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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Vol. 879 No. 1

Leaders' Questions

The Taoiseach often states that he wants Ireland to be the best small country in the world in which to do business and we all agree with him in that regard. The Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Richard Bruton, will be aware of the importance of job creation and the key role the small and medium enterprise sector plays in creating jobs in every county. Against that background, I was shocked to learn of the experience of an indigenous company that is seeking to create 55 permanent jobs in Carlow as well as 70 construction jobs in the development phase of a new distillery. I refer to Walsh Whiskey Distillery of Royal Oak, Bagenalstown, County Carlow, which is building the first distillery in the south east for 200 years.

The chief executive of Walsh Whiskey has been working with Carlow County Council since 2012 to facilitate the development of the distillery. In 2013, the company received a licence from the council to build the facility. While the company was aware that it would be required, as a business, to pay for water treatment, it was gobsmacked when Irish Water presented it with a bill for €500,000 in addition to the cost of installing a water treatment system. This unexpected charge is a direct result of the Government's decision to establish Irish Water. Heretofore, councils always had discretion to assist companies which were prepared to make substantial investments in local communities that badly need jobs. For example, local councillors, industrialists, engineers and departmental staff would have cut a deal to resolve outstanding difficulties and allow a development to proceed.

The development levies could be charged to future beneficiaries of the infrastructural improvements that would accrue to the area. Ultimately, as I stated, it would be addressing the deficiency that is obvious, not only in that constituency but throughout this country. There is a two-tier recovery, that the Minister and the Government is pursuing at pace. The Minister can be sure under the previous regime and the previous mechanism that were in place a €500,000 bill would not be presented as a fait accompli to the company which would make it change its mind and change location.

Is Deputy Bruton, as Minister for enterprise, aware of the difficulties that Walsh distillery has in this regard? Is it fair and acceptable that this company, when wishing to invest substantially in an area that needs it so badly, is challenged with a €500,000 bill such as this? Is the Minister aware of it, what has he done about it or will he do anything about it?

Uisce Éireann, uisce faoi thalamh.

I completely reject the idea that there is a two-tier recovery.

Was the Minister down in Kilkenny-----

Hold on, stay quiet.

What is encouraging about this recovery is that we have 90,000 extra at work and every region of the country has enjoyed growth in employment.

-----or Clonmel?

We cannot hear. Will Deputy Mattie McGrath stay quite or leave the Chamber?

Virtually every sector is enjoying growth in employment. Contrary to what a lot of the House may think, Enterprise Ireland supported companies, that is, Irish export-oriented companies, created more jobs in the past 12 months than did overseas companies. Nearly 19,000 extra jobs were created in Irish enterprises last year.

Indeed, the company to which Deputy Barry Cowen refers is one that Enterprise Ireland is actively supporting. It is encouraging to see a wide number of distilleries now being established. There is scope for the development of this sector, which has been one of the sectors targeted by the Department and by the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine as an opportunity for growth.

I reject any idea that we are not supporting SMEs. The reality is that 70% of the resources within my Department go to the support of Irish-owned companies and 75% of those are located outside of Dublin. We focus our resources on these.

This issue has not been brought to my attention by the company but, on foot of what the Deputy is raising, I will certainly investigate whether there is a way of resolving it. I understand from Deputy Deering that there have been discussions between Irish Water and the local authority in an effort to bring a resolution but we will certainly examine whether a resolution can be found to this issue, and I thank the Deputy for bringing it to my attention.

I thank the Minister for his response. Make no mistake about it, a resolution most definitely has to be found. I believe, despite the Minister's rhetoric, he and the Government just do not get it. He talks about job creation and action plans for jobs when everybody on the doors we are knocking on in that constituency and many others do not see any recovery.

Deputy Cowen is telling them that.

The Department of Finance made a submission to the Low Pay Commission some weeks ago. Does the Minister know what it did? He can check it out, look it up and read it, if he wishes. It acknowledged that there is a two-tier recovery taking place in the country. That is the Department for which the golden boy, the Minister for Finance, supposedly the real brain behind the Government, has responsibility. That is what the Department of Finance has said to the Low Pay Commission.

The Government has cut rural Ireland adrift. It never contemplated the effect that this monster, that is, Irish Water, would have.

A question, please.

The Government never accepted that there was a need for adequate and proper scrutiny of the legislation that accompanied its set up. As I stated, there is no local political accountability. Councillors, who have the best interests of the localities in which they reside and where they have the privilege to represent those people, like the people themselves, have been cut adrift by this Government. The Government needs to revisit that legislation, if nothing else to address this issue because I have seen it in Kilkenny too, where a group sewage scheme was initially costing €560,000 when it could be combined with a road works programme to deliver sewage schemes to 60 people living in that location and it is now at a cost of €1.2 million. They cannot afford it and it will not happen.

The Government just does not get it and it is not capable of getting it because they do not know how to cut a deal. They do not know how to deal with the issues that are there.

Will Deputy Cowen put his question? He is getting too excited.

I am asking the Minister now-----


If Deputy Mattie McGrath does not mind, I will do it myself.


Will the Government revisit the legislation and address the grave difficulties that rural Ireland is facing because of the discrepancies that exist in the legislation?

I thank Deputy Cowen.

People need hope.

I call the Minister.

They need to see an effort being made to address the mistakes made heretofore.

I will take no lectures from Deputy Cowen on the managing of our regional recovery. When he was in government-----

-----he built regional growth.

I was elected to this Dáil, no other one. That is my responsibility, the same as everyone else here. The Minister should grow up and realise what he is doing here is wrong.

Deputy Cowen was near enough.

When Deputy Cowen's party was in government, it erected-----

There is plenty of time.

Would Deputy Mattie McGrath please stay quiet?

They sought to develop regions on the basis of a construction sector. In Deputy Cowen's own county, he has seen a 60% collapse-----

So the Government can cut them adrift now.

Will Deputy Cowen stay quiet?

-----in the construction sector. I have now established a regional enterprise strategy and I invited Deputy Cowen to come and attend with other stakeholders to see how we could develop the regions, and he did not turn up.


Because I was here. The Minister held it on a day when we were sitting.

Let us be honest with ourselves. During the time that Fianna Fáil was in government-----

On a Wednesday when the Minister have a majority of 60 or 70 here in the Chamber.

-----employment in companies supported by our agencies fell by 500 during the period his party was in office and since we have come in, it has grown by 500. We have reversed the trend that his party presided over and we are determined to go further.

We are now sitting down with the stakeholders in the regions to see how we can best develop the potential strength of those regions. One of those is in the distillery and in the food sector. We are determined to see the growth of that food sector. Indeed, Deputy Cowen himself knows-----

-----that, with the removal of obstacles, the dairy sector will be one of the star performers.

In Tullamore, we removed obstacles. The local authorities did.

We will build employment. We will have hit our 100,000 jobs target 21 months ahead of the target which we set. By contrast, Fianna Fáil presided in government over a period when 300,000 jobs were lost.

Will the Ceann Comhairle remind the Minister I was elected to this Dáil and no other, and I have a responsibility to those who elected me to ask questions about this Dáil?

Deputy Cowen should sit down.

That is the reality. We have reversed those trends and we are determined to deliver.

The Government will get its answer on Friday.


Would Deputy Healy-Rae ever stay quiet?

I did not select it.

The Deputy should go back out canvassing if he cannot stay quiet in here.

Mr. John Corrie was found dead across the road on Molesworth Street six months ago. In a flurry of activity which followed his death, an extra 260 beds were opened for emergency accommodation. Those were filled immediately, over the Christmas period and since, by those who were sleeping rough at the time. A new night café, operated by Merchants Quay, which accommodated 50 homeless a night sleeping on rugs and mats, was opened. However, in that time, those sleeping rough in the city has only fallen by 15. The most recent count shows that there were 150 sleeping rough in this city. There are rumours amongst those who are homeless that the temporary accommodation, that 260 beds to which I referred, will soon be closed because it was a temporary arrangement until June. What we are urgently requesting from the Government is a commitment to maintain those beds at a minimum and to increase the emergency accommodation. Does the Minister agree that we also need to stem the flow of tenants into homelessness which is happening continuously in this city - that is why the number is not being addressed - by providing a pathway into housing? Does he accept that the housing crisis is, in fact, creating a homeless crisis in this city and that one of the steps required is for the Government to introduce fair rent controls or at least rent certainty, as promised recently by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, at the Labour Party conference?

I thank Deputy Ó Snodaigh for raising this question. This is an area where significant effort has been put in by the Minister, Deputy Kelly, and the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey. No doubt that sad death triggered a concerted response and we have seen an improvement in those numbers. However, Deputy Ó Snodaigh is correct that this needs a sustained strategy and that is what the Minister, Deputy Kelly, has put in place. The Minister has now put in place a social housing strategy which will develop 35,000 extra social units over the next number of years and he is determined to see a very significant increase in the availability of social housing. At the same time the Government has, through its construction strategy, sought to improve the private sector's response to the growing housing needs.

There are encouraging signs of a growing level of activity in the housing market. However, work must continue. The Government is rolling out detailed strategies on both construction and social housing. These are very important initiatives. As to the role of rent controls, in the past where price controls were put in place, it did not tend to stimulate supply and this must be factored into any consideration of such a response. If one wants to see more private rented accommodation, because there has been a decline in the availability of rental accommodation, one must consider the reason for the existence of supply bottlenecks. That is the primary focus of attention but the Government will keep all options under review as it deals with the development of both the social housing strategy and the construction strategy.

I do not know how much the Minister is aware of what is happening in Dublin City Council. At the moment, Dublin City Council staff are offering sleeping bags to some of the homeless people instead of emergency accommodation. This shows how little emergency accommodation is available to Dublin City Council. There is a crisis for those who are already in crisis and who are attending the crisis service in Dublin City Council.

It was revealed at this month's meeting of Dublin City Council that the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has not yet released any of the funding to Dublin City Council to combat homelessness, and this is despite the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, having made several announcements to the contrary. Meanwhile, the Minister has continued his road trip announcing billions of euro which have not been made available to the city council to carry out the work it needs to do in order to deliver social housing.

Dublin is facing an unprecedented crisis and it is the same in other cities throughout the country. When will the Government release the promised funding to allow Dublin City Council begin to tackle the unprecedented housing crisis in this city? There is less private rented accommodation available and private rents are going up, well beyond the reach of those who are dependent on rent allowance. There are fewer social housing units available. There is a crisis that has not had the proper response to date because the funding has not been released, despite continuous announcements by this Government, in particular, since the death of Jonathan Corrie six months ago.

My understanding is that each local authority has been asked to submit plans. Dublin City Council has submitted plans for individual sites and for individual social housing projects. These will be approved in accordance with the usual procedures. The council blocked some of the proposals, as is its right. However, the new social housing strategy developed by the Minister, Deputy Kelly, means there is a significant focus on the delivery of construction projects in every part of Dublin city. I am confident that the target set and the availability of new houses for letting in Dublin city will increase twofold or threefold over the coming years as the strategy unfolds. This is a very important strategy. The proposals by the various councils are being evaluated and I am sure they will be approved as rapidly as possible.

I find it difficult to recognise the Minister's offering as a housing strategy. On 5 April 2015, the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, stated in the Dáil that funding of €312 million announced by the Government would provide 1,700 homes by the end of 2017 and would be used for direct builds, meaning not for leasing or buying. This represents accommodation for fewer than 2% of those on the social housing waiting list. It suggests that the lion's share of funding will go towards leasing from private landlords and yet the Government's housing policy document warns of the problems arising from the already massive dependence on the private sector for social housing provision, namely, that this reliance is unstable, especially as landlords are seeking higher rents and there are problems identifying new supply. Michael Taaffe has pointed out that the Government's entire housing strategy is reliant on a long string of fanciful hopes bearing fruit in the right quantity at the right time. The Government's reliance on non-capital expenditure should be seen as risky at best. The plan would clearly push the whole area into the hands of the private rental market. It will put upward pressure on private rents as private tenants compete for units. The State is adding diesel to the fire.

I remind the Minister that we have a serious housing crisis and the Government is not really dealing with it. The Government's so-called housing strategy for the next few years does not add up. The convoluted and contradictory plan announced by the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, on several occasions over the past six months does not make sense a lot of the time.

The Minister says the Government is committed to developing sustainable communities but the evidence differs. Wexford is being given €25 million to build 677 local authority houses, which equates to €37,400 a unit. Wexford has been told it can build 19 local authority social housing units in the next three years. I was speaking to a woman who has six children and who is being pushed out of her private rental accommodation. She is paying the rent but her landlord says he wants to sell the property. It is obvious that he is not getting enough rent for it even though the woman is adding a top-up payment to the rent supplement. Why would any landlord take €575 when he can get €700 or €750? The whole equation is problematic. There is no sense in the Government's approach and it is too dependent on the private sector behaving in a moral fashion towards those in dire straits. The Government will need to rethink the strategy. Would the Minister consider appealing to the EU for off-balance sheet capital funding so that we could build State-funded social housing in order to address the massive problem?

There is no doubt that there has been a very high reliance on the private rented sector in recent years for dealing with social housing needs. The Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, has changed that direction and his commitment is to build 35,000 social housing units-----

-----by housing associations and by the city councils. That is a reversal of the trend and it will meet a need in the market. Private rented accommodation will remain a part of the policy. The Government is developing the housing assistance payment which will be available as a better transition-----


-----for people who are dependent on rent supplement to allow them go back to work and continue to receive rent support. In addition, the Minister has sought from the local authorities sites where there is the prospect for immediate housing by the private sector which will carry with it a certain percentage of social housing. The Minister is developing a multi-pronged approach to addressing the housing crisis along with the housing strategy which is improving the planning procedures to make it easier to progress the supply of housing.

The figures do not add up.

There has been a bottleneck in housing supply, in particular in the Dublin area. However, a series of initiatives are being put in place to break the bottleneck. I am confident that these will have an impact over the coming year and beyond.

The waiting list in Wexford is 3,600 and 19 units will be constructed in the next three years. Where, in God's name, is the common sense there? We talk about tackling domestic violence. The Minister may be interested to hear that the women's refuge centre in Wexford turned away 338 women and 259 children last year. This is directly linked to the housing crisis in Wexford because there is nowhere for them to go and there is no room for them in the refuge centre. The private rental market discriminates against people on rent supplement and that is a fact. The people relying on rent supplement end up in the poorest housing in the poorest areas. It is an extension of ghettoisation which successive Governments have not addressed and which has been perpetrated by the likes of the Construction Industry Federation which has refused to implement Part V in the manner for which it was designed. The Government could do something about this and it has an opportunity to change it.

The Government could start introducing real social housing that is State-built, high-quality and affordable in well-structured neighbourhoods. The Government can address homelessness, inequality, equality of opportunity and quality of life in the process.

Deputy, could you put your question, please? Thank you.

Housing is too expensive in Ireland in the private sector and social housing is not available. Renting accommodation is too expensive. In the housing sector land-banking and land speculation take place and nothing has been done about it. The Kenny report is still being ignored. The Government is ignoring the elephant in the room. A two-bedroom apartment in Dominick Street today is €1,400 per month.

Sorry, Deputy, you have a minute for a question.

It is possible to rent a two-bedroom apartment in most cities in Italy for €400. There is a problem with the quality and type of housing we are using but the Government is not addressing it.

Thank you, Deputy.

We have not built apartments that families can move into. Why are we not addressing the quality and type of housing that is being built? There is a homeless crisis and only sticking plasters are being applied. I appeal to the Minister-----

Sorry, Deputy, would you please resume your seat? You are way over time. Thank you.

Why does the Government not hold a forum and bring all the stakeholders together, including Government officials, banks, developers, builders, building regulation people, engineers, technologists, planners and others such as people from the geography department in NUI Maynooth as well as social workers?

Deputy, would you please adhere to the request of the Chair? Please resume your seat. Thank you.

The Department does not-----

Deputy, would you resume your seat? Thank you.

The Department is not in touch with reality.

Deputy, I will not ask you a second time.

I appeal to the Minister. The Government is not addressing the crisis.

The truth is that the Government has committed €4 billion to the development of the social housing programme. This was against a background when there was little money being set aside for this programme.

What has the Government done in the past four years?

The Minister has set a target to reduce by 2017 the number of people on the housing list by 25%. There is a clear commitment in this area. As Deputy Wallace has said, there is already a commitment to commence 100 projects. There are 350 social housing projects currently under construction. In addition, NAMA has made units available to local authorities.

There is a concerted programme of seeking to move this on. Indeed, the Minister for Finance convened the sort of meeting that Deputy Wallace referred to, bringing together planners, funders and the construction people to help broker deals that would see more supply developed.

What about emergency housing?

A range of initiatives are being implemented on a systematic basis under the direction of the Cabinet committee on housing and construction. Real progress is being made here. I acknowledge there are real difficulties in this sector, but the commitment is there and we are seeing the projects start. We are seeing concerted action to remove bottlenecks that have stood in the way of progress in the past.