Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 30 January 2013
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions
Decisions on Public Petitions Received
The first petition for consideration is petition No. P00034/12, Mr. Matt Kerrigan on behalf of Ms Sharon Kerrigan concerning the rejection of an application for a disadvantaged area scheme grant in 2008 by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
We need to seek clarification on several issues the petitioner has raised. Through the investigations of the secretariat, we have uncovered that the 2008 application form was cross-referenced to the 2005 application with regard to cross-compliance which seems to support the petitioner’s assertion that he acted in good faith and not, as was suggested by the Department, fraudulently in claiming this payment. That seems to provide evidence. There may be other issues we need to look at but it suggests there is a genuine case to be examined. We should seek clarification on this matter.
I agree there are matters of clarification that need to be addressed. I know the Ombudsman has made a decision on this case. There are issues surrounding the operation of and qualification for the grants scheme. There is also the issue of penalties arising which seems to connote there has been some wrongdoing or fraud. We should bring it forward for further clarification.
Is that agreed? Agreed.
The next petition for consideration by the committee is petition No. P00061/12 from Ms Patricia O'Neill asking the Government to sponsor a media campaign for suicide prevention similar to its drink-driving campaign.
The petitioner has a valid case that, given the scale of suicide rates, the State should have a similar campaign that it had for drink-driving. It would serve a useful purpose if we invited the Minister of State with responsibility for mental health to the committee to outline her plans for a State campaign to tackle suicide which is blighting our country.
I support that proposal. The recent report showing a dramatic increase in suicide levels over the past several years, particularly among young people, means this is an issue that we need to take seriously. The suggestion that there would be a national campaign sponsored by the Government on suicide awareness would be absolutely beneficial.
I agree with that. It would be a timely conversation with the Minister of State, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, and an expert with vast experience in this area. The levels of stress, both psychological and financial, and alcohol-related depression have surged in line with levels in Greece. We have to diagnose the problem and then seek remedies, as well as educating people on how to alleviate the distress.
Is it agreed the committee will write to the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, to request her to come before the committee to outline her strategy on suicide awareness? Agreed.
The committee is supportive of the petitioner in this case.
Petitions Nos. P00050/12, P00070/12 and P00071/12 deal with the need for legislation and guidelines on the height of trees. The petitioners are Mr. Michael Byrne, Mr. Denis Moran and Dr. Jean Clarke and all three have made similar petitions.
This is an issue that most of us have come across as public representatives. It appears there is a gap in the legislation or regulations in this area. The Minister for Justice and Equality has indicated that his Department is working on legislation to provide for some sort of scheme of compulsory mediation and restrictions on height.
I agree with Deputy Boyd Barrett. Other countries have introduced legislation governing the height of trees in suburban areas. The Minister is suggesting that mediation may be a solution but the more practical option is to address the matter through local authority by-laws on a case-by-case basis. Local authorities could introduce by-laws to deal with the overhanging aspect of trees where they pose a danger to other properties. Planning permission is required in local authority areas for any structure over a certain height but trees can grow higher than, for example, bungalows or two-storey houses. They also pose a danger to houses during major weather events and, if we ever have an opportunity to enjoy the sunshine again, they can cause distress to people who have planned their gardens. We should encourage the Minister to fast-track legislation to put pressure on local authorities to pass by-laws. I suggest that we seek clarity from the Minister on a timetable for his proposals. Perhaps we could also write to local authority managers to suggest they consider by-laws similar to those in effect in Britain. This would alleviate the stress on people like the petitioners.
I agree with my colleagues. Permanent buildings and structures do not grow further once they have been allowed through the planning system and constructed. However, trees, ivy and other vegetation can cause considerable damage to neighbouring properties. A framework of local authority by-laws could cover trees and other vegetation. Some plants have noxious seeds which can cause asthma. This does not need to become a bureaucratic and centralised big brother system. The intention is to keep trees and plants tidy, out of consideration for neighbours and other people.
Is it agreed that we will write to the Departments of the Environment, Community and Local Government and Justice and Equality to get clarification on the issues raised? Agreed. At the committee's next meeting on Wednesday, 6 February we will begin in public session at 4 p.m. to hold a discussion with the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Kathleen Lynch, and enter private session afterwards. The intention in subsequent meetings is to commence in private session at 4 p.m. in order to deliberate on petitions and then enter public session at 5 p.m.