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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 17 Jan 2018

Vol. 963 No. 6

Topical Issue Debate

Psychological Services

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Jim Daly, for taking this issue. I assumed I would be speaking to Minister of State Deputy Finian McGrath, about this because I have spoken to him about it previously.

It is with deep concern that, once again, I must raise with the Minister of State the fact that there is no psychologist providing services for children with disabilities, including autism, aged between six and 18 years in the Waterford area. In Waterford Community Services, there are 1.6 whole-time equivalent staff providing early intervention psychological services. An additional senior psychologist commenced towards the end of last August, which is very welcome. This brought the figure up to 2.8 whole-time equivalent posts, but this increase has still not resulted in the targeting of the children between six and 18.

I have had several meetings with parents, Oireachtas Members and the staff of the HSE over the past two years. The HSE staff in Waterford have made the decision to aim all the psychological resources at those between birth and six. As we all know, early intervention is key and the most headway is made at an early age. I, for one, am not criticising what the staff do. They are the experienced psychologists but I have just outlined the facts of the matter. This is an extremely difficult decision for any team to make. Although the section is understaffed, however, the service provided is excellent once a child can gain access to it. I genuinely thank the team involved. It does fantastic work with limited resources.

When a child in Waterford reaches his or her sixth birthday, the service of a psychologist stops. It is non-existent. All the good work in the previous years lies dormant, with no follow-up of any substance. The children aged six are placed on a waiting list and the average waiting period is three years. This means the service simply ceases for a child in need of support who has just taken the first steps in formal education and who is learning how to cope in a classroom environment and learning new coping, socialising and behavioural skills, or for the parents of that child.

Mothers have sat in front of me and cried when their children turned six, knowing the excellent support their children received previously and the improvements made through early intervention would just stop. A mother told me yesterday that her son, who was recommended for emergency intervention 18 months ago, is still waiting. He is aged 11. Parents are trying to fumble their way through meeting their children's needs and demands. They are doing their best, hoping they are proceeding correctly, and they have no guidance or input from the professionals when their child reaches the age of six.

Just before the summer recess, Deputy Cullinane and I brought two parents from Waterford here to meet the Minister and HSE representatives. They said they would consider the issue, but unfortunately parents have informed me nothing has changed in regard to those aged between six and 18. How can the Minister, the Department of Health and the HSE stand over a system in which a group of children with disabilities, in their formative years and who are crying out for help are unable to gain access to services when they reach the age of six? This has been permitted to go on for too long. It results in isolation and a sense of betrayal among parents in addition to a sense that their children are not regarded as worthy of services. The Government, including the Minister of State, does not want to be responsible for this. Fundamentally, it wants to ensure that all children in need of services are treated equally. Unfortunately, because the children in question live in Waterford, this is not the case.

The reason I draw attention to this matter today is based on an answer I received to a parliamentary question as late as last September. The line in the response that is so damning states there is no psychologist providing services for children with disabilities, including autism, aged between six and 18 years and living in the Waterford area. That is the fact of the matter.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. I am pleased to outline the position on psychological services for children with disabilities, including autism, in Waterford. Waterford disability services provide a range of multidisciplinary supports and services for children with disability, including early intervention for those between birth and six, and school-age services for those between six and 18. There have been significant year-on-year increases in the number of children applying for assessment, including for autism spectrum disorder, and for disability services generally, which has led to delays in timeframes.

With reference to psychology posts, there are 3.8 whole-time equivalent psychologists providing services within Waterford early intervention services to children up to six years of age. There is currently no psychologist providing dedicated services for children with disabilities, including autism, aged between six and 18 in the Waterford area. This is due to a combination of factors, including increased referral rates and demand for services, which outweigh current capacity, more complex cases presenting, and a reduction in trained paediatric staff available to address the waiting lists. There is also a national shortage of psychologists. However, every effort is being made in the area to examine the available resources across children's disability services as a whole and find a solution for the provision of this service to children of school age. There is also some limited psychology service provision as part of a pilot project in Waterford city for those between six and 18 years.

The HSE regrets the difficulties in accessing psychology services. It is seeking to reduce the waiting times and address issues arising for all children and their families through a number of measures, including outsourcing some services for children with ASD to reduce waiting times.

I thank the Minister of State for his answer. I acknowledge he has to read out what has been given to him but unfortunately it states once again that the service is not available for children aged between six and 18. We are going to have to find a solution, and I believe we can. I welcome the pilot programme, although it is phased. It is a small step in the right direction that will deal initially with some children in Waterford city. We need this programme rolled out across the whole city and county, however. I definitely regard it as a step in the right direction.

An issue arose over the posts. There were originally 1.6, which increased to 2.8. There are now 3.8 but the additional post is only temporary for 12 months. Savings found in a different department were allocated to increase the number to 3.8, but the post is not permanent. The fundamental point is that we need whole-term equivalent senior psychologists. We need to be guaranteed at least six of them. I acknowledge it is all down to budgets but, ultimately, when the HSE states there is no psychologist available to a child aged between six and 18 in Waterford, just because of where he or she is living, it is very damning.

I do not wish to play one county against another but I refer to Kilkenny because it has a similar population base. Kilkenny actually has six posts. We have 2.8 permanent posts and the same population. We need to find a solution and find one fast. The only way we will find one is by having permanent posts because, unfortunately, it is very hard for any qualified psychologist to uproot himself or herself and his or her family and move to Waterford if the post there is not guaranteed and is only temporary for 12 months. I welcome the small steps regarding the pilot programme but I believe the only way forward is to get some kind of guarantee that we will have whole-term equivalent senior psychologists.

The Deputy makes very fair and valid points and has always been very reasonable and particularly constructive in her approach. In addition, her constructive approach has been very consistent. She has been consistent on this matter, and it deserves more attention.

As it happened, I had a number of meetings on more global issues this morning. They covered the provision of services to young people, in particular, and trying to deal with the child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, waiting list. These matters are all connected. There is a shortage of psychologists. This is difficult for me and the Department, and much more difficult for those waiting to gain access to services. To address this, we must examine how we do what we do and start doing it in a different way.

As the Deputy will be well aware, a consultant psychiatrist heads each CAMHS team but the reality is that we cannot have a consultant psychiatrist filling every gap that exists. There are similar difficulties at psychologist level. We are currently trying to recruit assistant psychologists. Assistant psychologist is a lower grade. "Grade" might be the wrong word but I refer to a lower level of intervention. We are trying to recruit 114 assistant psychologists, which is proving challenging. In the next year, I hope to roll out a system whereby we would operate a scheme such as CAMHS but with lower level intervention services for children across the country, thereby trying to fill in the gaps with assistant psychologists.

This morning, I said to my officials in the Department that I would like to see tele-psych services in operation. It has enormous potential in the area of mental health. It does not with physical health. There would not be a need for a consultant psychiatrist to travel 100 km from one post to another if the patient could avail of tele-psych services in a primary care centre through digital technology. The technology is so advanced nowadays that the experience would be the exact same as sitting in a room with the psychiatrist.

There are new ways at which my team and I are looking to address these issues. I will continue my drive and focus in that regard. I will also continue to keep a close eye on the service in Waterford and liaise with the Deputy on it. I appreciate that by raising it here she has provided me with an opportunity to focus on the particular matter to see if we can address the significant issues involved, particularly the disparity between the numbers employed in Kilkenny and Waterford. I will also take up the Deputy's point about whole-time equivalents with the HSE.

I thank the Minister of State for his reply.

Public Transport Initiatives

There has been a great deal of talk in recent years, particularly in the past 12 months, about the need for balanced regional development. One of the core areas in the better balancing of population will be Cork, particularly the Cork metropolitan area. I have tabled parliamentary questions before on this matter to the Minister, but I felt it was important to tease out the details with him in the Chamber.

The population growth targeted by Cork City Council and Cork County Council is substantial. A target of 850,000 for the county has been set, with a population of 500,000 in the metropolitan area by 2050. Significant road projects are planned for Cork such as the M28, the Dunkettle interchange upgrade and other similar important projects which need to be delivered. Even when these projects are delivered, however, with such a level of growth in population predicted, if we continue to rely to the extent we do on the car as the main mode of transport in and around Cork city, the roads mentioned will be full again in ten years.

What is needed is a real vision for Cork. No one in Cork expects immediate delivery of light rail or bus rapid transport schemes. What is clear, however, is that such projects take a substantial amount of time to deliver. We propose that the process begin now. The Minister and the Department should express clearly that they are, in principle, in favour of the development of light rail and bus rapid transit schemes in Cork in the interim. The process of planning these projects can then begin. While clearly they would be complex and expensive, they are absolutely essential as the population of the city and surrounding areas will increase enormously in the coming period. The road from Ballincollig to Carrigtwohill, along which the city is developing, is 30 km long. It requires servicing, but to ensure we intensify development within the area, there is a need for quality public transport. To unlock the potential of the enormous docklands area in the middle of the city, it needs to be linked. We do not need thousands of additional cars coming into the city centre from the docklands. We need to have as many of those people as possible coming in by public transport.

This development needs to be phased. In the interim, I am in favour of the Minister looking at schemes such as a bus rapid transit system. Cork City Council has examined such models in Eindhoven in the Netherlands. In the longer run that is where we need to get to. Cork City Council included such proposals in its submission to the national planning framework process. Cork Chamber of Commerce has also emphasised the issue. Its chief executive, Mr. Conor Healy, recently stated:

What we need to ensure now is that we are planning, that there is early investment going in and that the Government is recognising the need for investment in transport infrastructure in Cork outside of the traditional modes. With the scale of Cork's growth and development, it needs a new form of public transport over the next number of years to ensure we are building properly for the future.

It is that recognition of the need identified that is required at this stage. The initial setting of plans and their development can then occur. I am anxious to hear the Minister's response. This is not just a need in Cork, as Green Party and Labour Party Deputies have also identified similar needs in other cities as part of investing in the shift nationally from the car to greater use of public transport.

I thank the Deputy for giving me the opportunity to address this important issue in the House. I certainly do not give the impression that Dublin is the only place in which there is a chronic traffic problem and public transport need. That is not the case. I acknowledge and recognise the needs of Cork which should be addressed. They need to be and will be addressed, funds permitting. My top priority in the next few years is to increase rapidly investment in public transport in Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford, Galway and other areas, while also increasing public transport services. Budget 2018 provided for an increase in the multi-annual capital investment in public transport, with a four-year capital envelope of €2.7 billion to 2021. It will enable us to enhance the capacity and quality of the public transport network across the cities to ensure that, as far as possible and practical, increased transport demand will be met by greener public transport.

The need for investment in public transport infrastructure and services in Cork city and the manner in which they will be provided in the coming years is being examined as part of a transport strategy being prepared for the Cork metropolitan area. The transport strategy will address all transport modes and its objective will be to provide a long-term strategic planning framework for the integrated development of transport infrastructure and services in the Cork metropolitan area in the next two decades or so. It will be used to inform transport investment levels and investment prioritisation in both the longer and shorter terms. It will be able to inform sustainable integrated land use and transport policy formulation at the strategic CMA level and the local level. The strategy which commenced in mid-2017 is being prepared for the National Transport Authority, in conjunction with Cork City Council and Cork County Council and Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII. It is expected that a draft transport strategy will be published for public consultation by the end of February. It will include a range of proposed transport interventions across all modes of transport, with complementary measures, including transport demand management, intelligent transport systems and park and ride facilities. The strategy will be finalised in the light of the feedback received.

It is important to note that between 2014 and 2017 over €20 million was allocated to Cork City Council and Cork County Council under the regional cities programme which is managed on behalf of my Department by the NTA. Further funding of €130 million was provided in budget 2018 for the next four years for a sustainable urban transport programme, also to be managed by the NTA, which will build on investment to date to deliver improvements in public and sustainable transport infrastructure in the greater Dublin area and the regional cities of Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford. It includes traffic management, bus priority and other smarter travel projects. It will provide additional sustainable travel options to complement increased capacity and faster higher quality public transport services in the main cities. Funding is also provided for the NTA for accessibility programmes to improve access to public transport in the regional cities. In the case of the Cork City Council area, the investment has been focused on the implementation of the city centre movement strategy and several radially based strategic transport corridors, linking the city centre with the city's suburbs and county environs. In the case of the Cork metropolitan area, the sustainable urban transport programme will continue to be focused on the Douglas area, based on the recommendations of the Douglas land use and transportation study, DLUTS. The principal objectives of the study are to reduce congestion, improve local connectivity by sustainable transport modes and the performance of the many bus services operating through the area, complementing the transport investment made in the city centre and strategic corridors.

I take some positives from the Minister's response. The transport strategy is welcome and I look forward to examining it when it is published. I hope it will show the ambition required. I am aware of some of the items which have been funded, including the city centre movement strategy and the DLUTS. There are many good points in them, but most of them have to do with managing traffic. While that is welcome and will help to reduce congestion, I do not believe that, in and of itself, it will be central to ensuring a shift from the car.

A great deal of ambition has been shown by Cork City Council, Cork County Council and Cork Chamber of Commerce in planning for Cork as a significant European city and a sizable balance to Dublin. Those targets will not be reached by accident but through investment. It will ultimately require a serious, substantial effort in areas such as infrastructure, particularly in public transport, so that the density of the population in and around city centre areas in particular and through the area as a whole is intensified. This is crucial to ensure that we get that increase in population. The Minister has given the current Department position and the official answers. Much of that is welcome and positive but, while I am not expecting budgetary commitments or anything like that, I want to hear if the Minister agrees in principle that an investment of this kind for the delivery, in the medium term, of a light rail and bus rapid transit system in Cork is essential and that the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport is likely to support something like that in the medium to long term.

I would like to answer the Deputy's question as directly as possible. It is desirable. The Deputy is looking for public transport solutions in Cork city which will include light rail and bus rapid transit. I will say unequivocally that they are not ruled out. I do not want to make commitments. The Deputy knows it is foolish to make commitments under the financial constraints with which we work. The National Transport Authority, NTA, has taken the lead in looking at this and the transport strategy. These solutions are certainly not ruled out and I would agree with the Deputy that such systems are desirable. He will be aware that the NTA has made it clear, as have I, that while BusConnects is starting in Dublin, the intention if it is successful is to expand it to other cities, which should include Cork. I would address exactly the same principles and have the same enthusiasm for any project which is successful or necessary in Dublin or in Cork, and such projects should be promoted. It is an indication of our goodwill for this that we and communities are putting so much money into BusConnects in Dublin with the intention of expanding it to other cities as soon as possible.

Road Safety

I want to raise the issue of the urgent investment needed in the N11 in north Wicklow to alleviate serious and growing congestion, both in the morning and evening commutes. About a year ago, the N11 became a car park at about 7.30 a.m. It is now a car park near Kilmacanogue and some of the Bray junctions by about 6.45 a.m. It is a problem that is rapidly getting worse and thousands upon thousands of men and women, in the morning and in the evening, are stuck in this gridlock and are desperately looking for targeted investment in the N11 to alleviate the congestion. I have written to the Minister about this many times and I have requested several meetings with him, all of which have been refused, which is why I have had to bring it to the floor of the House. However, I have been working closely with some State agencies. In April last year, following requests, Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, completed a needs assessment of the route around north Wicklow and it concluded that there was a serious congestion problem. It helpfully identified targeted investment that was required. Some of it related to upgrading junctions and some related to a third lane being provided between junction 6, which is the central Bray exit, and junction 8. The report states: "Any further delay in investment in this section of the M11/N11 will lead to further increases in congestion along the corridor and indeed within the wider area; and will further constrain growth in the north and east of Wicklow and the Dún Laoghaire Rathdown area, as a result of reduced competitiveness and productivity."

In December, TII informed me that it is proceeding with procuring professional services to start putting documentation together for the design of the pieces of road it has identified to alleviate congestion. It also confirmed to me that no funding has been made available from the Department to proceed with the work. We have a major road network, the N11, the main artery for commuters from Wicklow to and from Dublin. We have a capacity study from the State which confirms that there is a serious and growing issue; a study from the State which identifies solutions to that issue; and a report from the State confirming that failure to invest will not only make it worse but will further harm economic development in the area, but unfortunately we have no funding. I raise the issue in light of a recent An Bord Pleanála ruling on a development for the old Fassaroe area for 3,000 houses, an active open space, hopefully a sports campus and community hub and many local jobs. An Bord Pleanála gave three reasons for refusing it. Two would be easily dealt with by any future development plan but the third, which can only be dealt with by this Government and the Minister, is that with the congestion, the capacity on the N11 simply does not exist to allow this to happen. In the middle of a housing crisis, we have a development ready to go which would provide approximately 3,000 houses, local jobs and a sports campus, but lack of investment in the N11 is probably the single biggest impediment to that. Given all that, does the Minister accept TII's findings that the congestion is serious and getting worse and that failure to invest is damaging Wicklow and will continue to damage Wicklow and parts of south Dublin? Does he accept that failure to invest is stopping the development of 3,000 new houses in Fassaroe and everything that goes with that? Will he commit to seeking further investment for the project to alleviate congestion on the N11? Will he commit to seeking the funding required for this upgrade in the forthcoming capital investment plan?

I thank the Deputy for raising the matter of this road, which I suspect I am as familiar with as he is, and particularly the difficulty which he is encountering in representing it. I feel that what he is saying represents me as much as anybody else and maybe with more eloquence than I have done so far when I have made representations about this myself. As Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, I have responsibility for overall policy and funding for the national roads programme. The planning, design and implementation of individual national road projects is a matter for TII under the Roads Acts 1993 to 2015 in conjunction with the local authorities concerned. Within its capital budget, the assessment and prioritisation of individual projects is a matter in the first instance for TII in accordance with section 19 of the Roads Act.

The National Transport Authority has statutory responsibility for the implementation and development of public transport infrastructure in the greater Dublin area, including Wicklow. The NTA's transport strategy for the greater Dublin area for 2016 to 2035 provides a framework for the planning and delivery of transport infrastructure and services in the greater Dublin area over the next two decades, including development of improved public transport links for County Wicklow. Ireland has just under 100,000 km of road in its network and the maintenance and improvement of national, regional and local roads places a substantial burden on local authorities and on the Exchequer. There were very large reductions in Exchequer funding available for roads expenditure after the financial crisis because of the national financial position. For this reason, the focus has had to be on maintenance and renewal rather than major new improvements in recent years and I envisage that this emphasis on maintaining the assets we have will continue into the next capital plan period.

The Capital Plan - Building on Recovery for 2016-2021 and the capital plan review allocations mark a significant step forward to restoring funding to the levels needed to maintain the road network in a steady state condition and allow for some investment in road improvement schemes. The allocations and planned projects for the first years of the proposed ten-year capital investment plan will align with the existing capital plan as supplemented as part of the capital plan review.

As regards the M11-N11, as the Deputy said, a strategic study of this road corridor from its junction with the M50 to junction 14 at Cullenmore was undertaken by TII, working closely with Wicklow County Council, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and the NTA. This study provides an overview of the measures to enhance capacity on this section of road which could be implemented on a phased basis.

The additional funding being provided following the capital plan review will facilitate the start of work related to the findings of the corridor study. In this context, I understand that it is the intention of TII to add this scheme to the pipeline of schemes at planning stage. In this regard, I can confirm that TII is appointing consultants to start work on the scheme appraisal and business case as required in the public spending code and the Department's capital appraisal framework. In conjunction with this, a safety scheme to provide a parallel service road to the southbound lane in Kilmacanogue is being developed and it is hoped that this project will proceed to construction, subject to planning approval, in late 2018. I hope the Deputy will regard those two measures as progress.

As regards the timing for the implementation of measures identified in the M11-N11 corridor study, following ten years of retrenchment there are many potential projects across the country in respect of national, regional and local roads. The scope for progressing new road improvement projects will depend on the capital funding allocated to my Department under the proposed ten-year capital investment plan. Given the many competing demands, the appraisal and prioritisation of projects in line with the requirements of the public spending code and my Department's capital appraisal framework will be key to assessing which suitable major and minor national road projects can be advanced and the timeframe for implementation. I will certainly keep in mind the Deputy's representations and, indeed, my own self-interest when I am making those considerations. That last remark is frivolous just in case it is taken up the wrong way.

I thank the Minister for his response, which he made in good faith. Most of the answer is Civil Service boilerplate text. It essentially says that future investments will be considered in line with the future investment strategy at some point in the future. I acknowledge that minor work is being done to the southbound route at Kilmacanogue, which is useful. However, much of the early morning congestion occurs around the village in the northbound route. There is nothing in the reply that says there will be relief of the existing congestion. It will get worse. I appreciate there are demands for capital investment in roads all over the country but the N11 is an extreme case. Anecdotally, every morning, given every road that could be reported on in the country by AA Roadwatch, early congestion on the N11 features. Most roads are not car parks by 6.45 a.m. On top of that, there is a lack of public transport. There is over-capacity on Irish Rail heading north in the morning. The chief executive officer of the company told me that this will worsen over the coming years because no new rolling stock will be available. Most of County Wicklow is not well served by buses and, therefore, the only available option for many workers from the county is to use the N11. Will the Minister request from his Department or the relevant State agency a comparative analysis to identify where the congestion is worst in the list of competing demands, which I accept? Which roads are the first to become congested in the morning? If the N11 is on the list, I ask that priority be given this year to the design and implementation of the works identified by TII for the road. North Wicklow has been identified as a high-growth area. The development in Fassaroe will provide 3,000 houses in the middle of a housing crisis. The biggest impediment to that is lack of investment in the N11. Will the Minister factor that in? Perhaps he will write back to me or we can meet to see if that can help expedite investment to alleviate the ongoing congestion.

I may disappoint the Deputy in some ways. I take his point about Fassaroe and the 3,000 houses, which is important. He will, however, have to understand that the competing demands are overwhelming sometimes and it is difficult. I cannot just come to the House and say, "Yes, you are going jump the queue". This morning, I met a delegation from Meath, which raised similar problems. This is a countrywide issue and does not only affect Dublin. I understand the case the Deputy has made. The TII has acknowledged the problems he has identified in its report and it has addressed them but the problem is funding and priority. It is something that we will undoubtedly address in the future. The order in which projects is decided will be subject to the appraisal required under the public spending code. My Department examines the cost and urgency of projects on a regular basis and it will decide in co-operation with the NTA, stakeholders and me which are the priorities. I take the points the Deputy has made. Five phases are planned for the N11-M11. The first phase is being addressed and if he wishes, I will meet him and discuss that with him. I apologise if I have not replied to requests for meetings with him. Of course, I will meet him. That must be some hitch in the system. I am happy to do that and I hope he will acknowledge that we will regard this as a problem which is a matter of urgency but along with many other problems which are matters of similar urgency on our roads.

Housing Provision

Since I was first elected to the House in 2011, I have been warning the Government that the failure to build council housing and the policy of selling off land and assets by NAMA, which could have been used for public and affordable housing, would generate a disastrous housing crisis. For the first few years, the Government completely dismissed that warning. Now that we have a housing crisis, which has become an emergency, the Government has finally acknowledged it but if the announcement yesterday in the newspapers is anything to go by, far from the learning the lessons of its failed policies which have produced this crisis, the Government continues to persist with its addiction to privatisation and a dependence on private developers to provide the social and affordable housing we need when they patently will not do that because they are driven by profit. We have been calling for a new State agency that will deliver housing for six years. We said specifically that NAMA's assets and resources should be used to deliver social and affordable housing. Yesterday, the Taoiseach said that could be tricky because of state aid rules. Let us be clear for the public what they are. They are ideological, market driven rules of the EU which say the State cannot distort the market by building public housing or public infrastructure without private sector involvement. The Taoiseach says we cannot do that but we can have an agency, which will, according to the reports, assemble the hundreds of sites that are currently owned by the public and for the purpose of delivering housing, these land banks will then be sold to private developers to construct private social and affordable homes as well are as for commercial use. What on earth is the Government doing setting up a new public private partnership handing over public land which should be used now to provide public and affordable housing?

I heard the Taoiseach say we do not just need council houses, we need affordable housing. I agree, but where is the evidence that private developers or the private sector are going to deliver either of those things? Private developers are in it for profit. Average house prices in south Dublin are now €560,000. What on earth makes the Government think private developers are going to make those prices affordable?

With regard to the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, funding the Government promised would deliver some affordable housing, we discover in the case of Cherrywood that it may deliver as little as 2% of the overall development as affordable, and even that will not be affordable because it will be in the region of €300,000. What on earth is the Government doing? It is planning to hand over 800 public sites to this new agency which, if it has to comply with state aid rules, will be majority privately owned by private developers in public private partnerships. We look at what happened with Carillion during the week, where public private partnerships collapsed, resulting in schools in this country and across Britain being put in serious trouble because they were dependent on the private sector.

I would like clarity on this plan. I put it to the Minister of State that this is not the way forward. What we need is public housing built on public land by a public construction company and local authorities.

thank the Deputy for raising this issue as it is very pertinent to the sustainable development of land in the coming years and ensuring we have the right structures and systems to deliver on our vision and ambition. The Deputy refers to an article in today's newspaper but it actually refers to a part of our national planning framework document which has been circulating here for the last year. I raised this issue recently at the Committee on Rural and Community Development because it is one we have flagged in Ireland 2040 as a mechanism to manage land. That is what we are discussing here and it is what I will focus on.

The forthcoming national planning framework, Ireland 2040 Our Plan, estimates that by 2040 our country will grow in population by 1 million people, who will need at least 500,000 new homes, half of which are likely to be in key cities. It is vital, therefore, that we implement planning policies that achieve compact, smart growth in both our urban and rural areas. Drawing on the positive experience and delivery achieved under the local infrastructure housing activation fund, LIHAF, which incentivised Departments and agencies, in collaboration with local authorities, to pool resources in delivering a major enhancement of supply of serviced lands for housing, I expect that the new national development plan being prepared by the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, on behalf of the Government will deliver a number of initiatives to support sustainable growth in Ireland's five cities and other large urban centres as well as in our small towns and villages. This will involve using existing land sites, particularly infill sites in built-up areas, which is a key element in preventing sprawl which is unsustainable and represents a backward step in proper planning. Central to this will be a new approach to the delivery and location of the homes that society will need over the next decade and beyond. We need an integrated approach to housing development and management of the land needed for housing, including publicly owned or local authority housing. We also need mechanisms put in place to ensure a plan-led and delivery-focused approach to securing compact smart growth in line with the national planning framework principles and priorities.

The Government also recognises that to ensure that plans get implemented and that housing is built in a more affordable way, both by the State and by wider housing providers, as well as being more affordable to buy and rent for our citizens and households, the State must take a stronger role and lead in managing its own lands for strategic Government policy purposes. Again, we discussed at the Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government and at the Committee on Rural and Community Development the need for local authorities to be in a position of strength to manage land and to be able to dictate what happens on that land. We must not just zone it and walk away, but actually make it happen in places where we want it to happen.

Recognising this public policy need and the need for cross-Government work, the Government is considering the establishment of a new public development and renewal agency under the national planning framework that will work with local authorities and that will have the power and capacity either to use public lands or buy other lands in the right locations for future public and private housing provision that will be affordable for housing providers to develop and for people to buy or rent. It is not about selling off State land. It is about combining landbanks in order that housing is built in a sustainable way and in the right place according to the timelines we want and at an affordable price, which is exactly what the Deputy has wanted for years. He should not try to scaremonger and say it is about selling off State lands because it is not. It is about trying to manage lands. Whether we take this route, we have flagged it in the national planning framework and it is something we will tease out over the months ahead.

It is the intention that such an agency would work with local authorities in assembling and releasing key and strategic areas for renewal and revitalisation, and it will have access to publicly owned but redundant or underutilised lands suitable for redevelopment designated by the Government. Such an agency would also help to create a national centre of expertise in development and renewal to ensure that existing lands are utilised to their fullest and best extent, and in a manner which complements the sustainable planning and development of our urban and rural areas. The Government will be considering these issues fully in the context of the finalisation of the national planning framework and the national development plan in the coming weeks. It is to achieve proper land use and land management in order that we can achieve affordable housing, not just for the next two or three years, but for the next 25, 30 and 40 years. That is what we are about - looking ahead and putting the State in a position, with local authorities, to be able to manage land and deliver housing. We do not want just to talk about it but to make it happen. That is what we are considering here and it has been flagged in the national planning framework for the past year.

With all due respect, I will acquaint the Minister of State with reality. There are 96,000 families who are waiting up to 15 years on housing lists because they cannot afford the prices in the market, either for rental or purchase. There are 8,000 people, including 3,000 children, in emergency accommodation. There are 70,000 people in mortgage arrears, many of whom face the possible repossession of their homes. There are tens of thousands of people who are being evicted or face potential eviction because of rent increases by the private sector which wants to make more profit from the current crisis.

Against that background, the Minister of State is talking about an agency which is going to hand over, partially or fully, public land to private developers who in turn, supposedly, are going to give us social and affordable housing when there is no evidence whatsoever they will do that. In Cherrywood, as I pointed out, a new town of 8,000 houses is being built. While the State has put a lot of money into that, and although it was on NAMA land that it sold to a private developer for a song, it appears we will only get 2% affordable housing for the money we put in. That is not going to deal with the crisis. There is no point in them building houses for €400,000 and €500,000 if the vast majority of people who work in this country or who are dependent on social welfare cannot afford them. In fact, that is what led to the last crisis, given we had houses being built in their tens of thousands that nobody could afford. What we need to do is build public and affordable housing on the public land we have and use the resources and cash of NAMA to build public and affordable housing that is not built for profit. Instead, what the Government is proposing is more privatisation.

I will give an example. Apollo House was sold to private developers and there is no residential or affordable housing there. What is going to happen to Hawkins House, the Department of Health building, which is another site that could be used for public housing? What about the motor taxation office? Properties are being sold off to private developers and the public are getting nothing back.

I again thank Deputy Boyd Barrett for highlighting the need to have good land use policies. Our ambition with Ireland 2040 is to make sure we do not have a repeat of the housing crisis we have had in recent years which we are trying to manage our way through. The Deputy might not like how we are managing this but we added-----

-----7,000 new social houses that were not there last year but which are in use this year. Some 25,000 households who were not in a house last year are in a social house this year. In the year ahead, there will be more than 8,000 new social houses available to the local authorities that were not there two years ago. Despite all the Deputy's complaining, we are making progress. We all accept it is not enough today to solve the housing crisis but adding thousands of houses every year is the only way we are going to solve that housing crisis. Despite what the Deputy would like us to do, we are making progress.

The discussion today is about making plans for the future. It is, of course, a matter for the Government and the relevant Ministers, in this case Deputies Donohoe and Murphy, to reflect on the most appropriate and effective structures to deliver on our ambitious plans in Ireland 2040. Again, it is about where we build the next 500,000 homes, where we locate people and how we compact our cities and ensure rural Ireland's towns and villages have life brought back into them. That is what it is about.

It is about how people can afford to buy or rent them.

As Minister of State, I have been tasked with chairing a new residential land management and development group within the Department on behalf of the Minister, Deputy Murphy, with the aim of overseeing and driving the strategic management and development of housing on State land, with monitoring and accelerating the delivery of housing on residentially zoned lands, particularly on strategic sites in areas of greatest demand, and with assessing the availability of residential development land. I am keenly interested in how we handle this, and it is an issue we have discussed at committee on numerous occasions.

A development agency is worthy of consideration at national level, as it can provide an opportunity for a new approach to Government land management that drives the renewal of strategic areas that are not being utilised to the full potential and delivers the strategic outcomes of the national planning framework.

What the Deputy wants us to do is what we are trying to do. On publicly owned lands, it is our job to deliver, and we will do so, thousands of social houses and affordable homes. We own approximately 800 sites, which will provide for in or around 50,000 social and affordable houses. The Deputy should not try to muddy the water. We are doing what we are doing and are making progress. He might not like that progress, but we are achieving it and are continuing on our journey.