Dáil debates

Wednesday, 16 December 2020

Planning and Development Bill 2020 [Seanad]: Committee and Remaining Stages

 

7:45 pm

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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Amendment No. 15 has the potential to impose a charge on the Revenue and is therefore ruled out of order in accordance with Standing Order 212(3). Amendment No. 2 to amendment No. 22 and amendment No. 2 to amendment No. 3 also have the potential to impose a charge on the Revenue and therefore must be ruled out of order in accordance with Standing Order 212(3). Amendments Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, 16 to 18, inclusive, 29 and 30 are related and will all be discussed together.

NEW SECTIONS

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I move amendment No. 1:

In page 3, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:
“PART 1

PRELIMINARY AND GENERAL
Short title, collective citations and commencement

1. (1) This Act may be cited as the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act 2020.
(2) (a) The Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2019, section 9 of the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020, Part II of the European Union (Waste Water Discharge) Regulations 2020 (S.I. No. 214 of 2020) and this Act may be cited together as the Planning and Development Acts 2000 to 2020.
(b) The Building Control Acts 1990 to 2014 and section 3 may be cited together as the Building Control Acts 1990 to 2020.

(c) The Derelict Sites Act 1990 and section 3 may be cited together as the Derelict Sites Acts 1990 and 2020.

(d) Part 3* shall be included in the collective citation the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004 to 2020.
(3) Part 3* shall come into operation on 11 January 2021.".

This amends the Short Title of the Bill in a new section 1 to reflect that the Bill includes proposed amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 in addition to the Planning and Development Act 2000. In this context the amendment adds an additional collective citation to the section at a new paragraph (d) at subsection (2) so the new Part 3 concerning amendments to the Residential Tenancies Acts will be included in the collective citation of those Acts.

Subsection (3) provides that the amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act under Part 3 will come into operation on 11 January 2021. In this regard it is noted that the emergency period in Part 2 of the Residential Tenancies and Valuation Act 2020 expires on 10 January 2021. This new section 1 will replace the current section 4 in the Bill as passed by the Seanad.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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To clarify, the group includes amendments Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, 16 to 18, inclusive, and 29 and 30. Should the Minister address all those before we raise queries? That might be easier if that is the grouping.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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If Members would prefer me to do that I can speak to each of the Government's amendments and deal with queries afterwards.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Amendments Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, are pretty inconsequential compared with some others. I have some questions on amendments Nos. 16 and 29.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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We can do that. Amendment No. 2 amends the definitions for the Bill to reflect that new Parts 2 and 3 amending the Planning and Development Act 2000 and the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, respectively, provide for their own definitions for the purposes of those Parts. Therefore the definitions of general application to the Bill itself are that:

"Act of 2020" means the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020; “Covid-19” has the meaning assigned to it by the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020.".

Amendment No. 3 provides for an amendment to the Planning and Development Act 2000 as set out in the new Part 2 of the Bill titled "Planning and Development". In this context, the definition set out for the purposes of Part 2 are those references to the Act of 2000 used in that Part meaning the Planning and Development Act 2000.

Amendment No. 4 replaces the previous reference to the "Principal Act" with "Act of 2000" accordingly in section 4, which amends section 11 of the Act of 2000 concerning the holding of public meetings for the purposes of proposed development plans.

Amendments Nos. 16 to 18, inclusive, are also Government amendments. Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 are technical drafting amendments to reflect amendment No. 2, which provides that the definition of "Act of 2020" means the "Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020" and "Covid-19" has the meaning assigned to it by that Act and is of general applicability to the Bill itself. Therefore, the definitions at section 4 of the Bill are now superfluous as a result of amendment No. 2 and are now to be deleted.

Amendment No. 18 is supplementary to amendment No. 3 to reflect that the "Act of 2000" has replaced the previously referenced "Principal Act".

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I am sorry to be pedantic but amendments Nos. 29 and 30 are also in the grouping. It is unusual because they relate to the Long Title but they are in the group.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I apologise. Amendments Nos. 29 and 30 are in the grouping and are technical, supplementary and drafting amendments made to the Preamble and Title of the Bill to reflect the Government's amendments in the Bill as introduced today on Committee Stage.

Amendment No. 29 provides for the recital in Preamble of the Bill. Recitals 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 at the end of the Bill set out the policy context in which the temporary and limited restrictions contained in Part 3, Residential Tenancies, on landlords' constitutionally protected property rights can be legally justified as a fair, proportionate and rational State intervention to achieve an overriding important objective for the social common good. Part 3 of the Planning and Development Act, Residential Tenancies, will provide subject to certain conditions, enhanced protections for tenants during an emergency period from 11 January 2021 to 12 April 2021 if they have been economically impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and consequently are unable to meet their obligations under the Residential Tenancies Act to pay rent due and are at risk of tenancy termination. Recitals 1 and 2 at the end of the Bill set out the policy context to allow the Government make orders under section 3 which are emergency periods during the period of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This would extend certain statutory periods applying under the Planning and Development Acts and the Building Control Acts and the temporary and limited restrictions contained in section 14. Regarding proceedings before a tribunal under the Residential Tenancies Act 2004, the Bill provides that in the light of the prevailing public health risks, RTB tenancy tribunals are not required to be held in public until 12 April 2021.

7:55 pm

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I have two technical questions for the Minister. Can I take it from his explanation of amendment No. 16 and its relationship to the definition in amendment No. 2 that the changing of the wording in amendment No. 16 is purely typographical as opposed to having substantive significance? In effect, the Act of 2020 is indeed the Health (Preservation and Protection and Other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020, as per section 2. I ask the Minister to confirm that.

With respect to amendments Nos. 29 and 30, I am assuming that the practice of significantly extending the Long Title or the preamble is to greater protect the State and the legislation from potential constitutional challenge because it makes the constitutional and policy basis of the measures much more explicit. Is that correct?

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Deputy for those questions and I will deal with his last point first. The rationale is indeed to make it very clear from a constitutional perspective that the legislation is balancing constitutional rights but importantly, its objective is to uphold the social, common good which is obviously permitted. That is the purpose of extending the Long Title.

In response to the first question, amendment No. 16 is a drafting amendment to reflect Government amendment No. 2 which provides for "the Act of 2020". I am happy to confirm that.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I move amendment No. 2:

In page 3, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:

“Definitions

2. In this Act—"Act of 2020" means the Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020;

"Covid-19" has the meaning assigned to it by the Emergency Measures in the Public Interest (Covid-19) Act 2020.".

Amendment agreed to.

Section 1 deleted.

NEW SECTION

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I move amendment No. 3:

In page 3, between lines 23 and 24, to insert the following:
"PART 2

PLANNING AND DEVELOPMENT
Definitions (Part 2)

3. In this Part "Act of 2000" means the Planning and Development Act 2000.".

Amendment agreed to.

SECTION 2

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I move amendment No. 4:

In page 3, line 25, to delete "Principal Act" and substitute "Act of 2000".

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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Amendments Nos. 5 to 7, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together. Amendment No. 6 is a physical alternative to amendment No. 5.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I move amendment No. 5:

In page 4, to delete lines 1 to 5 and substitute the following: "(i) shall hold public meetings (except in such serious and limited circumstances as may be prescribed by law, such as an emergency period, where the holding of such a meeting is not reasonably practicable, in which case a planning authority shall make auxiliary arrangements for effective and all-embracing public consultation as it regards appropriate) and invite submissions in writing from members of the public, in relation to a proposed development plan, and".

As I said earlier, the Rural Independent Group tabled this amendment because this is a very important issue. The holding of public meetings is a fundamental part of our democratic process and our engagement with the public on planning matters. I referred earlier to the alienation of people. They are being alienated slowly but surely by big business and by the Government's inability to embrace them and engage with them. Public meetings have served us well for many decades, since the inception of our State. We acknowledge that we are currently in an emergency situation because of Covid-19 and we have allowed for that in our amendment. However, people must have the right to have a public meeting. There is nothing comparable to a public meeting. I am talking about civil, courteous public meetings. I have attended many and have chaired quite a number of such meetings. Many are held in community halls and are chaired by the chairperson of a community council or sometimes by an sagart paróiste or duine mar sin. There is great decorum and the planners come, engage, talk and listen. The odd spark might fly when people get emotional but in general, such meetings are conducted with decorum, in a proper and dignified way. People can get a better understanding of, and feeling for, a plan. They feel that they have ownership of the plan when they can ask questions and get answers. Some will be satisfied and others will go away, think further and possibly engage consultants. In general, these public meetings are very productive and attendance at them is a good civic act. We should be encouraging more of that, particularly by young people.

Younger people have no problem at all with Zoom or with remote meetings but people my age - I am 62 - and older are not as confident about attending meetings online. Anyway, as other Deputies said earlier, it is often not easy to attend online. It is not the same as being able to have physical engagement, to read people's body language and so on. Looking at a computer screen is not the same. Furthermore, people might not be able to get into a meeting when they want to and may be inhibited in that regard. Where I live in Tipperary there are approximately 24,000 homes that do not have a proper broadband service, which means the occupants are denied access to the public consultation process. They are denied completely.

I was accused by a Labour Party Deputy this morning of fomenting an urban-rural divide between Dublin and the rest of the country. I do not know what part of Dublin he represents but I believe him when he says that the broadband service in his area is very poor. Indeed, I see it when I am travelling in and out from Bray in the morning. When I am halfway in, the mobile coverage disappears completely. It has been like that for the last three or four months so there is obviously a blackspot in the middle of the city, not far from RTÉ. There are enormous problems with broadband connectivity all over the country. One could spend all of one's time trying to get a phone line or to get a phone line repaired by Eir. It is a complete no-go area.

The public must be embraced and we must honour their constitutional rights. We cannot introduce legislation like this just because of Covid-19. I have seen very little legislation repealed in my 13 or 14 years in this House. Very little legislation is ever repealed. In terms of the Covid legislation and the review clause for November, I am not sure if that applies here. I ask the Minister to clarify that but I do not think it applies. As I said, I have not seen much legislation being repealed.

It is vital that we encourage more participation by the public and that we encourage communities to come together. We have seen the way communities are being thrown together in big developments. Indeed, under Project Ireland 2040, the Governments wants them all herded into big areas and it is often very hard to get the nucleus of a community in such circumstances. People have to work very hard, the outliers and the inspirational people, to get together and develop a community. I know of estates in Tipperary town that have been without street lights, footpaths or proper sewerage for eight or nine years, which is so dangerous. There are others including Monard, An Dúiche in Scallagheen and Ardfinnan. It is unfair on people who have made the investment and bought a house. They did not ask the State to buy it for them but now they cannot get their estates taken in charge. There are problems with sewerage, water, lights and so on. These are busy people but if they want to come together to form a group and have a say, they cannot do so. Since the arrival of Covid, they cannot have meetings inside and so forth. While they were making some progress, albeit slowly, now everything is stalled. In the bigger estates that I am talking about there are 100 or more houses and not a chink of light. We are talking candles here. It is like the Peep o' Day Boys back in the time when we did not have light. The late, great Canon Hayes used to say that it is better to light one candle than to curse the dark.

These people are living in appalling conditions. Children are out in these estates where there are no lights and it is so dangerous nowadays. Cars are going through and, although there are chicanes to slow them down, huge difficulties arise. For some reason or other, Tipperary County Council did not get a bob to complete those estates from the last round of money. They are dealing with bonds in some cases but the developers have gone west or to America or Canada. It is not fair to treat people who put their hands in their pockets, got mortgages and built their homes in good faith in this way. Planning permission was granted but planning enforcement was lax or did not happen. Many cowboy builders were allowed to do what they liked.

I addressed earlier the issue of the shooting range in my area. People are afraid for their lives. It never had planning permission. It was built without it but it somehow got a licence from the Department of Justice, although it should not have. That has now been revoked by Inspector Mark Allen and Superintendent Denis Whelan. There was a prosecution and the courts gave community service to the offenders.

8:05 pm

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I am reluctant to interrupt the Deputy but he seems to be straying from the purpose of the amendment.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I am, but I am talking about embracing the community and citizens. Seán Citizen and Mary Citizen are entitled to have-----

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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The Peep o' Day Boys are gone 200-odd years. We now have the Orange Order instead.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I am sorry, who is gone?

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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The Peep o' Day Boys are gone more than 200 years. It is the Orange Order now.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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The Acting Chairman should not talk about the Orange Order or he will be in the same territory as Deputy Stanley. He should say nothing and keep an béal dúnta. I respect the Deputy as a Chairman but on the issue of the Orange Order-----

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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If the Deputy respects the Chair, he will respect the Standing Orders of the House which require him to stick to the topic.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Yes, I will. Déanfaidh mé mo dhícheall but this is very relevant for Seán Citizen or Mary Citizen.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I am not saying it is not relevant.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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It is very relevant.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I am saying the Deputy should stick to the topic of the amendment.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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It is very relevant to enforcement.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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The amendment is not about enforcement. It is about public meetings.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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The amendment is about public meetings but it will lead to enforcement at some stage if plans are enacted and the people have not had their say on them. Enforcement proceedings may arise if objections are deemed ineligible. I believe this is all relevant but I will be guided by the Acting Chairman. I respect the Chair but we will keep our discussion to the Republic. We will not go near the North at all. We have enough to look after here.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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This is not relevant either. If the Deputy wants to waffle away there, he can, but not here.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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It was the Acting Chairman who introduced the topic of the Orange Order. I do not think they have any lodges down in the South, although they have one or two in Cavan and Monaghan.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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The Peep o' Day Boys disappeared and became the Orange Order. That is a historical fact. That is all I was telling the Deputy.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I thank the Acting Chairman for the history lesson. He is a good man.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Will the Deputy stick to the Bill?

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I am sticking to the Bill. I am sticking to the legislation. It is nearly an omnibus Bill. The Minister made a liquorice allsorts of it. He put in nice bits and bad bits and hoped that the nice bits would prevent us seeing the bad bits. He also brought it in very late, in the last days of the term before Christmas. That is shameful and wrong. The Minister would rail against that if he was in opposition. I often heard him railing against matters such as this and the payment of huge fines over the past seven or eight years. He cannot have it both ways. If one cuts one's cloth, one has to wear it. He is happy to be in government and, as I said earlier, I wish him well, but it cannot be a case of do as I say, not as I do.

We will press this amendment because it is vital that the public is encouraged to participate. Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí. Mol na daoine go léir agus tiocfaidh siad. They will come and they will embrace the process. They will not be one bit happy if they are shut out from a democratic process. Why would they be? I will conclude on that, but as I have said, we will press the amendment, which we feel is reasonable. We can accept virtual meetings during a pandemic or something similar, but we want guarantees that, outside of emergencies, public meetings will take place.

Ruairi Ó Murchú (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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I will speak to amendment No. 6 in the names of Deputies Ó Broin and Cian O'Callaghan. The important thing is that we have all accepted the need to move online in these particular circumstances. It does, however, create difficulties for many people. I believe that is a fair point to make. We need to ensure that effective public participation is provided for. At this time, a number of local authorities, including Louth County Council, are drawing up development plans. Given the circumstances with regard to planning, there has been a great deal of change. I know the Minister has made a decision in this regard but I ask for some leeway and that he would come back to me on the issue. Local authorities are currently attempting to draw up development plans and are attempting to get as many people as possible involved in that process. A great amount of change is happening. There are specific issues with regard to zoning in north County Louth. It is becoming far more difficult for local people to get permission to build houses. We need to allow for a full public conversation in this regard. Submissions on the development plan need to be in by 23 December. I believe that will be a problem and I will seek an extension, if possible.

More widely, if we are talking about sustaining rural Ireland, we have to allow for areas to be able to sustain populations, schools, football teams and all of the other things that make up a community. We need to offer solutions to those living in these townlands and areas. It is difficult at this time as all they are getting are prohibitions. I accept that there is a need for careful planning and for constraints, but we need sensible solutions. Given the pandemic, it is very difficult to have that conversation at this time.

I am also aware of the workshop Meath County Council ran regarding its development plan, which Deputy O'Rourke mentioned earlier. There was an issue and a problem. Somebody complained about the lack of compliance with Covid measures. That shows the difficulties that arise as people try to tease out all of these scenarios. I call for complete support for amendment No. 6 but I also ask that the Minister look into some sort of delay as regards the development plan. Perhaps we could wait for the national development plan, which I believe is to be finalised in the second quarter of 2021. That holistic conversation could then feed into our local conversations.

We need to give people in rural areas, particularly on the Cooley Peninsula, the opportunity and ability to live in those areas. If we do not, we will literally kill off these communities and that is not good enough. I do accept that the full services available in towns cannot be provided down every bóithrín and side road but we do need a sensible solution which allows people to live in the areas in which they grew up and in which some have land. The constraints on very large amounts of lands are such that they will only be of benefit to someone who has an interest in farming. I again call for support for amendment No. 6, but I also ask that the Minister reconsider this matter.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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If this was only an emergency measure to deal with the difficulties of holding public meetings during the Covid-19 pandemic, I would support it. I am clear on the fact that it only relates to the holding of meetings at the very early, pre-plan stage. I make my comments in that context. The permanency of the Minister's proposed measures is a mistake, which is why Deputy Cian O'Callaghan and I have tabled amendment No. 6. Those early stage meetings are crucial. The difficulty is if, after Covid, we remove the mandatory requirement for local authorities to hold public meetings as well as online meetings and surveys at that early stage, a cohort of people will be excluded from the very start. This is the point at which, in many cases, the overarching strategy and core principles which will inform the plan are developed. There are people who do not have access to computers, people who have literacy difficulties and people who simply cannot or do not want to communicate in that way.

While I know the Minister is not going to accept any of the three amendments, Nos. 5, 6 and 7, I ask him to reconsider the issue of whether to continue with not requiring the holding of public meetings after the passing of Bill because I am not sure from where this permanency has come.

Clearly the managers of each local authority will discuss with the elected members the most effective form of communication. I believe that at that early stage they should be both in-person and online meetings to ensure the maximum participation.

We are having a range of interrelated discussions about problems with our planning system. I am firmly of the view that the greater the level of public participation at the earliest point in the process, the better the outcome will be for everybody. It is not that everybody will get everything they want in the final outcome, but everyone will have felt they were part of the process from the very beginning. That will also reduce the recourse to judicial reviews at a later stage. It is very often the inadequate access to public participation in various aspects of our planning process that leads people to feel that they have no other option than to seek justice through the courts.

However, it is concerning that some Members think accessing the courts is a bad thing. If people did not have access to the courts, we would not be dealing with the Derrybrien case today in the way that we are and thankfully moving forward from that. I do not advocate use of the courts; I advocate good planning. That is why the maximum public participation, including face-to-face public meetings at the very outset, is key. That is why I will be pressing amendment No. 6, but I ask the Minister to reconsider the matter in future in anticipation that these amendments fail.

8:15 pm

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael)
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This is a very important debate. Like my constituency colleague, Deputy Ó Murchú, I will speak about representations I have received from people who live in the rural community, in Cooley particularly. Today, I got an analysis from people in a running club in Cooley who are very concerned about the future membership of their club and wanting to living in the area, schools and so on. A school in Cooley, which we know quite well, lost two teachers this year because of population reduction in the area which has created a major problem for the school.

There is a serious issue in the planning process. I fully accept that given the present situation, it would be irresponsible for any local authority to hold a public meeting. It would be toxic in every respect. The issue here is broader than the public meeting. The intent is to get a public debate going and to be able to listen to and articulate the views of the communities. Such debate has been destroyed by Covid. Louth County Council is certainly doing its best to provide that Zoom meetings. Officials are available at the end of a telephone and so on. However, there is a deficit in the debate. The public meeting does not necessarily allow that to happen in the context of the interests of the people. I have been around for quite a few years and I know that with public meetings and development plans, communities do not really understand the principles involved when no proposal is before them. Deputy Ó Broin is right in saying that serious controversies arise in respect of county council section 4 appeals as they were in the past, High Court actions and judicial reviews. It is about getting the community buy-in. The motive of the public meeting and the changes, which of necessity will take place, lead into that area.

There is a democratic deficit in the engagement. I know the law is there and anyone who wants to can make those views known. It is too late now to engage the public in a new and better way. In reality people do not buy and read local newspapers much. Local radio is a very good forum for debate. I do not know if local authorities take out advertisements on billboards on the side of the road to alert people to those things. They are not too expensive to run for a couple of weeks leading up to the end of a plan period or indeed at the commencement of it to get people's voices heard.

At the end of it all, I support the intention here. Deputy Ó Murchú is saying what I am also hearing from Cooley, that communities are concerned. There are urban-based communities in and around the bigger towns. In a peninsula like Cooley, many people work in Dundalk. I do not say this in any way an insulting sense. I do not want people to misunderstand what I am saying, but they have their own engagement and their own future, separate and distinct. They want to retain that culture. They want to live in that area if they can at all.

The other point I hear strongly is that if land is zoned in development plans and it is not built on in the course of that development plan, people are saying to me that they want to live there. With that land not being developed, they need to move further away from where they would like to live. I support the programme for Government commitment that serviced sites at reasonable cost will be made available to people to live in rural communities. We need to fast-track that plan nationally for the communities which are affected by what is happening. They are also affected by Covid because they cannot travel the way that they used to. That may be a good thing in itself because it reduces commuting to work with many more people working at home. The underlying demographic issues need to be addressed.

We need to engage constructively and use our imagination in looking again at certain communities that are not totally urban-based. We need to respect, support and hold them dear. The Department of Education can provide an A to Z of the rural schools that are threatened or that are more likely to be threatened in the next four to five years. We can sustain those rural communities by ensuring a different planning regime that does not allow houses all over the place and demand for services that are unreasonable and unacceptable but at the same time nurtures and supports communities that need it and want it. That is where we need to go, and this is an important debate.

There are many benefits to holding public meetings, but it is not possible right now. The principle is right. I agree with Deputy Mattie McGrath about getting the public engagement to get them on board. We need to ensure that everybody's views are heard appropriately.

One of the problems with the Planning and Development Acts is that far too much of the power is concentrated on national policy and dictated down to the local authority, ending up with councillors in conflict with those in the local authority administration. They all believe the planning regulator will overrule whatever they want. That is not how it should be. It should be done in such a way that can identify and analyse communities and make them accountable in the infrastructure: the shops that have closed, the schools that are under threat etc. That might be a much more constructive engagement by planners and Departments.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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We are discussing Zoom meetings for county development plans. I would not be greatly in favour of them. Down through the years I have involved myself in my community in county development plans and national development plans. It is hard enough to get them to engage through public meetings not to mention Zoom-type meetings. I acknowledge it is a difficult time and we need to come up with new ideas, even though it may lead to part of the plan being delayed. Please God, this pandemic might wear off. Many issues need public debate and discussion.

Many young people in my constituency in west Cork want to set up a life in their rural communities and we need them. As the previous speaker said, our schools are closing and our sport clubs are suffering severely in rural communities, and still no one could live in a better place. I know property in west Cork is being snapped up.

In some cases people are not even coming to look at the property, such is the desire to live in a rural part of the world, which is environmentally friendly, and west Cork is in every way the perfect place for those who want to move away from crowded situations. Auctioneers I have talked to in recent months in west Cork have told me that there has been incredible demand, which they have never seen before. The bottom line is that there are still genuine applicants who need to engage properly with the process and with the development plans. They need to engage, but they have not been getting the opportunity to do so.

I have been helping some of those people to try to get their planning permission. They pass the planning stages in respect of the architectural and environmental sections, but then get stuck on the seven-year residency rule. Common sense has to apply here and that should be dropped. If someone, a young man, young woman or a young family, trying to move into a rural area shows an interest and can pass the planning stages on the architectural and environmental side of things, surely to God what is put before them then in respect of residency is like a trick card to stop those people from getting planning permission. It is unfair and it is leading to the loss of some great people in communities.

Imagine someone appointed to a rural community as a teacher, but it is necessary to travel to that community from the city or somewhere else. That is not possible. When someone gets a job, obviously their dream is to reside where they work and that is a dream and what their family would love to do. We have all had that opportunity in our time. It is, unfortunately, being refused now to these people because of a silly little clause to ensure people will be building or buying properties in and around towns and cities. This will ruin opportunities for rural communities. It is going to turn into a situation where it will not be possible to stand up and change the system and ensure that these county development plans are open and transparent in such a way as will ensure people have their chance. Opportunities on Zoom are not along that line.

I know of good housing opportunities and the Minister helped me not so long ago in respect of Bantry. I appreciate that. There is another development there which should be looked at seriously, but perhaps we will talk about opportunities like that in Bantry another day. Looking at other areas, such as Clonakilty, there is a need for 600 houses, but there is no water. There is a serious crisis there and it is something which will probably become even more so in time. I have looked at the county development plans and at a place like Ballinspittle. I have also worked with people there, but sadly there is a lack of sewerage capacity. It was some time since I looked at this, but the county development plan allows for perhaps 60 houses. It is not possible, however, to build five houses because of the issue with the sewerage capacity being full. The people there are unable to build extra houses, and that is unfair. Ballinspittle is in close proximity to Cork city, and it is very close for people who might want to work in the city and still live in a beautiful rural community.

We could also look at places like Castletownshend, Goleen and similar locations and there is also no sewerage capacity. Raw sewage is going straight into the tides. A recent report, I think it was a national report in The Irish Times, was very critical of how many towns, many in west Cork, are basically putting raw sewage into the local tides. Better engagement is needed. How that is done will have to be looked at, and that may be down to us as politicians, because it cannot all be about finger-pointing at the Minister to do everything. We as politicians have to drive it ourselves.

We must find a mechanism to drive that aspect in the context of the county development plan, so that people are interested and engage fully. I refer also to getting rid of these seven-year residential clauses which are in the planning regulations, and all this sort of silly stuff which has nothing to do with planning. We should, instead, be trying to encourage people to come into rural communities. Not everybody can buy property in west Cork because there is massive demand there now. There is also demand for people to get planning permission in a safe and environmentally friendly way, and that is being denied to those people.

We should step up to the mark and encourage people to come to live in rural communities, and not discourage them by having planning clauses which are unfair. They should be and have been challenged in the courts, and in some cases have been overturned. People, however, need an opportunity. When it comes to the county development plan, I ask every man, woman and young person in this country to engage in the process. We must ensure that they can do so, however, and that they are well aware of this. If that means the local newsletter or newspapers, that is how we must get awareness of this aspect across. We must give people every opportunity that we can. I appreciate having had this opportunity to speak on this issue.

8:25 pm

Richard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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I like to simplify things and I will put things into perspective for the Minister. I will use the GAA as a model to do statistics from a rural point of view. I refer to the Minister's good friend, John Cregan, who is the chairman of the county board in Limerick, where we won an All-Ireland this year. These statistics will show us the fall-off in people playing sport in rural clubs. Two parishes had to join to form the club close to me, which is Granagh-Ballingarry. Going across the N20, there is Shamrock Gaels, which is the joining together of Banogue and Dromin-Athlacca. In the west, Croagh and Rathkeale have joined together. Those were all separate clubs, which have now had to join together to field teams in rural community settings.

We can then look at those areas and ask why those clubs had to join together. A related question is why people want to move to rural areas. The first reason concerns peace and quiet and the second is for the fresh air. Anyone who gets planning permission in County Limerick, however, must adhere to rules in respect of sight lines in the area within 10 km of the site. It is also necessary to pass environmental controls, so that a proposed building is not in a flood plain and the ground which is being built upon is able to take the sewerage system being put in. No burden, therefore, is being placed on the State. If we flip that situation around, however, Governments in recent years have put tariffs in place and changed the laws regarding farming.

Farmers, because of all the regulations and stipulations which have been changed, often need to sell a site for some of the upgrades required in their own farming unit to make them compliant. Some farmers are small and some are larger, but many do not have the amount of money required to upgrade to become compliant with the regulations, so that they can feed us with food products. Those farmers are under the regulations of the Government. The 2040 plan, therefore, is not only going against people who want to live in a rural area. People want to set up businesses in rural areas, and people are required to go out there to get the infrastructure in place, so that it will be worth investing in because we will have extra people in our communities. That will be good for our local schools and shops, as well as for those who want to set up businesses in such areas.

Let us turn then to look at a model such as that used in Croom, where a powerful amount of work has been done. There is a new school, although the new plan for the road shows a line straight through that €20 million school, which has just been obtained. After many years of trying to get that school, a route and a corridor has now been put through it. All things happen, however, and we get over them. What has been done in Croom is that there has been investment in 60 new houses and a new primary care centre. The main thing which Croom Community Development Association, CCDA, has done, however, has been to look for businesses to come onto the streets of the town and for residential accommodation over those business premises. If that residential accommodation was all put in one area, though, all the voids covered and businesses invited to come in, Croom alone would still not be enough to sustain them. It would be the people from the surrounding areas who would come into Croom who would make the endeavour sustainable. The CCDA development plan is now seeking businesses on the ground floors and residential accommodation on top to meet the housing need, and that is what is being done by future developments.

I have referred to what is happening in Croom itself. If people want to live outside the town, in an area like where I am from, they will want to be able to build a house. I have four sons and a grandson. Perhaps they do not all want to stay here, and maybe they all want to go. I would like there to be a choice, however, so that if one of my sons wants to live in a rural area, I could help to accommodate that wish by helping him to build a future in an area.

The 2040 plan, as currently drafted, does not cover that. This is where we are going wrong. I am from rural Ireland. People from rural Ireland who want to build in a rural setting should have the same entitlements as people who want to build in a town or city. The people who build in rural Ireland do not put upon infrastructure such as sewerage or water systems because they have to put in place their own systems. They pay through the nose for everything they do. All they are asking is that those who want to build in a rural setting be allowed to do so. In doing so, they will have to comply with every regulation put in place to date. In return, they will help promote businesses that want to move to rural settings and local GAA clubs such as in Limerick, which won the all-Ireland hurling final this year. They give back all of the time.

I call on the Minister to delay this process. Let us change the process. Let us enhance the lives of people living in rural areas such that they can be viable within their own areas. I accept that all of the necessary infrastructure is not in place to support the provision of bus services and so on but if one puts people into rural areas it then becomes viable for them to put in place a bus service. In preventing all of this happening, the Government is restricting the future of my family. That is not right. Every family and every person is entitled to live in whatever area they want to live in if compliant with all of the regulations the Government has put in place.

I mentioned earlier that there are 23 Independents, all from outside city areas. This in itself should inform the Government that what it has been doing for the last number of years is wrong. People in rural settings are putting in Independents to have their voices brought to the table. The parties are not allowing them to be heard because they are under the Whip. That is a serious problem. People like me left the party system and worked tirelessly and hard in our communities to get here to voice rural opinion and to ask the Government to change many of the regulations and stipulations it has put in place that are killing rural Ireland. As I said before, we are being taxed to the limit for infrastructure that the Government wants to put in place in other areas. I am asking the Minister to give back to rural Ireland, to give back to rural Limerick, and to take a look at what J.P. McManus does.

8:35 pm

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I must ask the Deputy to return to the purpose of the amendment.

Richard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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I am speaking to the amendment.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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The Deputy is straying a long way from it at this stage.

Richard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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I am not straying at all. If it was not for J.P. McManus, St. Joseph's Foundation would not exist in rural Ireland. We would not have half of the infrastructure we have in Limerick but for that person. No Government has ever-----

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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The amendments are about public meetings. I ask the Deputy to address the issue of public meetings.

Richard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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I will. People from the private sector are investing in Limerick to make a difference. They are putting in place in Limerick services that should be provided by the Government. That is the point I am making. Under the current plan, there will be no housing or infrastructure development in places like Limerick. It is an awful pity that we have to depend on people from the private sector for services that the Government should be providing. That point is relevant to the legislation we are debating now.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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We are debating public meetings.

Richard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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We are debating the 2040 plan.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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We are not. We are specifically dealing with amendments Nos. 5 to 7, inclusive.

Richard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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Yes, I know that.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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The amendments relate to public meetings. I ask the Deputy to stick to the point or I will be forced to move on.

Richard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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That is fine. I have made my point, namely, that I am entitled to live in a rural setting just as other people are entitled to live in a city. If that means I am out of order, I will sit down now.

Photo of Aengus Ó SnodaighAengus Ó Snodaigh (Dublin South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I did not say the Deputy was out of order in relation to that point. I gave him a lot of leeway and I then asked him to return to the point and the purpose of the amendments, which do not reference any of the points the Deputy raised. In fairness to other Deputies, they did mention public meetings and the connection with the planning process. Deputy O'Donoghue was straying a long way from that and I was reminding him of that.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I will try to be brief because I am conscious there are many other amendments coming up on other important aspects of this Bill. I ask for a serious response from the Minister on the issue of public meetings. I support amendments Nos. 5 and 6. There are good suggestions in both amendments and they revolve around the importance of public meetings and the involvement of the public in the development of a county development plan. Interestingly, Deputy Mattie McGrath and I do not always agree-----

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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What is seldom is wonderful.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Absolutely. Here we are ad idemin warning the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien - I am being deadly serious about this - about something that the great revolutionary and philosopher, Karl Marx, called "alienation". It is a very real thing. If the Minister wants to know the modern definition of "alienation" in the midst of Covid, it is "If I have to attend another Zoom meeting, I'll scream." We all know that feeling. Zoom is a good technology. Teams is a good technology. It has its uses and it can even expand public consultation but it is not a substitute for real human beings gathering together to discuss their area, their future and the planning of our society. The idea that an emergency measure, which would allow the suspension of public meetings and is necessary during Covid-19, would become a permanent measure and be described as "modernisation" is wrong. It is wrong-headed.

Amendment No. 5 also suggests the inclusion of the word "and". It would be fine if the legislation stated that the local authorities would organise online meetings "and a public meeting". That might genuinely expand participation in county development plans. For local authorities to have the option not to have public meetings is a retrograde step. It sets a precedent, which I would not like to see, and it presents a real danger in my opinion. For all of the good things about Teams, Zoom and virtual meetings and so on, they should not become a substitute for real, physical gatherings of people to discuss things that matter to them, including the future planning of their local areas.

The analogy with Marx is a strong one. As the person who developed the concept of alienation and warned how certain modern industrial practices could lead to ever greater alienation of human beings from one another, the first practical campaign he got involved in was in regard to a decision to enclose forest land that had been open to all the rural people to gather wood. That had been the history. The forests were common and the people of rural Germany could collect firewood for their homes. In the 1840s, there was a move to fence off that land so it was no longer possible for people who did not own those forests to gather the wood. There was a huge campaign against that. The modern equivalent of that is rezoning, which is one of the things that happens in county development plans.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Not at this stage of the plan.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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They discuss plans to rezone lands. They also need to acquaint people with the process, which many people do not understand. There is a huge deficit of participation in these things.

On many occasions l have seen last-minute proposals for rezoning of land, sometimes from members of the Minister's party, where there has been no consultation. The public often alert us to such moves. During a Zoom meeting, funnily enough, a young person who is developing technology warned me about what used to be a small pitch and putt course in my area, in Johnstown. I did not know who owned it. It was owned by a community collective and somebody has fenced it off for the last 12 years. I had not noticed it because it was hidden behind other buildings. That individual in that community suspects the council is going to try to go for adverse possession of that site. I will be watching out to see if there is an attempt to rezone that land in the development plan that is being discussed at the moment.

It is at public meetings that things like that tend to come out, where real human beings meet each other and chat and discuss what is going on in their area. That is how those things come out. This change is not a good thing. I would say yes to holding public meetings and online meetings but no to online meetings becoming a substitute for real public meetings. The amendment from Deputy Mattie McGrath and his colleagues is good in that it argues for a more proactive approach in local authorities, which would actively seek the participation of the community and the public in the development plan. That does not happen enough. There is enough alienation from these things, there is not enough public participation and both of these amendments are absolutely right. I ask the Minister to respond genuinely. He will say that this only relates to this stage or that stage but I do not see how he can suggest the possible elimination of public meetings at any stage in the development of county development plans. That is a retrograde move which I oppose.

8:45 pm

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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We have gone from J.P. McManus to Karl Marx in a single leap. While I support the other amendments, I want to speak to amendment No. 7 because we want to ensure this is not a long-lasting provision within the Act. To make reference to what has been said already, the development plan is effectively the constitution of the city or county in which one lives. There is often an underappreciation on the part of the citizens of that city or county of how significant it is. The Minister will know that one of the few functions of real power a councillor has is to rezone land. The development plan is the overarching plan for a city, within which it is very difficult to get a planning application, or it is what planners in each individual county or city will refer to when granting planning permission.

I did not intend to make a political point but I will make one anyway. If we go back through the history of the State to when there were tribunals of inquiry into the grubby dealings of backhanders and brown envelopes and all the rest of it, at the heart of that whole dynamic was the development plan of the city or county in question. My party was never involved in such dealings but that was what broke an awful lot of people's confidence in the political system because councillors were taking bribes to vote in a particular way in order to rezone land. I know the Minister agrees with me on my next point. The Act relating to strategic housing developments has taken much of this planning out of the councils' remit. Any development of more than 100 units goes straight to An Bord Pleanála and it does not have to adhere as strictly to the development plan. The Minister and others mentioned judicial reviews. Often the only recourse communities have is to go to the High Court to seek a judicial review, if they have the money. Not every community has the money or the means to go to the High Court and seek a judicial review on the basis of a decision made by An Bord Pleanála, unless it has a very high chance of success. The repercussions for a community or someone's own pocket are huge if that review does not go well. I have been involved in two such reviews and both of them were relatively successful.

My point is about the sanctity of the development plan. All citizens must understand how incredibly important it is. It is also about that essential democratic link which so often happens at council level. The Minister knows this as he has served on a county council himself. So many powers are vested in the executives. The executives have so much power and councillors often complain about the lack of powers they have. There is an essential democratic connection between individual citizens and the councillors they elected to craft this development plan and to stand over it. That is the context in which planning permissions are given because it was the councillors elected by the people who formulated the plan and they are the only ones who get to rezone or sell land. That consultation, knowledge and power, and the empowerment of the public to know that, is absolutely essential.

We cannot demand of any council official, council employee or council worker to put his or her health or life at risk during a pandemic in order to do what has always been done. We accept that. However, there must be an understanding within the Act that this is an emergency measure that will come to an end and that the Minister will do that by order. There must be a given date after which this practice of Zoom meetings and so on will no longer be expected. We have to absolutely accept the essential connectivity of democratically elected councillors and the sacred trust they have from the people in crafting something that is based on that trust and not on an envelope of money they may have gotten in a pub. That has happened in the past and powers have been stripped from councillors and elected officials because of that practice but this is an essential function of theirs. The importance of the development plan and its process has to be something every single citizen understands inasmuch as they possibly can.

I acknowledge that the Minister is against the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016 and wants to see the back of it. When legislation like that, which overrides the development plan, comes in we have to try to explain to elected councillors at public meetings that because a development has over 100 units it does not go to the council or the planners who know the dynamics of the area and who have to adhere to the development plan. It goes to An Bord Pleanála, which is an independent planning board and the only recourse people have if they want to do something about it is to take a High Court case. We all represent areas with planners and legal people living in them who do these things and have this expertise. If someone lives in an area of disadvantage, a developer can come in and override the process by sticking in a planning application for over 100 units, which goes straight to An Bord Pleanála. If An Bord Pleanála gives permission, the only recourse the community has is to go to the High Court. It must have the money to do that and that is the democratic deficit within this. One needs the money to go the High Court and if people do not have it they are not going to get anywhere. That has always been my major objection to the Act relating to strategic housing developments, because it meant communities were locked out of their say and their proper representation at the planning stage.

Without elongating my speech as others have, and without getting down and dirty on the rights or otherwise of tax exiles, who we would rather just paid their taxes and helped us all get through this pandemic rather than picking and choosing their own pet projects in the places they are from-----

Richard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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When the Deputy comes and employs people in our county, we will talk to him.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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-----it is important that we get back to the reason we are here, which is to defend democracy and defend that essential link between individual citizens and the people they elect to oversee the development plans of a city and a county.

8:55 pm

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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My amendment No. 6 would allow for public meetings and for online meetings and would provide for public meetings not to take place during emergency periods, such as Covid. It is essentially about good decision-making in the development plan process, which is very important. If we are to have good decision-making, we need the public to be well informed on it. I do not believe any of us could say with confidence that the public has a good understanding of development plan processes. We need to do more to ensure greater public participation in the process. We need to ensure that decision-making in that process is not developer-led and is not led by land speculation and a well informed public is key to this. Any measures towards less participation are going in the wrong direction. We need to enhance participation and knowledge in the process. I ask the Minister to address this point in his response. He has stated it relates to the early stages of the process, which it does. Is there any instance of anyone who designs good public participation processes who does not say that early engagement is key to good public participation? Everything I have ever heard from or read by people involved in these processes states that early engagement is key in public participation. Why would one seek to dilute that in this process? If there has not been sufficient attendance at meetings in the early stages of the process, the answer is to better promote these public meetings, not to scrap them.

If this measure is brought in without my amendment and if public meetings are made optional, virtually every council will drop them. There is an issue of us meeting, engaging in person and having that human interaction and then proposing a situation in which what is good enough for us is not good enough for the public in respect of the early engagement of the development plan process.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Many points have been raised this evening and while I will not stray into all of them, this is not to diminish the points that are probably more appropriate to another debate on rural regeneration, development and planning, and the town and village centre first concept. I will be happy to engage with Deputies on it. There is a strong and robust plan for that in the programme for Government. We believe in rural regeneration, there is no question about that. For the information of the House, I am undertaking a review of the rural planning guidelines. Deputies, be they from Limerick or Louth, will be aware that the written statements on rural housing policies that are adopted in local authority development plans are a matter for the councils and the councillors themselves by way of a reserve function. That is also important because each area is different and has unique characteristics, whether social or geographic. I am also carrying out a quite detailed review of Gaeltacht planning. I have engaged with Conradh na Gaeilge and others and we are moving quite quickly. I am happy that we would have a specific discussion on this early in the new year that is not based around legislation. That would be useful. In not addressing points which Members have made, whether it is about pitch and putt clubs in Johnstown or Karl Marx and forests, it does not mean that I am diminishing those contributions or that there is not merit in some of the points raised; it is just that I am going to try to stick to the relevant amendments which were put down.

The idea that elements of the Bill are about alienating people is a pretty far leap. We need to understand what we are talking about here. We are not talking about banning public meetings or anything like that, we are looking at the pre-draft stage of the development plan. At that specific area, zonings are not discussed and submissions on zonings cannot be made under an amendment to the planning legislation made in 2010. They are strategic meetings.

I will discuss the amendments themselves, which Deputies have gone to the bother of preparing and putting forward. I refer to amendment No. 5, as tabled by Deputies Mattie McGrath, Nolan, O'Donoghue, Danny Healy-Rae, Michael Healy-Rae and Michael Collins, amendment No. 6 tabled by Deputies Cian O'Callaghan and Ó Broin and No. 7 tabled by Deputy Ó Ríordáin on behalf of the Labour Party. Each seeks by various means to instigate that a mandatory meeting be held at the earliest stage of the preparation of the development plan by the planning authority except in a prescribed emergency period such as that necessitated by the present pandemic. Amendment No. 7 proposed that such provisions only apply during the emergency period. While I understand the intention behind the proposed changes, I will not accept the amendments, as some Members predicted. What I will do, however, is keep it under advisement. I believe we are taking the right approach. If I am proven wrong, I have no problem reverting. I heard the impassioned contributions of Deputies Mattie McGrath and Boyd Barrett. At least something to come out of this evening is that Deputies McGrath and Boyd Barrett are ad idem, so it has not been a completely wasted exercise. Maybe the Christmas spirit has arrived early.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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It is a pity the Minister would not get some Christmas spirit.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Many Members have complained that the work is being done the day before the Christmas recess, as though we are not supposed to be working.I do not see what the point is.It is a day when the Dáil is sitting and rightly so, when we are working and of course we should.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Where are all the Minister's colleagues?

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Most of us will be working right through to next week. I am not 100% sure what the point was that some Deputies were making. It is complex but important legislation and there is a suggestion that there is something wrong with it being introduced in December.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Every year, it is the same.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I do not really understand the point and maybe those who made it can explain it later in the evening.

Section 11(3) relates to the initial stage of the development plan review process. The stage is undertaken before a pre-draft or a draft plan has been prepared by the planning authority and can best be described as the stage when the initial relevant issues and topics are identified for further more detailed consideration in the subsequent plan preparation process. For this initial strategic issue stage, planning authorities expend substantial effort and resources preparing and publishing many written issues, documents, papers, reports, exhibition, information materials, videos, questionnaires. All Members should be aware of this if they have attended these meetings at a pre-draft stage, as I am sure some have.

I see Deputy Boyd Barrett nodding his head. I am certain that he has attended such meetings and will understand exactly what I am saying. He will also agree, I am sure, that those meetings are for the purpose of assisting the public in preparing their submissions on issues of concern, not necessarily for politicians, as Deputy Mattie McGrath said, to be chairing them. Politicians would not be chairing those meetings, nor should they be. Nor, indeed, I would hope, should politicians be endeavouring to take over any such meetings and maybe drive a local issue in order to garner support for themselves. I am certain that none of the Members who have contributed this evening would dream of doing something like that at any stage. I am certain Deputy Boyd Barrett would not do so.

9:05 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Nor your good self.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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In the traditional public meeting format-----

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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The Minister is goading.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputy is easily goaded. In the traditional meeting format, not everyone wishes to speak, unlike in here, and often those who do speak may seek to dominate the meeting with specific-interest issues only. Despite the intention of section 11(3)(b) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 being to focus on the strategic and not the specific - the Deputy pointed that out and he is correct - it is also the case that there is no mechanism or obligation for what is said at a public meeting to be taken on board, as submissions need to be made in writing through completing a questionnaire or some other form of feedback. Increasingly, and rightly so, local authorities are moving to efficient online platforms for public display of information, with presentations that may be pre-recorded as well as capacity for online receipt of written submissions. This approach has facilitated citizens to participate in consultation processes from their own homes and at a time of their choosing.

There seems to have been some type of trend within some of the comments this evening to the effect that, depending on where people live or what age they are, they may have less knowledge or ability to access information electronically. I completely reject that. The approach I outlined has facilitated citizens, as I said, to participate in the consultation process at a time of their choosing. It also serves to generate written submissions that can be properly recorded and reviewed by the planning authority. That approach also particularly facilitates those members of the public who may be otherwise excluded from attending a public meeting or for whom it may be inconvenient to attend as a result of a disability, caring responsibilities, employment or any other commitment. While every effort is made to hold multiple meetings at different times of the day, evening and week, as we have all experienced, and in accessible venues, in order to ensure that as many people as possible have the opportunity to attend, this can then serve to dilute what already tends to be a very limited audience for consideration of pre-draft plan issues. Members will agree that the audience for most of these meetings is extremely limited at the pre-draft plan issue stage.

In fact, at that stage of a development plan process, the experience has been that people are more willing to engage remotely. We have experience of that now with online processes, and that has accelerated as a result of the Covid-19 crisis. Throughout the Covid-19 period, my officials have been engaging directly with senior planning staff in the planning authorities in seeking to keep the planning system open and operational, in particular through an ongoing dialogue with a subcommittee of the County and City Management Association. It was through this forum that local authorities highlighted the difficulties in conducting a public meeting, as required by section 11(3)(b) of the 2000 Act, during the period of the pandemic public health restrictions. They also conveyed their experience of the very limited attendance at, and value of, the traditional public meeting at the early strategic issue stage of the development plan preparation process. As this is the case with the specific change to section 11(3)(b), which relates to the pre-draft stage and the non-zoning or submission stage, greater levels of valuable public engagement were considered to be derived from written and digital submissions where citizens can examine prepared material and information in their own time and, accordingly, submit issues and matters of concern in detail.

It is, therefore, considered appropriate that it should be an option for some, or all, of the early-stage public consultation stage of a development plan process to be facilitated to take place either online or in person and to extend this beyond the current Covid-19 restrictions, with such decisions to be made locally. We are not giving a directive in this regard. We will probably find that many of those meetings will be a hybrid version, with an online streaming element plus a public attendance, but that cannot happen right now due to the pandemic. To be fair, Members on all sides of the House have recognised that. However, I reject any idea that this provision, in some very strange way, is a way of trying to alienate people. It does not rule out holding public meetings or a combination of a meeting and an online engagement. Rather, it allows for a much greater focus, greater efficiency, which we should be looking for in our system, and greater flexibility, in order to encourage, as some Members have sought, increased public participation in the development plan process. That is certainly what I, as Minister, want to see. It is for these reasons that I will, and must, oppose amendments Nos. 5 to 7, inclusive.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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Again, I am disappointed that the Minister would simply refuse these amendments, just like that. As for the lecture on alienation, I wonder what his own party is doing so wrong that its language is not working when it comes to the polls. It has alienated quite a lot of people. Then we got the lecture about us holding public meetings. It is true that I often chaired public meetings-----

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I know the Deputy is speaking to the amendments but I ask him to bear in mind that it is very late. We have time but I remind him to speak to the amendments.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I am speaking to the amendments, which the Minister has replied to and rejected. I am just saying that I attended and chaired many public meetings as a layperson before ever I was in politics. I am not suggesting that politicians would do that when they are in power. The Minister suggested that we would be trying to garner support or whatever. We did not go around north Dublin setting trees the day before an election, like his former colleague, Ray Burke, did. He should look to his own party's history and not be lecturing us. I was a member of his wonderful organisation and I know all about what went on there.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I ask the Deputy to avoid mentioning names and to stick to the topic.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I am replying to the Minister. He has replied to the points we made. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle herself mentioned alienation.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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If the Deputy would stick to the amendment, I will not be interrupting him again.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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The amendment proposes to have public meetings and the Minister has set his face against it. He is talking about hybrids and whatever else. He should remember that I did not go to Germany and I did not go down to see J. P. McManus. We are lucky to have J.P. McManus. I am sticking to the amendment and the issues around it, which is about keeping the public engaged. Ní neart go cur le chéile. We have to keep them engaged with us.

I am very disappointed that the Minister will not accept our amendment and has set his face against accepting any amendments. He said we are complaining about having this debate so late and so close to Christmas. I am complaining about that. I would like to ask the Minister where all his own backbenchers are. Are they not interested at all in the planning process in Tipperary or any other county? Cá bhfuil siad go léir? Tá siad imithe. We are here to talk about the Bill and I am making the point that it is rushed. It happens year in and year out that legislation is rushed into the House on the last days of a term, with no pre-legislative scrutiny and no proper debate, which is what we need. I will be pressing our amendment.

Richard O'Donoghue (Limerick County, Independent)
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I want to pull the Minister up on one of the points he made. He said that he does not believe anyone will be alienated by the proposed public consultation process. The public consultation on the N20-M20 project, as the Minister knows, is under way at the moment. Due to the general data protection regulation, GDPR, requirements, letters could not be sent out to 5,000 householders to let them know the routes that were involved. There was a flyer-type system for getting the information out to households but it went to only 10% of the houses. People were ringing me to ask why they did not get a letter and why only two people in their community got it. Then it was decided to put the information in the local newspapers, including the Vale Star, the Weekly Observer, the Limerick Postand the Limerick Leader, where it got an uptake from people in the area who are not on social media, YouTube or whatever it is called, and all those other things. There are people in Ireland who do not need smartphones. There are people who do not hear about things unless they read about them in the newspaper.

They are sick of looking at television. They say it puts them to sleep because of all the spin. People in the Minister's area may be on social media, but people in my area get the newspapers. This is relevant to this amendment. The statistics show that newspaper circulation in our area has never dropped. The Minister might think we are backward because we read the papers. We have four newspapers in my area. Their circulation has never dropped because people in the community like to read them. They are not all on social media. The Minister is wrong about how to get information out to people.

I went back to the design team and explained this to them. The design team had to put this in the newspapers. They apologised because under the current system they could not send a letter to the 5,000 houses affected. I believe Deputy O'Brien is a good Minister. I believe he will listen and do the right thing. I ask him to look at this through my eyes. I will not look at it through his, because he is dealing with a different scenario. If he wants to see something through my eyes, he is welcome to visit. We can accommodate two households in our house under the rules. He can see the difference in connectivity between the different areas.

Project Ireland 2040 was already voted on by the previous Government, led by Fine Gael and supported by Fianna Fáil. People were not allowed a free vote on it. I ask the Government to have an open vote on the plan. Let people throughout the country see who votes for it and who does not. Do not apply a whip. Let there be a free vote. Let people in rural settings see what their Deputies think. Let this be the responsibility of each individual Deputy.

I will finish on a point someone else raised earlier. I will welcome any person who comes to my county and provides 2,500 jobs and five disability services. I will not hear criticism from a Deputy who would not know my area if he passed through it. I would welcome ten more like J.P. McManus, given what he has done for Limerick.

9:15 pm

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I wish to make one point by way of clarification. Section 11(3)(b) of the 2000 Act will encourage any type of communication. It will certainly not preclude advertisements in newspapers or whatever methods will work in any given area. In fact, I would encourage that. The Deputy may not know my area in north County Dublin. There is a large rural area with several rural villages. It is a unique setting within Dublin. I was in Limerick in the last few days. I take his point. This is not an attempt to drive people onto social media or any other mechanism. We are trying to encourage engagement with the planning and development process, which can be done under section 11(3)(b) by way of advertisements in local media or any other media.

Amendment put:

The Dáil divided: Tá, 52; Níl, 80; Staon, 0.


Tellers: Tá, Deputies Mattie McGrath and Richard O'Donoghue; Níl, Deputies Brendan Griffin and Jack Chambers.

Chris Andrews, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Pat Buckley, Holly Cairns, Sorca Clarke, Joan Collins, Michael Collins, Rose Conway-Walsh, Réada Cronin, Seán Crowe, Pa Daly, Paul Donnelly, Dessie Ellis, Mairead Farrell, Michael Fitzmaurice, Kathleen Funchion, Thomas Gould, Johnny Guirke, Marian Harkin, Alan Kelly, Martin Kenny, Claire Kerrane, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Mattie McGrath, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Johnny Mythen, Gerald Nash, Carol Nolan, Cian O'Callaghan, Richard O'Donoghue, Louise O'Reilly, Darren O'Rourke, Eoin Ó Broin, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Ruairi Ó Murchú, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Maurice Quinlivan, Patricia Ryan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Duncan Smith, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín, Pauline Tully, Mark Ward, Jennifer Whitmore, Violet Wynne.

Níl

Cathal Berry, Colm Brophy, James Browne, Richard Bruton, Colm Burke, Peter Burke, Mary Butler, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Seán Canney, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Jack Chambers, Niall Collins, Patrick Costello, Barry Cowen, Michael Creed, Cathal Crowe, Cormac Devlin, Alan Dillon, Stephen Donnelly, Francis Noel Duffy, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Frank Feighan, Joe Flaherty, Charles Flanagan, Seán Fleming, Norma Foley, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Seán Haughey, Martin Heydon, Emer Higgins, Neasa Hourigan, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, John Lahart, James Lawless, Brian Leddin, Michael Lowry, Josepha Madigan, Catherine Martin, Paul McAuliffe, Helen McEntee, Michael McGrath, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Eoghan Murphy, Verona Murphy, Denis Naughten, Hildegarde Naughton, Malcolm Noonan, Darragh O'Brien, Joe O'Brien, Jim O'Callaghan, James O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Kieran O'Donnell, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Roderic O'Gorman, Christopher O'Sullivan, Pádraig O'Sullivan, Marc Ó Cathasaigh, Éamon Ó Cuív, Anne Rabbitte, Neale Richmond, Michael Ring, Eamon Ryan, Matt Shanahan, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, Ossian Smyth, David Stanton, Robert Troy, Leo Varadkar.

Amendment declared lost.

9:30 pm

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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I move amendment No. 6:

In page 4, lines 2 and 3, to delete “or an online public meeting) as it considers appropriate” and substitute “and online public meetings) to ensure effective public participation is provided for, but any such requirement to hold a public meeting shall not apply if an order under section 3(2)of the Planning and Development Act 2020applies at the time to the administrative area”.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Photo of Aodhán Ó RíordáinAodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
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I move amendment No. 7:

In page 4, between lines 7 and 8, to insert the following: “(2) The amendment effected by subsection (1)shall continue in operation until the date specified by order under section 251A(4) of the Principal Act.”.

Amendment put:

The Dáil divided: Tá, 52; Níl, 79; Staon, 0.


Tellers: Tá, Deputies Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and Duncan Smith; Níl, Deputies Brendan Griffin and Jack Chambers.

Chris Andrews, Richard Boyd Barrett, John Brady, Pat Buckley, Holly Cairns, Sorca Clarke, Joan Collins, Michael Collins, Rose Conway-Walsh, Réada Cronin, Seán Crowe, Pa Daly, Paul Donnelly, Dessie Ellis, Mairead Farrell, Michael Fitzmaurice, Kathleen Funchion, Thomas Gould, Johnny Guirke, Marian Harkin, Alan Kelly, Martin Kenny, Claire Kerrane, Pádraig Mac Lochlainn, Mattie McGrath, Denise Mitchell, Imelda Munster, Catherine Murphy, Paul Murphy, Johnny Mythen, Gerald Nash, Carol Nolan, Cian O'Callaghan, Richard O'Donoghue, Louise O'Reilly, Darren O'Rourke, Eoin Ó Broin, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, Ruairi Ó Murchú, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Maurice Quinlivan, Patricia Ryan, Seán Sherlock, Róisín Shortall, Duncan Smith, Brian Stanley, Peadar Tóibín, Pauline Tully, Mark Ward, Jennifer Whitmore, Violet Wynne.

Níl

Cathal Berry, Colm Brophy, James Browne, Richard Bruton, Colm Burke, Peter Burke, Mary Butler, Thomas Byrne, Jackie Cahill, Dara Calleary, Seán Canney, Ciarán Cannon, Joe Carey, Jennifer Carroll MacNeill, Jack Chambers, Niall Collins, Patrick Costello, Barry Cowen, Michael Creed, Cathal Crowe, Cormac Devlin, Alan Dillon, Francis Noel Duffy, Bernard Durkan, Damien English, Frank Feighan, Joe Flaherty, Charles Flanagan, Seán Fleming, Norma Foley, Brendan Griffin, Simon Harris, Seán Haughey, Martin Heydon, Emer Higgins, Neasa Hourigan, Heather Humphreys, Paul Kehoe, John Lahart, James Lawless, Brian Leddin, Michael Lowry, Josepha Madigan, Catherine Martin, Paul McAuliffe, Helen McEntee, Michael McGrath, Aindrias Moynihan, Michael Moynihan, Jennifer Murnane O'Connor, Eoghan Murphy, Verona Murphy, Denis Naughten, Hildegarde Naughton, Malcolm Noonan, Darragh O'Brien, Joe O'Brien, Jim O'Callaghan, James O'Connor, Willie O'Dea, Kieran O'Donnell, Patrick O'Donovan, Fergus O'Dowd, Roderic O'Gorman, Christopher O'Sullivan, Pádraig O'Sullivan, Marc Ó Cathasaigh, Éamon Ó Cuív, Anne Rabbitte, Neale Richmond, Michael Ring, Eamon Ryan, Matt Shanahan, Brendan Smith, Niamh Smyth, Ossian Smyth, David Stanton, Robert Troy, Leo Varadkar.

Amendment declared lost.

Section 2, as amended, agreed to.

SECTION 3

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Amendments Nos. 8 to 12, inclusive, are related and may be discussed together.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 8:

In page 4, line 17, to delete “appropriate” and substitute “essential”.

Amendments Nos. 8 to 12, inclusive, relate to section 3 of the Bill, and specifically to powers being given to the Minister to extend emergency periods applying, for example, to planning decisions of a local authority or An Bord Pleanála or, indeed, public consultations of various kinds. Obviously, this is a measure relating to Covid-19 and, therefore, Opposition Deputies are minded to support the intention. However, we have a number of significant concerns with the way in which these powers have been outlined.

On first reading the Bill and when I listened to the debate in the Seanad-----

9:40 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Tá sé deacair an Teachta a chloisteáil. Deputies, can we have a little co-operation? My apologies, Deputy Ó Broin.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Thank you, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. On first reading the Bill and after listening to the debate in the Seanad, the circumstances in which the Minister was intending to use these powers were not quite clear, but having discussed it with his officials there are, in principle, two key areas where the powers outlined in the sections of the Bill to which these amendments relate could be used. The first would be a case where a local authority's planning department has a reduced staffing capacity because of Covid-19 absences. In that context it might be difficult for the local authority to be able to meet its statutory timelines in terms of a grant of planning permission. It is likewise with the board. The second would be circumstances where, if the Covid-19 infection numbers at some stage next year were to deteriorate, there might be a decision to apply a local lockdown, possibly a level 5 plus, with additional restrictions, on a county or a region rather than State-wide. The difficulty is that the sections of the Bill, as drafted, are very broad and give the Minister massive discretion to apply these powers. Some of us worry that they could be applied in an uneven way and, unintentionally, they could be applied in a way that undermines public participation in the planning process.

Amendment No. 8 seeks to raise the bar against which the Minister would apply an extension of periods, from when the Minister thought it was appropriate to when the Minister had evidence to believe that it was essential. That is a crucial difference. Amendment No. 9 requires the Minister to set out the reasons for making these orders publicly and explicitly, particularly in terms of the non-application of emergency periods or the varying of emergency periods between planning authorities geographically or in different aspects of the planning process, for example, a decision by local authority versus public participation. Amendment No. 10 deals with the need for an even-handed approach. Again, it does not just relate to granting more time to a local authority to make the decision, but also to ensuring that people who want to participate but who may have limited access for a variety of reasons due to Covid-19 also get extended periods.

Amendment No. 11 deletes lines 22 to 25 of the Bill, to try to remove the possibility of inconsistency in the approach to all of this. Amendment No. 12 specifically addresses the issue of county-only extended periods. I will explain it further to the Minister. There could be two neighbouring local authority areas or counties, and one is in a level 5 plus lockdown and the other is not. However, the residents of the local authority area where there is a level 5 plus lockdown and who cannot travel into the neighbouring local authority might have a serious concern about a planning decision in that local authority, but they are not able to participate in it. Likewise, one can imagine a situation in the Minister's constituency in Fingal in which that part of the county or the neighbouring commuter counties were under additional restrictions but the residents there wanted to engage with the board and visit it directly to lodge a submission and so forth.

None of these amendments are against the spirit of what the Minister is trying to do. They are an attempt to try to tighten it and make it much clearer, transparent and more equitable when, in the unfortunate circumstances in which he has to use any of these powers, they are deployed.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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These amendments seek to improve these sections of the Bill and make it more transparent. I hope the Minister agrees to them. I cannot see a reason that he would not. Amendment No. 8 strengthens the language from "appropriate" to "essential", which is a higher bar. Amendment No. 9 requires the Government to provide more information to the public about why it is making an order for an emergency period. There is no reason for the Government to oppose that requirement. Amendment No. 10 will prevent cherry-picking of times across the Planning Acts in an unfair and inconsistent way. It seeks to provide for a more uniform and fair approach, which makes a great deal of sense. Amendment No. 11 seeks to address concerns, as Deputy Ó Broin mentioned, about different counties having different emergency periods and the confusion that might cause. Amendment No. 12 seeks to address the same issue in a different way by adding text to the Bill that would improve it. I ask the Minister to consider the amendments.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I will address amendment No. 8, which is tabled jointly by Deputies Cian O’Callaghan and Ó Broin. The amendment seeks to replace the word “appropriate” with the word “essential" in section 3(2) of the Bill. This would amend section 3(2) of the Bill to specify that the Government may by order specify such period, in this section referred to as an "emergency period", for the purposes of this section as the Government considers essential, rather than as the Government considers appropriate. I must reject the amendment because the word "appropriate" sufficiently covers the intentions of this proposal.

Furthermore, section 3(4) of the Bill outlines that before making an order under subsection (2), the Government must be satisfied that the making of such an order is in the public interest - this may have escaped both Deputies in advance of them tabling the amendments - and specifically having regard to: the nature and potential effect of Covid-19 on individuals, society and the State; the need to eliminate or reduce the threat to public health of Covid-19; the policies and objectives of the Government relating to the protection of the public from Covid-19; the need to mitigate the adverse economic effects resulting from the spread of Covid-19 and the measures adopted to prevent its spread; and the need to eliminate or reduce the impact of Covid-19, and the measures adopted to prevent its spread, on the effective performance of functions under those enactments. It is clear how the Government would deem it to be appropriate.

Section 3(5) of the Bill requires that before making an order under subsection (2), the Government must be satisfied that the making of such an order is in the public interest. I do not envisage any instance in which a Government would make an order that it did not consider to be in the public interest under these measures. In the case of sections 4(4), 6 and 17(6) of the Building Control Act 1990 or any instrument thereunder, it should ensure the effective operation of that Act and protect the health, safety and welfare of occupants of, and visitors to, buildings and persons for the time within the curtilage or immediate vicinity of buildings. In the case of any other relevant enactment, it must ensure the effective operation of such enactment and proper planning and sustainable development. It is clear why I will not accept amendment No. 8. The Government has set a high bar for this to happen, and it is done in the public interest to protect against the spread of Covid-19 and, indeed, to protect the staff.

Amendment No. 9 is also tabled jointly by Deputies Cian O'Callaghan and Ó Broin.

It seeks to insert a new subsection (3), which would require the Government to include a schedule to an order made under subsection (2) or to otherwise publish at the same time:

(a) the reasons and considerations for the making of the order under subsection (2), including reasons in respect of all the considerations listed in subsection (4), and in the context of each of the administrative areas covered by the order and those excluded from it,

(b) and the associated justification necessitating the approach taken to the application or non-application of the emergency period, or varying emergency periods across relevant enactments specified in subsection (9) and administrative areas covered by and excluded by the order.

I am also opposing this amendment because I believe that the Bill as it stands contains more than sufficient provisions to cover what is intended by this proposal. In making an order under subsection (2), the Government must have regard to the matters specified in section 3(4). Therefore, an order made under subsection (2) will state that the Government must have regard to the matters specified in section 3(4). Following enactment, the legislation, including section 3(4), will be made available on the online Irish Statute Book. Furthermore, an order made under subsection (2), which, pursuant to subsection (3), specifies an emergency period in respect of one or more administrative areas - and different emergency periods in respect of different areas - must state that the order is specifying such matters pursuant to subsection (3) in such an order or it will not apply. All orders made under section 3 following enactment will be available on the online Irish Statute Book.

Section 3(4) requires that before making an order under subsection (2), the Government must be satisfied that the making of such an order is in the public interest, specifically having regard to:

(a) the nature and potential effect of Covid-19 on individuals, society and the State,

(b) the need to eliminate or reduce the threat to public health of Covid-19,

(c) the policies and objectives of the Government relating to the protection of the public from Covid-19,

(d) the need to mitigate the adverse economic effects resulting from the spread of Covid-19 and the measures adopted to prevent its spread, and

(e) the need to eliminate or reduce the impact of Covid-19 and the measures adopted to prevent its spread on the effective performance of functions under those enactments.

Section 3(5) requires that before making an order under subsection (2), the Government must be satisfied, in addition to the provisions in subsection (4), that the making of such an order is in the public interest, specifically having regard to:

(i) in the case of sections 4(4), 6 and 17(6) of the Building Control Act 1990 or any instrument thereunder, to— (I) ensure the effective operation of that Act, and

(II) protect the health, safety and welfare of occupants of, and visitors to, buildings and persons for the time within the curtilage or immediate vicinity of buildings, and (ii) in the case of any other relevant enactment, to ensure— (I) the effective operation of such enactment, and

(II) proper planning and sustainable development.

I will now address amendment No. 10, as jointly tabled by the same Deputies. The amendment seeks to delete subparagraph (ii), which refers to "different emergency periods in respect of different relevant enactments" of section 3(3)(a) which allows a Government order to specify an emergency period in respect of one or more than one relevant enactments and different emergency periods in respect of different relevant enactments; and substitute subparagraph (ii) with:

(ii) "an emergency period in respect of the provisions of the Principal Act and the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016, and any instrument under the foregoing, so as to provide for a uniform and fair approach, with the exception of the potential to provide for different emergency periods to be specified in respect of enforcement matters under the foregoing, so as to ensure necessary enforcement is facilitated,

(iii) for all other relevant enactments listed in subsection (9) different emergency periods in respect of different relevant enactments.".

I must reject this amendment because it would remove a significant flexibility for the Government to be able to make orders in respect of different relevant enactments, as required, in order to address concerns of specific local authorities or the board that may arise as a result of the pandemic. I would have thought that it would make sense to have that flexibility and that there should not just be a blanket approach. We have seen how we have been able to manage with elements of Covid. A blanket or one-size-fits-all approach does not make sense and that is why this amendment would not help in any way, shape or form.

In the absence of section 3(3)(a)(ii), any emergency period order made by the Government under subsection (2) would have to apply to the entire "Principal Act and the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016, and any instrument under the foregoing" excepting for enforcement matters, even if the impact of a surge in Covid-19 infections only impacted on certain enactments. This would have the effect of stalling processes that may be able to proceed, for example, the extension of duration periods for planning permissions, which might not be affected in the same manner as public participation periods, due to the fact that the construction of a development might be deemed to be an essential service, as the Government has done in the level 5 restrictions we have recently exited. We made sure that construction and ancillary services, including planning, have remained as essential services. One would be curious as to why Deputies would wish to hinder or stymie that and stall a process that does not need to be stalled. I am sure that is not the intention of either Deputy in tabling the amendment, but that would be the effect, in which case there would be no reason to delay or extend such extension of duration periods. In all likelihood, the provisions to be included in each order would have to be assessed, with respect to the principles and policies in section 3 on a case-by-case basis, depending on the potential constraints resulting from any future travel restrictions.

Amendment No. 11 is also jointly tabled by Deputies Cian O'Callaghan and Ó Broin. It seeks to delete subparagraphs (i) and (ii) of section 3(3)(b), which allow a Government order to specify:

(i) an emergency period in respect of one or more than one administrative area, and

(ii) different emergency periods in respect of different administrative areas.

This allows the Government, at my request, to make an order that applies to specific administrative areas, or indeed to the whole country, if so required. Again, I must reject this amendment, as it would remove a significant flexibility for the Government to be able to make orders in respect of different administrative areas, so as to address concerns of specific local authorities that may arise as a result of the pandemic.

In the absence of section 3(3)(b), any order made by the Government under subsection (2) of the Bill would have to apply to the entire country. That would not make sense in many instances, even if the impact of a surge in Covid-19 infections was only occurring in some limited localities. That is why we need that flexibility, or with respect to the operational capacity of specific local authorities. If it were Donegal, Carlow or Fingal that were affected, why would one want an order that would have to extend to all areas? I am sure that is not the intention, but that is the effect of the amendment, as it would inhibit and remove the flexibility that I, as Minister, and the Government will need. We hope never to have to use these provisions, but they are there should we see future surges. The deletion of this provision would also remove the ability of the Government to make different emergency orders in respect of different periods for different administrative areas. Again, that is not something I could agree to remove in any way, shape or form. This is an important part of the Bill and the Government needs these important powers. I hope we will never need to use those powers, but we certainly need to be prepared in this regard.

Amendment No. 12 is again jointly tabled by both Deputies.

It seeks to insert a new subsection (4) into section 3 to require the Government to consider additional matters in respect of orders made which specify emergency periods for certain administrative areas pursuant to subsections (3)(b)(i) and (ii). The additional matters to be included pertain to considerations to the public interest of the administrative area and others with respect to environmental decision making and public participation. Again, unfortunately, I cannot accept this amendment as the Bill contains sufficient provisions to cover what is intended by this proposal, noting that the purpose of an emergency order will be to extend an appropriate period - or a specified period or any other relevant statutory period for the period of the emergency order - thereby ensuring that the integrity of the planning system, especially its public participation elements and certain decision making and enforcement processes of the building control system, will not be compromised. Sections 3(4) and (5) already outline sufficient reasons and justifications for the making of the order by the Government in the public interest.

As already stated, section 3(4) specifically requires that before making an order under subsection (2), the Government must be satisfied that the making of such an order is in the public interest, having regard to the following factors: the nature and potential effect of Covid-19 on individuals, society and the State; the need to eliminate or reduce the threat to public health of Covid-19; the policies and objectives of the Government relating to the protection of the public from Covid-19; the need to mitigate the adverse economic effects resulting from the spread of Covid-19 and the measures adopted to prevent its spread; and the need to eliminate or reduce the impact of Covid-19, and the measures adopted to prevent its spread, on the effective performance of functions under those enactments. Section 3(5) requires that before making an order under subsection (2), the Government must be satisfied, in addition to the provisions in subsection (4), that the making of such an order is in the public interest, specifically having regard to:

(i) in the case of sections 4(4), 6 and 17(6) of the Building Control Act 1990 or any instrument thereunder, to— (I) ensure the effective operation of that Act, and

(II) protect the health, safety and welfare of occupants of, and visitors to, buildings and persons for the time within the curtilage or immediate vicinity of buildings, and (ii) in the case of any other relevant enactment, to ensure— (I) the effective operation of such enactment, and

(II) proper planning and sustainable development.

For these reasons, I am also opposing this amendment.

Amendment put and declared lost.

10:00 pm

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 9:

In page 4, between lines 17 and 18, to insert the following: "(3) When making an order under subsection (2), the Government shall include as a schedule to that order, or otherwise publish at the same time—
(a) the reasons and considerations for the making of the order under subsection (2),including reasons in respect of all the considerations listed in subsection (4), and in the context of each of the administrative areas covered by the order and those excluded from it,

(b) the associated justification necessitating the approach taken to the application or non-application of the emergency periods, or varying emergency periods across the relevant enactments specified in subsection (9), and administrative areas covered by and excluded by the order.".

Amendment put and declared lost.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 10:

In page 4, to delete line 21 and substitute the following: "(ii) an emergency period in respect of the provisions of the Principal Act and the Planning and Development (Housing) and Residential Tenancies Act 2016, and any instrument under the foregoing, so as to provide for a uniform and fair approach, with the exception of the potential to provide for different emergency periods to be specified in respect of enforcement matters under the foregoing, so as to ensure necessary enforcement is facilitated,

(iii) for all other relevant enactments listed in subsection (9) different emergency periods in respect of different relevant enactments.".

Amendment put and declared lost.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 11:

In page 4, to delete lines 22 to 25.

Amendment put and declared lost.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 12:

In page 4, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following: "(4) Where an order under subsection (2) specifies emergency periods under subsection (3)(b)(i) or subsection (3)(b)(ii), or both, in making the order the Government shall also consider—
(a) the likely interest of the public in the administrative area for which the order is made, in environmental decision-making in other administrative areas for which no order is intended by virtue of such other administrative area not satisfying the considerations under subsection (4),

(b) the potential negative impact to public participation and wide access to justice which might result from a failure to extend the application of emergency periods beyond the administrative area where the making of an order is satisfied under subsection (4), and

(c) the need to extend the administrative area covered by the order as a consequence to provide for effective public participation and wide access to justice, notwithstanding subsection (4).".

Amendment put and declared lost.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Amendments Nos. 13 and 14 are related and will be discussed together.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 13:

In page 4, between lines 25 and 26, to insert the following: “(4) In the context of the practical challenges the public are likely to be encountering during the period necessitating the making of the order under subsection (2), the Government in making decisions on the specifications of emergency periods under subsection (3) shall—
(a) make generous provisions for effective public participation, affording the public reasonable periods to prepare and participate effectively in environmental decision-making, and to ensure the obligation to provide for wide access to justice is not compromised by the failure to provide for generous and consistent application of emergency periods,

(b) not make an order under subsection (2) unless it is so satisfied in respect of paragraph (a), and accordingly shall at least consider obligations in respect of access to justice and public participation, including under—
(i) the Aarhus Convention,

(ii) Article 47 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights,

(iii) Directive 2003/35/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 May 2003 (the EU Public Participation Directive),

(iv) Article 4(3) of the Treaty of the European Union, and

(v) relevant guidance and statements from the Compliance Committee of the Aarhus Convention in respect of the application of the Convention during the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic recovery phase.".

I am keen to move to some of the amendments around substitute consent so with the agreement of my colleague in the Gods upstairs, Deputy Cian O'Callaghan, I suggest that we withdraw amendments Nos. 13 and 14 and proceed in the short time we have available.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 not moved.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I move amendment No. 16:

In page 5, lines 16 and 17, to delete "Health (Preservation and Protection and other Emergency Measures in the Public Interest) Act 2020" and substitute "Act of 2020".

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I move amendment No. 17:

In page 5, to delete lines 31 and 32.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I move amendment No. 18:

In page 5, line 36, to delete "Principal Act" and substitute "Act of 2000".

Amendment agreed to.

Section 3, as amended, agreed to.

NEW SECTIONS

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Amendments Nos. 19 to 21, inclusive, are related and will be discussed together.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I move amendment No. 19:

In page 6, between lines 4 and 5, to insert the following: “Amendment of section 177E of Act of 2000

4. Section 177E of the Act of 2000 is amended, in subsection (2), by—
(a) the deletion of paragraph (g), and

(b) the insertion of the following after paragraph (f):
“(g) be received by the Board within the period specified in section 177B, 177D or 261A, as appropriate,

and the said application may be accompanied by any other documents that the applicant considers would be of assistance to the Board in making a decision in relation to his or her application.".".

The Planning and Development Act 2000 and regulations were amended following a 2008 decision by the Court of Justice for the European Union, CJEU, in the case C-215/06, known as the Derrybrien wind farm case. This CJEU case necessitated a ban on granting retention planning permission for developments requiring environmental impact assessment, EIA, except in exceptional circumstances, to avoid the circumventing of any environmental assessment obligations under the EIA directive. In this context, Part XA of the Planning Act came into operation with effect from 21 September 2011, providing for a procedure known as substitute consent, that is, a process for the regularisation of certain developments in exceptional circumstances, which had not undergone the necessary environmental assessments, by allowing such developments to undergo of a retrospective EIA or appropriate assessment under the habitats directive, to address any environmental effects of the development. Substitute consent is generally a two-stage process requiring either a direction to apply from a planning authority, or a first stage leave to apply for substitute consent from An Bord Pleanála followed by the making of a second stage application for substitute consent to the board.

Leave to apply to the board for substitute consent is set out in sections 177C and 177D of the Planning Act and can be sought on the basis of two distinct grounds, the first requiring that the board must consider whether an existing planning permission is legally defective in some way, for example, by virtue of being judged so by a court by reason of omission or error in the environmental impact assessment report or Natura impact statement, or both, or any error of fact, law or procedure. The second ground requires the board to consider whether exceptional circumstances exist such that the board considers it appropriate to permit the opportunity for regularisation by allowing a substitute consent application to be made. Where the board is satisfied that either of those grounds exists, it directs the applicant to submit an application for substitute consent.

The existing criteria for the board’s consideration of exceptional circumstances are outlined in section 177D (2) of the Planning Act and include: whether regularisation would circumvent the environmental impact assessment directive or the habitats directive; whether the applicant reasonably could have believed that the development was authorised; whether the ability to carry out an environmental assessment of the development impacts, and public participation in such an assessment has been substantially impaired; the actual or likely significant effects on the environment or adverse effects on the integrity of a European site resulting from the carrying out or continuation of the development; the extent to which significant effects on the environment or adverse effects on the integrity of a European site can be remediated; whether the applicant has complied with previous planning permission granted or has previously carried out unauthorised development; and such other matters as the board considers relevant.

It should be noted that the board is not required to consider, reconsider or empowered to consider, the matters I have just outlined, including the question of exceptional circumstances as part of the substantive or second stage substitute consent application. There is no public participation provided for at the leave stage where those matters are considered by the board, at which point the issue of exceptionality is determined and not revisited by the board at a later stage.

In order to the comply with the findings of the Supreme Court judgment of 1 July 2020, it is necessary to amend the substitute consent provisions at Part XA of the Act of 2000 to provide, first, that exceptional circumstances must be considered by the board in the substantive or second stage application for substitute consent at section 177K of the Planning Act, and second, that public participation is facilitated, where required, with respect to the consideration of exceptional circumstances, as well as on the wider application. In this context, amendments are required to ensure that any new applications for substitute consent must demonstrate exceptional circumstances and, in turn, the board must be satisfied that such circumstances exist while also complying with the existing public participation requirements of sections 177K and 177H of the Planning Act and as prescribed by regulations under section 177N. In the case of existing applications pending before the board, the exceptionality test is similarly applied in respect of any grant or refusal, while also ensuring that further round of public consultation is facilitated in respect of these applications on hand to ensure the public is given the opportunity to comment on the existence of exceptional circumstances or not, as may be the case.

In this context,amendment No. 19amends section 177E of the Planning Act concerning the content of applications for substitute consent. This amendmentenables an applicant for substitute consent to submit with his or her application any other documents that the applicant considers would be of assistance to the board in making a decision in relation to his or her application. This is to allow the applicant the opportunity to furnish material to support his or her case with regard to exceptionality circumstances, which previously would only have been required at the leave stage of the process.

Amendment No. 20 amends section 177H (1) of the Planning Act, which currently provides that any person other than the applicant for substitute consent or a planning authority may make submissions or observations in writing to the board in relation to an application for substitute consent, to clarify that this includes submissions or observations regarding the existence or absence of exceptional circumstances justifying a grant of substitute consent.

Amendment No. 21includes an amendment to section 177K (1) of the Planning Act to provide that the board may, subject to new restrictions set out at subsection (1A), grant or refuse an application for substitute consent. These new restrictions on the board’s decision making powers in respect of substitute consent applications under the new subsection (1A) are that the board is both precluded from granting substitute consent where it is not satisfied that exceptional circumstances justifying a grant exist, and that when making its decision the board is not bound or permitted to take account of, or have regard to, any decision it made at a previous leave stage as to the existence of exceptional circumstances. The exceptionality test at section 177D(2) which I previously outlined will apply for the purposes of this consideration. Furthermore, a member, including the chairperson of the board, will now be precluded from being involved in a decision to grant substitute consent where he or she had been involved in the decision on a previous leave stage in respect of that development.

New subsection (1B) provides that the restrictions set out in subsection (1A) apply to both new applications for substitute consent made to the board and existing applications on hand in the board pending decision. New subsection (1C) concerns the submission of further information to the board by the applicant in respect of applications for substitute consent on hand upon commencement of these new requirements in Part XA of the Planning Act. Paragraph (a) requires the board to invite the applicant to submit information to the board, within a specified period, that he or she considers relevant for the purposes of the board satisfying itself as to the existence of exceptional circumstances. The making of this invitation by the board is mandatory but the applicant is not obliged to provide such information where he or she does not deem it necessary. In contrast, paragraph (b) gives the board discretion to make a request of further information from the applicant concerning the existence of exceptional circumstances, notwithstanding that further information may have been previously requested. Under paragraph (c) where the applicant fails to comply with such a request, the application shall be deemed to be withdrawn.

New subsection (1D) facilitates additional public consultation in respect of applications for substitute consent on hand in the board, which will now include consideration of exceptional circumstances. In this regard, notwithstanding that any or all of these things may have already been done in respect of the application for substitute consent previously, the board must require the applicant to publish an additional newspaper notice, including advertising any additional information submitted under subsection (1C). It must also do the following: make the application for substitute consent, including any additional information submitted, available for inspection at its offices and online on its website; give notice of the application, including any further information, to the prescribed bodies required to be notified of such applications; and give a copy of any further information received in accordance with subsection (1C) to the relevant planning authority. The planning authority will have previously been given a copy of the application itself upon receipt by the board. The board must also request the planning authority to consider that information as part of its report to be submitted under section 177I on the application, including the relevant environmental reports, which shall include amending that report where required. The planning authority is given an additional five weeks to do so. The board must require the applicant to give additional site notices of the application, copies of which must be submitted to the board.

New subsection (1E) requires an applicant to comply with any requirement of the board under subsection (1D). Similarly new subsections (1F) and (1G) place an obligation on the relevant planning authority to comply with any request of the board and to enter details of any further information it receives from the board into the planning register. New subsection (1H) requires that the board must consider submissions or observations made, including any made arising from the further round of public consultation facilitated under subsection (1D) in making its decision. It may only do so after it has carried out the public consultation steps in subsection (1D) and where the applicant and planning authority concerned have complied with any requests.

Under the proposed section 177K(1I), the board is given discretion to extend the timeframe within which a planning authority is required to submit its report on the application.

Supplementary and consequential amendments to the Planning and Development Regulations 2001 will be introduced concurrently with the commencement of these amendments to Part XA to set out the finer detail of how this further round of public consultation to facilitate consideration of exceptionality in substitute consent applications already on hand in the board will operate, largely mirroring the existing public consultation provisions set out in Part 19 of those regulations with some modification. In this context, it is my intention that the public will be given five weeks to make submissions or observations concerning the application for substitute consent, including their opinion as to whether exceptional circumstances exist or not, and that those who previously made submissions and observations on the application when it was originally made will be notified by the board. As I have previously set out, the board is required under new section 177K(1H) to consider these further submissions and observations before granting or refusing substitute consent, and having regard to new subsection 177K(1A), is precluded from granting substitute consent where it is not satisfied exceptional circumstances exist. Those are the Government amendments.

10:20 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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For the information of Deputies, this debate is due to finish at 11.37 p.m.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I am fully aware that we have only four minutes to respond. This is a matter of profound importance and the fact that we have only four minutes to raise questions and get responses from the Minister shows how inadequate this process is. I will use my two minutes before allowing my colleague on the upper floor to use his. I have two questions. The Minister has said that, when the new substantive substitute consent process is in place, the board will have regard to section 177D(2) of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended. This is not made explicit in the Minister's proposed section 177K(1A)(a). Will the Minister explain why that is the case?

While we will not get to the amendment we had proposed to the Minister's amendment No. 21, will the Minister confirm whether all previous documentation from the leave stage will be made available to interested parties and online in the new substantive substitute consent hearing so that they can have full sight of what had previously been considered?

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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I would just like to hear the Minister's reply.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I remind the Deputy that we will be stopping at 11.37 p.m. and that he will have no further opportunity to speak.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Previous documents will not be made available as per the advice of the Attorney General.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister said in his comment that the board, when considering the substantive substitute consent application, will base its assessment on the exceptional circumstances outlined in section 177D(2) of the Act. Why is that not made explicit in his amendment?

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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To which amendment is the Deputy referring?

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I refer to the Minister's proposed section 177K(1A)(a), which deals with consideration of the substantive substitute consent application. It does not make explicit reference to the legal definition of exceptional circumstances in the existing section 177D(2) of the Planning and Development Act 2000, as amended.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I just had to check the details. It is inherent in references in the drafting. We can issue further clarification on that and we will do so in writing.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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That would be helpful.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I move amendment No. 20:

In page 6, between lines 4 and 5, to insert the following: “Amendment of section 177H of Act of 2000

5. Section 177H of the Act of 2000 is amended by the substitution of the following subsection for subsection (1):
“(1) Any person (other than the applicant for substitute consent) or a planning authority may make submissions or observations (including submissions or observations as to the existence or absence of exceptional circumstances justifying a grant of substitute consent) to the Board in relation to an application for substitute consent, and any such submissions or observations shall be in writing.”.”.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I move amendment No. 21:

In page 6, between lines 4 and 5, to insert the following: “Amendment of section 177K of Act of 2000

6. Section 177K of the Act of 2000 is amended by—

(a) the substitution of the following subsection:
“(1) Where an application is made to the Board for substitute consent in accordance with this Act and regulations under this Act—

(a) the Board shall ensure that it has, or has access to, sufficient expertise to enable it to examine the remedial environmental impact assessment report and ensure its adequacy, and

(b) the Board may, subject to subsection (1A)—
(i) grant substitute consent (with or without conditions) in respect of the development concerned, or

(ii) refuse substitute consent in respect of the development concerned.”,
and

(b) the insertion of the following subsections:
“(1A) (a) The Board shall not grant substitute consent (whether subject to conditions or not) unless it is satisfied that exceptional circumstances exist that would justify the grant of such consent by the Board.

(b) When deciding whether or not to grant substitute consent, the Board shall not—

(i) be bound by,

(ii) take account of, or

(iii) otherwise have regard to,

any decision of the Board under section 177D as to the existence of exceptional circumstances in relation to an application under section 177C.

(c) A member (including the chairperson) of the Board who participated in the making of a decision by the Board under section 177D to grant leave to apply for substitute consent shall not participate in the consideration of, or the making of a decision under this section in relation to, an application under section 177E made pursuant to the grant of leave concerned.

(1B) Subsection (1A) shall apply to the following applications for substitute consent under section 177E:

(a) applications made on or after the commencement of Part 2* of thePlanning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act 2020;

and

(b) applications pending before the Board upon such commencement.

(1C) (a) The Board shall, in relation to an application referred to in paragraph (b) of subsection (1B), invite the applicant concerned to give to the Board such information as the applicant considers material for the purposes of the Board’s satisfying itself as to the matter referred to in paragraph (a) of subsection (1A), and any such information shall be given to the Board by the applicant within such period as is specified in the invitation concerned.

(b) The Board may—

(i) in relation to an application referred to in paragraph (b) of subsection (1B), and

(ii) in addition to any other information given, or required to be given, to the Board, in accordance with this Part, require the applicant concerned to give to the Board (within such period as is specified in the requirement) such information as the Board may reasonably require for the purposes of its satisfying itself as to the matter referred to in paragraph (a) of subsection (1A).

(c) If an applicant for substitute consent fails or refuses to comply with a requirement under paragraph (b), the applicant shall be deemed to have withdrawn his or her application for such consent.

(1D) The Board shall, in relation to an application for substitute consent referred to in paragraph (b) of subsection (1B)—

(a) require the applicant concerned to publish a notice (which shall include notice of any information received by the Board pursuant to an invitation or requirement under subsection (1C)) in relation to the application concerned in accordance with regulations under section 177N (notwithstanding the publication of any other notice by the applicant at any time before the commencement of Part 2*of the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act 2020),

(b) cause a copy of the application and any information received by the Board pursuant to an invitation or requirement under subsection

(1C) to be made available—

(i) at the offices of the Board during normal business hours, for—
(I) inspection by members of the public, and

(II) purchase by members of the public for such fee not exceeding the reasonable cost of making such copy,
and

(ii) on the internet website of the Board, (notwithstanding the application’s already having been made available for inspection or purchase by members of the public at any time before the commencement of Part 2*of the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act 2020),

(c) give notice (which shall include notice of any information received by the Board pursuant to an invitation or requirement under subsection (1C)) in accordance with regulations under section 177N to the prescribed bodies of the application concerned (notwithstanding the giving of notice of the application to the prescribed bodies at any time before the commencement of Part 2*of the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act 2020),

(d) give a copy of any information received by the Board pursuant to an invitation or requirement under subsection (1C) to the planning authority concerned (notwithstanding compliance by the Board with subsection (5) of section 177E before the commencement of Part 2* of the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act 2020),

(e) request the planning authority concerned—

(i) to take account of any information received by the Board pursuant to an invitation or requirement under subsection (1C) when submitting a report to the Board in accordance with section 177I, or

(ii) in circumstances where such a report was submitted in accordance with section 177I before the making of the request,

to—
(I) amend the report so submitted, taking account of that information, and

(II) submit the report as so amended to the Board not later than 5 weeks after receipt by the planning authority of that request,
and

(f) require the applicant to—

(i) erect on the land on which the development concerned is situated, or affix to any structure on such land, a site notice in accordance with regulations under section 177N, and

(ii) submit to the Board a copy of the said site notice, notwithstanding the erection on such land, or the affixing to any structure on such land, of a site notice in accordance with regulations under section 177N at any time before the commencement of Part 2*of the Planning and Development, and Residential Tenancies, Act 2020.

(1E) A person who has made an application for substitute consent to which paragraph (b) of subsection (1B) applies shall comply with a requirement of the Board under subsection (1D).

(1F) A planning authority of whom a request is made under subsection (1D) shall comply with that request.

(1G) A planning authority shall enter in the register any information given to it by the Board under subsection (1D).

(1H) The Board shall, in the making of a decision to grant or refuse substitute consent, consider any submissions or observations made in accordance with regulations under section 177N, including any such submissions or observations made in relation to an application for substitute consent referred to in paragraph (b) of subsection (1B) after compliance—

(a) by the Board with subsection (1D),

(b) by the applicant concerned with a requirement of the Board under that subsection, and

(c) by the planning authority concerned with a request of the Board under that subsection.

(1I) The Board may, for the purposes of enabling a planning authority to comply with subparagraph (i) of paragraph (e) of subsection (1D), extend the period under section 177I within which the planning authority shall submit a report to the Board in accordance with that section.”.”.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I move amendment No. 1 to amendment No. 21:

In subsection (1D), proposed to be inserted by section 6, between paragraphs (b) and (c) to

insert the following: “(ba) make available online all information—

(i) considered by the Board at any leave stage under section 177D for the application now being considered for substitute consent where the application was subject to such a stage, or

(ii) in the case where the application was made pursuant to a notice from a planning authority under section 177B or section 261A(3) all the information considered by the planning authority at the notice stage giving rise to a direction to the applicant to make an application for substitute consent, and the Board shall also make available online any information received from the local authority under paragraph (e), and any public consultation shall not commence until the information referred to in this subsection is available online, and the consultation period provided for the public and prescribed bodies shall not be less than eight weeks,”.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Amendment No. 1 to Government amendment No. 21, as tabled by Deputy Ó Broin, seeks to insert provisions into section 177K(1D) which would require the board, in the case of applications pending before the board upon such commencement, to make the following available: all information considered by the board in making a decision to grant or refuse leave to apply for substitute consent under section 177D; all information considered by a planning authority under section 177B or section 261A(3) at the notice stage giving rise to a direction to the applicant to make an application for substitute consent; and any information received from the local authority under section 177K (1D) (e). It would also provide that public consultation would not commence until the information referred to in this subsection is available online and that the consultation period provided for the public and prescribed bodies would not be less than eight weeks. I cannot accept this amendment. Tá an t-am istigh.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I apologise that we cannot continue but I am afraid that is it at this point. It is 11.37 p.m. so I have no choice.

The time permitted for this debate having expired, I am required to put the following question in accordance with an order of the Dáil of 15 December: "That the amendments set down by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage for Committee State and not disposed of are hereby made to the Bill; in respect of each of the sections undisposed of other than section 4, which is hereby deleted, that the section or, as appropriate, the section as amended, is hereby agreed to in Committee; that the Preamble, as amended, and the Title, as amended, are hereby agreed to in Committee; that the Bill, as amended, is accordingly reported to the House; that Report Stage is hereby completed; and that the Bill is hereby passed."

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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The question has been agreed so the Bill, which is considered by virtue of Article 20.2.2° of the Constitution as a Bill initiated in Dáil Éireann, will now be sent to the Seanad.