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 Header Item Written Answers Nos. 128-144
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic
 Header Item Equality Proofing of Budgets
 Header Item Tax Data
 Header Item Covid-19 Pandemic Supports
 Header Item Public Procurement Contracts
 Header Item Freedom of Information
 Header Item Turf Cutting
 Header Item Special Areas of Conservation
 Header Item Arts Centres
 Header Item Freedom of Information
 Header Item Animal Diseases
 Header Item Fire Service
 Header Item Horticulture Sector
 Header Item Housing Issues

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 996 No. 2
Unrevised

First Page Previous Page Page of 101 Next Page Last Page

Written Answers Nos. 128-144

Covid-19 Pandemic

 128. Deputy Alan Farrell Information on Alan Farrell Zoom on Alan Farrell asked the Minister for Finance Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe if there has been communication between his Department and the major financial institutions to advocate on behalf of customers in the final stages of draw down of their mortgage who have been informed they cannot proceed due to the fact they have been placed on the temporary wage subsidy scheme by their employer; and if he will make a statement on the matter.  [19395/20]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Paschal Donohoe): Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe I fully appreciate the concerns you raise at this difficult time about people who are experiencing uncertainty about mortgage applications and drawdowns.  My Department is maintaining close contact with the Central Bank of Ireland and Banking and Payments Federation Ireland – the BPFI - as the lending industry works to address the difficulties the Covid-19 situation is causing for both borrowers and lenders. In this context, the Central Bank has advised that it expects all regulated firms to take a consumer-focused approach and to act in their customer's best interests at all times, including during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Central Bank has also advised that it continues to monitor this situation and the impact of COVID-19 very closely to ensure that lenders are continuing to take a consumer-focused approach and are acting in their customers’ best interests at all times.  The BPFI has published a Covid-19 support information document which customers can consult, or customers can contact their lender directly, if they have any queries or concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on their mortgage application.  

  Lenders continue to process mortgage applications and have supports in place to assist customers impacted by COVID-19. Indeed, the CEOs of the three main retail banks assured the Tánaiste, Leo Varadkar T.D., Minister McGrath and me at meetings on the 15th and 16th of July that they are considering applications from and mortgage drawdowns for customers on the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme in a balanced way on a case by case basis.   

  However, within the parameters of the regulatory framework governing the provision of mortgages, the decision to grant or refuse an individual application for mortgage credit is a commercial decision to be made by the regulated entity and it is not appropriate or possible for me to instruct lenders in that regard.  Also it may be the case that a loan offer from a lender may contain a condition that would allow the lender to withdraw or vary the offer if, in the lender’s opinion, there is any material change in circumstances prior to drawdown. In such cases, the decision to withdraw or vary the offer is also a commercial and contractual decision for the lender.

  Regarding the regulations governing mortgage credit, the European Union (Consumer Mortgage Credit Agreements) Regulations 2016, which transposed the Mortgage Credit Directive into Irish law, require lenders to make a thorough assessment of the consumer’s creditworthiness.  The assessment must take appropriate account of factors relevant to verifying the prospect of the consumer being able to meet his or her obligations under the credit agreement and must be carried out on the basis of information on the consumer’s income and expenses and other financial and economic circumstances which is necessary, sufficient and proportionate.  The Regulations further provide that a lender should only make credit available to a consumer where the result of the creditworthiness assessment indicates that the consumer’s obligations resulting from the credit agreement are likely to be met in the manner required under that agreement.  In addition, the Central Bank’s Consumer Protection Code 2012 imposes ‘Knowing the Consumer and Suitability’ requirements on lenders.  Under these requirements, lenders are required to assess affordability of credit and the suitability of a product or service based on the individual circumstances of each borrower. 

  However, if a consumer if not satisfied with the way a regulated entity is dealing with his/her mortgage application or drawdown then, under the provisions of the Central Bank Consumer Protection Code, s/he can make a complaint to the lender.  If the consumer is still unhappy with the position following the outcome of the internal complaints process, then s/he can make a complaint to the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman (FSPO).  Clear information on how to make a complaint to the FSPO may be found at this link:

  https://www.fspo.ie/make-a-complaint/#:~:text=Contacting%20the%20FSPO%20about%20your%20complaint&text=Phone%20us%20on%20%2B353%201,a%20complaint%20form%20by%20post.

Equality Proofing of Budgets

 129. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore Information on Jennifer  Whitmore Zoom on Jennifer  Whitmore asked the Minister for Finance Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe the way in which the commitment to gender and equality proofing will be reflected in the October financial strategy and budget 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19448/20]

 130. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore Information on Jennifer  Whitmore Zoom on Jennifer  Whitmore asked the Minister for Finance Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe the way in which the public sector equality and human rights duty will be reflected in the October financial strategy and budget 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19449/20]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Paschal Donohoe): Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe I propose to take Questions Nos. 129 and 130 together.

  The Government’s belief in the importance of gender and equality proofing remains an integral part of our overall commitments in dealing with the economic fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic. Indeed, the National Economic Plan will reaffirm the approach set out in the Programme for Government, which states that we will build upon our response to the pandemic, to improve outcomes for those who are struggling on low incomes, struggling with caring responsibilities, or having to raise their families alone and those who are living with a disability. This will be achieved through rigorous implementation of the new social inclusion strategy, A Roadmap for Social Inclusion 2020-2025, including gender and equality proofing of any changes to social welfare provision. 

  The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has implemented a number of reforms in the area of equality budgeting in recent years. A pilot programme of equality budgeting was introduced for the 2018 budgetary cycle, anchored in the existing performance budgeting framework. Equality Budgeting was expanded in 2019 to further develop the gender budgeting elements and to broaden its scope to other dimensions of equality including poverty, socioeconomic inequality and disability. To further guide the roll-out of equality budgeting, an Equality Budgeting Expert Advisory Group was established. This group is comprised of a broad range of relevant stakeholders and policy experts to provide advice on the most effective way to advance equality budgeting policy and progress the initiative.

  The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform in liaison with the Department of Justice and Equality, commissioned the OECD to undertake a Policy Scan of Equality Budgeting in Ireland. This was published in tandem with Budget 2020. The report reviews Ireland’s equality budgeting programme and provides recommendations on its further development, in light of international experience. This ongoing process is further guided by the work of the Equality Budgeting Expert Advisory Group.

  As outlined in the ‘Programme for Government - Our Shared Future’, the government has committed to developing a set of wellbeing indicators to give a more well-rounded, holistic view of how our society is faring. Initially focusing on housing, education and health, a set of indicators will be developed to create a broader context for policy-making, to include a balanced scorecard for each area of public policy, focused on outcomes and the impact that those policies have on individuals and communities. The overriding focus is to improve the wellbeing of the Irish people and society.

  The development of this work will be informed by the experience of other jurisdictions which have developed similar measures in recent years. Through the Department of the Taoiseach, a group of experts will be convened from the public service, academia, NGOs, and the private sector to guide this work. Once developed, Government will ensure that it is utilised in a systematic way across government policy-making at local and national levels, in setting budgetary priorities, evaluating programmes and reporting progress. This will be an important complement to existing economic measurement tools that are in place to support well-being and outcomes-based approaches to policy making.

Tax Data

 131. Deputy Denis Naughten Information on Denis Naughten Zoom on Denis Naughten asked the Minister for Finance Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe the number of PAYE taxpayers issued with a tax refund in each of the past five years; the value of refunds in each year; the measures he is taking to ensure that taxpayers avail of tax reliefs; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19460/20]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Paschal Donohoe): Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe Revenue has advised me that the number of PAYE taxpayers who received tax refunds in the last five years is set out in the table below. The figures for the most recent four years are subject to change as additional claims are still possible.

Tax Year Number of PAYE taxpayers Amount refunded - €m
2015 720,010 464.9
2016 739,500 498.5
2017 701,787 512.8
2018 673,197 538.5
2019 500,314 369.8


  Revenue has further advised me that it implements a range of measures to ensure PAYE taxpayers apply for and receive any repayments due. This includes writing to approximately 130,000 taxpayers each year that have not made a claim in the previous four years and an automated process that automatically grants certain tax credits and exemptions at the start of each year so that people who do not claim still receive the benefit.

  Revenue has also invested in very innovative and user-friendly online systems that allow PAYE taxpayers to self-manage their tax affairs. For example, taxpayers can access their tax records through Revenue’s myAccount system and reallocate tax credits and rate bands across different employments or between spouses and civil partners in joint assessment cases, thereby reducing the possibility of underpayments or overpayments of tax.

  Since the introduction of real-time PAYE (PAYE Modernisation) on 1 January 2019, Revenue provides each PAYE taxpayer with a preliminary ‘end of year statement’ outlining their end of year tax position. Taxpayers can then finalise their end of year position by completing a return of income (eForm 12), which is pre-populated to the greatest extent possible.

  Finally, I am aware that Revenue advertises PAYE taxpayer entitlements extensively each year through both the media and press and gives presentations to relevant bodies when the opportunity to do so arises.

Covid-19 Pandemic Supports

 132. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Finance Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe the income supports he plans to put in place for taxi drivers and arts, music, event and live entertainment workers in the July stimulus in view of the fact that these categories of workers will not see their industry return to pre-Covid-19 pandemic levels of activity in the medium term; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19547/20]

Minister for Finance (Deputy Paschal Donohoe): Information on Paschal Donohoe Zoom on Paschal Donohoe As the public health restrictions are eased, the challenge for the economy and enterprises is evolving. As recently announced in the July Jobs Initiative, the Employment Wage Subsidy Scheme (EWSS) will be in place from 31 July 2020 until 31 March 2021. The TWSS and the EWSS will run in parallel from 31 July until the TWSS ceases at the end of August. From 31 July, any employers who have not previously availed of the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme are only eligible to apply for the EWSS. 

The EWSS will be an economy-wide scheme that will focus primarily on business eligibility, delivering a per-head subsidy on a flat rate basis. This adaptation from the TWSS will allow employers to rely on the continuation of support over a longer period of 8 months while also ensuring such support is sustainable and affordable.  To the extent that individuals in the categories and sectors mentioned by the Deputy are employees, their employers may be in a position to benefit from support under the EWSS. 

Details about the EWSS including how it will operate, how to apply and employer eligibility will be published shortly.

In relation to other direct support measures, a recent publication by the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation outlines the key financial supports and resources that are being made available to help all businesses and sectors impacted by Covid-19. This publication is available at the following link:

https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/c644c0-supports-for-businesses-impacted-by-covid-19/  .

Public Procurement Contracts

 133. Deputy Mairéad Farrell Information on Mairéad  Farrell Zoom on Mairéad  Farrell asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath the public procurement contracts in excess of €10 million in which the final cost of the project exceeded the guaranteed maximum price in tabular form. [19221/20]

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Michael McGrath): Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath As Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform I have responsibility for the development of policy to ensure adequate expenditure oversight on capital projects and for public procurement. 

The Public Spending Code is the set of rules, procedures and guidance developed to ensure Value for Money in public expenditure.  It sets out the oversight and approval process for public expenditure proposals including capital projects. 

All public works projects that are delivered under the Exchequer-funded element of the National Development Plan must be procured in accordance with the provisions laid down in the Capital Works Management Framework (CWMF).  The standard form of public works contract is used on the vast majority of public works projects.  It is a lump sum, fixed-price contract with tightly defined conditions governing price increases and time extensions. 

In limited circumstances, a derogation from the use of the standard forms of contract may be sought by means of an application to the Government Contracts Committee for Construction (GCCC).  This process may be used for complex or large projects or for those which have specific requirements which do not naturally fit with the standard forms of contract.

Since the public works contracts were introduced in 2007, two projects utilising a two stage award process resulting in a guaranteed maximum price (GMP) have been agreed through this derogation process; the New Children’s Hospital and Dunkettle Interchange Upgrade works.  Due to the scale of the NCH and the complexity of the Dunkettle project, the early involvement of the contractor, facilitated by these types of contracts, formed part of the risk management strategy.

It is important to note that a derogation, if agreed, does not approve the approach or strategy of the contracting authority, but simply acknowledges that the circumstances are such as to warrant a different approach than the standard.  It is a matter for the contracting authority and the approving authority to satisfy themselves as to the adequacy of the approach with regards to compliance with procurement rules and project appraisal in accordance with the Public Spending Code.  Accountability for the procurement strategy rests with the contracting authority.

It is also a matter for the contracting authority who has awarded the contract to manage its performance thereafter and report on budgetary matters to the capital approving authority concerned.  The information on final cost outcomes for individual contracts being sought by the Deputy is not held centrally in my department as this is a matter for individual contracting authorities.

With respect to the two projects where a GMP process was applied, final costs for the NCH, which is still under construction, are not available and details on budgetary matters associated with this project are a matter for the Department of Health.  It should be noted that the Dunkettle project did not proceed to the second stage (GMP) and is currently the subject of a new tender process that is utilising one of the standard public works contracts which will be awarded on the basis of a lump sum, fixed price.

Freedom of Information

 134. Deputy Mairéad Farrell Information on Mairéad  Farrell Zoom on Mairéad  Farrell asked the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath the number of freedom of information requests being processed by his Department; the number that have had the deadline for reply extended; the number at least one week, two weeks, one month and over one month overdue, respectively; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19356/20]

Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform (Deputy Michael McGrath): Information on Michael McGrath Zoom on Michael McGrath Since 1 January 2020 my Department has to date received 158 requests under the Freedom of Information Act 2014. Of these, 57 requests were fully or partially granted, with 34 being refused. The remainder of the requests include requests that are not yet due for answer, have been withdrawn by the requester or transferred due to request being more appropriate to another Department.  

  A determination on a Freedom of Information request must be provided within 20 days after the receipt of the request and the majority handled by my Department are completed within this period. However, deadlines are subject to change with the agreement of requestors, as provided for in the Freedom of Information Act 2014.  Such extensions are generally sought for requests where the period of consideration has been suspended for the payment of deposits, third party consultation or clarification of scope.

  Of the relevant 91 Freedom of Information requests received and responded to up to date, 

  - 85 were completed within the due date; and

  - 6 were completed outside the due date and all were extended by one week or less.

Turf Cutting

 135. Deputy Brian Stanley Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Information on Catherine Martin Zoom on Catherine Martin the steps she plans to take to protect turf cutting for domestic use. [19243/20]

Minister of State at the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (Deputy Malcolm Noonan): Information on Malcolm Noonan Zoom on Malcolm Noonan Ireland, like all EU Member States, is bound by the requirements of the Habitats Directive and the Birds Directive. These Directives aim to ensure the protection of habitats and species which have been selected for conservation within special areas of conservation and special protection areas. Ireland's approach is to recognize the traditional right to cut turf for domestic purposes, while balancing this with our obligations under the Habitats Directives. This balanced approach is based on a respect for and understanding of that tradition,  and has been carefully nurtured to build trust and work with stakeholders to save the natural heritage of Ireland's bogs. 

Significant efforts have been made by the State and by turf-cutters to resolve the issue of the protection of Ireland’s raised bog special areas of conservation and natural heritage areas within the framework of the Habitats Directive. This has included the establishment of the Peatlands Council, intensive and on-going engagement with turf cutting interests, the farming community, non-governmental organisations and with the European Commission, as well as the establishment of a long-term compensation scheme for affected turf cutters.

The National Raised Bog Special Areas of Conservation Management Plan 2017–2022 sets out how the raised bog special areas of conservation are to be managed, conserved and restored and how the needs of turf cutters are to be addressed. This plan, as well as the National Peatlands Strategy, recognizes that domestic turf cutters have a traditional right to cut turf and that this right is balanced with the conservation objectives for designated raised bogs and the legal obligations on the State.

Special Areas of Conservation

 136. Deputy Brian Stanley Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Information on Catherine Martin Zoom on Catherine Martin her plans for bogs to be cleared by special area of conservation and natural heritage area; and if she will list same. [19244/20]

Minister of State at the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (Deputy Malcolm Noonan): Information on Malcolm Noonan Zoom on Malcolm Noonan The National Raised Bog Special Areas of Conservation Management Plan 2017-2022 sets out how the raised bog special areas of conservation are to be managed, conserved and restored and how the needs of turf cutters are to be addressed.  As stated in the plan, in order to compensate for permanent losses of active raised bog from the special area of conservation network, it is proposed to nominate for designation two new special areas of conservation. I understand that more than 50 per cent of these two sites are in public ownership.

The Review of Raised Bog Natural Heritage Area Network was published in January 2014. The review concluded that Ireland could more effectively achieve conservation of threatened raised bog habitat through focused protection and restoration of a reconfigured network. This entails:

- The continued designation of 36 existing natural heritage areas - this includes 7 sites to be divided, with part to be conserved and part de-designated;

- The de-designation of 46 natural heritage areas - including the relevant areas of the 7 sites to be divided; and

- The designation as natural heritage areas of 25 currently undesignated raised bogs, which are in public ownership or where there is reduced turf cutting pressure, so as to compensate for the loss of habitat within the sites where it is proposed that turf cutting can be allowed to continue.

The Wildlife (Amendment) Bill 2016 has been passed by Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann. The purpose of the Bill is to give legal effect to the proposed reconfiguration of the raised bog natural heritage area network arising from the 2014 review, to provide for a review or reviews of blanket bog natural heritage  areas and to place a duty on public bodies to promote the conservation of biodiversity.

As is the practice, it is not proposed to identify any of the 27 raised bog sites to be nominated for designation until the relevant legal protections are being applied to them.

Arts Centres

 137. Deputy Danny Healy-Rae Information on Danny Healy-Rae Zoom on Danny Healy-Rae asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Information on Catherine Martin Zoom on Catherine Martin the assistance that will be put in place for venues (details supplied) which are vital for up and coming artists; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19245/20]

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (Deputy Catherine Martin): Information on Catherine Martin Zoom on Catherine Martin I am pleased to inform the Deputy that I recently announced a range of capital funding measures to assist in the re-opening of theatres, arts centres and culture venues such as that referred to in the question.  The measures are designed to support arts and culture facilities in preparation for staff, artists and audiences returning to venues to reopen in line with the Government’s Roadmap for Reopening Society & Business and Return to Work Safety Protocols.  There is a high degree of flexibility which will be matched by timely decision-making processes that will allow organisations to undertake immediately, necessary capital adaptations to their buildings so that they comply with the HSE COVID-19 related public health protection measures.

  Organisations that hold existing capital grants may immediately request the re-purposing of all or part of the grant towards necessary works and equipment to allow reopening.  Organisations can apply to re-purpose up to €10,000 of their grant which can be used to fund eligible costs at a 90% funding rate or up to €5,000 which will not require match funding.  Repurposed funding required for the original purpose of the grant will be restored when required at a later date.

Organisations that do not hold a capital grant, can apply for funding under Stream D Cultural Capital Scheme of up to €10,000.  The scheme will apply for the period of the coronavirus crisis, commencing 12 March 2020 and applications can be made by organisations at any point throughout the crisis. Details are available at this link  https://www.chg.gov.ie/app/uploads/2020/07/guidelines-stream-d-cultural-capital-scheme-2019-2022.pdf

  Annual current funding will continue to be provided to venues by the Arts Council through which primary support for the arts in Ireland is delivered under the Arts Act 2003.

Freedom of Information

 138. Deputy Mairéad Farrell Information on Mairéad  Farrell Zoom on Mairéad  Farrell asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Information on Catherine Martin Zoom on Catherine Martin the number of freedom of information requests being processed by her Department; the number that have had the deadline for reply extended; the number at least one week, two weeks, one month and over one month overdue, respectively; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19347/20]

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (Deputy Catherine Martin): Information on Catherine Martin Zoom on Catherine Martin I understand that there are currently twelve active requests under the Freedom of information Act on hand in my Department all of which are being processed  in accordance with the timeframes set out in the Act.  

  The time frame for processing one of  the twelve  cases referred to above has been extended  to provide for third party consultation as provided for under  Section 38 of the Freedom of information Act.

Animal Diseases

 139. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore Information on Jennifer  Whitmore Zoom on Jennifer  Whitmore asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Information on Catherine Martin Zoom on Catherine Martin when the study on the prevalence of rabbit haemorrhagic disease, RHD2, in hares will be commenced; the scope of the research carried out; when she anticipates that results will be made available; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19445/20]

 140. Deputy Jennifer Whitmore Information on Jennifer  Whitmore Zoom on Jennifer  Whitmore asked the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Information on Catherine Martin Zoom on Catherine Martin the advice received from the National Parks and Wildlife Service in relation to the prevalence of RHD2 in rabbits and hares; if specific recommendations were made in relation to the licencing of capturing of hares; the text of those recommendations; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [19446/20]

Minister of State at the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (Deputy Malcolm Noonan): Information on Malcolm Noonan Zoom on Malcolm Noonan I propose to take Questions Nos. 139 and 140 together.

The RHD2 virus, which affects both rabbits and hares, was discovered in a number of rabbits and hares around the country during last summer. The scientific advice provided to my Department at the time and following the issuing of annual licences indicated that the virus was highly contagious and easily spread. Moreover, the Department was advised that catching of hares in nets and keeping them in transportation boxes and confined areas like coursing hare parks could all be considered to increase the risk of disease spread.

Given my Department’s responsibility in relation to the conservation status of the Irish hare, it was decided to suspend the licences issued by my Department to the Irish Coursing Club on 9 August 2019 - until a clearer understanding of the extent, spread and implications of the RHD2 virus emerged.

A revised more restrictive license was subsequently issued to the Irish Coursing Club in October 2019 effective to the end of February this year.

In tandem with the granting of revised and more restrictive coursing licences, field studies were undertaken at four coursing clubs, which involved veterinary and virology expertise and input. These studies were carried out to supplement existing knowledge of the prevalence and nature of RHD2 and were undertaken with co-operation between the NPWS, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) and the Irish Coursing Club.

The field studies involved the microchipping and swabbing of all captured hares and the testing of swabs in DAFM laboratories for RHD2. All the hares from these four field studies which were tested for the RHD2 virus were negative.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service of my Department is currently working with colleagues in the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine on a national survey of RHD2 in rabbits. This involves sampling rabbits from hunting bags at different locations in every county of Ireland. All animals will be tested for RHD2 virus (which will demonstrate the presence of the disease) and RHD2 antibodies (to confirm previous exposure to the virus and subsequent recovery). Work on the survey has commenced and is ongoing. 

The results of this survey will provide a snapshot of the prevalence of RHD2 nationally and will hopefully highlight any geographical patterns that may be present. The results will also indicate if the prevalence of animals with detectable antibodies provides evidence that ‘herd immunity’ to the disease is developing among the rabbit population. It is hoped that an improved knowledge of the disease in rabbits will enhance our understanding of the risks that this disease poses to Irish hares.

Testing for the virus itself can only be conducted in the Department of Agriculture, Food and Marine laboratories in Backweston and I understand that this will take some time as those facilities are assisting in the Covid-19 testing programme. It is expected that results will be available before the end of the year.

Fire Service

 141. Deputy Brendan Griffin Information on Brendan Griffin Zoom on Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien further to Parliamentary Question No. 1193 of 3 June 2020, if the contracts of fire fighters who wish to remain in work until 60 years of age will be extended pending the implementation of the Workplace Relations Commission recommendation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [19231/20]

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien As previously advised in response to Parliamentary Question No. 1193 of 3 June 2020, I have no objection, in principle, to the recommendation of the Workplace Relations Commission to increase the retirement age of retained firefighters from 58 to 60 years of age.  However, such an increase would require, inter alia, the amendment of primary legislation, namely, the Public Service Pensions (Single Scheme and Other Provisions) Act 2012, which is the responsibility of my colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.  Accordingly, it is currently not possible to extend, on an ad hoc basis, the employment of retained firefighters beyond 58 years of age.

Horticulture Sector

 142. Deputy Brian Stanley Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien if his attention has been drawn to the fact that since the Supreme Court judgment, Supreme Court record No. 9/19, High Court ruling 2014/342 JR, there is no valid route open to horticultural peat harvesters through either the planning or licencing processes to continue their business and maintain employment; and his plans to correct the matter. [19258/20]

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien I am aware of the recent Supreme Court judgment to which the Question refers, concerning the leave to apply for substitute consent system under the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended, and its compatibility with the EU Environmental Impact Assessment Directive.

The judgment and its implications for the planning system are currently being examined by my Department, in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General.  My Department's officials are working to ensure that any measures within the planning system necessary to address the findings of the judgment will be brought forward as expeditiously as possible.

In terms of licensing, I understand that specified peat harvesting activities in the course of business may require integrated pollution control (IPC) licences from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), separate to approvals from the planning system. The IPC licencing process is administered by the EPA, which is under the aegis of the Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment. 

Housing Issues

 143. Deputy Brian Stanley Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien the progress that has been made in the roll-out of the cost rental housing model in counties Laois and Offaly.  [19259/20]

 144. Deputy Brian Stanley Information on Brian Stanley Zoom on Brian Stanley asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien if the cost rental model in counties Laois and Offaly will be rolled out.  [19260/20]

Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government (Deputy Darragh O'Brien): Information on Darragh O'Brien Zoom on Darragh O'Brien I propose to take Questions Nos. 143 and 144 together.

  The Programme for Government, Our Shared Future, commits to improving security and affordability for renters. To achieve that, we will develop a Cost Rental model for delivery of housing that creates affordability for tenants and a sustainable model for construction and management of homes. Cost Rental is housing where the rents charged cover the cost of delivering, managing, and maintaining the homes only. Cost Rental is not intended to overlap with or replace traditional social housing for low-income households.

  In 2019 an inter-departmental multi-agency Cost Rental Working Group was convened in order to assess methods for the consistent and sustainable delivery of Cost Rental at scale. The Group brings together representatives of relevant Government Departments, State agencies, and local government. The Group is evaluating potential funding models and operational matters such as tenant eligibility. This work will be assisted by a recently initiated research consultancy sponsored by the European Investment Bank (EIB) on behalf of my Department. The EIB has extensive experience in supporting the delivery of affordable housing across Europe and the Report is scheduled for completion in December.

A number of initial projects are already being progressed. Ireland's first Cost Rental development is currently under construction at Enniskerry Road, Stepaside, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. The project is being undertaken by the Tuath and Respond Approved Housing Bodies, with the assistance of DLR County Council. A second pilot project sponsored by my Department is under development for a site at Emmet Road, Inchicore (the former St Michael’s Estate). The project is being led by Dublin City Council, which owns the site, and is currently at the design stage. Another proposed Cost Rental development is at Shanganagh Castle, Shankill, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, where DLR County Council is working in partnership with the Land Development Agency on the Council-owned site. Planning permission for this development was granted on 13 July.

  These initial projects are located in densely populated urban centres where rental affordability pressures are particularly acute. I plan to outline further details around Cost Rental in the autumn, taking on board the initial input from the Working Group and the experience from the pilot projects, as part of a broader announcement on affordable housing.


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