aspects of the scheme can be progressed under existing mechanisms prior to enactment of the required legislation.

HAP is being designed so as to bring all of the social housing services provided by the State together under the local authority system, with local authorities being responsible for all households with an established housing need and ensuring significant efficiencies in the provision of rental assistance. HAP will provide a new framework for the provision of rental assistance, and will, in as much as it can, facilitate the removal of existing barriers to employment in the rent supplement scheme by allowing HAP recipients to remain in the scheme if they gain full-time employment.

Under the new scheme applicants will source their own accommodation within the private rented market (as currently happens with rent supplement) and the tenancy agreement will be between the HAP recipient and the private landlord. The local authority will pay the new assistance payment on the tenant's behalf directly to the landlord. The tenant will pay a rental contribution to the local authority based on the differential rent scheme for the relevant local authority.

During the test phase, it is envisaged that the authorities will initially focus on new applicants before moving on a progressive basis to those already in receipt of Rent Supplement. It is also intended that the test phase will prioritise, as much as possible, the transfer of long-term unemployed rent supplement recipients to HAP. This is a reasonable approach to implementation, which will allow any issues that arise to be dealt with in a graduated way and give local authorities sufficient time to scale up the operation of HAP within their housing directorates.

Rural Recreation Policy

Questions (26)

Robert Troy


26. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his plans for the development of rural recreation in 2014; the increase or decrease in funding available from his Department for this purpose; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44881/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

Within the community and rural development funding available to my Department for 2014, I will be allocating some €3.68m to rural recreation services, an indicative increase of 5.2% on 2013 allocation. My Department continues to engage with the Local Development Companies, where Service Level Agreements are in place in relation to the delivery of a range of recreation services including the continued implementation of the Walks Scheme and other appropriate schemes and actions to implement relevant objectives of the National Countryside Recreation Strategy.

The Walks Scheme was launched in March 2008 on the recommendation of Comhairle na Tuaithe (The Countryside Council) and represented an innovative response to facilitating the development and maintenance of many of Ireland's key walking trails. This Scheme brings the landholders in as key participants in the provision of high quality walking trails, by contracting them to undertake maintenance work on the trails in line with agreed work plans. The Walks Scheme is currently operating on 40 trails supported by 1,811 landowners, and is being managed by 16 Local Development Companies around the country.

My Department is continuing negotiations with other State Agencies to agree a National Outdoor Recreation Plan for Public Lands and Waters in Ireland. My Department also continues to be a main funding partner of Leave No Trace Ireland which promotes responsible recreational use in the outdoors. It encourages all outdoor enthusiasts to act responsibly outdoors and to protect lands used by the public for the benefit of the environment and for future generations. My Department chairs regular meetings of Comhairle Na Tuaithe (The Countryside Council) where matters are discussed relating to rural recreation/activity tourism and furthering the implementation of the priorities of the National Countryside Recreation Strategy (NCRS).

It is intended to facilitate access to the uplands for hill walking and similar activities and a Pilot Mountain Access scheme is under way at Mount Gable in Connemara. Discussions are continuing regarding the expansion of the initial proposed Carrantuohill Pilot to the entire McGillicuddy Reeks in Co Kerry. A report on the Kerry Mountain Access scheme is currently being prepared and should be available towards the end of 2013.

My Department is currently negotiating the implementation of a National Indemnity Scheme which would indemnify private landowners against claims from recreational users for injury or damage to property. The Occupiers Liability Act of 1995 already provides significant protection to landowners, but the upfront costs of successfully defending a claim can be significant. The development of the indemnity scheme is not expected to lead to any major increased demand for funding.

Housing Adaptation Grants Funding

Questions (27)

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin


27. Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his plans to deal with the serious shortfall in funding for the housing adaptation scheme for older persons and persons with disabilities in view of the severe need for support due to a social housing shortage. [44840/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

I am aware of the challenges we face in delivering housing supports to a range of vulnerable households and groups. The requirement to reduce public expenditure to sustainable levels is impacting on capital programmes all across the public service, including my Department's housing capital programme. The level of capital funding available has declined significantly in recent years along the lines highlighted in the Medium Term Exchequer Framework for Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2012-2016. As a result capital spending on housing programmes is subject to constraint over the short-term.

Substantial grant funding was provided for improving and adapting private houses in recent years - in the past two years almost 22,000 householders benefitted under the schemes. On 22 February 2013 I announced Exchequer allocations to local authorities under the suite of Grants for Older People and People with a Disability amounting to €34.2 million. Through active management of the overall housing budget for 2013, I allocated further funding across all local authorities on 19 July bringing the overall funding for these grants to €36.5 million. My Department is closely monitoring expenditure across all the measures under the housing programme. I will consider allocating further funds to the grants measure in the event of any saving arising elsewhere.

The Abridged Estimate for my Department, published by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in Expenditure Report 2014, provides some €28.6 million in respect of the grants measure. This will be supplemented by the recently announced €10 million in additional funding for the measure, giving an overall provision in 2014 of €38.6 million, some €4.3 million more than the initial allocation in 2013.

I am currently reviewing the operation of the suite of Grants for Older People and People with a Disability with the objective of targeting those in most need and ensuring that the maximum numbers of households can benefit from these schemes. I intend to announce revised terms and conditions for the grant schemes before the end of the year.

Local Authority Housing Provision

Questions (28)

Dessie Ellis


28. Deputy Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government where funding for the proposed €30 million social housing boost in the recent budget will be sourced from; how it will be allocated; and if there are any short, medium and longer-term deadlines for implementation of this scheme. [44834/13]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

I expect the recently announced €30 million additional Exchequer investment in social housing to deliver up to 500 local authority homes for families on the housing waiting list. Approximately half of this investment will facilitate the construction of new infill housing developments in areas with a high demand for social housing. It is intended that €15 million will be invested in bringing vacant and boarded-up local authority houses back into productive use.

The detailed arrangements for the implementation of the two measures are being developed by my Department at present. I intend to announce these arrangements as soon as possible with a view to having the investment programme up and running as early as possible in 2014. My Department will be requesting local authorities to submit proposals for inclusion under both measures in due course.