Vacant Properties

Questions (1193)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

1193. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the degree to which he can become directly involved in the upgrading, improving and reletting of local authority houses currently out of use and boarded up; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45480/19]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

The management and maintenance of local authority housing stock, including pre-letting repairs to vacant properties, the implementation of planned maintenance programmes and carrying out of responsive repairs, are matters for each individual local authority under the Housing Acts. My Department is supportive of local authorities in bringing vacant social homes back to productive use and since 2014, under the Voids Programme, has provided funding of €145.5 million to support local authorities in returning almost 11,000 homes back to use. In addition, during 2019, further allocations of over €27 million were made to local authorities to assist in this regard.

While my Department will continue to support this activity with significant funding and in pressing the need for early re-letting of vacated social homes, elected Councillors also have a key role to play. It is important that Councillors oversee the work of their local authorities in this and other important housing areas.

Local Authority Housing Provision

Question No. 1195 answered with Question No. 1185.

Questions (1194)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

1194. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his views on whether procurement policies present an obstacle to the provision of much-needed local authority housing developments; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45481/19]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

Social housing projects funded by this Department, like all publicly-funded construction projects, must comply with the Government’s Capital Works Management Framework, the objectives of which are to ensure greater cost certainty, better value for money and financial accountability. Also for such projects, the procurement procedures used need to be in line with EU and national procurement rules as appropriate.

To assist local authorities (and approved housing bodies) in this regard, a number of measures have been implemented by Government. These include the establishment of a framework for the provision of full integrated design team services (Architect-led) by the Office of Government Procurement in 2016, which has assisted local authorities (and approved housing bodies) across the country in reducing the time and cost associated with the procurement of design consultancy services, by offering a facility that has already been competitively tendered.

Similarly, the Office of Government Procurement established a framework of rapid build contractors (design & build) in 2017, which has also assisted local authorities (and approved housing bodies) across the country in running procurement competitions and advancing rapid build housing projects to site more efficiently and effectively. Furthermore, my Department has also worked with Dublin City Council on the establishment of a Design-Build Contractor Framework to deliver residential developments through the use of volumetric construction methods. This framework is now available to all local authorities and will open up additional opportunities to deliver volumetric/rapid delivery apartments for social housing use.

Public procurement arrangements are based on fairness, common sense and transparency and given the vast spending that is now happening for new social housing, it is appropriate that these approaches are followed. Properly applied, I do not believe that they present an obstacle in the development of social housing and I also believe that the use of various contractor frameworks, which have already been competitively tendered, is an effective way to accelerate the advancement of projects while complying with procurement procedures.

Question No. 1195 answered with Question No. 1185.

Local Authority Housing Funding

Questions Nos. 1197 and 1198 answered with Question No. 1190.

Questions (1196)

Bernard Durkan

Question:

1196. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if his Department received applications for capital funding pending from the various local authorities for house building or renovation purposes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [45483/19]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

My Department receives social housing proposals from local authorities on a continuous basis, in the context of the delivery targets each authority is working towards under Rebuilding Ireland and in the context of the significant funding that is available to support this activity.

For 2019 alone, funding of €2.4 billion is being provided for all housing programmes, with a further €2.63 billion available in 2020. This investment will see the housing needs of almost 27,400 households being met in 2019, of which 10,000 will be new social housing homes delivered through build, acquisition and long term leasing programmes. In 2020, we are targeting the delivery of over 11,000 homes though build, acquisition and leasing.

The scale of the funding available has allowed us to approve a significant social housing build programme nationally, a detailed breakdown of which is contained in the Social Housing Construction Status Report which is updated and published on a quarterly basis. The report covering the period up to the end of Quarter 2 of 2019, is available on the Rebuilding Ireland website at https://rebuildingireland.ie/news/minister-murphy-publishes-social-housing-construction-status-report-for-q2-2019-2/.

We also have a range of programmes and initiatives available to local authorities to assist them to improve their existing social housing stock, for example, under the energy efficiency retrofitting programme for local authority social housing, where over 70,700 social homes have been insulated to date with funding support from the exchequer of some €139 million. The budget for this programme in 2019 is €25 million.

With the ready availability of funding and with each local authority working to deliver targets under Rebuilding Ireland, we will continue to receive and approve capital funding to the authorities on a daily basis and I have assured local authorities of the continued availability of this support for their work to deliver new social homes.

Questions Nos. 1197 and 1198 answered with Question No. 1190.

Water Quality

Questions (1199)

Thomas Byrne

Question:

1199. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the recent recommendations from the EPA to Irish Water on considering installing ultraviolet disinfection to further ensure drinking water quality and the protection of public health at the Leixlip treatment plant. [45579/19]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

EPA audits of public drinking water supplies are an important way of checking how Irish Water and local authorities are performing in compliance with Drinking Water Regulations. These regulations provide the EPA with supervisory powers in relation to public water supplies.

I am aware of the EPA recommendation in its recent audit report in relation to the incident at the Leixlip treatment plant that led to the issuing of a boil water notice. The EPA recommended that “Irish Water should assess the feasibility of installing ultraviolet disinfection as an additional treatment barrier to Cryptosporidium/Giardia at Leixlip water treatment plant, and should submit the outcome of this assessment to the EPA”.

This was one of a number of recommendations made by the EPA following the incident and following an earlier audit from March this year, including the installation of pH correction, filter upgrade works and the installation of automatic shut-down systems. It will be a matter for Irish Water to comply with the recommendation to assess the feasibility of installing UV treatment and to discuss the matter further with the EPA.

It should be noted that, in view of the scale and impact of the boil water notice and in the public interest, I have also asked the EPA to report to me on the conclusions of the latest investigations and any findings which may require a broader policy response. I will be meeting with the Managing Director of Irish Water and the CEO of Fingal County Council once I have received this report.

Water Quality

Questions (1200)

Thomas Byrne

Question:

1200. Deputy Thomas Byrne asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if his attention has been drawn to the fact that Irish Water and Fingal County Council failed to implement the main recommendations of a previous EPA audit of the Leixlip water treatment plant in March 2019, particularly relating to the failure to install automatic shutdown when critical plant alarms are not responded to; and if his attention has been further drawn to the fact that this was a contributory factor to the recent incident which resulted in a boil water notice being enforced for over 600,000 consumers. [45580/19]

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Written answers (Question to Housing)

Leixlip water treatment plant is publicly operated by Fingal County Council through a Service Level Agreement with Irish Water. The EPA report of the audit of the recent incident at the plant, published on 30 October, found that the recommendations of the EPA's previous audit of the plant in March 2019 were not implemented. The audit noted that, in particular, the failure to install automatic shutdown when critical plant alarms are not responded to, was a contributory factor to the incident on 21 October which resulted in a Boil Water Notice for over 600,00 consumers supplied by the plant.

I am extremely concerned that the lessons and corrective actions required following the audit in March were not fully implemented. I have spoken directly with the Managing Director of Irish Water, the CEO of Fingal County Council, and the Director General of the EPA to better understand how this situation arose and ensure it does not arise again.

In view of the scale and impact of the boil water notice and in the public interest, I have also asked the EPA to report to me directly on the conclusions of the EPA investigations and any findings which may require a broader policy response. This report will include the EPA’s view on the causes of the incident; if and how it could have been prevented; and its view on the response of Irish Water and of Fingal County Council.

I will be meeting with the Managing Director of Irish Water and the CEO of Fingal County Council once I have received this report. In the meantime, Irish Water and the Council must now respond to the EPA recommendations from the audit report arising from this latest incident.

It important to note that once the problem at the water treatment plant was identified, the fault was quickly resolved. Since the incident, Irish Water and Fingal County Council have implemented automatic plant shutdown on high turbidity in clarified and filtered water and if there is a failure to respond to a turbidity alarm within 15 minutes.

Irish Water must now work closely with Fingal County Council to ensure there is no repeat of this type of incident.

Pesticide Use

Questions (1201)

Michael Harty

Question:

1201. Deputy Michael Harty asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the volume of a product (details supplied) used over the past ten years in the Burren National Park; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44521/19]

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Written answers (Question to Culture)

Glyphosate is the key ingredient in the product to which the Deputy refers. It is one of the most effective means of killing some of the most problematic invasive plant species, notably Rhododendron ponticum, Japanese Knotweed and Giant Hogweed and it is an essential herbicide in the control of other noxious weeds. Glyphosate is not broadcast-sprayed on any of our sites. It is used for spot spraying, with weedlickers and for treating stumps. Information in respect of the volume of the product used within the National Park is not retained.

I am advised that the use of glyphosate within our sites fully complies with the EU Sustainable Use of Pesticides Directive, which covers all aspects of pesticide use. The National Parks and Wildlife Service invasive species eradication programmes have, over many years mainly focussed on injection of herbicide into the plant, or application onto cuts made in the stems, rather than spraying, both of which greatly reduce the quantity used and human contact with the herbicide. There are other methods of removing smaller weeds being used in our sites, for example the Department is trialling hot water weed remover on some pathways in parks.

Commemorative Events

Questions (1202)

Pearse Doherty

Question:

1202. Deputy Pearse Doherty asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if her Department will co-ordinate a range of appropriate State commemorative events to mark the 1,500th anniversary of the birth of St. Colmcille in December 2020 in co-operation with the National Museum, the National Monuments Service, an organisation (details supplied) and Donegal County Council; and if she will liaise with counterparts in governments internationally to mark the anniversary. [44379/19]

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Written answers (Question to Culture)

I am aware of the 1,500th anniversary of the birth of St. Colmcille in December 2020. My officials have had initial discussions with Foras na Gaeilge regarding how the anniversary might be marked.

As yet, I have not received an approach from Donegal County Council or the organisation referred to by the Deputy on the matter, but I would of course be open to a discussion between my Department and either party to help ensure that this anniversary will be marked appropriately.

Earlier this year, the heritage of Colmcille was celebrated at a special event in the Music Room in Christ Church Cathedral on Saturday 8 June, the eve of the Feast of Colmcille. The event was part of a partnership programme between Foras na Gaeilge and Bòrd na Gàidhlig, which promotes the use of Irish and Scottish Gaelic in Ireland and in Scotland and between the two countries.

Special Areas of Conservation

Questions (1203)

David Cullinane

Question:

1203. Deputy David Cullinane asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht her plans to allow bogland to be used for golf courses; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44422/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Culture)

Under the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011 and the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000, certain activities within special areas of conservation, special protection areas and natural heritage areas may only take place with my prior consent, as Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht or with the prior consent of the relevant public authority.

In assessing an application for consent, the consent authority would assess the potential impact of the proposed activity on the ecological integrity of the protected site or sites in question.

Therefore, any proposal for the development of a golf course within a protected site would have to comply with the relevant provisions of the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011 and the Wildlife (Amendment) Act 2000, as applicable.

Information and Communications Technology

Questions (1204)

Alan Kelly

Question:

1204. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the number of computers in her Department that still use an operating system (details supplied) in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44707/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Culture)

My Department undertakes regular technology updates and has replaced the vast majority of user pcs in recent years.

Of the 645 pcs deployed, 16 pcs have the operating systems to which the Deputy is referring. All such machines will be replaced or upgraded over the coming weeks.

Information and Communications Technology

Questions (1205)

Alan Kelly

Question:

1205. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if her Department will not be forced to pay additional premium payments to a company (details supplied) once support for an operating system expires in January 2020; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44723/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Culture)

I understand that my Department has a small number of machines operating on the operating system to which the Deputy refers. All such machines will be replaced or upgraded over the coming weeks.

My Department will not be required to pay additional premium payments while these machines are being replaced.

Information and Communications Technology

Questions (1206)

Alan Kelly

Question:

1206. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht her plans to protect her Department in the event of a malware attack or security risks as a result of the failure to upgrade computers from an operating system (details supplied) in her Department and the agencies under her remit; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44739/19]

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Written answers (Question to Culture)

My Department takes ICT Security extremely seriously.

I understand that there are a limited number of machines operating on the system to which the Deputy refers remaining on the Department's ICT Network and that these will be replaced over the coming weeks. My Department operates a layered security model which will protect the Department's ICT assets during this replacement process.

Departmental Staff Data

Questions (1207)

Mattie McGrath

Question:

1207. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the number of full and part-time staff employed in her Department; the number of such staff being paid at the minimum wage rate of pay; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44842/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Culture)

I am informed that the total number of staff in my Department as at end September 2019 is 692.

Of these, six are on part time contracts and the remainder are on full-time contracts. The Department's records show that seventy-nine staff are also currently availing of either the civil service work sharing scheme or of statutory parental leave and, therefore, work less than conditioned full-time hours.

The six part time staff in my Department are paid at the current national minimum wage of €9.80 per hour.

Heritage Council Funding

Questions (1208)

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

1208. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the funding provided to the National Biodiversity Data Centre in each of the years 2015 to 2018 and to date in 2019, in tabular form. [44888/19]

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Written answers (Question to Culture)

The National Biodiversity Data Centre (NBDC) is the name given to a programme established by the Heritage Council in 2006. It addresses the need identified by the Council that data on Ireland’s biodiversity be collected recorded and fully accessible to the public. The NBDC is operated on contract under the aegis of the Heritage Council and receives funding from a variety of sources towards specific components of its work , including my Department, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, the Environmental Protection Agency and Bord Bia. As the managing authority, funding provided to the NBDC is a matter for the Heritage Council.

Funding provided by my Department to the Heritage Council in respect of specific deliverables of the Programme is detailed below:

2015 €377,828.75

2016 €460,000.39

2017 €447,158.00

2018 €444,000.00

2019 (YTD) €168,727.50

Heritage Council Funding

Questions (1209)

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

1209. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the funding provided to the Heritage Council in each of the years 2015 to 2018 and to date in 2019, in tabular form. [44889/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Culture)

The voted funding allocation to the Heritage Council each year is published in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform’s Revised Estimates Volume. The funding provided from 2015 to 2019 is set out below.

Heritage Council Funding 2015-2019

Total

2015 Capital

2015 Current

€1,688,000

€3,055,000

€4,743,000

2016 Capital

2016 Current

€1,688,000

€3,555,000

€5,243,000

2017 Capital

2017 Current

€2,688,000

€3,566,000

€6,254,000

2018 Capital

2018 Current

€2,688,000

€3,689,000

€6,377,000

2019 Capital

2019 Current

€2,688,000

€3,900,000

€6,588,000

Heritage Promotion

Questions (1210)

Eamon Scanlon

Question:

1210. Deputy Eamon Scanlon asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if she will consider relaunching the heritage town programme or similar to promote rural towns and villages and in effort to decentralise tourism; if consideration has been given to increasing the number of heritage officers and offices in rural towns and villages; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [44900/19]

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Written answers (Question to Culture)

I understand that the Heritage Town Programme, referenced by the Deputy, was an initiative promoted by Fáilte Ireland in the 1990s. As Fáilte Ireland is under the aegis of my colleague the Minister for Tourism, Transport and Sport, he may be in a position to advise on any possible successor to that programme.

The Deputy may be interested in the Historic Towns Initiative (HTI) which is a joint undertaking between my Department and the Heritage Council. Historic towns include those of medieval and pre-medieval foundation, plantation towns, planned estate towns and those established around local industries. Each local authority is invited to apply in respect of one historic town with an indicative minimum population of 1,500 inhabitants. Priority is given to projects that are ‘plan-led’ and likely to make a meaningful contribution to the heritage-led regeneration of the town. On 27 February this year, along with the Heritage Council, I announced funding of €1 million, to be shared by six towns under the 2019 Initiative.

These towns are

- Kilrush, County Clare

- Letterkenny, County Donegal

- Ballina, County Mayo

- Navan, County Meath

- Boyle, County Roscommon

- Nenagh, County Tipperary

I intend to retain this funding in 2020. While there are no specific plans at present to revise the scheme my Department is currently engaged in drafting Heritage Ireland 2030, the Government’s commitment to a revitalised and refreshed National Heritage Plan. Any revision or extension of this particular initiative will be informed by this process.

My colleague, the Minister for Rural and Community Development, also has programmes to assist rural development. His Department's Town and Village Renewal Scheme is a key part of the Government's Action Plan for Rural Development and is part of a package of national and local support measures to rejuvenate rural towns and villages throughout Ireland. Applications can be made under this scheme for funding for the enhancement of heritage and/or other community assets.

In relation to the second part of the question, County Heritage Officers are employed by local authorities in partnership with the Heritage Council under the auspices of the Heritage Officer Programme, which was initiated in 1999. It is a matter for each local authority to decide whether to employ a Heritage Officer.

Creative Ireland Programme

Questions (1211)

Catherine Murphy

Question:

1211. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the budget allocation for the Creative Ireland programme in each of the years 2017, 2018 and 2019; and the budget allocation for same in 2020. [45001/19]

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Written answers (Question to Culture)

As the Creative Ireland Programme is a whole-of-Government policy initiative, a number of departments and agencies provide financial support to activities that are encompassed by different pillars of the Programme. The work of the Creative Ireland Programme office is focused on Creative Youth, Creative Communities, the National Creativity Fund, and other supporting elements of the programme, and my Department provides an annual allocation to the Programme office to support these activities.

In 2017, my Department allocated a budget of €5 million directly to the Creative Ireland Programme office to establish and deliver a series of key objectives in its first year. A full expenditure breakdown of that 2017 budget allocation is available on https://www.creativeireland.gov.ie/en/library.

A budget of €5.3 million was provided directly to the Programme office by my Department in 2018 to drive its implementation at local level and fund specific projects, actions and priorities which further the wider aims of the Programme. As with the 2017 budget, a full breakdown of expenditure is available at the above website.

In 2019, my Department allocated a sum of €7.15 million to the Programme office. A full breakdown of this 2019 budget expenditure will be published online early in 2020.

The matter of funding allocations to the Programme office for 2020 will be examined in the context of the revised estimates published in December and have yet to be finalised.

Public Procurement Contracts Data

Questions (1212)

Mattie McGrath

Question:

1212. Deputy Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the details of contracts of €25,000 or more that have been awarded by her Department or bodies under her aegis that were found to be non-compliant with procurement guidelines in 2017, 2018 and to date in 2019; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [45060/19]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Culture)

My Department strives to ensure that there is an appropriate focus on best procurement practice and that procedures are in place to ensure compliance with all relevant guidelines to the greatest extent possible.

Where exceptions do arise, as provided for under the provisions of Circular 40/02, the Department provides the details of such instances to the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

The details of instances that arose in 2017 and 2018 are included in the Statement on Internal Financial Control which forms part of the Annual Appropriation Accounts published by the Comptroller and Auditor General at https://www.audit.gov.ie/en/Find-Report/Publications/2018/vote-33.pdf and https://www.audit.gov.ie/en/Find-Report/Publications/2019/Vote-33-Culture-Heritage-and-the-Gaeltacht.pdf respectively.

Details pertaining to any instances which may arise for 2019 will be contained in my Department’s 2019 Annual Appropriation Account which will fall to be published by the Comptroller and Auditor General in due course.

Procurement within the bodies under the aegis of my Department is an operational matter for which the bodies themselves are responsible.