Hundreds of rooms on college campuses will be let to students at reduced rates in exchange for State funding under plans due to be approved by Cabinet on Tuesday.
Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris will this morning seek Government approval to significantly increase the supply of student accommodation in a move which could see 700 beds made available in Maynooth, Limerick and Galway in the first instance.
Ministers will also agree to continue negotiations with two other colleges with planning permissions on providing State support in return for ring-fencing rooms at a reduced rate.
The devolved capital grant may also be expanded to include repurposing of vacant housing stock to accommodate students. Mr Harris will also propose a new student accommodation strategy, while the Department of Higher Education will also proceed with engagement with UCD and DCU with a view to bringing further proposals to Government shortly.
There will also be funding available to Technological Universities to prepare business cases for on-site accommodation.
Minister for Social Protection Heather Humphreys will also bring a memo to Cabinet today that seeks to extend the payment of the Christmas Bonus to people in receipt of illness benefit for 12 months or longer.
Separately, the Cabinet is expected to discuss the appointment of a new chair of the RTÉ board, as the term of current chair Moya Doherty ends.
Meanwhile, Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan will seek Cabinet approval for Iarnród Éireann to order 90 new battery-electric train carriages before Christmas this year.
The new carriages would represent a significant boost to Ireland’s rail transport capacity, particularly to the expanding Dart system in the greater Dublin area and eastern region. The carriages could also be deployed for a future Cork area rapid transit system.
Around Dublin, the new carriages will facilitate the wider Dart+ programme – extending from Dublin city centre to Drogheda in the north, Maynooth in the west and Celbridge/Hazelhatch in the southwest. Dart+ would also extend to Wicklow in the south.
It is understood that the Department of Transport has estimated that the extra carriages would increase the number of people who can access a frequent, high-capacity rail service from about 250,000 at present to 600,000 in the future. If approved, the carriages would be delivered to the Irish rail system in 2026.
Separately, a new agri-food watchdog would have the power to impose fines of up to €10 million on retailers and food producers who engage in unfair trading practices with farmers and other suppliers, under plans due to be brought to Cabinet by Minister for Agriculture Charlie McConalogue.
The regulator will have powers to investigate practices such as late payments to farmers and primary producers as well as the misuse of trade secrets and unfair contract changes. The regulator will be able to issue fines of up to €10 million or 10 per cent of turnover on companies found to be breaching these unfair trading practices.
The recruitment of a chief executive for the agri-food regulator is currently ongoing, with interviews set to take place shortly.
Elsewhere, Minister for Education Norma Foley is due to receive Cabinet approval to provide €90 million in one-off additional funding to support schools struggling with rising energy costs.
The additional grant will be paid at the rate of €75 per pupil at primary level and €113 at post-primary level. Enhanced rates will also be paid in respect of pupils with special educational needs. Some €10 million in funding is also being provided for existing school transport providers to address the ongoing increased fuel costs.
Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien will also bring a memo detailing changes to the income eligibility thresholds for social housing. The changes, which will apply in every local authority area from January 2023, will see income eligibility thresholds increased by €5,000.
The changes come on foot of a report received by Mr O’Brien last year from the Housing Agency on the thresholds. In line with the recommendations in the report, in September this year the thresholds for five local authorities were increased by €5,000. The authorities are Carlow, Clare, Laois, Westmeath and Galway county.