Leaders' Questions

In the past week global leaders have attended the Paris summit on climate change. President Obama spoke about the need for this generation to act on climate change policy because if it does not it will be too late for future generations. It is a challenge and an opportunity for all of us to do what is right. It involves everyone in urban and rural areas taking up this challenge.

Wind energy guidelines were published in 2006 and there are many wind turbines around all parts of this country to help Ireland achieve its alternative energy targets. Last year 23% of Ireland’s energy requirement was produced by alternative energy sources. Four fifths of this came from onshore wind.

Can we have the Deputy's script please?

As the scale of the turbines increases communities are justifiably concerned about the noise, the shadow flicker, the distance from the turbines-----

That is Deputy Durkan’s issue.

-----and the impact this will have on the quality of their lives and communities. New draft revisions to the noise setbacks and the shadow flicker in the 2006 wind energy guidelines were published two years ago this month. These required turbines to have a noise limit of 40 decibels and a setback of 500 m and a complete elimination of shadow flicker. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, started a further consultation process in spring 2014 and received up to 7,500 submissions that made many suggestions on how wind turbines could continue. This consultation delayed the publication of the new guidelines and got the Government through the European and local elections.

Since then various Ministers have said the new guidelines would be published in 2014. We are now in the last month of 2015 and we have no new guidelines. County development plans are being amended and overturned for taking a proactive stance and introducing local policy on wind energy in the absence of national policy.

That is a Second Stage speech.

The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy White, has changed the Renewable Energy Feed in Tariff, REFIT 2 scheme to enable-----

Can we have the script?

Does the Deputy have a question?

The Deputies opposite do not like this.

The Deputies do not like the change.

-----existing applicants who are experiencing difficulty in the planning process.

Will the Deputy give us his script?

The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has said------

The Deputies should listen to what he is saying. He is trying to put the question.

The Deputies opposite do not like standing their ground.

Does the Deputy have a question?

There are a few windbags over there.

Will the Deputy circulate his speech?

On a point of order, can I ask the Deputy to circulate his speech?

There are no points of order during Leaders’ Questions.

Would Deputy Durkan sit down?

The speech should be circulated.

If the Deputies would listen to what I am saying they would not need circulation of anything.

Is the Deputy about to circulate his speech?

The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government has said he favours a distance of 600 m to 1.5 km for dwellings.

That is totally off the point. That is a speech.

This is a speech.

The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coffey, seems very frustrated with the Government’s position because it is a huge issue in the south east.

The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Deputy White, is on record as disagreeing about long distances from dwellings because he said it would wipe out onshore wind energy in this country.

How many pages are in this speech?

It is an election speech.

The Deputy should put a question.

Do the Deputies want a question?

What about the guidelines?

Is the Government still committed to onshore wind energy as a source of alternative energy? If so can communities across the country expect the publication of the new guidelines about the size of the turbines, the required distance from dwellings as well as the decibel limits?

The Deputy asked that five minutes ago.

On a point of order, this is a total abuse of the House. This is a speech being read into the Official Report.

This has gone on for five minutes.

Will these guidelines be put on a statutory footing? Have talks between the Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government broken down?

I have never seen such an outrageous abuse.

Can the Minister indicate whether the new distance will be 600 m or will it be up to 1.5 km as the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government recommends?

Did Donie Cassidy write the speech?

(Interruptions).

This is an abuse of a serious issue.

Absolutely the worst abuse.

A Deputy

We still believe in free speech.

I hope the decibels the Deputy is talking about will be lower.

That was a decisive intervention, Deputy Durkan.

I recognise the Deputy’s opening remarks about the importance of the discussions and negotiations taking place in Paris at the Conference of Parties, COP 21 conference.

He went totally off then.

The Minister has stood on the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly.

He is getting more pages out now.

The challenge to all of the world-----

The Minister should support the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly.

-----not just to the people in this Chamber, rural or urban Ireland, is to reach an agreement to ensure that the planet we live on and the physical environment in which we live, and future generations we hope will live, will be protected from the growing adverse impact of global warming.

I am sorry, however, to note that Deputy Troy quickly abandoned the aspirational remarks in the first 15 seconds or so of his contribution because I regard the necessity for an agreement at COP 21 to be perhaps the most pressing issue facing the world-----

That is why the Ministers have to agree on the guidelines.

-----including the people of Tipperary.

We have agreed on a provisional guideline.

If Deputy Mattie McGrath would give himself even a minute or two to consider these big issues and try not to continue thinking so small and local all the time and think even for five minutes or so about the broader opportunities and potential we have to bring about change-----

Poor Deputy Kelly. The Minister will not even talk to him. He will not even talk to my colleague.

Deputy McGrath should not break the peace.

I make the point to Members on all sides of the House that they can debate energy policy, for example, for which I have the privilege to be responsible and I will return to the issue of wind energy. They can and should debate these issues, but they cannot reduce them to a backbiting effort to embarrass this or that Minister about this or that set of regulations. There is a legitimate issue.

Why do they not agree?

Do not break the peace.

Two minutes later.

Will the Deputy just listen for one minute?

Listen. Members opposite did not give that opportunity to Deputy Robert Troy.

There is a legitimate issue Members can debate, but can they not think big, even for a few minutes, about the challenges facing us as a people and the planet?

I could not hear the Deputy. Free speech mar dhea.

I appeal to Deputy Robert Troy and his party, as well as others, as many Deputies do understand the importance of these issues. On the question of energy wind, I will answer the Deputy bluntly and clearly. I have no doubt that the development and advancement of onshore wind energy projects will be and must be a significant element of Ireland's energy policy and its approach to combating climate change in the years ahead.

Yes is the answer to that question. I can only speak as Minister, but I will have a White Paper before the Government shortly. It will be published and the Government will set out its view.

Will the Minister have one outside his house?

I do not know who will be Minister next year or the year after, but I can state that whosoever he or she may be, he or she will continue the policy begun by the Government, of which Deputies Robert Troy and Barry Cowen were supporters.

Deputies Patrick O'Donovan and Pat Deering will have two each outside their houses.

I respect what it did by advancing that policy.

There is a lot of wind from over there.

What about the flood barrier in Clontarf?

It has been sorted.

Some Members on the other side are a little embarrassed by the attempt of Deputy Robert Troy to reduce the subject to this backbiting because we must advance renewable energy generation in Ireland.

What about farmers?

We must advance our policy to promote energy efficiency-----

Farmers against climate change,

-----as otherwise we will simply not be in a position to make a realistic or any contribution to the change needed in Ireland. On the wind energy guidelines, nothing has broken down between Ministers in this regard.

Why does the Minister never see him?

Yes, the Departments involved are continuing to consider what would be the best set of guidelines.

Two minutes later.

However, there are guidelines in place and there is a good argument to make them statutory. There is a strong case for changing them to deal with the issues of noise and shadow flicker mentioned by Deputy Robert Troy. I consider the matter of having a setback distance unconnected with the issue of noise or shadow flicker to be more problematic. I have been honest about this because were there to be a setback distance similar to that advocated by some people, I repeat it would wipe out the use of onshore wind energy in this country as a renewable source. Incidentally, this is a technology Deputy Robert Troy's party when in government was happy and right to bring forward.

The Government is continuing that process because we must do so. There is no use in talking about climate change and big aspirational points which, of course, make sense on their own, only to then quickly abandon all of these big thoughts and go back to seeing whom one can embarrass. In response to Deputy Robert Troy, I advocate that we work together on this issue as a country and as a Parliament to address the issue of climate change.

Yes and show leadership.

Away with all of this nonsense of attacking people just for the sake of it.

Yes, get away from the past.

I thank the Minister. May I have order, please? If we have order, Members might stay within the speaking time limits.

It is to be hoped Government Members will afford me the same courtesy that they afforded the Minister when listening to his reply.

They will not let the Deputy speak.

A supplementary question, please.

The Minister spoke about Fianna Fáil's position, but contrary to what he said, Fianna Fáil published an alternative energy document nearly two years ago. Moreover, we submitted it as part of the process the Government had initiated. Members of my party visited Denmark to consult experts before finalising the plan. Denmark is a country that is held up as an example of international best practice and that has recently moved away from onshore to offshore wind energy production. If the Minister seeks a copy of the plan, I have one to hand or could submit it to his office.

One for everyone in the audience.

Fianna Fáil is committed to meeting the European Union targets to reduce carbon emissions by 2030. However, the wind energy issue is of great concern across all provinces. It may not be a big issue in the centre of Dublin, but it certainly is a major issue in my constituency of Longford-Westmeath-----

-----and many other constituencies the length and breath of the country. Being committed to dealing with climate change and publishing new documents is all very well, but when such documents are not backed up by implementation and action plans, they simply gather dust.

A question, please.

Two years have passed since the Government committed to publishing new guidelines for wind turbines.

Will there be a question?

County development plans have been delayed, overturned and amended.

A question, please.

Who signed up to the guidelines?

There are High Court cases pending. Applications are still coming in under the outdated wind energy guidelines from 2006.

Who signed up to the guidelines?

The Government is sitting on its guidelines.

Applications still are being made and such applications will be dealt with under the old guidelines.

Will the Deputy, please, ask a question?

Communities have real and genuine fears and I am merely representing them in the Chamber.

Who signed up to these targets? This is hypocrisy.

The Minister is meeting them in delegations with Government Deputies on an ongoing basis.

The Minister is also aware that there are real and genuine concerns.

A question, please.

I will ask the Minister one simple question. When will the Government - Fine Gael and the Labour Party - produce its wind energy guidelines and will they be put on a statutory footing?

Who set the targets?

That is two questions.

Who will win the argument? Will it be the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, or the Minister, Deputy Alex White? What will the setback distance be?

No, Deputy, come on.

I am standing up for the communities who have real fears.

The people need to win the argument. The Deputy has stated he is here to represent his constituents, which is absolutely true and he does so with great fervour. However, he also is here to show leadership. When will he show some leadership on the issue?

When will the Minister produce the documents?

This is Leaders' Questions.

When will all Members realise that there is tension between what must be done in respect of renewable energy-----

Between the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, and the Minister, Deputy Alex White.

----- and the genuine and legitimate concerns of citizens and local communities? One must recognise that there is tension.

Fianna Fáil populism.

Tension on the backbenches.

Members are the ones on whom it falls to find a way of removing such tension.

Tension in the Cabinet.

The Deputy should keep the peace.

As for the White Paper that will be published next week, Deputy Robert Troy wanted to talk about Fianna Fáil's document, which I have seen, but he should not denigrate the idea that we come together as a Government and debate in this parliament a White Paper that will set out the path both on the issue of renewable energy and all related energy issues in the coming years.

While planning applications continue.

Members can have that debate in this House. The Deputy simply wishes to snipe about planning applications-----

When will the guidelines be published?

Typical Fianna Fáil populism.

----- but I ask him to think for one minute about the possibilities for this country in developing renewable energy projects. Members will have the opportunity to debate that issue in the coming weeks.

Dodge another election.

A central element of the White Paper will address the genuine concerns people have in local communities about energy policy, on which there is tension.

Will the Minister answer the question I asked?

Responsibility for publication of guidelines lies with the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, as the Deputy is aware.

No, it is a Government decision.

I have made my position clear.

The Minister is representing the Government in the Chamber.

Will the Deputy, please, settle down?

The sniping and heckling from Members opposite, unfortunately, are always a substitute for real debate.

What about Government Members?

Blame Kelly again.

Deputy Michael Moynihan is the representative of Fianna Fáil on the committee and absolutely contributes on the issue of energy policy.

The Minister should look behind him. Where is Wikileaks today?

However, on energy policy-----

The Minister cannot blame Kelly for everything.

-----neither the Deputy nor Deputy Robert Troy can reduce their responsibility in this House in the way they seek to deal with the legitimate concerns of local communities.

When will the Minister produce the guidelines?

Fianna Fáil gave the Government a paper two years ago.

They also have a responsibility to match what we must do as a country to have a renewable energy policy that will meet the challenges of the future.

We gave the paper to the Government two years ago.

Where are the guidelines?

Members have been talking for too long about the issue.

They have a responsibility to face the future, not to constantly face the past-----

Compare Fianna Fáil's climate change Bill with that of the Government.

-----or constantly regard the job in terms of it being a representative role, as it undoubtedly is, but also to give leadership.

Will the Minister take over leadership of the Labour Party by blaming Kelly?

Members opposite ask questions but will not allow anyone to finish.

A Deputy

They are all obsessed with whingeing.

The Minister has not answered the question. What about the guidelines?

There are no guidelines.

They are afraid they will be exposed for their lack of leadership on this issue. The Government will proceed. It will have a renewable energy policy that will be supported by the people because they will see the great potential inherent within it.

Actions, not words.

That will not wash.

I call Deputy Mary Lou McDonald. May we have order, please?

Every day families are being made homeless. Thousands of children will sleep in unsuitable emergency accommodation tonight. Home repossessions, rising rents and a shortage of council housing are the causes of family homelessness. Councils not only have housing waiting lists, they now also have waiting lists for emergency accommodation. Families are being forced to sleep rough, overhold on their leases or move in with family and friends. A huge number of those who find themselves in this awful position are at work.

Let me give an example. Máire is a single mother with two children. She works full-time in a low-paid job in retail. Unable to afford child care, her mother minds the children while she is in work. She is not eligible for rent supplement and cannot find a landlord who will take the housing assistance payment. Máire's rent has increased by 20% in the past two years. The crunch came for her when her landlord served her with a €100 rent increase this year. She told him she simply did not have the money and he replied with a notice to quit.

She looked frantically for alternative accommodation but could not find anything affordable. She presented to her local council homeless section but was turned away because all of the hostels and hotels were full. This case is not an isolated one; it happens day after day. A new survey from Co-operative Housing Ireland indicates that 32% of tenants across the State live in fear of losing their homes. In Dublin, 50% of tenants are fearful of becoming homeless.

The only meaningful solution that will allay this fear is to link market rents to the consumer price index - in other words, to provide rent certainty. These families are being made homeless because of the Government's failure to introduce rent certainty. The Minister has urged others to demonstrate leadership. I urge him to demonstrate leadership and tell us when the Government will provide the rent certainty that families like Máire's desperately need.

It is not acceptable that in Ireland in 2015, we have families, including children, living in emergency accommodation. The case the Deputy raises, or any other such case, is simply unacceptable. The Deputy talks about the only meaningful solution. As she well knows, the only meaningful solution to this undoubted problem that exists - nobody denies that it exists - is that we actually resume as quickly as possible, as we are doing, a home building programme in the State, one that was abandoned disgracefully seven or eight years ago, where local authorities withdrew, and in fact were encouraged to withdraw, from the building of social housing. That will allow us to provide the homes that individuals and families need and in that way ensure we address the issue of homelessness. That is the only meaningful solution in my view. That is the leadership the Government is showing and needs to show in respect of this issue of the housing problem and the associated homeless factor that we have at the moment.

We have increased funding, as the Deputy will be aware. We have allocated approximately €2.2 billion for social housing in the coming period. We have increased Exchequer support to address homelessness, in particular for emergency accommodation, by €17 million. Exchequer funding in that regard is now of the order of €70 million, an increase of 56% since 2014.

We have a cold weather action plan for the winter months in the Dublin area to assist people who are at risk of sleeping rough. Additional beds are being brought on line. We are addressing the emergency element of the problem and the Minister, Deputy Kelly, is doing that effectively. That is what leadership is about and that is what we are doing and what we intend to continue to do.

Demonstrating leadership means having a range of policy approaches to address, first, the immediate emergency edge of the problem relating to homelessness, particularly in our cities, which is what we are doing. In the medium term, we need to get going as quickly as possible, as we are doing, with a social housing building programme. That is what we are addressing.

On rent certainty, colleagues will be aware that the Minister, Deputy Kelly, is bringing legislation through the Houses in respect of the rental sector. Additional certainty is being afforded by that legislation so that we can do as much as we can with the legislative measures we put in place to ensure that people who are in rental accommodation are not in fear of rent increases on a regular basis and that can only happen over the new period of two years.

It sounds a bit woolly.

Those are measures we are taking.

It is all woolly.

We are also addressing deposit protection and other changes are taking place in respect of rent certainty to protect people in rental accommodation. It may be a subject of mirth for Deputy Cowen but is a serious issue for the people affected and is a serious issue for the Government, which is why we are addressing it now.

The Government has not shown that for the past four years.

It is not acceptable for the Minister to say to families, such as Máire's, that their predicament is not acceptable when the Government has a hand in creating their misery. That is the truth. The coalition has been in government for almost five years and its record on social housing build is pathetic. I am shocked that the Minister and his colleagues repeatedly give out that message as though they had revolutionised social housing provision - far from it.

What it has allowed is a situation where families, including children, sleep in bed and breakfasts, hostels and hotels, if they are lucky. What it has allowed is a situation where children try to make it to school every day for weeks on end from those hotels, if they are lucky. What it has allowed is a situation where people sleep on sofas or in their mothers' box rooms for months or years. What it has allowed is fear in a whole generation not alone that they will not own their own home but that they will be priced out of the rented accommodation on which they rely, the place they call home.

I ask the Minister to clarify this because I am curious to know. Last night the Government Members voted down Sinn Féin legislation on the issue of rent certainty and the prevention of homelessness. Revealingly enough, most of the Minister's colleagues did not consider it worth their while to show up for the debate. How does the Minister answer Máire who needs rent certainty and all those tenants - the figures do not lie - 50% of whom are in Dublin and more than 30% are across the State who currently fear they will be priced out of their homes? When will they get rent certainty or has the Government given up the ghost on that? This is on its watch and it is its responsibility. The Minister should not talk to others about leadership when he so clearly fails in that regard.

We can have a debate about how the problem happened.

Answer the question.

If that is the question-----

If that is the question the Deputy wants to ask, when she talks about the misery and how this was caused, we can do that-----

A Deputy

We want to know what the Government is doing.

-----but I do not believe that would be productive.

We know the housing crisis came about.

The Government should fix it so.

We know what happened and we know where we are now.

The Minister knows everything, bar the solution.

What we are about is solutions.

That is what this Government is about.

We need actions.

What we are about is actually delivering solutions and delivering action.

What about the Tesco advertisement?

I do not know the exact individual circumstances of the person the Deputy mentioned. I have no doubt the case she raised is a genuine one and she has authenticated what she has said today. What I would say to that lady and others in terms of what we are dealing with-----

The Minister is in the Dáil not in court.

There is no need for personal abuse. Let us just keep to the debate. What we are dealing with here is a Government that is actually addressing the situation somebody like Máire is facing.

I will give an example of what I would say to her if she were here. I would say the Government-----

You are a Minister and not a senior counsel for the moment.

-----will ensure that new houses are built and there will be an opportunity for her and her family to avail of one of those houses.

The Government is ensuring that local authorities have systems in place whereby-----

He is a Minister, not a senior counsel.

Can we hear the reply, please?

-----if she wishes to apply or approach her local authority, her individual situation will be addressed in a sensitive way.

Give me a break.

The Minister has not answered.

If she were concerned about rent certainty-----

Go back to the Bar.

-----I would tell her what was in the legislation we are bringing through the House to bring about rent certainty to ensure she has protection in her house.

There is no rent certainty in the plan.

The Government is running out of time.

He is stuck in Tesco.

It is true we do not have the complete solution for every individual faced with this situation-----

The Government has no solution.

The Government does not even have a-----

-----today, because as the Members opposite must accept, one cannot produce houses in a day or a week.

Nor five years.

What one can do, however, is ensure the funding is put in place to deliver those houses, ensure the money is there and bring it forward.

One can have measures, such as modular housing, which the lady in question could well avail of.

A cottage up in the clouds.

People cannot avail of modular housing.

It is a temporary solution.

One could have measures in the rent legislation, which we are producing in this House.

People can have a hotel room.

Every time I mention another measure, I get heckled-----

The Minister should go back to the Bar.

-----because the Deputies opposite know that these are practical, serious solutions to a problem that they just want to talk about.

The Minister is in power.

There are no solutions in anything the Minister said.

He is in Tesco land.

That is a disgraceful position from the Labour Party. It is pathetic. I am not interested in Fianna Fáil.

Yesterday we learned that three people in five renting in Ireland have given up on ever owning their own home. We learned that half of Dublin tenants are in fear of losing their home. Somehow the Government has managed to preside over a housing crisis, a rental crisis, a homelessness crisis and a mortgage crisis all at the same time.

Keep the peace, Mattie.

A total of 330,000 men, women and children today are living in homes, on which repayments are in arrears.

Michael Fingleton.

The number in arrears for more than two years continues to rise and represents those most at risk of being in court and losing their homes.

Mattie will be brought up again.

After years of inaction and just a few weeks before the election, the Cabinet this week agreed to a bankruptcy change that could only be described as a quarter of what is needed, four years too late. Last week, the Social Democrats published a comprehensive policy response to the mortgage crisis. It introduces one year bankruptcy with a maximum of an additional two years income attachment period. It includes a one-stop-shop for borrowers providing free financial and legal expertise and representation.

It includes a set of mandated solutions for borrowers should they qualify. It would allow courts refuse possession orders if it can be demonstrated that there is a sustainable solution to the mortgage difficulty.

It also includes a realistic way of scaling up the mortgage to rent scheme. David Hall of the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation stated that in his opinion, working with borrowers and lenders every day, if the Social Democrats proposals, which are all perfectly sensible and achievable, were implemented, the mortgage crisis would be over for those 330,000 people in 12 to 18 months.

That number would fill four Croke Parks.

The Minister, Deputy Alex White, just stated that demonstrating leadership means a suite of policy proposals. I agree. Will he bring the Social Democrats' proposals to Cabinet and help end the mortgage crisis once and for all for 330,000 men, women and children living in fear and stress in this country?

I cannot promise to bring the proposals of any party to Cabinet.

What I will promise to do, and in the spirit of all of us working together as a Dáil, is that I will certainly look at the proposals. We should all look at each other's proposals in particular in the context of the coming months-----

The Government does not have any.

-----in terms of how we address these issues.

There are only eight working days to fulfil the undertaking.

This is Deputy Donnelly's question.

The Deputy will be aware that the Government has agreed to bring forward legislation on the bankruptcy period.

Will it be enacted and operational before Christmas?

That will be done.

It is on the Dáil record, three times. The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste said it.

Please, Deputy Mathews.

I congratulate my colleague, Deputy Penrose, on having brought forward the Bill. It is a genuine piece of legislation that will address the position faced by too many people, as a consequence of the economic crash we had to deal with in this country in recent years. I admit that I have not seen the proposals that are contained in the Deputy's document. I am sorry about that but I will read them, as I am sure he will read the proposals of other parties in the coming months.

There are only eight working days to fulfil the undertaking made on the Dáil record.

As we face into the closing weeks and months of this Dáil, it is necessary to recognise the achievement of the Government-----

The people of Ireland have the Government's undertaking.

Deputy Mathews is not a party leader yet. Could he please not interrupt?

-----and the achievement of what has happened in this country. We had the greatest economic crash we had ever seen, and a banking collapse on a scale that has never been seen anywhere in the world. The resulting consequences of that in terms of the living standards of so many people, in particular their opportunity to buy and own a home, have been enormous. The Government's efforts since it came to office have been to address the adverse consequences for so many people of the worst economic crash we have ever seen in this country. That is what we have been facing. If we have not been quick enough to do it, we can deal with that and address it.

The Government resisted any expediency.

If there are measures we could have taken a year before we took them-----

Four years or five years.

-----or six months before we took them, we can have that debate but nobody can gainsay the fact that this Government-----

The Government resisted.

-----with Deputy Mathews's support for a little while until he went in another direction, brought together-----

The Government went in a different direction and look where we are.

-----not just the economy-----

The Minister should be allowed to reply.

-----but the public finances to ensure that we now have an economy that can look to the future and a society that can benefit from a stable economic environment. That is what we now have for the first time in seven or eight years after the worst economic crash we have ever seen in this country. In so far as the Deputy is advancing his own party proposals on Leaders' Questions-----

The Minister did not understand the Deputy's question.

-----people will have to recognise that the two Government parties, Fine Gael and the Labour Party, have done an enormous amount to turn this country around.

They did nothing.

I call Deputy Stephen Donnelly. He should be allowed to speak without interruption.

That is not true.

You left the ship, Peter.

I welcome the fact the Cabinet has agreed to reduce the bankruptcy period. I tabled such a proposal in 2012 and the Government voted against it. I tabled it subsequent to that also and the Government again voted against it. I recognise and welcome the fact the Government has changed its position and is now reducing the period to one year. However, when we talk about recognising Government achievements, when it comes to the mortgage crisis, the Government's achievement is abject failure. It gives me no pleasure to say that to the Minister. Ireland's level of mortgage arrears is several times higher than other European countries which faced similar economic and housing challenges. Why? The reason is the Government took a hands-off approach and said the banks would pretty much have to solve this themselves on a case-by-case basis. Every Member of this House is helping constituents with mortgage arrears.

Every Member of this House knows that the first question one asks a borrower when they come in is whether they have had financial advice. Most of them say they cannot afford financial advice. Then we ask whether they have had legal advice and if they can afford legal representation. They say they cannot afford legal representation and that if they could, they would not be in mortgage arrears. Then we ask them who is their lender, because the Minister and everyone of us knows the answer to that question will largely determine whether the family is going to recover or be buried by a vindictive lender. The Minister and I know that from our time together on the finance committee.

The Social Democrats has a set of policy proposals. A one-stop-shop for borrowers would provide financial and legal advice for free and it could be set up now. MABS is in place. Other social sector organisations are in place. We do not need to wait for legislation. We do not need to wait for a new Government next year to find its feet and figure out what it wants to do and negotiate a programme for Government. This could be done now.

I thank Deputy Donnelly.

Mandating a set of solutions which would provide consistency and fairness could be done now. Fixing the mortgage to rent scheme could be done now. I know from my time working with the Minister on the finance committee that he cares about the mortgage crisis but the sad reality is that the Government continues to take a hands off approach and does not act.

Before the next election the Government could introduce a one-stop-shop, mandate a set of solutions and scale up the mortgage to rent scheme. All of those things are possible. While I thank the Minister for saying he will look at the proposal, before this Dáil falls, why not take a genuine position of leadership and implement measures we know will immediately help 330,000 men, women and children in this country?

There is an idea.

It is completely untrue to say the Government has taken a hands-off approach to this problem. That is manifestly not true.

Of course, it is true.

The Deputy can disagree with some of the measures-----

Where is the evidence?

-----and he can say the Government should perhaps have gone further or that he disagrees with some of the approaches that were taken but it is ludicrous to suggest that we have taken a hands-off approach.

The Government is asleep at the wheel.

The entire effort of this Government in the past five years has been to stabilise the economy after the shocking economic collapse that occurred, including, in cases where people have had to cope with the impact of mortgage arrears, including insolvency legislation which we introduced and brought through the House, and also the provision of services such as the Money Advice and Budgeting Service, MABS. My understanding is that since September this year MABS has been more involved and it has accelerated its efforts in regard to court mentoring-----

The finance committee was afraid to have the Governor of the Central Bank in. Does the Minister remember that?

-----and in giving advice to individuals who are faced with these issues. It is completely untrue to say that this is a hands off approach. The fact is that the number of people in arrears, the number of families in financial difficulties and household debt have reduced and are reducing, of that there is no question. When Deputy Donnelly compares Ireland to other countries he is not always comparing like with like because he knows that the crash in this country was far more severe than it was in any of the countries he could find with which to compare us.

What about Iceland?

The reality is that we have achieved an enormous amount, we have stabilised the economy and the public finances and now there is hope for the people that the Deputy and I represent------

You are not giving them much hope.

-----who have faced mortgage difficulties. They have hope, they can sense there is hope and this Government is giving them hope. That is what happening. Those are the specifics in terms of the approach that this Government has taken-----

Is the Government afraid of the work involved?

-----and that is what will continue to work for the Irish people, namely, that the Government and politicians, and I include many politicians on both sides of the House, will work genuinely in the interests of their constituents and also in the interests of the country and in the interests of ensuring we have proper measures in place that are robust, that we have an economy that works and that the people of Ireland can profit from that.