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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 158-164
 Header Item Local Government Reform
 Header Item Fire Service
 Header Item Local Authority Housing Mortgages
 Header Item Waste Water Treatment Issues
 Header Item Rented Dwellings Register
 Header Item EU Conventions
 Header Item Departmental Reports

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 806 No. 2

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Written Answers Nos. 158-164

Local Government Reform

 158. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan the extent to which the traditional services provided by local authorities are likely to continue in the context of the reform of local government; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28384/13]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan): Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan As indicated in the reply to Question No. 609 on 5 February 2013, The Action Programme for Effective Local Government, which sets out Government decisions in relation to local government reform, has affirmed (paragraph 4 .3.1) that, with the exception of functions relating to water services that will be assumed by Irish Water and certain functions relating to river basin management planning that will be transferred from local authorities to the EPA , the functions that have hitherto been performed by local authorities will continue to be exercised by them. A service level agreement will be put in place between Irish Water and Local Authorities to set out the respective roles. Furthermore, a similar arrangement is agreed regarding the local enterprise function between Enterprise Ireland and each Council.

Fire Service

 159. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan  the extent to which the cost-cutting requirements he inherited are affecting the quality and capacity of emergency services such as the fire services; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28385/13]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan): Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan I refer to the reply to Question No 606 of 5 February 2013 which sets out the position in this matter.

Local Authority Housing Mortgages

 160. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan when it is expected that legislation to improve the shared ownership mortgage scheme will occur with particular reference to the need to facilitate those who find themselves unemployed and the need to enable those wishing to move from inadequate or overcrowded accommodation to family sized homes; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28386/13]

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 Government’s 2011 housing policy statement announced the standing down of all affordable housing schemes, including the shared ownership scheme, as part of the review of Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000. That review is now almost concluded and I have also asked the Housing and Sustainable Communities Agency to provide me with a standalone analysis of the shared ownership scheme, including identification of the main difficulties and recommendations for mitigating measures. Any future changes to legislation governing affordable housing schemes, including the shared ownership scheme, will be made in the context of both pieces of work and I expect to make announcements in this regard in the coming months.

Waste Water Treatment Issues

 161. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan the number of reported incidents of pollution that have arisen from the malfunction or inadequacy of municipal waste water treatment plants; the action taken or pending arising therefrom on a county basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28387/13]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan): Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan The Environmental Protection Agency is the statutory body responsible for the supervision of wastewater discharges from local authority wastewater treatment plants. The Agency is also the statutory body for investigating complaints of pollution and for the enforcement of environmental legislation in Ireland. Details of all prosecutions taken by the Agency for pollution incidents and details of the Agency’s enforcement activities are published on the Agency’s website ( www.epa.ie ).

Rented Dwellings Register

 162. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan the total number of landlords registered in each of the years 2004 to date in 2013; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28388/13]

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 Residential Tenancies Act 2004 regulates the tenant-landlord relationship in the private rented residential sector and the Act provides that landlords in the sector must apply to register the tenancy of a dwelling with the Private Residential Tenancies Board (PRTB). I have no function in the operational matters of the PRTB which is an independent statutory body established under the Residential Tenancies Act.   The PRTB publishes tenancy registrations statistics in its Annual Reports which are available on its website www.prtb.ie   and the most recent report relates to 2011. Copies of the PRTB Annual Reports are also available in the Oireachtas library. The website also contains the published register of tenancies maintained by the PRTB.

EU Conventions

 163. Deputy Billy Kelleher Information on Billy Kelleher Zoom on Billy Kelleher asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter if he will be signing the European Convention on Violence against Women; the reason he has not signed it to date; if he will provide a date for the signing to take place; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28118/13]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter Ireland supports, in principle, the aims and terms of the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. It is a detailed Convention with a very broad scope across a number of policy areas with potential policy and legislative implications. The provisions of the Convention and the legislative and administrative arrangements that would be necessary to allow signature and ratification of the Convention by Ireland are being examined in conjunction with the government commitment to introduce consolidated and reformed domestic violence legislation to address all aspects of domestic violence, threatened violence and intimidation, in a way that provides protection to victims.

However, a particular difficulty to be addressed in Ireland’s consideration of the Convention relates to reconciling property rights under the Irish constitution with the requirement under Article 52 of the Convention - the availability of emergency barring orders. The development of the consolidated and reformed legislation, including consideration of the Convention provisions, will be progressed as soon as possible having regard to the need for consultations and other legislative priorities in my Department. I should also inform you that, to date, 30 Council of Europe member states have signed the Convention of which four have ratified it. Of these just one EU member state, Portugal, has as yet ratified the convention. The convention has not yet entered into force as this requires at least ten ratifications, including 8 Council of Europe member states.

Departmental Reports

 164. Deputy Sean Fleming Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming asked the Minister for Justice and Equality Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter if he will set out the value for money reports and the focused policy assessments carried out within his Department since March 2011; the actions that have been taken to implement such reports; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [28178/13]

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Alan Shatter): Information on Alan Shatter Zoom on Alan Shatter A Value for Money Review was carried out by my Department on the Legal Aid Board during 2011, with the report published in 2012. The recommendations from this Value for Money Review and the current position in relation to these recommendations are set out in the following table.

Key Recommendation Current Position
The relative efficiency of law centres and the scope for improving efficiency through increasing throughput of cases within the existing level of resources; The Board has updated efficiency indicators used in the review (the total direct cost of cases cleared and the solicitor days per case cleared for 2011 which demonstrates a continued improvement in the Legal Aid Board’s productivity. These indicators now form an important element of the Board’s procedures for managing risk and performance across the law centre network.
The cost of providing services through private practitioners compared to the current model which involves mainly direct service provision through law centres The Board continues to operate a mixed model of service delivery and uses private practitioners where resources allow. However, due to resource constraints, private practitioners are now mainly used for District Court cases only which attract a significantly lower fee than cases before the higher courts. The main focus of effort in the law centre network is to continue to improve work practices and procedures to increase the throughput of cases within existing resources.
The scope for co-location of services with other agencies (Family Mediation Services (FMS) now within the Board and the Courts Service), to encourage ADR (alternative dispute resolution) along the lines of the Integrated Mediation Initiative in Dolphin House. This initiative has been extended following a review of its operation that clearly demonstrated efficiency savings (in terms of costs avoided). A similar integrated approach has recently been introduced in Cork and Naas in cooperation with the Courts Service;
The issue of how the current operation of the Courts (listing of cases, etc) imposes inefficiencies and costs on the Board (and indeed other Court users) – suggestion is that both the Department and the Board approach the Courts Service jointly about this matter (Key issue is the independence and wide discretion of judiciary in this regard). There is a review group in place in the Department currently examining how the efficiency of the Courts might be improved on which the Board is represented;
Seeking legislative change to enable the Board to save approx €250k on practising certificates for solicitors (seek to have just one certificate for the Board in line with Chief State Solicitors Office practice rather than individual practising certificates for all solicitors employed in the Board). This is also consistent with “An Bord Snip Nua” recommendations to reduce non-pay overheads in the Board. Briefing material on the suggested legislative amendment required has been supplied by the Board to the Department and it is now being considered in the context of the draft legislation covering the future regulation of the legal profession.
Reviewing locations of law centres and identification of possibilities for mergers/consolidation (the results of the analysis undertaken illustrates that costs and throughput of cases in the smaller law centres compare favourably to the larger centres – so the case for possible merger of smaller law centres is not generally supported by the analysis). The Board has reviewed the structures for service delivery in Cork, Galway and Dublin and has consolidated its previously separate Refugee Legal Services operations in those 3 locations into the law centre network. Further work on consolidation of services in the Dublin area is also underway to improve efficiency and effectiveness in that location;
Reviewing HQ costs on an ongoing basis to seek efficiencies (€500 cost per case figure is used, but this reduces if productivity in law centres rises). The impact of the moratorium on recruitment has resulted in reduced numbers of staff in HQ while taking over responsibility for the corporate support functions of the FMS has increased the workload in support areas as only front-line FMS staff were transferred to the Board. A further review of support service structures is currently underway to identify how best to deploy resources in these areas of the Board to:

- better support front line service delivery; and

- meet corporate governance obligations in the most cost effective and efficient manner possible (this includes measures for the more active management of the Board’s property portfolio and procurement of supplies and services).


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