Topical Issue Debate

Airport Promotion

Is the Minister not coming to the House?

With due respect to my colleague, I ask that my Topical Issue be deferred until such time as the Minister is available.

That is agreeable. I realise it is a very specialist topic.

Hospital Closures

Is the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, rather than the Minister for Health, taking my Topical Issue?

I thought line Ministers would come to the House to be responsible to the Dáil. It was one of the reforms the Government included in the programme for Government.

As the Deputy knows, if they are available they come to the House.

I appreciate the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, coming before the House, but he is not responsible for health issues.

I wanted to raise the fact that last week, without any notice to patients, staff or anybody else, the rehabilitation ward was closed in St. Joseph's Hospital in Ennis, County Clare. It primarily provides services to elderly people in County Clare. There are equivalent hospitals in Limerick and Newcastle West, St. Ita's and St. Camillus's, respectively. I raised the issue with the Health Service Executive, HSE, when I found out about it and I was told there had been an incidence of mumps and on that basis one member of staff had to stop working temporarily lest he or she transmit it to patients.

I understand the term "cohort" was used. The HSE used many different words and assigned new meanings to words. I was told patients would have to be moved around the hospital, but there would be no reduction in services. A week later I visited the hospital and there was a padlock on the rehabilitation unit. Most of the patients had been moved to other units which were, to my non-informed eye, grossly overcrowded. Staff morale was low. It is entirely unacceptable that this happened in a week when the Government suspended the business of the Dáil for three days to congratulate itself on having saved the country, if not the world.

I appreciate that the country was in a very difficult financial situation and one cannot be in such a situation without a loss in services. As we are now coming out of that and the country's finances are improving, various tax cuts are being discussed. However, our services need to be addressed. I am not raising this issue in the Dáil to criticise the HSE or the director of nursing for the decision taken because I assume she took the only decision available to her, namely, to close the particular ward for reasons of patient safety. There simply are not enough staff on duty in St. Joseph's to keep the ward open. I speak as somebody who has had a family member in that ward in the past 12 months.

I know the service that is provided there and how essential rehabilitation is to people, in particular the elderly who have had accidents. The service is indispensable to their progress and their ability to leave acute hospitals and return to their homes. The patients have been dispersed to other wards and are now in with long stay patients and people who are in receipt of respite care. It is having an impact across the hospital. The fact that it is closed at present is unacceptable, as are the nature and timing of the closure. It is not good enough in 2015 to announce one morning that a ward is to be temporarily closed, transfer the patients to other units and put a padlock on the door. Even now, nobody can say for sure when it is going to reopen.

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter, which I am taking on behalf of the Minister for Health.

The overarching policy of the Government is to support older people to live in dignity and independence in their homes and communities for as long as possible. This is clearly what older people want and only those in genuine need of residential care should go down that route. Short-term beds, including rehabilitation beds, contribute to the provision of an integrated model of care for older people enabling them to return home following a period of hospital care or postponing admission to long stay residential care.

The Health Service Executive is responsible for the delivery of health and personal social services, including those at facilities such as St. Joseph's Hospital in Ennis. St. Joseph's is registered with the Health Information and Quality Authority. The hospital has a total potential capacity of 142 beds. This includes four separate residential units, a day hospital and a short stay rehabilitation unit. The rehabilitation unit comprises 22 beds which are consultant led. The occupancy levels of the unit are variable and quite often there are vacancies. As of 30 April the occupancy of the rehabilitation unit was 14 patients.

In recent days, in addition to the routine staffing pressures and limited agency availability, the HSE was presented with a significant additional staffing challenge at St. Joseph's. Unfortunately this has resulted in a number of staff being unavailable for duty in the short-term. As a result of this development, the director of nursing decided to temporarily move the 14 patients from the rehabilitation unit to other long stay units in St. Joseph's Hospital. The patients will continue to receive their rehabilitation in these units. This move will assist in providing appropriate levels of care to them, particularly at night. It is important to stress that this is not a closure of the rehabilitation unit but only a temporary measure for the shortest period of time possible which will not affect the patients receiving their rehabilitation care. The HSE expects the situation to be resolved within the next fortnight. It will continue to monitor and review the situation and any decisions made will be to ensure the best possible care for all of the residents currently in the facility.

The House will be aware that the management of resources and service planning is a matter for the HSE in the first instance. Quality care and patient safety come first and the director of nursing is obligated in discharging her duties to take the appropriate steps for the management of patient profile and the staffing resources available to her. The HSE has confirmed there is no intention to close services at St. Joseph's and this temporary cohorting of patients was considered in the best interest of their care. The Minister for Health will continue to monitor this situation carefully and has asked the HSE to keep him updated on progress.

I thank the Minister of State for his response, although it is a pity that a Minister with responsibility for health or with more than a passing interest in health has not come in. I wish to pick up on two points from the Minister of State's response. He said the House will be aware that the management of resources and service planning is a matter for the HSE in the first instance and that quality care and patient safety come first and the director of nursing is obligated in discharging her duties. I have no problem whatsoever with the director of nursing and commend her for the difficult job she does given the resources available.

This House allocates Exchequer funding and has a responsibility to maintain a level of decency in health care. What I saw in St. Joseph's last night does not reflect that level of decency. Like many services, St. Joseph's was not founded as a hospital but as a care facility. It did not look like a hospital to me last night, such was the level of overcrowding. I have argued in this House that the HIQA requirement that everybody be accommodated in one-bed or two-bed units is unnecessary. I am still of the view that there are many patients who do not want to be accommodated in one-bed and two-bed units. However, the level of overcrowding last night is certainly not what patients or the staff who care for them want, nor is it permitting the level of service staff were trained and wish to provide.

The Minister of State also referred to the overarching policy of the Government to support older people to live in dignity and independence in their own homes and communities. There are 2.7 hours of home help allocated in Limerick and north Tipperary for every person over 65, but only 1.6 hours in County Clare. Is there a difference? Are Clare people expected to be more resilient? Does it simply reflect politics? There is a Cabinet Minister in Limerick and one in north Tipperary and that is how we allocate resources in this House. It is simply not good enough. The people I am very proud to represent have exactly the same rights and expectations as those in north Tipperary or Limerick. There is a whole of baloney about how much the Government believes in equality but why not provide equality for the over 65s? I am sorry the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, had to come into the House because I appreciate he is not the line Minister responsible. Let us have a little bit of equality for the over-65s in the mid-west. Let us have the same number of home help hours allocated to the people of County Clare as are allocated in Limerick and north Tipperary. Since there is no Minister in County Clare, there is nobody to demand it. That is how politics works in Ireland - so much for reform.

While I certainly recognise the Deputy's concerns, I can assure him that all Ministers, including myself, certainly take more than a passing interest in health. I have come to the House to relay the information given directly to me by the Minister for Health, who is unavoidably absent. I am sure he would be happy to engage with the Deputy further. I wish to reiterate that there are genuine reasons for the decision taken by the director of nursing who, in law, is obligated to take decisions in the best interests of patients. That is what she did in this instance. The HSE has informed the Minister that it expects the situation to be resolved in the next fortnight. It is a staffing issue and the approach of the director of nursing is a responsible one.

School Completion Programme

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for selecting this matter and the Minister for Health for coming in to respond.

I am the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs.

I beg the Minister's pardon.

The school completion programme, first introduced by a Fianna Fáil Government in 2002, has been identified as a model of best practice by the EU and the OECD as a targeted programme that increases retention rates in schools and reduces educational disadvantage. Unfortunately, under the current Government the programme has not received adequate recognition, support or funding. It was moved from the Department of Education and Skills, where it was initially set up within the social inclusion unit as part of the DEIS programme, to the Department of Children and Youth Affairs when that Department was established. Since then it has been moved to Tusla, very much removed from the Department under whose remit it should be, as an educational intervention, and in which it could be properly co-ordinated.

As the Minister is aware, the aim of the programme is to retain young people in the formal education system to complete senior cycle and to improve attendance and participation rates throughout primary and secondary school. It is involved with 124 projects across the country in 470 primary schools and 220 post-primary schools, which is almost one third of our secondary schools. Over the last number of years, the programme has seen a 25% reduction in its budget. That has put significant pressure on school completion programmes as regards continuing the range of activities they had been providing and ensuring they are well placed to continue making inroads into school completion and educational outcomes. Many of the key extra-curricular programmes, including those at holiday times, have had to be curtailed.

There is much concern at this stage about the future plans for the school completion programme within Tusla. There is no certainty about what the budget will be for the next academic year starting in September. The plans normally issued in February have not yet been issued by Tusla for submission by the school completion programmes. A real issue of concern is what the plans are for next year and subsequent years.

I ask the Minister for a number of commitments. Will he commit, as Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, to enter discussions with the Minister for Education and Skills with a view to putting the school completion programme back where it is best served and best placed, which is the Department of Education and Skills? Will he also commit to supporting the expansion of the programme? It has been identified as being successful, most recently in an ESRI review of the DEIS programme. Will he commit to expanding further this successful model? Will he also commit to implementing no further cuts to the school completion programme in the academic year starting this coming September?

I thank the Deputy for his question. The school completion programme aims to retain young people in the formal education system to completion of senior cycle, and to improve the school attendance, participation and retention of its target cohort. It is a targeted intervention aimed at school communities identified through the DEIS action plan of the Department of Education and Skills. It involves 124 projects and related initiatives operating in 470 primary and 224 post-primary schools.

These projects provide a range of supports and interventions designed to support approximately 36,000 children identified by local management committees as being at risk of educational disadvantage. Typically, projects offer homework clubs, breakfast clubs, mentoring programmes, learning support, social and personal development programmes, out-of-school supports including music, art and sports, and a range of activities during holiday periods.

Since 1 January 2014, the Child and Family Agency has had operational responsibility for the school completion programme, including the allocation of funds to local projects. In 2014, an allocation of €24.756 million was provided for the school completion programme, and the agency has indicated a similar allocation for the programme in 2015. It has also approved the plans of local school retention projects for the 2014-15 academic year. The first two instalments of 2014-15 funding have issued to local projects, with a third instalment planned this month.

The Deputy may be aware that a review of the school completion programme by the ESRI is almost complete. The review is an important initiative for planning for the future development of the school completion programme. It will assist in identifying the reforms necessary to consolidate the programme on a suitable footing for the future. The review is being overseen by a steering committee involving officials of the Child and Family Agency, my Department and the Department of Education and Skills. It will, among other things, examine the school completion programme structures and their fitness for purpose to support an integrated approach to address early school leaving. It will analyse the interventions provided and make recommendations for evidence-informed supports designed to secure the best educational outcomes for young people. It is envisaged that its final report will be delivered very shortly. The Minister for Education and Skills recently published an evaluation of the DEIS programme, which was also prepared by the ESRI and which refers to the school completion programme as an integral support within DEIS in improving attendance and engagement in education.

I have advised Tusla of my commitment to ensuring there is no diminution in the services provided by the school completion programme, which is an important constituent part of the agency's educational welfare services. As the Deputy and many other Deputies on all sides of the House before him have pointed out, it is a highly regarded programme and, as such, is a key method of securing improved educational outcomes for children and young people at risk of early school leaving. We all know that the outcome of early school leaving is reduced opportunities in later life.

Some of the language used in the Minister's response concerns me. On the ESRI review to be published shortly, the Minister indicated that he hoped it would assist in identifying the reforms necessary to consolidate the programme on a sustainable footing for the future. This is certainly not the language of someone who plans to expand the programme and bring the positive impact it has had in communities where it has been delivered into other areas where similar interventions are required. The language of consolidation, unfortunately, is very different from the language of expansion, which is what we need to do with this programme. As I mentioned, the ESRI report into the effectiveness of DEIS has shown that intervention in vulnerable communities with children at risk of falling out of the education system actually works, and this should be continued. I hope the ESRI review, which we cannot prejudge, will back up the fact that the school completion programme has been an important element in this regard.

In his reply, will the Minister comment on his personal view of the place of the school completion programme and its effectiveness and contribution to radically improving outcomes and retention rates in schools? Will he also comment on the suitability of its current placement in Tusla? Does he agree that it should be put back where it started and where it is best placed, which is under the Department of Education Skills and the DEIS programme? Will the Minister also give assurance that the templates for the school completion programme plans for this coming September will be issued promptly? We he also give an assurance on funding for these programmes for the coming September and the new academic year?

The Minister has two minutes to answer all of those questions.

With due respect, there were many "alsos" at the end. In his earlier contribution, the Deputy asked me to commit to talking to the Minister for Education and Skills about the appropriate location for the programme and about sending it back to that Department. He then asked me to commit to expanding the funding. There is a little contradiction in that.

Both can be achieved.

If it is gone from the Department I can hardly influence it.

With regard to the current location of the programme, I do not have a closed mind, but it is a very important programme and one that I strongly support. Its value is very much proven. I await the ESRI report, which I hope will vindicate my sense, and that of many Deputies in the House, of its value. Education is critical for opportunities in later life and we want to encourage children to stay the course and stay in school until they reach their 18th birthday at least.

Different things appeal to different children, and this programme has been very good at identifying those interests and using them to lead children back into the education system. The Deputy may feel the programme properly belongs in the Department of Education and Skills, but I point out that learning support, mentoring programmes, personal development programmes, social programmes and out-of-school supports all sit well where they are, and there is a huge amount of combined action with Foróige and Youthreach with regard to how these children are supported in staying in school. I do not have a closed mind, as I stated, but I certainly believe the programme should continue, and it needs to be expanded to wherever it is required and needed.

This year, we had no further cuts in our services in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. The reason these programmes had to be cut was the financial disaster that befell this country.

The Minister chose to do so. The Minister is going off topic.

I did not interrupt Deputy Charlie McConalogue. That he does not like what he hears does not make it less of a fact.

Acting Chairman (Deputy Olivia Mitchelll)

The next topic is shared between Deputies Barry Cowen, Martin Ferris and Stanley.

Social and Affordable Housing Provision

Housing is a national crisis, if not a scandal. I do not want to rain on the parade of the Minister of State and his colleagues after yesterday's announcement, which is the fourth such announcement since October. It seeks to promise the delivery of social housing units. In the time allocated to me, there is not enough time to go through the dismal record of house construction under this Government. Figures supplied to me in answer to a parliamentary question indicate why the crisis has become a scandal. Waterford has had one unit over the past four years, Offaly received none, north Tipperary received none and there were 60 out of 100 in Dublin last year. It makes dismal reading and I would have thought the Minister would have a more holistic approach to this crisis before now. Even at this late stage, I would have thought the Minister would combine private sector and empowerment initiatives to assist that sector through the use of the strategic investment fund to fund developers, get house building going and address the difficulties, given the lack of houses available, the increasing crisis in mortgage arrears and the construction aspect of providing homes. The Minister made no effort to address those issues when I thought he would.

The specific issue raised here relates to previous Government announcements by the front-line Minister. In particular, capital funding for 7,500 units, including new builds, acquisitions, refurbishments and voids, was promised over a period of three years. At a committee meeting a couple of months ago and in responses to parliamentary questions, we were informed that 1,400 would be new builds completed by the end of this year. The announcement yesterday says it will be 1,700 by the end of 2017. Will 300 be built in 2016 and 2017, with 1,400 this year?

On foot of the announcement last yesterday and notwithstanding the difficulties arising from the management of the crisis over the past four years and the fact that it developed into a scandal involving 1,000 children living in emergency accommodation in Dublin, were the Minister and his colleagues convinced that 1,400 units were to be built this year? What has changed in two months leading to the announcement yesterday of 1,700 over three years?

Every week for the past number of years, Opposition Deputies have highlighted the housing crisis, with over 90,000 people on the waiting list. Breaking it down by county, the announcement as part of the spring economic statement for my county involved 40 houses between now and the end of 2017. There are 12 for Killarney, 12 for Tralee, four for Lixnaw, and 12 single rural cottages. This amounts to 40 houses. There are 4,000 people on the housing list waiting across the county, with 2,000 on the waiting list in the town of Tralee. That puts things in perspective when the State is paying out €6 million per year on rent supplement to private landlords in the county of Kerry. A substantial number of former local authority houses are for sale. I have asked the council to consider purchasing them. It depends on what will come from the Exchequer to help.

The people looking for transfers include those with disabilities living in upstairs apartments. They are waiting to be housed and cannot get transfers from council apartments. It is a shambles. The Minister of State will argue that this is what he inherited from the previous Government and the crisis in the economy. Having said that, there is an urgent need for this and I cannot understand why the Government pays €6 million a year to private landlords for rental accommodation when a substantial amount of that money could be spent providing local authority housing for 2,000 people on the housing list in the county.

I welcome the opportunity to address this matter but I was disappointed at the announcement by the Minister today. There were multiple announcements over the past six months since the budget. Many of the announcements were of housing building programmes, and at this stage I was expecting to see concrete being poured and hundreds of houses under way. That is not what we see. I have summed up the reams of paper on the back of a postage stamp, where I wrote out the housing programme. Over 2015 to 2017, over three years, there will be €312 million spent and 1,700 units built. Some 49 houses will be built in Laois, 57 in Kildare and 33 in Offaly. In County Kildare, almost 8,000 people are on the housing waiting list and almost 1,700 households are on the waiting list in Laois. I have summed up the programme on the back of a postage stamp. It is not nearly enough and I am concerned and disappointed. The Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Kelly, told the House about the massive house building programme. However, the reality is that the needs of 98% of the people on the housing waiting list are not being addressed and the house building programme that fits on the back of the postage stamp will only address the needs of 2% of the households on the waiting list. It is far too little too late. In Dublin, in the middle of the crisis, 183 houses were built in 2013. In three years from 2015 to 2017, the Labour Party and Fine Gael proposed building 167 houses over three years. This is the answer to the housing crisis. It is not enough and I want to know what other measures will be put in place to address the crisis.

I thank the Deputies for raising the important issue. They miss the point. Yesterday's announcement is but one strand of the Government's response under the social housing strategy. The figures quoted are the direct builds by local authorities proposed by the same local authorities through the Department. They have received the green light but it is only the first phase of direct building. I expect the support of all Deputies in all of those projects. The figures quoted do not take account of forthcoming proposals under the capital assistance scheme, CAS, under which voluntary housing bodies will provide a number of units, nor do they take account of the number of voids, vacant and boarded-up local authority units for which additional funding has been provided. Over 2,000 units have been turned around and put back into beneficial use over the past year. Further funding for 1,000 additional units will be provided to put them back into beneficial use. It does not take account of the number of acquisition units, where local authorities from all over the country propose to the Department to buy units from the market at good value for money. The announcement yesterday does not include that but the Deputies chose to ignore this fact. Nor do they allow for the rental accommodation scheme or the housing assistance payment schemes that are up and running in local authorities around the country.

The HAP scheme has now been expanded into a further 12 local authorities. The social housing strategy is targeted at providing over 110,000 social housing units through the delivery of 35,000 new social housing units and meeting the housing needs of some 75,000 households through the HAP and rental accommodation schemes. In total, €3.8 billion is being ring-fenced for the strategy. This marks a fresh strategy in terms of the provision of social housing. I find it hard to take lectures from those opposite, especially those in Fianna Fáil. It abdicated its responsibility in terms of direct build social housing in local authorities for over a decade. Some 15,000 units were built in the previous four years.

Four years is nothing. Compare and contrast what was built in the previous four years.

For over ten years, Fianna Fáil failed. On top of that, it propagated a property bubble with Part V-----

Fine Gael has not even built a henhouse in the last four years.

Deputy Dooley should let the Minister of State speak. It is his four minutes.

-----provision that delivered no houses over a five-year term. I will take no lectures in this House from Fianna Fáil regarding the provision of social housing. Likewise with Sinn Féin-----

Will the Minister of State read the rest of his notes?

I am not reading. I am telling Deputy Dooley straight.

Read the notes.

There was nothing built in Waterford over the last four years. Not one house.

Deputy Cowen should behave himself.

Sinn Féin provided in its budget for 2016 an allocation-----

-----of €1 billion over 18 months, which it said would provide 6,000 units by direct build. That is less ambitious than what the Government has set out in its social housing strategy. The Government has committed over €4 billion over the next few years-----

Waffle. Where is the substance?

-----for the provision of social housing. The Deputies should know, as former councillors, that one cannot build houses overnight. They must go through Part VIII in councils, tendering and then the construction must start. Yesterday we announced green lights for projects all over this country that will deliver housing units and over 3,000 jobs in the construction sector. This Government is treating social housing as a top priority. Unfortunately, we are picking up the pieces of the mess that was left. We are now addressing it and giving it its full priority. The Deputies will-----

Four years later.

-----see further phases and announcements over the coming months that will address the shortfall in housing at the moment.

Deputy Cowen has one minute. Please allow him to speak.

I know we are only dealing with one strand. My question only dealt with one strand.

The Deputy did not say that.

That strand is the direct build sector. The Minister of State has the authority to direct local authorities to provide for the 90,000 applications. It could be 200,000 people. If he wants to compare and contrast what was built in the last four years with what went before, the Government built nothing in Waterford, for example, nor in Laois nor North Tipperary. I have the list here. I can go through them.

We will build them this year.

If the Minister of State wants to play that game, he will lose.

God, we will not.

I will ask him now what I asked him earlier. Why did his senior Minister tell me two months ago that 1,400 new direct build units would be provided by this Government and local authorities throughout the country this year? That was two months ago. The Government rushes to make so many announcements that it forgets what was said in the previous one. That is what was said two months ago. Yesterday it was back to 1,700 over three years. Can the Minister of State confirm that it will be 1,400 this year and 300 in the next two years? Is that the divide? Why was I told 1,400 would be built two months ago when yesterday he told the country only 1,700 would be built over three years? People do not trust the Government anymore. They do not believe-----

-----and they see in black and white the disregard-----

Deputy Ferris has one minute.

-----for the housing provision element of local authorities.

Deputy Cowen should take his seat.

There are more zeros here than anything else.

The Taoiseach is waiting for Leader's Questions. Deputy Cowen is using his colleague's time.

They are not euro, they are duck eggs. Nothing has been built and nothing has been provided. The Government has no interest in sorting out the housing crisis.

Deputy Cowen is taking his colleagues' time.

It has been allowed to develop into an absolute scandal.

There is no doubt that the Minister of State is very good at spin and waffle. There is no better man at waffle than him.

With the exception of the senior Minister.

There is no doubt that he is well able to waffle. This Government is paying out €6 million each year to private landlords while there are 2,000 people on the housing waiting list in my county, Kerry. The Minister of State is proposing to build 40 houses over the next two and a half years. How will that facilitate the thousands of people who are crying out to be housed in this State? How can the Minister of State say that to people with disabilities who are living in upstairs apartments and must be helped up and down the stairs while this Government has done absolutely nothing for four years? This Government has done nothing for this country in the last four years regarding providing housing. It is an absolute disgrace to stand here today and lecture people across here with the record it has.

There are 1,000 people in Killarney alone.

The Minister of State has given the impression that huge money is there for voids, empty council houses. Turning around empty council houses is welcome but in County Laois there are not three voids at the moment. That will not solve the housing crisis. New builds are needed. We are directly addressing the local authority house building programme for the next three years. The busiest industry since the last budget has been the offices of the Minister of State and the Minister, churning out press releases and papers, which I have summarised on the back of this postage stamp. The Taoiseach's house-building programme fits on the back of a stamp. It is 1,700 units over three years. That is the reality when one strips away the billions. What is happening here is that the money the Minister of State is announcing has been taken from the Department of Social Protection. He has brought it over to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government and called it housing assistance payment, HAP, which some people are calling "hapless". That is how he is calculating his billions. He is not dealing with the housing crisis. There is a serious housing crisis out there. There are homeless people in Laois, Offaly and Kildare and there are 1,000 children in temporary accommodation at the moment-----

That issue needs to be addressed. The Government is not addressing it.

Deputy Stanley should take his seat. Would the Minister of State like to respond briefly?

We cannot continue to go on about the past. The Government is here now. It is in the driving seat. We are supposed to have this great recovery. The Government must address the housing issue.

Deputy Cowen asked about the number of units being delivered this year. He is not taking account of the €68 million that was provided for in last year's budget-----

I asked the Minister of State that.

-----for the commencement of over 50 construction projects, which are now coming on stream this year. Yesterday's announcement is in addition to that.

There are 1,400 this year, then.

They are direct build projects in local authority areas all over the country, including in Deputy Cowen's constituency.

There are 1,400 this year, and one in Kilbeggan, I hear.

It takes time.

There are 1,400 this year.

Deputy Cowen and his party destroyed the social housing provision in this country.


Deputy Healy-Rae cannot wander in here and make a scene. He should sit down and let the Minister of State finish.

This Government is working towards a sustainable construction sector, which would provide houses for all our people into the future. In response to Deputy Stanley, huge progress has been made in terms of the turnaround of voids in this country. He has already acknowledged that directly to the Minister, Deputy Kelly, and me in committee. Some 2,000 voids and boarded up houses have been turned around in the past year-----

They should not have been allowed to develop into the voids.

-----and another 1,000 will be turned around in the coming year. He is not taking account of the voluntary housing bodies, which will be announced very shortly.

No, we are not. We are dealing with the direct build.

They will also contribute to the housing demand that is out there at the moment.

One press release after another.

He is not taking account of the acquisitions local authorities can make all over the country.

We can wait for another press release next week or the week after.

This Government is taking housing as a top priority and cleaning up the mess Fianna Fáil made.

How many thousand are on the waiting list? The Minister of State should cop on.