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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 693-716
 Header Item Fuel Allowance Applications
 Header Item Farm Assist Scheme Data
 Header Item Domiciliary Care Allowance Applications
 Header Item Departmental Reports
 Header Item Lobbying Data
 Header Item Commencement of Legislation
 Header Item Money Advice and Budgeting Service Reports
 Header Item School Meals Programme
 Header Item Farm Assist Scheme Payments
 Header Item Jobseeker's Allowance Payments
 Header Item Jobseeker's Allowance Payments
 Header Item Nitrates Usage
 Header Item Water Charges Refunds
 Header Item Traveller Accommodation
 Header Item Traveller Accommodation
 Header Item Local Authority Boundaries
 Header Item Local Authority Boundaries
 Header Item Housing Issues
 Header Item Planning Issues
 Header Item Water Charges Administration
 Header Item Building Energy Rating Administration
 Header Item Local Authority Housing Provision

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 960 No. 1

First Page Previous Page Page of 95 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 693-716

Fuel Allowance Applications

 693. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty if a person (details supplied) can make a late application for a fuel allowance; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42225/17]

Minister of State at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Finian McGrath): Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath The gentleman in question is in receipt of Invalidity Pension and is in receipt of fuel allowance under the national fuel scheme from 14 October 2010. His preferred payment option has been changed from weekly to two instalment payments as requested by him with the first instalment issuing to his nominated bank account on 5 October 2017. The gentleman concerned was notified on 29 September 2017 of the change in his fuel allowance payments.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy..

Farm Assist Scheme Data

 694. Deputy Niamh Smyth Information on Niamh Smyth Zoom on Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the waiting times for farm assist payments; the number of applications pending, by county, in tabular form; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [42235/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty At the end of August, there were 7,346 recipients of a farm assist payment.

  Data on applications pending and the average time to award for Farm Assist is only available in my Department’s information systems aggregated together with the corresponding data for Jobseeker’s Allowance claims, so that it is not possible to provide the requested disaggregated information for Farm Assist.

Domiciliary Care Allowance Applications

 695. Deputy Willie O'Dea Information on Willie O'Dea Zoom on Willie O'Dea asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty when a decision will be made regarding a domiciliary care allowance application by a person (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42253/17]

Minister of State at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Finian McGrath): Information on Finian McGrath Zoom on Finian McGrath The Department is currently experiencing delays in the processing of Domiciliary Care Allowance, DCA, claims due to an increase in claim volumes and the need for more detailed decisions to be provided following a High Court ruling. Corrective actions have been taken, including assigning additional deciding officers to the scheme. As a result, average processing times have reduced over recent weeks and at present it is taking on average 17 weeks to finalise an application.

Applications are processed in date of receipt order, having regard to the complexity of each individual case. An application for DCA was received in respect of this child on 30 May 2017. While it is not possible to provide an exact date on when a particular application will be finalised, the applications currently being finalised were received during May 2017. This application will be considered by a Deciding Officer and the decision notified as soon as possible.

I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy..

Departmental Reports

 696. Deputy Róisín Shortall Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty if she has received a report (details supplied) on the impact of austerity measures on lone parent families; her views on the report; if she will publish the report in advance of Budget 2018; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [42273/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The Social Welfare Act 2016, enacted on 19 December 2016, included a commitment that a review of the changes to the One-Parent Family Payment, OFP, scheme since January 2012 would be laid before the Houses of Oireachtas within nine months of the enactment of the Act.

The report was to assess the financial and social effects of the OFP changes taking into account the effects on welfare dependency and the poverty rates of those affected. The scope of the review included the long-term age related policy changes to the scheme that were implemented since January 2012, in addition to the shorter-term changes required to achieve savings across all social welfare expenditure over the same period on foot of the economic downturn.

On foot of this legislative commitment, a formal tendering process was initiated by my Department and, on the conclusion of that process, Indecon International Economic Consultants, Indecon, was selected to undertake the work involved. It commenced work on the report in April of this year.

In order to complete the review, Indecon carried out a detailed quantitative and econometric analysis of a number of relevant datasets to assess the impact of the changes on lone parents. The review also included one of the largest surveys targeting one-parent families in Ireland with 33,000 lone parents surveyed. Responses were received and analysed from almost 3,700 lone parents who were directly affected by the changes. This provided an excellent opportunity to gather the views and experiences of lone parents affected by the changes.

The timeframe for the review was very ambitious given the scale and complexity of the issues to be covered in the review. However, I have the report, it has been considered by my Department and I expect to lay it before the Houses and publish it in the coming days..

Lobbying Data

 697. Deputy Róisín Shortall Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the number of occasions on which she has been lobbied in respect of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill since March 2016; the persons with whom she has met; the dates of these meetings; the details of the basis of the lobbying; her views on the issues raised; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42290/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection has had no meetings with lobbying groups or bodies in respect of the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill.

Commencement of Legislation

 698. Deputy Michael McGrath Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty if all sections of the Civil Registration (Amendment) Act 2014 are now in force; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42309/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The Civil Registration (Amendment) Act 2014 provides for a wide range of matters relating to the registration of life events in the State.

Certain provisions, such as those relating to marriages of convenience, were commenced in August of 2015. However, it has not been possible to commence all sections of the Act due to ongoing industrial relations issues with staff of the Civil Registration Service who are employees of the HSE.

At this point, I am not in a position to provide a date for commencement of the remaining sections, but I would like to reassure the Deputy that officials from my Department, the Department of Health and the HSE are working to bring about a resolution to this matter at the earliest possible date..

Money Advice and Budgeting Service Reports

 699. Deputy Carol Nolan Information on Carol Nolan Zoom on Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty if she has considered the submission by the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, MABS, regarding the proposals to replace local voluntary MABS companies with regional companies; the rationale for this proposal; if she will reconsider this proposal; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42334/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty In February 2017, the Board of the Citizens Information Board, CIB, decided to restructure its governance arrangements to a regional model comprising 16 companies, eight CIS and eight MABS companies. The aim of the change is to improve the effectiveness of the control environment, financial management and governance of CIS and MABS service networks and service delivery standards and consistency. This operational decision follows five years of analysis and consideration of options and extensive consultation with all stakeholders.

  Since the Board’s decision, CIB has held regional consultation with representatives of the CIS and MABS networks. In May, 300 representatives of staff, management, and volunteers, as well as Chairpersons and representatives of local CIS and MABS services attended these facilitated sessions. During the summer months, 238 people attended eight Focus Groups hosted by CIB, at which service delivery strategy, board structures and linkages, and staff roles under the new 16 company model were discussed. On 2 October, a further focus group was held by CIB, specifically for volunteers, which was attended by 35 volunteers from across CIS services.

  As a statutory body, the Board has the sole right to make decisions on its day-to-day operations as it sees fit. Any suggestions regarding proposals for alternative governance models are therefore a matter for the Board of CIB.

  I hope this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

School Meals Programme

 700. Deputy Carol Nolan Information on Carol Nolan Zoom on Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the number of rural schools availing of the school meals programme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42342/17]

 701. Deputy Carol Nolan Information on Carol Nolan Zoom on Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty if all rural DEIS schools avail of the school meals programme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42344/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty I propose to take Questions Nos. 700 and 701 together.

  The school meals programme provides funding toward the provision of food to schools and organisations at a total cost of some €47.5 million in 2017. As part of Budget 2017, the funding for the scheme was substantially increased by an additional €5.5 million, which will benefit over 50,000 additional children from September 2017 and bring the total number of schools in the scheme to some 1,700 and the number of children supported to up to 250,000.

  The scheme is available to all DEIS schools and support can be provided toward breakfast for all children and lunch for the majority of children. Of the total 900 DEIS schools, some 850 (95%) are participating in the scheme.

  The Department of Education and Skills does not have a designation of rural or urban for all DEIS schools, other than for primary schools. Some 320 of the total 360 rural DEIS primary schools (89%) are participating in the scheme.

  Schools must reapply for funding under the scheme in respect of each school year, and my Department is continuing to receive applications, which may further increase the number of DEIS schools participating.

  I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Farm Assist Scheme Payments

 702. Deputy Carol Nolan Information on Carol Nolan Zoom on Carol Nolan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty her plans to restore farm assist payments to 2013 levels; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [42354/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty The farm assist scheme provides support for farmers on low incomes and is similar to Jobseeker’s Allowance. Farm assist recipients retain the advantages of the Jobseeker’s Allowance scheme, such as the retention of secondary benefits and access to activation programmes. The 2017 Revised Estimates for my Department provide for expenditure of €82.8 million on the farm assist scheme.

Budget 2017 introduced measures in relation to the assessment of means for farm assist which reversed all changes introduced in Budgets 2012 and 2013. These measures included that farm income would be assessed at 70% (down from 100%) with an additional annual means disregard of €254 for each of the first two children and €381 for the third and subsequent children. These improvements came into effect in March 2017.

In addition, Budget 2017 increased the rate of payment for farm assist by €5 per week to €193 per week..

Jobseeker's Allowance Payments

 703. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty if steps can be taken to restore payment in the case of a person (details supplied); if the person's case can be urgently investigated with a view to restoration of payment or alternative appropriate payments; and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [42402/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty Payment of Jobseeker’s Allowance in the case of the person concerned has been suspended, as information requested relating to spousal means has not been provided by the person concerned. It is not possible to progress a review of entitlement in the absence of the requested information. The person concerned has submitted an appeal to the Intreo Centre, and a submission is currently being prepared for the Social Welfare Appeals Office which functions independently of the Department. The person concerned will be informed of the outcome on completion of the appeals process..

Jobseeker's Allowance Payments

 704. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty the reason Jobseeker's Allowance has been terminated in the case of a person (details supplied); the reason a basic payment has not been made in lieu thereof; if the case can be urgently reviewed; if a full investigation surrounding the case can be made in view of suggestions (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter.  [42411/17]

Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection (Deputy Regina Doherty): Information on Regina Doherty Zoom on Regina Doherty A Jobseeker’s Alowance claim for the person concerned is currently under review as he failed to establish his residency at the stated address. The person concerned was interviewed by an Officer of the Department on 3 October 2017 and has been requested to provide documentary evidence of his address within seven days.

  According to our records, no claim for Supplementary Welfare Allowance has been made by the person concerned. Proof of address is required in order to submit an application for supplementary welfare allowance.

  I trust this clarifies the matter for the Deputy.

Nitrates Usage

 705. Deputy Niamh Smyth Information on Niamh Smyth Zoom on Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy if he will extend the slurry spreading deadline for farmers in view of recent wet weather which has deferred the work schedule of farmers on their lands; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42618/17]

 738. Deputy Michael Healy-Rae Information on Michael Healy-Rae Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy if the deadline for spreading slurry will be extended (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42229/17]

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Eoghan Murphy): Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy I propose to take Questions Nos. 705 and 738 together.

  The European Union (Good Agricultural Practice for Protection of Waters) Regulations 2014, as amended, give legal effect in Ireland to the Nitrates Directive and to our Nitrates Action Programme, NAP. The Directive requires all Member States to define set periods when the land application of fertiliser, including slurry, is not allowed and in Ireland the closed season will commence on 15 October.

  The closed periods in Ireland were decided following extensive consultation and were discussed with farming bodies and the European Commission when Ireland’s Nitrates Action Programme was introduced.  The provisions of the regulations are underpinned by scientific research and good agricultural practice. The most recent scientific studies carried out on a diverse range of farm and soil types as part of Teagasc’s ongoing Agricultural Catchments Programme has provided further evidence in support of the efficacy of the current closed periods in reducing nutrient losses to waters. A key message from the research is that there are disproportionately high nutrient losses to waters during the winter, and the current closed period coincides with the time during which risks of incidental nutrient losses to water are highest. Farmers are advised to spread slurry early in the season when growth and nutrient uptake are at their peak.

  My Department and the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine have been closely monitoring the situation and have recognised that there may be some potential concerns for animal welfare arising from heavy rainfall in specific parts of the country (the north west in particular). Farmers with such concerns are advised to contact the Nitrates Section of the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine at (053) 9163444 or by email to: nitrates@agriculture.gov.ie, with details of the flooding and/or trafficability situation, their herd number and other relevant data. Such contact should be made by Saturday, 14 October at the latest.

  Farmers wishing to avail of such flexibility will be advised:

  1. To spread only that volume of slurry necessary to ensure adequate storage capacity for the remainder of the closed period;

  2. That any spreading should occur as soon as good spreading conditions exist;

  3. That they will be prioritised for inspection by Local Authorities in the immediate future to ensure compliance with the Nitrates Regulations;

  4. That assessment of overall on-farm storage capacity may be part of that inspection process;

  5. That the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine will subsequently contact the farmers to ascertain and record the date(s) on which this additional spreading takes place.

  Local Authority inspection reports will be returned to my Department and will be shared with the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marin,e and those farms needing to avail of this flexibility will become a priority category for inspections in future years also.

Water Charges Refunds

 706. Deputy Niall Collins Information on Niall Collins Zoom on Niall Collins asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy if he will assess a proposal (details supplied) to assist the not-for-profit sector; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42720/17]

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Eoghan Murphy): Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy The Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services recommended adherence to the principle of equity of treatment for those who have paid and have not paid their water charges since domestic charges were introduced. The Oireachtas approved the committee’s report last April. In this context, the recently published Water Services Bill 2017 includes a provision to refund water charges and the Bill is currently being considered by the Oireachtas.

Irish Water is currently finalising a refunds plan. The guiding principle is that refunds will be made directly to account holders. Irish Water is engaging with financial institutions to ensure that those who may wish to make a donation to charity from the refund are advised as to how they may do this..

Traveller Accommodation

 707. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy his plans to ensure that the overcrowding in an area (details supplied) is addressed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42517/17]

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Eoghan Murphy): Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy In accordance with the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998, housing authorities have statutory responsibility for the assessment of the accommodation needs of Travellers and the preparation, adoption and implementation of multi-annual Traveller Accommodation Programmes, TAPs, in their areas. My Department’s role is to ensure that there are adequate structures and supports in place to assist the authorities in providing such accommodation, including a national framework of policy, legislation and funding.

Management of Traveller sites, including the delivery and provision of accommodation, is a matter for the relevant housing authorities, in this case Cork City Council, and I have no function in the matter..

Traveller Accommodation

 708. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien Information on Jonathan O'Brien Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy the oversight his Department has over Traveller engagement officer positions it funds; if his attention has been drawn to the fact that part of the Traveller engagement officer role includes a requirement to visit tenants in social housing and Traveller-specific accommodation but that no visits have taken place in Cork City Council's area to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [42519/17]

Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Damien English): Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English In accordance with the Housing (Traveller Accommodation) Act 1998, housing authorities have statutory responsibility for the assessment of the accommodation needs of Travellers and the preparation, adoption and implementation of multi-annual Traveller Accommodation Programmes, TAPs, in their areas. My Department’s role is to ensure that there are adequate structures and supports in place to assist the authorities in providing such accommodation, including a national framework of policy, legislation and funding.

In addition to capital funding supports, my Department provides current funding to local authorities towards the cost of accommodation-related supports.  This includes 90% of the salary costs of social workers employed by local authorities who work with Travellers in relation to accommodation issues.  I have no role in relation to the day-to-day work and functions undertaken by the social workers, which is a matter for the relevant housing authorities, in this case Cork City Council..

Local Authority Boundaries

 709. Deputy Catherine Martin Information on Catherine Martin Zoom on Catherine Martin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy if it was his plan when setting the terms of reference of the Cork local government implementation oversight group that the boundary of Cork City Council would be altered in line with the recommendations of the Cork expert advisory group. [42542/17]

 710. Deputy Catherine Martin Information on Catherine Martin Zoom on Catherine Martin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy if the Cork local government implementation oversight group will complete a detailed implementation plan for the boundary adjustment by September 2017 as per its terms of reference. [42543/17]

Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy John Paul Phelan): Information on John Paul Phelan Zoom on John Paul Phelan I propose to take Questions Nos. 709 and 710 together.

  The Cork Local Government Implementation Oversight Group was established to oversee arrangements for the alteration of the boundary between the respective areas of jurisdiction of Cork City Council and Cork County Council, in light of the recommendation in the report of the Cork Expert Advisory Group.

  The group’s first task is to present a detailed Implementation Plan, and to engage with the two local authorities, with a view to developing detailed and comprehensive proposals for the boundary alteration and to ultimately oversee the implementation of agreed recommendations.

  The detailed implementation plan is anticipated in the coming weeks, the output from which I will consider in due course.

Local Authority Boundaries

 711. Deputy Catherine Martin Information on Catherine Martin Zoom on Catherine Martin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy the relationship between the proposals put forward under section 29 of the Local Government Act 1991 by Cork County Council and the work of the Cork local government implementation oversight group, including the implementation plan that it is producing for the alteration of the boundary between Cork City Council and Cork County Council. [42544/17]

Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy John Paul Phelan): Information on John Paul Phelan Zoom on John Paul Phelan The general responsibility of the Cork Local Government Implementation Oversight Group is to oversee arrangements for the alteration of the boundary between Cork City and County Councils. The Group's terms of reference are designed to facilitate and support the agreement of arrangements between the two local authorities.

Cork County Council has initiated a proposal for alteration of the boundary under Part V of the Local Government Act 1991. As this proposal is the subject of a statutory process which may lead to an application for Ministerial decision, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on the matter..

Housing Issues

 712. Deputy Noel Rock Information on Noel Rock Zoom on Noel Rock asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy if he will roll out programmes which will disincentivise property investors from purchasing houses and ensure precedence is given to first-time buyers; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42558/17]

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Eoghan Murphy): Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy A key priority for Government is to accelerate and increase the supply of new homes across all forms of housing, social housing, private market purchase and homes to rent. "Rebuilding Ireland – Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness" sets out ambitious targets to, inter alia, double the annual level of new homes built to 25,000 by 2020 and to deliver an additional 47,000 social housing homes. The plan also seeks to optimise the existing housing stock and to lay the foundations for a more vibrant and responsive private rented sector.

  Just over one year into the plan, all of the key statistical indicators point to a significant scaling up of home building activity, with:

  - Planning permissions granted for 19,246 new homes in the 12 months to the end of June 2017, an increase of 49% year on year;

  - Commencement notices for 16,945 new homes notified to local authorities in the 12 months to the end August 2017, an increase of 47% year on year; and

  - ESB residential connections of 17,651 to the end of August 2017, an increase of 25% year on year.

  Preliminary figures from the Central Statistics Office's Quarterly Survey of Production for Q2 2017 show that the residential construction sector has grown by 20.5% in volume terms and 22.7% in value terms over the previous 12 months.

  Specifically in terms of first-time buyers, the volume of mortgage drawdowns in the 12 months to the end of June 2017 has increased by 17%. The Help-to-Buy initiative for first-time buyers, introduced by the Minister for Finance in October 2016, continues to assist first-time buyers in obtaining the deposit required to purchase or self-build a new home. The incentive provides for a refund of up to €20,000 in Income Tax and Deposit Interest Retention Tax, DIRT, paid over the previous four tax years to first-time buyers.

  Housing affordability has been examined across a range of interconnected policy areas in the context of the ongoing focused review of Rebuilding Ireland. A number of new and enhanced actions in this area have already been announced, and I expect to make further announcements in the coming weeks as this work is finalised.

Planning Issues

 713. Deputy Martin Heydon Information on Martin Heydon Zoom on Martin Heydon asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy the guidance provided to local authorities with regard to planning applications for solar farms; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42573/17]

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Eoghan Murphy): Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy There are no specific planning guidelines in place in respect of solar farms. Proposals for individual solar farm developments are subject to the statutory requirements of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, in the same manner as other proposed developments. Planning applications are made to the relevant local planning authority with a right of appeal to An Bord Pleanála.

  Under the Planning and Development Act, each planning authority's development plan must set out an overall strategy for the proper planning and sustainable development of the area concerned. Section 10 of the Act requires a development plan to include, inter alia, objectives for the provision or facilitation of the provision of infrastructure, including energy facilities, and many local authorities have developed renewable energy strategies for their areas in this context.

  In making decisions on planning applications, planning authorities and the Board must consider the proper planning and sustainable development of the area, having regard to the provisions of the local development plan, any submissions or observations received and relevant Ministerial or Government policies, including any relevant guidelines issued by my Department. Planning authorities must then make their own decisions based on the specific merits or otherwise of individual planning applications.

  I am satisfied that the planning code is sufficiently robust to facilitate the assessment of individual planning permission applications for solar farm developments. However, the matter will be kept under review, in consultation with my colleague, the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and the Environment, and his Department - which leads on renewable energy policy - in the context of the Government's White Paper on Energy Policy, published in December 2015, the development of a Renewable Electricity Policy and Development Framework, as well as the finalisation of a new support scheme for renewable electricity by that Department, expected in early 2018.

Water Charges Administration

 714. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan Information on Jim O'Callaghan Zoom on Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy the mechanisms that will be put in place for persons who suffer from health conditions which require heavy water usage, such as Crohn's disease, in view of the fact he has indicated that a charge will be applied for excessive use of water; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [42614/17]

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Eoghan Murphy): Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy The Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services, JOCFFDWS, recommended that wilful wastage of water should be curbed. The Committee's report was approved by the Oireachtas and the recently published Water Services Bill 2017 reflects the recommendations contained in the Report.

The Bill provides that households will be liable to pay for water services used above a certain threshold. The JOCFFDWS recommended that provision should be made for households where the excessive use of water is due to medical needs. The Bill provides for an exemption from the payment in such circumstances and the Minister can prescribe a range of matters relating to the exemption including the procedures to be followed when applying for an exemption, the time limits that will apply in respect of making an application and the information to be furnished by applicants. The matters involved will be addressed in Regulations to be made as soon as possible following enactment of the legislation..

Building Energy Rating Administration

 715. Deputy Mick Wallace Information on Mick Wallace Zoom on Mick Wallace asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy the number of BER certificates issued to date in 2017; the type of dwelling related to each BER issued, in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42641/17]

Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Damien English): Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, SEAI, which comes under the auspices of my colleague the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, is the statutory agency responsible for the implementation and management of the Building Energy Rating, BER, Scheme, in accordance with Ireland’s obligations under the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (Recast). In accordance with these regulations, every new building has been required to have a BER Certificate since 1 January 2007 and furthermore any existing dwelling, offered for sale or letting on or after 1 January 2009, also requires a Building Energy Rating certificate.

  My Department does not collate data on BER statistics. However, information, reporting and statistics in relation to the administration of the BER scheme are available on the SEAI website at:http://www.sei.ie/resources/publications/Domestic-BER-Statistics.pdf.

  Furthermore, the SEAI also provide BER statistics to the Central Statistics Office, CSO, which, in turn, publishes comprehensive quarterly bulletins which provide a detailed breakdown of BER ratings. This information is available on the CSO website at: http://www.cso.ie/en/statistics/environment/.

Local Authority Housing Provision

 716. Deputy John Curran Information on John Curran Zoom on John Curran asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy the number of houses purchased by each local authority to be added to the social housing stock, in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42658/17]

 720. Deputy John Curran Information on John Curran Zoom on John Curran asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy the funding that remains available in 2017 for local authorities to purchase houses to add to their social housing stock; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42662/17]

 721. Deputy John Curran Information on John Curran Zoom on John Curran asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy the amount that has been spent to date in 2017 by local authorities purchasing houses to add to their social housing stock; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42663/17]

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Eoghan Murphy): Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy I propose to take Questions Nos. 716, 720 and 721 together.

  Under my Department’s Social Housing Investment Programme, funding is available to all local authorities to deliver additional social housing stock through new construction projects and through the acquisition of new and previously owned houses/apartments for social housing use.

  Details on the number of properties purchased and built by all local authorities, for letting to those on their social housing waiting lists, are available on my Department’s website at the following link: http://www.housing.gov.ie/housing/social-housing/social-and-affordble/overall-social-housing-provision. Information on quarter two of 2017 is currently being finalised and will be published shortly, with information on quarter three of 2017 to follow thereafter. However, current projections are that in addition to the circa 400 new social homes delivered under the acquisitions programme during quarter one, a further 270 approximately have been delivered in quarter two.

  At the end of September 2017, expenditure under the local authority acquisitions programme was circa €165 million, including expenditure of €29 million self-funded by the local authorities from surplus local property tax receipts.

  Acquisitions remain an important source of new social housing supply and funding remains available to support this activity. However, it is important that local authorities are selective in such actions so as to avoid, for example, impacting disproportionately on the private housing market.  Also, the local authority construction programme is intensifying as we implement the measures under Rebuilding Ireland and, as recently announced, that is increasingly where local authorities will focus their resources in the years ahead.


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