To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform if all necessary financial assistance will be provided to Fingal County Council to tackle the alarming rate of coastal erosion that is occurring at The Burrow, Portrane, County Dublin; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
I am advised that Fingal County Council is leading on this issue, as it is a matter for local authorities in the first instance to assess and address problems of coastal erosion in their areas. Where necessary, Local Authorities may put forward proposals to relevant central Government Departments, including the OPW, for funding of appropriate measures depending on the infrastructure or assets under threat.
In 2018, in response to serious coastal erosion problems at The Burrow, Portrane, Fingal County Council implemented temporary interim emergency measures to protect properties at risk. Funding of €456,464 was approved under the OPW Minor Flood Mitigation Works and Coastal Protection Scheme for these works.
Consultants appointed by Fingal County Council are currently assessing options for a longer term permanent solution for the Portrane Peninsula. If a viable option is identified, Fingal County Council may submit a further application for funding to the OPW.
To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the progress in the preparation of a national coastal erosion strategy and plan; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Strategic policy responsibility for the coast, including coastal erosion, is a matter for the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government. Local Authorities are responsible for the management of the coastline, including response to coastal erosion risk within their administrative areas.
To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform the timeframe for the review of the public spending code; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
The Public Spending Code is reviewed on an ongoing basis to ensure that it continues to reflect best practice in project appraisal and evaluation and to ensure value for money in the use of public funds.
In particular, there has been extensive and ongoing review in relation to capital projects over recent months. I anticipate that this major phase of review of the Public Spending Code will be completed before the summer.
To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the towns selected and the number of units in each town for the pilot scheme to encourage persons to return to living in town centres launched in October 2018.
Early last year, I established a Steering Group to examine the introduction of a pilot scheme to encourage people to return to living in town centres.
A lot of consideration was given by the Group to the best approach to developing a model which would deliver on the objective of increasing town centre living.
The Steering Group noted that some schemes which have specifically attempted to focus on the renovation of vacant properties have had a disappointing take-up. It is clear that if we are to successfully encourage people to return to living in town centres, an integrated solution involving all aspects of town living and supporting infrastructure needs to be considered.
The Steering Group therefore agreed that a pilot scheme, which takes a holistic approach to town centre living, should be developed in a small number of towns initially, with a view to a wider roll-out over time. This approach goes beyond simply identifying specific property units, and will allow a number of Local Authorities to develop and test different models which they feel are appropriate to a number of selected towns of different sizes and in different locations.
The learnings from this approach will help to provide an indication as to what might work well for similar types of town on a wider scale.
Six rural towns were invited to participate in the initial pilot scheme which was launched in October 2018. These are:
My Department has made funding of up to €100,000 available to each participating Local Authority of which €75,000 has been paid to date. The funding will assist the Local Authorities to engage with their communities and local businesses, and arrive at practical solutions that can be delivered to achieve the objective of increasing the number of people living in our rural towns.
Representatives from each of the six Local Authorities involved in the pilot have had a number of meetings with my Department with a view to developing the detailed schemes. It is envisaged that the solutions identified through the six pilot towns could lead to the development of more substantive proposals for funding from the Rural Regeneration and Development Fund in due course.
To ask the Minister for Finance his plans to task Home Building Finance Ireland with an expanded remit to issues loans to owner management companies to cover remedial building costs; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
In the first instance I would like to acknowledge the stressful circumstances which the owners and residents of buildings face when defects occur in their homes.
HBFI was established late last year as a supply based measure to help address as shortage of new housing in the State. I have always been clear that HBFI was to be established on a commercial basis and that its activities would comply with State aid rules. Any funding provided by HBFI will be backed by appropriate security and normal banking terms and conditions will apply. Any deviation from this structure could give rise to State aid issues and may impact the expected balance sheet treatment of HBFI's activities.
While there is nothing contained in the Home Building Finance Ireland Act 2018 that excludes loans to owner management companies to cover remedial building costs, the Act requires that HBFI lend on commercial terms. The commerciality of funding such remediation is risky from two perspectives:
Based on the high level of risk that would pertain to such lending, it may not be considered commercial in many cases and could put HBFI in breach of its commercial remit.
HBFI will examine each application received on its own merits and particular circumstances. It is a matter for HBFI to assess and, if thought appropriate, issue a term sheet having regard to State aid rules and its commercial responsibilities.
I am advised by HBFI that only a very small number of calls and emails have been received in relation to this type of funding to date and that none of these enquiries have progressed to a full application at this time
To ask the Minister for Rural and Community Development the options under consideration for volunteer centres that are underfunded; the timeframe in which a decision may be reached regarding these centres, if he expects the necessary funding will be granted for these volunteer centres to continue to operate; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
My Department's Community and Voluntary Supports and programmes unit provide a cohesive framework of support for the community and voluntary sector. €3.5 million is being provided in 2019 under this programme to support 21 Volunteer Centres, eight Volunteering Information Services and a number of volunteer-supporting organisations, such as Volunteer Ireland.
Following the publication in 2017 of a report by Dermot McLaughlin entitled "Developing Funding Criteria for Volunteer Centres in Ireland", my Department secured additional funding of €300,000 which was allocated to all Volunteer Centres in 2017 on a proportionate basis. This increased funding level has been maintained in 2018 and 2019.
The Dormant Accounts Action Plan 2018 included the provision of €1.2 million to upgrade the eight Volunteering Information Services to full Volunteer Centres in order to provide a consistent level of volunteering service nationwide. My Department is currently engaging with stakeholders in the roll-out of this initiative. As part of this exercise, my Department is also examining options with regard to a number of existing Volunteer Centres which are currently receiving less funding than the minimum amount recommended in the McLaughlin report.
My Department is also currently collating information received from a recent call for input exercise that was designed as a first step towards developing a draft national volunteering strategy. Among the topics under consideration in this context is the issue of volunteering support infrastructure and how best this can be structured to support volunteering.
To ask the Taoiseach and Minister for Defence the steps that have been taken to fulfil the commitment given by a former Taoiseach to award the distinguished service medals and military medals for gallantry to the 32 members of A Company Infantry Battalion, including deceased servicemen that served during the siege of Jadotville in 1961; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
The siege of Jadotville was a prominent event that occurred during Ireland's peacekeeping mission in the Congo in September 1961. "A" Company, 35th Infantry Battalion took responsibility for the UN post at Jadotville on 3rd September 1961. On the 9th September, a large force of Katangese Gendarmerie surrounded them and early on the morning of the 13th September "A" Company came under attack. From the 13th to the 17th September they endured almost continuous attack. They were taken into captivity on the 17th September and remained in captivity until finally released on the 25th October 1961.
In accordance with Defence Forces regulations, the award of medals for bravery is time bound. These may not be awarded in any case unless a recommendation is made through the usual channels to the Chief of Staff, not later than two years in the case of the Military Medal for Gallantry, and not later than four years in the case of the Distinguished Service Medal, after the performance of the act in respect of which the recommendation is made. Such awards are made on the recommendation of a Military Board appointed by the Chief of Staff for the purpose of examining and reporting on every recommendation for an award.
The issue of the award of medals to the men of “A” Company, 35th Infantry Battalion was comprehensively addressed in 1965. A properly constituted Medals Board considered the recommendation for the award of medals and made a decision that no medals would be awarded.
The Chief of Staff of the day considered the decision of the Board and was satisfied with the findings. Subsequently, at that time, the question was raised again in a letter to a newly appointed Chief of Staff. He forwarded the letter to the original Medals Board and asked that they reconvene and review their decision. The Board indicated that the issues raised had received due consideration and that they were not prepared to alter their findings.
A review was conducted in 2004 by military officers for the purpose of a broader examination of the Jadotville case. This Board recommended that the events of Jadotville and the contribution of the 35th Battalion be given recognition. In this context, a number of measures have taken place to honour and to commemorate the events at Jadotville and the very significant contribution of “A” Company and of the 35th Battalion, as a whole, to the UN Peace Support Mission in the Congo.
Recognition of their contribution over the years include:
A. A presentation of scrolls to "A" Company in 2006.
B. Portraits of Lt Col McNamee (35th Battalion Commander) and Comdt Quinlan (Company Commander “A” Company) were commissioned in 2006.
C. In July of 2010 the 50th anniversary of the first deployment to the Congo was commemorated in a highly publicised and well attended event in Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel.
D. A nominal roll of “A” Company, printed in copper, was affixed to the monument in Costume Barracks and was unveiled as part of the 50th Anniversary of the Jadotville affair in September 2011.
E. On the occasion of the 55th anniversary of the Siege of Jadotville, I decided to issue a Unit Citation to honour the collective actions and bravery of the men of “A” Company. This was the first time a Unit Citation was awarded within the Defence Forces and I was delighted to be able to formally recognize the brave actions of these men.
Furthermore, on 13th June 2017, the Government decided, as an exceptional step, to award a medal known as “An Bonn Jadotville” or “The Jadotville Medal” to each member of “A” Company, 35th Infantry Battalion and to the family representatives of deceased members to give full and due recognition in honour of their courageous actions at the Siege of Jadotville. I was delighted to present these Jadotville Medals at a ceremony that took place on 2nd December 2017 in Custume Barracks, Athlone. Custume Barracks was the location for this event as it is considered the spiritual home of “A” Company and it is from here that “A” company assembled in advance of their fateful deployment to the Congo.
Over the past number of years various representations have been received in my Department outlining the courage and bravery of "A" Company. All representations have been considered and responded to acknowledging their valiant actions while under siege in Jadotville.
I am satisfied that the events and happenings to date properly honour the collective bravery of the men of “A” Company and full and due recognition has been afforded to them in their honour
To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection if a cost-benefit analysis of the impact that the proposed IORP II regulation would have on operation of pension schemes with less than 100 members in particular its application to one person pension schemes has been carried out; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
To ask the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection the consultation she plans to undertake with relevant stakeholders in respect of the regulation required to give effect to the transposition of IORP II into law; and if she will make a statement on the matter.
The Government's Roadmap for Pensions Reform 2018 -2023 launched in February 2018 detailed specific measures that will modernise our pension system. It includes plans for reform and simplification of occupational and private pensions. Transposition of the Directive is a key part of the Government’s Roadmap.
Transposition of the IORP II Directive will support positive reform of the Irish funded occupational pension sector. Transposition will raise governance standards, improve trustee qualification and suitability, and increase supervision through enhanced powers for the Pensions Authority.
In 2014, the Department undertook an open public consultation on the IORP II Directive. Further to that, the Pensions Authority undertook a consultation process on the reform and simplification of supplementary funded private pensions in 2016. In addition, officials of my Department have engaged on the provisions of the Directive with numerous representatives and stakeholders over a number of years.
My Department, supported by the Pensions Authority, conducted detailed analysis on the implementation of the Directive.
While the Directive provides for the possibility of derogation from specific Articles for smaller schemes, I believe that members of smaller schemes should get the same protections and oversight as members of large schemes. Money saved for pension purposes should be properly protected to ensure that people have adequate income for their retirement years. It should be noted that Member States must apply certain provisions concerning investment rules and the system of governance to schemes which have more than 15 members.
The Pension Authority advises that there are 100,000 single member schemes and that 98% of these schemes are already compliant with the investment rules of the IORP II Directive. Those not compliant will not be obliged to change existing investments and borrowings.
Article 19 of the Directive sets out the investment rules for occupational pension schemes. The underlying principle for capital investment is for schemes to invest in accordance with the 'prudent person' rule and the other specific rules set out in the Article. It is recognised that there should be an appropriate level of investment freedom for schemes within prudent limits and this is reflected in the rules. Assets must be predominantly invested on regulated markets, i.e., at least 50%. This allows adequate scope for investment in instruments with a long-term economic profile and non-listed undertakings such as property and infrastructure.
The value of investments held in many schemes fell substantially during the financial crisis. This emphasised the need for stricter regulation and greater protections, especially for small schemes investing in riskier unregulated markets. Concerns in relation to this sector are particularly around the protection of the consumer and the money they have invested, the riskiness of investments, the charges that apply, and the standard of governance. Accordingly, the Government has decided that the provisions of the Directive should apply to all funded occupational pension schemes.
To ask the Minister for Finance the status of the betting tax review; when the review will be completed; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
The increase in the betting duty rate from 1 per cent to 2 per cent, and the betting intermediary duty rate from 15% to 25%, came into effect on 1 January 2019. It is too early to draw any conclusions on the impact of these increases.
I have sympathy for small bookmakers who may have ongoing difficulties competing with large retail and online bookmakers. However, I could not apply the increase in betting duty to some bookmakers and not others. Ultimately many taxes on goods or services are passed through to the end consumers and bookmakers will need to make commercial decisions on such matters.
The Deputies will appreciate that decisions in relation to betting duty need to reflect broader public interest considerations. Receipts from betting duty represented less than 1 per cent of all excise receipts in 2017 and this is also likely to be the case in for 2018. In addition, unlike other excisable commodities, there is no VAT applied on betting transactions. I have outlined why I consider the betting sector needs to make a fair contribution to the Exchequer.
In any discussion on betting duty, we must acknowledge the raised public consciousness of the problem of gambling in society. While problem gambling can result in the problem gambler, and their family, bearing the severest of economic and of course personal costs, the social costs of problem gambling can extend to their employers and to public institutions in the health, welfare and justice systems, such costs ultimately borne by taxpayers. Recent research published by the UK Gambling Commission and others provide an indicative list of these social costs, including loss of employment, experience of bankruptcy and/or debt, loss of housing/homelessness, crime associated with gambling, relationship breakdown/problems and health-related problems.
I have outlined my view that the social costs of problem gambling needs to be better reflected within the betting duty regime.
During the course of the Finance Bill process I agreed to review an alternative proposal put forward by the betting sector following the announcement of increases in betting duty in Budget 2019. My officials are currently considering this proposal, including the compatibility of a core element with EU rules, and will set out analysis and options in relation to betting duty at the Tax Strategy Group (TSG) meeting in July. The TSG Papers will be published on the Department's website shortly afterwards.
To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality the sections of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 which remain to be commenced; and the status of the implementation of the Act
The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 provides a modern statutory framework to support decision-making by adults with capacity difficulties. The Act was signed into law on 30 December 2015 but has not yet been fully commenced. New administrative processes and support measures, including the setting up of the Decision Support Service within the Mental Health Commission (a body under the Department of Health), must be put in place before the substantive provisions of the Act can be commenced.
A number of provisions of the 2015 Act were commenced in October 2016 in order to progress the setting up of the Decision Support Service. The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 (Commencement of Certain Provisions) Order 2016 (S.I. No. 515 of 2016), brought Part 1 (Preliminary and General) and Part 9 (Director of the Decision Support Service) of the Act, other than sections 3, 4 and 7 in Part 1 and sections 96 and 102 and Chapter 3 in Part 9, into operation on 17 October 2016. These provisions were brought into operation in order to enable the recruitment of the Director of the Decision Support Service.
The commencement of Part 8 of the Act, which provides a legislative framework for advance healthcare directives, is a matter for the Minister for Health. The Minister for Health, under the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 (Commencement of Certain Provisions) (No. 2) Order 2016 (S.I. No. 517 of 2016), brought some provisions of Part 8 of the Act into operation on 17 October 2016. The provisions commenced in Part 8 were the definition of “Minister” in section 82; the definitions of “code of practice” and “working group” in section 91(1); and section 91(2). The commenced provisions provide for the establishment by the Minister for Health of a multi-disciplinary group to make recommendations to the Director of the Decision Support Service in relation to codes of practice on advance healthcare directives.
The Minister for Health commenced the remainder of section 91 on 17 December 2018 (S.I. No. 527 of 2018) to enable the Director of the Decision Support Service to progress the preparation of the codes of practice as soon as the multi-disciplinary group submits its recommendations to the Director.
The remainder of the 2015 Act has not yet been commenced. A high-level Steering Group comprised of senior officials from the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Health, the Mental Health Commission and the Courts Service, together with the Director of the Decision Support Service, is overseeing the establishment and commissioning of the Decision Support Service and this work is ongoing. The key preparations are being put in place under the oversight of the Steering Group to allow for further commencement orders for the provisions of the 2015 Act to be made when the Decision Support Service is ready to roll out the new decision-making support options. Every effort is underway to ensure that the Decision Support Service has all necessary capacity to open for business as soon as possible. While the Decision Support Service has been working towards being operational and ready for the commencement of the main provisions of the Act in 2020, the situation is being kept under review as the preparatory work on implementation moves forward.
The 2019 Revised Estimates Volume provides for an allocation of €3.5 million in the Justice and Equality Vote for the establishment of the Decision Support Service.
All Parlamientary Questions I make and their answers can be viewed in this section