Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government

Committee Work Programme: Discussion

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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For this session we will discuss the work programme for the committee. We agreed at the previous meeting that members would submit topics or suggestions for the work programme and members have received the proposed or draft list of topics. There are submissions from all the groups and most of the members and it is proposed that we go through that. There is some overlap and some Deputies and Senators have proposed similar items. We will go through them individually and if there is overlap, the relevant members can come in at that point for clarification.

Deputy Ó Broin has proposed two sections so will he go through those suggestions?

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I start by saying that there are nine sitting weeks left in the session, so not including this week, we will have nine meetings in this room. We can have additional virtual meetings but it is nevertheless a short period. I assume we will have at least one, if not two, pieces of Government legislation during those nine weeks for which we will have to provide time. These are the marine planning and development Bill and the legislation for the Land Development Agency. The Minister might tell us about that today.

Members should also consider that there will be Bills from the Opposition and pretty much all the parties here that will come before the committee at various stages. We will have to find some space for dealing with those. I have two lists, with the first an indication of the topics I would like to consider between now and Christmas, and the second an indication of topics to be flagged for consideration after Christmas.

I would like to bring in the Minister at some stage in October or November to review the programme for Government implementation. It is a general quarterly questioning of the Ministers and officials on matters.

I am quite concerned by a very significant increase in the number of recorded deaths of people in emergency accommodation or rough sleeping in Dublin, Cork and Galway. By midway this year, that rate had reached the same level it reached by the end of last year and the year before. It is a big issue. Some of the media commentary has been a little sensationalist but there would be value in the committee considering the matter and bringing in relevant people for debate. There has been some really good research and developments across the water in Britain that we could usefully look at. Perhaps a short report could be done by the secretariat to raise matters of concern to the Minister.

Most of our constituencies have seen the effects of Celtic tiger latent defects. The Minister is doing some good work in engaging with the Construction Defects Alliance and the Apartment Owners' Network. My understanding is the Minister will set up a working group to consider those matters from now until next June or July. It would be good for us to do a hearing and bring in the various players in order to discuss the matter. It is something we did before in committee. Given that there is a mica and pyrite scheme in Donegal and Mayo, with the extension of the pyrite scheme in Limerick and calls from people affected by pyrite in Clare, this exercise could be useful.

I had put a written proposal to the last housing committee to do an own-authored report on the relationship between land values and affordability. There have been seven separate Government-commissioned reports from 1972 to the present on all of this. The suggestion was made to us by an academic from Technological University Dublin, TU Dublin, not to do another report but to get people involved in the preparation of those other reports to appear before the committee to talk about the reports' recommendations and which ones are relevant for today. I am not suggesting that we conduct those hearings this year. I think we could do them in the first quarter of next year but I would like this committee to consider granting me permission to start work on this project. When one does a self-authored report, one has a lot of one's own research to do. The previous committee's secretariat and I had done a fair amount of preparation. I hope the committee is willing to allow me to proceed, bearing in mind that committee reports must get the approval of the full committee and that members get to amend them. It is simply that I would be the author which would make the distribution of work a little easier. It is something that we were meant to do from January to March of this year but with the election we obviously could not do so. I would like the committee to consider it. All of the other propositions are just things for us to consider early next year.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I thank the Deputy. A quarterly review of the programme for Government was discussed at a previous meeting and it was agreed that we will try to get the Minister and the Department to appear before the committee on a quarterly basis.

The latent defects redress scheme was raised in a number of submissions and it was agreed that it will form part of our work programme.

Paul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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We should follow on the good work done to produce the "Safe as Houses?" report. At some point we should consider bringing some of those involved in the production of that report before the committee again to give them the opportunity to provide us with an update. We could give the new Minister a little time to take some action on it but we should then consider bringing those involved in that report before the committee.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I spoke to representatives of the Apartment Owners' Network and the Construction Defects Alliance recently and told them, given that we have a lot of newly-elected Members and new members on this committee, it would be beneficial for them to appear before us at some stage, bearing in mind our legislative work schedule.

Deputy Ó Broin's submission refers to land management and housing affordability in the context of five previous reports. These broad issues were raised in almost all submissions received. What exactly is the Deputy proposing when he refers to a review of the five previous Government reports on land management and housing affordability?

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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It might be useful if we re-circulate the original proposal that was agreed by the last committee. Essentially, my proposal is very simple. Instead of this committee producing a big report involving meeting representatives of the industry, experts and so on, the idea is to invite one person who was directly involved in the production of each of the five reports published between 1972 and three years ago to appear before the committee. This will be possible in all cases but one, namely the Kenny report. There is nobody still alive who was involved in its production but we could bring in some independent expert on it. The idea is that those invited will just talk to the committee about the recommendations of each report and which ones they believe are relevant today. It is almost like we are trying to conduct a review of the recommendations of those reports.

The key issue here is very simple. Periodically there is a spike in land prices which then pushes up the costs of development which pushes up the cost of delivering residential units, particularly in our urban centres. The political system gets itself in a kerfuffle, somebody says that we need to do something about this, a report is commissioned, recommendations are made and then the report sits on the shelf until the next affordability or land-price bubble crisis. The idea is to look at those recommendations and for the committee to consider whether any of them is relevant today. Dublin city Deputies will know that the unit price of land for residential development, for a house or an apartment, is between €60,000 and €100,000, which essentially adds that amount onto the purchase price. In suburban Dublin, where I live, the unit price is €25,000 to €35,000 and it falls as one goes further out from the centre. Cork has similar problems, as does Galway and Waterford. I am suggesting that we simply review the previous reports' recommendations. I refer to reports by the Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution, the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, and the Kenny report.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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We will circulate those reports to members so they can familiarise themselves with that work, although many are probably familiar already.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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We do not have to make a decision today, but the specific request is that I be allowed to start doing the preparatory work as the author of the draft report. There is a fair amount of research which must be done before any hearings so I need the green light for that or otherwise for that.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Is that proposal being made now?

Mary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail)
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It sounds a good idea. Did the previous committee agree terms of reference that could be circulated with the five reports?

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Yes.

Mary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail)
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We can consider them and agree that next week.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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That is perfect.

Mary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail)
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Have we finished with Deputy Ó Broin's item? We have not touched on the homeless one.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I was just coming to that. Several Deputies have raised it. Will Deputy Ó Broin speak to it?

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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This is a meeting we could do virtually which would give us a little more time and we would not be constrained to two hours. There have been 34 or 35 recorded deaths of people in emergency accommodation or sleeping rough. There is no official count, but those are the deaths that have been reported in the press. Dublin, Cork and Galway reported them. Last year there were 34 deaths in total, and the previous year there were approximately 32. By June of this year, we had already exceeded last year's total. There are some very good people in the area, including Professor Eoin O'Sullivan from Trinity College Dublin, who is one of the country's leading homeless experts, and those involved with the Dublin Region Homeless Executive. Maeve McClenaghan of the Centre for Investigative Journalism in Britain has conducted some very good research on this. I suggest that the committee should bring in experts to see if something is going on, something has changed or something is happening. Are there recommendations that the committee could make to the Government on how to address this? When someone dies on the street or in emergency accommodation in Britain, for example, an adult safety review can be requested. It looks back not to apportion blame but to see if there was a systems failure, or if an intervention could have been made that could be worked into the system to reduce future deaths. We conduct such reviews for young people who die in care but not for homeless deaths. There are other things. Some people say we are over-reliant on congregated dormitory-style accommodation. People with mental health or addiction issues are often nervous about going into those centres. There is a good commitment in the programme for Government to phase out congregated dormitory-style emergency accommodation. We should consider all these things in the context of the rising deaths.

Mary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputy for the proposal, which I am happy to support. I would like the committee to examine homelessness from the perspective of Dublin city. I raised homeless deaths in the Seanad in July. In one week, there were five homeless deaths in Dublin city. It is a very serious issue and one the committee should consider. The phasing out of dormitory-type accommodation is welcome, but the committee should also examine the move towards the provision of private emergency accommodation. It is not only the quality of the accommodation but also the support and service being provided. From the perspective of the north inner city, I am concerned about the over-concentration of homeless facilities in very small geographic areas, which is not good for those being accommodated or for the communities and businesses already in the area. Can the committee examine both parts together as a theme under homelessness?

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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That is a good idea. The proposal is that there will be a virtual meeting on the report on deaths in homelessness and Senator Fitzpatrick wishes also to examine the location of services.

Mary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail)
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There are two elements to it: the homeless accommodation provided by private operators - this is often provided by private security firms - and the over-concentration of homeless facilities in small geographic areas in Dublin's inner city.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Several submissions have come in to cover various aspects of homelessness. I will get around to everybody and we will add to the heading of homelessness.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I wish to make one small point. For those Deputies who represent rural constituencies and, in particular, those in the Dublin commuter belt, the flip side of that is the lack of provision of emergency accommodation in other areas. As a result of this, people are forced into the parts of Dublin with larger volumes of emergency accommodation. One recent change is that the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive has adopted a policy of turning those people away and sending them back to from where they came. That has resulted in an increase in rough sleeping and vulnerability. This is not just a Dublin issue. Senator Fitzpatrick's point is absolutely right; it has implications for counties as far away as Mayo, Tipperary, Kilkenny and Carlow. All of those issues can be fitted into the mix.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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I agree with the two previous speakers. Homelessness in my area of Carlow is not on the same scale as in Dublin. Lack of accommodation is a big issue. We are now finding that people coming in from bordering places such as Kildare, Newbridge or Laois are told they cannot go on our housing list if they are homeless. These people might have family living in the area. Years ago, a person could be on two or three housing lists.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I do not want to get into individual cases.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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I am not. This has to do with homelessness.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I am trying to put a work programme together. We will incorporate those issues into it.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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Can we define homelessness, in Dublin or anywhere else? This is my issue. Previous speakers defined homelessness. There are ten types of homelessness. How do we decide what is and is not homelessness and how to go about dealing with it? That is where the biggest problem is. Homelessness could mean sharing a house with someone. To me that is the biggest issue. It is not just rough sleeping.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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We will address that in the context of homelessness in general.

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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Very well. My apologies. I thank the Chairman.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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We will come back to Deputy Ó Broin's second-tier list. We have received a submission from Senator Moynihan regarding reports on construction costs in housing, the development of affordable renting schemes and affordable housing schemes and improving security of tenure for renters. That is covered in other submissions.

Mary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail)
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These are all issues in which we are all interested. They will all be covered when the Minister gives us an update on his programme for housing because they are all included in the programme for Government.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I think so.

Paul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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I would like to note that Senator Moynihan has just texted me to say that she could not access the Microsoft Teams. She obviously thought she would be able to do so. I have tried to text her, but we are in the bowels of the building so there is no signal.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I thank the Deputy. Deputy Duffy made a submission on building defects and fire safety. That issue will be covered as part of the subject of latent defects. He has also referred to the Multi-Unit Developments Act 2011.

Francis Noel Duffy (Dublin South West, Green Party)
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I wish to raise some issues concerning the Multi-Unit Developments Act 2011. In some apartment complexes, a single landlord owns the majority of the apartments and votes the people who live there out. I would like to examine that matter.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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The Deputy suggests calling the Apartment Owners Network to address the committee on that issue.

Francis Noel Duffy (Dublin South West, Green Party)
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Yes.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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As we have already mentioned, that body could probably testify on the defects issue as well.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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This is a really important issue, and we need to separate it from the issue of defects. This does not just affect apartments. Any observer of large new residential developments will notice that an increasing number of houses are being brought under the remit of owners' management companies, sometimes in very questionable ways. We are seeing this in Adamstown and parts of Lucan. I would support a stand-alone review of the Multi-Unit Developments Act 2011 that would take place before or just after Christmas. We could call on the Apartment Owners Network to give evidence. Clúid Housing produced a really good research report on the operation of the Act. The author of that report could be invited to appear before the committee. A full review would be really useful.

Paul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Ó Broin is right. That issue needs to be separate from the defects issue. The first phase of the evolution of owners' management companies was essentially about local authorities divesting responsibility. We have learned that this has not worked because cases where they have had to step in are more messy, difficult and complex. If there is going to be a significant programme of home-building, and I very much hope there will be, it will include apartments. We need to make put the legislation in place to protect the people who live in them and to allow communities to grow. A full review of Multi-Unit Developments Act 2011 is really important. The legislation should not just tidy up local authority responsibility. It should give real power to owners and those living in apartment complexes.

Mary Seery Kearney (Fine Gael)
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I agree that we need a full review of its operation. As long ago as when former Deputy John Gormley was Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, it was outlawed. A circular for private housing estates said that there would not be a management company governing them. We need to see what happened with that and be able to interrogate that

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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We will take the defects issue and the Multi-Unit Developments Act 2011 as separate issues. That is fine. To continue with Deputy Duffy's list, we will move on to environment product declarations.

Francis Noel Duffy (Dublin South West, Green Party)
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At some stage, and it might be in the new year, this is coming down the line. The EU is working on legislation to do with building materials, and that will have to come in here. I have spoken to the Department about it and the officials briefed me on it. Perhaps this committee should also have a briefing on what is coming in the next number of years. If it happens in the new year, I am fine because I know there is a lot of stuff around it.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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That is one issue we could push out.

Francis Noel Duffy (Dublin South West, Green Party)
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Yes, push that out.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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We move on to the issue of fire resolutions and timber building in Ireland.

Francis Noel Duffy (Dublin South West, Green Party)
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Again, that could get pushed out. It is to do with the fact that in Ireland we have very limiting or prohibitive building regulations when it comes to building with timber. They need to be reviewed. I assume we would get the Department in and other experts. There are experts in the field who can talk on this. I am happy if this goes into the new year.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Okay. That will be the new year work programme. I will move on to the Land Development Agency briefing. I think we can all agree that the committee would benefit from a presentation from the LDA. Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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To be efficient with our time, if the Government is to bring in LDA legislation, we might combine that to have an LDA briefing on all of its work to date in a Zoom format, and follow that with consideration of the Bill. I am happy to be supportive of that.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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The latest update I have on the prospective legislative agenda is that the heads of the Bill preparation and pre-legislative scrutiny is taking place on the Land Development Agency Bill.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Members will recall that we held five separate pre-legislative scrutiny meetings in October, November and December last year, but we are expecting the Bill to be significantly changed. The previous committee made a very detailed submission looking for quite substantial changes. It is my understanding that the Government wants to publish the legislation before the end of 2020, so it will be back with us one way or another.

Francis Noel Duffy (Dublin South West, Green Party)
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While we might get the Land Development Agency to talk to us and the Minister, I believe the Department should talk to us also. It is its baby and it will have a different perspective of what it actually is, so the Department representatives should also come in, although they have briefed me.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I am happy enough with that. Now to strategic housing development.

Francis Noel Duffy (Dublin South West, Green Party)
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There is a major issue where An Bord Pleanála is granting planning for schemes, particularly in Kildare and Dublin, that completely ignore the development guidelines, nationally, regionally and locally. The development plan for Kill, for example, has more than 1,200 houses, and the board has recently granted permission for 167 units. The planners in Kildare would typically look to see, when a planning application comes in, the provisions for schools, transport and so on. In this case they are completely overlooking these provisions and are just pushing stuff through. I submitted a parliamentary question asking what the Minister was doing in this space around obliging An Bord Pleanála to comply with the development plans. I believe we should get An Bord Pleanála in to the committee.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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With the length of time left to run of the strategic housing development plan, is that something the Deputy would address sooner rather that pushing it out?

Francis Noel Duffy (Dublin South West, Green Party)
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There is, I believe, 15 months left. This is 15 months of planning applications. It is really shoddy planning and I assume that no one here wants to be associated with a Government or a Parliament that is allowing bad planning to happen.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I agree with the Deputy. The reality is we are stuck with this for a further 15 months. If we could have shortened it, we should have. Enough people said this and we raised a number of concerns about it. This is the regime that we must deal with now, but much damage could be done. This issue is a priority. The regime is meant to finish in 15 months' time, but the Chairman can bet his bottom dollar that there will be resistance to that. As Deputy Duffy stated concerning national, regional and local plans, people across the country are frustrated and cannot understand the situation.

It would be important to have the board appear before us. Its chairman has attended previously and we have had good sessions with him. We would need a great deal of time with him, given that every time he has attended, he has run out of time. There is considerable engagement on matters relating to An Bord Pleanála. It would be great if we could have the chairman attend early. With the agreement of the committee, we could prioritise this issue. It is a matter of serious concern around the country.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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After Senator Fitzpatrick, I will call Senator Moynihan and Deputy Ó Broin. Are we in agreement that we invite the board to attend to deal with SHDs as a matter of urgency? Agreed. Does the issue Senator Fitzpatrick wishes to raise in reference to this one?

Mary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail)
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I was going to suggest that we bring in the board. An SHD is an SHD and it is what it is, but our general concern is the question of how the board is dealing with them. Let us invite the board to attend.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I thank the Senator.

Rebecca Moynihan (Labour)
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I agree. One of the issues with SHDs relates to what An Bord Pleanála generally gets from a planner's report. The SHDs that have been tested in the courts have been upheld. However, there is a wider issue concerning how An Bord Pleanála and people engage with the planning system. I suggest that, while the SHDs should form the part of our work, An Bord Pleanála is not fit for purpose when it comes to submissions being made to it. It does not have an online system in 2020. It did not develop an online system during Covid even when SHDs and other large-scale applications were being processed.

Might we also make suggestions to An Bord Pleanála instead of just focusing on the SHD process? There is much that we need to interrogate, including An Bord Pleanála's democratic accountability and public accessibility.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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If we brought the board in, we would not limit the discussion to SHDs. We could open the discussion up to other aspects of the board.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Did Deputy Ó Broin wish to comment on this matter?

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Yes. This is one of those instances of "We told you so". Members from a variety of parties who opposed this legislation when it was introduced in 2016 highlighted that it was designed to circumvent the city and county development plans. The legislation is clear. When taking a planning decision, local authorities must abide by city and county development plans. The board does not. The whole purpose of bypassing the local authority as the primary decider on planning applications is to make it easier for planning applications that would not have otherwise got permission to get permission. The problem is the legislation. I am not disagreeing in any respect with some of the decisions of the board.

We should review SHDs, but if we are to do so, we should invite the Irish Planning Institute and the City and County Management Association, CCMA, to comment. They will have strong views.

I would warn against adding many other issues to our discussion. We normally have the board attend once per year to throw all sorts of question at it. We should do that in our first calendar year. The Government gave a commitment to phase out the SHD legislation in 2021, but that could be in January or December. A strong report from this committee could have the effect of putting some pressure on the Government in a helpful way to deal with this significant issue much earlier. I suggest that we discuss the SHDs with the board, the CCMA and the Irish Planning Institute. The Department will also wish to comment, so that would make four. All of this would mean that other board-related issues would have to be kicked to a second meeting, which would realistically be in the first half of next year.

Francis Noel Duffy (Dublin South West, Green Party)
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Would we also invite the Office of the Planning Regulator, OPR? It has issues with SHDs.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I actually have an invitation to the OPR down on my list. We might invite it in along with the others or separately.

Paul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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We should prioritise our work on SHDs early, given that we expect an increase in applications. Although some areas are covered by local area plans, LAPs, or master plans, there are numerous applications in areas where no mass plan applies.

Where local authorities would taken an holistic view of all those multiple applications, An Bord Pleanála does not seem to be doing so. It is really important that that is prioritised in the course of this. We all have areas of our constituencies that are impacted by that.

One of the positive elements of strategic housing development, SHD, process was that it gave local authority members a statutory role in a report that was submitted to the application. That had never been done before because each member put in their own application and there was no statutory process or statutory meeting about same. There has to be elements of it that do not drop and we must make sure that we give local authority members that strong role in the plan.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I agree with the Deputy. Some of the presentations received, as a councillor, on SHDs and the websites had much more information than one would normally get in a normal planning application. It would improve the planning system to include that as well.

The last issue raised by Deputy Duffy was the affordable purchase scheme. Senators Cummins and Moynihan mentioned the affordable housing scheme.

Mary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail)
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It is in the programme for Government.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Yes, and it is with the Department as well.

Francis Noel Duffy (Dublin South West, Green Party)
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Yes.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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As a piece of legislation, whether we get it before or after Christmas, the issue is in there as well.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I am not sure where that is in the pipeline at the moment. Will we invite the Department in to discuss an affordable housing scheme and affordable purchase scheme? Agreed. Did Senator Cummins mention the affordable purchase scheme and the Land Development Agency?

John Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I do not think that was my issue.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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The list is quite long. Is there anything that I have not covered so far that Senator Cummins wishes to highlight?

John Cummins (Fine Gael)
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The affordability schemes warrant a discussion separate from the legislative proposals that may come in because committee members will have ideas and suggestions to make. There are many ideas and suggestions as to how best to provide affordable housing solutions throughout the State. It would be helpful if members could feed into that process and perhaps with officials from the Department in the room who are drafting proposals on the matter.

We should look at, and Senator Fitzpatrick commented on this as well, the various housing initiatives, what is and is not working, the reasons for that, and all of the different schemes like the repair and lease scheme. Senator Fitzpatrick asked for a cost-benefit analysis on various schemes. I suggest that we consider all of them. My understanding and experience is that some of these schemes work exceptionally well in certain parts of the country. Let us take, for example, the repair and lease scheme in Waterford where the highest number of one and two-bed solutions is being provided in the State. The uptake in other parts of the country is not there. Why? If something works in an area, let us take the best examples located around the State and analyse why they do and do not work in other parts.

Mary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail)
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I proposed that we consider the same issue but merely from a financial perspective. The State is using many different models to deliver homes, ranging from emergency accommodation to the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, the housing assistance payment, HAP, homeless HAP, public private partnerships, PPPs, turnkey and long-term leases. From my experience, we always look back and ask whether something was good value for money. An exercise needs to be undertaken to examine the various models from a financial perspective, but also taking into account the time and the quality of the deliverables, and to rank the projects that give the best value for money, not just in monetary terms but also in terms of quality of homes and the quality of communities being completed. I seek the same thing as Senator Cummins and it would be preferable if we could incorporate both issues into one. My proposal primarily seeks a financial modelling exercise to be done.

John Cummins (Fine Gael)
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We should include all of them because, as Senator Fitzpatrick has just said, there are a vast array of schemes on offer, some of which are not being utilised anywhere and some of which are being utilised effectively in other parts.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Is that agreeable to members? Agreed.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I fully support Senator Cummins's suggestion that we do a session on affordable housing. We know the Minister is due to introduce a new affordable housing scheme and there might be more money in the budget for it, so that is something we should do.

On Senator Fitzpatrick's proposal, the Department is doing an assessment of the financing of all the different delivery mechanisms for social housing. It is not looking at affordable housing but there are ten different delivery mechanisms for social housing being examined. We will not get the two issues into one session. I like Senator Fitzpatrick's idea but to do it justice we would have to separate them out. It might be worthwhile trying to get to the affordable housing bit early and finding out from the Department when its assessment will be complete because the Department will have all of the data. As soon as the Department has completed that report, its representatives should come in, share it with us and allow us to give them our views. The Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform have also done some good research which they presented to us previously. That research looked at the difference between the housing assistance payment, HAP, the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, and leasing versus new builds, and there were some good data there. Given that the Department is doing the research, we should bring it in the moment it is ready. We would have a more productive session that way.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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The Deputy is probably right that we should do that instead of trying to fit too much into one session. We will have to separate these issues out but it will also depend on the forthcoming legislation and on where we need to feed into it.

We only have another 15 minutes left here and there are quite a number of suggestions to go through still. Would Senator Cummins spend two minutes giving us the rest of his suggestions and then I will give two minutes to each remaining member?

John Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Are we tied to that time, given that we were not in the room?

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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We have the Estimates afterwards at 12.15 p.m., so we have to be out by 12 noon. I will leave it up to members. We can extend this discussion on the work programme into the next meeting rather than trying to rush through it here and miss stuff. Are members happy to do that? Our work programme is important and I do not want to rush it. We have been a bit rushed with meetings today and we have been trying to get through as much as we can.

Mary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail)
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It feels like we are moving all of the time.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I would rather do this in a more orderly way and make sure every member's voice is heard. Does Senator Cummins want to continue?

John Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I will continue.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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The Senator does not need to go through them one by one because we have covered some of the stuff he has mentioned here. Are there any headline issues the Senator wants to raise?

John Cummins (Fine Gael)
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The rest of the issues have not been covered. The national differential rent scheme is something that was proposed or promised four or five years ago when we amalgamated our councils to make Waterford City and County Council. There were three different rent schemes and we did not amalgamate them because we were told there was one coming. It did not come so I want to know where that is because it is essential work. I am not hung up on when these issues are scheduled in as we have a limited time.

The next issue is the approved housing bodies. There are more than 280 approved housing bodies in the country, ranging from tier 1 to tier 3 housing bodies. We need to look at the benefits versus the drawbacks of this, the possible case for streamlining them and doing a report on the quantum of them. I am not tied up on witnesses but we need to look at the model. They do fantastic work in the provision of housing but are there too many of them? It is a valid question to ask.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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The reclassification of the approved housing bodies has been back off the Government balance sheet, which is a big issue, as are the issues of funding and land provision for the approved housing bodies. It would be useful to do a whole session looking at the range of issues involved.

John Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I agree. This issue is a bugbear of mine with the local authorities.

The legislation that is currently in place for dealing with derelict sites and dangerous structures is not effective and is not working. What legislative changes do we need to make to make that CPO process more effective, in order that local authorities can step in where necessary in towns, villages and cities right across this country? It is a very important piece of the housing jigsaw that has not really been addressed over the past number of years.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

The turnaround time for properties would be covered under the repair and release section.

John Cummins (Fine Gael)
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It would come under the National Oversight and Audit Commission, NOAC, report. Would that come before the committee? I am not certain as a new member.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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It is in our correspondence.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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It is in our correspondence. Well spotted, Senator Boyhan.

John Cummins (Fine Gael)
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Perhaps we can address the matter under that report.

Planning is an issue. We have a very large project in the north quays in Waterford which has received funding from the urban regeneration and development fund, URDF. Based on my experience of dealing with this and having engaged with officials on it, they readily admit that while we have a process for cost-benefit analysis for a particular road, building or specific item, regeneration often includes multiple projects coming together and we do not have an evaluation framework for that. We will do the cost-benefit analysis for one piece of the jigsaw but one cannot look at anything in isolation. It has to be combined into the overall project. Given that there will be significant urban regeneration projects around the State over the next number of years, it is important that we have a framework and look at best practice. There is a very good model and framework in the UK. The officials who are assessing these applications need to appear before us. The north quays project, ironically, has now created a framework, so it is a case of refining that and getting those officials' feedback and opinions on it.

Richard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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On that, I would add that the 2030 plan is not working for rural Ireland and rural housing. There will be no housing built in rural Ireland if the 2030 plan continues as it is at the moment. There are environmental impacts, so if someone is working in Shannon Airport and living in Kilmallock, he or she cannot get planning for-----

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I do not want to get into individual items right now, but I think what Senator Cummins is talking about is-----

Richard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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The 2030 plan needs to be brought under-----

John Cummins (Fine Gael)
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The urban regeneration framework for the-----

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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The framework for the URDF and the rural regeneration and development fund, RRDF, will be included in that as well.

John Cummins (Fine Gael)
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There are two final items I wish to discuss. One is the Moorhead report, which is mentioned in the programme for Government.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Senator Boyhan also referred to that in his submission, which I am coming to next, and it was referred to by others as well.

John Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I ask that Sarah Moorhead, the Association of Irish Local Government, AILG, and the Local Authorities Members Association, LAMA, come before the committee to discuss the report's findings, particularly in light of the fact that its implementation is in the programme for Government.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

John Cummins (Fine Gael)
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I would like some clarity on this second item-----

Paul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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Sorry-----

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I call Deputy McAuliffe.

Paul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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As regards the priority of our work, Sarah Moorhead might not be brought before the committee until January or February. However, my understanding is that, pre-pandemic, a commitment was given that the report would be implemented this year. I am just wondering about the effectiveness of bringing Sarah Moorhead and the other representatives in when this matter will be before the Minister much sooner than that. Some tweaks to the Moorhead report are needed as some councillors will be left very badly off but our focus should be on the decision-maker rather than on those who prepared the report.

I should say that in discussing remuneration of councillors anybody who is in receipt of a gratuity payment under the retirement scheme should declare a conflict of interest because we would benefit from that. I am happy to take the heat on that because councillors need to be remunerated correctly. It is the single biggest failing in the local authority system.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I would make two points. The reality is that if there is not additional provision in the budget, this issue in respect of councillors is not going to be dealt next year. I agree with bringing the Minister in. That would be the Minister of State responsible for this, Deputy Peter Burke. Bringing the author of the report and the Minister of State in is fine. That is the way to do it. However, we may want to wait until after the budget given that, realistically speaking, one will not get a meeting beforehand.

I would say we had an appalling scene in the previous Dáil - Senator Boyhan will remember this well - where we had the most packed committee meeting we ever had dealing with councillors' pay. Now I am a strong advocate of giving councillors proper pay but there was literally four times the membership of the committee coming in to make the case. Only the week before, we had a meeting on homelessness and there were almost no members of the committee present. The point I would make is there is a public perception around this issue that we need to get right. I share that with the members because the committee was heavily criticised publicly, and knocked by any comment of any member of the committee, about it. It was a real issue for us.

Mary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail)
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It is a valid point but if this committee does not deal with the Moorhead report, no other committee will. I speak as a former city councillor. Genuinely, it is the weakest link in our democracy that we have people democratically elected to represent their communities who are massively undermined and under-resourced to do the job properly. I think we need to do it. Covid could be our friend. We will have a shorter meeting and only the committee members will be probably entitled to speak. As a committee, we need to bring the Minister of State in and talk to him about this. Moorhead wrote the report but the Minister of State will make the decision.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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We have two minutes left. I will let Senator Boyhan in and then Senator Seery Kearney.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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We have discussed Moorhead solidly and councillors remuneration and conditions and I do not apologise for doing so. I am a former councillor of many years and therefore I think it is right.

What Deputy McAuliffe said is correct. We need to get the Minister of State in because it is a matter for the Minister of State and the budget. If it is not in the budget, as Deputy Ó Broin said, it will not happen.

Many people are unhappy with the Moorhead recommendations. Let us be careful what we wish for. I know from talking to councillors of all parties and none, most of them are not happy with Moorhead's recommendations. We need to be clear what Deputy Peter Burke, the Minister of State responsible for local government, will do. We should have him in because it is a political decision now.

We have belted this issue up and down, inside out, and north, south, east and west. We had many promises and we have got nowhere on it. Getting the Minister of State in would be the priority. That is the point we need to make.

Mary Seery Kearney (Fine Gael)
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We need the Minister of State and the author of the report in, regardless of what happens in the budget. Clearly, it may come before the select committee and may be addressed by it.

The other side to it is that while I take Deputy Ó Broin's point, the councillors are on the ground working for people's quality of life on a daily basis on the simple issues, such as footpaths. I refer to the fact that they are remunerated. More importantly, there has been a misconception of their status. The amount of work that they do that arises out of Moorhead needs to be addressed and interrogated rather actively by this committee.

The media has already reported the alleged increase in councillors' pay on numerous occasions. If the councillors were to have received all that has been reported in the media they would be on up to three times their current wages. It is important that the truth of it comes out and that it is ventilated properly in defence of councillors.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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We have reached the time limit for this meeting and I am conscious that we still have not reached a number of Deputies' and Senators' submissions. I propose to address this next week and go through this list. For example, in the case of Deputy McAuliffe, we have covered construction defects and review of Multi–Unit Developments, MUDs, Act 2011 already.

I will scratch those out and we will have a shorter list. If members feel anything is to be left out, they can raise that at the meeting, if that is okay.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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I would like to leave my points there, if I can. I want to talk about their rationale, given I submitted them.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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We have covered the Moorhead report but Rebuilding Ireland, architectural heritage and water have not been covered yet, so I will leave them on.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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To be helpful, as it takes some time to get witnesses agreed and so on, is it possible for us to at least agree the next four meetings, given the secretariat has to contact people? There seems to be a strong consensus that the issue of strategic housing development, SHD, is urgent, the defects issue is important, there is homelessness and then there is the Minister in the week after the budget, which is actually two weeks later because there is a recess. If we could at least agree those four, the secretariat can start tabling those in from next Tuesday.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I would like us to get to marine planning and development management as soon as we can.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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We are waiting for the legislation, which has not been published yet.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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In the submission I have made, I think I am the only person to have mentioned looking into something related to Covid-19, which is very specific and urgent. There are issues around building standards, ventilation, workspaces, access to open spaces and balconies, and all that sort of thing. We are meant to include that in our work programme and I think it should be included and prioritised. Can we agree that now?

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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It came through about having Covid and the sustainable development goals worked into the committee's policy and work. We note that.

Paul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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Have we agreement on the meetings that Deputy Eoin Ó Broin has put forward?

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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What were they again?

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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They were the SHD, defects, homelessness and the Minister, and the Minister would be, strictly speaking, two weeks after the budget but it is the first committee meeting after the budget.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I have SHD, the LDA and defects-----

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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It may be worthwhile asking when the Minister expects the LDA legislation to be ready before we set a date for that.

Mary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail)
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We want the Minister for two reasons. We want him for the LDA but we also want him on his housing programme, affordable housing and affordable rent.

(Interruptions).

Mary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail)
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That is Rebuilding Ireland.

(Interruptions).

Mary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail)
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That is what we need the Minister to tell us.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Just to be clear on what I am proposing, I am proposing the next four meetings be on the SHD review, the latent defects issue, homelessness and the Minister on the quarterly update on his progress, although it will be, in the main, a discussion about the budget because that will have just happened.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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Who are we requesting on SHD? Is it An Bord Pleanála?

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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There is the board, the Irish Planning Institute, the County and City Management Association and the Department.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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That is a lot to bring in for two hours. Who are we suggesting to invite in for the LDA?

Mary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail)
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The LDA and the Minister, because the Minister should have published his legislation by then.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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The Minister and the LDA itself. Who do we propose to bring in on the defects?

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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The Construction Defects Alliance, the Department and the Minister, if he is willing to attend.

Emer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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As a newbie to this, I would find it very helpful if, very early on, we could get a briefing for our next meeting from the Department and the Minister as to their work plan, so we have that opportunity to inform ourselves as we then go about our business. I think that is a critical first step which we are missing here.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I have the Minister written down here as a suggestion.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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It is critical and should happen as early as possible. At all stages, we have had a very good working relationship with the Minister, the Secretary General and the Department. I believe these are two critical components of our work. Whenever the Minister wants to come, we should facilitate him. That relationship is important.

I want to flag again the idea that we have more informal meetings in the Custom House. We had such meetings in the past and they worked very well, whereby we met the senior management and assistant secretaries general. I think they were very constructive meetings.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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We have to finish up because we will contravene the guidelines if we do not.

Paul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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Can I clarify the seating and speaking arrangements for the next session?

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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I am sorry, can the Deputy say that again?

Paul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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Are additional people joining us at 12.15 p.m.?

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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No. Some people are leaving.

Mary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail)
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We are leaving.

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent)
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We are not being added to the committee.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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It is to be a meeting of the select committee. We will be okay on numbers. The Minister is the fourth person I have listed for the meeting. I take on board what Senator Boyhan has said.

Mary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail)
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Will the Chair clarify that he intends to resume discussion on the work programme from where we left off, and to complete it, at our next public meeting?

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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That is correct. We will continue from Senator Boyhan's contribution. We will go through what remains and remove what has already been covered. If any member has an issue with what has been removed or feels it has not been covered, he or she can raise it again. Is that okay?

Mary Fitzpatrick (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Chair.

Steven Matthews (Wicklow, Green Party)
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The select committee will meet at 12.15 p.m. The joint committee is adjourned until 10.20 a.m. on Tuesday, 13 October, when the committee will meet in private session using Microsoft Teams.

The joint committee adjourned at 12.05 p.m. until 10.20 a.m. on Tuesday, 13 October 2020.