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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 9 Nov 2016

Vol. 928 No. 1

Topical Issue Debate

State Pension (Contributory) Eligibility

There is an anomaly in the calculation of the entitlement to the State pension. I put it to the Minister for Social Protection that there is ongoing discrimination against those who have taken time out of their careers to care for children, elderly family members, etc. The practical reality of it is that women are impacted. Since I was elected, women have been calling to my office to tell me of their shock on realising that the payment they will receive from the State on turning 66 years of age will be considerably lower than they had planned. There are many injustices in life and many of the stories I have heard are significant. One lady, on her 66th birthday, realised she would receive €152 rather than €233 a week, a significant shortfall of approximately €80 a week.

What is the country saying to those who selflessly put their careers on hold in order to stay at home to care for their children or elderly parents? They are providing vital social services and doing the State a huge service. In many cases, they are caring for those vulnerable members of society who may otherwise have ended up in care and costing the State considerably more than €80 a week. I recently spoke to another lady who is losing €30 a week because she worked for two weeks before she became a stay-at-home mother and then subsequently returned to work. She is facing her retirement years on her own and is being penalised financially for caring for her family. If she had not worked for those two weeks prior to raising her family, she would now be financially better off.

Another lady started working in 1966. There were years when she had more than 80 contributions, but only 52 of them are counted. She took time out to raise her children, but her average contributions were calculated over the period 1966 to 2015. As a result, she has an average of 25 contributions per year. She receives €196 instead of €230. To add insult to injury, when the pension increased by €3 she received €2.60. She will be insulted again in springtime when she does not receive the full €5 increase.

So far, it has generally been women that have been affected by this anomaly. How can we move forward in encouraging an equal place for women in the workforce when such open discrimination takes place? This type of inequality cancels out family-friendly policies that may be in place. The Minister for Social Protection must reform the manner in which these pensions are calculated. We must value the contributions these women have made to society and ensure they are not penalised and confined to poverty on retirement. There are many more of these cases. I hear of them on a weekly basis. The Minister must reform the manner in which the contributions are calculated.

Expenditure on pensions, at approximately €7 billion, is the largest block of expenditure in my Department. It represents some 35% of all expenditure. Demographic change alone increases this by about €200 million each year. Maintaining the value of the State pension is critical to providing a basic income for pensioners and protecting older people from poverty. For this reason, the Government is committed to increasing the State pension at a rate greater than the rate of inflation every year.

The State pensions system comprises a number of schemes based on criteria such as contributions paid, income need and other factors. These ensure that people have an adequate standard of living in old age. The non-contributory State pension is means-tested and funded from general taxation. PRSI contributions are not taken into account in calculating the value on this pension. It is based solely on means.

The contributory State pension is another scheme. It is assumed the Deputy is referring to this pension. It is funded through the Social Insurance Fund. Contributions go in from PRSI paid on income and funds go out in the form of benefits such as maternity benefit, paternity benefit, illness benefit and, of course, the State pension. Income must match or exceed outgoings for it to be sustainable. Therefore, recognising credits or other non-monetary contributions is problematic as people want their pension and benefits paid in cash and not credits or recognition. The rate of payment is related to contributions made over the years into the Social Insurance Fund. As such, those who have paid more into the fund are more likely to receive more out of the fund under the scheme. This is known as the contributory principle. What is paid out is linked to what is paid in.

The actuarial review of the fund in 2012 confirmed that the fund on balance and taking everything into account provides better value to female rather than male contributors due to the redistributive nature of the fund. Put simply, women tend to pay less into the fund but tend to live longer and thus are able to claim more from the fund.

Entitlement to the contributory pension is calculated by means of a yearly average calculation, where the total contributions paid or credited are divided by the number of years of the working life. Payment rates are banded. For example, someone with a yearly average of 48 contributions will qualify for a full pension, whereas someone with a yearly average of 20 contributions may qualify at the 85% rate.

The State recognises those with caring roles to qualify for a contributory State pension. The homemaker’s scheme makes qualification for the contributory State pension easier for those who take time out of the workforce for caring duties. The scheme was introduced in 1994 and allows up to 20 years spent caring for children under 12 years of age or incapacitated people to be disregarded when a person’s social insurance record is being averaged for pension purposes.

Given the valuable nature of the State pension, contributory, those who qualify under the homemaker’s scheme still need to fulfil the eligibility requirements for the scheme and have at least 220 paid contributions over the course of their working lives. This means they must work for approximately ten years during the course of their life, full time or part time.

Where someone does not qualify for a full rate contributory pension, he or she may qualify for a means tested non-contributory pension, amounting to 95% of the maximum contributory rate. Alternatively, if the person's spouse is a State pensioner, the most beneficial payment available to him or her may be an increase for a qualified adult, which amounts to up to 90% of a full contributory pension.

Work is under way to replace the yearly average system with a total contributions approach. Under the latter, the rate of pension paid will more closely reflect the total number of contributions made, rather than when they were paid. The position of homemakers is being carefully considered in developing the scheme. While it is expected that this approach to pension qualification will replace the current scheme from around 2020, this is a significant reform and considerable legal, administrative, and technical components will need to be put in place prior to its implementation. As with any change in rules, there will be winners as well as losers.

I am pleased to note work is under way to replace the yearly average system and I hope the new system will be more equitable. The Minister's statement that those who pay more into the pension fund are more likely to receive pay-outs under the scheme is not necessarily correct. Under the averaging system for pensions, specifically the measure introduced by the Minister's predecessor, Deputy Joan Burton, a person who enters the social insurance system just before his or her 56th birthday and pays stamps for ten years will be entitled to a full pension, whereas many of those who pay stamp contributions amounting to 20 years, albeit over a longer period, will be entitled to less than a full pension. It is patently unfair that a higher pension will be available to a person who has made fewer contributions than others.

Women who have spent a large portion of their lives providing a socially vital service are being doubly penalised. Not only do they not have recourse to a private pension entitlement for the period in question, but they are also being denied a full State pension. The homemaker's scheme introduced by the Fianna Fáil Party in 1994 must be reviewed and a feasibility study done on extending eligibility to years spent caring for children before 1994. The Government must also consider the possibility of amending the calculation method used in respect of the contributory pension. Consideration should be given to disregarding past payments, thereby altering the date on which an individual is considered to have entered the workforce.

There are two aspects to this issue. The rules we apply to working out a person's contributory pension entitlement are gender blind. As such, it does not matter whether an applicant is a man or woman because the same rules apply to both genders. While it is less common, men also have caring roles.

The Deputy is correct that there are gender gaps. However, as the independent actuarial analysis shows, when one takes everything into account the gender gaps tend to benefit women more than men because the former tend to live longer and are paid more from the pension fund as a result. Moreover, they generally pay less into the fund because they tend to work fewer years, often at lower pay rates. Some people want gender gaps to be closed when it would benefit one gender to do so, while conveniently overlooking such gaps when they benefit a different gender. I am not accusing the Deputy of adopting this position but it is the case that others are conveniently gender blind, depending on which gender is affected by an issue.

The only way to completely eliminate gender gaps would be to have different rules for men and women and I would not like to take such an approach. In fairness to the Deputy, she has not proposed such an approach. I acknowledge, however, that the pensions system needs to be reformed because it is based on working patterns that no longer exist in the modern economy. We are trying to replace the averaging system with a new system known as the total contributory approach, under which the main criterium will be the number of contributions a person makes, rather than when he or she makes them.

The Deputy is correct that it is unfair that a person can work for the final ten years before retirement age and receive a full pension, while a person who works for 15 or 20 years over a 40-year period may not receive a full pension. The difficulty is that any change will create losers and winners. It is in the nature of these things that one only hears about the losers when they discover they have lost out. Before introducing a reform, I want to have a detailed analysis done of all the individual cases in order that we can have a profile of who will be the winners and losers in the event of a change.

Hospital Accommodation Provision

I thank the Minister of State for taking this issue. The Minister for Health will be aware of the serious difficulties that have faced patients and staff at University Hospital Galway, UHG, in recent years. I will not go over all the challenges again, save to say that it is among the worst performing hospitals in terms of accident and emergency waiting times and inpatient and outpatient waiting lists. This week, UHG enters its seventh week of code black due to overcrowding and doctors and nursing staff at the hospital stated today that overcrowding is endangering the lives of people in the region.

In response to a parliamentary question I tabled recently, the Health Service Executive informed me that since 2006, capital expenditure at the Galway University Hospitals Group has exceeded €109 million. I do not expect the Minister of State will know how many additional beds this investment provided but the HSE informs me that the number of beds available in the two hospitals in the group, namely, UHG and Merlin Park Hospital, has decreased by 157 since this investment was made. The capacity of both hospitals declined from 812 beds in January 2006 to 655 beds as of October this year. In the meantime, the population has increased substantially, from 4.2 million in 2006 to 4.7 million this year. The ageing population has also increased significantly. Furthermore, UHG has been designated a centre of excellence for major specialties such as oncology and cardiology in the meantime. This means the hospital is supposed to provide expert care in serious cases for approximately 800,000 people living in an area extending from County Donegal to County Clare and eastwards as far as Athlone.

Additional beds are required. The new 75-bed block nearing completion will provide few new beds as other wards will need to close to facilitate access to the new block. In addition, every time a new extension is built at University Hospital Galway, car parking space is removed. The psychiatric unit under construction is being built on the staff car park. There are unapproved plans for a badly needed accident and emergency unit which will, in all probability, eat further into the space available for car parking. It is a simple fact that UHG is in the wrong place and finds itself unable to cope. It is astonishing that there are only 73 inpatient beds in Merlin Park Hospital. I understand most of these beds are occupied by long-stay geriatric patients. Merlin Park Hospital is located in a vast complex encompassing approximately 150 acres of State owned land. At this critical point, is it not clear that we need a new hospital on this vastly under-utilised site?

I apologise to Deputy Hildegarde Naughten on behalf of the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, who is unable to take this matter and thank her for raising the issue and for giving me an opportunity to address the House.

The Department of Health has been overseeing a range of measures to reduce the pressure of overcrowding in our hospitals, including University Hospital Galway. A number of ongoing initiatives are under way aimed at increasing capacity in University Hospital Galway. Under last year’s winter beds initiative, 30 new beds opened at the hospital in early 2016. As Deputy Naughten pointed out, a 75-bed ward block is nearing completion on site and is due to open during 2017. This ward block will provide new inpatient accommodation at the hospital. In addition, I am advised by the HSE that consideration is being given to retaining one of the existing wards as escalation capacity. An acute adult mental health unit under construction at the hospital is expected to be operational by 2017.

The programme for a partnership Government contains a commitment to progress the ongoing design and planning phase for a new emergency department for University Hospital Galway. I confirm that a business case for this project has been submitted to the HSE and is being considered by its estates division. University Hospital Galway is fully engaged with the national patient flow improvement project as one of the pilot sites for this programme of work. The HSE advises that the hospital has been working at all levels to improve patient flow and experience and has recently recruited an emergency department assistant director of nursing for patient flow as part of the emergency department escalation task force actions.

I am also advised staffing has been increased in the emergency department where a total of 54 full-time nursing positions are in place, including newly appointed clinical nurse managers. Several vacancies are still being filled.

Staffing is being increased across the health service as a whole. The number of consultants employed has increased by over 100 while the number of nurses, including student nurses, rose by over 680 from the end of September last year to the end of September 2016.

The winter initiative from 2016 to 2017, published in September, has provided €40 million in additional funding for the winter preparedness initiative. The key deliverables of this initiative are directed towards reducing overcrowding pressures in all hospitals in the winter months. The winter initiative is driving a range of measures to support timely discharge of patients from all hospitals, including the provision of additional aids and appliances, as well as increased access to transitional care beds, home care and home help packages. This facilitates patients who need extra supports in being discharged back to their homes and communities.

The winter initiative includes several measures which specifically benefit the western region. University Hospital Galway is a focus site for the 2016-17 winter initiative and has, therefore, been scheduled to receive six extra home care packages per week for the duration of the initiative. Winter initiative measures also include the imminent expansion of a community intervention team in the Galway and Roscommon areas.

I thank the Minister of State for her reply. I accept that significant advancements have been made in the quality of care provided at University Hospital Galway since 2006. However, the Minister of State will accept that the crisis facing the hospital is one of capacity, not quality. There can be little criticism of the standard of care provided for patients in Galway once they are admitted. We are extremely fortunate to have an outstanding team of clinicians and nurses at the hospital who are doing an exceptional job in exceptionally difficult circumstances. The greatest challenge facing us, on which the Government will be judged, is one of access to treatment and having sufficient capacity in hospital to meet increasing demand. The figures for bed capacity and capital spending show that we are not meeting that challenge. The University Hospital Galway campus has reached developmental saturation point. The terms of the Galway city development plan and spatial constraints on the site mean no more beds can be delivered. Any further capital spending on the site would be a waste. Up to €18 million was spent on a 75-bed ward block due to open next year. However, two wards will close as part of the development, meaning that it will not provide a single extra bed. The problem is that University Hospital Galway has the longest waiting lists in the State and, typically, the highest number of patients on trolleys, but we cannot increase capacity on its current campus. Will the Minister of State, therefore, agree that the solution to the crisis lies away from the existing site? Will she agree that future capital investment should be so focused, rather than spending millions of euro on new infrastructure which will offer no additional beds and no hope to the tens of thousands on hospital waiting lists?

I agree with the Deputy that it is vitally important that all hospitals, not just University Hospital Galway, operate at the capacity required in their catchment areas. It is important that we do everything in our power to accommodate and keep people away from hospitals when possible. In the coming months, at this time of the year, there will be an increase in the number of beds needed. Consideration has been given to retaining one of the existing wards at University Hospital Galway to deal with escalating demand. The business case for the design and planning phase of a new emergency department has been submitted to the HSE and is being considered. Several vacancies will be filled, which will obviously ease pressure. The €40 million in additional funding for the winter preparedness initiative will help to ease it, too.

As Minister of State with responsibility for older people, I know that work is under way in my section to develop a more formalised and structured approach to home help services, which, again, will help to relieve some of the pressure exerted by delayed discharges, not just within University Hospital Galway but also across the board.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. Every effort will be made to relieve the pressures she has described.

School Accommodation Provision

I thank the Minister for Education and Skills for taking this matter and his support of and interest in the school in question, Our Lady of Mercy national school, Stradbally, County Waterford. I also have received correspondence from the Minister and the Department in response to a parliamentary question on this matter.

I am making a case for a third classroom at the school in question. Previously, the school had boys from junior infants to first class. Since a change of status in 2013, the school now has boys and girls from junior infants to sixth class. Accordingly, it finds itself in urgent need of additional accommodation and classrooms. To ensure it will be prepared and ready to offer its pupils a safe and healthy environment, it has been looking at future projected enrolments.

In June 2014 the school was granted a new classroom, as the existing classroom for the second teacher did not meet the Department's size requirements. The school also had communal toilets. From a child protection point of view, the board of management was not happy with junior infants pupils using toilet facilities with sixth class pupils. In its previous application to the Department the school flagged that it needed two new classrooms. Its enrolment numbers for 2017 and 2018 will be 68 and 77 pupils, respectively. An application for a developing post will be provided for the Department as soon as a staffing schedule for next year is published.

The school is in the middle of building the second classroom and its principal acknowledges the support the school has received from the Department in that regard. The board of management will also convert the two existing smaller classrooms into a learning support room which will also act as a library and a resource room. Next year, accordingly, the school will need a new classroom for its third teacher.

The school has examined the records and baptismal certificates in the parish of Stradbally. Taking into account school leavers, the expected total number of pupils attending will be 68 in 2017, 77 in 2018, 84 in 2019 and 99 in 2020. This will involve a 100% increase in the current number of pupils by the end of 2020. The school is requesting funding from the Department for the purpose of building the additional classroom to ensure it will be in a position to manage the increase in the number of pupils adequately. There are also two preschools in the area, as well as an after-school club. The school expects enrolments to grow steadily in the next five to ten years.

The school is appealing to the Minister to work with it as it plans for the future. It genuinely acknowledges the support it has received up to now from the Department. It is looking at current and future needs and trying to plan for the future. In so doing it is asking for the Department's support. Will the Minister outline if he will be able to work with the school and what can be done to accommodate its future needs because of the additional projected enrolments?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. Generally, the main point about demographic pressure is that we are catering for 20,000 extra places every year which puts much pressure on the system. There are ways of deciding where extra places are needed which look at planning issues. It needs to look at schools in a whole neighbourhood, not just individual schools.

In 2015 the Department approved devolved funding for Our Lady of Mercy national school, Stradbally, County Waterford, to construct a mainstream classroom. Responsibility for delivery of the project was devolved to the board of management and the board accepted the conditions associated with the grant in February 2016. I understand the project has since been put out to tender.

I am aware that the school has operated as a two-teacher school for several years. It anticipated that enrolment numbers would grow to a level that would warrant the appointment of a third teacher. The Department approved the provision of an additional classroom on this basis. However, enrolment numbers did not materialise as anticipated and the third teacher was, therefore, not appointed.

The school, however, expects enrolments to grow in the future and is advancing with the provision of the classroom approved in 2015. It has since submitted, on Wednesday, 2 November 2016, another application to the Department for additional accommodation. The application will be considered and a response conveyed directly to the school authority as soon as the assessment process has been finalised. I note the numbers and will convey them to the building unit. I am sure they are included with the application. In 2012 the enrolment was 38. It was the same in 2013. It increased to 49 in 2014 and has pretty much remained at that level in recent years. It was 50 last year, or up by just one. It has been relatively stable, but, as the Deputy said, it is anticipated that it will grow.

The building unit will be in touch with the school on the back of its most recent application which, as the Deputy said, is to covert two existing mainstream classrooms into a learning support room and a library. That application may have an impact on the school's existing classroom accommodation. It is a very recent application, having been made only a couple of days ago. We will, in consultation with the school, assess the proposal and respond to it.

I thank the Minister for his reply. In general, I support the overriding objective that every child, including children in this catchment area, have access to a physical school place. I acknowledge that the application was only received by the Department on 2 November. I act fast, as does the school, but so, too, does the Minister. I hope he will be able to give this application due consideration. This is an example of a school that is planning for the future in a forward-thinking way. I imagine that the Minister wants schools to do this and work constructively with their elected representatives and others to ensure current and future demands are met. In that regard, the school is obviously doing the right thing. It has made the application, but it has asked us to convey directly to the Minister the fact that there will be an increase in the enrolment number next year. It expects further growth in future years. It is trying to plan ahead and avoid getting caught in circumstances in which, as the Minister said in terms of the overriding objective, accommodation will not be sufficient to meet the demand. I acknowledge that the application was only made recently. I appreciate that the Minister and his officials will have to consider it in the context of many other demands being made. Perhaps, if there is positive movement in the short term, the Minister might communicate this to all local Oireachtas Members.

I acknowledge what the school is doing. A doubling of the size of the school represents a significant expansion. The Department, without knowing the details of circumstances locally, will have to consider capacity in other schools and where pupils are being drawn from. There is a matrix of criteria that the Department uses in assessing applications. As stated, it will be in touch with the school directly to assess the proposal.

Rent Controls

I am sure the Minister has had an opportunity to study with his officials yesterday's report by and the economist Ronan Lyons that shows a stunning and extraordinary increase in rents, specifically in big city areas such as Dublin, Cork and Limerick and throughout the country. The average rent has increased by 11.7%. As the Minister knows, that is way out of line with the consumer price index and any construction price index. In fact, it is now cheaper to service a mortgage than it is to rent. A mortgage for a three-bedroom house in Dublin 5 would cost approximately €1,287 per month, whereas the equivalent rent would be €1,500 per month. People's weekends and nights are filled looking for accommodation. Many of them are working. We are not just talking about people in receipt of rent supplement. When they do a deal with a landlord verbally, he or she frequently and increasingly gets back to them on the telephone to state another two or three individuals or couples are offering €200 or €300 more for the accommodation. While there are very many good landlords, it is now apparent that groups of landlords are squeezing unfortunate tenants for as much as they possibly can in the way of rent increases.

It is not enough for the Government to stand idly by. It has been in office for over six months, before which there was a long gestation period. Nothing has been done since the former Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, put in place a structure requiring the holding of rents at a certain level for two years. This is about market failure.

The Minister, Deputy Simon Coveney, has very strong capitalist views which he has frequently expressed, but, even according to the theory of capitalism, if there is total market failure, that is a reason for the state to intervene and seek to regulate the market. The only way to regulate the market is to introduce rent certainty, rent control and longer leases, as is done in many other European countries, that is, give tenants an opportunity to have security of tenure, particularly where they have children because children settle into local schools and avail of local services and make friends. The alternative is to continue with the failed Irish model which involves a one or two-year lease, on the expiry of which people must go on the move again. In current circumstances it is genuinely difficult for people to find a rental property in the area in which they have chosen to settle.

I represent Dublin West which has one of the highest proportions of tenants in the State. I am all too familiar with the fact that, as the banks move in and take back more buy-to-let properties, the tenants must find another place to rent. They may have to move to another county and find other schools. The Minister must intervene to regulate this runaway market that is causing so much misery.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. As she knows, there are acute pressures in the rental market. These pressures are being driven by a number of factors, including rising demand, a lack of supply and the high costs that some indebted landlords face in servicing their loans. These stresses are confirmed by the latest data from the rental report. The report shows that rent asking prices rose nationwide by an average 11.7% in the year to September 2016. In Dublin annual rental inflation is running at an average of 12.1%. Strong rent inflation is also seen in the Dublin commuter counties. These increases are placing huge pressures on tenants, particularly those who are seeking new accommodation.

The problems in the rental sector are undoubtedly part of a bigger issue. Ireland is in the midst of a housing supply crisis and shortage. The problems caused by high rents reflect, and are reflected in, the other issues facing the housing market, those being, not enough homes for first-time buyers, increased demand for social housing and unacceptable levels of homelessness. While many factors contribute to these problems, the one common to all of them is the prolonged and chronic lack of supply of new houses. This is borne out by the figures on supply. There were fewer than 3,700 homes available to rent nationwide on 1 October, with just over 1,400 of those in Dublin.

The best way to reduce and stabilise rents in the long term and benefit the entire sector is to increase supply and accelerate delivery of housing for the private and social rented sectors. Rebuilding Ireland, the Government's action plan on housing and homelessness, aims to increase and accelerate housing delivery across all tenures to help individuals and families to meet their housing needs. It sets out more than 80 actions that the Government is taking through new policy and legislation, significantly increased funding and innovative measures in the budget to achieve that aim. Pillar 4 of the action plan commits to developing a comprehensive strategy for the rental sector by the end of the year. I hope that we will have a new rental strategy by the middle of December, one that will try to balance the competing policy asks of, on the one hand, the need to help the people about whom the Deputy talked, namely, those who are finding themselves priced out of the market by rental inflation, and, on the other hand, to ensure that we do not shut down society by placing the dead hand of regulation on the market in our attempts to address what is a short-term to medium-term problem for many.

The Deputy called me a capitalist, but I am a pragmatist first and foremost. I see a problem and it is my job to try to fix it. As the Deputy knows, the previous Government took measures last year. They have had some effect, but they are not enough. We need to do more. We are examining the various ways in which we can introduce new approaches to address the dramatic rental increases in many parts of Ireland while, most importantly, encouraging an increase in supply. Otherwise, we will continue dealing with the symptoms of a supply deficit indefinitely. That is something that we cannot allow.

We have not been building houses in sufficient numbers for the past seven or eight years because the property market collapsed and the banking sector with it. As those sectors re-emerge, we will see increased supply. We must encourage that in a sustainable way while also taking other actions, given the pressures that many tenants face. There will be moves in that direction in the new strategy, which she will see in a few weeks' time.

The Minister stated that he was a pragmatist, but if he were, he would have to recognise that the rental market has failed. When there is market failure, the Government must move in. Deputy Coveney cannot wash his hands of this matter as the Minister with responsibility. Like the previous Government, of which I was a member and a Tánaiste, the Minister has proposed a series of measures to build new homes, but he must acknowledge that it takes time to build even a rapid-build house. By the time that planning, site location and other issues are sorted, rapid-build houses can cost nearly as much as traditional ones and take much longer to build than was first outlined in the information provided to us.

Without taking away from the necessity to build new homes, the Minister must recognise that will take a long time. There will be a two-year to four-year gap before supply can catch up with market availability. In the meantime, the victims of an ever greedier cohort of landlords - not all landlords are like this and we have many good ones - are being placed under pressure by people who are making a bonanza out of renting to people who need to rent. I grew up in a rented house, so I can speak from childhood memory. The Minister could travel to Donegal and talk to voters and families in the Leas-Cheann Comhairle's constituency. Security of tenure was something that people in 19th century Ireland fought for and achieved. Unlike in most other parts of Europe, though, that security is significantly absent from the Irish property market now because of an ideological approach to the rights of the landlord versus the rights of the tenant. Will the Minister redress this situation? He will find no solution without doing that.

The Deputy knows me pretty well by now. I can be accused of much, but I do not wash my hands of problems. I have responsibility for the housing market, people who are homeless and implementing an ambitious housing and homelessness strategy for the Government. A piece of the jigsaw that is not fully filled in yet is a rental strategy, which we have committed to having in place before the end of the year.

There is considerable detail in the five pillars of our housing strategy. The only pillar that does not have as much detail as we would like is the rental pillar. For this reason, we need to address in the coming weeks some of the issues in the strategy that the Deputy has raised. We are holding broad consultations to get the balance right.

I will not wash my hands of this matter. We will be taking risks from a policy point of view. They will be managed risks in terms of making policy choices that we believe will improve the situation. What I do not want to do is make a bad situation even worse by introducing regulations that will stop the relatively small amount of building that has happened to date and the potential momentum to build many more rental properties. We must keep the momentum going.

I take the Deputy's point that all of this takes time. Even rapid-build houses cannot be built overnight. In the meantime, we have a broken market and I want to fix it as quickly as possible through increased supply first and foremost. We can provide supports and reassurance to the landlord and the tenant, both of whom are under stress at times. There is a significant number of tenants, particularly in the Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway areas where there is considerable pressure.

The House will debate whether we got the strategy right in some detail when we publish it in a few weeks' time, but we will make every effort to get the balance right so that, in two years' time, we will be discussing a market that is coming back towards equilibrium in terms of supply and demand instead of needing more emergency-type debates and measures because of a fundamental supply deficit that will exist indefinitely. We cannot have the latter.

Sitting suspended at 4 p.m. and resumed at 4.30 p.m.