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 Header Item Water Charges Administration (Continued)
 Header Item Leader Programmes Funding
 Header Item Rental Accommodation Scheme Administration

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 806 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle] Will it be within the remit of the Commission for Energy Regulation to consider the liberalisation of the provision of water services across the country?

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan Will the Deputy clarify to what liberalisation he is referring?

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle When service level agreements come up for renewal, will the Commission for Energy Regulation seek to tender them?

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan No. Water services will continue to remain the preserve of the public utility company, Irish Water. We have learned from the previous experience with Eircom and the difficulties its sale created in service provision. Certainly, the Government does not intend to do anything other than to enshrine in legislation the need to keep public resources such as water, an essential resource, in public ownership. The liberalisation of services under service level agreements does not come into play in relation to this as far as the Commission for Energy Regulation is concerned.

Leader Programmes Funding

 4. Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan the total revised amount of funding available under the LEADER programme for projects; the amount of this funding allocated to the integrated companies to date; the total commitments entered into by the companies to date; the total spend to date; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28197/13]

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan The Leader elements of the rural development programme 2007 to 2013 commenced in February 2009 after a delay of more than two years, which reduced the time available to allocate funding to less than five years from the normal seven. During 2010 and 2011 it became evident that a significant number of local development companies, LDCs, contracted to deliver the programme were not committing funds at the level required to ensure all funding would be allocated by the December 2013 deadline in line with EU regulations. Similarly, it became clear to me that a number of LDCs were more than capable of allocating additional funding if it were made available to them. In this regard, in January 2012 my Department notified all LDCs that the original LDC allocations awarded in 2009 were no longer valid and that the programme was being opened up on a first come, first served basis to all LDCs to ensure all available funding would be allocated to eligible projects within the timeframe allowed. All LDCs were encouraged to maximise the opportunity this created for them. Some companies availed of the opportunity more than others.

  During 2011 the European Commission approved a change in the maximum co-funding rate from 55% to 85% for the Leader elements of Ireland's rural development programme but only for expenditure incurred in 2012 and 2013. This had the effect of reducing the available funding under the programme from €427 million to an estimated €370 million. In addition, in late 2012 and early 2013 and after repeated requests from many LDCs, I agreed to allow significant additional programme funds of more than €19 million to be assigned to the basic services measure. In the light of all the changes to the programme, it became necessary in January 2013 to carry out a comprehensive review of the level of commitments and expenditure across its various measures in order to apportion the remaining funds among LDCs taking into account the level of commitments already entered into. As a first step, I released €42 million worth of projects which had been approved by the boards of LDCs, asking them to progress projects that were in a position to proceed. Unfortunately, only €25.5 million worth of projects in that category had all of the necessary approvals in place to proceed to contract.

  Additional information not given on the floor of the House

  Using an estimated final programme allocation of €370 million, the total spend to date and outstanding contractual commitments were established and deducted from the €370 million. A total of €6 million was provided for the former MFG legacy files, new Gaeltacht projects and associated administration costs. Funding was also provided for projects greater than €150,000 in value that had been submitted to my Department for assessment. The original percentage of the programme which was awarded to each LDC in 2009 was then applied to apportion the remaining funding among all LDCs. Where an LDC would receive less than 80% of its original allocation, bearing in mind that the overall programme complement had been reduced by approximately 13%, an adjustment was made to maintain the revised allocation at 80% of the original. The total funding of €370 million has now been allocated to all LDCs. To date, they have committed some €228 million on projects and spent €54 million on administration and animation.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív I predict that the Minister will woefully underspend under this programme. Does he accept that if he wanted a total spend under the programme, the amount for projects approved by the end of the year would have to be 10% to 20% higher than the amount of money available? For many reasons, many of the projects which will be approved may not be completed within the very tight timeframe involved in the programme. Does he further accept that it will not be possible to sanction further projects under the regulation if he finds that there are projects going ahead after the end of the year? The regulation requires all projects to be completed by the end of this year.

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan More than anyone else, the Deputy knows that we are in a difficult financial position. I do not expect to receive approval from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to allocate additional moneys over and above what is included in the programme. I have already received the co-operation of the Department to make a great many changes to the funding for the programme to help to draw down 100% of what has been allocated. I draw the Deputy's attention to the fact that only 43% of all that has been committed has been drawn down under the current programme which has six months left to run. I am monitoring every local development company on a monthly basis and have given them until 31 August 2013 to state what they are going to do on projects to which they have already committed. If I believe a company is not in a position to draw down the money between now and the end of the programme, I will recommit the money to other Leader or local developments companies which are in a position to spend it.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív If I understand the Minister correctly, the number of projects sanctioned at the end of the year will match exactly the amount of money available under the programme, which will mean that 100% of projects sanctioned will have to be completed for a full draw-down. If one considers all capital programmes across Government, particularly where there is a time limit for completion, one sees that never happens. I was looking at comparative programmes and that was quite obvious. The Government is setting about leaving money in the European Union which it could draw down. When does the Minister expect the Leader programme 2014-20 to commence? Does he expect it to commence in 2015 or 2016? Many of the larger projects require the Minister's permission to proceed, presumably before the end of the year. Does he accept that, unless it is at an advanced stage of the planning process, any project that needs planning permission will not be ready for approval? Is the Minister limiting the spend by companies under the basic services measure and the countryside and rural development measure?

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan I have already allocated an additional €19 million for the basic services measure and each of the Leader companies was told last December that no more money was available other than what had already been committed. We have earmarked and committed a substantial amount of money in 2009, 2010 and 2011, which will not be drawn down. I will reallocate this money after 31 August 2013. I expect that some projects committed to in 2012 may not go ahead and accept that we will not reach 100%. Inevitably, there will be projects which will not obtain the local funding or bank loans required to draw down the money. We will do everything we can to draw down as close to 100% of the money as we can. Given his own comments, Deputy Ó Cuív knows it is not possible to hit 100%. If we hit 99%, we will have done exceptionally well.

Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív It is possible. We did it the last time.

Deputy Phil Hogan: Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan The Government of which the Deputy was a member did not do it.

Rental Accommodation Scheme Administration

 5. Deputy Dessie Ellis Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan if his attention has been drawn to the problem that many tenants are having finding suitable accommodation under the rental accommodation scheme following the completion of their original RAS contract and that in some cases families with young children are being forced to enter emergency accommodation despite a local authority commitment that this would not be allowed to happen; his plans to rectify this issue; and if he will ensure that this will be rectified where it has occurred and not allowed to happen again. [27055/13]

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Jan O'Sullivan): Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan The grounds on which a tenancy in the private rented residential sector may be legally terminated are clearly set out in the Residential Tenancies Act 2004. The Act provides the main regulatory framework for the private rented residential sector and the operation of the Private Residential Tenancies Board. It provides for security of tenure and specifies minimum obligations for landlords and tenants under a tenancy. In addition, it contains provisions relating to the setting of rent and rent reviews and sets out the procedures and notice periods that must be complied with when terminating a tenancy. The ongoing development of a stable, well regulated rented sector is a key goal for the Government and stability of tenure is fundamental to that goal.

As the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, is deemed to be a social housing support, local authorities retain the responsibility to source further accommodation for a RAS household should the dwelling that the household is living in become unavailable through no fault of its own. There is no prohibition on households sourcing alternative accommodation themselves if they so desire, as long as the local authority is satisfied that the accommodation meets the needs of the household and conforms to standards for rented accommodation which are set out in the Housing (Standards for Rented Houses) Regulations 2008. Statutory responsibility for the provision of accommodation and related services for persons requiring accommodation rests with housing authorities. My Department has no function in regard to, nor is it involved in, decisions on specific cases.

Deputy Dessie Ellis: Information on Dessie Ellis Zoom on Dessie Ellis The first thing we must do is recognise that there is a major problem with the rental accommodation scheme. Many landlords are now saying they must sell the houses which have been available for rent, with the result that people are ending up homeless or looking for new rental accommodation which is not forthcoming. Rents are rising and it is more attractive in some cases to move into the private market. It is a significant problem for residents. Local authorities have the responsibility to house people who have been housed under the residential accommodation scheme and they must live up to it.

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