Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 11 Dec 2019

Vol. 991 No. 2

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Social and Affordable Housing Maintenance

Jan O'Sullivan


41. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the monitoring in place to ensure that local authority homes that have received a thermal upgrade reach an improved BER rating; if a survey is carried out to measure the improvement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51802/19]

Seán Sherlock


56. Deputy Sean Sherlock asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the amount spent by local authorities since 2017 on retrofitting; and the number of houses that have been retrofitted by each local authority. [49434/19]

Coincidentally, this question is on the same topic. It is the first of the ordinary questions. It., again. relates to the BERs of local authority homes. I stress my concern that while people are waiting for additional funding to be allocated and for this work to be carried out, fuel costs are increasing for those who are, by definition, on low incomes because they are in local authority homes. I urge the Minister of State to improve the situation with regard to such homes wherever possible.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 41 and 56 together.

The energy efficiency retrofitting programme for social housing was launched in 2013 with the aim of improving the insulation standards and overall energy performance of local authority social housing stock for all the reasons the Deputy outlined, including helping with the issue of fuel poverty, making our homes healthier, warmer and more comfortable places to live, and reducing the cost of running them. The programme commenced with phase 1 works, which were targeted at cavity wall and attic insulation. Phase 2 commenced in all local authorities this year and is focusing on fabric upgrade works to dwellings and includes external wall insulation and upgrades to windows, doors and heating. This will be very beneficial. By the end of 2019, approximately 71 ,000 homes, or just over half of the local authority social housing stock, will have benefited from retrofit works under this programme supported by a total spend of more than €144 million.

Improvements in thermal performance are measured by local authorities through the use of pre and post-works building energy rating, BER, certificates which provide a good indicator of the energy savings and the reduction in CO2 emissions arising from retrofit works. As a condition of phase 2, a registered pre and post-works BER certificate must be provided for all properties and details submitted to my Department in order for the local authority to draw down funding. That provides the clarity the Deputy sought earlier.

I ask for greater clarity in this regard. Is there a timeframe for the carrying out of a survey after the works are completed? To be clear, is the contractor paid before the final survey has been carried out?

To be honest with the Deputy, I do not have information on the timing. It is up to the local authority but I presume we can do it quite quickly. With regard to when people are paid, we do not pay out until we receive the rating. I do not know what arrangements the local authorities have in place. We cannot do everything for them. That is a matter for them to arrange locally. The Department, however, does not pay out until we receive the certificates.

In some cases, despite basic works being carried out on attics and walls and so on, a home may still have a low energy rating because of leaking windows or other issues. I know the schemes are very specific but is it possible to allocate funding to carry out other works, such as works on windows or other elements, on such homes?

The Department has common sense. We work with local authorities as best as we can. There are a range of schemes outside of these grants under which houses can be retrofitted. These grants are linked to specific works and to BER certificates. A range of works may need to be carried out. If local authorities propose to carry out other works, we will examine those proposals. The aim is to achieve a BER of B2, the cost-optimal rating. This will mean more work in the case of some houses but that can be achieved under planned maintenance work. This grant is focused on energy efficiency and making our houses more comfortable and warmer but there are other works to be carried out on houses. As the Deputy will be aware, we discussed the voids programme last night. At this stage, close to 10,000 houses have been brought back into use. When local authorities are doing this, a deep retrofit and other works are often carried out on the house. In some cases, a house identified under the voids programme may require €80,000 worth of work rather than €30,000. That is the time to do the work.

Local authorities collect a lot of rent from some of these houses. We have asked them to put in place a planned maintenance programme. That will also consider energy efficiencies. There are different ways of doing this. Naturally, we ask local authorities that are drawing down this kind of funding in respect of a house to complete other works at the same time, if possible. They have maintenance budgets, as they should. Some local authorities do well and have a good record of collecting rent and spending it wisely. Others charge lower rents for whatever reason - that decision is made locally - and may not always spend the money raised on maintenance programmes. We encourage local authorities to collect a reasonable rent to spend on existing housing stock.

Social and Affordable Housing Data

Paul Murphy


43. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number of new build homes to be completed by each local authority by the end of 2019. [51370/19]

Niamh Smyth


85. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number of new builds undertaken by his Department, local authorities, or both, by county in 2019, in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51136/19]

I ask the Minister how many new-build homes are to be completed by each local authority by the end of 2019 because the Government has a mantra that 10,000 social housing units will be delivered this year, which is simply not true. I want him to put the figures on the record to demonstrate that it is not true and that he is engaging in spin worthy of Boris Johnson.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 43 and 85 together.

Earlier this year, I published the 2019 targets for social housing delivery on a local authority basis and by delivery mechanism, including build, acquisition, leasing, housing assistance payment, HAP, and rental accommodation scheme, RAS. Each quarter, I publish details of progress against those targets and the outputs for the third quarter of 2019 have just been published. These show 66% delivery to the end of September, or just under 18,000 households securing keys to a home under a social housing programme in the first nine months of this year.

All stakeholders recognise the critical need to continue to increase social housing supply through build activity. When Rebuilding Ireland was published in 2016, the construction activity base and pipeline in place were so low that the action plan's build targets had to be weighted towards the latter years of the six-year programme, recognising the time lag between project conception and delivery. In 2016 and 2017, therefore, the focus was on maximising delivery by returning vacant stock to active use and by supporting the completion of vacant homes, while, in parallel, a major programme was put in place to expand the build pipeline significantly. This year, we continue to see the fruits of the expansion of the social housing construction programme. The build target for 2019 is to deliver 6,545 homes, an increase of more than 30% on last year's target. Along with teams from my Department, I have been meeting local authorities regularly to ensure every effort continues to be made to achieve this target and I am confident we are on track to deliver close to the full target.

The social housing construction status report, which is published on a quarterly basis on the Rebuilding Ireland website, provides detailed information on build activity in each local authority, including the number of homes on-site and actively being delivered. In addition to the homes being built this year, more than 3,400 additional social homes are to be delivered through acquisition and leasing schemes. In total, we are committed to ensuring more than 27,000 households are supported across all of the social housing programmes this year, bringing to 100,000 the number of households that will have been supported since 2016. Next year, in excess of 11,000 social housing homes will be delivered through build, acquisition and leasing programmes. This includes more than 7,500 newly built social housing homes, which will be 11 times the level in 2016, the first year of Rebuilding Ireland, and will be the highest number of such homes to be built this century. My Department and I will continue to work proactively with local authorities and AHBs to ensure this and other targets continue to be met.

The Minister plays with figures and the definition of social housing to create confusion. To be clear, as he said, the plan is to build 6,545 new social housing homes. The plan is not to build 10,000 homes, 20,000 homes or 27,000 homes but 6,545. The figures of 27,000, 20,000 and 10,000 are the equivalent of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's 60 new hospitals and 50,000 new nurses. Can the Minister confirm that of the target number of new builds of 6,545, only just over 1,000 had been built by the halfway point of this year? Construction has to be ramped up to the extent of a 400% increase to meet that target. Does he accept that out of the figure of 10,000 he talks about, 2,130 homes are to be leased from private developers? They will be owned by private individuals, rented from the State and then rented out to people on social housing waiting lists. That does not amount to social housing.

I am not playing with figures and there is no grand conspiracy here. We published the targets for a reason. They include local authority builds, AHB builds, what is happening on private sites with Part V developments, what my Department oversees and what the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform approves. If those figures were made up, there would be a grand conspiracy involving every local authority, housing body and Department. The Deputy should stop his nonsense and stick to the facts.

The Minister should stick to the facts.

This year we will increase the social housing stock by 10,000 homes. More than 6,000 of those will be directly built for social housing, either by local authorities, AHBs or using the Part V process. We no longer rely on one stream of social housing delivery because we learned from the past that outsourcing it to the private sector leaves the strategy completely exposed if the private sector fails. To totally rely on one form of local authority housing delivery would leave the strategy exposed if there was a difficulty in that local authority area for whatever reason. We have a combination of local authority, AHB and Part V builds. Local authorities do the heavy lifting by a factor of approximately 2:1 versus AHBs. The Deputy should get his ideology out of the way. It does not matter if it is an AHB building on local authority land or a local authority building on local authority land. They are social housing homes for people coming off the social housing lists.

Let us stick to the facts. The Minister should stop talking about 10,000 social housing homes being delivered this year. That is not true. He should stop talking about 20,000 or 27,000 social housing homes being delivered. The Government's plan is to build 6,545 new social housing homes. He cannot seriously claim that more than 2,000 homes leased from private developers amount to social housing homes. In what world is that social housing? There is no grand conspiracy but, instead, there is a deliberate manipulation of the definition of "social housing" to pretend the Government is planning to do a lot more than it is. That gives the Government much higher targets than the reality of its targets. It also distracts from the fact that the Government is nowhere near its targets. The Government's ideology means it is in favour of incentivising landlords and developers to come into the market. It simply refuses to invest in public housing to deal with the housing crisis. The landlords and the developers the Government represents are getting super rich as a consequence of that. The idea we have ideology and the Government has no ideology is utter nonsense.

Some €2.4 billion was spent on housing this year. It is the largest amount a Government has ever spent in a single year on housing. That is our commitment to public housing. The Deputy does not understand how the build programme works because, in 2018, the exact same claims were made in quarter 1, quarter 2 and quarter 3 that we would not meet our build targets. By the end of 2018, we were 3% shy of them. We got thereabouts on build targets.

The Government did not meet them.

We were 3% shy in the context of more than 4,000 homes. The Deputy is claiming today we are nowhere near our targets. I am telling him we are close to them and we will know by the end of the year whether we achieved them. It was the exact same narrative last year and it proved to be untrue. The Deputy can stop telling his untruths, stop spinning and get his ideology out of the way because these are real homes for people coming off the housing lists and that is what matters, not his ideology.

With the agreement of the House, I am going to allow Deputy Connolly to come back in. She walked in as her question had passed but she is always efficient with her time so I propose we allow her to put her question. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Social and Affordable Housing

Catherine Connolly


42. Deputy Catherine Connolly asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government further to Parliamentary Question No. 49 of 18 September 2019, the agreed work programme for the Galway social housing task force; the reports completed to date by the task force; if the minutes of the meetings held to date will be provided; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51819/19]

I thank the Acting Chairman and the Deputies for agreeing to allow me back in. I was launching something trí Ghaeilge. Sin an fáth nach raibh mé anseo. This is a specific question on the social housing task force in Galway. I am asking about the work programme to date, the reports that have been completed by the task force and the minutes of the meetings. It is important. The Minister has set up a social housing task force because of the housing emergency in Galway. I want a specific answer to the question. The Minister is always calling for facts so I am asking him to give me the facts.

I thank the Deputy for the question. The Galway social housing task force, which I established earlier this year, has held four meetings to date. It is working to improve and accelerate social housing delivery in both of the Galway local authority areas. Galway County Council and Galway City Council have a combined target of just over 2,000 social housing homes to be delivered through build, acquisitions and leasing in the period from 2018 to 2021. On 2019 delivery, both councils are working hard to achieve their targets of 191 new social housing homes in the city and 259 in the county. Having said that, it should be acknowledged the task force was established precisely because it was recognised the two local authorities required support in advancing their delivery programmes.

The chair of the task force provided an update on its work earlier this year and confirmed both local authorities were intensively involved in the task force's work and it is providing them with an important opportunity for direct, round-table dialogue with my Department, the Housing Agency and the AHB sector, so that each Galway authority can be supported in building the momentum essential for expanded delivery. The chair also advised that achieving the necessary levels of delivery will take focus, time and continuing prioritisation but all participants in the task force are committed to the Government's housing targets.

I expect a further report from the task force chair at the end of this year and I understand the secretariat for the task force, which is provided by Galway City Council, is arranging to have minutes of the meetings made available to local public representatives. I also understand the chief executives of both authorities report to their councils on the work of the task force following each meeting.

I thank the Minister for confirming the minutes will be made available, which begs the question why it has to be raised in the Dáil before the minutes are made available. On focus, time and the different criteria he mentioned, we have the most serious housing crisis in Galway, on a par with Dublin. In Galway city, we have 302 homeless people and we have a city council that has achieved only 25% of its build target. HAP is the only show in town in Galway and that is difficult. We have HAP placement officers but we have a lack of staff responsible for providing homes for people on a permanent basis. The State has the land and if it does not, we should know about that by now. My information is the State has land that is zoned for residential use and it has institutional land and this task force has not produced a single report, even though it was set up before April of this year. It has had four meetings, which does not even amount to a meeting once per month. What has been decided? What is the work programme for the task force?

I thank the Deputy for the follow-up questions. She is correct that Galway needs help and that is why we put the task force in place. Those minutes will be published but the priority has been to get the task force to work on different sites and schemes so we can see delivery.

We know the task force model works because we developed it and deployed it in Cork. Let me give an example of what happened in Cork. In 2016, 45 homes were built. In 2018, 511 were built. The target was 408. This was across the two local authority areas. In 2019, the figure will be close to 1,000. The task force drove the delivery with the two local authorities.

What we expected to see this year in the two local authority areas in Galway, because of the work the task force is doing, was a fourfold increase in the build in the city. There were poor numbers last year but there will be a 400% increase this year if the targets follow through given the work we have been doing with the task force. In the county, the local authority will come close to its target of 191 homes, if not reach it. We will not know until the end of the year. We have this clarity now because the task force is in place.

Putting allegations about ideology aside, I want to work with the Government. Minutes are not complicated. They should simply be published and put on the website.

With regard to a 400% increase, or whatever figure the Minister used, there were no builds prior to last year, when we built 14 houses. Any increase is welcome in a city where there are over 4,000 on a waiting list. The position is unclear because, as the Minister knows, those who get the housing assistance payment are taken off the waiting list. Let me give an example. On Monday, my office was informed about somebody with young children who has been on a list for 11 years and who has been in emergency accommodation for six months. Not once in this period was the person offered a house. That is the nature of the crisis in Galway. We have developer-led development. We have no master plan for the city and no open acknowledgement of what land we have. Public housing on public land is one of the major ways to deal with the housing crisis in Galway. Where can I gain access to a document that states the work programme of the task force, its ambitions and time limits?

That is all available on the Rebuilding Ireland website.

I am referring to the task force in Galway.

I have given a commitment, on which I followed through, to publish the targets for every local authority each year. Those targets are published and a follow-up is given. The task force is to try to achieve the targets. Last year, there were 24 builds in the city. That is not very good. We are going to increase it by four this year. That one local authority can increase the number by such a factor is impressive but it needs to do a lot more than that. It is going to acquire homes and lease them. Last year, it acquired 28 and leased two. Since Galway city is poor on delivery, we have put in place the task force. Of course it should publish the minutes. It should not need a Minister to tell it to do so. It is going to publish the minutes that are outstanding. The chief executives do report to the locally elected representatives of the council after the meetings of the task force.

I understand the Land Development Agency is also examining issues concerning a master plan for Galway in terms of what public sites might be available. We are committed to public housing on public land. It is where our money is going. There has been an investment of €2.4 billion this year.

Question No. 44 replied to with Written Answers.

Tenant Purchase Scheme

Éamon Ó Cuív


45. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his plans to change the conditions of the tenant purchase incremental scheme 2016 due to the small take-up of the scheme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51115/19]

Jan O'Sullivan


49. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when the promised new tenant purchase scheme will be published and activated; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51804/19]

Darragh O'Brien


91. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when the review of the tenant purchase scheme will be published; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51867/19]

The incremental tenant purchase scheme of 2016 is a total failure because a very small number of houses is being purchased. Houses cannot even be purchased when somebody can put the total purchase price down on the table. We have been promised a review of the scheme time and again. When will we have it? We keep getting the same answer, "soon", but it seems there is a new dictionary definition of "soon" that interprets it as "never".

I propose to take Questions Nos. 45, 49 and 91 together.

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue again. We have had quite a lot of discussion on this over the past couple of years. I have been talking to the Deputy’s colleague about it. Other parties are also very interested in this issue. The Housing (Sale of Local Authority Houses) Regulations 2015 provide the basis for the incremental tenant purchase scheme for existing local authority houses.

The scheme is open to eligible tenants, including joint tenants, of local authority houses that are available for sale under the scheme. To be eligible, tenants must meet certain criteria, including having a minimum reckonable income of €15,000 per annum and having been in receipt of social housing support for at least one year.

In line with the commitment given in the Government's Rebuilding Ireland action plan on housing and homelessness, a review of the operation of the first 12 months of the tenant purchase scheme has been finalised and a full report has been prepared setting out findings and recommendations. This has included an examination of the minimum income requirements of the scheme. That is probably the main issue raised here and at all the various council meetings that the Minister and I attend.

What is intended now is that a comprehensive package of social housing reform measures will be brought to the Government in the near future and the review of the tenant purchase scheme will be included in that package, with the report to be published thereafter. Until such time as these reforms are completed, the 2016 scheme will remain open and be utilised. It is quite a generous scheme and suits many people. While one can argue that the numbers might be lower than in previous years, one should realise the scheme is probably more generous than in previous years. It remains open and people are actively utilising it.

The Minister of State says the scheme suits many people. How many houses have been sold to tenants since the inception of the scheme in 2016? Can the Minister of State confirm that there is an income requirement of €15,000? This income is fair enough but there is a quibble clause stating that if most of the income is made up of a social welfare payment, even a permanent one such as a State contributory pension, it is not taken into account, making one ineligible for the scheme. The effectively excludes many tenants on State pensions from availing of the scheme even though they are likely to have saved money over their lifetime and are well able to afford the house.

It is a bit like waiting for the 32 bus in Portmarnock, which I learned recently comes very infrequently. We have been asking for this for a very long time. Could the Minister of State give us more precise information?

Let me add to the point that most income has to come from employment. I know of somebody who is on a social welfare payment but who inherited money from a family member. The individual would be able to pay for the home up front but is not allowed to purchase it. The individual has been living in the home for many years. We need to see reform soon. If the Minister of State cannot bring in the new scheme, could he please modify the old one to allow for social welfare income to be part of the formula?

I have been asking the Minister of State about this regularly. He may remember that we discussed this during the last round of oral questions. He made a commitment to finalise and publish the review by the end of the year. He mentioned in his response that he has finalised it. When will it be published so we can see what the recommendations are? The Minister of State talked about the full social housing review. I suggest taking this piece out and publishing it separately. Unfortunately, we are asking questions in the dark here again. I do not know what the recommendations are. All of us are receiving queries from people who genuinely want to apply for the scheme but we do not know what the new scheme and recommendations involve. When will publication be? Will it be before the end of this year? The Minister of State made a commitment to appear before the housing committee on this matter after publication so the matter can be teased out on a cross-party basis.

Let me deal with the issue of the income. I can confirm that there is an income limit. It has to be €15,000. The minimum reckonable income for the 2016 scheme is determined by the relevant local authority in accordance with the detailed provisions of the Minister's directions, which include the figure of €15,000. In the determination of the minimum reckonable income, local authorities can include income from a number of different sources and classes, such as from employment, private pensions, maintenance payments and certain social welfare payments, including pensions, where the social welfare payment is secondary to employment income.

In determining reckonable income, the income of all tenants of the house, including adult children who are joint tenants, named and paying rent, is included, as is the income of the spouse, civil partner or other partner or cohabitant of a tenant who lives in the house with them, thus ensuring the appropriate level of discount is applied to the purchase price.

A number of income sources, including certain social welfare payments, are disregarded for the purpose of determining reckonable income. The list of income disregards includes child benefit, carer’s allowance, and the family working payment, formerly the family income supplement, as these are deemed not to be long-term in nature. The income sources have to be long-term in nature.

We have had this conversation and we are trying to find ways to accommodate cases such as the one Deputy Jan O'Sullivan and others mentioned in respect of the €15,000.

I am glad the Minister of State clarified that where a couple is on the State contributory pension, or perhaps two State contributory pensions, their other income is regarded as secondary and they are excluded from the scheme, even if they can pay up front.

We need to nail that issue today, because it is one of the most common queries we receive about this scheme. Some people have the money, one way or another, to pay for and buy the house. The logic behind the rule is that if people in that position bought the house they could not afford to maintain it. Can the Minister of State confirm that this is the reason? It is the reason I have been given in writing. Most people would find that quite farcical.

I wish to reiterate Deputy Darragh O'Brien's question. It is an issue which I also mentioned. Could this provision be taken out of the major piece of work that is being done? We have been telling people over and over again that this review is coming soon. They come back and ask if we have any news, which we have not. These are people who have been living in their homes for many years and have a reasonable income but unfortunately it is not primarily from work.

I wish to simply ask when the Minister of State will publish the review. There has been no real acrimony about this. We just want to see the recommendations. I think we are entitled to do that. We are fielding questions from our constituents about the social housing review. I am not sure what else is in it. In response to questions I put earlier the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, alluded to other decisions that have been made. Do they form part of this? Will the Government publish this before Christmas? Does it have a date in mind? Once we get it, we can move on and evaluate the merits of these secret recommendations. I do not understand the reticence in publishing these recommendations. The Minister of State said they are finalised. I know the Government has a printer which has not been used for the last year. Surely it could print the report and publish it.

As I said, we will be bringing the social housing package forward in the very near future. After that, there will be discussions around this recommendation. I have discussed it with some of Deputy Darrah O'Brien's colleagues and we can discuss it further. We have had conversations about what people wanted from this. The sense we got was that people wanted a way of dealing with that €15,000 income barrier. I will clarify why it is there. It is not a madcap idea. There is a logic to it. The tenant purchase scheme has quite a long history of cases where people could not afford to maintain houses after purchasing them. In order to ensure the sustainability of the scheme, it is essential that an applicant's income is of a long-term and sustainable nature. This is necessary to ensure the tenant purchasing the house is in the financial position, as the owner, to maintain and ensure the property for the duration of the charge period, in compliance with the conditions of the order transferring ownership. A condition of the transfer of the ownership of the house is that for the duration of the incremental purchase charge, which goes on for 20 or 30 years, the tenant purchaser must keep the house in good repair and condition and maintain house insurance on the property. The tenant purchaser is also responsible for the normal changes associated with home ownership. Our research and the history of the scheme showed that this did not always happen without that income barrier. To be fair, the €15,000 minimum might not be the best way to address that because it prevents someone who has won the lottery or benefitted from a settlement of some sort from buying their house. We are trying to find ways to deal with that. That will also form part of the package.

An impression has probably been given that this is the reason people are not buying houses. In one sample year more than 2,400 applications were made under the scheme. Fewer than a quarter were refused because of the eligibility criteria. Those criteria did not affect the other 75%. I must be clear that this is not the main issue. It is an issue in some individual cases, but it is not the main reason people are not using this scheme.

Constitutional Amendments

Thomas Pringle


46. Deputy Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the steps he will take to progress the Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Water in Public Ownership) (No.1) Bill 2016 seeking to place the right to water in the Constitution; the reason for the delay to date in moving forward with the legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51222/19]

Joan Collins


78. Deputy Joan Collins asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when he plans to have the revised amendment wording ready to bring to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government on the Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Water in Public Ownership) (No. 2) Bill 2016. [51760/19]

This question relates to the Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Water in Public Ownership) (No. 1) Bill 2016, which passed through the House several years ago. It is languishing on Committee Stage, waiting for the Minister to come back and look at how it will actually work. I would like the Minister to tease the problems out and say how we can move it forward.

I propose to take Questions Nos. 46 and 78 together.

The Government is firmly committed to keeping public water services in public ownership, as reflected in the Water Services Acts and in the water services policy statement 2018-2025.  This position is consistent with the April 2017 report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services, which supported a referendum while recommending that the status of group water schemes and private wells remain unchanged.  

In consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, my Department has engaged in detailed examination of the proposals for a referendum contained in the Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Water in Public Ownership) (No. 2) Bill 2016, the Bill initiated by Deputy Joan Collins which is currently on Committee Stage.  The examination has highlighted a number of unacceptable risks which I have shared with the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government.  The Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers has separately advised the committee on the risks inherent in the Bill. Officials from my Department have also engaged in detail with Deputy Joan Collins and her advisers on the Bill, as I have myself on several occasions. In response to these concerns I have undertaken to bring forward appropriate amendments to the Bill.  In that regard, the Government has decided to proceed on the basis of drafting amendments which will focus on keeping the entity charged with the provision of public water services in public ownership.  

Progress on a proposal for revised wording continues to be made by the Office of the Attorney General in conjunction with my Department but it is not a simple matter.  In a letter to the committee in July 2019 I advised that I was working towards concluding a proposal for revised wording, subject to Government agreement and the advice of the Attorney General. This work is not yet complete.  Deputy Joan Collins is aware of the challenges and the various tests for any wording and her own legal team has not yet reverted to my Department following the last engagement that took place.  As with any Bill introducing an amendment to the Constitution it is essential that there is agreement, first, on the intent of the proposed amendment and, second, on the actual wording of the amendment to give effect to that intent. This is necessary in order to smooth the passage of the Bill through the Oireachtas and to ensure clarity for the electorate on the proposal that is being put to it.  It is with these concerns in mind, rather than seeking to delay the Bill unnecessarily, that the Government has been giving this matter, which the Deputy knows is complex, the time and very careful consideration it requires.

I will call on Deputy Ó Broin in the second round of questions.

I would like to thank the Minister for the response, but it basically confirms that what is actually happening here is delay, delay and delay. He mentioned that he contacted the committee last July, some six months ago. This Bill was passed by this House several years ago. I may be wrong, but it looks from the outside that the Minister is putting this on the long finger in the hope that the election will arrive and the Bill will fall, as all legislation does. I do not believe that the Minister's Department has engaged with this properly or is doing so.

I would like to think it is. Deputy Joan Collins has tried to meet the Department officials and has been unsuccessful. What is the problem? Let us have a meeting with them to discuss this.

I have several pages before me detailing the various engagements we have had with Deputy Joan Collins and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government on this matter.

When was the last one?

The last engagement was on 15 July, when the committee was notified of our concerns. I have spoken to Deputy Joan Collins in person since we came back after the summer recess about the work that was ongoing in the Office of the Attorney General. I have an email from the Attorney General dating from October which outlines several concerns that are still held in that office. The Office of the Attorney General awaits clarification on several items related to the Water Services Act 2007 and functions assigned to Ervia. Detailed work is taking place.

I also published a series of tests that any wording will have to pass for it to have the support of the committee. It would not pass the committee if it proceeded with the current language. I know the committee is talking about going to Committee Stage without Government amendment. My fear is that the Bill would then fall because of the risks inherent in things like group water schemes. Those key tests have been published. Legal counsel for the Deputy has not come back to me to outline how its suggested wording passes those key tests, or with revised wording that would do so. I am trying to get language we can all agree on so that legislation can pass through the House without complication and a referendum can be won without any negative forces using it as an opportunity to build their public profile or just to be contrary. This should be an easy thing to get done once we can agree the language.

As a co-sponsor of the Bill and a member of the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government I want to believe the Minister but I simply do not.

The reason is that we have been given three separate deadlines by the Minister's Department for when that text will be available. The latest was in the communication the Minister just mentioned in which we were told we would have it by the autumn. We were told we would have it by the summer just gone and by the previous summer. Each of those deadlines has been missed. As a consequence of the delay on the Minister's end, two things are happening. He is eroding the confidence of committee members, whose opposition as he claims to the current wording of the text may not continue, and he is also undermining confidence from the trade union sector which the Department is in negotiations with about the creation of the single utility. The constant delay in getting the Minister's amendments published is sending a clear signal to them that he is not serious about this or the commitment he has given them and ourselves in writing.

We have given the Minister two and a half years to come up with his amendments. All we are asking for are the amendments. I do not accept that it takes two and a half years to produce the alternative wording the Minister is saying is required.

I call Deputy Pringle, and then I will let the Minister back in.

Deputy Ó Broin outlined the situation and the difficulty that is there. It is two and a half years. If the Minister was serious about this, he could bring them forward and let the committee decide on them. That would bring it to a head. I do not believe that the Department is serious about it, and that is a problem.

I call the Minister for his final comments.

We are deadly serious about it. Where is the Deputy's wording? Where is his amendment?

We have given the Minister our wording.

I gave the Deputy the 14 tests.


Could I speak without interruption, please?

The Minister wants to change it. He has to-----

It is always the case that when Deputies do not like the answer, they interrupt.

We just want the Minister’s amendments. Has a referendum Bill ever taken this long to produce? The Minister is breaking a record.

Can we hear the Minister without interruption, please?

I thank the Acting Chairman. I published 14 tests and I gave them to Deputy Ó Broin. He is aware of them. He did not come back with one change in language that would help us to address the concerns of those 14 tests.

That is the Minister’s responsibly and the Attorney General’s. That is disingenuous.

I am telling the Deputy that we are working on it. I asked him for help. I said let us try to do this by consensus. The Deputy has not bothered. We have been working hard. The Deputy knows how complex it is.

I do not have an Attorney General in my back pocket.

Do not put this on us. The Deputy’s party has plenty of legal advice because he is always talking about it. He knows how difficult this is.

Did any referendum Bill take two and half years?

If it was so simple, the Deputy would have found the wording.

I allowed the Deputy to ask a supplementary question, although I did not have to do that. Please respect the Chair. That is all I ask. We will move on to the next question because we might make more progress. I call Deputy Boyd Barrett who has 30 seconds.

Homeless Persons Data

Richard Boyd Barrett


47. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if he has read the recent report on the effect of homelessness on the development of children; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51871/19]

Bernard Durkan


50. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the extent to which the number of families on local authority housing lists and deemed to be homeless for any reason; his plans to meet their housing requirements in the short and medium term; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51827/19]

Thomas P. Broughan


52. Deputy Thomas P. Broughan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the average length of time families are being kept in family hubs before being accommodated in housing; the number of exits from family hubs in each year; the reason for the exits, for example, housed, exit into HAP tenancy, exited homeless services, housed in voluntary housing body or local authority housing and so on; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51109/19]

Bríd Smith


53. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number of children in emergency accommodation in each local authority area; the average period of time spent by children in accommodation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51864/19]

Michael Harty


93. Deputy Michael Harty asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the way in which he plans to respond to the deterioration in the number of children without a permanent home (details supplied). [51276/19]

There are many unacceptable manifestations of the housing and homelessness emergency, which the Minister's policies have generated, but the most upsetting is the plight of children in emergency accommodation or who are homeless. A number of reports from the Royal College of Physicians and from housing NGOs have exposed the shocking extent to which children in homeless accommodation are being neglected and that their development is being seriously affected. What is the Minister going to do to protect these children?

I propose to take Questions Nos. 47, 50, 52, 53 and 93 together.

Rebuilding Ireland is designed to significantly increase the supply of social housing by 50,000 homes in the period to 2021, to double the output of overall housing to at least 25,000 homes per year by 2020, support all tenure types - social, private, rental - and tackle homelessness comprehensively. In 2018, 8,000 new social homes were delivered nationally, and this year, a further 10,000 new social homes will be added to the stock. Delivery will increase again to more than 11,000 homes next year and 12,000 in 2021. In fact, next year will see the delivery of 7,500 new build social housing homes, the highest level this century. The Housing Agency has provided my Department with a report on the summary of social housing assessments, SSHA, for 2019. The report shows that 68,693 households were qualified and in need of social housing support in June of this year. That is a reduction of 25% over the last three years and a trend which is expected to continue in the coming years. The reduction reflects the significantly increased level of social housing activity being delivered through Rebuilding Ireland under which more than 90,000 households across the country have had their housing needs met from 2016 to the end of the third quarter of this year. In 2018 alone, just over 27,100 households were supported, which was 6% ahead of the overall target for the year, and we are aiming again to support more than 27,000 households this year.

Supporting families experiencing homelessness is a priority for the Government, for me and my Department, in particular. My Department continues to work closely and proactively with the local authorities and other relevant stakeholders to ensure that we provide the necessary supports to deliver homes for all the families currently experiencing homelessness. For so long as any individual or family experiences homelessness, I am determined to ensure that the most appropriate emergency accommodation is available.

In regard to family homelessness, my Department is working with the local authorities to support the introduction of family hubs, 30 of which are already in operation, providing almost 690 spaces for family accommodation. Local authorities and their service delivery partners work with families in the hubs to secure a home, with an objective to do so within a six-month period. However, in some cases it can take longer due to the housing requirements or preferences of a family. The monthly reports submitted by the local authorities to my Department do not currently provide detailed information on the length of time spent by families in emergency accommodation. However, the latest information drawn from a separate local authority performance reporting mechanism shows that 38% of adults in emergency accommodation at the end of September 2019 had been there for fewer than six months. Additional data provided by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, DRHE, at the end of September 2019-----

You will have a further opportunity.

There are a number of questions grouped.

I understood that when we grouped questions, my reply could be-----

I want to let Deputy Boyd Barrett in to ask a supplementary question. You will have an opportunity to finish. Is that all right?

I thank the Acting Chairman.

Deputy Boyd Barrett has one minute.

People are fed up of hearing the Minister reel off statistics and claim achievements when it is blatantly obvious to everybody that the housing and homelessness emergency is worse than it has ever been. In terms of social housing delivery output, let me repeat that in my area, next year, two council houses will be built. If one includes AHBs, it will be 13. That is how much new delivery we are getting, which is down on the previous year. What I asked the Minister about was not statistics. It was about the plight of children. I refer to higher risk of pre-term pregnancy and low birth weight, higher rates of asthma respiratory illness and infectious diseases, poor nutrition and obesity, less access to developmental opportunities, play and recreation and social activities, poorer emotional and mental health and increased behavioural difficulties, less access to preventative health care and lower rates of childhood immunisation, poorer educational opportunities-----

I thank Deputy Boyd Barrett.

-----difficulties in relationships between parents and their children, and children born into homelessness unable to swallow, unable to learn how to crawl. Does the Minister think that is acceptable? What is he going to do to get children out of that abusive situation?

I thank Deputy Boyd Barrett. The Deputy is well able to use statistics when they suit him. Facts matter, and behind each of the numbers that I mentioned is a family, a child or an individual who has been helped because of our plans. There are now fewer than 100 people sleeping rough on our streets, which is too many, but it is a very important reduction. It has not been that low since 2015. We have gotten people off the streets and into homes. For every two families that presented to homeless services this year, we prevented one family immediately from going into emergency accommodation. That is important. It is important that people know that we are focusing on preventing people from going into emergency accommodation.

If one is in a family hub, on average one will spend six months in emergency accommodation and the majority of people in emergency accommodation throughout the system are there for less than a year. This is important as well, because it was not always that way. If it was not for the programmes we were bringing in, people would be suffering far longer in emergency accommodation. One of the very first cases I have dealt with as Minister - I was in the job a week - was in relation to children not having enough crawl space and not developing their motor neuron skills because they were in the wrong type of emergency accommodation. That is why we have expanded the hub programme. That is why we are expanding social housing delivery. There have been 10,000 social housing homes this year and families are getting keys to move into those homes.

That is how we solve this crisis.

I call Deputy Boyd Barrett for a final comment.

This report is from the Royal College of Physicians. I think it knows a thing or two about the development of children and this is what it is saying is the children who spent time in homelessness accommodation. I put in parliamentary questions and I am expecting answers tomorrow, although the Minister just indicated we will not get those answers. How many children - we know there are 4,000 currently in homeless accommodation - have spent time in emergency hubs since this Government came into office? I would like to know that, because it is multiples of 4,000. What the Royal College of Physicians is saying is that the life opportunities of these children and their development opportunities and trajectories will be forever affected by this experience of being in emergency accommodation. That situation has gotten worse, not better, in recent months and it has gotten steadily worse during the course of this Government's term of office.

I have to dispute the comments Deputy Boyd Barrett has made. Supply is the answer and supply is increasing. One should look at the numbers going into emergency accommodation since I came into office and the numbers today. Yes, an increase in the region of 2,500 is unacceptable, but in that same period, 12,000 people left homelessness.

That would not have been possible if we were not putting this huge amount of work into what we are doing. If we were not putting in place all these supports, such as those for the 27,000 households we will support this year with keys for homes, the numbers in emergency accommodation would be far higher. We need to bring them down. Supply is the answer to doing so, and we continue to drive that supply each year. It will only increase next year, as it did this year on the previous year.

Not in Dún Laoghaire.