Topical Issue Debate

Employment Rights

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this important issue. I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan, to the House and wish her well on her new and very important role for rural people in particular.

The downturn in the economy has clearly brought to our attention the significant and glaring weakness in the protection of employees who may find themselves very vulnerable in light of various types of insolvency that can now arise. One of the major failings is the restrictive way in which the Protection of Employees (Employers' Insolvency) Acts 1984 to 2006 recognise insolvency. They classify some failures of businesses as insolvency but others do not qualify under the strict criteria laid down. In particular, there has been no recognition of informal insolvencies which have arisen in recent months which are the nub of a problem. These arise where employers stop trading but do not go into liquidation or receivership or have the company wound up officially. In such cases, employees lose jobs but their employers simply walk away, meaning employees are left in the lurch with no wages or entitlements of any kind being paid.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions has been very active in this area and it submitted comprehensive proposals last February to the Government seeking appropriate amendments to the legislative framework so as to stamp out the occurrence of such insolvency issues. Very often employers dismiss employees, cease trading but do not wind up the company. In doing so they avoid paying employees unpaid wages and other awards made by employment rights bodies. In such cases, the employees would find it impossible to access the Department of Social Protection insolvency payment scheme because of a failure to wind up a company in a proper fashion. This is in contrast to the redundancy payment scheme, which does not bar access to employees in such circumstances.

The purpose of the insolvency payment scheme is to protect pay related entitlements owed to employees who lose employment because of the insolvency of an employer, in accordance with the requirements of the EU directive. Under the scheme, employees may claim arrears of pay, holiday pay, pay in lieu of statutory notice and employment rights awards owed to them by an insolvent employer. The Department of Social Protection would make payments only in circumstances where the employer is legally insolvent and no payments would be made to employees from the insolvency payment scheme in circumstances where the employer has not properly wound up the company.

The Protection of Employees (Employers' Insolvency) Acts provide that an employer is only insolvent for the purpose of accessing this fund when the employer falls within a particular category. These are where a business is in liquidation; when a business is in receivership; when an employer is legally bankrupt; where the employer has died and the estate is being administered under relevant legislation; and where an employer is insolvent under legislation from another EU member state. Informal insolvencies are not covered by this and as a consequence, any affected employees would be barred from accessing a much-needed safety net.

The question arises of whether the Legislature has failed to provide employees in informal insolvency arrangements as I described with appropriate access to the insolvency scheme and whether this failure is in breach of the EU directive on the protection of employee rights in the event of an insolvency by an employer. The answer is unequivocally "Yes" on both counts. The directive provides that to ensure equitable protection for the employee's concern, the state of insolvency should be defined in legislative trends in the member states, and that concept should also include insolvency proceedings other than liquidation. That is Directive 2008/94/EC.

My submission is there should be recognition of deemed insolvency, as I have described it, in order to fulfil the objective of the directive. A deemed insolvency would arise where an employer has ceased trading and payments have de facto been stopped on a permanent basis, with this done for proceedings other than the five categories already in national law. The questions would then arise as to what is meant by "permanent basis" and what forms should be used to determine a scenario of "deemed insolvency".

How do we define permanent basis? The Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, has suggested that where payments have stopped for six weeks or more that should constitute a permanent basis. We must then ascertain the forum to be used to make the determination that a situation of deemed insolvency exists to protect the insolvency accountant. This could be done by the Department of Social Protection, which is already responsible for deciding payments under the insolvency and redundancy payment schemes. This situation for employees could be easily addressed in this fashion by amending the rules of the insolvency payment scheme to recognise a situation of deemed insolvency, where trading has ceased and payments have de facto been stopped on a permanent basis defined as a period of six weeks or more. Further amendments will be required to facilitate the Minister for Social Protection assuming responsibility for the payments and so that the Department can continue to pursue the payments from the directors of the company.

I thank Deputy Penrose for raising this matter. It is a very difficult situation for any person to be in.

The purpose of the insolvency payments scheme, which operates under the Protection of Employees (Employers' Insolvency) Act 1984, which, in turn, derives from EU Council Directive 987-80, is to protect certain outstanding pay-related entitlements due to employees in the event of the insolvency of their employer. These entitlements include wages, holiday pay, sick pay, payment in lieu of minimum notice due under the Minimum Notice and Terms of Employment Acts 1973-2001, and certain pension contributions. Various other statutory awards made by the Employment Appeals Tribunal, Rights Commissioners, etc., are also covered by the scheme.

Section 1(3) and Section 4 of the Protection of Employees (Employers' Insolvency) Act 1984, as amended, sets out the circumstances in which an employer is deemed to be insolvent for the purposes of the Act. In summary, section 1(3) provides that for the purposes of the Act, an employer shall be taken to be insolvent only in the following circumstances: liquidation or receivership, where the employer is a company and a winding-up order is made or a resolution for voluntary winding up is passed, or a receiver has been appointed by or for the holder of a debenture secured by a floating charge, or possession taken by or for the debenture holder of company property comprised in or subject to the charge; death of employer, where the employer has died, and the estate is insolvent and being administered in accordance with the rules of Part 1 of the First Schedule to the Succession Act 1965; bankruptcy, where the employer has been adjudicated bankrupt or has filed a petition for or executed a deed of arrangement within section 4 of the Deeds of Arrangement Act 1887; or insolvency of the employer under the legislation of another EU member state and where the employees concerned are habitually employed in insurable employment in Ireland.

To summarise, therefore, where a person's former employer was a limited company, the company must be in liquidation or receivership in order for the person to be eligible to claim under the insolvency payments scheme. In such circumstances, the liquidator or receiver becomes the relevant officer for submitting claims as he or she has access to the company records and can certify that the amounts claimed are in order. I am aware that there are cases where companies have ceased trading without engaging in a formal winding-up process and that in some such cases those employers owe moneys to their employees. Such employees are not eligible for payments under the insolvency payments scheme.

My Department is reviewing the position to establish what, if anything, can be done to progress payments to individuals in these situations. In progressing this review the Department must have regard to the integrity of the social insurance fund, from which insolvency payments are made. Any policy development to deal with this issue must have measures which would contain potential abuse by employers. After all, directors of companies who avail of limited liability have responsibilities under company law to ensure that proper books of accounts are kept and that the appropriate returns are made in a timely manner to relevant authorities. The Department will consult with a range of interested parties in this review including the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE, the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation and the Revenue Commissioners. The Department has received submissions from the ICTU on the issue. In its review the Department will also have to have regard to legal issues arising in the general area of insolvency law and the potential impacts that any proposed policy development will have on that area of law.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply. Nobody wants to open up a vista of abuse and the concept of limited liability is jettisoned. I want to ensure that employees who find themselves in this situation, people who have no money and who face dilemmas trying to look after their families when their employer leaves them in limbo has to be addressed. I take account of all the consultation with the Department of Enterprise, Jobs and Innovation, the Revenue Commissioners, the ODCE and the Department of Social Protection but it is no use burying our heads in the sand. It is no use getting into a bureaucratic tangle and setting up reviews and so on.

This is an urgent issue, which is very relevant. In the past six months there were many people out on the streets of Dublin and everywhere else around the country. It is becoming a prominent issue and we have an obligation to help the employees, who are in the weaker position – employers are always more prominent and dominant. Many employees are not unionised. I salute Mandate, the union, and the other unions which have fought vigorously on this issue and advocate strongly for them. My heart and soul and sympathy are with the workers who find themselves in that position which brings dread to people. If one can access funds it carries one over for a few months while seeking alternative employment. It is time for this to be brought forward.

I will indict the Government if I do not see progress on this matter by the end of the year. There is too much pussyfooting, foot-dragging and obfuscation. Let us deal with this issue. The ICTU has presented a very fair and balanced way of dealing with it. There is no need for any further delays. Let us sit down with legal people. The Department could bring in some of the senior boys, such as Mr. Thomas Courtney. He would deal with this in a few weeks. Let us not delay and put it off. I know the Minister of State is faced with the dilemma of dealing with a bureaucratic reply. I do not accept bureaucracy. I generally kick over the traces of bureaucracy if I can.

I thank the Deputy.

This is very important. I would like another minute to deal with this. It is time to deal with this matter. The Government could hand it over to Thomas Courtney. Let him bring together the relevant parties. Let us sort it once and for all. I will not rest. I will be back, please God, if I am still alive in October, to raise this again, provided the Leas-Cheann Comhairle allows me.

The Deputy got a good innings.

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the extra minute. I know he is a west of Ireland man, like the Taoiseach.

I thank the Deputy. I understand his passion for this type of situation. The employers in these situations are in extremely difficult circumstances. I will take the Deputy’s concerns to the Minister for Social Protection and hope to respond to him in a timely fashion.

Telecommunications Services Provision

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to bring up this important issue this afternoon.

I am very concerned at the high cost of the standing charges on Eircom bills, and bills from other service providers, being charged to senior citizens. This needs to be addressed urgently by the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. A significant number of people, particularly elderly people, have contacted me in the past couple of months about their telephone bills. Some are paying up to €60 and €70 for two months but only €5 of that is for calls. The rest is the Eircom package charge, service charges and value added tax, VAT. In one bill I received, the customer's Eircom package charge was €44.42, the service charge was €4.58, calls cost €4.73 and VAT was €12.35 bringing the total to €69.55. These are very high bills. They do not represent good value for many senior citizens who struggle to pay them but are afraid to cancel their accounts.

A landline is invaluable for most senior citizens, many of whom do not have enough confidence to use a mobile telephone or are not near a mobile telephone network.

In addition, many people still need their landlines because they are of great importance for their monitored pendant alarms. When senior citizens contact me, I encourage them to retain their landlines so that they can use these devices. For many elderly people, the pendant alarm is the only lifeline that enables them to contact emergency services. I urge Eircom and other telephone companies to bring out a specially designed package for senior citizens which is more affordable and better suited to their needs.

Many Opposition Deputies have called for the reinstatement of the telephone allowance. I do not believe this is the answer. There is no simple answer. Telephone companies have been lining their pockets for many years. They are paid big bonuses and big cheques at the end of the year. It is all about profit for them.

Some €113 million was spent on the telephone allowance in 2012, but that figure had been reduced to €48 million last year. We are not in a position to go back to paying these extravagant sums to these companies, which make huge profits. Most of the people of this country are on their networks. When the telephone allowance was withdrawn last year, the current Tánaiste told us that Eircom was providing a special TalkTime package for vulnerable customers who were having difficulties paying their bills. I find it hard to meet many people who even know about this package. I would be interested to know how many people, if any, are availing of it. Are those who are on this package making savings? I have not spoken to anyone who is on this package. The people I speak to do not know anything about it. When they make inquiries with Eircom, they are told they have to wait until their current package ends before any new agreement can be reached. I do not see any reduction in any of their bills. Many vulnerable elderly people throughout the country are facing this serious issue. I ask the Minister to intervene in this regard.

I thank Deputy Byrne. I am glad to have this opportunity to report to the House on the measures in place to regulate the provision of telecommunications services and the options available to users to minimise costs. Since the telecommunications market was fully liberalised in 1999, in accordance with an EU timetable, the increased convergence in telecommunications technologies has allowed mobile telephone and cable service providers to compete with the traditional fixed line service providers. Telecommunications services are now provided by commercial operators working to market economy principles. Some State intervention is necessary and permissible to ensure universal access to basic telecommunications services across the country.

The Commission for Communications Regulation is authorised to impose a universal service obligation to ensure all citizens can access basic telecommunications services at regulated retail prices that are based on the average costs for the provision of such services at any fixed location in the State. The commission recently reappointed Eircom as the universal service obligation provider of basic telecommunications services across the State. Eircom is required to set connection and line rental charges at geographical averaged prices to ensure within reason that citizens in the most rural areas pay no more for basic fixed line telecommunications access than those in the most profitable urban areas. Any proposal by Eircom to increase these prices is regulated by the commission. This approach is within the limit of the discretion allowed within the EU to regulate retail prices in a market liberalised by EU directives without distorting competition.

I was interested to hear what the Deputy had to say about Eircom's TalkTime product, which is aimed at customers who were in receipt of the Department of Social Protection's telephone allowance at 31 December 2013. The TalkTime product is charged at €19.50 per month, inclusive of VAT. This includes line rental and a call allowance of up to €5. The comparable regulated retail line rental charge is €25.78. This service was introduced by Eircom. It is a matter for other competing service providers to decide whether to match this offer. I have mentioned the increasing convergence between mobile, cable and fixed line services. It is important to advise all users to look at the alternatives to the traditional telephone to secure best value. Some mobile service providers are marketing monthly rates, including calls, below the current and reduced line rental charges. These mobile options may provide a better opportunity to users who incur the line rental charge and lower call charges.

The universal service obligation is the only means available to public bodies to regulate retail prices in the liberalised telecommunications market in compliance with EU competition rules. I say that in direct response to the Deputy's question about the opportunity for intervention on the part of the Minister or any other public entity. The opportunity for intervention is quite limited. It is limited to the universal service obligation, which is the only means available to regulate prices within the market we have. The option to impose regulated retail prices on telecommunications services providers ceased when market liberalisation took place. The limited right to regulate retail prices under a universal service obligation is implemented by the Commission for Communications Regulation. The best advice to users is to examine all the market options so they can identify a service which best meets their needs.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply and wish him well in his new role. It is great that, as he has said, landlines are cheaper in more restricted rural areas. Unfortunately, it is not possible for many of the elderly people I deal with, who are based in Dublin, to use a mobile telephone, never mind having one. Unfortunately, mobile telephones do not allow for the pendants used by many senior citizens to be monitored. I will examine the Minister's reply in detail. I did not have much time to do so because I did not receive it until the Minister was halfway through reading it. I will have to read over it. I encourage the Minister to connect with Eircom and other service providers and ask them to advertise the TalkTime package and similar offers. Some of the problem might relate to how well it is publicised. It is sometimes difficult to explain new deals to older people, in particular. Perhaps Eircom might consider putting together some kind of information leaflet on which the details of the TalkTime package would be clearly outlined. This would allow older people to understand the process of taking up a deal that is based on limited-hours usage. I hope it would also give them a chance to keep their landlines, which are vital services for many elderly people who are reluctant to use mobile phones. The process of putting money on a phone has become very difficult for them.

I thank the Minister for his answer, which I need to study. Perhaps I will come back to this issue in the future. I wish the Minister all the best in his new role. I thank him for being so helpful to me on many occasions in his past role when I was dealing with community issues.

I thank the Deputy for her gracious words. I look forward to being as helpful in my new role as I hope I was able to be in my previous role. I take the points she has made on the basis of her experience and contact with her constituents, particular older people who sometimes find it difficult to change from a landline to a mobile telephone. It is a challenge for people who are used to the simpler technology of the landline to switch to a mobile phone. I also take the Deputy's point that the newer mobile phone formats are not as easily adaptable to the monitoring of pendants. This interesting and fair point had not occurred to me.

I want to respond to the Deputy's reasonable point in respect of the need to advertise or promote the TalkTime product and similar products that are made available. There is little point to having such a service unless people know that it exists. I am sure everybody would agree with that, and I believe Eircom would agree with that also. The challenge is to ensure that where services are tailored to particular needs they should be promoted, and one would hope they would be promoted. I agree with the Deputy in that regard. I thank the Deputy for raising the issue and if she has any additional aspects to what we have discussed that she wants to raise with me arising from my reply, I would be happy to address those.

Defence Forces Fatalities

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for selecting this matter. It has been on the agenda for some time. I realise there have been some initiatives in the United States in the intervening period. At the outset I want to congratulate the Minister of State, Deputy Murphy, on his appointment to the Department. The issue is the brutal murder of Derek Smallhorne from Bluebell and Thomas Barrett from Macroom when serving as part of the 46th Infantry Battalion near the village of Maroun al-Ras in 1980. We understand they were murdered by a self-confessed individual, Mahmoud Bazzi, who claimed that the murders had been carried out in retribution for deaths that had taken place earlier in April 1980 at the battle of At-Tiri. Mahmoud Bazzi subsequently left south Lebanon and took up residence in the United States of America, and we understand he has been living in Detroit for the past 34 years. Diplomatic efforts have been made by various Governments over the years to highlight the fact that this man was living with impunity in the United States of America but it seems that no efforts have been made to bring him to justice, notwithstanding the fact that there is no extradition arrangement between Lebanon, where the murder occurred, and the US.

One would have to pay tribute to the two families involved, the Smallhornes and the Barretts, for carrying on a dignified campaign on behalf of their family members over the years. In particular I pay tribute to the Justice for Smallhorne and Barrett Committee, which was recently established with the participation of people like John O'Mahony, who was injured in the attack, Paul Clarke, and led by Robbie Masterson. They have been very effective in highlighting this issue nationally and internationally, and their dignified vigils held outside the US Embassy recently have served to highlight the issue once again. Bazzi was arrested in recent days and he is being held as a result of immigration charges emanating from the Department of Homeland Security.

It is important that active engagement continues between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the US authorities. There should be active engagement with the Lebanese authorities in the event of Bazzi being deported from the United States of America.

I understand the Taoiseach raised this matter with the Lebanese authorities during his recent visit to the UNIFIL troops. It would be important to hear the response given to the Taoiseach during that meeting but it is important also that there is continued engagement among the Irish authorities, the US immigration authorities, the Department of Homeland Security and the Lebanese Government because if this man is deported to the Lebanon, which all of us would wish to see, it is vital that he is arrested and charged with very serious crimes, which are effectively war crimes.

I thank Deputy Ó Fearghaíl, with whom I served on committees and had other interactions, for his kind words. I know he has a great interest in this area on which there tends to be much more consensus than is the case in other areas.

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue of the tragic deaths of Private Derek Smallhorne and Private Thomas Barrett, who served their country as peacekeepers with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL. As the House will be aware, on 18 April 1980, they were both cruelly murdered and another soldier, Private John O'Mahony, was seriously injured in an incident in Lebanon. Since this tragic event in 1980, the families have engaged in dignified campaigns, as the Deputy mentioned, but successive Governments also have made every effort to ensure justice for Privates Barrett and Smallhorne.

Since the murder, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, in conjunction with the Department of Defence, the Attorney General's office and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions have examined all measures open to the Irish authorities to bring the perpetrator, or perpetrators, to justice. I understand that following an examination of the available evidence by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, as well as an assessment of the jurisdictional issues by the Office of the Attorney General, it was concluded that it would not be possible for Ireland to pursue a prosecution against the alleged perpetrator. Accordingly, we have focused our efforts on ensuring the alleged perpetrator of the crime is tried where it occurred, as mentioned by the Deputy.

As Privates Smallhorne and Barrett were killed in the line of duty with UNIFIL, Lebanon is the country with primary jurisdiction in this case. As such, my colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have maintained diplomatic contact at the highest level with the Lebanese authorities to ensure justice is done for Privates Smallhorne and Barrett and, crucially, their families. Most recently, the matter was raised with the Lebanese authorities by the Taoiseach during his visit to UNIFIL on 16 June 2014.

The Lebanese authorities have advised on numerous occasions that, as the alleged perpetrator of the crime resides in the United States, proceedings against him cannot be initiated at this point. Furthermore, the Lebanese authorities cannot request his extradition from the United States as no extradition treaty currently exists between the two countries. However, my colleagues in the Department have received assurances that in the event the alleged perpetrator of the murder of Privates Smallhorne and Barrett is returned to the Lebanon, the national authorities there will be of every possible assistance.

As the alleged perpetrator of the crime has been residing in the United States, the Department is also in continual liaison with the US authorities regarding the case, both through our embassy in Washington and through contact between the Department's headquarters in Dublin and the US Embassy in Ireland. Earlier this year, the US authorities confirmed that the Department of Homeland Security was investigating the matter. The Department of Defence also liaises regularly with the US authorities on this matter.

Mr. Bazzi, the alleged perpetrator of the murder of Privates Smallhorne and Barrett, was arrested at his home in Dearborn, Michigan for administrative immigration violations and is now reportedly being held in custody by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement authorities pending removal proceedings.

While this news is very welcome on one level, I would like to emphasise that no finding has yet been made in the case against the alleged perpetrator and we should be careful in our public statements not to be seen to be intervening in legal proceedings in another jurisdiction. As the Minister, Deputy Coveney, stated yesterday, this development represents a first step on a further long and difficult road to the resolution of this matter. However, I would like to assure the House that the Minister and my colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, both at home and throughout the embassy network, will continue to raise this issue with both the US and Lebanese authorities at every appropriate occasion to pursue justice for both of these brave men, Privates Smallhorne and Barrett, and their families.

I am grateful for that positive response from the Minister. My request is simple. This needs to remain a priority issue for us in terms of our diplomatic engagement with the United States. Of course, we cannot interfere with their justice system but it is important that we continue to let them know that this is an issue of major importance to us. I would like to see the Minister of State, Deputy Dara Murphy, or the Minister have discussions with the US ambassador, Mr. Kevin O'Malley, when he takes up his position here in the near future because that would be useful. Equally, it is important that we continue to retain ongoing diplomatic connections and contacts with the Lebanese authorities because it is essential that a deportation, if one takes place, is followed by the appropriate arrest warrants being issued in respect of this man.

I had the great privilege some weeks ago of meeting former Private John O'Mahony who survived the abduction and attack. It was a humbling experience to meet one of our peacekeepers who had gone through such trauma to see at first hand the commitment that he has to achieving justice for his two fallen comrades.

It behoves us all here to continue to assure the families and the campaigners that the Houses of the Oireachtas are united in support of the campaign. We want to see justice achieved. One is struck by the principle that justice delayed is justice denied. Some 34 years is a long time to wait to see justice take its course and anything the Minister of State and the Government can do will be much appreciated.

There is no dispute there. Deputy Ó Fearghaíl is correct about justice delayed. Some 34 years is, by any estimation, a significant period. What we have now for the first time is, perhaps, some movement.

Deputy Ó Fearghaíl mentioned the desire to unite. There has been unity of purpose, not only in this House but from successive Governments, to see that justice is delivered for both of the deceased and former Private O'Mahony. The Deputy had the pleasure to meet him; I have not had that pleasure.

The matter has been addressed in recent days by the Minister for Defence, Deputy Coveney. There is currently high-level interaction between the Minister and US authorities. However, as the Deputy will be aware, it is an exceptionally sensitive matter. The Minister, myself and the Department are reluctant at this time to make any further comment for fear of obvious implications that may arise there.

The sentiment of Deputy Ó Fearghaíl's Topical Issue matter is taken on board by the Department and the Government, and, I hope, by this House. I hope it is something to which we will see a resolution, which is very much deserved for those who do a brave job in defending us. It is incumbent on us here to ensure that we protect their memory in any way we can and by pursuing the matter, and not leaving time be a reason to let justice be ultimately denied or delayed.

Local Authority Housing Provision

First, I take the opportunity to warmly congratulate the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, on his appointment as Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and to wish him well. Today, I appeal to him to take all steps necessary urgently to address the severe housing crisis, in this city and in the country, being experienced by more than 100,000 of our fellow citizens and to take dramatic and urgent action. I have made those appeals to the then Minister of State in the housing area, the new Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, and also, on many occasions in this House, to the Taoiseach.

We have got to the place we are in now because of the almost complete abandonment of the social housing programme by mainly Fianna Fáil-led Governments from the late 1980s onwards, the shift in policy towards relying on the private sector and the ongoing mortgage arrears crisis. We need to take account of all of these reasons in devising medium-term and longer-term solutions, but we need an urgent emergency programme and I hope that is something the Minister would address, even while the Dáil is not in session, over the coming weeks.

The statement of Government priorities included a section devoted to the aim of improving housing availability and affordability. I note the review by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan of a section 227 review of NAMA. Unfortunately, NAMA has provided a minuscule number of houses for the local authorities of this country since it was established. What immediate action will the Minister take to address the almost 200 families with over 300 children tonight living in emergency accommodation in this city? All of us have incredible and terrible stories of the suffering of those who are homeless, who are in poor rented accommodation or who are threatened with the ending of their tenancies. We all could probably spend the rest of today up to 9 o'clock recounting some of these horror stories.

A key common factor in them all is the mistreatment of children. Earlier we debated Government institutions, but it is a shocking indictment of the Government, of the State and of this Parliament how children are being treated in families, either when they are homeless or when they face eviction from private tenancies because of the escalation of rents. I hope the Minister will address it.

What action will the Minister take in regard to the rough sleepers in the streets, of whom there was a record number of 177 on the streets of Dublin a few days ago? In my area of Dublin Bay North, Dublin North-Central, housing area B, there are well over 4,000 families and individuals on the housing list and on the homeless list.

The Minister's predecessor promised to give us between 4,000 and 6,000 new homes this year. Few of those have been delivered and almost none have been delivered in Dublin Bay North or in the Dublin North-Central area. Indeed, without counting the other 40 constituencies, the needs of which also must be addressed, we could use all of them. There have been almost no new builds in Dublin Bay North. There were 28 units in the Bunratty area and 35 new homes are to come forward by 2016 in Darndale. We have been promised new funding in Fingal county as well, but this also has been a minuscule response. In particular, I would ask the Minister to look at my area as to whether the significant expansion that was planned for the north fringe of Dublin city, from the sea across to Finglas, is something that he could address and establish as a strategic development zone in accordance with the promises that have been made for the Dublin docklands area.

The rental accommodation scheme, as the Minister will be aware from his own experience, has collapsed. Many families are in the process of being made homeless by landlords exiting the scheme because they can get, as they perceive, higher rents elsewhere.

The four Dublin local authorities have come together proposing a number of important steps to address this crisis remotely in the four Dublin counties. They seek, in particular, more funding and leadership from the Minister. The moment to act is now. There is a housing emergency and the Minister should declare it. He should take action on it. According to the last assessment, there are 90,000 families involved. The Minister should bring to an end the suffering, uncertainty and terror these families, in particular, the children, face in these circumstances. I urge the Minister to take action.

I thank Deputy Broughan for his good wishes. I appreciate them.

Deputy Broughan may have heard it before but I personally am determined to deal with this issue for many of the reasons he stated. It has been re-prioritised by Government. It is a top priority. I will give all the hours I can to try and deal with this issue because it is wrong that we have such a housing situation in this country. Given the history, particularly over the past 15 to 20 years, it is quite a phenomenon.

Last year, a national assessment of the need for social housing support was carried out. The results of the assessment, which were published in December 2013, show that, nationally, as at 7 May 2013, just under 90,000 households had qualified for social housing support with housing authorities throughout the country.

The Dublin region accounted for approximately a third of this figure, indicating that there clearly continues to be a high demand for social housing in these local authority areas which needs to be addressed.

Every Government since the founding of the State has been asked to increase provision of social housing. The significant numbers referred to represent unprecedented challenges on the budgetary front. There is no single solution and it will not be done overnight. We are, however, moving in the right direction, while continuing to protect the most vulnerable and disadvantaged as best as possible. It is, and continues to be, my Department's objective to maximise the delivery of social housing using all of the resources available.

It is clear that the present and foreseeable economic context in which we must address social housing need is such that innovative, indeed challenging, solutions must be found which will harness new funding streams. Under action 8 of Construction 2020 - A Strategy for a Renewed Construction Sector, a social housing strategy will be published by the third quarter of 2014. My intention is the social housing strategy will be both challenging and innovative, as well as providing the basis for an enhanced approach to social housing provision. It will contain clear measurable actions that will be taken to increase the supply of social housing and, most importantly, reduce the number of people on waiting lists.

The core objectives of the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, were to reform the approach towards providing accommodation in the private rented sector for long-term dependants under the supplementary welfare allowance scheme while contributing to the attainment of better value for money for the State in the provision of long-term accommodation options. Those objectives are as relevant today as they were when the scheme commenced in late 2004. While times have changed in the area of housing, particularly in the provision of social housing, little has changed in so far as RAS is concerned.

Far from collapsing, the scheme remains one of the principal mechanisms available to local authorities to provide suitable quality accommodation for those in need of housing. Up to the end of May 2014, almost 49,500 households had been transferred by local authorities from rent supplement and housed directly under RAS and other social housing options. RAS has and continues to be a successful programme which has achieved considerable output levels to date and delivered quality housing to a large number of households. The figures speak for themselves.

That said it needs to be borne in mind that it is difficult to achieve any large-scale delivery as many of the transfers are done on a case-by-case basis with individual property owners. One of the reasons the social housing leasing initiative was introduced was to facilitate an approach which would allow delivery on a larger scale and leasing continues to represent an essential element of supply within social housing supports generally. Furthermore, the introduction of the housing assistance payment, HAP, this year will provide a further additional form of housing support to meet the challenges presented in addressing overall housing need. The relevant legislation for HAP has just completed its journey through the Houses and will be enacted in the coming days.

An administrative pilot for HAP is already under way in Limerick City and County Council. With the legislation to be enacted next week, the scheme will then roll out to a further six local authorities identified. As for overall supply, the recent injection of €46 million for social housing, on top of the original housing budget of more than €500 million, I now expect the final output across all social housing programmes for 2014 to be approximately 6,000 new housing units.

Every avenue to deliver social housing will be explored. This morning I met the County and City Management Association, CCMA, expressing how urgent this issue is and that they co-operate and work closely with the Department in tackling it. I am going through all the various funding mechanisms available in detail. I will continue to work on delivering a strategy which we hope we can all get behind after the summer.

I am glad the Minister has met the county managers. Will he meet at an early date with the 31 directors of housing in all local authorities to explain to them the targets he has in mind? I know there are issues around getting funding off the Government’s balance sheet and that some decision was taken on this at the first new Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. Will any building programmes be financed through the European Investment Bank, the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, pension funds or the private market? Will there be legislation in this regard? Will there be the development of cost-rental models, as proposed in a recent National Economic and Social Council report? What progress does the Minister hope to present to the Dáil when it resumes after the recess?

The Taoiseach advised the House this week that the heads of a Bill had been approved by Cabinet for approved housing bodies. The former housing Minister, Deputy Jan O’Sullivan, was asked to bring forward legislation in this area urgently. What is the timeline for this?

There is still uncertainty about HAP, a key element of the recently passed housing Bill. People in RAS and in private rented accommodation are concerned there is no security of tenure. We are back to the days of our predecessors in the national movement in the 1870s. Will the Minister take responsibility for this issue and address it?

The Minister will also have read the section 227 review of the National Asset Management Agency. By the end of 2013, 596 social housing units were delivered by the agency, while this year 500 residential units are due to be delivered. This is nowhere near enough to cope with the 100,000 families requiring social housing in areas such as east Galway, south Dublin, north Dublin and Tipperary. It is a dismal response from NAMA. What will the Minister do to get NAMA to deliver on socioeconomic objectives which are clearly laid out in the NAMA legislation? Will the Minister examine the models in other European countries which have strong social housing programmes to start to claw back the horrible housing situation that has developed over the past 20 years?

I commend the Deputy on his passion for this issue which he has raised on many occasions before. We will continue to deliver social housing units from all available sources. I am acutely aware of the difficulties caused by rising rents and the problems of sourcing suitable accommodation, particularly in Dublin, but also in other urban areas and large towns. I am looking at all finance options. NAMA released its report today on social housing provision and it has made a commitment to deliver in this area, a commitment it has not made before. I will set very defined objectives and strategies. I will have discussions with the CCMA and local authority housing managers. I want to see their plans in place by September when we publish the social housing strategy. I do not want to see time delays with issues such as planning. I also want to know if there are any blockages in delivery that are outside of their powers but on which I can work. I am going through every avenue across the Government on sourcing extra funding for social housing programmes. I will deal with the other questions the Deputy raised off site here.

The Dáil adjourned at 3.50 p.m. until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 17 September 2014.