Ceisteanna (Atógáil) - Questions (Resumed)

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Micheál Martin

Question:

1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken with the UK Prime Minister since 29 October 2019. [45240/19]

Joan Burton

Question:

2. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent conversations with the UK Prime Minister. [46441/19]

Brendan Howlin

Question:

3. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken with the UK Prime Minister since 29 October 2019. [46450/19]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.

I was last in touch with Prime Minister Johnson on 27 October, after the withdrawal agreement Bill had passed on Second Stage in the House of Commons but the programme motion for the further passage of the Bill had been defeated. I also spoke to him on Saturday, 19 October, following the events in Westminster, when the UK requested an extension to the Article 50 process. I welcome the unanimous agreement of an extension by the leaders of the EU 27, with a view to allowing for the final ratification of the withdrawal agreement. This has extended the deadline to 31 January 2020. It could still be possible, however, for the UK to leave the EU before then if the withdrawal agreement has been ratified in advance of that date.

I welcome the draft withdrawal agreement reached between the EU and the British Government. It is a good agreement. It allows the UK to leave the EU in an orderly fashion with a transition period, which is important for businesses and citizens in the EU and UK. It also creates a unique solution for Northern Ireland, which recognises the unique history and geography of the region. The agreement ensures there will be no hard border between North and South, the all-island economy can continue to develop, and protects the Single Market and our place in it.

I agree that the British general election has effectively suspended engagement on all major issues and we will have to wait until after 12 December at the earliest to know what comes next. There are serious concerns, however, about what is happening during the election and statements being made regarding Northern Ireland. Earlier this week, the Tories briefed the media that, as part of a general initiative in trying to win the votes of former soldiers, the party intends to introduce a statute of limitations concerning illegal acts in which soldiers may have been involved. This would, in effect, be a general amnesty for the security forces.

I am sure the Taoiseach will agree that this unilateral action would be another direct contravention of the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement. It would also reinforce the idea that the British Government does not accept that joint decisions are required on issues with major cross-community implications. One of the failings of the peace process has been how different groups campaign for openness and accountability for others, but insist that accountability for their own crimes is a threat to peace. The only entity that has been willing to hold itself to account in a full, open and honest way has been the Irish Government down through the years. The Smithwick Tribunal, which we established the last time we were in government and which was completed under the previous Government, was given the full right to examine any possibility of collusion by An Garda Síochána with paramilitaries. The report was deeply uncomfortable reading, but there was no attempt to hide anything and no attempt to downplay its importance. The democratic parties here have repeatedly shown that we reject the idea that some victims are more important than others.

Does the Taoiseach agree that any attempt by the British Government to deliver what is, in effect, a unilateral amnesty for crimes committed by security forces in the North must be opposed in the strongest possible terms?

What actions has the Taoiseach taken to convey this to London? Given the deep crisis the entire 1998 settlement is now in, what initiatives is he proposing to try to break the spiral of breakdown and division that has taken hold in recent years?

In his conversation on the withdrawal legislation with the UK Prime Minister, Mr. Boris Johnson, did the Taoiseach have an opportunity to discuss the fact that so many women are leaving politics in the UK because of the abuse they are receiving. This includes online abuse and being shouted at and roared at in various venues to the point where many feel unsafe. This follows on from the murder of one of their colleagues by somebody from the far right just a couple of years ago. Northern Ireland's politics are fairly tough. Does the Taoiseach feel the tone being adopted by the Prime Minister, which is indifferent, if not downright abusive, towards women who expressed fears about their safety and the safety of their families in the context of threats they have received, is appropriate? What are its implications for political behaviour in the North?

With regard to Prime Minister Johnson's bizarre series of interviews in the North, he spoke at a business event in which he suggested there would be no additional documentation required for traded goods. He spoke at other events at which he seemed to want to reassure people from the unionist community that there would, in fact, be quite tight restrictions. Have the Taoiseach or his staff had any opportunity to clarify the exact policy of the British Government and Prime Minister?

I agree with Deputy Micheál Martin's comment that, because there is now a full-blown general election campaign in Britain, the UK Prime Minister is focusing exclusively on a domestic audience, but we have to be careful about the implications for us of what he is saying. I want to examine this further so we can be clear in this House about the Taoiseach's understanding of the implications of the withdrawal agreement. When asked on video by a worried exporter in Northern Ireland whether his business would have to complete additional forms when sending goods across the Irish Sea, the British Prime Minister said it would absolutely not be the case. The Prime Minister went on to say that if any such documentation were presented, the exporter should telephone him, whereupon he would advise him to put it in the bin.

My understanding of the withdrawal agreement before the British Parliament is that while there will be seamless exports of goods from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK, there will be checks in the other direction because goods coming into Northern Ireland will have unfettered access subsequently to the Single Market. There will be checks on those goods. Even in regard to the internal arrangements in the UK, the Brexit Secretary in giving evidence in the House of Lords said goods going from Northern Ireland to the rest of the UK would require what he described as "exit summary documentation". For the sake of clarity, could the Taoiseach set out for the House his understanding of what will be required on the movement of goods to Northern Ireland and out of the North to the rest of the UK?

As the Taoiseach will be aware, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Julian Smith, has again refused to meet Ms Geraldine Finucane this side of a British general election, despite previous commitments to do so. He has said the upcoming general election changes the circumstances. The Taoiseach is well aware that a Supreme Court judgment in February noted there was an unequivocal undertaking that a public inquiry would take place but that the British Government has failed to follow through on that. Despite promises from two previous Secretaries of State to meet the Finucane family, that meeting has yet to take place. Has that aspect come up in the Taoiseach’s recent meetings with Mr. Boris Johnson? If not, will he commit to raising it with him at the earliest opportunity?

I thank the Deputies for their questions. Deputy Micheál Martin is correct to point out that the UK is very much in election mode now. As a result, the normal engagement that occurs between governments is suspended. Having said that, we are staying in touch. I met Secretary of State Smith in Enniskillen last weekend. He is in close contact with the Tánaiste. Secretary of State, Michael Gove, will be in Dublin tomorrow at the British–Irish Council. We have scheduled a bilateral meeting, which will be an opportunity for me to raise with him some of the matters Deputies have discussed here today.

Our view is that there can be no amnesty for crimes committed during the Troubles, no matter who committed them, be they state actors or non-state actors. That is the position of the Government, which we will impress on the British authorities at future meetings. We will oppose any proposals for an amnesty. What I understand is proposed is a change to the Human Rights Act, which is not quite an amnesty. It is a matter about which we have a concern, however. We will certainly discuss it with the British Government.

I have not had any discussions with Prime Minister Johnson about women leaving politics but I share Deputy Burton's concerns about politicians, female and male, being verbally abused or threatened with violence. I do not consider that to be humbug. Sadly, it is a reality of what is happening in Britain and, to a lesser extent, Ireland and around the world. Such behaviour undermines democracy. None of us in politics is perfect but we are generally good people who try to make our communities a better place in the way we believe we can. While we do make mistakes and get it wrong sometimes, almost anyone involved in politics is in politics because he or she wants to make a change for the better. It is not right that politicians should be subject to verbal abuse or threatened with violence in any form, regardless of their party or political perspective.

The stated policy of the British Government is to ratify the new withdrawal agreement and to leave the EU by 30 January 2020, doing so in an orderly fashion, and entering a transition phase or an implementation period. That is obviously dependent on the outcome of the elections in the UK. Then we will move very quickly to the next phase of Brexit, which will be negotiating the UK–EU free trade agreement and the future relationship treaties on security, political co-operation and other matters.

My understanding of the withdrawal agreement is that there will not be any checks on goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain but it may be necessary to fill in some forms online. This, however, would not apply during the transition period or implementation phase and could be superseded by a free trade agreement that makes it unnecessary. It is an hypothetical requirement that may arise under certain circumstances. There will, however, be minimal checks between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, many of which already exist.

I have not yet had the chance to raise the Finucane case with Prime Minister Johnson. I raised it with the former UK Prime Minister, Mrs. May, previously. I have met John Finucane. I met his mother and the rest of the family. I have been very impressed by the case they make. I will certainly take that case to the British Prime Minister, whoever it is, in a few weeks.

Cabinet Committee Meetings

Micheál Martin

Question:

4. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if meetings of Cabinet committees were held in October 2019. [45243/19]

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

5. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach the number and types of Cabinet committee meetings held since June 2019. [46523/19]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

6. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the Cabinet committee meetings held in October 2019. [46683/19]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 6, inclusive, together.

In June, I chaired a meeting of Cabinet committee G on justice and equality issues and, in July, I chaired a meeting of Cabinet committee B on social policy and public services. On 25 July, the Government decided to reorganise the Cabinet committee structures and established committees on the economy; social policy and public services; infrastructure; Brexit, foreign and European affairs; the environment; and security. In September, I chaired meetings of the committees on the economy, on social policy and public services, on infrastructure, on Brexit, foreign and European affairs, and on the environment. In October, I chaired meetings of the committees on social policy and public services and on security. On 4 November, I chaired a meeting of the committee on infrastructure.

I understand from the reply that there were two committee meetings in October.

Every time there is a major new announcement by the Government we are told that the videos full of drone shots of the Cliffs of Moher and the regional advertising campaigns will be followed by concrete actions, one of which is always that a Cabinet committee will be very vigorous in overseeing implementation and make sure all targets are hit, but the evidence suggests this is not working. We were told, for example, that implementation of the national development plan, NDP, would be closely monitored at Cabinet committee level to control costs and update timings. However, despite a series of major overspends and delays, no updates have been issued. Will the Taoiseach explain why we have not been provided with the promised reprofiled NDP? Is it still the case that the billions of euro in cumulative overspending will not delay or threaten any project?

We were also told that health spending and service developments would be overseen directly by a Cabinet committee, with the Department of the Taoiseach playing a major role in providing for enhanced oversight. In spite of this, the failure to deliver agreed services and funding has continued and the Government repeatedly refused to give an accurate and up-to-date picture of the sector's finances until days before the budget. Will the Taoiseach tell us if he and the Cabinet committee which is overseeing the health services accept any responsibility for the failure to deliver on clear service commitments or be open about the levels of overspending?

We were also told that a Cabinet committee would ensure the targets set for Rebuilding Ireland would be fulfilled, yet the core target of building an average figure of 25,000 new houses every year has been missed every year. The simple question is why have the core targets set for Rebuilding Ireland which the Taoiseach reaffirmed during his leadership campaign all been missed. I asked this question yesterday, but it was not answered. Does the Taoiseach accept that the figures from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government and the CSO show that, even based on the most optimistic of projections, the core housing targets of Rebuilding Ireland, as well as its homelessness targets, have been missed?

I am not familiar with the committees. Will the Taoiseach give me a flavour of who sits on them? I know that he chairs them. Exactly what kind of work is done by them? Do they purely have an oversight role focused on implementation or do they consider the issue of policy development? Perhaps the Taoiseach might outline some of the background to the committees for me.

I heard the Taoiseach respond to the question about Cuisle, the holiday centre in Roscommon, to the effect that he had responded to it previously, but I did not hear that response. Given the size of the protest outside and the fact that wheelchair users, their families and supporters have gathered in large numbers outside Leinster House today, does the Taoiseach recognise that a mistake has been made, that the decision of the Irish Wheelchair Association and the HSE to close Cuisle and replace it with talk of people going to hotels is a completely retrograde step? One of the protestors has said to me that every year he brings 30 people from Keenagh, County Longford to Cuisle. He says it is the one time in the year when the wheelchairs users feel like they do not have a disability such is the design and purpose-built nature of the place. People are appalled by the decision and also by the attitude of the Irish Wheelchair Association in not providing transport to bring people to today's protest. It begs the question of whether those making the decisions are out of touch with wheelchair users that they can make such a mistake. I would like the Taoiseach to comment on the matter. What the protestors aoutside would love to hear is the Taoiseach saying he will intervene and make sure Cuisle is not closed.

Yesterday I expressed my frustration that none of my three questions had been answered. I will, therefore, put one of them again as the opportunity to do so has been afforded to me.

It has been reported that the Minister for Health is to tell the Cabinet this week that eliminating the practise of private medicine in public hospitals would free up 2,000 beds across the country and reduce waiting lists by 25%. Given the real crisis in hospitals and the numbers of patients on trolleys, this is a significant opportunity to take action. It is important that the House receive a clear response on whether the report has been brought to the Cabinet committee. Has the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, indicated the benefits, as outlined in the analysis, to the Cabinet and will it act on it? Yesterda, the Taoiseach said to the House: "Sláintecare does not prescribe which model we should follow." The Sláintecare document states clearly that our objective across all parties is universal, single-tiered healthcare which guarantees access based on need, not income. Has the Minister for Health brought the report to the Cabinet outlining the benefits of removing private beds from public hospitals and will the Cabinet act on it? What model of healthcare does the Taoiseach envisage Sláintecare arriving at?

As Deputies are aware, the Cabinet meets every week and sometimes twice a week. Cabinet committees tend to meet quarterly. There are standing items on the agenda, usually a review of the implementation of overarching Government strategies such as Sláintecare, the climate action plan, the Action Plan for Rural Development, Project Ireland 2040 and Global Ireland 2025. We will often discuss one or two other issues that require further scrutiny, for example, auto-enrolment or pension reform or big strategy documents due to be brought to the Cabinet, as it gives us a little more time to explore them in a little more detail than on a Tuesday morning. The difference between a Cabinet meeting and a Cabinet committee meeting is that the relevant Ministers of State are present. Officials and advisers are also present, although not everyone is. People are there on the basis of need. The meetings are preceded by a meeting of the senior officials group which tees up the agenda and documents for discussion at the meetings.

Therefore, after many years the Taoiseach has come round to the established way of doing things.

As they have been working since 2011, there has been no fundamental change.

The Taoiseach stopped the adoption of that approach for a while.

No, I did not.

The Taoiseach refined them.

We reshaped them. We have been having Cabinet committee meetings every month or every other month for seven or eight years, with the senior officials group meeting before them.

I can recall the Taoiseach saying he did not agree with them, that he wanted to have full Cabinet meetings.

The Deputy's recollection is wrong.

The one that deals with security, for example, allows us to bring in the Chief of Staff of the Defence Forces and the Garda Commissioner, whom we cannot bring to a Cabinet meeting. There are many ways to do business: at the Cabinet, Cabinet committees, meetings with Ministers and meetings with people not under the umbrella of a Cabinet committee. Sometimes officials, in particular, favour Cabinet committee meetings because they fall within Cabinet confidentiality, whereas bilateral meetings between Ministers do not. Sometimes the latter can be more transparent than Cabinet committee meetings. The Government accepts responsibility for all of what it achieves and does not achieve. When we do not achieve things, we continue to work on them. I do not think it is correct to say none of the housing targets set in Rebuilding Ireland has been met. I think some of the ones for the supply of housing have been met and also some of the social housing targets, but as I do not have the figures in front of me, I do not want to swear to that.

The target is the supply of 25,000 new houses a year.

To respond to the questions about Sláintecare, what I was referring to specifically was eligibility. Sláintecare sets out an all-party vision for universal healthcare, in which healthcare is provided on the basis of need, not on the ability to access it. However, Sláintecare does not state it would be totally free for everyone. It leaves open the possibility of co-payments, social insurance payments and other payments. It does not state healthcare will be free at the point of use. It allows for us continuing to have some charges and co-payments.

It stated there would be a single tier.

The point I am making is that it may be free for a lot of people but not for everyone and that it may be subsidised for others.

The de Buitléir report on how we can remove private practice from public hospitals was brought to the Cabinet. It is Government policy and what is recommended in Sláintecare. The de Buitléir report makes for a very good read. I have read it twice and the documents attached to it, including on the impact on the cost of health insurance and other such issues.

It lays out what can be achieved but also the limitations. Approximately 15% of the work done in public hospitals is for private patients. The number has decreased considerably in recent years. As Dr. de Buitléir points out, when we remove private packages from public hospitals, it is not as simple as that freeing up 15% more capacity. Those private patients might just decide to be public patients. While there will be a more equal system in our hospitals, removing private patients does not necessarily mean that more patients will be seen or that more operations will be done. It just means that there will be more equality in how long people wait for operations and appointments in our hospitals. That is valuable in itself. To say that it increases capacity would not be in line with what is said in the report. The report also outlines the costs. Approximately €600 million per year of income to our public hospitals would be lost once it is completed, which is €3 billion over five years or €6 billion over ten years. That lost income would have to be replaced with money from taxpayers.

They are paying it in health insurance.

It also suggests that we would have to negotiate with and compensate consultants for changes to their contract and lost income. All of these are difficult issues. We will make a start on it. We had a good meeting involving the Ministers, Deputies Harris and Donohoe, and I on how we can make a start on it and we should be in a position to make a start on it soon.

What about the reprofiling of the national development plan, NDP?

We are not reprofiling the NDP.

We have been promised a reprofiled and updated NDP.

The summer economic statement providing a reprofiling. The Deputy is correct about that. That provided an extra €200 million, mainly for health and communications. There was a further reprofiling in the budget where some money was moved back and forward because we did not need as much in health as we thought, broadband was delayed and there were movements related to transport. If that is what the Deputy means by reprofiling, we do that every six months at budget time and also at the summer economic statement.

Schools are being cancelled and delayed in the real world.

That is entirely incorrect. No schools are being cancelled or delayed.

Is the Taoiseach joking?

Nobody believes that.

There are not.

If the Deputies want to give me an example of a school that has been cancelled, give it to me now.

What about the flood prevention scheme in Glanmire?

If anybody in the Chamber wants to give me an example of a school that has been cancelled, they can do so now.

The time is up and we will move to Questions Nos. 7 to 12, inclusive.

Cabinet Committee Meetings

Joan Burton

Question:

7. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on the economy will next meet. [44456/19]

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

8. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on the economy will next meet. [45285/19]

Micheál Martin

Question:

9. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the number of times the Cabinet committee on the economy has met to date in 2019. [46415/19]

Michael Moynihan

Question:

10. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach if the Cabinet committee on the economy met recently; and the number of times it has met to date in 2019. [46420/19]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

11. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on the economy will next meet. [46489/19]

Brendan Howlin

Question:

12. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on the economy will next meet. [46452/19]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 7 to 12, inclusive, together.

The Cabinet committee on the economy most recently met on Wednesday, 4 September. It had been scheduled to have its first meeting of 2019 on Monday, 1 July, which was postponed due to the extended European Council meetings. The next meeting of the committee will be on 16 December. The Cabinet committee on the economy is responsible for issues relating to the economy, including one of the Government's flagship strategies, Future Jobs Ireland, which was officially launched this year. The Future Jobs programme sets out a forward-looking policy agenda to ensure Ireland responds to the many challenges we face in a fast-changing global economy. Implementation of Future Jobs Ireland 2019 is well under way and the first six-monthly report was published in July.

The focus is also on development of Future Jobs Ireland 2020, which will include a further set of specific actions across all relevant Departments and Government agencies for next year. To inform this process, the Government organised a Future Jobs Ireland summit last week. Issues relating to the economy are also regularly discussed at full Cabinet meetings, where all formal decisions are made.

I wanted to ask the Taoiseach about the national development plan, which is a critical part of the national economy. The Taoiseach brought up the issue of schools. In Dublin West, Dublin North and Dublin Fingal, there have been disasters in schools in which serious flaws have been discovered. There has been a significant amount of rebuilding. The Taoiseach visited some of the schools himself. It seems, along with other issues, to have put the capital budget of the Department of Education and Skills seriously out of kilter. I will give some examples. Parents with children attending Edmund Rice College, which is due to have a new school built on the Phoenix Park racecourse site, have been told that it has been delayed by a full year. The Taoiseach is familiar with Pelletstown. The Educate Together national school there has been in temporary accommodation for a time and it has been told again that its project is being delayed. Parents are anxious about when their children will see the new schools that have been promised and provided it for, since it appears that there are constant delays. In the case of Pelletstown, the Minister for Education and Skills negotiated an extra period in the temporary accommodation but that will run out at the end of this academic year at the end of June 2020. Will the Taoiseach get in touch with the developers of this large site in Pelletstown who are making millions from building accommodation there over the past ten to 15 years? Will the Minister for Education and Skills ask the developers to extend the use of the temporary site until such time as the Department of Education and Skills and the economy sub-committee can get school planning back on the tracks again so that parents, teachers and school boards can have dates and times?

I think the Taoiseach said that the sub-committees on economy and social policy have been combined. I have a different issue to Deputy Burton's, relating to housing. Does housing development come under this particular sub-committee?

Yesterday, we saw recent figures from daft.ie on the increasing rents across the State, especially in constituencies that I represent. We are now looking at average rents just in excess of €1,300. That is if one is lucky enough to find a place to rent. Rent caps, their oversight and implementation were a significant part of Government policy. They are failing. There are too many loopholes for landlords to be able to get out of them. We have seen situations where landlords evict people into homelessness on the basis that their properties have been sold, and six months later, they are back on daft.ie, with substantial rental increases. There seems to be no comeback apart from a complaint to the Residential Tenancies Board. How much oversight is happening at these sub-committees, particularly with regard to housing and the increasing rents? What does the Government propose to do? I know that yesterday, the Government refused to take on board the Opposition proposals for a rent freeze, which Fianna Fáil now also supports. If a Bill came before this House on rent freezes, I presume that it would pass this time, now that Fianna Fáil has decided to support it.

When the revised withdrawal agreement was published, we asked the Government to provide an economic assessment of the agreement. The Taoiseach did not answer the question at the time but the Minister for Finance has informed us that something is being prepared but that it will not be ready for a while. This is striking. Is it credible that the Taoiseach did not have available to him a specific analysis of the impact of the differences between the previous deal with Theresa May and this new deal? The Taoiseach has already accepted in this House that the Johnson deal represents a harder and harsher Brexit for Great Britain and for the Republic and that this has implications for east-west trade. During the election campaign, the Tories indicated their intention of seeking to use regulatory de-alignment as a competitive tool against Europe. The Singapore-on-Thames argument is being made every day. In fact, they understand well that the only way that they might have a chance to limit some of the damage of Brexit is to seek competitive advantages through looser regulation.

This is a view shared by the Commissioners, many of whom are predicting that will be the objective. There is the added issue of dealing with the economic fallout from Northern Ireland. The fact that Britain will leave the Single Market and customs union has serious implications for Northern Ireland, even if it continues to have open access from most areas to both Europe and Britain. This access has potentially important opportunities but they cannot be grasped without a strategy to invest in key areas. What measures have been taken to define the economic costs and opportunities of the deal for Northern Ireland?

Earlier this week, Owen Keegan raised the spectre of increased parking charges, increased rates and increased tolls in Dublin City Council, as he saw it, because of the under-funding of local government. In Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown this week, the new Fianna Fáil, Green Party, Labour Party and Social Democrats controlled council increased rates by 3.5%, increased parking charges and, interestingly, given the Green Party involvement, cut entirely the home retrofit budget, cut the environmental awareness budget and cut the community grants budget. This is fairly astonishing, frankly. Naturally, People Before Profit opposed such a shocking budget and proposed an alternative, which is that the refund scheme for vacant properties should be limited to one year so people do not get a break for leaving a property empty, which would put pressure on the owners of property to open up the empty premises that blight Dún Laoghaire and many other town and village centres across the country.

While I do not always agree with Owen Keegan, has he got a point? Local government is chronically under-funded. The property tax has not resolved or, indeed, assisted in any way in giving increased funding to local government. The consequences of that are going to be very damaging economically for Dublin city centre and for town and village centres throughout the country, such as Dún Laoghaire, where SMEs are struggling. This is not the way forward. We need additional funding from central Government to go into local government to secure local services and the future of town and village centres.

Last year, at the heart of a housing and rental crisis, local authorities built only 2,022 homes. A report entitled, Construction Sector Performance and Prospects 2019, illustrates that there is poor productivity in that sector. It contains an analysis of recovery of other sectors in the domestic economy and showed how far behind the construction sector is in terms of productivity and recovery. The Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation, in its analysis earlier this year, stated that there is a widespread discrepancy in regard to subcontractors and agency workers, with multiple parties working to different schedules and budgets, fragmented decision-making and often incompatible work processes, and ill-defined risk transfer mechanisms. There seems to be a dysfunction in construction, although that has nothing to do with the hard work being done by workers. Nonetheless, we need better models. I have two direct questions for the Taoiseach. Will he and his Government continue to depend on ad hoc workers and subcontractors to build at a time of national crisis or will he ask local authorities to build directly? When does the Government intend to restore the capacity to local government to undertake direct build, which used to be a feature of local authority housebuilding for decades?

I thank the Deputies for their questions. In regard to the school programmes, the budget for school building increased by 25% this year and will be roughly the same next year. The schools programme has involved the overall construction activity during 2018 and 2019 of 139 projects ranging in value from €1 million to in excess of €20 million. There are also 327 projects with a project value of less than €1 million at construction during this time. The completion of 466 projects is expected to deliver more than 40,000 permanent additional and replacement school places and replace approximately 600 prefabs. Progress of projects in 2020 is expected to involve 60 new school building projects of a value in excess of €1 million going to construction next year and delivering 30,000 additional replacement school places next year. There will, therefore, be 60 new projects next year worth more than €1 million and many more worth less than €1 million, so the schools programme is powering ahead.

In regard to Pelletstown Educate Together national school, the new school is anticipated to be built and opened for occupation and use in September 2021. The school is currently in temporary accommodation in the former marketing suite. I have spoken to the developers and the owners of that site to ask them to allow Pelletstown Educate Together national school to stay there for another year because I know parents are concerned about the possibility that children might have to be bussed to Broombridge again, which they would not like, and I support them in that. I am awaiting a reply from the landowner but, ideally, we would like the school to be able to stay where it is until the new school is ready to be opened in September 2021.

In regard to the Edmund Rice school in Castleknock, the site was only acquired recently. There were delays in the transfer of the land, there are issues with road access and planning permission has yet to be sought and secured. Money is not a problem for that project - far from it - and the delays are for other reasons.

On rent controls, as I have said previously, rent pressure zones, RPZs, and rent controls work for the people to whom they apply - the hundred of thousands of people who are renting and who are staying in the house or apartment they are renting. They now have a guarantee that their rent increase each year will be somewhere between 0% and 4%. Where rent controls and rent freezes tend not to work is for properties that are new on the market to rent, mainly affecting people who have to rent for the first time, in particular young people and migrants coming into the country. That is why we always need to bear in mind the impact that rent freezes and rent controls have. They tend to work very well for people who are renting and who have a tenancy, but they tend not to work and can even disadvantage people seeking to rent for the first time. That is why we need to get that balance right.

On the comments made by the CEO of Dublin City Council, I point out what everybody in this House knows, namely, local authorities have many sources of income, such as Government grants, the local property tax, commercial rates, development levies, rents and other charges that they impose, so they have a lot of flexibility around the money they raise and the money they spend. The revaluation of Irish Water has had a negative impact on the Dublin local authorities and on Waterford, but the vast majority of local authorities in the country, perhaps 25 of them, have benefited from the revaluation. Revaluations happen all the time, and some people gain and some people lose out. However, local authorities have a responsibility to come in on budget. They make decisions and they have to prioritise. Just like anyone who does a budget, they have to decide how much they are going to spend and how they are going to raise money. That is what being in charge and being in government is all about.

Deputy Boyd Barrett is correct that the decision made by Fianna Fáil and the Green Party on Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council was to increase business rates and to cut the budget for parks and climate action. It is interesting to see that no sooner are Fianna Fáil and the Green Party back in power than they are doing exactly what they did when they were in government nationally, that is, raising taxes, harming business and not doing much for the environment - in fact, they are cutting funding for climate action and parks in Dun Laoghaire. In my view, that was the wrong decision. They could have made other decisions on revenue which they did not make.

In terms of building social housing, approximately 10,000 houses will be added to the social housing stock this year. A few years ago, we were criticised for leasing and buying a lot of those from private developers, and I understand the reasons for that criticism. The reason that happened was councils and affordable housing bodies just had not built up the capacity to build. That is now changing.

Between two thirds and three quarters of social housing being provided this year will be new builds, with the companies contracted by the council or by affordable housing bodies.

How many last year?

Some 2,000 local authority houses were built last year and 1,500 social and affordable houses.

It is not just local authorities; it is also affordable housing bodies like the Iveagh Trust and the Peter McVerry Trust, which are funded directly by Government.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.