Broadband Service Provision

Questions (321, 322)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

321. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which comparisons continue to be made between the quality, scale, standard and availability of broadband and mobile telephony in this jurisdiction and that available in other EU and non-EU competing jurisdictions; if the upgrading required is adequately provided for; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12184/14]

View answer

Bernard Durkan

Question:

322. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if the quality and standard of communication technology in this jurisdiction is sufficiently advanced to compete on the global stage; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12185/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 321 and 322 together.

Ireland’s telecommunications market has been fully liberalised since 1999. It has since developed into a well-regulated market, supporting a multiplicity of commercial operators, providing services over a diverse range of technology platforms. A report on the “State of Broadband” published by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in September 2013 ranks Ireland 35th of 183 countries for fixed line broadband penetration per 100 inhabitants; 19th of 170 countries for mobile broadband penetration per 100 inhabitants and 31st of 192 countries with 79% of the population accessing the internet using broadband.

Comparisons of broadband statistics by the OECD and other statistical reporting bodies concentrate on the headline speeds or averages of broadband speeds marketed by the largest operators in each country. These reports demonstrate the international trend in markets delivering higher broadband speeds over time. These comparisons do not measure how accessible those higher broadband speeds are within countries. Such comparisons must be interpreted with caution, as the OECD itself advises. The most recent OECD report on marketed broadband speeds, up to September 2012, ranks Ireland 11th highest, equal with countries such as Australia, France, Germany, Switzerland, New Zealand and the United Kingdom for the highest marketed download speed available at 100Mbps. These tables do not, however, quantify the proportion of households, located in less densely populated areas, who cannot access these higher speeds.

The Government’s National Broadband Plan, which I published in August 2012, aims to radically change the broadband landscape in Ireland by ensuring that high speed broadband is available to all citizens and businesses. This will be achieved by providing:

- a policy and regulatory framework that assists in accelerating and incentivising commercial investment; and

- a State-led investment for areas where it is not commercial for the market to invest.

The commercial market is now delivering speeds up to 200 Mbps in areas served by UPC and eircom has announced plans to pass 1.4m addresses with its next generation broadband service, with speeds of up to 100Mbps. I have recently introduced legislation to enable ESB to utilise its extensive distribution network to provide next generation broadband services. In tandem with these developments, intensive work, including a comprehensive mapping exercise, continues in my Department in relation to the State-led investment to secure the countrywide introduction of next generation broadband access. In order to progress the State-led investment for areas where it is not commercial for the market to invest, a full procurement process must be designed and EU State Aids approval must be obtained.

Mapping data has been submitted to my Department by a total of 23 operators and the process of analysing the data and supporting information is continuing. The mapping data is being assessed on a case-by-case basis, having regard to the requirements set by the EU Commission in its “EU Guidelines for the application of State aid rules in relation to the rapid deployment of broadband networks”. When all of the information has been analysed, a clear picture should emerge of coverage throughout the country. I expect that this process will be completed later this year, after which it is my intention to publish a map showing existing and planned NGA broadband coverage, along with the Government’s proposals for a State-led intervention to roll out high speed broadband across the country.

The procurement process for the approved intervention will be carried out in accordance with EU and Irish procurement rules and it is expected that it will be launched later in 2014.

Electricity Generation

Questions (323)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

323. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if, in the event of economic growth in excess of that projected taking place over the next ten years, adequate electricity generation capacity is available from non-fossil and imported fuels; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12186/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

The overarching objective of the Government's energy policy is to ensure secure and sustainable supplies of competitively priced energy to all consumers. Ireland is currently heavily reliant on imported fossil fuels to meet our energy needs. While it is acknowledged that fossil fuels will remain part of the energy mix for some time to come, progress is being made towards increasing the share of renewable energy in our generation portfolio. The 2009 EU Renewable Energy Directive set Ireland a legally binding target of meeting 16% of our energy requirements from renewable sources by 2020. In order to meet this target, Ireland is committed to meeting 40% of electricity demand from renewable sources. Figures for 2012 show that 19.6% of electricity demand was met from renewables.

To date wind energy has been the largest driver of growth in renewable electricity, contributing most towards the achievement of the 2020 target. In 2012, 15.3% of electricity demand was met by wind generation. At the end of 2013, the total amount of renewable generation connected to the grid was 2,300 MW. It is estimated that a total of between 3,500 and 4,000 MW of onshore renewable generation capacity will be required to allow Ireland to meet its 40% renewable electricity target. Currently, around 3,000 MW of renewable generation has taken up connection offers under the Gate 3 grid connection programme. Further increasing the share of renewable energy in our generation portfolio will reduce our dependency on expensive imported fossil fuels. Analysis undertaken by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland shows renewable electricity has displaced over €1 billion worth of fossil fuel imports - mainly gas - in the last five years and has reduced CO2 emissions by 12 million tonnes.

EirGrid's most recent Generation Capacity Statement, covering the period 2013 - 2022, deals with both renewable and conventional sources. The median electricity demand scenario is based on the ESRI’s Recovery scenario in their Medium Term Review and Eirgrid generation portfolio assumptions. The results for Ireland show it to be in surplus of over 1,000 MW for most years. This begins to fall off towards the later years as older plant is assumed to come to the end of its useful life. EirGrid has also made a high demand forecast, based on the possibility of a very cold winter (the coldest out of ten years). In this scenario, the surplus is reduced by about 100 MW from the Base Case. However, EirGrid has also stated the need for reinforcement and upgrading of the high voltage transmission grid to ensure that reliable electricity supplies can be maintained to all regions, and allow Ireland to attract and retain investment and create jobs. This work is being carried out by EirGrid through its Grid 25 programme and is also essential if we are to leverage our abundant, indigenous, renewable energy resources and realise the potential they offer for reducing our dependence on imported fossil fuels. The renewable energy sector has also been identified by both the IDA and Enterprise Ireland as a key growth area in their clean technology strategies. Therefore, increasing the renewable element of our energy mix will contribute to improving our energy security and our economic development.

Electricity Generation

Questions (324, 327)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

324. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the degree to which electricity requirements are likely to increase over the next 20 years in the event of an upsurge in the production of electrically driven motor vehicles having particular regard to technological advances in this sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12187/14]

View answer

Bernard Durkan

Question:

327. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the extent to which his Department continues to monitor the growth and development of electric motor engines with particular reference to technical advances affecting range, acceleration and speed; the extent to which these developments have been factored into energy requirements for the future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12190/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 324 and 327 together.

Through its membership of the International Energy Agency, Ireland has regular contact with all of the leading countries who are actively promoting electric vehicles and we receive regular updates on technological progress and policies to promote electric vehicles (EVs). Technology advances will continue in the sector, with the biggest developments expected to take place in the areas of range increases and reduced recharging times for electric vehicles. EVs currently on the market are offering ranges under 200km per charge. This compares to ranges of approximately 170km two to three years ago. It is expected that similar evolutionary increases in range will continue. This will be delivered through improved battery technology and vehicle design. Such increases in range will impact on the longer term requirements for charging capability such as public charging points and I understand that this is being evaluated by the ESB on an ongoing basis including as part of its current electric vehicle trial.

The ESB is also actively monitoring developments in charging technologies and is working closely with motor manufacturers, charging equipment suppliers and international standards bodies to ensure that Ireland is well prepared for such developments. The level of electricity system impact over the next twenty years of electric vehicles will depend on the level of uptake in the vehicles over that period. The EV Roadmap prepared by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) is an estimate of the possible long term electrical energy requirements for electric vehicles operating on Ireland’s electricity network and the associated benefits out to 2050 based on a number of different deployment scenarios.

The report, available on the SEAI website, shows that the electrical demand on the system is unlikely to impact the business as usual development requirements for the electricity grid until 2040. Even then, it finds that charging strategies and time of use pricing methods could be employed to avoid the need for additional grid capacity development until beyond 2050. The reason for this is the high energy efficiency of the EV and the drop in electrical power demand at night time. EVs, therefore, could increase the utilisation of this spare night time capacity and, in doing so, make better commercial use of the existing electrical network assets.

The ESB is also evaluating, through the current EV trial, the impact that electric vehicles are likely to have on the overall energy requirements and the resulting network implications in order to plan for and accommodate the expected increase in demand for electric vehicles over this period. In addition, SEAI has a demonstration project on the Aran Islands which is used to provide evidence of the effect of using electric vehicles on energy imports and energy efficiency gains. I understand that the results of this work will be announced shortly.

Exploration Licences Data

Questions (325)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

325. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the number of oil, gas or other exploration licences issued in each of the past ten years to date; the number of such licences already activated; the extent to which viable discoveries has been documented; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12188/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

The number of Mineral Prospecting Licences and Petroleum Exploration Licences granted in each year between 2004 and 2014 are set out in the table.

Licences granted during period 2004 – 2014 (to 5 March 2014)

Year

Prospecting Licences (Minerals)

Petroleum Exploration Licences

2004

26

3

2005

51

7

2006

84

4

2007

143

5

2008

91

5

2009

66

1

2010

93

0

2011

98

2

2012

102

0

2013

142

5

2014

33

4

All licences granted have been activated and there have been no declared commercial discoveries in respect of these licences in the last ten years. Details of all Prospecting Licences (Minerals) and Petroleum Exploration Licences can be found in the six-monthly reports to the Oireachtas, which I am obliged to lay before the Houses under the Minerals Development Acts, 1940 to 1999 and the Petroleum and Other Minerals Development Act, 1960 respectively. The last such reports were in respect of the six-month period ending 31 December 2013. These reports are also available on my Department’s website at www.dcenr.gov.ie.

Corrib Gas Field

Question No. 327 answered with Question No. 324.

Question No. 328 answered with Question No. 296.

Questions (326)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

326. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources when it is expected that Corrib gas will become available to the domestic economy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12189/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

I refer to the reply to Question Nos. 124 and 125 on 30 January 2014 in which I indicated that the first gas from the Corrib gas field cannot be expected sooner than the first half of 2015.

Question No. 327 answered with Question No. 324.
Question No. 328 answered with Question No. 296.

Wind Energy Generation

Questions (329)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

329. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources his expectations in regard to the development of the wind energy sector; the extent to which national grid requirements are likely to be met through wind energy including potential back-up in respect of both targets for the internal or export markets; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12192/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

I refer to the reply to Question No. 18 on today's Order Paper. EirGrid has set out its vision for development of the national transmission system through the Grid25 Strategy which was published in October 2008. In accordance with its statutory and licence responsibilities as the Transmission System Operator (TSO) the company has prepared a Transmission Development Plan (TDP) for the period 2013–2023. The TDP presents the developments which will be required to deliver the Grid25 Strategy, meeting future requirements as they are known at this time including the requirement to accommodate renewable generation. The vision articulated in the Grid25 Strategy is assessed and reassessed on a regular basis having regard to current and future demand and other factors, and is consulted on through the TDP. Details of the Strategy and the TDP for 2013-2023 are available on the EirGrid website. In addition, at a project level, detailed needs assessments for each of the major Grid25 projects have been undertaken and are available on EirGrid's website. Grid requirements for wind energy produced for export would be dealt with separately from that produced for domestic energy needs, and are in not related to the Grid25 Strategy.

Energy Resources

Questions (330)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

330. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources when it is expected that this country can become self-sufficient in terms of energy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12216/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

While the Government will continue to develop policies and actions aimed at increasing our security of supply, addressing our dependence on imported fossil fuels and achieving a more secure energy mix, while capitalising on indigenous renewable energy sources, it would not be realistic to expect that Ireland would become totally energy self-sufficient in the foreseeable future.

A well-balanced fuel mix that provides reliable energy, minimises costs, and protects against supply disruptions and extreme price spikes, is an essential foundation for Irish enterprise and consumers. Our choices on the nature, type, and origin of fuels we use to provide heating, facilitate transport and generate electricity are profoundly important to our energy and decarbonisation policy objectives. Ireland has made significant progress towards achieving our legally binding target of 16% renewable energy by 2020, with overall renewable penetration at 7% in 2012. Further work will be necessary to realise the 2020 objective. Alongside our renewable targets, oil and gas remain a critical component of our energy mix, providing 76% of primary energy requirement in 2012. The Government has also put in place a set of supports, ranging from capital supports for certain types of renewable energy technology, across the industrial, institutional and industrial sectors. These include the REFIT Scheme, a fixed feed in tariff system, which is leveraging investment in renewable electricity capacity, which is critical to Ireland delivering our targets under the Renewable Energy Directive.

Ireland has excellent renewable energy resources, which will be a critical and growing component of Irish energy supply to 2020 and well beyond. Indigenous renewable energy plays a vital role in the country’s domestic fuel mix, increasing sustainability through the use of clean power sources and enhancing energy security by reducing Ireland’s dependence on imported fuels. Wind, bio-energy and ocean energy could yield additional economic opportunities for both Irish workers and businesses. Under the 2009 Renewable Energy Directive, Ireland is committed to produce at least 16% of all energy consumed from renewable sources by 2020. This will be met by 40% from renewable electricity, 12% from renewable heat, and 10% from renewable transport sector. The ambition to have 40% of electricity consumed from renewable sources by 2020 is one of the most demanding in the world.

Looking to the longer term, my Department is participating in the low carbon road-mapping process envisaged in the planned Climate Action and Low-Carbon Development Bill. I have published a scoping report on a low carbon roadmap for the electricity generation sector that details how my Department will pursue the development of a roadmap for the electricity generation sector to 2050.

The SEAI publication ‘Energy Forecasts for Ireland to 2020’ projects annual primary fuel requirement through to 2020, assuming that Ireland meets current renewable energy and energy efficiency targets set by the EU. These projections, which are available on the SEAI website, show that Ireland will remain dependent on fossil fuels in the medium term. Oil and gas will remain central to the economy, particularly in the heating and transport sectors, until affordable, secure and viable alternatives become available. In the intervening period, certain fuels, including gas, will enable the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Appointments to State Boards

Questions (331)

Terence Flanagan

Question:

331. Deputy Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the action he is taking to encourage more Irish executives to serve on State boards under the remit of his Department; his views on the recent Merc Partners survey; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [12457/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Communications)

This Government adopted a significant innovation in 2011 to widen access for appointment to State Boards by providing that expressions of interest be sought publicly from all those that might be interested in serving on such Boards. Each year, I have invited expressions of Interest from people willing and interested in serving on the Boards of Bodies under the aegis of my Department and to support this process have provided information on these bodies, their activities, role and scale as well as the process of application on my Department's website.

Since becoming Minster, I have made 92 appointments to Boards under the aegis of my Department. Two thirds of these appointments (62) have overwhelmingly been from people in the private sector, while the remaining 31 have been either ex-officio, reappointments or appointments such as worker directors. All of the appointments have been made in light of the objectives of the organisations and on the basis of appointees having the necessary competencies, expertise and experience to contribute effectively to the work of the particular Boards, whilst also taking into consideration the legislative requirements where applicable. I am aware of the survey referred to by the Deputy and will continue to encourage the widest possible participation in the Boards of bodies under the aegis of my Department.

Wind Energy Guidelines

Questions (332)

Robert Troy

Question:

332. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his views on draft wind energy development guidelines proposals and their impact on health (details supplied). [11624/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

A more stringent absolute outdoor noise limit (day and night) of 40 decibels for future wind energy developments than that which pertains under the current Guidelines, has been proposed in the draft revisions to the Wind Energy Development Guidelines. This takes into account the 2009 World Health Organisation’s findings in relation to night time noise, when people are generally sleeping, and the recent review of international practice on wind noise undertaken by Marshall Day Acoustics. That review indicates that 40 decibels is commonly used in other countries as an absolute noise limit.

It should be emphasised that the proposed absolute noise limit of 40 decibels is an outdoor limit. Generally, the reduction in noise levels between the outside of a dwelling and the inside would be approximately 10 decibels or more. Consequently an outdoor limit set at this level would generally result in a noise level of about 30 decibels or less inside a dwelling. As part of the focused review of the 2006 Wind Energy Development Guidelines, my Department has written to the Department of Health inviting any input that it might have on the public health aspects, if any, of wind farms and preliminary discussions have taken place.

Following consideration of all the submissions received on the proposed revisions to the Wind Energy Development Guidelines during the recent public consultation process, my Department will consult further with the Department of Health prior to finalising the revised Guidelines.

Housing Issues

Questions (333)

Pádraig MacLochlainn

Question:

333. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the reason couples who are separated cannot go on the housing list because they are legally tied up in a mortgage or in joint ownership of a property. [11672/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

In order for a household to qualify for social housing support a housing authority must carry out an assessment to establish whether the household meets specified eligibility requirements and has a housing need. Regulation 22 of the Social Housing Assessment Regulations 2011 provides that a household is ineligible for social housing support where a household member owns accommodation other than the dwelling it currently occupies which would meet its housing need. This ineligibility does not apply in the case of separated persons where the alternative accommodation is occupied by a spouse, from whom the household member is separated or divorced. Under the regulations, a deed of separation is sufficient to set aside this ineligibility and it is not necessary for the couple to be judicially separated or divorced. Nonetheless, in the context of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which is currently in preparation, I am considering whether legislative change is warranted to deal with exceptional cases that can present difficulties under these arrangements.

Social and Affordable Housing Provision

Questions (334, 335, 336)

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

334. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when it is expected that the plan on the future of the social housing programme, particularly in the area of building new housing units, will be published. [12094/14]

View answer

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

335. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government in view of the fact that the Minister of State with responsibility for housing has recently published figures which show that there are approximately 90,000 people on social housing waiting lists, the target for housing construction in 2014 to 2016, inclusive. [12095/14]

View answer

Thomas P. Broughan

Question:

336. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the estimated number of social housing homes which are required over the next three years to address the ongoing housing crisis. [12096/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 334 to 336, inclusive, together.

The Government’s 2011 Housing Policy Statement clearly outlines that the priority for Government is to meet the most acute needs of households applying for social housing support. The Government is responding to these needs through a variety of mechanisms and more flexible funding models. To maximise the social housing gain from constrained resources, the social housing leasing initiative and the Rental Accommodation Scheme each play their part and I am fully committed to capturing social housing gain from private developments. Alongside expanding the role of the Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs) in terms of acquisitions and construction, other mechanisms will include options to purchase within the leasing model and build to lease. 

The Housing Agency is developing a strategy, in collaboration with my Department, for the utilisation of lands in its ownership which will support Government policies in developing sustainable communities. This will involve consultation with the relevant local authority and other appropriate parties. The proper management of all State land is critical; accordingly, both lands that have been transferred to the Housing Agency and local authority held lands suitable for development will be the first sites considered in any targeted social housing building programme developed in the years ahead.

This year, it is intended that in the region of 5,000 new social housing units will be delivered across all social housing supply routes including local authority and voluntary housing construction programmes, the Rental Accommodation Scheme and the Social Housing Leasing initiative. Earlier this year, I announced some 1,000 new social housing construction starts over the 2014-2015 period. Earlier today, I announced details of a €68 million investment in new construction projects which will see some 449 new houses constructed at 56 locations around the country over the next two years. I intend to announce details of a new €35 million voluntary housing construction programme early in Quarter 2 which will see some 250 special needs housing units commencing construction over the next two years. Under the national Regeneration Programme, some €70 million is being invested this year in the refurbishment of houses and the construction of replacement homes. Around 350 new housing starts are anticipated up to end 2015.

In 2014, funding for housing, at over €587m, is effectively maintained at 2013 levels. This includes a €50 million capital stimulus to support construction and related programmes, primarily in the housing area, including €30 million to recommence a State house building programme; €10 million for an unfinished housing estate resolution project; and €10 million for housing adaptation grants. In addition, a special investment of €15 million for the retrofitting of boarded-up local authority houses is intended to bring 400 homes back into productive use.

The Homelessness Oversight Group, which I established in 2013 to review progress on our Homelessness Policy Statement, has submitted its first report to me, and this is available on my Department's website. The report considered the supply and access to housing units throughout the country, and the Government has approved the establishment of a Homelessness Policy Implementation Team and an implementation unit tasked with delivery of its recommendations.  I remain committed to continuing to develop innovative and sustainable approaches to the provision of social housing.

Tenant Purchase Scheme Eligibility

Questions (337, 355)

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

337. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when a new tenant purchase scheme will be available for council housing tenants. [12237/14]

View answer

Willie Penrose

Question:

355. Deputy Willie Penrose asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when a replacement scheme to enable tenants to purchase their dwellings will be introduced; if in this context the scheme will enable people in receipt of social welfare payments on a long-term basis to purchase under the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11832/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 337 and 355 together.

The Government, on 17 December 2013, approved priority drafting of a Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill that will, among other things, underpin a new tenant purchase scheme for existing local authority houses along incremental purchase lines.  I expect that the Bill will be enacted this year, following which I will prescribe in regulations the commencement date and the detailed terms of the scheme.

Tenants are not precluded from tenant purchase by virtue of being social welfare recipients and there is no intention to change this practice in the future. However, tenants seeking to fund the purchase through loan finance from the housing authority must meet the criteria that apply to such loans, which are set out in the Housing (Local Authority Loans) Regulations 2012 and associated credit policy. This policy provides that loans are not available to social welfare recipients, except where these constitute long-term Department of Social Protection payments in conjunction with a primary income of a permanent and salaried nature. The final decision on whether or not to approve a loan in a particular case lies with the relevant housing authority, which must satisfy itself as to the borrower’s capacity to service the loan over its full term.

Local Authority Housing Provision

Questions (338)

Barry Cowen

Question:

338. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if the Government and the county council are aware of the need for suitable one level accommodation for elderly people (details supplied) in the Kilcoole, Greystones and north Wicklow area; and if there are any plans to provide housing. [11548/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

Responsibility for the assessment of housing need and the development of proposals to address this need rests with the individual housing authorities. Earlier today I announced the approval of some 56 social housing construction projects with an overall value of some €68 million under the Local Authority housing construction programme for 2014-2015. This new construction programme will deliver 449 new units of accommodation for people on the housing waiting list. Projects were selected for funding approval on the basis of the proposals submitted to my Department by the local authorities, the relative priority afforded to each of these projects and the overall level of housing need locally.

Under my Department’s Capital Assistance Scheme (CAS) funding is provided to Approved Housing Bodies, through the local authorities, for the provision of accommodation for persons with specific categories of housing need, including older persons, persons with a disability and homeless persons. In January, 2014 my Department requested local authorities to submit by 28 March, 2014 a prioritised list of new CAS projects to be progressed over the next two years. It will be a matter for local authorities to determine the relative priority of projects on the basis of their contribution to meeting local housing need and to shortlist these in order of merit. Further consideration of the CAS projects for funding approval over the next two years, including projects in County Wicklow, must await the receipt of submissions from the local authorities.

Departmental Schemes

Questions (339)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

339. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if detailed criteria has been made available to local authorities to enable them to update the application forms under the housing aid for older people scheme and the housing adaptation and mobility aids scheme; the reason for the delay by local authorities in providing these application forms; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11559/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

Some changes to the terms and conditions of the schemes were notified to local authorities in January. These changes were made on foot of the recommendations of a review group, established in 2013 by my Department, to examine the terms and conditions governing the suite of Housing Adaptation Grants for Older People and People with a Disability.

Membership of the group included the County and City Managers’ Association (CCMA), the Housing Practitioner Network, Local Authority personnel and my Department. Consultations were held with organisations working with older people and people with a disability. The aim of the review was to spread the benefits of the schemes as widely as possible and to ensure fairness and value for money in their operation. My Department circulated a template for the revised application forms to local authorities on 7 February, 2014. It is a matter for each local authority to insert details of address, contact persons, logo etc. and to make copies of the forms available to potential applicants. There is no impediment to local authorities processing applications for the schemes.

Water Charges Exemptions

Questions (340, 373)

Ciara Conway

Question:

340. Deputy Ciara Conway asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his views on correspondence (details supplied) regarding water charges; if he will consider some scheme of financial allowance for people with medical conditions that necessitate using large volumes of water; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11578/14]

View answer

Micheál Martin

Question:

373. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his views on the average water charges being available before 23 May; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8925/14]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 340 and 373 together.

With effect from 1 January 2014, Irish Water is responsible for public water services. The Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013 provides that Irish Water can collect charges from its customers in receipt of water services.  The Act also provides that responsibility for the independent economic regulation of the water sector is assigned to the Commission for Energy Regulation (CER) and the CER has been given statutory responsibility for protecting the interests of customers. Domestic water charges will commence with effect from 1 October 2014 and Irish Water will issue the first bills to domestic customers from January 2015. The approach to charging will be outlined by Irish Water in a water charges plan to be submitted by it to the CER in line with the provisions of the Act. The CER will be responsible for approving the water charges plan which will set the approaches to charging domestic and non-domestic customers.

An interdepartmental working group has been established to advise the Government on the appropriate method for addressing affordability issues which may arise with the introduction of domestic water charges. This includes the examination of issues arising for those with specific medical conditions, which require high water usage.

The CER will announce its decision on the approved water charges plan in August 2014. In making its decision on the approval or otherwise of the first water charges plan, the CER will take into account the decisions made by Government on the funding model for Irish Water, including the funding available for a free allowance and any proposed affordability measures.

The Government has committed to the provision of a free allowance, above which charging based on usage would apply. The free allowance and the level of funding to be provided by the Government to Irish Water will have a strong bearing on the net charges to be met by households. Consequently, decisions on these matters will provide greater visibility on the expected level of charges in advance of the final determination of all aspects of the water charges plan by the CER. I expect to bring proposals to Government in this regard shortly.