Topical Issue Debate

School Curriculum

It often comes as a big surprise to parents to discover how the education system works and the manner in which it is structured. While the Department pays teachers' salaries, the latter are not employees of the Department and while the curriculum is decided at national level, responsibility for hiring people competent to deliver it resides with boards of management. Another issue which arises from the structure of the education system is the absence of common enrolment policies. The issue I raise is serious because competence in mathematics and science is at question. Those who have a degree or strong foundation in mathematics or science are most qualified to teach these subjects. They are, however, the very people who are most likely to find work in industry. This explains the reason such a high number of such individuals have been enticed from teaching these subjects. There is not an easy solution to the problem. We should not learn the lessons that can be learned from countries such as Finland where teachers are held in high respect and recruitment is not a problem across the curriculum.

The introduction of project maths could attract a significant number of teachers and students to return to the subject of mathematics. While the project has shown early promise, teachers have expressed concerns that it is being rolled out in a piecemeal manner and that large parts of the syllabus do not fit easily in the curriculum.

It is highly unsatisfactory that we cannot establish with any degree of certainty the level of competence among science and mathematics teachers. A survey of only one third of second level schools found that three in every ten teachers did not appear to have attained the standard required to teach mathematics, especially at higher level. I recall my son telling me about his first day on his engineering course when his lecturer asked half of the students present in the lecture theatre to stand up. The group was then told that this was the number who would move into second year of the course. If students do not have a proper foundation in mathematics and science when they start university courses such as engineering, the country loses the potential to bring them through education and into industry. This loss has serious ramifications for the country.

I thank Deputy Catherine Murphy for raising this issue, which provides me with an opportunity to outline some of the ongoing developments in mathematics and science that are most pertinent to the matter she has put forward for debate. Providing for high quality teaching and learning of mathematics and science is of strategic importance to the State and I welcome the opportunity to discuss the issue in the House.

As part of the Government's overall strategy to improve the teaching and learning of mathematics in schools, a number of initiatives have been introduced in recent years. Deputy Murphy referred to the project maths initiative, the aim of which is to change how mathematics is taught and learned in post-primary schools. Its purpose is to show how mathematics connects with real life problems and how skills developed in the subject can be used in other subjects, the workplace and at home. It also aims to change attitudes to mathematics and encourage more students to take the subject at higher level in their examinations and study mathematics and mathematics related subjects in college.

The Government is committed to the full roll-out of project maths, which is supported by industry, colleges and universities. The roll-out of the programme is supported by a comprehensive programme of professional development for all teachers of mathematics. By the end of 2012, teachers will have been offered six workshops, and a range of supplementary evening courses and teaching resources has been made available. A bonus points system for mathematics for third level entry has also been introduced on a trial basis.

The Teaching Council, about which questions have been raised in certain quarters, is an independent body which operates at arm's length to the Department. The council sets standards for teacher qualifications across the curriculum. It was established on a statutory basis in March 2006 to promote the professional development of teachers and regulate standards in the profession.

Under section 38 of the Teaching Council Act 2001, the council shall "review the standards of education and training appropriate to a person entering a programme of teacher education and training" and "review the standards of knowledge, skill and competence required for the practice of teaching and shall advise the Minister". To be registered as a teacher of mathematics with the Teaching Council, a person is required to have a recognised teaching qualification and degree in which mathematics represents at least 30% of the course over at least three years and which qualifies him or her to teach the syllabus to the highest level. As part of its ongoing remit, the Teaching Council is reviewing the registration criteria for teaching subjects on the post-primary curriculum, including mathematics and science, and will publish its decisions in this regard as soon as they are finalised. The appointment and deployment of teachers is a matter for individual schools. Schools have been directed by my Department, as far as practicable, to appoint only appropriately qualified and registered teachers.

The Teaching Council recently carried out the survey of post-primary schools to which the Deputy referred to ascertain the qualifications of mathematics teachers. I acknowledge the rate of response highlighted by the Deputy. Preliminary results show 68% of teachers teaching mathematics in 258 schools are fully qualified to do so, 29% have undergone some studies in mathematics and only 2% do not have any third level qualifications or studies in mathematics. The survey findings will help us obtain a clearer picture of what is happening in schools and allow us to plan to meet training needs. The schools have until 26 September to respond.

The Department is keen to arrive at a position in which all teachers of mathematics have a qualification in the subject. It is making arrangements for the provision of a new training programme for mathematics teachers which will provide unqualified mathematics teachers with the opportunity to upskill their knowledge of the subject and study the strategies best suited to the new project maths syllabuses. Tenders will be invited shortly.

Will the public service recruitment embargo be an impediment if new recruits are required to address deficiencies in the education system? Will the embargo be set aside to ensure the level of competency is regularised across the system?

If one set out to design an education system, one would not design one as fragmented as that which is in place. We have a disconnect between those who pay teachers and those who employ them. How did we arrive at a position in which it was considered satisfactory to employ people who did not have the required skill sets? What strategic changes will be made to the system to ensure this problem does not recur? While it is fine to have the Teaching Council decide on levels of competence, the boards of management of schools cannot be compelled to employ anyone as they have the freedom to employ whom they wish. What action will the Department take to address this major difficulty? This problem could arise again if the disconnect to which I alluded is not addressed.

We can overcome the challenges facing us notwithstanding the recruitment embargo. The national centre of excellence in the University of Limerick is doing a great deal of work in the area of continuing professional development to enable teachers to attain the required standard. In addition, there are conversion courses that can be done. In this way we can ensure we have a coterie of teachers with the right skill sets to help us to achieve our aims.

The question of how we got to this point is one that would have to be teased out over a longer time period than the two minutes I have. However, if we are open to the challenge, which we are, we must find out where we need to go.

Deputy Murphy raised valid issues about fragmentation, with which I agree. We must ensure there is standardisation across the board and that the Teaching Council and the individual boards of management are singing from the same hymn sheet in terms of what we need to achieve. However, I am confident that the Project Maths initiative, in spite of whatever hiccups it may have along the way, will ensure we can help the students currently achieving E, F and NG grades to move up the scale. I am less concerned about those currently achieving A, B and C grades. The introduction of bonus points for maths will facilitate those students who choose not to do honours maths because it is time consuming. They can devote more time to ordinary level maths and still get a reasonable number of points.

There will be a tender process for training and continuing professional development. We are engaging with industry and academia in this regard, but there are challenges. We will not turn the ship around within the next 12 months. However, we are engaging with the issue in a deeper fashion than heretofore. Based on the soundings I have taken outside of the usual advisory groups — I have delved into academia and sought the views of individual teachers — there is a sense that if we stay on track with Project Maths, we can tackle the qualitative and quantitative issues involved in getting grades up.

I will have to call the Minister of State to a halt as we must move on to deal with other issues.

I apologise for not giving Deputy Murphy a more comprehensive answer, but I will be happy to engage further with her on an individual basis.

EU Directives

First, what is the position on the fines ordered against Ireland by the European Court of Justice in November 2008 and what are the legal costs associated with the case and the subsequent proceedings by the European Commission?

I have sought clarification on the definition of "wetlands" pursuant to the European Communities (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Agriculture) Regulations. The constituency I am from is the largest, geographically, in the country, with large areas of waterways, lakes, rivers and designated land. The definition of "wetlands" has a significant impact on counties such as Mayo. I acknowledge the great work of the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, in negotiating with the Commission to allow ordinary reclamation and drainage work on non-designated wetland areas to go ahead, despite the restrictions applied it.

I am asking that the definition of "wetlands" be kept as restricted as possible because farmers on marginal lands will be affected by this. We should bear in mind that we are trying to achieve targets under Food Harvest 2020 which would see primary food production increase by over one third, and farmers must be allowed to farm. It is difficult for anybody not involved in farming or, to qualify it even further, anybody who does not know about marginal land to understand the restrictions on farmers living in designated areas such as SACs, NHAs, Natura 2000 scheme lands and now wetlands. They cannot build homes or wind farms on their holdings, among other things. Now, the only thing they were allowed to do — farming — has also been restricted.

In recent years the National Parks and Wildlife Service has placed restrictions on hill farmers on designated lands to avoid overgrazing by sheep. Now we find that this was totally the wrong tack, as evidenced by the fires that occurred in counties Donegal and Mayo throughout the summer. The grasslands in question had grown so thickly that they burned easily, and this did more damage than any sheep would ever do on highlands and hills. The National Parks and Wildlife Service has suggested more sheep be put on the hills that they were taken off before, but this is not an easy thing to do, as they have never been so expensive.

I suggest the Minister, Deputy Coveney, talk to farmers rather than the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Farmers and their families before them have farmed hills and mountains for centuries. They know how to farm them and the appropriate numbers of sheep to graze on them, while those from the National Parks and Wildlife Service have spent their lives in carpet up to their noses. Farmers know how to get the best from the land in terms of productivity and are not out to do damage to the landscape. In addition, now that the grass has grown so tough, the sheep cannot even eat it; therefore, we could have starving sheep on the sides of mountains.

The situation at which we have arrived is ridiculous and shows the disconnect between practical farmers and those who sit in offices. Farmers are not being listened to and are highly frustrated as a result. It is appropriate that those who are carrying the burden of making sure our environment, ecology and natural heritage remain intact be compensated. Where they are being restricted in their farming while trying to eke out a living, they should also be appropriately compensated. This may be a joint effort between the Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but there must be recognition of what farmers are doing. It is said bureaucracy is ridiculous; this is a case in point. As politicians, we must listen to those with practical experience and proceed from there.

As the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Hogan, is on official business and not in the Dáil today, I have been asked to take this important matter on his behalf. I thank the Deputy for raising it.

In its judgment in case C-66/06, delivered in November 2010, the European Court of Justice found that Ireland's system of environmental impact assessment screening for certain categories of agriculture related projects was over-reliant on size thresholds and did not take into account other relevant criteria such as cumulative impacts of development and location relative to sensitive sites. The case has now been referred back to the court to seek fines for continued non-compliance.

The provisions of the EIA directive were transposed into Irish legislation by the Planning and Development Act 2000 and the Planning and Development Regulations 2001. Schedule 5 of the 2001 regulations specifies relevant development for the purposes of Part X of the Act which deals with EIAs. The activities affected by the judgment are the restructuring of rural land holdings, the use of uncultivated land or semi-natural areas for intensive agriculture, and water management projects for agriculture, including irrigation and land drainage.

The European Court of Justice decision necessitated a major reduction in the thresholds for mandatory EIAs and for EIA screening for projects under the mandatory thresholds. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have worked together, in consultation with the European Commission, to fully address the court's findings and ensure Ireland's legislative system and procedures are fully compliant with the directive. It was agreed that it was more efficient and appropriate to transfer responsibility for most of the activities covered by the judgment such as the restructuring of fields and removal of hedgerows and boundaries, the use of uncultivated land or semi-natural areas for intensive agriculture and normal field drainage works to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food as part of its wider management responsibilities for overseeing agricultural activities and integrating environmental considerations into relevant schemes. It was agreed that it is more efficient and appropriate to transfer responsibility for most of the activities covered by the judgment, such as the re-structuring of fields and removal of hedgerows and boundaries, the use of uncultivated land or semi-natural areas for intensive agriculture and normal field drainage works to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food as part of its wider management responsibilities for overseeing agricultural activities and integrating environmental considerations into relevant schemes. The only element of the judgment retained within the planning system is on-farm development activity that impacts on the drainage or reclamation of wetlands, which are regarded as highly environmentally sensitive areas.

Following approval by the Oireachtas of the draft regulations, on 8 September 2011 the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government signed the Planning and Development (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2011, which introduce a number of amendments to address the ECJ findings in this case.

The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food also signed, on 8 September, new European Communities (Environmental Impact Assessment) (Agriculture) Regulations 2011 which provide for a new system of screening for environmental impact above certain thresholds for different types of agricultural activity, and the requirement for the Minister's consent to be sought and mandatory environmental impact assessment, EIA, to be carried out on such projects at a higher threshold level.

I see a supplementary statement. Does the Minister of State have it?

The answer appears to be that the definition of wetlands is being considered. I shall await that, therefore, and hope it will be restrictive. I made some other points, too, about fines that the Minister of State might relay to the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I will look forward to his response.

I assure the Deputy I will bring her comments to the attention of both Ministers and will obtain an answer to her questions on fines and costs.

Yes, sheep, too.

Water Charges

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for affording me the opportunity to discuss the findings of the Comptroller and Auditor General's report on water leakage. I am sharing time with Deputy Mick Wallace.

I do not intend to spend much time on this. In effect, the report suggested that in regard to water leakage, Ireland appears to have twice the OECD average of unaccounted-for water. It stated that overall the average percentage of unaccounted-for water was approximately 41.48% in 2009, a marginal increase on the 2008 figure of 41.2%.

I am a great believer in the levering of local charges and believe that local authorities should have the authority so to do. I am a tax and spend kind of guy. If one believes in public services, as I do, someone has to pay for them. I have no issue with the water charge per se. However, it would be very difficult for us as Deputies working in local areas or as national politicians to convince the public that a water levy or charge or water metering can be justified when the Comptroller and Auditor General’s report indicates such a level of unaccounted-for water.

Various regions have issues with their water supply. We are well aware, as will be the Leas-Cheann Comhairle, about the issues in Galway city. Deputy Michael McNamara assures me that issues relating to the water supply in Ennis are as bad as they ever were. In my constituency there have been ongoing water pressure issues in the Killester-Donnycarney area.

It is imperative for us to convince those who will be charged this levy that finances accrued from it will be put back into the water system in order that they may have confidence in it. I do not find it reasonable that anyone should expect we can front-load that investment before such a levy is in place, but we must ensure the public sees the connection between the charge and the improvement in the service. If one lives in an area where, as has happened in recent years, there have been annual major water shortages because of the poor water infrastructure in the city, or if one lives in an area where cryptosporidium dances through one's tap on a regular basis, or there is discoloration or whatever, it is very difficult for a public representative to make that connection, especially when people see figures such as these. We must convince the public that we can ring-fence these moneys for the improvement of the water service.

The notion that 40% of the water supply is leaking into the ground is damning and the notion of bringing water from the River Shannon, at a cost of €450 million, only to have almost half of it leaking into the ground in Dublin and places like it, is outrageous. From building on the streets of Dublin over the years, I know that a great number of the pipes which are old and made of corroded steel must be replaced. When we were paving the streets, we came across many such pipes but were not allowed to replace them because that was not on the schedule at the time. At times we could actually see water coming up through the ground. Even though it would have been part of our work as civil engineering contractors, we were not allowed to change the pipes. It was a terrible waste.

If the Government is to do anything about water, surely controlling the level of waste must be a top priority. I agree with the Government tackling different elements of waste in the system throughout society, but I also believe there must be a greater emphasis on investment in the water infrastructure, tackling the problem of leakage and, at the same time, creating major employment. Replacing these pipes will be a very labour intensive project, with at least 80% of the cost going for labour and 20% for materials. It would be a very good move by the Government to get involved in this.

I thank the Deputies for their comments. As the report yesterday by the Comptroller and Auditor General shows, there is a real problem in Ireland with unaccounted-for water, with losses in 2009 ranging from in excess of 21% to in excess of 58% across counties, a slight increase on the position reported for 2008. I agree with both Deputies that these levels of leakage are far too high and that progress in addressing the problem has been far too slow. Tackling this problem was one of the key motivations behind the Government's decision to establish Irish Water.

A significant proportion of unaccounted-for water is due to leaks in the water supply system. Such leaks can occur in both the mains distribution network and on the customer side of the connections. Water conservation has been identified as a key priority under the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government's water services investment programme 2010 to 2012. The programme provides for the commencement of water conservation contracts to the value of €321 million over the programme period, subject to the overall budgetary position.

The primary objective of water conservation is to reduce water loss and leakage in the distribution networks to an economic level and to address high levels of unaccounted-for water. Reducing leakage to zero would be extremely difficult and prohibitively expensive. The aim is to achieve an economic level of leakage whereby it costs more to make further reductions in water loss than to produce additional water.

In the past ten years, €168 million was invested in water conservation. Most of the effort to date has been focused on putting in water management systems to allow for active leakage control and better planning of mains rehabilitation. At this stage, most local authorities have prepared water mains rehabilitation strategies which have allowed a significant acceleration in the approval of mains rehabilitation contracts and works this year.

Ireland is unique among OECD countries in not charging households for water. The programme for Government provides for the introduction of water charges based on a new and fair funding model and this is also a requirement of the agreement between Ireland and the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. The programme for Government proposes that water meters will be installed in households connected to public water supplies and that a new charging system will be introduced with water charges based on usage.

Experience from the metering of the non-domestic sector and from metering of some group water supplies would suggest that customer side leakage levels are a significant factor in overall unaccounted-for water. Installing water meters encourages households to reduce consumption, use water efficiently and fix leaks where these are identified. Metered charges are also the fairest way to charge for water. The Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government is preparing a strategy to implement the new charging regime.

I will comment only briefly because I took up so much of Deputy Wallace's time. I thank the Minister of State for his reply but I still maintain that a large-scale engagement with the public is needed to make the connection between the charge and the investment necessary for solving the displacement problem.

In the current economic climate, given the effect of austerity measures on the ordinary people of this country and given that any money raised from water metering is unlikely to come back into the system and help to improve it, we should concentrate on fixing the pipes, introducing more cost-effective measures and more environmentally friendly ways of providing water supplies for households. The latter would also help to create a great deal of employment.

Today's edition of The Irish Times contains an article by Paul Krugman in which he discusses austerity measures and emphasises the need for growth-oriented policies. I am of the view that a major investment on the part of the Government in dealing with water wastage would represent money well spent in both the short and long term. Everyone states that it will cost too much to deal with this problem. Everything costs too much now but, in the long term, an investment of the nature I have outlined would be money well spent.

I agree with what the Deputies have said. In my capacity as Minister of State, I visited the counties with the highest levels of unaccounted for water. I have already visited areas in Roscommon, south Tipperary, Kilkenny and Galway and I intend to travel to other counties.

It is essential that this matter be addressed. I agree that if we can attract buy-in from the public in respect of this process, it must be based on a programme of significant and planned reductions in the levels of unaccounted for water over a period of years. I have discussed this matter with a number of local authorities and I have been informed that it may take more than a couple of years to bring about such reductions. This is due to the fact that when one water main is repaired, another will burst and so on. The Deputies are correct that a better and more progressive system which is fairer and efficient must be put in place.

I wish to point out to Deputy Wallace that I have been informed that much of the infrastructure relating to newer builds is quite bad. I know the Deputy, in the context of any construction projects with which he is or was involved, is not culpable in this regard. However, many of the materials used by certain builders have proven to be substandard and this will give rise to significant problems when we begin to introduce water metering. When the Government receives and discusses the report it commissioned in respect of Irish Water, the relevant committee will engage in a full debate on it in order that any and all issues of concern to Members might be listened to and, if possible, acted upon.

Planning Issues

I wish to share time with Deputy Seán Kenny.

I attended a packed meeting of very anxious and upset Priory Hall residents in the Hilton Airport Hotel on the Malahide Road on Thursday night last. Priory Hall is a relatively new residential apartment complex of 187 units — it was built by the Coalport Building Company Limited — in the huge new North Fringe district in the constituency of Dublin North East and included among its residents are owner-occupiers, private tenants, Dublin City Council and RAS tenants and citizens who bought their homes through affordable housing schemes. Within months of the first residents moving in, serious complaints were made about defects and safety issues at Priory Hall. The Dublin city fire safety chief described the north and south blocks of the complex as "potentially dangerous" and stated that remedial works were urgently required to address the appalling safety deficit that exists.

In December 2009, Dublin City Council moved its tenants and clients out of Priory Hall on safety grounds and commissioned a report by Hayes Higgins Partnership on the alleged serious fire safety defects in the residential units in the complex, which Dublin City Council owns. On 27 July last, the city council's housing and planning departments made a presentation on the Hayes Higgins report to me, Deputy Seán Kenny, Councillor Brian McDowell and other local representatives. To say that we left the meeting profoundly shocked and stunned would be an understatement. We all undertook to have residents immediately informed of the appalling litany of structural, electrical and gas safety defects in the Dublin City Council units of the complex and we urged the council to immediately inform private owners and renters of the position and, if necessary, to evacuate the buildings.

At the meeting I attended on Thursday last, senior housing officials from Dublin City Council, including housing and assistant city manager, Mr. Dick Brady, outlined key findings of the report. Residents asked that the report be published immediately. A number of residents who were present at the meeting inquired directly of the council's officials whether it was safe for them and their families to spend one more night in the complex. I wish to direct the same question to the Minister of State on their behalf. The residents also want to be informed about the action being taken in respect of the architects that worked on the project, the entire self-certification process and the people who allegedly signed off on safety standards in the complex. This is an urgent and profoundly serious matter and I hope the Minister of State will be able to provide us with some support in respect of it.

I call for the immediate release of the report commissioned by Dublin City Council from Hayes Higgins Partnership — Consultant Engineers, to all apartment owners in Priory Hall. To date, Dublin City Council has refused to provide this based on legal advice it received. I request that the Minister of State, Deputy Penrose, and Dublin City Council, advise owners and, in particular, owner occupiers who are obliged to honour monthly mortgage commitments whether suitable alternative accommodation will be provided for them if further defects are identified when the final report is received. It must be borne in mind that residents who may be obliged, on foot of the findings in the final report, to vacate their homes in the event of an emergency will require immediate accommodation. Taking a place on the housing list will really not be an option for them.

I call on Dublin City Council to take a civil action against the Coalport Building Company Limited., and-or the architect who certified the development in accordance with the building regulations. This action should be taken solely with a view to protecting the council's interests. From a cost point of view, it would make better sense if homeowners who, due to their current circumstances, are not in a position to obtain legal advice could join the city council in taking the action to which I refer. Who, if anyone, will undertake the repairs necessary to the buildings in the complex — if they are deemed to be repairable — in a scenario where the Coalport Building Company Limited has not and, it appears, will not attend to those repairs?

The residents of Priory Hall are at crisis point and the dilemma in which they find themselves is whether to default on their mortgages — thereby rendering themselves unable to obtain credit in respect of crucial items, such as another family home, for the remainder of their lives — or to continue to live in buildings which are unsafe as a result of non-compliance with fire safety regulations, faulty gas and electric installations and defective construction. Many of the owner-occupiers are struggling financially and are unable to obtain comprehensive legal advice. While some residents have received preliminary legal advice, most of them cannot afford to instruct a solicitor. Some solicitors who have been approached are unwilling to take a case against the Coalport Building Company Limited, and-or Thomas McFeely because in previous litigations Mr. McFeely has not paid compensation to plaintiffs and has a number of judgments against him personally, most notably one relating to the ACC Bank for the sum of €6.2million.

I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister of State with responsibility for housing and planning, Deputy Penrose, who is currently in the Seanad. I thank Deputies Broughan and Seán Kenny for their contributions. I will bring to the attention of the Minister of State their deep concerns and those of their constituents.

As the Deputies will be aware, Dublin City Council has initiated legal proceedings regarding compliance with planning permission and fire safety regulations in respect of the development at Priory Hall. The enforcement proceedings are still before the courts. The building regulations set out the legal requirements for the design and construction of new buildings, including houses, extensions and material alterations and certain changes of use of existing buildings. The related technical guidance documents provide guidance on how to comply with the regulations. Compliance with the regulations is the responsibility of the owner or builder of a building. Enforcement of the regulations is the responsibility of the 37 local building control authorities. In the case of Priory Hall, responsibility rests with Dublin City Council which is empowered to carry out inspections and to initiate enforcement proceedings where it is considered necessary. It is understood that Dublin City Council is continuing to actively investigate possible non-compliance with the requirements of the Building Control Acts in respect of this development. Where building defects occur, their remediation is a matter for the parties concerned — namely, the building owner, the relevant developer and the builder's insurers — in line with any contractual arrangements agreed between the parties.

Dublin City Council, as a property owner in Priory Hall, commissioned a building survey in conjunction with a number of other property owners in the complex who agreed to participate in the survey on a fee-paying basis. The report has been recently submitted to the council and copies have been forwarded to those owners who participated in the survey. The question of further publication or dissemination of the report does not, therefore, arise. Any further action in respect of the issues which have arisen in regard to this development would be a matter for Dublin City Council to deal with, as appropriate, in line with the standard arrangements in place for the discharge of its statutory functions. The Minister of State has no specific function with regard to the investigation or prosecution of offences under the Building Control Acts.

The residents and the 200 families in question feel deeply let down by the regulatory, planning, building control and fire safety systems, which allowed people to self-certify buildings that were grossly badly constructed and may be dangerous, frankly. We need to reassure them. I will come back to the original question I posed. Is the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government concerned that people in these buildings could be in danger tonight and from now on? Can necessary actions be taken as a matter of urgency? Can buildings that are unfit for purpose be condemned? I commend the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government on the establishment of a working group on buildings infected by pyrites. It was a good move. It was the start of something for which I have been calling since the crisis started five or six years ago. Could something similar be done in the case of Priory Hall? I suggest that the Department could assist Dublin City Council to lead a set of actions that would make the building safe, reassure these citizens and rehouse them if necessary.

The Priory Hall case demonstrates that certain aspects of the building control regulations, particularly the self-certification process, are clearly not working. This became clear during the building boom when light touch regulation was favoured. We are now seeing the effects of the failure to comply with basic safety regulations. I refer, for example, to the requirement that an isolation handle, which allows one to switch off the gas in the event of a fire, be provided when a gas connection is being installed. Similarly, many electrical installations were not earthed in the manner that is required. That could have serious consequences in the event of a fire. All of the building control regulations should be put on a statutory basis, as provided for in the legislation that established them. It is clear that self-certification, which was initially provided after difficulties arose, does not work. We have seen that in other fields. We should consider putting the regulations on a proper statutory basis.

I assure Deputies Broughan and Kenny that I take what they have said very seriously. I will bring their remarks to the attention of the Minister of State, Deputy Penrose. He will be deeply concerned about the manner in which things have been done in this estate. As I indicated earlier, the remediation of defects of this kind is a matter to be dealt with by the parties concerned — the owner of the building in question, the relevant developer and the builder's insurer — in line with any contractual arrangements. It is appropriate that Dublin City Council be allowed to deal with the prosecution of alleged non-compliance with planning permission, fire safety regulations and building regulations in line with the standard arrangements for the discharge of its statutory functions. Since he took up office, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has clearly signalled that consumer protection in the area of quality construction of new dwellings is a priority matter. He has taken a number of steps to strengthen the situation. Mandatory certificates of compliance for builders and designers of buildings, demonstrating that the statutory requirements of the building regulations have been met, have been introduced. Provision has been made for more efficient pooling of building control staff and resources across the local authority sector to ensure more effective and meaningful oversight of building activity. Standardised approaches and common protocols have been put in place to ensure nationwide consistency in the administration of building control functions. There also have been measures relating to the support and further development of building control functions nationwide. The Minister is determined to strengthen the building control system to ensure problems like those that have arisen at Priory Hall do not visit home owners again.