Local Minister Darragh O’Brien has received an update on the DART+ Programme, a transformative project which aims to modernise and improve existing rail services in North County Dublin.
Minister O’Brien wrote to Irish Rail seeking an update on plans to provide a sustainable, electrified, reliable and more frequent rail service.
The current DART network is 50km long extending from Malahide/Howth to Greystones. The DART+ Programme will increase the length of the DART network to 150km of railway corridor through the upgrade of existing lines.
Commenting Minister O’Brien said, “I am glad to learn that specifically on DART+ Coastal North, which includes Balbriggan and the Northern Commuter line, this project is progressing, and it is anticipated that public consultation will commence in summer of this year, building to an application for a Railway Order, which is the equivalent of planning permission, in 2022.
“At the heart of this project is the need to increase passenger capacity and train frequency to cope with our increasing population here in Fingal. The DART+ Programme will provide a viable, sustainable alternative to private car use, therefore helping users reduce their carbon footprint, spend less time in road traffic, and help our environment.
“In addition to the DART+ Coastal North project I was very glad to hear that the northern route will also benefit from a major fleet order planned for this year,” he concluded.
The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien, TD, and the Minister of State with Responsibility for Heritage and Electoral Reform, Malcolm Noonan, TD, have today (Friday 8 January) published the General Scheme of the Electoral Reform Bill which provides for a range of significant electoral reforms including,
Minister Noonan added, “These reforming measures are essential in order to strengthen our electoral system. We live in an evolving society, and the electoral system must evolve with it. We are working to both respond to the challenges we face now, and build measures and capacity to anticipate and address the challenges which we will face in the future.”
The Electoral Commission will be independent of Government, reporting directly to the Oireachtas. It will take on several existing statutory electoral functions from the outset, including responsibility for the registration of political parties, the work currently carried out by Referendum Commissions, Constituency Commissions and Local Electoral Area Boundary Committees. In addition, it will have responsibility for the regulation of online political advertising during electoral periods, oversight of the Electoral Register, and a new public information, research and advisory role in relation to electoral matters. These functions will give the Commission a central role in our electoral system from the outset, bringing together a broad range of responsibilities.
The Commission’s membership will be comprised of a mix of public officials experienced in carrying out electoral functions and experts selected via a public competitive process, bringing a breadth of relevant skills and experience.
The modernisation of the Electoral Register will see the simplification of forms and the registration process, including an online option, a rolling (continuously updated) register, a move to a single, national Electoral Register and the introduction of provisional registration for 16-17 year-olds which would become active at the age of 18.
The Bill will provide that online paid-for political advertisements commissioned for use during electoral periods will be required to be clearly labelled as such. The advertisements will display specified information by way of a transparency notice, linked to the advertisement in a transparent and conspicuous manner. The transparency notice will include information on who paid for the advertising, details of any micro-targeting which was applied and the total cost of the advertising.
The General Scheme addresses two key items in respect of holding electoral events where Covid-19 restrictions are in place:
Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien TD has confirmed a shutdown in construction activity from 6pm on Friday 8th January as part of the national effort to halt the spread of COVID-19. The situation will be reviewed on January 31st.
Minister O’Brien said the decision was necessary so as to try to bring the virus under control and that only a very limited amount of essential sites and a small number of designated social housing construction projects which are due for completion within a 6-8 week period would continue during this time. Cabinet also agreed that the construction and operation of water, wastewater and gas infrastructure and related services remain essential. The planning system will continue to operate subject to appropriate safety protocols and services operating online where feasible.
Commenting he said, “I have spoken with stakeholders today and will continue to engage with them. The construction sector showed great agility in adapting so swiftly to public health measures and social distancing requirements. Over the past six months I have visited sites which had strict protocols in place for the safety of all their staff.
“It’s clear that these measures have worked with no evidence the construction sector has been a driver of infections. The number of associated outbreaks representing 0.6% of all outbreaks since August.
“However, the current trajectory of the virus is such that a shutdown in construction is necessary as part of the wider national effort to contain the pandemic. There are approximately 200,000 direct and indirect construction sector workers across the country and we are now asking the vast majority of them to stay at home.
“This will undoubtedly have an impact on our housing delivery targets for 2021, however, the Government and my Department will do whatever is necessary to make up as much ground as possible as restrictions ease and people get back to work. Ultimately, the health and safety of workers and wider society is the top priority.
The Minister reiterated that the moratorium on evictions would remain in place in line with the 5km restriction on people’s movements. He also encouraged people to avail of the Community Call Fora which remain in place across the country saying, “The Community Call Fora all across the country stand ready to help vulnerable members of our communities with collections and delivers, meals on wheels and other essential services. I’d like to thank Local Authorities and volunteers for providing this vital service,” he concluded.
Construction be closed with effect from 6pm Friday 8th January except for the construction or development of:
O’Brien calls for Balbriggan to be included in the Local Community Safety Partnerships pilot programme
Local Minister, Darragh O’Brien TD, has written to Justice Minister, Helen McEntee to request that she include Balbriggan in the Local Community Safety Partnerships pilot programme which she announced in November.
The programme brings together residents, community representatives, business interests, local authorities, An Garda Síochána, Tusla and the HSE to plan how best to prevent crime and reflect local safety issues. Currently, three pilots have already been announced, in Dublin’s North Inner City, Waterford City and Longford. Minister O’Brien believes that Balbriggan should also be included in the pilot.
Commenting he said, “I have asked Minister McEntee to give serious consideration to including Balbriggan in the programme. The locations of the pilots were chosen based on factors including population density, crime rates and deprivation, and in this regard Balbriggan would most certainly meet the criteria.
“Balbriggan is a wonderful place. It is one of the youngest, fastest growing and culturally diverse large towns in Ireland. Thankfully, as has been the case across most of the country, Balbriggan saw a marked decrease in thefts and burglaries during the first three quarters of last year. However, as we learned from the Fingal Joint Policing Committee, assaults causing harm and drug-related crimes in the Balbriggan district saw significant increases.
“Having been a public representative in North County Dublin since 2004 I know that the fantastic community in Balbriggan are sick and tired of the instances of anti-social behaviour. I have hosted as well as attended many public meetings in relation to crime and policing in the area and the message is always the same – the community want to make Balbriggan a safer town for families, residents and businesses.
“I will be speaking with Minister McEntee next week and I will impress on her the importance of included a town such as Balbriggan in the pilot,” he concluded.
-Commercial rates waiver for Q1 also agreed by Cabinet-
The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien TD has confirmed the reintroduction of the eviction moratorium from midnight as a result of the return of 5km restrictions on people’s movements.
Minister O’Brien also confirmed that his Department is working on a package to cover commercial rates waivers for affected businesses for Q1 2021 and that construction remains an essential service under these new restrictions.
Commenting the Minister said, “The urgent legislation which we enacted back in October means that any time there is a 5km restriction imposed on people’s movements, in line with public health restrictions, the moratorium on evictions automatically kicks-in.
“This legislation gives tenants clear legal protections by effectively stopping evictions for the period of duration of 5km travel restrictions and by adding a further ten-day grace period to allow people to find new accommodation in the very small number of cases in which this may be necessary.
“While there was some opposition to this targeted and balanced measure back in October it is clear that this legislation, along with the legislation protecting tenants in rent arrears due to Covid-19 and at risk of losing their tenancy which was first enacted back in August and will operate into April 2021, is working to protect those most affected by this pandemic.”
Minister O’Brien also confirmed that Local Authorities would be supported by Government to provide commercial rates waivers to businesses forced to close during these new level 5 restrictions.
Commenting he said, “These additional restrictions are very disappointing for business owners across the country having to shut their doors once more. Having worked closely with Tánaiste Varadkar and in consultation with the Taoiseach we agreed that a commercial rates waiver would offer struggling businesses some relief.
“It is expected that this further rates waiver will cost in the region of €160m and by providing this funding my Department is ensuring that Local Authorities can continue their vital work without fear of financial hardship. To date my Department has paid out approximately €730 million euro in commercial rates waivers to Local Authorities.”
Finally Minister O’Brien confirmed that construction would remain an essential service under the new restrictions saying, “The construction sector is not only a key driver of our economy, but it is also vital to addressing our most pressing social problem – our housing shortfall. I want to see house builds completed, new projects get off the ground and adaptation works take place. It is important that we make up for ground lost to COVID-19 earlier in the year and that we reach the maximum possible output while ensuring the safety of those working in the sector. Since the outbreak of the pandemic the construction industry has responded swiftly and I’d like to thank them again for their resilience,” he concluded.