Topical Issue Debate

Industrial Disputes

I remind Members that a Deputy has four minutes for an initial statement and a Minister or Minister of State has four minutes to reply. A Deputy has two minutes for a supplementary question and a Minister or Minister of State has two minutes to reply. That is a total of 12 minutes and I will stick very rigidly to that in order to keep to schedule.

I am grateful for the opportunity to raise this issue, at long last, in the Chamber with the Minister, Deputy Bruton. The issue has left the headlines because of the Garda dispute but it is of serious concern and worry to parents and students around the country. We have probably all experienced a teacher strike in our lifetime and one day off here or there is probably considered a bit of a bonus for children. However, I attended a careers fair a couple of weeks ago and the number of secondary school students who came to me to express their worry about the ASTI industrial disputes - there is more than one - was just incredible. Students are deeply worried and parents are quite stressed out, wondering what is going to happen next week. I suppose I am asking the Minister to set out an update on the position of the talks with ASTI. There are talks going on regarding the current strike and industrial action and I also understand there are talks ongoing about junior certificate reform and the 10% figure for marks, which is another serious concern for parents that is becoming more of a talking point.

As my colleague, Deputy Jim O'Callaghan, said this morning to the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, there are a number of sides to this and the fundamental duty of the State in the case of the Minister for Education and Skills is to provide education to our students. What is his contingency plan in the event of action escalating next week and schools having to close? Is he planning to notify parents of what is happening throughout the country, as there is considerable confusion? Although the matter is chaotic, there is confusion being added to the chaos of the Government's planning.

What is the Minister doing to engage directly with ASTI members, as I have done, to explain what is in the Lansdowne Road agreement and try to persuade them of its merits? There is considerable merit in the Lansdowne Road agreement and the Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO, and the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, see that as well. It is unfortunate that ASTI members are getting left behind with regard to some of the improvements, particularly the improvement negotiated during the summer relating to young teachers. The Minister could go one step further in helping resolve the issue by saying the Government supports equal pay scales for all workers. That statement has proven difficult to get from Ministers and the Government over the past number of weeks but it would make a significant difference.

What have been the engagements of the Minister and the Department? Today, we were due to have a meeting of the Oireachtas education committee but the Department and ASTI requested that the meeting would not take place in public today. The committee agreed on the basis that, one could presume, some progress was being made in talks. We will certainly hold the meeting next week if that progress does not come about. I hope our assumption was correct. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response and what he has been doing. Many people are watching this so I hope to hear him explain to parents what will happen next week. Quite frankly, most people are in the dark.

I thank Deputy Byrne for raising the issue. I absolutely agree this is a major concern for students and parents alike. I am very disappointed at the decision of the ASTI to take industrial action, and it will cause serious disruption for up to 250,000 students and their parents. However, talks have been continuing all this week and last week on both of the issues to which the Deputy referred, specifically junior certificate reform and the current dispute. We are working really hard to try to find a solution.

It is important to recognise the dispute we are facing on Monday is not about newly qualified teachers' pay but rather the withdrawal of supervision and substitution services, which could cause indefinite closure of schools that would be directly affected. It is important to put this in context because the withdrawal of supervision and substitution is the withdrawal of a core part of a teacher's duties. As the Deputy knows, in July the ASTI decided unilaterally to withdraw from working 33 so-called Croke Park hours, which facilitate parents and students with important meetings not in school time. These extra hours apply throughout the public service so it is not fair or equitable for one group of public servants to decide they will withdraw from these contractual hours when every other public servant works them. That caused the withdrawal of the benefits that accrue under the Lansdowne Road agreement, including the substitution and supervision payment that every other teacher gets.

I agree with Deputy Byrne that we must try to explain to teachers the benefits on the table with this deal. I have tried hard to progressively improve the position of teachers through negotiations with both the INTO and TUI. As the Deputy knows, we achieved flexibility in the use of Croke Park hours in May and in September we achieved a breakthrough on a deal for newly qualified teachers that provides up to a 22% increase in pay for those teachers. In the budget we provided for new posts of promotional opportunities for teachers. We have been trying to extend the benefits of these various agreements to ASTI members, and that is why we are so keen to continue trying to resolve this.

With regard to contingency plans, the ultimate decision of whether to have a school open is a matter for each school. However, we sought to keep schools open, get agreement from the ASTI that principals would co-operate with the deployment of alternative staff and that we would be given enough time for the schools to recruit those alternative staff so it would be possible for schools to remain open. Unfortunately, the ASTI declined to do this. As a result, many schools have had to make a decision on whether they can meet health and safety requirements of supervision of children. It is our understanding that a large number of schools will not be able to remain open once supervision and substitution services are withdrawn. Schools will notify parents as each school will make a different decision, based on particular circumstances. As the Deputy knows, some secondary schools are entirely made up of TUI teachers, some are mixed and some are made up of ASTI teachers. It is ultimately the schools that will have to make that decision based on health and safety considerations.

I assure the Deputy that throughout this I have been at pains to seek to keep schools open and extend to ASTI members the benefits that are possible.

The Minister's statement is of deep concern. Essentially, he is reporting that there has been no progress in the talks which have taken place over the past several weeks. Had this question been asked two weeks ago, the answer would have been exactly the same. What has been happening in the talks? Has some progress taken place? A door was opened last week by the president of the ASTI. Was that opportunity grasped by the Department at the time? My understanding at that point was that there was a willingness to engage openly. What happened? Was that opportunity lost or is it still being worked on?

It is not good enough to put the entire responsibility of opening and closing schools on to the Joint Managerial Body, JMB, the Association of Community and Comprehensive Schools, ACCS, or the education and training boards, ETBs. Most parents are not familiar with these organisations. If this goes on past next Wednesday, people will be fed up and looking at what the Government has done to ensure their children are educated in accordance with their rights at second level, rights started off by Donogh O'Malley 50 years ago. It is not good enough to pass the buck to schools.

Yet again, the Minister has refused to outline any commitment whatsoever to equal pay. Who can be against equal pay scales? It cannot be a negotiating tactic that one does not support equal pay scales. If the Minister would give such a commitment on the floor of the House, or if the Taoiseach had done so last week, it would make a difference. No one is expecting the pay rates will change tomorrow. What they know is that members of the Irish National Teachers Organisation, INTO, and the Teachers Union of Ireland, TUI, will get increased pay rates from January. I would like the ASTI to be part of that. If that signal could be sent on equal pay, it would make a significant difference. I urge the Minister to take that opportunity. That has been said many times by many of the people involved.

Next week there will be pressure on our students and a worry for their parents, while many teachers are at an information deficit.

The Department cannot make a decision for a school whether it opens or closes. The school has to make that decision on the basis of whether it can provide the level of supervision necessary to ensure the health and safety of the pupils. That is the responsibility of schools. We have leaned over backwards to put them into a position in which they could do that. We sought to have such an agreement with the ASTI but one was not forthcoming. This has put many schools in an impossible situation and they are not able to stay open in face of this.

As for the suggestion from Mr. Ed Byrne that something could be done, he described it himself as a musing and no formal offer has been advanced by the ASTI. We have a formal proposal on the table, namely, we would pay in full all the supervision and substitution moneys, extend new entrant pay up to 22% for newly qualified teachers, extend flexibility on Croke Park hours and extend promotional opportunities. These are conditional if the ASTI does the same as every other public servant and works the hours agreed under the Croke Park agreement. That is fair and equitable.

Deputy Thomas Byrne also raised the question of whether it is fair and equitable. The point has to be made, however, that it is not appropriate to negotiate with every public service union in public. One cannot hold these negotiations over the airwaves. One also has to bear in mind what the trade union IMPACT said, namely, that it would not be fair or equitable to enter into a sectorial arrangement with one union which does not respect the agreement that applies to every other union. We have to be fair and equitable to all the many groups which look to the Department of Education and Skills and other Departments for resources to meet their legitimate demands. These issues need to be negotiated under the process outlined by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, which is the way we can advance all these concerns.

Fáilte Ireland Staff

It is quite unfortunate the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, is not here to respond to this matter and that the Minister of State had to be pulled back up from Limerick or where ever he was to deal with it. I understand the Minister is heading out of the country.

I must declare I was a former employee of Fáilte Ireland. This matter relates to the process in which the agency is engaging in filling the post of chief executive, an issue of concern to me. Before his appointment as Minister, Deputy Shane Ross would wax lyrical from the opposition benches and in the Sunday Independent about quangos, State board appointments and other such issues. After six months in office, he has still refused to meet Fáilte Ireland even once. The agency is not engaging in using the Public Appointments Service, PAS, system to fill the chief executive post. Instead, it is using a company called Amrop. Transparency is not there.

Why is the senior Minister not using the PAS system to give transparency to this process? In reply to a parliamentary question on this, the Minister stated Fáilte Ireland was not obliged to do so. If one looks at the PAS website, however, many other State agencies do so. In fact, another agency under the Minister's remit is currently using it to fill vacancies.

One of the biggest marketing jobs in Ireland - and given Brexit - is not filled by the Minister in a way which I would have expected him to do so, given his track record. Does the Minister of State feel this is appropriate? Will the current process using a private company be stalled? Will the position be readvertised? Why has it taken so long? If this is the best process, why has no one been appointed? Is there an issue of which we need to be made aware?

It is incredible the Department was unable, unwilling or did not feel it necessary to have a representative on the interview board for the chief executive of one of the most important agencies under its remit. I know the Secretary General of the Department quite well. He is a capable man who worked with me when I was there. I am sure the assistant secretary, who I do not know, is also competent and capable. If a Department is going to jump outside the PAS system, will the Minister of State agree the Department should have a role in a recruitment process to ensure it is transparent and that the best person, the person with energy and vision, which are the two main requirements for the role, gets the job?

There is a concern that because the senior Minister refuses to use the PAS, there is some reason Fáilte Ireland is going around the way it is. Why has the appointment not been made? Amrop claims to be one of the best executive search companies on this planet, but after six months it is incapable of filling the job. What is the issue?

I will pass on Deputy Alan Kelly's concerns to the Minister as to his well-being.

I did not ask about his well-being at all.

He is on his way to the Ireland-New Zealand rugby match in Chicago. I will also pass on the Deputy’s good wishes to the Secretary General of the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport. I agree with him that he does a fantastic job. I can also attest to the fantastic job the assistant secretary, who the Deputy has not met, does.

I have been informed by the board of Fáilte Ireland that it has carried out a public recruitment process, through the executive search company Amrop, for the appointment of a chief executive officer to Fáilte Ireland. The carrying out of such a process is a matter for the authority in accordance with its statutory functions and with the Government’s guidelines.

The term of office of the current chief executive officer of Fáilte Ireland, Shaun Quinn, is due to expire on 31 December 2016. I should take this opportunity to acknowledge the contribution he has made to the impressive growth in the tourism sector over his years at the helm of Fáilte Ireland.

The consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to fill the chief executive post was sought and received earlier this year and was subject to a number of conditions, including that the filling of the post be by means of an open competition. The Department was informed that the authority intended to run a public process, including by means of public advertisements.

The statutory requirements governing the appointment of a CEO by Fáilte Ireland is set out in section 31 of the National Tourism Development Authority Act 2003. In accordance with subsection (3) of that section, the chief executive is appointed by the authority with the consent of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. Under subsection (7) of Section 31, the CEO shall hold office upon and subject to such terms and conditions, including terms and conditions relating to remuneration and allowances, as may be determined by Fáilte Ireland with the consent of the Minister given with the consent of the Minister for Finance.

The Department has been advised that, following consideration by the authority, it decided to undertake the recruitment process through a private recruitment firm rather than the Public Appointments Service. The Minister has been advised that the post was advertised in a number of publications in April 2016, including a national daily newspaper and a national Sunday paper. In addition, an executive search process was undertaken by Amrop. A high number of candidates were identified through these processes and, following a selection and interview process, a preferred candidate has now been identified. The authority has assured the Minister and me - I met the chairman recently - that the search and selection processes undertaken were robust and thorough and that all candidates went through the same rigorous transparent process and were dealt with in a fair manner.

On 26 October 2016, the authority sought the consent of the Minister to the appointment in accordance with its statutory obligations under section 31(3) of the Act. The authority has also sought the consent of the Minister to the terms and conditions of the appointment under section 31(7) of the Act. Both these requests are under consideration and, regarding the latter, the Minister will consult with his colleague, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

Regarding the nature of the process carried out by the authority, the decision to undertake a public process through a private company rather than the Public Appointments Services predated the Minister's appointment and mine. However, we acknowledge the fact that the processes undertaken were carried out in an open and public competitive process.

I am glad the Minister of State has confidence in his own Department. However, I find it bizarre how he or the Minister, Deputy Ross, can have confidence in their own Department yet be incapable of putting one of the two senior people in charge onto the interview board. Even if this process had to be done outside of PAS, it is incomprehensible to me that a Department is responsible for an agency whose total funding comes from the taxpayer, yet not one single person from the Department was put on the interview panel. I know who is on the interview panel, as a matter of interest, and it could have done with a member of the Department.

I am glad the Minister of State met the chairman because the Minister, Deputy Ross, has not had time to meet the chairman of one of the most important agencies in his Department, according to the reply I received. The Minister of State said that Fáilte Ireland has indicated in writing a preferred candidate. Is that candidate being put forward, and will his or her salary be kept within the public service caps? Will the Minister of State confirm and guarantee that here and now? I would like that to be known.

Regarding the overlap, which the Minister of State says happened regarding the process being undertaken, that is irrelevant because he was in place very soon afterwards and could have stopped it. I am sure he was briefed in this regard at the first meeting of his ministerial management advisory committee, MinMAC, so that could have changed straight away.

The Minister, Deputy Ross, is a hypocrite if he makes an appointment through this process and does not use the Public Appointments Service for one of the most senior appointments he will ever make as a Minister. There are jobs in his Department that go through the Public Appointments Service, so not to put this position through that system smacks of total hypocrisy by the Minister involved, and I ask the Minister of State not to be party to it.

The Deputy will know, having himself been a Minister in this Department, and indeed having headed up a Department, namely, the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, that there is no requirement that the authority in question, Fáilte Ireland, use the service to which the Deputy refers. The decision-----

If the Minister dictates, though, there is-----

The Deputy had his say. I call on the Minister.

I have no reason to suggest that the decision Fáilte Ireland made on the appointment process in this case is anything other than transparent, I have no reason to suggest that it is anything other than fair and I have no reason or evidence to suggest that it is anything other than a process to try to identify the best possible candidate. If there is some reason the Deputy believes should be brought to the attention of the House, the Department or me, or if he has any evidence to suggest that the process was anything other than fair-----

I have just done so.

-----or anything other than-----

I have just done so.

The Deputy has not. What he has done is-----

The Department-----

The Deputy had a good run at it.

The Deputy is a former Minister.

Yes, and he should-----

He knows he should at least have the courtesy to allow the Minister of State to respond.

I thank the Acting Chairman.

Deputy Kelly had his six minutes; the Minister of State is entitled to his six minutes.

Okay, Acting Chairman.

I thank the Acting Chairman.

The Deputy will know well that Fáilte Ireland's board and chairperson would take the appointment of the CEO extremely seriously. I had a recent briefing with the chairperson of Fáilte Ireland. As the national tourism development authority, it is very conscious of the fact that we need a good person heading up the organisation, particularly in the context of Brexit. Therefore, if there is any suggestion that there has been any impropriety or anything untoward in the appointment of a person, if people can suggest a reason as to why they believe there has been some sort of impropriety, they have an obligation to bring that information forward. I have not heard, other than the Deputy's-----

I asked about the pay cap.

I have not heard anything other than-----

I asked about the pay cap. The Minister of State has not answered the question.

If the Deputy had refrained from constantly interrupting me, he might have got the reply.

I know. The time has concluded. I thank both Deputies for their contributions, even though the debate was a little difficult-----

The Minister of State might reply in writing.

Homeless Accommodation Provision

Unfortunately, the Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, is not present. I know he knows the site in question, given the fact that he visited it only yesterday and failed while he was there to meet the community that has been raising major concerns about the selection of a community hall as a new homeless centre in the heart of Dublin 8. The hall in question is the St. Nicholas of Myra Hall and Carman's Hall, just off Francis Street. If the Minister of State wants a quick lesson on what is happening in the area, there are more than 600 emergency beds there, including long-term support beds, drug treatment beds, homeless beds and hotel beds, all within one square mile of this hall. That is the concentration of supports this community has accepted and agreed to. It has worked with homelessness organisations to ensure that these unfortunates, some from the area, have the benefit of a roof over their heads. Therefore, this is not NIMBYism, a "not in my back yard" approach.

This issue is being raised because a community had a community hall and was seeking to convert it back into a community hall following its closure on fire protection grounds only a few short months ago. It is very bad faith on the part of the Archdiocese of Dublin not to have continued to engage with the community but instead to refuse to return calls and so on from people including the former mayor, Críona Ní Dhálaigh. While she was mayor she tried to advocate on this issue, along with Dublin City Council, which was willing to take over the hall and bring it back to the work it was doing, including its use for meals on wheels and many other outreach programmes in the area. Overnight, the Minister and his officials have come in and used emergency laws to allow work to begin, but there are major questions as to whether or not that is legal.

There was no commencement order. Work had started five days before that appeared. I have been told they are working through the night in a residential area, which is not within any regulations. The nearest house is literally across the road, a distance equivalent to that between myself and the Cathaoirleach in the House tonight. That is not the type of place to start building works in the middle of the night. I remind the Minister of State that the yard of this hall is used as the crèche playground. They are now being asked to share this with a homeless facility. This is not the site.

On many occasions, I have suggested alternative sites not only to the Minister here in the House but also to Mr. Brendan Kenny, who is now the housing manager of Dublin City Council. Even this morning, I suggested two additional sites in the locality to him which the community would be happy with. Only last year, there was a fortune spent on Brú Aimsir on Thomas Street. That is to be closed and the services moved to this centre. It is illogical. We supported Brú Aimsir and the extension of time granted for it to remain. We do not know why that timespan cannot be extended again or, at the very least, why an alternative location cannot be found for it that is next door, because all of the buildings next to Brú Aimsir are derelict at present. This is a bad move. The use of emergency legislation to rush it through is in bad faith.

I thank Deputy Ó Snodaigh for raising this issue in the House. On a given night in the Dublin region, there are approximately 1,650 individuals in temporary emergency accommodation, such as hostels and other supported accommodation. This includes an additional 275 beds that have been put in place in the last two years.

The most recent Dublin region rough sleeper count recorded 102 individuals as sleeping rough in the region on the night of 24 April last. This compares with the figure of 91 recorded the previous November and 106 in April 2015. The Dublin region's outreach services work on an ongoing basis to engage with all individuals sleeping rough with the specific goal of moving people into either emergency accommodation or housing-first solutions. The next official Dublin region count will be held towards the end of this month, with the exact date to be finalised in the next couple of days. The official rough sleeper count is the accepted methodology across all the various stakeholders. However, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive estimates there may currently be in the region of 140 individuals sleeping rough.

The Dublin region cold weather plan has commenced operation and is subject to ongoing review. This proactive plan is undertaken each year as winter approaches with the emphasis on having a variety of additional options for people who do not or cannot avail of existing homeless services. The overarching aim is to prevent fatalities and other serious harm due to rough sleeping in very cold weather. As part of this plan, the Dublin Region Homeless Executive is putting in place additional emergency accommodation in the Dublin region with a view to these beds being operational by early December. They are advancing three projects at present, which will see over 200 additional bed spaces provided. One of these is at the former St. Nicholas of Myra Centre at Carman’s Hall in Dublin 8, which will provide 50 beds. The provision of homeless services, including accommodation, is a statutory function of housing authorities and my Department has no role in operational matters such as the selection of sites and the delivery of on-site services.

Given the Dublin Region Homeless Executive’s current estimate of approximately 140 rough sleepers, the additional bed spaces will be enough to cater for all those presently sleeping rough who wish to bed down for the night while allowing for some additional capacity. Also, Rebuilding Ireland - an Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness recognises that simply providing additional emergency beds is not a viable long-term solution for individuals in emergency accommodation, particularly those availing of the services on a regular or recurring basis. These are people with complex needs and Rebuilding Ireland commits to housing-led initiatives through which permanent, stable and supported housing will be provided to these individuals, thus reducing the reliance on emergency accommodation over time. Rebuilding Ireland has set a target of securing 300 such tenancies in the Dublin region by the end of 2017, which is triple what the current housing-first programme is due to deliver this year. The Dublin Region Homeless Executive is working with a consortium of Focus Ireland and the Peter McVerry Trust to deliver this programme.

I hope that gives the Deputy some indication that hopefully these plans are just temporary. We are trying to put in place long-term, permanent solutions to be able to give these people the option of a permanent home.

I do not know what "temporary" means in this day and age, given we were told quite a number of years ago that the homeless crisis in this city was temporary. That seems to suggest that this is not as temporary as suggested and that it is not for six months or a year. Given the level of work that I have seen happening in that hall, this is no temporary measure for six months, nine months or a year or two.

The Minister of State said the Department had no role in selecting the hall but the Department did agree with it and allowed it to go ahead. It is the Department which is overseeing the implementation of section 179 of the Planning and Development Act. It begs the question: where next with that Act? Can the Department start taking over people's homes if they are set aside for a while? Can it totally ride roughshod over community concerns? This is not the way to do business, especially with a community that has been quite open and helpful in trying to ensure that those who are less well off than them are looked after. However, they also look at nearby constituencies and nearby areas of Dublin and County Dublin in which absolutely no services have been put in place. Once again, their community is told to bear the brunt of the homelessness crisis.

Only 100 yd. away from the hall or perhaps even less than that, there is a hotel which is used by the Dublin Region Homeless Executive, the Viking Lodge. There was a fire in it only last week. That is the scale of the amount of services that the community has hosted and has been willing to host. That is not the problem. The problem is that this building and its location are not suitable. There are also concerns that it will affect the likes of the crèche, which now has to find alternative play space for its children because it will not be able to share with 65 homeless people who will be using this centre. This is not ideal. It is not the way to do business. Even at this late stage, I hope the Minister of State goes back and allows the Department, the city council or whatever to liaise properly with the community upon which this has been foisted, because that community has had no say or consultation in any shape or form.

To address the concerns of the Deputy on the temporary nature of this measure, the idea behind making the tackling of homelessness and housing the No. 1 priority of the Government is that people will only be homeless on a temporary basis. We are trying to put in place long-term sustainable solutions. Ending rough sleeping and the use of unsuitable long-term emergency accommodation, including hotels for homeless families, are key priorities of the Government. That is why there was an action plan published in July with 84 actions bringing together all of the agencies, including the local authorities. We all know the solution to ending homelessness is to increase the housing supply. We simply cannot do that overnight but that is why we are trying to increase the supply as quickly as we possibly can.

By now, the Deputy will already be familiar with the contents of Rebuilding Ireland. It is a comprehensive, action-oriented and well-resourced plan to boost housing supply. The action plan also sets out a clear roadmap to achieve the Government's goals, to significantly increase and expedite the delivery of social housing units, to boost private housing construction, to improve the rental market and to deliver on the commitment to increase housing supply in overall terms to some 25,000 new homes every year by 2020. Just as the drafting of the action plan was a collaborative process involving a wide range of interests, so too will its implementation rely on all stakeholders, including Departments, local authorities, housing agencies, voluntary bodies and the construction sector, to achieve its ambitious goals. The key targets of the action plan will also be subject to regular Cabinet review.

I have no doubt that this House will play an important part in that process going forward and that the action plan will deliver permanent solutions. I understand the concern. People have seen timelines missed, deadlines missed and problems continue to arise. However, we are very committed that this is priority No. 1. The whole of the Dáil was involved in the committee on homelessness as well. With the resources that are put behind it, I have no doubt but that this action plan will bring about the solutions that the Deputy wants to achieve. I understand the concerns he has locally, but we have to try to solve this on a national scale. It is predominantly in the Dublin region and that is where the resources are going to be to try to tackle this and bring it to a head once and for all.

Homeless Persons Data

The figures on homelessness released yesterday were once again pretty shocking. It is hard to credit that things are still getting worse. Despite the fact that the bulk of this Government has been in power for nearly six years at this stage, things still continue to worsen. I heard the Minister on the radio this morning talking about the rapid-build housing units that were supposed to be the most immediate fix to the problems of homelessness.

While his Rebuilding Ireland: Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness in June said 200 more such units would be completed by the end of the year, we now understand that is unlikely to happen. The Minister said he has instructed the CEOs of the four Dublin local authorities that he wants 320 units under way by the end of the year.

It is a little bit rich for the Minister to attack the local authorities when the procurement process in the Department seems to be still in the dark ages. It appears to take up to 18 months, and it can take 24 months, for approval for social housing schemes to be put together. I do not know whether it is due to money or drawings but there is an unbelievable delay.

Will the Minister issue a directive to his officials to fast-track the procurement process as that would make a significant difference? There is a major lag in the system and there does not appear to be any attempt to address it. I wonder sometimes whether the money is there at all or if the delay is just due to bureaucracy.

Outside Dublin, there is great potential to build between five and 25 units on small sites throughout the country if the paperwork could be done and the finance could be put in place. There is no end to the number of small and medium-sized builders who would be prepared to build those units. The builders are available and they are not seeking to make crazy money on the projects.

I am amazed by the scheme the Government introduced to provide a subsidy for qualifying buyers of new homes. It seems to be a direct subsidy to the developer rather than to the individual. The Minister said this morning that he hopes to encourage the private sector to get more involved. A carrot such as the subsidy is obviously part of the encouragement. However, one cannot dictate when the private sector will engage with the market, as it will do so when it suits. That is normal, that is business, but the State must take a more direct, hands-on approach if it wants houses built quickly. Direct build is the shortest route to putting houses in place in order that we can bring an end to the housing crisis and tackle the homelessness crisis. The notion of depending on the private sector to solve all the problems is the stuff of fairy tales and it will not happen.

Will the Minister of State indicate whether there are any answers to the delay in the procurement process in the Department itself and why it is taking so long to make progress? Surely, given that it is an emergency, emergency measures must be taken in that area as well?

The Deputy is correct. The figures for those who are homeless and those who are living in temporary accommodation are not acceptable. No one denies the figures and that is the reason it has become the Government’s number one priority to tackle the issue. It is also the priority of this House to tackle the issue and to reduce the number of homeless people. The action plan has been devised to deal with the problem and I have no doubt it will address the issue. There is no doubt housing and homelessness is the most pressing social and economic issue facing our country. That is the reason there has been a total concentration across Government, including many Departments and agencies, to solve the crisis.

There has been an ongoing shortage of social housing supply and the issue has been compounded by a dysfunctional housing system. Deputy Wallace mentioned procurement but there are many related issues both in the private housing sector and in the delivery of social housing. The system has failed in recent years and we are trying to rebuild it and improve capacity both in the delivery of social housing through local authorities and direct build, as Deputy Wallace suggested, but also by getting the private sector delivering housing again.

Homelessness is the tangible and visible symptom of the broken market, and its impact on individuals and families can be profound. Figures published yesterday are based on housing authority reports for a week in September 2016 and identified the following numbers of individuals and families in receipt of State-funded emergency accommodation: 4,283 adult individuals, 1,173 families, of which 1,014 are in the Dublin region, and 2,426 dependants associated with those families. The total number of homeless adults and dependants is 6,709. I said in a previous debate that approximately 140 people are rough sleepers on the streets. More than 1,000 families are in temporary accommodation arrangements which are not satisfactory. That is what we are trying to deal with and we are trying to put in place permanent solutions for them as opposed to temporary arrangements whereby they are in bed and breakfast accommodation and hotels.

Deputy Wallace said he is familiar with Rebuilding Ireland: Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness. The plan, which was launched in July, is not just about the delivery of housing. It also sets out to address the social failing that is homelessness by raising awareness, putting in place homelessness prevention measures, providing better services to those who are homeless, and ultimately, matching the additional supply that will be created to current accommodation needs and ensuring there is a route out of emergency accommodation for every single household.

Rebuilding Ireland provides for early and longer-term solutions to address the very high levels of homelessness, especially the unacceptable number of families in emergency accommodation in hotels. In that respect, Rebuilding Ireland commits that by mid-2017, hotels will only be used as emergency accommodation in limited circumstances. The plan provides for specific additional supports and services for families in hotels while they remain in hotel emergency accommodation. To move people and families on from emergency accommodation into more permanent housing solutions, under Rebuilding Ireland, 1,500 rapid-build units will be delivered by 2018. By the end of this year more than 300 units will be on site or nearly completed, with a target of 800 for next year. There will be a major ramp up of rapid-build houses in 2017, which as Deputy Wallace said are direct-build housing, and they are coming on stream.

We are also chasing up vacant units as they provide a quick solution to the problem. A total of 1,600 vacant units will be acquired by the Housing Agency which will be funded with €70 million in capital Exchequer funding to find and acquire suitable portfolios of vacant properties for social housing, including homeless families, directly from financial institutions and investors. More than 500 properties have already been referred to the agency for potential acquisition and thus far the agency has made 181 bids on them, of which 70 have been accepted.

Changes are also being made to the planning process and to the Part VIII provisions on the delivery of social housing to speed up the process. The number of homeless housing assistance payment, HAP, tenancies will be expanded from 550 in 2016 to 1,200 in 2017. The 2016 target has been met and we are setting a very high target for next year to deliver permanent accommodation solutions to people in temporary accommodation.

Deputy Wallace asked if the money is really there. The money is there. On budget day, €1.3 billion was announced and confirmed as the spend for next year on housing, which is double what it was for 2016. A total of €5.5 billion of taxpayers' money has been allocated to tackle the issue over the next three to four years by this Dáil following a commitment by Government. The money is there. That is not the issue. It is a case of getting the system up and running again with the capacity to deliver. Deputy Wallace is correct that this is the number one priority and we must deliver on it. The resources are in place. It just takes a little time to get the supply back up to where it should be.

The Minister spoke about buying vacant units. In June this year the Minister, Deputy Coveney, said to us at the Committee on Housing and Homelessness that he would like to see the State buying up properties. He said he would like us to be proactive and look to acquire properties that are not occupied, in particular. Sadly, that has not happened nearly enough. It goes without saying that currently it is cheaper to buy than to build. Given that we have such a terrible homelessness crisis, buying houses is the shortest route to dealing with the problem, but we have not bought anything like enough housing units. I accept it is vacant units that are sought but if one takes the big blocks of houses or apartments that NAMA has been selling, if the State said it wanted 20% of those, it would be found that there have been up to 10% and 20% of empty units in some of the big blocks sold by NAMA. I do not understand for the life of me why the State has not been buying them. I am confident in predicting that the average selling price NAMA received in the past four years is less than €100,000 a unit. We are spending a lot more building housing units.

If we had bought them, we would not have the homelessness figures we have because we would have had units ready to cater for homeless persons. I appreciate that not all of the units were perfectly located, but some of them were. We have not been proactive. It is not like the homelessness crisis started six months ago. It started years ago. I cannot rationalise it and do not understand it. Obviously, there are other factors involved, but our failure to control rising rents is a serious issue. We are not going to control rent increases in taking this approach. The decision to invite the real estate investment trusts here and charge them bugger all in tax has added to the increase in rents which, in turn, is adding to homelessness. The lack of long-term thinking in the past couple of years has been frightening.

In recent years sufficient financial and human resources were not available to local authorities and Departments to enable them to tackle this problem which has, undoubtedly, continued to get worse in the past 18 months to two years. Over 2,700 people will exit homelessness in 2016 because we have secured permanent housing solutions for them. More than 5,000 exited homelessness in the two previous years. Many people who became homeless in recent years have come through the system and now have permanent housing solutions. While we are making progress, there is no denying that additional families are entering homelessness. We hope to be able to catch up in that regard and get ahead in the coming months. We are trying to do this by implementing a range of actions across various Departments. I accept that this means the active purchase of properties by local authorities and housing agencies which are being very careful not to compete with others who are trying to buy the same properties.

We are trying to buy vacant properties. We are dealing with all of the lending institutions to identify and buy properties that may have been vacant for a period of time. Some €70 million has been provided to make this happen. Two other new schemes have been announced to give local authorities the finances they need. Under the first scheme, money is being provided to lease vacant properties and help their owners to bring them back into use. Under the second scheme, money is being provided to buy and refurbish houses. A number of new initiatives have been brought forward. Over 500 HAP scheme houses were delivered this year for people who were homeless. That figure will increase to 1,200 next year. We should be in a position, given the funding allocated, to provide over 3,000 housing solutions for people who are homeless. Funding has been ramped up to meet demand.

As the Deputy understands the building industry, he will appreciate that we cannot flick a switch overnight. I do not doubt that when all of these actions have been completed, we will have a construction sector that will be back on a stable footing. We will have a constant supply of housing to ensure we will not be in this position again. A major part of this will involve the delivery of enough social housing to deal with the demand. We cannot have people living in emergency accommodation on a long-term basis. That has to end and we are committed to ending it by June next year. The Deputy is sensible enough to understand this will take a little time. We cannot announce a plan to deal with a problem in July and have it fully solved by August. It takes a little time and we are beginning to get into it now. We will try to stay ahead as best we can.