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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 18 Oct 2018

Vol. 973 No. 7

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Foreign Conflicts

There is a deafening silence from the Government regarding the rogue Saudi state's murderous activities in Yemen that have brought 13 million to 14 million people to the brink of starvation, amid warnings of the worst famine in 100 years, in a war in which tens of thousands have already been killed and millions of others displaced. Virtually the entire population of Yemen is now dependent on humanitarian assistance. Saudi Arabia, with backing from the United States, the UK and France, is to a large extent responsible for this unfolding humanitarian catastrophe. With American-made weapons, it killed 40 children in a school bus on a school trip in August. In June, it hit a cholera treatment centre run by Doctors Without Borders when it was clearly marked as a medical facility. In April, it killed 20 members of a family at a funeral in the north west. The atrocities go on. In the past week, there was the barbaric killing of Jamal Khashoggi, the journalist, at Saudi Arabia's embassy in Turkey.

What will we do about this? Why the silence? Are we going to speak out about the incredible hypocrisy of standing by while all of this is happening when our Government is doing beef deals with Saudi Arabia and the US, the UK and France are selling the latter arms? After the Salisbury attack, our Government moved rapidly to expel Russian diplomats. Where are the expulsions of Saudi Arabia's ambassador and diplomats?

The control of the story of Yemen and the spin surrounding it are scary. Our own State broadcaster, RTÉ, cannot mention the Houthis without saying "Iranian-backed Houthis" despite the fact that it has no evidence of this. I have not seen anyone else produce such evidence either. The Houthis robbed most of their ammunition and guns from former President Ali Abdullah Saleh's government forces. The current trouble in Yemen began with people protesting about neoliberal adjustments introduced under Saleh. He lost control, but the US-Saudi coalition forced him out. In 2012, his vice president, Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, was installed as interim leader and continued the neoliberal agenda. It was all part of a process of plundering Yemen that has been going on for many years. However, Hadi could not gain control either, so he sat down with the opposition in Yemen and, in September 2014, signed the Peace and National Partnership Agreement with Ansar Allah, the main opposition, and the leaders of all the major political parties. Between them, they agreed to have elections. That was not what the Saudis wanted, however. It did not suit them. They started their airstrikes afterwards. Under the cover of UN Resolution 2216, Saudi Arabia and the US self-authorised their use of violence in Yemen.

The situation is horrific. We are at a stage where the Saudi-United Arab Emirates coalition, backed by the US, the UK, France and Germany, is bombing the people of Yemen into starvation. Only this week, the UN stated that up to 13 million people were at risk of starvation. Did the Minister raise this matter at the Foreign Affairs Council earlier in the week and did he raise it while appealing for Irish membership of the UN Security Council?

I have been monitoring the state of affairs in Yemen with growing anxiety, particularly in recent weeks as reports of the increased threat of famine have circulated. I am deeply concerned by the level of violence in Yemen and by reports of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.

Three years of war have had devastating consequences for civilians. Yemen is now the world's largest humanitarian crisis, with more than 22 million people, or three quarters of the population, requiring some form of humanitarian assistance and approximately 2 million people internally displaced. The latest report from the UN's humanitarian co-ordinator in Yemen, Ms Lise Grande, sounds an alarm that between 12 million and 13 million Yemeni citizens will be at acute risk of famine in the coming months if the conflict continues.

Ireland has provided almost €16.5 million in bilateral humanitarian assistance to Yemen since the conflict began in 2015. Of this, €4 million was contributed in March to the UN Yemen humanitarian fund. Ireland pledges global funding to a number of organisations that are particularly active in Yemen, including the World Food Programme, UNICEF and the International Committee of the Red Cross. Ireland also contributes to EU support for Yemen. Since the beginning of the conflict in 2015, the EU has allocated more than €438 million to the crisis. It supports therapeutic feeding centres for the treatment of malnourished children, healthcare, food aid programmes and emergency assistance to displaced populations.

Humanitarian access is a critical issue so that aid can reach those who need it. There is a pattern of difficulties with this in Yemen. Commercial access is equally important, since a population of over 20 million people cannot survive on aid alone indefinitely. This has been one of my consistent messages to all parties involved in the conflict.

Officers from my Department consistently convey the Government’s strong concerns to the Saudi, United Arab Emirates and Iranian Embassies in Dublin. I met the Saudi ambassador this afternoon and stressed the emphasis that Ireland puts on this issue as well as the issue raised by the previous Deputy.

Both at UN level and in EU discussions on the issue, Ireland has sought at all times to stress that military action will not be sufficient to bring a lasting solution to the conflicts between communities in Yemen. Military victory, even if it is achievable, will not address the root causes of the conflict. The pursuit of military victory also brings an unacceptable cost for the Yemeni people on a humanitarian level. We have seen time and again the tragic results of the errors and recklessness which are endemic to conflict situations.

Negotiations must be reinvigorated, and Ireland and the EU fully support the work of Martin Griffiths, the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, and his team. The Government is also vigilant for opportunities to make any progress we can in international fora, including on ensuring accountability for crimes committed during the conflict. At the Human Rights Council in September 2017, Ireland was part of a small core group of countries that drove forward the adoption by consensus of a resolution establishing a Group of Eminent Experts on Yemen. I personally worked closely with the Dutch Foreign Minister at the time, Bert Koenders, on this resolution. The group established is carrying out investigations into all alleged violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by all warring parties in Yemen. Last month, Ireland worked to ensure that the mandate of this group was extended for a year, to allow more time to complete its vital work.

I assure the Deputies that Ireland will continue to take every appropriate opportunity to urge stronger international action, and will press for a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Yemen.

There are no angels among states and governments in the Middle East but the Saudi regime is a murderous, brutal, rogue one that is the enemy of democracy. It is willing to use the most savage methods, including now bombing Yemen into a famine situation which will affect the entire population, and to do so openly and blatantly. Also, as we saw with the Khashoggi affair, a journalist who wished to speak out and call for a free press and the right of people in the Middle East to criticise regimes like this, is brutally murdered by people who have been clearly identified now as associates of Crown Prince bin Salman. What are we going to do about that? The Minister referred to talking to all parties involved, but this is a rogue regime and the United States and the United Kingdom continue to arm these people to kill people in Yemen and murder a person in an embassy in Turkey. Can the Tánaiste explain to me the reason we expelled Russian diplomats after the attack in Salisbury and we are not expelling the Saudi ambassador and Saudi diplomats after what has been done in Yemen and with Jamal Khashoggi?

I am disappointed with the Tánaiste's answer, and he did not answer my two questions either. Did he raise the plight of the people of Yemen and the threat of starvation this week at the Foreign Affairs Council or did he just talk about the journalist? I am amused that the journalist is getting such coverage and the ordinary people of Yemen are being starved to death.

It has been established by an independent body that the majority of the bombing in Yemen has hit non-military targets. They are literally bombing food supplies now in order to starve the people. Whatever about what is going on in Yemen among the different parties in terms of who should be running the country, the bombing has to stop. The Tánaiste spoke about humanitarian aid. Give us a break. The people who are giving humanitarian aid are the same people providing the bombs. Representatives of Médicines Sans Frontiéres were before the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade today. War is a self-sustaining industry. We have the Germans, the French, the British and the United States providing the bombs. The same people who are bombing hospitals are providing funding to rebuild them, thereby creating work. It is a little like Halliburton making more money in Iraq than some of the bomb makers who dropped the bombs in the first place that caused the destruction. Providing humanitarian aid is not a solution. Stopping the bombing must be the start of a solution. Ireland should be fighting this at a European level.

We are. When the Deputy raises issues such as this, and he is genuine when he raises them, he is normally well-informed. Calling for the bombing to stop is one thing; actually making it happen is another. The way Ireland can be effective in doing that is to work through EU channels to try to do it. I am not quite sure what the Deputy is asking me to do. I have raised the Yemeni issue and the Yemen war on multiple occasions. There was not a long debate on it in this week's Foreign Affairs Council so I was not able to do it but that is not an indication of the fact that I have not raised this issue and spoken about it, in particular in regard to the humanitarian impact of conflict and the need to bring that conflict to an end. That is why there is a UN Special Envoy for Yemen. The EU supports that special envoy to try to find a way forward on that. That is why I raised it only a couple of hours ago with the Saudi ambassador in my office, along with the issue of Jamal Khashoggi.

But there were no sanctions.

With respect, Deputy, that is because we do not have the full facts yet. As usual, the Deputy wants to be the first out to call for-----

We did not hold back before we acted after the attack in Salisbury.

-----dramatic actions. We were well-informed on Salisbury before we made decisions-----

We are pretty well informed on this one.

-----and we have been proven to be right since. In time, we will be much better informed in regard to what happened here. The Deputy should not jump to conclusions yet despite the fact that many people have been shocked by what happened in this case, and in terms of where and how it happened. We should wait to establish what happened with as much certainty as possible.

The Deputy has the privilege in opposition of being able to stand up and say whatever he wants and to make accusation and assumptions. I am the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade and I need to make sure that I make decisions on the basis of facts and informed content.

Housing Issues

The Tánaiste is a former Minister with responsibility for housing. The situation in Galway is at crisis levels. The reality is that the population of Galway is growing naturally by approximately 1,000 a year. If that is divided in terms of housing requirement, we estimate we need approximately 350 houses to be built per annum. Currently, the latent demand for housing, in other words the backlog, is somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 units. Between private and public construction fewer than 300 houses will be built in Galway this year.

I hold a constituency clinic in Galway every Monday afternoon and throughout each week I am contacted by people who need emergency accommodation. Not even emergency accommodation is available in Galway currently. There is a three-week waiting period for emergency accommodation which, by its own definition, is an emergency. People are being told to self-fund, to sleep on a sofa or to live in their cars.

They are not being told to sleep in a car.

We will hear the Deputy first.

They are not being told to do that.

What they have been told is: "We cannot do anything for you." I ask the Tánaiste to give me the options for them.

I will when I respond.

There are no options. These are families, decent people. Landlords want to take over their properties. They are putting people out of them and giving them notice to leave. People are scared. One person has contacted me every week as they are due to leave the property they are in next April, and that person knows there is not a housing assistance payment, HAP, tenancy available in Galway. One cannot get a HAP tenancy. Landlords are not taking HAP tenants because the market is so strong. This crisis needs to be dealt with now.

The people of Galway are being told that there is no place to accommodate them, and that is a fact. The assistant CEO of COPE in Galway said that the homeless crisis in Galway is "unrelenting" and that, in his 20 years in his role, it is the worst he has ever seen. I have less than two minutes so I will not elaborate further. His comments can be read in today's newspapers.

There are people in Galway who have been on housing waiting lists in the city since 2002. The HAP scheme is the only game in town in Galway. The last time the local authority built a house was in 2009. The authority has recently acquired some houses, and earlier this year it completed 14 houses, but these were the first since 2009. In recent days another young man died on our streets in the curtilage of the city council offices. He is the second man to die on the streets of Galway in ten months, bringing the total to 25 people in the past 15 months.

Coincidentally, nine months ago almost to the day, the Tánaiste was in the chair when I raised this matter on Leader's Questions. He said then that while he and I often disagreed, he agreed with me about the crisis in Galway, the difficulties with developer-led development, and the lack of local authority housing. He also agreed with me about the acute need to declare an emergency, to put a master plan in place and to ascertain from the local authority where the difficulties lie. Here we are, almost nine months later and none of that has happened. I could repeat the same speech again but will not do so. Since I made that speech, two more people have died, bringing the total in Galway to 25.

I do not like to exaggerate. I like to stick to the facts. We have the most acute housing crisis in Galway. It is worse than Dublin. People have been waiting since 2002.

I will finish with an email I received today from a parent of three children, two of whom are severely disabled. They will be put out of their home in six months but there is no property available to them. It is impossible to get a HAP property in Galway, as the Simon Community has pointed out repeatedly.

I am glad to have the opportunity to respond to the Deputies. This week we learned of the tragic death of a man on the grounds of Galway City Hall on Monday, 15 October. I join the Taoiseach and others in this House in extending my sympathies and condolences to the family of the man who died. Clearly, this is a very difficult time for those involved, and I ask that we respect the privacy of the family and do not speculate on the circumstances of the deceased or the cause of his death.

As to the need for the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, to visit Galway city and to see the housing situation for himself, I assure the Deputies that he is fully cognisant of the housing issues and pressures in Galway city. The Minister recently visited Galway and held discussions with senior officials in the council on homelessness and wider housing issues.

The Government is increasing the funding to all local authorities to provide services to those experiencing homelessness. This year the estimated expenditure on homeless services for the west, of which Galway City Council is one of four local authorities, is €5.2 million. This will increase further in 2019.

Supporting rough sleepers is a particular priority. Last month, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and the Minister for Health jointly launched the national implementation plan for Housing First. Many of those rough sleeping have requirements for significant health supports. As such, Housing First is a collaboration between the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, the Department of Health, the HSE and the local authorities. Housing First recognises that a stable home environment is critical to the success of all other interventions, and by providing the necessary supports alongside rather than in advance of a home, we can empower people to tackle the issues that resulted in them becoming homeless in the first place.

The implementation plan will see this highly effective programme to reduce and end rough sleeping and long-term homelessness extended nationwide. The plan sets an overall target of more than 660 tenancies, with individual targets for each local authority. It is one of the most significant responses by the State to date in dealing with long-term homelessness. Under the plan, 30 Housing First tenancies will be created for Galway city over the next three years, with a further 19 tenancies in Galway county. A tender process is under way in Galway to deliver these tenancies. Supports for families experiencing homelessness in Galway city are also being reinforced. Galway city’s first family hub is due to open in early 2019. Galway City Council has also identified a site for the roll-out of a modular hub development to be operational in the first half of 2019. It is expected that 15 families will be accommodated for up to six months at a time on this site, if necessary. The principal advantages of these units are that they are quick to erect on site, portable and redeployable elsewhere. A place finder service has been put in place, with a dedicated officer funded by the Department, to support households experiencing homelessness in identifying and securing a property in the private rented market.

The long-term solution to homelessness is increasing the supply of homes, as I am sure the Deputies will agree. A range of measures are being progressed in this regard under Rebuilding Ireland to accelerate all types of housing supply, including social, private and affordable. By 2021, 50,000 new social houses will be provided and housing output generally will be progressively increased towards the target of producing 25,000 houses per year. Galway City Council has a target to deliver 145 new social homes in 2018 and about 1,100 between 2018 and 2021 through build, acquisition and leasing initiatives. In addition, in 2018, a further 254 families or individuals will be housed through the HAP or the rental accommodation scheme. This will bring the total delivery of social housing supports in 2018 to approximately 400.

Despite all of those numbers, I am well aware of the pressures in Galway. Those pressures were there when I was the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government and they persist. There are pressures in other cities too. What we are doing is ensuring that, from a financial perspective, local authorities are supported. There should be enough emergency accommodation in every town and city in the country for individuals and families who find themselves homeless but, if there is not, we are committed to putting the resources in place to provide such accommodation.

There is not enough accommodation. We are not making this up. It would make one cry, listening to the people coming into one's office.

I do not want the Tánaiste to get the impression that a large number of the people coming to us looking for somewhere to live are rough sleepers. Rough sleepers are a small subset of people who need special attention, and I am very well aware of that. The majority of the people with whom I am dealing do not have social or addiction issues and are not rough sleepers. They have never slept rough but simply have nowhere to live because we are up to 3,000 units short of the demand in Galway.

There is no emergency accommodation because Galway is a big tourism town, as well as being a university town and a town with a large institute of technology, GMIT. There is no property available to rent. The HAP scheme is not the most lucrative market and there are other markets available to property owners. There are approximately 19 tourist accommodation providers in the city, for example, apart from Airbnb. There is obviously a strong market in the tourism sector.

We have been told that 1,100 social houses will be built by 2021. There is one simple step that could be taken tomorrow that will speed up that process. It is the same step that the Government took when it created Irish Water. It provided the money to the utility and allowed it to get on with the job. I cannot understand why local authorities are not being given money at the beginning of the year and being told to do the job. They should not have to keep going back to the Department for approval time and again, which means that it takes them an average of 59 weeks to get permission to build a house.

I hope the Chairman will show leniency, given the seriousness of the subject.

While I believe the Tánaiste is genuine and interested, I do not think he realises that it is his Government's policy that is causing the problem. The Government is an integral part of the problem, not the solution. Homelessness in Galway is out of control. These are not my words. I have referred to the comments by the assistant CEO of COPE. He said that the official figures grossly underestimate the numbers of homeless. On Monday of this week, 13 people presented as homeless to one COPE centre in the city. If the Government keeps going down the road of reliance on the market and keeps talking about social housing in the context of HAP, it is not going to learn and it is not going to sort out the problem. We do not want hubs. Obviously, emergency accommodation is necessary, but what we want is a long-term solution.

What land does Galway city own? Can the Minister tell me that? What is the difficulty with building on that public land? There are 14 acres at Ceannt Station, eight of which have gone to a private developer without a master plan. There is land at the docks and on Dyke Road, not to mention institutional lands. Where is the overall plan and commitment to build public housing on public land to stop this scandal? We are talking about homes.

Airbnb is a huge part of the problem. The Government has refused to regulate it. We are losing streets and houses to Airbnb in Galway.

The one thing the Deputy and I agree on is that we need to get more homes built. They need to be social homes, affordable homes and private homes. Student accommodation also needs to be built because Galway is a big university city. Much of the accommodation that is currently rented by students could and should be available to individuals and families.

All of those things are happening. They are not happening fast enough, but they are happening. Much more student accommodation is being built in Galway. Social houses are being built there. The Deputy is right to quote often the statistic that very small numbers of social houses were built over the past ten years.

Nothing was built.

That is changing. The Government does not have an ideological attachment to a reliance on the private sector to solve social housing need. Quite the opposite is the case. It has committed tens of millions of euro to roll out one of the most ambitious social housing building programmes the State has ever seen. That is happening. It takes time to build houses and, in the meantime, we must rely on HAP and RAS because there are properties available in which families can be accommodated. We are also looking to switch people from rent allowance to HAP because it is a more secure form of tenancy.

It takes time to build the number of houses we need to solve the problems in Galway, Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Waterford and elsewhere. There is a dramatic increase in the number of social houses being delivered and the number of private houses, many of them affordable, that are being delivered as well. The Government is trying to deliver mixed tenure communities with many extra social houses. In the next few years, 50,000 houses will be provided under the Rebuilding Ireland scheme, which will then go on to provide more than 100,000 houses. That needs to be accelerated, particularly in pressure points like Galway.

Public Transport

I want to raise this issue with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport because it is an indication of the mess that the future development of the centre of Dublin is in currently. The Minister has taken a hands-off approach to public transport in Ireland's capital city, where a significant population lives and where people come in from the suburbs all around Dublin, including from my constituency of Dublin West, which includes Blanchardstown, Mulhuddart and Castleknock. If there was proper investment in public transport, those people would find their commute getting shorter; instead it is getting longer.

The BusConnects proposal has recently been developed. That proposal, which the Minister was involved in establishing, is seriously flawed. He said it had nothing to do with him and passed it on. Communities all over Dublin are left uncertain as to what will happen.

The central part of the BusConnects proposal was, in my view and that of many engineers, premised around the fact that College Green plaza would be implemented and significant numbers of major bus routes would be removed from the city centre. Those routes were to go down the quays and turn over the Rosie Hackett Bridge and, by other mechanisms, make their way to the south side of the city.

An Bord Pleanála, to which Dublin City Council decided to submit its plans and proposals, stated that the quays are too congested to take much more. That is clear to anyone who uses the buses daily going up and down the quays, as I do, and I know the Minister is also a bus user. An Bord Pleanála saw merit in the plan, but stated the impact, particularly on things like bus services, would be disastrous.

I got details of contracts for consultants relating to transport, presumably authorised in the Minister's capital budget. For 2017, Jarrett Walker & Associates, the firm which designed BusConnects, is listed as having been paid €407,000. In 2018 to date, the same firm of consultants is listed as having been paid €208,000. That is a total of €615,000 in consultancy fees in two years, which is not an inconsiderable sum. We are now thrown into total confusion.

This relates to the Minister's leadership of his Department. A hands-off approach is not good enough for Dublin city and the vast population it serves in terms of public transport. The Minister cannot, like Pontius Pilate, wash his hands of this because he is in the lofty and honourable position of being a Minister. He cannot say that Dublin city transport has nothing to do with him and refuse to get involved.

This decision of An Bord Pleanála simply adds to the confusion about what will happen in Dublin city centre. It is a grievous blow to the city, but so too is the Minister's BusConnects programme, which is now out to public consultation. The topic has been discussed on many occasions in the House. I do not know what will come back after Christmas because now a central feature of the plan, fewer buses within College Green, has been thrown out by An Bord Pleanála for the very good reason that there is not enough bus transport and the quays are already too congested.

The proposals the Minister has been flying kites with simply cannot be implemented.

I thank Deputy Burton for raising an issue in terms I have heard before in the House and will no doubt hear again. I reject the premise of what she says but I will try to answer some of the more relevant questions as to whose responsibility this is.

The Deputy is aware that the planning application was brought by Dublin City Council.

The decision to refuse was made by An Bord Pleanála. The decision is being considered by the council and the National Transport Authority to determine the implications. From a transport perspective, the proposal was one of a number of measures developed as part of the Dublin City Centre Transport Study, which was a joint initiative by the Council and the National Transport Authority. The issue of congestion is one which formed the backdrop to that study and forms the backdrop to city centre transport today also. The measures proposed by the transport study were designed to address the transport issues facing the core city centre area, facilitate the implementation of the Council’s development plan and safeguard the future development of the city.

In line with those objectives, the study put forward a number of proposals around an improved public transport offering for the city. Since the study’s publication in 2015, the NTA also published its statutory Transport Strategy for the Greater Dublin Area and we have this year witnessed the publication of the national development plan and now have visibility of the proposed funding allocations over the next ten years.

A number of recently completed projects have already served to improve the capacity and quality of public transport in Dublin. Since 2015, Luas cross city has opened, heavy rail services have expanded through the re-opening of the Phoenix Park tunnel and ten-minute DART trains have been introduced.

We have invested in improved cycle routes and expanded public bike-sharing schemes. We have also invested in new bus services and a new fleet and improved passenger experiences through the roll-out of real time passenger information and the continued development of the Leap card. These are positive developments. We know that we need to continue to increase our levels of investment in public transport and active travel measures, which we plan to do under the national development plan. The Deputy will be well aware of the substantial investments planned to improve the bus network and infrastructure through the BusConnects programme to which she referred disparagingly. The NTA and Transport Infrastructure Ireland are continuing to plan for MetroLink with a view to construction commencing in 2021 and services being ready to start by 2027. The NTA is continuing to work with Iarnród Éireann on the expansion of the DART, which will see the network electrified as far as Drogheda to the north, Maynooth to the west and Hazelhatch to the south west. The issues underlying the development of the 2015 study remain and the NTA will continue to work with all stakeholders, including the council, to improve public and sustainable transport options in the city centre.

The Deputy should note that the Government and the Minister set policy, but we also allocate funds. Not to acknowledge the progress made in the expansion of the DART, with ten-minute DART services, the Luas cross-city service, the proposals for BusConnects and the increases in public service obligation, PSO, funding is disingenuous. This is mainly a matter between Dublin City Council which made the application and An Bord Pleanála, the planning authority, which made the judgment.

I thank the Minister for his reply. It is good of him to come into the House to talk about this vital issue for everybody in the city of Dublin. The achievements the lists include the study commissioned in 2014 and 2015, the opening of the Luas cross-city service, the expanded heavy rail services as a result of the reopening of the Phoenix Park tunnel and the introduction of ten-minute DART services. I was one of the people who lobbied for for many years for the new Luas service to Broombridge and was particularly involved, as the Acting Chairman knows, in lobbying to have the tunnel under the Phoenix Park reopened. For the Minister in some way to claim that he has some relationship with these achievements is rather grandiose and history does not support it. I am delighted that they have all been made and about the real-time information application for Dublin Bus. It precedes the Minister's time in the Department. I am talking about his time in it, the fact that he seems to have no time at all to get involved in dealing with the slow strangulation happening in Dublin city centre which has a serious impact in places other than Dublin city in Fingal, south Dublin and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. Each of these council areas has seen huge population growth. They require more buses and train carriages, particularly on the Maynooth line, electrification to happen much earlier and the College Green issue to be addressed. The Minister has not told us what his response is as Minister to An Bord Pleanála's decision. I said the application had been made by Dublin City Council. What does the Minister propose to do about the mess that has become infinitely more complex as a result of An Bord Pleanála's decision? An Bord Pleanála states the plan has merit but talks about a lack of public transport services. We have added into this the issue of the BusConnects programme, a deeply flawed proposal, with the astonishing information that Jarrett Walker has been paid €615,000.

I thank the Deputy for repeating almost exactly in her second contribution what she had said in her first. I have responded adequately to it and do not want to be guilty of engaging in the same type of repetition. I emphasise the message I gave her that it is primarily a matter for the council and the NTA. Their application has, rightly or wrongly, been turned down by An Bord Pleanála and it will be for them to consider what action to take. That is from where the initiative came and where it has to be responded to. I have said repeatedly to the Deputy that the initiatives and large projects undertaken by the Department during the years, not only under the national development plan, have been extensive and expensive. She cannot just dismiss BusConnects, the Luas cross-city service and the Phoenix Park tunnel project and claim the credit for herself.

I did not dismiss them. The Minister has not-----

I congratulate Deputy Joan Burton on being on the right side of something for a change.

The Minister had nothing to do with it.

It was well lobbied for. It is wonderful that something she championed has been achieved for once. She should not pretend the Government is not responsible for some of the great and very successful projects on which we have spent public money and of which she herself is a beneficiary.

Residential Institutions Statutory Fund

The 2017 annual report of Caranua's appeals officer highlights some very serious concerns about the administration of the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Board, Caranua, which was established under the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund Act 2012. Some of the decisions and procedural issues in Caranua raise many questions, with the continuing reports from survivors of abuse on how they have been and are being treated in their interactions with the organisation. On the "Today with Sean O'Rourke" programme last week we again heard some of the human stories behind the fund and the reasons for its establishment. Of particular concern in the annual report is the lack of information given to applicants on their statutory right to appeal.

Of the €110 million pledged by the religious congregations, €103 million has been received and €80 million expended. Caranua received 6,109 applications, but 1,195 applicants did not receive support on making an application. Of most concern is the fact that in the appeals process, of those who appealed, 66% were successful, with 43% of appeals upheld, with others being referred back to Caranua or partially allowed. There is real concern about the time it took during 2017 to process appeals. Some 39% took over 52 weeks to process, with only 7% being completed in less than 13 weeks. Some 23% were completed in 13 to 26 weeks; 20% in 26 to 39 weeks and 10% in 39 to 52 weeks. These are unsatisfactory timeframes - there were two working appeals officers - and they are very likely to increase now that the second appeals officer has refused to renew their contract and has not yet been replaced.

The sample appeals are particularly shocking and some of the decisions seem to have been plucked out of thin air. Where are the written guidelines which state only external doors are included? How are applicants expected to provide the requisite information when they are not even being informed of what the parameters are in decision-making?

This is another Caranua appeals officer's annual report and another crushing exposé of the severe dysfunction in an organisation which was set up supposedly to administer a fund for the survivors of institutional abuse and which has, in and of itself, become a vehicle for causing further distress to people who applied for supports such as healthcare and house improvements. It is a system which has been revealed yet again to be totally arbitrary, inconsistent and bureaucratic when it could involve a simple application form. It has been adversarial, with a lack of empathy and sympathy being shown.

I congratulate the Minister, Deputy McHugh, on his new job but he is the fourth Minister for Education and Skills with whom we have had to raise this issue. Year after year the reports point out the patterns and the problems with the administration of the fund and with the way survivors are treated. As Deputy Broughan said, a clear majority of the refusals by Caranua were subsequently upheld on appeal. We have to take into account that they are elderly and sick people and time is not on their side. In almost 40% of the cases, the waiting time for the appeal, which ultimately becomes successful, is more than a year. That is shocking. In addition, the failure on behalf of Caranua to implement the reports of previous appeals officers and to deal with the successful appeals is frightening because cases which were successfully appealed as far back as 2014 are waiting on the services that they applied for almost four years ago.

The question is when this is going to stop and when there will be an end to barriers being put in the way. People have a statutory right to this fund. Today, there are still 2,449 applications in the system awaiting a decision. Are they going to go into the backlog as well? We need a second appeals officer straight away and we need some action on the reports.

I thank the two Deputies for raising the matter. It is a broad one relating to Caranua's 2017 annual report and the appeals process, so I have a fairly broad answer, but there are statistics and bits of information that might be relevant to the discussion.

Caranua is an independent statutory body established in 2013 under the provisions of the Residential Institutions Statutory Fund, RISF, Act 2012 to utilise the €110 million cash contributions pledged by the congregations to support the needs of survivors of residential institutional child abuse. It is entirely funded by those contributions and no Exchequer funding is involved. The board adopted the service name Caranua in October 2013 and set up a website, Section 22 of the RISF Act provides for a right of appeal against decisions made by Caranua. Mr. Pat Whelan, the first appeals officer, was appointed to that position in 2014 with further one-year periods in 2015 and 2016. Two appeals officers, Ms Geraldine Gleeson and Mr. Brendan O'Leary, were appointed in May 2017 to deal with a backlog of cases that had built up. The 2017 annual report, which is Ms Gleeson's and Mr. O'Leary's first report, covers the period 15 May 2017 to 30 April 2018. The report was published on 4 October 2018.

There were 140 cases outstanding when they took up their position and they received an additional 87 appeals between May 2017 and April 2018, giving a total of 227 appeals for consideration. A total of 193 cases were completed during this reporting period, leaving 34 appeals on hand. The report confirms that of the 193 cases completed between May 2017 and April 2018, 83 or 43% were upheld, that is, the original decision on the application was revoked by the appeals officer; 18 cases, which is 9%, were partially upheld; and 26 cases or 14% were referred back to Caranua for reconsideration in accordance with specific directions from the appeals officer. A total of 54 cases, 28%, were not upheld, that is, the original decision was affirmed by the appeals officer; and 12 cases, 6%, were either discontinued or withdrawn.

Of the 87 additional appeals received during the period covered by this report, 26 related to home improvements or repairs, 22 related to personal well-being and health matters, 15 related to household and personal items, eight were for funeral expenses, seven were for education, four for eligibility, four for travel or transport, and one for financial assistance.

The two appeals officers were appointed in May 2017 for a one-year term. For personal reasons, one of the appeals officers decided not to accept reappointment to the position. Given that the number of appeals on hand is manageable by one appeals officer, I do not intend to appoint a second appeals officer at this time but the situation will be monitored. I take on board what was said here tonight in that regard.

To date, costs amounting to €82,200 have been incurred in relation to the work of the appeals officers. Administrative support is provided by a Department official. The annual report addresses a number of specific policy issues, including issues raised in previous annual reports. The perception that Caranua made an administrative decision to refuse to process further applications from applicants, on the basis that they had received support and services, in favour of those who had not yet applied or received support was a core issue of previous annual reports. Caranua's position is that it must manage the fund so that it can be shared fairly among all people who can apply to it. This policy issue is primarily a matter for the board of Caranua. Decisions of the appeals officer may be appealed to the High Court on a point of law. One such appeal was initiated in 2017 by the board of Caranua. The case centred on the personal allocation limit introduced by Caranua in the revised guidelines published in June 2016. Based on the legal advice received, the case was settled by the appeals officers. There is ongoing litigation in the High Court, with seven cases being taken against the appeals officers on the grounds that the personal allocation limit of €15,000 should not be applied retrospectively where the applicant has received funding for services from Caranua.

Given the lack of intervention on these worrying reports by the Minister's predecessors, including the previous Minister, Deputy Bruton, it is very disappointing that the Minister has said he does not intend to appoint a second appeals officer now. That is the least that might have been expected.

There are reports that these vulnerable people, whom the State let down horribly - I am sure the Minister agrees - are being retraumatised by their treatment by an agency that was set up by the State to pay reparations. Mr. Tom Cronin and Dr. Mary Lodato, both survivors of institutional abuse, resigned from the board of Caranua, citing their concerns over the treatment of survivors. What training have the staff of Caranua received to help them deal with this cohort of vulnerable citizens? When will the independent survivor consultation forum be established? What is the situation concerning the CEO? What contingency fund is in place for those cases that are before the High Court? Many questions need to be answered and the Minister needs to read himself into his brief. I wished the Minister well last Tuesday when he was appointed but he needs to start dealing with the Caranua issues as a matter of urgency.

I know the Minister only started in the job this week but I beg him not to provide just the standard answer other Ministers have given us on the issue. Time is not on the side of the survivors of institutional abuse. The reply given by the Minister is simply not accurate. A total of 39% of the cases took more than a year to process. There are 2,449 applications awaiting a decision. How many of them will go on to the appeals process. One appeals officer is not enough. We urgently need two.

As Deputy Broughan said, what is of critical concern is how many of the survivors will be dragged into the courts to get their claims settled. There are cases going through the courts where Caranua has failed outright to implement the decision of the appeals officer. The approximate cost of each of those cases is €200,000 and the costs are taken from the survivor fund, which is shameful. We need an efficient scheme, a review and for the Minister to take some notice of what is going on and to consider some of the suggestions we have put forward over the years. To be honest, I think we have taken a more active interest in the matter than the Department has and we have made some practical suggestions, which I appeal to the Minister to consider.

I take those contributions seriously, whether we are talking about length of time, lack of information or the system being too bureaucratic, given the ordeal of institutional abuse the survivors have gone through and the stage of life they are at. I take on board the suggestion that there will possibly be a need for a second appeals officer. I will monitor the situation and speak to my officials after this debate to see if there are ways in which we can make it easier for this most vulnerable group of elderly people who have gone through such an ordeal. Words such as empathy and sympathy were used, as was the importance of avoiding any form of adversarial approach in the State's dealings with the survivors. I am supportive of working with Members on that. I take on board what has been said and also the fact that Members are affording me the opportunity to get into my brief. I will speak to my officials and get a comprehensive update from them.

We will not be so nice the next time.

You are always nice, Clare.