Ceisteanna - Questions

Economic Policy

Micheál Martin

Question:

1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the commitment in his Department's strategy statement on engaging with the National Economic and Social Council to developing of economic and social policy. [9998/17]

Brendan Howlin

Question:

2. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach the other new engagement structures he envisages working with and their remit and membership, particularly in view of the statement in his Department's recent Strategy Statement 2016-2019 (details supplied). [10031/17]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 and 2 together.

The role of the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, is to analyse and report to the Taoiseach on strategic issues for Ireland’s economic, social, environmental and sustainable development. The NESC comprises representatives of business and employers’ organisations, the ICTU, agricultural and farming organisations, the community and voluntary sector, the environmental sector, heads of Government Departments and independent experts.

The make-up of the council means that it can bring together different perspectives from civil society together with Government. This helps the NESC to analyse the challenges facing Irish society and to develop a shared understanding among its members of how to tackle these challenges. The council's work in recent years has included reports such as: Ireland’s Rental Sector: Pathways to Secure Occupancy and Affordable Supply; Housing Supply and Land: Driving Public Action for the Common Good; and Sustainable Development in Irish Aquaculture. The NESC secretariat also provides assistance to a number of Departments in the development of policy in specific priority areas.

The NESC secretariat continues its work, including on issues relevant to the programme for Government such as: housing supply, ownership and rental; climate change and social engagement on wind energy; jobless households; social dimensions of the crisis; consumer prices; labour market activation; and funding of higher education.

The Programme for Government sets out an approach to addressing long-term challenges involving the development of a broad-based political and public consensus before a settled action plan can be developed. Items identified in the programme for this type of longer-term planning are housing, broadband, climate change, pensions and long-term funding models in education and health. The NESC, with its track record of engagement and consistent and high-quality work on contentious issues, has an important role to play. The views of other structures must also be taken into account.

The council's term of office has finished and I am making the necessary arrangements to appoint a new council. I expect to make those appointments by the end of this month.

Deputy Howlin asked about other new engagement structures. These include the national economic dialogue, the Labour Employer Economic Forum, which I chaired a meeting of recently, and the Climate Change Advisory Council. The Social Inclusion Forum has been in operation for some time now. The national dialogue on climate action has been launched recently and was confirmed today at Cabinet.

Is fíor a rá le blianta beaga anuas nach bhfuil pleanáil straitéiseach le feiscint maidir le cúrsaí eacnamaíochta na tíre agus cúrsaí na hEorpa, mar shampla. Táim ag lorg páipéir báin anois faoin Eoraip. Cad é an polasaí atá againn maidir le todhchaí an Aontais Eorpaigh? Is tábhachtach an rud é nach bhfuaireamar aon pháipear seachas an ceann a bhaineann le cúrsaí sláinte. Ní raibh an Rialtas in ann é sin a chur i bhfeidhm. Is é sin an ceann a bhaineann le hárachas sa chóras sláinte. Ní raibh mórán ann.

Maidir le todhchaí eacnamaíochta na tíre seo agus na hábhair sóisialta is tábhachtaí atá romhainn, tá easpa anailíse cuimsitheach ann faoi láthair i mo thuairimse. Measaim go gcaithfidh an Taoiseach freagracht a thabhairt do NESC plean cuimsitheach a bhaineann le cúrsaí eacnamaíochta na tíre seo a chur le chéile go meán-téarmach agus go fad-téarmach do thodhchaí na tíre. Bhí páirtnéireacht sósialta ann i roinnt de na blianta sin agus bhí sé an-éifeachtach. Caithfimid é sin a admháil. Is léir anois nach bhfuil aon saghas struchtúir ann chun muintir gnó, na hoibrithe agus an pobal i gcoitinne a thabhairt le chéile. I mo thuairimse, tá sé in am dúinn machnamh a dhéanamh ar an gceist seo, ach laistigh de sin, freagracht a thabhairt do NESC plean cuimsitheach a chur le chéile do thodhchaí eacnamaíochta na tíre seo.

Níl an Teachta mí-cheart sa mhéad a dúirt sé. Dúirt mé go mbeadh comhairle nua curtha i bhfeidhm roimh dheireadh na míosa seo. Is éard atá i gceist ná go mbeidh teagmháil idir an Rialtas agus NESC chun comhairle a thabhairt dó ar an obair gur mhiste leis an Rialtas go ndéanfaidh sé. Chuir NESC tuarascálacha ar fáil faoi chúrsaí tithíochta agus easpa tithíochta, cúrsaí talmhaíochta agus comhairle seasmhach ó thaobh eacnamaíocht uisce nó aquaculture. Tá na tuarascálacha sin curtha ar fáil ag NESC.

Tá cuid den chlár Rialtais oiriúnach do anailís NESC ag éirí as atá ann. Is iad sin cúrsaí tithíochta, cúrsaí leathanbhanda, cúrsaí athrú climate agus cúrsaí pinsin. An aidhm ná go gcuirfidh NESC tuarascálacha ar fáil i leith cén sórt infheistíocht a bheidh ag teastáil agus cé as a thiocfadh sé ó thaobh chúrsaí oideachais de. Tá na príomh-nithe leagtha amach. Nuair a bheidh an comhairle nua curtha ar bun, beidh cead aige an obair ard-chaighdeánach a dhéanann sé a chur os comhair an Rialtais as sin amach.

I have been tabling questions on the National Economic and Social Council, NESC, for some time. I am no wiser about the Taoiseach's exact attitude to the council. Obviously, there was a long hiatus when he did not appoint members to the board. I assumed there would be a replacement of some description or a reconfiguration but the Taoiseach is now advising the House that by the end of this month, we will revert to what I presume is the traditional NESC. The Taoiseach might tell us whether that is the case.

Let me set out why I tabled a question on the new engagement structures. These are set out in the Taoiseach's own Department's strategy statement. Are they once-off engagement structures? I listened to them for the first time as the Taoiseach listed them out. Is any of them a permanent new structure?

It is clear that we now need a new economic focus, not only because of Brexit, which will affect us very significantly, as we all know, but also because of the Trump presidency. The new Administration in the United States is pursuing a trade policy that will directly challenge our long-standing industrial model of foreign direct investment here. The case for a clear platform for economic advice has never been stronger. The Taoiseach talked about housing, aquaculture etc. but there are fundamental issues associated with our economic and industrial model that need to be fundamentally re-examined, almost in a Whitaker-like way. Does the Taoiseach have any ideas about that new, fresh approach?

As Deputy Howlin is aware, the sectors represented are the business and employer interests, ICTU, farming and agriculture interests, the community and voluntary sector and the environmental sector. Each will nominate a minimum of three and a maximum of four to the council. I appoint 20 members specifically on the basis of nominations from organisations or interests set out in the Act. Included are up to six public servants and up to eight independent members. In the previous council, the independent members were mainly from the higher academic sector. Once the composition is decided, the independent appointments outside those set out in legislation will be made in accordance with the guidelines the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform sets out. Whether one wants to consider a different economic model entirely or look at the challenges that the country faces, things are fragile enough internationally. We are facing elections in the Netherlands and France and later in Germany. There is a possibility of elections in Italy. Clearly the decisions being made by the new Administration in the United States are also having a global impact. For the Oireachtas and all its Members, the question of what the outcome of Brexit will be is a case in point.

When one considers the longer-term analysis the Government is now undertaking by way of public consultation on what we should do for 2020, 2030 and 2040, one must bear in mind that we will have a million extra people, requiring an extra 500,000 houses to be built and the creation of 500,000 extra jobs and infrastructure. We will have to provide these people with transport and a location in which to live. They will require broadband, which is the DNA of regional and rural Ireland. The Deputy, when Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, grappled with all these questions. The questions cover infrastructure, primary care centres, hospital extensions, schools and road structures. In other words, if we are to make the country attractive for investment and for the location of businesses, for quality of life and for people to be able to live and have careers and opportunities, we will have to make the facilities available anyway, irrespective of what kind of model one chooses. I hope there will be a council up and running by the end of March. Academics or others will be appointed after that. Let them engage with the Government on the spring economic statement and the Government's remit for the preparation of the budgets for 2018 and beyond, and feed into the broader consultation taking place for 2020, 2030 and beyond. I am quite sure the NESC will identify some really important areas in respect of which it will be anxious to make recommendations. We look forward to that in due course.

Departmental Staff Data

Joan Burton

Question:

3. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach the number of whole-time and part-time civil servants who were working in his Department on 22 February 2017. [10023/17]

Gerry Adams

Question:

4. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on current staffing levels in his Department; and if he envisages changes in view of the upcoming Article 50 negotiations. [11421/17]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 and 4 together.

On 22 February 2017, there were 197 civil servants, established and unestablished, working in my Department. One hundred and seventy-three were working full-time and 24 were working part-time. This equates to a whole-time equivalent of 189.2 civil servants working in my Department.

I have restructured my Department to ensure Brexit is treated as a crucial cross-cutting issue, including by creating a newly amalgamated international, EU and Northern Ireland division, under a new second Secretary General. In addition, my Department is in the process of recruiting additional staff. Among the business areas that will benefit from the additional resourcing are the international, EU and Northern Ireland division and the economic division. This is to ensure an effective, whole-of-government response to Brexit.

While responsibility for the strategic oversight for Brexit rests in my Department and preparations are co-ordinated through the dedicated Cabinet committee that I chair, it is worth emphasising that this is an all-of-government issue and each Minister has an important role to play. Since the UK referendum, the EU policy role of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been strengthened, as have the roles of other key Departments and agencies at home and abroad. Each Department has developed a thorough analysis of the critical issues that need to be addressed in its sectors.

The 27 Heads of State and Government will meet shortly after Article 50 has been triggered to agree and adopt guidelines defining the framework for the negotiations. The General Affairs Council, GAC, including Ministers from the 27 member states, will then adopt more detailed negotiating directives and will authorise the opening of the negotiations. The European Council will discuss the negotiations on a regular basis and will update the guidelines and directives as required.

The European Commission will lead the technical negotiations on behalf of the Union. Its team will be led by Mr. Michel Barnier, as head of the Commission's task force on Brexit, and it will include a representative of the rotating Presidency of the Council. Progress will be monitored and guidance will be given to the Commission, by a dedicated working party involving all member states, which in turn will report to COREPER, the committee of permanent representatives or ambassadors to the European Union, which, of course, includes Ireland's permanent representative to the European Union. It is expected that the working party will meet at least once a week. The negotiations will, therefore, be under the overall strategic and political guidance of the European Council and the General Affairs Council – representing the member states - and will be scrutinised in great detail at senior official and ambassadorial levels. We will pursue our national interests and priorities fully within this framework.

Along with many other Members, the Taoiseach and I have been involved with a number of EU Presidencies. The Taoiseach will recall that in the year and a half in the run-up to a Presidency, enormously detailed arrangements were made right across the Government and within the structures of government. A particular feature was the employment of special staff.

Among the special staff who will be required to deal with Brexit will be those with experience of trade negotiations and also, I would imagine, lawyers with experience of trade legislation and possibly trade negotiations, in addition to lawyers with experience of the technical complexities of current and likely EU structures. Has the Taoiseach attempted to recruit additional experts?

With regard to Presidencies, I believe the Taoiseach will agree that there are fine members of the diplomatic service in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I recollect that where very significant people with significant sets of skills in that Department or others were about to retire or had recently retired, they were in many cases brought back on temporary contracts for the purpose of beefing up the Irish team.

Has any consideration been given to doing that in the context of the challenges that undoubtedly face us with Brexit?

An bhfuil an Taoiseach sásta go bhfuil go leor ó thaobh foirne de le déileáil leis na ceisteanna móra agus go bhfuil an saineolas sa Roinn maidir le Brexit, na gnéithe difriúla a bhaineann leis agus na hathraithe difriúla a bheidh i gceist? Mar shampla, beidh torthaí as cuimse maidir le poist agus slite beatha do shaoránaigh ar an dá thaobh den Teorainn. Tá mé ag tagairt, mar shampla, do na mílte fheirmeoir beaga a mbíonn ag taisteal timpeall na Teorann, iad siúd atá gafa i dtionscal maidir le bainne ina measc. Téann 600,000 lítear bainne trasna na Teorann gach bliain. Déantar táirgeadh air sa Stát seo chun púdar bainne a dhéanamh roimh é a easpórtáil. Caithfidh an Taoiseach smaoineamh a dhéanamh ar na rialacha agus na táillí a bheadh i gceist air sin de réir chóras an WTO – 45% a mbeadh i gceist. Beidh teip iomlán ar an tionscal bainne ach go háirithe más rud é go ngearrfaí an táille sin air.

An bhfuil na saineolaithe ag an Taoiseach chun déileáil leis na féidearthachtaí ar fad de thairbhe Brexit? An bhfuil sé ag déileáil leis sin?

Deir an Taoiseach nach mbeidh Teorainn chrua ann. Cad faoin scéal atá sna meáin le déanaí go bhfuil lucht custam ag taisteal timpeall na Teorann ag lorg suímh nua chun botháin custam a thógáil? An bhfuil an scéal sin fíor nó an bhfuil sé ag tarlú?

Is cuimhin liom go maith nuair a thosaigh an Taoiseach amach ina phost in 2011 go raibh sé ag gearráin maidir leis an méid státseirbhísigh a bhí i Roinn an Taoisigh, go háirithe roimh a era féin. Tá fhios agam nach raibh mórán ann sa ghearrán sin ach cleasaíocht polaitíochta, mar is eol dó. Ní Roinn ollmhór atá sa Roinn. Dúirt an Taoiseach go raibh 197 fostaí ann. Tháinig cuid státseirbhísigh ó Roinn Gnóthaí Eachtracha agus Trádála chuig Roinn an Taoisigh. D’fhill roinnt daoibh ar an Roinn Gnóthaí Eachtracha agus Trádála. I gcomhthéacs Brexit agus an t-idirbheartaíocht a bheidh ann, i mo thuairim tá géarghá ann níos mó státseirbhíseach a mhealladh chuig Roinn an Taoisigh, go háirithe daoine le scileanna speisialta. Tá fhios againn go mbeadh idirbheartaíocht tábhacht ó thaobh cúrsaí trádála de. Tá dainséar ann nach bhfuil an expertise agus daoine le saineolas speisialta a bhaineann leis an gceist sin ann faoi láthair.

Tá cinneadh déanta ag an Taoiseach go mbeidh a Roinn freagrach as idirbheartaíocht maidir le Brexit agus go mbeidh an Roinn sin an ceann is tábhachtaí ó thaobh Brexit. Níl aon Aire speisialta ann agus ní bheidh. Is é Brexit an dúshlán is mó atá ann don tír le fada an lá. Tá muid buartha nach bhfuil dóthain státseirbhíseach ann maidir le Brexit. Tá gá ann i bhfad níos mó a dhéanamh agus struchtúr níos láidre a chur i bhfeidhm ionas go mbeidh muid réidh agus cumasach ó thaobh na hidirbheartaíochta.

Tá cúig nóiméad fágtha agus tá ceithre go leith nóiméad ag an Taoiseach. Ina dhiaidh sin ní bheidh ach leath nóiméad fágtha. Mar sin, is é seo an freagra deireanach ón Taoiseach.

Deputy Burton raised a valid question about the position that always applied in the case of the EU Presidency, and the troika that was lined up with the incumbent, the previous holder and the state due to hold it. In the first half of 2013, when we held the Presidency, there was a massive response from the public service to deal with that in very difficult circumstances and to put together a budget of €960 billion. The position is that as Article 50 is due to be triggered in a short while we will ensure we get whatever extra staff that will be required. At present, the European affairs section has the necessary skills for dealing with this. The officials who work there have experience and expertise in European and foreign affairs, bolstered by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs, who attends the General Affairs Council, GAC, on a regular basis, in terms of knowing what is happening in this regard. With regard to academic qualifications, a number of that team have graduate and postgraduate qualifications in areas that are of direct relevance to this work, such as a master's degree in European interdisciplinary studies from the College of Europe, a master's degree in human rights and democratisation, a master's degree in economic policy studies and a BA in European studies. In respect of international relations, a number of the team have graduate and postgraduate qualifications in areas that are of direct relevance. These include a degree in international development and food policy, a PhD in political science, a master's degree in economic science in policy analysis and degrees in economics, history and politics, which include modules on international relations.

In respect of data protection, which is such a big issue at present, there is significant experience of working on projects in economic and enterprise development, European affairs and social policy both within the Department and with other public and private sector organisations. The members of the team have developed a strong understanding and knowledge of data protection related issues through a combination of on-the-job learning, attending a wide range of seminars and so forth. In terms of academic qualifications, team members have graduate and postgraduate qualifications in areas of direct relevance, such as a master's degree in European economic and public affairs, a diploma in applied European law and a doctorate in governance.

The corporate affairs division is responsible for finance, ICT, human resources and corporate governance. Their qualifications include third level qualifications such as MSc in computer science, MBS in change management and organisational studies, postgraduate diploma in public management, BComm specialising in human resources and diploma in human resource management, as well as accounting technician and financial management qualifications. These staff continue to develop their skills by engaging in online research.

Once Article 50 is triggered, if we need extra specialist staff we will get them. We will keep Members informed. As I said, Deputy Howlin and Deputy Martin have been given briefings and reports have been produced online. When Article 50 is triggered the Government will respond, through all the background work that has been done, to the detail of what will be contained in the letter from the Prime Minister.

Does the Taoiseach have a date for that yet?

There is no date yet. It was expected to be around 9 March but the vote in the House of Lords might have put paid to that for a while. When it is triggered the Government will respond directly and in far greater detail, because then we will know with clarity what the British Government is seeking.

The Taoiseach did not mention a barrister, solicitor, a chartered accountant or a management accountant.

In particular, the Taoiseach did not mention any trade lawyers. The EU has 7,000 trade lawyers. Do we have any?

I am quite sure we have. I mentioned some of the qualifications and expertise that are available. When Article 50 is triggered, we will get whatever expertise is required. We cannot afford not to.

Cabinet Committee Meetings

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

5. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on infrastructure, environment and climate action last met. [10043/17]

Bríd Smith

Question:

6. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on infrastructure, environment and climate action last met. [10074/17]

Gerry Adams

Question:

7. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on infrastructure, environment and climate action last met; and when it is scheduled to meet again. [11419/17]

Micheál Martin

Question:

8. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on infrastructure, environment and climate action met last. [11613/17]

Brendan Howlin

Question:

9. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on infrastructure, environment and climate change last met and the plans to meet. [11757/17]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 9, inclusive, together.

The Cabinet committee on infrastructure, environment and climate action last met on 30 January 2017. The next meeting of the Cabinet committee has not yet been scheduled but will happen shortly. The committee addresses the climate change challenge in terms of domestic policy and with regard to Ireland's EU and international obligations.

In addition, the committee drives the development and delivery of key infrastructure and associated policy, including oversight of relevant commitments in A Programme for a Partnership Government.

What discussions has the Taoiseach had about our water infrastructure at the aforementioned committee? Over the past number of years, the Taoiseach has tried to justify domestic water charges on the basis that we urgently need to address the huge problems with our water infrastructure and to comply with EU directives in the context of the management of our water resources. I do not give that any credibility, frankly, because if the Taoiseach was really interested in such matters, then instead of wasting what could amount to €1 billion on domestic water meters - when we now know from the expert committee that household usage in this country is not wasteful - he would have something to say about what the committee is doing to actually address the huge infrastructural deficit.

I want to ask specifically why the Government is not proposing a retrofit programme for water-harvesting equipment in all publicly-owned housing. Why is the Government not introducing building regulations requiring water harvesting? In terms of meeting the requirements of the EU directive, why does the Government not introduce an incentive scheme and provide grants to householders for the installation of water-harvesting equipment? I recently asked the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government how many swimming pools there are in the country, in the context of possibly introducing a swimming pool tax for those wasteful people who have private swimming pools, but he did not know the answer. Does the Taoiseach have any answers on any of this or is it all just spoof?

Like everyone else, I heard the news this morning that 80 post offices are due to close. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Denis Naughten, constantly says that the Government is fully committed to a policy that will see An Post remain a strong, viable company in a position to provide a high-quality postal service and maintain a national network of customer-focused post offices in the community. While I welcome that commitment, closing 80 post offices in the immediate future is really tragic for rural Ireland. The Taoiseach is from a beautiful part of rural Ireland in County Mayo. I am from Ballyfermot and one or two post offices in my constituency of Dublin South Central are being closed. However, the impact of the closure of post offices in towns and villages in Mayo, Kerry, Clare, Donegal and other parts of the country will be enormous. As one journalist wrote this morning, "Will the last person out of rural Ireland please turn out the lights?". This Government has disappointed the people in the context of the provision of bus services. It is now closing post offices and this is just not acceptable. The people of rural Ireland need decisions to be made that will support them, not neo-liberal decisions based on where the most profit can be made and determinations that services are not viable if profits cannot be made. We sprang to attention when the banks went down. We sprang to attention overnight and bailed them out with our money. What are we going to do to bail out rural Ireland and to keep those post offices open? Post offices are essential, not just to financial fabric but the social fabric of our towns and villages.

Tá sé ráite i gclár an Rialtais, atá beagnach bliain d'aois anois, go mbunóidh an Rialtas comhrá náisiúnta ar athrú aeráide, le comhairliúcháin phoiblí forleathan san áireamh. Ní fhaca mé aon trácht ar a leithéid de phróiseas ó shin. Bliain ina dhiadh an geallúint sin, cá bhfuil an bogadh? Cén uair a bheidh an comhairliúchán sin, nó fiú an comhrá, tosaithe? Ar an 1 Feabhra seo caite, léirigh an Coimisiún Eorpach i dtuairisc maidir le fuinneamh in-athnuaite nach sroichfidh an tír seo na spriocanna atá leagtha síos don Stát seo i gcomhthéacs na bliana 2020. Thug an Taoiseach geallúint don Oireachtas agus don phobal i gcoitinne go mbeadh an comhairliúchán seo ar siúl. Cén uair a bheidh an gné sin de chlár an Rialtais tosaithe agus - ina dhiaidh sin - críochnaithe? An mbeidh aon tionchar ag an bpróiseas comhairliúcháin ar an tuairisc atá curtha faoinár mbráid ag an gCoimisiún? Muna sroichfidh an Stát seo na spriocanna atá leagtha síos ag an Aontas Eorpach agus an Coimisiún Eorpach, tá gach seans ann go ngearrfar fíneáil ar an Stát seo. Tiocfaidh a leithéid d'fhadhb anuas orainn i bhfad níos tapúla muna bhfuilimid ag caint faoi.

Glacann beagnach chuile dhuine leis go bhfuil easpa pleanála agus infheistíochta i gceist le blianta beaga anuas ó thaobh cúrsaí infreastruchtúir na tíre seo. Cé go bhfuil roinnt pleananna foilsithe ag an Rialtas, níl iontu ach liostaí de thograí éagsúla. Níl aon straitéis ann do na rudaí is tábhachtaí i gcúrsaí eacnamaíochta agus sóisialta na tíre seo. Cad iad na nithe is tábhachtaí ó thaobh infreastruchtúir de? Tá go leor ráite maidir le cúrsaí taighde, ach níl dóthain airgid curtha ar fáil le haghaidh infreastruchtúr taighde sa tír seo. De dheasca sin, tá gearrthacha á ndéanamh i gcónaí ar an méid áiseanna atá ar fáil do lucht taighde na tíre. I gcás fadhb na tithíochta, mar shampla, is léir dom anois go bhfuil an Roinn Tithíochta, Pleanála, Pobail agus Rialtais Áitiúil agus na húdaráis áitiúla beagnach ar fud na tíre i gcoinne tithíocht shóisialta a thógáil. Is é sin an meon agus an fealsúnacht atá acu. Go bunúsach, the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government and local authorities in this country do not want to build council houses any more. It is time that the rhetoric stopped. We are hearing so much about social housing options and so forth but local authorities will not build council houses. It is a scandal in itself and a contributory factor to the current crisis. It is extraordinary to think that we are in the midst of the worst housing crisis in living memory and we cannot get council houses built despite all of the strategies and plans. Tá an rud ar fad dochreidte.

I, too, want to talk about the infrastructure deficiencies in the State. Obviously, we have gone through a period when money was particularly scarce and in order to ensure continued provision of vital public services over the past six years or so, the amount of money devoted to our built infrastructure was diminished. That needs to be rectified now but we must do it in a way that is affordable. We do not want to see incredible cost inflation. Three weeks ago, I raised the issue of the cost of the proposed new national children's hospital, which is a really worthy project. I do not need to hear about how worthy the project is because in 2011 it was one of the flagship projects that the then Government identified. The cost in 2011 was €410 million. Two years ago, the cost had risen to €650 million and now we are being told that the project will cost €1 billion. We will not be able to deal with the three new maternity hospitals that we need. The plan is to move the National Maternity Hospital from Holles Street to a site at St. Vincent's Hospital and to co-locate the other two maternity hospitals with adult hospitals. We will not be able to meet all of this infrastructural need if we do not have clear control over the cost of development. In terms of the proposed national children's hospital, has the Taoiseach been given any explanation for the escalation in costs? Was this discussed by the Cabinet sub-committee? What does the Taoiseach have to say about it?

First, in response to Deputy Boyd Barrett, I am glad he is in favour of water harvesting-----

I wish the Government was-----

-----but one does not need any sophisticated Government response in respect of water-harvesting devices for ordinary houses.

If one goes to any DIY or home improvement outlet, one will find them, purpose-built and available. One simply puts them under the down pipe and one has water for one's flowers, to wash one's bicycle, one's car - I do not know if the Deputy drives a car - or whatever.

That would be illegal without permission from Irish Water.

They can all be specially designed for Deputy Bríd Smith's house; she does not need to worry about that.

The Taoiseach would want to read the small print from Irish Water.

Under the scheme that the Minister has already put out for bringing back into use houses that are unoccupied-----

It is necessary to get its permission, though.

-----it might need €10,000, €15,000 or €20,000 to bring the water into line, address the roof or whatever it might be. These are opportunities for water harvesting. These things are common and have been part of European planning rules and regulation for 50 years. I know we are an exceptional country in the sense that it rains for 200 days in the west, although perhaps not so much in Dublin. It is quite possible for Deputy Boyd Barrett to harvest the water out in that sophisticated part of County Dublin where he lives.

Where are the real conservation grants?

I am glad that Deputy Bríd Smith recognises the qualities of particular parts of the west. I do not know if she was in the House when Deputy Michael Healy Rae mentioned that, as a postmaster himself, he has an interest in-----

-----the report published by Mr. Bobby Kerr.

Among other things.

The report that was leaked was one that was commissioned by An Post for An Post; it is not a Government report. The Kerr report will be brought in by the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, shortly and will set out the realism here where Government can actually support rural post offices. We decided three years ago, when Deputy Howlin was in government, to have basic banking facilities in post offices, suitable for some but not for everyone. In the case of quite a number of post offices that closed recently in the west, nobody wanted to take them on and they just closed. There is a requirement for An Post to advertise, communicate locally and invite expressions of interest from anybody who wants to take on a post office.

Job opportunities for them.

Unfortunately, it found that no interest was expressed from local people in quite a number of areas. That is a reality.

The Government could pay the minimum wage to a postmaster.

Bhí an Teachta Uí Snodaigh ag caint faoi athrú aeráide agus mar sin de. Glacadh an Rialtas leis an díospóireacht sin ar maidin. Beidh sé ag tosú láithreach. Beidh an tAire, an Teachta Naughten, ag caint leis an Teachta Ryan agus beidh cead ag na gnólachtaí thart fud na tíre déileáil agus a gcuid tuairimí a chur isteach sa díospóireacht sin. Glacfaidh an Rialtas leis ar maidin. Beidh sé ag tosú láithreach.

Deputy Martin asked about infrastructure. Of course, this is always the problem. We have €42 billion between the Exchequer, private moneys, PPPs, but that is not enough. For the Ireland of 2030 or 2040 we need to do much more. That is why we recently opened the European Investment Bank office, which will be in a position to provide serious moneys for particular kinds of infrastructure development on a long-term low-interest basis but where there is an income stream to actually pay for it. A case in point is the motorway from Cork to Limerick, a much needed piece of infrastructure costing approximately €1 billion. If that were to be tolled, it would provide an income stream to deal with that and take it away from the central Exchequer.

We have many ports, but only two that are really big for exports. That area may also provide an opportunity as do the works on the Luas and metro in Dublin as well as work in other cities. They have an income stream and take it away from the central Exchequer. The EIB will provide that over a longer period.

Yesterday along with the Minister of State, Deputy Ring, I launched the Atlantic economic corridor including County Donegal which will come into it when you are finished with it a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. One of the points regarding doing work on ports - without knowing the outcome of the Brexit discussions - is that it is possible to get to the Continent from ports besides Rosslare and Dublin, rather than going to Britain. Obviously, it might be a little longer, but there are other opportunities. There are also opportunities for rail freight to move to ports if that be the case. We need to be creative in how we look at these things.

Maidir leis na cuanta agus the bóthar mór ó Chorcaigh go Luimneach and the cúrsaí traenach agus mar sin de, tithe sóisialta, I agree with this. When Deputy Micheál Martin and I were on local authorities, local authorities were always building council houses, as they were called, or social houses. They have directions to get back into this and I do not see why they should not. They got out of it for particular reasons, because it became commonplace to hive them off to housing associations and so on. Local authorities were always in a position with small staffs to build significant numbers of houses in urban and rural areas throughout the country and I hope that happens again.

The Taoiseach is the boss.

On infrastructure, in fairness to Deputy Howlin, we did put some money into the opera house and put a few quid into the courthouse. He did provide a decent road to Wexford and the people from that wonderful county returned him and other Deputies to the Dáil.

The national children's hospital is an entity out to 2021. I am informed that a specific monitoring committee will be dealing with a fixed-price contract. The original price obviously was a base price I suppose. Last week I read out all the issues beyond that in terms of fit-out and other things that are clearly a cost. It is expected that when this commences there will be very specific monitoring control and that the costs the Deputy mentioned will not run out of control and hopefully it can be contained at less than the €1 billion being mentioned. I do not need to go into the reasons for having a national children's hospital but I hope and expect it will be tied down in a very disciplined way in respect of the money to deal with the specifics of the contract.