Seanad Éireann - Volume 144 - 25 October, 1995
Adjournment Matters. - Land Registry Delays.
Mr. Cosgrave Mr. Cosgrave
Mr. Cosgrave: I welcome the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht and I am sure he will ably stand in for the Minister for Justice and pass on my comments to her.
I thank you, a Chathaoirligh, for allowing me to raise this important matter which is causing difficulty for people buying and selling properties and for the legal profession. I have received a number of representations on this matter. The problem relates to delays in the issuing of copy folios by the Land Registry. No doubt the Minister will be aware that the Land Registry, like other great bodies in this country, is coming into the age of the computer. However, it has only partly gone down that road. Unfortunately, many counties lag far behind. In certain counties there is a six to eight week or more delay in the issuing of folios. That is not satisfactory in this day and age. It is causing difficulties and delays in land sales.
From discussing this matter with colleagues in the House and from representations received, I understand some people are experiencing difficulties in some counties and that there is a shortage of staff in some areas. I ask the Minister to bring this to the attention of the Minister for Justice and to support the case for the appointment of extra staff to certain areas in the Land Registry. I understand from the recommended figure of 540 that there is a shortage of approximately 20.
The Land Registry deals with the availability of folios, mapping queries and questions on title, etc. There is no doubt that this must be improved. I ask  the Minister to respond to counties experiencing special difficulties. Recently a case in County Cavan was brought to my attention which concerned the transfer of a small cottage. The person in question was informed that there would be a delay of at least eight weeks or longer in the issuing of a folio. This is totally unacceptable.
A lot of work has been done manually in certain areas to get the system on stream. However, there is a considerable backlog and there is a shortage of staff. Staff supposedly involved in computerisation should possibly be directed elsewhere. It is unacceptable to ask people to wait eight to ten weeks or longer for the issue of a folio where other sales may depend on it. I am sure the Minister would agree.
I ask the Minister to relay to the Minister for Justice my concerns, those of the Law Society of Ireland, practitioners and the public. I am a member of a profession which, I am the first to admit, has not been without its difficulties. However, it is being blamed for this, although it has nothing to do with the profession. I am joined here by my colleague, Senator Enright, a fellow practitioner.
I ask the Minister to respond positively and to bring this to the attention of the Minister for Justice. This matter is certainly worthy of support if it comes before Cabinet in the coming weeks. I am sure there are practitioners in the Minister's area of Galway city and county who are aware of this difficulty. In some counties people will have to wait until possibly after Christmas for a copy folio. If the sale of a person's house, land or cottage is delayed, people are affected. Could I share my time with Senator Enright?
An Cathaoirleach An Cathaoirleach
An Cathaoirleach: Is that agreed? Agreed.
Mr. Enright Mr. Enright
Mr. Enright: I would like to support Senator Cosgrave on this matter. I have dealt with Land Registry staff for over 30 years and I have found them exceptionally  helpful, courteous and obliging. They will help anyone who approaches them for assistance. I accept what Senator Cosgrave said about delays in issuing folios and file plans.
A similar situation arises where a person has been allocated land by the Land Commission. They must register it in the Land Registry to obtain a folio number. They are allocated a schedule number and then they must go on a waiting list. I hate to say this, but there is approximately a four year delay, which is totally unacceptable.
I appreciate that a change in that will be difficult if not impossible because I have tried. I ask the Minister to see if he can help. The Minister represents a rural area as well as a city. People face delays as regards set aside and headage payments and other grants because they cannot lodge the proper folio, file plans and maps with the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry. Much of this relates to the Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry and I am not sure if the Land Registry is under this Department or the Department of Justice. I ask the Minister to look into this. I thank you, a Cathaoirligh, and Senator Cosgrave for allowing me to speak on this matter.
Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht (Mr. M. Higgins) Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht (Mr. M. Higgins)
Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht (Mr. M. Higgins): I thank the Senator for giving me this opportunity to speak and to give Members an up to date report on the current work situation in the Land Registry. I assure both Senators that I will convey their detailed remarks to my colleague, the Minister for Justice, Deputy Owen. I am replying on behalf of the Minister for Justice, who apologises that she could not be here tonight, but she is attending to other urgent business.
I acknowledge this issue is a matter of concern to both Senators and to the people on whose behalf they have raised this issue. As I am sure most Members of the House will be aware, an arrears situation has existed in the Land Registry for some time. Basically, the arrears situation arose due to staff shortages  over a period of time. However, I am happy to be able to report that significant progress has been, and is being, made in relation to speeding up the processing of all transactions in the Land Registry. I should say I have a personal source of information in that my wife was a former staff member of the Land Registry. She has her own unique view on the cause of the delays.
In relation to the specific item to which Senator Cosgrave referred, the average time taken to process the issue of a copy folio is now down to seven days from receipt of an application. The average time taken to process the issue of a copy map is 13 days from receipt of an application. I am sure Members will agree that the time taken in respect of both of these cases is not overly long.
The majority of applicants nowadays seek a copy folio with the relevant copy file plan map attached. Each month the registry receives about 10,000 applications for copy folios or copy maps and virtually all the applicants receive their folio map within the acceptable time-frame I mentioned. Where there are exceptionally large inflows of applications for a particular county or where particular complexities arise, the preparation of the copy folio can take longer. Senator Enright made a good point in this regard, which I will convey. The time taken to process applications will, of course, vary from county to county and is affected by matters such as the level of computerisation of the Land Registry records in relation to the county.
I understand that there are certain counties where the building in which that particular section of the Land Registry is located will not support computerisation. In view of the impending computerisation programme planned for the Land Registry, the Minister is discussing this matter with the Minister for Finance, with a view to getting more suitable accommodation for the Land Registry.
Senator Cosgrave indicated that he is particularly interested in the issue of folios in County Cavan. The section  dealing with the Cavan region is, unfortunately, located in the building which will not support computerisation. However, in relation to the issue of filed plans, which is a copy folio and a copy map combined, I understand that where a copy map of the relevant parcel of land exists, a filed plan is issued within seven to 12 days. Where a copy map does not exist, the preparation of the filed plan takes about five weeks.
At this stage the Minister has asked me to point out that a considerable investment is being made in computerisation and information technology in the Land Registry. In this regard the IT unit in the registry is currently working on the development of a title registration information system specifically for the Land Registry and it is hoped that considerable progress will be made in this regard during 1996.
Vital development work is also being undertaken in relation to digital mapping, training, strategic management and the installation in the registries of modern financial and accounting systems. An IT manager was appointed in 1993 and a qualified accountant was appointed as financial controller in 1994. When fully operational, all of the measures I have outlined will significantly improve the capability of the Land Registry to cope with its workload.
While we are on the subject of the Land Registry's workload, I think that it is important for me to say that over each of the past four years annual output in the Land Registry has exceeded the annual intake of business, thus reducing the arrears level. The Minister has also asked me to highlight the fact that there has been a significant increase in the volume of Land Registry business, which can be gauged from the fact that the Land Registry workload figures for 1994 show that new records were set in relation to both the intake and output of business. The increase in the business of the Land Registry is, I have no doubt, directly attributable to the Government's sound management of the economy,  which has led to the present buoyancy of the property market.
While accepting that in the past there have been problems with the registry and that it has not been in a position to provide the speed of service which is required, I must point out that it sometimes unfairly gets the blame for delays when the fault actually lies elsewhere. Senator Cosgrave referred to this matter. Although the vast majority of applicants supply all the necessary information, for whatever reason some applications lodged with the registry are either incomplete or incorrect, which causes delays.
Handling of the substantial volume of incorrect and/or incomplete applications gives rise to non-productive work and represents poor utilisation of the registry's scarce resources. The Land Registry management, in co-operation with the Law Society, have made efforts to bring about improvements in the quality of work lodged. However, the results to date have been somewhat disappointing. This is a matter which will have to be tackled and requires further action by solicitors and the Law Society. The registry is most anxious to assist solicitors in any way it can to improve matters.
At this stage I know the Minister for Justice would want to pay tribute to the Registrar of Deeds and Titles and her staff, whom she considers to be first class. To date, they have displayed an admirable devotion to duty. I want to acknowledge their efforts and success over the past number of years in reducing delays in the registry. She has also asked me to mention the Interim Board of the Registries, under the chairmanship of Mr. Joe Moran, which is currently involved in advising her Department on the preparation of the legislation required to support the transition of the Land Registry and the Registry of Deeds to semi-State status and on the establishment of the financial systems and controls to ensure that the registries will operate on a sound commercial footing.
 I am confident that the registries have a bright and exciting future ahead of them and that they will continue to respond to their clients' needs and to provide enhanced service to the public and the legal profession.
Finally, I want to again assure the House that it is the Minister's intention to ensure that the level of resources necessary for the improvement of the Land Registry service to the public is maintained. I accept fully the contributions of Senators Cosgrave and Enright tonight and I will refer their remarks to the Minister for Justice and my colleagues in Government. The Senators may be assured that we will do our utmost to ensure that the organisation operates efficiently and professionally.
Seanad Éireann 144 Adjournment Matters. Land Registry Delays.