Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 10 Feb 2010

Vol. 701 No. 4

Local Authority Housing.

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to raise the issue of serious allegations regarding inappropriate local authority housing allocations in Dublin City Council and the urgent need for a proper inquiry into them. This serious matter has been brought to my attention by Independent councillors Mannix Flynn and Damian O'Farrell. There has been much huffing and puffing from the management in city hall and some councillors about it. Let us have the truth and the facts. If nothing is going on, then there is no problem and they have no concerns. I urge the Minister of State to get off the fence and demand action in this regard. Dublin City Council has 25,550 rented dwellings in it housing stock. If only a fraction have been given out inappropriately, then we need to see transparency and fairness. It is not fair to the genuine families on the housing waiting lists.

I am also here to ask whether corruption was involved. Did some people get houses on lower points than others with higher points? Were staff, management and politicians involved in this malpractice? What does the Minister of State say to those genuine families on the lists that were shafted?

This is what I want to do here tonight. Let us look at the facts and the evidence so far and then the Minister of State can decide. This is all relevant, with the Whistleblowers Protection Bill 2010 coming through the Houses of the Oireachtas. I want to stand up for the good and decent whistleblower public servants and the people most in need on the housing lists.

On November 2007, Dublin City Council management requested an internal audit to carry out an investigation into the possible misallocation under medical priority of a Dublin City Council dwelling. In mid-September 2008, the internal audit investigation began — ten months later. Of the 50 files examined, six applicants who had not been awarded overall medical priority by the Chief Medical Officer were placed on the medical priority list. Six properties were subsequently misallocated to these applicants by the city council on the basis that they had medical priority status. Subsequently, a further 39 files were examined. The audit found major control weaknesses or no system of control present. Many tenancy agreements could not be located at all. The procedures manual is partly out of date and not updated. Urgent action was deemed necessary.

At the request of Independent Councillors Damian O'Farrell and Mannix Flynn, the city manager presented reports to the city council on 7 December 2009 and 8 January 2010. The reports hinted at ongoing staff and HR issues, including grievance procedures, which prevented the city manager from clarifying matters further. This is a total red herring. There was no mention of the serious control weaknesses present, including no controls at all. These issues are senior management issues, not staff issues. Senior management has kept councillors completely in the dark of these failures.

The reports were rejected and branded a disgrace by Independent councillor Damian O'Farrell. Allegedly, there seems to be an issue with a member of staff whereas a separate independent report points the investigation in a different direction altogether, a direction that has not been investigated. Staff should not be scapegoated for failures of senior management. The only investigation that can get to the bottom of this is an external independent investigation.

Solicitors' letters have been issued to newspapers that have mentioned the matter. Members of senior management have not even acknowledged many e-mails from Independent councillors looking for clarification. Councillors Lacey, Breen and Ó Muirí, who are members of the audit committee, have not had the courtesy to even acknowledge a request by Independent councillor Damian O'Farrell for information.

The answering by senior management — who, incidentally, are public servants — of councillors' questions has shown a total disregard for elected officials and some received information not even in the ball park. Independents pushing this issue are Damian O'Farrell, Ciarán Perry and Mannix Flynn. Established party councillors are either in denial or running for cover.

The only way forward is an independent investigation. There is direct evidence of a complete indifference to the scheme of letting priorities and the Dublin City Council social housing policy, which has resulted in the exploitation of the scheme by certain individuals.

I ask the Deputy to conclude.

As a result of this, it is believed that at least 10% to 15% of Dublin City Council dwellings were allocated in breach of the scheme of letting priorities and outside the guidelines. I urge the Minister of State to investigate this and see what is going on in City Hall.

In responding, I want to place the matter raised by Deputy McGrath in context. The allocation of housing is the responsibility of individual housing authorities, with the functions involved being exercised by each authority in accordance with its scheme of letting priorities. The making of such schemes is a reserved function of the elected members of the housing authority, under section 11(6) of the Housing Act 1988.

Section 11(9) of that Act precludes ministerial involvement in the allocation of housing in individual cases, stating clearly that nothing shall be construed or operate to enable the Minister to direct the letting of a dwelling to any individual person. The governing legislation is therefore explicit in setting out that the operation of an authority's allocation scheme is a matter for the council itself; and new provisions to be introduced under last year's Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act reaffirm this position. While Deputy McGrath has called for an inquiry into certain matters relating to the operation of Dublin City Council's housing allocations system, it is important that the integrity of investigative processes already in train within the council is not compromised in any way.

In the first instance, it is a matter for the local authority concerned, Dublin City Council, to investigate the issues which have been raised regarding the operation of its housing allocation system. The normal and appropriate route is for the local authority, having carried out its investigation into the matter, to report on the findings of the investigation to its elected members.

That is how it should be. Regrettably, there can be a significant disconnect between the rhetoric around the importance of devolving powers to local government on the one hand and the demands for central Government oversight of devolved matters on the other. Power and responsibility must go hand in hand. Responsibility for the discharge of functions and powers assigned to local authorities should be exercised to the greatest extent possible through local mechanisms, including thorough effective oversight by elected members.

In terms of the issue raised by Deputy McGrath, Dublin City Council has informed my Department that the council's internal audit department initiated an investigation into the matter in question and that part of that investigation was completed in 2009. Other aspects of the council's investigation are still ongoing. In the best interests of all concerned, it would be desirable that these investigations are concluded as quickly as possible, with the matters involved being addressed in a thorough and comprehensive manner.

When the investigations are concluded, it will be important for the executive of the council to report to the elected members. As I indicated recently here in the House, it is a matter for a local authority itself to decide on the publication of an individual audit report. Should the outcome of the investigation raise any issues of a policy or legislative nature, these will be considered without delay.