1. Deputy Lucinda Creighton asked the Taoiseach his plans to encourage young persons who emigrated during the recession to return; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8778/15]
Vol. 887 No. 1
1. Deputy Lucinda Creighton asked the Taoiseach his plans to encourage young persons who emigrated during the recession to return; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8778/15]
My decision last year to appoint Deputy Jimmy Deenihan as Ireland's first Minister of State for diaspora affairs points to the particular importance the Government attaches to engagement with those who left Ireland and with those of Irish heritage globally. When the Government published Ireland's first ever diaspora policy in March of this year, I stressed the importance of our diaspora to this nation and acknowledged that their existence is the end result of a long history of emigration, which for many was not considered a matter of choice. In the early part of this century we saw an end to this pattern of emigration but with the economic crash of 2008 our people, and particularly our young people, were deprived of the jobs and opportunities at home that they deserve.
From the beginning of its term of office, this Government's policy has been to create the economic conditions necessary to make returning to Ireland an option for those who have emigrated and who might now wish to return. The difficult decisions that we took and the key strategies that we have implemented, such as the Action Plan for Jobs, have got us back on track and our economy firmly in recovery. The credit for that lies with the people and the sacrifices they made to put the economy back on a strong footing.
As we set out in our Spring Economic Statement, the Government's strategy of steady, stable economic growth will benefit all of our citizens and it will entice emigrants to return home. Opportunities are being created here for our people and we want them to be able to come home. The Action Plan for Jobs launched by the Government is a key instrument used to support job creation and further improve the environment for doing business in this country. Under it, more than 900 separate actions have been implemented since we started the process and this year there will be a further 300 or so. As a consequence of all of that and an improving environment, 100,000 new jobs have been filled.
Now that is happening, the Government has a particular focus on ensuring the benefits of that recovery are shared across the country because people point to this on a regular basis, including in the regions where we have seen a higher rate of unemployment and emigration. We are following the national Action Plan for Jobs by rolling out eight regional action plans as part of a €250 million programme to support business and job creation. These regional plans will identify and build on the strengths and resources that each of our regions possesses, but we need to focus on what they are. I was in Tullamore recently where action taken in the midlands spans such activities as establishing a manufacturing technologies campus to creating new hospitality facilities in respect of cycling, walking and recreational trails that exploit the waterways of the region. In the south west, key sectors targeted include agrifood, tourism, life sciences, manufacturing and ICT as well as high-potential emerging sectors, such as multi-media.
A number of other key actions taken this year include a national talent drive, which will attract and retain world class talent to address skills shortages that exist in the economy, including in the area of ICT. There has been a focus on entrepreneurship, which is aimed at attracting back to Ireland young innovators and entrepreneurs who wish to build their new businesses from an Irish base. There has been a continued implementation of the Construction 2020 programme to deliver a dynamic, competitive and sustainable construction sector, thereby providing good employment opportunities, including opportunities for the many construction workers forced to find work in other countries during the recession.
There has also been a programme of investment in research and innovation through Science Foundation Ireland, the Irish Research Council, Enterprise Ireland and others to attract highly skilled researchers to take up opportunities in a number of large industry co-funded research centres, thereby providing new opportunities for Irish researchers working abroad to return to this country. In addition, Enterprise Ireland, as I have often said, stands ready to support all entrepreneurs and innovators, including those living abroad, to establish ventures in Ireland and through IDA Ireland and the Succeed in Ireland initiative.
Irish people who have established businesses abroad and wish to locate their activities in Ireland will be actively encouraged and facilitated.
The first Irish diaspora policy, Global Irish, put in place a range of initiatives to improve how we connect with our people abroad and promote opportunities for those who wish to come back. This has been a particular focus of attention for the Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan. A key challenge in this area is to ensure we provide clear and targeted communications that will ensure our emigrants are kept up to date on the opportunities available or those becoming available back at home. A number of initiatives are under way to help, for example, the new website www.dfa.ie/Global-Irish was launched in conjunction with the policy. It includes a section on coming home, providing pointers to practical information that anyone considering such a move might need. The Irish abroad are encouraged to sign up for a new Global Irish newsletter on this site and stay in touch using social media, through which messages about the economy and opportunities will be referenced.
The Minister of State, Deputy Deenihan, has consulted organisations like Enterprise Ireland, American Chamber of Commerce Ireland and others interested in bringing members of the diaspora home to take up opportunities. The Minister of State also chairs the interdepartmental committee, whose function is to support the delivery of the diaspora policy. This committee provides a forum to discuss any barriers to emigrants considering a return to Ireland as well as ways to address these challenges wherever possible. The committee met recently and discussed ways of encouraging emigrants to return to Ireland. The committee highlighted some of these potential barriers and will continue to look at ways in which they might be addressed. Members may have ideas or initiatives for consideration and these would certainly be considered by Government.
The Taoiseach knows how to throw plenty of buzzwords into his long speeches, and there were plenty in that intervention. We are hearing about entrepreneurship, Construction 2020 and a so-called national talent drive - I am a little unsure what that is or what it means. There were multiple references to research and development and innovation and so on. The reality is that the Taoiseach has a habit of making vague aspirational statements. Some months ago, he committed to undertaking specific steps to encourage young people who have emigrated in recent years to come back to Ireland. Many of them are from my generation. Many are young teachers, nurses, doctors or people who had aspirations to work or were working in the construction sector when the bottom fell out of that market. There are multiple factors contributing to the fact that young people - those of my generation and younger - are not returning to our shores in big numbers. Low graduate pay for young new entrants into particular professions is a significant factor. Recently, the Taoiseach and the Government were engaged in secret negotiations with the trade unions to agree so-called pay restoration for members of the public service. What the Taoiseach did not prioritise was the case of those who have taken the biggest hit and who have been hung out to dry by their representative bodies and successive governments in the past seven or eight years. They include young teachers, young nurses and non-consultant hospital doctors, many of whom are now in Australia, Canada and elsewhere.
The issue of housing is a serious concern. In Dublin, in particular, there is no housing supply. The Government's plan, devised in conjunction with Mr. Parlon and the Construction Industry Federation, aptly named Construction 2020, has little to do with providing housing for our citizens. It is failing and will fail because it is not about ensuring a quality supply of affordable housing. One egregious disgrace was the letter sent by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and the relevant Minister of State some weeks ago demanding that building regulations be relaxed and taking the view that this is somehow going to translate into the provision of housing in Dublin or throughout the country for our young people. It is not. It is going to reduce quality and ensure that we have poor standards of housing. It will do nothing to deal with the problem of supply.
Another issue of significant concern for the younger generation is the fact that for a working couple or family to be able to continue working and have a family and children, they have to pay for child care. Child care is now on a par with paying for a mortgage in this country. The Government has done nothing to address this, despite promises from both Government parties when in opposition. I realise that the Taoiseach's former colleague in Cabinet, the former Minister, Deputy Pat Rabbitte, said that this was the sort of thing people do in political parties - they make promises in opposition and then get into government and do not deliver on them. That has certainly been the case with regard to child care. Nothing has happened. Child care in Dublin is now averaging well over €1,000 per month. That is on a par with the cost of meeting mortgage payments. It is becoming prohibitive and is one of the major factors which acts as a disincentive to younger people from coming home.
There are no proposals on the table in respect of tax breaks for child care or the roll-out of community child care provision, nothing whatsoever. All of these contribute to the disincentives for the younger generation returning to our shores, the talent the Taoiseach has spoken about. If there is to be a talent drive it should encourage people back and ensure that there is a sustainable lifestyle; that they can have their children; that they can raise their families in this country; that they can aspire to career progression; that they will be treated fairly; and that they will not be squeezed at the mercy of a government which wants to buy off particular sectors in our society in the run-up to an election, or by trade unions which want to look after particular sectors of their membership. Rather, the interests of our citizens, abroad and at home, should be prioritised and should be the core guiding principle for this Government and any future government.
The Deputy mentioned buzzwords. She referred to entrepreneurship, construction and talent drive. The jobs of the future are going to be created by people of initiative who are prepared to invest and who have the confidence to invest. We cannot do that unless we have stability in an economy where there is the opportunity to be able to invest in business and create jobs. They tell us that 50% of the jobs to be created in the next decade will be in companies that have not been set up yet and which will trade products that have not even been conceived. That is why we have the national Action Plan for Jobs, which is proving successful. The fact that jobs are being created and numbers expanded by firms speaks to a new level of confidence. The consumer confidence index, for what it is worth, shows that consumer confidence is now the highest it has been for nine years. Clearly, with interest rates having fallen from unprecedented heights, ease of access to credit, the removal of a good deal of red tape and the setting up of local enterprise boards in every local authority, it is easier to create business, set up companies and employ.
How is that focused on the young Irish who have left? I have met many of them myself. For example jobsireland.ie is a fully searchable jobs board run by the Department of Social Protection. It allows employers to add their vacancies and jobseekers to search by a range of criteria. Young people worldwide are accessing this on a regular basis. The website itshappeninghere.ie is run by the Irish indigenous software sector and supported by Enterprise Ireland. It serves to help promote career opportunities in Irish-owned software companies. The website gradireland.com is Ireland's official graduate jobs and careers website and is run by the Association of Higher Education Careers Services and GTI Ireland. The #allaboutjobs section on the Government's news website merrionstreet.ie is accessed on a regular basis by young people. It captures the latest information available about new jobs being created as well as new opportunities.
The Deputy referred to construction and a talent drive. We lost 100,000 jobs in the construction sector here.
Those affected went to America, England and Australia, as they did before. A couple of weeks ago I was talking to representatives of a firm that was bringing back civil engineers from New Caledonia, beyond Australia, to work on road projects here. I was talking recently to a young employee in a company beyond Sandyford who had returned from Australia having lived there for ten years. Last year I spoke to 100 young people in the United States, 50 of whom are coming home because they want to do so.
Let us consider Deputy Lucinda Creighton's comment on the talent drive. This means that as the frontiers ahead are changing rapidly, companies are looking for very particular skills. The job requirements now outlined are vastly different from those outlined five or ten years ago and completely different from what they were 20 years ago. When one speaks to innovative companies based in Ireland, they always remark on the capacity of young Irish people to meet the challenge and have the bar set higher continually. That is why I am so proud of the young people working in plants all over the country. Many of them have come back from abroad with added experience, adding immeasurably both to the reputation of their company and the success of their own careers.
We make no apology for having a talent drive. It is very important. Bearing in mind the presence of Minister of State, Deputy Damien English, I draw attention to the new Apprenticeship Council which is determining where new apprenticeships need to be offered. While there will always be a need for traditional apprenticeships, there will be a need for digital apprenticeships and so many others, including in financial services and other changing sectors.
The best thing the Government, or any government, can do is provide jobs at home for young people in order that they may have an opportunity to come back home to do work in which they are interested. This means that some of the other matters to which the Deputy referred must be dealt with. Clearly, the taxation system is one. Levels of tax are very high here by comparison with those in some other places. I noticed the changes made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer across the water in respect of becoming more competitive. However, one cannot address all of these issues unless one has a functioning economy that is driving the capacity of the country to do what we know has to be done. I say this in the context of our having had to borrow €22 billion just a few years ago to run the services of the country. This figure has fallen to €5 billion or less and will be eliminated by the end of 2017. It is important in this regard that 500,000 lower paid workers will not have any requirement to pay universal social charge this year. We set out the strategy for the path ahead in the spring statement. It might not be of any great interest to young people, but what they want to know is whether there are jobs available, the opportunities available and whether it is time for them to come home.
Everybody agrees that we are way behind in the supply of houses. That is because the construction sector collapsed completely during the recession, with 100,000 jobs lost. The Government has responded by offering local authorities a real programme for social housing worth €2.2 billion. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, made that announcement. There is a real focus on trying to get the private construction sector and local authorities to invest in the housing programme, which is so important for young people and others in the State. No one wants to see a continuing increase in the number required to be in bed and breakfast accommodation or hotel rooms because of increasing rents. That is not appropriate. The focus of the Government has been very much on that issue.
I reject the Deputy's assertion that there are secret deals involving the public service. The Deputy, as a public representative, is well aware of the contribution made by the public service and its very many employees in playing their part in meeting the challenge in moving the country forward. As the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Brendan Howlin, set out clearly, putting in place the Haddington Road agreement in the first instance was very difficult in gaining the acceptance of the trade unions. Obviously, the Government was intent, in respect of the flexibility on offer economically, on beginning to give back what could be given back to members of the public service who had played their part.
The Deputy mentioned nurses. Clearly, young nurses have travelled abroad in considerable numbers. I spoke to three recently. One was moving to Australia, one to America, while one was staying here. When I asked the two young women who were proposing to move abroad about their intentions, one said she was going to work in a hospital in a location in America where she had a close relation, while the other said she was moving to Australia because she wanted to travel for a couple of years and work. The third was quite happy to work in a local hospital. An incentive is being made available by the HSE and the Department of Health in order that young Irish trained nurses of exceptional calibre can stay at home and work.
I referred to the national action plan for jobs. However, it is important to say also that we established the national Health Innovation Hub. It is located in County Cork and operating on a pilot basis to facilitate clinicians in hospitals, health care companies, researchers and other innovators to work together for the benefit of patients in the health care system. Over 1,000 trading online vouchers have been given to micro-businesses and small businesses to support them in increasing their number of employees, some of whom will be from abroad.
Today is Tuesday. On Thursday I believe-----
I thank the Taoiseach for that revelation.
I thank the Deputy. On Thursday I met representatives of an Italian company that has formed a partnership with a medical devices company in Ireland which is able to employ people here. Owing to the nature of the research and innovation, opportunities have been provided for some people to come back home. Obviously, the services of the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland are available to small and medium enterprises to increase their numbers also. As the Deputy knows, the Minister for Finance got rid of the double Irish concept in the last budget and, having closed the public consultation process, is now in the business of providing a knowledge development box that I hope will be of interest to companies from abroad in order that they can continue to invest here.
I would like to believe an increasing number of Irish citizens will want to come home, but the conditions have to be right for them in terms of their salaries, taxation and accommodation. These are necessary for everybody, including those at home and those who might want to come back.
I meant to say to the Deputy that not everybody returning to Ireland was returning for work. Many Irish people return to avail of the education system, particularly at third level. In March 2014 the then Minister for Education and Skills, Deputy Ruairí Quinn, announced that children of Irish emigrants who had spent five years in primary or post-primary school in Ireland would qualify for EU-level fees at Irish universities and third level institutions for undergraduate courses from 2014-15. This issue was brought to the attention of Members when I travelled to Brussels for committee or other meetings. The change has been made to facilitate those concerned.
As the economy begins to improve and companies create jobs, we need to set out the strategy and the picture for the coming years. They can be developed and strengthened in order that young people can have the option of coming back home, which they did not have in the past.
The Taoiseach keeps mentioning entrepreneurship and job creation. Unfortunately, it is clear that he does not actually understand them. I sometimes wonder whether he or his Government has any understanding of how capital flows result in job creation. The only thing of substance the Government has done to try to direct the flow of capital in the economy in the past four years is to create a tax holiday for investors in the property sector. If one invested in commercial or retail property in recent years in Dublin, Cork, Galway or elsewhere, one got a seven-year capital gains tax holiday. However, if one invests in productive sectors of the economy such as the technology sector or across the SME sector in which jobs are being or can and should be created, one pays capital gains tax at a rate of 33%.
If the Government looked across the water to the UK and saw what George Osborne - a clever Chancellor of the Exchequer who understands market economics, job creation and the genuine concept of an entrepreneurial and innovative economy - has done, it would be mimicking what he has done. When I speak to people who want to invest capital in this country, they tell me that they are not bothered to do so because it does not pay. They are taking their capital and investing in job creation in London and elsewhere in the UK. That is a major problem.
The Government's figures are incorrect and I would advise the Taoiseach to look at the CSO figures. Over the past three years, self-employed people in Ireland have started employing fewer people than they did back in 2012 or 2013. The number of self-employed people who are employing others has actually dropped. That is a statistical fact. The Taoiseach's notion that indigenous Irish businesses are creating jobs for others is a fallacy. It is not reality. I would love to hear how the Taoiseach intends to change that. Is he going to change our approach to capitals gains tax and incentives in investment in real job creation here and not just roll out the red carpet for FDI companies, which we know account for less than 15% of jobs across the economy? Will he put in place concrete measures to deliver a genuinely entrepreneurial economy in order that young people who want to come back and create businesses and jobs here can do so and will not be penalised and punished for it? Alternatively, is he going to continue burying his head in the sand, clapping himself on the back and doing nothing about it?
I must point out to the Taoiseach that he keeps claiming credit for things in which he had no involvement. In his reply to Deputy Creighton's question, he said that the Government took difficult decisions. In fact, he opposed two thirds of all the actions of the former Minister for Finance, the late Brian Lenihan, in his budgets to correct the deficit. He opposed every one of them, suggested that there was an alternative approach and then tried to claim credit for it. The same is true of the Action Plan for Jobs. The OECD carried out an analysis and confirmed that no specific claims for job creation can be made for the plan but the Taoiseach makes the claims anyway.
I was very disappointed with the Taoiseach's reply because there is no flesh on the bone in terms of attracting people back from abroad. Let us take three areas where the Government has direct control in terms of the public service alone. Mention has been made of low graduate pay. I met a woman the other day whose daughter is completing her midwifery course. There is no job available for her. Agency staff are given priority over young nurses coming out of college. That is why that apart from trying to attract people back, students are continuing to emigrate because they do not see prospects in key careers like health and education. Let us take second level teachers. A student who has completed the HDip does not have employment prospects in second level education. I was involved in helping a person over the years who e-mailed me the other day to say that it has taken her 12 years to get a contract of indefinite duration - the CID, as it is known. This is not a permanent, full-time job. It is a contract of indefinite duration. There is a real crisis in attracting young people into second level teaching because of the slow pathways in terms of progression.
The Taoiseach spoke about a national talent drive. They are all election slogans. The return from abroad is an election slogan and the Taoiseach's replies confirm it. Did he read the recent letter from the leading scientists in the country in The Irish Times? In it, they stated that there is no career pathway for young researchers or scientists in this country. This has been stated by all the key researchers and by the Irish Federation of University Teachers. It is a critical issue. They cannot get mortgages. There is also the issue of low-hour contracts for people seeking employment in retail or elsewhere. They cannot get mortgages and car loans because they do not have any security of tenure and the requisite hours and pay to enable them to have a reasonable quality of life. These are the key structural issues in terms of how young people are dealt with in the employment market. It is a significant catalyst for young people to go abroad and seek work elsewhere where they can do far better. Examples would be Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The number of young teachers out there illustrates the point I am making. If the Taoiseach wants to bring people back, he needs to put flesh on the bone in terms of career pathways, quality of employment and terms and conditions for young graduates that are on a par with everybody else
In addition to all of that, the Taoiseach cited the issue of housing and accommodation as one of the core issues to be tackled to facilitate people's return. As he is aware, there is a housing crisis throughout the State, particularly in the city of Dublin. The Taoiseach is aware that more than 40,000 families are on Dublin City Council's housing waiting list and that Dublin City Council has been left some €18.5 million short in respect of resources required for its homelessness service. I previously raised this issue with the Taoiseach and made him aware of the fact that there had been correspondence to the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government on this matter from the mayor of Dublin, Críona Ní Dhálaigh. Not alone has she not had the courtesy of a response from the Minister, there has been no affirmative statement from Government to make it clear that this €18.5 million shortfall will be bridged and that the necessary resources will be provided to Dublin City Council.
If the Government is not resourcing emergency interventions and is not prepared to resource home building and accommodation for the population we currently have, it has a major difficulty in attracting people home. There must be a reality check on this. It cannot simply be about slogans and a looming election. I doubt whether there is a family in the country that has not lost somebody to emigration over recent years. It is certainly the case in my family and it is the same across the board. Those who wish to come home need to be given every opportunity to do so, including dislodging bottlenecks in career pathways but also dealing with perhaps the most basic requirement for a returning emigrant, namely, a roof over his or her head.
I listened to three contributions. Deputy Creighton accuses others of ignorance and of not understanding things. The question of capital gains tax is one for consideration by the Minister for Finance. In recent budgets, he has made a number of changes to the tax code to improve incentives for investment and job creation here. This issue, along with many others, will be considered by the Minister in respect of the preparation of the budget in October. Prior to that, there will be public consultation and discourse next week where the different sectors will have their say about what they think should be relevant in this budget.
This Government will not put our country in hock. We have had enough of that. That is what caused the flight from the country, the economic catastrophe and the recession. Whatever decisions the Government makes, regardless of whether they are criticised by people, they will be based on securing the recovery for our people for the time ahead. We are not yet at the top of the hill. We still have some very difficult challenges ahead. For Government, it is a case of being able to give to people what we can but not in the way that was done before where money was borrowed with fantasy figures on the assumption that things would last the way the previous Government assumed they would.
Capital gains tax will be considered by the Minister for Finance together with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform. I am not sure whether Deputy Creighton moves throughout the country and talks to people in small and medium-sized enterprises.
The Deputy says we do not understand what these are about, but I beg to differ, with respect. We have spoken to those with young firms who are not just in the business of supplying the domestic market but who also export. One can see their confidence in the integrity of the product they manufacture, in the way they are able to win new markets abroad and in the research undertaken by their talented workforce. The fact of an improving environment is evidenced by the reduction in unemployment from 15% to under 10% and by the reduction in interest rates which have fallen dramatically. It is evidenced by the fact our country was in a position to offer 30-year bonds at unprecedentedly low rates just a short time ago. The Minister of State, Deputy English, has arranged for a gathering of start-up companies to be held this October at which people from all over the world can either tune in online or be there, in order to have the very best of advice about start-ups and how they might access opportunities.
I have said on a number of occasions that the Government will start the process in this budget of dealing with PRSI for self-employed people. This has been a bone of contention for quite some time. This will be done over a number of years. It is important not to forget it is not possible to provide all the facilities that people need unless the country has a functioning economy that is able to deal with that. Our challenge is to secure the recovery for the future.
Deputy Martin often says that the Government always claims credit for progress made. Has he ever heard me say that? It is the philosophy of fools in politics to look for credit. Deputy Martin knows that. We do not deserve it and neither do we claim it nor look for it.
The Taoiseach does it all the time; he should read his material.
I will clarify it for Deputy Martin. It is the people who make the sacrifices here and they know that our country is in a different place now because jobs are being created every day by people who have the confidence to invest, to build, expand and look for new markets. I support that very strongly. I say good luck to them all. Our responsibility is to make that attractive in order that they can be confident in that stability. It is not about elections.
The Deputy made the point about there being no flesh on the bones. The HSE confirmed to me yesterday at a committee meeting I attended that it actively engages with young nurses coming out of training in order that they can work here in Ireland. It is not always possible to get them to stay here, as the Deputy knows.
These are people looking for work. They want to stay here.
The nurses coming out of training are actively engaged with the nurses who have left and who work in the NHS in England or in other countries. They tell them about the current situation. I take the Deputy's point about teachers not having full-time contracts and not being able to get them. The case to which he referred seems to be extraordinary in its timeframe. The Government has sanctioned the employment of considerable numbers of teachers. Last week, the Minister for Education and Skills brought a memorandum to Government, which has been approved, for the appointment of another 610 special needs assistants.
When I talk to Science Foundation Ireland and to many of the companies involved in ICT or in the digital area, I hear that increasing numbers are involved in research and innovation and that there are career opportunities. I was in Dropbox in the Dublin docklands recently. One hundred companies in the docklands are conducting research and innovation and the workers have career paths. The same applies in the colleges of technology and the universities where extraordinary research in a number of fields is being carried on. It may not be as strong as we would like it to be but I hope that the challenge for the Government as set out in this budget and in the previous budgets is to secure that recovery for the people.
Deputy McDonald mentioned the housing situation in Dublin. I cannot but agree that this is a real challenge. I met the Ard-Mhéara and I had a brief discussion with her. I wished her the best of luck in her responsibilities as Ard-Mhéara. I pointed out to her that we need to have a discussion about her views on housing and we will follow through with some really focused attention on a package of measures to increase the supply of houses. No matter what we talk about in this House, no matter what proposals are made by the Deputy, we need blocks and concrete on the ground to provide extra accommodation for people who need it. It requires building works as well as using the voids, the reconstructed voids and the social housing programmes under the local authorities. However, we also need to get the private construction sector back into action.
What about the €18.5 million shortfall?
The Central Bank changed the rules about the level of equity that contractors must provide. We have made arrangements for an opportunity for that to happen. Some of those contractors are returning from England and they are prepared to build houses here. We need to progress that situation. I know this is a real challenge but we cannot sort out the problem unless we deal with the supply of housing.
There is a shortfall of €18.5 million for homeless services.
I put this question to the city manager yesterday. He has a duty to report to his members. The Deputy will know that the local councillors have the opportunity to address the situation by means of the property tax rate which they set and, if they wish to decline it, that is their right because they are elected representatives. We will focus on the question of the Dublin problem and the peripheral Dublin problem next week at a meeting I have called specifically for that purpose. After last Christmas there was a homeless problem, with people sleeping rough and in hostels. A great deal of effort and money was expended and then it ended. Now I hear that it is growing again.
Walking headlong into it.
The numbers never came down.
The numbers did come down and there was nobody on the streets who did not want to be on the streets. I saw it myself.
There are 1,000 kids in hostels.
In fairness to the Minister, Deputy Kelly, and the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, they undertook a great deal of action and the situation was sorted. We cannot allow this situation to rise up again. It has been going on for 20 years. The indications appear every September or October and then the situation explodes at Christmas.
They are letting the Government know that there is a €18.5 million shortfall.
Unfortunately, a few people died in doorways, as we know.
2. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, regarding the withdrawal of support by Sinn Féin for the social welfare Bill in Northern Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11625/15]
3. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach his plans to meet the First Minister, Mr. Peter Robinson, and the Deputy First Minister, Mr. Martin McGuinness, following the announcement by Sinn Féin of its withdrawal of support for the social welfare Bill; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11629/15]
4. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, recently; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11633/15]
5. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to the North of Ireland in March 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15217/15]
6. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meetings with victim groups in the North of Ireland during his March 2015 visit; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15218/15]
7. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he has written to the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, as he promised during his meeting with the Ballymurphy massacre families; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15219/15]
8. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meeting with the Confederation of British Industry in Belfast; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15220/15]
9. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the discussions he has had with the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, since the crisis in the Assembly over welfare reform legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15223/15]
10. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the progress made, and actions taken, by him and his Department on the March 2012 joint statement, which sought to take Ireland's relationship with Britain further by setting out a vision of what closer co-operation might look like over the next ten years; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16204/15]
11. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding the unique, structured process of engagement, activity and outcomes between the Irish and British Governments, underpinned by a programme of engagement by the most senior civil servants; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16205/15]
12. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has discussed with the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, the implications of the British Government's plan to scrap the Human Rights Act, and the possibility of it breaching the Good Friday Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20234/15]
13. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if has spoken to, or written to, the First Minister of Scotland and the leader of the Scottish National Party, Ms Nicola Sturgeon, since the recent general election in the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20235/15]
14. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to the British Prime Minster, Mr. David Cameron, regarding the implications of his Governments plans to change the Human Rights Act; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21858/15]
15. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, regarding the impasse in Northern Ireland over the welfare reforms and budgetary matters; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21859/15]
16. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his conversations with the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, following the outcome of the British general election; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22946/15]
17. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he has been briefed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, on developments in the North since the British general election; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22947/15]
18. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he has raised with the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, the British Prime Minister's plan to repeal the Human Rights Act and replace it with a British Bill of Rights; its implications for the Good Friday Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22948/15]
19. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he raised with the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, since the British general election, the stated intention of the British Government to hold an in-out referendum on European Union membership; its implications for the North and for the Good Friday Agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22949/15]
20. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the progress arising from the commitment to an intensive programme of work made in the joint statement by the Irish and British Governments, which was published on Monday, 12 March 2012; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22954/15]
21. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the number of meetings that have been held involving the Secretary General of his Department and the Cabinet Secretary with the relevant lead Departments, as committed to in the March 2012 joint statement by the Irish and British Governments; the number of civil servants who have been involved in the exchange programme; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22955/15]
22. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the number of summits that have been held between him and the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, as committed to under the Irish-British joint statement of March 2012; if he will publish the reviews carried out; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22956/15]
23. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to First Minister, Mr. Peter Robinson, and Deputy First Minister, Mr. Martin McGuinness, since the crisis in the Northern Ireland Assembly over welfare reform legislation; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24596/15]
24. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, since the recent British general election; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24597/15]
25. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the position regarding his meeting with the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, on 18 June 2015; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25704/15]
26. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he raised concerns with the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, regarding the impact that Britain leaving the European Union would have on Northern Ireland in particular; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25706/15]
27. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he discussed with the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, the ongoing tensions in the Northern Ireland Executive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25707/15]
28. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if Britain votes to leave the European Union, the impact this will have on the Northern Ireland peace process; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25708/15]
29. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he repeated the request to the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, for an inquiry into a person's murder, details supplied; if the answer is still negative, his plans regarding same; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25709/15]
30. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the recent "Panorama" and Raidió Teilifís Éireann programme on collusion, and if he requested the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron, to face up to his responsibilities in this regard, via the Stormont House Agreement, as a matter of urgency; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25710/15]
31. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he discussed the outstanding recommendations of the Smithwick report with the British Prime Minister, Mr. David Cameron; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [25711/15]
32. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Taoiseach if he has met the First Minister, Mr. Peter Robinson, and the Deputy First Minister, Mr. Martin McGuinness, of Northern Ireland since the recent general election in the United Kingdom. [25819/15]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 to 32, inclusive, together.
I met Prime Minister Cameron in Downing Street on 18 June last. I congratulated him on his electoral success. I briefed him on Ireland's continuing economic recovery and informed him of our determination to ensure ongoing and sustainable growth in jobs and economic output.
We both agreed that relations between Britain and Ireland were never stronger. We noted the importance of the recent visit of the Prince of Wales and last year’s state visit to Britain by President Higgins, as well as our mutual involvement in this decade of commemorations. We noted good progress in key areas of the work programme arising from the joint statement of 2012, including trade promotion, the roll-out of the common travel area visitor visa arrangement, and co-operation on defence and security matters.
Since then I have spoken to the Prime Minister on the telephone to exchange expressions of sympathy on the tragic loss of life of citizens on both islands through the senseless terrorism in Tunisia. We noted that work continues to be progressed through bilateral contacts between our respective government officials, including at Secretary General and Permanent Secretary level. A further meeting of this group, which oversees progress on over 20 areas of co-operation, will take place this autumn.
With regard to British-EU relations, I expressed the Government’s strong view that Ireland very much wants the UK to remain within the EU. We believe that this is best for Ireland, best for British-Irish relations, including Northern Ireland and best for the EU as a whole. The Prime Minister acknowledged the mutual benefits of the high levels of connectivity of our two economies as well as the strong social and historical links between us.
He confirmed that he wanted the United Kingdom to continue to play a central part in a reformed European Union and that much depended on the outcome of the negotiations in the coming months. I told the Prime Minister that we would be as constructive and positive as possible in the context of these negotiations. We will judge specific British proposals for changes either to EU legislation or policy on their merits when they are presented. Where the United Kingdom seeks reasonable and achievable adjustments in how the European Union operates, or in its own relations with it, our instinct will be to be sympathetic and supportive. At the same time, if and when we believe a UK proposition would be unrealistic or damaging, either to our interests or the broader functioning of the European Union, we will be upfront in saying so.
With regard to Northern Ireland, we affirmed our commitment to full implementation of the Stormont House Agreement. We recognised the difficulties that must be faced by the Northern Ireland parties and confirmed that they continued to have our support in seeking to resolve welfare reform and related budgetary issues. We both agreed that it was critical that the Northern Ireland parties themselves should find a way through the impasse for the sake of the stability and growth of the economy, society and the political institutions of Northern Ireland.
I raised a number of legacy issues, including the Dublin and Monaghan bombings, Ballymurphy, the Pat Finucane case and collusion issues raised in recent television coverage. I informed the Prime Minister of my meeting with the Kingsmill families and our efforts to ensure we provided the greatest amount of material possible for the coroner’s inquest in accordance with the law. The Prime Minister said he wanted to deal with legacy issues to the greatest extent possible through the agreed arrangements set out in the Stormont House Agreement and we agreed on the need to continue to make progress on operational arrangements, including for the Independent Commission on Information Retrieval. Given our extensive agenda, it was not possible to get through all legacy issues such as the outstanding recommendations made in the Smithwick report. I did, however, raise the question of the UK Bill of Rights and stressed that changes to the Human Rights Act could have significant implications for Northern Ireland, given that the protection of human rights in Northern Ireland law, predicated on the European Convention of Human Rights, was one of the key principles underpinning the Good Friday Agreement. The Prime Minister acknowledged that this aspect of any proposed change would require further consideration. At this time, no legislation is before the British Parliament at Westminster to repeal the UK Human Rights Act 1998. We will continue to monitor carefully developments in this area.
The day after my meeting with the Prime Minister, 19 June, I had the opportunity to chair a plenary meeting of the British-Irish Council in Dublin, during which I met the Northern Ireland First Minister, Mr. Robinson, and the Deputy First Minister, Mr. McGuinness. On that day I also met the Scottish First Minister, Ms Sturgeon, with the other heads of delegation from devolved administrations and we discussed a number of issues, including the potential to build further on the very strong bilateral relations between Scotland and Ireland.
Earlier last month my Government colleagues and I met the Northern Ireland Deputy First Minister and the Minister, Ms Arlene Foster, and their ministerial team at the North-South Ministerial Council plenary session which I chaired in Dublin on 5 June. All of these meetings are part of the ongoing dialogue with parties in Northern Ireland, including two meetings attended by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Charles Flanagan, in recent weeks to formally review progress on the Stormont House Agreement. In the course of these meetings he met the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Ms Theresa Villiers, and had bilateral contacts with the representatives of all the parties. He continues to keep in very close contact with developments.
I visited Northern Ireland on 26 and 27 March this year. I addressed the annual CBI conference on the evening of 26 March and met the CEOs of North-South bodies in Belfast. I visited a Co-operation Ireland project in Sandy Row and met the Lord Mayor of Belfast at City Hall. My programme also included a meeting in Bessbrook with the families of those killed in the Kingsmill atrocity. I also visited Ballymurphy and met members of the families of those killed in 1971. We will have an opportunity in the Dáil tomorrow to debate an all-party motion - I am grateful to Deputies for agreeing to this - on the events in Ballymurphy in August 1971 and the legacy issues that arise from them.
The Taoiseach has answered 31 questions together, 16 of which are mine. Three and a half years ago he told the House that he and the British Prime Minister, Mr. Cameron, had agreed an urgent set of priorities for Northern Ireland, including deepening economic activity, reviewing institutions and tackling sectarianism. There have since been a number of meetings but no progress. In reality the situation has been allowed to sleepwalk into crisis. The current institutions have been allowed to fall into DUP and Sinn Féin inertia, while the situation on the streets is relatively bad.
Everybody will condemn the behaviour last night of rioters in north Belfast. It is a natural outcome of leaders who work to exploit division rather than seek genuine dialogue and respect. The Nationalists of that area have a basic right to live without the sectarian intimidation they have experienced. I know that many on the other side want to find a genuine accommodation, but real leadership and active engagement have been missing.
Since 2012 the economic and social position of Northern Ireland has deteriorated. We have had a succession of political crises; sectarian tensions have risen; political participation has declined; and alienation from the system has grown. Given all of this, is it not time to try a different approach? Is it not time to become actively engaged again? Should the Taoiseach not admit that the approach which he and the British Prime Minister took at the outset and have followed has not worked and that it is time to change the level of engagement in Northern Ireland?
I put a separate related question to the Taoiseach about the British attitude to the Human Rights Act. The Tory manifesto in the recent UK general election promised to repeal the Human Rights Act and end automatic redress to European courts on human rights issues. A number of questions specifically deal with that issue and I do not believe the Taoiseach addressed it in his reply. This would be a clear breach of commitments made as part of the Good Friday Agreement. The Human Rights Act is a central part of the architecture of peace to which we signed up and for which the people voted. The Taoiseach has taken the approach of trying to avoid direct comments on British policy on most issues, but this must be different. We are not some disinterested party. We have a legal right to demand that no action be taken to undermine a formal treaty between our states. Will the Taoiseach commit to formally stating to the British Government that we oppose the efforts to undermine the Human Rights Act and that we will take legal action over breach of treaty commitments if it proceeds with that policy?
The British Prime Minister has outlined his demands for renegotiation of the United Kingdom's relationship with the European Union at the most recent full meeting of the European Council and in separate meetings with national leaders. Bar what the Taoiseach has just said about taking a constructive approach and so on, he has not said anything about Ireland's position on any of the United Kingdom's core demands. Does he support the various areas in which it wants change? So far what we have heard from him are banal generalities about the United Kingdom looking for more competitiveness and that it does not want to move to an ever-closer Union. What does that mean in practice? What is the substance of the British position? For example, what specific changes is it seeking? Has the Government made formal statements on what the British Government is looking for in its agenda in terms of relationship with the European Union?
Therefore, there are three dimensions: Northern Ireland; Brexit, and the policy of the UK Tory Government to the Human Rights Act. I have had very little time to deal satisfactorily with the 16 questions I tabled.
I believe 12 of the questions are in the name of Deputy Gerry Adams. Let me do my best to deal with them.
Over the weekend and last night we saw many incidents of race hatred in the North. The targets in many of them were Sinn Féin representatives whose election posters were placed on bonfires. In a particularly offensive incident an effigy of Michelle Gildernew was hung over a bonfire in Moygashel.
A sign on the bonfire read "Sinn Fein Scum, hands off our culture. Public hanging 10.30pm." Election posters for others, including the Alliance Party, were also placed on bonfires. Last night there was trouble at the Ardoyne when members of the Orange Order attacked the Police Service of Northern Ireland, PSNI, following a decision by the Parades Commission not to allow them walk back through the nationalist area. A young teenager was run over by a car. I commend the efforts of local residents and PSNI officers who had to lift the car physically off the teenager.
Will the Taoiseach join with me in condemning all acts of race hatred and sectarianism and in calling on the leadership of the loyal orders and the Unionists’ political leadership to take a stand against all acts of race hatred and especially to use their influence to prevent the future burning of posters, banners, flags and effigies on 12 July bonfires? They cannot describe bonfires as part of their culture and not at the same time accept responsibility for the sectarian use to which many are put. The events of recent days are a source of deep concern to one and all but we should not lose sight of the fact that there were hundreds of loyal order marches yesterday which passed off peacefully. It is important to note that also. That certainly, by any standard, represents progress in the North.
In his so-called emergency budget the British Chancellor has spelt out plans to slash a further £12 billion from the British welfare budget. The British Government’s rationale and excuse for these measures is that support for the low paid and vulnerable is at the root of Britain’s current economic difficulties, or at least that is how the Tories see it.
I remind the Taoiseach that the British Secretary of State, Theresa Villiers, who refused for months to detail the wider impact of potential cuts had told Martin McGuinness, joint First Minister, that they would be eye-watering. She was right in that assessment. The Northern Executive has little control of its own fiscal arrangements. It relies on a block grant from the British Exchequer. Many of the measures introduced by the Chancellor, George Osborne, last week are the direct responsibility of the British. The Executive has precious little say in them and we were conscious of all those factors in the negotiation of the Stormont House Agreement. Has the Taoiseach raised concerns with David Cameron, the Prime Minister, and the British system, about the welfare cuts and the block grant, and if so to what extent? Although the crisis hinges on the issue of welfare and protecting the most vulnerable in society, the cuts the British have introduced are much wider than that in respect of public service provision. We are, or need to be, very aware of the specific circumstances in the North of Ireland of a community and society coming out of conflict and the potentially destabilising effect of a system of vicious Tory cuts to basic public service provision there, bearing in mind that the Tories enjoy no electoral mandate from any section of the community in the North of Ireland.
In response to Deputy Martin’s questions, we did sign a memorandum of understanding that covers a broad range of areas. There has been quite a deal of cooperation and benefit on both sides. In the hospitality sector there was the start of the Giro d’Italia and the Irish Open, which created an impact because of the young superstars on both sides of the Border, Northern Ireland being the jurisdiction of the World No. 1 golfer. Northern Ireland personnel in Brussels were part of our EU Presidency and were fully acquainted with all the issues going through, such as the reform of the Common Agricultural policy, CAP. We had a joint trade mission to Singapore with the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, and ministers from Britain and Northern Ireland, covering trade and several other areas. We made the point about the possibility of corporate tax being reduced in Northern Ireland and that will become effective in the future.
Deputy Martin raised the Human Rights Act. I mentioned this specifically to the Prime Minister. It is a part of the Good Friday Agreement. The views of this Government are clear and remain unchanged in that regard on the broad question of human rights and the Good Friday Agreement.
Is that being communicated to the British?
Yes, directly to the Prime Minister. As we speak, there is no legislation before the British Parliament to repeal the UK Human Rights Act 1998. If any movement takes place on that we will be very focused on it. As a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, the Irish Government has a genuine interest in this and takes very seriously its responsibility to safeguard the institutions and the Agreement's principles. The fundamental role of human rights in guaranteeing peace and stability in Northern Ireland cannot be taken for granted and must be fully respected. We made that very clear to the Prime Minister.
Deputy Martin mentioned the issues the Prime Minister spoke about with the other EU leaders regarding the referendum question to be put to the British people in due course. He mentioned four things: competitiveness, national sovereignty, fairness and migration, and welfare. He has no intention of interfering with the free movement of people within the European Union. The Prime Minister gave a brief presentation to the European Council at a recent meeting. The outcome was that internal discussions on the matters he raised are beginning. They will go on until later in the year when an updated report will be presented to the European Council. He does not want to interfere with the freedom of movement. He has spoken about competitiveness and obstacles to business. We share many of these concerns. That is an issue for the Single Market, the digital market and so on. He made a point about the relationship between a country belonging to the euro and one that does not belong to it and where the boundaries lie. It is clear that fairness and migration are issues. Ireland differs from Britain on relocation of people in Greece or Italy who have been rescued from the Mediterranean, some by our naval vessel, LE Eithne. I was very clear with the Prime Minister about the human rights issue and the follow through in his communications with other EU leaders over the coming months.
In response to Deputy McDonald, of course I completely deplore what happened yesterday, the stoning of a bus in Greysteel and the events in the Ardoyne and Woodvale. I deplore anything to do with these comments about race or members of the Deputy’s party having their effigies burnt on bonfires. This is not acceptable. The Government is, and will remain, very clear on this issue. I condemn those completely who, through these mindless and thoughtless actions, have exacerbated a situation in Ardoyne and Woodvale and jeopardised the lives of the community and the young teenager injured when a car drove into the crowd. It is not acceptable for members of the Deputy’s party, or any other, to have their effigies burnt. That has no place in the Northern Ireland we all want to work for. I have no difficulty in deploring that. I will refer to this further at my next meeting with the Northern Ireland Executive.
The budgetary situation, welfare cuts and the block grant are strand one issues and are directly negotiated between the Executive and the British Government. I made the point to the First and Deputy First Ministers that Northern Ireland is a community and a series of communities coming out of conflict over several years and that, where imagination and a bit of creativity can be shown about budgetary affairs, that should be considered. The British Chancellor has made clear that there will not be different rates of welfare in Britain and Northern Ireland. This is an issue.
I am glad that the Deputy's party has approved the drafting of the budget. While there is a significant deficit in the budget, at least it allows the Executive to continue, which is fundamentally important because no one wants to see a return to direct rule from London. I hope the political process in Northern Ireland is able to put together a situation where Northern Ireland can continue on the path to peace and, I hope, improved prosperity in the time ahead. I accept that these are challenging times for the representatives in the Executive.