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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 226-235
 Header Item Referendum Campaigns
 Header Item Water and Sewerage Schemes Funding
 Header Item Planning Issues
 Header Item Private Rented Accommodation Data
 Header Item Pension Provisions
 Header Item Air Corps
 Header Item Defence Forces Training
 Header Item Cycling Facilities Provision

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 959 No. 7

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Written Answers Nos. 226-235

Referendum Campaigns

 226. Deputy Micheál Martin Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy if he will report on the commitment the Government has given on holding referendums on reducing the voting age to 16, the direct election of executive mayors and extending the franchise at presidential elections.  [41643/17]

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Eoghan Murphy): Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy The Government announced on 26 September 2017 that it had agreed an indicative timetable for the holding of a number of referendums on proposals for amendments to the Constitution arising from the work of the Citizens’ Assembly and the Convention on the Constitution.

In this context, my Department will bring forward appropriate Constitution Amendment Bills on reducing the voting age to 16 and on extending the franchise at Presidential elections to Irish citizens resident outside the State.  These referendums will address two of the recommendations of the Convention on the Constitution.  Subject to the passage of the Constitution Amendment Bills by the Houses of the Oireachtas, it is proposed that these referendums would be held on the same day as the local and European elections in June 2019.

The indicative timetable also includes the holding of a plebiscite in October 2018 on directly elected executive mayors.  The issue of metropolitan governance, including directly elected mayors, is currently being examined in my Department in the context of the commitments in the Programme for a Partnership Government on local government reform.

Water and Sewerage Schemes Funding

 227. Deputy Charlie McConalogue Information on Charlie McConalogue Zoom on Charlie McConalogue asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy if financial assistance is available for persons to install filters for private wells; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42112/17]

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Eoghan Murphy): Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy Funding is available under my Department's Rural Water Programme towards the provision or necessary improvement of private wells for domestic users. 

  The terms and conditions of the scheme are set out in an Explanatory Memorandum which is available from local authorities and on my Department's website at the following link: http://www.housing.gov.ie/water/water-services/rural-water-programme/private-wells.

Planning Issues

 228. 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 his views regarding persons objecting to planning applications (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42124/17]

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Eoghan Murphy): Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy In making a decision on a planning application or appeal, a planning authority or An Bord Pleanála must consider the proper planning and sustainable development of the area, having regard to the provisions of the development plan, and relevant Ministerial or Government policies, as well as the views of members of the public.  Public participation is, therefore, a crucial element of all substantive decision-making processes under the Planning and Development Act 2000 and is also a requirement under the Aarhus Convention and Environmental Impact Assessment Directives in relation to specific types of developments. 

It is open to any member of the public to make an observation or submission on a planning application and the planning authority is statutorily obliged to consider such submissions before making a decision on the application.  Persons who make submissions are also entitled to be notified of any significant further information provided to the planning authority by the applicant and to be notified of the authority’s decision on the application.  Furthermore, any person who made a submission on a planning application may appeal the planning authority’s decision on the application to An Bord Pleanála or may make a submission to the Board in relation to an appeal of that decision.

The fees payable by members of the public to participate in the planning decision-making process are set at a level that, as well as contributing towards the cost of processing applications and appeals, discourages frivolous or vexatious submissions without hindering genuine public participation.  In addition, the Board has discretion to dismiss an appeal where it is satisfied that the appeal is vexatious, frivolous or without substance or foundation or where the appeal is made with the sole intention of delaying development or of securing the payment of money, gifts, considerations or other inducement by any person.

I am satisfied that the current arrangements in relation to public participation in decision-making contribute significantly to the openness and transparency of the planning process and I have no proposals to amend the legislation in this regard.

Private Rented Accommodation Data

 229. 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 the use to which the statistics his office receive from the RTB and the PRTB are put; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42125/17]

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Eoghan Murphy): Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy It is crucial that policy decisions are based on and supported by the best available evidence where possible. This is why the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, Rent Index is so important. Since October 2013, the RTB, in conjunction with the Economic and Social Research Institute, ESRI, has produced the RTB Rent Index on a quarterly basis. The RTB Rent Index is the most accurate and authoritative rent report of its kind on the private accommodation sector in Ireland. It is generated using the actual rent figures provided when registering with the RTB.

Recent legislation established rent pressure zones in certain areas and laid out the process through which further rent pressure zones can be established.  To enable the designation of rent pressure zones at a more granular level, the RTB, working with the ESRI, has developed a methodology to provide rental price information at a more local level, enabling the designation of Local Electoral Areas, LEA, as rent pressure zones as well as improving the Index more generally and providing a more detailed and useful picture of the performance of the rental sector.  The information collected by the RTB provides a robust basis for implementing the Rent Pressure Zones and for monitoring their impact.

As well as information on rent levels, the RTB's statistics on tenancy registrations and on its dispute resolution activities provide important information on the behaviour of the rental market and the impact of Government policies. The role of the RTB is still evolving and will develop over the medium term and the range and quality of the information that it produces will increase.

On 19 September, I announced that the RTB will be given the powers and resources to take on greater regulatory responsibility in the rental sector over the next two years. As part of this change, the RTB will move towards annual registration of tenancies, which will permit the building of a national rent dataset, allowing the Board to provide benchmark rents for different property types. This enhanced data will be key to understanding trends and behaviour in the rental market as well as informing future policy decisions..

Pension Provisions

 230. Deputy Dara Calleary Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the way in which the superannuation benefits of Defence Forces commissioned officers who are PRSI class A contributors are integrated with the range of social welfare benefits to include the payment of the State pension (contributory). [42089/17]

 231. Deputy Dara Calleary Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the arrangements that are applied in cases in which Defence Forces commissioned officers are forced to retire mandatorily on age grounds in advance of the eligibility and payment of the State pension (contributory). [42090/17]

 232. Deputy Dara Calleary Information on Dara Calleary Zoom on Dara Calleary asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the arrangements in place for Defence Forces commissioned officers who joined the Defence Forces since 1 January 2013 under the Public Service Pensions (Single Scheme and Other Provisions) Act 2012 factoring the unique mandatory retirement ages imposed by Defence Forces regulations and alignment with the entitlement of the State pension (contributory) for those that accrue 30 years of PRSI class A contributions. [42091/17]

Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe I propose to take Questions Nos. 230 to 232, inclusive, together.

Commissioned officers who joined the Permanent Defence Force on or after 6 April 1995 are, like other public servants appointed since then, insurable for full PRSI and so are entitled to the full range of Social Insurance benefits including the State Pension Contributory. Both the employers and employees make PRSI contributions. In an integrated pension scheme, the State Pension is viewed as part of the overall pension package payable to the individual. The combined benefit from both sources – the occupational pension plus the State Pension – makes up the person’s "total pension". On that basis, the employees’ occupational pensions are subject to a process – known as “integration” – whereby the occupational pension arrangements take account of entitlement to Social Insurance benefits (including the State Pension).

Integration is a standard feature of public service pension schemes applicable to employees in full PRSI class who, whether joining the public service before or since April 1995, were subject to full PRSI. Integration does not apply to retirement gratuities. Integration begins from the time the occupational pension comes into payment and operates on the assumption that a Social Insurance benefit is, in fact, payable. However, except in cases of ill-health early retirement, Social Insurance benefits may actually not be payable until age 66 to 68 (depending on a person’s date of birth). Under standard public service pension scheme arrangements for those who joined the public service before 1 January 2013 in full PRSI class, a "supplementary pension" may be payable in certain circumstances on compulsory retirement prior to State Pension age (66/68) in order to make up the shortfall in total pension in the interim.

This supplementary pension is not payable automatically once a person reaches compulsory retirement age – such as age 60/65 in the wider public service – or some years earlier in the case of military personnel. Rather, the supplementary pension is payable only during periods in which the pensioner is (a) not in insurable employment; and (b) due to causes outside his or her control, fails to qualify for Social Welfare benefit/pension (or qualifies at a rate less than the maximum personal rate of State Pension). The pensioner must meet these qualifying criteria to qualify for payment. Therefore, the supplementary pension is not payable where a "pre-January 2013" public service pensioner is, subsequent to compulsory retirement – for example at age 58, 60 or 65 – working or employed in any capacity that involves a Social Insurance contribution.

As I indicated to the House in my replies to Question No. 51 on 11 July 2017 and Question No. 2106 on 11 September 2017, the Single Public Service Pension Scheme was one of the key structural fiscal reform commitments agreed by Government with the EU/IMF in 2010 under the programme of financial support for Ireland. In the context of the Government’s decision to introduce the Single Scheme, a stated primary objective is to help significantly reduce the cost of public service pensions in the longer-term through far-reaching transformation and reform of the public service pension system. It provides for a new approach which modernises and standardises pension arrangements throughout the public service. The terms and rules of the Single Scheme – which are fundamentally different to the superannuation arrangements of all public servants recruited before 1 January 2013 – make no provision for the concept or award of supplementary pensions for any new entrants joining any public service group on or after 1 January 2013. This position has been confirmed to the Permanent Defence Force Representative Associations.

However, the absence of any provision for the supplementary pension concept in the Single Scheme must be viewed in the overall context of the fundamental changes and reforms to the pension scheme terms of post-2013 new entrants. Such reforms were decided by Government and the Oireachtas as necessary to support the long-term financial sustainability of the public service pension system. In that context, there are many other established features of the pre-1 January 2013 public service occupational pension arrangements that have been discontinued, or that have been fundamentally changed, under the Single Scheme. Among the most notable of these changes is the introduction of career-average pension accrual under the Single Scheme, in place of the more costly final salary pension accrual applicable in the earlier “pre-existing” public service pension schemes..

Air Corps

 233. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar the number of chemical risk assessments on record with the Air Corps group formation health and safety office. [42130/17]

Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe As this matter pertains to litigation which is ongoing, it would be inappropriate for me to comment at this time.

Defence Forces Training

 234. Deputy Aengus Ó Snodaigh Information on Aengus Ó Snodaigh Zoom on Aengus Ó Snodaigh asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if chemical health and safety training is provided to new recruits and cadets as part of their basic training; and if not, if it will be made mandatory as soon as possible. [42131/17]

Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe I am advised by the relevant military authorities that basic Health and Safety training is provided to all new entrants to the Defence Forces.  Where a requirement for more specific Health and Safety training is identified for an individual or group of individuals for a post, this training is provided by qualified Defence Force safety personnel. For example, individuals working with chemicals will receive Chemical Awareness training as required..

Cycling Facilities Provision

 235. Deputy Fiona O'Loughlin Information on Fiona O'Loughlin Zoom on Fiona O'Loughlin asked the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar his plans for a cycle lane at the Curragh, County Kildare; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [42171/17]

Minister of State at the Department of Defence (Deputy Paul Kehoe): Information on Paul Kehoe Zoom on Paul Kehoe My Department is not considering any proposals to introduce a cycle lane on Curragh lands. Primary responsibility for the roads in the Curragh lies with Kildare County Council. If the Council wishes to approach my Department with any such proposals, my officials are available to engage with them on the matter.


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