Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

There is a growing sense that the Government is losing the battle against crime. People now regularly complain of the lack of gardaí on our streets, the easy tolerance of drug abuse, the open selling of drugs - including transactions on our streets and on public transport - and people injecting drugs in plain sight. People also complain about the growth in antisocial behaviour on streets and in parks. The Garda lacks basic resources such as technology, equipment and cars to deal with all of this. The barbaric attack on Kevin Lunney and the years of unchecked intimidation against his fellow directors is, perhaps, the worst manifestation of this issue. We discussed that matter on Leaders' Questions previously. In Lucan, a man was brutally murdered in a housing estate on the night before last. I have been out with Councillor Shane Moynihan across Dublin Mid-West in recent weeks and people on the doorsteps are articulating their concerns and anxiety about crime and antisocial behaviour. They make this point to us regularly and the sense a growing tolerance for antisocial behaviour and the developing drugs culture.

There was an incredible and unsavoury event in Cork recently. Up to 100 masked young people gathered in the city centre. This was incited through a social media message entitled "JD Cork City Robbery". The message gave the location and the attire required. The message read:

You must wear all black with bally and gloves. You only have 1 minute to yam that shop. This is at your own risk. Don’t come if you can’t run.

This planned raid was similar to events held in Belgium, London and Holland. We should be thankful that An Garda Síochána intercepted these messages through its monitoring of social media but it necessitated the presence of members of the public order unit and many other gardaí to stop the raid happening. The fact is that 100 youths actually responded to this call on social media. What does that reflect? I am of the view that it reflects a lack of fear of or concern with regard to our authorities and the consequences of such behaviour.

People everywhere tell us that drug transactions are commonplace on the Luas, on other public transport and on the streets. Those involved seem to have no fear of the consequences. Individuals are injecting openly on our streets. Cocaine use is up 30%. Over the past year, there have been far too many killings and brutal attacks on innocent people, including young people coming home from a night out and the homeless, who are the most vulnerable of all.

Does the Government acknowledge this growing sense of anxiety among the public regarding crime, antisocial behaviour and the increasing tolerance for an open trade in illicit drugs? Is our legislation robust enough to deal with incitement to rioting and looting via social media? Will the Minister commit the Government to strengthening our laws in that respect, particularly the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994, as the United Kingdom has done?

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. We are all concerned about criminals being brought to justice. I am glad that good progress has been made on the Kevin Lunney case through a joint operation involving the PSNI and An Garda Síochána.

The Government is absolutely committed to combating crime. In that regard, we have increased resources to An Garda Síochána. Some €1.76 billion has been allocated to the Garda Vote for 2019. This will increase to an unprecedented €1.882 billion for 2020. Significant capital investment is also being made. The capital investment of €92 million in An Garda Síochána this year represented a 50% increase on 2018. Capital investment will increase further, to €116.5 million, in 2020. Garda numbers are increasing. We are on track for the Government's target of an overall Garda workforce of 21,000 by 2021.

The Government is also supporting the ongoing process of Garda reform through A Policing Service for the Future, the implementation plan for the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. The purpose of this plan is to ensure the best possible policing services for communities now and in the future. Decisions on the best use of these resources are operational matters for the Garda Commissioner. Policing decisions are for policing experts. The Commissioner has stated that organised crime groups continue to operate and remain a significant threat and that Garda success in this area was, in no small measure, due to available law. The purpose of this unprecedented funding and support for reform is to ensure the possible policing services are provided to communities on the ground, in rural and urban areas, now and in the future. Decisions on the best use of these resources are, as I have said, an operational matter for the Commissioner. Policing decisions are for police experts.

With regard to the new legislation in respect of the Criminal Assets Bureau, the Proceeds of Crime (Amendment) Act 2016 gives additional powers to An Garda Síochána. These include the power to immediately seize assets suspected of being the proceeds of crime to prevent them being disposed of. The system established under the Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Act 2014 provides An Garda Síochána with links between people and unsolved crimes. The Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2009 was introduced to protect the justice system from subversion by criminal groups, including through the intimidation of juries. The Commissioner has said that, as of July 2019, there have been 354 arrests since the 2009 Act came into force.

The question I asked was whether the Government acknowledges the growing sense of anxiety and concern among people with regard to increasing levels of crime and antisocial behaviour, and the growing and open illicit drug culture on our streets. That is the key point. The Minister has not answered that basic question. I have knocked on many doors, including with Councillor Shane Moynihan last night. Everywhere we go people say this. They do not see a visible Garda presence on the streets. We know An Garda Síochána is stretched. Gardaí have said that they have not had the necessary resources in the Border area.

A teenager died in May after being stabbed in Finsbury Park in Dundrum. In June, a 34 year old Latvian mother of three was stabbed to death in her apartment and a homeless man was killed close to the GPO. Another homeless man was killed in Cork in September. In July, a 45 year old man was killed in the North Strand area after a row and a 19 year old man was hospitalised after being stabbed in Crumlin. I could go on. Irish Rail says that there have been 789 reports of antisocial behaviour on its services.

When talking to people, statistics such as those the Minister articulated do not really reflect the public's sense of the situation. People believe there is a growing lawlessness about the place, that this is openly tolerated and that there is a lack of enforcement and cut-through to stop this kind of behaviour from increasing.

I asked the Minister a specific question about updating the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 to deal with people being incited to riot and loot via social media. It is needed to counteract the type of thing that happened in Cork some weeks ago.

There is always a sense of anxiety and concern in any community regarding crime. As a result, we have provided more front-line gardaí. Deputy Micheál Martin will know that there are more gardaí on our streets than ever before. There are 1,500 more Garda members, which is 1,000 more officers assigned to front-line duties and there are 1,265 extra civilian staff. We increased the civilian staff numbers in the Garda so there are more officers out on the beat talking to people in communities and listening to the issues they raise. We have delivered a wider range of services locally with An Garda Síochána with enhanced national and regional support. The Deputy is aware that the Garda College in Templemore was closed and no gardaí were recruited for a number of years, but that has all changed. The college is open and we are recruiting. There are more gardaí on the street than ever before to tackle crime.

Housing and securing a roof over one's head is, without question, the biggest dilemma facing many ordinary people. It is the biggest challenge facing workers and families in their daily lives. I was in Cork yesterday and I was greeted by the results of the Government's disastrous housing policies. In Fairhill, I met a young woman who is at her wits' end. She earns too much to be eligible for social housing but she cannot afford a mortgage. At Blackpool shopping centre, I spoke with one mother whose son faces daily stress because of the amount of rent he is paying. This young man lives in daily fear of eviction. I also visited Cork Penny Dinners, an outstanding organisation run by volunteers. It was once a soup kitchen but it now provides accommodation services. This charity has stepped up because of the mess Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have created.

Across the State, people are rightfully angry at the sight of boarded-up council houses. They are frustrated with each news report about rents reaching new record highs. They are baffled by the complete lack of delivery in respect of affordable housing. They are also angry at reports such as the one we heard earlier regarding the huge impact of homelessness on the physical and psychological health of children and babies. People are sick of this housing crisis and yet it seems to still just go on and on.

There is a site in my constituency, O'Devaney Gardens, in respect of which the wrong decisions are being made again. We need homes in O'Devaney Gardens. We need affordable homes that will take families off housing lists and we need affordable rental homes. That is not what we are getting. The plan for the site, as concocted by the parties involved in Dublin Agreement 2019 to 2024, is a dog's dinner. It is a stark example of everything that is wrong with housing policy in the State and it simply will not deliver in the context of meeting people's needs. These proposed homes will not be affordable for ordinary workers and families and there are no affordable rental homes. As it stands, the plan is a bonanza for the developer at the expense of the local community. Alarmingly, the team of Fianna Fáil, the Green Party, the Social Democrats and the Labour Party knew that their plan was a dog's dinner when they forced it through at Dublin City Council. We need to call a halt to the type of chance-your-arm politics that led to all of this mess in the first place. We need a change of direction and a change of plan. Sinn Féin has proposed the right scheme for the site with 33% social or council housing, 33% cost rental housing and 33% affordable housing for sale. There is a special meeting of Dublin City Council on Monday night to decide this matter. I call on Dublin City Council councillors to do the right thing and scrap this dog's dinner of a deal. I want them to support a new deal. I put it to the Minister that the Government should support a new scheme for O'Devaney Gardens and commit to resourcing that new plan.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. The Taoiseach was in Cork last Saturday. There is a new affordable housing investment there of €310 million for a new affordable, shared housing scheme in Cork. I have no doubt that this is welcome. Affordable homes will be included in that investment.

The supply of new homes is increasing. There were 4,920 new homes completed in quarter 2 of 2019. This is an 11% increase on quarter 2 in 2018. More than 18,000 new homes were built in 2018, which is a 25% increase on 2017 and the highest number of newly built homes in any year this decade. Some 42,300 new homes have been built since the launch of Rebuilding Ireland in 2016. This supply of new homes will continue to increase. A total of 28,970 planning permissions were granted in quarter 1, which is up 21%. Total commencement notices as of June 2019 were 24,226, which is an increase of 29% on last year. The supply of homes is increasing.

The O'Devaney Gardens development involves a €100 million investment. On Monday 4 November Dublin City Council, by 38 votes to 19 agreed to proceed with a proposal by the city council executive to develop lands in O'Devaney Gardens. Bartra Capital will now build 768 houses and apartments on the site. Currently, 50% of the scheme, which is 411 units, has been earmarked for private housing, 30% has been ring-fenced for social housing and the other 20% is set to become affordable housing. In advance of the vote, councillors representing Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party, the Social Democrats and the Green Party indicated that an agreement had been secured to purchase 30% of the total units available at O'Devaney Gardens from Bartra. The council, however, voted on 4 November to proceed on the basis of the original plan and the agreement referred to by councillors appears to have no legal standing. Bartra has simply indicated a willingness to sell private units to the council at prices it will itself determine. Acquiring homes at the full, open-market price cannot be the basis for affordable, cost rental because the rents that result - which would be required to finance the loans and other costs - would be close to market rents.

I might suggest that the Taoiseach go back to Cork, not for the purpose of a photo opportunity with a hard hat on, but to actually talk with the people who have told me, and who I am sure would tell him, of their huge anger and frustration. The houses are not available and there is no point in the Minister trying to bamboozle people with statistics. The lived reality is that people cannot get houses. They pass by boarded-up homes, which adds insult to injury.

In the context of O'Devaney Gardens, we are left in a situation where the use of public land will give rise to a bid windfall for the developer and the community will be left in the lurch. On the one hand, we are caught between Fine Gael, which does not know what affordability means and whose plan brought forward no affordable purchase homes, and Fianna Fáil, the Labour Party, the Green Party and the Social Democrats, who cobbled together, mar dhea, a dog's dinner of a so-called deal just to get the proposal through the council. They misled Dublin City Council, they misled the general public and, most damningly, they misled the community living in that part of the inner city.

I again put it to the Minister that these plans with Bartra be put aside and that we collectively do the right thing, which is absolutely doable and achievable, and deliver real, affordable homes, affordable rental homes and the much-needed council housing. This can still be done but we need people to step up and move away from the Fianna Fáil brand of chancing the arm, winging it and hoping to get away with it.

This is a disgrace. What is happening on the site is an absolute disgrace-----

Please Deputy, the time is up.

-----and the Government is duty bound to intervene.

We certainly know about affordable. The houses in Cork I mentioned earlier with regard to the €310 million investment are certainly affordable at €200,000. I may give statistics but the statistics are new homes. Better figures mean more homes for more people.

To go back to the O'Devaney Gardens issue, the Deputy is right that we have to be honest with people. We should not be giving people misinformation. To be clear on the O'Devaney Gardens issue, there is no new agreement. We have the original deal. It is agreed. Just to be clear, any change to the O'Devaney Gardens proposal as it stands at present will set it back another five years and I do not think people want to wait another five years.

Are you threatening?

That is outrageous.

Is that a threat to the homeless?

This needs to go ahead.

Thank you, Minister.

Go away and build the houses. Get them built.

Build the houses.

Go away and get the houses built there and stop blackguarding people.

Deputies, please.

Lining up with the Shinners.

There are too many people homeless and too many people without housing for that kind of blackguarding.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae, please.

It was a nice double act on that freedom of information request. They knew where to get the document.

You are a disgrace.

Can you all just calm down a little bit, please?

You worked nicely with Deputy Eoin Ó Broin on that one.

Deputy Michael Healy-Rae without interruption.

I want to raise the very important issue of social farming. As the Minister knows, social farming gives an opportunity to people with disabilities to work alongside farmers on family farms one day per week. For instance, in County Kerry we have an excellent social farming model. It is a voluntary project, which makes it sustainable and long-term. I want to take this opportunity to thank the Minister, Deputy Michael Creed, who has always been positive and workmanlike in ensuring we have received funding from the Department for this worthwhile project. People such as Eamon Horgan from Kilgarvan, who is a farmer participating in the scheme, have complimented the Minister at every opportunity for being proactive in ensuring we have had the necessary funding. It works in County Kerry on 19 farms and there are 36 participants. We need further funding to be made available to ensure we will have the money to employ the facilitators to engage in the project and organise it properly.

People who started in the early stages of the project have been going to the same farms for five years and have built up great relationships. They have various types of disabilities but they have built up great relationships with the farmers and their families and neighbours and with the communities to which they go. It is a really worthwhile scheme. The majority of these people are in receipt of a social welfare payment. It is good for the participants in that it improves their self-esteem, builds up their confidence and gives them the life experience of working on a farm, which they might not have an opportunity to do where they are from. To be honest, if we were here for the rest of the day I could not praise the scheme enough. It breaks up isolation for the farmer. There is a win-win for everybody in this. It breaks up a lonely day for the farmers who welcome the young or middle-aged person onto the farms. They can tell stories about what is going on. It is good for the young person who is being educated on the ways of farming.

We want to make sure that the project will be given the finance it needs. The Taoiseach saw it first hand at Project Ireland 2040 in Westport and I know he is aware of the scheme and its benefits. Something I will look to get from the Government is to see where we want to go with the project. In Kerry we want to move from having 19 farms involved to 50 farms. We want to go from having 36 participants to 100 participants. We have people in the county who will be most welcome and would be grateful to be allowed this opportunity to go onto farms in the community and gain experience on them.

I thank the Deputy for raising the matter. It is important that by doing so he is increasing awareness of the scheme, which really does benefit the farmer and the participant. At the Deputy said, it is a win-win for everybody. Like myself, the Deputy is from a rural background and he is a strong advocate for our farmers and all things rural. The social farming model is a very important Government initiative that provides a service through communities for people availing of a range of health service supports. It offers on a voluntary basis participation in a farming environment as a choice to people who avail of a range of therapeutic day support services. Often these people have physical and intellectual disabilities. Not only does it assist in the promotion and development of the practice of social farming, it also connects social farmers, organisations and the service providers giving support to the many participants taking part to improve their well-being and grow their confidence.

In October, the Minister, Deputy Creed, announced that his Department will allocate €713,504 under the 2019 rural innovation and development fund. Participation in social farming has been shown to provide benefits such as improved community connections and relationships, increased self-esteem and capacity, improved health and well-being and the opportunity to learn new skills. It provides participants with the opportunity to do ordinary things in ordinary places and is wholly in line with shifts in Government policy in health, social care and labour activation towards a social model of disability with person-centred planning and community inclusion. It is a model that works and the Deputy is absolutely right that we should support it.

The 2020 allocation under the fund has not been announced but the Minister, Deputy Creed, has informed me the scheme will continue to be funded at the same level in 2020. As the Deputy said, we need to build on it because it is a very good scheme. I have had the pleasure of meeting the Leitrim providers at Bloom two years in a row as they qualified to get there. What they are doing for people with disabilities is fantastic. They bring them out and give them an experience on the land working with farmers. It is very rewarding for everybody. I thank the Deputy for raising the matter.

I am very happy with the level of funding until 2020. My concern is about the fact the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine has indicated it will not be able to fund it after this. Will it be funded by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection? To this end, considering the participants are people who receive payments from that Department, I ask the Minister whether the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection will meet the organisers in County Kerry to discuss the future of the project. I thank the Kerry Parents and Friends Association, St. John of God Kerry Services, Local Link Kerry, which provides transport supports through the social car initiative, and people such as Joe McCrohan, Eamon Horgan and all of the farmers who allow the scheme to exist and to grow. This and future Governments, whoever they may be, should make sure to safeguard this most important scheme. It has nothing but benefits for everybody and it is very important that every one of us in the Chamber supports it and ensures its budget is rubberstamped and protected for future so there will never be a doubt about it and that it can grow. Please allow it to grow in Kerry. We need the money. We have proved in the past we have an excellent model but, then again, the people in Kerry do things better than everybody else all of the time anyway. This scheme is definitely run through an excellent model in County Kerry. Please support it.

I agree that it is a good scheme. In my experience, I have never seen good schemes or projects that did not get funding. This one deserves to get funding. The roll-out of this initiative has involved a significant commitment from farmers and service providers. The Minister announced the extension of the social farming model contracts to the Leitrim Integrated Development Company, the South Kerry Development Partnership and Down's Syndrome Ireland's Cork branch, which will enable those organisations to expand the work they have already started in their areas. Funding of €123,000 has been provided to the South Kerry Development Partnership, which does good work, and funding of €121,000 has been provided to the Leitrim Integrated Development Company. I take the Deputy's comments on board. I will raise the matter and the Deputy's request with the Ministers for Employment Affairs and Social Protection and Agriculture, Food and the Marine.

It is over seven years since the move of the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, to St. Vincent's was first announced. While we know that the care in Holles Street is excellent, the building is antiquated and the conditions are unacceptable for patients and staff. Progress on the new hospital has been painfully slow, though. It is over two years since a row broke out between Holles Street and St. Vincent's about governance structures and the Minister for Health appointed Mr. Kieran Mulvey to hammer out an agreement between them. In the meantime, the public was alerted to the fact that a secret deal had been brokered between the two hospitals without any reference whatsoever to the public interest. It amounted to the gifting of an asset with an estimated value of approximately €350 million to private religious interests and the new hospital's ethos being dictated by those interests.

Is it not the case that the Minister for Health misjudged the situation as being only a tiff between two hospitals? Did he not misjudge the extent of public concern that the new maternity hospital must be fully publicly owned and operated and operate with a non-denominational ethos? The Minister was forced to halt the deal and respond to public concern. The Religious Sisters of Charity subsequently announced their intention to withdraw from St. Vincent's and divest themselves of Elm Park. They gave undertakings that the new maternity hospital would be fully public and independent. Despite assurances from St. Vincent's, the Religious Sisters of Charity and the Minister, however, that has not happened yet.

Last December, the Minister for Health announced that agreement had been reached with St. Vincent's and the new maternity hospital would be fully publicly owned. He also said that the legal documents giving effect to this would be available early in the new year, but they have not materialised as yet. The Government, however, proceeded to allocate €43 million of public money to phase one of the hospital. Does the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, accept that the Government was reckless in doing that before it had title to the site concerned? Will she give an undertaking that no further public money will be allocated to the project and, therefore, put at risk of being lost to the public purse?

I thank the Deputy for raising this matter. The project is an important one and the Government is anxious that it proceed. The Government is fully committed to the National Maternity Hospital, which involves the development of a new maternity hospital on the campus of St. Vincent's University Hospital at Elm Park. The governance arrangements for the new hospital will be based on the provisions of the Mulvey agreement, which was an agreement finalised in late 2016 between the National Maternity Hospital and the St. Vincent's Healthcare Group, SVHG, following extensive mediation. The terms of the Mulvey agreement provide for the establishment of a new company that will have clinical, operational, financial and budgetary independence in the provision of maternity and neonatal services. This independence will be assured by the reserved powers set out in the agreement and be copper-fastened by the golden share to be held by the Minister for Health. It is important to note that the reserved powers can only be amended with the unanimous written approval of the directors and the approval of the Minister.

The religious ethos will not interfere with the provision of medical care. I am advised that the agreement ensures that a full range of health services will be available at the new hospital without religious, ethnic or other distinction.

Who will own the hospital?

I welcome the confirmation by the SVHG board that any medical procedure that is in accordance with the laws of the State will be carried out at the new hospital. I understand that the Religious Sisters of Charity resigned from the board of the SVHG some time ago and are currently finalising the process of transferring their shareholding in SVHG to a new company, St. Vincent's Holdings CLG. I am informed that the Department of Health receives regular updates from the SVHG in respect of that share transfer.

I understand that the Department's Secretary General will meet the group's chair this week to discuss a range of issues relating to the National Maternity Hospital project. Engagement is ongoing between the Department, the HSE, the SVHG and the National Maternity Hospital as regards the legal framework to be put in place to protect the State's investment in the new hospital. The SVHG will provide the State with a 99-year lease of the land on which the new maternity hospital will be built, which will allow the State to retain ownership of the new facility. The State will provide an operating licence to the National Maternity Hospital DAC and the SVHG to enable the provision of health services in the newly constructed building.

I do not know where the Minister got that reply, but it is at least 12 months out of date, having been overtaken by events. It is a disgrace that anyone gave her that reply to read out. What she described might have applied more than 12 months ago, but it certainly does not now. We are in a situation where the disposal of the site for the new maternity hospital cannot go ahead without the approval of the Vatican. In fairness to the Deputies present, the Minister should have had that information available to her. It has been made clear that we are waiting for the Vatican's approval before we can proceed with the provision of a new national maternity hospital. Does the Minister accept that, as a republic, this is an outrageous situation to be in for the State? The new national maternity hospital's estimated completion date was 2024, but there is no prospect of that being met. Does the Minister accept that it was reckless for the Government to allocate public money to this project without having title to the site? Does she accept that it is shameful that we are waiting for the approval of the Vatican in order to provide a decent national maternity hospital?

I have not had a chance to speak to the Minister on this matter, but the intent has not changed.

What is meant by the phrase "the intent has not changed"?

There will be no interference in the provision of medical care in the new hospital. I want to be very clear on that intent. Doctors will carry out their duties-----

Who will own the hospital?

-----and a full range of health services will be available without religious, ethnic or other distinction.

Will the Minister answer the questions? Will she get with the game?

The other issue-----

It is a waste of time for people to come in here to ask questions only for Ministers to read out incomplete responses.

Deputy, please.

I will ask the Minister for Health to contact the Deputy directly about the other issue she raised.