Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 13 October 2020
Joint Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government
Committee Work Programme: Discussion (Resumed)
We are in public session. We will continue discussing the work programme. We finished last week with Senator Cummins and were moving on to Senator Boyhan's suggestions. Members were circulated with an updated proposed draft topic in which I tried to look at all the different categories and issues that members wanted addressed. There had been quite a lot of repetition, as would be expected because members have similar concerns. In going through the list of submissions from all the Deputies and Senators, I tried to categorise them. A couple of people mentioned the Moorhead report so that has gone in as one category. Many people mentioned affordable housing schemes so that issue has also gone in as one category.
I am going to read through Senator Boyhan's submissions in order and I will let him come in on them then. He lists the current status of Rebuilding Ireland and the Government's plan. I propose to take that under category 1 on the updated list, engagement with the Minister and relevant officials within the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage to take place every three months. I propose that we include this issue when the Minister comes in for an update on Rebuilding Ireland. The Senator's second matter is Irish Water, the Water Advisory Body, WAB, water infrastructure and EU standards. A number of submissions came in on that and I have put it as category 12, water quality, wastewater and drinking water. I suggest that this category would include Irish Water, Ervia, the Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, and the relevant Department officials. Is that agreed?
What I am trying to do is put this into a number of categories. I have it down to 26 but we might end up with 30 by the end of the day. We might say there is too much in one category and that it needs to be split. I am happy to do that and we can agree on it as members. If we have a section on water, we may want to break it down into water supply and water quality. I will go through Senator Boyhan's suggestions and will let him come in after that. I want to try to get through this today. The Senator lists the Moorhead report. We agreed to include that under category 11 last week. Senator Cummins, I think, had raised it previously. Senator Boyhan suggests the national inventory of architectural heritage. I have included that in category 13 based on other submissions. That category would be architectural heritage and would include the Heritage Council and the relevant section within the Department. Would Senator Boyhan or other members want to include something like national monuments under architectural heritage as well? Should it just be built heritage?
Then there is a media file on wastewater treatment plants. We have covered that under the Irish Water category, I think. The Senator has an item referring to the Planning Regulator. I have included that under category 14, the Office of the Planning Regulator. The witnesses under that category would be officials from that office and from the Department. I think the Senator had another point.
That is the possibility of inviting the Land Development Agency, LDA, before the committee. It is covered under category 7. It has been discussed already and it was agreed to put it in the work programme as Land Development Agency briefing, LDA and Department.
Under No. 10, the committee is asked to consider the practice of inviting a number of city and county council chief executives to come before it to discuss local government issues, as was the practice of the previous committee. No. 15 concerns local government funding and other issues, and includes the County and City Management Association, CCMA, and the Department. No. 18, which we will discuss later, relates to local government staffing levels in the areas of climate action, biodiversity and heritage. We may need to split that category because there are quite a few issues pertaining to local government that need to be discussed, for example, general funding. No. 16 is a presentation by the Local Government Management Agency, LGMA. Is the committee satisfied with the categories?
I want to speak about the rationale for the various categories. The Rebuilding Ireland plan was very helpful because it contained five pillars, different headings and sections, and gave us something to go on. Today, nobody in this room knows whether Rebuilding Ireland is Government policy. We need to clear that up. I met the Minister on the stairs earlier and he does not even know the answer. We need to clarify whether it is Government policy and then use it as a prototype in terms of format. The policy may have changed but the question is whether we are using the Rebuilding Ireland document with its five pillars. I think the Minister is giving consideration to that.
That is the Chairman's call. I sent the committee the link concerning the water advisory body issue. We have dealt with the Moorhead report and will look at it. It is a rolling issue and we may hear more about it in the next few days.
On the national inventory of architectural heritage, as many members will be aware, a national inventory is under way. This committee has a big remit in the area of heritage, which is now included in its title along with housing, planning and local government. It is important that we consciously decide to keep a section of our business for heritage, which is important. The committee should seek a progress report on the national inventory.
The matter I submitted on Irish Water speaks for itself and it is one the committee will clearly consider.
The Office of the Planning Regulator sent the committee a report. I know this is a new committee but where the committee receives an annual report, we traditionally invite some of the larger organisations such as An Bord Pleanála to attend. We have a report from the Planning Regulator and it is important that we invite the regulator to attend the committee at some stage.
The inclusion on my list of the Land Development Agency speaks for itself. I am happy with the categories, which cover the various matters. I emphasise that heritage is now part of our remit. I know the previous committee spent much of its time discussing housing but we need to find a balance between housing, planning, and heritage. I do not know why the word "planning" was dropped from the titles of both the Department and the committee because the area of planning is a significant part of our work.
I will be happy if the committee takes my submissions on board.
I will run through my submission. Building defects will be covered under No. 2. I have suggested that local property tax and a review of how the baseline figure for local authorities has been agreed over the years be included in No. 15, which concerns local government funding and other issues. With members' agreement, I would like to explore the possibility of doing a report on replacing the local property tax with a site value tax. A specific category for that issue does not spring to mind.
That might be a good place to put that in there; I will give that No. 15. I thank the Deputy for that.
We have covered category No. 12, Irish Water.
I would like to examine the national retrofitting programme, especially for local authority stock and how that is going to be rolled out. We can put this under No. 17, the local authority housing department, and perhaps we could have a representative from the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications to attend to give us an update on the retrofitting programme. What do members think of this proposal?
I do not know. The idea of these categories is that if we establish them, we can then fine-tune and prioritise them. This is just to try to give us some boxes to put things into for the moment. I call Deputy Ó Broin.
To follow up on Senator Fitzpatrick’s point, it would be good to have Dave Kenny in as he is going to be the Government’s tsar on retrofitting. My understanding is that at some point the Government is going to merge social and the non-social housing into a complete programme. I am sure he would be happy to attend the committee, as well as the local authorities.
I am open to suggestions on whom we may bring in on that. These are just notes that I have jotted down as I was going through this. We will put this under No. 17.
I have mentioned biodiversity, heritage, and climate change. Officers and staffing levels in local authorities can go under No. 18, or possibly No. 15? Are members are agreeable to this proposal?
I also wanted to look at building housing design and adaptation measures for older people, universal design, and the principle of changing places for people with disabilities in public buildings, under the building regulations. I have put that down as No. 19, standards and building regulations. I am sure that members may wish to add something if we are going to be looking at building standards and regulations. There was a mention of modular and of timber-frame housing, which may also cross cut this issue.
The Chairman may feel I am broadening this too far, but in designing buildings, we are also designing communities. If we are going to build large-scale public housing projects, in particular, we have to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes of previous projects of this type. Many of us represent a good number of these areas and have spent decades advocating for additional facilities and for resources to tackle disadvantage. One of the key elements of this work programme should be to examine what works well in housing projects and communities and what adaptations we have had to make in comparison to previous projects. In designing buildings we should also consider the design of communities. As we look at the categories, this looks like a place that this would most likely fit.
----- address that under No. 24, which is living city, urban regeneration, town centres and first living over shops. I do not mind as this may cross two categories but I agree that we should include it.
I call Deputy Gould and then Deputy Duffy.
I agree with the Chairman that this is a very important point. I come from Knocknaheeny, a built area that is being regenerated at the moment. I went to my first regeneration meeting in September 2000. Some 20 years later, we are halfway through the regeneration, trying to fix problems that were created when we moved in there 47 years ago. It is vital when building communities that we build sustainable ones and that we do it the right way round. We put in the infrastructure and the supports, schools, crèches, shopping centres and youth clubs because we have spent 20 years fixing problems, many of which should not have been there to start with. Returning to the Chairman’s point on buildings and standards, when I speak to older people and people with disabilities, this is a significant issue. In a country such as ours this is something that we should be aware of and we should not have these problems. I agree that it is very important that these be included.
This may be on the list but the issue I wish to raise has to do with protected structures. There is some talk of those regulations changing to repurpose the space over shops. Can we have a briefing on what the proposal might be?
How would it be implemented? Would it be by way of a statutory instrument, which would mean that the Minister could do whatever he wanted, or is there a process in which we would be involved? It would be worrying if they have a very loose approach to dealing with protected structures.
None of this can happen unless we address the 2040 plan. In terms of planning permission, the way the 2040 plan is designed means that there will be no houses built outside of the city area because of the issue of emissions. Everyone who wants to build a house in the countryside or even in terms of the housing stock has to reflect the likely impact of emissions in their planning application. In terms of east Limerick versus west Limerick, all the industries are located in west Limerick so someone in east Limerick will not be able to build a house unless we address the 2040 plan.
It is critical that we address emissions also. I agree with the Deputy on that. I have categorised item No. 19 as covering building design and universal design for disability and elderly people. I also included Covid-19 learnings and safety within building regulations and standards because that issue had been raised by Deputy Cian O'Callaghan. When I get to that section, he can agree on whether that should be included. The witnesses for that will be the Department and then representative groups for those with a disability and elderly people. We have agreed on the Office of the Planning Regulator.
I put a referendum on housing and a referendum on water as category No. 20 to include the Minister and the Department on the updates contained within the programme for Government on those commitments. Are members agreeable to that?
We must keep in mind that the discussion we had about Home for Good earlier is on the constitutional right to housing because it is on that matter that they are seeking to make the presentation . If I understood the conversation we had earlier correctly, the idea would be to have a stand-alone session on that where we could invite Home for Good and others in before the committee.
On the right to water, in the list of legislation that is before the committee post Second Stage, there is a constitutional amendment on a water Bill.
That is right. On No. 20, are members agreeable that we would have at least one session with the Minister and the Department on a departmental update on the programme for Government commitments in those areas? Agreed.
Taking the significance of a referendum on housing, I wonder if it should have its own section. The Minister will come in and talk to us about the house building programme, retrofitting, water, planning and all of those areas but with this we are talking about constitutional change. It is a significant undertaking and one for which I believe there will be broad support. Should we be taking it as one distinct piece of work in that context?
We did it based on a possible referendum.
I have written down that I want a briefing from the Housing Agency. I do not know if that can be incorporated into another area. Do members have suggestions on the Housing Agency? Would we take it as a separate briefing?
I have that down as No. 21.
There is a list including affordable purchase, serviced site fund, help to buy, Rebuilding Ireland, approved housing bodies, cost rental model and affordable housing models. It is that range of areas to do with supply of housing. Item No. 3, which we agreed last week, was about affordability and land use management, which Deputy Ó Broin had raised. He referred to five previous reports that had been done. His suggestion was to act as a rapporteur to bring us a synopsis of those five reports and to bring in witnesses who were connected in that regard. Should we expand that beyond affordability and land use management to include affordable purchase, serviced sites and help to buy to bring in all those range of mechanisms?
That should be two separate areas. There is a range of issues to do with land, not least the five reports that have been compiled.
Every other area, including housing affordability and determining value for money and what is working in terms of uptake, is part of another piece of work entirely. While I realise we are trying to consolidate as much as we can, I strongly favour two separate elements.
The proposal is that we leave No. 3 as it is. I refer to the suggestion made last week by Deputy Ó Broin, which was that we should pull the five reports together and that he act as rapporteur. Was that not his suggestion?
That is fine. With regard to all the other mechanisms for the provision of houses, including affordable purchase and serviced sites, Deputy Cian O'Callaghan or another member mentioned construction costs. Will we investigate all of those as a completely separate module and consider the progress in that regard as a new committee?
That would be advisable. I believe Deputy Ó Broin mentioned last week a report that is being produced by the Department. It was said that the Department was doing a cost-benefit analysis of the various models. Could that be fed into the specific piece? I had mentioned all the schemes in question in my submission in terms of repair and lease. There is a host of them. Could we encompass all of them with a stand-alone element?
Could we red-circle an enforcement aspect somewhere in our discussion? With regard to local authority funding, there is no alignment in particular with staffing in relation to heritage, but there is a staffing element. I refer to an element of construction costs from a State perspective to make sure there is checking or oversight and that we do not repeat the mistakes made during the major building boom of the early noughties. There should be enforcement of building standards as buildings are being constructed. We should examine how construction is being overseen and how it should be overseen as part of a stand-alone point. I am sure this committee has produced reports on that in the past. Something along those lines needs to be addressed.
Could I ask Deputy Cian O'Callaghan to expand on his point on the need to have two meetings? Maybe I am coming from the perspective of the city, where pretty much everything is zoned at this stage. When talking about affordability and land use management, is the Deputy effectively talking about land in private ownership? Regarding the other schemes pertaining to lands in State ownership, particularly the serviced site scheme, the two topics are co-dependent. I would like them to be discussed together. We have seen what I am talking about at sites such as those on Oscar Traynor Road and O'Devaney Gardens. Could the Deputy help me to understand better why affordability and land use management should be separate? Is it because the lands are private?
I have just one point, on housing enforcement officers. I am not sure whether we should have included it earlier. From what I gather, many local authorities do not have housing enforcement officers. Where there is antisocial behaviour or criminality in social housing, local authorities may not be taking responsibility for tenants who are bad and destroying communities. Could we find somewhere to include this subject in order to work with local authorities? There are two items in which the Chairman has a reference to local authorities. Addressing this is vital. If we are to build a lot more social housing, we must ensure it is sustainable.
As a result of the fact that they have reduced budgets, this is an area in which local authorities are not investing. They should be compelled to have housing officers.
We agreed at the previous meeting that we would have a stand-alone session to look at the cost-effectiveness of various social housing delivery streams. A number of us want to do this, and it can be informed by the Department's report. Separately, we need to do the same thing with all of the various Government interventions on affordable housing, such as the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, and the serviced sites fund. The question of land is completely separate. What often happens is we focus on a scheme, for example, LIHAF or the serviced sites fund, and we ignore what is actually going on in the marketplace for land that affects public and private. There is loads of land out there that belongs to public agencies but it may or may not be available for housing. That land is valued at various prices and it can be bought and sold. What has happened over the past three decades is that reports have been done and they are very detailed. The previous Oireachtas committee spent four years examining issues and we never got a chance to look at the land question itself. There would be a value in it.
Members must remember that we can have two-hour meetings and if we have four or five witnesses who have five minutes each, after which we get into questions, if we have too many topics, we will not get to discuss anything. While these sessions are interrelated, they will work very well in parallel.
The land issue should look at public and private land. The market in land is the most opaque. There is no record of what is bought or sold or for what price. There is no record of what public land is or is not being used or is being rightly used or not rightly used. It would be useful for us, particularly with regard to Dublin city because prices are probably affecting affordability in private and public delivery there more than anywhere else.
the Deputy is happy enough for us to go through the headings.
The marine planning and development Bill will come to us pretty soon. I have included it and I believe we will get a briefing on it. A number of witnesses will probably come before the committee to discuss it. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The establishment of a commission on housing is a commitment in the programme for Government. We will look for a report on it. I do not know whether we will have a session on it.
I provisionally included the topic of Covid-19 and learnings for building standards and safety in No. 19, which covers building design and building regulations. We can fine tune it when discussing it.
I did mean to come to this. I will finish dealing with Deputy Cian O'Callaghan's topic and then I will come to Deputies Higgins and O'Donoghue to see whether what they have suggested has been missed or is slotted in somewhere. Is that okay? We will try to work them in.
If we are looking at learnings from Covid, we should do so relatively soon and it should not be far down the programme. If we are including it, we should list Orla Hegarty from UCD as a potential witness because she would have a good deal of information on it.
There is a need for a stand-alone session to look at the impact of Covid-19 on a number of aspects of the business of the committee. One is that which Deputy Cian O'Callaghan has mentioned. The ESRI has compiled two very detailed reports on the impacts or potential impacts of Covid-19 on housing output. Given the nature of Covid, that is something we should prioritise to happen before the end of the year.
It might be a look at a number of different aspects of it. Some could be around ventilation and building standards, the impact on output, etc. We could do a useful session on that.
I agree with the suggestion and I am happy to support it. If we are going to look at Covid-19 and housing, I would like it to be a broad look and not just ventilation, building standards and space. In my constituency, domestic violence is up by 100% and housing inadequacy and poverty is a real contributor to that. I would like us to look at the social aspects, not just built housing, when we talk about Covid-19, if that is okay.
Historically, many houses were designed in terms of streetscapes, such as semicircle with 12 houses. In housing estates people are passing all of the houses. It seems to work a lot better when there are communities. Each pocket works together and people are not passing somebody's house every day. Pockets of houses work better.
-----creates desire lines to places people want to go to. We can have a separate session on that. Are we agreed on that? Okay. That can be No. 27. Do members want to give me wording for that? Should it be Covid in relation to housing design?
I would be very happy if that was included as a category along with the other measures we will look at in terms of an analysis of State funded schemes. I ask that it is named as one, along with-----
I will put it in there. When we have witnesses before the committee or go through a theme or subject, we need to ask ourselves what it is we want to ask and find out, and what direction we want to go in. I will add that into No. 9 provisionally.
Construction costs and housing affordability is in No. 4. The review of implementation recommendations of the expert group review of Traveller accommodation has its own category, No. 23. Somebody else mentioned it. The implementation of the safe as houses report is included in No. 2, the defects issue we will address. The review of the implementation of the national housing first strategy is under No. 0, the homelessness category. We had a lot of submissions on that category. It includes the Minister, the Department and homelessness service providers. We talked about representatives from Home for Good coming in at some stage. Are members okay with that category? Did Deputy O'Callaghan want to respond to Deputy McAuliffe on that question?
Deputy Ó Broin covered a lot of it. There has been a huge amount of work done internationally on land by, for example, the Scottish Land Commission. Countries like Germany do a lot more around land. It does bring down the cost of land and it does much more master planning. It is an entire category we could do in Ireland that is not covered under existing schemes. We can explore that a little. It warrants its own bit of analysis.
One thing I would like the committee to look at is collaboration with the Departments of Finance and Health to incentivise people who are on the fair deal scheme to rent out their unoccupied home. Many unoccupied homes are not in use because it does not make any sense for people on the fair deal scheme to rent them out as so much of that income immediately goes back to the State. We looked before at incentivising this. I am not sure where it is at and we could play a role in reinvigorating that. It would probably come in under item No. 1, Minister and relevant Department officials, if we asked them to include that in their report to us.
I also seek to look at a nationwide approach to energy efficiency in Government housing stock. I am aware different local authorities are leading the way doing great pioneering work and it would be great to learn from them. If we are looking at standardising things such as differential rent we could also look at standardising issues like how boilers are serviced and maintained. That could come under No. 3, affordability and land use management, which includes the approved housing bodies, AHB. Density in city centres-----
Density in city centres probably comes under No. 24, living city, urban regenerations and town centres.
A review of the distribution of the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, shared services supplement could potentially come under No. 3, affordability. Perhaps it is only included in the briefing. I wish to understand a bit better, however, about how RAS rent comes into each local authority then goes to Limerick County Council where it is put into a shared services pot, and how that is fairly reflected in different local authorities which will have contributed significantly.
I am not sure if, perhaps, a review of the planning enforcement process and backlogs in local authorities comes in under No. 14 or No. 15. It is not really the planning regulator but perhaps it is No. 15 instead. It is not really funding either. I would like to get a handle on how local authorities go through planning enforcements when they get reports, what different local authorities have backlogs, how they can be resolved and if there is best practice that can be shared from one local authority to another.
To follow on from the Deputy's proposals, I raised the fair deal scheme with Deputy Coveney when he was Minister with responsibility for housing and with the previous Minister. There were a number of announcements that they were looking into it. Were the reports done and could we see the recommendations of those reports? As far as I am aware, the HSE requires 80% of the rental income for people to rent out their homes if they are in the fair deal scheme. That does not make any sense. It is a crazy situation. The problem is that Age Action Ireland told me there are 25,000 people in care homes who have homes that are empty. There are three in the terrace where I live on Cathedral Road. Three ladies are in care homes, my next-door neighbour being one of them. The beautiful house has been lying idle for years and the family cannot rent it out. The net curtains are pulled and the light switches are on timers . A number of Ministers with responsibility for housing said they were looking into the scheme and doing reports. We need them because there is a possibility of getting 25,000 houses out in the short term which would make a huge difference to the housing crisis.
I just want to see if any of these fit into the categories we have done already.
Would rock salt on dry roads not be a matter for the Department of Transport? Is it a local authority action? I will come back to it in a minute, Deputy O'Donoghue, as there is quite a bit in it and I need to read it first.
There was also another item from Senator Fitzpatrick that was added in.
Deputy McAuliffe raised construction defects and that will be covered under No. 2. You also raised a review of the multi-unit development schemes and the Multi-Unit Developments Act 2011. I am going to cover that under No. 5.
Before you move on, Chairman, the nursing home support scheme was mentioned. Is there merit to having a specific section on housing options for older people and that the topic would be broadened out? A very good report was brought out by the then Minister of State at the Department of Health, former Deputy Jim Daly, about housing options for older people. It is a big area. It would not have to be between now and Christmas but it should happen in the new year because it does feed into a lot of other areas and then the nursing home support scheme aspect could be brought into the wider topic.
The former Chairman of the committee, former Deputy Maria Bailey, did a really good report for the last committee. It fed into the aforementioned former Minister of State's housing strategy for older people so we could do a really useful session reviewing the previous report, the Minister's strategy and then looking at other issues like the nursing home support scheme. That would be a really good standalone session.
Would it not be covered under No. 19: building design, universal design for disability and elderly, to include changing places, Covid learnings and safety building regulations, disability and elderly? We got a really good report at Dublin City Council last year and there is an increasing need because we are all living longer and living to be older but living fitter is another matter. There is an increasing desire from senior citizens to not be isolated in senior citizen-only accommodation but to be provided with age-appropriate and universally designed accommodation integrated into communities where there are different demographics. Would that not be covered under No. 19?
I think it probably would cover adaptability. Adaptability of buildings is something one has to think of as one plans construction and plan communities. As was referenced earlier on, one must plan to be able to adapt building stock within communities so one is not breaking up communities and saying to people that once they reach an elderly age they must go somewhere else when they still want to live in that community. As such, adaptability of buildings is quite important.
There are a lot of large houses out there with perhaps only one person living in them. I understand why they do not want to leave that area however, as it is where they are from. As such we need that range of developments where people can stay in their communities.
It was not a report on the nursing home support scheme, it was a report on housing options for older people but it did include stuff about that scheme. We should keep in mind that we could decide to do some of these meetings virtually over three hours with a half-hour break. In the first hour and a half we could look at housing options for older people and in the second hour and a half look at universal design adaptations for older people and people with disabilities.
We did split meetings the last time. If we are not using this room, it is essentially a three-hour meeting with a half-hour break but we have two connected topics discussed in one meeting.
The first one, on including the housing referendum under No. 20, is accepted and I think we have agreed we will respond to the request from Home for Good and invite that organisation to appear. I am happy to have the matter dealt with in that way.
The second was the Living City initiative, which was introduced in 2015. In Dublin city, only 56 applications to avail of the scheme have been processed. There is a large number of vacant over-shop properties and old properties in the city. We have a housing crisis and we are spending millions on temporary homeless accommodation. I have written to the Minister separately on this issue. I tis one the committee should champion because it ticks all the boxes of social need, housing need, employment, inner city regeneration, value for money and sustainability. I am happy to have that included in No. 24.
On the new policy initiative to stimulate the production of affordable homes, I am asking what can be done from a policy perspective. We have seen in Dublin city that policy decisions drove the delivery of purpose-built student accommodation. At the same time, no affordable homes have been delivered in the past ten years. I would like the committee to carry out an examination of what policy options could be explored or implemented to drive the delivery of affordable homes. I am happy to have that included under No. 3.
Dublin City Council has a plan to regenerate the Herbert Simms flat complexes, which members might be familiar with, including Chancery House, Ballybough House and a complex on Pearse Street. Built in the 1930s, these complexes were the first examples of public housing in the State. Dublin City Council's plan for them has not progressed in the past five years. It is important that this committee examine that issue and take it up with the Department. This is valuable public housing stock in the heart of the city that is in need of regeneration. The quality of accommodation for many of the tenants is sub-par. I am happy to have that included in No. 24.
The issue of trying to identify an accelerated approval process for large local authority housing developments has been placed under No. 24. While I am happy for it to be included under housing, it goes deeper than that as it is also a matter for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Some developments in my constituency of Dublin Central have taken ten years to progress. That is just for the approval process. I am not talking about building but the evaluation, the cost-benefit analysis and assessment after assessment. We are spending hundreds of millions on temporary homeless accommodation, yet we have land in the heart of the capital city that is zoned and serviced for housing, has public transportation, lighting and everything else. I would like the committee to examine that. There has to be scope for greater efficiency in the approval process.
I suggest that urban regeneration be kept separate from the matters covered in No. 24. Deputy McAuliffe spoke about infrastructural funds for regeneration projects, which we do not have available to us. The issue is also that the decisions being made by local authorities are being led by where the money is coming from. Urban regeneration, particularly of existing social housing stock, is important and should be a separate category.
The living city initiative and town centres are separate. I do not think they are as important.
No. 24 is quite crowded. I agree with Senator Moynihan on that. The living city initiative is a particular programme in and of itself. Urban regeneration is a general objective and there is also the issue of town centres. We could make it No. 27. I do not mind. There may be a need for us to further review what has been agreed when we have concluded all of the categories.
I will make two points. The specific issue, while it relates to the flat complexes because they are some of the older stock, also relates to some of the stock in the voluntary sector, such as The Iveagh Trust, which are even older. The Iveagh Trust is currently considering moving some of its social housing stock into affordable housing because it is having financial difficulties with refurbishments. Professor Michelle Norris and Dr. Aideen Hayden did an important report a year ago, which looked specifically at this problem. The difficulty is that local authorities are not given sufficient funding to manage and maintain their stock, which means when it get to a certain point, it is then in a serious state of disrepair. That deserves a stand-alone hearing.
On the approval process, there are two issues. The first is the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government four-stage approval process for social housing approval and delivery and the second is the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform public spending code. Both are a problem. A hearing with both Departments would be good. City and county managers from across the country regularly complain to the committee about how that these processes are strangling their ability to delivery stock more quickly. A stand-alone session next year to consider those two issues with responses from the City and County Managers Association, CCMA, and a collection of local authority managers from rural and urban Ireland would be useful.
There has been a lot said about the housing crisis. The issue of accommodation above shops was also mentioned. The issues in regard to accommodation over shops are conservation and the planning guidelines. Every existing shop is on the sewerage infrastructure and all the services are in place so they offer a quicker way of releasing stock. It might be worthwhile providing for a separate hearing on this area, in particular the conservation and planning guidelines that are preventing this happening.
We have accidentally stumbled across an area that is of importance, namely, how local authorities maintain housing stock and over time how they upgrade it. This touches on the issue of voids versus casual voids and the way the State is funding both. There is no category this issue could be easily slotted into and, therefore, it deserves a stand-alone hearing. It is important that we discuss how previously the Department reported funding for voids and this requires a stand-alone category.
The funding of voids and public housing is an issue that could be captured alongside the issues we discussed earlier. When public housing projects are being funded, what typically happens is funding is provided for the housing but the funding for the community facilities such as the crèche and other social-type infrastructure and resource comes from a separate fund.
Maintenance and management of public housing. It also leads to the false decision by the Department that AHBs are a better place to manage our stock because somehow they can maintain it better than local authorities.
The main reason for that is local authorities often do not have the funding to manage and maintain housing.
I am with Deputy McAuliffe. Many people do not realise that an AHB gets substantially more money from the Government per unit of accommodation than a local authority does. AHBs get an estimated cost of the long-term maintenance of the stock whereas local authorities do not. In fact, local authorities do not get anything for stock maintenance and the rents pay less than half of that cost. I think stock maintenance, or whatever one wishes to call it, would be an important topic to address. It does not mean that we cannot fit the other issues into other slots.
There are two separate issues which are of equal importance. The point I was trying to address, or hoping we would address, was the extended lead time of ten-plus years for public housing, either regeneration of existing stock or new-build, to be approved by a combination of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department with responsibility for housing, local government and heritage. We need those Departments to address the lead times for the approval process.
The second important issue is the funding of the maintenance and regeneration of public or social housing. That is a financial discussion, though not unconnected.
I agree with the Senator, those are two separate things. The extended approval process definitely needs to be looked at and sorting it out is one of the keys to sorting out the issues around social housing. The funding of maintenance and management of social housing stock must also be addressed. There are some proposals for doing that in the programme for Government. We are heading into some controversial areas around differential rents, national uniformity and so forth.
The issue of maintenance arrears could fall into the same category as looking at the national differential rent scheme that has been promised. I am a little concerned about decoupling maintenance from social regeneration because often a lack of maintenance within our public housing building has forced us into positions that we would not want to be in, in terms of regeneration. I am thinking of the example of O'Devaney Gardens where we had to make choices and decisions because we simply did not have the money. It was a policy outcome from the Department that meant we had to privatise that land to develop it. I would be reluctant be decouple maintenance and social regeneration entirely because one leads into the other. The lack of long-term maintenance in local authority projects has often led to us selling them off. I agree that the approval process is different but I would like to see social regeneration and maintenance put in together because one has led to the other and I do not want to see them entirely decoupled.
I will come to Deputy Murnane O'Connor in a moment. We are considering the approval process for building regeneration, including both of the Departments concerned, namely, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Department with responsibility for housing, local government and heritage. We are also considering the ongoing funding and maintenance of the new and current housing stock. Would something like that be-----
Can I make a proposal? The approval process links neatly with the value for money of the different schemes, in that each of the schemes has an approval process and they all differ. The approval process would either fall into that category or the category with the Minister which I think is already too full.
I am happy for us to deal with the lead time issue and include in that discussion what is being funded. Are the Departments involved just approving the funding for housing or, as Senator Moynihan has mentioned and the rest of us agree with her point, are they also approving the funding of social infrastructure, including community centres and crèches, as part of the approval process?
If they are, they should be because if they are not, it is bad value for money. We have all the evidence that building housing without the social infrastructure ultimately leads to problems. If we want public housing investment to be successful, we need to recognise that it must include more than just homes; it has to also include the ancillary social infrastructure that will be required. I am happy for us to deal with what is included in the funding approval but, critically, I want the lead time examined.
I see that there are a lot of them around this table. It is not that I do not want to bring anybody else in but this should not be a case of us recreating the wheel. This is a known problem, which we all recognise. This is something that we want to tackle in a pragmatic way. I do not want to talk about it for four years. I would like us to do something to improve the situation.
Senator Fitzpatrick mentioned the approval process. In terms of maintenance and repairs, there are 31 local authorities in this group that are all different. With regard to funding, property tax in Dublin and other areas is treble what is levied on other areas. As Deputy Ó Broin and I have seen, it is not easy or as cut and dried as we are saying here. Every local authority is preparing its county development plan at the moment but their services differ. I welcome our consideration of the approval process, maintenance and repairs for the 31 local authorities. There are bigger issues but we must adopt a balanced approach. While I welcome this, the bigger picture is working with the local authorities, funding, maintenance, repairs, county development plans and the approval process. As has been mentioned, everything is linked to the local authorities and the Minister. That is our link. If we do not operate on a local authority basis and just deal with the Minister, we could have bigger issues.
I agree with Senator Fitzpatrick that we want the officials rather than the Minister to attend some of these meetings. For example, regarding the approval process for the public spending code, the two lead officials from the two Departments should come in. It would be good to have the CCMA in because they can give us the overview of the local government sector. There has been a review of the four-stage approval process, which the former Minister, Deputy Coveney, completed, although it did not make any changes. It might be worthwhile circulating a copy of the review to members as well.
I have listened to many of the contributions but this all goes back to the same issue. We can agree our work programme but we must deal with the basics. We have a programme for Government that has set out priorities. Let us not fool ourselves into thinking that we are writing the programme for Government and then we need to await the successor to Rebuilding Ireland. One of the great things about Rebuilding Ireland is that the previous committee received a report from the Minister on it every month. We had a report, objectives and targets. We had a focus and one could simply identify the page, pillar and item in the document that both the Minister and ourselves were looking at. We need to see the successor to Rebuilding Ireland because it is Government policy. There is a huge Government so it is their agenda-----
-----and the Government is entitled to put forward its policy. There has been a lot of talk about delivery and outputs. Let us not reinvent the wheel. We have the National Oversight and Audit Commission, NOAC, which regularly reports to this sectoral committee. We can fall into the trap of thinking that we can contribute to policy but we not going to write it. Members have political agendas.
The Government has political agendas. We need to support that as much as we can. We need to ask the odd question as well about how it is going. I think a lot of this will all fall into place.
I have a final ask before I conclude. There is an extensive and rich archive of reports and material that has been gathered up by this committee over the past three to four years but when I went to look at it today I saw it was closed down. The one thing we should ensure is that new members would have access to the rich archive of reports, statements and everything else because there is a significant amount of valuable information. I would like a link to be sent to everyone in the coming days because a lot of information is there and it is a question of us picking up the ball again and running with it. In terms of a successor to Rebuilding Ireland, we must work around the programme for Government and its priorities. We are not the Government. We are not the Cabinet. We are not the policymakers. We can contribute, highlight and shine a light on issues that are important and we can prioritise and get Ministers in before the committee. I think it will all fall into place as we go along.
I ask Deputies Murnane O'Connor and Ó Broin and Senator Boyhan, who served on the previous committee, that where they are aware of reports that were done by the committee previously they would recommend that we would examine them.
I am happy for the examination of modular homes as an energy-efficient, affordable, sustainable solution to go under No. 19. We have already discussed the elderly and the retrofit grant. That is fine. We can include both of those under No. 19.
We skipped the viability of apartment construction in Dublin city. You did not put a number on it, Chairman.
That is okay. I propose to include it under No. 4, which you, Chairman, have referred to as construction costs in housing. I specifically want us to call out the viability of apartment building, as there is significant concern that it is unviable. That is it in a nutshell. I would welcome if we as a committee could examine that because we will need to figure it out if we want to have denser cities and all of those wonderful things.
Another point to consider is to examine and report on over-concentration of homeless accommodation in parts of Dublin city. I spoke about this before. I am happy for it to go into No. 0.1. I am also happy for a review of the governance and operation of multi-unit developments to go into No. 5.
The next point comes under local government and is the proposal for a directly elected mayor for Dublin city. It is in the programme for Government and is potentially something that could be delivered within the next four years. I do not think anything could have shown us more clearly that Dublin needed a directly elected leader than Covid-19, so I would like if the committee could perhaps champion that issue.
There are two items in particular that come under heritage that I would like the committee to pursue. The first is the national monument site on Moore Street. It has been talked about for nearly as long as we have been talking about 1916 and it is shameful that the national monument on Moore Street is left in the state it is in. It is adjacent to a contentious, privately-owned site on O'Connell Street. The north-west quarter of O'Connell Street is derelict. Private money is never going to be invested when the State does not commit to restore and preserve our history in the national monument on Moore Street. It is not just the national monument that is at issue but also street trading on Moore Street. I ask for the committee's support to champion this with the Minister. I think he is supportive but it should be delivered. My final point is similar to Senator Boyhan's and is to report on the built heritage of Dublin city in particular. I am happy for that to go into No. 13.
The last point I will make relates to an issue that was submitted at the time but it was not included. It is on the screens. You will see it, Chairman, if you scroll down. I think it is captured anyway in the previous one. It is basically that we would financially evaluate all of the housing delivery methods.
That includes everything from temporary emergency accommodation to long-term leasing, turnkey purchases, RAS and the housing assistance payment, HAP. We need one concise and comprehensive financial evaluation of the value for money on all of these multiple schemes so that it can be used to inform Rebuilding Ireland, policy decisions, the Department's work and so on. That is a comprehensive objective but if we follow the money we should get some answers. We need to examine how and where are we spending that money.
One of the points that was referenced by Senator Fitzpatrick was the 25 directly elected mayors. I would be anxious that when we discuss that, we talk about both directly elected mayors and local government reform. There is a view that directly elected mayors are the only show in town when it comes to local government reform. We need to make sure we reform the base level before we put directly elected mayors on top of that. We should try to expand that topic to that of local government reform as well.
There is no point in putting a directly elected mayor on top of the current local authority system in Dublin, for example. We would just end up with a directly elected city or county manager. We need to reform the way they have budgets passed through a council and the way they consult with other councillors and we would need to have a cabinet system and so on.
It is important we do not duplicate or mistime the work. For example, legislation is coming soon for a directly elected mayor for Limerick, which we will have to consider in prelegislative scrutiny. That will be a good opportunity for us to widen out that conversation. My understanding is the programme for Government has a commitment for a Citizens' Assembly on a directly elected mayor for Dublin. When we look at these matters, the best role for this committee is to coincide our work with that other work. That way we will not be jumping over ourselves.
Not really. While homelessness would be one of the streams in which the delivery of housing would be considered, it would be more appropriate under No. 3 or No. 9.
On the comments on the issue of directly elected mayors, I accept what the former Lord Mayor of Dublin, Deputy McAuliffe, said and I am sure he will be looking for the nomination. On that point and on the point made by Deputy Ó Broin, I accept that the programme for Government has a commitment on a directly elected mayor for Limerick, that we will consider that and that there is talk of a Citizens' Assembly for a directly elected mayor for Dublin. With Covid-19, however, I do not know what prospect there is of a Citizens' Assembly. I wanted to put it on the work programme of the committee that the directly elected mayor for Dublin would be considered. I accept that it will only be successful if there is some reform of local government and that could be considered under that heading.
I support Deputy McAuliffe's view because not every plebiscite has resulted in there being a directly elected mayor.
That proposal could well be turned down by the people of Dublin when the matter goes to a vote. In that instance, we would need to have a system whereby local government, the powers of councillors and so on would be radically reformed.
That is fine. At the moment, the local authority is using rock salt but it is not adequate. It blows off dry roads, which means local authority workers have to go out two or three times before it works. We are looking for the brine solution. It is more efficient and it has been used in other councils and counties. It is far more efficient and it stays on dry roads. That is one of the things we are looking to do. I am open to whatever number we want to put that under. That is the basic point I want to include. All counties should have the same or be upgraded.
Is that something to raise with the County and City Management Association? Prior to inviting that group in, or whoever will attend as witnesses for that session, this could be submitted to them to ensure they have some information on it. We will go with that. I will put that under No. 15.
The next point is flood readiness. As I stated earlier, in August and September there were flash floods in areas not in flood plains. Again, we need to ensure our local authorities are ready and available with generators for localised flooding events. They need generators to pump water back into rivers. We need to discuss that with the Office of Public Works. Last year, no funds were available to do this.
I have seen properties being flooded twice within one week. The OPW has come out this week and said it is recruiting. Where is it recruiting? It is recruiting in Dublin and that is no good to me. Recruitment within the OPW section has gone from 500 to approximately 57. Maintenance is not being done every year or twice a year. This is a major contributory cause to what is happening now. We have people who are not living on flood plains but whose properties are being flooded. This issue needs to be raised.
What if we do not have the people from the County and City Management Association in for two or three or four months? I do not know where it will be on the schedule but we may have gone through the flooding period by then. There is no flooding period in the sense that we can have flooding in summer as much as in winter. Is this something to feed into the winter readiness plan rather than including it the work programme and maybe not getting to it for four months? We can include it and bring it up with the City and County Management Association as an issue for local government. My question is whether that is the best way to prioritise it.
I support this issue being included but I take the point and share the concern that we will not get to it until next year. Is there a facility for the Chairman to write to the Minister with responsibility for the OPW? This is really an OPW issue. It is a local authority issue in that the local authorities are at the coalface when floods take place, but the OPW is responsible. Could the Chairman write to the Minister with responsibility for the OPW addressing these issues and seek a written response for this committee?
We can do that. Members may wish to make observations or submissions on the content of that letter. Deputy O'Donoghue is familiar with Limerick and the issues there but there may be other issues elsewhere. Deputy Murnane O'Connor has indicated. Does this matter affect her area?
I do not want to argue in any way against the proposal but for the benefit of new Deputies and Senators, there is usually resistance from the relevant Department when we stray into the responsibility of another committee. We had a problem previously when we sought to raise issues that were dealt with by another Department. We were told we could not raise them because they were the responsibility of other committees. I have no difficulty with the committee seeking to raise the issue Deputy O'Donoghue outlined but he might want to try to find a way of raising it with the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure Reform, and Taoiseach as the OPW falls under the finance remit. I suspect the OPW will say the matter is not the function of this committee. I am, however, fully supportive of Deputy O'Donoghue's proposition.
I wish to speak on No. 9, which relates to the inclusion of local government funding. The Minister with responsibility for housing attended this committee last week with his official, Ms. Mary Hurley, who has responsibility for local government in the Department. The biggest issue going forward for us as a committee is that of local authorities, because there have been so many cuts to services and there is no funding. In the past few months, local authorities have been looking for extra capital funding because they are only just surviving. Housing is important but the biggest issue facing local authorities is keeping their services going, whether it is through adaptation grants or other funding. There is funding available. Covid-19 has affected local authorities as much as other areas. We must work with local authorities to see what we can do through the Minister to get funding for them. Funding for my local authority has been decimated because there is no revenue coming in from parking charges and other areas. Local authorities are under pressure just to keep the doors open. Unless the committee delivers on that, we will not be playing our role. I ask the Chairman, as a matter of urgency, to arrange a meeting with the Minister to try to work out what we can do to help the 31 local authorities. While I welcome the Minister's announcement last week of €600 million in funding in lieu of commercial rates, that is only for six months. With shops and restaurants having closed, through no fault of their own, it will be impossible to get additional revenue from commercial rates.
I know we need to build houses and provide affordable housing but the biggest issue we face is the need to work with the Minister to see what we can do to help our local authorities and what funding we can get them. Until that is sorted, that will be our biggest issue.
I will take the advice I am given and I am willing to be directed. I will make a quick point. Local authorities should abandon the proposal to have directly elected mayors. This is costing each local authority €500,000, although the Government if providing that funding. In these times, the local authorities should dispense with that until we have a country to live in. The €500,000 could then be used elsewhere.
I am not sure either. Perhaps the Chairman could have a discussion with the Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts. I would be led by the outcome of that discussion. While the media rightly scrutinise spending on travel and subsistence by local representatives, it is my understanding that the Committee of Public Accounts cannot question the spending of local government executives in that respect.
If that is the case, there is then an onus on this committee to highlight the spending in that area because it is a significant area of expenditure and one that, in particular, local public representatives feel quite aggrieved about, in that their expenses are published. That is fine, right and proper but they do not feel that there is oversight and scrutiny of the executives within local government who are on significantly higher salaries than the councillors themselves.
It is an even broader issue than that. The Accounting Officers in local authorities are not accountable to anybody beyond themselves, whereas every departmental Accounting Officer, who is also the Secretary General, is brought before the Committee of Public Accounts. That is not the case with local government. There have been two debates up until this point. One is that the Committee Public Accounts, or a subcommittee of it, be given that role and the other is that NOAC be strengthened and given that role. This is a good discussion. Can I suggest that we do not confine it just to expenses? This is about the public accountability of the overall spend. This is quite a big issue. There is no Oireachtas or independent oversight bar the Comptroller and Auditor General Comptroller who periodically does reports. There is nowhere that those reports can go where questions can then be asked. This is probably more to do about the financial accountability of local authorities, which would include the expenses.
No, there were some discussions in the previous Dáil but they never went anywhere. This is something that this committee could legitimately raise as an issue and invite various people in to speak upon. We could invite the Comptroller and Auditor General, the Chairman of the Committee Public Accounts and the head of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform or whomever else, and ask them what the best way to do this is.
Are members agreeable to the proposal that we have a separate category for this matter? Agreed. I will just take a note of that. That brings us up to No. 31. Does Senator Cummins wish to come in with something briefly?
We have that down now to a list of 31 subcategories. I will finalise that list. Before we move on it is now 12.40 p.m. and we have approximately 20 minutes remaining.
I will return now to the correspondence that we have received. One concerns the water abstraction Bill and the other is a request from Home for Good to attend the committee and make a submission as a witness. I believe the Department has indicated that its officials are available to appear before the committee on the Bill next week. Are members be agreeable to pre-legislative scrutiny, PLS?
To be helpful, with regard to PLS, ordinarily what happens is the Department would come in but the committee would also invite others to come in to give views on it. As this is legislation of great importance, it would not be unusual, for example, for the Environmental Protection Agency or the Sustainable Water Network, SWAN - who look after advocacy for water - or whomever, to attend. The idea is that the Department would first give a briefing on the Bill, then the NGOs, industry or experts, etc., would attend to try to inform us. If we are doing PLS on this legislation, we will need a list of people that we will invite in to do this.
The purpose of PLS is that before the Bill is published, the draft heads are brought before the committee. This is then a good opportunity for the members to familiarise themselves on the detail of the Bill but also to listen to different sectoral interests. The committee produces a report then, which the secretariat, unfortunately, have to beaver away at. That has then to be agreed by the committee and submitted to the Minister, who is then is expected to take it into account when he or she is finalising the legislation. One might say it is a two-meeting process.
Given we have two hours, this is technical legislation and for members who do not know, it is about creating a regime whereby water that is extracted from water tables above a certain volume is recorded so we know how much water is coming out of our water tables. It is a requirement under EU law. It is controversial for some, not for others; it is a big issue. Senator Fitzpatrick mentioned previously the Dublin water supply. One of the issues that has been delaying the pipeline project from the Parteen Weir to Dublin is that it cannot happen until this subtraction legislation is in place because it is a requirement under EU law. There are also many controversies because landowners who have private wells are nervous about the implications of it. Also, industry takes very large amounts of water out of the water tables. The purpose of this Bill is simply to know how much water is being taken out of the ground at any one time. This is a big Bill. I say to the members, and this is just from my experience, that whether they are for, against or undecided about it, pre-legislative scrutiny is very important and therefore they want to make sure they do it right. This might be one of those Bills where we do not have to be in committee because votes are not required. We could have a three-hour meeting with a half an hour break. We could have the Department witnesses in first, with many questions and answers, and then interested outside parties in a second session. That would allow us do it in one meeting but with a half an hour break if people wanted to have that.
We have three Bills coming up. We have this one, the marine planning and development management Bill, the heads of which currently run to 240 pages. It is incredibly technical. Pre-legislative scrutiny is the one chance we get to get into the meat of it before the Bill is published. We will not get through all of it in a two-hour slot.
That is what I am wondering about. The Department witnesses have indicated their availability for the next meeting. We have already been circulated with the general scheme of the Bill. In terms of another online meeting with the NGOs or others, I do not know if we have sufficient time. If the Department is available to meet us next week on this, that will not provide us with enough time to invite in the people the Deputy suggested this morning.
I am not trying to box it off in one way or another but one of the benefits of having the outside bodies come in before the Department is that they fill our heads with all sorts of interesting questions, which we then ask the Department.
I like the idea of us not using our public committee time to do this pre-legislative investigation, so to speak, and of members hearing from the NGOs or other interested parties first and then having the Department come into us. If the committee needs to have a public meeting to deal with certain aspects of the pre-legislative process we can have it but this is our first time to engage in this process and it would be hugely beneficial to have an offline Teams or Zoom meeting in which we could be briefed on issues around the legislation prior to having to deliberate and come up with recommendations and changes that I would like to see in the legislation.
It is important to invite in the outside bodies first. It would not be much use to have the Department witnesses in first and then to have all the questions we want to ask them subsequent to that. It is often the case that when the Department responds we might decide it is a fair enough response or that it is not and we should try to amend that aspect or whatever. I believe that order is very important.
To be clear, pre-legislative scrutiny is a public event so whether we do it through Teams or in here, it is a public meeting. That is the whole point of it, unless we are saying it should be a private briefing. There are many other people who will also be interested in this legislation and, as a general rule, pre-legislative scrutiny would always be in public session. If we have a fully virtual meeting I am not sure if that is broadcast.
There is no facility for it other than that if it is held here. That creates a dilemma for the committee. Getting a private briefing on a Bill is fine; we can get that any time. Pre-legislative scrutiny is a central part of the legislative process and in general it should be done in public. For example, people who will be affected by this Bill will want to know what is involved. We do not have to make any decisions. The decisions are made when the final Bill is published and we have the Second and Committee Stage debates.
I warn members against doing pre-legislative scrutiny privately. I believed there was a facility for us to have virtual meetings that could be broadcast but I was obviously wrong.
Yes. What are members’ thoughts on that? I do not hear objections. Can we, at the next public meeting, have representatives from the Department in to give a briefing on the water abstraction Bill?
With regard to the work programme we have been trying to establish, representatives from Home for Good have requested an invitation to appear before the committee. I suggest they appear at the next public meeting after the week's recess. The recess gives us time to extend the invitation and for the representatives to prepare a submission for us.
A better way to proceed would be to have a dedicated session on the right to housing, to which various relevant bodies would be invited. Home for Good could be invited to present the findings from its research. Mercy Law Resource Centre has produced four detailed reports on the constitutional right to housing, so its representatives could also be invited. Other representatives might also be asked to attend. We are going to get flooded with requests to have meetings. Generally, the committee would establish themes and fit people in, as it has done. If we are going to have a session on the right to housing, let us invite a couple of groups. We have two weeks to set that up.
If we agree to the schedule, we will have the meeting on the water abstraction legislation next week. The following week, we will not have a meeting, and the next meeting will be on the right to housing. If this is the case, when will we get the briefings from the NGOs in respect of the water abstraction legislation?
When the committee goes online, it is private. What we do here is not just about us; it is also about the public, public knowledge and information. All of that goes on the record. Only once in the past four years did we waive public pre-legislative scrutiny. It was on a very non-controversial issue regarding which all the parties had agreed to work with the Minister. In general, we try to do this stuff publicly. We should bear in mind that we have only eight sitting weeks left from next week.
I want to follow on from what we spoke about, that is, the suggestion to have four different categories for the next four meetings. We are already thinking about the next three meetings, involving the Department, Home for Good and the other agencies, and we also have to follow up with the water NGOs. Then we are into the next four categories. That is seven.
Just to complicate matters further, we are likely to have more Government legislation although that is not yet clear. To remind members, there is a series of Opposition Bills from the last Dáil for which we have to find some room in our schedule. These are Bills from Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin, the Social Democrats, the Labour Party and others. For some of the Bills, the pre-legislative scrutiny reports have been produced, albeit by the members of the previous committee, but they have not been agreed. With regard to others, Committee Stage has to be taken, if the committee agrees. We must find space in our programme for these Bills. There is quite a lot of them.
Can we investigate the possibility of having two public meetings on the water abstraction Bill in one week? Can the clerk circulate among all the members the list of outstanding Private Members' Bills that the committee will have to consider at some point? It would be good for us to familiarise ourselves with them.
It has to be on Wednesday or Thursday because we cannot come back in here on the Tuesday, as far as I know. This limits us again.
Will we seek written submissions on this from the interested parties before we decide who to invite in? I do not know whether we will be able to get a second slot next week. If officials from the Department come before the committee next Tuesday, I do not know whether we would get a second slot on Wednesday or Thursday. It would not give enough time because ten days' notice is required.
Could we have suggestions on the groups we may invite in so we could write to them and asked them for written submissions and then decide who to invite in from that? Many people will have an interest in the water abstraction Bill. There is land throughout the country that will be used for pipelines.
I was going to suggest written submissions. I do not think we can afford to take it into the following week because of our time schedule. Is there agreement in principle among members that if we can facilitate a second public session, we will go ahead and do so but that we will agree to take written submissions if the latter is not possible? We have all proposed many topics for discussion. While I appreciate the importance of the legislation that will come before us, we cannot afford to spend two weeks on it. We can try but if that is not possible, can we agree that NGOs and interested parties can make written submissions?
I am not arguing against that. I understand the time constraints but, for example, it would have been normal for us to have four or five sessions of pre-legislative scrutiny on a big Bill. Some members will read the papers and others will not. If we have a really technical Bill, we might like to question some of the experts. My preference is to have two sessions. When the Land Development Agency Bill or the marine planning Bill come before us, we will not get away with a single session. This is for the Chairman's benefit.
Will we proceed by inviting representatives from the Department to attend the public meeting next week to look at the abstraction Bill? We will also write to the NGOs for written submissions on it. I will see whether we can get a second session on Wednesday or Thursday next week to accommodate them. It is very time constrained. I am sure the NGOs have prepared for the Bill because it is not a surprise and this is the second revision of it. For the third public session we will invite Home for Good and we will write to other groups. Deputy Ó Broin has suggested other groupings. Based on the suggestions of members, we will write to request written submissions and, on the basis of these, we will then decide who to invite to the meeting in three weeks' time. Is that agreed?
The Chairman is speaking about bringing witnesses before the committee. How many will we have? We must remember that there are restrictions. I know we, as Deputies and Senators, can cross county borders because it is necessary for us to do so but we must ask who we are bringing in and from where we are bringing them. This is important. We are telling everyone to be careful of what they are doing and stay within their boundaries. We must be very careful about what we do. I was a member of the Covid-19 committee and we had witnesses in the building. I do not know what way things will go now. The Chairman might check that. It is important that we are very careful in what we do. We have to find a balance.
We spoke about that earlier. The Secretary General has been invited to brief members on the Department's priorities. That will probably be via a Microsoft Teams meeting. Members will be notified when this has been arranged.
We will not need to worry about being in a room. It will be a briefing. Senator Boyhan said that there was an informal briefing from the Department. That will cover it.
We have five minutes left. The minutes of the previous meeting contain references to the subject matter we discussed in the context of our next four meetings. Obviously, this has changed. As legislation comes, that will change and we will need to adapt to it or try to get extra meetings. The SHD legislation, the Land Development Agency, the latent defects issue, the Minister providing an update on the programme for Government and homelessness were also mentioned. We are bringing in Home for Good and other agencies. We will write to them and they will be slotted into the second meeting. Do we still want to proceed with those objectives and start writing to the witnesses that have been suggested?
I do not see the homelessness issue as being Home for Good. Home for Good and a referendum on housing and the right to housing are tools that, it is to be hoped, would help to reduce the risk of homelessness. My understanding of what we were going to discuss in terms of homelessness was the operation and provision of homeless services - particularly from a Dublin perspective - the over-concentration of it and the increased delivery of homeless accommodation by private security firms. Those are some of the matters. I do not see Home for Good and the issue of homelessness as one and the same.
Perhaps between now and our next private session we could establish whether it is possible to have two meetings a week for a couple of the weeks after the recess. We can then fit all five of those categories in. I am with Senator Fitzpatrick. The issue of homelessness includes deaths, over-provision of services in Dublin and under-provision outside the county of Dublin. If we were able to slot in five meetings over three weeks there would be less scrambling around. I am keen to get into the teeth of this stuff. The idea would be that from the week after the recess we would try to have two meetings a week at least for a few weeks.
Yes. We need to be very careful. As I said at the last meeting, rural Ireland has to be remembered. All of the local authorities that play a huge part have to have a say. Everybody is affected by homelessness. It is important that most of the meetings are not Dublin-centred. I understand that we have to find a balance but we need to make sure that rural Ireland, including Carlow, Kilkenny, Waterford, Wexford, Limerick and other counties, are included. The discussion has to be balanced. I am adamant on that point.
We will make inquiries on that and revert to members. If a time is offered, we will have to take it and whoever can attend will do so. I thank members for their time and co-operation. The committee is adjourned until Tuesday, 20 October 2020 at 10.20 a.m., when we will meet in private session using Microsoft Teams. The next public session will be held on that date at 11 a.m.