Thursday, 22 September 2022
Tailte Éireann Bill 2022: Second Stage
Thomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
I welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. On paper, it provides for a sensible merger of three data-heavy organisations that regularly work together. I understand there is some reduction in cost, which is welcome, but I caution that we need to ensure no reduction in staffing levels across all the organisations. I am sure that many of the Deputies here have in recent months dealt with cases involving the PRA, in particular, which has large backlogs. People are left waiting for months on end for answers to queries and requests. I understand that staff are doing their best post Covid but there does not seem to be the required number of staff available to deal with the amount of work. It is not an issue I encountered before the pandemic. The Department indicated that the Bill would save money. I ask the Minister of State to consider utilising those funds to properly resource the PRA. People who are looking to purchase homes are struggling. Many of them are paying expensive rents. Delays such as this cost those people large sums that they simply cannot afford.
I ask the Minister of State to further consider the role of Tailte Éireann when identifying, managing and considering land banks, particularly public land banks. Given the organisation will oversee valuations, mapping and registration, I am concerned that a failure to include land banks management, or at the very least the management of the data on land banks, as a responsibility of the new group is an oversight. I ask him to clarify the reasoning behind this. We need to know exactly how much public land we have and where it is. When local authorities and approved housing bodies, AHBs, are looking to build housing, a database they can use to see where land is and who owns it would be a significant asset. When Deputies and councillors are reviewing local authority plans, such a resource would be of great benefit. I acknowledge it exists in some form but it is not accurate and will not come under the remit of this organisation.
I refer to the issue of dereliction and vacancy. The Minister of State is well aware that I have a particular interest in vacant properties and derelict properties and sites. The Derelict Act 1990 and the Urban Regeneration and Housing Act 2015 set out clear guidelines for the completion of a local authority registry of derelict and vacant sites. It is assumed that something similar will be introduced with the zoned land tax and, hopefully, with the vacant homes levy. These registries are great sources of information. Unfortunately, they often do not reflect the reality on the ground regarding the number of sites and the value of the sites on the register. There are currently only 95 sites on Cork city's derelict sites register and only 13 on the vacant sites register. That is not a true reflection of the dereliction and vacancy in Cork. It is a problem we are facing throughout the State. Given the roles of the three organisations involved, some support could be given to local authorities to ensure accurate registration and to assist them to keep the registers up to date.
At the end of the day, we need everyone working to solve dereliction and vacancy. While the Minister might have no intention of incorporating the valuation office into Tailte Éireann, given the data-heavy nature of the three organisations, they may have a role to play in ensuring the registers are kept up to date. We are all sick to the back teeth of hearing there are no solutions to dereliction. I believe there are. The dogs on the street know that. The reality is that we need to do more. Through the Bill, we can help to keep registries up to date, local authorities can collect levies, and the Government can provide funding and compulsory purchase orders, CPOs, for local authorities. In those ways, we could make a difference. After more than two years in government, the Minister still refuses to walk around Cork so I can show him the dereliction and vacancy that run throughout the city and county.