Question No. 106 answered with Question No. 97.

Housing Assistance Payment

Questions (107)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

107. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he plans to carry out a review of the HAP rent thresholds nationally in view of the fact that the present thresholds do not reflect the price of rented properties in many parts of the country and force tenants to top up rents from their own limited resources in order to put a roof over their heads; if so, when the review will be carried out and completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7579/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

Under the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme, tenants source their own accommodation in the private rented market. The accommodation sourced by tenants should be within the prescribed maximum HAP rent limits, which are based on household size and the rental market within the area concerned.

Increased rent limits for the HAP and the Rent Supplement Scheme were introduced in 2016. These limits were agreed in conjunction with the Department of Social Protection (DSP). In reviewing the rent limits, my Department worked closely with DSP and monitored data gathered from the Residential Tenancies Board and the HAP Shared Services Centre. The HAP rent limits were increased significantly, by up to 60% in some cases.

Maximum rent limits for the HAP scheme are set out for each housing authority area in the Housing Assistance Payment (Amendment) Regulations 2017. The current maximum HAP rent limits are available on the Irish Statute Book website at the following link:

http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/eli/2017/si/56/made/en/print?q=housing&years=2017.

Local authorities also have discretion, because of local rental market conditions, to exceed the maximum rent limit by up to 20%, or up to 50% in the Dublin region for those households either in, or at immediate risk of homelessness. It should be noted that it is a matter for the local authority to determine whether the application of the flexibility is warranted on a case by case basis and also the level of additional discretion applied in each case.

While there is no legislative provision precluding HAP supported households contributing towards the monthly rent required by the landlord, local authorities have a responsibility to ensure that tenancies are sustainable and that households in HAP are in a position to meet the rental costs involved.

In considering this issue, I am conscious that increasing the current HAP rent limits could have negative inflationary impacts, leading to a detrimental impact on the wider rental market, including for those households who are not receiving HAP support.

My Department closely monitors the level of discretion being used by local authorities, taking into account other sources of data, including Residential Tenancies Board rent data published on a quarterly basis. It is considered that the current maximum rent limits, together with the additional flexibility available to local authorities, are generally adequate to support the effective operation of the HAP scheme.

The Programme for Government commits to ensuring that HAP levels are adequate to support vulnerable households, while we increase the supply of social housing. My Department continues to keep the operation of the HAP scheme under review and it is a key mechanism in meeting housing need across the Country.

Quarrying Sector

Questions (108)

Mairéad Farrell

Question:

108. Deputy Mairéad Farrell asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the requirements placed on local councils to ensure that the stone and sand and other similar materials that the council or subcontractor on council projects purchases is sourced from properly licensed quarries. [7640/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

The activity of quarrying falls under a number of legislative regimes. For example, quarries must have planning permission and from an operational perspective they must comply with health and safety regulations operated by Health and Safety Authority. In regard to the licensing of quarries, the Waste Management (Management of Waste from the Extractive Industries) Regulations 2009 came into operation on the 31 December 2009. Under Regulation 19(1) each Local Authority shall:

Establish and maintain a register of all extractive industries within its functional area including the extraction, treatment and storage of mineral resources, the working of quarries, and the extraction, treatment and storage of peat.

The overall Register is maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency and is publicly available. The Environmental Protection Agency falls under the remit of my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications.

While the minimum performance requirements for buildings (including the materials used) are set in the Building Regulations, the procurement and purchasing of materials is a matter for the contracting authority. Responsibility for Public Procurement policy is a matter for the Office of Government Procurement (OGP), which operates as an office of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

Social and Affordable Housing

Questions (109)

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

109. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the average cost to councils for social housing; the range by the lowest to the highest amount spent by each council on social housing in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7642/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

I understand the Deputy is referring to the construction of new social homes by local authorities.

As capital funded construction projects by local authorities must, like all publicly-funded construction programmes, comply with the Public Spending Code and Capital Works Management Framework, my Department periodically issues Unit Cost Ceilings (UCCs) for each local authority area, for use as a key benchmark for the development and costing of social housing construction scheme designs at capital appraisal stage. While not a record of actual delivery costs, UCCs are based on an analysis of returned data from tendered social housing schemes over an extended period and updated based on published tender index information as required.

To monitor tender cost trends and to inform the UCCs levels, my Department analyses the tender data for the construction cost element of local authority new build social housing schemes approved under the four-stage approval processes for each unit type, where sufficient information is available to allow such costs to be extrapolated and where the information available is appropriate for comparison purposes.

Outlined in the tables below are average construction costs (incl. VAT) recorded as part of the aforementioned analysis for projects tendered in each of the years 2017 to 2020. I have provided the averages across all local authority areas, in addition to the averages for the four Dublin local authorities and other city based authorities for comparison purposes.

The tables also set out the range of costs that make up this average for each local authority. The range of costs recorded vary, depending on design, type of units (e.g. bedroom numbers, apartment/house); and on the level of abnormal cost requirements for each scheme, such as existing site conditions, demolitions, service diversions and site access requirements. Abnormal costs are also separately identified in the tables below.

2017

Construction Costs* (incl abnormals)

Abnormal Costs

Average CostPer Unit

Range of AverageCosts Per Unit

Average CostPer Unit

Range of AverageCosts Per Unit

All LAs

185,935

102k - 316k

11,493

1k - 54k

Cork City

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Dublin City

262,043

262k - 262k

11,548

12k - 12k

DLR

231,966

171k - 316k

11,065

1k - 41k

Fingal

172,091

164k - 178k

5,305

4k - 11k

South Dublin

195,547

182k - 220k

5,259

1k - 15k

Galway City

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Limerick

156,163

136k - 279k

5,959

1k - 36k

Waterford

170,415

169k - 179k

8,282

7k - 15k

* Construction Costs as shown, are derived from unit cost analysis and capture the construction cost element only incl abnormals (i.e. not all-in costs). Costs also vary depending on design, type of units (e.g. bedroom numbers, apartment/house).

2018

Construction Costs* (incl abnormals)

Abnormal Costs

Average CostPer Unit

Range of AverageCosts Per Unit

Average CostPer Unit

Range of AverageCosts Per Unit

All LAs

222,085

121k - 391k

29,376

1k - 105k

Cork City

210,248

194k - 243k

15,551

12k - 41k

Dublin City

357,967

327k - 391k

75,572

51k - 105k

DLR

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Fingal

202,830

191k - 250k

19,296

10k - 61k

South Dublin

176,431

176k - 176k

Incl.

Galway City

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Limerick

219,545

163k - 251k

3,391

12k - 12k

Waterford

182,662

183k - 183k

13,865

14k - 14k

* Construction Costs as shown, are derived from unit cost analysis and capture the construction cost element only incl abnormals (i.e. not all-in costs).Costs also vary depending on design, type of units (e.g. bedroom numbers, apartment/house).

2019

Construction Costs* (incl abnormals)

Abnormal Costs

Average CostPer Unit

Range of AverageCosts Per Unit

Average CostPer Unit

Range of AverageCosts Per Unit

All LAs

239,837

131k - 375k

22,716

4k - 58k

Cork City

241,260

241k - 241k

19,024

19k - 19k

Dublin City

351,564

240k - 375k

38,393

10k - 43k

DLR

271,645

272k - 272k

39,471

39k - 39k

Fingal

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

South Dublin

267,177

257k - 271k

Incl.

Galway City

202,248

198k - 208k

8,006

4k - 11k

Limerick

223,289

198k - 247k

20,817

6k - 35k

Waterford

248,238

248k - 248k

58,074

58k - 58k

* Construction Costs as shown, are derived from unit cost analysis and capture the construction cost element only incl abnormals (i.e. not all-in costs).Costs also vary depending on design, type of units (e.g. bedroom numbers, apartment/house).

2020**

Construction Costs* (incl abnormals)

Abnormal Costs

Average CostPer Unit

Range of AverageCosts Per Unit

Average CostPer Unit

Range of AverageCosts Per Unit

All LAs

205,111

139k - 308k

27,156

3k - 66k

Cork City

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Dublin City

237,377

237k - 237k

19,138

19k - 19k

DLR

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Fingal

308,173

308k - 308k

65,971

66k - 66k

South Dublin

235,622

236k - 236k

Incl.

Galway City

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Limerick

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

Waterford

202,213

191k - 248k

31,406

26k - 54k

* Construction Costs as shown, are derived from unit cost analysis and capture the construction cost element only incl abnormals (i.e. not all-in costs).Costs also vary depending on design, type of units (e.g. bedroom numbers, apartment/house).

**Some data on contruction costs for 2020 has yet to be analysed.

The above costs relate to the construction element of the all-in delivery cost. Other items that make up the all-in total include:

- Design/technical fees: Design fees vary from project to project, depending on the location, size and complexity of a scheme (and depending on whether design services are provided by a local authority in-house or via external appointment). As a guideline/indicator, design fee are generally expected to range between 7.5% to 12.5% of construction costs.

- Land cost: Land costs will vary significantly from project to project, depending on location and ownership status (i.e. land costs could vary from existing local authority land at no cost to land purchased at market value).

- Utilities: Connection fees for Irish Water, ESB, gas, etc. As a guideline/indicator, utility connection costs are generally in the order of €7k per unit.

- Other Costs: Other items that make up the all-in delivery cost can include site investigations/ surveys, archaeological requirements, Percent for Art contributions - and will vary from scheme to scheme.

To assist in policy development and to provide evidenced based data, in October 2020, the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service (IGEES) in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, published an ‘Analysis of Social Housing Build Programme’ which examined the social housing build programme over the years 2016 to 2019 and considered issues such as Use of Build Delivery; Type of Units, Cost & Speed of Delivery and Cost Efficiency and Market Interaction. The IGEES analysis noted the range of average costs which highlighted the diversity of costs for delivery of new build units across different developments and locations. The paper is available at the following link: http://www.budget.gov.ie/Budgets/2021/Documents/Budget/Spending%20Review%202020%20-%20Analysis%20of%20Social%20Housing%20Build%20Programme.pdf.

I look forward to working with all stakeholders in delivering on the commitment in the Programme for Government to increase the social housing stock by over 50,000 over the next five years, with an emphasis on new builds, and to ensuring that local authorities are central to delivering housing. Since taking up office, this commitment has been my key priority and focus. This is evidenced in Budget 2021 which provides record funding for housing of €3.3 billion overall.

Housing Provision

Questions (110)

Claire Kerrane

Question:

110. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the housing construction permitted during Covid-19, in particular one-off rural housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7649/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

The Government announced that additional public health restrictions would apply under Level 5 of the Plan for Living with COVID-19 on 6 January 2021. The additional restrictions required all construction activity to cease from 6pm on Friday 8 January, with a number of exceptions. These measures are set out in The Health Act 1947 (Section 31A - Temporary Restrictions) (Covid-19) (No. 10) Regulations 2020 (as amended).

With regard to private housing development, the Regulations provided that housing and construction works ongoing on 8 January could continue where the works required to render the property capable of occupation were scheduled for completion by 31 January 2021.

On 26 January, the Government announced that the current level 5 restrictions will remain until 5 March 2021. Accordingly, no extension has been provided beyond 31 January in respect of private housing development. These restrictions on construction will remain in place until 5 March.

Turf Cutting Compensation Scheme

Questions (111)

Claire Kerrane

Question:

111. Deputy Claire Kerrane asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if any persons in receipt of moneys from the cessation of the turf cutting compensation scheme have been offered a lump sum payment of remaining moneys owed to them under the scheme instead of the annual payment; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7650/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

The cessation of turf cutting compensation scheme was established in 2011 for turf cutters affected by the cessation of turf cutting on raised bog special areas of conservation and was extended in 2014 to include those affected from raised bog natural heritage areas. It is comprised of a payment of €1,500 per annum, index-linked, for 15 years, or relocation, where feasible, to a non-designated bog, together with a once-off payment of €500 on the signing of a legal agreement under the scheme.

Relocating domestic turf cutters to non-designated bogs is a complex process. For certain raised bog designated sites, where a suitable relocation site could not be identified or where the identified relocation site could not accommodate all who had opted to relocate there, the 15 years of annual payments under the scheme (less any annual payments or the value of turf deliveries received) has been made available to qualifying applicants, who had opted for relocation, in the form of a lump sum payment.

To date, 95 turf cutters have availed of this option from 15 special area of conservation bogs and 2 natural heritage area bogs.

Planning Issues

Questions (112)

Eoin Ó Broin

Question:

112. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will provide details of his Department's review of siting and size conditions for rooftop solar panels on homes and its review of exemptions for educational and community buildings as part of the current development of interim planning regulations; the details on the stated need to consider environmental assessment reporting before finalisation; when the interim planning regulations will be submitted to the Houses of the Oireachtas; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7684/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

Under the Planning and Development Act, 2000, as amended (the Act), all development, unless specifically exempted under the Act or associated Regulations, requires planning permission. Section 4 of the Act and Schedule 2 of the Planning and Development Regulations 2001, as amended (the Regulations), set out various exemptions from the requirement to obtain planning permission. Any such exemptions are subject to compliance with any general restrictions on exemptions set out in the Act or the Regulations and to the specific conditions set out in each class of exempted development in Schedule 2 of the Regulations. Included in the specific conditions set out in the Regulations are those applying to the installation of solar infrastructure on a variety of building types, including houses, businesses, industrial and agricultural.

As part of the Climate Action Plan 2019, my Department is currently undertaking a review of the solar panel exemptions, and is actively engaging with the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications as well as other key stakeholders, with a view to finalising a proposal for draft amending Regulations to reflect, inter alia, technical developments in the sector. One of the key considerations of the review is to ensure that solar panels can be erected - subject to certain siting and size conditions - without the need to obtain planning permission, thereby facilitating more widespread generation of renewable energy for self-consumption. Also included in this review are solar panel exemptions for educational and community buildings.

The main outstanding issue that remains to be addressed in the current review is the potential for "glint and glare" impacts for aircraft and the need to ensure that they do not result in any real or potential threat to aviation safety. Accordingly, my Department is presently engaging with the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications as well as the Irish Aviation Authority, in order to find a safe and workable solution in relation to this particular aspect of the review. The Department has begun the tendering process for this project, which will involve the development of aviation safeguarding maps for each airport/aerodrome in the country, and has received feedback from potential tenderers estimating a timeline of up to 9 months for its completion. As such, these maps, which are a fundamental aspect of any amendments to the exemptions, are expected to be finalised in Q3 2021.

In recognition of the length of time that it is expected to take to complete the aviation safeguarding maps, my Department has decided to adopt an interim measure which would allow the revised regulations to be introduced prior to the completion of these maps, but with defined exclusion zones around airports and aerodromes for solar installations. My Department is consulting with the Irish Aviation Authority on this matter, and is working towards the development of draft regulations in this regard, the precise details of which have yet to be finalised.

As required under planning legislation, any such proposed exempted development regulations must be laid in draft form before the Houses of the Oireachtas and receive a positive resolution from both Houses before they can be made. The draft regulations will also be subject to screening under the Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) Directive 2001/42/EC to determine whether they are likely to have significant environmental effects. If there are significant effects, the undertaking of an SEA will be required, which will include public consultation.

The process for finalising the interim solar panel planning exemptions as referred to above, with exclusion zones around airports and aerodromes, is now expected to be completed by the end of Q1 2021. These interim regulations will allow for the vast majority of the country to be covered by the solar panel exemptions apart from those areas in close proximity to airports and aerodromes..

The overall process for updating the solar panel planning exemptions to include the completed aviation safeguarding maps for airports and aerodromes is still expected to be completed by Q4 2021.

Local Authority Housing

Questions (113)

Eoin Ó Broin

Question:

113. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he plans to legislate to encourage the uptake of life cycle assessment and-or to promote such assessments through green public procurement in future public housing developments. [7689/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

My Department has issued design guidelines for sustainable housing which includes recommendations to have due regard for the environmental impact of construction materials. These guidelines “Quality Housing for Sustainable Communities” are available on my Department’s website at the following link. https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/24d9e-quality-housing-for-sustainable-communities-design-guidelines/

Under the Climate Action Plan the Office of Public Works is putting in place a roadmap to promote greater use of lower-carbon building material alternatives in construction and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland is carrying out a research and development project to examine life cycle analysis and embedded energy in buildings to compare the use of sustainable materials.

The review of Regulation (EU) No 305/2011 (known as the Constructions Products Regulations or “the CPR”) was confirmed by the European green deal in December 2019 and the circular economy action plan in March 2020. In parallel, the European Commission initiated discussion on an implementation plan for a future environmental life cycle assessment framework for construction products, looking at the impacts on the wider environment that occur during the whole life cycle of a construction product. The objective is to identify the strategic issues that need to be addressed with a view to the implementation of Basic Works Requirement 7 ‘Sustainable Use of Natural Resources’ (BWR7) in the context of the current and the future revision to the Construction Products Regulation.

Ireland will be obliged to follow this harmonised procedure via harmonised technical specifications for construction products, when a consensus of approach emerges. In that regard, it would be counter to harmonisation to develop national rules for matters covered by the Internal Market regulation.

While no agreement has yet been reached on the specifics of a revision of the CPR, the European Commission have prepared a document assessing the impact and the preparation of a new proposal. The purpose of this document is to provide a starting point for an open dialogue with industry and other stakeholders to inform the discussions.

The Office of Government Procurement which is under the remit of my colleague the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, is responsible for Public Procurement – including the procurement guidance in the Capital Works Management Framework which provides guidance for all public construction including housing.

Housing Policy

Questions (114)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

114. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage when the new rural housing guidelines will issue, particularly in view of the EU Court of Justice ruling in the case of the Flemish decree and the national planning framework and in view of the fact that many counties have commenced reviewing their county plans; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7696/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

My Department is currently reviewing the 2005 rural housing guidelines for planning authorities (which were issued under Section 28 of the Planning and Development Act 2000) and in doing so, having regard to the principles of the outcome of the ‘Flemish decree’ case, where relevant.

It is important to clarify that the ‘Flemish Decree’ was a March 2009 Decree of the Flemish Region (a Federal Region within Belgium), on land and real estate policy, which made the purchase or long-term lease of land (i.e. all immovable property, that included existing, homes, businesses and farms) in certain Flemish communes (local authorities) conditional upon there being a ‘sufficient connection’ between the prospective buyer or tenant and the relevant commune. As such, the Flemish Decree effectively restricted significantly more than development rights in respect of new housing. The broad scope of the Flemish Decree was such that it was successfully challenged in the European Court of Justice, which ruled that it was contrary to EU freedoms.

The 2005 Sustainable Rural Housing Guidelines are framed in the context of the National Spatial Strategy (NSS) 2002. Given the superseding of the NSS by the National Planning Framework in 2018, the updated Rural Housing Guidelines will address rural housing in a broader rural development and settlement context and I expect to receive a draft before the end of March.

My Department communicated to planning authorities (Circular letter PL 2/2017) on 31 May 2017, advising them that the existing 2005 Guidelines remain in place until advised otherwise by the Department.

Under the Guidelines for Planning Authorities on Sustainable Rural Housing 2005, planning authorities are required to frame the planning policies in their development plans in a balanced and measured way that ensures the housing needs of rural communities are met, while avoiding excessive urban-generated housing.

Urban Regeneration and Development Fund

Questions (115)

Éamon Ó Cuív

Question:

115. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage when the next tranche of projects to be announced under the second call of the urban regeneration and development fund 2020 will be announced; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7701/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

Seventy six proposals were received under Call 2 of the Urban Regeneration and Development Fund (URDF), with every local authority submitting at least one application for URDF support, and all of which require detailed assessment.

The assessment process is nearing completion, and I intend to soon announce a new tranche of URDF supported proposals, which will augment the existing pipeline of projects from Call 1 and contribute to the achievement of Programme for Government commitments and the objectives of the National Planning Framework and Project Ireland 2040.

Vacant Sites

Questions (116)

Brian Stanley

Question:

116. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the amount collected by each local authority in vacant site levies in 2019 and 2020, respectively; and the number of sites from which each council collected levies in each year. [7707/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

Under the vacant site levy provisions in the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015, planning authorities were empowered to apply a vacant site levy of 3% of the market valuation of relevant properties which were listed on local authority vacant site registers in 2018, which relevant owners were liable to pay in January 2019. The rate of the levy increased to 7% for sites listed on local authority vacant sites register from 2019 onwards which site owners became liable to pay in January 2020.

My Department proactively engages with local authorities with a view to ensuring that the vacant site levy achieves its full potential in terms of bringing concerned sites into productive use. In this regard, the Department issued Circular Letter PL 08/2020 on 9 June 2020 requesting the submission of a further progress report on the implementation of the levy by each local authority.

The Department received a return from each of the 31 local authorities which indicated that, as of 31 May 2020, there were 352 sites listed on local authority registers.

The below table sets out the information available in relation to the specific request, which as indicated covers the period to 31 May 2020:

Table

Some local authorities noted delays in issuing demands for payments in 2020 due to COVID-19.

All levies due on an individual site will remain a charge on the land concerned until all outstanding levies due are paid. Accordingly, under the vacant site levy provisions, there will be a cumulative effect associated with not activating a site for development purposes for each year that a site remains vacant or idle and in respect of which levy liability is not paid.

The levy is not intended to be a revenue generating measure with the proceeds accruing to the relevant local authority rather than the Exchequer. The levy proceeds generated are specifically intended to be used by local authorities for the provision of housing and regeneration development in the local area in which vacant sites are located. No more than 10% of the levy monies received by planning authorities may be used on their administration costs in collecting the levy.

My Department is in the process of requesting the submission of a further progress report on the implementation and collection of the levy by local authorities in the coming weeks covering the period to end 2020, which will also remind them of their obligation to collect all levies due. My Department will continue to engage proactively with local authorities to ensure that all vacant site levies due are paid and that the measure can achieve its full potential.

Legislative Programme

Questions (117)

Denis Naughten

Question:

117. Deputy Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage when the marine planning and development management Bill will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7721/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

In January 2020, my Department published the finalised General Scheme of the Marine Planning and Development Management Bill (MPDM), which will provide the legislative basis for Ireland's new marine planning regime. In addition to the legislative underpinning for forward planning provided through the National Marine Planning Framework, the MPDM Bill will also provide: a new State consent regime for the entire maritime area replacing foreshore consenting; development consenting integration into the planning permission system; and robust compliance and enforcement measures.

The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage commenced pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill at the end of November 2020 and I expect their report shortly. The findings of the Committee's Report will help to inform the final stages of development of the legal text. In the meantime officials from my Department continue intensive and ongoing engagement with the Office of the Attorney General and the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications to finalise the legal text.

I am determined that this Bill, which will lay the foundations for a modern, efficient and Aarhus compliant marine planning system, will be published within the current Dáil term.

Local Authority Housing

Questions (118)

Brendan Smith

Question:

118. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will ensure substantial funding for a voids programme in 2021 in view of the success of the voids programme in 2020; if the allocations will be made to the local authorities at an early date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7765/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

The management and maintenance of local authority housing stock, including pre-letting repairs to vacant properties, the implementation of a planned maintenance programme and carrying out of responsive repairs, are matters for each individual local authority under Section 58 of the Housing Act 1966.

Since 2014, Exchequer funding has also been provided through my Department's Voids Programme to support local authorities in preparing vacant units for re-letting. This funding was introduced originally to tackle long term vacant units and is now increasingly targeted to support local authorities to ensure minimal turnaround and re-let times for vacant stock.

My Department will continue to support local authorities in their work in this area. As in previous years, all local authorities will be asked to make a funding application under the 2021 programme in respect of their vacant stock which will receive due consideration and funding allocations will issue to all local authorities.

It is also important that local authorities increasingly move toward a preventative maintenance approach to the management of their housing stock and my Department is working with local authorities to this end.

Local Authority Staff

Questions (119)

Gary Gannon

Question:

119. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage the position on access officers in local authorities as provided for under the Disability Act 2005; if each role is filled in tabular form; if each role is full-time and dedicated solely to access issues; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7788/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Housing)

Under section 159 of the Local Government Act 2001, each Chief Executive is responsible for the staffing and organisational arrangements necessary for carrying out the functions of the local authority for which he or she is responsible.

My Department oversees workforce planning for the local government sector, including the monitoring of local government sector employment levels. To this end, my Department gathers aggregate quarterly data on staff numbers in each local authority on a whole time equivalent basis. However, granular data, in terms of the detailed breakdown of the local authorities which either have or don’t have Access Officers on a full time basis and dedicated solely to access issues is not collected and consequently is not available in my Department. The relevant information would be available from individual local authorities.

Common Security and Defence Policy

Questions (120)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

120. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the end goal of the commitment in Ireland's civilian CSDP national implementation plan to develop relationship and support training provided by the European Security and Defence College and to develop a more structured relationship with the college, bearing in mind the national policy of neutrality of Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7480/21]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The European Security and Defence College (ESDC) is a virtual college operating under the European External Action Service. It offers a range of courses to support both civilian and military CSDP. These courses are provided free of charge to participants by institutions from the Member States.

In Ireland, the Edward Kennedy Institute at NUI Maynooth became a participating institute in the ESDC in 2013 and since then has provided ESDC courses focussed on conflict resolution and conflict analysis.

As part of our Civilian CSDP national implementation plan (NIP), Ireland has committed to develop our relationship with the ESDC and to support its provision of training. In practical terms, this involves greater efforts to ensure that our Civilian CSDP deployees can benefit from courses offered by the ESDC and can thereby be better prepared to fulfill their roles in missions . I am pleased to report that we now register all newly selected Irish experts for pre-deployment training facilitated by the ESDC. In addition, we are working to support the provision of more courses by the Edward Kennedy Institute at NUI Maynooth. In 2019, my Department, along with the Department of Defence, agreed funding for the provision of two ESDC-affiliated courses by the Kennedy Institute, on Mediation & Dialogue and Conflict Analysis.

These activities are fully compatible with Ireland’s traditional policy of military neutrality.

Common Security and Defence Policy

Questions (121, 122)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

121. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the reason the Department of Defence, as per Ireland's national implementation plan for civilian CSDP, will be consulted on national or multinational structures and facilities that will help support the strengthening of civilian CSDP; if the plan to involve the Department of Defence in civilian CSDP is part of the broader EU strategy to alter the scope of civilian CSDP to include a strong military dimension; if there are risks for Irish neutrality in this approach; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7481/21]

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Catherine Connolly

Question:

122. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the reason Ireland is engaging in supporting the civilian CSDP compact goal of fostering synergies and complementarity between the civilian and military dimensions of the CSDP through a commitment to liaise with the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces to explore options in this regard, as per the national implementation plan for civilian CSDP, in view of Ireland's long-standing policy of neutrality; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7482/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 121 and 122 together.

EU Member States, including Ireland, have committed to strengthening synergies and complementarity between the civilian and military dimensions of CSDP, in line with the EU’s integrated approach and the Civilian CSDP Compact. Synergies relate primarily to common interests of Civilian and Military CSDP missions deployed in the same geographical area. The experience of the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated that strengthened cooperation in areas such as supplies, medical resources, and communications is of mutual benefit to Civilian and Military missions.

Civilian CSDP engages with partners to support them in building capacity around Rule of Law, policing and civil administration, which are vital to establishing and maintaining security and stability. There is no EU strategy in place to alter the scope of civilian CSDP to include a strong military dimension. As the December 2020 Council Conclusions on the Civilian CSDP Compact state, work to strengthen cooperation in these areas will respect the ‘distinctive roles and lines of command’ of the two dimensions of CSDP. Ireland will continue to work to ensure that this distinction is upheld.

Under Ireland’s National Implementation Plan, my officials are committed to working with the Department of Defence and the Defence Forces on areas of complementarity between Civilian and Military CSDP. Cooperation between the Departments has focused on coordinated policy approaches to issues that cover the whole scope of CSDP. Work with the Defence Forces has allowed for practical improvements to our support for Civilian CSDP Deployees.

The Department of Defence and Defence Forces have no involvement in the planning or execution of Ireland’s contribution to Civilian CSDP. Our support for CSDP missions entails no risks for Irish neutrality.

Common Security and Defence Policy

Questions (123)

Catherine Connolly

Question:

123. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the number of deployed civilian CSDP experts who are retired members of the Defence Forces; the number who are retired members of An Garda Síochána; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7483/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

The Department of Foreign Affairs currently funds 17 Irish experts in civilian CSDP missions in Europe, the Caucasus, the Middle East, and Africa. Seven of these experts have previously served with An Garda Síochána, and two are retired members of the Defence Forces.

The skills and experience these individuals have gained in their previous roles have been evaluated favourably within the competitive EEAS recruitment process for these civilian CSDP missions. I am proud of the contribution they make, alongside our other secondees drawn from other career backgrounds.

Departmental Staff

Questions (124)

Pauline Tully

Question:

124. Deputy Pauline Tully asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the estimated full-year cost of recruiting eight additional full-time principal development specialists for his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7639/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

No decision has been made to recruit eight additional full-time Principal Development Specialists in my Department.

In November 2019 following engagement between the management and staff sides an agreement was reached to restructure the Development Specialist grades in my Department. As part of that agreement, the Principal Development Specialist (PDS) and Senior Development Specialist (SDS) grades will be phased out with no further recruitment planned for these positions. The existing Development Specialist grade will be maintained.

The restructuring agreement introduces two new grades alongside the Development Specialist grade: a Counsellor (Development) grade, equivalent to the existing Counsellor grade and paid on the Principal Officer pays-cale; and a Development Specialist Officer grade, equivalent to the Third Secretary grade and paid on the Administrative Officer pay-scale.

To date, three Counsellor (Development) positions were appointed to fill existing vacancies following a competition. As these posts filled vacancies no additional budgetary costs were incurred.

Diplomatic Representation

Questions (125)

Joan Collins

Question:

125. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs if it is necessary for his Department to agree to foreign embassies operating polling stations in Dublin for electoral events in their countries of origin; if so, the names of embassies that in the past 12 months have applied for permission to operate polling stations; the dates on which they applied; if permission was granted; the date on which each was granted permission; if special conditions were attached to the permission given potential Covid-19 risks involved to the wider community; if citizens of these countries are permitted to travel to Dublin in order to vote; if An Garda Síochána is placed on notice of such permission being granted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7667/21]

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Written answers (Question to Foreign)

Many countries allow for their citizens resident overseas to vote in national elections. In most cases, voting is facilitated by the country’s network of diplomatic Missions, with Embassies either operating polling stations, or assisting with collating postal voting. My Department is responsible for liaising between Embassies based in Ireland and the relevant Irish authorities when an Embassy wishes to operate a polling station in Ireland. If there are no plans to operate an in-person polling station to allow citizens to vote, for example in the case of postal voting, my Department would not necessarily be informed.

In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, and following consultations with the Department of Health, my Department has instituted a number of additional requirements to ensure that public health measures are adhered to where an Embassy wishes to operate a polling station. In particular, Embassies are asked to investigate the option of allowing postal or remote voting, where that is legally and constitutionally possible. Where it is not legally possible to facilitate postal voting, officials from my Department have engaged intensively with the Embassies to ensure that polling is carried out in a safe manner and in compliance with public health guidelines.

My Department received 16 requests to facilitate the operation of polling stations by 14 foreign Embassies for elections taking place in the past 12 months, namely: Algeria, Chile, Croatia, France, Georgia, Hungary, Lithuania, Moldova, Myanmar, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, and Spain. Of these, one election was cancelled before polling could take place, and in two cases polling took place exclusively by post, without the need to open a physical polling station. Polling stations were opened in the other cases.

Under the regulations governing Level 5 restrictions, provision is made to allow for those engaged in providing, or accessing, essential services to move outside the 5km limit. The list of essential services includes “The provision of services essential to the functioning of diplomatic missions and consular posts in the State”. The Department of Foreign Affairs considers the operation of a polling station by a diplomatic Mission to allow its citizens to vote to be a service essential to the functioning of a diplomatic Mission in the State.

Following written confirmation from the relevant Embassy of its ability to adhere to public health measures, my Department confirms that citizens who are eligible to vote are permitted to travel outside the 5km limit for the express purpose of accessing the polling stations. Voters travelling to the polling stations have to be in a position to present evidence of their entitlement to vote. My Department informs An Garda Síochána of this permission.