Water Charges Exemptions

Questions (515, 521, 526, 528, 536, 542, 557, 560, 575)

Damien English

Question:

515. Deputy Damien English asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government in the case of dependent children aged over 18, for example, those attending college, his plans to facilitate a water allowance for households containing such persons; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22125/14]

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Robert Troy

Question:

521. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if any concession will be made regarding water charges to persons suffering with a disability or families affected by same. [22240/14]

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Robert Troy

Question:

526. Deputy Robert Troy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will clearly outline the concessions to the water rate charges. [22362/14]

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Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

528. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he has directed Irish Water on the matter of water allocation for under 18 year olds that will be delivered in the many Gaeltacht areas where local Mná Tí open their houses for the summer months to students from outside Gaeltacht areas who wish to improve their spoken Gaeilge. [22437/14]

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Michael McGrath

Question:

536. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the position regarding charging for domestic water in circumstances where the quality is very poor and the householder has to keep the tap running for a period before the water can be used; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22537/14]

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Eoghan Murphy

Question:

542. Deputy Eoghan Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if persons with an ileo-anal pouch will qualify for an increased water allowance. [22652/14]

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Dominic Hannigan

Question:

557. Deputy Dominic Hannigan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his plans to allow the allowances for children under 18 years of age to be extended to teenagers and young adults who live with their parents while attending college or further education; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22906/14]

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Dan Neville

Question:

560. Deputy Dan Neville asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his views on whether there is a need for placing a public tap in communities for watering plants and flowers in public green spaces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22993/14]

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Seán Kyne

Question:

575. Deputy Seán Kyne asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if the additional allowances of water to be introduced for persons with a disability will be structured in a manner that will not disadvantage persons with a disability who do not have a medical card but still face additional challenges as a result of the nature of the disability; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23352/14]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 515, 521, 526, 528, 536, 542, 557, 560 and 575 together.

The Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013 provides that Irish Water can collect charges from its customers in receipt of water services provided by it. 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.

Under the European Communities (Drinking Water) Regulations 2014, a copy of which is available in the Oireachtas library, suppliers of drinking water are required to ensure that the water supplied is wholesome and clean. Water which is wholesome and clean is defined as water which is free from any micro-organisms and parasites and from any substances which in numbers or concentrations constitute a potential danger to human health, and which meets the quality standards specified in the Schedule to the Regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the supervisory authority with responsibility for monitoring Irish Water’s compliance with these regulations.

In the event of non-compliance with the quality standards set out in these Regulations, the water supplier will investigate the cause and, in consultation with the EPA and, if a potential risk to human health may exist, the Health Service Executive, ensure that the appropriate remedial action is taken. The Water Services (No.2) Act 2013 requires the CER to perform its functions in a manner that best serves the interests of the customers of Irish Water. This is similar to the CER’s statutory role in respect of the gas and electricity sectors. I fully expect that the CER will consider compliance with statutory standards by Irish Water in the discharge of its functions.

The Government has decided, following consideration of proposals in relation to the funding model for Irish Water, to provide a free allowance of 30,000 litres of water supplied and waste water treated per annum for a primary residence on a public supply. The Government has also decided to provide for an additional free allowance to cover the normal usage of water services by every child in their primary residence based on the same qualifying conditions as child benefit, such that water charges will in effect only apply to adults in such households. The normal consumption is estimated at 38,000 litres annually per child of water supplied and waste water treated and so the allowance being provided will be up to 38,000 litres per annum. This level of consumption will be verified over time through actual data from metering. There are no plans to provide addition allowances, other than those recently announced by the Government.

The Government has also decided that bills will be capped at the relevant assessed charge level for those customers with particular medical conditions which necessitate high water usage. Qualifying medical conditions will be set out, following consultation with the Minister for Health and the Health Services Executive. There are no plans at present to provide communal public taps in community locations.

I intend to use my powers under the Water Services (No.2) Act 2013 to issue a policy direction to the CER in relation to the Government’s recent decisions relating to domestic water charges, including to ensure the water charges plan makes provision for circumstances where the quality of water services provided by Irish Water to customers is impaired or where services are reduced or restricted (e.g. customers with boil water notices). As required by the Act, a draft of the policy direction has issued to the CER and the Joint Oireachtas Committee for the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht, and has been published in Iris Oifigiúil. The draft direction is currently open for public consultation and details are available on my Department’s website at

http://www.environ.ie/en/Environment/Water/WaterSectorReform.

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 the Government on the funding model for Irish Water and the policy direction issued.

Irish Water Staff

Questions (516)

Dara Calleary

Question:

516. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the status of employees previously employed in the water services section of local authorities; if these employees are now classed as employees of Irish Water; if he will outline the implications of same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22149/14]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Water Services Act 2013 provided for the establishment of Irish Water as a subsidiary of Bórd Gáis Éireann to be formed and registered under the Companies Act.

A fundamental underpinning of the water reform programme is to ensure that the skills and experience built up over many years in local authorities are put to best use for the long-term benefit of the customer and that there is no negative impact on service to customers during the transition. The Water Services (No.2) Act 2013 transferred statutory responsibility for water services to Irish Water and provided for local authorities to act as agents for Irish Water, with this relationship being expressed through Service Level Agreements. Staff in local authorities, conducting work under these arrangements from 1 January 2014, remain employees of local authorities. As such, no staff transferred from local authority positions to Irish Water. Any employees of Irish Water who came from the local authority sector immediately prior to taking up a post with Irish Water applied for advertised posts and were recruited through a competitive process.

Local Authority Charges Application

Question No. 518 answered with Question No. 504.

Questions (517, 576)

Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

517. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his plans regarding rates on vacant properties. [22191/14]

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Michael Healy-Rae

Question:

576. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his views on correspondence (details supplied) regarding rates on vacant properties. [23392/14]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 517 and 576 together.

The Local Government Act 1946 provides that where a property in a county council or urban local authority is unoccupied on the date of the making of the rate, the owner becomes liable for rates. However, the owner is entitled to a refund if the property is vacant for specified purposes i.e. if the premises are unoccupied for the purpose of additions, alterations or repairs; where the owner is bona fide unable to obtain a suitable tenant at a reasonable rent; and where the premises are vacant pending redevelopment. The collection of rates and the determination of eligibility for a refund in this context are matters for each individual local authority. At present, the owner is entitled to a 100% refund in most local authority areas. Separate legislation governs refunds in the cities of Dublin, Limerick and Cork, where the same criteria for refunds apply but only 50% of the rates paid is refundable.

The Local Government Reform Act 2014 provides for a change to rating law in relation to the refund of rates on vacant properties and gives discretion to the elected members of individual local authorities to vary the level of rates refunds that apply in individual local electoral areas within the authority’s administrative area. This discretion allows elected members to respond to the differing characteristics of the local commercial property markets. The amendment does not make any change to the eligibility or otherwise of refunds as currently provided for in relevant legislation.

It is expected that this provision will be commenced with effect from 1 June 2014 and I will then issue regulations and guidance in respect of the process for its implementation by local authorities.

Question No. 518 answered with Question No. 504.

Water Services Provision

Questions (519)

Mattie McGrath

Question:

519. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if the works contract for the Burncourt/Fethard regional water supply scheme has been signed and if not the reason for same; when work will commence in view of the fact that it is approximately six months since the funding for the scheme was approved by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22223/14]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

Since 1 January 2014, Irish Water is responsible for the delivery of water services capital infrastructure. Irish Water has recently published its Proposed Capital Investment Plan for 2014–2016 and this is available on the Irish Water web site, www.water.ie. The further progression of all water services capital projects is now a matter for Irish Water to consider.

Irish Water has confirmed to my Department that it has established a dedicated team to deal with representations and queries from public representatives. The team can be contacted via an email to oireachtasmembers@water.ie or by telephone on 1890 278 278.

Fire Stations Provision

Question No. 521 answered with Question No. 515.

Questions (520)

Seán Fleming

Question:

520. Deputy Sean Fleming asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government when funding will be approved for a fire station at a location (details supplied) in County Laois; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22232/14]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The provision of a fire service in its functional area, including the establishment and maintenance of a fire brigade, the assessment of fire cover needs and the provision of fire station premises, is a statutory function of individual fire authorities under section 10 of the Fire Services Act 1981. My Department supports the fire authorities through setting general policy, providing a central training programme, issuing guidance on operational and other related matters and providing capital funding for priority infrastructural projects.

Under the 2006 Fire Service Capital Programme a proposal by Laois County Council to build a new fire station at Rathdowney was received by my Department and approval-in-principle was granted to proceed to the planning stages. Laois County Council submitted costings and design plans on 2 June 2009 for consideration by my Department. Given the constraints on public finances, priority has been given to the appliance fleet and further support from my Department’s Fire Services Capital Programme to proceed with a new fire station at Rathdowney will have regard to national priorities, the totality of requests from fire authorities countrywide, Laois County Council’s priorities, the extent of previous investment in Laois fire service, the value for money offered by proposals and the status of existing facilities having regard to area risk categorisation.

Question No. 521 answered with Question No. 515.

Local Authority Housing Evictions

Questions (522)

Clare Daly

Question:

522. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government his views on whether it is appropriate for Westmeath County Council to evict landless persons from the Edmonton/Killynon cowpark grassing facility which they have utilised for decades; and if this is a contradiction of policy to assist small holders. [22291/14]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

I have no function in relation to the issue raised in the Question which is a matter for Westmeath County Council.

Pyrite Issues

Questions (523)

Clare Daly

Question:

523. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the options open to home owners who have spent thousands of euros on pyrite reports, which have confirmed the presence of pyrite, but the damage is not sufficient to be covered by the scheme or remediated by their insurer, and, therefore, the house is unable to be sold, unable to achieve a green certificate and in may ways the home owners are in the worst of all worlds. [22331/14]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

I am acutely aware of the difficult and distressing situation faced by many homeowners who have been affected by pyritic heave and it was against this background that I set up the independent Pyrite Panel in September 2011 to identify solutions for a resolution to the pyrite problem. In its report the Pyrite Panel recommended that only dwellings with significant damage due to pyritic heave should be remediated. It also recommended that dwellings which have no significant damage but have reactive pyrite in the hardcore should be monitored and only remediated if they display significant damage due to pyritic heave.

On 29 January 2013, the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) published I.S. 398 – Reactive pyrite in sub-floor hardcore material. Part 1 of that standard provides accurate and reliable protocols to determine whether or not a dwelling is or may be affected by reactive pyrite in the sub-floor hardcore material and gives clear guidance on the process and procedures to be followed in order to determine if a dwelling should be remediated or monitored.

The pyrite remediation scheme, which was published by the Pyrite Resolution Board in February of 2014, was developed having regard to the recommendations set out in the Report of the Pyrite Panel. The scheme is one of “last resort” and only applies to dwellings which are subject to significant damage attributable to pyritic heave established in accordance with I.S. 398-1. In addition, applicants must be able to demonstrate to the Pyrite Resolution Board that they have no practicable options other than under the scheme to secure the remediation of their dwellings.

Irish Water Staff

Questions (524)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

524. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the number of staff that work in the leak detection unit of Irish Water; the number of those who are currently employed on temporary contracts; if the local authorities have applied to have the recruitment embargo lifted in order that these staff may be retained in the future, or if these staff will be seconded to Irish Water for the foreseeable future; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22345/14]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

Staffing arrangements within Irish Water is an operational matter for the company and one in which I have no function. Since 1 January 2014, Irish Water has statutory responsibility for all aspects of water services planning, delivery and operation at national, regional and local levels. Irish Water has confirmed to my Department that it has established a dedicated team to deal with representations and queries from public representatives. The team can be contacted via email at oireachtasmembers@water.ie or by telephone on 1890 278 278.

The Water Services (No.2) Act 2013 transferred statutory responsibility for water services to Irish Water and provided for local authorities to act as agents for Irish Water, with this relationship being expressed through Service Level Agreements. Staff in local authorities, conducting work under these arrangements from 1 January 2014, remain employees of local authorities.  The number of local authority staff engaged in work under these service level agreements, including leak detection staff, is reflected in a headcount figure which will be reviewed each year as part of the preparation and approval of the following year’s Annual Service Plan. This requirement is intrinsically linked to the levels of investment within the sector in automation, rationalisation and infrastructure and operational upgrades.

The moratorium on recruitment and promotion in the public service was introduced in March 2009 in response to the financial crisis. My Department operates a delegated sanction from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for implementation of the moratorium in relation to local authorities, and any exceptions to the moratorium in local authorities require sanction from my Department. Under section 159 of the Local Government Act 2001, each City and County Manager is responsible for staffing and organisational arrangements necessary for carrying out the functions of the local authorities for which he or she is responsible.  In this regard, it is a matter for City and County Managers, in the first instance, to ensure that the moratorium is implemented while the appropriate service levels are maintained.

My Department examines all staffing sanction requests on a case by case basis having due regard to the continued delivery of key services in the context of staffing and budgetary constraints. In considering sanction requests public safety, maintaining key front line services, and economic issues are given precedence. Particular arrangements are in place between my Department, Irish Water and local authorities to streamline approvals where appropriate for the filling of vacancies arising within approved headcount figures under Service Level Agreements between Irish Water and local authorities.

Water Meters Installation

Question No. 526 answered with Question No. 515.

Questions (525, 552, 555, 570)

Clare Daly

Question:

525. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the position regarding the smart meters being imposed as part of the water meter process; his views regarding the radio frequency being emitted; and if residents have a right to refuse such a meter on health grounds. [22354/14]

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Brendan Ryan

Question:

552. Deputy Brendan Ryan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to water meters being installed in vacant houses in County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22817/14]

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Clare Daly

Question:

555. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he will instruct Irish Water to cease incorrectly installing Grade C water meter boxes as per international standards in vehicle access locations and instruct the Commission for Energy Regulation to investigate this practice. [22861/14]

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Michael McGrath

Question:

570. Deputy Michael McGrath asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if Irish Water has carried out a feasibility study in respect of installing water meters in apartments; if progress has been made in this regard; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23314/14]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 525, 552, 555 and 570 together.

The Programme for Government sets out a commitment to the introduction of water charges based on usage above a free allowance. The Government considers that charging based on usage is the fairest way to charge for water and it has, therefore, decided that water meters should be installed in households connected to public water supplies. The Water Services Act 2013 provided for the establishment of Irish Water as an independent subsidiary within the Bord Gáis Éireann Group and assigned the necessary powers to allow Irish Water to undertake the domestic meter installation programme.

Irish Water has confirmed to my Department that each water meter has a low power radio unit fixed to the top which enables it to be read periodically from a passing van. This is what is known as Automatic Meter Reading (AMR). The AMR is dormant until the meter is read when it is activated only for the purpose of taking the meter read. The meters used by Irish Water do not currently employ smart metering technology. However, the meters are capable of being integrated into a smart meter reading system, should that ever be required. Irish Water has procured meters and radio units that comply with all relevant European and international standards designed to protect the health and safety of customers and the public.

Local authorities are in the final stages of a pre-installation survey of households connected to such supplies. The survey is providing information to Irish Water on the properties that can be metered. The intention is that a meter will be installed in any property connected to a public water supply where it is technically feasible to do so. The matter of occupancy of the property will be addressed separately. In advance of the commencement of charges, Irish Water will be engaging with every household to verify customer details.

In designing the technical specification for the Metering Capital Programme, Irish Water has drawn both from international standards and from extensive local experience of the installation of both Grade B and Grade C meter box covers over the last 12 years. Irish Water monitors the installations by its contractors and can require the installation of a Grade B meter box if it is deemed necessary. Irish Water regularly undertakes technical reviews of the metering programme with the aim of making improvements.

Irish Water has recently commissioned a study on possible approaches to metering properties that are not part of the current metering programme, including apartments and properties with shared service connections. This report was recently submitted to my Department and the recommendations of the report are being considered. In particular, the Department is exploring with Irish Water the potential to include a new phase of metering of some 48,000 apartments, which the report suggests can be easily metered as part of a separate procurement process.

Question No. 526 answered with Question No. 515.

Animal Welfare

Question No. 528 answered with Question No. 515.

Questions (527)

Brian Stanley

Question:

527. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the number of dog licences that were issued in 2013. [22367/14]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

Statistics in relation to a range of dog control responsibilities of local authorities, including dog licence numbers, are published annually by my Department and are available for 2013 at the following link:

http://www.environ.ie/en/Publications/StatisticsandRegularPublications/DogControl/.

Question No. 528 answered with Question No. 515.

Job Losses

Questions (529)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

529. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government the discussions his Department has had with IMPACT and SIPTU in relation to the possible job losses that could occur due to the proposed changes in the delivery of the social inclusion and Leader programme; if he intends personally meeting the two unions to discuss this matter; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22450/14]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

My Department, along with other Government Departments, Agencies and other statutory and non-statutory funders, has contracts with local development companies and other organisations in respect of various programmes and schemes.

Outside of contracting for such programmes, my Department has no role in the internal operations of local development companies 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.

In many cases it is likely that the programmes and schemes which my Department has contracted with local development companies would represent a minority of the companies’ income.

Accordingly, and consistent with the position my Department has always held, I cannot become party to an engagement on matters affecting staff of local development companies.

However, given the agreement facilitated by the Labour Relations Commission, my Department will meet the parties on a once-off basis to brief the parties on certain policies being advanced by my Department at this point. I trust that such an engagement will help to clarify these policies to the benefit of the continued engagement between employer and staff representatives.

Irish Water Administration

Questions (530)

Barry Cowen

Question:

530. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government if he is satisfied with the level of communication by Irish Water with local councillors; the systems that Irish Water has put in place for such communication; his views on whether Irish Water is sufficiently accountable to local authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22471/14]

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Written answers (Question to Environment)

The Water Services (No. 2) Act 2013 provides for the transfer of responsibility for the delivery of water services from the water services authorities to Irish Water. Since 1 January 2014, Irish Water is responsible for public water services and has been working in partnership with the local authorities under the Service Level Agreements.

Irish Water has put in place a dedicated support desk for elected representatives to engage directly with the company. All councillors have been contacted individually by Irish Water with details of the dedicated email address, localrepsupport@water.ie, along with the postal and telephone details for the company. Irish Water has informed my Department that all requests are acknowledged within 24 hours and that they endeavour to respond to all queries in a timely manner. As well as dealing with inbound queries on a daily basis, Irish Water keeps councillors informed on key events as they arise. In addition, a Director of Services in each local authority has been nominated as a local point of contact for information for councillors.