Leaders' Questions

The most recent figures from Focus Ireland show an extraordinary crisis in homelessness and in the lack of housing in Ireland. They show 7,167 people are homeless in Ireland as nationally 4,760 adults and 2,704 dependants are homeless. These figures are extraordinary. The total number of people who are homeless rose by 25% from January 2016 to January 2017. This indicates a complete lethargy and lack of action in dealing with an emergency for many families throughout the State. In December, 87 families became newly homeless in Dublin. On average, 72 families became newly homeless each month over the past 12 months. Focus Ireland has stated that, strikingly, every five hours in Dublin a child became homeless in January this year. That is an appalling indictment of the last Government and particularly of the initiatives that had been announced but have not borne fruit in dealing with the homelessness issue or the numbers of families who simply cannot get a house. Most Members of this Oireachtas would know - particularly after the last two months and all the hoohah before Christmas on rent control measures - that the number of families who have been given deadlines to leave their current homes in February and March this year is growing alarmingly. All the while, there has been a lack of any meaningful impact on the supply side with an extraordinary lack of public investment in providing housing infrastructure and social housing. For example, I refer to the Juncker plan, which is the European Fund for Strategic Investments, in which the EU wanted to mobilise €500 billion in infrastructural investment but the Government decided to not partake in that apart from for a few health centres. The fund was not used for public housing infrastructure or housing provision. The Department is unwilling to use public private partnership, PPP, finance and has, in my view, fairly archaic and out-of-date provisions to prevent that.

The Taoiseach might consult his former adviser, Andrew McDowell, about his views on the restrictive and conservative views of the Government in regard to mobilising and leveraging substantial investment. We have the second lowest capital spend in Europe as a result of that kind of conservatism and approach, and the housing crisis gets worse.

The Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government appeared in the media at the weekend giving the Taoiseach a deadline and a timeline in terms of when he should leave office. I think it would have been far more focused of the Minister if he concentrated on what is an appalling emergency for thousands of families in this country, one that is going to get worse because of the lack of tangible action and effective outcomes from all of the strategies that have been announced.

What do you think, Charlie? Do you think Simon wants out of housing?

Yesterday, the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government published his plans for 8,500 social housing units. The figures speak for themselves but they do not show the extent of background work that has gone into preparing to deal with these situations. Some 7,167 people used State emergency accommodation nationally during a week in January, which included 4,760 adults. The first status report on social housing construction projects was published yesterday so the status of social housing construction nationwide is there for all to see. There will 47,000 new social housing units by 2021, with funding in place of €5.35 billion, as the Deputy knows.

The recent Rebuilding Ireland quarterly progress report, which is on the Rebuilding Ireland website, shows that, in 2016, over 18,300 social housing supports were provided; 5,280 new social houses were purchased, leased, remediated or built; extensive additional supports were provided under the housing assistance payment and the rental accommodation scheme; and the new Housing Delivery Office has been established within the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. Yesterday, in publishing the status report, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, pointed out there are 504 projects, involving 8,430 homes, currently in development. Of these, 91 projects, with 1,829 homes, are already on site; 61 projects, with 652 homes, are at practical completion stage - they began 2016; a further 2,687 homes are at stage one, which is the capital appraisal stage; 1,279 homes are at stage 2, which is pre-planning; 490 homes are at stage 3, which is pre-tender; and 1,493 homes are at stage 4, which is the tender report or the final turnkey approval stage. Obviously, the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government will continue to update and publish the status report on a quarterly basis.

I am sure Deputy Micheál Martin will agree that these are significant advances on a situation where no houses at all were being built for quite a period. The figures show that for the first time in many years, the number of non-construction jobs has risen dramatically, which means a very sustainable position for the future. Of course, to have a situation where there is a figure of 6.8% unemployment as against 15.2% speaks for itself. Challenges exist and they are going to be met.

They are not challenges. They are a daily crisis for thousands of families with nowhere to go who are coming to the advice centres and clinics of every Deputy across the country. They have been given a deadline of 15 March or 30 March. I include among their number mothers with three children who have nowhere to go. This is happening as we speak. Talking about 2021 is cold comfort for such individuals. People are fed up of reports, of strategies and of 2021 or 2022. They want answers now. The vast majority of the 8,500 units the Taoiseach spoke about were approved and initiated two years ago. The timeline for execution and delivery is too long. The mechanisms for delivery and execution are not effective enough, given the scale of the crisis and the emergency the country is facing on the housing and homelessness issue.

It is more than just PR. Even before Christmas, on the rent controls and all of that, the Minister admitted he did not have a comprehensive database to inform his decision, a point that was not taken up at the time because everybody was interested in the Simon-Leo show.

I thank the Deputy.

We need focus. We need the Ministers to focus on their job at hand. All we are listening to is one Minister who wants to get out of the Department of Health because it is too hot in the kitchen.

The time is up.

(Interruptions).

A Deputy

Best of luck, Charlie.

They are making it up - "Jackanory".

There is a need on an ongoing basis-----

Deputy Martin would want to calm down now and restore flexibility here.

A Deputy

Good luck, Charlie.

(Interruptions).

I am afraid the time is up.

If I could get order here, I would make the point that across the country - the Taoiseach should talk to his own Deputies - this is not getting better. This is getting worse. The Government does not have a supply solution to this on a scale that is required to deal with the emergency.

The time is up.

The Government's failure to take up the European investment plan and its own failure to put adequate public investment into this ensures that the horrific story for many families will continue unless there is a real sense of emergency around the Cabinet table to tackle this issue.

Deputy Micheál Martin is behind the curve on a few points here.

(Interruptions).

First, let me say that the young Minister, Deputy Harris, is enjoying the greatest honour of his career in dealing with the Department of Health.

(Interruptions).

Second, in fairness, Deputy Micheál Martin stated that it is not about people coming into clinics and talking to Deputies and saying they do not want to know about 2021 and 2022 but that they need to know now. Deputy Martin stated there should be answers. There are answers. The first answer is that 8,430 homes currently are under construction.

Solutions are what we want. None of that sort of stuff.

When were they approved first?

They were approved two years ago.

They are there now.

If the Deputy wants me to show him where they are, I will.

I could point out to the Taoiseach where they have not even started.

They are currently being built. That means blocks, concrete, blocklayers, plasterers, chippies and site works.

The Taoiseach is in cyberland with the WhatsApp land.

Second, there are 91 further projects with 1,829 answers - homes already on site being worked upon.

We cannot find them.

There are not.

Third, there are a further 652 home that are at practical completion. These were started in 2016.

These must be Lego homes.

That is 8,430 answers, 1,829 answers and a further 652. Let me point out to Deputy Micheál Martin, as I stated already, that there are 2,687 homes at stage one, 1,279 homes at stage two-----

(Interruptions).

One has to start somewhere.

The Government started two years ago and it has not put a digger on the site yet.

Even the Fianna Fáil Party that decimated the economy and the construction sector knows that one must get bulldozers in on those sites to ready the earthworks and start building off planning permission where we have expedited this for local authorities.

I thank the Taoiseach.

There are 490 at pre-tender and 1,493 at stage four, which is the tender report or final turnkey approval. These are really under way now. If Deputy Micheál Martin wants the location of each and every site, they are on the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government's website. They are being worked on now.

That is all they have. They are not on any other site.

They are not answers for those who say they will not get home until 2021. Deputy Cowen should tell me how it could be done differently.

I thank the Taoiseach.

If the Deputy wants to know about the European Investment Bank-----

(Interruptions).

No, no, please.

-----we opened an office of the European Investment Bank here and it will provide long-term credit at low interest for projects in this country of major infrastructural output where there will be a stream of income coming through to pay for those loans, such as toll roads, ports or Luas light rail.

I thank the Taoiseach.

Over the next period, let me assure Deputy Martin, the European Investment Bank, in the words of the chief executive himself, wants to lend much more money to this country from what is the European people's bank.

The Government will not take it from the bank.

Check out the unemployment figures, for God's sake.

I note spirits are very high for whatever reason but could Members please try to curtail themselves? We are obliged, under the orders of the House, to adhere to particular time limits. I call Deputy Adams.

In October 2015, as the Taoiseach exhorted the people to keep the recovery going, he warned:

[We] are facing a fork in the road. One track points to continued stability and certainty ... along the other track lies instability and chaos.

Unfortunately, for the citizens of this State and the island, the Taoiseach stayed on the wrong track.

Good Government should be about ending the chaos in health, housing and governance. It should be about ending tax chaos, ending the chaos in the justice system and ending the chaos in industrial relations. That is what the Taoiseach should be doing. However, chaos is now the Taoiseach's middle name. The Taoiseach's ministerial colleagues have brought chaos to the Fine Gael Party. They obsess on who will lead Fine Gael and, by grace of Fianna Fáil, who will lead the Government and when. The Taoiseach's brightest and best jockey for position on WhatsApp and in the media. This is chaos, the Fine Gael way.

Little wonder that outside of the Fine Gael ranks most people do not care. What others care about is the crisis in health, the housing and homelessness emergency and the approach of Brexit. However, the Government appears oblivious to all of these as it meanders aimlessly along the wrong track.

Let us consider the case of the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, the leader of the "Endadependents". If the Taoiseach were to appoint a minister with responsibility for chaos, this Minister would give Leo, Simon I, Simon II and the Taoiseach a run for their money. In September, the Minister, Deputy Ross, briefed the Cabinet on how Bus Éireann was at crisis point. Six months earlier, the National Bus and Rail Union voted in favour of precautionary industrial action amid justifiable fears for workers terms and conditions. What did the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport do? He did nothing. Last month, Bus Éireann announced proposed measures that threatened the rights of bus workers. These included cutting overtime and Sunday rates as well as pay increments. Yesterday, it was reported that the company plans to cut several routes, including the Dublin to Clonmel and Dublin to Derry services, as well as reducing frequency on several others. Of all people, the Taoiseach should know that a significant number of citizens, particularly in rural Ireland, rely on Bus Éireann services. People have the right to a public bus service. The Government's priority should be to create that service, not destroy it. I call on the Taoiseach to get off the chaos carousel, get on the right track - just for a minute - and ask the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, to do what he should have done months ago: engage with all the stakeholders, including the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, the NTA, Bus Éireann and the unions, to find a resolution of this issue.

That was a well-written speech. The carousel is different to the trampoline. The position is that the fundamentals of dealing with the economy and job creation, as well as tackling difficulties and issues as they arise are a fundamental part of Government. I wish to point out to Deputy Adams that since the then Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Deputy Bruton, launched the first Action Plan for Jobs in 2012, some 206,200 new jobs have been created. We had lost our independence to the troika, we wallowed in debt and we had a haemorrhage of emigration from so many sectors. Given the sacrifices that the people have had to put up with over those years, we have brought about a situation whereby we are in a better position. There was strong jobs growth in 2016 and a total of 65,100 new jobs. These men and women are going to work every day. The figures show that, for the first time, the number of sustainable non-construction jobs has risen beyond what it was in boom times. This means the economy is very much on the right track; it is far from chaos. Unemployment dropped by 21%, or 40,000, in 2016. By any standard, that is a significant decrease. The unemployment rate is 6.8% - down from 15.2% - and is heading in the right direction.

I have made this point to Deputy Adams before. I welcome the fact that the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, has engaged again in respect of the difficulties between unions and Bus Éireann. The Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross, has been very consistent in his statements, saying this issue will only be resolved through constructive and realistic dialogue. Deputy Adams knows that. Obviously, these WRC-initiated discussions are an important step forward, complex, difficult and tension-filled though they may be.

The Government urges all parties to use the experience and knowledge of the WRC to assist this process. I do not wish to comment on specific elements of proposals that are the subject of negotiations, including any proposals that might arise regarding changes to Expressway services. I encourage others to respect the integrity and experience of the WRC process and to allow both sides to conclude their discussions.

I have stated on numerous occasions that the NTA will continue to use its statutory powers to ensure there will be continued public transport connectivity for local communities across Ireland, and the Minister strongly supports that. It has been done in the past and will be done again in the future. The Deputy can take it that the Ministers to whom he refers have no intention of collapsing the Executive here, as Sinn Féin did in the North.

The Taoiseach praised Martin McGuinness a few days ago and I took that in good faith. Martin McGuinness stepped out of the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister because he could not abide by allegations of corruption. He did the right thing and the Taoiseach, of all people, should appreciate that. Incidentally, I send best wishes to all the Fine Gael, Labour Party and Fianna Fáil candidates in the election in the North as well.

What about Independents?

Would the Deputy include People Before Profit in that?

I asked the Taoiseach if he would ask the Minister, Deputy Ross, to engage with the key stakeholders in the Bus Éireann dispute, but he failed to answer my question. Our public transport network is in a perpetual state of chaos. The Luas and Dublin Bus workers were on strike last year, there has been a troubling review by the NTA and there are the ongoing difficulties with Bus Éireann. All of this is the result of a decade of underinvestment. Now, it is expected more routes might be cut. These connect people and communities and they connect rural Ireland with urban centres. Public transport can reduce traffic congestion. It links communities and improves local as well as larger economies.

The Deputy must conclude.

It also protects the environment. It is not necessarily about making profit but about a public service. That is why it is called "public transport". Will the Taoiseach ensure that the Minister, Deputy Ross, engages with all of the stakeholders to bring this dispute to an end and to build, develop and sustain a proper public bus service?

The Minister, Deputy Ross, is very true to his office and is supportive of everybody getting together under the experienced aegis of the WRC. It is not like situations in the past when personalities might appear late at night and say they had put in a word and the situation was sorted. This is a difficult dispute and there are some technical issues that are quite complex. However, the experience of the WRC is available to both the unions and Bus Éireann. Rumours or perceptions of the free travel scheme being taken away are false. The NTA has already confirmed that it is prepared to step in, as it has previously, to ensure the continuation of public transport to connect places in rural Ireland that might be deprived of it arising from any changes that might be introduced by Bus Éireann arising from its discussions with the unions.

I hope both sides can get together. The engagement of the WRC in the last few days has been very helpful. It is very experienced in dealing with issues such as this. The Deputy knows as well as I do that, ultimately, it will only be resolved by people sitting around a table, discussing their differences and arriving at conclusions. In that regard, the NTA is quite prepared to take up any slack that might arise from changes that take place as a result of the discussions. I hope it can be sorted very quickly.

Over the last few weeks there has been much reflection on the Taoiseach's political career and what happened under his Governments. I wish to focus on a very bad decision by his Government in the brutal budget of 2012, which I strongly opposed. In that budget the pay related social insurance, PRSI, contribution rates, which numbered four down through the decades, were expanded to six. People with average contributions of between 20 and 47 who have become pensioners since 2012 have suffered very significantly.

The Government also gratuitously cut the pensions of people who had between ten and 20 contributions. Many of my senior female constituents who suffered most from this describe these changes as petty and sneaky. Professor Alan Barrett rightly said that the rules of the game were changed in the middle of the game. I was reminded of this great injustice a few weeks ago when Age Action published its report, entitled Towards a Fair State Pension for Women Pensioners, which was researched by Ms Maureen Bassett. The report clearly demonstrates the hugely negative impact of these changes, especially on senior female workers who have retired since 2012 and on those who will retire in the coming years. A total of almost 40,000 citizens in the lower four bands were adversely affected up to June 2016. Almost two thirds of those pensioners are women. Typically, at current budget 2017 contributory pension rates, people in band three averaging 30 to 39 contributions a year lose €19 a week, people in band four averaging 20 to 29 contributions lose €30 a week, people in band five averaging 15 to 19 contributions lose €23 a week and people in band six averaging ten to 14 contributions over their working lives lose €23.50.

The pension problem for that generation of female workers born in the late 1940s - the Taoiseach's own generation - is exacerbated by the averaging method over the whole employment history from age 16 which is used to calculate contributory pensions. Many women in this cohort have interrupted contribution histories since they worked for period in the late 1960s, 1970s and 1980s and then carried out home caring duties for perhaps up to another two decades before they returned to the workforce.

The Government has also consistently refused to backdate the homemaker's scheme beyond 1994. The doubling of the necessary number of stamps to 520 - in which Fianna Fáil also was involved - has also gravely disadvantaged this cohort of women. As many of my own affected constituents note, the marriage bar was in place until 1973 and they raised families in an era of little or no help for children.

Is it not time to begin a restoration of the pension entitlements of that cohort born in the late 1940s? We have had the Haddington Road agreement, the Lansdowne Road agreement and the agreement with the junior doctors this morning. I ask the Taoiseach to ask the Chairman of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight to urgently examine the detrimental impacts of the contribution band changes, to begin to bring forward the process of restoration, to set up the interdepartmental committee for which Age Action has asked to work towards the universal state pension and for caring credits.

Deputy Broughan's question is perfectly valid. It is part of the sacrifices that people have put up with over the last number of years in order to return the economy to a safer place. I agree that this is a budgetary matter and must be reflected on over a number of budgets. Clearly the process by which the budget for 2018 will be constructed is starting now. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform has made a number of comments about this, as has the Minister for Finance, in terms of the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation and the successor to the Lansdowne Road agreement. The points that Deputy Broughan mentioned are valid for many people.

This morning the Government noted that the Social Insurance Fund has a surplus of over €400 million for the first time in many years and that is an issue where money in surplus will have to be dealt with. A full review of that is being carried out. Clearly with the Low Pay Commission about to make its recommendations over the period ahead, the issue of PRSI and pensioners and those who are caught between 65 and 66 is obviously an issue as well.

This issue must be dealt with here and the Deputy has pointed out in timely fashion that this issue must be looked at as the Departments prepare their initial proposals for budget 2018. Depending on the financial position in which the Ministers find themselves, the Government will make decisions on how best to distribute that with a sense of fairness for everybody and those who have taken the punishment that Deputy Broughan has pointed out will be considered for whatever redemption is possible in the time ahead.

It is little comfort to the two thirds of workers involved, the women workers and the other people who have been caught in this situation.

They are bearing this burden week after week all through the years, perhaps into the next decade. I hope the Taoiseach has read or gets a chance to read the Age Action report, which gives detailed case histories of women who have suffered from this savage cut from budget 2012. A constituent of mine, Olive from Donaghmede, says that she is fuming with anger every week at how her generation is treated. She has asked for accountability and for immediate restoration of her pension.

I am due to raise the matter again with the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, this afternoon and my colleagues, Deputies Joan Collins, Clare Daly and Ó Snodaigh, have also raised it. Every time I have raised it, the Minister always says there are winners and there are losers. There should be no losers if we are to have a fair and equitable tier 1 State pension for all men and women.

I thank the Deputy.

I ask the Taoiseach to address the shocking losses for the thousands of pensioners involved. The lifetime loss for people with an average life expectancy of 81 years who are in band 3 is nearly €15,000.

I thank the Deputy.

It is €23,000 for those in band 4; it is €18,000 for those in band 5 and over €18,000 for those in band 6. This is an appalling imposition on this very vulnerable group of our fellow citizens who work so hard, not just in the workplace.

The Deputy's time is up.

The women pensioners were among the first to go into the workforce and also reared their families and cared for people. I urge the Taoiseach to take the steps I have outlined.

I understand that Olive from Donaghmede, who speaks for so many others, has a grievance and would like that to be addressed. The Deputy spoke about the Committee on Budgetary Oversight. I will certainly have the Chairman of that committee contacted in order to look at it from the committee's point of view and see what recommendations it might make. Obviously, the Deputy will raise the matter with the Minister for Social Protection during Question Time. Given the meagre amounts of money available in recent years and the constraints on us, the Government has looked very carefully at those in the lower brackets. Freedom from minimum wage requirements and income tax and increases in the minimum wage were recommended in the context of trying to bring about equity and fairness for so many people.

I will have the issue referred to the Committee on Budgetary Oversight for consideration. Ministers will reflect on the preparation of the budget for 2018. I hope that Olive and so many others might be able to see some improvement in their position arising from the kind of situation to which the Deputy referred earlier.

All citizens have a right to a satisfactory and good-quality public transport service. It is the duty of the State to ensure that such a service provided. It cannot and must not be left to market forces. Members of the public in my Tipperary constituency and in rural areas generally are entitled to the same standard of public transport as the constituents of the Minister, Deputy Ross, here in Dublin. Yesterday, Bus Éireann proposed the closure of the Clonmel to Dublin bus service among others. This is absolutely unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Of course, it comes on the back of the closure of the Carrick-on-Suir to Dublin bus service in 2015. It comes on the back of the proposed closure of the Limerick to Waterford rail service and the Limerick to Ballybrophy rail service. The Limerick to Waterford rail line servicing Carrick-on-Suir, Clonmel, Cahir and Tipperary town is being undermined on a daily basis by management regularly and frequently cancelling trains on that line. In addition, the main social and economic corridor across the south of the county, the N24, has been left out of the road capital programme, which is particularly damaging to the Tipperary town and Carrick-on-Suir. Of course, the failure to build the Thurles bypass, which has been overlooked for years, resulting in chaos in the square, turning it into a car park.

County Tipperary is not getting a fair crack of the whip. A Fine Gael led Government already abolished Clonmel Borough Council and the town councils in Carrick-on-Suir, Cashel, Tipperary town, Thurles, Templemore and Nenagh. A Fine Gael led Government with the help of the Labour Party also closed the St. Michael's 50 bed psychiatric unit at South Tipperary General Hospital.

Now north Tipperary patients must travel to Ennis and south Tipperary patients must travel to Kilkenny to avail of a service that is inadequate and substandard. The abandonment of County Tipperary must stop. I am asking the Taoiseach if he will give an assurance to stop any threat to the Clonmel to Dublin bus service. Will he give an assurance to re-establish the Carrick-on-Suir to Dublin bus service? After 20 years of waiting, will the Taoiseach give the go-ahead for the N24 upgrading, including the bypass of Tipperary town, Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir? Also after 20 years, will the Taoiseach give the go-ahead for the bypass of Thurles this afternoon?

I am not in a position to do that, as the Deputy well knows. I agree with him that transport for rural Ireland should not be left to market forces only and it is not. That is why the Minister, Deputy Ross, has pointed out, as I have on many occasions, that the National Transport Authority, NTA, is quite prepared to take up any slack for public transport connectivity between areas that are affected by the dispute between Bus Éireann and the unions. The matter the Deputy mentioned of Clonmel is one of three that have been referred to but there are no decisions taken about any of this because until the dispute is settled nothing is decided. The chief executive pointed out options, hard though they are, and that is why it is important that people go back into the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, and use that experience, capacity and facility to bring about a solution and a conclusion to this.

The Deputy asked an omnibus question about the Thurles bypass, the N24 and the south Tipperary hospital and everything else in between and he expects me to answer in the positive here today for him.

It has been 20 years.

For the sake of his constituents, the Deputy will be aware there is a capital review programme about to be carried out on major infrastructure during the course of the year which should be completed by mid-year. The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will look carefully at the ongoing public consultation in that regard at the moment. As I said to Deputy Martin, the European Investment Bank has opened its office here which will allow for major pieces of infrastructure where an income stream might come from them in order for those pieces of infrastructure to be dealt with separately from central Exchequer. I cannot speak for the outcome of the capital review but it is under way.

Last week, Deputy Lowry raised the question of the South Tipperary General Hospital including Our Lady's in Cashel. Those particular problems have been mentioned by the Minister, Deputy Harris. He has been there and wants to address the capacity issues as well as ensuring Our Lady's in Cashel is utilised. I understand a mini-tender will be done in the coming weeks to request proposals for temporary accommodation in Tipperary. The HSE has already been asked to make maximum use of the Cashel campus and is considering every option to support south Tipperary with community and primary care services. The Deputy does not have a definitive answer here but he has an opportunity to work, in terms of the capital review, on the issues and to advise people to go back into the WRC to see whether we can settle this dispute between Bus Éireann and the unions.

The Deputy mentioned Ballybrophy and a few other things about Iarnród Éireann. He obviously wants the entire budget to be shifted down to Tipperary.

It takes a lot of money, as the Taoiseach well knows.

It will not happen today but the Deputy has to work on his proposals to advance it piece by piece.

It sounds very much like "live horse and you'll get grass". We have been waiting for 20 years for both the N24 upgrade and the Thurles bypass. The Taoiseach's Government and the previous Government starved public transport and road budgets. The road budgets fell between 2007 and 2015 by €1.722 billion. The State subvention to CIE was slashed by €132 million, from €321 million in 2008 to €189 million in 2015. The State subvention to Bus Éireann is down €16.3 million from €49.4 million to €33.1 million. The free travel contribution from the Department of Social Protection is completely inadequate. It has been capped for years despite increased numbers and the fact that 30% of Bus Éireann's passengers are availing of free travel.

In June 2016, the Taoiseach wrote to the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, seeking permission to borrow money for infrastructural works. He said at the time that investment in infrastructure in Ireland was "at its lowest level for many years, and also represents the lowest level of any member state at present". He got no reply, or none that we heard of, but Italy recently told the President Juncker it will borrow money with or without his permission. I ask the Taoiseach to do likewise. Will he reassert Irish sovereignty and put the right of the Irish people to proper transport infrastructure, and other capital investment such as housing, before the EU and EU diktats?

I had a meeting this morning with Commissioner Timmermans about a range of issues that are about to come up and one of those is the investment capacity for countries throughout Europe to invest in major pieces of infrastructure to improve facilities, provide employment and boost output and growth. I wrote to President Juncker because there was a blockage in the system in terms of the way EUROSTAT was treating the development of and proposals for infrastructure and the European Commission, and we sorted that out. Clearly, there has been a big improvement in the capacity of countries to borrow for infrastructural projects. As I said, the European Investment Bank has opened an office in Dublin which is now open for proposals from local authorities, Government agencies and so on. I hope there will be a big improvement in that in the time ahead.

It is not true to say that the State has neglected everything here. There are some major roads projects going on around the country including the Gort-Tuam project involving €600 million and others that are currently in train.

They are not happening down in Tipperary. We have wanted them for 20 years.

The Deputy mentioned the N24 and the Thurles bypass. They are not alone in their difficulties. A man in Cork said to me at the Brexit meeting last week that he found me guilty of clogging up the roads with people going to work.

A Deputy

Is this a real man?

Did the Taoiseach see the boys of Fairhill?

That concludes Leaders' Questions.