Leaders' Questions

We will move on to take Leader's Questions under Standing Order 29. Before so doing, I remind Members that during Leader's Questions yesterday, a number of Members sought clarification as to whether it is in order to raise in the House a matter that is currently before a judicial tribunal or commission of investigation. As Members may be aware, Standing Order 59 deals with matters that are sub judice. This is drafted in such as way as to protect the ability of Members to discuss issues of general public importance, even in circumstances where there are proceedings before a judicial tribunal. However, in paragraph 3 it clearly stipulates that "a matter shall not be raised in such an overt manner so that it appears to be an attempt by the Dáil to encroach on the functions of the Courts or a Judicial Tribunal". It also places an onus on Members to avoid, if at all possible, comment which might, in effect, prejudice the outcome of proceedings.

My predecessors have ruled on this issue previously and in certain circumstances have allowed very limited discussions on matters of public importance, which were being examined by judicial tribunals. In applying Standing Order 59, a delicate balance is to be achieved between, on the one hand, a matter of general public importance to be raised, and on the other ensuring that there is no overt encroachment on the work of a judicial body. It is a balancing exercise that must be conducted on a case-by-case basis, which respects the role of parliamentarians to discuss matters of general public importance, the rights of persons appearing before a tribunal to a fair hearing and the ability of a tribunal to complete its work expeditiously and in accordance with due process. As Chair, my role in applying Standing Order 59 is to ensure that the functions of courts and judicial tribunals are fully respected by this House, and I look forward to the continued co-operation of all Members in that regard.

I thank An Ceann Comhairle for that clarification on Standing Orders.

Before I start, on my own behalf and on behalf of Fianna Fáil, I wish to extend deepest sympathies to the family of the late Rory Kiely, the former Cathaoirleach of the Seanad, who passed away this morning. He was a very popular Member of these Houses and a legend in GAA administration. He was chairman of the Limerick county board, and this could be Limerick's year in many ways; the team is doing very well so far. Mr. Kiely was enjoying the hurling this summer. He was also a former chairman of the Munster council. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis. We will have an opportunity at a later stage to give longer tributes.

The Irish public has been genuinely shocked at the CervicalCheck scandal and the treatment of the women at its heart, in terms of non-disclosure in particular, which has resulted in women being forced through the courts. Without the bravery of Vicky Phelan, Emma Mhic Mhathúna and others we may never have known the full extent of what transpired. The drip-drip release of information from the Department of Health, the HSE and CervicalCheck via the Committee of Public Accounts and the Joint Committee on Health compounded that sense of shock and anger. Promises were made, perhaps in haste, in terms of a redress scheme that has not fully been realised, support packages, and mediation which would avoid the necessity of people going to court. We learned this morning that a fourth very ill woman is in court at the moment on this very issue. We were also promised a scoping inquiry that would conclude at the end of June. The progress report produced by Dr. Gabriel Scally will add to that anger and frustration, particularly regarding the manner in which documentation was released by the various bodies, namely, the Department of Health, the HSE and CervicalCheck. More than 4,000 documents were released over two days between 6 June and 8 June and documentation was provided in a format that was essentially unsearchable according to Dr. Scally. He stated it was disappointing and unclear why documents that originally were prepared in electronic format were not available to the inquiry in that format.

Those factors will add to the anger and sense of shock that people feel already about this issue. It should be remembered that the Minister himself was only told about the Vicky Phelan case very late in the day. Indeed, we learned about the substantive and intensive negotiations and discussions between all the bodies for over two years on this issue. There is a discernible pattern in this regard. Dr. Scally is now saying that he will conclude his report by the end of the summer. I have doubts as to whether he will, given the terms of reference and the amount of work he has to do. The Dáil is adjourning on 12 July, which I do not agree with. I believe we should consider whether that is the best course of action. Will the Taoiseach consider cutting to the chase by rolling the Scally inquiry into a commission of investigation?

At the current rate of progress, we are looking at a commission of investigation starting in November if we are lucky. Putting Dr. Scally and his team on a statutory basis in the form of a commission of investigation might be the most effective way to give teeth to the investigation and to ensure there is no more messing, no more withholding of documentation and no more of the kind of stuff that has gone on so far.

This is a difficult and emotive issue and has caused concern throughout the country, not just among people who have been affected and their families, but among women in general, and women, in particular, who avail of cervical screening. I believe the Government has taken a lot actions in a swift manner. We established a serious incident management team to go into CervicalCheck and deal with the issues there. We established a scoping inquiry, asked Dr. Scally to do his work, and secured agreement on a cross-party basis for the terms of reference of the inquiry. We secured agreement with doctors to enable women to have a free visit to their GP and a repeat smear test if they felt that was necessary or wanted that done for reassurance. We have appointed a team comprising members of the UK's Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the British Society for Colposcopy and Cervical Pathology. This team is going back over all of the old slides and smear tests of the women affected to make sure they are quality assured and to find out if abnormalities were missed and if there were abnormalities that should not have been missed.

We have also put in place a package of practical supports for women and their families, extending from medical cards to access to experimental medicines, assistance with childcare and so on. Delivery of that is still under way, and in each case it is a tailored package. Public health nurses and others have met individually with women and their families to discuss with them what type of supports they want. Because the supports are individual and tailored, it is taking time to put them in place, but that is very much under way. In addition, we have accepted Dr. Scally's recommendation for a payment to be made to women right away to cover some of their expenses arising from dealing with his inquiry. We have also confirmed the Government's decision to move to a more modern form of cervical screening using human papillomavirus, HPV, as the primary test. That was planned anyway, but we are going to press ahead and become one of the first countries in the western world to do it.

Dr. Scally was appointed by the Government to do this work, and the terms of reference were agreed by the Oireachtas. Should it be the case that anyone obstructs the work of Dr. Scally, they will also be obstructing the Government. I want to make it very clear to any agency or public body, if it is not already, that we expect full co-operation with Dr. Scally and his team and will accept nothing less than that. The Minister for Health met Dr. Scally in recent days to assure him that if he runs into any further issues, he has a direct line to the Minister to deal with them. I note from yesterday's statement that while he expressed enormous frustration with the speed at which he received documentation and the format it came in, he said he was broadly content with the interaction he was having.

Regarding the Deputy's suggestion of rolling this into a commission of inquiry, we would have to give that proper consideration. One of the advantages of having a scoping inquiry is that even though it was only set up a few weeks ago, we already have a progress report, an interim report and findings and recommendations related to one of the terms of reference. Those recommendations are in the process of being implemented. While it is intended to have a commission of investigation once Dr. Scally has finished his work, it is important to bear in mind the consequences of such a commission. If we had set up a commission of investigation set up, we would not have had that progress. We would probably find that the investigation would run much more slowly and that, because of the statutory nature, everyone would have a lawyer. We have found on a number of occasions that it takes months to set commissions of inquiry up and a year or two years before they complete their work and produce findings and recommendations. The point of the Scally inquiry was to have initial an scoping inquiry to quickly find out as much as we could and do as much as we could before a commission was set up, because that will probably take more than a year if not two or three, as they always do. Many women, unfortunately and sadly, do not have that time.

Before I call Deputy Martin, I wish to point out to leaders that Standing Orders set out that there is a definite time allowed for all these items.

There is also a time at which to be here.

Yesterday, we exceeded the allocated time in every section. I implore leaders please to lead by showing respect for Standing Orders.

I thought it would take me a minute to give the expression of sympathy at the beginning, which I did not get. However, I take the Ceann Comhairle's point.

The problem is that this process will take much longer. I am curious that the Taoiseach used the phrase ,"while it is intended", in respect of setting up a commission of investigation. Is he committed to setting up such a commission or not? We need to know. Dr. Scally's report states one may be established, whereas the foreword refers to his work as a scoping inquiry prior to the establishment of a commission of investigation.

I have great time for Dr. Scally. I do not know the man, but he is working earnestly and so on. However, a statutory inquiry provides teeth. There is a pattern here. The Taoiseach's own Minister did not know what was going on about this issue because he had not been told. The Committee of Public Accounts had to drag fairly basic documentation out of the Department and the HSE. Officials had been discussing this for two years, yet information could not be made available to the Oireachtas or the Minister until the committee forced it out of them. We now have 4,000 documents that were sent over two days in an unsearchable format. Does that not ring alarm bells? We need to consider - and I ask the Taoiseach to consider this - whether it would be more effective to roll it into a statutory commission, rather than waiting for until November or December to get to the end of this inquiry and moving on to a commission of investigation.

Yes, we are committed to establishing a commission of investigation. I do not want there to be any ambiguity about that. Members have a lot of faith in Dr. Scally. He has done a good job so far and many of the women with whom he has been in contact have a lot of faith in him. He has asked that he be allowed more time to conduct his scoping inquiry. It is appropriate that we allow him that time, particularly because he wants to engage individually with more of the women affected and their families. Of course that is going to take a bit of time. I have not spoken to him personally, but Dr. Scally has said to the Government that he believes that he can finish this work by the end of the summer. We should allow him to do that. This is a scoping inquiry, which will get to a lot of the facts and make a lot of recommendations, which we can then implement immediately. We will then move on to the commission of investigation. Even if we were now to decide to fold the work into a commission of investigation, we would still need a scoping exercise anyway. That has been necessary in the past. The best way we can get answers, results, recommendations and action quickly is to allow Dr. Scally to do what he has been asked to do by the end of the summer and allow him to produce his recommendations along the way, which he is doing. My apologies for going over time again.

On Friday 8 December, the Taoiseach told the Irish people that the backstop agreement was "rock solid and cast iron" and this his Government "protected what it sought to protect and achieved what it sought to achieve". Paragraph 46 of the December joint report states the agreement is "made and must be upheld in all circumstances, irrespective of the nature of any future agreement between the European Union and United Kingdom."

Paragraph 49 states that while it is Britain's intention to achieve these objectives through an overall relationship with the EU, which every Member will support, the UK will propose "specific solutions to address the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland" - or a backstop - should this not be possible. If there was no agreement between Britain and the European Union on trade, there was some certainty for businesses on either side of the Border and for the people in Ireland that there would be as much alignment as possible with the rules of the customs union and Single Market.

The Taoiseach's cast-iron guarantee is in tatters. A paper was published by the British Government a couple of days ago which essentially took the backstop off the table and turned it into a UK-wide extension of the implementation period. It is time-limited, and as Mr. Michel Barnier said, "Backstop means backstop". We have an extraordinary situation where we had something on the table that was a real and tangible political agreement, but that has been turned into something entirely different because of internal wrangling in the Tory party. We have to hold the Taoiseach to account, and the best way to do so is the promises he makes and the benchmarks he sets. He said this was cast iron. How could he say that if there are still wrangling over what it all means, and the British Government has come back with proposals which essentially takes it off the table?

The Taoiseach also said that he wanted to see real and substantial progress by June.

Nobody could argue with a straight face that we have seen real and substantial progress. In fact, it is quite the opposite because we have gone backwards. However, the Taoiseach is prepared to allow the farce to continue whereby the Irish issues are now in the melting pot in what will be very tough negotiations when the real pressure comes on in October. That is not what we were told; it is not what we were promised. The Taoiseach knows my party wants the Government to succeed on this issue because we all want the best for Ireland. We are in a very difficult place, however. What will be the Government's approach at the June summit? Will the Taoiseach hold firm to the commitment he made and will he ensure that there will not be any moving on from these issues until we get the real and substantial progress we were promised?

Yes, we will hold firm to the commitments we made and we expect the United Kingdom Government and others to hold firm to the commitments they made. In December, a political agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union that gives us a number of guarantees and assurances - for example, on the common travel area, for ongoing PEACE funding for Northern Ireland and Border areas and with regard to citizens' rights - was reached. I do not think anyone is doubting these at present. They are all very much cast-iron guaranteed. I also used the term "bulletproof" regarding commitments on the Border. In addition, I said it was the end of the beginning and not the beginning of the end, that we needed to be vigilant and that we had to insist that the guarantees we were given were written into the withdrawal agreement. That is where matters stand.

In March, the European Union - all 27 member states together backed by the EU institutions - produced a draft text of the withdrawal agreement, including a protocol on Northern Ireland and Ireland, that put in legal form everything we achieved and secured in December. Last week, the United Kingdom Government produced a paper which represents a small step in the right direction but which I do not believe to be adequate. It is at very best a partial solution to part of the problem. It deals with customs, which is welcome, but not with regulatory alignment, which is essential to avoiding a hard border. In many cases, perhaps not all, regulatory alignment will be required. Even though it is not in the written text of the UK's amendment, it seems to imply that there would be an expiry date sometime in 2021. This is not something we can accept. The whole point of a backstop is that it implies it will exist unless and until there is a new treaty between the EU and the UK that makes it unnecessary. That is where we need further movement and concessions from the UK Government between now and the forthcoming summit. If we do not get it then, quite frankly, nobody will be able to say that sufficient progress has been made. We will need to intensify the negotiations in the months ahead to ensure that happens. What the European Union is very firm on is that we are not going to be in a position to discuss long-term issues, such as the new trading relationship and the new arrangements that will exist between the UK and EU, until such time as the withdrawal agreement and the backstop are agreed.

The problem is that we have no legal framework. That is the issue. We said in December that this is simply a political agreement - and, yes, that is important and substantial - and we welcomed the progress that was made. However, we were also wise and advised the Taoiseach not oversell the agreement and to work on getting the legal clarity and framework that would provide certainty. The reality is - I think this is genuinely lost on the Taoiseach - that the British Government has essentially taken the cast-iron guarantee off the table. In the paper it has written the British Government has restructured matters in order to write the North out of the script and turn what is a backstop or permanent solution in the event of no deal into an extension of the negotiating period. What will happen in the event that there is no deal? What will happen then for Ireland? The paper published by the British Government does not say that, it says it is time-limited. This is a real problem. We have to hold Taoiseach to account and the way to do so in the context of this issue is to encourage him to hold the British Government to account and to ensure that the latter does not resile on commitments it gave in December. The Taoiseach and his European Union counterparts do this at the forthcoming summit. While the Taoiseach says that this will happen, what real and substantial progress needs to be made - separate from what is in the paper published by the British Government - between now and the summit for him to be able to say that real and sufficient progress has been made?

My priority is to secure the agreement and not to sell it. We secured a political agreement in December and we will secure a legal withdrawal agreement by October. That is exactly what I am focused on and what the Tánaiste and all of our teams are focused on also. That is what we intend to do.

We need to bear in mind that dealing with Brexit is not solely a matter of considering North-South issues and Northern Ireland issues. They are of paramount importance because they are issues of national interest, but the east-west element is also important. If someone is a farmer, involved in the agrifood sector or involved in tourism, a small Irish SME that exports to the UK or a big multinational company exporting to the UK, actually having the latter in a customs arrangement or customs partnership with the European Union is to our advantage. That must be borne in mind. If the UK can produce solutions that allow us to avoid a hard border, not just North and South but also east-west, that is positive.

Sadly, a number of weeks ago a murder took place in Cahersiveen in south Kerry. Thankfully, we are not used to such events happening. In the aftermath of what happened, I assisted other locals in organising a very large public meeting that was held in Cahersiveen. It was attended by many public representatives and, very importantly, by our Garda superintendent, Flor Murphy, from Killarney Garda station and the local sergeant, Michael Murphy. We appreciated very much their attendance because the locals want to work with the local gardaí. More than 500 people were at the meeting, which was a great testament to the concerns the locals have about the well-being of their area. The area comprising Cahersiveen and south Kerry in general - including places such as Sneem, Castlecove, Caherdaniel, Waterville, Ballinskelligs, Portmagee, Valentia Island, Glenbeigh and Foilmore - is beautiful. We want to protect it and make it as safe a place as it always has been for the people who live there and those who visit. It is probably the most beautiful part not just of Ireland but of the western world and we want it to stay that way.

Unfortunately, as was identified at the meeting to which I refer, more resources are needed. We had our own dedicated superintendent in the Garda station in question for many years. We had more gardaí available there for many years. We had a second sergeant. I welcome the fact the very able, capable and hard-working local sergeant will be assisted by another sergeant in the near future. However, I want the second sergeant to be put in place as soon as possible.

Serious consideration should be given to putting a full-time superintendent back into south Kerry because the superintendent, Flor Murphy, has an amazing amount of work to do in the Killarney area due to the fact that it is so busy. It is my humble opinion, and that of the locals, that having to cover south Kerry and Cahersiveen is too much of the workload for one person. There is a great case to be made for putting a second superintendent back in the locality. The people there deserve this. On the night in question, 500 people turned up at the meeting. I appreciate the fact that local gardaí and the superintendent were present and answered all of the questions put to them. The people want reassurance. They want to ensure that their children will be safe. I compliment the Garda because a number of raids have been carried out since the meeting took place and these have resulted in illegal drugs being found and confiscated. We appreciate that very much. In the past, we have been let down in the context of resources. Gardaí are doing excellent work but they need more assistance and more resources to be made available to them.

I want to take a moment to add my words of condolence to the family of Rory Kiely, who passed away, and also to the family of Seán Calleary, whom we lost last week. I extend my condolences to their families and to the Fianna Fáil Party. There will be a time in the future when we will be able to give more lengthy tributes to those two men who gave great service to our country and our politics.

I thank Deputy Michael Healy-Rae for raising this important issue, which I know is of great concern in south Kerry. I agree with him that south Kerry is surely one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland and, indeed, the world. I will long remember my days as Minister of Transport, Tourism and Sport and being able to spend a lot of time in Kerry and experiencing the beauty of that particular county.

I am of course aware of the brutal murder of Mr. Robert Elston, who died after receiving serious stab wounds following an altercation in Cahersiveen on 23 May, and the Minister for Justice and Equality has briefed me on the matter. I understand the Garda immediately mounted a full investigation that has led to an individual being charged and brought before the courts. The Deputy will appreciate that as it is now a matter before the courts, it would be inappropriate for me to comment much further on the matter. However, this reprehensible act destroyed a family and has, understandably, left the community of Cahersiveen and wider south Kerry in complete shock. I know the House will join me in extending our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Mr. Elston. As the Deputy mentioned, a large public meeting took place in Cahersiveen on 5 June, with members of the community coming together to voice their concerns, particularly in light of recent events. I understand members of An Garda Síochána were also in attendance to listen to the contributions.

The Government remains committed to ensuring An Garda Síochána has the necessary resources to tackle all forms of crime in our communities, including in south Kerry. Approximately €1.65 billion has been allocated to the Garda for 2018, which will lead to investment in new equipment, whether it is information and communications technology, cars or other vehicles. It also means we will have 600 more gardaí than when this Government of Fine Gael, the Independent Alliance and Independents came into office. The manner in which those extra gardaí are to be deployed is of course a matter for the Garda Commissioner and it is up to him to decide where superintendents, inspectors and gardaí should be located. The best people to determine such matters are the gardaí who provide the services.

We all regret the very sad murder that took place but I did not ask the Taoiseach to comment on that. I asked him to comment solely on the resources. In speaking about extra recruits coming from Templemore, I point out that when recruits come, they can only go to a number of places. They are Killarney and Tralee, and they are not allowed to go to Cahersiveen or places like Listowel. New gardaí are welcome but I want there to be more dedicated gardaí put into the Cahersiveen Garda station. It is only right, sensible and prudent, taking into account the vast area, and having our own dedicated superintendent, as we had in the past, is justified. When they were there before, they were not idle and they had plenty to do. They will have plenty to do again in keeping law and order in the locality. It is what the locals and visitors deserve. People who have businesses and who have families only want to live their lives and raise those families in a safe and happy environment, as it was before. We want it to be such a place again in future.

I am told Cahersiveen Garda station has reduced opening hours to the public but it is still functioning on a 24-7 basis. The Killarney district has 107 gardaí assigned to it, including one superintendent and 18 gardaí are assigned to Cahersiveen Garda station. They can call on back-up from national regional units, including the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the armed support unit and the Garda National Drugs and Organised Crime Bureau. As of 31 March, there were also 55 vehicles from the Garda fleet allocated to the Kerry division.

I appreciate that the Deputy's specific request has been made sincerely. As I stated, it is ultimately up to the Garda Commissioner to decide where gardaí should be located, how they should be deployed and the different ranks involved. Given that this is such a serious matter and I know the Deputy is so sincere, I will ask the Minister for Justice and Equality to relay the request to the Garda Commissioner for his consideration.

A year ago this week the Taoiseach took office and told us of his vision of a republic of opportunities. That anniversary coincides with a visit from the UN special rapporteur on adequate housing, Ms Leilani Farha. Ms Farha had one clear message, which is that Ireland is failing abysmally when it comes to housing. The Taoiseach speaks of the republic of opportunities but this morning, the Ombudsman for Children speaks of thousands of children being denied the most basic opportunities. The ombudsman described the position of almost 10,000 people in emergency accommodation, saying it was "shameful", which it is of course.

There are no opportunities for those struggling to keep a roof over their head and there are certainly no opportunities for those with no roof over their head. It is all about survival. I have no doubt the Taoiseach will point to the Rebuilding Ireland report but Ms Farha clearly pointed out the lack of a coherent housing strategy. The evidence of this has been stark and in the past four years alone, just 818 local authority were built, with 396 of those last year. This happens because Fine Gael's ideology is to focus most of its efforts on the private market approach.

A housing seminar hosted by the Simon Communities on Monday heard that, in total, the State had transferred over €1 billion to private landlords in housing supports. This is not a housing strategy but is a market-led approach designed to put the State at arm's distance from responsibility. We have not enshrined the right to housing either constitutionally or legislatively. It is not a far-fetched concept as 81 other countries have adopted the concept of a right to housing. It does not mean that everyone could demand a house but rather that the State would be obliged to create strategies that would develop housing in a way that ensures affordable and accessible opportunities available to all. It would change the narrative and the focus. Instead of housing being viewed as a commodity, the Government would recommend housing first and foremost as a home. This is not pie in the sky and Ms Farha is able to point to real working examples in countries and cities that have jumped on board with her recommendations. Barcelona is foremost among these with the Barcelona manifesto. Ms Farha has also worked in Portugal, which has implemented housing strategies that aim to eradicate homelessness by 2028. Meanwhile, we are continuing a path that has proven not only to be ineffective but damaging.

Does the Taoiseach accept that in the year since he took office, homelessness has worsened and housing has become increasingly inaccessible and unaffordable to both renters and potential purchasers? Has the Taoiseach considered a constitutional or statutory obligation for housing that may be necessary to address what is an unprecedented housing crisis in the country? Will he consider extending a formal State invitation to Ms Farha to visit in an official capacity and work with the Government to develop strategies that will prioritise the delivery of adequate and affordable housing for all?

It is a year tomorrow since my election as Taoiseach.

Where is the party?

I am not one for anniversaries or birthdays. I am known to forget them or very often decline to celebrate them.

The important milestones are not those which appear on a calendar but rather what is achieved along the way. I am very proud to have been part of a Government in the past year that has successfully brought about a referendum to repeal the eighth amendment and which has at long last ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Answer the question and stop trying to run down the clock.

There is much more to do.

What about the homeless?

It has brought employment to record levels. It has balanced the books, improved living standards and reduced income inequality, poverty and deprivation.

It is the Leo show.

It is an election speech.

He is getting excited.

As the hecklers rightly point out, there is always more to do and housing is one of those particular areas in which there is very much more to do. The Deputy mentioned a legal right to housing and it is currently being considered by the all-party finance committee. I very much have an open mind on this but as the Deputy rightly indicates, 81 countries not only have a statutory right to housing but they have a constitutional right to housing. In many of those countries there are severe housing crises and very serious problems with housing and homelessness. In some cases they are much worse than what we have here. I am sure that a statutory or constitutional right will not build a house for anyone. We need to build more houses and the solution to the problem is increasing housing supply. In the past year the number of planning permission applications increased by 30%, as did the number of commencement notices; 18,000 new homes have commenced construction in the past year.

House prices and rents are also up.

We want to know about social housing.

That is more than any year in the past ten. ESB connections are also up 30% and employment in the construction sector is up 14%.

The Taoiseach should be looking at local authority housing.

All is grand so.

This year we will add between 7,000 and 8,000 new social homes to our social housing stock, more than any year in the past ten.

How many of those are local authority houses?

We have a long way to go yet. We are catching up on a seven-year period during which almost no new homes were built, and we know why that was. I do not need to give people-----

It was because Fine Gael was in government.

-----a history lesson as to how it came about. We are finally starting to catch up and are starting to see that now in the figures. However, the Deputy is absolutely right that we have much more to do and it will take many more years to do it.

I asked the Taoiseach whether he would extend a formal invitation to Ms Farha. This would be an important thing to do in the development of strategies. We do not have a coherent housing strategy: we have primarily a market-led and very expensive response. Ms Farha pointed out some very tangible solutions in other areas, first and foremost in respect of the private rental sector and greater supports in that regard. She gave the example of a foreign investor tax to make it less attractive for private equity firms to commandeer vast amounts of housing for profit and put them out of the reach of ordinary citizens. She talked about our Constitution protecting private property but supposedly being balanced by the common good. However, we rarely see the common good coming to the fore when it comes to housing. Will the Taoiseach extend that formal invitation? Furthermore, what strategies to reduce homelessness can he point to that will achieve the development goals to which we signed up?

I will certainly give the Deputy's suggestion consideration. I know the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government has met with Ms Farha. At the time, she had not had the chance to read Rebuilding Ireland, so perhaps, as part of that engagement, we could get her views on Rebuilding Ireland. She certainly said a whole-of-government approach is needed. If I recall correctly, when I heard her interviewed on "Morning Ireland" or on one of the other radio programmes, she pointed out that, very sadly, housing and homelessness issues are a problem being grappled with by governments all over the world. I think she held out Finland as a stand-out country that is doing things differently.

Regarding strategies that work, we think the Housing First programme is working. We have appointed a director of Housing First. More than 150 tenancies have now been secured through Housing First. As a result, the most recent figures show a very significant reduction of approximately 40% in rough sleeping on our streets. I think this is in part a reflection of the strategies that are showing some results, but we have much to do.