My colleagues and our party leader have outlined our disappointment with some aspects of this budget, which was framed against the backdrop of Brexit. As we meet here this morning, we do not know what the final outcome of the negotiations on Brexit will be. We sincerely hope that there will be a successful outcome and that Britain will be able to leave the European Union with a deal. This is an issue that has consumed political life in the Oireachtas. For all the deficits and deficiencies in our political system, the Oireachtas has worked very hard to ensure that we have a united front on Brexit, analysing and outlining the difficulties and challenges that it poses for the entire island. It is particularly disappointing that for the past three years there has been no Assembly or Executive in Northern Ireland when we could have advocated strongly and with one voice in the best interests of all the people in Northern Ireland. It is to the shame of the DUP and Sinn Féin that they could not reach agreements, along with the two Governments, to ensure that the people who elected Assembly Members to Stormont would have their voices heard. Not only do we not have a functioning Executive, there is no North-South Ministerial Council. The council is one of the very important bodies established under the Good Friday Agreement and it allowed members of our Government to meet their counterparts in the Executive twice a year. In addition, Ministers met in sectoral format to discuss issues of common concern to their Departments. They worked together and achieved progress that often went unheralded in the public domain. They were doing good and important work on behalf of all the people of this island and using the potential of the Good Friday Agreement.
Last week, I put questions to the Minister for Business, Enterprise and Innovation on the need to ensure that adequate supports would be put in place to assist enterprises through the difficulties that will arise on foot of Brexit. I highlighted the needs of the Border region, including counties Cavan and Monaghan. There is a high level of interdependence between the economies on both sides of the Border and, in particular, between people in Cavan and Monaghan and our neighbours and friends in Fermanagh, Tyrone and Armagh. We have many common interests. The major sectors in these five counties are agrifood, construction products and engineering and they will be the most adversely affected by Brexit because they are heavily dependent on Britain for their export market. I appeal to the Minister of State, and to the Ministers for Business, Enterprise and Innovation and for Finance, to ensure that specific programmes are put in place to assist those sectors in that region through the challenges and difficulties that will arise no matter what form of Brexit we have. I have appealed to the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport on many occasions to prioritise the infrastructural needs of the Border region. Our road infrastructure needs to be upgraded. Unfortunately, legacy issues caused us severe difficulties with lack of investment in infrastructure due to the difficulties and the troubles over so many decades. As that region will be most adversely affected the Government needs to prioritise investment there to assist enterprise and business to remain competitive, not alone to create new jobs but to ensure we maintain as much as possible the existing employment we have. Already there has been a negative knock-on effect from Brexit. I know of businesses in Monaghan and Cavan which had proposals to invest in expanding their operations but which put them on hold because of the uncertainty that has arisen on foot of Brexit.
It is absolutely scandalous that 10,700 people, including 70 children, were homeless last month. This Government has failed abysmally in the context of housing. It is most disappointing that there has not been a better rate of progress in the provision of social housing. When the Tánaiste was Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, I asked him repeatedly, through parliamentary questions and in committee debates, to ensure that income eligibility limits for social housing would be increased. Not only do people not get council houses, they cannot even get on the list to be considered for council housing. I have previously given the example of a lone parent, a young woman who has three children who are going to school. She was working four days a week, poorly paid, and was getting family income supplement but could not get on the council housing list. It is ludicrous that the family income supplement payment is factored in as part of a person's income when being assessed as an applicant for social housing. That person and thousands of others like her have no chance of getting mortgages from financial institutions.
At the same time, they are not eligible for local authority housing. Year after year, we have been promised a review of the income eligibility limits but nothing has happened. There are many vacant local authority houses, known as voids, throughout the country. The Department provides very limited funding to local authorities for the upgrade and return to habitable use of vacant local authority houses. It needs to properly fund the local authorities to ensure that they have the resources to bring up to standard those houses that have been vacant for some time. The number of boarded up houses in housing estates across many towns is a regrettable sight. The councils do not have the funding to bring them up to the required standard such that families or individuals could be allocated tenancy of them. This is bad housing policy.
I welcome the increase in home help hours but it is not adequate. In the region that the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and I represent - Sligo, Leitrim, Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan - there are lengthy waiting lists for home help provision. Applications are being approved but people have to wait up to, on average, 80 days for the service to be put in place. In many instances, the applicant is in a residential nursing unit or an acute hospital and in urgent need of the support. Additional home help provision would result in a saving to the Exchequer as it costs less than supporting a person in a residential unit and it also enables the person to remain at home.
Yesterday, I attended an exceptionally good presentation in the audiovisual room by Acquired Brain Injury Ireland, where it outlined the need for service provision for people who have suffered a stroke or brain injury. Acquired Brain Injury Ireland is doing exceptionally good work. I appeal to the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, to bring to the attention of his colleague, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, the need to ensure that this organisation is properly funded and that its request for a regional neurorehabilitation centre is progressed without further delay.
On mental health, at Fianna Fáil's insistence additional funding has been provided for this area over the past few years but, unfortunately, the services are far from adequate. Not only do we need increased funding, we need policies and programmes put in place and personnel and clinicians to be appointed to ensure that services are brought up to a proper standard.
All of us in the Chamber now represent rural constituencies. An issue of major concern to us is the proposal at EU level to reduce the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP, budget post-2020 by 5%, which, when calculated over a seven-year timeframe, will mean a 15% cut by the end of the term of that budget cycle. The Taoiseach has indicated his opposition to the proposal. I hope that he will enlist the support of other Government leaders to block this proposal that would do huge damage to farming throughout Europe and to the agri-sector as well. The Common Agricultural Policy is not about a transfer of funds to the farming sector. Rather, it is about ensuring that Europe has a secure supply of safe food for its citizens and it also plays an environmental role through various schemes. It is important that Ireland resists any reduction in the CAP budget. It was disappointing that during the term of the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government, when Ireland held the Presidency of the European Union and the previous CAP policy was finalised and agreed, there was, unfortunately, a 10% cut in funding, the first time in the history of the Common Agricultural Policy that CAP funding was reduced. I again ask the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, to bring to the attention of the Ministers for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Finance and Public Expenditure and Reform the need to ensure that the Border region is prioritised for investment.
I have previously discussed with the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, the concerns of communities in Magheracloone, County Monaghan, in regard to the subsidence that occurred there some time ago. Along with others, I asked him to meet a local group to discuss the matter, and he did so. I now ask him to ensure that the Department keeps in mind the concerns of the local community and works with people there to allay their fears and ensure that safety issues are dealt with in the best possible way.