eolas Magazine - Issue 60

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Informing Ireland’s decision-makers...

Underpinned by people Three Ireland’s Catriona Murphy Minister for

Government CIO

Social Democrats’

Transport

Barry Lowry

Cian O’Callaghan TD

Eamon Ryan TD

discusses AI

outlines his party’s

heralds hopes

regulation in the

housing priorities

for a new age

public sector

issue 60

of rail

Nov/Dec 23

Justice

Connectivity

Future of rail

Housing

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Dublin

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Lilith King Taylor

Mary Hayes

Head of Social Media

Too Into You Project Lead

NHS England

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Arlene Finn

Nicola Halloran

Communications Officer, Corporate Services

Director, Teneo

Galway City Council Darragh Doyle Charlotte Jamison

Head of Communications, Marketing and

Marketing

Audience Development

Air Ambulance NI

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Niamh MacAuley

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eolas Issue 60 Nov/Dec 2023 Digital

Events

Print Editorial

Payer or player?

Ciarán Galway, Editor ciaran.galway@eolasmagazine.ie

Advocates of Ireland’s independent foreign policy (and military

Odrán Waldron, Deputy Editor odran.waldron@eolasmagazine.ie

neutrality) have been vindicated in recent weeks. Following the Hamas attack on 7 October, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s initial statements of absolute support for Israel overstepped her mandate and arguably made the EU complicit in the ‘self-defence’ now being wreaked upon Gaza’s 2.3 million inhabitants, most of whom are already refugees, and half of whom are children. Asserting that von der Leyen does not speak for Ireland in this context, Uachtarán na hÉireann Michael D Higgins asserted: “We need a better performance in relation to European Union diplomacy and practice.” Similarly, while praising her overall performance as President of the European Commission, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD remarked: “Some of the statements that she made lacked balance, in my view.” A statement by Tánaiste Micheál Martin TD also emphasised that while “Israel has a right to defend itself from attack”, it must operate “within the parameters of international humanitarian law”. Beyond longstanding funding commitments, Ireland’s unique worldview – formed largely by its own history of conquest, colonialism, conflict, and conflict resolution – can lend itself to playing a more direct role in the Middle East peace process, as well as pursuing official policy. This hinges on perceptions of Ireland as an honest broker. To its credit, the Irish Government has consistently been among other European outliers. For instance, Ireland was the first member state to

David Whelan david.whelan@eolasmagazine.ie Fiona McCarthy fiona.mccarthy@eolasmagazine.ie Joshua Murray joshua.murray@eolasmagazine.ie Advertising Sam Tobin sam.tobin@eolasmagazine.ie Design Gareth Duffy, Head of Design gareth.duffy@eolasmagazine.ie Jamie Hogan jamie.hogan@eolasmagazine.ie Events Lynda Millar lynda.millar@eolasmagazine.ie Become a subscriber! Annual subscriptions: €15.00 + €5.00 P&P Contact: Sharon Morrison Email: subscriptions@eolasmagazine.ie Online: www.eolasmagazine.ie

declare that a solution to the conflict in the Middle East had to be based

eolas Magazine

on a fully sovereign State of Palestine, independent of and co-existing with

Owen McQuade, Publisher owen.mcquade@eolasmagazine.ie

Israel.

bmf Business Services With a specific focus on justice, connectivity, the future of rail, and housing, this is the largest ever issue of eolas Magazine, and carries contributions from and interviews with SecGen at Department of Rural and Community Development, Mary Hurley; Sinn Féin TD, Matt Carthy; Government CIO, Barry Lowry; Minister of State Ossian Smyth TD; SocDem TD, Cian O’Callaghan, Fianna Fáil MEP Barry Andrews; Friends of the Earth

Clifton House Lower Fitzwilliam Street Dublin, D02 XT91 Tel: 01 661 3755 Web: www.eolasmagazine.ie Twitter: @eolasmagazine

Ireland Chief Executive, Oisín Coghlan; and ICTU General Secretary Owen Reidy.

Ciarán Galway FSC® is an acronym for the Forest Stewardship Council®, which is an independent, non-governmental, not-for-profit organization that was established to promote the responsible management of the world’s forests. The FSC® system provides an assurance that products such as wood and paper have been harvested in a socially and environmentally responsible manner.

www.eolasmagazine.ie

The FSC’s Chain of Custody certification provides a way in which the material can be tracked from the certified initial source through the manufacturing process to the end user and other controlled sources.


Digital

Events

contents 04 08

04

Matters arising

07

Cúpla focal

08

Issues 08 12 16

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41 79

12

24

Budget 2024 Cover story: Three’s Ireland’s Catriona Murphy Rural and Community Development Secretary General Mary Hurley on improving social dialogue

Round table discussion: Citizen and business engagement in an age of disruptive technological change 24 30

41

194

Print

Sponsored by

Sinn Féin’s Matt Carthy TD outlines his party’s foreign affairs policy Government CIO Barry Lowry: AI in the public sector

Justice Sponsored by 50 58 66

79

In focus: Limerick Female Prison Restorative justice: Prison as a last resort Priorities in justice legislation

Connectivity 80 84

Minister of State Minister of State Ossian Smyth TD: A truly connected society Digital connectivity: A roadmap for progress


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190

80

50 95

178

Future of rail 96 100 108 116

158 166

Sponsored by

Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan TD: Putting Ireland on track for a new age of rail All-Island Strategic Rail Review TU Dublin’s David O’Connor on making Ireland’s public transport safer and easier to use Net zero: The future of rail

131 Housing 134 138 142

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Sponsored by

Housing for All: A work in progress Budget 2024 and housing Social Democrats TD Cian O’Callaghan discusses affordable housing delivery Stagnant wages and inequality perpetuating housing crisis Modern methods of construction

178 Europe 178 180

Barry Andrews MEP discusses limited coverage of the European Parliament Von der Leyen’s foreign policy inconsistency

183 Public affairs 186 190 194 196

Constituency changes for the 34th Dáil Historian Cormac Moore on a centenary of republican hunger strikes ICTU’s Owen Reidy: The problem with housing policy University College London’s Constitution Unit on the need for care and attention of the North

95 131

178 183


matters arising

P U B L I C A F FA I R S

New Further and Higher Education Secretary General Colm O’Reardon has been appointed as the new Secretary General for the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, having formally began the job at the end of September 2023. Prior to his appointment at the Department, O’Reardon was head of the Strategic Economic Development Division in the Department of Finance. In previous roles, O’Reardon served as the Acting Secretary General of the Department of

Health, as well as serving as Assistant Secretary – Head of Strategy and Policy at the Department of Health. He has also worked for the Labour Party as an advisor and director of policy at the Office of the Leader of the Labour Party. He is a graduate of Trinity College Dublin, Churchill College Cambridge, and Wolfson College Oxford, and holds a doctorate in Economics from the University of Oxford.

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Simon Harris TD said: “The Secretary General will be well placed to provide leadership across our sector, working closely with our educational agencies and our higher education institutes to deliver on the Government’s priorities. I am confident that Colm will take on this challenge with focus and enthusiasm.”

ENERGY

Permission refused for Shannon Estuary LNG terminal An Bord Pleanála (ABP) has refused planning permission for the construction of a liquified natural gas terminal and power station on the Shannon Estuary.

rationalising that it would be

Welcoming the decision, Minister for the

“inappropriate” to “permit or proceed

Environment, Climate and

with the development of any LNG

Communications Eamon Ryan TD has

terminals in Ireland pending the review

hinted that the security of supply review

Shannon LNG had been seeking permission for the €650 million development, including a 600MW power plant and LNG terminal at the site near Tarbert.

of energy supply”.

could recommend some form of LNG

ABP, which made the decision with an 8:2 board majority, outlined that the refusal was based on the Government’s policy of not importing fracked gas,

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The board further stated that initial

but that it will be “strategic, not

analysis it has received from the

commercial”.

Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications in the unpublished security of supply review “does not support the development of a commercially operated floating LNG terminal”.

Ryan also said: “At a time when the world is burning, we cannot expand our use of fossil fuels. We have to switch from [gas-powered] electricity to wind.”


matters arising

H E A LT H

HSE cost overrun of €1.1 billion this winter Bernard Gloster, Chief Executive of the Health Service Executive, has warned of a cost overrun of up to €1.1 billion for the health service this coming winter. Following the publication of Budget 2024, Gloster, speaking to RTÉ’s This Week, stated that the HSE’s national service plan for 2024 will include a “built-in deficit”, adding that this will be “the first time in [his] memory that that will be the case”, while up to €2.7 billion would have been required in the Budget package to clear the service of that debt. Speaking to the Oireachtas Health Committee on 27 September 2023, Gloster outlined that the HSE was facing an overall deficit figure of €1.4 billion.

In Budget 2024, the Government only increased health spending by €800 million, in a move which the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council states “makes overruns in 2023 look likely”. The council also states that the Government’s health allocation “raises questions about the health allocation and budget projections”. Gloster has said that the HSE has committed “at the end of February next year”, to a review of “the efficacy and the appropriateness” of hospital beds which are costing an estimated €1,500 per head. “We are spending serious, serious millions of money every quarter,” said Gloster, adding that he must “protect the public interest” in how taxpayers’ money is spent.

HOUSING

Planning and Development Bill approved by cabinet The Cabinet has approved the Planning and Development Bill 2023, following a 15-month review of the planning system, as well as an extensive pre-legislative scrutiny process.

The Bill introduces mandatory, statutory timelines across all consenting processes including, for the first time, for An Bord Pleanála.

The Bill will introduce the requirement of new 10-year development plans for local authorities, increased alignment among the tiers of planning, a “significant restructuring” of An Bord Pleanála with the body to be renamed An Coimisiún Pleanála, mandatory timelines for decision-making by An Coimisiún Pleanála, reform of planning judicial review including the introduction of an environmental legal cost scheme, and new provisions for urban development zones.

The revised corporate structure for An Bord Pleanála, which will be renamed An Coimisiún Pleanála, will involve the separation of corporate, decision-making, and governance functions. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD said: “The Planning and Development Bill will bring more certainty and consistency to the planning process, and also make it more coherent and user-friendly.”

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matters arising

E N V I RO N M E N T

Maroš Šefčovič named European Commission’s green Vice President Maroš Šefčovič has been named, temporarily, as the new European Commission Vice President for the European Green Deal.

in the role, who has quit to run as a candidate in the Dutch general election in November 2023.

Šefčovič, a former member of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, is a familiar face to many in Ireland, having overseen the European Union’s negotiations with the United Kingdom which led to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said: “Following a successful legislation phase, the focus of Executive VicePresident Šefčovič will be the successful roll-out of the European Green Deal as Europe’s growth strategy.”

The Slovakian former diplomat replaces Dutchman Frans Timmermans

Šefčovič’s first big diplomatic task in the role will be at COP28 in Dubai, the

United Nations climate negotiations in November where countries will have to assess whether they have fallen short in curbing climate change and agree on a plan to get back on track. The European Commission has confirmed that Šefčovič will be replaced at some stage by a new Dutch commissioner, or by Timmermans again should he be defeated in the coming general election.

ISSUES

Moves afoot for Casement Park Casement Park, the main GAA stadium in Ulster, is to be renovated within the next five years, having been selected as one of the host stadiums for the UEFA European Championships in 2028, alongside the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

The GAA also signed up to a £15 million investment in 2015. Both the soccer and rugby venues were completed but a series of challenges have delayed the Casement project with the cost of construction now expected to be substantially over £100 million.

Home of Antrim GAA, Casement Park has been closed and effectively derelict for the last decade due to a rejection in planning applications following a dispute with local residents in Andersonstown, west Belfast, where the stadium is located, and political intransigence.

President-elect of the GAA, Jarlath Burns, has said that the association should not be expected to up its financial contribution to the Casement Park project despite rising costs.

In 2013, the Northern Ireland Executive committed £62 million to the redevelopment of the ground, as part of a wider package of £77 million by the North’s devolved executive for stadium development. This included a redevelopment of Windsor Park, home to the Northern Ireland soccer team, and Kingspan, home to the Ulster rugby union team.

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“It is not our fault that all of this delay has happened to do with planning and other issues beyond our control… We have kept our side of the bargain which was that we would give that £15 million.”


cúpla focal “I believe that there will be a united Ireland in my lifetime.” Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD

“Rumours of my demise are greatly exaggerated, I’m back.” Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald TD on her recent health scare.

“To actually announce in advance that you’re going to break international law against an innocent population… It reduces all the code from the Second World War through the Geneva Conventions about the protection of civilians to tatters.” Uachtarán na hÉireann Michael D Higgins on Israel’s siege of Gaza.

“Hamas terrorists have struck at the heart of Israel capturing and killing innocent women and children. Israel has the right to defend itself today and in the days to come. The European Union stands with Israel.” President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen eolas eolas cúpla matters focal

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Budget 2024:

Budget 2024 has been characterised by some as a “giveaway budget”, but doubts continue to be cast over the sustainability of an economy so reliant on corporation tax receipts largely derived from foreign direct investment.

Announcing the Budget to Dáil Éireann on 10 October 2023, Minister for Finance Michael McGrath TD – delivering his first Budget since becoming Finance Minister – told the house of a positive image for the Irish economy, with “full employment, a growing economy, budget surpluses, a national debt that is falling, a population that is rising, and now a plan to secure the future”. The Fianna Fáil TD added that the budget “provides help to households and businesses” and that “we face challenges for sure, but we face them from a position of strength, and we face them together”. Budget 2024 can be characterised as a series of short-term measures to increase payments to those struggling with the level of inflation and subsequent cost-of-living. With a general election on the horizon within the next 15 months, some of

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these measures may prove popular with the electorate, but leading economists have stated that the majority of the Government’s measures, especially on housing, will not solve the fundamental economic problems facing the State.

The state of the economy Over the last 12 months, inflation has incrementally increased 0.1 per cent to a stubbornly high level of 6.4 per cent. Government spending initiatives have been set out with the objective, in the words of Minister for Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery, and Reform, Paschal Donohoe TD, of providing “help again as the cost of living is still a challenge for so many”. However, whilst the one-off payments in social welfare will serve as an effective sticking plaster to the wider challenge of inflation, analysis from the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council (IFAC) argues that the

Credit: MerrionStreet.ie

Short-term fixes


issues eolas Credit: MerrionStreet.ie

budget package is likely to add to inflation, leaving it “higher for longer”. The council further argues that “there are risks that the additional non-core measures will also lead to more persistent levels of high inflation”. In addition, the budget shines further light on a rising point of interest in that the economy has become reliant on windfall corporation tax receipts, with the Government outlining that the State would be facing a budget deficit were it not for this income. Indeed, Budget 2024 is the 17th budget in a row where corporation tax receipts have had this critical level of influence. With a cumulative surplus of €65 billion having previously been projected over the period between 2023 and 2026, the Government has revised this projection down to €46 billion. However, analysis shows that there is a potential for Ireland to enter an underlying deficit (when windfall corporation tax receipts are removed) should there be overruns in the health budget or continued unbudgeted supports paid to Ukraine. In spite of the Government’s claims of facing current economic challenges “from a position of strength”, the IFAC states that the Government’s own spending cap, which bans spending increases by more than 5 per cent, is to be broken, with the Budget commitments already raising spending by 5 per cent, and the potential for a significantly higher overspend depending on health spending in the coming winter.

Labour TD Ged Nash said: “More than 20 per cent of workers are still on low pay, and deprivation rates went up four percentage points after last year's budget. The Government had to follow this up with a minibudget in February because they got it so wrong this time last year.” Overall, the measures taken by the Government fall outside its own specified rules on spending and are unlikely to reduce inflation in the short to medium term. Rather than looking at the economic big picture, the impact of the Government’s measures on the economy shows a lack of ambition to remove the State’s overreliance on foreign direct investment and corporation tax receipts.

Sovereign wealth fund Although the State’s reliance on corporation tax receipts presents a fundamental challenge to the State, the recent increase in the amount of money being received from said receipts has prompted the Government to establish a new sovereign wealth fund, although the legislation for this has not yet been introduced to the Oireachtas. The Government has announced that, for the period between 2023 and 2026, that it will set contributions to the sovereign wealth fund at 0.8 per cent of GDP, which is estimated to be around 41 per cent of the State’s corporation tax windfalls in this period.

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Health The Government has allocated €22.5 billion for health spending, which includes an €808 million increase in core current funding. Minister Donohoe stated that this will deliver an expansion in capacity through the funding of over 2,500 additional beds in hospital and community settings and an increase of over 22,000 staff through additional recruitment. Sinn Féin finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty TD characterised the Government’s health spending proposals as unambitious, accusing the Government of having decided “just to forget about health”.

Housing For analysis of Budget 2024’s housing allocation, please see page 138.

Cost-of-living supports Inflation is estimated to have made the average Irish household approximately €5,000 worse off than they were in 2021. With this in mind, Minister McGrath told the Dáil of measures aimed at alleviating the cost-of living in an Ireland where inflation remains at a stubbornly high 6.4 per cent. McGrath announced that the State’s social welfare payments will increase by €12 per week, which will bring in an additional estimated €500 per annum for a household in receipt of social welfare payments. This is in addition to two double social welfare payments (colloquially referred to as a ‘Christmas bonus’) which will be 10

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paid in the periods before and after Christmas 2023, and will be worth a further €500 for each household. People Before Profit member Richard Boyd Barrett TD referred to the Government’s €12 weekly increase as “miserable”, adding that it was that is “not even close to compensating for the cost-of-living hikes people have suffered over the past year”. The Government also announced that the cost of childcare will be cut by 25 per cent. However, this measure will not be in place until September 2024, just months before the deadline for the next general election. A more short-term payment has been announced which will see a doubling of child benefit payments scheduled for before Christmas. Former Social Democrat leader Róisín Shortall TD, whilst welcoming the commitment to increase affordability of childcare, outlined her view that there is an “increasing corporatisation of the childcare sector, with the involvement of multinational chains and investment funds”. She added: “We do not believe the early education of our children should be entrusted to large firms whose main motivation is the return to investment funds.”

Infrastructure, climate, and nature fund The Government announced that 18 per cent of the windfalls (around €2 billion) will be set aside for a smaller infrastructure, climate, and nature fund. The fund will grow incrementally by €2


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billion for seven consecutive years when it will reach €14 billion plus interest accrued, in a move which Environment Minister and Green Party leader Eamon Ryan TD described as “gamechanger”. The IFAC reacted to the development positively, stating that: “If used correctly, this could help address future ageing pressures, lessening the need to increase taxes on future taxpayers.”

Transport Budget 2024 has allocated €3.5 billion to the Department of Transport, comprising €892 million in current and €2.7 billion in capital funding. Minister Donohoe stated that this will provide for the continuation of the temporary 20 per cent fare reductions until the end of 2024, as well as metropolitan transport investment outlined in the National Development Plan. Donohoe also announced funding of €1.35 billion for the “development, protection, and renewal of our roads network”, in addition to announcing that eligibility for young adult cards for public transport is being extended to cover adults aged 19 to 25.

Taxes and VAT The Government is to increase the threshold for entering the top rate of income tax (40 per cent) to earnings above €42,000, up from €40,000. This is in addition to a drop in the 4.5 per cent USC rate to 4 per cent. It has been estimated that a household bringing in €70,000 will be approximately €900 better off in raw cash terms, whilst a household bringing in €55,000 per annum will be approximately €820 better off. Minister McGrath also announced his intention for government to increase the existing VAT registration thresholds for businesses from €37,500 for services

and €75,000 for goods to €40,000 for services and €80,000 for goods, respectively. He said: “While modest, these changes will provide more latitude to small businesses whose turnover is close to the existing thresholds and is broadly in line with forthcoming EU VAT registration thresholds.”

Broad analysis The Government can be satisfied with the state of Ireland’s finances and with a set of proposals which may prove broadly popular with the public as the date of the next election slowly gets closer. However, a closer look at the figures shows an underlying vulnerability with the State’s finances, with the reliance on corporation tax receipts to be a point of contention for decision-makers. In his concluding remarks to the Dáil, Minister Donohoe said: “Our public finances were gradually, step by difficult step, returned to health, from deficit to balance to surplus. This budget, presented by the Minister, Deputy Michael McGrath, and me today, continues that approach. We are not spending every cent today; we are leaving some aside for tomorrow.” However, the IFAC states that the National Spending Rule is planned to be breached for every year out to 2026. With no other credible anchor, the group argues that this has “the potential to severely undermine Ireland’s public finances”. The Parliamentary Budget Office states that inflation is not likely to be back to government target levels until 2025. Therefore, reducing inflation will, for both political and national interests, need to remain a top priority for the Government, with the value of the spending proposals, especially in housing, falling short of meeting the needs of citizens should inflation not be under control.

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cover story

Underpinned by people Catriona Murphy, Account Director for Public Sector Health with Three Ireland sits down with eolas Magazine to discuss network, emerging technologies, security, Healthmail, and how Three’s people support their public sector clients. With over 25 years’ experience in telecommunications and serving the public health sector, Murphy talks through how Three’s strategic partnerships support the ever-evolving health sector. 12

cover story


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The evolution of Three’s network has very much been aligned with the types of services required by Ireland’s Health Service. As the health service accelerates towards digital transformation enabling secure cloud-based services and remote working, having secure high performance mobile communications becomes increasingly important to delivering reliable, flexible, and secure services.

Network and Innovation Two emerging technologies will define the future of connected healthcare: 5G and Internet of Things (IoT). 5G is 10 times faster than its 4G predecessor, it is projected that its economic potential in Ireland will equate to €12 billion of GDP by 2030, as per an Amárach report. Three Ireland has created Ireland’s fastest and most consistent 5G mobile network*, providing 5G population coverage of over 90 per cent across Ireland. In fact, according to Ookla*, Three has been Ireland’s fastest and most consistent 5G mobile network for three consecutive years and its fastest mobile network for four consecutive years. The power of Three’s network opens a wide range of potential opportunities for connected healthcare in Ireland, very much aligning to the strategic objectives highlighted in the Government’s Sláintecare Report where there is the need

“Three’s support for public sector health customers is underpinned by our people.” Catriona Murphy, Account Director for Public Sector Health, Three Ireland for treating patients in an environment that delivers the best potential outcome for their treatment plan. This approach means that patients can be treated remotely in their home, taking advantage of digital services connected over a highspeed mobile service to practitioners, in a clinical or office environment. IoT-enabled medical wearable devices can help reduce pressure on acute hospitals. This can enable a more efficient use of finite resources such as hospital beds but also for practitioners to potentially care for a greater number of patients due to the added flexibility. “It has become increasingly important that this is underpinned by security, ensuring that every touchpoint is secure from the mobile device to the services being accessed,” Murphy comments.

Security and Healthmail Three has extensive experience in delivering secure, reliable communication services. One example of Three’s managed service delivery into the Health Service Executive (HSE) is Healthmail. With geographically dispersed healthcare professionals caring for patients’ email is one of the most effective tools for communication. However, given the cybersecurity challenge it poses, it is important that the right security measures are put in place to protect Personal Health Information (PHI). Healthmail is a fully encrypted clinical email platform which allows healthcare professionals to communicate securely. “Initially, it was launched to provide secure email communication between GPs and hospitals. That has expanded

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“Amid increasing digitalisation of healthcare, Three is best placed to partner with healthcare customers as we advance into the future.” dramatically in recent years to include nursing homes, pharmacies, dentists, physiotherapists, and so on,” Murphy says, adding: “As well as enhancing patient care, Healthmail has improved collaboration between healthcare professionals while supporting regulatory compliance.” Following the Covid-19 pandemic in

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March 2020 and HSE ransomware attack in May 2021, Healthmail experienced exponential growth. With the onset of Covid, emails sent via Healthmail increased from 50,000 per month to around 2.5 million per month. To enable this growth Three’s team transitioned the service to secure cloud-based platforms in less than 10 weeks.

“Three’s agility in reacting to this growth was critical to supporting the health service, determining what they required and pulling out all the stops to achieve that. We were able to adapt rapidly and provide the necessary connectivity while ensuring adequate resources were available in our care centre to support the HSE.” Murphy explains that in the face of several crises, Healthmail has been resilient. “It is a fully bounded and secure service that is critical to the HSE. As such, security is paramount. Given the increased prevalence of cyber threats, we are adding more protection, working with the HSE to ensure that services are protected, and identities secured via multi-factor authentication (MFA),” the Account Director Public Sector Health highlights. To date, the fully managed service has attracted over 9,000 active users who can now securely share sensitive patient information between primary, secondary, and tertiary settings.

The importance of securing mobile devices Indeed, in the aftermath of the May 2021


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ransomware attack on the HSE, Three’s Account Director Public Sector Health is acutely aware of the security challenges posed by remote working among healthcare professionals. Powered by Corrata, 3Mobile Protect is a mobile solution which protects endpoints such as tablets, phones, and other devices from cyber threats such as phishing and malware. Simultaneously, it filters non-work content, including social media, gambling sites, and other inappropriate content, given peace of mind that mobile devices are protected.

Simplifying professional communications Among Three’s solutions for public sector, 3Communicate is a self-managed tool designed to simplify professional communications. A single platform, it is an agile, efficient, and reliable way to reach groups of people directly on their mobile phones. “With a 97 per cent read rate, bulk SMS is the most efficient and cost-efficient way to communicate with staff, customers, and clients regarding internal communications, service alerts, and appointment reminders or cancellations. For instance, 3Communicate is an important solution for elective surgeries whereby patients regularly need to receive ‘do not attend’ notices. At the same time, secure and encrypted end-to-end, patient information is fully protected,” she comments.

relationships with our public sector customers. As a team, we are incredibly passionate about delivering excellent customer service and going above and beyond to ensure our customers have the best possible experience.” The strength of Three’s customer service ethos is evident by the fact that they have secured multiple award wins, including Gold at the annual European Contact Centre and Customer Service Awards for Best Customer Experience and are winner of the Best Customer Experience Award at the Irish Customer Contact and Shared Services Awards 2022.** Three’s technical service desk is also based in Limerick, meaning that all its customers are provided with managed service, with dedicated teams assigned to public sector customers, including the health team. “There is a positive culture in the customer care centre, with an average tenure of 15+ years. Everyone working there is immersed in this ethos to go above and beyond to support our customers and ensure the optimal delivery of our managed services and solutions.” Supporting customers, Murphy remarks, is mission critical for Three. “If a

customer is experiencing a challenge, it is essential that this is comprehensively managed through from beginning to end. Working in collaboration and in partnership with customers to understand the nature of their challenge, Three has the technology and support to deliver effective solutions,” she says. “We want to continue to be a strategic partner for our public sector customers. We are the experts in technology, while they have a very important job in delivering healthcare. Through managed service, supplying solutions, and being a virtual player, Three removes barriers and allows its customers to focus on their core business.”

Ambition Turning to her immediate ambitions as Account Director for Public Sector Health, Murphy is succinct. “My ambition is to continue building meaningful customer relationships, built on trust, confident in the knowledge that our services we are developing and building for the health service, become enablers to digital transformation. Working together, Three can deliver ‘a better-connected health service’, recognised as a true strategic partner.”

*Based on analysis by Ookla® of Speedtest Intelligence® data for Q3-Q4 2020 - Q1-Q2 2023. Ookla trademarks used under license and reprinted with permission. **Gold Winner for Best Customer Experience at the European Contact Centre & Customer Service Awards 2022 and are winner of the Best Customer Experience Award at the Irish Customer Contact & Shared Services Awards 2022.

People Profile: Catriona Murphy

With over 25 years of experience in telecommunications, Murphy began her career as one of the first employees in the customer care offices in Limerick, and today she finds herself supported by the same customer care centre in Castletroy, Limerick. However, while recognising the importance of technology, Murphy emphasises the significance of people and culture. “While technology is vital,” Three’s support for public sector health customers is underpinned by our people, she says crucially.” Leading Three Ireland’s public sector health team, she is supported by 480 colleagues in the customer care centre in Limerick. “We have a fully dedicated team, directly supporting and building

Catriona Murphy is the lead for the Health Sector in Three Ireland. Catriona started her career in telecommunications over 25 years ago and brings a wealth of experience having held many roles supporting and managing enterprise and public sector customers for O2 and Three. Catriona joined the public sector team in 2016 managing Three’s healthcare customers and in January 2021 was promoted to account director for public sector health. Catriona is passionate about the use of technology to deliver digital transformation within the Irish health sector. Catriona is from County Limerick and is married with three children. She is a keen cyclist and is a supporter of Limerick GAA and Munster Rugby.

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Social dialogue: Engaging with communities Mary Hurley, Secretary General, Department of Rural and Community Development, discusses the role of the civic forum in strengthening social dialogue and civic participation in public policy-making. Then Taoiseach Micheál Martin TD talks to Rural and Community Development Minister Heather Humphreys TD and Minister of State Joe O’Brien TD.

Established with the mission to promote rural and community development, and to support vibrant, inclusive, and sustainable communities throughout Ireland, one of the core strategic goals for the Department of Rural and Community Development is the enablement of community, voluntary, charity, philanthropic, and social economy sectors to contribute fully to civil society. Hurley, who has worked across a broad spectrum of public policy, outlines a fundamental understanding of the role of engagement in driving good public policy, in the context of the first national civic forum held in November 2022. “The true power of communities was never so evident as in recent years when the response to the Covid-19 pandemic and the Ukraine invasion highlighted the value of the community and voluntary sector to delivering public services,” she explains. “We are on a journey of strengthening social

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dialogue and civic participation in public policymaking.” The context for the civic forum was the commitment in the Programme for Government to “produce a coherent policy framework and develop a strategy to support the community and voluntary sector and encourage a cooperative approach between public bodies and the community and voluntary sector”. In August 2019, the Department, in collaboration with the community and voluntary sector, published Sustainable, Inclusive and Empowered Communities, a five-year strategy to support the community and voluntary sector in Ireland 2019-2024, included in which was an action to establish a civic forum. The Secretary General highlights an acknowledgement from central government that cuts to the community and voluntary sector during the recession stalled some of the momentum which had been built up around engagement with social partners. In turn, the

Credit: Department of Rural and Community Development

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Mary Hurley, Secretary General, Department of Rural and Community Development civic forum was geared at regenerating those relationships and ultimately, strengthening the formal engagement between the sector and local and central government. “From the outset of our ambitions to strengthen those relationships, we recognised the value of codesign. Creating the vehicle for which people could engage meant not only consultation, but a workshopping of themes whereby an agreed output was established. Critically, we ensured there was an honesty about the limitations on delivery for the sector, while valuing the engagement and real dialogue about the challenges that needed to be addressed,” Hurley says. Opened by the then Taoiseach Micheál Martin TD in November 2022, the first national civic forum has led to the publication of a document collating feedback and contributions, but also setting a roadmap for future engagement. “The National Civic Forum 2022 emphasised the point made in the co-design consultations that the forum should be understood as a process rather than as an event. The first recommendation is for an ongoing process which should create ‘spaces for ongoing dialogue’, with the immediate focus being on developing and communicating the ‘why’ of the forum,” Hurley explains. The Secretary General is quick to point out the civic forum’s position within wider social dialogue processes, not least sectoral fora around issues such as health, climate change and social inclusion. Additionally government departments and agencies engage extensively with stakeholders, and at local government level

through public participation networks, local community development committees, and strategic policy committees. Discussing progress to date, Hurley says: “One of the surprising things has been that there has been no pushback or reluctance from any policymakers around the broadening of social dialogue. The power and value of civil society has been evident in the last number of years and government at all levels see the value of engagement on the ground, and see that enhanced connectivity is working in a positive way. “Another key understanding is that there is no onesize-fits all approach for individual communities. The needs of a rural community can look very different to that of an island community, and the creation of the Values and Principles for Collaboration and Partnership Working with the Community and Voluntary Sector at Local and National Levels document has been very useful in terms of how we engage.”

Next steps Outlining the next steps, not least a plan to hold a second national civic forum in 2023, the Secretary General says: “We know that public services only work if there is a need from people for those services and that people are bought in to those services. Key to that buy-in is engagement, both for the communities being served and for the State in delivering those services. “We will not deliver value for money if we do not engage, and that engagement will not be meaningful if we do not have the formal structures to allow citizens to be heard. “We know that we can improve services and we want to continue on that journey of engagementdriven improvement. The challenge will be to ensure those dialogue structures are meaningful, but also that as policymakers we are implementing the changes being identified.”

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round table discussion

Citizen and business engagement in an age of disruptive technological change Fexco Managed and Advisory Services hosted a round table discussion with key stakeholders across the public, semi-state, and private sectors to discuss how citizen and business engagement can be enhanced amid pervasive digital disruption. How are citizens’ and businesses’ expectations of public services evolving in the current era of technological innovation? Nick Connors Citizens’ expectations are high in relation to services across the board and the personalised experience is key to them. The challenge is that personalised experience is constantly evolving; an experience today will be very different in 12 months’ time. That is the challenge for us all, keeping pace with that expectation. While technology is continually changing, the process and people behind it sometimes struggle to

match that. When people pick up the phone or access online, they need to know the organisation on the other end knows who they are. Anything less than that is well below expectation.

Kate Gannon As a network operator, Gas Networks Ireland has both customer-facing services and operational safety services for all citizens. The advances in technology and digitalisation means both customers and citizens have new expectations in terms of speed, ease of use, and new communications channels. We are using new technology to optimise our customer-facing services without compromising the critical safety service we provide to all citizens, so if an individual suspects a gas safety incident,

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they can still immediately connect with a human being at GNI to share critical information and be reassured that our response teams are on the way.

Kevin O’Brien People expect fast and efficient consumer experience, and when they do not receive this, they are unhappy. This is where technology companies can play a positive role, creating a seamless process whereby people get what they want quickly. It also must be the case that when things go wrong or someone needs more information, they can access the necessary information quickly. However, there is also a confusing landscape in terms of rights and access to information. How those things are balanced is important.

Ultan O’Carroll Citizens and the organisations expect accessible services, and now that means mobile as well as a static website. When dealing with the State, people expect things to be fair, accurate, functional, and safe. They expect that what they tell you


is private, that it will not be shared with anyone else without a well define need or used for anything other than what they are providing that data for. The Data Protection Commission’s expectation is that services are accessible but secure and respect people’s rights and freedoms.

Round table participants Nick Connors Nick Connors is Group Managing Director and co-founder of TEKenable Ltd. Nick with his business partner Peter Rose founded TEKenable in 2002 which has now over 200 staff in six office locations worldwide. TEKenable are experts in rapid digital transformation through AI and low code platforms such as Microsoft and Salesforce. TEKenable deliver solutions to medium and largescale enterprises and to the public sector in Ireland, UK and EMEA. TEKenable has been recognised for the last four years in the Deloitte Technology Fast 50 in Ireland. Nick previously worked in Vision Consulting, Digital Channel Partners, and Defence Forces Computer Information Systems Corps and is a graduate of University College Galway where he received a BE in Engineering.

Rónán Ó Domhnaill As technology evolves, people expect a service that is safe, secure, and agile. A good example of that is services provided by the Passport Service; it is incredible that I can take a photo at home, and have my passport renewed and returned within a week, safely and securely. A recent trust survey for departments and agencies found the Passport Service had gone from close to the bottom to close to the top, illustrating that people react positively to good services when they get them. The challenge for Coimisiún na Meán is to ensure that when people are engaging with big tech – for instance, through social media – that it is safe, and they can avoid being bombarded with disinformation. We cannot scrutinise each individual service provided, but we can get platforms to act in a more responsive way.

Kate Gannon Kate Gannon is Head of Customer Care and Communications at Gas Networks Ireland (GNI) and is responsible for driving customer service excellence and delivering clear external communications. Prior to GNI, Kate spent 20 years working in the water sector. A chartered engineer and fellow of Engineers Ireland, Kate worked for 10 years in Uisce Éireann, the national water utility, across several roles in asset management, corporate affairs, and customer operations, and a further 10 years as a consulting engineer, designing and delivering large scale infrastructure projects across the country.

Kevin O’Brien was appointed as a Member of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission in August 2022 and currently oversees the Communications, Corporate Services and Consumer Protection Divisions. Before joining the CCPC, he was Head of Consumer Policy and Research at the Central Bank of Ireland and was Commissioner at the Commission for Communications Regulation between 2011 and 2018, serving as its Chairperson from 2013 to 2015. Kevin has also worked in a range of Irish Civil Service policy roles, dealing with energy, communications, and broadcasting policy matters.

Martin Ryan Evolving is the key word. Regardless of it being public services or private sector services, expectations are simply changing at an unprecedented pace. Expectation, at its core, is about experience, and more often than not, that is human experience. Citizen and business engagement cannot go too far wrong if they put human experience to the fore of their service design and allow technological advancement to enhance or enable improved personal human experience, rather than replace it. Providing a good service comes with the expectation of convenience, but also for a personalised experience, and the challenge for governments and semistates is to design services for personalised experience, but at scale.

Ultan O’Carroll Ultan O’Carroll is Deputy Commissioner for Technology and Operational Performance at the Data Protection Commission (DPC). He previously served as Assistant Commissioner at the DPC for over seven years. In this time, he led on technology advisory and policy matters for DPC at national and EU level, while also working across the DPC’s regulatory units on audit, compliance and enforcement related to SME and multinational organisations. Ultan also leads on GDPR accreditation and certification at DPC. Ultan carries forward these technology advisory and certification leadership roles, and takes on responsibility for DPC's ICT strategy, assurance, and operational performance at a time of transformative change and growth in an increasingly international context. Ultan has worked extensively in the private sector within technology industries in the UK and Ireland prior to joining the Commissioner's office.

Rónán Ó Domhnaill Rónán Ó Domhnaill was appointed Media Development Commissioner at Coimisiún na Meán, the multi-person commission responsible for overseeing the regulatory framework for broadcasting services, video-on-demand services and online safety and play a key role in the development and funding of the wider media sector. Previously, Rónán was An Coimisinéir Teanga for nine years. As language commissioner he advocated for strengthening language legislation in Ireland and has advised government, political parties, Oireachtas committees and various other stakeholders of the necessity of robust legislation. He is also the chair of the Irish Ombudsman’s Forum, the Irish representative on the executive board of the Ombudsman Association and the former chair of the International Association of Language Commissioners, and previously spent 16 years as a journalist with both TG4 and RTÉ.

What emerging trends is your organisation observing in technology, digitalisation, public services, and semi-state services?

Martin Ryan Martin Ryan is Managing Director of Fexco Managed and Advisory Services, and a member of the Fexco Group Executive. Martin has spent most of his career working in consultancy, service management, service delivery and commercial management roles across multiple sectors in Ireland and internationally helping to address the various business, operational, and ICT challenges they face.

Kate Gannon As a utility managing critical infrastructure for the State, Gas Networks Ireland recognises the opportunity in technology trends to enable continuous improvement

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government. It is very important that public and private organisations account for these concerns and design these services from the bottom up, with protections in mind for people.

Martin Ryan

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“We continually seek to take an established remit and make it as modern and engaging as possible.” Kate Gannon in both our technical operations and our customer-facing services. We have also observed that citizens who engage with our safety messaging remit are now receiving information in new and briefer formats with the advent of mobile devices and social media. This is a consideration for us when communicating safety messaging and articulating the transformation of the network to renewables gas because these are more technical subjects.

want someone at the end of the line that you can talk to and that makes services more accessible. We must remember the people – customers and citizens – amid prevailing hype cycles. If we adopt certain technologies, we must be careful and considerate. In some cases, these technologies can be characterised as solutions looking for problems. We will see that evolve, and this brings certain risks and some of those involve skills and expertise that we might not yet have in

There is certainly a wave of new trends with intelligent automation including AI, IoT and quantum computing being examples of current disruptors, but will be accompanied by many more advancements in the future. However, there are two key considerations that should form part of service design, particularly when looking to apply new technologies and intelligent automation to your services: tiering of the criticality of services and segmentation of your user base. A service providing important user advice could have a very different tiering to a service providing general information, with both potentially allowing for different channels of communication with citizens or customers. However, when you introduce different segmentations of citizen or customer demographics, your choice of channel may differ greatly. Therefore, when designing services to utilise these new trends in technology and digitisation, you cannot do so without identifying the criticality of the service, coupled with segmenting potential users of the service.

Nick Connors That is the big challenge from a TEKenable perspective. Technology is an enabler, tools that will help you. The basics such as your data and processes need to be in place with the technology. We get access to the very latest technology before public release.

Rónán Ó Domhnaill Coimisiún na Meán is processing many complaints relating to online safety, and we are trying to figure out how to communicate with people under 25, whether it is through webchat, over the phone, or whatever format. For instance, most experiences indicate that this cohort of people will not answer the phone, so that is a big challenge.

Ultan O’Carroll Not everyone is digitally literate, and therefore the human aspect is still very important. When talking to a chatbot, currently at least, you do not want that chatbot making decisions. You probably

“Citizens’ expectations are high in relation to services across the board and the personalised experience is key to them.” Nick Connors 20 20 20


Generative AI is all the hype at the minute and is a game changer, but unless the basics are in place you will not achieve the benefits. Some of the latest technologies cannot be immediately implemented and our challenge is deciding what works best for organisations.

Kevin O’Brien

What are some of the opportunities posed by these trends? Kevin O’Brien Part of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission’s remit is the provision of online tools and services for mortgages and other financial products. We aim to be a recognisably independent, reliable comparison website. That is a digital service that people want and seek to understand. As such, we attempt to seek to bring them to our website so that when they are about to make a major decision in their life, they will have relevant information immediately available. More and more, it is through digital means that people receive information like that, and that is a real positive for consumer welfare.

Martin Ryan Human experience of public, semi-state, and private services comes with high expectations and there are plenty of opportunities for emerging tech. If you are applying for a loan or a grant, automated decision-making can be a better user experience in the expectation that decisions are faster, the process could be more secure, and the decisioning process is learning and evolving with the application of AI. Of course, this needs to be balanced with the inevitable human intervention if things go wrong, and we see that service designers need to have an alternative

“Determining how to make the right information available at the right moment is where digital technologies can be best in helping people.” Kevin O’Brien channel to automated processing available for the optimal user experience. When we look at one or the other alone, that is where the problem lies.

Ultan O’Carroll We must think ahead. For example, when adopting technology to automate a manual process and make decisionmaking much easier, there is likely a consequence. Expectations rise and change. We need skills to be upgraded to deal with these higher-level questions. In our case, we focus on data subject rights. That dynamic, where things are changing, brings with it a certain responsibility.

Nick Connors The technology available is superb, but we must marry-in the non-functional areas. Once we get the two of those right, we have something truly transformational. If either one of those is out of sync, we have a problem. It could be simple or complex technology, but we need a non-functional wrap-around so that the citizen is comfortable that they are in a safe environment that is secure, with a clear end-to-end process that works.

Rónán Ó Domhnaill We have been wondering about AI and the role it might play in regulating content that should not be online. AI could play a role ensuring that human eyes can avoid having to view material that they should not see, but again it is a question of ensuring that the online platforms use it for that purpose, for the right reasons. The idea is to do it quickly and to do it safely.

Kate Gannon One of the biggest remits that GNI now has is converting the pipeline network to transport renewable gases. Alongside this, we have a strong safety remit. As we convert the network and bring on renewable gases, the adoption of new technologies will be at the heart of that because we will need to ensure we are making these changes as efficiently as we can. While we have a huge period of transformation ahead of us and we will look to leverage innovation and technology, we must also ensure there is rigorous testing and high standards applied, so it is about harnessing these opportunities in a safe and systematic manner.

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One of the most significant trends we see is in advertising. This is distinct from the provision of public services where it is presumed that the citizen wants them. We know that advertising revenues have pivoted online now, but the way in which it is happening more and more utilises personalisation and choice architecture – both in terms of how the marketplace is set up and how people are nudged towards products. Advertising has become more complicated and entangled with the provision of services and Competition and Consumer Protection Commission research is moving into that space. Overall, the very sophisticated tailoring of messaging to individuals is a trend for both good and bad.

To what extent can public sector bodies and semistate bodies protect citizens while continuing to promote technology adoption and innovation? Ultan O’Carroll There is the opportunity to do things right, to look at what the problem is, and what the process will be. That is not easy because you may have a complicated process that involves legislation and public bodies and so on, so defining this can take time. Approaches must be flexible and adaptable and may necessitate using good technological 4

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companywide information. Secondly, our role supports the security of supply of energy for the State. In that context, we are undertaking a huge amount of work in the area of cybersecurity to ensure that we protect that energy supply for all citizens.

Martin Ryan

“One thing that could do with a bit more focus in public service is to consider that one size does not fit all.” Ultan O’Carroll

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partners. It must be borne in mind that this process will be scrutinised. Having a data protection officer involved and undertaking a prototype can be crucial, as is having sight of who is collecting and processing your data. It is essential to establish how to correctly and compliantly share data, often sensitive data, with another part of government or the State when necessary. When seeking to provide a portal for citizens, for instance, there is a layer of priorities which must be acknowledged from functionality to security and data protection. This is fundamental: human rights and GDPR, as well as staff training and awareness.

Rónán Ó Domhnaill In my previous role as Coimisinéir Teanga, we used to get complaints that website or interactive forms were available only in English. Getting public bodies and agencies to retrospectively make websites bilingual was difficult because the system was already in place. The only way to implement digital transformation is to get it right at the start, whether that is for safety or anything else. It is a challenging otherwise.

Nick Connors The maze of legislation and data protection can be a frightening place but what we see is that the people in more progressive areas are working in an agile way, implementing small daily changes, and using technology that allows users make those changes. Inflexible thinking is a hindrance to progress or adoption because the world around us is changing daily regardless.

Kate Gannon We have 720,000 customers directly connected to the gas network, so it is critical that we look at new technology from a customer information protection perspective and ensure we keep pace with legislative requirements for

Public sector, semi-state, and private sector stakeholders must be curious and have a healthy risk appetite. One of the things that we find very useful is mapping out user journeys at an early stage to determine customer sentiment at each point of the process, and where improvements can be achieved. In addition, with a curious mindset and a healthy risk appetite, being agile is key. We cannot be afraid to change fast. We need a healthy risk tolerance, but also be brave enough to fail fast and pull a project if needs be.

Kevin O’Brien One observation relates to digital services that are effectively access to types of software, whether that is gaming, subscription services, or digital products. The dynamic with the consumer is different to the traditional marketplace and there are new challenges which must be addressed at the outset. Some of these challenges concern software upgrades: you buy something, and your hardware or the provider’s software changes, and in that case, you should not lose out or it should have been clear that this software would have a certain lifespan. It is a challenge to cater for the characteristics of non-tangible products in a world that is used to consuming tangible products. There is also now the matter of green economy and greenwashing. All of this ties back into the design at the beginning

Ultan O’Carroll A common rubric is that 80 per cent of the cost of a project happens after its launch, through maintenance and upkeep. Get it wrong at the beginning, and the costs will increase later.

“As technology evolves, people expect a service that is safe, secure, and agile.” Rónán Ó Domhnaill

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and the reuse of products and whether we are properly dealing with sustainability issues. Companies must consider these things and seek help from public bodies.

Amid disruptive technological change, how can public services, semi-states, policymakers, and regulators ensure effective citizen engagement in the immediate term? Martin Ryan

Kate Gannon It is about keeping your core remit in mind, but also leveraging the change that is coming and how citizens engage with it. When I think of our safety messaging, we must deliver five very important messages annually, and so it is critical for us to ensure that this messaging is received and is memorable for all citizens. We created a campaign in partnership with Jedward in 2023 that has gone viral and the key to its success is that it is memorable and works well with new types of communications and devices by using striking images and short videos. We continually seek to take an established remit and make it as modern and engaging as possible.

Kevin O’Brien The timing of the message is the key point. We find ourselves more and more in discussions drawing on behavioural science and economics. The research indicates that determining how to make the right information available at the right moment is where digital technologies can be best in helping people. We are exploring avenues to achieve this. Something we did for the first time in 2023 was run a stall at the National Ploughing Championships and that was very interactive, and it showed us that

“Regardless of it being public services or private sector services, expectations are simply changing at an unprecedented pace.” Martin Ryan some of those traditional ways of communicating with people remain crucial.

Nick Connors If user interaction and feedback are lost, no matter what you put in place, it will not be adopted. We must interact with the end user, from teenagers to the elderly. Sometimes we think that the elderly will not adapt to technology, but we often find that they are more receptive than the younger generation and this is relative to expectations. Technology is the easy piece for TEKenable, user expectation and change are the challenges. Perfect is never achievable, as user expectation is continually changing.

Rónán Ó Domhnaill Our big piece of work in 2023 is an online safety code. It will be binding and will have associated sanctions, so it will be significant. The process of completing this process involves a lot of consultation. We have had a call for inputs, which was followed by a draft code, and we are now seeking responses on that both from the platforms and the public. There is so much consultation and that can be time consuming, but we must do it if we are going to get buy-in, trust, and a sense of ownership.

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There is one common factor in all of this. Each of us is talking about an end user; someone who uses our services. If we are designing services and being curious about technological change and want to ensure effective citizen engagement, we must engage with the citizens. We must involve and learn from them. We should utilise user focus groups to capture their experience, and leverage customer feedback and customer satisfaction channels for continuous improvements. If we do that, regardless of what disruptive technological change exists, then we will have designed services that users will use.

agencies, government departments, and departmental units have different needs, responsibilities, and accountabilities. Having a single service that applies to everyone does not work because people do not want, to use a hypothetical example, their healthcare data mixed up with their revenue data. These streams should be isolated because after all public service agencies should think more about their role as data controllers rather than the traditional department or agency or state. Generally, it is not a single individual who is charged with managing and controlling the data. Rather it is part of an organisation or a whole organisation, and that must be understood because things can go wrong with identifying roles under GDPR, and this can affect data sharing agreements. Or it may be that there is an agreement that allows for data sharing to once per year or for very specific purposes – and not continuously. And of course with public services, there are often very sensitive datasets involved. People expect that you will make the data given to you accessible and safe and that it will be used for the purpose they gave it to you for, not for anything else.

Ultan O’Carroll One thing that could do with a bit more focus in public service is to consider that one size does not fit all. Different 23 23 23


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Sinn Féin foreign affairs spokesperson Matt Carthy TD:

‘Independent foreign policy is not a weakness’ When Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald TD reshuffled her front bench in April 2023, former MEP Matt Carthy was drafted from his agriculture portfolio to replace John Brady TD as the party’s spokesperson on foreign affairs and defence. In a year marked by major geopolitical conflagration and confusion, Ciarán Galway sits down with the TD for Cavan-Monaghan to tease out the ‘left republican’ worldview. Credit: Sinn Féin

Having served as an MEP for the Midlands–North-West constituency from 2014 to 2020, Matt Carthy was subsequently elected to represent the Cavan-Monaghan constituency in Dáil Éireann when he secured Sinn Féin’s highest ever share of first preference votes in the February 2020 general election. Initially designated the party’s spokesperson for agriculture, food and the marine, where he was regarded as a capable asset, he was then moved sideways into the foreign affairs and defence remit. Speaking about the move, he explains: “Obviously, Mary Lou’s reshuffle was about setting out our stall for government, setting out who she wants to lead us into government in terms of our priorities. “I was very honoured to be asked to take on the role as spokesperson on foreign 24

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affairs and defence because I see it as critically important to Sinn Féin being successful in government.” A major priority of any future Sinn Féin minister for foreign affairs, Carthy indicates, will be to build international support for the process, and also for Irish reunification. Simultaneously, he believes that Ireland has a positive and constructive role to play in international affairs. “We should be very proud of the role that Ireland has historically played as a neutral country; as a country that has been seen very much as a champion for human rights, the rule of law, international fora, particularly the United Nations, and we can play a really positive role in terms of the future trajectory of international affairs.” With regard to his priorities, the Sinn Féin

frontbencher wants Ireland to be a country “at the heart of Europe”, while maintaining “an independent foreign policy” and military neutrality. He also wants Ireland to be perceived as a country that “involves itself in conflict resolution, as opposed to conflict participation”. To achieve this, he insists, Ireland must have Defence Forces “that are fit for purpose”.

Neutrality Rejecting any criticism that Sinn Féin’s foreign policy amounts to isolationism, Carthy suggests it is, in fact, the opposite. “There has been a strong effort made to almost rewrite Ireland's role in the world,” he argues, adding: “It has never been one of isolationism going back to the foundation of the first Dáil. Ireland has been very outward looking in terms of


issues eolas international affairs, being a proponent for peace, playing a role in terms of international treaties around nuclear nonproliferation, and it has played a really constructive and valuable role, and one that I think we should be proud of, in terms of UN peacekeeping missions. Many of our Defence Forces personnel paid with their lives. “We were also very one of the first countries to articulate the need to stand up to apartheid South Africa, the need for international pressure to come to bear.”

Being neutral, therefore, in Sinn Féin’s view, does not preclude Ireland from establishing a position as to identifying the aggressor(s) in any single conflict, rather it is about using its influence to end conflict. “[Ireland] is never going to have a powerful military force that would be able to invade or intervene directly in military conflicts, but what we have is the potential capacity to have a military force that can go into regions to uphold peace that can do things such as landmine clearance. “I certainly would not ever cast having an independent foreign policy or neutrality as a weakness as some would, and I certainly would not describe it as isolationism. Actually, some of those who advocate abandoning neutrality are actually isolationist in the sense that they are looking at everything from the framework of a European perspective, where I would argue that Sinn Féin’s perspective is much broader than that. “Obviously, there is a European dimension to it, which is very important because we are members of the European Union, something that we value. But our reach and potential go way beyond that, not least because of the fact that we have a very strong diaspora in very powerful countries in the world.”

Consultative Forum on International Security Policy Discussing Sinn Féin’s attendance at each session of the Consultative Forum on International Security Policy, Carthy observes that while many of the debates were interesting and most of the dialogue

Credit: Sinn Féin.

In this context, he contends, “it is regretful that Irish governments have moved away from playing that proactive role”.

Sinn Féin finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty TD and foreign affairs spokesperson Matt Carthy TD began their weeklong trip to Australia in Brisbane with a meeting with Queensland’s Health Minister Shannon Fentiman MP.

was constructive, he remains critical of the format. “Government purposely excluded the Opposition [parties] from any formal role. And it also denied a lot of alternative voices. There was very much a focus on those who had a particular view in terms of Irish neutrality and of the provisions that are in place to protect that. There was not enough emphasis on the positive and constructive role that Ireland has historically played. “The debate was taking place almost without appreciation of the dire condition of our Defence Forces. We were talking about being part of all these potential alliances, engagements, or operations internationally, while we have Defence Forces numbers at historic lows, with more people leaving the defence forces than join in any given year.” Another major criticism of the Consultative Forum articulated by the Sinn Féin defence spokesperson was the absence of a role for the representative organisations of the Defence Forces, which he contends was “a major gap”. Ultimately, Carthy believes that the initiative was an attempt on behalf of government to “reshape public opinion as opposed to actually be a real public dialogue”. Instead, he suggests that there is a need for a major nationwide discussion on Ireland’s future role in the world, which would then be codified in

Bunreacht na hÉireann. “It would be very useful if we had a constitutional definition [of neutrality]. That would guide future governments in terms of setting the parameters for our involvement, particularly in military cooperation. “I think there is a role for the public there. [Sinn Féin has] set out a trajectory that would see Citizens’ Assembly established with terms of reference that would outline what the principles of neutrality are. Its job would be to hear from all stakeholders, to discuss the issues, and to propose a wording that would allow Ireland to play a role in international fora. [This wording] would recognise our membership of the EU and the responsibilities that comes with that, recognise the need for Ireland to protect its own citizens abroad, but also protect our own skies and seas and to be a force for conflict resolution and peacebuilding in the world.”

Triple lock Carthy is an advocate for retaining the triple lock mechanism for Defence Forces deployment on peacekeeping missions, despite the fact that any UN Security Council member can veto approval. “I find it ironic that those people who say that the triple lock gives others a blocking mechanism to Ireland’s participation. Often, they want to see us 4 aligned to EU military structures, which

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“I certainly would not ever cast having an independent foreign policy or neutrality as a weakness as some would, and I certainly would not describe it as isolationism.” Matt Carthy TD, spokesperson on foreign affairs and defence, Sinn Féin would equally if not more so, bind us to

Defence Forces

the decisions of other member states. “I also think it is important to understand that there has been virtually no UN peacekeeping mission that Ireland has wanted to participate in, that has been blocked. There was one in the late 1990s, that Chinese blocked for a period. “There needs to be UN reform. I do not think any single country should have a veto at the UN. But I think the question needs to be asked, what would it do for Ireland’s reputation, if we were to involve ourselves in an international force that did not have UN approval? “The UN is imperfect and has lots of flaws, but it is the only international forum to resolve conflicts and to determine breaches of international law, and to enforce international law when necessary. Those who advocate abandoning the triple lock, from an Irish perspective, are also abandoning the UN, as the as the primary international forum. That is really concerning, because I have not heard an alternative to the United Nations for all its flaws.”

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In July 2023, former Minister for Defence Willie O’Dea TD confirmed that Ireland has a long-standing arrangement with the British RAF to monitor Irish skies for suspicious aircraft. This type of arrangement, Carthy argues, is symptomatic of a failure to articulate the need to defend military neutrality by those who are supportive of it. Defending military neutrality, he outlines, means having Defence Forces which are adequately resourced and capable of doing what is asked of them. Sinn Féin’s formal written submission to the Consultative Forum on International Security Policy, Neutrality a Cornerstone of Irish Foreign Policy, asserts: “We are unable to monitor, never mind defend, our skies and seas – and we are unable to adequately secure ourselves against modern threats.” In practice, Carthy explains, this means that we must have a navy. “At the moment, we have a Naval Service with only two ships at sea at any given time. The primary challenge there is staffing levels. We need to get that right. We also have virtually no radar capacity and we

are told that it could be 2028 before we do. We also have an Air Corps which is very low on [personnel], but also needs investment in terms of resources,” he observes. Pointing to the report of the Commission on the Defence Forces and the accompanying High Level Action Plan, which establishes three tiers of ambition for the future of the Defence Forces, the Sinn Féin deputy remarks: “Having a political consensus means nothing unless you have a government that is willing to deliver, and this government has not been delivering. In fact, the situation has been getting worse under the current government in terms of numbers within the Defence Forces.” Asked what his immediate defence priority would be if Sinn Féin entered government tomorrow, he identifies the Working Time Directive, which, according to the commission report, would expeditiously remove the blanket exclusion of the Defence Forces from the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997 subject to the application of the derogations permitted by the Working Time Directive. “It is something that government said it is committed to yet there is no timeframe. My understanding is that there is going to be no provision in [Budget 2024]. Certainly, when we went seeking costs, from both the Department of Defence and the Department of Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform, they could give us none, because apparently nobody has decided to count the hours that the Defence Forces are currently working. “We have been told by everybody in the Defence Forces, who we have spoken to, the single greatest initiative that government could take to resolve the retention crisis, but also in terms of future recruitment, is the application of the Working Time Directive. So that must be the number one thing,” he concludes.


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EV charging infrastructure plan to be updated annually Vehicles Ireland (ZEVI), the office set up within the Department of Transport in July 2022, aims to publish national demand/supply plans for the three separate categories of residential and destination; remote areas; and en-route charging. Also, by the end of 2023, the Department aims to publish draft accessibility standards, including agreed standards for interoperability of charging points, while delivering a regulatory regime to ensure standards are met.

Almost €100 million is to be spent over the next three years to enhance public EV charging following the launch of an inaugural strategy. Ireland’s first Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure Strategy aims to set the foundations for more publicly accessible EV charging, to enable Climate Action Plan 2023’s (CAP23) ambition of nearly one in three private cars being electric by 2030. While it has been widely acknowledged that around 80 per cent of charging will be done at home, there is a need for public charging infrastructure to increase charging point access and ultimately, incentivise uptake. The strategy, which has been accompanied by an implementation plan, sets out an ambition for chargers to be installed every 60km across Ireland’s motorway network, and outline four main categories of development in the form of: home/apartment charging;

residential/neighbourhood; destination; and motorway/en-route. Alongside Ireland’s decarbonisation targets, a major driving force of the strategy is the EU’s new Regulation for the deployment of alternative fuels infrastructure (AFIR), which not only sets mandatory deployment targets for electric recharging and hydrogen refuelling infrastructure for the road sector, but also paves the way for full price transparency, common minimum payment options, and coherent customer information across the EU. The strategy is set to be reviewed and updated for 2025 to 2026-2030, however, the implementation plan will be reviewed at least annually. By the end of 2023, Zero Emission

Influenced by the AFIR, the Department aim to publish a data strategy before the end of 2023. Next year, alongside the publication of a national EV Policy Framework, the Government says it will identify a registration organisation and national data access point, while making charge point data open to all stakeholders and the public. Longer-term, the development of a final National EV Policy Framework is scheduled by the end of January 2025, leading to the development of standards and KPIs for minimum performance standards for charge point operations by the end of March 2023, and the development of a regulatory regime for monitoring and compliance. In March of each year, ZEVI will develop an annual report for the European Commission, which is set to include the total aggregated charging-power output, the number of charge points, and the number of battery EVs and plug-in hybrid EVs. Nationally, ZEVI will report to government in Q4 annually, the same time frame for the annual review and publication of an updated implementation plan. Finally, ZEVI says that it will publish an agreed charge point performance monitoring approach by the end of March 2025.

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Sustainability in action at Gas Networks Ireland Valuable national asset

As the operator of Ireland’s €2.7 billion, 14,664km national gas network, which is considered one of the safest and most modern renewables-ready gas networks in the world, Gas Networks Ireland is ever mindful of its sustainability responsibilities and aims to contribute to the protection of the environment, while supporting the social and economic development of the communities where it operates.

2022 sustainability report Entitled Sustainability in Action and aligned to the Global Reporting Initiative standard as well as the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, Gas Networks Ireland’s fifth annual

sustainability report, highlights the ongoing progress made by the national

Ireland’s gas network is a valuable national asset which is playing a major role in achieving a clean energy future in the least disruptive way. While the utility’s principal activity is the transportation of natural and renewable gas on behalf of over 720,000 business and residential gas customers regardless of which gas supply companies they choose, the organisation attaches great importance to ensuring that its investment policies are aligned to the national strategic outcomes outlined in the National Development Plan 2021-2030, the Climate Action Plan 2023 and the Government’s wider energy policy. The gas network is the ideal partner for renewable energies such as wind and solar. The large energy storage capability and flexibility of the network mean it can ramp up to meet high heat demand during extreme cold periods, or it can provide extra fuel for power generation when the wind does not blow, or the sun does not shine.

gas network operator in supporting environmental, social, and economic sustainability within both its own business

W: www.gasnetworks.ie/sustainabilityreport

and the communities in which it operates.

Gas Networks Ireland’s 2022 sustainability achievements •

Participated in the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP) for the third time, maintaining a B climate change score demonstrating commitment to continuously improving carbon performance:

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CDP climate change score: B

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CDP supplier engagement rating: A-

Supported 59 community projects and provided over €205,000 in financial support to local communities.

Continued the Hot Spot programme with Leave No Trace Ireland at Turvey Nature Reserve and Rogerstown Estuary, County Dublin.

Developed biodiversity strategy and Biodiversity Action Plan to support the National Biodiversity Action Plan.

Delivered Hydrogen Technical and Safety Feasibility Report to the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications.

Responsibly certified to five ISO management systems – ISO14001, ISO50001, ISO45001, ISO9001, and ISO55000 and certified to the

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Business Working Responsibly Mark, which is aligned to the Social Responsibility Standard ISO26000.

Awards won in 2022 •

Green Public Sector Organisation of the Year

Health and Safety Excellence Awards – Public Sector category

Gas Safety Award at the Institute of Gas Engineers and Managers (IGEM) Gas Industry Awards

Best ESG Campaign or Case Study to Improve Education or Access to Education and shortlisted for Sustainability Report of the Year at the ESG Awards

Awards won in 2023 to date •

All Ireland Community and Council Awards – Best CSR Project in a Community



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Government CIO Barry Lowry: AI in the public sector The Government’s Chief Information Officer, Barry Lowry, speaks to Joshua Murray about the public sector’s use of artificial intelligence and how this can be better understood and regulated.

Lowry says that the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) in the public sector has been “cautious” over the last year, and that the narrative around artificial intelligence in some parts of the media has created nervousness amongst senior public servants and politicians. “The public service is making really good use of robotic process automation and has been for quite some time. We are also seeing some excellent work in parts of the public service but in general we are seeing a very measured approach”, he says. Underpinning the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer’s (OGCIO) approach to AI in the public sector, Lowry explains, is the view that AI is primarily a technology tool. “It is a tool which uses data, and which may use algorithms; and its effectiveness is dictated by the human input into both. What we need to do is look to focus first on 30

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the purpose and outcomes we have for the technology and then curate the data and construct the algorithms accordingly. We also need to be very aware that the overall risk changes depending on that purpose.” In terms of the evolution of the use of AI, Lowry outlines that “there are definitely things happening”. “The Revenue Commissioners is using AI in some activity and there are really exciting things happening within the Defence Forces, health, and agriculture. But overall, it is a slow burner, especially in the ChatGPT space. We are starting to see some experimentation in ChatGPT and planning is underway for more. However, this is very much in the domain of better public services. In terms of automated decision-making, that just is not happening and I am not sure there are compelling arguments that it should.”


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“We have done that pretty well with a lot of the technology we have introduced. We have really tried to explain to people that there is a national dimension to this, an EU dimension, but it is all underpinned by trying to protect the public and protect public services.” Barry Lowry, Chief Information Officer

Strong legislation

An increasingly fundamental facet

Having held the role of Chief Information Officer (CIO) since April 2016, Lowry is currently advising the Government as to how best to integrate artificial intelligence into the operations of the public sector. He believes that a learning curve is needed for decisionmakers to gain a true understanding of what AI is if they are going to be able to properly legislate for it.

Lowry believes that, as understanding of the concept of AI increases and how best it can maximise efficiencies and be underpinned by proper regulation is better understood, that it will play an increasingly prevalent role in the operations of the public sector.

Whilst he believes that the EU’s Artificial Intelligence Act is “generally a good thing”, Lowry nonetheless thinks that there are “bigger issues at stake in terms of when it should and should not be used”. He states that, because the EU was ahead of the rest of the world, it was “very much breaking new ground” and the consultation was “both general and conceptual in nature”. Moreover, Lowry says that the relatively poor response (just over 1,200 valid feedback instances) and minority proportion of citizen respondents (30 per cent) indicates that there are “far more meaningful ways to engage the public” as a key component of the legislative process. “There is a risk that misunderstood attempts to regulate AI are viewing AI as an entity, but it is not really about AI as an entity, it is about how you use it. How you use it is very specific, and because it is very specific, the understanding of that and the views of that will be naturally very subjective. How you can develop an objective regulatory approach to something which could be very personal is difficult,” the CIO says. “I just think it is being a little bit rushed and we are in danger of introducing regulation without a real understanding of what is being regulated and without really sitting down with the technology providers and talking about shared risk.” Lowry analogises: “If you are using any service or app on your phone, where does security kick in? Is it the app level or the phone level? The two seem to co-exist pretty well and that is because they work together. There is a process for making an app as secure as possible on a phone. I think it could have been wider conversation.”

One area outlined by Lowry as being a top priority for the integration of AI in the short term is citizen’s services. He says that the OGCIO is looking at the area of large language module space, within which the CIO believes that ChatGPT can play a fundamental role. Lowry clarifies: “It is a process which is about using AI as a super search, almost like a Bing on steroids. You can see now even using it in your home computer, that Bing gives you access to AI when you are making your searches; one can see how that is highly valuable.” Lowry qualifies this by saying that we say that the use of ChatGPT can be highly valuable “as long as the data has been carefully curated”. “I can see government, for example, using ChatGPT or a similar product for Gov.ie, to make it easier for people to make a search, making the website more intuitive. There is absolutely no doubt that these tools are considerably better than a common search engine design could ever be; they are a step beyond that. We will probably see use of it in some form of chatbot where we have carefully curated the data in advance and I have no doubt that greater use of such tools, and user feedback will improve our curation process.” Referring to Portugal as an exemplar country in this space, Lowry tells of how the Portuguese Government is making use of an AI-based chatbot which consistently answers and updates the 150 most popular questions which are asked of Portuguese government services. However, he clarifies that this initiative in Portugal involves “very carefully curating the answers, ensuring that the answers that are given by the chatbot are the ones, which the service providers want to be provided.” In terms of wider public services, Lowry explains that “we will start to see some greater use of AI in systems”. “Our healthcare services are an area where AI can be used to

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“There is a risk that misunderstood attempts to regulate AI are viewing AI as an entity, but it is not really about AI as an entity, it is about how you use it.” help recognise tumours, and for other healthcare services, where it is very much about pattern analysis because pattern analysis is one of the best functioning features of AI technology. “This technology is being used in the UK and the USA for recognising tumours and medical irregularities. It is perfect for that, but the important thing again is that it is a support tool for a clinician, it is not replacing the clinician. Indeed, the clinician adds the critical value to the diagnosis by using other evidence, such as bloods and face-to-face assessment. We are starting to see areas where it will be introduced to support people in their work, but the technology will never replace those people.” 32

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Vision and ambitions Speaking on the Government’s Connecting Government 2030 strategy, Lowry rationalises the strategy as being about “how we are moving, not just with digital government, but how we go past digital government”. “For us, the platinum version of digital government is life events. That is fundamentally about taking what we know about our people and, with their permission, using it more proactively for their benefit. “If government knows your economic circumstances, it knows what healthcare you are entitled to and what financial support you are entitled to. You should not have to find out about those things yourself. There are opportunities for AI in

that space. This is about AI supporting, rather than replacing, the individual. Yes, data can throw up errors, so you need to double check those, but I fundamentally believe that we are moving into a space where there is real opportunity.” On the Public Service CSR Renewable 2030 strategy, which he describes as planning towards the “golden egg of evidence-based policymaking”, Lowry says: “We have tended in government to analyse data in a siloed approach, with health, social, and data, all being individually analysed. If those can be brought together, we can understand for example how location, economic status and education impacts upon the health of the child and gives us a better insight as to how to help people. The problem is that you have to use vast amounts of data and that is how AI can be used so well.” Lowry states that the key to bridging the gap between the public and an understanding of AI, which can ultimately lead to a better understanding of AI by decision-makers, is through the establishment of a voluntary AI council, which was published in the Progress Report on a National AI Strategy. “I think it is a good chance to give the public the opportunity to see and understand what we are doing. “We have done that pretty well with a lot of the technology we have introduced. We have really tried to explain to people that there is a national dimension to this and an EU dimension, but it is all underpinned by trying to protect the public and protect public services; the public response to that has been really positive.” Concluding, Lowry emphasises that the current initiatives to regulate AI are “on the right track”, but that “there is a learning curve to be done”. “When did all the media pick up on ChatGPT? It was in January or February 2023, but the AI Act has been in formulation for a lot longer than that. You can just see how the technology side itself is moving at a completely different pace to the regulation, and it is far better to take stock a little bit and really understand what the concerns about this are and what are the opportunities.”


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Regional productivity disparity increasing Regional productivity is subject to significant disparities which have emerged since the latter half of the 2010s, a research paper from the Nevin Economic Research Institute (NERI) claims. Authored by NERI economist Chris Smart, the research paper examines regional disparity in what it calls the NUTS2 category, which looks at three regions in the State, examining the disparity between these regions using the metric of gross value added (GVA) in addition to levels of employment and the number of hours worked by those in employment. The NUTS2 category regionalises the economy of the State by looking at an eastern and midland region (which includes Dublin), a northern and western region, and a southwest region. The research paper states that there is a “large divide” between both the southern region and the eastern and midland region when compared with the northern and western region. The majority of the relative overperformance is concentrated in the southwest (which encompasses Cork and Kerry), and the Dublin region. The research paper rationalises that the relative disparity in productivity is “reasonably logical”, pointing to the fact that Dublin has an “outsized share of employment in information and communication, financial and insurance activities, and professional, scientific and technical activities”. While the southwest region has a higher share of manufacturing employment than other regions, the

report states: “There appears to be nothing in its sectoral makeup which explains why it outperforms the midlands or the border by a factor of five.” The figures for manufacturing in the southwest region, and information and communication in Dublin, are described as “particularly elevated”, due to the activities of particular companies operating in county incomes and regional GDP 2020. The composition of national GVA over time highlights that this jump occurred in 2015, consistent with the jump in GDP in that same year, and the southwest has maintained a relatively outsized role in national GVA ever since. The research paper further argues that “other regions that do not get as much attention have also had significant growth during this period”, pointing out that the midwest of the State grew by almost 150 per cent between 2014 and 2019. Concluding, the research paper claims that “disentangling genuine value creation from multinational activity can provide a route forward”, and a future research paper currently being worked on by the NERI will extend this analysis by exploiting data on hours worked and employment status by region.

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Additional government funding and supports needed to help retail SMEs thrive online Key findings

UX (user experience)

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In spite of the importance of digital transformation to the Irish economy, empirical research suggests that some retail sectors are lagging behind, writes Oonagh McCutcheon, Chief Communications Officer at .IE, the company that manages .ie domains, the preferred online identity for business in Ireland. In the .IE and Retail Excellence Web Health Report, we look at the current status and progress of Irish retailers’ online business activities. This unique piece of research analyses the health and current status of Retail Excellence Ireland (REI) member websites. The findings are significant and targeted, allowing retail businesses to take specific action where necessary. The cohort in this report are falling behind consumer expectations in the areas of user experience, security, e-commerce, and marketing. Online shoppers need and expect a seamless and safe experience when visiting websites. Retailers can ensure this is the case by adopting best practice and enabling website functionalities that are customer focussed and straight-forward to implement. 1. www.invespcro.com/blog/live-chat-customer-support 2. www.thecommerceshop.com/blog/product-reviews-can-impact-conversion-rate

The analysis illustrates that Irish retailers are falling behind customer expectations, particularly in website user experience (UX). Just 14 per cent of REI member websites in the report offer a live chat function yet according to international studies, 73 per cent of consumers consider live chat to be the best way to communicate with a business1. Only 18 per cent display customer reviews on their website, while research shows that shoppers visiting a website with 1-10 reviews are 52 per cent more likely to make a purchase2. Two-thirds (66 per cent) use responsive design, meaning the layout automatically adjusts to the device on which it is being viewed, making for a better user experience. Search engines such as Google prioritise mobile-friendly websites, so it is important that Irish retailers understand the value of investing in this area.

Security and compliance The vast majority (91 per cent) have a security certificate, which affords customers a good level of online protection but just 23 per cent are cookie compliant, with smaller companies most likely to be less compliant demonstrating the resource strain experienced by small business owners. Only 22 per cent of those surveyed are using CAPTCHA on their websites – CAPTCHA is the security test that distinguishes human website visitors from bots and can protect businesses from malicious online attacks.

E-commerce Almost half have cart functionality on their website which enables businesses to sell online. 41 per cent are using a recognised e-commerce provider, with Shopify proving to be the most popular choice (42 per cent), followed by WooCommerce and Magento (24 per cent and 18 per cent respectively).


Marketing

Insights/considerations

The report also highlights opportunities for Irish retailers to promote their online business as only 20 per cent of websites are currently using online ad tracking. Just 16 per cent feature video functionality. Multimedia content such as video is easy and convenient to consume and offers opportunities for smaller businesses in particular, to promote the personality of the business, build connection and authenticity and stand out in a noisy marketplace.

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While an online presence is crucial to business success, retailers often focus, understandably, on keeping the doors of their business open. There is a job to be done to empower and incentivise SMEs to develop their online presence.

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With 79 per cent of Irish consumers preferring to shop locally online at a .ie address3, investing in online activities is imperative to ensure Irish consumers’ expectations are met.

During the pandemic, the Online Retail Scheme played a significant role in boosting and supporting retailers. However, this report highlights that more efforts and structures are necessary to further improve retailers’ online visibility and competitiveness, particularly for micro SMEs, which were excluded from availing of the scheme. -

Analytics

3. www.weare.ie/consumer-trust

Ireland’s National Digital Strategy sets out a clear framework for how we can embrace the opportunities digital technologies present and to futureproof our economy in the years ahead and this is to be welcomed. It includes an €85 million Digital Transition Fund to support companies in their digital journey, a new digital training scheme for SMEs, ‘You’re the Business’, to help businesses grow through digital skills development, and planning for a new Digital Portal in 2023 which will allow businesses to selfassess their digital readiness and provide tailored advice. SME representative bodies should be the conduit for any further national programmes and initiatives to ensure the

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The insights gained from this report emphasise the necessity for similar research to be conducted on other business sectors.

An extensive sectoral analysis into industries, such as tourism and professional services, can provide a deeper view of Ireland’s digital efficacy in meeting evolving consumer expectations regarding digitalisation. This would pinpoint where Irish SMEs are falling short, serving as a blueprint for improvement and future government investment. The research was conducted on 525 websites of REI members using anonymised data. Data was collected mid-April 2023.

E: marketing@weare.ie W: www.weare.ie

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It is important for retail businesses of all sizes to use website analytics. It provides useful and measurable data to help with critical business decision making. Our analysis shows that six in 10 retail businesses use website analytic tools, demonstrating that there is room for improvement in this vital area. The most popular analytics software used by those surveyed is Google Analytics at 95 per cent, followed by Facebook Pixel, a tool to measure, optimise, and build audiences for ad campaigns, at 49 per cent.

The Government must continue to further drive the digital agenda and keep pushing ahead with ambitions for digitalisation.

effective upskilling of their members. The range of choices from too many siloed service providers is a significant barrier faced by SMEs when implementing digital projects. SME representative bodies can assist with their range and depth of sector experience. We recommend targeted investment in the specific digital areas where retailers need support, channelled through Retail Excellence Ireland.


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Developing an all-island social economy There is an opportunity to develop a coordination framework for greater cohesion on the development of social enterprise on the island of Ireland, according to a government advisory body.

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The establishment of an all-island social enterprise forum could help consolidate collaboration and enhance the alignment of data collection exercises, according to the Irish Government’s national advisory body on social and economic issues.

“An all-island forum would help to consolidate collaboration and provide opportunities for additional activities and supports to social enterprises operating on an all-island basis,” it states.

Whilst the report acknowledges that there is a reasonably strong level of cross-border collaboration in Ireland, the National Economic and Social Council (NESC) states that the establishment of the forum could greatly enhance the level of collaboration.

Another area identified for potential for expansion is increasing cross-border alignment of data collection exercises. The last survey of social enterprises in the North took place in 2018 (and reported in 2019) and the only national survey of social enterprises in the Republic took place in 2022 (due to be reported in 2023).

It is recommended that any such forum would include the national social enterprise networks Social Enterprise Republic of Ireland (SERI), Irish Social Enterprise Network (ISEN), and Social Enterprise NI (SENI).

The report asserts: “In future, it would be useful for these two exercises to coincide and to collect comparable data to inform an all-island picture of the scale and nature of social enterprises across the island.”

Credit photo: Paul Lindsay

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The report was part of NESC’s work for the Shared Island Unit in the Department of the Taoiseach, with social enterprise being one of a number of areas considered in the Government’s Shared Island Initiative.

Developing a coordination framework Explaining that the role of social enterprises is growing both on the island of Ireland and internationally, the NESC report states that developing a cross-border social enterprise framework “would assist in bringing greater awareness and understanding to the role and potential of social enterprise”. “The development of a coordinating framework would bring a cross-government perspective and would set out the main stakeholders and supports for social enterprise, yet allow some self-definition within the framework to encapsulate the diversity of social enterprises.” In order to develop said framework, the NESC report outlines that there is still a need for clarity on the definition of social enterprise, explaining that the most productive solution is to retain the definition set out by the Government’s National Social Enterprise Policy, but that there is a need to “set out clearly how it will be interpreted in practice, and how social enterprise sits within the broader social economy”. As a relatively fledgling sector across the sector, the NESC asserts that “funding and financial support are critical to social enterprises for start-up, scaling, sustainability, and in some cases for viability”. Currently, various sources of funding are available, from grants and loans, from the Irish Government, from social enterprise funders, from the European

Union, and from philanthropists and trusts. The report states that the introduction of a “catalogue setting out the roles of the various funders and what is available would be helpful”. Another goal which would be worked towards by the prospective co-ordination framework would be ensuring that there is support for volunteers. “Volunteers,” the report explains, “are an integral part of social enterprises, both for governance and for activities within enterprises. “Attention needs to be given to recruiting, supporting and retaining volunteers to enable social enterprises to function effectively.”

Embedding social enterprise The NESC states that various measures need to be taken to build on current initiatives and to progress new areas ripe for development. “The support of public organisations, the private sector and the third sector, including social enterprises themselves, will be required to achieve this,” the report says. According to the NESC, there needs to be a stronger focus on enterprise, with the report stating that “there is a general sense that the enterprise side of social enterprise could be further developed”. With an acknowledgement that the Irish Government’s White Paper on Enterprise recognises social enterprise as an integral part of Ireland’s broad enterprise landscape, the NESC report states that “additional mechanisms and approaches are required from the enterprise sector to support social enterprises, through organisations such as Enterprise Ireland and the LEOs, where there is a need for greater consistency across the country”.

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Credit: R. Ó Murchú

United opposition to UK Legacy Bill The UK Government has approved legislation which will halt the prosecution of British soldiers, police officers, and paramilitary members accused of committing violent crimes and killings during the conflict in the North between 1969 and 1998. The legislation is offering a conditional amnesty to all those accused of killings during ‘the Troubles’, in what former Prime Minister Boris Johnson described as an attempt to “draw a line under ‘the Troubles’” when he first announced the plan to legislate for the Bill in July 2021. It further stops any new ‘Troubles’-era court cases and inquests being held in the UK. Passed by the UK parliament in September 2023, the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Act 2023 has managed to unite all of the leaders of major parties – both north and south – in opposition to the British Government. The legacy bill has been described by

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Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris MP as “a real opportunity to deliver greater information, accountability and acknowledgement to victims and families, moving away from established mechanisms that have left far too many empty-handed”. However, it is likely to lead to legal challenges as there have already been 11 challenges made in the courts in the UK, as well as the looming prospect of a case being brought forward against the UK by the Government of Ireland. The legislation will lead to the establishment of an Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery (ICRIR), rendering

the role of the Historical Investigations Unit – established under the aegis of the 2015 Stormont House Agreement – redundant. The Act aims for the new organisation to help families “find out more about the circumstances of how their loved ones were killed or seriously injured”, with the legislation specifying that self-confessed perpetrators who provide a truthful account of their actions to the ICRIR “can be granted immunity from prosecution”. Within the politics of the North, the legislation has been met with universal condemnation across unionism and nationalism, with the DUP arguing that it equates the British Army with


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Political leaders’ reactions Each of Ireland’s four largest parties – north and south – have stated their strong opposition to the UK’s Government’s proposed legislation. LEO VARADKAR TD “The Irish Government’s position has been very clear on this all along: we think this is a mistake, this is the wrong way to go about dealing with legacy issues in Northern Ireland.”

MICHEÁL MARTIN TD “Some may be tempted to see the Bill’s enactment as drawing a line under the legacy issue. Sadly, it will not; instead, I fear it will ensure legacy remains a source of contention, suspicion, and mistrust, with little truth, no apologies, and hurt layered upon hurt. And while no approach would be perfect, it is a matter of great sadness that the agreed way forward was never given its chance.” paramilitaries, and broad nationalism making the case that the British Government has granted itself the ability to prevent itself from being prosecuted for alleged crimes made in its name. The legislation has also been condemned internationally, with United States Congressman Richard Neal stating that he is “disappointed by the news that the Legacy Bill has

MICHELLE O’NEILL MLA “If the British Government do not withdraw this legislation, the Irish Government should confront this denial of human rights through an interstate case and international action against the British Government.”

passed through Westminster”. Although Secretary of State HeatonHarris has said that he “hopes” to see the Irish Government support the legislation, the Irish Government has said it is continuing to wait for legal advice to inform whether it takes a challenge against the legislation, with Minister Paschal Donohoe TD saying: “I expect we will see that advice soon

JEFFREY DONALDSON MP ‘‘The Government’s legacy proposals have been rejected by the vast majority of victims and survivors, who suffered the most during ‘the Troubles’ and who still live with the terrible legacy of pain, trauma, and loss.”

and then, at that point, the Government will make a decision.”

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conference report

Irish Renewable Gas Conference 2023 Speakers: Padraig Fleming, Gas Networks Ireland; Kamila Waciega, Hydrogen Europe; Karen Kavanagh, Commission for Regulation of Utilities; Eamon Ryan TD, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications; and David Kelly, Gas Networks Ireland.

The 2023 Irish Renewable Gas Conference recently took place, bringing together key stakeholders to focus on the future of renewable gas in Ireland. Delegates gained a detailed understanding of the developments in the gas sector and investigated potential options for decarbonising Ireland’s natural gas infrastructure. We were delighted to have a range of expert speakers, local and visiting, join us including Eamon Ryan TD, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications; Biljana Kulišic, European Commission; Luis Gay-Tarazona, Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland; and Ciara Beausang, Teagasc. We would like to take this opportunity to thank our conference partners, Gas Networks Ireland, and sponsors SSE and A&L Goodbody, all speakers, delegates and exhibitors who joined us in The Gibson Hotel and made the conference a huge success.

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Mark Stockdale, A&L Goodbody with Stephen English, Gas Market Operator for Northern Ireland.

Martin Regan, Marex with Andrea Ahern, Catagen.

Sinead Guckian, Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications with Alice Hanly, NSAI.

Declan O’Sullivan, Gas Networks Ireland with Barry Murphy, Flogas Enterprise Solutions Limited.

Philip Hannon, Liquid Gas Ireland visits Jennifer Fagan, Calor Gas at the Calor Gas exhibition stand.

Charlotte Morton, World Biogas Association.


Justice report

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justice report

EY: Connecting citizens, transforming services

Around the world, law enforcement, policing, and justice have undergone transformation over the last few decades. Ireland is now at a key decision point as it looks to continue its transformation journey to modernise our policing and justice systems.

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that are top of mind for policing organisations as they seek to innovate and modernise to meet the changing needs and demands of communities:

Gary Comiskey, EY Ireland Government and Health

In Ireland, like many other countries, political and social shifts have driven the need for reform, including changes in immigration patterns, demographic shifts, changing nature of crime, and evolving citizen expectations. EY’s policing and justice community of practice have identified five key trends 42

1. Community-oriented policing: Continued focus on working collaboratively with community members to solve problems and prevent crime in the community, rather than relying solely on law enforcement. 2. Optimisation of digital tools and technology – including AI and data: To support enhanced prediction of crime, better decision making and people empowerment, leading to better outcomes for communities, reduction in crime rates and more efficient work practices for staff.

3. Agility to embrace policy development across the criminal justice system: There is ongoing debate around the treatment of serious offenses versus minor infractions and how changes in policy are applied, which may impact work practices across policing organisations and the capabilities and capacity of staff. 4. Focus on people: The need to attract people that represent their communities and provide opportunities for fulfilling careers is as strong as ever, particularly with a global war for talent. As we emerge from the post-Covid era, leadership is challenged to establish organisational culture that values diversity, promotes innovation and recognises people, while ensuring appropriate allocation of resources to community need. Line managers need to be equipped to lead blended teams, drive positive work culture and performance, and ensure teams have the skills necessary to address the changing nature of crime.


Our experience supporting transformation across police and justice systems around the world has pointed to several key factors that are necessary to proactively respond to the opportunities and challenges these trends present – clarity on vision and plan, robust transformation management, and the strategic use of technology.

Develop a clear vision, case for change and plan

objectives. The TMO can play a crucial role in delivering successful transformation across the policing and justice systems by driving accountability, standardisation and alignment, ensuring that all transformation initiatives are coordinated, measured, and executed efficiently.

Deploy technology strategically

Conclusion It is clear that the transformation of policing and justice, like so many other sectors, will continue at pace over the coming decade, with changes extending from technology to community policing and beyond. These changes can help to build better public trust, a more proactive approach to law enforcement, better communication systems with the

One of the key drivers of transformation in policing is the use of technology and data. Technology has the power to revolutionise law enforcement and enable law enforcement agencies to become more efficient, but it must be deployed strategically. Body-worn cameras, number plate readers, facial recognition technology and predictive analytics are just some of the technologies that can be used to enhance decision-making and reduce crime rates.

community, a reduction in crime rates,

our communities.

Establish a transformation management office

Additionally, as threats to public safety mutate faster and faster, AI holds the promise of levelling the playing field for governments. AI technology holds the promise of improving safety across this spectrum. Its potential to reduce, prevent and respond to crimes, for example, creates a unique opportunity to establish safer communities.

Transformation is more successful when a transformation management office (TMO) is used as a central point of contact for all transformation-related activities. The most successful TMOs are responsible for developing strategies, frameworks and metrics to support overall transformation

AI can play an important role in areas of public safety as far-ranging as narcotics, crime deterrence, natural disaster response and crowd control. As organisations explore the promises AI offers, they must also consider its risks to civil liberty and privacy, as well as its mixed record on accuracy and bias.

and an improved employee experience for staff. However, work will be required to address challenges, such as ensuring the ethical use of technology, mitigating any negative perceptions of policing, ensuring equity and addressing concerns of racial bias, building positive and innovative organisation culture, and ensuring a strong pipeline of resources to address the areas of greatest need in

W: www.ey.com/ie/publicsector

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Transforming policing and justice systems requires a clear and welldefined vision and objective, and a robust ‘case for change’, endorsed by and advocated for by leaders. Proactive and visible sponsorship is a key success factor to delivering on transformation objectives. Given the wide range of stakeholders in the sector it is vital that there are robust communications to ensure that all understand the scope and goals of the project. Once the vision and objectives are clear, there is a need for a detailed project plan with timelines and milestones to achieve the vision. The project plan is the reference to benchmark progress, track deliverables and manage any delays or obstacles. It allows for regular monitoring and evaluation of transformation progress, which are essential for the project’s success and enables the early identification of issues that arise, and a plan to address them promptly.

“As threats to public safety mutate faster and faster, AI holds the promise of levelling the playing field for governments.”

justice report

5. Cross-sector partnerships: An ever-increasing recognition that cross government and multi-agency cooperation is critical to keeping people safe and to prevent and tackle crime. Systems are becoming more aware of the need to work closely across health, education, housing and the wider NGO sector to proactively keep communities safe.

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justice report

A time of flux in Ireland’s justice sector The Irish justice sector is undergoing significant change in every area under the aegis of A safe, fair and inclusive Ireland. This change has not been without its growing pains, especially in policing. An Garda Síochána The first goal of A safe, fair and inclusive Ireland pledges to “tackle crime, enhance national security, and transform policing” and it is the latter that been central to headlines about policing in 2023. A new operating model has been introduced, restructuring policing across the State and at regional and divisional levels and reducing the number of Garda regions from six to four and Garda divisions from 28 to 21. The number of divisions was originally set to be 19, but complaints from rank-and-file gardaí prompted a compromise in August 2023.

44 Credit: Jean Housen


Under these reforms, gardaí would return to pre-pandemic working patterns of a six days on, four days off working roster that will see them work 10-hour shifts in units. In order for these units to be adequately staffed, gardaí have been reallocated from drug and community policing units to the response units. Local Garda Representative Association (GRA) representatives have protested that the winding down of community policing and drug squad units to staff these generalised units will negatively impact crime prevention and that the return to six-day weeks would mean an additional 47 days on duty per year for some members. Tensions between Garda leadership and the GRA came to a head in September 2023 when the GRA voted on a no confidence motion on Garda Commissioner Drew Harris. 98.7 per cent of the 10,803 members who voted in the GRA’s first ever confidence vote on a commissioner responded no when asked: “Do you have confidence in the Garda Commissioner?” In his initial reaction to the vote, Harris stated that the result was a “kick in the teeth” but that he would not resign his position and that the changes would proceed as planned from November 2023 onwards. In response, the GRA voted to withdraw voluntary overtime on all Tuesdays in October 2023 and to strike on 10 November if the dispute was not resolved before then. With the GRA seeking the retention of current working patterns of four days on, four days off in 12-hour shifts, Harris responded to the vote for strike action by indicating a willingness to compromise. The GRA has called for the Government to intervene, but the position of Minister for Justice Helen McEntee TD is that this is an internal Garda matter. What could be key to the solving of this

impasse is the recruitment of new gardaí, but figures released by the GRA in May 2023 show recruitment figures to have been 32 per cent behind targets in the first half of the year. The first intake of 2023 in the Garda College at Templemore was due to have 200 new recruits, but only 134 took up their places, while the second intake in May was due to have 225, but only 154 took up their places.

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Each division will be headed by a divisional chief superintendent, who will oversee four new functional areas: business services; performance and assurance; crime; and community engagement. The changes in working patterns for gardaí associated with these changes have caused major disagreements between top-level gardaí and rank-and-file gardaí.

Garda numbers were at a record high of 14,750 in March 2020 before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, but the Garda College was either closed or running at reduced capacity during the pandemic, resulting in a fall in Garda numbers to 14,000. The figures from the first half of 2023 make it unlikely that the Government’s target of recruiting 1,000 new gardaí in 2023 will be achieved, but accelerated progress towards this goal could go a long way towards smoothing tensions within An Garda Síochána. Perhaps consistent with a declining number of gardaí is an increasing rate of crime, as is laid out in Central Statistics Office data for Q2 2023. The data found just one category of crime – fraud, deception, and other related offences, down 37 per cent annually – to have decreased since Q2 2022. Attempts/threats to murder, assaults, harassments, and related offences increased by 3 per cent; robbery, extortion, and hijacking offences increased by 21 per cent; theft and related offences increase by 25 per cent; and homicide and related offences increased by 31 per cent.

Modernising the courts system The second goal of A safe, fair and inclusive Ireland is to “improve access to justice and modernise the courts system”. Some of this modernisation has revolved around the judiciary itself, with efforts to reform the appointments to the judiciary through the Judicial Appointments Bill on hold for now, having been referred to the Supreme Court by Uachtarán na hÉireann Michael D Higgins (see page 47). Plans are also underway to increase the number of judges in Ireland from 173 to 217 by 2025 (see pages 62-63), with Ireland currently having the lowest rate of

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Credit: AGS

justice report judges per 100,000 people in the European Union. Justice Plan 2023 outlines some of the key reform goals in this regard for the courts system, with the establishment of new courts for planning and environment and family law set to play a central role in the broadening of access to the courts system. Among the actions to be taken with regard to the establishment of a family court will be the “examination of the role of expert reports in the family law process and the proposal of recommendations regarding their future application and function”. The examination will “consider the commissioning and availability of these reports, including their content and future use”. The Review of the Administration of Civil Justice in line with the Implementation Plan on Civil Justice Efficiencies and Reform Measures has been an important guiding document for enabling easier, more affordable, and quicker access to civil justice, with five actions to be undertaken throughout 2023. Perhaps the most important of these will be the development of the general scheme of the Civil Reform Bill, due to take place in Q4 2023. 46

The aforementioned increasing of judicial resources will be “complemented” by ongoing implementation of the Courts Service Modernisation Plan, which received additional funding for 2023, and the reforms to court operations with regard to frequency, location, and management of courts. Actions to be taken with regard to the Courts Service Modernisation Plan include the reform of the Abhaile Scheme, the publication of the Criminal Legal Aid Bill – for which the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice met for pre-legislative scrutiny in October 2023 – and the bringing of proposal to government to agree and commence reform of professional legal education, with a view to introducing independent oversight for the first time and removing barriers to becoming a solicitor or barrister. The first half of the 2020s has marked an ambitious turn from a justice sector attempting to modernise across almost every area of work. Garda staffing disputes and the Judicial Appointments Bill show that these efforts have not been without their teething pains, but it is clear that when these reforms come to pass, Ireland will have a sector almost unrecognisable from the 2010s.


Judicial Appointments Bill to face Supreme Court

Credit: August Schwerdfeger

justice report

Uachtarán na hÉireann Michael D Higgins has referred the Judicial Appointments Bill, passed by both houses of the Oireachtas, to the Supreme Court to test its compatibility with Bunreacht na hÉireann. Although the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill 2022 has passed through both the Dáil and the Seanad, Higgins, under powers granted to him under Article 26 of the Constitution, has referred the Bill to the Supreme Court having made the rare move of convening the Council of State to consider whether the Bill is in line with Bunreacht na hÉireann. The Supreme Court will have until 12 December 2023 to make a final judgement on the constitutionality of the Bill. If it rules that the Bill is unconstitutional, Higgins will reserve the right to refuse the formally sign the Bill into legislation. The Bill proposes that a new judicial appointments commission is established to replace the Judicial Appointments Advisory Board (JAAB). This new commission would be granted the power to recommend three

candidates for a judicial vacancy and the proposal that the Government can pick only from this list has been the subject of some concern. Currently, judges are appointed formally by the President, based on the “advice of the Government”. In spite of Minister for Justice Helen McEntee TD’s claim that the legislation would “enable the continued appointment of excellent judges, which are a cornerstone of a strong, independent judiciary”, the proposed legislation has faced opposition from TDs on government benches. Fianna Fáil justice spokesperson Jim O’Callaghan TD claims that the process of appointing judges in Ireland has been “pretty successful” to date and has said that the proposal to establish an appointments commission is a “controversial decision”.

Under objectives set out in Justice Plan 2023, the Bill was proposed by the Government following a recommendation by the Judicial Planning Working Group (JPWG), informed by an independent review of judicial resource needs by the OECD, to increase the number of judges in two phases, beginning with 24 additional judges in 2023. The convening of the Council of State to decide the constitutionality of a bill is an infrequent use of checks and balances carried out by the President. The last time President Higgins convened a Council of State meeting was in 2015 to consider the International Protection Bill. The Supreme Court has 60 days from the date of submission (13 October 2023) to make a judgement on the legislation.

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Supporting access to justice and empowering people, using a user centric design approach Since going live at the end of March 2023, the new information had been accessed by over 49,000 users by June 2023. The feedback has been positive and confirms we are meeting our goal for the information to be user-friendly and highly informative.

An example of the new family law information now available on www.courts.ie

The Courts Service Modernisation Programme is about re-designing our services to meet user needs, leading with a digital first approach. Our user-centric and digital first goals aim to provide users with simpler and more consistent services.

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Over the past two years, we have engaged extensively with users. Their feedback has given us invaluable insights and informed our thinking across many projects. We are starting to see the results of this approach, so here we share some of the highlights of the progress we have made.

Improving how we provide information Working in collaboration with the National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) we are rolling out a programme of plain language training across the organisation. Using this training, and supporting key actions from the Family Justice Strategy, we have developed new online family law plain language

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We are currently working on modernising and simplifying some District Court family law application forms, starting with guardianship. The aim is not just to reduce the number of forms but to also introduce forms which are user-friendly, and easy to understand and fill out, making them accessible and suitable for both paper and digital applications. We hope to expand this approach to other areas including civil debt forms. To increase awareness and promotion of alternative dispute resolution processes, we have produced an animated video explaining benefits of mediation, what is involved in the mediation process, and how to access the support/service. An online training event on understanding mediation, run in collaboration with the Legal Aid Board, was attended by almost 100 Courts Service colleagues. Step-bystep guides have been developed which

information. This enables court users to access easy-to-understand information

“The information available

about family law matters. The content is

was amazing for my

written in plain language and helps users to understand options and matters they need to consider. In addition to signposting relevant advice and services, step-by-step guides on making applications to court are provided. The newly rewritten information is also a valuable resource for Courts Service colleagues, and they frequently direct users to the information. Short videos were produced to highlight the key information available, an approach that was so successful that a version of the video has also been produced for professionals working in family law.

situation” – Family law applicant “It is so user friendly. It somehow manages to make it seem approachable whilst still containing such a wide range of information within it” – Courts Service staff member


justice report

Courts Service staff members demonstrated our VR court experience recently at the Ploughing Championships in County Laois. Pictured here with Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD.

include a first step that outlines the benefits of mediation and signposting to services.

Improving user experience To support court users, and to provide them with improved information across a range of channels, we launched our 360°Virtual Tours earlier this year. The tours were developed to allow people to experience the look and feel of the courts in advance of attending court. This can reduce anxiety for many court visitors. The virtual tours demonstrate what to expect both outside and inside the building. By the time a person arrives in court they are better prepared to engage in the process. We developed the virtual tours as a direct response to user feedback and the Public Service Innovation Fund 2022 funded their development.

We shared this highly engaging experience for the second time at our Culture Night event in the Four Courts. Throughout this eventful week for Courts Service awareness, more than 400 people experienced our VR headset. We are also planning for our VR experience to go on tour during Public Service Transformation Week in October 2023.

Improving our engagement A key element to redesigning our services to meet user needs, is engagement with user groups and other stakeholders. Key groups have been established such as the Judicial Modernisation Engagement Group, Legal Practitioner Engagement Group, and the Civic Society Forum, that meet regularly

to allow improved communication, sharing of information, and collaboration. An Access to Justice group has been formed for the purpose of engagement on civil topics. We recently had the pleasure of sharing our information stand with some members of the Civic Society Forum at the National Ploughing Championships. It was a great opportunity to work with them and share information. The Courts Service will continue to introduce digitally enabled services, make evidence-based decisions to transform how we interact with our users, and streamline ways of working. In doing so, we are transforming day-to-day operations across the Courts Service, working with our users to improve their experience and ultimately providing Ireland with a modern, high performing courts system.

For more information on the Courts Service visit www.courts.ie

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Another first for the Courts Service was the introduction of our virtual reality headset experience at the Ploughing Championships in September 2023. Our ‘Who’s who in the courtroom?’ virtual

reality experience is a unique opportunity for victims/witnesses to experience a real courtroom environment before their day in court and to learn about the various people who will be in the court. A number of Ministers dropped by to try the VR out, including Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD.

“I found the Civic Society Forum a very interesting and useful space where Courts Service staff working on various aspects of the Family Justice Strategy and other improvements made themselves available to us victim support NGOs to answer detailed questions and listen to any new concerns or queries. It felt truly collaborative to me” – member of Safe Ireland.

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‘I can actually breathe now’: A visit to the new Limerick Female Prison Governor Andrew McCarthy in the exercise yard of Limerick Female Prison.

Ahead of its official opening in October 2023, Ciarán Galway visits the new Limerick Female Prison to speak with Governor Andrew McCarthy, members of staff, and prisoners about the new facilities, the experience of women in prison, and the challenges faced by those working and living there. Situated on Mulgrave Street, south of the River Shannon in Limerick city, Príosún Luimnigh is the oldest functioning prison in Ireland. A closed, medium security facility, it is the committal prison for adult males in counties Clare, Limerick, and Tipperary, and females in the whole of Munster. Limerick Female Prison is one of two female prisons in the State, the other being the Dóchas Centre within the Mountjoy Prison complex in Dublin. Until the new standalone prison was developed, Limerick Female Prison was simply a wing of the male prison. Comprising two long and narrow corridors, the old female prison was frequently overcrowded. Walking through the outer gates, we mingle with the families – mostly women and children – and friends of visitors. We are required to leave all mobile phones behind in the locker room. Entering the control room through a heavy steel door parallel to the main gate, photo identification is mandatory. Beyond an antechamber of turnstiles and security scanners, we 50

enter the prison proper and, skirting a wing of the male prison, approach the female prison via an access yard. Topped with razor wire and anti-climb barriers, high limestone walls form the prisons octagonal outer boundary, enclosing men and women alike. But that is where most shared architectural legacies end. In fact, Limerick Female Prison is unlike any other prison in Ireland.

student accommodation, each cell has a desk, kettle, small television, a bed, and – in a major departure from traditional cells – a simple, but fully partitioned, toilet and shower. Some of the more typical features include the anti-ligature curtains and blinds, alongside a long mirror installed within the window itself. It is the default configuration known to the majority of the female prisoners in Limerick.

According to Architects’ Journal, Limerick Female Prison is now most akin to a Scandinavian correctional facility. This is in stark contrast to the old female prison, which was completed in 1821. It was one of five now mostly replaced spoke-like wings emanating from an administrative nucleus; highly innovative in its day, but totally unsuited to the 21st century.

Traditional viewing hatches have been replaced with smart glass which is a default opaque diamond but becomes transparent at the touch of a coloured plastic fob. The same fob, mimicking the silhouette of a traditional key, unlocks each digitally enabled cell door (with a failsafe analogue backup).

Inside Entering the reception area of the female prison to our immediate left are several cells, which are purposely left vacant. Not unlike the rooms of college

These trauma informed features are intended to reduce noise, minimise disruption, and avoid retraumatising each cell’s inhabitant. It is a fact that 90 per cent of women within the Irish prison system have experienced serious trauma, while 80 per cent have experienced addiction challenges.


Service (IPS) press manager, stands an archetypal prison officer; a steely exterior with a deadpan delivery. A native of County Cork, with an accent to prove it, Andrew McCarthy is Governor of Limerick Female Prison.

A minimum specification cell in Limerick Female Prison.

Overlooked by the cells and the gym, the open-air exercise yard is unlike any other in Ireland. A slightly curved rectangular central courtyard, with a meandering tarred path, it is dotted with adolescent trees and evergreen shrubs, while wooden benches line the perimeter. A large stone water feature bubbles in the background, the cascading water creating a relaxing aura. One section is dedicated to a small play area for visiting children. “We call it an exercise garden because it is not a yard,” the Governor observes. “Everything here is geared towards the women feeling safe, happy, and creating a positive environment.” Indeed, in this space, the only hint of prison architecture is the security net which criss-crosses the sky above. The ‘on protection’ female prisoners’ yard has been also designed with trauma in mind. The grey façade of the tall precast concrete wall which contains one side of the yard has been painted with a mural of a bright faceless bird, while plants line the base.

Gentle curving white interior walls are adorned with artwork from students at the Limerick School of Art and Design. A large atrium invites sunlight to spill in, illuminating both levels of the wing. An internal safety net, a ubiquitous feature of prisons worldwide, is conspicuously absent. Vibrant splashes of colour break up the monotony of the floor. Given a choice of incarceration in one of the State’s prisons, Limerick Female Prison would inevitably be most people’s selection. However, even an aesthetically pleasing prison is still a prison, and no amount of architectural camouflage can change that the women here exist behind locked doors, sometimes in solitude for up to 23 hours a day.

The Governor Just inside the prison walls, accompanied by a young Irish Prison

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Joining the IPS in 1987, McCarthy was stationed in Mountjoy Prison for a very short period before transferring to Cork Prison, where he remained for almost three decades. “I had some of the funniest days of my life in Cork Prison,” he recalls. “We had the banter; it was absolutely brilliant. I was with between 25 and 30 prisoners in a small workshop, and never had an ounce of bother. Those prisoners rarely, if ever, returned because, for the first time in their lives, they had structure and they developed a work ethic.” In 2016, he moved to Limerick Prison with the intention of returning to Cork, but found: “The challenges, and the camaraderie with the staff and with the prisoners here is second to none in Limerick.” As such, rather than a 12minute commute, he opted to stay and “finish my time out here”. Until McCarthy’s appointment, Limerick Female Prison did not have a standalone governor. With no governor and inadequate, overcrowded, and decrepit facilities, the female prisoners lacked access to the provision of many therapies and activities until the completion of the new prison. Describing the old female prison as “a Dickensian facility”, McCarthy contextualises the construction of the new building. “What we wanted to create here, and what we put a lot of thought into, is a safe environment for the women so that when they go into

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As we re-enter the building, prisoners and staff greet the Governor. He responds on a first name basis. If teleported into the centre of the oval atrium from the outside world, it might be difficult to immediately determine the exact function of the facility in which you had found yourself. The clinical atmosphere betrays the fact that it is a public facility. Perhaps a modern hospital, a cancer treatment centre, or a care facility. Well-lit and spacious, it creates an ambience which blunts the reality.

Cell doors in Limerick Female Prison are digitally locked, unlocked, and viewed using a contactless fob. 51


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are addressing the full spectrum of challenges faced by the female prisoners. We might not see instant results, but in six to 12 months, we anticipate drastic results in terms of reduced recidivism. While it will never totally dissipate, we are hoping that the work we are undertaking will ensure that many of these women will not return to prison.”

Prison experience

Life sentence prisoner Martina in conversation with Ciarán Galway, Editor, eolas Magazine.

their rooms at nighttime, it is their safe place. Everything we do is for the good of the women in our custody. By doing what we are doing, it is also making conditions better for the staff.”

represented in here. We needed to put a plan in place to help the women cope both inside prison and outside. For the moment, we have it right,” the Governor comments.

Tackling the challenges faced by prison staff in the course of their careers, McCarthy is plainspoken. “Working in a prison can be one of the most rewarding jobs because it can be tough, but when you see people come in the state they do and then you watch them leave as a better person – many of them,” he says.

“We went through years with a onesize-fits-all approach in the Irish Prison Service. Male and female prisoners were treated the same. In reality, it does not work like that. The female need is different from the male need. Though I am not saying that male prisoners have not experienced trauma, because many of them have.”

“On the other hand, you will have challenges along the way. It is not nice for a member of staff to check a cell at nighttime and to see that a prisoner has taken their own life inside the cell. No matter how good you are, or how tough you are, you take that home with you. One of the bonuses for me being in Limerick is that I have a long drive home in the evening, so the job is gone by the time I arrive.”

Now, Limerick Female Prison offers a wide range of services to prisoners, from trauma informed education courses and psychology, to rape crisis intervention. “We implemented the trauma informed practice, and Bedford Row Family Project ran it for us and brought in outside agencies, such as ADAPT Domestic Abuse Services,” McCarthy outlines, adding: “We found that after a few weeks, a lot of the emotions were coming out when the women went back to their cells. As staff, we had to deal with that. We have ADAPT providing training to our staff now so that they are fully capable of dealing with that challenge.

Trauma informed practice Working in a female prison is different, the Governor asserts. “A raised voice can trigger a lot of emotion in here. You will very rarely hear a raised voice from a member of staff in here because we cannot have the trauma experienced by these women being triggered. “Most of the women that come in here have suffered some form of trauma in the past, whether physical assault, sexual assault, or coercive behaviour, there is a whole realm of different forms of abuse and every one of them are 52

“We also invited Coolmine Therapeutic Community in for one day a month. Coolmine is preparing the women for residential treatment at the end of their sentences. We address the trauma sphere on the inside and begin addressing addiction challenges, a process which is then completed on the outside with residential treatment delivered by Coolmine. “For the first time ever, in Limerick, we

Beyond the centre are the enhanced prisoner suites which resemble immaculately kept studio apartments. Here we meet Martina. Martina is a life sentence prisoner who is 12 years into her sentence. In effect, Limerick Female Prison is her home. “I am 11 years and two months in Limerick. I was several months in the Dóchas Centre. I knew I was coming to Limerick, and you hear so many bad things – because this was my first time in prison – about Limerick Prison. ‘Oh, it is a real jail,’ people said. Coming to the gate was a daunting experience to say the least because I had all these images in my head, but I would say that in less than 24 hours it was all alleviated,” she explains. At that time, she was a second-year undergraduate student of applied social science and community work degree at University College Cork, Martina anticipated that her education would be cut short. “When I arrived, the head governor, Governor Kennedy, asked if I had any concerns and I said that I would like to continue my studies. Straight away he told me to go to the head teacher. That has been ongoing now. I am just starting my social science master’s degree, but I received a postgraduate diploma in psychology recently.” Discussing the most significant challenge of coming into prison for the first time, Martina recounts: “From my own experience, aside from the guilt, it was the loneliness. That is why I keep so busy, to get rid of that loneliness. By night time I be exhausted. I do 30 hours of study a week on top of everything else. I treat it like the outside and keep busy all the time.” Speaking to the female experience of prison, she suggests that “women have different emotions; we express our emotions more” whereas, she contends that through interacting with male


out a window. [The coordinator] asked what the picture meant to me. ‘For me,’ I said, ‘breath.’ I can actually breathe. We have windows to look out. It is like, ‘go to the window, Rachel, you can actually breathe now.’ To me, that is huge.”

Life sentence prisoner Rachel.

“We have windows to look out. It is like, ‘go to the window, Rachel, you can actually breathe now.’ To me, that is huge.” Rachel, female life sentence prisoner prisoners the opposite tends to be true for men. “We [women] cannot hold back. It is innate. It is the way we are. I know that the governors have taken that onboard and that is why they have brought in so many different programmes for us. Outside of general studies, there are several different programmes going on here; domestic violence, the rape crisis counsellor, and a gynaecologist who comes in to do group discussions with us.” Discussing her future, Martina indicates that she has “always had hope”, adding: “I am 12 years in, and I am doing a life sentence. But I just treat this as my home now. I know that I am in prison and people say there must be something bad. I can genuinely tell you that the day I came to prison it changed my life forever. I see the effort that the staff make – most of the staff. I could not ask for better. “Several years ago, there was a time when I felt very low – I had suicidal thoughts, I was arranging it in my head – and Ms Crowley and another female officer, Ms Dwyer helped me through that. I could go to them. I will always be indebted to the staff. Always.” Discussing moments of loneliness and frustration, or coping with unwelcome

news from her family outside, Martina is candid: “I sit back and say, ‘well look, this is my home for now.’ I do not know how long, and I do not think about it. It is better to not think about it and focus on what is happening to me now. I will be focused on my studies for the next eight months and then I will focus on whatever is next. Prison allowed me to face a lot of my challenges. It challenged me and I needed it.”

First impressions Next door, Martina’s neighbour is a Cork woman, Rachel. “This is my third [time in prison], but I would not have been in here since 2010,” she begins, adding: “When I came in, I was all over the place in the old jail, before we came over here. The statement I used when I was in the old jail was that you leave your dignity at the gate, and you collect it on your way back out. This [new facility] is bigger, open, and nicer.” Elaborating on her impression of the new female prison, Rachel is reflective: “When I came over here [to the new prison], I was asked a question about the new building. I was doing a group [session] and we had to pick out pictures. So, I picked out an oldfashioned picture of someone looking

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Four years into her life sentence, the Cork native discusses her experience of fellow prisoners coming and going. “It can be challenging when you hear that people are going home. It can be. But I just try to park it. I park a lot of things. That is my way of coping and how I get through every day. I know I am in here for a crime, so I am going to use it [the time] to further my education. I go higher and higher.” On a weekly basis, Rachel works two days in the laundry – Wednesdays and Saturdays – while studying ICT, business studies, and maths. On top of that, she is a Red Cross facilitator and a Listener, a role she believes is “really needed in prison”. Delivered by Samaritans volunteers and supported by the Irish Prison Service, the Listener scheme is a peer-support programme which aims to reduce instances of suicide and self-harm. Specially selected by the Samaritan volunteers, prisoners are trained to offer confidential emotional support to fellow prisoners who are struggling to cope or feeling suicidal. “People coming in for their first time, or even if they are here a while, are vulnerable. I can understand where the vulnerability comes from. At the moment, I am with a girl and trying to help her as I go along, letting her know that she is not alone and there is support in here. “For me, personally, when I came in, I was not looking for any support in that I did not know how to go about it. But I am here four years now, I have found out who I am, what kind of a person I am. But I worked hard on myself to do this.” Looking as far ahead into the future as she allows herself, Rachel concludes: “My personal experience of coming to jail, with the officers and governors, [is that] they are very respectful. Very. And I am very respectful back. You can lean on them if you have a problem; we all have certain officers that we pick. Governor McCarthy took over as head governor and the courses that he has 4 brought in for the women, including myself, are just fantastic. 53


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They [the prisoners] were in rooms on their own; they had never been in cells on their own. They were used to being doubled up and trebled up in cells. It was our [the staff’s] biggest worry too; that the loneliness would be too much to bear for some of them. The staff, to their credit, kept a good eye to make sure that everyone was safe, day and night, and the checks were done.” With regard to his role as “the Governor’s eyes and ears”, he explains: “There is an Assistant Chief Officer in charge of the wing. If he has issues that he cannot deal with, he comes to me. If I cannot deal with them, I go the Governor, and vice versa. I have responsibility for the staff and the prisoners. I take that seriously. I look out for everyone.”

Chief Officer Martin Breen

“It is not our job to punish people. Punishment enough is coming in these gates and hearing a steel door close behind you every night at 19:00.” Martin Breen, Chief Officer

“The course that is running with ADAPT about domestic abuse and sexual abuse is fantastic for the girls, even for myself, because it brings you right back. Tomorrow is our last day so the girls will receive a certificate. That will boost their confidence. Plus, Governor McCarthy has a lot more courses coming up for the women in here, again including myself.”

Chief Officer Alongside Chief Clarke, Martin Breen is the Chief Officer in charge of Limerick Female Prison. “We supervise the dayto-day running of the new wing,” he begins, explaining: “We were both brought in specifically for the new wing. I spent the last five years in PSEC [Prison Service Escort Corp] and he [Chief Clarke] was in Portlaoise.” Having joined the Irish Prison Service in 1989, the Laois man spent his first 10 years in Mountjoy Prison, before transferring to Limerick Prison in 1999. After a year working in Portlaoise Prison, he returned to Limerick in 2003 where he ascended to Acting Chief Officer. In 2018, he was promoted to Chief Officer and spent five years in charge of the Munster region with the 54

Prison Service Escort Corp (PSEC), liaising with all court escorts from Cork and Limerick prisons around the rest of Munster and the State. Quietly spoken and quick to smile, Breen’s 33 years of experience working in the Irish Prison Service are etched on his face. Having spent many years in the old female prison, he had always intended to return to Limerick. “Having witnessed this place being built, I was looking forward to coming in here. It is one million times better than where we came from. It is a fantastic facility. I am back in here in Limerick for the foreseeable,” he remarks.

Describing the job as having evolved virtually beyond all recognition in three decades, he articulates his guiding principles: “We are not here to judge people. It is not our job to punish people. Punishment enough is coming in these gates and hearing a steel door close behind you every night at 19:00. “While we are here, we look after them [the prisoners] as best as we can. In the 33 years, my number one rule has always been: be fair to people. Treat people the way you like to be treated yourself. I talk to the women on the landing the same way as I talk to you. Treat them as normal people. If they are entitled to something, give it to them. If you promise you are going to do something for someone then do it as best as you can. Do not make promises you cannot keep.” Discussing the specific needs of female prisoners, the Chief Officer explains: “They are away from their children, their families, and their husbands. We also must remember that most of the women here are coming from experiences of domestic violence, sexual violence, physical violence on the streets, they are being pimped, they are trafficked into the country to steal or for prostitution. They have a distinct set of problems than the male prisoners. We must be cognisant of that.”

Reflecting on the old prison, he emphasises its unsuitability as both a working and a living environment. “Now, you have seen the facility we have here. We have 56 beds and we have only one double cell at the moment. It is working. There is an air of calm around the place. It is noisy when it is unlocked; the noise travels. But there is an air of calm.

Linking with external services

“The biggest challenge, or the biggest complaint we had from the women for the first two weeks when they first came over was that they were lonely.

Naomi O’Dwyer, the Integrated Sentence Management (ISM) Coordinator in Limerick Female Prison, radiates the rare energy of someone


who genuinely loves their job. An ISM Coordinator is a prison officer who works with prisoners to provide a sentence plan which incorporates initial assessment, target setting for engagement with a range of prisonbased services, and periodic reviews to measure progress.

“Generally, once a prisoner is sentenced, we meet with them and set up a sentence plan for their time here, what we can achieve with them, and setting up supports in the community afterwards,” the Limerick native explains. “Another element of the job is getting them [the prisoners] out on early release schemes, if we think they are suitable, where they can go out and work in the community three or five days a week. I must have very strong links with external services as well as internal services. I was working in Cork Prison for the last four years, with the male prisoners. I would have set up a lot of connections in Cork which I have brought into Limerick Prison for the females; we have a significant percentage of women from Cork in Limerick Female Prison.” “I love it. I love working with the women. A female can achieve more with a woman; spending more time with them and supporting them better. There are different boundaries when you are a woman working with male prisoners.” Elaborating on this theme, O’Dwyer articulates her perspective than an allfemale prison is much more complex than an all-male prison setting. “When you walk into a female prison, it is louder, it is more vibrant. Women need more things every minute of each day. Much of this comes down to emotional support. “Female prisoners require more attention because they are emotionally tied to the home. When they come in here, it is a lot harder for them. I am not saying that men do not miss their children, but the women carry more

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Achieving this requires collaboration with prison management and the prison-based multi-disciplinary team, comprising the psychology service, the education service, the work training service, the chaplaincy service, the Probation Service, the resettlement service, the addiction service, and the prison healthcare team. The sunlit atrium in Limerick Female Prison.

guilt around when they come in. Part of the research I did a few years ago found that when men come in, they tend to leave their baggage at the gate. They come in, do their sentence, and put their head down. Women do not tend to do that.” Governor McCarthy echoes this sentiment. “When a women comes into custody, she is basically forgotten about,” he comments, before detailing: “The first thing a man does when he comes in is ring his partner, wife, mother, or sister, asking for clothes and money. Within a few hours the women are up to the gate. When a woman comes in, often no one answers the phone. She is left on her own. She has the worry then. Are my children being taken care of? Will I have a house when I get out? Is the mortgage being paid? Is the rent being paid? The man does not have that, the woman does, and we must deal with all that. That is reality. Women are basically a forgotten species when they come to prison. They are on their own.” On the new prison infrastructure, the ISM Coordinator believes that it has been mutually beneficial for prisoners and staff alike. “For the prisoners alone, it is amazing to have the space, the light, everything they have here. The difference is amazing. The mental health of staff and prisoners is hugely improved because of the working conditions. “I am still getting used to it because I was in the old female prison for 15 years. It is a very small area; literally two corridors for all the prisoners and

the staff. It just makes it much harder, especially for staff because we are on top of each other, getting on each other’s nerves. When we are spaced out like we are now, it makes life a whole lot easier for everyone. It is running really well,” she concludes.

Ambitions Completing our visit and speaking briefly on ambitions for his time as Governor of Limerick Female Prison, McCarthy provides a succinct response. “The simple answer is empty beds,” he insists. “If the same people are not coming back time and time again, that means we are doing our job.” Indicating that he wishes to continue the work he has undertaken, expanding on the courses being made available to prisoners, he concludes: “I want to make Limerick Female Prison a university of life rather than a university of crime. That might sound clichéd but that is what we are trying to do here. “You and I cannot fathom the chaotic lives these women have lived. I work with them every day and I still cannot get my head around some of the trauma that they have to deal with. Maybe it is a reflection on society. It is sad and you do feel sorry for many of them, but we just have to do our job and get on with it as best we can.” *The names of the female life sentence prisoners have been changed.

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Five years of change for An Garda Síochána Just over five years ago, An Garda Síochána was reeling from a series of significant controversies and failings that resulted in the Government appointing the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland to recommend major reforms of the organisation.

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The Commission, which was chaired by the former Commissioner of Boston Police Kathleen O’Toole, outlined a series of measures to improve governance, ensure gardaí are supported in the work they do, enable policing to be information-led, and make sure An Garda Síochána was adaptive and innovative. Just weeks before the publication of the Commission’s report, the Government appointed Drew Harris as Garda Commissioner following an international competition by the Policing Authority. Harris was mandated by government to implement its policing reform programme based on the Commission’s report, A Policing Service for Our Future. Fast forward five years and much has changed in An Garda Síochána. The 56

pace and scale of delivery of the reform programme has resulted in better equipment and systems; enhanced health and welfare supports for gardaí; improved services to the public, particularly the most vulnerable in society; and a range of measures to increase governance and accountability. An Garda Síochána is also more open and transparent, has a much stronger emphasis on the importance of ensuring the human rights of everyone they come into contact with, and is more responsive to feedback from stakeholders. For the public, there has been a strong focus on preventing and detecting key crimes such as domestic abuse, cybercrime, and drug dealing through the expansion of specialist units. For example, protective service units have

been set-up in every Garda division with 300 highly trained specialist gardaí investigating domestic abuse, sexual violence, and child abuse. Following feedback from gardaí, there has been a number of measures introduced to support them. This has included an increase in welfare supports, a new operational uniform, the largest fleet in the organisation’s history, and more safety equipment. There has also been a new, more transparent promotion system, and a large increase in the number of frontline supervisors. In terms of information-led policing, major new ICT systems have increased efficiency and effectiveness, enhanced the safety of gardaí, and strengthened governance. These include a roster and


In addition, over 13,000 gardaí have the world-leading Garda mobility app giving instant access to a wide-range of policing information, as well as the ability to dispense fixed charge notices at roadside. An Garda Síochána also has access to real-time police data and intelligence from 30 European countries after connecting to the Schengen Information System. Organisationally, the most ambitious structural change programme in the history of An Garda Síochána is being implemented. The Operating Model will see a more localised policing service delivered based on local demand. Up until recently, An Garda Síochána’s structure was the same as when it was founded 100 years ago. The Operating Model will enable An Garda Síochána to respond to the significant changes to Irish society and the nature of crime now and into the future. Seven of the 19 Garda Divisions are already fully live with the new structures, with the other divisions at different stages of advancement. To ensure the highest standards of behaviour within An Garda Síochána, an Anti-Corruption Unit has been established. While the main focus of the unit is on compliance, it also investigates any potential misconduct by Garda personnel.

Of course, in the midst of all this change was the Covid-19 pandemic. The delivery of a policing service in a national emergency based on An Garda Síochána’s ethos of policing by consent demonstrated the value of the organisation’s tradition of communityfocused policing.

“Our key strength throughout our 101-year history has been the strong connection we have with communities.”

“This has not been change for change’s sake. It has been focused on enhancing the service we deliver to the people and the State, and supporting gardaí in doing their jobs efficiently and effectively.” Shawna Coxon, Deputy Garda Commissioner, Strategy, Governance and Performance “An Garda Síochána has delivered a significant amount of change over the last five years under A Policing Service for Our Future. But this has not been change for change’s sake. It has been focused on enhancing the service we deliver to the people and the State, and supporting gardaí in doing their jobs efficiently and effectively,” says Deputy Garda Commissioner, Strategy, Governance and Performance, Shawna Coxon. The public appear to agree. At the height of the scandals and controversies, public trust had fallen considerably and the organisation was seen as outdated. Now, according to the 2022 Garda Public Attitudes Survey, An Garda Síochána has one of the highest public trust ratings of any police service in the world at 90 per cent.

modern and progressive, and nearly 70 per cent say it is well-managed. “However, despite all this modernisation and positive change, what will not change is our approach to policing. Our key strength throughout our 101-year history has been the strong connection we have with communities. If anything, we want to deepen that connection over the coming years,” adds Coxon.

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And there are more changes to come. Body cameras for Gardaí will begin to be trialled by mid-2024, a recruitment and retention strategy is being developed, and initiatives to promote community participation in policing are advancing.

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duty management system that enables supervisors to better deploy resources when and where they are needed most; a new nationwide dispatch system that improves the efficiency of how gardaí respond to calls for service from the public and enhances the safety of gardaí by giving them detailed information on potential high-risk calls; and an investigation management system that enables digital management of all material relating to an investigation.

W: www.garda.ie

In addition, 75 per cent of people say they are happy with the Garda service provided to them locally, 73 per cent believe that An Garda Síochána is 57


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Restorative justice: Prison as a last resort A new bill that aims to place the principle of prison as a last resort in the sentencing process has moved a step closer following the publication of a policy paper on restorative justice. Publishing Promoting and supporting the provision of Restorative Justice at all stages of the criminal justice system, Minister for State with responsibility for Law Reform and Youth Justice, James Browne TD, said that evidence of an almost 50 per cent reduction in restorative justice cases in the three years since 2019 highlights that “Ireland is yet to use restorative justice to its maximum potential”. The policy publication is in response to the 2020 Programme for Government commitment to “work with all criminal 58

justice agencies to build capacity to deliver restorative justice, safely, and effectively”. Restorative justice is defined in the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 as any scheme through which, with the consent of each party, a victim and an offender or alleged offender engage with one another to resolve, with the assistance of an impartial third party, matters arising from the relevant offence or alleged offence. In Ireland, restorative justice is usually utilised with lower tariff offences as


Government ambitions to increase the number of referrals to restorative justice services have yet to be realised. Use of the practice is now far lower than pre-pandemic levels, indicating that annual referrals in the last three years are almost half the figure recorded in 2019. Excluding youth cautions, figures for which are not available for 2022, recent figures prepared by Restorative Justice Strategies for Change (RJS4C: Ireland) estimate 721 cases in 2019 compared to 340 in 2020, 395 in 2021 and 413 in 2022. A review of the Criminal Justice (Community Sanctions) Bill 2014, which commenced in 2020, aims to place the principle of prison as a last resort on a statutory footing, “and to outline the full suite of community-based sanctions available to the judiciary during the sentencing process”. Work to prepare the general scheme of the Bill is expected to begin once the review is approved. “Following the agreement and publication of this policy paper on restorative justice, the Department of Justice is to examine the costs associated with next stages of the work. This will consist of examining current funding provisions with a view to considering the need to increase such funding as appropriate, particularly in light of the potential impact of the policy review of the Criminal Justice (Community Sanctions) Bill 2014.”

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part of diversion from prosecution or conviction. Significant geographical gaps in restorative justice service provision, and gaps identified at certain stages of the criminal justice process are not aligned with repeated expression from the judiciary for greater restorative justice options.

In December 2021, ministers of justice of the member states of the Council of Europe adopted the Venice Declaration, which supports making restorative justice available with all offences and at all stages of the criminal justice process. A previous report carried out by the National Commission on Restorative Justice in 2007 estimated that between 3,265 and 7,250 cases of adults before the criminal courts alone could take place in Ireland every year if restorative justice practices were widely applied, resulting in an estimated 290 to 579 persons being diverted from a custodial sentence. The outcome could be an estimated reduction of between 42 and 85 prison spaces per year, leading to a cost saving of between €4.1 million to €8.3 million. Following a consultation with stakeholders on the most appropriate choice to develop a successful restorative justice service, which delivered four options for the delivery of restorative justices in Ireland, option one, to “strengthen existing capabilities within current structures”, was selected. Commenting on the policy paper publication, Minister of State Browne said: “In light of the clear and positive benefits of restorative justice to victims, offenders, and the State, and mindful of the opportunity to increase current levels of provision of restorative justice services, the path forward that this paper identifies – to strengthen existing capabilities within current structures – provides the best prospect to make the most significant impact with the greatest efficiency.”

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Unlocking the potential of community service in Ireland Fíona Ní Chinnéide, Director of Operations (Prisoners and Rehabilitation) in the Probation Service has strategic responsibility for the management of community service in Ireland. Appointed to the Service in 2022, she is the former Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust and has spent much of her career advocating for changes to penal policy which are focused on effective noncustodial responses to crime. Ní Chinnéide firmly believes in the value of community service in supporting public safety and is determined to address its underutilisation as a sanction in Ireland.

Probation Service Director of Operations, Fíona Ní Chinnéide outlines ambitious plans to increase the use and effectiveness of community service to reduce reoffending.

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work for the benefit of the local community. The scheme has been operational in Ireland for more than 40 years, since the enactment of the Criminal Justice (Community Service) Act 1983 and it is managed nationwide by the Probation Service.

Fíona Ní Chinnéide, Director of Operations, The Probation Service Community service is a communitybased sanction imposed by the judge as a direct alternative to prison. People subject to community service are required by the courts to perform between 40 and 240 hours of unpaid 60

There is broad national and international policy consensus that community sanctions, such as community service, are often more effective than custodial sentences in reducing reoffending. In Ireland, 75 per cent people who complete community service do not reoffend within one year. However, recent statistics from the Probation Service indicate a concerning 42 per cent reduction in the use of community service in Ireland over the past five years.

“Evidence tells us that community sanctions are a more effective response to less serious offending. Community service ensures that people who have offended still maintain their connections with the community, while being held accountable for the harm they have caused through crime. There is also a highly beneficial ‘community payback’ element to community service which offers individuals who have committed offences the opportunity to repair damage to the wider community by undertaking unpaid work.” In discussing the marked reduction in the use of community service in recent years, Ní Chinnéide acknowledges that “this is a trend witnessed internationally”. “It has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic which saw widespread disruption to community service sites due to health and safety restrictions,” she says. “However, it is also due to a lack of awareness and public confidence in the efficacy of community sanctions in making communities safer through reduced reoffending. This is something we are eager to see change.” In 2021, the Probation service conducted a comprehensive Evidence Review of Community Service which


examined community service policy, models of practice, research, and innovation in Ireland and internationally. This was subsequently followed in 2022 by an operational review which examined how the existing community service scheme is currently managed nationwide.

“Looking to the future, our strategy will focus on embedding and advancing the principles of desistence, restorative justice, and social justice across community service policy, practices, and structural innovations. This approach directly supports recommendations included within the Review of Policy Options for Prison and Penal Reform 2022-2024, which was published by the Department of Justice in 2022 and complements our existing values of practice within the Service. We are confident it will ensure the best possible outcomes for our clients and wider communities.” The operational review also identified the need to address problems specific to rural areas through a partnership approach and to make greater use of individual community service placements to better meet the diverse needs of people, for example gender, disability, or other protected characteristics. It also highlighted the need to more effectively engage with key stakeholders, such as the judiciary and legal representatives, and build greater public awareness of the benefits of community service.

One such example is Tom who, last year was sentenced to 240 hours of community service in lieu of five months in prison and he completed his hours at Cherry Orchard Equine Centre in County Dublin. Tom had been out of work for several years before his conviction but describes his time in

Probation Service Community Service Site, Cherry Orchard Equine Centre, County Dublin.

Cherry Orchard as “a gateway back into the workforce”. Having to report for work at the centre and turn up regularly, and spend all day on the job, got him back into the habit of working: “I loved my work, but I could never see myself getting back into employment… doing my community service hours changed that.” Tom explains that completing his community service gave him a very strong sense of giving back to the community for the harm he had done: “I felt that something good came out of my mess that I was able to give something back to society and it got me out of a deep depression that I was heading in for.” Tom’s experience demonstrates the many positive outcomes, both personal and societal, that can be achieved through community service and the Probation Service is seeking to ensure Tom’s experience is replicated for all community service participants across all counties. In early 2024, the Probation Service will publish its three-year implementation plan which will chart the new directions for community service into the future. The plan addresses five critical work streams identified within the operational

review which include: communications and partnerships, organisational structure and governance, business development (including sites and facilities), data and evaluation, and process. Ní Chinnéide, who will oversee the implementation of the plan, has a clear vision for the future of community service “as a robust sanction, which is used appropriately and consistently across all courts nationally, both rural and urban, and which supports a demonstrable reduction in offending, while promoting community payback and community reintegration”. Partnership with communities across Ireland is essential to the realisation of this vision and the Probation Service is keen to connect with communities and organisations nationwide to discuss opportunities for future collaboration.

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Part of this will involve promoting the many positive experiences of host organisations and people who have participated in community service and who have made lasting changes to their lives for the betterment of themselves and the wider community.

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In addressing its key findings, Ní Chinnéide emphasises that while the principal finding of the operational review was that the community service is operating as intended, it highlighted challenges in how the scheme is organised and the extent to which it is understood by key stakeholders, which is diminishing its overall impact.

To speak to someone about how community service can benefit your community or organisation, please contact:

T: 01 817 3600 E: psinfo@probation.ie W: www.probation.ie 61


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Over 40 new judges to be recruited The Courts Bill 2023 plans to increase the number of judges in Ireland from 173 to 217, a move that will address Ireland’s status as the European state with the lowest amount of professional judges per capita. In February 2023, then-Minister for Justice Simon Harris TD brought forward the Courts Bill 2023, which proposes increasing the number of sitting judges in the Court of Appeal, High Court, Circuit Court, and District Court, reflecting the recommendations made by the Report of the Judicial Working Group and the OECD report Modernising Staffing and Court Management Practices in Ireland. Harris stated: “We intend to increase the number of judges in two phases, beginning with 24 additional judges this year and a further 20 judges subject to an assessment of the impact of the initial appointments. This will ultimately increase the overall number of judges from 173 to 217.” The Courts Bill 2023, enacted in May 2023, confirms the Government’s plans to take the recommendations of the reports into account and increase judiciary numbers in the State. The changes will see the number of Court of Appeal judges increase from 15 to 17; High Court judges from 42 to 48; Circuit Court judges from 40 to 45; and District Court judges from 20 to 28. Stating that the increases in the number of Circuit Court

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and District Court judges is “particularly welcome”, the Oireachtas Library and Research Service (OL&RS) says that the Judicial Working Group’s (JPWG) report notes that the total number of ordinary judges rose by 21 per cent in the last decade, almost double the rate of the population increase of 12 per cent and largely in line with the increase of 24 per cent in public sector employment numbers. Despite this increase in the overall number of judges, the increase occurred entirely in the Superior Courts, which experienced a 76 per cent increase in judge numbers, while there was no increase in the District Court or Circuit Court in the last decade. The need for the increase in the number of overall judges in Ireland is made plain by the EU Justice Scoreboard 2022. As is noted in the OL&RS publication, Increasing the Number of Judges in Ireland, the scoreboard recorded that in the four years recorded (2012, 2018, 2019, 2020), Ireland consistently records the lowest number of judges per 100,000 inhabitants in the European Union. Top of the pile, with the most judges per capita, are Slovenia, Hungary, and Luxembourg, while Denmark, Malta, and France are next to Ireland at the bottom of the standings.


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Professional judges per 100,000 inhabitants, 2020

Source: CEPEJ

According to the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice’s (CEPEJ) report evaluating European judicial systems, published in October 2022, Ireland has 3.3 professional judges per 100,000 inhabitants, making it the lowest of the states included in the ranking, with most having between 10 and 30 judges per 100,000, and only Scotland (3.7) and the North (3.9) recording similar figures. The European average is 17.6 judges per 100,000 people. Prior to the publication of these figures, Ireland’s lack of judges per capita was already being remarked upon by European observers, with a 2021 European Commission report stating: “The number of judges remains low and the resources available for the training of judges appear limited. The number of judges per inhabitant remains the lowest in the EU, which could also affect the efficiency of the Irish justice system. While the Government has committed to review the numbers and types of judges needed to ensure the efficient administration of justice over the next five years, more immediate measures might address concerns also raised by stakeholders.” The Government requested that the OECD undertake its research in order to compare the number of judges in member states, with the report that was returned

recommending an increase in the number of judges by between 36 and 108 extra judges. The assessment calls for more judges at every court level and identifies the need for an average minimum increase required of around 26.2 per cent. “This need may be exacerbated by the impact of upcoming legislative changes, such as the creation of new family law courts,” the OL&RS states. As the Government came to terms with these issues, Minister for Justice Helen McEntee TD established the JPWG in order carry out an in-depth assessment of medium- to long-term judicial requirements, resulting in the group’s report, which returned 50 recommendations. The key recommendations relating to the number of judges, which the Government has accepted, are that the recruitment of additional judges be split into two phases, with 24 judges to be recruited in the first phase and 20 in the second, making a total of 44 additional judges recruited. It is stated in the JPWG report that phase one should begin “as soon as practicable” and phase two before the end of 2024, with additional numbers in further phases to be determined by a review of judicial needs up to 2028, to be carried out in 2025.

Increases in judge numbers by court 2023 onwards Current number of judges

Phase 1

Phase 2

Future

District Court

64

8

6

78

Circuit Court

38

8

6

52

High Court

45

6

6

57

Court of Appeal

16

2

2

20

Supreme Court

10

0

0

0

Total

173

24

20

217

Court

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Adapting justice to a new world

As economies and communities adjust to the post-Covid world, policing and justice organisations are undergoing extensive transformation and reform. With that comes opportunity and challenges, none greater than attracting, recruiting, and retaining talent, writes Judith Crawford, EY Ireland Government and Public

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Sector Lead, Partner, People Consulting. While they may be at different stages and levels of maturity, all organisations need to reflect on three key considerations:

Prioritising dynamic workforce planning Before planning to resource roles, organisations need to understand the capabilities they currently have and then ascertain what is needed to deliver for the future. Workforce planning is a 64

dynamic process that looks beyond the one-year horizon to five and 10 years to determine the capabilities needed to meet changing circumstances and emerging technology. The World Economic Forum estimates that, to adapt to the new tech-enabled workplace, public sector workers will need to change around 40 per cent of their core skills in the next five years. This will see a need to not only upskill but reskill. This shift will not be limited to


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“63 per cent of employees value connection between their role and an organisation’s purpose, over reward package” EY 2022 Work Reimagined Survey Attract and recruit new talent

Judith Crawford.

back-office functions but will include front line policing and justice staff, as new technology and tools are introduced.

Develop existing employees at scale

This is where public sector organisations can win out, showcasing a rewarding, purposeful and fulfilling career, where staff can make a tangible difference to people’s lives. Organisations are further maximising opportunities to engage with potential staff, streamlining recruitment processes and taking advantage of tools and digital accelerators to match candidate experience and expectations.

W: www.ey.com/ie/publicsector

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We are seeing increased investment in the development of transferable skills across public sector organisations in a bid to ensure workforce agility and organisational resilience. Building a workforce with a suite of blended skills provides flexibility to the organisation, as well as providing varied career opportunities and ensuring staff feel productive and engaged.

The well documented war for talent is only likely to intensify. For public sector organisations, this means an increased competition against private sector organisations with typically quicker recruitment processes and more flexible compensation. However, according to the EY 2022 Work Reimagined Survey, 63 per cent of ‘Gen Z’ employees said that, rather than compensation, they place a higher value on connection between their job and organisation purpose.

With research showing 84 per cent of learners now prefer self-directed learning, there needs to be a shift to a more flexible approach that widens access to education, enabling people to learn at a time, place, and speed that suits them. 65


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Priorities in justice legislation The Government Legislative Programme for the 2023 autumn session contains within it four justice bills earmarked as priority legislation. The departments of justice and social protection have the joint second most priority bills, behind the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage.

Coroners (Amendment) Bill The Coroners (Amendment) Bill is designed to ensure that four coroners “can continue to operate in the Dublin District” and that additional temporary coroners can be appointed to other districts as required. The Bill also aims to provide for the salaried coroners in the Dublin District. While the Government states in its Legislative Programme, published in September 2023, that the heads of the Bill are in preparation, as of October 2023, no further progress has been reported. While this pace is not unusual or notable in a normal scenario, the Government’s own programme points out that the Dublin District will have to revert to just one coroner if the Bill is not enacted by February 2024.

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Defamation (Amendment) Bill The Defamation (Amendment) Bill aims to implement the recommendations of 2022’s Report of the Review of the Defamation Act 2009 and amend the Defamation Act 2009 in the process. Most notable among the recommendations of the report are the abolishment of juries in High Court defamation cases, the granting of jurisdiction to the Circuit Court to grant a Norwich Pharmacal Order, and the insertion of new anti-Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) measures.

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Pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill was completed on 4 July 2023, with the Joint Committee on Justice publishing its report on 27 September 2023. The report contained within it 18 recommendations. Notably, it called for the removal of the proposal to abolish juries in High Court defamation actions “in order to make findings of fact and to make an indicative finding of an appropriate level of damages, where appropriate”. Further recommendations include the offer of training to judges with regard to SLAPP cases, which are defined as strategic and abusive uses of the legislation by a powerful entity or individual in order to deter public interest discussion, and that care is taken to ensure that anti-SLAPP measures align with the EU’s anti-SLAPP Directive. Drafting of the Bill is now underway.

Garda Síochána (Powers) Bill The Garda Síochána (Powers) Bill was introduced by then-acting Minister for Justice Heather Humphreys TD in June 2021, representing an effort by the Government to modernise and update policing in Ireland, with police powers to be consolidated, targeted reforms to be introduced, and new fundamental rights provisions to be included. The Bill is said to “have a strong focus on human rights”, for both the “rights of suspected or accused persons, as well as the human rights of all members of society”. Measures in the Bill include: the introduction of a single power of arrest, increasing the scope of Garda arrest powers, but making the powers “subject to conditions to ensure the arrest is necessary in particular circumstances”; the placing of the Garda caution on a statutory basis; the introduction of a statutory right for an accused to have a lawyer present at their interview; the introduction of new Garda powers to compel a person to provide electronic device passwords when executing a search warrant; a requirement for written records of stop and search incidents; the drawing up of statutory codes of practice for Gardaí in using the Bill’s powers; and special measures for child suspects and suspects with impaired capacity.

Sale of Alcohol Bill The heads of the Sale of Alcohol Bill were approved in October 2022, with the drafting of the Bill starting in March 2023. The Bill seeks to codify the law relating to the sale and consumption of alcohol. The report on the committee’s prelegislative scrutiny was published in March 2023. The committee heard from representatives of the Licensed Vintners Association, Give Us the Night, the Vintners’ Federation of Ireland, Independent Craft Brewers of Ireland, Music and Entertainment Association of Ireland, and officials from the Department of Justice in an effort to gauge views regarding the Bill that will create one single piece of legislation to regulate the sale of alcohol. The committee’s report returned 27 recommendations, including the amendment of the Bill’s title to better reflect the broader impact of the legislation, the creation of a new type of venue license for dance venues separate from the seven-day publican’s license, and that consideration be given to the introduction of a form of ‘dry license’ for venues that are open during the night-time hours but not serving alcohol, along with hybrid licenses for venues that serve alcohol at certain times but wish to remain open

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A new strategic plan for the Irish Prison Service the completion of the installation of in-cell telephony, which provides an enhanced platform for prisoners to maintain links with their family, friends, and prisoner services; and the implementation of video link for family visits and court hearings.

Limerick Prison

Throughout 2023 the Irish Prison Service has worked on drafting a new strategic plan. It has been informed through extensive consultation with staff and stakeholders, including

Visiting Committees, and people in our custody, writes Irish

The new strategy details the strategic pillars, initiatives and priorities, and outlines a timeframe in the roadmap for delivery whilst being cognisant of the short-term business needs of the Irish Prison Service:

Prison Service Director Donna Creaven.

Prisoner pathways: We will evolve existing and develop alternate prisoner pathways to better reflect sentence types, increase capacity within the system, and achieve better outcomes for prisoners.

Employee experience: We will continue to embed a personcentred innovative, collaborative, and transparent culture that reinforces our efforts to renew the organisation, underpinned by more efficient and effective people processes.

New business processes: We will continuously improve the quality of services provided to our stakeholders through new business processes that place collaboration, innovation, and communication as the foundational principles for our ways of working.

the Department of Justice; the Office of the Inspector of Prisons; the Probation Service; staff representative bodies; the

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in the context of current societal challenges and the evolving expectations of our stakeholders. As we look to the future, we will focus on a number of themes to support our aims to consolidate and increase the service capacity to people in our custody, making them more accessible, and to continue collaboration with our stakeholders to progress penal and public service reform.

Donna Creaven, Director, Irish Prison Service.

The implementation of the plan will be guided and underpinned by our vision, mission and values of teamwork, integrity, potential, safety, and support. The strategic plan has been informed by challenges we face and our experiences 68

We are facing many challenges with rising numbers in our custody: an ageing prisoner population; addressing the mental health needs of people in our custody and maintaining services during times of rising costs; and a tight labour market. As the prison population rises, we face increased demand for the provision of effective interventions and support aimed at promoting desistance and reducing reoffending.

We have learned much from our experience over the last strategic cycle. Throughout the last number of years, in parallel to the organisational response to managing the pandemic, we were successful in continuing to realise our goals, including completion of the new accommodation in Limerick Prison; repurposing a unit in Mountjoy Prison to accommodate older male prisoners who have special requirements as they age;


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Limerick Female Prison.

Digital platforms: We will modernise our services through digital development that enable accessible, transparent, and tailored services, support innovation and improve effectiveness in a cohesive and holistic manner. Governance framework: We will strengthen our internal controls and governance arrangements to support corporate capacity and maintain and ensure consistency, transparency, and accountability for the services we provide on behalf of the State. This is a particular priority in the coming year as the Irish Prison Service prepares to go forward on a statutory footing as a scheduled office.

Transforming custody through technology

In recent years, we have pivoted our focus to how we can use technology to create and deliver modern services in our prisons. Four broad areas where technology supports a modern service include: •

digital service delivery for people in care;

digital service delivery for staff and partners;

electronic security of prisons; and

digital prison building management.

Delivery and access to services for people in custody encompasses health and wellbeing; education; language; culture and identity; prison operations, such as biometric movement; selfserviced kiosks; and visits. Digital service delivery for staff and partners includes the enablement of digital ways of working for staff and other people onsite in our prisons to help them do their jobs more safely, and accurately, for processes such as viewing essential prisoner information, prisoner sentence management, building maintenance, and inventory management. Managing the long-term maintenance and sustainability of a prison, including optimising physical workflow can be supported through the use of digital tools

such as monitoring environmental conditions through sensors, and enable control and automation of operational processes, and optimisation of electricity usage within cells and other spaces. The benefits under this agenda will support an improved safety environment in the prison through increasing time available for staff to have meaningful engagements with people in their care; and enable real-time access to information, reducing time spent completing paper-based tasks. Using digital to support rehabilitation will encourage people in our care to adapt to a digitally enabled environment and prepare them for using online learning tools and increase connectedness with the outside world and preparation for life outside in an easy to use and accessible format. Our approach to implementing digitally supported service delivery is about using technology to make services available to people where and when they will make the most impact on that person’s life or work. For people in care, this should mean making the most of services we know have a humanising and rehabilitative impact, and ensuring they are available and accessible. For our staff and partners, greater use of technology in day-to-day activities will help improve safety and contribute to our wider drive to modernise our ways of working.

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The new plan is ambitious, particularly under the digital transformation agenda. Digital transformation as a universal phenomenon has created a new reality in prisons. The use of technology in custodial settings transforms rehabilitation and services, promotes digital literacy, digital citizenship, social skills, self-esteem, and reintegration into society. Current rehabilitation practices and policies in our prisons are mostly offline and do not cater for the digital realms. The use of digital to support rehabilitation will facilitate transition back into society and ensure an improved post-prison quality of life in a technologically advanced society. The technology-dependent world that people

exiting custody must now re-enter requires the use of touch screens, computers, and the Internet, but many have not received training in how to operate these types of internet-enabled processes.

W: www.irishprisons.ie 69


In June 2023, the Department of Justice launched the first evaluation project of youth diversion projects which has reported a positive impact in its goals of turning youths away from lives of crime.

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Credit: Fianna Fáil

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Positive assessment of youth diversion projects


The evaluation, undertaken by Research Matters Ltd in the period between December 2021 and November 2022, is the first of its kind. The Department of Justice has stated that the overall purpose of the evaluation is to generate policy-relevant knowledge concerning the structure, conduct, and impacts of youth diversion projects (YDPs).

YDPs are community-based multiagency crime prevention initiatives, which seek to divert young people who have become involved in crime and/or anti-social behaviour and to support wider preventative work within their community and with families at risk. At the time of publication, there are currently 105 YDPs running in the State, and a further 10 projects with a special focus (for example: more challenging children, family support). Overall, the evaluation project report shows that YDPs are performing well in many areas and are known to impact positively on reducing crime. The European Social Fund+ (ESF+) provides the European Union with the financial means to ‘invest in people’. The current round of funding was allocated in 2021 and will run until 2027.

Evaluating initiatives The Evaluation of Youth Diversion Projects, published by the Department of Justice in June 2023, says that that governance of YDPs at national level “works well” and “while a small number of recommendations are made, these relate more to strategy and operational matters than governance”. “While views about the function of the local level structures are positive, some overlap and inconsistencies have been

mechanism for future work, though it is also clear that additional financial and personnel resources will be needed,” the report outlines. In addition, the report finds that the relative allocation of funds to pay and non-pay costs presented in the budget files is “appropriate” given the nature of the work that takes place in YDPs. It explains: “In some budgets, the allocation to pay costs is considerably lower (as low as 54 per cent of the budget) or considerably higher (as high as 84 per cent), which warrants further review. It is also concluded that some consideration needs to be given to greater equity in salary scales and, if possible, the introduction of some form of standardised approach.”

“The Youth Justice Strategy is seen as an empowering and integrative mechanism for future work, though it is also clear that additional financial and personnel resources will be needed.”

The Department of Justice was allocated cofunding for Youth Diversion Projects through the ESF+ Programme 20212027 for the specific purpose of improving the education and employability prospects of young people engaged in the projects. The Department of Justice states that it actively promotes crime prevention policy through “focused educational interventions influencing positive development of young people towards becoming responsible citizens”.

identified in this evaluation and recommendations are made to respond to these,” the report states. It adds that there is a “willingness, an appetite and, indeed, an expectation” that the range of services offered by YDPs will be increased “in the coming years”. “Both the managers and the project committees are committed to this even if with slightly different priorities. The Youth Justice Strategy is seen as an empowering and integrative

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The Youth Diversion Programme is provided for in the Childrens Act 2001. The Diversion Programme is supported by a network of youth diversion projects (YDPs).

“Funding for these interventions is based on evidence that diverting young offenders from the criminal justice system, and preventative work with young people at risk, is to their longterm benefit and that of society as a whole,” the Department says.

Looking at allocation of funding, the report states all projects are not operating from the same budget base as some projects have their own transport whilst, in other projects, youth justice workers use their own cars to provide transport for participants. It explains that some projects have premises with very high specifications (e.g., in terms of space, warmth, facilities) while others have no premises at all. Some projects have greater disposable funding that can be allocated where crisis situations arise and there is a need to purchase additional services or products.

Concluding, the report evaluates that, whilst there has been a certain scope for success, that certain provisions are required to maximise successful outcomes, including specific premises where “participants can feel they belong; availability of, and access to, experienced and highly skilled personnel; and a range of options that can be employed in identifying and meeting the needs of participants in a tailored way”. 71


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Advancing reform in police oversight

The Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. (L-R): Commissioner Hugh Hume, Chairperson Rory MacCabe, Commissioner Emily Logan.

Work in the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission (GSOC), Ireland’s independent policing oversight body, has gathered pace in our preparation for the enactment of the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill. Advertorial

In 2018, the Commission on the Future of Policing published its report outlining a clear vision and roadmap for the reform of policing and policing oversight in Ireland, including sweeping changes to the composition and mandate of GSOC. A key milestone in the resulting programme of reform was the Policing, Security and Community Safety Bill, published In November 2022. The draft bill proposes to replace GSOC with a new police complaints and oversight body with expanded powers, directly accountable to the Oireachtas. This represents a significant step forward in addressing a clearly-

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defined and long-signalled gap in Ireland’s policing accountability infrastructure. The Commission and our colleagues across GSOC's executive staff have engaged with the Department of Justice on the draft legislation, in the course of which we have outlined reasoned observations on gaps, practical issues of concern and other matters grounded in our experience of policing oversight to date. In early 2023, the Bill began its passage through the Oireachtas and recently completed all stages in Dáil Éireann. It has now begun its passage through the Seanad. GSOC has been engaging with the houses


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systems, procedures, protocols, and agreed lines of communication necessary for effective inter-agency cooperation in the delivery of the new legislation’s statutory functions for GSOC’s successor agency.

of the Oireachtas to communicate our views and observations on the Bill. These observations are available to read on GSOC’s website www.gardaombudsman.ie. Over the past year, preparation for transition to a new complaints and oversight body has been a core focus of GSOC’s work. Throughout 2022/2023, GSOC has been actively engaging with the Department of Justice’s inter-agency and cross-departmental implementation programme for the Bill. This is a complex multi-strand programme, involving the Department of Justice, An Garda Síochána, the Policing Authority, the Garda Inspectorate, the National Shared Services Office, and GSOC. In addition to being represented on the Programme’s Board and Implementation Steering Group, GSOC has been a core participant in two projects of particular strategic importance: •

The Process Reform project, to establish, in close cooperation with An Garda Síochána, the reformed

To ensure GSOC meets the requirements proposed in the new legislation, we also commissioned an external organisational review to identify what a transformed and expanded police complaints and oversight body will require in terms of staffing, resourcing and expertise from day one, right through to the longer term as the new agency begins to roll out its work.

we will progress the acquisition and development of a new case management system that supports the work of the new complaints body;

the work of GSOC’s Transition Steering Group, and sustained staff and inter-agency communication and engagement on the Bill and the transition process, will continue and gather pace; and

GSOC will undertake further engagement with the Houses of the Oireachtas to communicate our views and observations on the Bill.

It is our clear aim as a Commission and executive staff to do everything we can to ensure that the new police complaints and oversight body that succeeds GSOC is equipped to provide the service that the public expects: efficient, effective, human-rights-based policing oversight that promotes accountability, and the enhancement of trust in policing in Ireland, in line with the vision outlined by the Commission on the Future of Policing.

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The Operating Model project, to prepare the institutional and governance structures for GSOC’s successor agency, which will have an independent Oireachtas vote, a CEO who will be the accounting officer answerable directly to the Oireachtas, and an Ombudsman and Deputy Ombudsman replacing the present three-person Commission; and

Work has also commenced on the procurement of a new multi-functional case management system. This system is fundamental to the ability of the new police complaints and oversight body to fulfil its enhanced mandate. This is a complex project for which we are drawing on a well of external expertise and guidance. Once complete, it will enable the new police complaints and oversight body to enhance performance management, track the progress and timeliness of investigations, and crucially, to produce robust data on trends and patterns, on which we can base research.

It is an exciting time for GSOC and we look forward to the opportunities and challenges ahead.

In the coming months: •

development of a corporate identity and online presence for the new agency will get underway, followed by the rollout of public awareness and information initiatives;

E: info@gsoc.ie W: www.gardaombudsman.ie X: @GardaOmbudsman

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Justice Sector Innovation Strategy aims to maximise efficiency In January 2023, the Government launched the first Justice Sector Innovation Strategy, which it states aims to “lay the firm foundations which will support our people and organisations to respond innovatively to the challenges of an increasingly complex and uncertain world”. An initiative under the aegis of the Civil Service 2030 Renewal Strategy, the innovation strategy aims to enable the justice sector to improve on current service delivery, enhance consistency, fairness and inclusion, reduce inefficiencies, and increase the resilience of the Department of Justice’s services and teams. The Department of Justice states that the strategy’s metrics for success will be “if internal and external customers have benefitted from the better outcomes which have emerged as a result of the innovations or innovation models”. The strategy document outlines eight justice sector innovation commitments and three delivery phases for the actions outlined in the innovation commitments.

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Justice sector innovation commitments The strategy outlines eight justice sector innovation commitments which, the Department of Justice states, “are developed in such a way that they can be taken by each agency and used to guide the work in their area”. The commitments are: 1. Enhanced collaboration and trust: Cross-sectoral collaboration will happen more frequently throughout innovation processes, with time allocated for trust and relationship building and collaborative planning as part of innovation initiatives; 2. Put the customer at the centre of innovation: Customer-centric innovation will mean that the identification of “customers” is key,


followed by in-depth analysis of their diverse needs through engagement, co-design, and testing of innovation with those customers before and after deployment;

4. Constant incremental innovation: Innovation of the everyday – the improvement of the services already delivered, and the constant incremental optimisation and iteration of customer experiences will be encouraged, recognised, and supported across the sector; 5. Innovate transparently and engage stakeholders: The justice sector aims to innovate openly, involving those who are touched by and help deliver its evolving services. It will share successes, failures, and new knowledge across the sector and beyond, and will encourage and support replication of successful innovations; 6. Share knowledge and develop skills: The Department of Justice will identify, document, and share examples of innovation practice from across the sector to encourage replication where appropriate. It will also develop knowledge of potential models which might further support innovation. The Department will continue to support innovation with training, innovation management, innovation models and tools, benchmarking, and measurement; 7. Anticipate and respond to change: The Department committed to embedding strong feedback loops to drive innovation – allowing quantitative and qualitative measurement of the Department’s services’ performance, and iteration of those services in response. The Department will enable continuous optimisation, as well as step-changes where required, in response to the needs of policy and society. The department states that it does this to achieve better outcomes for those it serves; and 8. Move from outputs to outcomes: The Department will define and focus upon core outcomes towards which to innovate. Those outcomes will drive value for those the

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3. Lead and encourage innovation: It is incumbent upon leadership and management at every level to encourage the sharing of new ideas to empower teams to engage in innovative processes, to try new ways of doing things, and to learn from mistakes made along the way. The sector is committed to creating clear pathways for the development and evaluation of ideas, and novel solutions to problems;

justice sector serves. The Department will identify and work towards these outcomes in its innovation pilots and in the daily innovation of its operational services. These outcomes will drive its work and contribute to a safe, fair, and inclusive Ireland.

Phases and actions In order to support the implementation of the strategy, three key phases have been identified with specific actions: 1. Phase 1 – Building blocks and firm foundations (six months): The justice sector innovation team will lead phase one, expanding the existing justice sector innovation network. They will have initial responsibility for recruiting additional innovation ambassadors from the workforce across the sector, engaging with agencies and bodies, measuring the baseline innovation maturity across the sector, and enabling communication across the network on best practice, training, events, and supports. This is the foundation phase, after which the innovation strategy will be implemented across the sector, supporting and accounting for the autonomous actions of the agencies and bodies aligned to the innovation commitments. 2. Phase 2 – Implementing innovation (12-18 months): Agencies and bodies will utilise the training and resources on offer, and proactively collaborate with the innovation lab at the Department of Justice and the wider sector. There is a responsibility to note and measure incremental innovation and more disruptive innovation projects. 3. Phase 3 – Innovation as usual (six-12 months): This phase considers the progress made under previous initiatives and supports the proliferation of proven innovation practices across operations. There may be new commitments which emerge and require strategic support and attention. This is a responsive strategy and further actions may arise following phase one and phase two in response to new requirements. Upon publication of the strategy in January 2023, Secretary General of the Department of Justice, Oonagh McPhillips, said: “This strategy builds on the work already being done across the sector to innovate and enhance services for the public, but for the first time puts all the agencies and bodies of the sector working on a common innovation pathway.”

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Forge a career as a mediator justice report

misunderstandings. In addition, working as a mediator offers the opportunity to develop professionally and gain a wide range of highly sought-after skills you can use professionally and personally.

King’s Inns is built on networking and engagement. Over the year, we invite students, members, and alumni to attend and participate in various social events, fireside chats, and talks.

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Alternative dispute resolution mechanisms have never been of greater importance than they are at present. Within the last five years, mediation and access to qualified mediators have become an increasingly important, flexible method of resolving various disputes in the absence of court proceedings.

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Mediation is a process where two or more parties try to resolve conflicts with the assistance of a neutral third party (the mediator). The mediator helps the parties agree on a solution without one of the parties having to go to court. It can foster a resolution through negotiation rather than confrontation. Mediation can create resolutions which last and promote well-being and happiness.

Why become a mediator?

The process of mediation is voluntary, where all parties must want to mediate. It has to be impartial, where the mediator does not take sides and is always there for all parties involved. The mediator listens to all sides, asks questions, encourages dialogue, and tries to understand the parties’ respective views and needs in order to help all parties reach an agreement. Through the process of mediation, they can also help

Becoming a mediator is one of the many ways to help people and businesses resolve conflicts and bring value to society in various circumstances, whether a formal legal dispute or a dispute between work colleagues or between members or volunteers of a club, society, or other body. As a mediator, you can improve communication between people, helping to clear up disputes and

preserve relationships, which is crucial in resolving conflicts. In addition, mediators can also help reach compromises that are satisfactory to all parties involved. In this way, they can create a long-term situation that leads to a more permanent solution to the conflict.

There are many career opportunities as qualified mediators with work in many different areas, including family disputes, employment disputes, neighbourhood disputes, conflict resolution, employer-toemployee negotiations, business-tobusiness negotiations, consumer-tobusiness disputes, student-to-university disputes, social conflicts, international conflicts, and more. People who work in various roles such as HR, business operations, communications, change management, finance, advocacy, and trade union officials have benefited from being a qualified mediator.

Why is mediation a great form of alternative dispute resolution? Alternative dispute resolution is an effective way to resolve conflicts. Control is the most critical benefit of using mediation to resolve a dispute. People in dispute often feel like they are losing control of important parts of their lives, their workplace, family life, and finances. It is quick, inexpensive, and provides parties with an excellent opportunity to resolve their issues in a safe and fair manner. It is also a perfect way to improve the relationship between the parties, as the parties agree on a settlement and do not have to wait for a judge to decide. It can also allow for better communication and building a support network among various stakeholders. It also provides a way to resolve disputes constructively and by mutual agreement. Subsequently, alternative dispute resolution can contribute to a better understanding of the parties’ respective interests, which are often suppressed during litigation.

What are the essential skills of a mediator? To be successful as a mediator, it is important to have a strong understanding of complex conflict situations. A mediator must be able to analyse situations


As a mediator, your job is to intervene in and resolve conflict situations as a neutral party. You should try to encourage the parties to communicate constructively with each other in order to reach an effective and lasting solution. You should also try to create an atmosphere where all sides feel comfortable and willing to share their opinions and ideas.

How does one become a mediator? To become a mediator, one must complete a training course. This can be completed at various institutions and usually includes theory and practice. The training varies depending on the provider and can be done online or in-person. In addition, specific requirements must be met in order to be recognised as a mediator. These usually include a university degree, a certain level of professional experience, and proof of participation in mediator training.

Why train as a mediator at King’s Inns?

In addition to training barristers, King's Inns also runs a wide range of advanced diploma courses for both lawyers and non-lawyers. Focusing on a range of legal knowledge and skills areas, these professional development courses at King's Inns are designed and delivered by lawyers who are subject matter experts, with input from members of the judiciary, and other appropriate experts.

King’s Inns is renowned for professional legal education and training. It is Ireland’s oldest school of law and one of Ireland’s significant historical environments.

How is the course delivered? Coordinated by barristers and accredited mediators Cathrina Keville and Teresa Blake, the highly rated mediation course at King’s Inns equips professionals with the practical skills required to act as a mediator in a range of circumstances.

participants have the opportunity to work through a range of practical scenarios, guided by our experienced teaching team. We believe that this interactive, small group approach is the best way to acquire the skills of a competent mediator.” In-person attendance over the six

Accredited by King's Inns, as well as the Mediators’ Institute of Ireland (the MII), the advanced diploma covers key mediation topics, including conflict, process phases of mediation, communication and negotiation skills, ethical principles of mediation, and online mediation.

workshop days is compulsory as these

Open to lawyers and non-legal professionals, this course is delivered through six in-person teaching days, whereby workshops are delivered in small group training sessions. This is delivered alongside a combination of online learning and self-study. The course takes place twice per academic year over a space of two to three months, including the recorded roleplay assessment, during which students can showcase the skills they have learned.

throughout the year. More information

sessions are designed to practise and hone skills, provide feedback, and develop participants to be able to practise as professional mediators in a range of settings. Applications for this course are taken can be found on the King’s Inns website at www.kingsinns.ie/mediation

King’s Inns Henrietta Street, Dublin 1 Ireland DO1 KF59 W: kingsinns.ie

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King’s Inns is renowned for professional legal education and training. Since 1541, it has been training people to become barristers, a vital role in the administration of justice. Barristers, who are advocates for their clients, require the appropriate legal knowledge, legal skills, professional competencies, and personal attributes, acting with independence and integrity.

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objectively and impartially, identify problems and develop constructive solutions. Good empathy is also an advantage to support and advise the parties in a conflict situation. A mediator should also have good communication and interpersonal skills to lead the parties to an agreement. Mediators do not provide advice; they guide parties on legal principles and what all parties should think about. Mediators must remain confidential in their work, and above all, the mediator does not make any decisions; the parties work out the resolution they take forward.

“A good mediator will have a sound understanding of the mediation process as well as excellent communication and interpersonal skills,” says Eimear Brown, Dean of School of Law at King’s Inns. “King’s Inns prides itself on the quality of its education and training, and our advanced diploma in mediation course combines high-quality course materials – including online lectures by leading experts in the field – with a high level of in-person contact hours in which 77


justice report

Prison Education Taskforce established A new taskforce, which is being co-chaired between the Department of Justice and the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, is aiming to build on over 100 prisoners undertaking university courses. release by realising the potential for greater alignment across the prison education and training services and tertiary provision. Aimed at ensuring that prisoners are able to avail of opportunities to gain access to education and training courses, the Prison Education Taskforce aims to ensure that prisoners are better able to rehabilitate and gain access to employment upon release. In 2022, 11 prisoners completed their Junior Certs and 64 completed Leaving Cert examinations. Additionally, around 1,400 prisoners achieved QQI certificates, a figure which includes 105 undertaking university course and five studying at postgraduate level. The taskforce is comprised of representatives from the Department of Justice, the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, the Irish Prison Service, SOLAS (the state agency which oversees the further education and training sector), the National Apprenticeship Office, Education and Training Boards Ireland, the Probation Service, and former prisoners. Then-Minister for Justice, Simon Harris TD, oversaw the first meeting of the Prison Education Taskforce. Speaking in the aftermath of the first Taskforce meeting, which took place on 31 May 2023 at Mountjoy Prison, then-Minister for Justice Simon Harris TD said: “This taskforce has the potential to significantly improve labour market readiness for persons in custody on 78

“This is all about ensuring persons in custody can access education and training opportunities, and hopefully access employment, or indeed further or higher education, on release.” Minister of State for Law Reform James Browne TD, who co-chaired the meeting alongside Harris, said: “People who are given access to education and employment opportunities are more likely to go on to build crime free lives. The Taskforce that Minister Harris and I have led today will help ensure that we can continue to give people in custody the best opportunity to maximise their skills and their employment prospects post-release. “The introduction of this taskforce was an objective identified in Justice Plan 2023 and I am very pleased to see it realised in such a swift manner.” The Prison Education Taskforce will also develop targets and monitor the proportion of the prison population receiving education. The Department of Justice states that an outline of agreed actions and the next work programme will be brought to government by both departments “by the end of the year”.


Connectivity report

Digital

Events

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connectivity report

The Government is committed to a fast-paced digital transformation. Our new national digital strategy, Harnessing Digital: Digital Ireland Framework is driving this digital transition across the Irish economy and society. The Digital Ireland Framework builds on the learnings from our pandemic experience, not least our increasing reliance on digital connectivity across all facets of our individual and collective lives.

Minister of State Ossian Smyth TD:

‘Our path to a truly connected society’

While digital connectivity across the State is being delivered primarily through the commercial investment of the telecommunications industry, this is being complemented by the roll out of fibre, across mainly rural areas, under the state-subsidised National Broadband Plan (NBP). We can be proud of the progress to date of the NBP Programme. This is the largest infrastructure project since rural electrification and represents a massive investment by the State in our digital infrastructure and future capabilities. It will ensure that high-speed broadband is available to all premises in the intervention area, including all our islands, no later than 2027. Where it is not economically viable for commercial operators, the NBP has stepped in and will deliver high-speed broadband to 96 per cent of Ireland’s land mass, covering 23 per cent of Ireland’s population living in the most rural and remote areas, which includes 69 per cent of our farms. It is expected that over 600,000 premises, including new builds, will be passed during the lifetime of the programme with the network offering a minimum download speed of 500Mbps from the outset, while also future-proofed to deliver up to 10Gbps speeds.

When the first Digital Connectivity The many benefits of digital connectivity include more Strategy for Ireland was approved by flexible and remote working and new job opportunities; new markets and customers for businesses; more government in December 2022, the efficient and accessible public services for all and country began its journey towards reliable empowerment and choice in how we learn or participate in social activities. It is vital that these high-speed internet access across Ireland benefits can be enjoyed equally by everyone across the country, regardless of where they live or work. by 2028, writes Minister of State with Implementation of the NBP programme will go a long way towards ensuring people in rural communities and responsibility for Communications and the remote locations have equal access to the opportunities presented by reliable, high-speed internet Circular Economy, Ossian Smyth TD. access. 80


connectivity report

“Over the last three years there has been rapid expansion of gigabit capability in every county across Ireland. 70 per cent of households across the country can now access a broadband speed of one gigabit or more.” Minister of State with responsibility for Communications and the Circular Economy, Ossian Smyth TD

The Digital Connectivity Strategy for Ireland sets out the targets to be achieved by the telecommunications sector in providing digital connectivity across the State and identifies the key strategic enablers for ensuring these targets are met. Our targets include providing all households and businesses in the country with access to gigabit connectivity by 2028. By the end of 2023, digital connectivity will see every school connected to the network. By the end of this decade, all populated areas will have 5G coverage. These initiatives are a gamechanger for enabling people to live, work, and connect with others, no matter where they live. Our targets can be achieved through the realisation of key enablers including the National Broadband Plan, commercial investment in gigabit services, the National Cyber Security Strategy, upgrading international connectivity infrastructure to and from Ireland, transposing the Communications Regulation Amendment Bill and implementing the actions of the Mobile Phone and Broadband Taskforce. The principles which guide the Digital Connectivity Strategy include ensuring our regulatory framework encourages investment, promotes infrastructure competition, and supports innovation in emerging technologies. The delivery of the strategy will see the State intervene, where appropriate, and where the market fails to deliver or where the timeframe of the delivery does not meet the needs of the State. By being robust in our ambition, we will make sure that digital connectivity leaves no one behind. Progress to date is strong. Over the last three years there has been rapid expansion of gigabit capability in every county across Ireland. 70 per cent of households across the country can now access a broadband speed of one gigabit or more. Over 12,000 connections to full fibre are being made per month with ComReg, the communications regulator, reporting a 2.2 per cent year-on-year increase in

full fibre subscriptions. This clearly demonstrates the momentum being gained now by our fibre roll out. Implementation of the NBP contract is on track with National Broadband Ireland (NBI) reporting over 54,000 fibre-to-the-premises connections completed and over 182,000 premises passed in the intervention area as of September 2023. The recent transposition of the European Electronic Communications Code will see the State guarantee all citizens access to adequate broadband at an affordable price under the universal service obligations for broadband. Other priorities include developing direct international connectivity links to the rest of Europe; ensuring 5G spectrum continues to be made available, promoting research and innovation in emerging technologies and leveraging pilot and test networks available across the State. We are leading many of our European neighbours in digital connectivity and are ahead of the EU27 average for gigabit connectivity. This is good news for competitivity at home and abroad, enabling businesses to reach a wider market, while reducing costs and improving productivity. Implementation of our Digital Connectivity Strategy will support more balanced regional development as well as the green transition, through implementation of the Government’s remote working strategy, Our Rural Future: Rural Development Policy 2021-2025, Project Ireland 2040 and facilitating greater access to regional talent and skills. We have made huge strides over a very short number of years and are well on our way to realising our shared goal of a truly connected society and to the implementation of our Digital Connectivity Strategy by 2030. Our future is indeed bright. We can be confident that the significant investment to date in enhancing our digital capabilities will ensure we remain at the forefront of European and global digital developments.

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Closing the digital divide between rural and urban “Many operators at the moment are making significant investments,” Mourik says, surveying the current landscape for telecoms consumers. “There are four operators in Ireland rolling out or planning to roll out fibre infrastructure – Eir, SIRO, Virgin Media, and of course the State itself through the National Broadband Plan. In four to five years’ time, most people in Ireland will have a very high-speed fibre connection or equivalent. We anticipate that the digital divide between rural Ireland and the cities will become a thing of the past.” Mourik sounds a note of satisfaction as he reflects on how competition in the market is currently functioning. “We have been striving for that level of competition for the last 20 years. ComReg has introduced measures over that period to stimulate competition in the Irish market in keeping with our mandate from Government,” he says.

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Robert Mourik, Chairperson and Commissioner with the Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg), speaks to eolas Magazine about developments in the telecommunications sector in the past year and priorities over the year to come. 82

“In the mobile sector, we have three networks offering some of the best deals in Europe and we also have new operators coming into the mobile market such as Sky. In that regard, I am optimistic. This is also being reflected in our consumer experience surveys. In the past, telecom companies have ranked at the bottom of consumer experience surveys, but you now see them climbing up as these operators are investing in improved customer care.” ComReg has also been implementing the European Electronic Communications Code (EECC) since its transposition into Irish law. European matters will be central to Mourik, given his recent appointment as the Chair of the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) for 2025. BEREC is made up from the national regulatory authorities for electronic communications in the 27 EU


member states and it assists the European Commission and national regulatory authorities in the implementation of EU telecoms rules.

“The legislation has also given us a better civil enforcement regime. One of the problems that we had in the past was that we tried to be active in ensuring that operators complied with the law, but it was difficult to get a financial penalty at a level that was a real deterrent. The new civil enforcement regime that we are implementing at the moment, which introduces a range of new enforcement tools including administrative financial sanctions, should help with that, meaning we should be about to encourage a better level of compliance. “We do not hesitate to pursue operators if they are in breach of consumer legislation or the Communications Code. That is part of how we see what we need to do, trying to be the voice for the consumer in the market. One of the things people will have seen is that there are a lot of scam calls and texts going around. The number of these has increased significantly and it is undermining people’s trust in the telecoms system, so we have developed an action plan with inputs from the operators. We are considering a number of measures to address this. Some have already been adopted and we are seeing their positive effect. However, what we ultimately need are dynamic technologies that protect all Irish consumers from the worst effects of this scourge, whether they originate in Ireland or abroad.”

Concluding, Mourik acknowledges the evolution that has taken place in the market and how telecoms has become part of a wider digital connectivity sector, where phone calls are made through apps such as WhatsApp. “Our work and the necessary legislation underpinning it needs to adapt,” he says. “We need to rethink our approach to some aspects of what to do. The European Commission and the EU are in the process of bringing forward a lot of new legislation. We have the Digital Services Act and the Digital Markets Act already and there is more to come.” “Telecommunications is now the fourth utility. It is an essential part of our work, social, business, and educational lives. It is no longer a nice-to-have – you cannot do basic things anymore if you do not have broadband. It is rapidly becoming as important as having water, gas, and electricity in your home. This means that we must ensure that our telecoms networks are fit for purpose, secure and resilient for current and future generations of Irish people.”

T: 01 804 9600 E: industry@comreg.ie W: www.comreg.ie

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Also central to ComReg’s work has been a recent auction for mobile frequencies, giving operators 43 per cent more radio spectrum, which included the 700 MHz band that has been previously used by television and radio in the past and allows for greater reach due to its lower frequency.

connectivity report

“One of the major changes from the code is that customer rights have been strengthened in the legislation. This has paved the way for ComReg to be allowed to establish a customer charter for all operators to make clear what service levels and customer care levels they offer to customers, so that consumers can compare offerings and pick the best operator from their point of view,” he says.

Mourik points out that while 18 markets were regulated when ComReg began operations 21 years ago, this has been reduced to four markets and is “likely to come down further”. Further deregulation is possible, with Mourik pointing to the consultation on the wholesale broadband market. “As competition develops further, ComReg will tailor the level of regulation by applying it only where it is necessary. Where markets are competitive and work well in delivering high-quality services to consumers then there is a reduced need for regulation. However, ComReg will continue to intervene to promote competition and protect customers where appropriate. In addition, when we do regulate, we seek to ensure there are suitable incentives for telecoms companies to invest in next generation communications services.”

“This spectrum is very useful in rural areas because low frequencies carry signals further,” Mourik says. “That should allow the operators to improve their coverage in rural Ireland in particular. We have also added rollout obligations to those licences. The aim is that you will see better coverage, better 5G, and more advanced services on the back of that. It always takes a while for that to come through because those networks need to be built, but for us that was a really important development.” 83


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Digital connectivity: A roadmap for progress The Government has outlined ambitious plans to have all businesses and homes connected to a gigabit network by 2028.

Approved following a period of public consultation at the end of 2022, the Digital Connectivity Strategy for Ireland sets out an ambitious roadmap to arm all sectors with the connectivity needed to fully exploit digital opportunities.

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In terms of performance, the EU’s 2022 Digital Economy and Society Index places Ireland fifth out of the EU27 on digital progress.

Alongside the pledge to ensure all households and businesses will be covered by a gigabit network no later than 2028, the strategy also aims to ensure that all populated areas will be covered by 5G no later than 2030, and that digital connectivity will be delivered to all schools and broadband connection points by 2030.

Progress on the key areas of the digital connectivity strategy highlighted in the Government’s 2022 progress report include over 97,000 premises being able to order or pre-order a high-speed fibre broadband connection across 25 counties, under the National Broadband Plan, and the installation of high-speed broadband at over 750 broadband connection points, including 279 public sites and 479 school connections.

The Government has an overarching vision to remain a digital leader at the heart of European and global digital developments, as set out in Harnessing Digital – The Digital Ireland Framework.

Also included in the progress report are over 1,000 schools set to be connected to high-speed broadband by 2023, within an overarching ambition to reach 1,600 schools.


Published with the context of the latest progress report, the Digital Connectivity Strategy for Ireland states that “digital connectivity is a pre-requisite to ensuring the delivery of social dividends, including ensuring that disadvantaged groups are not left behind in this transition, and can fully embrace digital opportunities”.

Importantly, the strategy outlines the State’s understanding that digital connectivity will be primarily delivered through the commercial investment of the telecommunications industry, however, the Government says it will take measures to drive gigabit and 5G connectivity, “including complementing commercial investment in infrastructure with Government-led initiatives and through facilitating other strategic enablers”. Government-led initiatives include: •

gigabit network services through the National Broadband Plan’s state-led Intervention to

the development of direct international connectivity links to the rest of Europe and ensuring Maritime Area Planning provides the appropriate framework to make this happen;

ensuring 5G spectrum continues to be made available, with appropriate coverage and deployment obligations, and monitoring of the use of this spectrum; and

promoting research and innovation in new and emerging technologies, as well as leveraging pilot and test networks available across the State.

connectivity report

Figure 1, setting out a number of guiding principles of the strategy, outlines pledges to ensure that the regulatory framework encourages investment, promotes infrastructure competition, and supports innovation in emerging technologies. The strategy is complemented by the National Cyber Security Strategy.

primarily rural areas covering circa 23 per cent of the premises across the State;

Interestingly, the Government has set out plans to conduct analysis of the impacts of digital technological changes on sustainability, recognising the potential of the deployment of digital technologies to increase energy demands, resource use, and the generation of pollution and waste. The strategy, which is being led and driven by the Department of Environment, Climate and Communications, is expected to be reviewed, updated, and republished no later than 2025.

Figure 1: Digital Connectivity guiding principles: • encourage commercial investment in energy efficient solutions, network integrity and security, and supporting and facilitating the modernisation of existing networks and transition to gigabit and 5G networks; • ensure that Ireland’s regulatory framework encourages investment, promotes infrastructure competition, and supports innovation in emerging technologies; • where appropriate, government will intervene where the market fails to deliver or where the timing of the anticipated commercial delivery does not meet the needs of the State; and • promote the adoption of digital technologies through the support of pilot initiatives and through programmes to develop research and

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Ireland’s blueprint for high-speed broadband will show the world the way

David McCourt, Chairman of National Broadband Ireland.

Rural rejuvenation is near the top of every government’s list of priorities, writes David McCourt, Chairman of National Broadband Ireland.

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Why? Because despite some truly remarkable infrastructure projects over the last decade, rural areas around the globe are still way behind in terms of connectivity, even in the developed world. The need for equal access to vital services has never been more important. Getting these major infrastructure projects right is an age-old challenge. In the 2023 book How Big Things Get Done by Oxford professor Bent Flyvbjerg and bestselling author Dan Gardner, a review of more than 16,000 ‘mega projects’ from 20 plus different fields in 136 countries concluded that 99.5 per cent of projects go over budget, over schedule, and fail to meet the original objectives. 86

It is a staggering figure but easy to see why with so many mega projects breaking new ground. Despite this daunting backdrop, progress in major infrastructure projects is the only way forward. In 2019, Ireland joined a tiny elite group that made it a human right to have high speed broadband available to every man, woman, and child in the country through its National Broadband Plan. It was a brave and long-term vision that once again showed proof of Ireland’s leadership. Stepping forward with an ambitious infrastructure plan to rollout futureproofed fibre broadband to every home, farm, school, and business in rural areas that has been underserved by

commercial operators, the Government of Ireland started to map a blueprint for other nations across Europe and the rest of the world to follow. It should not come as any surprise when you look at Ireland’s track-record. Ireland was bold in its electrification of the country, and recently with its road network. Ireland was the first country in the world to institute a nationwide comprehensive smoke-free workplace law. Ireland was the first country to legalise same-sex marriage by popular vote. The free education scheme of the 1960s led to what we have today, which is a country that, at last measure, had the highest share of population in Europe with university graduates. Despite European Union protests, Ireland developed a very business friendly tax scheme to attract the largest companies in the world to set up shop, hire, train and employ thousands of Irish people. Ireland has had one of the fastest growing GDPs in the European Union every year for the past two decades. All this success came the hard way, by policymakers making difficult decisions and sticking with them, supported by the business community.


National Broadband Plan in top 0.5 per cent of mega projects Ireland’s National Broadband Plan is huge project born out of incredibly bold and forward-thinking policy decisions, demonstrating tremendous leadership from policymakers which will be respected the world over.

This is about radically changing the broadband landscape across the country to ensure that every person in Ireland has access to high-speed broadband, no matter where they live or work. It is quite an incredible feat and it is already proving to be transformational for Ireland. Since work on the NBP started with boots on the ground in early 2020, tremendous progress has been made despite the extreme challenges that faced the project – and indeed every major infrastructure project – throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. With progress on the project hurtling towards having 200,000 homes, farms, and business available to connect to the new NBI network, Ireland’s National Broadband Plan proudly sits in the top 0.5 per cent of global mega projects for being on budget, on schedule, and still delivering against its original objectives. NBI will ultimately serve over 569,000

connectivity report

Stretching across 96 per cent of the country’s land mass, at NBI we are laying enough fibre to go around the world nearly four times, deploying fibre on approximately 1.5 million poles – many of them new, over 15,000 km of underground ducts, and will run along almost 100,000 km of the road network. As the largest public private partnership in European telecoms, Ireland’s National Broadband Plan is of a size and scale that is unprecedented and requires collaboration across the public and private sectors to expedite the roll out in the national interest.

The O'Connors became one of the first families to be connected under the National Broadband Plan. Now, nearly 200,000 premises are available to connect.

“Ireland’s National Broadband Plan proudly sits in the top 0.5 per cent of global mega projects for being on budget, on schedule, and still delivering against its original objectives.” premises and is accelerating in all phases of the rollout of this ambitious infrastructure project to now be ahead of the schedule set for NBI by government. Once completed, all parts of Ireland will have access to a modern and reliable broadband network, capable of supporting the communications, information, education, and entertainment requirements of current and future generations. The sustainable future of rural Ireland is in NBI’s hands, and it will empower every individual, community, and organisation with equal access to local and global opportunities. NBI will

create a limitless Ireland, the rest is up to you. Check if your premises is included in the National Broadband Plan and receive Eircode specific updates at www.nbi.ie.

David McCourt is the founder and CEO of Granahan McCourt Capital and the Chairman of National Broadband Ireland. He is the author of bestseller Total Rethink: Why Entrepreneurs Should Act Like Revolutionaries and is an Emmy award-winning TV producer.

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Internet use in

Of younger internet users aged 16 to 29 years, almost all had gone online daily

• Of these, the vast majority had used the internet at least “several times a day”. Students were the most frequent users of the internet in 2022 with 97% going online at least several times a day.

94% of households have internet access •

Of this, 85% have fixed broadband

Household internet connectivity was highest

(97%), compared with the border region (90%). for the Dublin region

Of households in Dublin with internet access, more than nine in ten were via fixed broadband More than nine in 10

(94%) go

(92%), compared with 77% in the border region.

online daily • Of these,

43% use it all the

time or nearly all the time, up eight percentage points from

6% of households with no internet access •

2021. Almost all internet users, living in households with children use the internet every day or almost every day. 88

Most common reason cited by

56% of those households is that they “do not need the internet” •

7% state that broadband internet was not available in their area


Frequency of internet usage connectivity report

(92%) individuals have used the internet

more than nine in 10

“recently” (within the previous three months)

1% have used the internet, but not recently

while just

one in 14 (7%) have never used the internet

Almost all persons aged •

30 to 44 years recent internet users

96% of individuals aged 45 to 59 years have used the internet within the previous three months

More than four in five

(82%) older persons aged 60 to 74 years had

gone online in the previous three months

Household internet connectivity In

2022, 94% of households have an internet connection •

increase of one percentage point since

2021

Household internet connectivity was highest for the Dublin region

(97%), compared with the border region (90%) of households)

2022

In , almost all households with dependent children have internet access

(82%)

Just over four in five households comprised of one adult with no dependent children Source: CSO, December 2022

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Smart, connected, cybersafe connectivity report

sites are no longer just a place to trade in stolen data and hacking tools but also knowledge on how to avoid detection and how to make attacks more effective, as well as offering how-to manuals on fraud campaigns, money laundering, child sexual exploitation, phishing, malware, and much more. There is not much indication that IoT security is keeping pace with IoT growth. Any internet-connected device or system, from the most frivolous to the supremely practical, from those for our personal efficiency or enjoyment, to those enhancing the efficiency of infrastructure, energy management, health care, utilities, and other public services, has implications for security and privacy. However, the security and privacy sides have commonly been an afterthought.

Are we making sure that the development of smart and connected environments does not turn into a headache of cyberthreats and vulnerabilities?

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The number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices worldwide is forecast to almost double from 15.1 billion in 2023 to more than 30 billion IoT devices in 2030, according to Statista.com. Steps are being made in the direction of “smart cities”, where extensive use of information and communications technology (ICT) to monitor energy, utilities, and transportation infrastructure would lead to cost savings, reduction of environmental impact, and faster fault resolution. We are becoming increasingly connected, digitised, and we claim we are trying to use technology responsibly.

But there are also worrisome trends, cyberthreats, and challenges on the rise. International geopolitical tensions are driving nation states to increasingly use cyberspace as their battleground, with less than legal digital tools to gain advantage over their adversaries. Data theft is fuelling a fraud epidemic, in the UK, for example, fraud now accounts for 40 per cent of all crime, with threequarters of adults targeted in 2022 either by phone, in person, or online, according to the NCA. Criminal behaviour is becoming increasingly normalised among younger generations and according to Europol, dark web

Our growing dependence internetconnected tech has outpaced our ability to keep our devices and data safe and secure. In the absence of proper security precautions, the rapidly expanding nexus of devices, objects, applications, and services that constantly connect and communicate with each other is also greatly expanding our attack surface, the sum of all exposure points that malicious actors can exploit for cyberattacks. Right now, it is still possible to do your shopping and banking in the real world rather than online and we still have the option in many cases of avoiding unnecessary or unsafe connectivity. But with the current trends of digitalisation, for how much longer? And is the desire for digitalisation taking the security aspect into account? Now would be a good time to take stock of our systems and decide whether they come outfitted with security by design or merely as an afterthought, if data is protected by default at rest and in motion, and if operations are robust and comprehensive. If, on the other hand we decide to leave security up to the ecosystem itself, hoping it will somehow regulate and fix itself, there could be serious frustration ahead.

T: 053 9146600 E: hello@eset.ie W: www.eset.ie 90



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Ireland has the potential to be a central connectivity hub Under the Maritime Area Planning Act, Ireland will move forward with measures to enable increased international connectivity, allowing Ireland to develop routes directly to mainland Europe, with further investment in cable projects from North America to Ireland. 92

The Digital Connectivity Strategy, published in December 2022 outlines how “high quality, secure, and reliable” connectivity to global telecommunications networks is of significant strategic importance to the State. The strategy document explains that there is a strategic opportunity to position Ireland as a central connectivity hub in Europe and act as a gateway to Europe for all transatlantic cables from North America. “This can be achieved by ensuring Ireland develops high capacity and diverse connectivity routes directly to mainland Europe, whilst continuing to encourage investment in cable projects from North America to Ireland,” the report states.


A key strategic enabler of the Digital Connectivity Strategy is the National Marine Planning Framework, published in 2021. The framework has three key objectives which aim to support Ireland’s international and national digital connectivity, which has the ultimate goal of maintaining and enhancing Ireland’s competitiveness in global markets and in the knowledge and information economy. The three key objectives are: •

facilitate international high-speed connectivity between Ireland and other countries;

ensure that our island communities can avail of the opportunities that highspeed communications networks can bring; and

protect existing telecommunications cables.

A robust and coherent marine planning system is regarded as a key enabler to encourage and support future investment in high-speed submarine telecommunications infrastructure. Additional measures to leverage the private investment may be required to further develop international connectivity to mainland Europe and to ensure that Ireland becomes a central connectivity hub. As part of this enabler, the Government is aiming to develop the measures required to ensure the international connectivity infrastructure to and from the State is resilient, suitably diverse, and robust, to serve the demands of national requirements.

Maritime Area Planning Act The Maritime Area Planning Act, passed through the Houses of the Oireachtas and formally signed by the President in December 2021, aims to enable the efficient consideration of planning applications to develop submarine cables

to enable Ireland’s off-island connectivity, and particularly direct telecommunications connections to Europe and North America. One of the main features of the Maritime Area Planning (MAP) Act was the creation of a new state consent, the Maritime Area Consent (MAC), as a first step in the new planning process. To enable the reaching of Ireland’s 2030 targets, a pathway was provided to enable a select number of projects that had advanced under the existing foreshore regime to transition to the new MAP regime once established.

connectivity report

To achieve the Government’s aim of enabling sustainable economic growth and positive social dividends, the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications (DECC) says that strengthening international connectivity and developing an agile and resilient digital infrastructure is critical if Ireland is to embrace digital transformation.

Under the special transition provisions in the MAP Act, the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications has the responsibility for assessing applications for MACs from the first group (Phase One) of seven offshore projects. Projects that obtain a MAC are required to apply for all requisite consents and planning permission, with the Department stating that all projects are to be subject to the full assessment procedures by An Bord Pleanála. All MAC applicants have been assessed in key areas, including financial and technical competency, with the objective of ensuring that only “the most viable offshore projects” can apply for development permission from An Bord Pleanála. After the assessment and grant of MACs for the first batch of ORE projects, responsibility for MACs will be managed by a new agency, the Maritime Area Regulatory Authority (MARA), which was formally established in July 2023. The MARA is run under the aegis of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (DHLGH), and has responsibility for offshore energy projects as part of a wider scope of offshore infrastructure projects. However, DHLGH works in tandem with DECC to ensure the delivery of connectivity projects, as communications are led under the portfolio of Minister of State Ossian Smyth TD. Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien TD commented: “MARA will be responsible for regulating development and activity in Ireland’s maritime area and comes about as part of the biggest reform of marine governance in Ireland in almost a century.”

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conference report

Digital Marketing Dublin 2023 Speakers: Camila Franco Soler, TikTok; Eoghan Phipps, Google; Róisín O’Hara, Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications; Darragh Doyle, Dublin City Council Culture Company; Aoife McIlraith, Luminosity Digital; and Lauren O’Callaghan, National Trust.

Digital Marketing Dublin 2023 took place on 28 September at the Radisson Blu Royal, Dublin. Over 150 delegates attended the conference which featured expert speakers from across the spectrum of digital marketing including a focus on targeting specific audiences through tools such as SEO, paid search and email marketing. Delegates in attendance heard from speakers, both visiting and local, from organisations including Google; Dublin City Council Culture Company; University of Limerick; National Trust and the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications.

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Loretta Ní Ghabháin, Lorg Media presents in the second session.

A delegate addressing the panel during a Q&A session.

Sam Sorensen, SEAI and Jude Chettiar, Cystic Fibrosis Ireland.

Paul Gillart, Tourism Ireland and Diarmaid Mac Mathúna, indiepics.

Miriam Raftery, TU Dublin; Gordon Ryan, CCPC; and Julie Bernard, TU Dublin.

Mark O’Brien and Fionn Davenport, F&B Huskies responding to questions during the panel session.


Future of rail report

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future of rail report

Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan TD: ‘Putting Ireland on track for a new age of rail’ Ireland’s first All-Island Strategic Rail Review was published as a draft in July 2023 for the purpose of Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) public consultation. This draft Review represents the most comprehensive proposal for decades on the kind of rail network that can best serve the needs of all those who share this island into the future, writes Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan TD. The All-Island Strategic Rail Review was commissioned and overseen by my department, in cooperation with the Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland. Arup, an engineering firm, was appointed to carry out the Review. Its recommendations are based around six goals which would be delivered over the coming 25 years. I co-launched the review in April 2021 with Nichola Mallon, then Minister at the Department for Infrastructure, Northern Ireland. A public consultation was then undertaken between November 2021 and January 2022 to gather views on the role of rail and priorities for investment. More than 7,000 96

submissions were received, demonstrating the keen public interest in the railway system. These responses were key in developing the draft recommendations in the draft Review. It is a truly transformative document that maps out 30 recommendations in total. These recommendations would deliver, for many, new and enhanced routes, and greater regional balance, along with faster speeds and better frequency, putting communities across the island on track for a new age of rail. It would also boost sustainable and accessible transport choices for the public. The new rail proposals would bring huge benefits to our businesses,

environment, and economies both north and south. If all of the recommendations in this draft review are delivered, circa 700,000 more people would live within 5km of a railway station; rail journey times between some major cities could be halved; services on the busiest intercity routes could run every 30 minutes in some cases; and our rail network would be decarbonised. It would also help take traffic off our already congested and busy roads. In addition, with this plan, rail passenger numbers would double, 90 per cent of air passengers could travel to the airport by rail, and two-thirds of freight


tonnage would pass through ports served by rail. Critically, the draft review suggests the commencement of a number of new routes, particularly across the west and north of the island, fostering greater regional balance, and widening accessibility and connectivity islandwide.

1. Decarbonisation •

Decarbonise the rail network, including an electrified intercity network as well as hybrid, hydrogen, and electric rolling stock.

2. Intercity speed and frequency •

Upgrade the core InterCity railway network (Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Limerick, Galway, and Waterford) to top speeds of 200km/h ensuring that train journeys are faster than the car.

We already know that when we expand our transport networks, the public votes for it with their feet. Investment in rail between 2011 and 2019 contributed to a 37 per cent growth in passengers across the whole island, for example.

While Covid, of course, interrupted this growth, passenger numbers are returning strongly, north and south.

Increase regional and rural lines speeds to at least 120 km/h.

Reinstate the Western Rail Corridor between Claremorris and

In other public transport areas, like the expansion of our rural bus network through our Connecting Ireland programme, we are also seeing people flock to new and enhanced services. TFI Local Link services, for example, are seeing a doubling in numbers since 2019. I have every confidence that we will see the same, if not stronger, support for new rail services. While a primary aim is to bring better and more frequent train services to more communities, our overall goals for the rail plan would, of course, also align with and support our net zero carbon commitments in both jurisdictions. Importantly, the recommendations of the draft Review were subject to an economic appraisal. This examined the cost of implementing all the Review’s recommendations, along with the benefits. It found that the modelled benefits at least equalled the costs, based on a capital cost range of between approximately €35 billion and €37 billion for the proposed new infrastructure across the island. The capital cost range that would apply to Ireland would be between approximately €26 billion and €27 billion. If this investment is split evenly across the next 25 years, it would amount to an annual capital investment in the rail system of circa €1 billion over and above existing plans. This is in line with peak annual investment in the national

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The island of Ireland has about 2,300 km (1,440 miles) of public rail lines. If the review’s recommendations are implemented, that would increase to 2,950 km (1,845 miles) of new lowcarbon, faster rail lines.

Draft All-Island Strategic Rail Review key recommendations:

Upgrade the cross-country rail network to a dual-track railway (and four-track in places) and increase intercity service frequencies to hourly between the main city pairs.

3. New regional connections

Athenry. •

Extend the railway into Tyrone (from Portadown to Dungannon, Omagh, Strabane) Derry, and onto Donegal (Letterkenny).

Reinstate the South Wexford Railway, connecting to Waterford.

Develop the railway to boost connectivity in the North Midlands, from Mullingar to Cavan, Monaghan, Armagh, and Portadown.

4. Sustainable cities •

Connect Dublin Airport, Belfast International Airport, and Shannon Airport to the railway and improve existing rail-airport connections.

5. Transforming freight •

Strengthen rail connectivity to the island’s busiest ports and reduce track access charges for freight.

6. Prioritising customers •

Improve service quality, provide on-board catering, ‘clock-face’ timetable, better integration with other transport options, and cross-border structures to streamline travel north and south.

road and motorway network in the late 2000s. While further detailed work will be needed to test the feasibility of many of the review’s recommendations, they paint a very bright future for rail – and those who use it – across the island. The draft review has now been published alongside the SEA

documents for public consultation. This public consultation is now closed and received approximately 500 responses. My department is reviewing these responses in cooperation with the Department for Infrastructure and Arup. Once finalised, it is intended that the final All-Island Strategic Rail Review is published following government approval in both jurisdictions. 97


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Iarnród Éireann: Reducing emissions while expanding services •

green energy generation and corporate purchasing power agreements; and

fleet and building works to reduce energy consumption.

Baseline Iarnród Éireann’s 2018 baseline combined Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions amounted to 144,400 tonnes of CO2. These emissions account for approximately 1 per cent of the total national transport emissions. In 2022, diesel fuel consumed through rail and road operations accounted for 85 per cent of the company’s overall emissions. Reducing its reliance on diesel fuel is critical to our decarbonisation pathway.

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Iarnród Éireann Chief Executive Jim Meade outlines details of the company’s ambitious corporate Climate Action Plan 2023 to 2030, to achieve emissions reductions of 51 per cent by 2030. Our railways have always been the most sustainable mode of land transport. No other transport mode can move so many people at the same time, and with such low emissions.

Rail plan. Through it, we will triple electrification in the Greater Dublin Area, and we also have the opportunity to pursue battery-electric operation in the Cork area.

But we in Iarnród Éireann are ambitious, and our country is ambitious to achieve more. Building on a consistent records of emissions reductions over the past 30 years, and having achieved previous 2020 targets more than four years ahead of schedule, we have now turned our focus to reducing our emissions by 51 per cent by the end of this decade.

However, we have a number of existing fleets which – while energy efficient compared to private transport – still are powered by diesel. In particular, our largest single fleet of InterCity railcars, of which we have 275 carriages, is relatively young in railway terms.

The ambitious plan will be delivered while rail services are expanded, with passenger journeys of 80 million per annum targeted by 2030, up from a preCovid high of 50.1 million journeys, and a doubling of rail freight volumes anticipated. Our investment programme, funded by the National Transport Authority under the National Development Plan is critical, with European funding also supporting our Cork Area Commuter 98

That is why we also commit in this Climate Action Plan to pursue innovative solutions to green energy generation, the use of alternative fuels and improvements to our buildings and existing fleets to reduce energy consumption. The 51 per cent emissions reduction will be achieved through: •

reduced reliance on diesel through alternative fuels on existing fleets;

transitioning to electric-powered fleet;

To meet our public sector target of 51 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030, Iarnród Éireann must reduce its combined annual scope 1 and 2 emissions to circa 70,800 tonnes, while growing the passenger and rail freight businesses at the same time. This in turn supports the overall national reduction in transport emissions.

CAP Pathway Four elements will combine to achieve our Climate Action Plan targets 1. Reducing our fleet reliance on diesel •

All diesel fleets will operate with at least a 35 per cent biofuel/hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) blend.

Increase in rail freight operations – fuelled by HVO and/or green hydrogen.

Fuel all track maintenance vehicles with HVO.

Moving all road fleet to electric or HVO fuel by 2030.

2. Transitioning to electric-powered fleet •

Electric and battery-electric trains will operate for the DART+ network in Dublin, and to be developed for the Cork commuter rail network, allowing the retirement of older


Figure 1: Iarnród Éireann’s Climate Action Plan 2023-2030

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diesel fleets. •

A new Enterprise fleet will allow for future electric power on the Dublin Belfast route.

3. Green energy generation •

Existing and new DART fleet will benefit from increasing renewable energy content of the national grid, doubling to 80 per cent by 2030 compared to c.40 per cent currently, as well as the proposed Iarnród Éireann corporate power purchasing agreements (CPPAs).

PV solar panels will be installed across Iarnród Éireann buildings where feasible, with almost 200 panels already installed at the new National Train Control Centre, and opportunities identified at Inchicore, Portlaoise and Drogheda.

4. Reducing our energy consumption (phased approach up to 2030) •

Intercity railcar fleet targeted to be converted to hybrid power with onboard battery, delivering a carbon emission reduction of up to 30 per cent. Upgrades to the remaining Dublin commuter rail fleet to deliver a 20 per cent reduction in fuel consumption and emissions.

Building upgrades will deliver improved energy efficiencies with BERs going from G to B/C whilst protecting the heritage of our buildings.

All new buildings and major upgrades to be built to nearly zero energy building standard.

Renewable energy for all other routes, with sources include electric battery and alternative fuels including green hydrogen and HVO.

It will take nothing short of a total company effort to achieve this, working with the National Transport Authority and Department of Transport. This is already underway, across our capital investments, train operations and infrastructure teams.

A combination of electric traction and alternative fuels including green hydrogen and HVO for rail freight.

And we are looking further: to net zero by 2050. The All-Island Strategic Rail Review envisages the most significant expansion of the rail network in over 130 years during those two decades.

Download Iarnród Éireann Climate Action Plan:

Carbon net zero will necessitate the rollout of network electrification to avail of 100 per cent renewable energy from the national grid including: •

The journey is underway. The destination is our sustainable future.

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Reducing our electric and gas consumption by 1.5 per cent to 2 per cent per annum through supply side initiatives

T: (01) 8366 222 W: www.irishrail.ie X/Twitter: @irishrail

Completion of DART+ programme and electrification of the main Intercity routes. 99


Intended to inform policy the future strategy for the rail sector in Ireland – north and south – the inaugural All-Island Strategic Rail Review (AISRR) was jointly commissioned by Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan TD and then Minister for Infrastructure Nichola Mallon in April 2021. Subsequently produced by Arup, the Draft Report for Strategic Environmental Assessment Consultation was published in July 2023. Approved by a steering group comprising the Department of Transport, the Department for Infrastructure, Iarnród Éireann, Translink, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, the National Transport Authority, and the Commission for Railway Regulation in April 2023, the draft report was published in July 2023 and presents the final findings from the AISRR. Focusing on how an enhanced rail network in Ireland could help decarbonise the transport systems, improve connectivity and accessibility between cities and regions, and support balanced regional development, the draft report is a framework to meet these aspirations. With 2,300km of existing public rail lines, the AISRR aims to increase this to 2,950km of faster and lower carbon lines.

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Challenges While transport policy in both jurisdictions aims to increase the share of passenger journeys which are completed via sustainable modes (public transport and active travel) there are several challenges inhibiting rail from reaching its full potential. Currently, these include: •

significant gaps in network coverage;

relative service infrequency and low speeds;

the least electrified railway in Europe;

failure to meet customer expectations in terms of quality of service;

inconsistent station access;

no existing rail connection to any major airport;

inconsistent integration of cities and jurisdictions;

demographics which are not conducive to a high density and frequency network; and

constraints of Ireland’s natural assets.

To unlock the necessary investment, therefore, the review will act as a framework for delivery. At the same time, the review has determined that costs of developing a new, fully segregated high-speed (300km/h) rail network would outweigh any benefits it would unlock.

Goals and objectives To realise the opportunities and meet the ongoing challenges, the AISRR contains six overarching goals and 13 objectives under one vision: “An accessible, efficient, safe, and sustainable transport system that

Credit: William Murphy

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All-Island Strategic Rail Review: Draft report published


supports communities, households and businesses.”

The six goals are: 1. Contributing to decarbonisation: Reduces carbon emissions associated with rail construction, operation, and maintenance, while also doubling rail’s modal share (at the expense of private vehicles).

3. Enhancing regional accessibility: Providing people living in rural Ireland with enhanced access to economic opportunity and public services, thereby improving interregional accessibility. 4. Stimulating economic activity: Supporting compact growth through the integration of public transport with land use, enhancing the integration of rail with other transport modes, and minimising the impact on the environment. 5. Encouraging sustainable mobility: Making a contribution to balanced regional growth beyond the major urban centres and supporting the efficient movement of people between economic centres and international access points. 6. Achieving economic and financial feasibility: Planning financially feasible investment in rail, identifying potential funding, and ensuring investment aligns with AISRR objectives. The review also divides its numerous potential rail solutions into four primary categories: 1. new lines; 2. enhancement of existing lines; 3. new stations; and 4. increased frequency.

Recommendations In total, the review makes 30 recommendations, intended to provide a pathway to achieving the AISRR’s goals and objectives. However, the review emphasises that the recommendations do not constitute official policy in either jurisdiction in Ireland. “Ultimately, it will be for the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland Executive to consider which of the recommendations described in this

• 80% of train kms delivered by electric trains • A rail passenger journey could have a carbon footprint 80% less than an equivalent EV journey • 700,000 people living within 5km of a railway station

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2. Improving all-island connectivity between major cities: Offers an attractive public transport option for travel between Ireland’s seven largest cities (Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Limerick, Derry, Galway, and Waterford).

If implemented, the recommendations of the AISRR would mean:

• An up to 50% reduction in rail journey times between major cities • Hourly services between major cities • Half-hourly services on the busiest routes • 90% of aviation passengers can access airports by rail • A €20 billion boost to the island’s economy • 66% of freight tonnage would enter seaports with rail access

report should be taken forward for further development. Each of the recommendations described in this report would be subject to separate appraisal and decision in line with applicable governance processes in each jurisdiction,” it says. If implemented, the review’s recommendations are projected to deliver several benefits. Firstly, a transformational improvement of quality, speed, and frequency of rail services would significantly reduce journey times. Secondly, increased direct services between major cities would improve connectivity from the north-west of Ireland to the south-west. Again, if fully implemented, the total capital expenditure is projected to be €36.8 billion as per 2023 costing, with the Republic spending €27.6 billion and the North spending €9.2 billion. This would equate to €1 billion per annum and €0.37 billion per annum respectively over a 25 year period. In the Republic, this would be comparable with the peak annual capital investment in the motorway network during the early 2000s. The review advise that more detailed work is required to prove the feasibility and affordability of many of the above recommendations, in order to inform capital investment decisions, north and south.

Decarbonisation Decarbonise the rail network via electrified intercity lines, alongside hybrid, hydrogen, and electric rolling stock.

Sustainable cities Connect Belfast International Airport, Dublin Airport, and Shannon Airport to the railway network and improve all existing rail-to-airport connections. Simultaneously, reduce waiting times on city approaches by segregating long-distance/express services from local services.

Intercity Upgrade the primary intercity network between Dublin, Belfast, Cork, Limerick, Galway, and Waterford by increasing top speeds to 200km/h and ensuring that rail journeys are faster than the equivalent car journeys. Simultaneously, upgrade the cross-country network to dual-track or even four-track and increase the frequency to hourly services between intercity pairs.

Freight Enhance rail connectivity to Ireland’s busiest ports, reduce track access 4 charges for freight, and develop first mile/last mile rail access to Dublin Port. 101


Transport, and we will continue to do so.

“The draft AISRR report was released for public consultation for the purposes of Strategic Environmental Assessment from 25 July to 29 September 2023. Work is ongoing to review and analyse the responses in relation to both the Strategic Environmental Assessment process and comments on the Review itself.

Credit: William Murphy

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“There are 30 recommendations set out in the AISRR, including 11 that have direct impacts on Northern Ireland’s rail services. These recommendations provide an evidence-based framework to inform the future direction of travel for investment in the railways across the Island. However, more work will be needed to prioritise the recommendations and then to undertake feasibility studies and develop business cases to support future investment decisions.

Regional and rural Increase rural and regional speeds to a minimum of 120 km/h, reintroduce the Western Rail Corridor between Claremorris, County Mayo and Athenry, County Galway, extend existing lines into counties Tyrone and Donegal via Portadown, Dungannon, Omagh, Strabane, Derry, and Letterkenny, reintroduce the South Wexford Railway, and boost rail connectivity in the north midlands via Mullingar, Cavan town, Monaghan town, Armagh, and Portadown.

Customer experience Improve the quality of onboard experience by providing catering, a clock face timetable, enhanced multimodality, and streamlined crossborder travel.

Timeframe Implementation of the review is scheduled over phases. Firstly, shortterm interventions from now to 2030, secondly, medium-term interventions from 2030 to 2040, and long-term inventions from 2040 to 2050. Implementation, therefore, aligns with the common goal of achieving carbon neutrality, both north and south, by 2050. Anticipating the potential environmental impact of the development of rail 102

infrastructure, the draft AISRR is accompanied by an Environmental Report, Natura Impact Statement, Appropriate Assessment Screening Report and Strategic Flood Risk Assessment Report. The Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) consultation period closes on 29 September 2023, and the relevant ministers in each jurisdiction will be required to approve the final review, including any changes which arise from the consultation. A “predominantly positive environmental effect” is forecast by the review in light of the proposed deliver of “a more efficient and more accessible rail network which will ultimately encourage a modal shift from private to public transport”. Subject to approval, it is anticipated that the final review will be published at the end of 2023. The review, adds: “Should there continue to be an absence of Ministers in the Northern Ireland Executive, approval will be considered taking into account the relevant legislation in place at the time.”

Departmental commentary A spokesperson from the Department for Infrastructure said: “Throughout this process the Department for Infrastructure worked closely with colleagues in the Department of

“Approvals will then be required by the governments of both jurisdictions to publish the final Review. Should we continue to be without Ministers in Northern Ireland at that time, the decision will be considered in line with the relevant decision-making legislation in place.” Writing for eolas Magazine, Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan TD outlined: “While a primary aim is to bring better and more frequent train services to more communities, our overall goals for the rail plan would, of course, also align with and support our net zero carbon commitments in both jurisdictions... “While further detailed work will be needed to test the feasibility of many of the Review’s recommendations, they paint a very bright future for rail – and those who use it – across the island. “The draft Review has now been published alongside the SEA documents for public consultation. This public consultation is now closed and received approximately 500 responses. My department is reviewing these responses in cooperation with the Department for Infrastructure and Arup. “Once finalised, it is intended that the final All-Island Strategic Rail Review is published following Government approval in both jurisdictions.”


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CAP23 lacking in rail targets In spite of new emissions figures, released by the EPA in July 2023, stating that emissions from the transport sector are increasing, Climate Action Plan 2023 makes little mention of rail transport save for vague references to “continued investment” in rail networks. Climate Action Plan 2023’s proposals for the rail sector are all somewhat opaque, with one goal to identify a pathway to appropriate decarbonisation of interurban rail services, which it states is to be informed by the thenunpublished All Island Strategic Rail Review (AISRR). However, even in the AISRR, which was only published in draft form in July 2023, there is only a generalised goal in this regard to “decarbonise the rail network via electrified intercity lines, alongside hybrid, hydrogen, and electric rolling stock”. CAP23 also outlines a goal to accelerate renewable electricity generation, which it states will require Ireland to “enable the use of the public road and potentially the rail networks for routing of new public and private electricity circuits”. One specific target is evident in CAP23 in the goal for an expansion of electrified rail services fleet electrification to contribute to a total

abatement of 1.96 MtCO2eq in Ireland’s carbon budgets. However, in spite of this objective, the latest report by the Climate Change Advisory Council stipulates that Ireland will not meet the targets set out in the first two carbon budgets “unless urgent action is taken immediately”. CAP23 outlines the rail element of the Major Public Transport Infrastructure Programme, which forms part of the National Development Plan, requiring delivery of phase one of the Cork Area Commuter Rail Programme; in addition to “expansion of regional rail services; and continued appraisal, planning and feasibility studies for new light rail services”. The latest emissions report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlines emissions from the transport sector for 2022. The figures are stark; the transport sector accounts for 19.1 per cent of Ireland’s greenhouse gas emissions, with a 6 per cent increase in greenhouse gas emissions in the

transport sector recorded between 2021 and 2022. The report states that emissions from road transport were “relatively stable” for the period 2015-2019, at an average 11.6MtCO2eq but reduced to 9.7MtCO2eq in 2020. However, with the easing and ending of travel restrictions in 2021/22, road transport emissions rebounded to 10.3MtCO2eq and 11.0MtCO2eq respectively. Given this, the need for expanded public services is self-evident if the transport sector is to play its role in emissions reductions. It is for this reason that Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan TD has sought to implement the OECD’s ‘avoid, shift, improve’ transport model, following the publication of a report in 2022 which stated that Ireland’s transport systems “fosters growing car use and emissions by design”. However, the extent to which there will be an expansion of rail infrastructure is unclear, as the AISRR itself does not commit either the Government of Ireland or the Northern Ireland Executive to implement the 30 recommendations made in the review. “Each of the recommendations described in this report would be subject to separate appraisal and decision in line with applicable governance processes in each jurisdiction,” the AISRR says.

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MetroLink: Sustainable public transport for generations to come MetroLink is at the heart of government policy and together with BusConnects and DART+ will provide sustainable public transport for Dublin which is designed to serve the capital for generations to come.

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Paolo Carbone is Head of Public Transport Capital Projects at Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) and will play a significant role as part of the team which will deliver MetroLink. Carbone has extensive experience in light rail and is widely respected in the industry internationally and in Ireland. He is the Chairperson of the Light Rail Committee and policy board member of the International Association of Public Transport. “The project is really ramping up now and we are busy putting everything into place so that we can be ready to go as soon as we have the railway order,” says Carbone. “Our stakeholders across the public and private sectors are working closely with us to ensure that we move smoothly from planning to execution as 104

quickly as possible and this is hugely encouraging for all of us.” He highlights the fact that Turner and Townsend have recently been appointed as client partner and are now in place and helping to create the delivery team for the project. “Collaboration is the key to this project, and we in TII, together with the National Transport Authority, are all focused on ensuring that we draw on the best expertise available, across both the public and private sectors to deliver what will be one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken in Ireland.” He points out that government commitment and support have been clearly demonstrated to date and that the MetroLink team are hugely appreciative of all the support which has been


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forthcoming across the public sector at all levels.

As well as linking major transport hubs, MetroLink will connect key destinations including Ballymun, the Mater and Rotunda Hospitals, Dublin City University, and Trinity College Dublin amongst other significant destinations.

When operations commence, there will be trains every three minutes during peak periods. This can rise to a service every 90/100 seconds (about one and a half minutes) by 2060, if required. The system can carry up to 20,000 passengers per hour in each direction. For comparison, current Luas Green Line services can carry circa 9,000 passengers per hour in each direction.

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MetroLink is a transformative piece of new public transport infrastructure, the first of its kind in Ireland. It will comprise a high-capacity, high-frequency modern and efficient metro railway with 16 new stations running from Swords to Charlemont. Dublin Airport, Irish Rail, DART, Dublin Bus, and Luas are all linked to create a fully integrated public transport network for the Greater Dublin Area (GDA).

Much of the 18.8km (about 11.68 miles) route will run underground, an exciting innovation for Irish public transport.

When completed, passengers can travel from Swords to Dublin City Centre in about 25 minutes, and MetroLink will 4 carry over 50 million passengers annually.

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Broadmeadow Viaduct.

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Carbone is particularly pleased that the efforts which have been made to ensure that effective cost forecasting systems which are in place have met with general approval. “Our preliminary business case has placed great emphasis on how we intend to do all that is possible to ensure that the taxpayer gets value for money and to do that it is necessary to have a robust, agile, transparent, and accountable cost control process in place. We have produced a realistic proposal, using best international practice from other comparable global mega projects and it

M50 Bridge. 106

is indeed gratifying to note that these efforts have been well received.” MetroLink will incorporate universal design from inception with “accessibility for all” at the core of the project. The entire system, including stations, level boarding trains and platforms will be fully accessible for wheelchair and pushchair users. This will also make luggage easier to handle and will include many other features aimed at those with mobility challenges. Sustainability for MetroLink means delivering and operating an efficient, low


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Glasnevin Station North.

Tara Station interior.

Carbone sees sustainability as central to the project’s vision going forward. “MetroLink will support Ireland’s climate ambitions and will, together with the other major infrastructure projects, help to ensure that public transport plays its part in the sustainability challenges which face us all.”

MetroLink differs from other rail services available in Ireland (DART, InterCity, and Luas) in that it will: •

offer higher frequency services;

carry more people over shorter distances;

be fully segregated from all other road users; and

be fully automated (driverless train service).

we can deliver well designed stations using the principles of universal design, that are accessible to all, safe, comfortable, attractive, and provide a high level of customer satisfaction.”

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carbon, and climate-resilient metro system, which better connects passengers as part of an integrated transport system, unlocks regeneration opportunities, drives international connectivity, and enables compact growth for present and future generations, while also being designed to be responsive to future demand requirements.

St Stephen’s Green Station.

T: 01 646 3600 W: www.tii.ie

Carbone sums up with his final comment: “MetroLink will aim to provide opportunities to the workforce to upskill, learn and develop in the construction and transport sector through its delivery and operation and we are confident that 107


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Making Ireland’s public transport safer and easier to use Freiburg, Germany has been transformed into an accessible and mobile city with reduced car dependency.

David O’Connor, Head of Environment and Planning at Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin), tells eolas Magazine about the challenges of making Ireland’s public transport safer and easier to use. O’Connor contends that there has been a welcome and high level of focus (and investment) in active travel as we urgently transition towards a climate resilient society. But to be truly resilient and sustainable, “our towns, cities and regions need public transport to work well also”. The best way to do this, according to O’Connor, is to make public transport “part of the neighbourhood” and, he adds, the neighbourhood has to be “highly walkable”.

Bringing disciplines together When planning public transport, O’Connor talks about the need to get the balance right between liveability and movement. There are many different approaches but, he emphasises, “we just need to remember that there will always 108

be times where place trumps movement”. “Sometimes, we may have to slow things down a little bit and really look at how we design the spaces we need to share in neighbourhood centres,” he says. O’Connor adds: “There has been a lot of focus on investment in active travel and I think there is a lot of momentum there. We are seeing increasingly sophisticated consultation and engagement and it is wonderful to see this. “I hope that this enthusiasm and positivity can be imbued in public transport because we need it. A lot of the lessons we have learned around engagement and consultation are critical, because a lot of what we do in coming up with active travel solutions is about redesigning and reshaping the public realm.


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“Bringing disciplines together is absolutely central to all this and something we really emphasise in our postgraduate programmes at TU Dublin.”

European exemplars O’Connor points to two European cities which have stood as exemplars in implementing public transport which is safe and comprehensively serves their respective populations. He believes that the future development of public transport in Ireland should consider these examples. The first example cited by the TU Dublin Head of Discipline is that of Freiburg, Germany. He explains that authorities in Freiburg introduced a monthly public transport ticket that was “affordable and simple to use”, and that the city “gradually and steadily implemented pedestrian zones and parking constraints so that the public transport network worked reliably”. “A large part of this was their transformation of the city into an accessible and mobile city with reduced car dependency. Germany is a part of the world where they do like their cars

and they manufacture good ones, but they created a city where cars do not need to be used every day,” O’Connor says. The second example cited by O’Connor is the Swiss city of Zürich, which he states has become “one of the most liveable cities in the world”. “The authorities in Zürich created a transit priority programme, using access-metering for cars, which ensures a congestion-free network for public transport to operate. No significant difference is made between tram, bus, or trolleybus, with the systems and operations management common to all. The focus is on level-of-service, but the streets need to be kept absolutely clear of traffic in order for this to happen. “In short,” he says, “what we learn from these places is that public transport networks need to work, but they also need to make sense to people and be simple to use”.

Ensuring safety Between 1986 and 2016, the proportion of females aged 15 years or over driving

to work has increased from 27 per cent to 65 per cent. “While data on gender and transport use is very limited in Ireland, we know that safety is almost always one of the biggest issues for women. It is not acceptable for women, or any users, to feel unsafe whether walking to, waiting for, or using public transport,” he says. “The design of the built environment is a big part of this”. He proposes that bus interchanges and train stations should be designed to attract people and activity, and that an audit “using a gender lens” could help identify how this could be improved. Whilst he states that a transport police service would “undoubtedly help”, O’Connor believes that the presence of a ‘go-to person’ providing surveillance, with the power to intervene, can make all the difference, particularly at night, for when passengers might feel unsafe”. Concluding, O’Connor states that public transport can and should be “active travel’s best friend”, adding that focusing on walkability around public transport stops “can yield many efficiencies and social benefits”. 109


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Lessons learned from the successful delivery of major projects

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We are currently seeing significant focus on infrastructure delivery as part of the National Development Plan. Several major initiatives in infrastructure are currently underway, aimed at enhancing the country's transportation, utilities, and public services – including the commencement of the Metrolink, DART+ and Cork Area Commuter Rail programme, write Michael Cannon and Gillian Hegarty of PwC. As we enter this phase of mass infrastructural development, we need to take stock of what this entails. Globally, large scale infrastructure projects are notorious for cost and time overruns, yet the same mistakes are often made, and risks taken on repeat, time and time again. But is the transformation to better project delivery achievable? Is it possible that minor tweaks and adjustments to 110

assessing risks. Accounting for bias in all project planning and estimating – costs, time, and risks – will bring reality to the planning. If the plan is different from reality, then the plan will inevitably be hijacked by reality. •

Avoid the rush to action and plan ahead, through front loading detail and investing in project early stages. The success or failure of a project is often determined in its early stages. While this speculative approach can be less palatable for public bodies, with investment of time, resources, and money before funding approval, it will reap the rewards later on in certainty through the project lifecycle and streamlining of delivery.

Nurture radical transparency throughout the project. Establishing a culture of sharing and developing a transparency mindset, will provide clear paths through projects and avoid delays. A baseline approach of

mindset and culture could overhaul the outcomes? Some basic practice changes and mindset shifts to recalibrate thinking and behaviour in project delivery, could break the cycle and deliver success. These principles may seem obvious, but it is the basics that can often be overlooked in the rush to build and deliver: •

Be realistic in setting objectives; in estimating costs and timelines; in


Upfront thinking and risk allocation – a lesson from PPPs “why not share?” over “cannot share!” will dilute adversarial approaches and conflict. Through radical transparency the gaps in integration and future obstacles ahead are flagged sooner, to be mitigated and avoided. Be an intelligent client, learn from experience and source the right knowledge, through linking in with those on the front line and recognising all sources of knowledge and expertise. Engage with the supply chain and learn lessons from industry – the most up-to-date and informed stakeholders from a delivery viewpoint are the supply chain.

Cultivate a unified and positive stakeholder culture. Through prioritising people, behaviour, and culture, it is far more straightforward to enable collaboration, transparency, and knowledge sharing, ultimately achieving improved project certainty (costs, risks, times) and ensuring delivery of project objectives.

Work as a whole system and imbed collaboration across all stakeholders – share goals, objectives, and knowledge. Effective communication and transparency of project progress can help avoid an adversarial culture, and can remove constraints and bottlenecks, and provide a unified focus on the target project deliverables.

Concurrency of approval processes will greatly reduce timelines. Streamlining statutory approvals, Public Spending Code decisions gates and sectoral approval, will expedite being “shovel ready” sooner.

The transport sector is more mature when it comes to the delivery of infrastructure than other sectors in Ireland. The regulatory environment and frameworks governing transport are more stable and well-defined, leading to smoother project implementation, avoiding frequent policy changes, and regulatory challenges. The participation of the private sector and supply chain through the project lifecycle brings expertise and efficiency.

Key risk

Mitigation methods

Tenderers not being of sufficient financial standing/robustness

A robust, tested PQQ financial evaluation process which is linked to contractual requirements with ongoing robustness monitoring procedures throughout. A clearly understood process to replace an incumbent in the event of financial default.

Lack of sufficient competition

Preparation of a commercially sound contract and payment mechanism which appropriately allocates risk. Early briefing of the market on the project. Consideration of refunding bid costs.

Earlier stage financial evaluation criteria including negotiation and refinement of solutions in advance of BAFO.

Interface risks – difficulty in agreeing allocation of interface risks where existing assets are in play

Well-developed interface agreement with appropriately aligned incentives through a shared reward mechanism.

Failure of the project to achieve debt funding

Development of a bankable contract with regular and ongoing testing of key contractual matters with the debt market.

PPPs by their nature can experience a long lead-in time as the required business cases are prepared and approved as well as the evaluation criteria, procurement documents, contractual agreements, and statutory approvals. This can often cause frustration among external stakeholders but what can emerge from this upfront investment is a better developed and understood partnership between private sector and public sector where risks can be appropriately understood and allocated and a successful template for the long-term operation of a critical societal asset developed. Figure 1 outlines some of the most recently observed key risks in delivering PPPs both in Ireland and internationally along with mitigation methods which could be considered. While the failure of the project to achieve debt funding may not equate to a relevant risk for most traditionally procured infrastructure projects, the key risks and associated mitigation methods outlined above can be as relevant to large-scale complex capital projects whether procured by traditional means or alternative methods such as PPPs or concessions.

E: michael.x.cannon@pwc.com / gillian.hegarty@pwc.com W: www.pwc.com

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Risk of final bids not achieving VfM

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When it comes to learning lessons on previous large-scale capital projects, PPPs with their inherently large scale, complex risk allocation structures, and debt financing profile can provide us with interesting insights applicable not just to PPPs but to wider infrastructure projects.

Figure 1 111


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Ireland’s rail ambitions for cities

Credit: William Murphy

Under the auspices of the National Development Plan 2021-2030, all five of the State’s cities have released metropolitan area transport strategies which set out programmes of proposed transport investment in rail for each metropolitan area over a 20-year period. Dublin

The nation’s capital adopted the Dublin City Development Plan 2022-2028 at a special meeting of Dublin City Council on 2 November 2022. Under the development plan, Dublin City Council is aiming to ensure a modal share of 57 per cent of Dublin’s residents using public transport, including rail, by 2028, up 3 per cent from the base modal share reported in 2019. Dublin City Council also outlines that transport projects such as the proposed Metrolink, DART+, BusConnects programme, and further Luas line and rail construction and extension will continue the process of ensuring that there is an integrated public transport system for the Dublin region and that increased rail connectivity has the potential for a “transformative impact on travel modes over the coming years”.

Belfast The Belfast Agenda: Strategy 2023-2027, published in draft form in August 2023, outlines ambitions for high-speed rail connectivity; investing in a high-speed rail network and service between Belfast and Dublin. Translink is currently overseeing construction of a new transport hub in Belfast city centre, expected to replace the role carried out by Great Victoria Street Station.

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Cork Cork City Council, in its Cork Metropolitan Area Transport Policy 2040, states that it will examine opportunities for improvements in journey times and investment in high-speed rail between Belfast, Dublin, Limerick Junction, and Cork. The council also states that it aims to increase the frequency of InterCity services at peak times between Cork and Dublin, as well as look at the viability of electrification of the city’s rail line once the current InterCity carriages are out of operation, estimated to be by the mid-2020s.

Galway The Galway Transport Strategy, produced by Galway City Council and Galway County Council, outlines the desirability of improving the city and county’s rail network. It states that it is “desirable” to maximise opportunities for transfer between Ceannt Station, Oranmore, and Athenry. The strategy calls for an “improved” transport hub in Galway city centre which can enhance wider public services with Galway’s rail connections. Overall, Galway’s public transport strategy is mostly focused on the expansion of bus services rather than rail, rationalising that only 25 per cent of the space available on light rail trams is currently being utilised, compared to 80 per cent of space available on buses. In addition to this theory, the general rationale for the strategy is that Galway is too rural and does not have enough rail connectivity for rails to form the backbone of Galway’s public transport solutions.

Credit: Samuel McKittrick

Derry Seen as Ireland’s city with the poorest rail infrastructure, improving Derry’s rail connectivity was an area of great importance in the formulation

of the All-Island Rail Review. In 2021, the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) commissioned a study in which experts called for rail service improvements to and from Coleraine, Belfast, and Dublin. The study states that current rail services to and from Derry should continue to be improve, adding that particular attention should be given to providing attractive service timings to facilitate commuters to Derry and Belfast and through connections to and from Dublin.

Waterford

Limerick

Published in December 2022, the Waterford Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy states that the recommendations pertaining to the county in the All-Island Strategic Rail Review “will be considered”.

The Limerick Shannon Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy, published in November 2022, proposes to maximise opportunities offered by the existing rail network to enhance regional and suburban connectivity.

In the strategy itself, Waterford City and County Council calls for a relocation of the city’s Plunkett Station to a new site in the North Quays area of the city, as well as updating the existing track from Waterford Plunkett Station to Dublin’s Heuston Station to a dual track.

future of rail report

The council’s policy also looks at connecting the county’s other towns with Cork city. To do this, it proposes the creation of new railway stations which is states will align the strategic planning objectives of both Cork City Council and Cork County Council. These proposed lines are: • Midleton/Cobh-Cork line with stops at: Tivoli Docks; Dunkettle; Water Rock; Ballynoe; and Carrigtwohill West. • Mallow-Cork line: Blackpool/Kilbarry; Monard; and Blarney/Stoneview.

One of the proposals is the expansion of the Limerick Rail Commuter Network through a new rail station at Moyross and a new rail station at Ballysimon, including a park and ride. Limerick City and County Council is also proposing a dual track between Limerick Colbert and Limerick Junction. 113


future of rail report

Full steam ahead for rail transport in Ireland?

Chelsey O’Doherty

David Gunn

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The Department of Transport in the Republic of Ireland and the Department for Infrastructure in Northern Ireland have collaborated on a €35 billion proposal intended to revolutionise the island’s railway network. David Gunn and Chelsey O’Doherty of Mason Hayes & Curran analyse the draft report of the All-Island Strategic Rail Review.

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briefing considers the contractual structures which may be used more frequently going forward in delivering future rail projects in Ireland and examines the challenges that rail industry stakeholders should be mindful of when negotiating rail contracts.

The draft report of the All-Island Strategic Rail Review (AISRR) makes 30 recommendations, covering six main themes, ranging from service improvements (such as direct CorkLimerick-Galway services) to major, longterm infrastructure projects (including a new railway from Belfast to Derry via Portadown).

Contracting structures

While the enthusiastic tone of the AISRR is encouraging, reasonable questions have been posed as to whether the recommendations will be followed and, if so, where they fit in with existing spending commitments such as the priority infrastructure projects in the National Development Plan (NDP). This

There has been recent debate on the use of more collaborative contract forms to deliver projects. We have seen increased use in Ireland of the NEC suite, which is commonly used in the UK. This move towards more collaborative contracts bolsters the flexibility seen from public sector bodies in recent years in

infrastructure projects, when dealing with unexpected events such as Covid-19 and high inflation for materials and goods experienced by contractors. We expect to see an increased use of public private partnerships (PPPs) in future rail projects. PPPs offer several benefits, with one of the most significant advantages being access to private funding sources, which reduces the burden on government budgets and taxpayers, as the debt is considered to be off the State’s balance sheet. Additionally, PPPs enable the sharing of risks between public and private entities, offer private sector efficiencies and innovation, and typically include


availability or performance-based contractual terms which incentivise private partners to meet project milestones and maintain operational standards. This leads to reduced construction time and better service quality and long-term maintenance.

Challenges Significant cost overruns on individual major projects often attract media attention and calls for increased risk transfer to contractors. However, while a high level of risk transfer to contractors may achieve results on certain projects in the short term, this approach may not create an attractive contracting environment to assist the country in meeting its long-term infrastructure needs. More collaborative approaches, rather than just increasing contractors’ risks, is a sensible way forward.

Funding Another significant challenge when delivering large scale rail infrastructure is the availability of funding. Under the NDP, the Government committed a spend of €165 billion between 2021 and 2030, with at least €35 billion to be invested in transport generally. However, the total bill for the AISRR recommendations alone amount to €35 billion of additional spending beyond the NDP, with the AISRR estimate excluding costs associated with existing spending commitments such as the expansion of Dublin’s DART network and investment in the MetroLink project. Such high spending requirements bring their own set of significant challenges, but if we want to build out our rail infrastructure, we need commitment from the Government of adequate financial resources linked to a realistic costanalysis of these major projects.

for high-capacity, long-distance transport. While the shift to EVs is certainly a positive development in the decarbonisation of transport, it is not a comprehensive solution. Rail infrastructure remains essential for efficient, sustainable, and resilient transportation systems, especially in urban areas and for long-distance travel. While the AISRR and our existing rail infrastructure spending commitments in the NDP are ambitious plans to drive progress towards better connectivity, sustainability, and economic growth through our rail infrastructure, we cannot forget about the important task of reconciling ambition with reality. If we want to successfully deliver an efficient and sustainable transport system in Ireland, it is essential that our government’s ambitious goals must firstly be analysed and prioritised, then supported by adequate funding and, finally, realised through well-structured contracts.

Looking forward There is an argument against significant investment in rail, given we are already transitioning to electric vehicles (EVs) and hydrogen fuelled trucks, which may reduce the need for heavy rail freight in the medium to long term, reducing the urgency to invest in rail. However, while EVs and hydrogen trucks can reduce emissions, they will not solve the urban congestion issues that Ireland’s cities face, nor are they better suited than rail

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Interface risks are also a significant challenge in the rail sector because of the multitude of stakeholders. This complexity can result in an increased likelihood of interface risks, as coordinating activities and ensuring seamless integration among these entities can be challenging, with issues leading to significant time and cost consequences. These factors can impact not only the current phase of a project, but also have knock-on consequences for future stages, impacting overall project schedules and costs. Therefore, proactive risk management and clear

interface arrangements are essential to minimise these risks.

future of rail report

It is important to remember that not all infrastructure projects are created equal and rail infrastructure brings unique challenges which are not seen in more straightforward construction projects. The size of these projects can make it sensible to divide them into smaller, more manageable contracts and we see this structure in the proposal for Dublin’s multi-billion-euro MetroLink subway line. It is proposed that the design-build contract packages for construction of the base civil infrastructure for the project will be procured under three separate contracts, which given recent trends may incorporate NEC principles. A single, availability-based, PPP contract will be awarded for the delivery of line-wide systems, station fit out works, automated systems, rolling stock, construction of depot and operations control buildings and a 25-year operations and maintenance contract.

“It is important to remember that not all infrastructure projects are created equal and rail infrastructure brings unique challenges which are not seen in more straightforward construction projects.”

David Gunn, Partner Construction, Infrastructure and Utilities T: 086 035 9526 | E: dgunn@mhc.ie Chelsey O’Doherty, Senior Associate Construction, Infrastructure and Utilities T: 086 165 9631 | E: codoherty@mhc.ie

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Crucial decade ahead for the future of rail

China Rail Harmony HXD electric locomotive in Xinzheng, China.

Emissions from rail have risen by an annual average of 0.6 per cent in the past two decades globally, the International Energy Agency (IEA) reports. In order to be on track for 2050 net zero targets, these levels will need to decrease by over 4 per cent annually. The challenge for global rail systems is that while the IEA’s Tracking Clean Energy Progress 2023 stresses a need to decarbonise rail travel, its 2019 Future of Rail report predicts major upticks in the use of rail for both passenger and freight activity. The IEA states that the ever-growing demand for public transport “carries with it greater energy demand and increased CO2 emissions and atmospheric pollutants”, but that “greater reliance on rail has the potential to cut that growth”. Rail is one of the most energy efficient modes for transport; at the time of the IEA’s 2019 report, it represented 8 per cent of global passengers and 7 per cent of global freight, but only 116

accounted for 2 per cent of global transport emissions. Comparatively, in 2022, rail accounted for 7 per cent of global passenger kilometres and 6 per cent of tonne kilometres, but only accounted for 1 per cent of transport emissions. Three-quarters of rail activity was electrified by 2019, an increase on 60 per cent in 2000, and moves to further electrify rail travel have progressed notably since then.

high-speed rail by 2050. A partnership between the Japanese firm Hitachi and Italy’s Trenitalia produced the FrecciaRossa 1000 high-speed train in 2015, which now operates in Italy, France, and Spain. The partnership unveiled a new high-speed hybrid train in 2022 that switches between battery, electric, and diesel fuel sources and can thus operate on both electrified and non-electrified rail lines.

By the end of 2022, China’s railway network had reached 155,000km, with 42,000km of that made up by highspeed electric railways. China’s is the largest high-speed rail system in the world, and it has grown by a factor of 100 in the past 20 years, with expectations to reach 50,000km of

A major shift is also underway in India, which is aiming for 100 per cent track electrification by 2024; by the end of 2022, the electrification rate stood at 80 per cent, compared to 45 per cent in 2015. Progress has also been made in Africa, which stood as the continent with the lowest rate of rail electrification


CO2 emissions from rail in MtCO2, 2010-2022 and 2030 net zero target 120 100

8 6

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4

(Source: IEA)

20 0

Energy consumption by rail in exajoules, 2010-2022 and 2030 net zero target 3 2.5 2 1.5 1 0.5 0

Diesel

Electricity

Biodiesel

Hydrogen (Source: IEA)

Projected rail energy demand (Mtoe) growth per region by scenario, 2017-2050 35 30 25 20 15 10 5 0 China

North America 2017

India

Europe

2050 base scenario

Russia

Japan

2050 high rail (Source: IEA)

with just 28 per cent in 2016. In the same year, a 753km line powered by hydroelectricity between Ethiopia and Djibouti was opened, the first modern electrified railway in east Africa.

rail travel as it does not emit any direct CO2

Electric rail is crucial for the decarbonisation of

rail movement in 2022. Urban rail networks such

emissions. With this in mind, it is welcome news that electric rail accounted for 85 per cent of passenger rail activity and 55 per cent of freight

4 117


Energy demand (Mtoe) from rail by technology in IEA base scenario 25

20

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15 10 5

2017

2030

Freight diesel

India

Japan

Russia

Europe

China

North America

India

Japan

Russia

Europe

China

North America

India

Japan

Russia

Europe

China

North America

0

2050

Urban (electric)

Conventional diesel

Conventional electric Freight electric

High speed (electric) (Source: IEA)

as metro and light rail are known to have significantly lower emissions profiles due to their reliance on electricity as a power source, their lower friction losses, and their higher occupancy rates. The IEA states: “Expanding rail networks and their use will be important for achieving emission reductions to get on track with the net zero energy scenario. European players are planning important investments in rail transport to make it more appealing to travellers, especially as an alternative to short-haul flights.” While Ireland’s rail developments in the decades to come will not be pan-European, the prospect of initiatives such as DART+, the Luas expansion, MetroLink, and the electrification of rail lines such as the Enterprise service between Belfast and Dublin places Ireland in line with other states seeking to simultaneously increase capacity and decrease emissions. IEA data shows global CO2 emissions from rail to have peaked in 2019 at 103.38 MtCO2eq, having started the decade at 86.04 MtCO2eq in 2010. Following a significant fall in 2020, likely caused by Covid-related cessation of services, the emissions 118

level increased again in 2021 and 2022, reaching 94.64 MtCO2eq in 2022. The IEA states that this figure must fall to 63.22 MtCO2eq by 2030 if rail transport is to be on track for its part in the achievement of net zero emissions by 2030. Achieving this reduction would require a fall of 31.42 MtCO2eq or 33.2 per cent overall in the eight years from 2023 until the end of 2030, an annual average decrease of 3.9 MtCO2eq or 4.1 per cent. Such an annual decrease rate would not be unprecedented; the 2012 level of 91.42 MtCO2eq was a fall of 4.93 MtCO2eq on the previous year. What would be unprecedented would be consecutive years of emissions falling. Every year in the 2010s when rail emissions totals decreased (2012, 2014, and 2016) was followed by a year in which emissions increased. Key to this decarbonisation will be electrification and diversity of nonelectric fuel sources in rail. While electric rail accounts for the vast majority of global rail, diesel still accounts for more consumption in exajoules according to IEA data for 2022. The same data does show that diesel consumption increased by 10.3 per cent from 2010 to 2022, while

electricity consumption in rail increased over the same period by 45.9 per cent. In order to fall in line with 2030 targets for net zero by 2050, the IEA predicts that there will be a total of 2.51 exajoules consumed by rail. 1.44 of this will be electricity, which would require an increase in its consumption by exactly one third from 2022 levels. With small amounts of consumption to be made up by biodiesel and hydrogen, diesel will still play a role in 2030, although the 0.86 exajoules envisioned by the IEA would be a decrease of 32.8 per cent from 2022 levels. The IEA suggests four recommendations to move towards these goals. The first is aimed at policymakers, suggesting that they “adopt holistic and comprehensive policies, including ‘push’ and ‘pull’ fiscal instruments, and set clear targets to foster rail competitiveness and induce modal shift”. The final three recommend that the private sector upgrade rolling stock, raise efficiency, enhance digital technologies, and integrate renewables; enhance rail networks through integrated planning; and further electrify, improve efficiency, and invest in digital technologies.


Longer-term planning to keep transport infrastructure delivery on track future of rail report

2022, the EPA outlined that transport accounts for nearly 20 per cent of Irish greenhouse gas emissions. Given the unequivocal need for our transport sector to evolve to reduce our climate impact now, a truly long-term cohesive transport infrastructure plan seems an essential aspect of our national development framework. Such plans will only progress with crossparty collaboration, including sufficient public consultation. This will ensure it survives beyond the government of the day and facilitates development for the future. With the appropriate weight, such a plan would form the backbone of regional development plans far beyond one lifecycle.

The All-Island Strategic Rail Review outlined the significant potential Ireland has for a world class dynamic transportation network that meets the needs of our urban and rural communities, writes Peter Carrigy of PwC. Our record of capital delivery suggests we will struggle to deliver even a proportion of the rail review. Whilst you can argue the financial crisis halted such development for almost a decade, unfortunately development strategies and visions were also put on hold.

This is not a foreign concept; several jurisdictions are already exploring longerterm planning. In 2018, the New South Wales Government implemented the Greater Sydney Services and Infrastructure Plan. Noted by the

With such long-term visionary focus and clear communication, communities are also likely to become more accustomed to proposed investments and consequentially planning objections could be seen to reduce, facilitating more efficient delivery of our national development.

E: peter.a.carrigy@pwc.com W: www.pwc.com

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Ireland’s recent transport plans continue to be developed for 15-20-year periods. By looking at the longer term, we can help break the cycle of short-term political interference that often stalls infrastructure and transport development for years.

Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese MP as intended to “take the politics out of planning”, the plan provides a 40-year blueprint for the evolution of the regions transport infrastructure aiming to improve the lives of its citizens. Already, benefits have been noted including the progression of a new metro, urban regeneration and increased public transport usage.

Of course, a plan for 40 years requires iterations and political involvement in capital decision making will be ever present. However, a clear strategy and vision can keep our country on the right track. Importantly, frameworks such as the Public Spending Code, when utilised properly, can assist with delivery, implementation and realisation of the benefits envisioned by a long-term plan.

Similarly, Switzerland’s Transport of the Future 2060 plan aims to ensure future transportation projects align with the long-term evolution of the needs of Swiss people. Also in Finland, a country similar to Ireland in population size and density, policymakers are exploring the development of visionary transport plans to as far out as 2100. In Ireland, we know we need to act. In 119


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New trains, new stations, and more services

Iarnród Éireann plans to transform Customer Experience, and strengthen its standing as an employer of choice, with career-long opportunity.

The transformation of the rail network is underway.

DART+ Programme

Climate action brings with it not only environmental

Already, 185 carriages of the new DART+ fleet are on order from Alstom – arriving from 2024, and entering service from 2025, the order could potentially increase to 750 carriages over the decade. The fleet order is an integral part of DART+, an investment will allow more trains to operate on all routes on the rail network, provide greater standards of accessibility, and allow for the decarbonisation of all Greater Dublin Area rail services.

benefit, but also transformative change to our country’s public transport services, and these are not the only changes taking place in Iarnród Éireann.

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Its vision of being the backbone of Ireland’s sustainable transport network is clear, and now with the support of government and the National Transport Authority for the capital investment to achieve this, Iarnród Éireann is firmly in delivery mode. The decade of delivery also encompasses a transformed customer experience, to deliver a great journey, every journey for its customers, and become a leader in customer experience amongst European railways. It is also building a workplace to firmly establish Iarnród Éireann as an employer of choice. Ensuring the railway has the talent and skills across all roles needed to deliver on its ambitions is critical, and the company offers not just 120

employment but full career opportunities to its team of over 4,500 colleagues. In 2023, for the third year in a row, Iarnród Eireann was ranked as one of Ireland’s five leading employers in the Sunday Independent Statista Best Employers research – third overall, and the leading Irish employer in this year’s study. Additionally, it was awarded Apprenticeship Employer of the Year, with a commitment not only to excellent apprenticeships, but continued career opportunities. Across all aspects of its business – for passenger and freight services on our rail network, and as port authority for Rosslare Europort – the decade of delivery is underway.

More trains, less carbon, more accessibility, less congestion, more frequency, capacity and sustainability – these will be features of a transport network with rail at its core, all leading to a doubling of the carrying capacity of the Greater Dublin Area network.

National network Investment in infrastructure in the Dublin area will also grow Iarnród Éireann’s ability to operate services right around the country. Targeted line speed improvement works are also taking place. Construction of the new National Train Control Centre at Heuston Station


has been completed, with train control systems being developed for full commissioning by 2025, to deliver more efficient train management across the network, to cater for the expanded network and services.

Regional cities

double-tracking Glounthaune to Midleton;

developing a new through platform at Kent Station for through running for Mallow to Midleton/Cobh; and

resignalling the Cork commuter network.

In Galway, funding under the Urban Regeneration Development Fund (URDF) includes: •

investment of €9.3 million for a passing railway loop at the existing Oranmore Train Station, which will allow the busy commuter link between Athenry and Galway to grow; and Ceannt Station will be regenerated as part of a major €40.3 million Galway City Council Transport Connectivity project.

In Limerick, the completion of the city’s own transportation hub centred on Colbert Station will also boost services, and the Limerick Shannon Metropolitan Area Transport Strategy has detailed the opportunities provided by the network of rail lines around Limerick City. Waterford’s Plunkett Station will be relocated to be part of an integrated transport hub under plans to develop the city’s North Quays.

Iarnród Éireann’s Rail Freight 2040 Strategy aims to achieve: •

a five-fold increase in the number of rail freight services;

a resulting reduction of 25,000 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually; and

avoiding the requirement for 140,000 HGV journeys on our roads annually.

DART+ investment will dramatically increase rail network capacity, both for Greater Dublin Area services, and the national network.

DART+ Programme project status Project

Serving

Update

Next steps

DART+ West

Maynooth/M3 Parkway to City, including new depot west of Maynooth

Railway order hearing September to October 2023

Railway order decision to be made by An Bord Pleanála

DART+ South West

Hazelhatch to Heuston and Phoenix Park Tunnel

Railway order application lodged March 2023

Railway order hearing to be scheduled by An Bord Pleanála

DART+ Coastal North

Connolly to Drogheda

Second public consultation complete

Railway order application expected to lodge Q1 2024

DART+ Coastal South

Connolly to Greystones

Emerging preferred option being developed

Public consultation dates to be confirmed

DART+ Fleet

New trains for all DART+ routes above

185 DART+ carriages ordered

First carriages arrive 2024

Works to reinstate the Limerick to Foynes rail line for freight services are underway following funding from the Department of Transport, a clear commitment to the goals of Rail Freight 2040, with a 2025 opening date planned. Iarnród Éireann is also port authority for Rosslare Europort, and its status as Ireland’s Gateway to Europe has been confirmed with 36 services operating directly between the Port and Europe each week.

As well as investment in the Port Masterplan, the OPW’s Project T7 for a permanent Border Control Post, and the new TII N25 Rosslare Europort Access Road, an ambitious €200 million plan to become Ireland’s Offshore Renewable Energy Hub, with the port uniquely placed to support the development of the industry in the Celtic and Irish Seas.

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Rail Freight and Rosslare Europort

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€185 million is to be invested in the Cork commuter rail network, under the EU-funded Recovery and Resilience Plan, allowing Iarnród Éireann to increase the Cork commuter rail network’s capacity through:

W: www.irishrail.ie X/Twitter: @irishrail

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Rail figures back on track in 2022 National Rail Census 2022

Iarnród Éireann annual report 2022

On rail census day 2022,

In 2022, there were a total of:

there were a total of:

35.8 million passenger journeys

158,651 passenger journeys

Up 106% compared with 2021

Up 62% compared with

81 million tonne kms in rail freight volume

2021

Up by 11 million tonne kms

Credit: National Transport Authority, 2023

Credit: Iarnród Éireann, 2023

Daily passenger journeys by rail line/direction in 2021 and 2022 Line

2021

2022

DART northbound

21,720

32,712

DART southbound

21,146

32,031

Connolly Commuter northbound

6,928

10,878

Connolly Commuter southbound

7,255

11,036

Connolly Commuter eastbound

7,353

11,908

Connolly Commuter westbound

7,178

11,942

Heuston Commuter north and eastbound

10,238

17,276

Heuston Commuter south and westbound

9,885

17,929

Cork Regional northbound/Cork Commuter inbound

2,073

4,997

Cork Regional southbound/Cork Commuter outbound

2,044

4,038

Regional northbound

1,001

2,039

Regional southbound

1,272

1,865

Total

98,093

158,651

Credit: National Transport Authority, 2023 122


Number of journeys taken by service on rail census day 2022 Service

Change on 2021 (%)

DART

64,743

+51

Commuter services

47,083

+64

InterCity services

33,886

+68

Cork Commuter and regional services

9,035

+119

Regional services

3,904

+72

158,651

+62

Total

future of rail report

Passenger journeys

Credit: National Transport Authority, 2023

Top 10 busiest stations by boarding and alighting 2022 Boarding

Alighting

1. Connolly

1. Connolly

2. Pearse

2. Pearse

3. Heuston

3. Heuston

4. Tara Street

4. Tara Street

5. Kent (Cork)

5. Kent (Cork)

6. Dún Laoghaire

6. Grand Canal Dock

7. Malahide

7. Dún Laoghaire

8. Grand Canal Dock

8. Malahide

9. Maynooth

9. Bray

10. Bray

10. Maynooth Credit: National Transport Authority, 2023

Total daily passenger journeys on the InterCity Services to/from Heuston in 2022 Line

Passenger journeys

Change on 2021 (%)

Heuston south and westbound

12,223

+77

Heuston north and eastbound

11,626

+61

Total

23,849

+69 Credit: National Transport Authority, 2023

Total passenger journeys on the Dublin to Belfast Enterprise Service on census day 2022

Total cross border journeys on the Dublin to Belfast Enterprise Service on census day 2022

Enterprise Service direction

Enterprise Service direction

Passenger journeys

Change on 2021 (%)

Passenger journeys

Change on 2021 (%)

Northbound

2,025

+103

Northbound

1,417

+87

Southbound

1,750

+88

Southbound

1,290

+93

Total

3,775

+96

Total

2,707

+90

Credit: National Transport Authority, 2023

Credit: National Transport Authority, 2023

Total daily passenger journeys on regional lines in 2022 Route

Passenger journeys

Change on 2021 (%)

Waterford, Ballybrophy, Thurles, Nenagh, Athenry, Limerick, Limerick Junction-Limerick, Galway, Ennis, Limerick Junction

2,039

+103

Limerick, Ennis, Galway-Limerick Junction, Ballybrophy, Athenry, Ennis, Waterford, Limerick

1,865

+47

Total

3,904

+72

Credit: National Transport Authority, 2023

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Green mobility: Rail and sail

Irish and French ministers for Transport, Eamon Ryan TD and Clément Beaune.

A new initiative aimed at cutting the carbon cost of travel between Ireland and France will become even more user-friendly in 2024. First announced by President of the French Republic Emmanuel Macron and then Taoiseach Micheál Martin TD in November 2022, ‘Sail&Rail’ tickets between the two countries will be available through a single booking in 2024. Recognised as a far more energy-efficient means of travel than air travel or private car use, the rail and sail initiative is part of a wider move to encourage green mobility. The Government estimates that a ferry emits just 1 per cent of CO2 per tonne-km of air travel for the same distance, while the train emits an estimated 8 per cent. Since September 2023, travellers have been able to avail of a link between rail operators Brittany Ferries and Irish Ferries to book combined ferry and train journeys through the either organisation’s website, at a discounted rate. Inclusive in the sail-rail bundle, and facilitated by local and transport authorities, are port transfers from the station to the ferry terminal by bus in Dublin, Cork, Cherbourg, and Roscoff. 124

It is expected that arrangements will be further simplified in 2024 with the launch of combination tickets, allowing a single booking, with a single ticket for the entire rail and sea journey. In May 2023 the ministers for transport for Ireland, Eamon Ryan TD, and France, Clément Beaune, announced that the ferry line is now officially registered as a rail and sail line. Speaking to eolas Magazine in September 2023, Ambassador of France to Ireland, Vincent Guérend, said of the initiative: “The idea is to make it easier, more comfortable, and to have better connection. To have the missing link of the ports being a bridge. “In the old days, when flight was not so common, people would travel by train to the quay, and from there it was possible to immediately board a ferry and continue their journey. We lost this know-how in the 1960s and 1970s when train and ferry crossings became more for trucks and cars, and not by foot or railway passengers. We must reinvent this.”



future of rail report

Keolis expertise in shared mobility needs of passengers, the constraints of local regions and the challenges of the modern world. In keeping with our public service commitment, our objective is clear: to offer appealing alternatives to private cars. With this goal in mind, we are focused on responding to the challenges of the mobility sector: the ecological transition, the digital transformation of lifestyles, and the changing the expectations of local communities.

A global leader in automated metros and trams

Keolis has an international reputation for providing mobility solutions in support of the economic and social cohesion of local communities. Keolis is committed to ensuring high performance networks across all modes of public transport.

Keolis operates and maintains city, suburban and intercity networks on behalf of over 300 public transport authorities in 13 countries. With 68,000 employees across the globe, our group has expertise Advertorial

in 13 different mobility modes, ranging from trains to bicycles, buses and sea and river shuttles. From on-demand transport to autonomous vehicles, medical transport, carpooling, carsharing, and parking, we are present across the whole mobility chain. The company’s turnover for 2022 amounted to €6.7 billion.

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Keolis offers sustainable solutions to meet the challenges of mobility Working in partnership with public policymakers, Keolis develops and operates safe, smart, and sustainable shared mobility solutions that meet the

Keolis is a pioneer and global leader in automated metros with nine networks in six countries and 452km of metro lines in operation or under construction. Keolis is also the world’s leading tram operator with 26 tram networks worldwide in nine countries and over 1,000km of track in operation or under construction, including Melbourne, the world’s largest network, Greater Manchester, the UK’s largest network and Aarhus, Denmark’s first light rail network. We engage constructively with public transport authorities, whatever phase they identify the need for an operator of their network, including through early operator engagement in advance of the commissioning of new lines or networks. We offer over 40-year lifecycle experience and operator’s perspective to inform the planning and design of metro lines. The benefits include more reliable, efficient, customer-focused metro and tram networks and the right transport choices for growing cities.

A proven track record in multimodality Keolis has undisputed expertise in operating and maintaining multimodal transport networks in pursuit of an ever


more seamless passenger experience. We develop multimodal mobility solutions tailored to each town, city, or region’s specific issues and financial constraints.

We strive to provide the best advice to our partners with cost-effective methods, through robust qualitative and quantitative research and analysis. And then we help to shape intermodal networks taking into account key considerations including timetables that meet the passengers’ door-to-door needs; transport hubs that make the customer experience simple and seamless; the development of walking routes and new mobilities which complement traditional modes, particularly for first and last-mile connections and the use of integrated fare systems that can be used across all local transport services. Our success in developing, operating, and maintaining multimodal integrated networks can be seen in cities including Lyon, Bordeaux, Dijon, and Lille in France and Newcastle in Australia.

Delivering efficiency in maintenance and asset management

KIHM allows us to share the group’s best practices globally through the asset maintenance and asset management

The success of Keolis’ asset management approach through rigorous maintenance regimes is the foundation of its worldwide reputation for excellence in the operation and maintenance of automated metros and tram networks.

guidelines that have been defined. These describe the business processes, managerial standards, and key requirements for the implementation of an efficient management system for maintenance and asset management activities in line with the requirements of the internationally recognised certification of ISO 55001 (industrial equipment management system).

and air conditioning, and using regenerative braking in our metro networks. And, of course, we are relentlessly pursuing our day-to-day objective – enhancing the appeal of safe, smart, sustainable, and shared mobility solutions to curb the use of private cars.

Accelerating the transition to low-carbon mobility

cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by reducing traction carbon intensity by 30 per cent (all modes combined in gCO2e/100 km) compared to 2019;

reducing air pollution by doubling by 2025 and tripling by 2030 the kilometres operated by alternative energy road vehicles replacing diesel and gasoline compared to 2019; and

controlling its environmental impact by rolling out ISO 14001 certification for 80 per cent of its revenue by 2030.

Faced with the climate emergency, Keolis is determined to leave the most positive environmental legacy possible for future generations by helping its PTA partners accelerate the energy transition today. Accordingly, we work to reduce atmospheric pollution and the level of emissions associated with powering our vehicles has become a key consideration in our management decisions. We are also helping our PTA partners decarbonise their fleets, through new tenders and during existing contracts, thanks to the alternative energies expertise housed in our centres of excellence. To improve energy efficiency, we are acting on several fronts at the same time, including training drivers in eco-driving techniques, limiting heating

Keolis commitment to the ecological transition is reflected in the three objectives the group has set for 2030:

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Leveraging decades of management of an asset base worth €50 billion, Keolis is implementing a programme named KIHM in many of its subsidiaries to improve network maintenance. An acronym for Keolis industrialises and harmonises maintenance, KIHM is based on practices developed jointly with our operating teams. Its focus is on the continuous improvement of maintenance performance and operational management to achieve significant reductions in breakdowns due to better maintenance organisation and preventive measures.

future of rail report

Keolis acquires in-depth understanding of changing transport needs from its Keoscopie mobility think tank, which provides insights on current lifestyles to help develop next-generation mobility solutions. This is enriched by a range of data collected by Hove, a newly created Keolis digital company which produces intelligence our teams draw upon to innovate and develop attractive transport solutions.

E: comms@keolis.co.uk W: www.keolis.co.uk

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future of rail report

Green hydrogen: A secondary long-term rail fuel option The National Hydrogen Strategy, published in July 2023, outlines how hydrogen can be used for the rail sector in areas where electrification – the primary mean seen as key to decarbonisation – is not feasible. The National Hydrogen Strategy outlines an end-goal use for green hydrogen in the rail sector which can be rolled out between 2025 and 2030. The goal is for hydrogen gas to be used to power trains in scenarios where electrification is not a feasible option, or as a backup fuel option when electricity is not being produced and stored in high enough quantities. The backup technologies that can be enabled by the use of hydrogen in the rail sector are battery electricity, bioCNG, biofuels, and the idea of a modal shift to ensure higher levels of active travel among the Irish population. Hydrogen is typically bonded to other elements, particularly water (H2O), and hydrocarbons such as methane (CH4). Production of hydrogen relies upon the chemical bonds between molecules such as water to be broken. Currently, most of the world’s hydrogen is ‘grey’ hydrogen, hydrogen produced by the splitting of methane molecules. Since

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this leaves carbon as a byproduct, this is not a sustainable practice.

especially over the distances covered by the Irish rail network”.

The hydrogen the Government refers to in the National Hydrogen Strategy is ‘green’ hydrogen, which involves the splitting of water molecules via a process called electrolysis, leaving oxygen as the byproduct. Climate Action Plan 2023 is earmarking 2GW of the energy produced from offshore wind to be used to enable the production of green hydrogen by 2030, with a wider vision of the renewable gas being produced and, in the long term, exported when there is enough produced to ensure a supply within Ireland.

Therefore, hydrogen-powered trains could potentially offer a solution along routes where full electrification of the rail corridor is not possible, or where the timelines to deliver the infrastructure to electrify the rail corridor necessitate alternative solutions such as hydrogen-propelled trains as an interim solution. Another area where hydrogen powered trains could be considered is as backup to electrified rail, providing resilience to the rail route should an overhead electrical fault occur on a route.

With electric-power trains seen as the primary means to decarbonise the commuter rail sector, plans are underway under the DART+ programme to this effect. However, the National Hydrogen Strategy states that electrification of the rail corridors are “likely to prove more cost effective,

Speaking in September 2023, Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan TD said that whilst green hydrogen can play a “vital role” in decarbonising Ireland’s transport sector, the State remains “a while off” from being able to produce the mass quantities of green hydrogen required to have a meaningful contribution to this decarbonisation.


The confidence to deliver an infrastructure portfolio 2019 peers, while significantly reducing overruns. Better data leads to better decision making.

Overspends on capital projects make newspaper headlines the world over. Inaccurate estimates are costly to society with inferior projects receiving support at the expense of alternatives, writes Ciarán Nevin of PwC. Project overruns push worthy projects down the funding queue. The growing literature on this topic attributes much of the variation between estimated and actual costs to optimism bias–the human tendency to overestimate the likelihood of positive outcomes and underestimate the chances of negative outcomes.

In fact, Flyvbjerg has identified that rail projects do indeed have a mean cost overrun of 39 per cent. Clearly, it is then prudent to ensure that estimates are adjusted sufficiently to enable fair appraisal and ensure sufficient funds to complete the project. Governments are increasingly conscious of this. The 2019 Public Spending Code notes the impact of optimism bias. All else being equal, the consistent implementation of this practice since 2019 should lead to a significant increase in the estimated cost of projects when compared to their pre-

With a strong pipeline of rail projects, including MetroLink, DART+, Cork Commuter Rail, and the ambition set out in the All-Island Strategic Rail Review, there is an opportunity to transform public transport in Ireland. Critical factors for the success of that transformation include reliable estimates, proactive risk management to keep costs down, and a focus on benefits realisation. Perhaps the most important success factor of all is learning from others. The Madrid Metro is a stand-out example of how to deliver excellent infrastructure and value for money. As we set out on our journey of transformation, we must look abroad to what has been done well and what could have been done better.

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Bent Flyvbjerg developed a method to account for optimism bias called reference class forecasting (RCF). Simply put, RCF compares the estimated cost of a proposed project with the cost performance of similar projects and adjusts the estimate accordingly. Suppose the estimated cost of a new intercity rail line is €2 billion. A survey of 10 similar projects in comparable jurisdictions has identified that the actual cost of delivery was an average of 39

per cent higher than the original estimates. This suggests that the actual cost of the proposed rail line is likely to be closer to €2.78 billion. This revised estimate should form the basis for the investment appraisal.

future of rail report

Project cost estimates are often presented in terms of the probability of the actual cost falling within a certain range. If a project’s estimated (and adjusted) cost is €2.78 billion with P50 confidence, this means that we can be confident that the cost will not exceed €2.78 billion 50 per cent of the time. As the relationship between the estimate and the confidence level is not linear, in order to reach 90 per cent confidence, the cost estimate would have to increase dramatically. In short, this means that it is prohibitively expensive to account for all risks and so a balance is required. If a portfolio of 10 similar rail projects is proposed, it is unlikely that the worstcase scenario would materialise for all 10 projects. If the P50 estimate for each project is informed by an appropriate reference class, their actual costs should be distributed around that estimate.

E: ciaran.nevin@pwc.com W: www.pwc.com

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Energy Institute Annual Dinner

conference report

Lar Burke, Kate Gannon, Karen Doyle, and Audrey Comiskey from Gas Networks Ireland.

J. Owen Lewis, Energy Institute; Tom O'Brien, Nephin Energy; Ben Costelloe, Energy Institute; Minister Eamon Ryan TD; Jackie King, Ibec; Owen McQuade, Chair Irish Branch; John O’Brien, Treasurer, Irish Branch.

The Irish Branch of the Energy Institute held its annual dinner in the Conrad Dublin at the beginning of October. The annual get-together for the energy sector was addressed by Eamon Ryan, TD, Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications. The Minister gave his ‘Autumn Statement’ of the Government’s energy policy priorities and gave a global perspective on developments in the energy sector in his role as co-chair of the International Energy Agency. In response to the Minister’s address, Bart Doyle, Chief Operating Officer, Mainstream Renewable Power outlined the Irish company’s achievement in becoming the world’s largest independent offshore wind developer.

Jarlath Trench, Vermilion Energy Ireland; Minister Eamon Ryan TD; Canadian Ambassador, Nancy Smyth; and Bart Doyle, Mainstream Renewable Power.

Tom O'Brien, Nephin Energy; Graeme Lochhead, Nephin Renewable Gas; and Neil Walker, Ibec. 130

Minister Eamon Ryan TD giving the keynote speech.

Darragh Burke, University of Galway; Gavin Larkin, University of Galway; Minister Eamon Ryan TD; Tom Watté, University of Galway; Rory Monaghan and Oisin Smith, University of Galway.

Attendees listening to Minister’s keynote speech.

Bevin Cody, ESB; Peter O’Shea, ESB; Sean Murphy, ESB; Mairin Shea, ESB; and Canadian Ambassador, Nancy Smyth.

Savannah Altvater, Eurelectric; Gail Kinkead, Energy Ireland; and Barry Quinlan, DECC.

Matt Collins, DECC; Peter O’Shea, ESB; and John Melvin, CRU.


The Housing Agency works to roll out affordable housing schemes across the country

Housing report

Sponsored by


The Housing Agency works to roll out affordable housing schemes across the country

housing report

Promoting leadership in housing

(L-R): Noeline Blackwell, CEO of Dublin Rape Crisis Centre; John Concannon, Director General – Global Ireland at the Department of Foreign Affairs; Eileen Patterson, Board Member of Clanmil Housing and Circle VHA; Bob Jordan, CEO of The Housing Agency; and Alison O’Connor, MC and Journalist.

“Brave and effective leadership is what is required to

Speaker insights

solve Ireland’s housing crisis,” according to Bob Jordan,

Conference speakers included expert leaders, from Ireland and abroad, drawing on their own experiences of bringing about change, motivating teams, and promoting diversity and inclusion. Panel discussions looked at the characteristics of effective and impactful leadership when facing complex issues.

CEO of The Housing Agency who spoke recently at its Leadership in Housing conference in Dublin Castle. The purpose of the event was to bring together leaders in

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housing across the island of Ireland.

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The conference provided an opportunity for attendees to stand back from their day-to-day role, think about how they are approaching leadership, and learn from experienced leaders who are solving complex problems, both in and outside of the housing sector.

Carey, Chairman of the Housing Agency,

Jordan said: “The challenges facing the housing sector in Ireland have been well documented. At The Housing Agency, we firmly believe that brave and thoughtful leadership is what is required to bring about real, positive change to meet our housing needs.”

leadership.

Commenting on the conference, Michael

among various stakeholders.”

said: “The Leadership in Housing conference was a real opportunity to bring together the best of our sector giving them an opportunity to share ideas and hear from expert speakers about the importance of effective

“Effective leadership is what drives progress and will result in good quality, affordable homes in sustainable communities. We must continue to be innovative in our solutions, promote policy changes, and foster collaboration

Contributing to the conference, Noeline Blackwell, Chief Executive at the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, spoke about the importance of maintaining a strategic focus in times of complexity or crisis. “Although my experience is mostly outside the housing sector, the characteristics of a good leader are always the same,” she said. “What I have learned as a leader is the importance of keeping your focus on the bigger picture even when you are constantly reacting and are in a sector that somehow always feels like it is in crisis.” With a wealth of experience as a housing professional, Eileen Patterson,


The Housing Agency works to roll out affordable housing schemes across the country

board member of Clanmil Housing and Circle VHA, emphasised the importance of effective leadership in times of change and growth, which currently characterise the housing sector.

John Concannon, Director General – Global Ireland at the Department of Foreign Affairs, also observed the importance of authenticity in a leader’s message and discussed his experience of working on the Wild Atlantic Way project, which involved collaboration with many different stakeholders. Secretary General of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Graham Doyle, opened the second session of the day talking about impactful leadership. He examined how to create impact as a leader, and advised it is important for leaders to ensure that leadership is instilled in everyone else they work with. Having the right people and structures is vital, as well as having a clear plan. Also speaking at the event was Mushtaq Khan, of the Housing Diversity Network, who relayed the importance of training when it came to becoming a diverse leader. Lucy Cronin, VP EU Public Policy at Amazon delivered an impassioned speech on the barriers women can face in leadership roles, and how organisations can strive to address these, and Sam Tsemberis, Founder of Housing First, discussed how social movements require leadership at every stage and the importance of representing the people you serve.

Key takeaways Commenting on his key takeaways from the conference, Jordan said “Leaders in the housing sector are passionate about what they do, however, in order to keep

(L-R): Graham Doyle, Secretary General, Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage; Grainia Long, Chief Executive, Northern Ireland Housing Executive; Mushtaq Khan, Chief Executive, Housing Diversity Network; Lucy Cronin, VP EU Public Policy, Amazon; and Sam Tsemberis, founder of Housing First.

“In the coming weeks, we will be announcing a new leadership in housing bursary award which will fund an emerging leader in the housing sector to undertake a diploma in leadership.” Bob Jordan, CEO of The Housing Agency going through this enduring crisis, they need support to stay strategic and not get lost in the weeds. We, as leaders, need to maintain our own resilience when facing issues every day. There is no magic bullet, no single organisation has the solutions, and, most importantly, if you are not collaborating then you are not really solving the problems. Collaboration is not a luxury when it comes to solving the housing crisis, it is core. For me, working in The Housing Agency, everything we do involves collaboration, with local authorities, with approved housing bodies, the Department of Housing, state agencies and the private sector.”

Building on the conference Speaking further, Jordan said: “We want to build upon what we have achieved with the leadership conference. We asked attendees to identify areas of leadership where they required support and training. We are using this feedback to plan and implement a leadership in housing training programme in 2024.

“We also need to consider the next generation of leaders and actively support them to lead us to a more sustainable housing future. In the coming weeks, we will be announcing a new leadership in housing bursary award which will fund an emerging leader in the housing sector to undertake a diploma in leadership.” Reflecting on the future of leadership in housing, Jordan said: “In the midst of challenges, the innovation, progress and leadership within the sector is sometimes overlooked. The work is complex and multi-faceted, and the issues we currently face will not be resolved with quick-fix solutions, but progress is happening. There are strong leaders across the entire sector who are working diligently and consistently to address housing needs.”

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Despite the many issues facing the sector at present, Grainia Long, Chief Executive, of the Northern Ireland Housing Executive, said she was against the idea of it being in ‘permanent crisis’, and discussed why a positive mental attitude is important in order for real change to take place.

housing report

“I have had a long career in the housing sector in Northern Ireland where I have seen many changes,” she said. “What stands out to me when we talk about good leadership is the ability to lead through periods of growth. Growth and change can be exciting, but also risky and as leaders we need to be able to express this to staff around us and lead them through it confidently.”

T: +353 1 656 4100 E: info@housingagency.ie W: www.housingagency.ie 133


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The Housing Agency works to roll out affordable housing schemes across the country

2023 Housing for All targets on track Construction of new dwellings appears to be on track to at least meet, if not exceed, Housing for All targets for 2023. Meanwhile, despite increases in both supply and planning permissions, residential property prices have climbed to all-time highs in 2023. Housing supply Government figures state that 6,716 new homes were completed in Q1 2023, meaning that 2023’s rate of new home completions should be on track to reach its target under Housing for All, assuming new home completion rates stay consistent with Central Statistics Office (CSO) data from 2011 onwards. While CSO data differs from the Government’s Housing for All progress report for Q2 2023 and records a total of 6,664 completions for Q1 2023, both represent increases on the totals recorded for Q1 2022, which also differ in official government and CSO datasets. Both the Government’s and the CSO’s figures for Q1 2023 account for less than one-quarter of the Government’s target of 29,000 new home 134

completions for the year (23.2 per cent in the Government’s data and 23 per cent in the CSO’s), but encouragement will be taken from the fact that Q1 has accounted for the lowest number of new housing completions in every year since 2014, excluding 2020, when Covid-related shutdowns in Q2 caused a decrease in completion totals. This is borne out in CSO data for completions in Q2 2023, which states that 7,353 new homes were completed, bringing the total for 2023 thus far to 14,017, or 48.33 per cent of the annual target in the first half of the year. Q4 typically accounts for the bulk of new housing completions, being the quarter with the most new dwelling completions in every year since 2012.

given that 29,851 or 29,776 new housing units were completed in 2022 according to Government and CSO data respectively. Both figures far exceeded the Housing for All 2022 target of 24,000. 13,247 new homes were completed in the first half of 2022 according to CSO data, meaning the first half of 2023 recorded an increase 5.8 per cent. 2022’s first half accounted for 44.5 per cent of total completions, again an encouraging metric that the Housing for All target is one that could and should be far exceeded for the second year in a row, making it unsurprising that government figures have committed to scaling targets upwards as part of the ongoing National Planning Framework review.

Meeting the target of 29,000 for 2023 should be seen as the bare minimum for housing construction in Ireland,

With completions typically reaching their annual nadir in Q1 of each year, construction commencements tend to


The Housing Agency works to roll out affordable housing schemes across the country

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be at their lowest in Q4 of each year, with 2022 no different according to data from The Housing Agency. Construction activity in this regard has since recovered, with Q2 2023 seeing a total of 8,212 new commencements, the highest of any quarter since Q3 2021 and an annual increase of 14.8 per cent on Q2 2022 levels. Q1 2023 also recorded an increase of 4.7 per cent on Q1 2022.

shows Q2 2023 to have had a monthly decrease of 2.3 per cent and an annual decrease of 10.3 per cent despite the uptick in both completions and commencements. However, the Government will be encouraged by the fact that three of 2022’s quarter recorded decreases in the residential building production index but only one of these decreases resulted in a fall in overall completion numbers (Q3).

What should also offer encouragement in terms of supply is the issuance of planning permission for 34,177 units overall in 2022 and 20,382 units in the first half of 2023. However, high levels of planning permissions issued have not always been an indicator of forthcoming commencements and completions: 2019 saw 38,461 units approved, 2020 saw 42,371, and 2021 saw 42,991. In the years following, Ireland has never exceeded 30,000 housing units built in a single year. In this context, 2022 totals for planning permissions are significant decreases, but still enough to meet Housing for All targets; the challenge appears to be one which has been raised often in recent times, that of unused planning permissions.

More worrying will be the seemingly incessant climb of the CSO’s residential property price index, which set a record in July 2023. The residential property price index was recorded at 167.4 where 2015 prices are 100, a 2.3 increase on the index’s peak during the Celtic Tiger property boom in April 2007. The index hit its new peak (168.8) in December 2022, during the best quarter for new dwelling completions in recent memory.

Construction and price indices

Despite the decreases in the first half of the year, July 2023’s residential price increase sits at a level 14.8 per cent higher than that of July 2021. At a time when delivery of new housing in

The CSO’s provisional data for production in residential building

The first five months of 2023 recorded successive decreases from that record level, before June and July recorded successive increases once again. January-May 2023 marked the first instance of successive decreases since December 2018-February 2019.

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Sources: CSO and The Housing Agency.

Ireland has significant increases, the price of these houses has continued to increase, all while both homelessness and eviction notices are also on the increase (see pages 148-150). What the data appears to be telling us is that if supply is to be the answer to the many crises intersecting in the Irish housing sector, the significant increases of late will need to be significantly increased upon themselves.

2023 Q2 Housing for All implementation highlights •

€150 million fund for tackling vacancy and dereliction in towns and cities introduced

Roadmap for increased adoption of MMC in public housing delivery published

Funding approved for 853 social homes and planning permission granted for 2,557 units on state lands in Dublin

Review of the National Planning Framework commenced

Phase 2 of Project Tosaigh commenced

First contract under Croí Cónaithe (Cities) Scheme signed

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housing report

The Secure Tenancy Affordable Rental investment scheme (STAR) market rental levels in high demand urban areas. STAR is managed by The Housing Agency and will operate from August 2023 until December 2027.

Eligible tenants The main eligibility condition for prospective cost rental tenants is based on an annual net income limit at the outset of a tenancy. At the commencement of STAR, an income level of €66,000 net applies for Dublin and €59,000 net applies for the rest of the country, determined by the location of the property.

Fidelma McManus, Partner and Head of Housing with Beauchamps.

Anne Doyle, Partner, Housing & Commercial Real Estate.

STAR is a welcome initiative to engage the State with private developers in delivering cost rental housing. Advertorial

A keen appetite has been demonstrated for cost rental housing based on the over-subscription to existing cost rental schemes and the expectation is that STAR will lead to a significant increase in the availability of cost rental housing, with the obvious associated benefits to those on lower and middle incomes.

What is the objective of STAR Introduced in August 2023, STAR aims to assist private eligible households while also addressing viability 136

challenges for developments by providing equity investment to stimulate the creation of cost rental accommodation. Private providers, the LDA and AHBs can apply to provide cost rental homes under STAR and the State will make an equity investment in return for designation of the homes as cost rental for at least 50 years, at a rent which shall be at least 25 per cent below market rent. The scheme aims to invest up to €750 million in the delivery of over 4,000 cost rental homes, which will benefit from secure tenancies and will be let below

Units eligible for designation Units may be in any location of recognised demand. Priority will be given to proposals in respect of units located in urban centres. Proposals must relate to at least 10 units, newly constructed, not previously occupied, and must consist of at least two types of dwelling (one-bed, two-bed etc.) and must include two-bed dwellings.

Who can apply and how? Any potential providers of cost rental accommodation may apply, including consortiums. For example, a developer may apply by agreement with the intended long-term holder of homes, but the consortium must be led by the longterm owner, operator, and manager of the homes with demonstrable experience in the sector. The approval process comprises three pre-contract stages: Stage 1: Expression of Interest (EOI): submit proposal(s) to The Housing Agency in accordance with high-level criteria of the scheme. Stage 2: Detailed due diligence process leading to eligibility involving a full assessment of costs.


Stage 3: Completion of cost rental investment and equity participation agreement.

Investment level

The investment will be calculated via an objective open book assessment of developers’ costs and revenues, conducted by The Housing Agency.

Investment structure: Cost rental investment and equity participation agreement Investment will be made in the form of a cost rental investment and equity participation agreement with the developer (the Agreement). Ownership of the properties will remain with the developer but a charge (subordinated to senior debt as required) will secure the State’s investment. There will be no interest or return payable to The Housing Agency during the term of the Agreement unless there is a breach of the Agreement. The Agreement will include a right for The Housing Agency to receive a prescribed amount (Property Realisation Equity Share) (PRES), by reference to the following trigger events: at the end of the 50-year period, unless the property is again designated as cost rental at that time;

if the property ceases to be used for cost rental, for whatever reason during the agreement (change in law, damage/destruction to fire etc); and

breach of the Affordable Housing Act 2021 or the regulations made thereunder.

The PRES is calculated as a percentage of the overall property value, by

Maximum Sustainability Investment per unit

Maximum Total Available per unit

Dublin

€ 175,000

€ 25,000

€ 200,000

Rest of country

€ 150,000

€ 25,000

€ 175,000

reference to the aggregate of the equity share contributed to the purchase by the developer and the investment. As security for the repayment of the PRES, The Housing Agency will take a fixed charge over the property. If a commercial lender is involved in developing, buying or refinancing the purchase of the property, The Housing Agency will permit a first ranking charge for that lender and will take a second ranking charge, subject to intercreditor arrangements. At the end of the term of the Agreement (50 years) there will be three options: (i)

extend the Agreement for an agreed period (with the dwellings remaining in cost rental usage);

(ii) make a repayment to The Housing Agency and exit cost rental designation; or (iii) The Housing Agency may exercise an option to purchase the dwellings from the owner for market value, taking account of the State’s investment in the properties.

Further conditions •

Assignable – a property owner may assign their interest on notice to The Housing Agency provided the rights and obligations under the Agreement and the Cost Rental designation are fully assigned;

Commentary The LDA and AHBs have already successfully delivered the cost rental model but this welcome initiative aims to increase funding for these existing players as well as broaden the level of state investment to private developers in a bid to deliver cost rental on a wider scale. There is likely to be substantial uptake from the existing players, but clarifications are required to determine the likely level of uptake from private developers who will be looking at this from a different lens. These include details around the ability of either party to unilaterally trigger any of the three end of term options, the definition of ‘household’ to broaden eligibility as well as the potential impact from a future change in law or lack of demand. The devil will really be in the detail as private developers work their way through the nuances, terms and conditions of STAR and weigh up the potential limitations of long-term cost rental designation to their property.

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Maximum Investment per unit

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Costs will be calculated on generally accepted accounting principles. All revenue derived from the operation of the units will be taken into consideration. The developer will be entitled to a “reasonable profit” (namely the rate of return on capital that would be required by a typical undertaking considering whether or not to provide the service of general economic interest for the whole period of entrustment, taking into account the level of risk).

Area

Fidelma McManus, Partner & Head of Housing, Commercial Real Estate (f.mcmanus@beauchamps.ie) Anne Doyle, Partner, Housing & Commercial Real Estate (a.doyle@beauchamps.ie)

Refinancing is permissible subject to a new intercreditor agreement and PRES being recalculated.

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Budget 2024: Government subsidising landlords Budget 2024 offers a broad set of initiatives which ultimately fail to tackle the root causes of Ireland’s housing crisis: supply, writes Joshua Murray.

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In Budget 2024, it was announced that government will provide a tax relief to landlords to the tune of between €600 and €1,000 per year for the next four years. The measure will be in place for the next four years and is intended to ensure that landlords remain in the housing market. Minister Darragh O’Brien TD has previously told eolas Magazine of his fear of a “mass exodus of good landlords” out of the private rental market, further emphasising: “Whether people like it or not, we need a private rented sector.”

increased for each year that a landlord remains in the private rental market, further clarifying that the properties must remain in the market for the full four years, or else the tax will be clawed back.

Announcing Budget 2024 on 10 October 2023, Minister for Finance Michael McGrath TD told the Dáil that the tax break for landlords will be

Minister McGrath told the Dáil of how 86 per cent of landlords in the market own “just one or two properties,” which he claims is why the

The tax breaks have been criticised as counterintuitive to the Government’s ambition of making homes more affordable. Higher interest rates, which inevitably raise the cost of borrowing and therefore decreases the amount of money people can borrow, is recognised as a tool to mitigate the inflation of house prices.

Credit: MerrionStreet.ie

housing report

The Housing Agency works to roll out affordable housing schemes across the country


The Housing Agency works to roll out affordable housing schemes across the country

million earmarked to support adaptation works to 1,800 existing social homes.

For tenants, Minister McGrath announced that rent tax credits will be increased from €500 to €750 in 2024, and that there will also be an amendment to the scheme to allow parents who are paying for their children in student accommodation to claim the credit. McGrath has clarified that this payment is to be backdated. Whilst this will undoubtedly be welcomed by renters, this is, in effect, another government subsidy for landlords and does not fulfil the Government’s objectives, set out in Housing for All, of making housing more affordable for renters as landlords remain free to raise rent.

The Government has earmarked an allocation of around €50 million for the National Regeneration Programme which it states will benefit “some of the most economically disadvantaged communities”. This is in addition to €21 million to deliver Traveller-Specific Accommodation for members of the Traveller community.

The overall budget for the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage amounts to just under €7 billion, with around €5 billion of this earmarked for capital investment in housing itself. This investment in housing is made up of €2.6 billion in general exchequer funding, €978 million for the Land Development Agency (LDA), and €1.5 billion in funding for the Housing Finance Agency (HFA). In order to tackle housing vacancy, the Government announced measures which will increase the rate of vacant property tax. Census 2022 reports that there are 166,752 vacant homes, meaning that there are enough vacant homes to house Ireland’s homeless population by a factor of at least 13, when compared to the Government’s latest homeless report which states that there are 12,691 homeless people in the State. However, the rate that is to be applied is a rate worth less than €500 for every property worth €500,000 or less, thereby calling into question the incentive to the owners of vacant homes to relinquish their assets. Budget 2024 has allocated just under €1.9 billion to “support the delivery of social homes and approved housing bodies”, the allocation of which is to be split between the budgets for the Local Authority Housing, the Capital Advance Leasing Facility (CALF), and the Capital Assistance Scheme (CAS). The Government’s wider suite of measures include an allocation of €525 million for the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) which Minister McGrath claims will enable 8,800 new households to be supported in a tenancy in 2024 as well as continuing to support almost 58,000 households in tenancies at the end of 2023. For the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS), the Government has allocated funding of €111 million which it believes will support a further 1,400 households in 2024, along with the ongoing cost of supporting over 16,000 households already in the scheme. A €75 million allocation in Budget 2024 aims to fund more than 13,000 grants to adapt the homes of older people and people with a disability, with a further €25

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Government is introducing a temporary tax relief, which will “primarily benefit small landlords”.

Minister McGrath allocated €50 million for the Croí Cónaithe Fund, an increase of 66 per cent from 2023, including the Croí Cónaithe (Cities) element which supports the building of apartments for sale to owneroccupiers by activating planning permissions already in place for such homes, and the Croí Cónaithe (Towns) element which supports the refurbishment of vacant properties in cities, towns, and rural areas. Sinn Féin finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty TD criticised Budget 2024, describing it as “further confirmation that they [the current government] are not the ones to fix it [the housing crisis]”. “We needed a budget for renters. Instead, we got a budget for landlords,” said Doherty. This critique was echoed by People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett, who accused the Government of trying to “dazzle” the electorate with “one-off measures”. The Dún Laoghaire TD added that it was “very depressing” that the Government will not allocate “billions more” to tackle the housing and infrastructure deficits. The Budget 2024 allocation of €7 billion for the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is a record allocation, with the money earmarked for housing also representing a record government allocation. Reacting to the Budget, Minister Darragh O’Brien TD said: “Next year, we have the funding and focus to ensure that more homes will be built across the State for those who are looking to buy but we also have a budget that will allow us to help the most vulnerable and assist those who need help the most.” In spite of the ostensibly positive news across different interests in Budget 2024, the measures taken by Government fail to tackle to root cause of Ireland’s house prices, which is supply. The measures being pursued in Housing for All anticipated a net migration level of 20,000 per year. Since the publication of the strategy, net migration has averaged 50,000 per year, in addition to the 100,000 Ukrainian refugees now resident in Ireland. Therefore, if supply is to meet demand, experts estimate that the ambitions of 30,000 homes being constructed per year in Housing for All ought to be revised to a figure of 50,000 per year.

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Over 4,300 affordable homes to alleviate Ireland’s housing crisis Respond, Ireland’s largest construction-led Approved Housing Body and service provider is on track to triple the number of social and cost rental homes it has in construction to over 4,300 by year end. Respond is strategically increasing its construction program to €2 billion over the next 12 months, aiming to provide thousands of families with affordable and secure accommodation options in Dublin and Cork. This expansion is supported by local authorities and is facilitated through fixed price contracts with renowned developers and building contractors, ensuring the delivery of large mixed tenure housing developments.

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With the backing of the Government, Respond is poised to deliver 700 new homes within this year and projects an additional 900 homes by the end of 2024. Currently, Respond has 1,396 homes under construction nationwide.

Construction-led approach 85 per cent of Respond’s projects are construction-led, a strategy that allows for substantial savings, up to €60,000 per unit, compared to housing acquisitions. This approach involves purchasing sites outright and financing construction through fixed price contracts, ensuring cost-effective and quality-controlled development, delivering value for money for the State. Respond has begun construction on 3,347 homes since March 2018, and now manages 7,084 properties providing homes for 16,541 tenants. 140


Collaborative efforts Respond’s spokesperson, Niamh Randall, emphasises the organisation's commitment to addressing the urgent need for more social and cost rental housing across Ireland. Respond’s collaboration with statutory partners, including the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, local authorities, the Housing Finance Agency, and The Housing Agency, is crucial in addressing housing demands and ensuring the delivery of safe, secure, and affordable homes in high demand areas.

Respond’s projects are not just about constructing buildings; they are about building inclusive and sustainable communities. The organisation actively engages with local groups, tenants, and residents, providing support and resources that contribute to the overall wellbeing and development of these communities. The sites for new developments are meticulously selected,

ensuring proximity to essential amenities, public transport routes, and commercial centres.

learning and school age care services and services for older people, making them readily accessible for families.

Service excellence and community integration

Conclusion

Providing excellent service to tenants is at the core of Respond’s mission, challenging the stigma associated with social housing by delivering high-quality, lifetime homes and professional services. Respond aims to create vibrant communities by engaging with tenants and offering services tailored to each estate, integrating with local communities and collaborating with local stakeholders to help new tenants become part of the wider community.

Enhanced areas and community services

Respond’s ambitious expansion plan is a strategic response to the pressing housing needs in Ireland, focusing on constructing over 4,300 new homes in high-demand areas. The organisation’s construction-led approach, strategic collaborations, and commitment to community building are pivotal in delivering secure, affordable housing solutions and in contributing to the overall development and wellbeing of communities across Dublin and Cork.

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Community building and tenant engagement

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“85 per cent of Respond’s projects are construction-led, a strategy that allows for substantial savings, up to €60,000 per unit, compared to housing acquisitions.”

T: 01 808 7700 E: info@respond.ie W: www.respond.ie

The large-scale development projects are designed to meet the need for homes and to build inclusive, long-term sustainable communities. They include community hubs and offer a range of community services, including early 141


Cian O’Callaghan TD: ‘Getting Ireland’s proud housing history back into the public discourse’ In late September, a Social Democrats’ affordable housing motion calling on the Government to publish figures for the delivery of affordable homes in 2023, build 10,000 affordable purchase and cost rental homes per annum, introduce a punitive tax on vacancy, reinstate the ban on no-fault evictions, and cease public spending in the delivery of private rental-only development, was debated in Dáil Éireann. A week later, Ciarán Galway sat down with the party’s housing spokesperson, Cian O’Callaghan TD to interrogate his policy priorities and critique of government delivery. Over two years since the launch of Housing for All in September 2021, what is your analysis of the triparty Government’s housing policy and delivery? Where it [the Government] has fallen down is on delivery. The more straightforward part of a process is setting targets and planning, but it is all about your delivery and implementation. One of the areas where delivery has been weakest is on affordable housing. On the affordable purchase side, we are only at around 420 affordable 142

purchase homes under this government, well below targets. I think it is an example which goes to other areas as well. They [the Government] are not going into the detail around implementation. If you talk to the people trying to deliver affordable housing, for example, the big barrier for them at the minute is that they do not have early-stage finance. That means that there is not funding available for planning and design and getting projects off the ground. They have to eat into their own resources and the problem with that is that a lot of them do not have their own resources. By not having the funding available for the early stages,

you are then going to limit the number of projects which get off the ground. That kind of detail of not just making sure that there is not just a target in place and not just general funding in place but outlining the bottlenecks and the barriers not addressing those challenges in sufficient detail, in my opinion, is where a lot of things have been falling down. There is no reason why there should not be a housing infrastructure mediation unit in The Housing Agency, or something like that. This would be able to mediate between housing providers.

Credit: Social Democrats

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The Housing Agency works to roll out affordable housing schemes across the country


The Housing Agency works to roll out affordable housing schemes across the country

What are you most significant priorities as the housing spokesperson for the Social Democrats?

In my own constituency [of Dublin Bay North], Marino was built over 100 years ago as affordable housing. It is a very successful community to this day. Even the way it is designed, the neighbourhoods; we were able to do that when the country had basically no resources at all. We were just starting off as a state and we were able to do that. There is an entire life story that emanates from that foundation of being able to have a good-quality, secure, and long-term housing arrangement. The fact that homeownership is in decline, that more and more people are locked out of housing or secure longterm housing has a real impact. That is the change that we want to see; giving that chance to more people through more affordable purchase housing, and more cost rental.

Ultimately, 7,433 new build social homes were delivered against a target of 9,000. The Minister portrayed this as the highest number of social homes delivered since 1975, but what is the Social Democrats’ perspective? We were certainly disappointed in terms of the social housing need. The population is much bigger than 1975, so to compare the two is way off the mark. We have almost double the amount of need now. There are also challenges around how those social housing units are delivered. If you go back to 1975, they would have been direct new builds by local authorities

countries is around how to best support renters who fall behind in their rent and protect the tenancy housing report

A big priority for us is around affordable housing and affordable purchase housing as well. There is a large number of people who are currently renting but who do not want to rent. There are a large number of people still living with their parents who do not want to be in that situation, who want to get on with their lives, become independent, but are not necessarily able to afford the very high prices. There is a massive gap under provision of affordable purchase housing for people who do not qualify for social housing but who will not to be able to meet full market rates.

“The discussion in other European

for both the renter and the landlord.” Cian O’Callaghan TD, Social Democrats’ housing spokesperson whereas now they are a mixture of that and a whole different bunch of acquisitions and long-term leases. In terms of social housing need, we have a very high need, and we are seeing more of a hollowing out in urban areas where teachers, nurses, gardaí, social workers, people working in health, disability, and a whole range of different areas simply cannot afford to live now. That has detrimental impact on the quality of their life. It is very hard for people to devote themselves to a job when the commutes are very long. Our services and schools are in urban areas but the people we need to deliver those services to are unable to afford to live in the areas they serve.

With regard to cost rental, again we have seen a massive shortfall compared to target, with just 684 in 2022 against a target of 4,100. How can cost rental be delivered at scale? This is a difficulty. What is happening now in Ireland is not actually cost rental. Cost rental is designed to be delivered at scale where rent covers costs. In Ireland, it is being delivered at a lower rent with quite significant subsidies being put into it to make it work. If an AHB is trying to deliver a cost rental scheme, there are two ways it can be done. It can acquire it from a private developer, or it can go through the approval process with the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, buy land,

and then go through the whole planning and design process with government. If going through a directly managed process, the whole approval process around social housing and affordable and cost rental is far too complicated, bureaucratic, and costly, which leads to delays. That must be streamlined so that those who want to be able to provide affordable rental and cost rental without bringing a large private developer can have a quick route to do that themselves. The whole approval process is archaic and must be streamlined. Yes, [the Department] must have control over public expenditure and over standards, but there are other ways to exercise scrutiny over design.

It is fair to say there has been an overreliance on HAP tenancies. To what extent are people’s social housing needs being met by HAP? For most people in social housing, [their need] is defined by security of tenure. Knowing that if they pay their rent that they will be in their home and can plan ahead, put down roots in the community, and get their kids into school. It is the knowledge of knowing that they can make plans with no eviction noticed or tenancies being revoked. It is the lack of security which is the problem with HAP tenancies. The State is shelling out a lot of money to meet people’s housing needs, but they still live with that insecurity of not knowing where they will be in years 4 from now. That is the fundamental thing. 143


The Housing Agency works to roll out affordable housing schemes across the country

To what extent was the eviction ban a success? The most successful initiative that any government has implemented to reduce homelessness in recent years was the eviction ban during Covid [27 March until 1 August 2020]. The second eviction ban [in winter 2022/2023] was a bit weaker, but it still gave us the only month in the last 20 where there was a drop in the number of homeless people. There is a time lag between it coming in and it taking real effect because people do not go straight into emergency accommodation as soon as people get evicted. They tend to have other scenarios like sofa-surfing, moving in with family, or other things. We were beginning to see it working overall though. Most landlords have nothing to fear from this. The norm in European countries is for a landlord to simply sell [a unit] to their renters with tenants in place. There is no interruption for the renters themselves. Most landlords are genuinely worried about their renters and their welfare, they do not like the current situation where they are expected to evict them in order to make a sale. We need to make it standard practice that you do not do that here. If that culture was changed then it would take a lot of stress away from landlords who really do not want to be putting a family through hassle and turmoil.

In June 2021, with the support of the Government, the Minister signed the Lisbon Declaration on the European Platform on Combatting Homelessness. 144

Credit: Social Democrats

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“We have had nothing short of a revolution in housing in the country, but we have lost sight of that and what it means to people.”

discussion in other European countries is around how to best support renters who fall behind in their rent and protect the tenancy for both the renter and the landlord. We are nowhere near that here. I have no doubt that we will get there, but the quicker we get there, the less trauma and hassle for people.

Is it realistic that homelessness be eradicated by 2030? I think it is realistic, but we need to be decreasing the number of homeless people each month. If we changed to that European model of not evicting renters who pay their rent, then that would reduce the number of people becoming homeless each month. It would give us the ability to concentrate support into a smaller number of people. In terms of the work that is being done, I think there are answers here and things that can be done but I am worried that we have an approach by government of just resigning to the number of homeless people increasing each month. They are not proposing to do anything about it and there is just an acceptance on their part that this is what is happening. That needs to change.

Where do the Social Democrats stand on the enshrining of a right to housing in the Constitution? If we were in government, we would want that referendum to take place within a year. Clearly, it is not the solution to everything in housing, but it would be good to have that balance in terms of other right as well. It just means that legislation and policy going forward would have to give a right to housing proper consideration. It would be helpful. I am absolutely convinced that within a matter of years, we will be a part of the European norm for renters; you pay your rent and that is your home. The

What is your overarching ambition for your party’s housing policy while in opposition? Ireland, in terms of housing, has an incredibly rich and proud history with what we have done over the last 100 years and even before that with land distribution. If you go back over 100 years, most people did not own their own home. Most people were renting, either in a rural area or in towns and cities. There were terrible conditions. We have had nothing short of a revolution in housing in the country, but we have lost sight of that and what it means to people. When social housing was first built, people were going from tenements into three-bedroom houses and front gardens. Utterly transformational. This really changed people’s lives in terms of the larger estates being broken up land wise. The first ambition is to get Ireland’s proud housing history back into the public discourse. We have come out of terrible housing conditions before and turned things around and we are capable of doing that again. A lot of people have lost hope, so that is our goal. The second goal, if we can get a better understanding of what goes on in other countries, we can see how they cope better even though they have bigger and more complicated rented sectors. They still get investment into the sector. It is not like in Switzerland that there is no housing being built because a landlord cannot kick out their tenant. It all works, and the sky does not fall down. We have done this before, and we can do it again. It is common sense, using our resources wisely and making sure that they are mainly aimed at increasing supply and not having policies competing against one another. We want to win that argument and then be able to get into government to implement that.


Incentivising retrofit through Ireland’s tax system

The built environment accounts for 37 per cent of Ireland’s carbon emissions. Heating, cooling, and lighting buildings – operational carbon – accounts for 23 per cent of national emissions, with the remaining 14 per cent attributable to embodied carbon. Embodied carbon results from mining, quarrying, transporting, and manufacturing building materials, in addition to construction activities, the repair, renovation, and final disposal of buildings. Under Ireland’s current tax structure, a reduced rate of 13.5 per cent VAT is applied to demolition projects, creating a perverse environment where the embodied-carbon-hungry activities of demolition and replacement enjoy financial parity with the sustainable repair and restoration of Ireland’s built environment. This contradicts the principles outlined in the Circular Economy Act 2022, the Climate Action Act 2021, and the EU Taxonomy Regulation 2020 – an EU-wide classification system for sustainable activities.

activities remain at the reduced rate of 13.5 per cent. Rather than incentivising sustainable construction activities such as add, transform, and reuse, Ireland’s VAT structure is facilitating a culture of demolish and replace. New-build projects are an essential component of the built environment, but, from a sustainability perspective, the replacement of buildings should not be given taxation parity with repair, as retrofit buildings will often outperform new ones in terms of overall lifetime carbon emissions. Internationally, regulatory measures have proven effective in undergirding similar types of sectoral culture shifts from demolish and rebuild to repair and reuse. Landfill taxes and the application of an aggregate levy facilitated a 70 per cent

decline in the amount of construction and demolition waste (CDW) disposed to landfills in the UK. Research in Spain has concluded that levies were more effective at CDW mitigation than financial incentives, achieving the targeted 30 per cent reduction in CDW two years sooner than expected and have the co-benefit of generating a new revenue stream.

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Urgent policy intervention is needed to decarbonise construction at the scale required to achieve Ireland’s net zero targets by 2050, writes Joseph Kilroy, Policy and Public Affairs Manager for Ireland, Scotland and Wales for the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB).

Figure 1 summarises national CDW projections to 2029, illustrating that the annual quantity of CDW generated in Ireland is projected to consistently increase over time. With the sector having experienced a remarkable resurgence since Covid-19, there is once again high demand for construction. The continual demand for development means action needs to be taken now to reduce the accompanying embodied carbon emissions from the built environment. Put simply, there is an upward trend forecasted for CDW from 2021 to 2029, and overall emissions are predicted to follow a downward trend, but embodied emissions are forecasted to increase. This is the space for policy intervention.

T: 087 119 4475 E: jkilroy@ciob.org W: www.ciob.org

Construction and Demolition Waste Projections 2019-2029

(Source: EPA)

Specifically, we are calling for demolition to be charged at the standard rate of 23 per cent VAT, while repair and renovation

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To remedy this, the CIOB is proposing that the Government uses the tax system to incentivise the repair and restoration over the demolition of buildings, thereby reducing the embodied carbon footprint of Ireland’s built environment.

Figure 1

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LDA Report on Relevant Public Land The report identifies 83 state-owned sites and assesses them as having the potential to deliver up to 67,000 homes in the medium to long term. The report utilises the findings of the Register of Relevant Lands which identifies all of the land owned by public bodies. The report, the first of its kind, is a statutory report and advisory in nature. It is required by Section 52 of the LDA Act 2021 which states that the LDA is obliged to provide the Government with a report on “relevant public land”, which comprises land owned by “relevant public bodies”. The report identifies a potential pipeline of sites to support the delivery of affordable homes into the future.

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Relevant public land is land owned by state bodies in settlements with a population of greater than 10,000 persons rounded to the nearest 500. There are currently some 48 settlements meeting this criteria, ranging from Gorey, County Wexford (population: 9,822) to Dublin city and suburbs (population: 1,173,179). The number of settlements meeting these criteria is likely to increase as a result of Census 2022.

The Land Development Agency (LDA) launched its first Report on Relevant Public Land in March 2023. The report explores the potential of state-owned land to deliver much needed affordable and social housing into the future. 146

The report will comprise multiple phases, of which the version published in March is the first. The LDA will provide further reports at least every two years to government. To ensure a priority focus on areas of greatest need and projected future growth, the first report focused on the five cities – Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, and Waterford – and the five regional growth centres – Drogheda, Dundalk, Athlone, Letterkenny, and Sligo. In total, these cities and growth areas account for approximately 75 per cent of the relevant public land identified nationally. Focusing on these settlements in the first instance is consistent with the National Planning Framework objectives to achieve compact and sustainable growth and balanced regional development.


The remaining settlements with a population of over 10,000 will be considered as part of the LDA’s next report to Government, due in 2024.

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To produce this report, the LDA examined all of the state-owned sites in the ten key urban areas. All sites not suitable for the delivery of new homes were removed and the remainder were assessed against criteria such as zoning, flood risk and proximity to transport and other facilities including schools and retail developments. Subsequently, sites were given a classification depending on the levels of constraints that existed on each site. The classification indicates which parcels of land, in the LDA’s assessment, involve less or more constraints when it comes to their potential for the development of housing. Class 1 sites are regarded as less constrained with potential for progression to development for residential delivery in the short to medium term. Class 2 sites are regarded as appropriate for development subject to overcoming certain constraints, for example, rezoning or relocation of existing uses. Class 3 sites are generally large and complex long-term sites that are considered to have the potential for residential development but involve several existing constraints. These sites generally require a plan led approach such as preparation of a framework or masterplan together with the provision of significant infrastructure to support unlocking. The availability of all sites is subject to further due diligence and a Government decision to progress the sites for delivery of housing.

It should be noted that not all of the sites listed in the report will ultimately be developed for affordable housing. Many are currently in part or operational use and the public bodies involved may seek to retain the sites for existing operational purposes. By including sites in the report, the LDA is not stating that they

Register of Relevant State Lands The LDA has also completed a national state lands database, which includes all land owned by the State nationally and which is also available online on the LDA website at www.lda.ie. Relevant public land is defined in the LDA Act as: “All land within a census town owned by a relevant public body. A census town is any urban area with a population over 10,000 accurate to the latest census information.” A relevant public body is defined in the LDA Act to include Schedule 1 bodies – non-commercial public bodies/agencies and government departments; Schedule

2 bodies – commercial public bodies/agencies; and Local Authorities. The LDA Act 2021 allows for land to be treated in different ways depending on what schedule the owning body is in. The Act states that a relevant public body shall not dispose of relevant public land unless it has given notice and offered the land for sale to the LDA. In the case of Schedule 1 bodies, the government may decide that relevant public land identified in the Report on Relevant Public Land shall be acquired by the LDA.

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High level estimates for the number of potential new homes, indicative costs of development and of infrastructure are all included in the report. The report does not include any costs involved in the purchase of land or for relocating existing premises if such action is required. The development costs are calculated estimates based on existing cost data and will require review and updating over time.

should be developed, but rather inviting consideration by government of their potential use for affordable and social housing delivery.

The Land Development Agency 2nd Floor, Ashford House, Tara Street, Dublin, D02 VX67 T: +353 1 9103400 W: www.lda.ie 147


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The Housing Agency works to roll out affordable housing schemes across the country

How did the eviction ban impact homelessness in Ireland? The eviction ban in place from November 2022 until the end of March 2023 did not lead to a reduction in homelessness numbers, but monthly increases in total numbers did slow and the number of homeless children decreased during the period. Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien TD told eolas Magazine in June 2023 that “certainly some elements” of the increase in homelessness was due to the lifting of the eviction ban brought in by the Residential Tenancies (Deferment of Termination Dates of Certain Tenancies) Act. This was confirmed with the publication of government homelessness data for April 2023, which showed that homelessness had increased in total numbers and among both adults and children. The 12,259 total number of homeless people 148

recorded in April 2023 in the immediate aftermath of the ending of the ban was, at the time, a record for the State and a 2.3 per cent increase on the preceding March. 8,516 adults were recorded as homeless, a 1.8 per cent increase, and 3,594 children were recorded as homeless, a 3.5 per cent increase. While overall data for the period of the eviction ban shows that the measure did not stop the increasing number of homeless people in Ireland, it did slow the rate of increase from month-to-month and decrease the number of homeless children in the State. Comparing March 2023 and April 2023, the monthly increase rate in adult homelessness


The Housing Agency works to roll out affordable housing schemes across the country

Homelessness and notices to terminate before, during, and after the eviction ban Evicition ban begins

14,000

Evicition ban ends

12,000 10,000 8,000

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6,000 4,000 2,000 0

Adults

Children

Notices to terminate by quarter at quarter end

Sources: Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and Residential Tenancies Board

stood static at 1.8 per cent, but the growth rate in child and total homelessness rose from 2.9 per cent to 3.5 per cent and 2.1 per cent to 2.3 per cent respectively. March 2023 was itself an anomaly within the five months the eviction ban was in operation. The ban came into effect on 29 October 2022, meaning that November 2022 was the first operational month. While it is true to say that homelessness increased from November 2022 to March 2023, sharp increases in March skew some of this data. Child homelessness, for example, slowed its rate of increase from 4.1 per cent in October 2022 to 0.4 per cent in November 2022 and then recorded decreases in December 2022, and January and February 2023 before once again increasing in the following March. There had been 3,494 homeless children recorded in November 2022, which fell to 3,373 in February 2023, but rose to 3,472 in March 2023. Overall, child homelessness decreased by 0.6 per cent in the five months of the eviction ban. Adult homelessness in the same period rose by 5.8 per cent, with the overall homelessness numbers increasing by 3.9 per cent. In comparison, May 2022 to October 2022, the six months immediately preceding the ban, showed increases of 8.5 per cent, 14.9 per cent, and 10.4 per cent in adult, child, and total homelessness respectively. October 2022 showed the sharpest of increases during this period in each of the adult, child, and total categories.

Notices to quit It is not possible to calculate exactly how the number of notices to quit directly correlates to homelessness figures due to the fact that data on notices to quit served by landlords,

collected by the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB), is done on a quarterly basis with no monthly breakdown. Attempts to get to grips with the data are further complicated by the fact that changes in legislation regarding notices to quit render RTB data pre- and post-Q3 2022 incomparable. For example, Q2 2022 data states that 1,666 notices to quit were served, but that 4,741 were served in the following three months of Q3 2022. New legislation regulating evictions state that tenants must be given notice of at least 90 days to vacate a premises depending on the length of their tenure, meaning that any notice to quit issued should not see the tenant(s) leave a house or apartment until the next quarter at the earliest. Q4 2022 data is further complicated by the fact that the eviction ban began in the second of its months, although a notable decrease to 4,329 notices to quit served was recorded. The only quarter to be fully covered by the ban, Q1 2023, recorded an increase to 4,753. There were 8,582 notices to quit served across the final quarter of 2022 and the first quarter of 2023, with the vast majority of those likely to have been within the span of the evictions ban given that the ban was not operational in only one of the six months included. While not every eviction results in homelessness, the combined data of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage and the RTB does state that April 2023 – the first month in which these notices to quit could be enforced – showed both an overall increase in homelessness and an increase in the growth rate. This increase in the growth rate was most acutely felt in child homelessness.

4

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Child homelessness increasing again

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Child homelessness has borne the brunt of the post-ban increases in homelessness, with the number of homeless children in the State increasing by 8.4 per cent between April and August 2023, the most recent month for which data is available. Adult homelessness rose by 1.5 per cent in the same period, with total homelessness increasing by 3.5 per cent. Q2 2023 showed a 20.6 per cent increase in notices to quit served, a vast increase that appeared to translate immediately into Q3 homelessness figures. July showed a monthly increase of 2 per cent, a rate that is larger than the preceding May (1.5 per cent) and June (1.3 per cent). The total recorded in July – 12,847 people – is a State record. August 2023 has, however, recorded a decrease in total homelessness, the first decrease since February 2023 and the first decrease outside of the eviction ban since June 2019. A decrease of 2.5 per cent was recorded in adult homelessness, leading to an overall decrease of 1.2 per cent. However, child homelessness did continue its post-ban trend of increasing, rising by 1.7 per cent and inching closer to 4,000 homeless children.

both notices to quit and homelessness figures have increased in both of the first two quarters of 2023. Other factors are clearly also at play here: quarters two, three, and four of 2022 showed annual increases (albeit from 2021, when construction was impacted by Covid) in new dwelling completions, but homelessness still increased to record levels. 2023 figures show an increase in quarter one, but a 3.5 per cent decrease in quarter two when compared to Q2 2022. Daft.ie rental market reports for the same quarters show the number of properties available to rent to have not exceeded 1,100 in the State during that time. Discussing the end of the eviction ban, O’Brien stated that he had to ensure that any action “need not lead to further loss of property within the private rented sector”, because “we need a private rented sector”. The data appears to suggest that while the eviction ban did not halt the growth of homelessness, it did slow the rate of growth – a necessary first step towards the halting of growth – and stopped some tenants falling by the wayside after being forced out into a housing market and private rented sector that simply does not have the capacity or affordability to meet present demand.

While it may not be correct to equate notices to quit and homelessness, it does stand that

Changes in homelessness before, during, and after the eviction ban Period

Change in adult homelessness

Change in child homelessness

Change in total homelessness

May 2022-October 2022 (pre-eviction ban)

8.5 per cent increase

14.9 per cent increase

10.4 per cent increase

November 2022-March 2023 (eviction ban)

5.8 per cent increase

0.6 per cent decrease

3.9 per cent increase

April 2023-August 2023 (post-eviction ban)

1.5 per cent increase

8.4 per cent increase

3.5 per cent increase

Source: Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage

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The Housing Agency works to roll out affordable housing schemes across the country

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Delivering affordable homes

Affordability is at the core of the Government’s Housing for All policy, with a target of 6,000 affordable homes to be made available every year for purchase or rent by local authorities, approved housing bodies, and the Land Development Agency. The plan aims for the delivery of 54,000 affordable homes by 2030 and a number of different schemes to increase affordability.

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The affordable housing unit within The Housing Agency supports the delivery of affordable homes by providing loans for cost rental homes and a loan underwriting service for local authorities. The team also provides guidance and support to local authorities, approved housing bodies, and the Land Development Agency. It assists the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage in the rollout of affordable schemes. A number of affordable housing schemes have been introduced since the inception of Housing for All, and the 152

need to communicate the different supports and schemes available is now being supported by two new websites. On 18 September, The Housing Agency, on behalf of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, launched a new information website for affordable housing schemes called Affordablehomes.ie. The website is available to the public to provide information on the affordable purchase and cost rental schemes as well as other supports available such as the Help to Buy scheme and the Local Authority Home Loan.

The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has also launched the Doors Open campaign, which provides useful information on the supports and initiatives available to people who are looking to rent or buy. A list of schemes and initiatives is available at www.gov.ie/doorsopen.

Affordable Purchase Scheme Under the Affordable Purchase Scheme, local authorities will make newly built homes available at a reduced price for first-time buyers who cannot afford to purchase a home at its open market value with a maximum mortgage and 10 per cent deposit. The local authority will take a percentage equity share in the home equal to the difference between the open market value of the home and the reduced price paid. This means that if a person buys a home at a 20 per cent reduction on the open market value, the local authority will have a 20 per cent equity share in their home. A person can redeem or ‘buy out’ the equity share in part or in full at a


The Housing Agency works to roll out affordable housing schemes across the country

time of their choosing, but there is no obligation to do so.

Cost rental

The provision of cost rental homes is funded by the Government through fixed rate loans provided by the Housing Finance Agency and the Cost Rental Equity Loan (CREL), provided by The Housing Agency for up to 45 per cent of the capital costs. CREL is a low-cost loan at 1 per cent simple interest that is not repayable until the end of the 40year loan period. The Housing Agency worked with Respond, Tuath and Dún LaoghaireRathdown County Council to deliver the first cost rental scheme of 50 homes at Woodside, Enniskerry Road. A total of 694 cost rental homes have been delivered since the launch of Housing for All, with a further 409 scheduled for delivery up to the end of 2024.

The Secure Tenancy Affordable Rental investment scheme (STAR) is intended to support the delivery of cost rental by the Land Development Agency and private sector entities. Approved housing bodies can also avail of this scheme. The scheme is managed by The

Housing Agency on behalf of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (DHLGH) and is intended to address challenges in the housing sector including construction inflation, increased financial costs and interest rate induced softening of yields. Tenants for dwellings provided under this scheme may only be selected per the eligibility parameters for cost rental homes set out in part 3 of the AHA 2021 (as amended) and associated cost rental letting and eligibility regulations set out under S.I. 755/2021 (as amended) and in accordance with any guidance set out by the Minister in relation to cost rental homes. The Housing Agency can be contacted on its dedicated email address STARIS@housingagency.ie. The Housing Agency is playing a key role in the new Cost Rental Tenant InSitu (CRTiS) Scheme to support tenants at risk of homelessness. The scheme has been in effect since 1 April 2023. The scheme is available if the tenant household: •

is not able to purchase the property from the landlord;

is at risk of homelessness;

is not eligible for, or currently in receipt of social housing supports (that is in receipt of HAP or in the Rental Accommodation Scheme (RAS)); or

must have net annual income of below €66,000 per annum for Dublin and €59,000 for everywhere else in the country.

If the local authority is satisfied that the applicant tenant household is eligible for CRTiS, it will pass the details of the tenant and the property to The Housing Agency for consideration for potential acquisition under the CRTiS Scheme. The Housing Agency will then engage with the tenant regarding the assessment of their eligibility for the scheme and the tenant’s landlord regarding the suitability of the property for the scheme, with a view to acquiring the property. The Housing Agency is involved in a number of affordable housing schemes, including the Affordable Purchase Scheme, cost rental housing delivery, the Cost Rental Tenant in-Situ (CRTiS) Scheme, and the Secure Tenancy Affordable Rental investment scheme (STAR). The Housing Agency is working towards delivering sustainable and affordable housing for all.

If a tenant has a query about the Cost Rental Tenant in-Situ or the other measures introduced to assist tenants they can contact The Housing Agency:

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In addition to providing cost rental equity loans to support the delivery of cost rental homes by approved housing bodies, The Housing Agency is involved with two other cost rental schemes: the Secure Tenancy Affordable Rental investment scheme (STAR) and the Cost Rental Tenant in-Situ scheme (CRTiS). The Housing Agency also plays a role in assessing Affordable Housing Fund applications for local authority cost rental homes, on behalf of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. The Affordable Housing Fund (AHF) was introduced to enable Local Authorities access funding to assist them to deliver affordable purchase and cost rental homes.

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Cost rental is a new housing tenure in Ireland, where rents are based on the cost of provision rather than market rents. The rent paid covers the cost of construction, management, and maintenance of homes. Approved housing bodies, the Land Development Agency and local authorities are offering cost rental homes to eligible applicants, aimed at people who have a net household income of €66,000 or below in Dublin or €59,000 or below in the rest of the country.

T: 1800 000 024 E: tenantinsitu@housingagency.ie. W: www.housingagency.ie

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The Housing Agency works to roll out affordable housing schemes across the country

Housing supports shifting the affordability crisis Affordability in the Irish housing market is not out of sync with European counterparts, but the country does have one of the largest gaps in homeownership rates between younger and older generations. Worsening affordability pressures and falling homeownership rates are distinct challenges, but not wholly unique, according to research carried out by the ESRI. The finding that Ireland’s renters have the lowest rentto-income ratio of 15 European countries analysed is surprising in the midst of the country’s affordability crisis, however, the finding is not fully reflective of how individual cohorts are faring in comparison to their counterparts. For example, while Ireland has one of the highest rates of homeownership for households aged 40 and above (79 per cent), it is ranked 10th (34 per cent) in the highest rate of homeownership for households aged below 40, creating one of the largest gaps in ownership rates between younger and older generations. Similarly, figures around homeownership are somewhat distorted. Around 54 per cent of households in the lowest income quintile own their home outright, driven by Ireland’s high rates of outright ownership for retirees (over 65s). 154

Housing affordability: Ireland in a cross-country context aims to better contextualise the housing affordability challenges faced in Ireland by examining how key affordability indicators such as housingpayment cost-to-income ratios for Irish households (across tenures, incomes, household composition, urbanisation, and age) compare with 14 other European countries. The research paper highlights alterations to affordability in recent years, driven by a number of factors, not least government policy supports, such as the expansion of the Housing Assistance Payment (HAP). For example, 58 per cent of households had insufficient residual income after housing costs to meet minimum living costs in the market price private rental sector in 2017, but by 2019, this proportion had fallen to one-in-three households. On average, Irish households pay around one-fifth of their net incomes on their housing payment costs, with only five countries displaying better average housing affordability (Norway, Denmark, Portugal, Austria, and Sweden).


The Housing Agency works to roll out affordable housing schemes across the country

Renters pay on average 20 per cent of their net income on rent, giving Ireland the lowest rent-to-income ratios (RTI) among the 15 countries analysed. The impact of government support can be seen by the fact that while on average Irish renters have better affordability relative to other countries analysed, renters in the fourth and fifth income quintiles face rent-to-income ratios that are on average two to three percentage points higher than their European peers. Essentially, HAP supports those of lowest incomes, the affordability challenge mainly falls on those of lower-middle income.

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This is highlighted by the finding that since 2014, the share of renters in the bottom 25 per cent of the income distribution not in receipt of any form of long-term housing supports fell from over 45 per cent to 25 per cent. In the second quartile of the income distribution, this share also fell markedly from 2017 to 2019 by nearly 20 percentage points. A further finding in the research is that Irish households have more dispersed rent-toincome ratios than their European counterpart, meaning some households face more extreme affordability burdens, and others less, in comparison. This is highlighted by the fact that in the third and fourth income quintile, where more than half of private renters not in receipt of housing supports are located, the largest share of

Share of households (%) with high housing-payment-cost-to-income ratios (30/35/40%) 30 25

%

20 15 10 5

0 >30%

>35%

>40%

>30%

HCTI

>35%

>40%

RTI Ireland

>30%

>35%

>40%

MRTI

Non-Ireland

Source: ESRI

households pay more than 30 per cent of their incomes on rental costs. While the rent-to-income ratio appears on average to be lower in Ireland compared to elsewhere in Europe, Irish renters have a larger urban/non-urban divide than their counterparts. Ireland’s 5.5 percentage point gap is significantly larger than the 2 per cent gap evident across Europe. However, this gap is not as significant in relation to mortgage holders. While most of Europe has followed a trend whereby rising affordability pressures have been primarily concentrated amongst the lowest income rental households, supports in Ireland have somewhat mitigated the effects for these households. However, while these supports have removed many lower income households from the market price rental sector, the affordability pressure challenge has not been resolved, but simply shifted. One-in-three rental households who do not receive state housing supports pay more than 30 per cent of their net income on rent, compared to 7 per cent of mortgaged households. 155


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Affordable Housing Act 2021: Housing support schemes The Affordable Housing Act 2021 enacted on 8 July 2021 was described as “the most comprehensive standalone affordable housing legislation in the history of the State”.

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The Act provided for a range of new measures as part of a long-term strategy to target affordable housing and bring forward supply led policy measures supported by ambitious capital funding, with €4 billion overall allocated in Budget 2022, €2.6 billion of which being capital funding for 11,820 social homes. Since its enactment a series of schemes have been launched as part of the Housing for All strategy led by The Housing Agency on behalf of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage. Cost Rental Equity Loan (cost rental): The so-called “Vienna Model”, developed to support those people 156

earning above social housing limits (salary cap of €66,000 for properties in Dublin and €59,000 elsewhere) with long-term security of tenure where tenants can avail of rents at least 25 per cent below the private market. Cost rental loans are made available to approved housing bodies (AHBs) alongside debt finance from the Housing Finance Agency (HFA) under a coordinated arrangement whereby both the HFA and The Housing Agency jointly fund the purchase of cost rental homes in new build developments. Homes are designated as cost rental homes for a minimum period of 50 years thereby ensuring their long-term availability and affordability. By offering long-term debt

finance through both the HFA and The Housing Agency, AHBs are able to offer these homes at a discount to market rent. 719 cost rental homes have been delivered via AHBs since the commencement of the scheme in late 2021 with a significant number planned and under development. The cost rental product is currently being expanded to provide an additional State equity investment alongside the existing cost rental loan following recommendations from a working group on cost rental. First Home Scheme: a shared-equity scheme in partnership with participating banks (AIB, EBS, Haven, BOI, and PTSB) to assist first-time buyers to purchase new-build homes, whereby up to 30 per cent of the value of the home can be funded by the First Home Scheme under a shared equity arrangement subject to the entitlement


of the homeowner to repurchase or redeem the equity interest held by the scheme in the property.

Croí Cónaithe (Towns) Fund: a fund to support servicing sites and renovating vacant homes in regional towns and villages whereby grant funding or assistance is provided to homeowners: •

Ready to Build Scheme: involves the making available of a discount to market value on the purchase price of a serviced site by local authorities, to individual purchasers for the building of their home which will be their principal private residence. It is intended that local authorities will develop sites either in their control or via purchase and make them available for development by providing services and access to the sites. The level of

Statistics sourced from Housing for All – Overall Target.

discount to the individual will depend on the level of servicing cost incurred by the local authority before the sale of the site with discounts up to a maximum of €30,000. If the home is sold within 10 years, a clawback of the purchase discount is triggered (being 100 per cent of the discount if within five years or between years five and ten a clawback of 75 per cent of the discount applies). Affordable Dwelling Purchase Arrangements: this is a local authority affordable purchase scheme to allow Local Authorities to make new homes available for purchase by eligible applicants at reduced prices. In return, the local authority will take a percentage equity stake in the affordable purchase home. The council’s equity stake will be equal to the discount of the purchase price from the full market value of the home. If an eligible applicant purchases a home at a 20 per cent discount, the local authority will take a 20 per cent equity stake, and this will be documented in an affordable dwelling purchase agreement. Local Authority Home Loan Scheme: a Local Authority Home Loan is a government backed mortgage for firsttime buyers can make available up to 90 per cent of the market value of the property. The maximum loan amount is determined by where the property is located. Recently announced increased income limits apply of €70,000 for single applicants or €85,000 joint applicants. Secure Tenancy Affordable Rental Investment Scheme (STAR): intended to offer cost rental dwellings at scale (minimum of 10 units), the scheme is supported by €750 million for the delivery of 4,000 cost rental homes by

2027. Under the STAR scheme an equity investment may be made by The Housing Agency of up to €175,000 per home in Dublin or €150,000 per home elsewhere (with a possible additional €25,000 available subject to the home satisfying certain sustainability criteria in line with the EU Taxonomy Regulation). As part of the approval and eligibility criteria the assessment will involve an open book assessment of the development and operational costs to ensure a transparent review of the costs and revenues. The scale of State investment in housing and housing supports being made available under Housing for All is unprecedented, but equally the challenges being faced in terms of the housing crisis, the war in Ukraine, inflation and rising interest rates are equally significant. Housing delivery is increasing and there are signs that the pipeline supply of homes through the combination of supports has the potential to deliver on the significant pledges made under Housing for All.

Simon O’Neill, a partner in the Banking and Finance team in Philip Lee LLP, is advising on a number of housing projects and the schemes made available under Housing for All and the Affordable Housing Act 2021.

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Vacant Property Refurbishment Grant: a grant of up to €50,000 (with the possibility of an additional €20,000 where the property is listed on a Derelict Sites Register) to support the refurbishment of vacant and derelict properties. Provided a homeowner occupies the property or makes it available to rent for a period of 10 years no repayment of the grant is required. However, a clawback of the entire grant is required if the property is sold within five years or 75 per cent of the grant between years five and 10. The clawback is secured by a mortgage on the property, if there is an existing mortgage on the property the grant mortgage ranks as a second mortgage behind the mortgage lender.

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Croí Cónaithe (Cities) Fund: a fund established to encourage greater activation of planning permissions for apartments of four floors or more than 40 units or more, by addressing construction viability in locations in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, and Waterford where there is a demonstrable viability gap in the cost of building the apartments. The scheme makes available a contribution of up to €120,000 per apartment to the developer as the apartments are completed. The funding provided enables the sale of the completed apartments to purchasers at a reduced cost, provided they live in the apartment for 10 years. If a purchaser sells the apartment within 10 years a clawback of funding support will be triggered based on a pro-rata calculation of the increased value of the apartment on sale against the funding amount provided to the apartment under the scheme.

Contact us T: 01 237 3700 E: info@philiplee.ie W: www.philiplee.ie

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The Housing Agency works to roll out affordable housing schemes across the country

Stagnant wages and inequality perpetuating housing crisis Census 2022 housing figures demonstrate how relatively stagnant wages in Ireland are exacerbating the inaccessibility of homeownership for young people in Ireland, with house prices increasing at a rate far above wage growth in real terms. In July 2023, the CSO released the results of phase two of Census 2022, which shows that the rate of homeownership has continued to decline in the State, a trend which has been consistent in every census since 1991.

Census 2022 shows that that Ireland’s rate of homeownership stands at 66 per cent, a slight decline from the figure of 68 per cent in 2016.

Another long-term trend recorded by the Census is the age at which the Irish population become homeowners. In 1991, the average age at which Irish people became homeowners was 26 years old, however, the Census 2022 figures show that this has increased to an average age of 36 years old. Census 2022 also shows a significant increase between 1991 and 2022 in the age at which two-thirds of homeowners owned their own houses, with the average age having increase from 28 years old in 1991 to an average age of 44 years in 2022.

Although Minister O’Brien has stated that the trend of declining homeownership is “starting to reverse”, Census 2022 figures outline a significant decline in homeownership from 1991, when the rate was recorded at 79.3 per cent. Furthermore, in all of the recent censuses (1991,

In an Ireland in which, according to Oxfam, two individuals have more wealth – €15 billion – than the poorest 50 per cent of the population, it is notable that whilst wages in real terms have increased 56 per cent between 1991 and 2022, house prices have increased at a rate of 466 per

At the time Housing for All was launched in September 2021, Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage Darragh O’Brien TD stated that the strategy “puts forward a new vision that places homeownership back in the hands of ordinary working people”.

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2002, 2006, 2011, 2016, and 2022), the rate of homeownership has declined compared to the rate recorded in the prior census.


The Housing Agency works to roll out affordable housing schemes across the country

Wages/house prices growth comparison € 350,000

€ 311,514

€ 300,000

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€ 250,000 € 200,000 € 150,000 € 100,000 € 50,000

€ 66,914 € 25,811

€ 40,283

€0 Average wage

Average house price 1991

2022

Sources: CSO/DHLGH

cent, exemplifying the new challenges facing the 2022 would-be Irish homeowner. Whilst the number of people acquiring their first mortgage is in a seemingly perpetual decline, Census figures conversely show that the number of dwellings owned without a mortgage or loan was up 11 per cent between 2016 and 2022 to nearly 680,000, with the overall rate of mortgages declining in some regions of the State. Every county in the State recorded a rise in the number of dwellings owned outright between 2016 and 2022. The number of dwellings owned with a mortgage or loan decreased by 1 per cent to 531,207. The largest falls in mortgaged properties were in Donegal (down 10 per cent) and Tipperary (down 8 per cent), where housing growth was slowest. There was an increase in the number of mortgaged properties in some counties, particularly in counties within commuting distance of Dublin where housing growth was strong, such as in Meath (up 9 per cent) and Kildare (up 6 per cent).

Ever increasing landlord influence Speaking with eolas Magazine in June 2023, Minister O’Brien rationalised his government’s lifting of the winter eviction ban as being motivated by a desire to prevent “a mass exodus of good landlords out of the market”. However, Census 2022 has reported that, contrary to the Minister’s apparent worries about a decrease in the size of the private rented market, more than 330,000 homes are rented from a private landlord, which is an

increase of 7 per cent from Census 2016. There was also a significant increase in the number households with people aged 65 and over renting from a private landlord to almost 17,000 households, up by 83 per cent since 2016. For households headed by a person aged 60 to 64 years, this was up by 69 per cent. Nationally, more than 52,000 households were paying €400 or more per week in rent to private landlords in April 2022, compared with just 13,232 households in 2016. In Dublin city, the number of households paying €400 or more per week in rent was almost 23,000, up from 6,775 in 2016 Furthermore, the average weekly rent paid to private landlords continues to increase. In 2011 it was €171, rising to €200 in 2016, and to €273 in Census 2022. Between 2011 and 2022, this equates to a 59 per cent increase over the period, and a 37 per cent increase between 2016 and 2022. Whilst government aims to implement measures such as increasing supply, and Census 2022 shows that the number of houses being built is increasing, the disparity between wages, wealth inequality, and house prices demonstrates the influence of an inflated private housing market which lacks the impetus of a state to act as a check on rising prices. Therefore, until the trend of disparity between house prices and wages starts to reverse, it is likely that homeownership will become an increasingly distant prospect for a new generation of Irish people.

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SSE Airtricity retrofit upgrades improving homes and benefitting communities

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“Retrofitting is an investment in the home, and not just a long-term investment,” says Hobbs. “In the context of the current cost-of-living crisis, priorities on spending in households remain sharply in focus. Consumers are understandably wary of engaging with seemingly complex projects with perceived large costs but engaging with SSE gives them a sense of assurance. A completed retrofit upgrade has many benefits: a warmer home that costs less to heat, a potential increase in the future sale value of the property, and knowing you are reducing your carbon footprint and helping to tackle climate change.” “Our dedicated teams in SSE AES evaluate customers’ needs to guide them through the process from start to finish. The Generation Green Home Upgrade cuts through the complexity by providing a whole-home retrofit solution alongside straightforward lowcost finance options.” Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown, 2022 retrofit of Beaufort Housing Complex, under the EERP program.

The Irish Government introduced its Climate Bill in 2021, which sets out the agenda for how Ireland will reduce carbon emissions and achieve a climate-neutral economy by 2050.

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Part of the Climate Bill includes a national retrofit program aiming to see 500,000 homes, one-third of Ireland’s housing stock, retrofitted to a B2 building energy rating by 2030. SSE Airtricity Energy Services (SSE AES) is supporting the retrofit of an additional 30,000 homes in Ireland over the next 10 years, with around 4,000 upgrades already completed. These works will drastically reduce the emissions of thousands of homes, saving millions on energy costs for consumers and making their homes warmer, healthier, and safer. Once delivered, this will equal approximately €20 million in reduced energy costs every year. Stuart Hobbs is the Director of SSE

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AES, a business dedicated to building and home energy upgrades and utilising energy efficiency technologies to deliver a cleaner greener environment. SSE AES offers home energy upgrades under three different programmes: Warmer Homes, OneStop Shop and Local Authority EERP retrofit programs. These upgrades typically include external wall insulation, energy efficient windows and doors, heat pumps, solar PV and battery systems, and electric vehicle (EV) charging points. Hobbs explains the importance of the national retrofit program and how it has real and tangible impacts on householders and their quality of life.

“We offer a one-stop shop and provide project management from pre-project energy assessments, contractor management to grant application and completion, simplifying and streamlining the whole process.” “We have seen from recent partnerships that local authorities are leading the way driving for green change in their local communities, to the benefit of the whole community.”

“SSE can and do support this leadership role for local authorities when it comes to retrofitting and upgrading their social housing stock and this fits with SSE’s overall sustainability goals.” SSE Airtricity has been providing home energy upgrades since 2012, working with SEAI, local authorities and other housing bodies on joint initiatives. In 2022, SSE AES partnered with two local authorities, to help deliver their respective DHLGH funded Energy Efficency Retrofit Program (EERP)


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Limerick City and County Council 2022, retrofit of Bishops Street, under the EERP program.

SSE EERP partnerships with local authorities in 2022 Limerick City and County Council (LCCC): SSE AES partnered with LCCC to complete the significant domestic energy upgrade work to 54 local authority homes under the EERP programme. Most of the homes lacked reliable heat sources, insulation, and ventilation which left them with an average BER of G and resulted in the homes being cold, damp, and expensive to heat. Through extensive community engagement, residents were informed about the advantages of this retrofit program and how it would benefit them. Residents were also shown how to operate their new heating systems (mainly heat pumps) to ensure they knew how to heat their homes effectively and efficiently. In total there was an 80 per cent reduction in the energy usage across all units, due to the energy upgrades. In addition, costs associated with oil and solid fuels have been eliminated, providing additional savings to the residents. Improved air quality due to new mechanical ventilation systems means the homes are healthier and more comfortable to live in and cost efficient to run. This in turn helps both the tenants and the council to achieve their EERP targets and deliver on their aims in reducing energy usage as part of Climate Action policies.

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council (DLR):

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SSE AES worked with DLR to upgrade 82 local authority vulnerable and fuel poor homes, under the EERP program. The properties had a BER rating of between E and F and were upgraded to B2 and above. The units upgraded included 58 OAP residential apartments in Beaufort. Typical upgrade works for deep retrofit included attic and external insulation, new A-rated windows and doors, solar PV, heating controls, and installation of heat pumps. The unique aspect of the apartment upgrades involved the first installed 14 kW cascade heat pump system, grouping 8 (14kW) Ecodan units, to replace three centralised gas fired boilers. This gave increased resilience and better certified energy efficiency per unit than installing a larger commercial heat pump system, with higher temperature outputs as the hot water in each unit was delivered via Solar PV and i-Boost systems. The upgrades are projected to deliver 80 per cent energy savings across all units. All works were carried out with the residents remaining in their homes.

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The Housing Agency works to roll out affordable housing schemes across the country

Unclear proposals for housing for disabled people The Government has formally launched its Implementation Plan for the National Housing Strategy for Disabled People 2022-2027, which sets no specific targets for housing for disabled people. Published in June 2023, the Implementation Plan for the National Housing Strategy for Disabled People 2022-2027 states that the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage will review housing delivery action plans (HDAPs) in order to promote “a whole of community approach to housing for disabled people when planning the provision of housing, including infrastructure, transport, education, and employment”. The strategy is set out under six themes and each theme has a set of outcomes and initial actions. The National Housing Strategy for Disabled People 2022-2027 162

required that an implementation plan be prepared. The Department says that the implementation plan builds on the outcomes and actions of the strategy. The implementation plan covers 27 outcomes, each of which has a set of key actions that will be required to deliver it, with 107 actions overall. Responsibility has been assigned to a lead organisation, with other partners identified. Timelines and key performance indicators (KPIs) are also set. The implementation plan outlines six key themes, accompanied by a desired outcome.

The first theme is for an increase in the accessibility of housing and communities for disabled people. The desired outcome, according to the implementation plan, is for an “increase in the provision of accessible housing for disabled people by the setting of local, need-related targets for all social housing providers using a universal design approach, as appropriate”. To achieve this, the Department states that it will review housing delivery action plans (HDAPs) and ensure targets for delivery of housing for disabled people are being met. Where these targets are not being met, the Department outlines


The Housing Agency works to roll out affordable housing schemes across the country

The second theme outlined in the implementation plan is the need for increased interagency collaboration and the increased provision of supports for disabled people. The desired outcome, according to the implementation plan document is that disabled people have a clear pathway to accessing housing and support services. To enable this, each local authority will nominate a representative from its housing department to “work closely with a person nominated by each community healthcare organisation (CHO) mental health and disability services” to ensure that housing and support services are “aligned as appropriate and to develop an early notification system so that housing will be available and support applications are processed accordingly”. The third theme is a general vision for the increased affordability of housing, in which disabled people have access to affordable housing schemes “including to purchase a home or rent at an affordable price”. Crucial to this is the Government’s cost rental scheme, according to the implementation plan, although its targets are vague in that they focus on measures such as “[examining] ways to increase the accessibility of the cost rental scheme for disabled people” and to “prepare and circulate information on cost rental in accessible formats and ensure that access to schemes or application processes are in an accessible format”. On the fourth theme of communication and access to information, the implementation plan outlines the objective of ensuring that a “proactive and consistent approach” is

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a need to ensure that “the HDAPs are revised to meet that target within the lifetime of the HDAP”.

“taken by agencies in the provision of information which is coordinated by The Housing Agency”. The document further states the aim of ensuring that there is an “increase in the communication between state agencies and disabled people regarding their housing opportunities both from a housing and support perspective”. The fifth theme focuses on knowledge, capacity, and expertise, outlining the desired outcome of ensuring that local authorities, the HSE, and approved housing bodies have “the knowledge base, expertise, and capacity to provide services and relevant information to disabled people”. The Department further states the importance of ensuring that “knowledge and expertise regarding disability issues are integrated into all relevant organisations” as well as ensuring that there is “an understanding of each other’s roles among the various stakeholders which results in an improved service to disabled people”. The sixth and final theme is around ensuring that there is alignment on policies for disabled people between the Government’s numerous ongoing housing policies, with the Department outlining the goal of ensuring that the strategy is underpinned by Housing for All and the new Local Delivery Action Plans established under its framework. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has stated that it will publish a progress report on the implementation plan by Q4 2024. However, given the vague metrics through which success can be measured, what this progress report will entail remains unclear.

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Credit: OBFA

Designing and delivering good social housing at scale: Key considerations and strategies

Circle Voluntary Housing Association’s active construction project Housing With Support, located in Dublin 8, is delivering 52 homes for people aged 55 and over for adaptable living.

Addressing the need for affordable and quality social housing in Ireland requires a design-focused approach that considers the wellbeing of its tenants.

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Designing good social housing involves understanding the challenges and opportunities, while delivering it at scale necessitates effective strategies to meet the increasing demand we are currently facing. Within this article, Chris White, Development Manager at Circle, explores what he believes are the key elements that make for good social housing and discusses key strategies that could be used to deliver at scale in the appropriate locations.

Adequate space and functionality A good home design starts with 164

providing adequate space and functionality. Each home should be designed to accommodate the needs of residents, offering well-proportioned rooms, efficient layouts, and sufficient storage space. Ensuring functionality includes considering the placement of amenities and utilities, such as kitchens, bathrooms, and utility rooms, to maximise convenience and ease of use.

entrances, wide doorways, and accessible bathrooms ensures that individuals with disabilities or mobility challenges can comfortably navigate and use the space. Furthermore, designing common areas and outdoor spaces to be inclusive promotes social interaction and engagement among residents of diverse backgrounds and abilities.

Accessibility and inclusivity

Quality materials and finishes

Social housing should be designed with accessibility and inclusivity in mind. Incorporating features such as step-free

Using high-quality materials and finishes is crucial to create durable and visually appealing social housing. Quality


materials contribute to the longevity and maintenance of the building, reducing costs in the long run for the local authorities and approved housing bodies. Additionally, thoughtfully selected finishes can enhance the aesthetic appeal and overall ambiance, creating a pleasant living environment for residents. This is key for establishing quality neighbourhoods which residents will enjoy living in.

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Energy efficiency and sustainability Integrating energy-efficient and sustainable features into social housing design benefits both residents and the environment. Taking a fabric first approach alongside energy-efficient appliances, and renewable energy sources can help reduce utility costs for residents and minimise the ecological footprint of the development. Implementing sustainable design practices, such as green roofs, can further enhance the environmental sustainability of social housing projects.

Community spaces and amenities Designing good social housing involves providing communal spaces and amenities that foster a sense of community and improve residents’ quality of life. These spaces can include common rooms, playgrounds, gardens, and shared outdoor areas. Integrating amenities such as childcare crèches, healthcare facilities, and community centres within the development enhances convenience and supports the wellbeing of residents, thus creating thriving and sustainable communities for individuals and families.

What will it take to deliver homes at scale in Ireland?

are essential to deliver social housing at scale. Streamlining bureaucratic procedures, expediting planning permissions, and establishing clear guidelines for social housing developments can accelerate the delivery timeline and ultimately reduce costs associated with delays. 3. Adaptive reuse and brownfield development: The repurposing of existing buildings and the redevelopment of brownfield sites can help to further increase the delivery of social housing at scale. These approaches maximise the use of available resources, reduce construction times, and contribute to the revitalisation of existing neighbourhoods.

2. Streamlined planning and approval processes: Efficient planning and approval processes

Circle Voluntary Housing Association has delivered over 2,500 homes and has supported over 5,000 people. With

T: +353 1 407 2110 E: info@circlevha.ie Development Enquries contact E: developmentteam@circlevha.ie W: www.circlevha.ie

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1. Collaborative partnerships: Establishing collaborative partnerships between governments, developers, architects, contractors, and AHBs is crucial for delivering social housing at scale. Effective collaboration ensures that all angles are considered, resources are optimised, and expertise is leveraged in order to increase delivery to assist the national housing emergency in Ireland.

In conclusion, designing and delivering good social housing at scale in Ireland requires an integrated and thoughtful approach to design, community integration, sustainability, and adaptability. By considering the specific needs and aspirations of future tenants, leveraging collaborative partnerships, and streamlining processes, we can ensure the successful delivery of highquality social housing that addresses the pressing need for social and affordable homes in Ireland within these challenging times.

over 2,240 social and affordable homes in their pipeline for delivery in the next three years. Circle delivers quality homes unique models of social housing by utilising the key considerations referred to within this article, this has given Circle the opportunity to deliver unique and first-of-its-kind model of social housing such as our Housing with Supports (HWS) Inchicore project. HWS will deliver 52 homes to older people aged 55 and over in collaboration with Alone located in Dublin 8. These homes are underpinned by age-appropriate housing and universal design principles including own-door living with onsite staff support.

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The Housing Agency works to roll out affordable housing schemes across the country

MMC: An introductory guide A government guide to encourage new housing construction and design processes has been underpinned by a €3.35 million allocation in Budget 2024. The allocation in Budget 2024 towards Enterprise Ireland’s Modern Methods of Construction Demonstration Park and Innovation Investment on the Construct to Innovate Technology Centre is the latest government commitment to promote modern methods of construction. Housing for All encourages the use of modern methods of construction (MMC) to improve, support and accelerate the delivery of housing, in recognition of the potential to help address Ireland’s significant housing crisis. Housing policy objective 23 of Housing for All is to “drive economic sustainability and reduce construction costs”. An industry term used to describe a range of manufacturing and innovative alternatives to traditional construction, in July 2023, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, alongside the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, published an introductory guide to modern 166

methods of construction aimed at informing the general public about potential uses and benefits. A 2022 Construction Industry Federation (CIF) report states that timber frames account for 25 per cent of the market already and that MMC is “the future and will increase modular and offsite manufacturing to higher standards of design, fabrication, testing, and certification”. The CIF states within its report that there is a “good regional distribution” of offsite material providers across Ireland, with the largest concentration of facilities for such located in Cavan, Cork, Dublin, Galway, Kildare, Limerick, and Meath. MMC are recognised for not only their ability to boost productivity and efficiency of housing delivery, but also increase the environmental sustainability of new housing delivery.


The Housing Agency works to roll out affordable housing schemes across the country

The Government estimates that through MMC techniques, such as offsite construction, delivery of construction projects can be sped up by between 20 per cent to 60 per cent in timeframe. Similarly, the use of factory standard precision can improve structure quality to ensure the 60 year “performance and durability requirements”. MMCs can reduce construction costs, with the aim that the reduction is passed on to purchasers or tenants for more affordable housing. However, Central Statistics Office (CSO) wholesale price indices show that the materials most often used in MMC – timber and steel frames and precast concrete – have seen large increases in price during the last few years, some in line with overall material cost rises and some outstripping the pace of overall rises.

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Another highlighted benefit is the emission improvement offered by not only building standards, but also waste and energy reduction, and improving circularity.

Commonly used MMCs Volumetric housing units Made in factories and then delivered to site, these 3D units can vary in finish from a basic structure to turnkey type options, once connected to pre-installed services. Interestingly, these units, while providing single dwellings, can also be combined to make up a building, or flexibly incorporate other pre-manufactured items, such as a bathroom or roof.

Panelised components Various materials can be used to make up flat panelled units, made in factories but assembled onsite. Components are mainly walls, roofs, and floors, but can also include insulation, cladding, frames, and doors.

Pre-manufacturing assemblies and sub-assemblies Utilised mostly in relation to pods, specifically for kitchens and bathrooms, use of this method includes partition wall systems, and weatherproofing or insulation roofing finish assemblies.

Innovative site processes and approaches Relating to onsite construction, these methods include the use of drones, robotics, and insulated concrete formwork, for example, to improve construction outcomes. Examples provided include weatherproofing, building information modelling, and driverless construction vehicles such as cranes.

Importantly, MMC constructions are bound by Irish building regulations and building control; regulations, ensuring a durability of at least 60 years. New building products, materials, techniques, and equipment are certified by the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI Agrément), to ensure that they are fit for purpose in accordance with Irish building regulations. 167


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First-time buyers are main purchasers of new homes pension funds and institutional investors to make up the difference in funding requirements. The Hooke & MacDonald research is based on CSO and Eurostat data relating to executed contracts, i.e., sale closures, so the increased activity of forward purchases by public sector bodies evident in the latter half of 2022 and into 2023 will only be reflected in sale closure executions in 2024 and 2025 when taking into account the time lag between contracting to buy and sale closures after completion of construction. Conversely, the reduced level of forward purchases by pension funds and institutions will also become evident two years hence.

€12 billion shortfall in funding

Hooke & MacDonald research has tracked the composition of purchasers of new homes in Ireland from 2015 to 2022. First-time buyers have consistently been the lead purchasing group, averaging 32 per cent of all purchases in the last three years, writes Ken MacDonald, Advertorial

Managing Director of Hooke & MacDonald. First-time buyers are followed by other owner occupiers who averaged 25 per cent; next came social housing at 22 per cent with purchases by local authorities, charities, approved housing bodies, The Housing Agency and the LDA. The increasing level of purchases of new houses by AHBs and the LDA for social housing occupiers, while necessary, is inevitably going to lead to a decrease in supply available to first-time buyers and other owner occupiers. 168

Purchases by pension funds and institutional investors averaged 11 per cent of total purchases over the past three years – which is much lower than the public perception and misinformed narrative of the extent and importance of such purchases in boosting the supply of rental accommodation. The State can only fund a limited proportion of the €20 billion annual funding required in support of new homes supply, so it is imperative that the conditions are created for

The reduced involvement of the private sector in funding the housing delivery programme is very bad news for bringing stability to the dysfunctional rental market and the plight of tenants seeking good quality modern accommodation. It is estimated that approximately €20 billion of funding per year is required to deliver the higher housing requirement figures which the Housing Commission recently published, between 50,000-62,000 per year. If the Government increase their funding from €4 billion to €8 billion annually this still leaves a shortfall of €12 billion. The only parties that can bridge this gap are longer-term international funders and investors. Some politicians have said that the shortfall could be bridged by credit unions and the European Investment Bank (EIB). The credit unions have a total of €3 billion in funds and they would only ever be allowed by the regulator to lend a fraction of this and when it is gone, it is gone, whereas the funding requirement is for every year for many years to come. Similarly, the involvement of the EIB is not practical as if they were to lend €12 billion annually, it would have to go on the State balance sheet, and this is not a viable long-term option. In any case the interest rate that the EIB


Composition of purchases of new homes in Ireland 2015-2022

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Sources: CSO. Eurostat. Analysis: Hooke & MacDonald Research.

would charge would not differ much from what the institutional investor/pension funds will charge. The reality is that institutional investors/pension funds have been responsible for funding over 15,000 apartments in Ireland in the past six years. If these had not been built, the rental market would now be in a far worse position than it currently is.

The Irish Government are gradually introducing measures to enable apartment delivery to be increased but these are only impacting the owner occupier market and much more radical measures are needed, including measures that foster development for the rental market. The funding of the subsidies needs to be front loaded to

private rental sector that most

Construction costs have increased to unprecedented levels over the last four years. Also, as highlighted by the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland in their July 2022 Construction Tender Price Index report, the construction industry is reportedly “near peak capacity”, and as a result, increasing new supply further will be a challenge. It is not surprising that apartment commencements are not matching consents.

this avenue for delivery is now very

The most recent cycle for apartment construction started in circa 2016 and while many parties with land have sought to improve the developability of the land by securing a planning consent over the last four or five years, unlike in the 1990s and early 2000s when funding and purchasers were freely available and commencements followed planning consents, most of these new planning permissions will not be built as a result of the lack of funding and viability.

apartments have been built. As a result of the new development environment (higher finance and construction costs) limited. While many parties see this as an opportunity for the State to step in and boost supply in terms of social and affordable housing, the country also needs a substantial level of new properties for private rental and sale.

Hooke & MacDonald 118 Baggot Street Lower Dublin 2 PSRA No. 001651

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The sharp slowdown in apartment construction in Dublin and other cities is a direct result of the lack of viability due to rising interest rates and construction cost inflation and the disconnect between what end users can afford to pay for apartments and what they need to be sold for to make an economic return. Other countries, such as the US, have dealt with this by tax incentives and subsidisation of higher density apartment development in urban areas.

enable development to commence rather than attempting to have payment made when projects are completed, which is not feasible for developers.

T: 086 256 3851 E: ken@hmd.ie W: www.hmd.ie

The funding and development model for apartments in Ireland is broken and has been for a number of years. It has only been through the development for the 169


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The Housing Agency works to roll out affordable housing schemes across the country

Elderly homes scheme moves ahead following pilot success The Department of Health has concluded a series of pilot projects for the rollout of the Healthy Age Friendly Homes initiative and will now roll out the next phase of the plan. Launched in 2021, by Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People Mary Butler TD and former Minister of State at the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage Peter Burke TD, the Healthy Age Friendly Homes Programme is delivered by local government through the Age Friendly Ireland Shared Service hosted by Meath County Council. The initiative is aimed at supporting older adults to remain living in their own homes and communities. The first phase of the scheme concluded in April 2023, and Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People Mary Butler TD has announced that the completion of the pilot programme will, under funding secured in Budget 2023, enable the expansion of the Healthy Age Friendly Homes Programme to all of the State’s 31 local authorities. 170

Funded by Sláintecare for its pilot phase in 2021, the programme has been operational in nine local authority sites across the State. These are: Dublin City Council; South Dublin County Council; Fingal County Council; Tipperary County Council; Cork County Council; Longford County Council; Westmeath County Council; Galway County and City Council; and Limerick County and City Council. The pilot phase of the programme had the objective of reaching “up to” 4,500 homes across nine local authority areas until the conclusion of this phase in April 2023. These older people were identified by decision-makers as having “significant social care needs” and were seen as “at risk of hospitalisation or premature entry into long-term residential care”.


The Housing Agency works to roll out affordable housing schemes across the country

2,911 referrals of older people into the programme;

3,500 home visits by local coordinators; and

6,250 supports provided.

Strategic alignment

After the Healthy Age Friendly Homes initiative was launched, a local coordinator visited Geraldine’s home and carried out a needs assessment, putting an individualised support plan and actions in place: •

they assisted her in making an application for a Housing Adaptation Grant for a stair lift and an accessible shower in her bathroom. The application grant was approved, and the works have now been completed;

other supports provided to Geraldine include assistance in making an application under the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications local authority bin waiver scheme; liaising with the local care and repair team to have two smoke alarms and a carbon monoxide alarm fitted free of charge; submitting an application for the Senior Alert Scheme for a monitored personal alarm through the family resource centre; submitting an application for the State pension which was approved and will be received once Geraldine turns 66; and installation of a monitored pendant alarm; and

Geraldine’s accessible bathroom was completed and her stairlift installed allowing Geraldine access to her bedroom and use of the bathroom within her own home for the first time in over two years. She also feels safer in her home with the use of a fall detector and alarms.

The objective of the programme is to target supports to improve the living conditions of older people and enhance access to continued health and social care and tailored community supports. The local coordinator role has been designed to support older people and their families to navigate the services by proactively linking them to the appropriate supports and services. The Department of Health outlines how the Healthy Age Friendly Homes initiative is strategically aligned with a number of government policies, including: •

the Programme for Government (universal healthcare, climate action);

the shared Department of Health and Department of Housing policy statement Housing Options for our Ageing Population;

Sláintecare;

Housing for All;

the Healthy Communities Programme; and

the World Health Organization’s Housing and Health Guidelines.

Case study The Department provides a case study which demonstrates the impact of the initiative. ‘Geraldine’, a pseudonym for a 65-year-old woman living alone in her own home in an urban area, was referred into the programme by a HSE occupational therapist in her primary care team. Geraldine has complex health issues, suffering from rheumatoid arthritis severely affecting her mobility. Her medical conditions restricted her from using the stairs in her home, meaning she had a bed in her sitting room and used a commode.

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Over the duration of the pilot, from May 2021 to April 2023, the Healthy Age Friendly Homes Programme had:

Expressing her satisfaction with the service provided by the local coordinator, Geraldine says: “Before the coordinator visited me, I felt I was losing my selfworth. If people were made aware of the help provided, they would be better able to survive.” Although challenges remain in areas such as maximising accessibility to the scheme, Minister of State Mary Butler TD has said that she is satisfied with the initial outcome of the scheme and has pressed ahead for its continuation. The Waterford TD says: “This is a really important initiative that focuses on the wider determinants of health for our older people, acknowledging that good health and wellbeing goes beyond just healthcare. The report published last year on the pilot showed the programme is having a positive impact on the quality of life for our older people and providing trusted, expert advice for a range of issues.” 171


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The future is bright for Oaklee Housing This year, after 22 years, Oaklee Housing ceased to be a member of the Choice Housing Group and is now an independent stand-alone Approved Housing Body (AHB) with an ambitious corporate strategy for 2023 to 2025 targeting growth and great services for their current and future tenants. The independence that this separation affords is an exciting milestone and a potential game-changer for Oaklee Housing as it embraces this new and opportunistic position. The annual AGM in September 2023 marked the end of one and the beginning of another financial year for Oaklee Housing. The successes of 2022 have ensured that, heading into a new financial year, it is in the strongest possible financial position. Securing a new borrowing facility with AIB Corporate Banking through the refinance of an existing portfolio of five Leinster-based scheme assets allows it to continue to invest in its homes to meet the required high standards of fire, health and safety, and property compliance into 2023.

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The recently published annual report documents the significant operational focus on tenants and tenant engagement. Working alongside Supporting Communities, the team at Oaklee crafted its most targeted Tenant Engagement Strategy to date. With a life cycle of three years, this strategy sets out a multi-point action plan aimed at ensuring that the tenant voice is central to the continuous improvement of the services provided by Oaklee Housing. Looking forward, preparing its team for the future has been a target for each of the departments to achieve through 2022 and into 2023 meaning that it is fully prepared for the increased delivery of homes and services into 2024 and beyond. Increasing capacity while building skills in preparation for the first 172

year as a stand-alone company, the organisation has an impressive team of over 50 talented professionals working together with a collective ambition centred around increased delivery of homes and the on-going provision of exceptional customer services for its tenants. With a shift in priorities towards an own-build model of delivery, there is an impressive pipeline of projects for future years. This aligns with its priority for the next three years to deliver more homes and to make a significant contribution to increasing the supply of social and affordable housing. The success of this plan relies on many factors: as well as being dependent on fostering strong relationships with stakeholders, it also relies on the strength of Oaklee Housing’s reputation as well as its ability to stand out and deliver. Looking forward, its new three-year Corporate Strategy documents big and bold plans for success with a team primed and ready to deliver more homes, create sustainable communities and change lives, the future is bright for Oaklee Housing.

T: 01 400 2650 E: development@oakleehousing.ie W: www.oaklee.ie


Millteog, Athboy, County Meath.


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The Housing Agency works to roll out affordable housing schemes across the country

Vacant homes: Tax exemptions expansive The introduction of a new property tax under Budget 2024 is the latest move by the Government to try to increase the State’s housing supply and comes shortly after publication of the Vacant Homes Action Plan. Effective from 1 November 2023, the vacant homes tax will be increased from three times to five times a property’s existing base Local Property Tax liability. Included in Budget 2024, the new tax incorporates almost an additional 60,000 homes from the previous policy and is the latest government initiative aiming to increase the housing supply to rent or buy. Ireland’s vacant property problem is longstanding. Census 2022 recorded over 166,000 vacant properties in the State, only a 9 per cent decrease from

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2016 figures despite the scale of the housing crisis. While properties recorded in the census do not necessarily represent long-term vacancies, the fact that over 90 per cent of vacant dwellings could be linked back to the 2016 Census, and 85 per cent back to the 2011 Census, is evidence of a failure to address the problem to date. Criticism has been levelled that the latest tax increase is not high enough to incentivise faster resolution of vacant properties. It is estimated that the property tax on a house valued at

€300,000 would be less than €1,000. Further criticism has been aimed at the levels of exemptions that exist on properties under the new tax. Although the amount of homes the tax potentially applies to has been broadened, it is estimated that holiday homes and properties being refurbished make up around 40 per cent of recorded properties, both of which are largely exempt from the new tax. The tax will only apply to homes that can be lived in, meaning derelict homes, for which Ireland also has a high


The Housing Agency works to roll out affordable housing schemes across the country

percentage, are excluded. Additionally, any home that has been stayed in for 30 days or more in a 12-month period will not apply.

The level of exemptions has led some to suggest that administrating the new tax may eventually cost more than is gathered.

Vacant Home Action Plan The Government’s Vacant Homes Action Plan 20232026, published in January 2023, outlines an ambition to return as many recoverable vacant properties back to viable use as possible, increase the supply of housing available, and revitalise the vibrancy of local communities. One potential conundrum outlined by the Government in the Vacant Homes Action Plan is that the ownership of the property in question must be clarified when the home is being brought back into use, presenting a potential legal grey area for government. The action plan says: “A key consideration when working to bring empty properties back into use is the reason why a particular property has been left empty. These are varied and multifaceted and can relate at a broad level to migration, urbanisation, loss of industry, and employment and at an individual property level to financial, ownership, personal, or property issues.” The report further states: “Properties can be for sale, in between rental periods, undergoing renovation, or in some cases the owner may be in hospital or in nursing home care. A lack of investment can lead to some properties being vacant for long periods and if these properties are not addressed in a timely manner, they can ultimately become derelict. The reasons for vacancy influence the measurement of vacancy and must also be taken into account in considering measures to address vacancy.”

Rural repopulation Given that the vast majority of Ireland’s derelict homes are situated in relatively rural counties such as Leitrim, Roscommon, and Mayo, two government strategies are of immense importance if vacant homes are to be used in a serious manner to take on the homelessness crisis. These are the National Planning Framework (NPF) and Our Rural Future.

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Exemptions also apply to a home that changes ownership in the 12-month period, if the property has been rented for at least 30 days, whether it is listed for rent or sale, or if the property is unoccupied due to the owner’s illness or death.

The Vacant Homes Action Plan states that the NPF will “guide the future development of Ireland, taking into account a projected one million increase in population over 2016 levels and the need for 550,000 more homes by 2040”. The paper continues: “The NPF growth strategy aims to shift the spatial pattern of development by concentrating a greater proportion of new development in cities, towns, and other settlements where the required services, employment, and infrastructure can be provided for citizens.” The Government’s Our Rural Future policy addresses the challenges facing rural areas and the opportunities that it believes rural economies and communities can benefit from in the coming years. The Vacant Homes Action Plan states that one of the key objectives of Our Rural Future is to support the regeneration, repopulation, and development of rural towns and villages to contribute to local and national economic recovery, and to enable people to live and work in a high-quality environment. In particular, the Government has identified the role of local authorities in tackling levels of vacancy and dereliction. One of the core components of the action plan is a €150 million Urban Regeneration and Development Fund (URDF) which will enable local authorities to acquire properties or sites and carry out work to make it more attractive for reuse or sale. Proceeds received will then replenish the fund, allowing for a rolling programme. The Government also plans to publish compulsory purchase orders by local authorities, initially focused on derelict properties, while rolling out a data collection project across all local authorities to capture the number of vacant and derelict properties. Finally, the action plan says that the Government will continue to support and develop the full-time role of a Vacant Homes Officer across local authorities. Introducing the policy, Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Darragh O’Brien TD, said: “The most efficient home to deliver is the one which already exists and there is so much potential within our vacant stock to provide more homes for so many of our citizens.” O’Brien added: “While significant work remains to be done, real progress is being made in addressing vacancy. Our sense of urgency remains, and we are determined to build on what we have achieved to date.”

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Pioneering sustainable, pre-engineering building solutions: Hapi Homes leading the way

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Ireland’s housing crisis is no secret. With a pressing need for sustainability, innovation, and intelligent solutions, Hapi Homes has emerged as a trailblazer in pre-engineered housing. This global concept, gaining traction, brings numerous advantages. Hapi Homes leverages cutting-edge technology and engineering expertise to design and fabricate housing modules that are aesthetically pleasing but also energy-efficient and cost-effective. Why Hapi Homes? Hapi Homes is leading the way in demonstrating how innovative, pre-engineered housing can address the housing shortage while reducing its environmental impact. These homes, manufactured off-site and assembled on location, present a new paradigm in housing development that aligns perfectly with sustainability, affordability, and rapid construction goals.

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Two-bed, 420 sq ft foldable house

Innovative prefabrication: Hapi Homes uses advanced prefabrication techniques to produce high-quality building components in a controlled factory environment. This method dramatically reduces construction time and costs while maintaining exceptional quality standards. From a unique foldable, 420 sq ft two-bed-home setup in less than eight hours to multi-story, multi-dwelling options, Hapi Homes has the capability of a wide range of buildings suited to multiple needs, with more than 30 designs and the ability to build our client’s plans.

Time-saving: The construction of a family home, on average 8 months, can now be streamlined to a mere 2.5 months, thanks to innovative construction

Customisation: Hapi Homes understands that one size does not fit all. Their modular designs allow for customisation, ensuring that each home meets the unique needs and preferences of its occupants. Community integration: Hapi Homes also recognises the importance of community development. Their housing solutions are designed to integrate with existing neighbourhoods, promoting social cohesion seamlessly. Social housing initiatives: Preengineered homes could accelerate the development of social housing units, providing a solution for those most needing affordable and stable accommodation.

Hapi Homes’ pre-engineered housing solution offers a faster, more affordable, and environmentally friendly alternative to traditional construction methods. The collaboration between an Irish company, Hapi Homes, and governments in other countries, such as the US, UK, Bulgaria, Greece, the Caribbean, and Ukraine, signifies a forward-looking approach to addressing national housing challenges, aiming to provide safe, sustainable, and affordable homes for all. Embracing these innovative systems is a wise investment in the present and a step towards a more efficient and sustainable future for the construction industry. Considering pre-engineered building solutions is a decision that promises long-term benefits for both your bottom line and the environment.

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Affordability: One of the most attractive features of Hapi Homes is their affordability. By streamlining the construction process and minimising onsite labour, these homes offer a costeffective alternative to traditional housing, making homeownership a reality for many. The innovative light steel structure saves a minimum of 25 per cent on building costs compared to conventional building materials.

techniques and technologies. This reduction in construction time means that families can move into their homes faster, bringing substantial cost savings. Beyond individual homes, these time-saving advancements are reshaping the construction industry, increasing efficiency, and enabling developers to complete projects more rapidly, ultimately benefiting homeowners and the broader community.

For more information, visit: E: hello@hapihomes.com W: www.hapihomes.com

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Barry Andrews MEP:

‘Serious discussion need regarding the coverage of European Parliament’ A relatively low voter turnout in European elections can be attributed to inadequate media coverage afforded to the European Parliament – in contrast to the European Commission and European Council – despite 70 per cent of all laws in Ireland emanating from the EU, writes Fianna Fáil MEP for Dublin, Barry Andrews. What do WWE Smackdown, Agatha Christie’s Poirot and RTÉ’s European Parliament Report all have in common? Some may make the connection between Hercule Poirot, the famous Belgian Detective of the Agatha Christie novels and the European Union HQ which, of course, is also famously Belgian. Perhaps others will draw comparison between the incredible theatrics that we have become familiar with in WWE to that of the antics of some members of the European Parliament? However both comparisons, on this occasion, would be incorrect. The correct answer is these are programmes that will all be broadcasting on our screens on digital terrestrial TV Saturday morning at 10:40. My point, of course, is not to take away from the entertainment value of WWE or Hercule Poirot but to highlight the absurd timing for our national 178

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broadcaster to offer a report from the European Parliament. Saturday mornings are, for many, an opportunity to switch off from the serious discussion points of the week, to catch up with the family, to do the sports run, to have a walk and clear the head or to let the kids watch some TV. Only the hardcore political junkies are setting a reminder to tune in to the European Parliament Report on RTÉ One at 10:40 on a Saturday. Recently some comments I made at an event in Dublin were picked up by a journalist when I noted that coverage of the European Parliament is very limited and that this is a problem given that democracy is under threat all across the world. While not the first time that I have made these observations, it is the first time that they have been reported, perhaps owing to the direct mention of


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“With the European elections only seven months away I think there needs to be a serious discussion regarding the coverage that is being provided of the European Parliament.” Barry Andrews MEP

the national broadcaster when I added: “I think that there is major coverage in RTÉ of the European Council and the European Commission, but not of the European Parliament.” Coverage of the European Parliament, or lack thereof, in my view has a direct impact on voter turnout in the European elections. Ireland already ranks in the bottom half when it comes to voter turnout compared to our EU neighbours. Our highest turnout for a European election was 68 per cent in 1989. In the subsequent 1994 European election, turnout was only 44 per cent and in the most recent 2019 European election there was a turnout of 49 per cent. Turnout for our general elections consistently hovers between 65 and 66 per cent. It is hard not to link low turnout with lack of media coverage given that Ireland is one of the most proEU countries on the continent. A recent survey European Movement Ireland found that 88 per cent of people surveyed in the Republic support Ireland’s membership of the EU. The same survey found that 71 per cent of people in Northern Ireland who say they voted leave in the Brexit referendum support Ireland remaining a member of the EU. A case could be made that voter turnout is lower for the European elections as they have less of an impact on people’s lives, however, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact 70 per cent of all laws in Ireland come from the EU. Since the Lisbon Treaty, the Parliament has significantly increased its powers. It can reject the EU budget, approve free trade agreements, dismiss the Commission and it acts as co-legislator with the European Council on most issues.

Despite decisions made in the European Parliament directly affecting the lives of people in Ireland, reporting on these debates and votes is simply not on the radar of many political journalists. I have made the point before that while 70 per cent of the laws in Ireland come from the EU, almost 100 per cent of the drama comes from the Houses of the Oireachtas and this is the television and radio that the consumer wants. I mentioned in my earlier comments that democracy is under threat across the world; some speak of a democratic recession. In a functioning democracy, politicians need to be held accountable and media reporting is intrinsic to this as well as the democratic process. It does not help that there is also a perception (mainly perpetuated by Brexit) that Brussels is composed of bureaucrats that are far removed from the average EU citizen. Accommodating the interests of 27 member states while delivering effective policies can be complicated and it can be difficult at times for the EU to reach citizens and show them the role that the EU plays in their daily life. With the European elections only seven months away I think there needs to be a serious discussion regarding the coverage that is being provided of the European Parliament. It must be said that programmes such as the European Parliament Report are excellently researched and presented and, if nothing else, deserve to be broadcast at a more suitable time than 10:40 on a Saturday morning. Of course, if you happen to miss the original broadcast of European Parliament Report you can catch the repeat…. at midnight on a Sunday night/Monday morning.

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Von der Leyen’s foreign policy inconsistency

Credit: Israeli GPO

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For possibly the last time, Ursula von der Leyen took to the podium of the European Parliament to deliver her State of the Union address, in which she focused her rhetoric on solidarity with Ukraine and future expansion of the EU. However, trouble abounds for the Commission President as she grapples with the EU’s response to the crisis in Palestine, writes Joshua Murray. Although seen as the quintessential Brussels insider, von der Leyen broke ground in November 2019 when she became the first female President of the European Commission. In that time, she has seen the formal end of the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union, a stand-off with Russia over the war in Ukraine which has led to an accelerated energy transition, and the Covid-19 pandemic. Foreign policy formed the cornerstone of von der Leyen’s September 2023 State of the Union address, with the Commission President exclaiming: “We will be at Ukraine’s side every step of the way for as long as it takes. “The future of Ukraine is in our union, the future of the western Balkans is in our

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union, the future of Moldova is in our union, and I know just how important the EU perspective is for so many people in Georgia,” she said.

State of the Union address

disrupted following the sanctions on Russian fossil fuels, von der Leyen emphasised the importance of the European Green Deal. “Europe’s industry is showing every day that it is ready to power this transition, proving that modernisation

In her State of the Union address, von der Leyen described the next EU enlargement as a potential “catalyst for progress”, outlining that, with 27 EU member states, the EU has “successfully started to build” a health union and the European Defence Union. Von der Leyen stated her belief that these initiatives can be completed when the EU expansion reaches 30 member states, adding: “We have proven that we can be a geopolitical union and showed we can move fast when we are united.”

and decarbonisation can go hand in hand.”

With Europe’s energy supply being

exclaiming: “Long live Europe.”

Von der Leyen also announced that the Commission will put forward a European wind power package. “We will fast-track permitting even more; we will improve the auction systems across the EU, and we will focus on skills, access to finance and stable supply chains,” von der Leyen said. Concluding her address, von der Leyen emphasised her belief that “this is Europe’s moment to answer the call of history”,


Credit: Palestinian News and Information Agency

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More than half of Gaza’s civilian population has been displaced due to Israel’s bombardment of the Palestinian territory.

Ireland, the EU announced on 15 October 2023 that humanitarian aid to Palestine is to be tripled. The €50 million increase in aid to the UN relief agency in Gaza, UNRWA, was announced at a time when Israeli missiles, including alleged use of white phosphorus which is a chemical weapon banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention, killed at least 2,300 Palestinians, and displaced more than one million people, almost half of Gaza’s population.

Foreign policy conundrum Since the address, von der Leyen has been criticised for inconsistency between her stances on the war in Ukraine, in which she characterised Russia’s actions in cutting off supplies of electricity to Ukraine as “terrorist”, whilst her stance on the October 2023 Israel-Hamas war, during which Israel has cut off food, water, and energy to Gaza’s 2.3 million civilian residents, has been squarely behind the State of Israel. This is in contrast with remarks from the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, who has stated that Israel is violating international law by imposing a “complete siege” on Gaza. Borrell has since added that President von der Leyen “does not speak” for the European Union on the conflict in the Middle East. Hungarian Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi announced on 9 October 2023 that all aid to the Palestinian territories was to be cut by the EU. However, at least partially due to opposition from four EU member states, including

Rejecting the proposal to cut the EU’s aid to Palestine and insinuating that the State would veto the proposal, the Department of Foreign Affairs stated that 80 per cent of the population of Gaza relies on humanitarian aid to survive, and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD, although defending Israel’s “right of self-defence” in his initial response to Hamas’ terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians, has broken ranks with most European leaders by stating that Israel’s removal of food, water, and power from Gaza is “not a proportionate response”. The Taoiseach’s analysis is consistent with Article 33 of the Geneva Convention which forbids collective punishment of civilians at times of war. Varadkar also told the Dáil on 17 October 2023 that he told von der Leyen that her remarks on the Israel-Hamas War “lacked balance”. Varadkar’s criticism of EU policy has been echoed by President Michael D Higgins, who said on 16 October 2023 that von der Leyen was “not speaking for Ireland and she was not speaking for the opinions that they hold”. Higgins added: “What one is seeing in this is a thoughtless and even reckless set of actions and I do not think it is helpful. “To announce in advance that you will break international law and to do so on an innocent population, it reduces all the code that was there from Second World War on protection of civilians and it reduces it to tatters.”

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50 years of economic and social change Ireland’s dynamic economic transformation can be tracked over its 50 years of EU membership, including the economic shift away from agricultural dependence, Ireland’s proportion of EU GDP, and its once-unimaginable trade surplus. Ireland’s EU membership has a broad approval rating, with opinion polling consistently showing support for membership as above 80 per cent. However, the bumpy road presented by events such as the Nice Treaty and the Lisbon Treaty (both of which were initially rejected in the State via referendum), as well as the EU-IMF bailout which once effectively removed the State’s economic independence, have seen support for the EU fluctuate at times. 50 years on from the year that Ireland signed up to the European Communities, the scale of change that has taken place is undeniable. Whereas Ireland was once globally known for high levels of emigration, in 2023 Ireland now has net immigration of over 77,000 per annum, with that figure expected to continue increasing throughout the 2020s. Furthermore, whilst Irish agriculture retains key influence among decision-makers, the transformation of the economy from agricultural to service-driven can be

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exemplified by the number of people employed in agriculture. 24 per cent of Irish people worked in agriculture in 1973, a figure that stands at just 4 per cent as of 2022. Whilst this influence has waned, the economy has grown. In 1973 – when the European Communities was composed of just nine members – Ireland’s proportion of the Communities’ GDP stood at 0.6 per cent. However, in 2023, Ireland makes up 3.2 per cent of the EU’s GDP, in spite of its population only comprising 1 per cent of an EU now comprising 27 member states. Additional change can be observed in how the State’s trade networks have evolved, with Ireland once dependent on imports and reporting a trade deficit of IR£268 million (€340 million) in 1973. In 2023, this trend has reversed with the State now reporting a trade surplus to the tune of €67.6 billion. However, this has also partially resulted in an Ireland which is less affordable for its

citizens to live in. In 1973, the average weekly wage stood at IR£30.12 (€38.25) whilst the average weekly wage now stands at €825 per week. However, the CSO demonstrates that the average house price in the State stands at €318,000, whereas it stood at IR£7,095 in 1973. Taking these two figures into account, the average house in Ireland now costs 7.41 times the value of the average annual earnings in the State, whereas in 1973, the average price of a house was 4.53 times the average annual salary. Ireland’s EU membership has undoubtedly led to an influx of money into the State and, with Britain’s recent departure from the EU, Ireland holds the potential to become the main western entry point into Europe. However, in that time the disconnect between the economy and those who it serves has become more prominent, which must be factored in by Ireland’s decision-makers.


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Credit: MerrionStreet.ie

Women ‘within the home’ referendum delayed

The Government has delayed the holding of a referendum which proposes removing the reference to a women’s place being “within the home”. The Citizens’ Assembly on Gender Equality, which concluded its work in 2021, sent a list of 45 recommendations to the Government, including that the definition of family should not be limited to the marital family. The assembly further suggested inserting a new clause into Article 40 of Bunreacht na hÉireann – which focuses on fundamental rights – to refer explicitly to gender equality and non-discrimination. The referendum was proposed and originally intended to be held in November 2023 following the work of the assembly. The delay to the referendum is due to a difference in opinion within government as to how the new language should be applied to reforms to articles 40 and 41 being proposed, with Minister for Finance Michael McGrath TD stating that a referendum will not be held until there is “settled wording” on the proposals. Minister for Equality, Roderic O’Gorman

TD said that the Government is “close to the final wording” of the two proposed amendments on gender equality and to ensure care is acknowledged by the State. Currently, Article 41.2 of the Constitution states that “by her life within the home, woman [sic] gives to the State a support without which the common good cannot be achieved” and that the State shall therefore “endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home”. In March 2023, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar TD announced his attention to re-word the “outdated language” of articles 40 and 41 of the Constitution. Alongside this proposal is one that the Constitution, which has been in place since 1937, should refer explicitly to gender equality and non-discrimination. Varadkar, the first openly LGBTQ+ leader

in the history of the State and only the fourth openly gay world leader, also said that proposed reforms to articles 40 and 41 need to recognise that “there are many different types of families in Ireland”. Speaking in September 2023, Orla O’Connor, Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland, said that the delay to the holding of the referendum is “unsurprising”, adding: “The wording needs to come out within the next few weeks because it is very important that the public has time to consider the changes and that we have time for that national conversation in terms of what is involved.” In spite of this call, the Government has not, as of late October 2023, released a revision of the wording, although Minister O’Gorman has stated that it is “likely” that the referendum will be held in early 2024.

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Oversight and accountability now key to climate action Independent Report Card on Government progress must be complemented by robust parliamentary scrutiny, according to Friends of the Earth Chief Executive, Oisín Coghlan. Friends of the Earth recently published its third annual independent assessment of how well the Government is doing at fulfilling the climate and environmental commitments adopted in the 2020 Programme for Government. It was the most ambitious ever on climate action in particular but of that is of little value if it is not followed up with implementation and impact. So how is the Government doing as judged against its own promises? Researchers from UCD compiled information on the nearly 300 climate and environmental commitments in the Programme for Government, from documentary sources and through 43 interviews with official and civil society stakeholders. The resulting 81-page compendium was used as the basis for scoring progress across nine categories by three academic experts from UCD, UCC and DCU. Overall, in 2023, the Government received a C+ grade for moderate progress, a small improvement on last year’s C grade. The detailed assessment marked the Government out of 10 in nine subject areas. The highest scores came

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in the categories of Waste and Circular Economy (7.5: down from 8.5 last year), Energy (7: a significant improvement from 4 last year) Buildings (7 - up from 6 last year) and Air Quality (7: same as last year). The lowest scoring categories were Agriculture and Forestry (4: same as last year), where the Government is now flirting with failure according to the judges, and Water and Marine (5: marginally up from 4.5 last year). Commenting on the scores one of the judges, Paul Deane from UCC, said: “This year’s review gives us cause for hope but not a reason for celebration. Ireland’s greenhouse gas pollution has reduced marginally this year, but we are still massively addicted to fossil fuels. Many of the correct actions are being taken but just not at a speed that is quick enough or a scale that is large enough.” The Chair of the assessment panel, Cara Augustenborg from UCD struck a hopeful note: “We are accustomed to hearing nothing but bad news when it comes to Ireland’s environmental record but taking a deep dive inside the Government’s work since 2020 provides clear evidence that progress is being made to improve

Ireland’s environmental health in most areas.” Diarmuid Torney, the judge from DCU added: “Overall delivery is slower than I would have liked to see approximately two thirds of the way through the Government’s term in office. Time is running short. There needs to be a real prioritisation of environment and climate over the remainder of the Government’s term.” The experts for the first time identified some key commitments in the Programme for Government that are now in danger of not being achieved. These “critically endangered” commitments include the Government’s flagship climate commitment: on the current trajectory there is a real danger Ireland will not stay within the binding pollution limits of the first carbon budget and the sectoral emissions ceilings. Other “critically endangered” commitments include ones on agriculture and forestry, where the Government is still largely failing to achieve significant progress and drinking and waste water. Ireland’s water quality worsened in 2022 compared to 2021, with dangerous nitrate and


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phosphate concentrations in many of Ireland’s river sites, estuarine, and coastal water bodies. This was the third year the independent expert assessment has been carried out and it has been gratifying to see the engagement from official stakeholders increase over time, as government departments have become keener to make sure the researchers and the judges are fully aware of any progress that has been made. It helps that the Report Card has generated significant media coverage each year. But the specific areas of inadequate progress, the mixed bag of category scores and the “could do better” nature of an overall C+ grade show that civil society oversight and media scrutiny are not enough on their own to deliver the scale and pace of policy development and implementation we need to stay within the binding limits on pollution to 2025 and 2030 that have now been adopted by the Dáil, on a cross-party basis, under the 2021 climate law. That is why it is very welcome that a crucial part of the climate law is about to come into action for the first time. In the coming weeks a Joint Oireachtas Committee will be summoning all the relevant Ministers to appear before it in under Section 14 of the Act. And not for a general update on progress and plans but to specifically respond to the EPA figures showing the state’s emissions are off track and to the recommendations from the Climate Change Advisory Council on how to close the emissions gap, sector by sector. The Ministers are obliged to outline the specific “corrective measures” they plan to take to reduce

emissions fast enough to get back in line with the sectoral ceilings and the overall carbon budget limits. Those Oireachtas hearings, chaired by Brian Leddin, are an essential exercise in parliamentary oversight and

accountability that can push the next iteration of the Government’s Climate Action Plan, due before the end of the year, to be strong enough to get our emissions on track. As the scorecard judges could have put it this year: “A lot done, more to do.”

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New Dáil constituencies announced Having concluded a consultation on the makeup of constituencies for the next Dáil, An Coimisiún Toghcháin has announced that there will be 14 additional TDs in the 34th Dáil. With a total of 174 TDs in the next Dáil, the number of TDs elected to the national parliament will be a high watermark in the history of the State. However, the scale of these changes has not as been radical as was constitutionally possible.

This is a source of contention for TDs in marginal seats or prospective TDs from smaller parties as these constituencies tend to be dominated by the larger parties, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and now, Sinn Féin.

With a population of 5,123,536 people in the State and a current total of 160 TDs in the 33rd Dáil, the average number of people per TD in the State is 32,022, meaning that an increase in the number of TDs was required under the limits set by Bunreacht na hÉireann.

One can describe the increase in threeseat constituencies as being bad for Ireland’s PR electoral system, as smaller parties often do not get the opportunity to avail of transfers which would propel them to success over the larger parties in four- and five-seat constituencies, and the fact that having more seats in a constituency tends to lead to a more proportional outcome.

The Oireachtas had given An Coimisiún Toghcháin permission to increase the number of TDs in the next Dáil by between 11 and 21, meaning that there could have been anything from 171 to 181 TDs in the next Dáil. The Constitution outlines that political representation at Dáil level must have a minimum ratio of one member per 20,000 population, and a maximum ratio of one member per 30,000. In theory, this means there could be as many as 250 TDs. The Commission’s final report, however, means that there will be one TD per roughly 29,500 population, meaning the TD to population ratio remains at the higher end of the scale and almost certainly meaning that another review will be needed within a decade as there will be at least two general elections between now and the end of 2030. Given the current trends of population growth in the State, it is projected, based on population predictions by the CSO, that there must be an average increase in TDs of two per year for the rest of this decade. The report by An Coimisiún Toghcháin has rationalised that the lower number of TDs was consciously recommended in order to maximise the integrity of county boundaries, with the number of breaches having been reduced overall. However, this more conservative figure of 174 TDs has also increased the number of constituencies electing just three TDs.

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Crucially, An Coimisiún Toghcháin has stated that there will be a review on the prospect of the creation of Dáil constituencies with six seats. Currently, legislation underpins that Dáil constituencies must be between three and five seats, but since there is no provision for this in the constitution the legislation can be overturned. Indeed, there is historical precedent for the creation of constituencies with more than five TDs, with early elections held in the State having been contested in constituencies with as many as nine seats.

Good news for the larger parties The general consensus among the political commentariat is that the new constituencies and the three-seaters are advantageous to the larger parties, although there are differing schools of thought on which parties among the big three will be most satisfied at the proposals. Broadly, Sinn Féin will be happy at the number of five-seater constituencies in the parts of the country where it performed best at the last election, namely Donegal, Cavan-Monaghan, and Dublin Mid-West, all of which are seats where the party can gain a seat based its 2020 first preference votes.

Whilst Sinn Féin will be largely satisfied at the new boundaries, there is more of a mixed picture for Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. The splitting of Tipperary into two threeseat constituencies will be generally well received by the two government parties, as will the somewhat surprising expansion of Mayo into a five-seater, which was not anticipated as being likely to be expanded. Additionally, the redrawing of the constituency of Dún Laoghaire and the demographic changes which go along with said change may present a challenge to Fianna Fáil in that constituency. Whilst many have rationalised that the redrawing of the electoral map will be disadvantageous for small parties, it has been hypothesised that the number of TDs from small parties would have been higher if the last election had been held under the current proposed boundaries, with the Social Democrats and People Before Profit both likely to have won more seats in that scenario. Ultimately, the fact that smaller parties may stand to lose seats in the next election is unlikely to be determined by the new boundaries, rather it is the anticipated growth of the Sinn Féin vote following the next election which, if the party’s polling holds, will negatively correlate with the seats held by smaller left parties. In addition to the increase in Dáil seats, the European Parliament voted in September 2023 to increase the number of Irish MEPs in the next European Parliament to 14, with the extra seat to be given to the Midlands–North-West constituency. With the boundaries having been drawn up in a nonpartisan manner by An Coimisiún Toghcháin, the changes will be in place by the time of the next election, which is expected to take place as soon as the autumn of 2024, and parties will now be able to plan their strategies with the new boundaries in mind.


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Source: An Coimisiún Toghcháin

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Autumn Legislative Programme Published by Government Chief Whip Hildegarde Naughton TD on 26 September 2023, the Government Legislative Programme for the 2023 autumn session contains 27 bills for prioritisation by government ministers. The Legislative Programme contains the following: •

legislation for priority publication autumn session 2023 (27);

legislation for priority drafting autumn session 2023 (24);

all other legislation (62); and

bills currently on the Dáil and Seanad Order Paper (28).

Speaking upon publication of the programme, Minister Naughton said: “Government’s key priorities will be progressed over the term, and they include safeguarding the financial wellbeing of our ageing population through publication of the Automatic Enrolment Retirement Savings System Bill. “We are also making a number of legislative changes in the space of housing that will benefit renters and those who want to own their own home. Every week some 400 people, couples and families are moving into their new home as supply of housing increases.”

Legislation for priority publication Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth XXth Amendment of the Constitution (Family) Bill

Heads in preparation.

XXth Amendment of the Constitution (Care) Bill

Heads in preparation.

Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment

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Digital Services Bill

Heads approved on 7 March 2023. Pre-legislative scrutiny (PLS) complete and report published.

Employment (Collective Redundancies and Miscellaneous Provisions) and Companies (Amendment) Bill

Heads approved on 4 May 2023. PLS complete and report published.

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Department of Finance Future Ireland Fund Bill

Heads in preparation.

Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman (Amendment) Bill

Heads approved in April 2023. PLS complete and report published.

Finance (No.2) Bill

Completed Dáil Éireann First Stage on 19 October 2023.

Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science Research and Innovation Bill

Heads approved in April 2023. PLS complete and report published.

Department of Health Health Insurance (Amendment) Bill

Heads in preparation.

Health (Amendment) Bill

Drafting ongoing.

Health (Amendment No. 2) Bill

Heads approved October 2022. PLS complete.

Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage Electoral (Amendment) (Dáil and European Parliament Constituencies) Bill

Heads approved in September 2023.

Planning and Development Bill

Draft Bill approved on 13 December 2022. PLS complete and report published.

Land Value Sharing Bill

PLS complete.

Marine Protected Area Bill

General scheme published in January 2023. PLS complete and report published.

Residential Tenancies (Right to Purchase) Bill

Heads in preparation.

Department of Justice Coroners (Amendment) Bill

Heads in preparation.

Defamation (Amendment) Bill

Drafting underway. PLS complete and report published.

Garda Síochána (Powers) Bill

Drafting underway. PLS complete and report published.

Sale of Alcohol Bill

Drafting underway. PLS complete and report published.

Department of Public Expenditure, NDP Delivery and Reform Appropriation Bill

Work underway.

Civil Service Regulation and Public Service Management (Amendment) Bill

PLS complete. Work underway.

Department of Rural and Community Development Charities (Amendment) Bill

Heads in preparation.

Department of Social Protection Automatic Enrolment Retirement Savings System Bill

Heads approved July 2022. PLS complete and report published.

State Pensions Reform Bill

Heads submitted to committee for PLS.

Social Welfare (Child Maintenance and Liable Relatives Provisions) Bill

Drafting ongoing. PLS complete and report published.

Social Welfare Bill

Work underway.

* Information correct as of 24 October 2023.

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Centenary of republican hunger strikes

A list of names and addresses of Dublin prisoners who participated in the hunger strike between October and November 1923. Credit: National Library of Ireland.

On 24 May 1923, the anti-Treaty IRA called an end to the Civil War by ordering its members to dump their arms. Tensions remained high, however, between Free State supporters and republicans. Violence continued beyond May, including extra judicial killings by Free State forces which went unpunished, including that of Noel Lemass, brother of future Taoiseach Seán, whose body was found in the Dublin Mountains in October 1923 shot, mutilated, and badly decomposed. As there was no negotiated settlement, with republicans dumping arms to fight another day, instead of surrendering them, there was no large-scale prison releases with 12,000 people still imprisoned or interned after the war had ended, including 500 women. The Free State Government resisted all calls to release republicans long after the 190

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Cormac Moore, a historian-inresidence with Dublin City Council and a columnist with The Irish News, reflects on the centenary of the 1923 hunger strike undertaken by some 8,000 republicans – male and female – held by the Free State after the cessation of the Civil War.

conflict was over. To release the prisoners, the government argued, would risk the reopening of hostilities. The Free State Government chose to release the prisoners and internees in stages, according to the danger they felt they posed. Some republicans were even arrested after the dumping of arms in May, including Éamon de Valera who was arrested in August 1923 as he was about to address an election rally in Ennis in County Clare. At the general election in August, republicans did far better than they or anyone else expected, winning 44 seats with an increase of 5.6 per cent of the vote share from the last general election in June 1922. Of the 44 elected, 18 were in prisons or camps around the country. With such electoral support for republicans, their chances of early release were lessened. Faced with an uncertain future and based in

prisons and camps where the conditions were considered very poor, morale amongst republicans was at an extremely low ebb. There was also undue pressure on them to ‘sign the form’ and accept the legitimacy of the Free State. It was in these conditions that republicans decided to embark on a large-scale hunger strike to highlight their plight. The hunger strike had been a potent weapon during the War of Independence for otherwise powerless prisoners through either forcing the British to back down or as a powerful means of propaganda if hunger strikers were to pay the ultimate sacrifice and die. The death of Thomas Ashe through forcefeeding while on hunger strike in 1917 and that of Terence MacSwiney from a hunger strike in 1920 were key moments in the independence struggle against the British. No other event in Ireland generated more international media coverage than the


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“The hunger strike had been a potent weapon during the War of Independence for otherwise powerless prisoners through either forcing the British to back down or as a powerful means of propaganda if hunger strikers were to pay the ultimate sacrifice and die.” Cormac Moore death and funeral of MacSwiney in 1920, including Bloody Sunday and the burning of Cork city. The hunger strikes from the War of Independence and the hunger strikes carried out by republican women during the Civil War were major factors in republicans deciding to embark on their hunger strike in October 1923. Without any coordinated plan within the republican movement, prisoners in Mountjoy Jail took the initiative themselves and went on hunger strike on 13 October 1923, as a protest of prison conditions and the continuation of their incarceration. They were soon followed by prisoners in other camps with about 8,000 men and women ultimately going on hunger strike. The huge numbers who went on hunger strike was in many ways at the root of the campaign’s failure. There was criticism by some who felt the number of people on hunger strike was way too high, believing they should be limited to carefully selected individuals, people who could be relied upon to follow the hunger strike to the brutal end. The strike was poorly planned from the outset with people unclear of its ultimate goal, when it could be called off, by whom, and on what grounds. Both the political and military leadership of the republican movement were unaware of it before it started in Mountjoy, including de Valera. He was not asked to take part in the hunger strike. While people were allowed to participate or not in the hunger strike, many felt under pressure to take part, a ‘sort of moral conscription’.

There was much agitation from public bodies, including from bodies who were supporters of the Free State, to release the prisoners. Despite the pressure, the government stood firm and did not yield to the hungerstrikers, people who had not renounced violence against the Free State, people who had refused to accept its legitimacy. With the Free State Government standing firm and many of the hunger strikers faltering, within three weeks of the commencement of the hunger strike, many started to take food which caused a domino effect, making it more and more difficult for others to stay on it. Large numbers came off the strike long before it was officially called off 41 days after it commenced on 13 October, without any guarantee of being released. The strike was finally called off on 23 November, but it was too late for two men, Denis Barry and Andy O’Sullivan who died on the 20 and 22 November respectfully. Although many prisoners and internees were released from October to December 1923, with 2,647 prisoners released in November alone including all women who were incarcerated, many remained in jail until the summer of 1924, particularly those considered the leaders of the republican movement. Upon release, republicans faced bleak prospects, demoralised, and defeated. Some, whose health never recovered from the hunger strikes, died early deaths. Others, unable to gain a livelihood, were forced to leave Ireland and try and eke out a living elsewhere.

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conference report

Environment Ireland 2023

Kevin O’Sullivan, The Irish Times; Clare Pillman, Natural Resources Wales; Ossian Smyth TD, Minister of State with responsibility for Communications and Circular Economy; Imelda Hurley, Coillte and Kevin Hegarty, Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

Environment Ireland 2023 took place on 14 and 15 September at Croke Park, Dublin. Over 300 delegates attended the two day event which was opened with an address from Ossian Smyth TD, Minister of State with responsibility for Communications and Circular Economy. Delegates in attendance heard from over 40 speakers, both visiting and local, from

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organisations including the Department for the Environment, Climate and Communications; European Commission; Natural Resources Wales; Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs; Institute for European Environmental Policy; CIÉ Group, and UCL Institute for Global Health.

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1: Delegates listen to a virtual address from Patrick Child, European Commission. 2: Environment Ireland delegates 2023. 3: Antoine Oger, IEEP addresses delegates. 4: Delegates visiting the Fáilte Ireland exhibition stand. 5: Barbara Hamill, Native Woodland Trust and Heidi Hopper-Duffy, CIÉ. 6: Tina Roche, Community Foundation Ireland asking a question. 7: Peter McEvoy, Ulster Wildlife; Lucy Gaffney, Business for Biodiversity Ireland; Tasman Crowe, University College Dublin and National Biodiversity Forum; Andy Bleasdale, National Parks and Wildlife Service; Lorraine Bull, Dublin City Council and Claire Downey, Rediscovery Centre. 8: Geoff Dooley, Antaris Consulting; Danielle Conaghan, Arthur Cox; Paul Kelly, Fáilte Ireland; Eimear Cotter, EPA and J Owen Lewis, IIEA Working Group on Climate and Energy. 9: Morgan Valvik, MKO; Jessica Long, Gas Networks Ireland and Patryk Kazimierczak, Gas Networks Ireland. 10: Ossian Smyth TD, Minister of State with responsibility for Communications and Circular Economy addressing the delegates. 11: Delegates visit the iCRAG stand. 12: Antaris Exhibition stand. 13: Cayzia Mills, Grant Thornton; Francis O'Dwyer, Cork County Council and Craig McGuicken, The Office for Environmental Protection. 14: Susan Hegarty, DCU; Helena Murray; Department of Public Health and Patrick Greene, Galway City Council. 15: Finbarr Brereton, University College Dublin asking the panel a question. 16: Delegates at the Quadra Stand. 17: Kate Sheehan, Shareridge Civil Engineering; Nikita Coulter, Shareridge Civil Engineering and Enda Cully, OBW Technologies.

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TRADE UNION DESK

How we deliver the homes that people need

A new report from the Parliamentary Budget Office (PBO) crystallises the fundamental problem with current housing policy, writes Owen Reidy, General Secretary, Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU). Housing Affordability for Private Household Buyers in Ireland takes a deep dive into housing supply and affordability (for private buyers) and charts how both have fared over the past decade. These challenges are at the very root of the ongoing crisis. The report confirms what many either suspect, or already know by way of hard experience in our dysfunctional housing market: the key metrics are all moving in the wrong direction, drifting ever further away from the goal of providing secure, affordable homes for all. Thus, the report reveals that between 2012 and 2022, wages rose by 27 per cent, while house

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prices rose by a remarkable 75 per cent. Rents for private tenants rose by a staggering 90 per cent, over the same period. This ‘affordability gap’ has been growing exponentially over the last decade and is now clearly unsustainable, in political, economic, and social terms. It leaves us with a stark choice as a society: if we want to solve the housing crisis, then we either we close that gap through dramatic wage and income growth, or we move decisively to bring house prices and rents down. Yes, the supply of housing has increased in recent years. But mistakes made in the immediate


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aftermath of the 2008 crash, mistakes that were compounded by policy choices taken in the years that followed, have left a terrible and daunting legacy of unmet housing need amongst a whole generation. Those policy choices also stripped us – via the State and local authorities – of our capacity to respond to the crisis and enshrined a fatal dependency on private, for-profit developers and landlords to deliver sufficient new homes and rental properties to satisfy the bulk of existing and future housing demand. This market-based approach rests on the belief that increased supply of housing in itself, will serve to drive down prices and deliver affordable homes. But the ‘for-profit’ development model does not work that way. In fact, developers require house prices to continually rise in order to secure finance and continue operating. Therefore, falling prices – and more affordable homes – act as a disincentive to build. Our housing system is structurally incapable of delivering affordable homes in the numbers required to resolve the crisis. Thus, the PBO report confirms that an individual or couple on median income – the midpoint of the salary scale – can no longer afford the purchase price

It is clear that we need a paradigm shift in how we approach and deliver housing, nothing less than a fundamental restructuring and repurposing of our entire housing model. Owen Reidy, General Secretary, ICTU

of an average new home. This is the generation that has been effectively locked out of the housing market. It is clear that we need a paradigm shift in how we approach and deliver housing, nothing less than a fundamental restructuring and repurposing of our entire housing model. Congress has published a new set of proposals on how this could be achieved (Congress Housing Ireland plan: www.ictu.ie/publications/housing-ireland-how-we-deliver-homes-peopleneed). In our view, the overarching goal of all housing policy must be the delivery of secure and genuinely affordable homes to all who need them. All else – the means of delivery, the resourcing, the skills – should then flow from that essential objective. Congress is proposing the establishment of an entirely new entity – Housing Ireland – that will assume responsibility for delivery of new public housing, cost rental and affordable purchase homes. The new entity will be established on the same basis as existing semi state bodies, such as the ESB. Initial financing can be secured from the existing surplus in corporate tax receipts and the new body could then issue long-term, state-backed bonds as required. Congress is also proposing that tenants in the rental sector be afforded genuine security, primarily through the banning of no fault evictions (usually when properties are sold), along with a coherent national system of rent control. Finally, a new, legal Right to Housing would underpin this ambitious programme of change and communicate a powerful signal as to the new model we seek to build.

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The North needs care and attention The North’s political system is in trouble, write Alan Renwick, professor of democratic politics and, Conor J Kelly, research assistant, and Project Manager, The Constitution Unit, Department of Political Science, University College London. Alan Renwick

Devolved government in the North is suspended, with uncertain prospects for restoration in the short term. Public services are struggling. Trust is debilitatingly low. The settlement reached through the 1998 Good Friday Agreement looks increasingly brittle. Leaders in Northern Ireland bear much of the responsibility for getting back on track. But one lesson of the last quarter century and more is that success in Northern Ireland requires close engagement from Dublin and London, and a healthy relationship between the two. Yet interest in and understanding of Northern Ireland at Westminster is low. Our research suggests that much the same is true in Dublin. And the relationship between the governments – though improved from post-Brexit lows – remains weak. Over the summer, we released a report, Perspectives on the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement: Examining Diverse Views, 1998–2023, examining how people and politicians think about the 1998 Agreement. The findings may not have surprised seasoned observers in Northern Ireland, but they bear close attention for others. The Agreement remains the bedrock on which most people want to build the future, but there are resentments on all sides. Anger that one party can veto functioning government is widespread. Many nationalists feel ignored by Dublin, while many unionists feel deeply betrayed by 196

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Conor J Kelly

London. Non-aligned voters often see the system as skewed against them. There are no easy answers to such challenges. But a starting point is that London and Dublin must engage and listen – and demonstrate they are doing so. Progress is impossible without trust, but trust will not regrow unless people feel they are seen and respected. Our colleague Alan Whysall, a former civil servant in the UK government’s Northern Ireland Office, has similarly stressed the need for London, acting with Dublin, to take a more proactive approach. He has also mooted possible reforms that could revive the agreement before all confidence has ebbed away. Getting sufficient consensus on any reforms would be difficult, but fresh ideas deserve attention. Seeking a reset in the North’s politics requires the British and Irish governments above all to focus on the immediate challenge of restoring the devolved institutions. But an eye to the long term is needed as well – to forestall future challenges and forge future opportunities. One challenge needing attention concerns how the British and Irish governments relate to each other and maintain mutual understanding in the post-Brexit era. Another, where Dublin’s role is lesser, concerns the future shape of the union between England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Wales is devoting much

creative attention to developing ideas. Yet unionism in Northern Ireland (and Scotland) has become defensive; space for designing positive future visions is needed. A third issue is the possibility of a united Ireland. This is widely talked about but has again received remarkably little detailed thinking. What would a united Ireland look like, and what would be the process of getting there? The prospect may look distant today. But the agreement requires a ‘border poll’ in certain circumstances, and Dublin would have no formal say on the timing. So thinking the matter through in advance is important. We were both part of a Working Group on Unification Referendums on the Island of Ireland, which published a detailed report in 2021 identifying and assessing options for the design of such votes. We did so not because we are pushing for referendums – as academics, we have no position on the matter – but because such votes might happen at some point, and going into them without a clear plan would carry significant dangers. We found no easy options. Detailed planning may not be needed yet; but awareness of the issues is. Northern Ireland needs care and attention from both Dublin and London, but it is not getting enough from either. That should change.


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