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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 162-171
 Header Item Broadcasting Sector Regulation
 Header Item Renewable Energy Generation
 Header Item Energy Prices
 Header Item Political Funding
 Header Item Flood Prevention Measures
 Header Item Local Authority Housing Rents
 Header Item Planning Issues
 Header Item Local Authority Housing Repossessions
 Header Item EU Solidarity Fund
 Header Item Water Charges Administration

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 830 No. 3

First Page Previous Page Page of 77 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 162-171

Broadcasting Sector Regulation

 162. Deputy Catherine Murphy Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte the measures that exist, either statutorily, through regulation or by internal code of conduct, or otherwise, to ensure that no individual member of the board of the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland may find themselves subject to a conflict of interest, in particular if a member wishes to pursue an action for personal damages against an entity which he or she has a responsibility to regulate; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [7261/14]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte The BAI is an independent statutory body established by the Broadcasting Act 2009 to regulate content across all Irish broadcasting services. Section 23 of the Broadcasting Act 2009 obliges the Authority to draw up and adopt a Code of Conduct in respect of controls on interests and ethical behaviour to apply to each member of the Authority, statutory committee, advisory committee and members of staff; Section 24 of the 2009 Act states that the Authority shall be independent in the performance of its functions.

In common with all public service bodies and in accordance with section 31.1(iv) of the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies, the BAI affirms on an annual basis that its Code of Business Conduct is in place and has been adhered to. A copy of the BAI’s Code of Business Conduct is available on the BAI web-site: http://www.bai.ie/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/20131119_RevisedCodeOfBusinessConduct_PK.pdf.

  The revised Code was approved by the Authority in November 2013 on the recommendation of the Finance Audit and Risk Committee. It replaced the previous Code, dating from October 2010. The purpose of the revision was to reflect new and proposed legislation pertaining to bribery and corruption. In addition, the BAI’s Policy on Whistleblowing was appended to the revised Code. The Code of Conduct contains a number of specific provisions governing matters of conflict of interest. In addition, certain staff members holding ‘designated positions’ and members of the statutory Authority and Committees are subject to the obligations placed on them by the Ethics in Public Office Act, 1995 and the Standards in Public Office Acts, 1995 and 2001. ‘Designated positions’ refer to staff at the grade of Higher Executive Officer and higher.

  Authority and Committee members, as well as staff, are also subject to Sections 21 and 22 of the Broadcasting Act 2009, which provides for the disclosure of any conflicts of interest. In addition, Section 20 of the Broadcasting Act places duties of accountability to Oireachtas Committees on the Chief Executive, Chairperson of the Authority and the Chairpersons of the Statutory Compliance and Contract Awards Committees.

Renewable Energy Generation

 163. Deputy Terence Flanagan Information on Terence Flanagan Zoom on Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte his plans to generate renewable energy from the seas around Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7414/14]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte I published the Offshore Renewable Energy Development Plan (OREDP) on 7 February. The Plan, and the associated Strategic Environmental Assessment documentation, can be found on my Department's website.

The OREDP identifies the opportunity for Ireland of realising the potential of our offshore energy resources for increasing indigenous production of renewable energy, thereby contributing to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, improving the security of our energy supply and creating jobs in the green economy, especially in coastal communities where job creation faces particular challenges.

The OREDP will provide the mechanism through which action across government departments and agencies to support the development of offshore renewable electricity generation can be fully coordinated in areas such as environmental monitoring, research and development, consenting procedures, infrastructure requirements and enterprise development. In this way the OREDP will provide the framework for the sustainable development of our offshore energy resources.

My Department already supports ocean energy through the work of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) in administering the Prototype Development Fund, developing the Atlantic Marine Energy Test Site (AMETS) off County Mayo, and through its contribution to funding for the Integrated Marine Energy Research Centre, a partnership between University College Cork, Cork Institute of Technology and the Irish Naval Service. In total my Department has allocated €26.3 million for ocean energy over the period 2013-2016. As announced in the OREDP, subject to further Government approval and European State Aid approval, I will also be introducing an initial market support scheme, limited to 30 MW, of €260 per megawatt hour for wave and tidal generation from 2016.

Energy Prices

 164. Deputy Terence Flanagan Information on Terence Flanagan Zoom on Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte if the energy regulator ensures that consumers get lower prices for petrol when oil prices fall per barrel; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7420/14]

Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources (Deputy Pat Rabbitte): Information on Pat Rabbitte Zoom on Pat Rabbitte The Commission for Energy Regulation has no statutory function in the regulation of petrol and diesel prices. The Maximum Prices Order was removed in 1991 and the market was deregulated. The Irish oil industry is fully privatised, liberalised and deregulated and there is free entry to the market. There is no price control in the oil sector and it is Government policy to encourage price competition and consumer choice.

  Prices at the pump reflect volatile market prices, transportation costs, trends in exchange rates and other operating costs along with taxation.

The Irish Petroleum Industry Association have noted in their publication "What determines pump prices?" that while the long-term trend in the price of crude oil has generally had an effect on the price of refined products, the pressures of supply and demand for refined products have tended to lag those of crude oil and can be affected by other forces.

  The Deputy will be aware that the National Consumer Agency has specific responsibilities for protecting the rights of consumers. In December 2008, the National Consumer Agency published an Investigation into Petrol and Diesel Price Movements. In this, they concluded that: “There is little evidence to suggest unwarranted delays in the passing on of wholesale price changes to the consumer at the pump. Direct comparison between fluctuations in crude oil prices and petrol and diesel pump prices is inappropriate and does not reflect the reality of the petrol and diesel supply chain. ….Examination of the accounts of the larger oil companies in Ireland suggest there is relatively modest profit to be made in the downstream supply of refined oil products ."

Political Funding

 165. Deputy Dominic Hannigan Information on Dominic Hannigan Zoom on Dominic Hannigan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan if he will, in view of the findings of the recently-published EU anti-corruption report, act on the recommendations for Ireland, including placing an overall limit on the amount a person may give to a political party and electoral candidates or elected representatives who are members of that party, imposing a reasonably short time limit for political parties to discharge their financial disclosure obligations, and the regulation of financing of referendum campaigns; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [7253/14]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan): Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan The Electoral (Amendment) (Political Funding) Act 2012 introduced significant reforms to the regulation of political funding which are acknowledged in the EU Anti-Corruption Report published on 2 February 2014. The report notes that Ireland has tightened rules on the financing of political parties and promoted greater transparency as regards party accounts. The report also acknowledges the positive assessment given by the Council of Europe Group of States Against Corruption, known as ‘GRECO’, in December 2013 on the actions undertaken by Ireland to enhance the transparency of party funding and to strengthen the financial discipline of political parties.

Further legislative change, including the recommendations made in the EU Anti-Corruption Report, can be considered in the context of the Electoral (Amendment) (Referendum Spending and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. This Bill is to provide for the disclosure of expenditure and donations at referendum campaigns and to provide for the extension of the spending limit period that applies at Presidential, Dáil, European Parliament and local elections.

Flood Prevention Measures

 166. Deputy Patrick O'Donovan Information on Patrick O'Donovan Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan if water is threatening to flood a private dwelling house and the local authority has sourced a solution which involves taking pipes or drains across the property of a third party so as to be drained into a river, whether State agencies, councils or the Office of Public Works have the authority to proceed with such a solution without the consent of the third party; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [7220/14]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan): Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan I have no responsibility for, or role in relation to, managing or dealing with improvement works relating to flooding.

Local Authority Housing Rents

 167. Deputy Brian Stanley Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan his views regarding the passing on of local property tax by local authorities to local authority tenants by adding a charge to their rent. [7247/14]

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 Housing authorities are responsible, under section 58 of the Housing Act 1966, for determining the rents of their dwellings, subject to complying with broad principles laid down by my Department, notably that the rent payable should be related to income and that low-income households should pay a lower proportion of income in rent.

The current statutory basis for determining local authority rents will be repealed on the coming into force of section 31 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, as amended by the Housing (Amendment) Act 2013. Section 31 rents will continue to relate to household income and composition, and will be set by the local authority in accordance with a rent scheme adopted by the elected members. Rent schemes must provide for matters set down in regulations that I intend to make under section 31 in the near future but councillors will, nonetheless, have a degree of discretion in specifying the parameters for rent setting in their schemes.

Neither section 58 of the Housing Act 1966 nor section 31 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 allow for a specific levy or charge in respect of works or services provided otherwise than under the Housing Acts 1966 to 2013. However, these enactments do not prevent a housing authority from setting the amount of rent at a level that will generate funds to pay for, or contribute to payment of, the authority’s annual liability for Local Property Tax in respect of its residential properties.

Planning Issues

 168. Deputy Dominic Hannigan Information on Dominic Hannigan Zoom on Dominic Hannigan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan his response to the recently published EU anti-corruption report; if he intends to act on the recommendations for Ireland, which include ensuring that planning enforcement powers are vested in an independent urban planning regulator with capacity and powers to investigate systemic problems, ensuring that local authorities implement plans for the prevention of fraud and corruption, and ensuring the effective prevention and detection of conflicts of interest, notably at local level; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [7251/14]

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 In line with the recommendation contained in the Final Report of the Mahon Tribunal, the Government, at its meeting on 7 May 2013, approved proposals for the preparation of a new Planning and Development Bill to establish a new Office of the Planning Regulator (OPR). The primary function of the OPR, which will be established with an independent corporate identity, will be to carry out independent appraisal of regional and local level statutory plans prepared and adopted under the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, namely, development plans, local area plans, regional planning guidelines etc. The OPR will also have investigative powers to examine, inter alia, possible systemic failings in the planning system, again taking account of the recommendation of the Mahon Tribunal in this regard. On foot of the Government approved proposals, my Department is preparing a General Scheme of a new Planning and Development Bill giving consideration to the detailed issues to be addressed including those raised in the question. It is intended to bring the General Scheme of the Bill to Government for approval by Easter, 2014.

  Part 15 of the Local Government Act 2001 provides an ethical framework that requires both elected members and employees to maintain proper standards of integrity, conduct and concern for the public interest. The legislation is complemented by Codes of Conduct issued by the Minister. The framework sets out clear requirements and procedures for a councillor who has a pecuniary or other beneficial interest in a matter arising for consideration by a local authority. In particular, a councillor is prohibited from influencing or seeking to influence a decision of a local authority on any such matter. Under the Act, failure to comply with these requirements constitutes an offence.

  The broader issues relating to fraud and corruption, and a unified ethical framework for the public sector, are matters for my colleagues, the Minister for Justice and Law Reform, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, respectively.

Local Authority Housing Repossessions

 169. Deputy Derek Nolan Information on Derek Nolan Zoom on Derek Nolan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan the number of repossessions of local authority rented properties in the years from 2010 to 2013; the reason for repossession; the household characteristics; the number that were voluntarily surrendered compared to the execution of an eviction process; if he will provide any information on the alternative housing provided or occupied by the household after repossession; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [7275/14]

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 table sets out data provided by housing authorities to my Department concerning the numbers of dwelling repossessions under section 62 of the Housing Act from 2010 to 2012, broken down by ground for repossession. My Department is currently collating corresponding data for 2013. Information is not collected on the characteristics of households whose dwellings were repossessed or on the number of households who voluntarily surrendered their properties in the context of a repossession process.

  Housing authorities may, under section 10 of the Housing Act 1988, incur expenditure on the provision of emergency accommodation and related services for homeless persons. In the longer term, a household whose accommodation was repossessed by the housing authority because of a serious breach of the tenancy agreement may, if its circumstances permit, secure and fund its own accommodation in the private sector. Alternatively, the household may qualify for rent supplement from the Department of Social Protection in certain circumstances. The household may also apply to a housing authority for social housing support but cognisance must be taken of section 20(8) of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009, which provides that a housing authority carrying out a social housing assessment may disregard the accommodation currently occupied by a household where the authority believes that the household deliberately, or without good and sufficient reason, did or failed to do anything (other than an action or omission in good faith), in consequence of which the household’s current accommodation is less suitable for its adequate housing than other accommodation which it would have been reasonable for the household to occupy.

No. of repossessions carried out on foot of section 62 Warrants

Year Reason Number in total
2010 Anti-Social Behaviour 14
-Rent Arrears 28
-Refusal to transfer Tenancy 2
-Squatters 0
-Other 0
-Total 44
2011 Anti-Social Behaviour 15
- Rent Arrears 45
-Refusal to transfer Tenancy 4
-Squatters 0
-Other 6
-Total 70
2012 Anti-Social Behaviour 6
- Rent Arrears 35
-Refusal to transfer Tenancy 0
-Squatters 6
-Other 36
-Total 83

EU Solidarity Fund

 170. Deputy Michael McCarthy Information on Michael McCarthy Zoom on Michael McCarthy asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan if an application will be made to the EU solidarity fund to seek financial assistance to support the clean-up and costs which have arisen from the damage caused by recent severe storms. [7283/14]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan): Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan My Department and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform had discussions with the European Commission on possible EU funding under the Solidarity and Regional Support schemes to support the cost of repairing the damage caused to public infrastructure by the recent severe storms and floods.

Following discussions with the European Commission, the Government has noted that the impact of the storms does not meet the threshold conditions for EU Solidarity Fund assistance. The thresholds for regional/exceptional applications are also very high and the EU budget has been reduced from €1 billion to €534 million per annum.  The Commission has signalled that this will mean grants for successful applications being cut from 2.5% to about 1.33%.  Essentially, for every €100 million of damage, the most that Ireland could possibly access is €1.33 million assistance under this fund and, accordingly an application has not been made to the fund.

Water Charges Administration

 171. Deputy Terence Flanagan Information on Terence Flanagan Zoom on Terence Flanagan asked the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan his views on the amount of revenue raised from water charges in 2013 that has been invested into local government; if he will outline the money what this money has been spent on by local government; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [7284/14]

Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government (Deputy Phil Hogan): Information on Phil Hogan Zoom on Phil Hogan The levying and collection of local charges, including water charges in 2013, are matters for each individual local authority. Water income data are published by local authorities in their Annual Financial Statements. 2011 is the latest year for which fully audited local authority Annual Financial Statement data are available. The Local Government Audit Service is currently at an advanced stage in undertaking the audit of the 2012 Annual Financial Statements, which should be completed shortly.


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