Local Government Reform

Question No. 74 answered with Question No. 40.

Question No. 75 answered with Question No. 59.

Ceisteanna (73, 92, 962)

Darragh O'Brien

Ceist:

73. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his plans to hold further plebiscites on directly elected mayors in Waterford and Cork; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23882/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

92. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of plans for directly elected mayors here; his plans to implement the outcome of the plebiscite in Limerick, the setting up of a citizens’ assembly in Dublin and for Galway to consider its options; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23686/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Niall Collins

Ceist:

962. Deputy Niall Collins asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if the result of the recent plebiscite on a directly elected mayor for Limerick city will be recognised and abided by; when the election for this new office will take place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23370/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 73, 92 and 962 together.

I welcome the decision by the people of the Limerick City and County Council area, in the plebiscite held on 24 May 2019, to support the Government's proposals for a directly elected mayor with executive functions for their area. It is now my intention to deliver on the will of the people of Limerick without delay. Significant work on the proposal has already been carried out in the form of the published document "Directly Elected Mayors with Executive Functions: Detailed Policy Proposals" approved by the Government on 20 March 2019.

Under Section 44 of the Local Government Act 2019, the Minister is now required to prepare and submit to the Houses of the Oireachtas a report with legislative proposals for a directly elected mayor for Limerick. There is a further significant piece of work required to systematically analyse all legislation conferring functions and powers on local authority chief executives and this will involve consultation with key stakeholders.

Under the Act, the Report and legislative proposals must be submitted by 24 May 2021, two years after the plebiscite vote. However, I have asked my Department to prioritise this work with a view to bringing the Report and legislative proposals forward at the earliest opportunity.

Under the Government's proposal, a full 5 year term of office for the directly elected mayor with executive functions is envisaged, with elections taking place with local elections. However, a possible election date in 2022 was identified for the first directly elected mayor, with a consequently shorter first term envisaged up to the next local elections in 2024.

In the expectation that the preparatory work can be carried out and the legislative process is prioritised in the Oireachtas, the first election for mayor could take place in Limerick City and County Council in 2021.

The people of Cork City and Waterford City and County narrowly rejected the Government's proposals in the recent plebiscites in those local authority areas, and I fully respect the outcome of the votes there. In accordance with the legislation, the priority now is on delivering the mandate given by the people of Limerick.

In relation to Dublin, work is underway in the Department of the Taoiseach on proposals for the establishment of a new Citizens’ Assembly to consider a number of issues, including the issue of a directly elected mayor for Dublin and the form that this should take. The function of a Citizens’ Assembly is to inform the public and increase overall awareness of topics being examined. Consideration is being given to the parameters of this and other topics and how best to optimise the use of an Assembly’s time and the taxpayers money. Proposals are expected to come before Government shortly.

Finally, in relation to Galway, as provisions enabling the amalgamation of Galway City and County Councils and the holding of a plebiscite on a directly elected mayor for Galway included in the Local Government Bill were not passed by the Oireachtas, a plebiscite did not proceed there last month. My Department is now working with the two local authorities to consider and recalibrate the local government modernisation programme in Galway in light of the passage of the Bill.

Question No. 74 answered with Question No. 40.
Question No. 75 answered with Question No. 59.

Local Authority Housing Data

Ceisteanna (76)

John Curran

Ceist:

76. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number of housing units he expects to be built by each local authority in 2019; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23988/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

The overall social housing ambition for 2019 under Rebuilding Ireland is to support more than 27,000 households. This consists of 10,000 social housing homes to be delivered through build, acquisition and leasing programmes, with a further 17,360 households to be supported under the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) and Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS). It is expected that 6,545 of the 10,000 homes referred to above will be delivered through local authority and approved housing body (AHB) build programmes.

Targets have been provided to each local authority, outlining their individual target under build, acquisition, leasing, HAP and RAS and a full breakdown of these targets is available on the Rebuilding Ireland website at the following link: http://rebuildingireland.ie/news/social-housing-targets-2019/.

Continuing the approach adopted last year, to further increase transparency and accountability for delivery of these targets at a local level, progress made by local authorities against targets will be published on a quarterly basis.

Election Management System

Ceisteanna (77)

Shane Cassells

Ceist:

77. Deputy Shane Cassells asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if the recent extensive counting periods for the ballot papers in European and local elections will result in consideration being given to the introduction of voting by electronic and online methods. [23895/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

In February 2000, the then Government approved, in principle, the introduction of direct vote recording and electronic vote counting at elections. In broad terms, electronic voting and counting was originally proposed in order to:

- improve the efficiency of electoral administration;

- provide election results more quickly;

- make it easier for the public to vote;

- support a positive image of the country in the use of information technology.

However, over the course of the development and testing of the proposed electronic voting system, it became clear that, notwithstanding relatively minor issues in relation to the manual system of voting, there was, and remains, very significant public confidence in that system. Equally, it became clear that the electorate were not supportive of the proposed roll out of electronic voting due to significant concerns that emerged in public debate, in particular, on the security of the vote. Against this background, the then Government decided, in 2008, not to proceed with the implementation of electronic voting in Ireland.

While the counting period at the recent European Parliament elections in the South constituency took longer than would normally have been the case, the number of candidates standing for election and, consequentially, the size of the ballot paper contributed significantly to the counting period.

While electoral law is subject to ongoing review, I currently have no proposals to examine, or introduce, measures in support of electronic and online voting at local and European elections held in the State.

Homeless Accommodation Provision

Question No. 79 answered with Question No. 64.

Ceisteanna (78)

Eoin Ó Broin

Ceist:

78. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government when the inspections of private and voluntary emergency homeless accommodation will commence; the person or body that will carry out the inspections; the number of providers that will be inspected in 2019; if there are targets for achieving 100% inspections; and when he will introduce a fully independent inspection regime. [23889/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

Statutory responsibility in relation to the provision of accommodation and related services for homeless persons rests with individual housing authorities. This responsibility of housing authorities includes responsibility for ensuring that contracted services are delivered in a professional manner, in line with any service level agreement that is in place.

Supporting individuals and families experiencing homelessness is a priority for the Government. The Dublin Region Homeless Executive has developed a National Quality Standards Framework (NQSF) on behalf of my Department. The Framework has been developed to ensure a more consistent approach in how local authorities and service providers respond to the needs of those experiencing homelessness. The Framework was implemented on a phased basis in the Dublin region, with site visits commencing in February. The experience gained from the recent completion of the roll-out in the Dublin region and the commencement of site visits has allowed the DRHE to evaluate how the Framework should be implemented nationally and to advise my Department accordingly.

Last month, my Department wrote to local authorities, instructing them on the process for the implementation of the Framework, which is to be implemented on a nationwide basis over a 12-month period commencing on 1 July 2019. Upon completion of the implementation phase, local authorities will commence site visits to ensure compliance with the Framework. Management of these site visits will be a matter for local authorities. While I have no plans at present to introduce an alternative inspection regime, the implementation of the Framework will be kept under ongoing review..

Question No. 79 answered with Question No. 64.

Election Management System

Question No. 81 answered with Question No. 45.

Question No. 82 answered with Question No. 50.

Ceisteanna (80)

Clare Daly

Ceist:

80. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the reason a public information campaign or similar was not carried out in the run up to the 2019 local and European elections to highlight to voters the implications of a judgment (details supplied). [23733/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

Electoral law provides that a ballot paper at an election is invalid for a number of reasons: if it does not bear the official mark; does not clearly indicate a first preference for some candidate; indicates a first preference for more than one candidate; has no mark placed in it; or has anything written or marked on it, which in the opinion of the local returning officer is calculated to identify the elector.

My Department recently completed a public consultation on a Regulatory Impact Analysis (RIA) that was prepared in relation to the establishment of an electoral commission. One of the proposed functions of the commission as set out in the RIA could be to develop programmes and implement ways to enhance voter education and engagement. Such programmes could assist the public in having a better understanding of the voting system.

The submissions received in the course of the consultation are being considered in my Department and the content used to inform a preferred option for establishing a commission, which will be brought to Government for consideration. Once a preferred option is agreed, work would then commence on the preparation of the necessary legislation to establish an electoral commission.

Question No. 81 answered with Question No. 45.
Question No. 82 answered with Question No. 50.

Water Services

Ceisteanna (83)

Eoin Ó Broin

Ceist:

83. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of the talks between Irish Water, trade unions and his Department on the creation of a single utility for water services. [23892/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

The Government’s Water Services Policy Statement 2018-2025 sets the broad policy context for the development of water services, including the position of Irish Water as the single, publicly owned national water services authority. This is consistent with the recommendations made by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services in 2017, and the legislative reforms in the Water Services Acts.

In this context, Irish Water has proposed fully integrating its operations and ending the current operational arrangements for the delivery of water services through service level agreements with local authorities.

On 19 September 2018, the Director General of the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) reported on a process of engagement, undertaken at my request, with the parties involved in the transformation programme for Irish Water, including ICTU and relevant affiliated unions, local government management through the County and City Management Association, Irish Water and my Department. In response to the WRC report, I asked the parties to engage in a process to work towards the development of a stable structural and operational framework for the future.

This would replace the current Service Level Agreements for the provision of water services, with arrangements which:

(a) provide Irish Water, as the national water services authority, with the necessary control of operations, accountability and capacity to manage risk and communicate and negotiate with all water services workers on the change agenda and provide a single identity for customer facing services;

(b) ensure that Irish Water is not left without an appropriate skilled workforce to carry out its statutory functions and local authorities are not left with stranded costs; and,

(c) address the concerns of workers in relation to the future deployment of the current local authority water staff, by developing arrangements which meet the objectives set out above, while not requiring the invoking of Section 19 of the Water Services (No.2) Act 2013, other than by collective agreement. Section 19 relates to the process of designation of local authority staff for transfer to Irish Water on termination of a SLA.

I recognise the challenges involved in this process and the concerns which all parties to the process have, especially the workers.

The proposed changes also give rise to significant challenges for the local government sector in Ireland. Any process of transformation needs to be cognisant of the potential impacts on the wider local government system. Ultimately, given my Department's responsibility for the local government system, I want to ensure that our local authorities continue to be a vibrant and progressive component of public service delivery in Ireland.

The formal engagement under the WRC commenced in February 2019 and two formal meetings have been held to date. I am grateful for the commitment of the WRC in facilitating the process.

There are also constitutional and governance issues that are of interest and relevant to the future provision of water services in Ireland. These matters are being discussed between parties in different strands of dialogue outside of the WRC process.

Local Authority Housing

Ceisteanna (84)

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

84. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the actions he is taking to implement pillar 5 of the Rebuilding Ireland initiative relating to council owned homes; if there is national monitoring of the amount of funding each council sets aside for housing maintenance including work undertaken on vacated homes in advance of re-letting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23684/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

The management and maintenance of local authority housing stock, including pre-letting repairs to vacant properties, responsive repairs and planned maintenance programmes, is a matter for each individual local authority, in line with section 58 of the Housing Act 1966. Local authorities return vacant properties to use through their own resources but my Department also continues to provide exchequer support to local authorities under the voids programme to support the timely re-tenanting of social homes that become vacant and require significant investment prior to re-letting.

The challenges faced by local authorities in re-tenanting properties vary considerably, with some requiring minimal upgrade or redecoration, while others require very extensive and costly pre-letting works before they can be safely re-tenanted. The most appropriate manner in which lasting improvements can be made in this area, in line with the relevant objectives of Rebuilding Ireland, is to have a common approach based on best practice across the local government sector. In that regard, a group representing a number of local authorities is working to identify best practice in relation to housing stock maintenance and repairs, within the structure of the City and County Management Association (CCMA). An element of this work involves identifying how the swift return of homes to the active social housing stock can be achieved most efficiently, while complying with the minimum standards for rented accommodation, which apply to local authority housing.

The CCMA group is also working with my Department on a sustainable funding approach for this work. In addition, local authority elected members can play an important role in this regard by allocating adequate resources to the maintenance of their housing stock in the budgetary process and by overseeing the performance of their respective local authorities in achieving timely re-lettings of social housing homes.

Local Authority Housing Data

Ceisteanna (85)

Jan O'Sullivan

Ceist:

85. Deputy Jan O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the number of council homes re-let in 2018 for each local authority in tabular form; the average time it took to re-let council homes in each of the local authorities; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23683/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

The management and maintenance of local authority housing stock, including pre-letting repairs to vacant properties, responsive repairs and planned maintenance programmes, is a matter for each individual local authority, in line with section 58 of the Housing Act 1966. The challenges faced by local authorities in re-tenanting properties vary considerably, with some properties requiring minimal upgrade or re-decoration, while others require extensive and costly pre-letting works before they can be safely re-tenanted. Local authorities return vacant properties to use through their own resources but my Department also continues to provide exchequer support under the voids programme for the timely re-tenanting of social homes that become vacant and require significant investment prior to re-letting.

Local authorities will always have a certain level of vacancy in their housing stock as tenancies come to an end in the ordinary course of events. All local authorities, however, are actively encouraged to ensure all vacant properties in their stock are brought back into use as expeditiously as possible.

The National Oversight & Audit Commission (NOAC) reviews the social housing stock level in local authorities, including the number of vacant properties. NOAC’s activities in this regard are summarised in its Annual Performance Indicator Reports for the years 2014-2017; the most recent data on a local authority basis are set out in the 2017 report which is available on the NOAC website at the following link: http://noac.ie/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/NOAC-Performance-Indicators-Report-2017.pdf.

Homeless Persons Supports

Ceisteanna (86)

Eoin Ó Broin

Ceist:

86. Deputy Eoin Ó Broin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his views on the key recommendations of the report of the Ombudsman for Children on children’s experiences of family hubs; and the recommendations from the report he plans to pursue. [23893/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

Supporting families experiencing homelessness is a key Government priority. In addition to an ambitious social housing programme being rolled out under Rebuilding Ireland, the Government's Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, which is designed to meet housing needs on a long-term basis, a network of family hubs is also being put in place to provide a better response than is possible through hotels, for addressing the immediate needs of families experiencing homelessness and requiring emergency accommodation. As well as providing enhanced facilities, including in relation to cooking and laundry, families in hubs also receive better supports, including support to identify and secure an independent tenancy.

On 18 April 2019, the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman published ‘No Place Like Home’, a report into the experiences of children and parents of young children accommodated in family hubs. While the report notes a number of advantages of hubs over alternative forms of emergency accommodation, it also noted a numbers of areas of concern.

My Department is undertaking a detailed examination of the recommendations of the report, in consultation with the NGO service providers and the relevant local authorities. In that context, I have written to each of the NGOs involved in the provision of services in family hubs, asking for their observations on the report, and I have also met with the Ombudsman for Children to discuss the report. The issue of responses to the report that may be appropriate is being considered as part of that process.

Social and Affordable Housing Provision

Question No. 88 answered with Question No. 57.

Ceisteanna (87)

Darragh O'Brien

Ceist:

87. Deputy Darragh O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government the status of the affordable home scheme; the number of sites identified; the timeframe for delivery; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [23883/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

Affordable housing for purchase is being provided under Part 5 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009.

Under the Serviced Sites Fund (SSF), €310 million is being made available over the 2019 to 2021 period to support the delivery of infrastructure on local authority sites, which will deliver over 6,000 affordable homes. The first call for proposals under the SSF in June 2018 was targeted at 11 local authorities where it was identified that the greatest affordability pressures exist. I issued approval in December 2018 for funding for 10 infrastructure projects in Dublin and Cork, costing €43 million, which will support the delivery of 1,400 affordable homes. The overall cost and timing of delivery for these projects is contingent upon the completion of planning and procurement in the first instance, and local authorities are working to achieve delivery as quickly as possible, with the first tranche of affordable homes expected to be delivered next year.

Following the first call under the SSF, all local authorities were requested to submit economic assessments to ascertain if the provision of affordable homes was appropriate in their areas. A second call for proposals under the SSF issued to 19 local authorities on 9 April 2019, based on these economic assessments. In response, 30 submissions were received from 15 local authorities and these are currently being assessed by my Department. I intend to issue approvals under this second call in the coming weeks.

Question No. 88 answered with Question No. 57.

Local Authority Housing

Question No. 90 answered with Question No. 46.

Question No. 91 answered with Question No. 60.

Question No. 92 answered with Question No. 73.

Question No. 93 answered with Question No. 40.

Ceisteanna (89)

Brian Stanley

Ceist:

89. Deputy Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government if he will consider establishing generic housing designs for local authority housing in order to speed up the delivery of social housing. [24031/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

As reflected in Rebuilding Ireland, the accelerated delivery of 50,000 social housing homes by 2021 is a key priority for this Government. In this regard, my Department continues to work very closely with local authorities and Approved Housing Bodies (AHBs) to support the delivery of these much needed social housing homes across the country.

In relation to the Deputy's specific query, my Department is currently preparing general economic design guidance, incorporating sample internal layouts for homes. This is aimed, predominantly, at local authorities and AHBs. The document demonstrates how a variety of house types and apartments can be designed to meet the target floor areas, as set out in the Quality Housing for Sustainable Communities - Best Practice Guidelines for delivering homes sustaining communities. The preparation of the design guidance document is well advanced and I expect it to be published for consultation in the coming weeks.

Question No. 90 answered with Question No. 46.
Question No. 91 answered with Question No. 60.
Question No. 92 answered with Question No. 73.
Question No. 93 answered with Question No. 40.

Vacant Sites

Question No. 95 answered with Question No. 41.

Ceisteanna (94)

Mick Wallace

Ceist:

94. Deputy Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government his views on whether the application of the vacant site levy and vacant site register is varying from county to county resulting in varying levels of success; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24030/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Housing)

My Department does not maintain a central register of vacant sites, as each local authority administers the vacant site register in respect of their functional area. However, a recent review of the on-line vacant site registers across all local authority areas shows there are collectively over 360 individual sites currently on the local registers. Over 120 of these sites had been entered by 1 January 2018 and are therefore subject to the levy in 2019, unless development works were activated in the interim.

As of 6 June 2019, sites with a value of €364.2m were listed on local authority vacant site registers, of which €254.5m related to sites listed on the registers prior to 1 January 2018. Without any changes to the number of sites currently listed on local authority registers, it is estimated that the levy proceeds nationally could be of the order of €7.6m (applying the current 3% levy rate in respect of sites on the registers in 2018), increasing to €25.5m in 2020 (applying the increased 7% levy rate in respect of sites listed on local authority registers in 2019).

Levy implementation progress reports were requested from local authorities late last year and all local authorities have submitted responses. These responses are currently being examined by my Department with a view to determining what, if any, further implementation supports may be required.

Question No. 95 answered with Question No. 41.