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 Header Item Tenant Purchase Scheme (Continued)
 Header Item Constitutional Amendments

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 991 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív: Information on Éamon Ó Cuív Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív] We need to nail that issue today, because it is one of the most common queries we receive about this scheme. Some people have the money, one way or another, to pay for and buy the house. The logic behind the rule is that if people in that position bought the house they could not afford to maintain it. Can the Minister of State confirm that this is the reason? It is the reason I have been given in writing. Most people would find that quite farcical.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan: Information on Jan O'Sullivan Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan I wish to reiterate Deputy Darragh O'Brien's question. It is an issue which I also mentioned. Could this provision be taken out of the major piece of work that is being done? We have been telling people over and over again that this review is coming soon. They come back and ask if we have any news, which we have not. These are people who have been living in their homes for many years and have a reasonable income but unfortunately it is not primarily from work.

Deputy Darragh O'Brien: Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien I wish to simply ask when the Minister of State will publish the review. There has been no real acrimony about this. We just want to see the recommendations. I think we are entitled to do that. We are fielding questions from our constituents about the social housing review. I am not sure what else is in it. In response to questions I put earlier the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, alluded to other decisions that have been made. Do they form part of this? Will the Government publish this before Christmas? Does it have a date in mind? Once we get it, we can move on and evaluate the merits of these secret recommendations. I do not understand the reticence in publishing these recommendations. The Minister of State said they are finalised. I know the Government has a printer which has not been used for the last year. Surely it could print the report and publish it.

Deputy Damien English: Information on Damien English Zoom on Damien English As I said, we will be bringing the social housing package forward in the very near future. After that, there will be discussions around this recommendation. I have discussed it with some of Deputy Darrah O'Brien's colleagues and we can discuss it further. We have had conversations about what people wanted from this. The sense we got was that people wanted a way of dealing with that €15,000 income barrier. I will clarify why it is there. It is not a madcap idea. There is a logic to it. The tenant purchase scheme has quite a long history of cases where people could not afford to maintain houses after purchasing them. In order to ensure the sustainability of the scheme, it is essential that an applicant's income is of a long-term and sustainable nature. This is necessary to ensure the tenant purchasing the house is in the financial position, as the owner, to maintain and ensure the property for the duration of the charge period, in compliance with the conditions of the order transferring ownership. A condition of the transfer of the ownership of the house is that for the duration of the incremental purchase charge, which goes on for 20 or 30 years, the tenant purchaser must keep the house in good repair and condition and maintain house insurance on the property. The tenant purchaser is also responsible for the normal changes associated with home ownership. Our research and the history of the scheme showed that this did not always happen without that income barrier. To be fair, the €15,000 minimum might not be the best way to address that because it prevents someone who has won the lottery or benefitted from a settlement of some sort from buying their house. We are trying to find ways to deal with that. That will also form part of the package.

An impression has probably been given that this is the reason people are not buying houses. In one sample year more than 2,400 applications were made under the scheme. Fewer than a quarter were refused because of the eligibility criteria. Those criteria did not affect the other 75%. I must be clear that this is not the main issue. It is an issue in some individual cases, but it is not the main reason people are not using this scheme.

Constitutional Amendments

 46. Deputy Thomas Pringle Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy the steps he will take to progress the Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Water in Public Ownership) (No.1) Bill 2016 seeking to place the right to water in the Constitution; the reason for the delay to date in moving forward with the legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [51222/19]

 78. Deputy Joan Collins Information on Joan Collins Zoom on Joan Collins asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy when he plans to have the revised amendment wording ready to bring to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government on the Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Water in Public Ownership) (No. 2) Bill 2016. [51760/19]

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle This question relates to the Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Water in Public Ownership) (No. 1) Bill 2016, which passed through the House several years ago. It is languishing on Committee Stage, waiting for the Minister to come back and look at how it will actually work. I would like the Minister to tease the problems out and say how we can move it forward.

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy I propose to take Questions Nos. 46 and 78 together.

The Government is firmly committed to keeping public water services in public ownership, as reflected in the Water Services Acts and in the water services policy statement 2018-2025.  This position is consistent with the April 2017 report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Future Funding of Domestic Water Services, which supported a referendum while recommending that the status of group water schemes and private wells remain unchanged.  

In consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, my Department has engaged in detailed examination of the proposals for a referendum contained in the Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Water in Public Ownership) (No. 2) Bill 2016, the Bill initiated by Deputy Joan Collins which is currently on Committee Stage.  The examination has highlighted a number of unacceptable risks which I have shared with the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government.  The Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers has separately advised the committee on the risks inherent in the Bill. Officials from my Department have also engaged in detail with Deputy Joan Collins and her advisers on the Bill, as I have myself on several occasions. In response to these concerns I have undertaken to bring forward appropriate amendments to the Bill.  In that regard, the Government has decided to proceed on the basis of drafting amendments which will focus on keeping the entity charged with the provision of public water services in public ownership.  

Progress on a proposal for revised wording continues to be made by the Office of the Attorney General in conjunction with my Department but it is not a simple matter.  In a letter to the committee in July 2019 I advised that I was working towards concluding a proposal for revised wording, subject to Government agreement and the advice of the Attorney General. This work is not yet complete.  Deputy Joan Collins is aware of the challenges and the various tests for any wording and her own legal team has not yet reverted to my Department following the last engagement that took place.  As with any Bill introducing an amendment to the Constitution it is essential that there is agreement, first, on the intent of the proposed amendment and, second, on the actual wording of the amendment to give effect to that intent. This is necessary in order to smooth the passage of the Bill through the Oireachtas and to ensure clarity for the electorate on the proposal that is being put to it.  It is with these concerns in mind, rather than seeking to delay the Bill unnecessarily, that the Government has been giving this matter, which the Deputy knows is complex, the time and very careful consideration it requires.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Eugene Murphy): Information on Eugene Murphy Zoom on Eugene Murphy I will call on Deputy Ó Broin in the second round of questions.

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle I would like to thank the Minister for the response, but it basically confirms that what is actually happening here is delay, delay and delay. He mentioned that he contacted the committee last July, some six months ago. This Bill was passed by this House several years ago. I may be wrong, but it looks from the outside that the Minister is putting this on the long finger in the hope that the election will arrive and the Bill will fall, as all legislation does. I do not believe that the Minister's Department has engaged with this properly or is doing so.

Deputy Paul Murphy: Information on Paul Murphy Zoom on Paul Murphy Hear, hear.

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle I would like to think it is. Deputy Joan Collins has tried to meet the Department officials and has been unsuccessful. What is the problem? Let us have a meeting with them to discuss this.

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy I have several pages before me detailing the various engagements we have had with Deputy Joan Collins and the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government on this matter.

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle Zoom on Thomas Pringle When was the last one?

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy The last engagement was on 15 July, when the committee was notified of our concerns. I have spoken to Deputy Joan Collins in person since we came back after the summer recess about the work that was ongoing in the Office of the Attorney General. I have an email from the Attorney General dating from October which outlines several concerns that are still held in that office. The Office of the Attorney General awaits clarification on several items related to the Water Services Act 2007 and functions assigned to Ervia. Detailed work is taking place.

I also published a series of tests that any wording will have to pass for it to have the support of the committee. It would not pass the committee if it proceeded with the current language. I know the committee is talking about going to Committee Stage without Government amendment. My fear is that the Bill would then fall because of the risks inherent in things like group water schemes. Those key tests have been published. Legal counsel for the Deputy has not come back to me to outline how its suggested wording passes those key tests, or with revised wording that would do so. I am trying to get language we can all agree on so that legislation can pass through the House without complication and a referendum can be won without any negative forces using it as an opportunity to build their public profile or just to be contrary. This should be an easy thing to get done once we can agree the language.

Deputy Eoin Ó Broin: Information on Eoin Ó Broin Zoom on Eoin Ó Broin As a co-sponsor of the Bill and a member of the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government I want to believe the Minister but I simply do not.


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