Seanad debates

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Sustainable Rural Housing Guidelines

10:30 am

Photo of Victor BoyhanVictor Boyhan (Independent) | Oireachtas source

I, too, welcome the Minister of State. I am particularly pleased that he is here because he has a great understanding of the issue of rural and one-off housing. I asked the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to come to the House to report on the outcome of the work of the working group established by his Department in reviewing the sustainable rural housing guidelines following the Flemish Decree. The Minister of State does not need a lecture on the Flemish Decree and I do not intend to give him one. However, I have been extremely active in dealing with this matter for a number of years since I came into the House.

I have a letter dated 9 May 2017. In summary, it outlined that the Minister of the day would set up a committee. I have a funny feeling that it might have been Deputy Coveney who was in office at the time. However, it was indicated that the Minister would set up a review group. Clearly, there is an issue with one-off housing. The Flemish Decree raises a number of concerns across the European Union about one-off housing but, more importantly, about who can live in such housing or seek to develop properties. The Law Society of Ireland did some work on the issue. It identified:

A number of Irish planning authorities restrict the granting of planning permission for housing based on personal characteristics of the applicant such as their connection to a particular locale as a ‘permanent native resident’ who has lived in the area for a number of years, having employment locally, or – in Gaeltacht areas – proficiency in the Irish language. These restrictions are by their nature discriminatory but are generally justified as a means of preserving the culture or rural character of the area.

The restrictions are also related to employment prospects. We know, for instance, that in County Wicklow and the Dublin mountains there are people involved in forestry, horticulture, agriculture, stone masonry and so on. The people who have engaged with me on the issue include Deputy Danny Healy-Rae, Councillor Maura Healy-Rae and, of course, Independent Councillor Donal Grady in Killarney. They have raised the matter consistently with me, as have other councillors across the country.

There seems to be a misunderstanding about what is and is not permissible. I was sufficiently concerned to raise the issue with the Oireachtas Library and Research Service which I asked to compile a paper on it. It is dated 12 May 2017. For the information of the Department, the inquiry reference number is 2017/600. I pay tribute to the Oireachtas Library and Research Service which is an amazing resource within this organisation. I draw the attention of the Minister of State to the paper it presented, the findings of which raise concerns. How is the review group established in May 2017 progressing? What conclusions has it reached? Where are its reports? There are concerns in counties Galway, Kerry, Clare and Wicklow. I do not want to predict the outcome, but we need greater clarification on the Flemish Decree and the response of the Government to same.


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