Radio Spectrum Management

Questions (122)

Stephen Donnelly

Question:

122. Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will outline the white space digital frequencies currently unused in the Irish spectrum; his plans to use this bandwidth, and if he will outline any analysis that his Department has undertaken as to the potential economic benefits of using these frequencies, or the potential for interference to legitimate primary and secondary radio spectrum users were such frequencies to be used; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14244/14]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

The management of the radio spectrum is a statutory function of the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) under the Communications Regulation Act, 2002 as amended. This encompasses the revision and publication of the national radio frequency plan in accordance with section 35 of that Act. The avoidance of radio frequency interference is a matter for ComReg in exercising its functions.The National Broadband Plan does however commit to a review of Spectrum Policy to be carried out on a consultative basis which I intend to initiate over the coming months. This review will deal with a broad range of issues relating to policy in the use of spectrum while respecting the role of ComReg as independent Regulator with responsibility for the management of spectrum on a day-to-day basis.

Warmer Homes Scheme Eligibility

Questions (123)

Tony McLoughlin

Question:

123. Deputy Tony McLoughlin asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if his attention has been drawn to the fact that SEAI is currently undertaking a campaign by letter to eligible persons under the warmer homes scheme informing qualifying persons of their grant entitlements and the fact that many of the Local Development Partnership Companies are excluded from this promotion (details supplied). [14354/14]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

The Better Energy Warmer Homes scheme delivers a range of energy efficiency measures to households that are vulnerable to energy poverty and who live in privately-owned dwellings. The upgrades are delivered free of charge to the customer. The scheme is administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) on behalf of my Department. To raise awareness and invite applications to the scheme from eligible households, mailshots are periodically delivered through direct marketing. These mailshots are issued in collaboration with the Department of Social Protection and such mailshots have proved highly successful in identifying eligible households in other counties. Mailshots have been previously delivered in Carlow, Clare, Dublin, Galway, Kildare, Kilkenny, Laois, Limerick, Louth, Meath, Offaly, Sligo, Tipperary, Westmeath and Wicklow. In March, a mailshot was issued to Fuel Allowance recipients in counties Roscommon, Leitrim and Longford. There are three SEAI appointed Community Based Organisations (CBOs) delivering the Warmer Homes Scheme in these counties, two of which are Local Development Partnership Companies. SEAI is not excluding these CBOs in any way from the scheme. All three CBOs were advised in advance of the mailshot and will receive applications that result from the mailshot where they are unable to generate applications through their own resources.

Broadband Service Provision

Questions (124)

Patrick O'Donovan

Question:

124. Deputy Patrick O'Donovan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources if he will consider initiatives to incentivise the roll-out of free Wi-Fi in city and town centres; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14408/14]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

The provision of electronic communications services is, in the first instance, a matter for private sector service providers. Broadband services may be provided over various platforms (i.e. over telephone lines, co-axial cable, mobile, fixed wireless, fibre and satellite). WiFi technologies can be used in conjunction with these platforms to provide wireless access to broadband services. The availability and provision of free public WiFi is primarily a matter for the network providers and the Local Authorities responsible for the designated areas where the network is available.

Departmental Staff Expenses

Questions (125)

Clare Daly

Question:

125. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources the protocol in relation to assistant principals and principal officers using their private cars and claiming unvouched expenses when official cars are available in his Department; if he has received any complaints regarding same; and the oversight that is in place to deal with same. [14839/14]

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Written answers (Question to Communications)

Official vehicles are not available in my Department except in the case of the Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI). The work of the GSI, which is part of my Department, necessarily involves extensive field work, over all terrains and throughout the country and the GSI operates a fleet of 16 vehicles which includes a specialised drilling rig, trucks, pickups and 4 wheel drive vehicles. Only one of the vehicles is a car. There are written protocols in place for official use of the vehicles. The use of private cars for official business by staff in my Department and payments in respect of travel and subsistence are governed by Civil Service travel and subsistence regulations and guidelines. I have not received any complaints on this matter.

Mortgage Arrears Proposals

Questions (126)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

126. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his plans to include mortgages provided by local authorities in the CCMA process; when that will take place; if not the reason for same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14288/14]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

In August 2012, my Department issued revised guidelines to local authorities for dealing with mortgage arrears within the local authority sector. Dealing with Mortgage Arrears – A Guide for Local Authorities is available on my Department’s website – www.environ.ie. The revised guidelines replaced those issued by my Department in March 2010.

While local authorities are not governed by the Central Bank, my Department’s guidelines are broadly based on the Central Bank’s Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears (CCMA) and require each local authority to set up a dedicated Arrears Support Unit (ASU) by 1 October 2012 to deal with local authority mortgage arrears. The ASU engages in the Mortgage Arrears Resolution Process (MARP) with qualifying borrowers who are in arrears with their mortgage repayments, or those at risk of going into arrears due to their financial circumstances. The purpose of the MARP is to try to identify an acceptable and sustainable resolution to the borrower’s mortgage arrears situation that best suits the borrower’s circumstances. The ASU in each local authority engages in ongoing contact with borrowers in accordance with the Department’s guidelines.

The Central Bank issued a revised Code of Conduct on Mortgage Arrears which came into effect on 1 July 2013. My Department, in conjunction with local authorities, is currently updating its guidelines in line with the Central Bank’s revised Code and this will issue to local authorities in the near future.

Building Regulations Amendments

Questions (127, 128, 129, 130)

Stephen Donnelly

Question:

127. Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the rationale for deferring implementation of the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014; in respect of educational and hospital projects, if he will provide all data and analysis used to reach this decision; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14231/14]

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Stephen Donnelly

Question:

128. Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his views on deferring the implementation of the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014 in respect of educational and hospital projects on all public sector projects, including social housing, art buildings, State offices and more, above and beyond educational and hospital projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14232/14]

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Stephen Donnelly

Question:

129. Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his views on extending the implementation of the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014 in respect of educational and hospital projects to cover crèches, child care facilities, old people's homes and convalescent homes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14233/14]

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Stephen Donnelly

Question:

130. Deputy Stephen S. Donnelly asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will consider extending the implementation of the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014 in respect of educational and hospital projects to cover all publicly funded housing projects in view of the skills in local authority engineering and architecture departments and their effective management of housing construction and refurbishment projects; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14234/14]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 127 to 130, inclusive, together.

The Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014 came into effect on 1 March 2014 and require greater accountability in relation to compliance with Building Regulations in the form of statutory certification of design and construction, lodgement of compliance documentation, mandatory inspections during construction and validation and registration of certificates of compliance.

On 15 January 2014, the President of the RIAI wrote to me, and I understand to several other Ministers, seeking deferral of the implementation of the Regulations. I refer to the reply given to Questions Nos. 137 and 138 dated 12 February 2014 which deals comprehensively with the concerns raised in this correspondence.

On 5 February 2014 the Minister for Education and Skills wrote to me seeking that the planned implementation date of 1 March 2014 be deferred by at least 12 months, to ensure the planned school building programme is not put at risk.

My Department immediately consulted with relevant Departments/agencies represented on the Government Contracts Committee for Construction (GCCC), in relation to the implications of the Regulations for the public capital programme. Several Departments/Agencies, including the Department of Education and Skills, the National Development Finance Agency and the Health Services Executive, expressed concerns that the new requirements may cause delays in the Public Capital Programme. Large-scale public infrastructure projects, in particular, are prone to costly delays due to strict national and EU procurement rules which do not generally apply to private sector projects. Other agencies, notably the OPW, reported that the necessary arrangements were in place to administer contracts in accordance with the new requirements.

Following discussions at GCCC level, an oversight group will be established to deal with issues arising in the first twelve months of the new arrangements. This will ensure that a process is in place to signal at an early date, and resolve, any difficulties in relation to public capital programme projects and major investment projects.

On this basis, the Regulations were amended to provide for an alternative but equivalent means of complying with the requirements to assign a person to inspect and certify the works (the Assigned Certifier) in line with a plan lodged at commencement and implemented during construction. Subject to the oversight group’s determination of the matter, this requirement may be fulfilled by lodgement of such inspection plan, inspection records and certificates as may be deemed appropriate and necessary by the group in order to demonstrate that compliance with the Building Regulations has been achieved for the building or works concerned.

This alternative means of compliance applies to a limited range of public and privately owned buildings classified as first-, second- or third-level places of education; hospitals or primary care centres for which planning permission has already been obtained and for which contract documents will be in place before 1 November 2014 and works will commence before 1 March 2015. It does not amount to a deferral or a derogation of the requirements of the Building Regulations. The sole accommodation given is a n alternative means of compliance with the inspection and certification requirements fulfilled by the Assigned Certifier that will apply to a narrow range of buildings for a temporary period.

I understand that in excess of 100 commencement notices have been lodged on the Building Control Management System since 1 March 2014 suggesting that the necessary arrangements for the successful implementation of the Regulations are in place and are working effectively in practice. In the circumstances, I am satisfied that the concerns raised did not warrant a deferral of the necessary reform of the building control system and I have no plans to broaden the scope of transitional arrangements to other public sector or privately owned projects.