Irish Water Administration

Ceisteanna (342)

John McGuinness

Ceist:

342. Deputy John McGuinness asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when the legislation or regulation needed to make Irish Water accountable to the Comptroller and Auditor General will be put in place. [5081/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

I am positively disposed to considering an appropriate role for the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) in relation to Irish Water. A review of the issues involved is currently underway. I hope to report shortly on an appropriate role for the C&AG with respect to Irish Water. That report will outline the next steps with respect to any amending legislation that may be required.

Internal Audits

Ceisteanna (343)

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

343. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if his Department has completed an external quality assurance assessment of its internal audit function as required by the Institute of Internal Audit standards that were introduced in 2012 (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5114/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

My Department has an Internal Audit function which is guided by the Institute of Internal Auditors’ Standards which the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform determined, in November 2012, should apply across all Departments and other Vote Holders. These Standards require that a quality assurance and improvement programme be developed for the function which involves both periodic internal assessments and external assessments being carried out every five years.

Guidance provided by the Department of Public Expenditure & Reform on meeting this particular requirement suggested that these assessments be undertaken in 2017. My Department's Internal Audit Unit, accordingly, completed an internal quality assurance assessment last year which concluded that it was operating in general conformance with the Standards. The assessment also suggested certain actions that could further strengthen compliance with the Standards and service delivery generally. The Unit is currently implementing these recommendations and plans to undertake an external quality assurance assessment later this year when the lessons learned from the internal assessment have been applied. This approach, which has been agreed with my Department’s Audit Committee, will ensure that optimal value is gained from the external review and that the Unit is positioned to continue to provide its invaluable service to the highest possible standards.

Fire Stations Provision

Ceisteanna (344)

Barry Cowen

Ceist:

344. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when funding will be provided to Monaghan County Council for the provision of a new fire station in Ballybay, County Monaghan. [5144/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

The provision of fire services in local authority areas, including the establishment and maintenance of fire brigades, the assessment of fire cover needs and the provision of premises, is a statutory function of the individual fire authorities under the provisions of the Fire Services Act, 1981. My Department supports the fire authorities through setting general policy, providing a central training programme, issuing guidance on operational and other related matters and providing capital funding for priority infrastructural projects.

In February 2016, my Department announced a five-year Fire Services Capital Programme with an allocation of €40 million, based on an annual €8 million allocation, to be used for the purchase of fire appliances and specialist equipment, building or upgrading of prioritised Fire Stations, an upgrade of the Communications and Mobilisation system and improvements to Training Centres.

Monaghan County Council has prioritised a new fire station project in Castleblayney and this is included as part of this programme under the list of priority projects to be progressed for 2019. A revised cost plan for this project is currently under consideration in my Department.

Ballybay is also included under the 2016 – 2020 Capital Programme as a new build station project to be included in annual reviews. Approval-in-principle issued in 2008 for a new fire station at Corrybrennan, Ballybay to a maximum cost of €1,000,000. In April 2009, design and cost plans were received in my Department indicating a total cost of € 1.2 million. The Council was recouped €17,000 for professional fees in 2012 and €100,000 site acquisition costs in 2016.

Correspondence was received by my Department in July 2017 indicating that the Council wishes to proceed with this project. A revised cost plan has been requested from Monaghan County Council and on receipt of this my Department will continue working with the local authority to progress this project.

Credit Union Services

Ceisteanna (345)

Barry Cowen

Ceist:

345. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the timeframe for the establishment of a new financial vehicle to allow credit unions invest in the provision of social housing; the stage the process is at; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5145/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

My Department and the Department of Finance have met with Credit Union representative bodies on a number of occasions to examine how their sector can assist in the area of financing social housing delivery.

The Central Bank is currently finalising their Consultation on Potential Changes for the Investment Framework for Credit Unions. Once this has been finalised and, if approved, the potential changes could allow for investment by credit unions in the delivery of social housing, having regard also to the potential implications of a decision expected from Eurostat in relation to the classification of Approved Housing Bodies for Government accounting purposes.

Conscious of the independence of the Central Bank in its regulatory role in respect of credit unions, bilateral engagement has taken place between both Departments to consider the potential regulatory and legislative implications of credit union involvement in the social housing sector.

Both Departments have also met with the Central Bank to provide information of a technical nature in relation to social housing funding arrangements. This was with a view to assisting the Central Bank in understanding how these arrangements operate, as it deals with issues arising from proposals put forward for credit union investment in social housing.

Approved Housing Bodies

Ceisteanna (346, 347)

Barry Cowen

Ceist:

346. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his views on the re-classification of approved housing bodies as part of general government expenditure; the impact on the calculation of fiscal space; the timeframe for such calculations; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5146/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Barry Cowen

Ceist:

347. Deputy Barry Cowen asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his plans to review schemes (details supplied) in view of the EUROSTAT reclassification of approved housing bodies expenditure; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5147/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 346 and 347 together.

As part of a review commissioned by Eurostat, the EU Statistical Office, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) were asked in October 2016 to review the classification of Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs) for Government accounting purposes.

The classification was last reviewed in 2014, with a recommendation from the CSO to Eurostat at the time that these Bodies would remain outside of the General Government Sector. This recommendation was accepted by Eurostat, with a proviso that the decision could be reviewed at a future date.

In December 2017, the CSO made a decision that 14 of the 16 largest AHBs examined (i.e. those with 300+ homes in their property portfolios) in the initial phase of the review should be re-classified as falling within the public sector, under the broad local government classification. This decision has been sent to Eurostat for their consideration and ultimate determination.

While a final decision has yet to be taken by Eurostat regarding the classification of AHB expenditure, detailed analysis of the potential impacts on the Government debt and expenditure will be completed by the relevant Departments and Agencies. To inform these considerations, the CSO is currently engaged in collecting the required data to compile the end-March 2018 Excessive Deficit Procedure (EDP) notification tables (also known as the Maastricht returns), covering general government deficit and debt. At the same time, the Department of Finance is also preparing the Stability Programme Update 2018. This will take full account of the figures published by the CSO as part of the government finance statistics release.

My Department is examining the decision by the CSO in detail, including the rationale for their recommendation, in close collaboration with my colleague Minister Donohoe’s Departments, to assess the implications as well as identifying what measures can be taken to manage or mitigate the potential impacts on the capacity of the AHB sector in the supply and management of social housing.

The potential impact of this decision on the fiscal space will depend on the outcome of these deliberations, and those between my Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in particular, regarding delivery of social housing units by AHBs. Similarly, the potential impact on the housing funding programmes as referred to by the Deputy is being examined both through this process and internally within my Department.

Notwithstanding the assessment by the CSO, the Government still sees an important role for the voluntary housing sector in contributing to delivery of social housing under Rebuilding Ireland, and we intend to press ahead with our ambitious plans to use all mechanisms and schemes, including through the AHB sector, to ensure that we maintain our planned momentum towards meeting the 50,000 Rebuilding Ireland social housing target.

Apprenticeship Data

Ceisteanna (348)

Niall Collins

Ceist:

348. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number of persons enrolled in apprenticeships in his Department and State agencies under his remit, by gender, in tabular form; and if he will list each such apprenticeship. [5260/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

There are currently no staff in my Department enrolled in apprenticeship programmes.

The details requested in relation to bodies under the aegis of my Department are a matter for the individual bodies concerned. Arrangements have been put in place by each Agency to facilitate the provision of information directly to members of the Oireachtas.

The contact email address for each agency is as below:

Agency

Email address

An Bord Pleanála

Oireachtasqueries@pleanala.ie

Ervia, Gas Networks Ireland

oireachtas@ervia.ie

Housing Sustainable Communities Agency

publicreps@housingagency.ie

Housing Finance Agency

oireachtas.enquiries@hfa.ie

Irish Water

oireachtasmembers@water.ie

Local Government Management Agency

corporate@lgma.ie

Ordnance Survey Ireland

Oireachtas@osi.ie

Property Registration Authority

reps@prai.ie

Pyrite Resolution Board

oireachtasinfo@pyriteboard.ie

Residential Tenancies Board

OireachtasMembersQueries@rtb.ie

Valuation Office

oireachtas.enquiries@VALOFF.ie

Voluntary Sector

Ceisteanna (349)

Eoin Ó Broin

Ceist:

349. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if he or officials in his Department have played a part or have attempted to interfere, limit or prevent voluntary sector organisations funded by his Department from engaging in advocacy work on behalf of their service users; if he or his officials would seek to or have sought to prevent voluntary sector organisations funded by his Department from being critical of Government policy; his views on an article (details supplied) that uncovered attempts by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive to insert a gagging order into service level agreements with voluntary sector organisations funded by his Department; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5278/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

My Department’s role in relation to homelessness involves the provision of a national framework of policy, legislation and funding to underpin the role of housing authorities in addressing homelessness at local level. Statutory responsibility in relation to the provision of accommodation, and related services, for homeless persons rests with individual housing authorities.

Many services are delivered by non-governmental service providers, on behalf of the housing authorities. As part of these contractual arrangements, the housing authorities may put in place service level agreements with the service provider to ensure effective services for homeless people are being provided and monitored through agreed arrangements.

In relation to the Deputy's specific query, service level agreements are a matter between the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive and the service providers, to which they provide substantial tax payer funding. Such agreements are important in order to ensure the best outcomes for those in need of homeless services. I see no conflict between the advocacy role of service providers and ensuring transparency and accuracy in relation to homeless service delivery.

As to my own Department, it is not the role of the Department or my own, as Minister, to interfere, limit or prevent any organisation from advocacy on behalf of their service users, whether funded by my Department or not - nor would I seek to prevent criticism of Government policy, whether it is coming from an NGO or, indeed, a State Agency.

Housing Assistance Payment Eligibility

Ceisteanna (350)

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

350. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if he will address an anomaly in the housing assistance payment, HAP, whereby properties which were provided under the former affordable housing initiative are not deemed to qualify for HAP even if the person otherwise qualifies; his views on a particular case (details supplied); the number of such properties that are affected by this policy in so far as his attention has been drawn to them; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5281/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

Circular AHS1 of 2009 - Measures to deal with Unsold Affordable Homes gives local authorities the option of bringing Unsold Affordable (USA) dwellings in their ownership into temporary social housing use through the Social Housing Current Expenditure Programme (SHCEP) (formerly known as the Social Housing Leasing Initiative (SHLI)) or the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS). This purpose of this initiative is to ensure that the outstanding loans on the dwellings remained performing loans and in return the units would be made available for social housing use on a temporary basis, with an AHB or private management company in place to manage the tenancy and the unit. As a housing option it may be used to accommodate social housing applicants, households on rent supplement for more than 18 months or homeless persons returning to mainstream accommodation.

In parallel to this, since 2009, my Department has also funded the permanent acquisition of unsold affordable units, either taken from the SHCEP scheme, progressing from temporary leased units to permanent local authority owned stock, or unsold affordable dwellings taken directly into social housing stock.

While the first priority for local authorities will continue to be to sell affordable housing to eligible purchasers, section 96(11) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 provides that, where the authority becomes satisfied that the property is no longer required for the purposes of affordable housing or social housing, it may be used for another purpose connected with its functions or be sold on the open market.

In relation to the issue raised, details have been sought and will be reviewed and a reply will be forwarded to the Deputy in accordance with Standing Orders.

The following deferred reply was received under Standing Order 42A.

As the Deputy will be aware, the option is available to local authorities to bring unsold affordable dwellings in their ownership into temporary social housing use through the Social Housing Current Expenditure Programme (SHCEP) or the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS). In parallel to this, since 2009, my Department has also funded the permanent acquisition of unsold affordable units, either taken from the SHCEP scheme, progressing from temporary leased units to permanent local authority owned stock, or unsold affordable dwellings, taken directly into social housing stock.

While the first priority for local authorities will continue to be to sell affordable housing to eligible purchasers, section 96(11) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 provides that, where the authority becomes satisfied that the property is no longer required for the purposes of affordable housing or social housing, it may be used for another purpose connected with its functions or be sold on the open market.

In situations where a local authority is using unsold affordable units for social housing under the SHCEP or RAS schemes on a temporary basis, the question of a payment being made under the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) scheme does not arise, as the tenant is already in receipt of social housing support by virtue of having such a tenancy.

I understand that the case referred to by the Deputy is one of a limited number of instances where local authorities, because of their wider responsibilities for developing and protecting sustainable communities, may have decided to rent dwellings privately to non-social housing tenants, effectively acting as a private landlord. In such cases, it is not considered appropriate that HAP landlord payments would be paid to the local authority. However, I can confirm to the Deputy that Fingal County Council are liaising closely and urgently with the tenant in question in order to find a solution to address their households needs.

Shooting Rights

Ceisteanna (351)

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

351. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the reason for the delay in processing applications for shooting deer; the reason they are issued for a short length of time (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5224/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Culture)

Wild deer in the State are protected under the Wildlife Acts. There is an annual open season during which deer can be legally shot under licence. The open season for deer operates generally from 1 September to the last day of February, depending on the species and gender of deer. My Department has granted over 5,000 deer hunting licences for the current deer hunting season. Licences are issued for an annual period with all licences expiring on 31 July, 2018.

Control of deer on private property is the responsibility of landowners who may apply to my Department for a permission under section 42 of the Wildlife Acts to cull deer where this is necessary outside the annual open seasons. These permissions offer a facility whereby a person can obtain a permit, on a case by case basis, to prevent serious damage caused by individual deer on specific lands. Permissions are only issued where there is evidence of such damage.

My Department has granted a number of Section 42 permits in recent years to the facility in question in the area in question to control deer. I am not aware of undue delay in the processing of these applications and there is no application outstanding at present from the facility referenced by the Deputy.

Internal Audits

Ceisteanna (352)

Catherine Murphy

Ceist:

352. Deputy Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht if her Department has completed an external quality assurance assessment of its internal audit function as required by the Institute of Internal Audit standards that were introduced in 2012 (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5107/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Culture)

In accordance with the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA) International Standards, my Department engaged a firm of external professional auditors in November 2017, through competitive tender, to perform an external assessment of its internal audit function. The assessment includes comparison of the practice of internal audit work with the IIA Standards and Code of Ethics, and reviews the quality of internal audit work undertaken.

The external assessment report is being drafted and the final report will issue to my Department shortly. I am assured that any issues arising from the assessment will be addressed promptly.

National Raised Bog Management Plan

Ceisteanna (353)

Michael Healy-Rae

Ceist:

353. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht the status of Moanveanlagh bog (details supplied) County Kerry; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [5138/18]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Culture)

The National Raised Bog Special Areas of Conservation Management Plan 2017-2022, published in December 2017, sets out how the raised bog special areas of conservation are to be managed, conserved and restored and how the needs of turf cutters are to be addressed, including exploring the options in terms of certain provisions of article 6 of the Habitats Directive.

In certain areas where there is a difficulty in finding relocation solutions for turf cutters, the Department, in consultation with turf cutter interests and within the framework of the National Plan, is considering whether the provisions of article 6.3 of the Habitats Directive could be utilised to provide for cutting within areas of a number of special areas of conservation. Under article 6.3 of the Directive, consent could only be given to cut turf on a raised bog special area of conservation where it can be shown by rigorous scientific investigations that such cutting will not have an adverse effect on the integrity of the site.

If it can demonstrated that turf cutting within a proposed location in a special area of conservation would not impact on the integrity of a European site, the appropriate consent would then be required from the relevant public authority.

As set out in the National Plan, Moanveanlagh Bog Special Area of Conservation is one of the sites being examined as regards the potential for domestic turf cutting on the site in accordance with the provisions of the Directive. Initial scientific investigations have been carried out on the site and the scientific investigations will be concluded as soon as possible.