Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Seanad Éireann díospóireacht -
Tuesday, 10 May 2022

Vol. 285 No. 1

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Rail Network

In the Visitors Gallery are fifth year students from Nenagh. I welcome them to Leinster House today and hope they find their visit to the Houses of the Oireachtas beneficial.

I thank the Cathaoirleach for allowing me to raise the issue of the Dublin-Cork rail service. The Minister of State, Deputy Troy, is very welcome. As he will know, the all-Ireland rail review is currently being undertaken by the Department. The electrification of the rail line, provision of a new fleet and the need to meet our climate change targets are all important.

As we take a modal shift away from the car to public transport, it is opportune that the Cork commuter rail network is being progressed and advanced. That is why I welcome today what I hope will be a decision by Government to allow for the drawing down of €74 million of the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility to take place. The electrification and upgrading of the Cork-Dublin rail line is important. If we look at the national development plan, NDP, the strategic importance of Cork as a counterbalance to Dublin and Belfast has never been more critical.

That is why I am asking for the Government, as part of the all-Ireland rail review, to advance the frequency of the Dublin-Cork rail service in the context of the electrification of the tracks, to replace existing stock and to invest to improve the rail line to ensure greater frequency, especially at peak times. It is critical that we have a movement from an hourly to half-hourly service. As I said, the electrification of the line will reduce the journey time and increase the offerings for the travelling public. Linked to that is the need for an early morning train to Cork from Dublin. In 2022, I think we will all agree that a 9.30 a.m., 9.35 a.m. or 9.40 a.m. arrival time in Cork is not acceptable. The optimal time we should have the first train into Kent Station is well before 9 o'clock at 8.30 a.m. or 8.45 a.m. I ask that this be progressed as a matter of urgency. Mar fhocal scoir, I am asking for frequency at peak times to be increased, the plan for electrification to be expedited and the journey time be reduced to one hour and 30 minutes from its present time. I call on Government, in particular the Minister, Deputy Ryan, to look at electrification.

I appreciate the issue of fares is controlled by the National Transport Authority, NTA. The NTA must work with Government, the travelling public and the commuter to ensure a fare that is economical, encouraging and attracts people to travel by train.

These are exciting times for Cork with the commuter train network being advanced. I welcome the appointment of A.J. Cronin as the delivery manager for that. I look forward to the Minister of State's reply to what is a very important matter, not just for Cork but for the southern region.

I thank Senator Buttimer for raising this question and giving me the opportunity to discuss this topic with Members of the House on behalf of the Minister for Transport, who sends his regrets.

I have been advised that Iarnród Éireann’s operational fleet is currently fully deployed on scheduled services, in line with prevailing passenger demand. The current capacity on the rail network is primarily based on demand levels pre Covid, when rapid growth in demand resulted in the utilisation of 100% of Iarnród Éireann’s operational fleet at peak times. As it stands, I am given to understand that there are 14 services from Dublin to Cork each day on weekdays, with the first service departing at 7 a.m., and a further ten services from Dublin to Cork on weekend days.

The Cork route, as is common with those to other provincial cities, has a dominant demand for travel to Dublin in the morning peak, and from Dublin in the evening peak. Iarnród Éireann’s timetable is designed to service this demand as far as is practical. However, it is acknowledged that there are alternative travel demands to this established pattern, such as earlier departure times to Dublin, as referenced by the Senator. Fleet and driver resources would be required to provide additional services and it is something that could be considered in the medium term if demand was established and when new rolling stock expands Irish Rail’s operational fleet over the coming years.

Post Covid, passenger demand is suppressed in the short term, albeit showing gradual signs of improvement as we exit the Covid-19 pandemic. Significantly altered travel patterns are emerging and Iarnród Éireann intends to undertake an analysis of post-Covid travel trends across the network in late 2022, including the Dublin to Cork line, in order to review its service offering and adapt its timetable to meet customer demands. It is expected that this assessment, being undertaken in conjunction with the National Transport Authority, will take a number of months to finalise as new travel patterns become more established with a phased return to the workplace. This process will also take into account the delivery of 41 intercity railcar carriages, commencing from mid-2022. Once this analysis process has been completed, a timetable and capacity proposal will be prepared and issued for public consultation on Iarnród Éireann’s website.

Further, the national development plan that was launched by the Government in October 2021 will result in the introduction of additional public transport infrastructure which will help to relieve congestion on the network while also providing new rolling stock to provide greater capacity for Iarnród Éireann’s increasing passenger numbers into the future. An initial order of 95 electric and battery-electric carriages for the DART+ fleet was placed in December 2021. It is expected that the first 95 carriages will arrive from mid-2024, entering service on the rail network from 2025 and potentially freeing up existing commuter and intercity rolling stock for use on other routes across the rail network.

The strategic rail review, which the Senator referenced, is being undertaken in co-operation with the Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland. This will inform the development of interurban and interregional rail on the island of Ireland over the coming decades. This will be one of the most significant reviews of the rail network on the island in many years, providing a framework to develop an improved rail network for our future. The review will consider the potential scope for improved rail services along various existing and potential future corridors of the network, including Cork to Dublin. The report is due to be finalised in the fourth quarter of this year.

I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply and acknowledge the positivity in it. It is imperative that Irish Rail delivers on an early morning train service from Dublin to Cork. A 7 a.m. departure time from Dublin is no longer acceptable or tenable. Notwithstanding the 14 daily services from Dublin to Cork, it is important we have delivery of that early morning train. The national development plan places Cork at its heart. Central to that is investment in an alternative to the car, which is public transport. If we are to complete that modal shift we need that early morning train from Dublin to Cork, which will serve Cork and its hinterlands.

This would be economically positive for the region.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply. I look forward to the all-Ireland review and to working with the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and the Minister of State, Deputy Naughton, on delivering this early morning train service from Dublin to Cork.

The Senator is right to say that the Government recognises the importance of getting more people onto public transport. It is important for improving their quality of life and for the country meeting its obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 51% by 2030. We have committed to making the largest ever investment in public transport as part of the national development plan, which was launched in October 2021.

I will report the Senator's points to the Minister. If we are serious about getting people to use public transport, we must ensure that we put services on at times that passengers need them for work and so on, not just at times that it suits to run them.

Heritage Centres

As always, the Minister of State is welcome.

This issue has been ongoing since the Shannon Airport Authority decided that it no longer had a strategic interest in Shannon Heritage. The questions then were what would happen to Shannon Heritage's facilities and under whose auspices would they be. King John's Castle has been transferred to Limerick City and County Council, which is a good fit.

In Clare, Shannon Heritage essentially comprises the Bunratty, Craggaunowen and Knappogue facilities, which have been visited by millions upon millions of tourists down the years. Sadly, Shannon Group's capital investment in the castles and various facilities that form part of Shannon Heritage's offering in County Clare has been practically non-existent over the past decade, if not longer. The facilities have depreciated, not just in monetary value, but in their value as tourism offerings. This is a great pity because we all remember visiting Bunratty Castle and Folk Park when we were children. Many also remember visiting Knappogue and Craggaunowen. These facilities should never have been allowed to deteriorate to their current level.

Clare County Council has stepped up to the plate and stated that it is interested in taking over and running the facilities in the same professional manner that it runs other facilities, for example, the Vandeleur walled garden in Kilrush and the Cliffs of Moher Experience in north Clare, but why should ratepayers and Clare County Council have to suffer financial loss for doing the right thing? It is accepted by all parties that the council is the right body to take over and develop these facilities. Ideally, the Office of Public Works, OPW, should be doing this. Given the council's tourism experience, though, this is a good fit and will complement the other attractions that the council is running successfully.

Some €15 million over three years is required, but that will only be the start of it. I understand that due diligence is still under way. This investment is necessary so that ratepayers and the council do not take a financial hit. We cannot compromise critical services that the local authority provides, for example, housing. If the council is expected to take over the facilities – it is happy to do so – then the Government needs to step up to the plate and provide the necessary financial resources to make this happen, allow it to be successful in the short term and make it sustainable into the future.

Some 150 people are working in the facilities. They deserve clarity, and only the Government can provide that clarity.

The Government will be required to write the cheque to make it viable in the short term and sustainable into the future. I await the response of the Minister of State.

I thank the Senator for his comprehensive introduction to the topic, which I am taking on behalf of the Minister for Transport. As advised by the Minister in February, the Government recognises that Shannon Heritage and its heritage sites are of significant importance not just to the mid-west region but also to Ireland's tourism offering and our historic, built heritage. Since the previous update, King John's Castle successfully transferred to Limerick City and County Council on 4 April 2022. I would like to acknowledge the extensive effort and preparation that Shannon Group and the council engaged in to bring this about.

I am also happy to provide a further update to the House today on the transfer of the Clare heritage site to which the Senator referred. Shannon Group continues to engage with Clare County Council regarding the transfer of the Shannon Heritage business and key sites. Department of Transport officials also met with Clare County Council officials last week and were provided with an update on the due diligence process under way in the council and the work that remains to be done. Shannon Group considers that the transfer of Shannon Heritage business and the Clare sites is the best way to secure the longer-term viability of the business and the interests of Shannon Heritage employees. It will also maintain the intrinsic heritage value of the sites in the mid-west for current and future generations. The transfer also fits in well with the County Clare Tourism Strategy 2030 and the considerable experience that Clare County Council has in operating its existing visitor attractions. Once the necessary due diligence work is complete for the sites, and final business transfer agreements signed, Shannon Group will seek the formal consent of the Minister for Transport and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to execute the transfer of the business and the relevant heritage sites. This will also be done with the agreement of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

The Department of Transport has been engaging bilaterally with other Departments on the matter of the transfer. The Department recently established an interdepartmental working group, which I believe is the most appropriate way to now progress the matter effectively, consider the funding requirements and bring this matter to a successful conclusion. Representatives from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Public Expenditure and Reform and Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sports and Media, and the OPW have been invited to participate in this group. The OPW has agreed to re-engage on its maintenance responsibilities in the conservation and maintenance role of Bunratty Castle and King John’s Castle. In preparation for undertaking this role, the OPW has been carrying out necessary assessments of both buildings to inform the programme of works needed and the associated costs. The Department of Transport is continuing to engage with the OPW in this regard. Before any transfer is executed, it remains the responsibility of Shannon Group to operate and manage the Shannon Heritage business in line with its commercial mandate and fiduciary best practice and with awareness of the group’s accountability for the proper management of the company. While Shannon Group was due to close Bunratty Castle and King John’s Castle in September 2021 for the winter season, the continuation of Government supports meant that the sites could remain open, although with reduced opening hours. I understand that the castles are fully reopened for the summer season, which is welcome.

Despite the ongoing impact of Covid-19, I am happy to inform the Senator that there were some positive developments last year. Almost 500,000 people visited the Shannon Heritage sites in 2021 representing a 64.2% increase on the 2020 visitor numbers. The recent resumption of transatlantic flights at Shannon Airport also presents an opportunity to welcome back international tourists to the sites over the coming months, which is most welcome. I am confident that this represents a turning point, and that we will see a further increase in international visitors this year, which will be welcomed as a positive development, no doubt by the Senator as well.

I thank the Minister of State for taking the time to take this matter on behalf of the Minister for Transport. I accept people's bona fides in this. I accept the fact that there is an interdepartmental working group, which is absolutely the correct way to go about this, but there is a bottom line, which is that the taking over of the Shannon Heritage sites in County Clare cannot result in a negative financial impact on Clare County Council.

The council executive will not tolerate it and, certainly, the members of Clare County Council will not tolerate it. I can absolutely guarantee that the ratepayers of Clare will not tolerate it. That is the bottom line. Beyond that, engagement will have to happen in terms of a significant capital investment in the future, which will include significant borrowing because of the audiovisual and all that is on offer in other facilities. We need to ensure that there is capital investment to protect the buildings in the first instance, but then improve the offering that is available to tourists. Tourists now are much more discerning and absolutely will be much more demanding in the visitor experience they would want. I welcome the Minister of State’s reply. I know it is ongoing, but for the sake of everybody, particularly the staff who are working, clarity is needed. Perhaps in the Minister of State's supplementary reply he might be able to tell me if there is a timeframe and time limit set for this working group to come back with its recommendations.

To reiterate, there is a commitment at Government level to protect the future of the Shannon Heritage sites. That is why there has been the establishment of the interdepartmental working group that can work through the issues that the Senator has so articulately raised. Unfortunately, I do not have a timeframe because it is not my area of responsibility. However, I will give the Senator a commitment that I will bring back the points that he has raised on the floor of the Seanad to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, and ensure that he is aware of those valid points. I will ask the Minister to reply to the Senator directly in terms of the timeframe. I can understand that this time of uncertainty creates anxiousness and concerns in the community. We need to bring that uncertainty to a conclusion very quickly. I will look for the completion date to reported back to the Senator as soon as possible.

We are now waiting for the arrival of the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke. I propose that we suspend proceedings until the conclusion of the division in the Dáil. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 2.58 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 3.06 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 2.58 p.m. and resumed at 3.06 p.m.

Legal Services Regulation

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ossian Smyth, my colleague, neighbour and friend from Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, who is here to deal with this matter. I am grateful to him for coming in because this is an important issue, namely the unwinding of cuts to criminal legal aid fees. It is not a secret that I am a criminal barrister and I still work in that sphere and receive criminal legal aid payments but I am not issuing this request out of self-interest. There is a sustained campaign by criminal barristers to deal with this issue because it is a serious issue for those practising criminal law.

There is a misconception out there that barristers all do very well and that they are all wealthy. It is a popular thing to say and certain media outlets love to refer to the Four Goldmines but that does not apply to criminal barristers. Crime does not pay in that sphere and we do not work in the Four Goldmines; we work in the Criminal Courts of Justice on Parkgate St., and in district and circuit courts throughout Ireland. This affects every county and community because the reality is that the amounts available to be paid under the criminal legal aid scheme were slashed at the time of the financial crisis in this country by between 30% and 50%, depending on the nature of the payment. It was a significant reduction in the pay available to people practising in the area of crime. We should bear in mind that they were already the worst-paid lawyers in the system, including solicitors, and then their pay was cut by that amount. Everybody took that pain at the time that it was necessary during the financial crisis and they dealt with it. Civil servants, healthcare workers and people providing professional services also took that cut; it was across the board. Yet here we are ten, 11 and 12 years later and the only people for whom pay has not been reinstated is those practising in criminal law, including solicitors and barristers. Their fees remain at the level they were cut to after the financial emergency.

It does not make sense because the State gets incredibly good value from the practitioners in this area. They are all self-employed and none of them works for the State. The State, therefore, does not have to pay them sick leave, maternity benefit, pension rights, PRSI and all the other benefits that come with having employees. The State does not have to pay that; they pay it themselves and they pay for their offices. When we are compared with other jurisdictions around the world, we are incredibly good value for the taxpayer. A number of reports have compared us with other common law jurisdictions in Europe and the most recent one in 2018 shows that the cost of legal aid per head of population was €18.40. Each person in Ireland contributed €18.40 to the cost of having a legal aid system that provides for those who cannot provide for themselves in legal defence. When compared with the figures in England and Wales, for example, our neighbouring jurisdiction, it is €38.14, more than double what it is in this jurisdiction, while in Northern Ireland, it is €73.50. The State gets excellent value and yet it has turned its back on those defending people within our criminal justice system and it refuses, inexplicably, to reinstate that fee.

There is a consequence coming down the road, and people are abandoning criminal law. Although it may not be the case yet that there are no lawyers to do the work of criminal defence, that will happen. It happened to a great extent in the 1980s and it will happen again if the State does not recognise that the only fair thing to do is not to give a big payment out to these people but to reinstate the rates of pay available to them for work in the criminal courts.

I thank Senator Ward for raising this matter.

I will provide some background on this issue. The Criminal Justice (Legal Aid) Act 1962 gives expression to the constitutional right that free legal aid must be granted, in certain circumstances, for the defence of persons of insufficient means in criminal proceedings. The Judiciary is responsible for the granting of legal aid. Legal services under the criminal legal aid scheme are provided by private solicitors and barristers who have notified their availability to undertake legal aid work. Thus, they are not public servants but private contractors and are remunerated accordingly. The Department of Justice is responsible for the payment of fees and expenses to these legal practitioners.

As the Senator will be aware, counsel fees under the criminal legal aid scheme were subject to two 8% reductions, which were imposed in March 2009 and April 2010, respectively. These reductions formed part of a broader Government agenda to reduce escalating legal costs and were underpinned by Government decisions. A further reduction was imposed in 2011 primarily to control spending under the criminal legal aid scheme and formed part of a broader Government need to reduce costs across the public service. This was also underpinned by a Government decision.

The Government fully acknowledges and appreciates the very important work undertaken by barristers who prosecute criminal work on behalf of the State. My Department has engaged constructively with key stakeholders, including the Bar Council of Ireland, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Department of Justice on this matter. In particular, my Department has sought evidence to support any claims that the reductions imposed are linked to significant recruitment and retention issues thereby potentially adversely affecting the administration of justice.

Based on data put forward by the Bar Council of Ireland to date, there does not appear to be any compelling evidence that the reduction in fees since 2009 has led to significant recruitment or retention issues or to a shortage of counsel prepared to do criminal work to the extent that the operation of the criminal justice system is significantly hampered. My Department of course remains available to review any further information that may be provided. Furthermore, my Department has requested the advice of the Office of the Attorney General seeking clarification as to whether Government has a statutory liability to restore these professional fees. Those advices are awaited.

My Department will continue to keep the matter of these professional fees under review, pending the legal advice that has been sought from the Office of the Attorney General and will continue to engage with key stakeholders, as appropriate.

I thank the Minister of State. I do not deny that the fees were cut at a time when there was a need to make cuts. It is not the case that criminal and legal aid fees were responsible for escalating legal costs, given that they are controlled by the Government so that is an aspect that is not relevant. Even if it were the case that the Government cannot identify a looming crisis, that is not a good enough reason not to restore these fees. All of the fees paid to professionals whether an architect, psychologist or whatever have been restored but for some reason, the Government refuses to restore the fees paid to criminal legal aid practitioners.

To put this matter in context, if a barrister appears in a District Court for a case then he or she is paid a rate of €25.20 for the privilege plus VAT for however long he or she works that day. It is also a reality that he or she will also have to wait for the solicitor to receive his or her payment before the split fee is passed to the barrister. There is a thing that the Government can do without increasing fees at all and that is to provide a direct payment for barristers out of the District Court, for example, in the same way that they get in the Circuit Court, the Central Criminal Court and other courts. That could be done to ease the burden, particularly on junior barristers. Just because we have not yet seen this crisis coming does not mean that it will not come. It would be a grave mistake for the Government to wait until practitioners have deserted criminal law in their droves to decide to fix the problem. As we know that the crisis is coming, I implore the Government to fix it now please.

There have been negotiations with other professions where fees have been adjusted but that has involved changes to the contract and productivity improvements, which involved long negotiations with the representative bodies. My Department is available for continuing discussions with the Bar Council of Ireland, if that does go ahead.

I take the Senator's point about his worry there would be a reduction in the quality of service, the numbers available or the ability to recruit or retain people. My Department so far does not have evidence to support that but is open to receiving same, should it be produced. I agree it is something that must be watched carefully.

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Peter Burke, to the House. He is always worth waiting for.

Fire Safety

I thank the Minister of State for taking this matter today. On 26 April, apartment owners in a particular complex in Dublin South-Central were informed by the management company that they were each going to be levied with a fee of €32,000 for construction defects in the complex to cover the work needed to bring it up to the correct fire safety standards. Of that sum, €7,000 must be paid by the first week of June. Regardless of their circumstances, they have been levied with this amount. The cause of this deficit is being borne by the apartment owners. It is a result of the self-regulation system that was at the core of construction in the Celtic tiger years. Homeowners are not to blame yet they are the ones being obliged to find these eye-watering sums to rectify something that was most certainly was not of their doing. I received several emails from residents of this particular complex. I will read an extract from one of them in which the writer states:

I am a single, working mother, paying a mortgage and trying to keep my head above water as the cost of living soars. All my life I have tried to do the right thing, I work fulltime … and have never before looked to my politicians for help. To be landed with a bill of 32,000Euro , which I consider a life -altering amount, is quite simply beyond my capabilities and I am so distraught and stressed over it that I really don't know what to do or who to turn to. How is any normal person supposed to face this?

Institutional landlords and private landlords get to write this cost off against tax and yet normal owner-occupiers have to pony up such huge amounts without any support, as yet. However, it is unconscionable and an issue that must be addressed urgently. These homeowners need a resolution. I appreciate there is a working group and I can almost predict the speech the Minister of State will give in response. I am conscious the working group is ongoing. It is due to report by June, one would hope. Presumably its report will make a redress recommendation that will then go to Cabinet and be hammered out in the budget negotiations. That is all of our hope in this situation. However, it is too long for the homeowners I have mentioned. If a redress scheme is envisaged, then why can we not look at an interim one? We all agree some sort of scheme is going to happen here. In light of mica and pyrite there is going to have to be an apartment owners redress scheme. If we know that, why can we not establish some sort of State loan or give letters of comfort, on the back of which those homeowners can be guaranteed to go to credit unions? Why can we not set up some sort of system like that, such that loans will be repaid out of tax allowances or some other way for the homeowners to be reimbursed?

I wish this complex was the only one in Dublin South-Central but unfortunately it is not. Pretty much every email I get in asks me not to mention the name because they are now terrified their properties cannot be sold. They are in a dire situation. I appreciate also that next week, the Minister is going to bring a memo to Cabinet on the defective blocks redress scheme. In light of that we know that where homeowners have been caught out through what was a deficit in construction oversight, the State is going to put in redress. On the back of that, I ask that we put in some sort of a system that supports these homeowners in that interim period.

I apologise for being delayed. We were voting in the Dáil. I thank the Senator. This is a very important issue. It is a very distressing position for those she represents to be in, as she has quite rightly articulated. I have met a number of homeowners in my own constituency who are unfortunately faced with similar problems because of defects in properties delivered to them, defects that were no fault of their own. It is very frustrating. There are a number of such cases right around the country.

In recognition of the difficulties faced by residents who are encountering defects in housing, the programme for Government sets out a number of commitments in respect of the important policy area of addressing building defects. Housing for All, the Government's national plan on housing to 2030, reiterates this commitment. In this context, my colleague, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, established a working group to examine defects in housing under the chairmanship of Mr. Seamus Neely, the former chief executive of Donegal County Council. The plenary working group has been meeting monthly since March 2021, with the exception of August. In addition, regular sub-group meetings have been taking place to advance elements of the work. The group's terms of reference are focused on purpose-built apartment buildings, including duplexes, constructed in Ireland between 1991 and 2013.

In summary, the terms of reference are: to examine defects in housing having regard to the recommendations under heading 4, "Addressing the legacy of bad building and poor regulation", in chapter 4 of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government's report entitled "Safe as Houses? A Report on Building Standards, Building Controls and Consumer Protection"; to establish the nature of significant and widespread fire safety, structural safety and water ingress defects in purpose-built apartment buildings, including duplexes, constructed between 1991 and 2013; to establish the scale of the issue, including work to estimate the number of dwellings affected by the defects identified, including those already remediated; to consider a methodology for the categorisation of defects and the prioritisation of remedial action; to suggest mechanisms for resolving defects; to evaluate the potential cost of technical remediation options; and to pursue options on possible financial solutions to effect a resolution in line with the programme for Government commitment to identify options for those impacted by defects to access low-cost, long-term finance. That last point was one of the key components of the argument the Senator put forward for her area.

As part of its deliberations, the working group has consulted with a wide range of relevant stakeholders. The insights gained through engagement with stakeholders, as well as the outcome of an online consultation undertaken earlier this year, will inform the ongoing deliberations of the working group and support the group in delivering on its extensive terms of reference and finalising its report to the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien. I have sought an update from the Minister, who has said that he is satisfied that the group is working effectively and efficiently on this very complex matter. He awaits the group's report, to be delivered later this year when it has concluded its deliberations. I wish assure the Senator that work is ongoing in that regard.

I understand the pressures these people are facing. The same pressures are present in my own constituency. Solutions are needed quite quickly because of the great liability being placed on ordinary families through no fault of their own. I will raise the issue with the Minister again. If the Senator would like to detail the specific issue in her area, I can raise that with him as well.

I thank the Minister of State. This is an issue in everybody's constituency. The worrying aspect is not just that homeowners are barred from the possibility of sale or the costs involved, but also that there are insurance issues. These homeowners cannot get insurance on their properties.

The management companies of some of these complexes are now insolvent because they have spent their sinking funds. Some homeowners are withholding funds from these management companies. They are not paying because they are not going to get services and are nervous about their own financial well-being. As a consequence, common areas are not being refurbished and lighting is not being maintained.

All of the things that flow from this issue are really urgent. Using words like "later this year" in respect of the timeline makes me very anxious and suggests there is not the level of urgency that is needed in this regard. Unfortunately, these homeowners are not as vocal as the mica and pyrite people. They are not outside at the gates because they are terrified and broke.

The fact they do not mobilise should not take from anything. We must insist they are at the top of the political agenda, that they are being heard and their issue is being addressed urgently.

I take the Senator's point very seriously. In the first instance, we must capture exactly the extent of this issue right across the country and also in terms of the budget that will underpin what will be a significant remediation scheme. I would point to the many legacy issues with which we are still grappling post the previous decade and more, including that we are trying to establish the professional register for building contractors, which will assure people into the future of a standard of quality assurance in the work they contract builders to do. Much of that good work is ongoing. It will improve matters.

I appreciate the point the Senator has made. I have met a delegation from my constituency on many occasions who have sought to further advance this issue which, in their position, relates to fire safety, which is also a very serious matter. People potentially could be at risk from the outbreak of a fire. I will do my best to pressure the Department as much as I can in this regard. I understand it is a genuine issue. It is a major debt to force upon ordinary constituents which can be very difficult to discharge. As a State, we need to step up to wrongdoing which is not due to any fault of the apartment owners.

I thank the Minister of State and the Senator.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 3.26 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 3.30 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 3.26 p.m. and resumed at 3.30 p.m.