Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 17 November 2022
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government
Planning and Development Regulations: Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage
Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party) | Oireachtas source
The Minister of State has heard members' comments and he can take it that the committee endorses the regulations and supports the planning exemptions. It is absolutely necessary and right to do this. I ask him to take our thanks back to the staff both in his Department and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth for their unprecedented efforts to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Europe. We acknowledge the immense scale of their task of trying to accommodate quickly the many people who are coming to this country from extremely traumatic situations. We must bear in mind that these people are not coming here voluntarily but because they are being forced to do so in a situation of war.
I met recently with a family from Syria and with a number of Ukrainian residents. I could see their fear at the horrific situations from which they have come. What also was apparent was their gratitude for being here. They spoke about how welcome they have found Ireland and that they feel safe here. They are traumatised, obviously, but they feel safe. Being able to engage in those types of conversations puts a human angle on the situation. We talk about the numbers and we see on television what is happening, but meeting and talking to people who have come here is something that would benefit everybody. It is all part of integrating people into communities.
We have spoken about engagement with communities and ensuring the information is out there. As public representatives, we have a key and leading role to play in that regard. I acknowledge that the Department is engaging in this regard. It is trying to deal with an emergency situation and also trying to forward plan. I recognise the difficulties, stress and exhaustion I am sure officials are experiencing.
Reference was made to the great work being done by voluntary groups. Groups such as Tidy Towns committees and local sports clubs have been reaching out, including in my community, with children being brought, for example, to sports training sessions. It is fantastic to see. Those groups have a massive role to play in this. I urge the Minister of State to reach out to them when forward planning. It really helps.
We have discussed the provision of temporary residential facilities, many of which will be of longer duration than some of what is being offered. As a previous speaker noted, it is really difficult for families arriving in a town, not even speaking the language and the parents watching their children going off to school in the morning in an unfamiliar place. It is very upsetting for people. I know of cases where children have settled into places only to be uprooted and moved on again. If temporary accommodation can, in fact, provide longevity, it will be of benefit to everybody. That is one of the advantages of the necessary work we are trying to do here.
I would appreciate it if a note could be issued to the committee on the fire certification process that is required. A building might have a fire certificate that covers its previous use but converting it to residential use will require higher or different standards. A note on that would be useful.
These are planning regulations and I note the stipulation under section 57 that protected structures will not be not exempted if doing so would materially change the protection that applies to them. I ask that attention be paid to buildings that may not be protected but that do have architectural merit. There are some industrial buildings to which this applies. Taking into account the urgency of the requirement to provide accommodation, I ask that we also think forward ten, 20 or 30 years and ensure we do not damage buildings unnecessarily.
I thank the Minister of State for his attendance and the officials for their assistance.