Topical Issue Debate

Pension Provisions

As the Minister of State will hopefully be aware, a massive crisis has been brewing within the pension industry in Ireland. A large part of that crisis has arisen because of the recession and the actions of some employers in regard to providing for pensions. However, those actions have been exacerbated by the Government in two ways, the pension levy and regulations.

The introduction of the pension levy by the Fine Gael and Labour parties and the changes to the minimum funding standard has meant a loss of benefits to pensioners and also the closure and potential closure of schemes. It is the workers who are reliant on those pensions, those who are in their old age, who are paying the cost. Shockingly, the figure involved is approximately 250,000 people. It should be remembered that these people are not individuals in receipt of massive salaries or exorbitant pensions. Some 70% of older citizens who are living alone survive on pensions at the bottom 20% of the income distribution. In many regards, these individuals are the forgotten poor of society.

The Government introduced a 0.6% pension levy which has had a massive effect on pensions. I and my colleague on the other benches, Deputy English, will be aware of the Tara Mines workers. These workers suffered a 10% reduction in the level of their pensions as a result of a 0.6% pension levy. When they asked the Government Deputies why they had voted for the levy, some of them said they did not know that would be an outcome of it.

That is a shocking indictment of any Member who is responsible for their constituents.

The average pension of a Tara Mines worker is €10,000 and the levy means a low income has been reduced by €1,000. Many of the pensioners have demonstrated throughout County Meath and outside the gates of Leinster House. They have been led to believe on a number of occasions by Government Members that the decision would be reversed but that has not happened. Last year, they were on their own in many ways but I have spoken to people working in the insurance, banking and construction industries. The cost of the levy was absorbed by the trustees of their pension schemes but this is no longer the case and, therefore, what happened to Tara Mines pensioners last year is now happening to pensioners across every industry. Many of these individuals say that the Government regulations regarding the reserves that must be maintained by pension schemes is having the effect of reducing the pots available to pensioners even though the Government may be seeking to strengthen those pension pots and make sure they exist into the future. Some of the schemes will close in the future. Will the Minister of State address these issues and give the Tara Mines pensioners and all the other pensioners affected some hope that the Government will reverse the pension levy and reform the pension reserve regulations in order that they do not destroy people's pensions in the future?

I apologise for being late; I expected the previous business to go on a little longer.

I am taking this matter on behalf of the Minister for Social Protection, who is in Brussels today. It is acknowledged that the fundamental problem facing occupational pension schemes is that pensions are significantly more expensive due to increasing life expectancy and lower than expected investment returns, which are reflected in increased annuity rates.

The Pensions Regulator suspended the funding standard four years ago, following the downturn in the financial market, to give trustees-employers an opportunity to assess the impact on pension funds and to give them time to develop responses to the challenge. The reintroduction of the funding standard was delayed on a number of occasions pending changes to legislation which were designed to help trustees respond to the funding challenges facing pension schemes. The Government also introduced the following measures to ease the funding pressures on defined benefit schemes while the funding standard was in abeyance: removal of the priority given to post-retirement increases for pensioners to ensure a more equitable distribution of assets in the event of the wind-up of a defined benefit scheme; the pensions insolvency payments scheme was established to reduce the cost of purchasing pensions for trustees where the employer has become insolvent; and the introduction of the sovereign annuity initiative.

The purchase of a sovereign annuity is an option which the trustees of a scheme can exercise in order to reduce scheme liabilities. The sovereign annuity market is still in the early stages and demand for sovereign annuities remains to be seen. However, last August, the National Treasury Management Agency announced details of the sale of €1.021 million of Irish amortising bonds of between 15 and 35 years duration. It is anticipated that the NTMA will be in a position to issue further bonds as pension fund trustees complete their funding plans in line with the funding standard.

The funding standard provides a benchmark against which the health of a scheme can be tested. The existence of the funding standard itself is not the central issue in regard to whether a scheme is properly funded. Rather the responsibility rests with the employer and the trustees for ensuring that the scheme is properly funded and managed. However, the funding standard does provide the regulatory mechanism for ensuring that a scheme can live up to the promised level of pension benefits. The requirement for a risk reserve is also being introduced from 2016, to provide a level of protection for scheme members against future volatility in financial markets. It is accepted that the requirement for a risk reserve presents an added challenge for schemes, however, guidance issued by the regulator identifier options which the scheme can consider in meeting this requirement by 2023. This guidance is being kept under review. Overall, the changes made to defined benefit schemes are intended to bring increased stability to pension promises in the future and lessen the exposure to risks of schemes.

I am not certain that this answers the Deputy's question. There are no plans to remove the pension levy at this time. I do not say it is not under review but there are no plans to remove it.

I have been informed that profitable businesses are reducing their exposure to workers' pensions and, in one case, a bank, which is currently repatriating profits to its English parent, is reducing the pensions that workers have paid into. While it is necessary to have reserves and proper regulations in this area, it is important that they do not damage the livelihoods and wages of pensioners.

The pension levy is a bizarre wealth tax. It makes no proper discrimination between the pension a person earns and does not earn. Tara Mines workers have lost 10% of their earnings. Given many Government Members did not understand the impact the levy would have and given it affects such a vulnerable section of society so severely, it must be their desire to have a such a tax reversed. It must be considered that the levy was designed to create jobs. Ireland has lost more jobs per capita than any other western country since the Great Depression, 87,000 people emigrated last year, which is the highest number since the 1800s and 33,000 left the workforce last year. The pensioners are paying for a Government jobs plan which has resulted in the worst jobs figures imaginable. The burden is on their shoulders while the Government's jobs plan, unfortunately, fails. Will the Minister of State at least bring this issue to the attention of the Cabinet and ask that this unfair levy be reversed in the budget?

Every elected representative at community, local or national level understands it is an extraordinarily difficult time for everyone who is not working, including those who are on a pension. I have no problem bringing the Deputy's concerns, which I am sure he has expressed previously to her, to the Minister and I will ensure that happens.

With regard to whether people understood what would happen as a result of the pension levy, more people on the Government benches understand economics than in the Deputy's party. For that reason, the Labour Party was the only party in the House that voted against the blanket bank guarantee.

That is not true.

If people in his party had understood that on the night they voted in favour of it, we would not be in the mess we are in today and the Deputy must take that on board as well.

The Minister of State should look at the record.

Perhaps the Deputy will take that message back to his party while I take his concerns back to the Minister for Social Protection.

Health Services Provision

I am grateful to the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this topical issue. I welcome the Minister of State.

The HSE national service plan for 2012 includes a commitment to roll out a new kind of treatment for diabetes in children, including the use of insulin pumps. Five centres were identified - three in Dublin, one in Cork and a shared service between Limerick and Galway. The target completion date was the end of the third quarter, that is, the end of September. There are two issues - one is the restriction of this new insulin pump treatment to children under five years of age and the other is the discrepancies in the treatment of children in different regions.

One often hears complaints of a Dublin-centric attitude. Galway children must travel to Temple Street children's hospital in Dublin to see a consultant six or seven times a year in order to use the insulin pump. As a Galway Deputy, I will speak about regional deficiencies. I warmly welcome the announcement at the start of this year of an additional 1.2 diabetes nurse specialist posts in Limerick and Galway, with a diabetes dietician also shared between the Mid-Western Regional Hospital and University College Hospital Galway. These posts were to be filled and operational by June 2012 but this did not happen. Following representations and a delay of several weeks, I received news this afternoon - by strange coincidence - that the posts will be advertised in the coming weeks and will be in place by the start of 2013. Despite the delay, I can see the benefit in this.

Advocacy groups suggest Galway is the poor relation when it comes to urban areas and diabetic treatment. However, the good news I have mentioned does not solve another issue, namely, the apparent differentiation between age groups. The new insulin pump treatment will only be introduced for children under five years of age. I am concerned about those over that age. A constituent approached me on behalf of his 11 year old daughter. The girl requires four or five injections of insulin a day for type 1 diabetes. This caused an amount of trauma to the body to the extent that the abdomen suffered bruising. The injections were administered subsequently to her arms and currently to the back of her legs. This is of major concern to the girl and her parents who want to know when they will have access to an insulin pump. She is an 11 year old in Galway and I ask whether this treatment will continue to be available only in Dublin. It is a major regional issue.

No one likes to talk about the cost of health care but we must be practical. We must use the funding we allocate to health care to its optimal use. By not extending insulin pump treatment to all children, we will be penny rich and pound foolish.

I am responding on behalf of the Minister for Health, Deputy James Reilly. The HSE national clinical programme for diabetes, which includes the care of children and adolescents with diabetes, was established to define the way diabetic clinical services should be delivered, resourced and measured. The programme is lead by a clinician and its central aim is to save lives, eyes and limbs of patients with diabetes. The national clinical leads for diabetes and paediatrics met to discuss the issues involved in the care of children and adolescents with diabetes. A working group was established to discuss services throughout the country, to agree a model of care and to standardise these throughout the country. Their work involves the development of criteria for the use of insulin pump therapy in children and adolescents with type 1 diabetes, as the benefits of this form of therapy are well established, especially in children younger than five years of age. They also work on policy to aid the early detection and prevention of diabetes in young children and adolescents. The group's work is ongoing.

I am delighted to say that this year the HSE paediatric and diabetes clinical programme initiated a project to provide insulin pump therapy to children with type 1 diabetes under five years of age in five centres nationally. This is a wonderful advancement in the treatment of children with diabetes. The centres include the Adelaide and Meath Hospital, incorporating the National Children's Hospital, Crumlin, Temple Street, Cork and Limerick-Galway. All children under five years will be assessed for suitability for insulin pump therapy in one of these centres. If suitable, the children and parents or carers will undergo a structured education process prior to commencing insulin pump therapy. If not found suitable, children will be treated using multiple daily injections. The diabetes team will work with the parents and children to address the deficits if desired.

All insulin pump therapy commenced in children under five years will be maintained in the over five years age group. In order to provide this treatment, additional nursing resources are required and work is progressing on the recruitment of these nursing resources. I am fully aware of the challenges facing young diabetic patients and of the need to support patients and their families. I am committed to providing the best possible health service for our children and their families and will continue to work with the HSE and, specifically, the clinical programmes to ensure the best possible outcomes for these patients. I thank the Deputy for raising the matter.

I welcome the announcement made today regarding the service to be operated jointly between Limerick and Galway, the fact that the posts should be in place by 2013, that the recruitment programme is commencing in Manorhamilton and that all insulin pump therapy commenced in those under five years will be continued after that age. It is good news for those who receive the treatment. Where does the 11 year old child stand? Where can she go? Her body is marked with injection sites. Her family sees the major benefit of an insulin pump in terms of lessening the number of injection sites. I am not sure how many children are in a similar position but I am dealing with a specific case. Where does that child stand? A child of four and half years will receive the benefit but not a child of 11 years of age.

One can understand the parents' concern at the delicate age of 11 years. Even without diabetes, that age brings a degree of worry. We must begin somewhere and the treatment of children under five, who will receive insulin pumps, will be maintained into later years and adolescence. While I have every sympathy, I cannot comment on a particular individual with diabetes. I understand the concerns but we must begin somewhere. As is the case with various vaccination programmes, it is our aim to do a follow-up and a catch-up programme. I will speak to the Minister for Health on this important matter. I know the value of a treatment process, especially in the case of diabetes where treatment is a daily event. I know the benefits of an insulin pump. It relieves the constant worry about the amount of insulin and when it is given. Children do not normally have that kind of routine. I am not certain that we will be to deliver a catch-up programme but we should seriously consider it.

Human Rights Issues

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this issue for the third time in the House. While all our energy goes to dealing with the economic situation here and across Europe, we must maintain the view that we are all human beings and we must do something about the humanitarian issue in Syria. Thousands have died in brutal attacks and many more have been severely injured or forced to flee their homes. Schools and health centres have closed down or have become too dangerous for families to contact. Many have been traumatised by the torture and upheaval inflicted upon them, in particular having to leave their family home to seek refuge in neighbouring countries of Jordan, Iraq, and Turkey. According to the Jordanian Government, more than 200,000 Syrian refugees have entered the country and are living in appalling conditions. We are all acutely aware of the humanitarian aspect to the Syrian conflict. It is our duty to support the countries now receiving a large influx of refugees, such as Turkey and Jordan.

As a Government, we must call for an immediate end to the violence, stress the responsibility of Syria to protect its population and continue to monitor the situation closely.

The United Nations needs to ensure that all measures possible are adopted to stop human rights violations and establish a commission to investigate these violations. Humanitarian corridors needed to be focused on. We, as a nation, must highlight that we are united with our European counterparts in aiding the protection of the people of Syria.

Systematic and gross violations of human rights continue to be committed under the Assad regime on its own people in Syria on a daily basis. When children are being used as pawns and sought out as targets in warfare it is incumbent upon us, as a member state of the United Nations, to try to protect their interests and maintain their safety.

In the devastating massacre in Houla in May, more than 100 people lost their lives, including 49 children. On Monday, yet again we saw this civil war claim the lives of further innocent children. Syrian rights activists claimed Syrian Government warplanes bombed the northern town near the Turkish border, killing 21 people, as heavy fighting spread within the old city of Aleppo. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the death toll from Monday's air strike in Salqin included eight children. The observatory said nationwide fighting between Government and rebel forces on Monday killed at least 100 people.

The harsh reality is that the Syrian crisis has reached genocidal proportions and is one of the greatest challenges faced by the United Nations Security Council. However, while I acknowledge that we are limited in our capacity as a member state of the UN, we are not doing enough to abate this disaster which has reached a monumental scale. While we and our EU counterparts have been afforded the opportunity to raise this issue in our national parliaments, and this is the third occasion I have raised this issue, we are still merely talking about it and very little action has been instigated. While we continue to discuss Syria, children are being callously slaughtered. Procrastination is opportunity's natural assassin

We need look at the statistics to get an understanding of the extent of inactivity that prevails. Up until July 2012, over 1,300 children had been killed, 49 children were massacred in one incident alone, 635 children were put into detention centres where torture has been repeatedly testified and girls and boys as young as eight have been forcibly involved in hostilities. An estimated 470,000 children and young people have been affected by the crisis. It is estimated that around 50% of all displaced Syrians are children and young people, and girls and boys as young as 12 had been sexually abused

Amnesty International visited 26 towns and villages between 31 August and 11 September and carried out on-the-ground field investigations into indiscriminate attacks which killed 166 civilians, including 48 children and 20 women, and injured hundreds of others. In recent days Amnesty International has continued to receive information from residents of several villages about ongoing air and artillery attacks, some of which have resulted in yet more civilian casualties.

I am taking this matter on behalf of the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.

I know Deputy Ann Phelan and others in the House will join me in emphasising our sense of horror and dismay at the relentless onslaught upon the Syrian civilian population. The brutally repressive actions of the Assad regime and the armed resistance from elements of the opposition have resulted in extraordinary levels of human suffering, which has been outlined by Deputy Ann Phelan. Speaking at the UN General Assembly last Friday the Tánaiste described the situation in Syria today as an affront to humanity.

I welcome the opportunity to outline how Ireland has responded. The Minister of State with responsibility for trade and development, Deputy Joe Costello, visited Jordan in August to assess the situation on the ground.

Statistics cannot adequately convey the extent of the humanitarian crisis but they are shocking. Over 20,000 people have been killed in the violence, 2.5 million people in Syria are in desperate need of assistance and over 1.2 million Syrians are displaced within their own country. There has been indiscriminate shelling of densely populated areas, excessive use of force and random targeting of innocent civilians. As the humanitarian situation deteriorates and winter approaches, there is urgent need for additional food, medical care and shelter. There is growing concern for the 500,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria who have been living for generations in camps which are now being affected by the violence.

The number of refugees in neighbouring countries has reached over 300,000, about 75% of them women and children. While visiting the Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan, the Minister of State, Deputy Costello witnessed at first hand how the staff of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, are struggling with limited resources to provide even the most basic services for a rapidly increasing refugee community. While the UN and agencies have recently been able to scale up the delivery of humanitarian assistance, the operation continues to be hampered by the Syrian regime and by violence on the part of Syrian Government forces and the armed opposition.

As early as March this year, Ireland provided €500,000 in emergency funding for the International Committee of the Red Cross, the UNHCR and the World Food Programme. At the time of the Minister of State's visit to Jordan, Ireland mobilised an additional €1.6 million of humanitarian assistance to the International Committee of the Red Cross, UNHCR, the World Health Organisation and the International Rescue Committee. This included non-food items such as tents, mattresses, kitchen sets, water tanks and jerry cans from our rapid response stocks in Dubai for Za'atari refugee camp in Jordan. Only last week, Ireland provided funding to the United Nations Relief Works Agency to help Palestinian refugees in Syria. This brings Ireland's support since March to €2.45 million.

Ireland is also working with the international community to end the suffering of the Syrian people and bring about an early political transition. What is needed above all is a strong resolution from the Security Council that will authorise targeted sanctions, including a comprehensive arms embargo, against all who are violating the basic rights of the Syrian people. There also needs to be accountability for what has happened in Syria, and Ireland fully supports referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court.

With no early political solution in sight, the prospect is all too real of continued displacement and humanitarian suffering within Syria and an escalating refugee crisis. The latest predictions are that the number of Syrian refugees could reach 710,000 by the end of the year, some 250,000 in Jordan alone.

The immediate imperative is to respond to the humanitarian needs on the ground while maintaining international efforts to find a sustainable political solution. Ireland and our EU partners are firmly committed on both fronts. Collectively, we have already provided well over €200 million in humanitarian assistance and we will remain fully engaged in solidarity with the people of Syria.

I commend Deputy Ann Phelan for raising this issue. It is important that it be raised in parliaments throughout the world, to ensure that the international response is as strong as can possibly be mobilised.

I thank the Minister of State for her response. We must continue to raise this matter in our parliaments and we must keep it on all our agendas. I am calling for the reinstatement of UN monitors. Observatory missions, such as that based in London, are limited in scope and capacity to act.

Governments will be meeting between 17 and 19 October at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, to discuss children's rights. The issue of children in the war in Syria should be raised at that assembly. The Save the Children campaign is calling for strident monitoring and recording of every crime against the children of Syria and that their perpetrators be held to account.

We can only keep trying. The Minister of State said a political solution is not in sight. In the absence of that, we must keep pushing humanitarian issues and try to alleviate the suffering of the most vulnerable in society, namely children.

Ireland will continue to contribute strongly to the humanitarian needs of Syria.

Deputy Ann Phelan might have heard about the Tánaiste's strong remarks at the United Nations General Assembly last week. Ireland is certainly making its voice heard in this regard. I will convey to the Tánaiste the Deputy's concern that the UN monitors be reinstated, as he is back in the country now, and I am sure the Deputy will do so as well.

Local Authority Housing Provision

I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important issue. People have a right to live peacefully and not to live in fear or to be terrorised by other people in their neighbourhood. I am aware of one lovely, relatively new estate where three families are seeking to be rehoused elsewhere because of the unbearable behaviour towards them. Their cars are being damaged, their children are being both verbally attacked and threatened and people are walking on their back walls and looking in their windows. It is absolutely unacceptable behaviour, and no sector of society holds a monopoly on such behaviour.

This is strictly about people who misbehave when they are granted housing after being approved by a local authority. Regardless of one's colour, class or creed, behaving in this fashion is unacceptable. This problem must be recognised and forcefully tackled. If legislative change is required for this to happen, so be it. These anti-social groups have no respect for either themselves or their communities. Local authority housing forms require one to get a peace commissioner to certify one's income. There is also a section dealing with public order offences. This type of self assessment of an individual's public order record is insufficient and Garda certification should be required. Many people, including young people, have been in regular contact with the Garda but do not have an official criminal record. Nevertheless, they are causing huge problems. Any statement from a garda indicating that the people would not make good neighbours should certainly be taken into account.

The spirit of social housing is that people who are allocated a house will fit into a community and not destroy the lives of the people around them. We recently considered a vetting Bill in this House dealing with employers who have vulnerable adults or children working for them. It is very welcome legislation. A local authority has valuable property on its books and the well-being of that property and the estate in general is at stake. Vetting of housing applicants must be an element in assessing their suitability for social housing. In these cases, one is always dealing with vulnerable people and children because these will be one's neighbours. People who always shout about their rights must realise that they also have responsibilities and that the rights of their neighbours are equally important.

I am aware of another case where an extremely difficult family with a strong anti-social behaviour track record was housed in a quiet estate. The residents were completely hampered prior to the allocation and felt their local representatives were powerless to make their voices heard. They were right. The rights were all on the side of one family, above those of all the other families. Local authority executives are quick to cite legislation and the potential for litigation. Technically, they are correct but there appears to be little to support the families who know the trouble that is being foisted upon them. The law-abiding people approach their local elected representatives for help, but the representatives can do nothing about the process.

The process of allocating houses is closed. Perhaps we should consider establishing an assessment board for social housing in each local authority. It could incorporate local gardaí, public representatives and council executives. Garda vetting should be mandatory before allocations are made. We are all conscious of the right of people to a home, but we are over-emphasising their rights and underplaying their responsibilities to their communities and neighbours. We should also consider the imposition of financial penalties where anti-social behaviour occurs. If one does not treat the State's property or one's neighbour's property properly, one should pay for the cost of the damage or it should be deducted from what one receives in benefits from the State.

We must also consider the possibility of imposing rigorous regulations whereby repeated anti-social behaviour means one simply forfeits the right to social housing. At present, the people who are causing the problems are remaining in the estates while their neighbours, who have done nothing wrong, feel they have no other option but to leave. Our obsession with doing the right thing has turned the morality of this situation on its head.

I am very much aware of the problem of anti-social behaviour and it has been brought to my attention by representatives from various parts of the country. While the primary responsibility for dealing with anti-social behaviour rests with An Garda Síochána, housing legislation also contains measures aimed at combatting anti-social behaviour in housing estates and I propose to introduce further measures in this area.

The Deputy is primarily concerned with local authority dwellings but in the case of private rented dwellings, the Residential Tenancies Act 2004 prohibits a tenant from engaging in anti-social behaviour in or near a dwelling to which the Act applies. The Act empowers a landlord to terminate a tenancy in the case of such behaviour, subject to a notice period of only seven days in the most serious cases. A third party directly affected by anti-social behaviour may also, subject to certain conditions, refer a complaint to the Private Residential Tenancies Board against a landlord who has failed to enforce tenant obligations.

Local authorities are responsible under the Housing Acts for the management and maintenance of their housing accommodation, including taking appropriate measures in respect of anti-social behaviour. Among the principal enactments in this is a requirement for each housing authority to adopt an anti-social behaviour strategy for the prevention and reduction of such behaviour in its housing stock. There is also provision for the District Court to make an excluding order requiring a person engaging in anti-social behaviour to leave a specified dwelling, banning him or her from entering that dwelling or the adjoining area or estate and prohibiting him or her from intimidating the local residents. Housing authorities also have power to refuse to allocate a dwelling to, or sell a house to, a person engaged in anti-social behaviour.

I am currently working on a number of measures to strengthen the powers of housing authorities in this area. I will commence section 29 of the Housing (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2009 in the coming months, under which new local authority tenancy agreements must include a specific ban on anti-social behaviour in, or in the vicinity of, the dwelling concerned. I will also be using my powers under section 29 to fulfil a commitment in the programme for Government to introduce a 12-month probationary tenancy for all new social housing tenants, which will include provision for termination in the event of anti-social behaviour. I am consulting housing authorities about the need for amendments to the excluding order regime to make it more effective in rooting out anti-social behaviour without having to evict entire families. I am also giving particular consideration to the issue of anti-social behaviour in the arrangements to be made for transferring responsibility for rent supplement households with an established long-term housing need from the Department of Social Protection to housing authorities.

Again, I thank Deputy Barry for raising this issue, which is a matter of concern to communities throughout the country. There are certain actions which can be taken now but I also intend to strengthen the hand of local authorities in this regard.

I thank the Minister for her response. People elect local representatives to speak for them, but residents feel that they have no representation in respect of social housing. I presume it is a classic battle between the executive and the reserve functions in local government. The elected representatives feel they have no input and cannot act for those on whose behalf they were elected to act. It is also not the fault of the executive because it must follow the rules and it knows they are ambiguous. I am delighted the Minister said she will examine this. That is what we need. We must ensure the legislation deals with the current situation.

However, the legislation must respect all the residents in these cases, not just the applicants. We must make it crystal clear that local authorities have no obligation to house people who disrupt communities. The assessment boards I have proposed should incorporate local gardaí, public representatives and relevant members of the council executive. I understand there will be some allegations of cronyism in local government, but a well-structured board conducting an open process should negate any such concerns. There is a complete lack of transparency in the area of decision making at present and this must be tackled.

The current system is not working. Too many people are coming to the clinics of public representatives in complete distress. Their children are also upset. Last week, one person arrived at a clinic threatening suicide because they are living day and night with completely unacceptable anti-social behaviour around them. Some of the people indulging in anti-social behaviour are up all night while others are up all day. The people who love their houses and take excellent care of them therefore feel they have no choice but to move. It is an unacceptable situation when one considers State assets and their distribution.

It is also a waste of public sector time. Forced eviction of innocent people is not on. I thank the Minister of State and commend her on her approach in this matter.

I thank Deputy Barry. Every week we meet people who are subject to intolerable anti-social behaviour and who often feel like prisoners in their own homes. We must do something effective about this, although I am not sure about the idea of assessment boards. I heard the Deputy's thoughts on the matter and I am consulting on it. We have commenced work on a new housing Bill and I have outlined other measures related to the implementation of current legislation. We are consulting on the contents of the new housing Bill because this is one of the biggest issues that comes to the attention of public representatives and I intend to act on it.