Skip to main content
Normal View

Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Vol. 982 No. 10

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Early Childhood Care and Education Funding

I appreciate that this matter has been selected and that the Minister, Deputy Zappone, is in the House to deal with it. The community in Mountbellew will also appreciate the fact she has stayed to listen to the case I am going to make and, hopefully, she will have some good news for me.

I want to raise the urgent situation at the Mountbellew community childcare centre in County Galway. The centre has applied for a Pobal grant to fund a much-needed extension. The centre can currently cater for approximately 50 children but there is a significant waiting list to access the centre. Due to this waiting list, 30 additional children are currently using an interim measure of the loan of the national school gym, which, as I am sure the Minister will acknowledge, is not an ideal solution and not easy to manage. The children spend hours in their national school gym, where they have no access to rest areas. Even with this, many children in the community cannot access the centre because it is at maximum capacity.

There are many families whose children are not able to access their local community preschool programme. As we know, attending a preschool in their locality with peers who they will begin national school with is an advantage all our children should be afforded. Children in the area are forced to attend preschool in satellite towns and, even with this, they are only able to access limited days. Parents in this situation have been told their children are not advancing as well as hoped due to their limited attendance.

The centre urgently needs to be afforded this Pobal grant. The matter warrants immediate review. Investing in this centre makes economic sense. We must be able to facilitate parents to work and contribute while our children, the future generation, are nurtured in the best environment possible. This is rural Ireland. This is the generation working full time, bolstering our economy. I have been contacted by so many parents and members of the public from the Mountbellew area regarding this pressing matter. One email from a concerned father really rang a bell with me. He said that, in January of this year, he and his wife queued outside Mountbellew community childcare centre from 5.30 a.m. to try to get their daughter a place for September, only to be told there was no room at the inn and no space. This is because the childcare centre needs this extension urgently.

Mountbellew is fortunate to have a childcare centre of this calibre. All the emails to me from parents have noted the professional nature of staff and the loving, caring and nurturing environment. It speaks volumes that the majority of staff working there have been there for many years and continue to deliver the highest standard of care, with a continuing innovative approach.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. A key priority for me as Minister is to ensure all children can access early learning and care and school age childcare that is affordable, accessible and of high quality. My Department supports the growing sector through the provision of capital funding where it is most needed. After decades of low levels of investment in early learning and care and school age childcare in Ireland, we are finally making progress. Over the past four budgets, investment has increased by 117%, rising from €260 million in 2015 to €575 million in 2019.

Assisting childcare providers in extending their existing childcare services and establishing new childcare services has been one of the key areas of focus for my Department’s capital programmes. Each year my Department reviews the capital programmes as a whole and determines the priorities for early learning and care and school age capital grants. The capital strands have been made available to achieve the strategic priorities for 2019 as determined by the Department, having regard to the funding available, the current state of the sector, learning from previous capital programmes and feedback and input from key stakeholders, including childcare providers and Pobal.

In 2019, I have secured a capital budget of €9.6 million for the sector, which will enable a focus on increasing the number of places available and supporting the transition of services to the forthcoming national childcare scheme. I have allocated €6.1 million of this funding for the 2019 early learning and care and school age childcare capital programmes. This funding will be delivered in three strands. First, €4.23 million will be delivered under strand A, which will offer grants of up to €50,000 to early learning and care providers for the creation of new places for 0 to 3 year olds, where demand for these is clearly evidenced. Second, I have allocated €875,000 to strand B, which will offer individual grants of up to €15,000 to aid community and not-for-profit early learning and care services in addressing fire safety issues. Third, there will be €1 million for strand C, which offers individual grants of up to €20,000 to school age childcare providers for the creation of new school age places where demand for these is clearly demonstrated.

I remain committed to assisting all childcare providers, both community and private, in providing world-class childcare and meeting demand for childcare places. As the Deputy will be aware, the application window for the capital programmes closed on 27 March 2019 and the appraisal process for applications is currently under way in Pobal. As I am sure he can appreciate, in the interest of fairness and equity, I am unable to comment on any service’s capital application. However, I assure him that all applications for funding will be appraised in a fair, thorough and impartial manner. In accordance with principles of fairness and equality, no favour will be shown to any individual service or services, and all appraisals will be undertaken on the basis of the content of their applications for funding alone. Decisions are due to be delivered to applicants in June 2019, with the aim that capital works can begin as soon as possible following this. The results of the appraisal process, including the final decisions, will be communicated to providers directly following their completion.

I acknowledge the Minister's reply. I fully understand she cannot tell me about any project today. I again compliment her on fighting a good battle in securing such money at the Cabinet table for such projects. I know she realises that the up and coming generations are the people we have to nurture and care for. I have made a strong case for Mountbellew. I am sure it will come within the remit of that funding. Basically, what I have been doing here today is making the Minister fully aware of the importance of that facility to the town. It has a wonderful and progressive community and it is one of the liveliest towns in the west, which is very much community-focused. The childcare centre is very much part of that community and people know their children are being nurtured and cared for by good people in a good centre.

Indeed I welcome the funding that has become available to several projects in the Roscommon-Galway constituency. I will not labour the point. I sincerely thank the Minister for being here and for listening. I fully understand that she cannot make commitments on the floor of this House, but now she really knows the importance and significance of Mountbellew childcare centre and the pressure it is under. I appreciate the Minister's time today.

It is very helpful for me to hear the Deputy's commentary concerning the Mountbellew childcare centre, particularly the way in which he describes the quality of provision for the children and the incredible commitment of the providers, the staff and the professionals. It is so important for us and for me as Minister that they stay there and continue to do that work. I know it can be challenging at times. We are working to ensure that their terms and conditions can improve with the investment as well as directing capital investment to create additional spaces.

As the Deputy can appreciate, calculating of the number of places required and allocating money for the necessary investment is not an accurate science. However, as I tried to describe in my response, we are trying to learn from all the stakeholders involved, especially local communities. We use a very special type of science called the geosparcity index, also utilised by Pobal, to get a sense of where the gaps in capacity are. The Deputy has raised, in such a clear, articulate and passionate way on the floor of the House, the issues facing this centre. This helps us to be aware not only of that centre but also of potential capacity issues in the wider area he refers to. I am very grateful that the Deputy did this today.

Disability Services Provision

I thank the Ceann Comhairle for the opportunity to discuss this matter. While I will refer to Dublin Central, the issues facing parents of children with special needs who are trying to access the relevant services is not confined to that constituency. I acknowledge the progress that has been made compared with the situation for children with special needs years ago. I also acknowledge those who work with children with special needs, especially in schools. In my experience in schools, I have seen the frustration of staff and parents. They know the needs of the children. They know the services that are needed and which will make a difference. Without the timely and appropriate services that a child requires, the situation worsens, the child regresses, and the needs become greater. Everybody agrees on the need for timely and appropriate services.

I have a particular case which brought all of this to light. I will not use the child's real name. I will call him Tom. He was born in 2005. Some months ago his parents had a feedback meeting with the clinical psychologist concerned. It was confirmed that Tom has autism spectrum disorder. The assessment of need identified what was needed: occupational therapy, OT, psychological services and speech and language services. The parents also received the service agreement, one part of which reads:

Under the Disability Act I am to provide you with a Service Statement specifying the Health Services which will be provided to [the boy in question] to address the needs identified in the Assessment Report. The Service Statement is based on a number of factors including the needs identified in the Assessment Report and the resources available to provide the services required.

Having consulted with you and potential service providers, I regret to inform you that the services outlined in the Assessment Report as required to address the needs identified for [the boy involved] are not available at present.

That is the reality. I also found out that there are no OT services for children over the age of 12 in Dublin Central. There is a waiting list of at least two years for child psychological services, and the waiting list for speech and language services is unknown. The recommendation of the psychologist was for the parents to get private services. The Minister of State can imagine the dilemma. Every parent wants to do the best for his or her child. It is a horrible scenario in which a child will get services if a parent has money but the child will not get those services he or she does not. I know the Minister of State's views on this. A child's special needs should not be dependent on the parents' ability to pay. The service level agreement did say that referrals have been made to the primary care service etc., and provided further information. However, we know the reality of the waiting list for OT, speech and language therapy and psychological services.

I will refer to the situation of another young boy who is ten or 11 years of age and has major behavioural issues. Eventually all the players came together. It was obvious that the needs of the child had to be addressed. Otherwise the situation would worsen considerably. The range of services that came together for this child was amazing. Why do we not have a central point of co-ordination for this? About six services were involved here. At the end of the day the child decided not to pursue services, with the backing of the parent. In this case a service is available but there is no compulsion. I know that to engage we must have the agreement of the individuals involved, but who is going to provide encouragement and support so that the parent and the child will engage? I am not being negative, but I know from my own experience of young people that if the child does not engage, we are storing up problems for the future.

I thank Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan for raising this very important issue. I am well aware of her genuine concern for children with special needs in the Dublin Central area. Disability services in Dublin Central are delivered through a combination of directly provided HSE services and statutory, non-statutory and private providers. A wide range of these services are provided to children with special needs on behalf of the Dublin north city and county HSE community healthcare organisation, CHO. Children’s services are provided through multidisciplinary teams. and assessment and ongoing therapy are provided to meet their prioritised needs.

A Programme for a Partnership Government commits to improving services and increasing supports for people with disabilities, particularly for early assessment and intervention for children with special needs. However, at the core of the issue Deputy O'Sullivan raises is the fact that challenges concerning therapy services remain. The Government and I acknowledge that more therapists are needed to reduce waiting times for children and their families and to increase access to vital therapy assessments and interventions. Funding for an additional 100 therapy posts was secured as part of budget 2019. A commitment to recruiting these posts is reflected in the HSE national service plan for 2019. The 100 therapy posts provided for in budget 2019 have been allocated to each of the community healthcare organisations to recruit on a phased basis. Dublin Central is situated in community healthcare organisation 9, which has been allocated a total of 16 posts. Each CHO is finalising the allocation of these posts across its network area. The posts are being recruited on a phased basis and the target date for all posts to be in place is the end of the fourth quarter of 2019.

In particular, this initiative will have a positive impact on the waiting list for assessments of need under the Disability Act 2005. It will also drive implementation of the progressing disability services for children and young people programme through new staff appointments to reconfigured multidisciplinary geographically based teams. The progressing disability services for children and young people programme requires a reconfiguration of all current HSE and HSE-funded children's disability services into geographically based children’s disability network teams, made up of teams for early intervention and school-age children aged zero to 18. This programme aims to achieve an equitable national approach to service provision for all children based on their individual need and regardless of their disability, with service provision close to where they live or where they go to school. Some 56 children’s disability teams have been established and it is envisaged that the remaining 82 children’s disability network teams will be reconfigured from existing services in 2019.

There is a high demand for early intervention services in the CHO area 9, especially in the Dublin north city and county area. The service is working proactively with the HSE national disability office to meet this need.

The Government will continue to work with the HSE to ensure that therapy posts are recruited as quickly as possible and the remaining children's disability network teams are reconfigured this year in line with progressing disability services.

When I listen to the Minister of State, I must ask myself how much satisfaction will the parents of those children or those of other children with special needs get from his reply. I acknowledge that progress is being made but I return to the point that services must be timely and while we are waiting on the reconfiguration and the posts to be filled, children are missing out on a service which, if it were available to them now, would have a really important impact on their recovery and ability to get on with their lives. I accept that progress is being made but I also make the point that urgency is needed because children are falling through the cracks at the moment and the situation is worsening.

The National Council for Special Education, NCSE, gave a very interesting presentation in the audiovisual room last week or the week before. It brought it all together for me. We were given a nice, glossy information booklet for parents of children and young people with special educational needs. I have that book to hand and there is a lot in it, including information for parents, children and young people with special needs. It covers a range of topics including definitions, assessment, supporting roles and organisations that support children. That book also refers to a number of other publications. However, all of us in the audiovisual room had faced situations showing that what is contained in the book is not being delivered. There is a disconnect between what agencies and Departments claim to be happening and available or what is supposed to happen or to be available and the reality. The reality is that those services are not there when parents in that situation look for them. Alternatively, they are told there is a waiting list and no parent wants to wait for a service they know is vitally needed for their children. Booklets like that are false advertisement as they give out false information. They are raising parents' hopes that all they have to do is check this leaflet, ring that organisation and they will get the service. I do not think that is fair.

I absolutely take the Deputy's point about the two families she mentioned, their expectations and the urgent need for services. We all share a common desire to have the best possible policies and services for people with disabilities, children in this case. Both personally and as Minister of State with responsibility for disability issues, I want every child with additional needs to have access to the necessary supports in every aspect of their lives to enable them to achieve their full potential, maximise their independence and live a rich and fulfilling life. This includes ensuring that therapy services are available on an equitable and accessible basis to all children regardless of where they live, the school they attend or the nature of the disability. A key priority for the HSE in north Dublin city and county is to improve the waiting times for early intervention services through the reconfiguration of the network teams and a revised model of care for children's speech and language therapy, psychological services, occupational therapy, social work, physiotherapy and other specialist child mental health services.

This year's budget has allocated €1.9 billion to the HSE disability service plan. This is the highest in the history of the State and constitutes an increase of 7.5%. This will fund the provision of a wide and complex range of services for children with disabilities, including the provision of the 100 new therapy posts across disability services for children through the HSE and voluntary providers. This will continue the Government's commitment to maximising the potential of children with disabilities through the provision of high-quality therapy assessment intervention.

I fully acknowledge the concerns that Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan has articulated to the House today in respect of services for children with disabilities in the Dublin Central constituency. I sincerely hope I have been able to address her concerns and I will address them. The HSE has assured me that it is a priority to ensure the recruitment of 100 therapy posts for children's services in 2019. I take on board the Deputy's points, will follow up on them, and thank the House for the opportunity to address this issue.

Disability Support Services

Tá mé buíoch don Cheann Comhairle as ucht deis a thabhairt dom an t-ábhar seo agus an buachaill seo a lua ar urlár na Dála inniu. I am grateful to the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this urgent, emergency situation on the floor of the Dáil Chamber today. This is a story that has been reported in some media outlets today. A child has been in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda for approximately 13 days but it is not hospitalisation this child requires. The child urgently requires residential care for at least a portion of time. He also needs further support from the child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS, and from whatever other disability services are available. I am not confident that the child has received all of the medical and associated services he requires, particularly in recent weeks. I strongly urge Deputy Finian McGrath, both in his role as Minister of State with responsibility for disability issues and in his role as Minister of State at the Department of Health, to try to bring the hospital and disability sides of the HSE together.

I have been informed that this matter has been escalated to national level within the administrative structure. I am now escalating it to the national level of the Dáil. One side needs to talk to the other. There is no complaint about the hospital but it is not the place for him and, as I understand it, he does not need to be there but there is nowhere else for him to go. When this case came to my office and the media reported on it, it turned out that other, similar cases have happened or are happening. That is frightening. Services are not there when they are needed in this particularly urgent and critical situation.

I will not say too much more because I want to leave it as general as possible. I have already discussed the matter privately with the Minister of State. I gave him some more information about it which I will not put on the floor of the Dáil but I hope the Minister of State appreciates the urgency of the matter and the officials who make decisions, under the Minister, will be able to make the right choices for this child in conjunction with his parents. The parents are waiting for services. A particular service was supposed to be discussing matters with them this morning and that fell through for some reason. I was very disappointed to hear that did not happen. Another service interviewed the family on Friday and, as I understand it, that service does not have a place at the moment. It was very disappointing that what was meant to happen this morning did not happen. I strongly urge the Minister to do something. It is really urgent.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue and particularly for the manner in which he raised it. I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to the issue.

I am aware of the urgent case of this child which has been the subject of media attention this morning. While it would not be appropriate for me to go into the specifics of any individual case here in the House, I can say that I have been advised by the Health Service Executive that the child in question was brought by his parents to the emergency department in Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda.

That is not the case.

Okay, right.

I also am advised by the HSE that this child does not require hospital care. However, I have been assured that the community disability services in the CHO 8 area are actively addressing this issue and exploring all possible options in securing appropriate services for this child as a matter of urgency. The Government’s ongoing priority is the safeguarding of vulnerable people in the care of the health service. We are committed to providing services and supports for people with disabilities, which will empower them to live independent lives, provide greater independence in accessing the services they choose and enhance their ability to tailor the supports required to meet their needs and plan their lives. Significant resources have been invested by the health sector in disability services over the past number of years. This year alone, the HSE has allocated €1.9 billion to its disability services programme. This is an increase of about €314 million in the lifetime of this Government since 2016.

As part of its ongoing service provision, the HSE will provide more than 8,500 residential places this year to families in need. In fact, residential services make up two thirds of the disability budget. Our policy is for people with disabilities to be supported to achieve their full potential in order that, where possible, they can live ordinary lives, in ordinary places, doing ordinary things. Residential placements are provided on the basis of need and within available resources. The HSE engages with families to ensure that those with the greatest need are prioritised. Where residential placements are not immediately available, the HSE provides supports for families including day and respite services, home support and personal assistant services, early intervention services and multidisciplinary supports for children and adults. The need for increased respite and residential facilities is acknowledged and I accept that point. However, the HSE continues to work with agencies to explore various ways of responding to this need as it arises and in line with the budget available.

I appreciate that the Minister will not go into too much detail on this issue. The child was originally brought to the hospital in respect of a medical matter. I am not a doctor, but I agree that he does not need hospital care in Our Lady of Lourdes. However, there is no doubt that he needs further support from CAMHS and occupational or other appropriate therapists. I provided the Minister of State with the full details of this case prior to the debate. On behalf of the family, I beg him to do everything possible to get this child out of the hospital and into an appropriate setting. He does not belong or wish to be in the hospital and his parents do not want him to be there, but there is nowhere else for him to go. It is important that this be treated as a top priority. We know that there are significant deficiencies in this area generally. This child has fallen through the cracks of HSE services over the past year and a half. I met him and he is a lovely child, but he has autism and needs strong support to be provided immediately. I cannot overemphasise the pressing and urgent need for this child to be provided the appropriate support now. I am begging the Minister of State on behalf of the parents because that is what they want me to do. They want the child to come home when the appropriate interventions have been made and appropriate therapies given and that needs to happen as soon as possible.

I accept the Deputy's point that there is an urgent need and that this must be a top priority. I am aware of the details and will deal with this issue directly. We all share a common desire for the best possible policies and services for people with disabilities, including autism, and particularly in the case of children with special needs. In my capacity as Minister of State, I want everyone with additional needs to have access to the necessary support in every aspect of their lives to enable them to achieve their full potential, maximise their independence and live a rich and fulfilling life. I wish to acknowledge the difficulties experienced by this and other families. I have been assured by the HSE that it continues to liaise with the family to resolve this issue. I fully acknowledge the concerns raised by the Deputy in respect of this child. I have been further assured by the HSE that it is actively addressing this issue and exploring all possible options in terms of securing an appropriate service for the child as a matter of urgency. I will ensure it is treated as an urgent matter.

Homeless Accommodation Provision

I thank the Minister for coming to the House to take this Topical Issue matter. I agreed to a substitute dealing with it in his place, but it is an added bonus that he is present.

We hear much about homelessness in Dublin. Obviously, as a consequence of its size and population, it has more homeless people than Galway. However, there is a crisis in housing in Galway. Very few social houses have been built there over the past seven or eight years, leaving a significant deficit. Many decent families cannot get permanent accommodation. In all my time in politics, I have never seen as dire a housing situation as that which currently prevails in Galway city.

Every Monday, I hold a clinic in the city which is attended by a large number of people. The extraordinary thing is that more than half of those who come to my clinic each week raise issues related to the housing crisis. In most cases, they are on the HAP scheme or renting and their landlord wants them to vacate. The first thing my staff and I do in such a situation is to ensure that the tenant has checked with a body such as Threshold to ensure the order to quit is valid. We then contact the city council.

These families have no particular issues other than the lack of a house. I have always accepted that many of the homeless people on the streets require significant social backup and may have challenges such as addiction problems. Those are not the people to whom I refer.

There are currently 53 families, or approximately 200 people, in emergency accommodation. We should consider the nature of emergency accommodation in Galway. In the summer time, there are no hotel or bed and breakfast spaces, so the council uses student accommodation that is vacant for the summer. When autumn comes, the student accommodation is required and families are put back into hotels and bed and breakfasts if and when they become available. Of course, in a growing city, that is becoming more problematic. One particular hotel closed and all of the families living there had to move out, some into bed and breakfasts. One of the parents asked me how she could feed her children with a proper healthy diet and not takeaways, given that she could not cook for herself or her family in the bed and breakfast. There is a crisis in Galway. People do not know where to go. In some cases, they move in with family members. However, if the family member is in local authority housing, the local authority has complete control and may decide that they are not permitted to share the accommodation because it would be overcrowded.

When will we ensure that everybody in this country has access to proper, permanent accommodation? We are ruining the lives of young people in particular, who are moving from school to school and place to place. Children are only young once. The dislocation they are experiencing may be causing a social problem the consequences of which we and their families will reap in the future.

I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue. Supporting individuals and families experiencing homelessness is a priority for the Government. Rebuilding Ireland, the Government’s Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, is being implemented to deliver a range of measures to address homelessness and increase the supply of all types of housing - social, affordable and private. By 2021, some 50,000 new social homes - not including those delivered under the HAP - will be provided and housing output generally will be progressively increased towards the target of producing 25,000 new homes per year through all channels available to us. Galway City Council has a target of delivering almost 1,100 new social homes between 2018 and 2021 through build, acquisition and leasing initiatives.

The focus of the Government is to prevent homelessness to the greatest extent possible while ensuring that pathways for individuals and families in emergency accommodation are secured as quickly as possible. Budget 2019 reflects the commitment of the Government in this regard, with an allocation of €146 million for the provision of homeless services by local authorities in 2019, an increase of more than 25% on the 2018 allocation. In addition, €60 million extra in capital funding has been provided for additional emergency accommodation and €1.25 billion for the delivery of new social homes.

Last year, almost €5.9 million was spent on homeless services in the west region, where Galway city is one of four local authorities. This expenditure is expected to increase this year.

Additional capital funding is also being provided to increase the supply of emergency accommodation, reducing the reliance on hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation for accommodating families.

It is a matter for Galway City Council and the homelessness management group of the west region to co-ordinate the delivery of services across that region. Two family hubs, which provide more appropriate emergency accommodation for families, will open during 2019. One of the hubs will open this month, with a further hub, which is a pilot utilising modular homes, will open later this year. These two hubs will provide accommodation for 27 families, who will be supported to identify and secure independent tenancies from there. The Department is also funding a dedicated place finder officer to work with households experiencing homelessness to identify and secure a HAP-supported tenancy in the private rented sector. The place finder service allows for advance payments of a rental deposit and up to two months' rent to secure a property.

We also must recognise that many of those experiencing homelessness, particularly among single adults, require additional supports. The Deputy referred to this. In that context, it is important to note that the Government’s national implementation plan for Housing First was published last year. This plan, which is a joint initiative between my Department, the Department of Health, the HSE and the local authorities, sets a target total of 663 additional Housing First tenancies, with targets set for each local authority for the period of 2018 to 2021. Under the plan, 30 Housing First tenancies will be created in 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.

My Department will continue to work closely with all local authorities, including those in Galway, to prevent homelessness to the greatest extent possible, to ensure that adequate emergency accommodation is available for those who need it and to support all individuals and families in emergency accommodation to secure long-term sustainable housing solutions.

When one is working at the coalface, one often finds that the Government complicates things that are quite simple. I wish to make a comment on the place finder officer and ask the Minister for his response. According to the city manager, or the chief executive of the city as he is called now, there are not enough houses in Galway to accommodate everybody in the city. That is not to mention the 40,000 the Minister is planning to bring into the city. God knows where we will house them. Regardless of how many place finders are finding places, if there are always more people looking for accommodation than there is accommodation available, the best place finder in the world cannot solve the problem. That is my experience. It is not the fault of the people because the houses and accommodation do not exist.

The people I am talking about today do not have the social problems the Minister mentioned. Most of the people who contact me are families with children whose tenancies came to an end for legitimate reasons and not due to anti-social behaviour. They have good tenancy records but just cannot get housing.

In addition, when one drills into the figures one finds in the mix that people from the Traveller community face major barriers regardless of their history of good behaviour or how decent they are. The vast majority of the people who contact me are fantastic people. They face massive prejudice in society. All types of sociological reports say it exists. It is nearly impossible for them to compete in the open market for rented accommodation.

We have been hearing for years about how many houses will be built. There is no point in buying houses because that is one in and one out of the system and does not provide extra housing, and Galway is short of housing. How many additional social houses were built in Galway city in the past five years and are available as accommodation now?

I recognise the concerns the Deputy is raising and he is right to raise them. It is right to speak about what is happening with homelessness outside of Dublin. Dublin gets much of the attention because it has a significant problem, particularly when it comes to families in emergency accommodation. However, that problem is experienced in other parts of the country as well.

I spoke about the two different challenges we are facing with homelessness. One relates to people who are rough sleeping or adults in emergency accommodation who have more complex needs. The other relates to families who because of housing insecurity and the inability to find a home find themselves in the unacceptable situation of being in emergency accommodation. I have tried to simplify delivery. One of the things I wanted to do in Galway was merge the two local authority areas so when it came to matters such as housing there would be one force, unit or dedicated group with political responsibility to drive it. That was rejected by Members of the Dáil, but that has not stopped me from appointing a task force to the two authorities to drive delivery across both local authorities. The problem does not observe the local authority boundaries.

I represent both the city and the county.

Perhaps the Acting Chairman will allow me to reply without interruption.

Let us get this right. I represent both the city and the county and the problem I raised today is in the city. It is a great deal more acute in the city than in the county.

I cannot allow the Deputy to speak again. He is breaking the rules.

The point I am making is that the problem is not only in the city but also in the county.

It is ten times more acute.

Part of the reason it is more acute in the city is that some of the people with problems in the county find themselves in the city. We have heard this directly from the people who provide the services on the ground. I have been to the area and I have met people from the NGOs that provide emergency accommodation services and the local authority officials. I am aware of the issues. That is why I appointed a task force to deliver newly built social housing in Galway. That has not been happening to the degree that is required. New builds were built last year. We publish the figures every year on our website. I do not have the five-year figures with me now. New homes were built last year in Galway, although not enough. That is the reason there is a task force to manage both local authority areas.

With regard to emergency accommodation, we have increased the money for services for the homeless. There will be two new hubs in Galway this year because families are in emergency accommodation in hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation when they should not be. One of the hubs will open this month.

We also have the place finder service. That service helps families who find it difficult to access accommodation for a variety of reasons. It is not their fault. The place finder helps to identify and secure the accommodation and can help with the rent and deposit where that is required. It is a very important service and it is being utilised.

The Deputy referred to people looking for Traveller accommodation or people from the Traveller community seeking accommodation-----

They are looking for houses.

There is a prejudice in this regard. That is why we have a dedicated piece of work in the Department looking at this as well as a dedicated budget line. However, we do not use just that budget line. We also use HAP and normal social housing delivery. We are doing different things to try to help. I recognise that we must do more and that is why the task force is in place and there are extra hubs and extra funding.

The Dáil adjourned at 2.20 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Tuesday, 28 May 2019.