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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 349-355
 Header Item European Parliament Elections
 Header Item Water Conservation
 Header Item Public Sector Staff Retirements
 Header Item Homeless Accommodation Provision
 Header Item Local Authority Functions
 Header Item Departmental Contracts
 Header Item Invasive Plant Species

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 971 No. 2

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Written Answers Nos. 349-355

European Parliament Elections

 349. 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 there will be a review of European election constituency boundaries following the provision of two extra MEPs to Ireland; the timeline for the undertaking of the boundary review; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29593/18]

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Eoghan Murphy): Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy On 28 June 2018, the European Council adopted a decision on the composition of the European Parliament for the 2019-2024 parliamentary term. This provides for 13 members to be elected in Ireland, an increase from the present 11 members.

The Electoral Act 1997 (as amended) provides for the establishment of a commission to review European Parliament constituencies in the context of a change in the number of MEPs to be elected in Ireland. The provisions generally mirror those in place for a Constituency Commission, including the membership, but with shorter timelines for receipt of submissions and for presentation of a report to the Chairman of the Dáil (within two months of establishment).

I have written to the Chief Justice seeking his nomination for a Chairperson for the Commission and I intend to establish a Commission to review the constituencies as soon as practicable after receiving the nomination.

Water Conservation

 350. 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 number of offences that have been prosecuted in the past five years by Irish Water for breaches of section 54(2) of the Water Services Act 2007 (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29594/18]

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Eoghan Murphy): Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy Conservation of water supplies is a key policy imperative.  Safe, reliable and high quality drinking water is expensive to produce and is a precious resource.

  I am advised by Irish Water that it has prosecuted no offences in the past five years for breaches of section 54(2) of the Water Services Act 2007.  While enforcement and the threat of prosecution undoubtedly has a place in circumstances where persistent and willful waste of water by individual households or businesses is apparent, the real challenges in conservation terms lie in reducing per capita demands for water, eliminating leakages and wastage as far as practicable and effective management of water resources and service capacity.

  On this basis I published the Water Services Policy Statement 2018-2025 on 21 May 2018 following its approval by Government. The Policy Statement sets out a series of high-level policy objectives across the three thematic areas of Quality, Conservation, and Future Proofing, which must be pursued when planning capital investment and framing current spending plans. The Policy Statement is available on my Department's website at the following link:

  http://www.housing.gov.ie/sites/default/files/publications/files/water_services_policy_statement_2018-2025_0.pdf.  

  The Policy Statement supports the promotion of water conservation and water resource management as an important element of water services policy that is to be reflected in strategic investment planning by Irish Water. For the period of the Policy Statement, this will involve the prioritisation of multifaceted programmes around leak detection and repair, network improvements, cost effective metering, public awareness campaigns and funding to fix customer side leaks. The National Leakage Reduction Programme in particular includes investment of some €250 million over the next four years under the Find and Fix repair scheme and the Water Mains Rehabilitation programme. 

  My Department continues to work with Irish Water and the Commission for Regulation of Utilities to ensure that effective water conservation arrangements as set out in the Water Services Policy Statement 2018-2025 are reflected in ongoing investment plans and connection policies. The Policy Statement also extends to rural and privately provided water services where conservation is also placed firmly at the heart of policy matters which will be reflected in the current Review of Rural Water Services and in ongoing investment decisions under the Multi-Annual Rural Water Programme.

Public Sector Staff Retirements

 351. Deputy Pat Deering Information on Patrick Deering Zoom on Patrick Deering asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy if he will address the matter of the extension of the retirement age of retained fire fighters; if an expert review panel will be established to review the retirement age anomaly (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29609/18]

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Eoghan Murphy): Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy International research indicates that the retirement age of 55 is the optimum age to ensure that fire-fighters are capable of satisfactorily performing the tasks expected of them. The retirement age of 55 years of age was introduced because of health and safety considerations related to the job. Since the enactment of the Health, Safety and Welfare at Work Act 1989, underpinned by subsequent legislation, each fire authority, as an employer, has a statutory duty to avoid placing employees at risk.

A full time firefighter is statutorily required to retire at age 55 under the Public Service Superannuation (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2004. This retirement age is set at 55 due to the physically demanding nature of the fire-fighter role.

The retirement age for retained fire fighters is 55 with an extended period to age 58 subject to a formal application process including a compulsory medical assessment.

A collective agreement was reached between the Local Government Management Services Board and the trade unions involved (SIPTU and ATGWU) in November 2002.  This collective agreement provided, inter alia, for the appointment of an Expert Group which in turn would advise as to the retirement age for retained firefighters. The Expert Group's Report on Retirement Age recommended that the retirement age for retained firefighters remain at 55, with provision for an annual extension, subject to medical assessment, up to 58 years of age. Following the report of the Expert Group published in April 2003, a circular was issued by my Department in November 2003 setting out the age requirements in relation to retained firefighters in line with the Expert Report.

In general, any changes proposed by either management or unions are negotiated using the established Industrial Relations processes. In this regard, the matter of increasing the retirement age for firefighters was included as part of recent discussions on a wide range of issues at the Workplace Relations Commission, between the Local Government Management Agency (representing the employers) and SIPTU.

I understand that these discussions are at a preliminary stage and therefore I am unable to give an indication as to when these discussions will be completed or the likely outcome.

Homeless Accommodation Provision

 352. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy the number of homeless families in County Kildare; the number of families in emergency accommodation or awaiting allocation thereto; if funding has been allocated to Kildare County Council to address the issue on a permanent basis; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29626/18]

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Eoghan Murphy): Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy The Pathway Accommodation and Support System (PASS) was implemented nationally in 2014, as a national information and management system for homeless services that are overseen by housing authorities.  My Department collates PASS data from lead housing authorities on a monthly basis and these monthly homeless reports are published on my Department's website and can be accessed using the following link: http://www.housing.gov.ie/housing/homelessness/other/homelessness-data.

  The report for the Mid-East Region for May showed that 48 families accessed emergency accommodation in the region during the relevant count week in May 2018.  The Mid-East includes Kildare, Meath and Wicklow; however, the report does not include a breakdown at the county level for families.  

  Statutory responsibility in relation to the provision of accommodation and related services for homeless persons rests with housing authorities.  Exchequer funding towards the operational costs of homeless accommodation and related services is provided by my Department to housing authorities on a regional basis.  The Mid-East Region’s 2018 Exchequer funding allocation under the delegated protocol arrangements for homeless services is €1,200,000. This is the Exchequer allocation towards costs incurred by housing authorities in providing homeless services; housing authorities must provide additional funding, amounting to no less than 10% of the cost of the service being funded, from their own resources.

  The funding needs of the various regions are kept under review on an ongoing basis and further recoupments will be considered on the basis of expenditure arising.

  The delivery of increased social housing will be key to providing permanent solutions for those currently experiencing homelessness.  Rebuilding Ireland, the Government's Action Plan on Housing and Homelessness, includes targets to increase the number of social housing homes by 50,000 by 2021.  Each local authority has been allocated a target for the delivery of social housing. The target for Kildare County Council for 2018 is for the delivery of 374 homes under build, acquisition and leasing and a further 728 housing supports under HAP and RAS.  

Local Authority Functions

 353. Deputy Sean Fleming Information on Seán Fleming Zoom on Seán Fleming asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy the section in legislation in relation to the role of the chief executives of local authorities in respect of public health; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [29696/18]

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Eoghan Murphy): Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy Local authorities operate in accordance with a broad range of legislation, including in relation to issues which come under the responsibility of a number of Government Departments.

In relation to the Deputy's specific query regarding public health issues, many functions in this area are now the responsibility of the Health Service Executive. However, there may still be roles that the local authorities perform that might be considered to fall within the public health realm.  If the Deputy provides further detail on the specific public health function he is interested in, I will arrange for the issue to be examined without delay.

Departmental Contracts

 354. Deputy Mattie McGrath Information on Mattie McGrath Zoom on Mattie McGrath asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Information on Josepha Madigan Zoom on Josepha Madigan the number of times her Department has engaged polling companies and or Irish market researchers to conduct research on its behalf in each of the past two years; the names of such companies; the costs associated with same; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29570/18]

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (Deputy Josepha Madigan): Information on Josepha Madigan Zoom on Josepha Madigan I am advised that my Department has not engaged polling companies or market researchers during the period in question. 

Invasive Plant Species

 355. Deputy Declan Breathnach Information on Declan Breathnach Zoom on Declan Breathnach asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Information on Josepha Madigan Zoom on Josepha Madigan the measures being taken to manage and resolve the issue of Japanese knotweed in County Louth; her plans to introduce measures or grant schemes to assist landowners that have an infestation of Japanese knotweed to eradicate it in view of the fact that it is costly and onerous on landowners without such a scheme; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [29622/18]

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (Deputy Josepha Madigan): Information on Josepha Madigan Zoom on Josepha Madigan My Department is responsible for the implementation of the Wildlife Acts and the European Communities (Birds and Natural Habitats) Regulations 2011 (S.I. No. 477/2011), both of which prohibit the spreading of invasive species.

  In law, control of invasive species such as Japanese Knotweed is a matter in the first instance, for landowners. In this regard, my Department carries out considerable work on controlling invasive species in National Parks and Nature Reserves but has neither the legal ambit nor the resources required to extend such work into urban areas or the wider countryside, and is not in a position at present to provide dedicated funds for such work direct to landowners.

  There is significant work, however, being carried out at present by a range of agencies in this area, including a number of local authorities. In addition, the Management of Invasive Alien Plant Species (IAPS), launched in 2016 and led by Transport Infrastructure Ireland, is a €5.5 million project aimed at managing invasive knotweed and other non-native invasive plant species on the national road network and its interactions with regional roads. The project involves collaboration with the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport (DTTAS).

  While my Department does not collect data from local authorities on the incidence of Japanese Knotweed in their areas, information on the distribution of invasive species in Ireland, including Knotweed, is available on the invasive species section of the National Biodiversity Data Centre (NBDC) website at http://maps.biodiversityireland.ie.

  Information on general management approaches to invasive plant species is available from the Invasive Species Ireland website: http://invasivespeciesireland.com/toolkit/invasive-plant-management/


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