Seanad debates

Tuesday, 22 November 2022

Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Land Issues

2:30 pm

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Ossian Smyth, to the House today.

Photo of Fiona O'LoughlinFiona O'Loughlin (Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Minister of State for taking the time to come in on behalf of the Minister of State with responsibility for the Office of Public Works, OPW, Deputy Patrick O'Donovan. I want to raise the issue of land ownership, its transparency, and the State's role and responsibility in terms of land that should fall under its control. I will talk about one particular situation, but this is something I have come across over the years. I am sure it mirrors a lot of different situations.

I have been working closely with constituents on the issue of an access lane that divides two properties in Newbridge. This particular issue has brought to the fore the lack of transparency and joined up thinking when it comes to access and ownership. I want to give a very brief overview. I am talking about a lane between two homes in the same estate. It is also an access lane to an ESB facility. However, the ESB does not own the land but requires access to it. One of the two houses in question felt for whatever reason that the land fell within their boundary and have blocked access to others. Of course this was of concern to the second resident who has not looked to take the access lane into their own boundary, but just wants to have access in terms of work that needs to be carried out at the side and back of the house. They have also used this patch of ground over the years. As I am sure the Minister of State and every Member of this House has seen in their time in public office, issues such as this can cause huge tension between neighbours. There really needs to be a clarity of process. I was asked to assist in this situation and to say that I was given the runaround is the understatement of the year.

I have a response from Kildare County Council stating that the laneway is not in the ownership of Kildare County Council, and it is not public. It advised the seeking of legal advice. Of course, this was not a satisfactory response and residents should not have to incur private legal fees to contact agencies relating to what is now perceived to be State land. We began to liaise with the Property Registration Authority and I thank David in my office for his help on this. It confirmed the land was registered to a private limited company, which has been dissolved. The response was that if the company was dissolved, as far as it knew, the land goes back to the State.

I also went to the Oireachtas section of the Property Registration Authority and it did not seem to know what happens with such tracts of land. I continued pushing to see if we could get clarity. I submitted parliamentary questions through a colleague in the Dáil, but they were disallowed, and nobody wanted to take any form of responsibility. I contacted the ESB to see what communications it has had as it has right of access, and it has not given a straight answer either.

The residents have also done further investigation and were informed that such land returns to the State through the Department of Finance. That was a similar response to that of the Property Registration Authority. I moved on to the Department of Finance, which eventually came back and more or less said it had looked into it, would not be getting involved, and did not confirm any further detail. I logged a Commencement matter for the Department of Finance and now I find it has been redirected to the OPW. I do not mind if I get an answer. We are on this case since last summer and to date we are none the wiser. I hope I can get clarity from the Minister of State today and that he will commit to arranging for a proper review of this case to be conducted by a senior official in the Department. This matter gives rise to a wider question regarding how we deal with what appear to be public lands. If it is the case that tiny parcels of land such as this fall under State control upon the dissolution of a company, the process should be clear and transparent. In addition, there should be more clearly defined rights of use and access, as well as maintenance agreements. Without clear definitions and in the absence of State agencies that actually engage, there can be no resolution to conflicts such as that in the example outlined. What is the procedure with lands such as those to which I refer? Who has ultimate responsibility? Who do residents and public representatives deal with in such matters? Will the Minister of State commit to helping to seek a solution?

Photo of Mark DalyMark Daly (Fianna Fail)
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Before the Minister of State responds, I just want to point out that this matter is of major interest to people in Kerry. We often see land falling between two stools. I hope the Minister of State has a response for the Senator that we can understand.