1. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach when the last meeting of the Cabinet Committee on European Affairs was held; and when the next meeting is scheduled. [2760/17]
1. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach when the last meeting of the Cabinet Committee on European Affairs was held; and when the next meeting is scheduled. [2760/17]
The Cabinet Committee on European Affairs was re-established by the Government on 23 May 2016 and has met on three occasions to date. The last meeting took place on 12 December prior to the December meeting of the European Council. It is expected that the next meeting of the Cabinet committee will take place in advance of the March meeting of the European Council. A date has not yet been fixed for the Cabinet committee meeting.
I wish to ask the Taoiseach about three issues that may have been discussed at the meeting of the Cabinet Committee on European Affairs. I know the Taoiseach is limited in terms of what he can say. The first relates to the motion committing this State to taking in 200 children from the former migrant camp in Calais. The Taoiseach knows that the Ministers for Justice and Equality and Children and Youth Affairs travelled to Greece and France to discuss this. Can we be updated on these plans?
I again raise the issue of Palestine and the Taoiseach's downright stubborn refusal to follow through on the Oireachtas motion that acknowledged the state of Palestine. He knows that the Israeli Government will build another 566 new settler homes in east Jerusalem. An internal report by EU member states' ambassadors to the Palestinian territories filed only last month has warned of a loss of hope among Palestinians. From my contacts in that region, I know that this is the case. The ambassadors' report called on the EU to send a message that Israel must stop its settlement policy. I have raised this question with the Taoiseach at least a dozen times. He has just dodged the issue, has given me a fudged and ambiguous answer and has refused to send a message of hope to the people of Palestine. Will he formally agree to recognise the state of Palestine, for which the Oireachtas voted?
The Ministers for Justice and Equality and Children and Youth Affairs have been in contact with the authorities in Calais in respect of Ireland unilaterally making an option to take in 200 unaccompanied minors. Sometimes they are referred to as children but in the vast majority of cases, they are not children but young adults or in their late teens or early 20s. The Ministers had quite a discussion over there. It was not discussed at the meeting of this Cabinet committee but that work is ongoing. The Ministers also visited Greece to take unaccompanied minors who in many cases were younger to Ireland as part of that.
The Deputy raised the issue of Palestine. This has gone on for a very long time. Either we accept the two-state solution or we do not. There has been a change of emphasis with the new US Administration. I have said previously that if there is a seriousness about dealing with this, it must be on the basis of the long-standing two-state solution, which we support. I have had representations from ambassadors from Palestine and Israel, both of which are contradictory, and I will not pronounce on them here. I have spoken to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade about this. It is an issue we need to consider. For Israel to announce unilaterally that it intends to build very significant housing on West Bank lands is not in keeping with the two-state solution or that process. It is a complicated issue.
The Oireachtas voted on this two years ago.
I am aware of that but I am being approached very vociferously about the matter from both sides in respect of very contradictory measures.
Has the Cabinet committee prepared any position papers on the impact of Brexit on Ireland. If so, will those papers be shared with us in this House? Has the Taoiseach read the comments by Peter Navarro, the top trade adviser to President Trump, where he attacked Germany and accused it of using a grossly undervalued euro to exploit the US? Does the Taoiseach have a view on that?
This committee has not produced a series of papers on Brexit options but the Brexit committee has. I have told the Deputy previously that as a party leader, I will see to it that he gets a full briefing from senior officials in respect of questions he raises or information he needs. A range of options have been looked at. The reason for the non-publication of these to date is because it is still not clear what the outcome will be in respect of the British Government. In respect of the British Prime Minister's speech at Lancaster House, clearly, Great Britain is moving from the Single Market. There is clarity there but there is no clarity regarding the British final proposition as to where it sees itself within the customs union. Obviously, this has implications for trade not just here but internationally depending on the nature of the proposition made.
I do not have the detail of the comments made by Mr. Navarro but, obviously, this particular Administration has a different view of Europe than the previous one. No doubt, this matter will be raised and discussed at the Finance Ministers' Council meeting and at the European Council meeting in Malta on Friday.
As the Taoiseach would accept, the EU is facing a deep and growing series of threats. Ireland is very much in the front line of these threats in terms of a move away from free trade and shared rule making and efforts to change tax rules. The pressure on the Government concerning the EU is dramatically higher than it has been at almost any time over the past 50 years. It seems that the Cabinet Committee on European Affairs needs to engage in a more reflective approach with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in respect of the EU generally and its future. We are seeing a lot of activity but not a lot of action. I put it to the Taoiseach that in six years, we have yet to produce a core statement of Government policy on the future of the EU. It is interesting that the head of the National Trade Council in the US has launched a significant attack on the EU. It is very clear that President Trump and his Administration have very negative views about the EU and seem to be joining with those on the far left and far right in trying to destabilise the EU.
What about the extreme centre?
They accused Germany of being a currency manipulator similar to China and others.
The absence of policy in that context is very serious and too frequently we are playing catch up. We are doing everything on a case-by-case basis. Does the Taoiseach not think it is long past time for a formal White Paper on the European Union to be produced by him and the Cabinet committee?
The European economy grew by 1.8%, I think, which was above forecast. The attack today is on Germany and not on the European Union itself. Clearly the attitude of the European Union is one of concern about its future. The plan is there and is set out in terms of the digital Single Market and the President's report to be introduced and implemented in coming years on the European agenda. Elections are to be held in the Netherlands and France, with possible elections in Italy and there will be elections in Germany later in the year. There have been changes as a result of recent elections in Estonia and Bulgaria.
In so far as our relationship with the European Union is concerned, we remain a central member of that. Our Ministers participate very strongly at all Council meetings in terms of the agenda being pursued by Europe. There are certainly challenges in terms of the new relationship being forged between the European Union and the United States and also between the European Union and the United Kingdom when it exits as a member of the Union. In that context the position changes on a constant basis.
For me the European Union, one of the best-developed regions on the planet, has a clear agenda. It is a case of having greater co-ordination, between the Commission, the Parliament and the Council in terms of implementing that agenda. There is potential to create millions of jobs over the next ten or 15 years. That is where Europe needs to be focused. There are geopolitical issues outside that which are causing concerns in north Africa, in particular.
Has the Cabinet Committee on European Affairs discussed the issue of the European Commission ruling on Apple's tax affairs in this country? Does the Taoiseach intend having further discussions about the Government's highly reprehensible decision to refuse the €13 billion that the European Commission believes is owed to the Exchequer in Apple taxes after the Commissioner Vestager's testimony to the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach? It was an extraordinary irony that at yesterday's committee meeting, all those who were most critical of the European Union and its austerity policy, such as us, commended the Commissioner on at least the Commission doing this thing right and all the members from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, who are the most enthusiastic for the European Union, essentially impugning her motives for coming up with these findings.
She was a very strong performer. What it boiled down to was her saying there was no way the European Commission could conclude that a company that had no employees, no activities and no offices could possibly have been allocated the profits of Apple rather than the company that was tax resident in this country and carried out real economic activity. That is an unanswerable point. Tax evasion was going on. This was a bogus company and the Government and Revenue facilitated this tax evasion by Apple.
No. This was not a matter of discussion at the meeting of the Cabinet Committee on European Affairs. As the Deputy knows, this matter has had long and exhaustive discussion. A process is in train and it will be determined by the European judicial process. Ireland has appealed on the basis that there have never been sweetheart deals by Revenue with any companies. We are only entitled to take tax where economic activity occurs and with the 6,000-plus employees in Cork, that is what has happened.
That company was not taxed.
The Minister for Finance has made changes in recent budgets to get rid of the stateless concept and get rid of the double-Irish concept. We have been foremost with the OECD in terms of the BEPS proposition. We are the first to have a fully compliant OECD knowledge box at 6.25%.
Apple has also appealed the case. Lodging the money is a complicated process. It will be lodged in the escrow account-----
It has not been lodged yet, though.
-----and will wait there, pending the outcome of the court case at European level.
The Commissioner was at pains to say that the Commission did not want to interfere with corporate tax rates, which is a national competence here. I note that from her first finding she said that some of this estimated amount might well be due to other countries in Europe as well and it is matter for them-----
She did not actually say that.
-----to determine whether there was economic activity in their countries.
She did not.
The matter was not discussed at this committee.
It was in her press release.
She said they were free to make a claim.
It is a subject of a court process at European level and will go on for a number of years.
2. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos. [2758/17]
3. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the World Economic Forum in Davos. [2785/17]
4. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and the discussions he had there. [2788/17]
5. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to the World Economic Forum in Davos. [2796/17]
6. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to the World Economic Forum recently. [3068/17]
7. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to Davos and any meetings that he attended with companies (details supplied). [3070/17]
8. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his participation in the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and the cost of his visit. [4128/17]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 2 to 8, inclusive, together.
I was invited by Professor Klaus Schwab to attend the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum and I was in Davos from 18 to 20 January. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, also attended. The theme of this year's meeting was Responsive and Responsible Leadership.
The Minister, Deputy Noonan, and I used our time in Davos to promote Ireland as a location for international business and investment in the context of Brexit and other current global developments.
My programme included bilateral meetings with a number of companies that are potential investors in Ireland as well as with existing investors here. At these meetings, I emphasised that Ireland retains all the advantages that make it an attractive and stable location for investment and that we will remain a committed member of the European Union.
I also had the opportunity on Thursday to outline Ireland's priorities in Brexit negotiations and our preparations in advance of negotiations at one of the World Economic Forum's formal programme events, under the informal gathering of world economic leaders programme. This event was attended by over 15 Heads of State or Government and approximately 60 other attendees.
I briefly met the British Prime Minister, Mrs. May, in the margins of the forum. I also met Jamie Drummond, executive director of the ONE organisation. We discussed a number of international development matters and the work of the organisation.
As in previous years, I hosted an IDA Ireland dinner as part of my Davos programme. This was attended at the highest levels from existing and prospective FDI clients from some of the world's largest multinational corporations. There were 22 companies and approximately 40 senior executives represented this year. Those with existing operations in Ireland employ over 20,000 here. I again used the opportunity to outline Ireland's Brexit programme and to emphasise the strengths that underpin our success in attracting foreign direct investment.
I acknowledged the vital contribution that many of the companies represented had made to Ireland and to our economy. I urged those who were looking at potential locations for investment or expansion to consider our country.
I attended various media engagements, including interviews with Irish and international media.
As is the case for all my travel, my officials ensured costs were minimised and the best value for money pursued. The final cost of the trip is not yet available. I am satisfied that the costs of the trip to Davos are justified given the value of the opportunity to engage with so many key decision-makers, as well as supporting IDA Ireland in its role in promoting Ireland as a location for investment.
One of the central discussions at Davos - ironically, given that it is packed full of multi-billionaires and the world's elite - was inequality. One could not make it up. In so far as it was discussed, Oxfam made a shocking presentation revealing that eight billionaires own the same amount of personal wealth as the poorest 50% of the world's population. The presentation made it clear that the major contributory factor to this was corporate tax avoidance, ironically by the very same people with whom the Taoiseach rubbed shoulders at the forum, and who have engaged in aggressive tax avoidance and evasion in this country.
Was the Taoiseach not embarrassed by the stark facts revealed by Oxfam about Ireland's deep implication in contributing to that level of global inequality when the Apple tax ruling confirmed, and it was named by Oxfam at the forum, that it is one of the major culprits in all of this yet we are appealing a ruling in which the EU Commission sought to do something about that? Contrary to what the Taoiseach said in his previous reply, Commissioner Vestager said there was no evidence whatsoever that any other European country had a claim on that €13 billion and that as far as she was concerned, the overwhelming majority of it was owed to Ireland because Apple had allocated profits-----
Deputy, you need to conclude. Other speakers are offering and we want to get everyone in.
-----to a company that did not exist and Revenue had allowed that to happen.
If I recall the press release by the Commissioner, she was at pains to say that she was not interfering in any way with the corporate tax rates issue, which is a matter of national competence, but that her issue was state aid rules. If I recall correctly, the point was made that some of this estimated amount would be due to other countries-----
She did not say that.
-----but that is a matter for them to determine whether there was economic activity there or not.
She did not say that.
That was in the original press release.
Deputy Boyd Barrett spoke about rubbing shoulders with billionaires. I did meet with the Facebook company, AT&T, Medtronic, IBM, Shire, Salesforce, Excel, Novartis, Lloyds, Bank of America, Liberty Global and BT. Those companies are significant employers in this country.
The Taoiseach meets them a fair bit in the Clearing House Group as well.
They employ over 20,000 people. Companies that attended in the past included Tech Mahindra, which announced 150 new jobs in an IT project for Dublin in January of this year. Kaspersky Lab announced the opening of a 50 person research and development laboratory last September. Credit Suisse announced 100 new jobs in January of last year. Facebook announced 200 jobs for a further expansion in Dublin last year, and Shire announced 400 jobs in a new biotechnology manufacturing centre in County Meath.
Thank you, Taoiseach. We need to stick to the time allocated. Deputy Bríd Smith is the next speaker.
Those are all good employers of workers at home and abroad.
They still pay their taxes, do they not? Is that too much to ask?
I will call the Taoiseach Tánaiste because he calls me Deputy Collins all the time.
God bless you. I did not mean to do that.
I am just trying to be a smart aleck. I will stay on the same theme as my colleague and comrade, Deputy Boyd Barrett, that is, inequality, which was one of the main themes at Davos. Shocking economic reports published in the past year or so indicate that inequality in this country is growing and will probably reach United States levels if we do not do something to address them. In fact, Ireland is the most unequal society in Europe according to all the statistics. When the Taoiseach was in Davos, did the thought occur to him that when he thinks about Ireland as a microcosm of the capitalist economic system, Davos was a microcosm of the capitalist economic system? I am sure he is starkly reminded of the inequalities of capitalism in a place like Davos, where workers are stuck in small hotel rooms in bunk beds while at the same time lavish parties attended by film stars, billionaires and oligarchs take place. It might be interesting to know if the Taoiseach was invited to any of those parties or if he got paid to attend any of them because some world leaders do get paid to attend lavish parties put on by oligarchs who live in the mountains. We would like to hear if the Taoiseach attended any of them. My point is that Davos is a microcosm of inequality, as is Ireland. In the past the Taoiseach informed the business elite of the world that Ireland is a great little country in which to do business. Did he tell them that Ireland was a great little country in which to do inequality and that 2,000 children are homeless every night and that the trolley crisis is growing?
Deputy, you have to conclude.
It may be a great place to do business and not pay one's taxes but it also has a major down-side for its population. Did the Taoiseach explain that to the attendees at Davos?
I do not agree with the Deputy that we are the most unequal society in Europe.
It is not my opinion. Economic studies show that.
The Deputy will be well aware that we have made specific changes in the last number of budgets to deal with the lower paid where inequality exists and to give people an opportunity and incentive to get out of the rut of unemployment and into the world of work. The evidence of that is clear in terms of a fall in unemployment from 15.2% down to 7.1%. I hope that decreases to around 6% in the coming months, which is an extraordinary response from the people in dealing with the economic situation. We have dealt with significant numbers of people on the minimum wage by removing them from liability under the universal social charge-----
They were given a rise of 10 cent.
----and making changes in income tax at the lower levels to focus on the question of inequality. I support trade liberalisation. I support globalisation provided it is handled properly and that we do not have those gaps in income.
I assure the Deputy that I was not invited to any of the celebrity parties on the slopes of Davos. I did not receive any remuneration for the 20 hour day I put in at Davos, as any of the Members would were they in the same position. From that point of view, I can assure the Deputy that my agenda, which is published and available for everybody to see, was strictly business.
Business in equality.
We will take the next three questioners, Deputies Adams, Martin and Howlin, together and then go to the Taoiseach for the responses.
I, too, want to raise the issue of Apple and ask the Taoiseach if it was raised in Davos. I was not at the committee but I read the accounts of the EU Competition Commissioner's appearance before the Oireachtas finance committee. I read all the points put forward by Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil representatives about so-called fantasy money and Ireland acting as a tax collector for the world but arguments around selectivity and tech sovereignty were forensically dismissed and destroyed, point by point, by the Commissioner. She made it clear that the more than €13 billion back tax is due to the citizens of this State. It appears to me also that she believes that what happened was not a misunderstanding, a mistake or a misapplication of procedure. The Commissioner is suggesting that it was a calculated, contrived and unique arrangement put in place to favour Apple at the expense of other companies, including indigenous companies.
If we lived in the type of society the Taoiseach appears to believe we live in, one could imagine there would be many reasons to be charitable towards Apple and to say that we do not need the €13 billion because what would we do with it? Could we use it to cure the crises in health or in housing? If Apple wants to appeal this ruling, that is fair enough but the Taoiseach should not appeal it and the Government should stop the waste of taxpayers' money on the back of the type of malpractice and evasion that obviously has taken place.
There are many people who would argue that the Taoiseach should never go to Davos. I am not one of those.
That is because the Deputy wants to go.
No. I have been there before. Davos will not change the world economy. It will have no impact on the world economy-----
It is just more of the same.
-----but it is a very good forum in which to promote Ireland and to engage with people who invest in Ireland.
Ireland cannot solve all the global problems of the world but the bottom line is that Apple employ thousands of people in my city, as does EMC, Facebook and Google. All of those companies employ thousands of people.
That does not stop them paying their taxes.
I put this to the Taoiseach that whether we like it or not, over the past 30 years, Irish industrial policy has been successful in bringing thousands of jobs to this country. That is never acknowledged by those Members who have spoken before me. The plight of the workers in those companies is never acknowledged. I have worked in enterprise. I have worked with IDA Ireland to try to bring in industry here, against competitors in different countries and often within the same company, with different sites trying to get extra activity and business. There was an onus on any Government of the day to try to win that.
The Taoiseach met the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, in Davos.
He also met her yesterday. The Taoiseach seemed to say yesterday that the issue of the impact of Brexit on the Northern Ireland Act 1998 has not yet been raised with the British Prime Minister. Will he indicate whether he has raised it with her because it is a very serious issue? The Act implements the Good Friday Agreement and is a direct product of the negotiations. It requires the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly to act in accordance with European Union law, not only the European Convention on Human Rights but also Council of Europe documents. Has this issue been raised with the British Government as something that must be protected with regard to Brexit?
I have never been to Davos either, although I have made presentations to the World Economic Forum on behalf of the State in other locations. The RTE report from Davos stated papers are being prepared on ways to minimise customs checks on the Border between Northern Ireland and the Republic as a result of Brexit. Will the Taoiseach share these papers with us?
The Taoiseach listed a number of the financial services companies he has met. How many of those seeking alternative locations to the City of London or the United Kingdom are looking at Ireland? What are the prospects of relocation?
With regard to skill transfers, I was listening to "Morning Ireland" this morning and a number of people, particularly of the Muslim religion, working in tech or finance are looking to move out of the United States. Does the Taoiseach have a strategy to ensure they would find a safe and welcoming home in Ireland?
We will have to take a couple of minutes from the third group of questions.
Apple was not discussed at Davos. To answer Deputy Adams, the Government profoundly disagrees with the European Commission and its analysis and has no choice but to take an appeal to the European Court of Justice to annul the decision. More than 70% of the Dáil voted to support the Government's decision to appeal in September 2016. Ireland did not give favourable treatment to Apple. It does not do deals in this regard and no fine or penalty has been levied against the Irish State. This is important from the point of view of the integrity of the Revenue Commissioners over many years. We do not want a situation where, were this to be accepted by Ireland, it would send out a signal to all other companies that sweetheart deals were being done.
The European Commission has explicitly stated the decision does not call into question Ireland's general tax system or its corporate tax rate, and at present no other companies are subject to this decision by the European Commission. The appeal is under way and was prepared by the Attorney General. It is the subject of open legal proceedings and obviously it will take its course through the European court system. Nevertheless, Ireland is obliged to comply with the binding articles of the decision regarding recovery, which are set out in the final two pages of the document. This includes the order to calculate the exact amount of the aid and the process which ensures it is recovered from the Apple companies. Ireland is not subject to any fine, as I stated, arising from the decision itself, but could be subject to action, including the threat of fines, if sufficient progress is not made to satisfy the Commission, and we are aware of this. Work was ongoing throughout 2016 to ensure the State complies with all our obligations, which involves a high degree of co-operation with the Apple company. It is a very technical and complicated issue.
I agree with Deputy Martin. Ireland has been extraordinarily successful over many years under many Governments in its foreign direct investment policy. The Deputy's city of Cork is evidence of this, with EMC, Apple and many others which are so proud to be there. They are very happy with the reception and facilities they have. This is something we want to grow and build for the future.
I discussed the question of the Good Friday Agreement and its future implementation following the elections in Northern Ireland with, hopefully, a working executive and the involvement of the British Government after it exits from the European Union, and the issue of complying with European law here in so far as it is an internationally binding agreement. We will have more discussions on this.
I am sure Deputy Howlin would enjoy Davos if he went there, not that I have seen much of it when I have been there. With regard to the papers he mentioned, options have been considered and set out for analysis if a decision has to be made on X or Y. We are clear that Britain will leave the Single Market. I can give up-to-date information on what has been prepared on consideration of the customs union but this may not include the options that will be set out. We will have to consider all of this.
With regard to people I met in Davos, some will move and they will make their announcements in their own way. They are very happy to do so. These are business people. They make decisions irrespective of politics. They want to know the facilities we have here, such as language, schools, opportunities for investment, availability of commercial space and opportunities from London but mostly it is with regard to being part of the Single Market with access to a churn of talent coming through from other countries. I know some will make decisions and others are considering it. We will invite them here to see how it works and to speak to the Central Bank if they are in financial services. We will do the same with companies which might wish to relocate here from the United States.
9. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing last met. [3067/17]
10. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing last met. [4125/17]
11. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing last met; and when the next meeting is planned. [4269/17]
12. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing last met. [4540/17]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 to 12, inclusive, together.
The Cabinet committee on housing last met on 10 January. It is scheduled to meet again on 6 February. It will continue to meet regularly as required to address issues related to housing and construction, including implementation of Rebuilding Ireland, the action plan for housing and homelessness. This remains a clear priority issue for the Government.
Last week, the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government published its homelessness figures for December, and it revealed that for the first time, more than 7,000 citizens are dependent on emergency accommodation funded by the Department. In December, 4,643 adults were in emergency accommodation, which was an increase of 207 on the previous month. The number of families remained at 1,105 and the number of children was 2,505. This is an emergency and crisis and is totally and absolutely unacceptable.
We have a rehash and launch and relaunch of action plans. The action plan for housing promised there would be an expanded and accelerated rapid build housing programme to deliver 1,500 social housing units to those in need. Only 22 were built and occupied in 2016. According to CSO statistics for 2016, there are almost 200,000 vacant houses throughout the State. Riddle me this: there are 200,000 vacant houses in the State and 7,000 homeless people so can we not match them up? Why does the Government refuse to provide sufficient funding, even for the 1,000 houses offered for sale by AIB? I ask the Taoiseach to put aside this nonsense that funding is not the issue when it comes to tackling housing and the homelessness crisis. It is clearly the core of the problem.
I want to know whether the committee has or will discuss several very specific areas of housing. People who do not have drug or drink problems, or who are trying to recover from alcohol or drug problems and are clean of them, are being put in emergency accommodation with active drug users or people with addiction problems. I am dealing with several cases of this nature at present. It is totally unacceptable. It is a recipe for disaster and pushes people in an already bad situation into a much worse one. Last night, I spoke at a meeting with Peter McVerry, who confirmed, as my own experience confirms, this is rampant in emergency accommodation and is totally unacceptable. What is the Taoiseach going to do about it?
Has the Taoiseach discussed the issue of individual property owners in Beacon South Quarter in Sandyford? They have been landed with a bill for approximately €2 million for properties that were badly built, with fire problems, health and safety problems and water damage. IRES Reit, NAMA and others can afford to pay the €10 million being demanded by the management company and IRES Reit does not pay any tax but ordinary property owners, who pay their tax and bought them in good faith, cannot afford it and want to know if the Government will provide some kind of compensation fund for them.
I want to focus on the promise to deliver rapid-build housing. The Government promised that 300 modular or rapid-build houses would be completed or under construction by the end of last year but none had started by this time. What action will the Taoiseach take to make sure this happens? I agree with Deputy Adams that it is a matter of funding but it is not exclusively so. There have been local objections and planning and siting issues, including by councillors of parties represented here. We are either serious about tackling this issue or we are not. We need to ensure that promises, made solemnly by the Minister for Housing in this House, are delivered upon. Will the Taoiseach ensure that happens?
There is very little evidence of progress in delivering new social housing. The last approval recorded was in January 2016 and many local authorities did not even build one social house last year. The HAP system is proving particularly challenging for many people who are renting, because of the thresholds. There is an over-reliance on that in building new council housing. Our social housing stock is 9% of the total in this country while across the European Union it is 17%. The execution and delivery of housing policy is sadly lacking and very poor. Modular housing is a very good example of this as only 22 have been delivered so far in Ballymun. It was one and a half or two years ago that the then Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, proclaimed this as a wonderful new initiative. There are some 2,751 vacant council houses at the moment, which is probably lower than it was but, nevertheless, should not be the case. When houses become vacant, they should be allocated straightaway given the emergency people are currently experiencing. Execution and delivery of policy are the key deficits in housing policy.
I have already outlined the figures. A total of 7,148 people used State-funded emergency accommodation during a week in December. They included 4,643 adults, 2,505 dependents and 1,205 families. A record 2,700 families and individuals exited homelessness in 2016, while the figure in 2015 was 2,300. At the last official count in December 2016, 142 people were sleeping rough. The budget of 2017 is €98 million, up by 40%, and by mid-2017 hotels are only to be used for emergency accommodation in limited circumstances. Rent supplement and housing assistance payment levels increased last July and the Dublin regional homeless HAP pilot was expanded so that 810 additional households were supported last year, with the target for 2017 being 1,200. The rapid delivery procurement framework is now in place and allows local authorities to advance rapid build projects much more efficiently and effectively. A €70 million rolling fund has been established for the housing agency to acquire 1,600 vacant units, with 200 houses acquired in the past couple of months. There is ongoing work on additional family and child welfare supports for homeless families.
Dublin City Council delivered over 200 additional beds, worth €6.1 million, under the winter initiative. There are now more than 1,800 emergency beds in Dublin ensuring sufficient space for all those recorded as sleeping rough. DCC will bring forward two further facilities to meet potential future increased demand and these will cater for individuals and couples. There will be a tripling of the housing first target to 300 tenancies for complicated cases where a lot of attention is required.
Deputy Boyd Barrett referred to people in hostels with alcohol problems and I often wonder why this happens when the charities who run many of these hostels are given substantial public moneys in addition to what they raise. The efforts which are being made to provide sufficient accommodation for this not to happen need to be looked at. People are reluctant to go into hostels because they feel they might be attacked or encounter somebody injecting themselves or under the influence of alcohol. The charities run these places but I am not blaming them.
My understanding is that the architectural design of Beacon South Quarter was as it should be, perfectly in order, but that, as in Priory Hall and Longboat Quay, the lack of supervision and a competent clerk of works to do the job properly resulted in inferior building standards. Greed was an element of this in the past where short cuts were taken and people paid big money, good money, for houses that turned out to be fire traps in the case of Priory Hall, and something else in the case of Longboat Quay, and this is of great concern to the tenants who live there.
Are you going to do anything about it? That is what I asked.
Deputy Howlin asked about rapid-build units. I expect there to be 1,500 by the end of 2018 and there are 350 at various stages of delivery at the moment, which will become occupied in the coming months. A further 650 homes are in progress this year while the target for 2018 is 500. Deputy Martin referred to the HAP and 810 were accredited for homeless households in the Dublin region in 2016, exceeding the target of 550. The target for 2017 is 1,200 tenancies. The Minister is not happy with the figures but he has had to provide a range of incentives for local authorities, individuals and construction firms, as well as money to local authorities to get back to building houses as they used to years ago. Over the coming year there will be a very significant increase in the construction of social houses, private houses, returning to voids and rapid-build houses to give us the capacity to deal with the numbers of homeless on the streets.