Topical Issue Debate

Care Services Provision

I have tabled this Topical Issue every day since we came back at the end of September. It is in regard to the day care centre on Drogheda Street in Monasterevin, which the Minister of State may or may not know.

It is a lovely town of almost 4,000 people on the Kildare-Laois border. A part of County Kildare, it went into Laois for the last general election, but we are happy to have reclaimed it for the next one. It has a strong community that cares for its own.

The day care centre was an important focal point for elderly people, not just those living in the town itself, but also its rural hinterland. In 2014, the centre was closed on health and safety grounds. This did not just impact on the elderly who used it as a day care centre, but on Alzheimer sufferers using it as an Alzheimer's centre. We all know that a respite resource is important so that those with Alzheimer's can engage with their peers and their families can have an opportunity to get on with their lives outside of the significant work that goes into caring for someone with dementia or Alzheimer's.

When the centre was closed, the day care centre moved to the local football club - fair play to the club for putting facilities in place - and the Alzheimer's centre moved to Moore Abbey, which kindly gave over space so that visits could be run on a three-day basis.

Since then, we have been given a great deal of contradictory information on when the centre would reopen. No more than ten months ago, we were told that it would be opening this past September. This was especially important from the perspective of Alzheimer Society users. However, the latest news is that the centre will not reopen until 2019. That is far too long for a vibrant community to lack such facilities.

Insurance lapsed in respect of the service users who had been going to the football club. In early September, the committee resigned en masse. I pay tribute to its members for the hard work that they have invested for years. I can understand why they resigned, given that they were not hearing any positive news about the centre's reopening.

The Alzheimer's centre had to move from Moore Abbey and has been housed in temporary accommodation for the second time. I thank the Dunmurry Springs golf club for hosting the Alzheimer Society. People have settled in well. Importantly, I am hearing positive reports from family members.

The HSE area manager, Mr. David Walsh, has worked hard towards the reopening of these facilities, but this has gone on for too long, and I have been concerned by the latest answers to a number of parliamentary questions that I have submitted. Apart from the timeline issue, there is no sense that the premises on Drogheda Street will revert to day care and provide services for those with Alzheimer's. According to the answers, primary care and mental health services will be provided and additional-----

The Deputy will have another opportunity to contribute.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. She cares passionately about dementia and the 55,000 people who suffer from it. These numbers are expected to increase to more than 130,000 by 2041 as the number of older people increases.

The national dementia strategy emphasises that, with the right supports, people with dementia can continue to live well and participate in their own communities for a long time. As part of the strategy implementation programme, dementia-specific intensive home care packages are being rolled out in a number of acute hospitals and surrounding communities countrywide, targeting people at risk of acute hospital admission and people who have finished the acute phase of their treatment. In August 2017, some 241 people living with dementia benefited under the funding allocated from the programme and 139 people with dementia were in receipt of intensive home care packages. Other elements of the implementation programme include an information and awareness campaign, called Understand Together, which was launched last year, and a programme to upskill GPs and primary care teams in dementia diagnosis and management.

Social care services are an important component of enabling people with dementia to remain living at home and participating in their own homes and communities. They also provide valuable supports to carers.

Regarding the specific issue of the day care centre in south Kildare, the Alzheimer Society of Ireland receives annual funding from the HSE to provide services and supports in Kildare to people with dementia and their families and carers. These services are in addition to the supports provided directly by the HSE. Monasterevin day care centre services were historically provided from an old GP surgery on Drogheda Street. In 2014, for health and safety reasons, the HSE unfortunately had to restrict access to this building. The Monasterevin GAA club kindly agreed to host the centre until capital works for the Drogheda Street premises were completed.

The HSE met the chairperson and members of the centre's board on 29 August in respect of funding issues. Unfortunately, the board subsequently took the decision to cease operations with effect from 7 September at the temporary site of the day care centre. The HSE arranged a plan with the board for the continuation of the service. Regrettably, the centre was closed while a number of issues were resolved. All service users were notified of the temporary closure and the centre reopened at the GAA club on 25 September.

The HSE has made funding available for the design phase of the Monasterevin day care centre project. It is estimated that the design phase will be completed in the first quarter of 2018. Once it concludes, the HSE will establish the exact amount of funding required from the capital plan for construction. A feasibility study in 2015 suggested a construction cost of €540,000. A project timeline can be developed once the design and costing phases are complete.

The HSE is committed to the Monasterevin day care centre project and will continue to work with the centre's board and its service users in the facility's development.

The Minister of State spent most of his time speaking about services for people with Alzheimer's. I agree that these are important. In Monasterevin, they also cater for people from Kildare town and Newbridge, where there is a dearth of services. However, equally as important for the people of Monasterevin are the day care centres that cater for the elderly who live in the town and its surrounds in terms of their social activities, meals, interactions and events. Every community is entitled to this.

The Minister of State referred to the board's decision. I can understand why it made that decision. Since 2014, it has been given inaccurate information. It was a board of committed volunteers. I am glad the HSE met them and was able to iron out some of the difficulties, but this is taking too long. Funding for construction had been approved for 2017 and the HSE originally stated that construction on the site was to have been commenced by now and concluded by early 2018.

The Minister of State did not address why there had been delays or why the service users, staff and community must wait until 2019 for the centre to reopen. Monasterevin cannot be left without these services. The elderly in the town rely on it and need it in their community.

I want the Minister of State to bring a message back to the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, and those in the HSE, namely, that we need the delivery of this service as soon as possible. We should not have to wait any longer.

I strongly agree with the Deputy on the importance of social activity for the elderly, in particular in the Monasterevin day care centre. The day care centre is partially funded by the HSE through a grant agreement to a total of €3,733 per annum and is also staffed by community employment staff, the funding for which comes from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection. The Monasterevin day care centre is a very important local resource.

I apologise on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Harris, but we are in the middle of a Cabinet meeting. I left to take two Topical Issues. I will give a guarantee that I will go back to the Minister, Deputy Harris, and ask him to address these issues, in particular the delays involved. I will also bring this to the attention of senior people in the HSE.

As far as I am concerned, every senior citizen, including those in Monasterevin day care centre, have the right to services. Our senior citizens have to be respected and we have to ensure that those with dementia have meaningful social activities. That is very important to the Government, in particular given the fact that people are living longer now than they did 20 years ago.

Primary Care Centres

I wish to raise an important local issue with the Minister of State. It relates to the HSE's plans to close the local primary centre in Passage West, County Cork. The Minister of State knows the geography well because he has a very close friend living nearby in Monkstown. Between Passage West and Monkstown, the population totals over 6,000. It is a beautiful part of the Lower Harbour area of Cork.

The HSE's plan is to relocate the services currently being provided in the local health centre in Passage West to a new, state-of-the-art health centre currently being built in Carrigaline. The new facility will be outstanding for the local community in the area. It is not in the town, rather it is on the Crosshaven road in a local industrial estate. The impact of the closure of the health centre in Passage West has not been thought through. The current services being provided there include public health nursing, speech and language therapy and home help services. One might say that Carrigaline is only over the road. The new health centre is located 11 km away, which one might say is not the end of the world but the problem is compounded by the fact that there is no direct bus service between the two locations.

Somebody relying on public transport in Passage West to get to the new health centre which is being built in Carrigaline will have to get a bus to Douglas and another bus to Carrigaline or, if he or she is lucky enough, get a bus which is headed for Crosshaven. If he or she gets the latter, he or she can disembark from the bus on the Crosshaven road but will still have to walk for close to half a kilometre to get to the new primary care centre. If he or she has to get off a bus in Carrigaline, he or she will be close to 2 km away.

We have to think in particular of elderly people who do not have their own transport and are instead relying on public transport. For them, this is simply not an option. It is not acceptable that parents with young children, young mothers taking children for developmental checks with public health nurses or any other member of the local community who has to avail of the services in the current health centre would be required to find their way to the new health centre in Carrigaline.

I want the Minister of State and Government to give a commitment to revisit this issue. I acknowledge the work of local councillors who have highlighted this issue for some time, including Marcia D'Alton, Seamus McGrath and Michael "Frick" Murphy. They have raised the issue at council level and I have raised it in the Dáil. I also spoke with the Minister, Deputy Harris, about this issue today. The area is growing in terms of population and demand, but there was no consultation whatsoever on the part of the HSE with the local community prior to the decision being made. Rumours started during the summer and the issue was raised at council level. I raised it with the HSE, and tabled a Dáil question in September to which I received a reply in October that confirmed the closure of the local centre in Passage West.

People want an assurance that basic primary care services will continue to be provided in the local community of Passage West. Government policy is supposed to be the provision of essential primary care services at the nearest possible point to the people they are designed to serve. I ask the Minister of State and the Minister, Deputy Harris, to intervene with the HSE and prevent the outright closure of the health centre in Passage West, which will leave many people in a very bad way. I suspect many will simply not be able to avail of the alternative services which will be provided in the new health centre. I look forward the Minister of State's reply.

I thank Deputy McGrath for raising this important issue. As he said, it is an area I know very well. I spent many years there.

A Programme for a Partnership Government commits to a continued shift towards primary care so that we can provide better care close to home for communities around the country. Primary care centres are an integral part of this because of the range of multidisciplinary services they can provide and the role they play in keeping people who do not need to be in an acute setting out of hospital. Supporting infrastructure, procured through a combination of public and private investment, facilitates the delivery of this multidisciplinary health care.

With regard to the issue raised by the Deputy, I understand from the HSE that construction of the Carrigaline primary care centre is now complete and that this centre will provide primary care services to the surrounding areas, including Passage West. The new primary care centre will add to the 105 already operational nationally and the ten in Cork.

I am advised that the Passage West health centre provides access to speech and language therapy and public health nursing, and that home help services are also delivered from the centre. I am, however, also advised that the centre is in a deteriorating condition - apparently, it is in a very bad way. The services currently being delivered from Passage West health centre will relocate to the new primary care centre. The new centre is currently being commissioned and equipped for HSE services, which are due to begin to move from the middle of this month, starting with nursing.

Other HSE services to relocate include physiotherapy, occupational therapy, dental, and a home support office. GP practices and a pharmacy opened in the centre in August 2017. Space will also be allocated for additional services not previously available in Carrigaline. In addition, the building will accommodate the children’s disability team for the local network, as part of Cork children’s developmental service roll-out. The centre will provide primary care and network services to the population of Carrigaline and the surrounding areas, including Passage West, which is in the region of 26,000.

The HSE has advised that Cork and Kerry Community Healthcare does not have a finalised timeline for the closure of the Passage West health centre. However, it is expected that the provision of HSE primary care services in the centre will cease in early 2018. Planning in this regard is ongoing to ensure arrangements will be in place to meet the health care needs of the Carrigaline-Passage West catchment area.

I know the Deputy was in contact with the Minister, Deputy Harris, about this matter, and the HSE has assured us it will make arrangements to provide the required services at a location convenient to the small number of people who may not be in a position to travel to Carrigaline. I have been advised that local HSE management has offered to engage with any community or voluntary groups interested in delivering health related services from the building in Passage West, further to communication from local representatives in this regard. They are listening to the voices of local representatives.

I have also been advised that the HSE understands the concern from the community regarding access to Carrigaline primary care centre and is in discussion with Bus Éireann on improving public transport access.

I thank the Minister of State for the reply. The bus service will not resolve the problem. Even if there is a direct bus service to Carrigaline, it does not take people directly to the new primary care centre and even if one gets on a bus going to Crosshaven, it still does not take the person directly to the new primary care centre. There are really serious and practical difficulties for people who do not have their own private transport and who rely on public transport.

The Minister of State indicated that, having consulted with the Minister, Deputy Harris, the Health Service Executive has made assurances that for the small number of people who may not be in a position to travel to Carrigaline, the HSE will make arrangements to provide the required services at a location convenient to the person. That is a new statement and I welcome it but I am not entirely sure what it means. Does it mean that for elderly people who do not have their own transport or parents of young children who must avail of the service locally, there will a service provided in Passage West? Will the Minister of State elaborate on what he believes that means? If he cannot give an answer on the floor of the House of which he is certain, will he engage with the HSE to get an answer for me?

The bottom line is the people living in Passage West and some surrounding communities who do not have their own private transport rely on the services provided in the existing health centre. We are not wedded to that building or a model of delivering services but people are absolutely committed to the principle that services would be provided locally in the community of Passage West. The new facility in Carrigaline will be fantastic for those in a position to avail of it and it will have wider services. A number of people - I do not accept it will be a small number - will potentially be trapped and end up doing without a service. Will the Minister of State elaborate on the statement and if he cannot, will he please consult with the Minister, Deputy Harris, and the HSE to give us reassurance on its meaning? It sounds promising but I do not quite know what it means.

I accept many of the points raised by the Deputy about senior citizens and other service users. We must ensure services are accessible for such people. The Deputy refers to the indication that the HSE will make arrangements to provide the required service at a location convenient to the person. My interpretation is it will make provision for the people about which the Deputy speaks but I will follow up and ask the Minister, Deputy Harris, and the HSE what is the exact meaning.

Will the Minister of State come back to me on that?

Yes. It is important to acknowledge that the local HSE management has offered to engage with any community or voluntary groups interested in delivering services from the building in Passage West. They are also open to listening to the voices of local representatives. The Deputy mentioned that many councillors were supportive of his position as well. We must acknowledge that Bus Éireann must improve the public transport service in that area and discussions are ongoing in that respect. The core matter is making arrangements for the provision of a service at a location convenient to the people affected and I will follow that up, bringing the Deputy's concerns to the Minister, Deputy Harris. We will respond to that.

Planning Guidelines

I am sure many Deputies, particularly those representing the constituencies of the west, are deeply concerned about the apparent failure of Apple to proceed with a data centre in Athenry, as was originally planned two or three years ago. It was held up in the planning system. I add a particular concern to the debate and put a case to the Minister. There were difficulties in the planning system, which was unfortunate, but people have their rights and we would not interfere with them. The Government has also been caught out with a complete lack of vision or support for the shift to a renewable future, and Apple can see that. It is not by coincidence it has gone to Denmark, a country committing to 50% wind power by 2020 and 84% wind power by 2035. This can be compared with Ireland, which will not meet its target of 40% of electricity coming from renewables by 2020: we will not meet any of our targets and we will probably be the worst performer in terms of emissions reductions in Europe. Effectively, we cannot build anything in this country now as we have lost the public, and part of the reason is a lack of political leadership, as the Citizens' Assembly indicated last weekend.

The matter is ongoing. I read a recent submission from the Irish Government on work for new directives in the European Council relating to renewable power. It is hard to believe but our Government submitted an amendment to the effect that we should not be thinking long term or be ambitious in setting 2050 targets and decarbonising power systems. I am sorry but when we keep doing that and shooting ourselves in the foot, we portray ourselves as old, out of date, backward and not green. It indicates we do not want to be part of a new digital modern economy and it eventually comes home to roost in the likes of the decision we are discussing. Apple understands and sees it. It knows it can build in Denmark, which wants a renewable future. Why would the company work with a Government which does not want such a future or do anything about it except paying lip service? That is one of the stories behind this Apple decision. The Government has been exposed on a problem of a lack of commitment to this transition we must make.

This is a real problem for the west of Ireland when it means this flagship project will not go ahead. My God, it says something. It comes on the back of us already saying we will not build out the grid to the west of Ireland as it is a politically difficult decision. I know it is tough but that has consequences. Sometimes we must stand up to the public and be honest. We know nobody wants to build out the grid and it is not easy but if we pull back, as we have done, there will be consequences for Galway, Mayo, Roscommon, Sligo and Donegal. Dublin is packed with data centres and we have no problem getting them because we have a grid and other infrastructure. If we do not provide the underlying infrastructure, the west will not develop and that is what happened because Fine Gael was asleep on watch. It stood back from the responsibility to provide infrastructure that would have allowed fibre cables and grid connections that allow modern industries to form.

What a loss that is and how will we turn it around? We can start with this Government looking to stand up for a green transition and being ambitious in terms of decarbonisation. That is not happening in any Department or with any Minister. Apple read that and understood it, just as the Citizens' Assembly did this weekend. They know there is no political leadership around decarbonisation. Why would Apple do its business here? It is now off to Denmark. That is the story of what happened in my mind.

Before replying to the substantive matter, I should say I do not understand the Deputy's statement that Apple has gone to Denmark. Ireland and Denmark were chosen at the same time and it just happened that planning in Denmark was approved more quickly than in Ireland. It is not a matter of Denmark being greener.

Apple will build a second data centre in Denmark.

The Deputy stated that he accepts the planning process. I recognise that the project in question would be a landmark investment for Galway and the west. The Deputy left County Clare out of his contribution but it is very important to Athenry, which is just up the road from the county. Most parts of County Clare are accessible from Athenry within 20 or 30 minutes, especially with the new motorway. It is important to us and it is why, as Minister of State with responsibility for data protection, I have taken a special interest in the project. It would have significant benefits for Athenry and the local area, as well as a real positive impact on the wider regional economy. That is why the Government remains very keen for the project to go ahead.

As we know, the Taoiseach visited the US last week and met senior management from Apple. He made it clear that the project has the full support of our Government and of the local community in Athenry. He also stressed that Ireland is a country that values and supports technological investment like that being proposed in this case. Members, including the Deputy, will recognise that this is ultimately a commercial decision for the company to make. We know such decisions can be informed by a range of different factors but we will continue to encourage Apple to proceed with the data centre project in Athenry.

More generally, the delays that have beset this project have served to underline the need to have an efficient and speedy planning process in place in this country.

It is incumbent on us to ensure that similar projects are not unreasonably delayed again in the future. The Government has already been taking steps to avoid a repeat of this situation. This may include the designation of data centres as strategic infrastructure developments for planning purposes. That would help ensure that future data centre-related planning applications can move swiftly through the planning process. Other measures to streamline the planning process may also be considered. I can talk to the Deputy about that later on.

I want to be absolutely clear that while the company has not committed to proceeding immediately, it has not abandoned the project in Galway. The company has instead said that its potential investment in Athenry remains under active consideration. Given the planning issues have now been resolved, we are certainly optimistic that the data centre will proceed in the future. I can assure the Deputy that the IDA is in active dialogue with the company from their two offices in northern and southern California. It is talking to Apple on a weekly basis. I spoke with the chief of the IDA, Mr. Martin Shanahan, this evening about the issue and he assured me that no stone is being left unturned to ensure that projects like this come to Ireland. There is a future for data in this country. I am travelling to California myself in the new year and I hope to assure Apple of Ireland's importance as a centre for data centres.

Data centres remain an important aspect of Ireland's foreign direct investment offering. The strengths we have to offer for this type of project include our climate, which the Deputy referred to, our energy supply, our business environment and our educated workforce. These are well known and are committed for other investors as well. We are a digital leader in northern Europe. Many leading companies have announced significant data centre investments here, and the IDA continues to work day-in and day-out to secure further such projects for the country. The year 2016 was a record year for FDI in Ireland, both in terms of the number of jobs created and investments won. We are on track for more strong results for 2017 and this shows we are continuing to attract capital-rich foreign direct investment projects to Ireland and we will continue to do so. Data centres are extremely important for us, and will continue to be important.

One of the reasons we seem to have lost this project - I hope we have not lost it but all the signs suggest we have - is that a 100% renewable power supply was required. The Minister of State cannot say that we are good in terms of meeting a zero-carbon energy demand. We are just not doing it. Denmark is doing it and that is why it is winning investment for data centres. Perhaps on the first plant it could be said that the countries were in a race and Ireland lost out because of planning. However, Denmark also got the second plant, worth €950 million, ahead of Ireland.

I believe that one of the reasons for that is that Denmark can guarantee a 100% renewable power supply because it is committed to that idea. The Government here is not. Denmark is using animal waste in really sophisticated ways. For example, it uses methane to power the plant. Heat from the plant is used for district heating. There is clever balancing of energy systems. None of that is happening in this country. It is not because Ireland cannot do it or because the technology is not transferable, but because there is zero political leadership here in terms of renewable energy. The digital revolution and clean energy revolution go together. Fine Gael did not believe that. The public administration system here does not believe it. Irish representatives are in Brussels this week fighting against ambitious renewables targets. That is the reality of what Ireland is doing. We cannot then expect Apple, which is not stupid and which can read the same files that I can read, not to believe that Ireland is a regressive country in its arguments with the European Union. That has a consequence in terms of investment decisions like this, involving 100% renewable energy systems. It is one of the reasons that investment is not happening here. Apple can read what the Citizen's Assembly read this week, that Ireland does not do 100% renewable power.

The Deputy is completely missing the point. When Apple proposed this project it was quite clear to it that there was ample energy for its needs in the area. That is why it went ahead with the process. The problem is the planning process here and the Deputy failed to mention that. In fact, the Deputy acknowledged the planning process at the start of his question. We want to provide certainty in the future for new data centres in Ireland. I attended a number of data centre conferences in recent times and the interest here is phenomenal. Ireland is becoming an attractive location for data centres. I have outlined the reasons why this is the case - our climate, our education and our environment. We are also a digital leader in Europe. We can compete with any other country in northern Europe for these centres. Data is extremely important to digital. It is the gold of the future.

The delays were caused by planning. The planning process is cumbersome and lengthy and involves court processes. The Government wants to change that. That is why the Taoiseach has proposed fast-tracking these projects, because there is a lot of interest in them. Balanced regional development is very important to us. The Deputy himself said that Dublin is full of data centres. We want to attract data centres to different parts of the country, not just to the greater Dublin area. We are speeding up the process to ensure that we have strategic infrastructure for the country in the future. Data centres are the oil of the future. Currently there is a two step planning process, involving the local authority and An Bord Pleanála. We want to investigate the possibility of having a one step process and have more pre-planning consultancy. That would be important and would get that message across to other data centres out there.

It is important to repeat that Apple has not abandoned this project. It is part of its future and people such as the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Cannon, are very much part of this as well and are supportive of this project. I support this project; I am from County Clare, just over the border from Galway. The Deputy is missing the point. The problem here is the planning process; it has nothing to do with renewable energy.

(Interruptions).

Both Deputies have had their time.

Housing Provision

The House may not be aware, but council housing waiting lists have increased by 9% in the last 12 months. What this means in real terms is that the housing waiting lists for local authority housing has increased from 91,600 households in September 2016 to 99,555 in September 2017 in this State. In my county of Cork, Cork County Council local authority area waiting lists have increased from 4,241 in September 2016 to 6,948 a year later. This is an increase of 63%. In figures, 2,707 households are now on the waiting list. Something is not right here. It is quite simple; the Government is not building or buying a sufficient number of social and affordable housing units to meet the ever increasing demand. What is even more troubling is the very fact that in the same period there has been an increase of 18,671 households signing up for the housing assistance payment, HAP. When a household goes into HAP it is removed from its respective council list. HAP has increased by 18,671. The House could surmise that as a reaction to this scenario the council housing waiting list would come down, but unfortunately the opposite is happening.

Does the Minister of State know the kind of stress this puts on families and individuals and how many are suffering at the moment? It has to be soul destroying for parents, or a parent, to turn to a child or their children and say, "No love, it is not going to happen tonight, but maybe tomorrow". This is the reality for so many people, including families living in hotels and in temporary accommodation. Do we know what it feels like for a child in school when their classmates find out that they do not live in a house? Do we know what it is like for a child when he or she cannot invite friends around to play because they do not have a garden? The whole family unit can be torn apart because it does not have a place to call home. Home is the vital word here.

I am delighted to talk to the Minister of State tonight, but I am appealing to him please to review the social housing targets for 2018 and beyond and to secure additional funds to increase the targets and to meet the ever-growing demand for affordable and social housing.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue which concerns thousands of citizens not just in Cork, but throughout the country. The latest official figures available relating to local authority housing lists are those which were prepared on foot of the statutory summary of social housing assessments, SSHA, carried out in September 2016 by the Housing Agency. This identified 91,600 households nationally assessed by local housing authorities as being eligible and in need of some form of social housing support. Within this number, there were 4,241 households on Cork County Council’s waiting list, which represented an 11.7% decrease on the figures from the previous SSHA carried out in 2013.

The 2016 SSHA figures are the most up-to-date official figures available on waiting list numbers. They provide the most accurate and reliable record of the number of households qualified for social housing support under the social housing assessment regulations 2011 and whose housing need is not being met in any way. The data were compiled following a common methodology across 31 local authorities and a subsequent rigorous analysis of the data collected. The current national figure of 91,600 represents the "net need" position as at 21 September 2016 and was calculated having excluded duplicate applications, households appearing on multiple lists in different authorities, households already in receipt of a form of social housing support such as the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, or the housing assistance payment, HAP, and households which have applied for transfers.

Other higher figures that have been reported in the media recently are simply not wholly accurate or reliable. For example, I note that data obtained by Deputy Ó Broin last week reported 6,948 households on the Cork County Council list. If true, this would represent a 64% increase on the 2016 SSHA data. However, these figures were not of "net" need, that is, they did not exclude the categories I mentioned earlier, namely, duplicates, persons in receipt of HAP or on transfer lists and so forth. They were essentially a snapshot of "gross" housing need at a point in time, September 2017. Clearly, these figures cannot be relied upon as they have methodological weaknesses.

The Department's summary process, which involves all local authorities working together with the Local Government Management Agency, LGMA, to a common set of rules, delivers the most accurate and up-to-date count of those households most in need of social housing support across the country. I am emphasising this point not out of some misguided defensiveness but because it is absolutely vital that the unprecedented level of Government investment in social housing delivery over the lifetime of the Rebuilding Ireland action plan is targeted in the most efficient and effective way possible. We must have data on which we can rely. The right type of social homes must be delivered in the right places to the right people as quickly as possible. It is essential, therefore, that we work off the right data to set our social housing targets over the coming years and that we adjust them as required and as circumstances change. It is for this reason that this Government has moved to producing the SSHA on an annual basis.

We need the space and time to focus on housing delivery, which must be the absolute priority over the coming few years. Time spent arguing over spurious sets of raw figures put into the public domain is time wasted. It helps nobody. Currently, the Department is finalising the results of the 2017 housing assessment summary. I expect that the data will be ready for publication within the next few weeks at the latest. This will allow the Department, in partnership with the local authorities, to plan strategically the delivery of the bulk of the €6 billion Rebuilding Ireland investment programme over the period 2018 to 2021. The early indications are that, broadly speaking, the number of households qualified for and in need of social housing support is down nationally. This shows that we are slowly moving in the right direction. Rebuilding Ireland is working. I agree that it is not as quickly and as widespread as we all would like, but the progress is positive nonetheless. In addition, the trends are also positive and moving in the right direction.

The provisional data are showing, however, that a small number of authorities have shown an increase in waiting list numbers. One of these is Cork County Council, which is likely to see a moderate increase on last year. This is something which all involved are working hard to correct in a strategic and targeted way, through the full implementation of Rebuilding Ireland.

I thank the Minister of State for his frankness. We can argue about percentages but we will not fall out over that. The Minister of State referred to households appearing on multiple lists in different authorities. I am a little confused by that because it is extremely difficult to move from the county housing list to the city housing list in Cork. I assume there is airbrushing of figures there. We want to ignore it at present.

The Minister of State also said that the early indications are that the number of households qualified for and in need of social housing support is down nationally. Again, I must disagree with that. It is probably the bane of all Deputies and county councillors that 90% of the issues raised in our constituency offices relate to housing, so we know there is a national emergency. In its alternative budget Sinn Féin proposed an additional spend of €702 million to the Government's original spend. The proposal has been costed and I appeal to the Minister of State to examine it so we can make a difference.

Finally, on a nicer note, I take this opportunity to congratulate the housing departments in the local authorities and, in particular, in Cork County Council and Cork City Council for their excellent work to date. I also congratulate my local county councillors, Danielle Twomey and Melissa Mullane, on their tireless work. It is unfortunate that the task has been made very difficult because the Government has not been providing enough money locally. Local knowledge is vital and when local authorities were building houses, the system worked better. I recall that around three years ago an individual in the housing department said to me, "You know, if this situation keeps going the way it is we will probably have a better chance of emptying the Red Sea with a bucket with no ass in it." That would be tough to do.

We agree that we face unprecedented challenges regarding the supply of social housing. That has been the issue. Governments of different parties before the recession decided to withdraw local authorities from delivering housing and we are trying to put that capacity back into the system. We are asking local authorities, councillors such as those mentioned by the Deputy and the staff who are involved in this to get back into house building directly, as well as into greater provision of housing. They are taking on that challenge. That has meant increasing budgets and staff and we are doing that. It has taken the last 12 to 18 months to build capacity into the system but the Deputy will see far more delivery coming on stream in direct build, acquisition and voids being brought back into the system. It is important to do that.

The Deputy is correct to thank local authority members and their staff, but I ask them to do even more and to approach this in an urgent way. We are making the money available and there will be increased resources next year as well. The total national funding provision is €1.9 billion for housing next year, an increase of over 46% on 2017. It will allow us to meet the social housing needs of 25,500 households. A large element of that is for the delivery of almost 5,900 social houses - 5,000 through a range of construction and 900 through acquisition programmes. We will need local authorities to be able to fast-track more and to increase the pipeline of projects. That will require the co-operation of local authorities members to use all the powers they have, but that must happen.

I read Sinn Féin's alternative budget as well as its submission to the review of Rebuilding Ireland and its constant discussion of the magic figure of 50,000. We are on the same page with regard to the number of houses we wish to deliver. However, the Government recognises that it takes time to get the supply ramped up. I believe Sinn Féin understands that now as well. We must push it forward as quickly as we can, so I agree with the Deputy.

Unfortunately, County Cork appears to have experienced a moderate increase in its waiting list. However, we are confident that this position will change. Indeed, the level of investment in the county at present should see that change take place quite quickly. We will allocate increased resources if needed. I will give the Deputy the current figures. The construction projects planned at present will deliver approximately 262 units over the next two years with an approximate cost of €60 million. In addition, turnkey projects should deliver 350 social houses at a cost of €75 million. There are also significant acquisitions being funding by the Department through the local county council, along with an increase in HAP and voids. We wish to see more in the pipeline, as that will not be enough to solve Cork's problems. We are asking all local authorities to increase the pipeline of projects over the years ahead. The resources are available. Taxpayers' money has been allocated to this, so we must make it happen as quickly as possible.