Ceisteanna - Questions

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Neale Richmond

Question:

1. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Taoiseach the engagement he had with the First Minister and deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland in relation the Covid-19 pandemic. [1326/21]

I spoke with deputy First Minister, Michelle O'Neill, on 2 March following the publication of the Northern Ireland Executive's pathway out of restrictions document, which maps out a five-level approach to easing out of lockdown. We agreed on the need for a cautious approach to the easing out of lockdown to avoid any reversal of direction. We also discussed recent developments on the Northern Ireland protocol and concerns about rising tensions around it. I stressed the need to de-escalate tensions and the hope that dialogue between the United Kingdom and the European Union would reach agreed outcomes on implementation challenges.

I previously spoke by phone with First Minister, Arlene Foster, and the deputy First Minister, Michelle O'Neill, on 25 January. We discussed the latest situation on Covid-19 at that time and the measures being taken in response, including in relation to travel. We discussed the similarity of approach across many of the actions we are each taking in response to Covid-19. We also discussed the issue of new variants of the virus and the importance of genome sequencing in detecting their presence.

I also met by videoconference with the First Minister and the deputy First Minister on Wednesday, 13 January, when we also discussed the latest developments on Covid-19. There was also had a very useful discussion on Covid- 19 between the Government and the Northern Ireland Executive at the North-South Ministerial Council plenary meeting on 18 December, which was hosted by the First Minister and deputy First Minister.

As part of my St. Patrick's Day programme, I was pleased to contribute to the virtual relaunch of the Ireland-Northern Ireland-National Cancer Institute Cancer Consortium, which also included contributions from the First Minister, Arlene Foster, and deputy First Minister, Michelle O'Neill. This is an important initiative which will bring together the appropriate bodies North and South, and in the United States, to help in tackling cancer.

I thank the Taoiseach for the full response. There are one or two areas on which I would like him to elaborate, if possible. The Taoiseach referred to similarities in the approach by this jurisdiction and Northern Ireland in terms of restrictions and tackling the pandemic. We are all aware that those similarities are about to change. We need to question what level of formal co-ordination there is between Governments on this island when infection rates and hospitalisation rates in Northern Ireland are declining and its vaccination rate is at a much higher level than ours. This week, mandatory hotel quarantine comes into force in this jurisdiction, but still there will be no mandatory hotel quarantine in Northern Ireland. There are continuing concerns about the sharing of data North-South regarding travellers coming into this country. My question is twofold in response to the Taoiseach. First, what efforts can be made to have that formal co-ordination to ensure that Northern Ireland does not spread too far from the Republic and we have a repeat of elements that we saw in Border regions over the summer? Second, what actions will be taken and what discussions will be had to ensure the measures or restrictions we have placed on travel in terms of mandatory hotel quarantine and so on are not undermined by the lack of action in Northern Ireland?

The issue of a human right to life is a devolved issue under the Good Friday Agreement yet the Northern Secretary of State, Brandon Lewis, has driven a coach and four through devolution and the Good Friday Agreement and sought to introduce an extreme form of abortion legislation on the people of the North of Ireland against their will. Shockingly, this has been done with the active lobbying of Sinn Féin and the SDLP. For 200 years republicans have stated that London has no business legislating in any part of Ireland yet Sinn Féin has actively lobbied for this law to come into force in the North. Colum Eastwood and Claire Hanna have reversed the policy of the SDLP that goes back to John Hume and sought to actively campaign for the commissioning of this British abortion legislation.

In every poll carried out in the North over the last number of years the majority of the people agreed that the issue of abortion should be decided in Stormont. Even those in support of abortion agree with that. Every time this vote has come up in Stormont, the representatives of the people of the North have voted against abortion being introduced into the North. Even last week, the representatives of the people of the North of Ireland in Stormont voted against that extreme abortion provision from Britain that abortion should be made available up until birth in the case of disability. We in Aontú are in communication with our legal advisers on whether we can bring a case in protection of the Good Friday Agreement against the Northern Secretary of State. What has the Taoiseach done to defend the Good Friday Agreement and devolution on this issue?

I would like to raise the same issue with the Taoiseach, but coming from the opposite angle. The Labour Party MP, Stella Creasy, secured abortion rights for women in Northern Ireland while her Bill was passed through Westminster. I want to know if the Taoiseach has raised with the First Minister and deputy First Minister the failure to implement this law and put those services in place. We all know that the UK Government has moved to compel the introduction of such services in the North. This is a critical issue for women on this island. We all know the fight undertaken here to ensure we brought about change in this jurisdiction. What discussions has the Taoiseach had on this issue and will he update the House in that regard? We need to ensure that women and their health is protected in Northern Ireland as well.

We all know that the plan in Northern Ireland is to have its population vaccinated by the end of July. What arrangements will be put in place, or are planned to be put place, with regard to travel then? Furthermore, has the Taoiseach had discussions with the First Minister and deputy First Minister on the vaccine green certificate that will be in place and how it will work on this island?

The Taoiseach has been outspoken on the issue of vaccines to the effect that there should be no barriers put in place and, should that happen, it would affect people in the North as well as us and the wider European Union. On that point of making sure there are no barriers in place in terms of vaccine production, distribution and roll-out, will the Taoiseach raise the temporary waiving of intellectual property rights so that can be carried out to full production levels?

On the issue of provision of abortion services, it needs to be remembered that unionism can no longer be allowed to exercise a veto in the provision of these services for women yet that is what is happening. There has been a blockage. There is an active campaign by the DUP and others to prevent the commissioning of services that are necessary and to which women are entitled. Everybody from every perspective needs to ensure that those services are delivered. It would be astonishing if anyone who claimed to have any kind of republican instinct was underscoring a unionist veto to affect women's rights in such a dramatic fashion.

I too encourage the Taoiseach and all others to use all influence to ensure that Robin Swann commissions the services and that unionism backs off from the truly shameful position it has adopted on this matter.

Second, on the issue of vaccination, it is true to say that the North is significantly ahead. The best approach, of course, is to have an all-Ireland approach in terms of efficient and safe vaccination. I would like to echo the sentiment that we cannot have a repeat of the delays from Dublin in respect of data sharing. Can the Taoiseach set out what his plan is and how he envisages a harmonisation of the vaccination programme and all other measures that will be necessary to keep us safe into the medium and long term?

On the issue of abortion rights in the North, anybody who is even vaguely interested in fighting for unity on this island would understand that the unprecedented movement from below of young people, particularly young women, unwilling to accept the control of their bodies and their right to bodily autonomy by the State was an all-Ireland movement. There were busloads of women, other young activists and people who want a progressive future for this island who came down and campaigned for repeal and helped that fantastic social and political earthquake that was the repeal of the eighth amendment. It was fully understood and very quickly reciprocated on an all-Ireland basis that young women, other young activists and people of a progressive mindset would go north of the Border immediately to say that the North must be next. That is the way in which we can undercut the sectarianism brought by partition and unite people on a progressive basis. It is really disappointing to hear anybody who considers himself or herself even vaguely associated with republicanism defending attempts to keep women in this country in the Dark Ages and working alongside the DUP in doing so.

Deputy Richmond tabled this question. I say to him that in terms of the alignment of restrictions between Northern Ireland and the Republic, we have been very much aligned up to now and will remain so until 5 April. Indeed, that alignment may extend because, notwithstanding the progress that Northern Ireland has made on the vaccination programme, there may be a phased approach to the easing of restrictions there. I make the point that, in essence, Northern Ireland has been part of the UK vaccination programme and we have been part of the EU-wide vaccination programme. That is well known. There has not been an all-Ireland approach on vaccinations for obvious reasons in terms of the source of the supply. I do not know why that issue got raised just now because it does not make a whole lot of sense. Ideally, it would be great, but we are not in that ideal situation.

What would be useful is if we had alignment on mandatory quarantining. I understand the Northern Ireland Executive might have said it has plans in this regard but I am not too sure where those plans are or how concrete they are in terms of realisation. Obviously, it would be very important if there was alignment in terms of the mandatory hotel quarantining, and people coming through the North will be subject to that legal framework if they come into the Republic. Deputy Richmond has raised an important issue in this regard. I point out that there has been good co-operation in the regions between North and South, particularly in terms of the engagement between the councils in the north west of the country. In phase 2, both local authorities, Donegal County Council and Derry City and Strabane District Council, issued localised leaflets to make the public in that region aware of the restrictions locally. That is the type of practical co-operation on the ground that we should encourage around restrictions and in encouraging people to adhere to the guidelines that generally apply to the prevention of Covid-19. We will continue to work and engage, particularly through the group of officials I mentioned, which meets on a regular basis, in consort with the Northern Ireland authorities, to iron out any potential issues or difficulties that may arise.

On the broader issue of the provision of abortion services, no one should have a veto, in my view, on general policy issues of that kind. I have not engaged on that issue. I have not had discussions with the First Minister or the Deputy First Minister, nor have they had discussions with me or raised the issue with me in terms of how it is being provided for within the North and in terms of the issue of devolution versus legislative initiatives from Westminster. Neither of them has raised that issue with me at all.

In terms of the Good Friday Agreement, we work with the British Government, as co-guarantor of the agreement, in upholding it. Deputy Kelly asked whether I have had discussions on this issue. I have not. It has not been raised as an issue in the context of discussions we have had, which have been more in the context of North-South initiatives, obviously, and in terms of upholding the agreements that are in place and all of the commitments made there.

As I said regarding vaccinations, the North and the UK are about a month ahead because of the different approach to authorisation, which is a key factor, and also the decision in terms of the interval period between the administration of doses. There was a whole range of other questions but the Ceann Comhairle has indicated that my time is up.

Yes. I am sorry, Taoiseach. I am aware of the questions but we have to move on to Question No. 2.

Cabinet Committees

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

2. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with children and youth affairs will next meet. [1328/21]

Issues relating to children and youth affairs are dealt with by the Cabinet committee on social affairs and equality. That committee last met on 30 November 2020 and will meet again shortly. I have regular engagement with Ministers at Cabinet and individually to discuss priority issues relating to their Departments. In addition, a number of meetings have been held between my officials and officials from relevant Departments since the establishment of the Cabinet committee in July 2020.

I am shocked to hear that a Cabinet committee dealing with children and youth affairs has not met since last November. There are many groups of people who are suffering with mental health issues, stress and anxiety as a result of the Covid pandemic and the restrictions. One of those cohorts is made up of our young people and they are very significantly suffering. There is a lot of lip service paid to supporting people's mental health but not a lot of action. That the committee dealing with this area has not met since November tells its own story.

There are more than 2,000 young people and families waiting, often for months, for a first appointment with a clinical psychologist at the child and adolescent mental health services, CAMHS. Last week, we proposed a measure, which will be voted on tomorrow, that would take a very significant amount of stress off young people. There are many sources of stress for them but the leaving certificate examination and the question of access to higher education is a very significant one. We proposed that the Government would do something simple like make places available for all CAO applicants, in higher education, further education and apprenticeship programmes, and remove the financial pressure and burden of fees. The Government refused to do that. There is all the talk about supporting people's mental health and what is going to change post Covid.

However, in reality there has been nothing for our young people. There has been nothing to support them through this extraordinarily stressful period.

Last week, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth recommended the establishment of a joint labour committee for the early learning and childcare sector. I welcome this move. It is something my colleagues, including Deputies Sean Sherlock, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin and Ged Nash and Senator Ivana Bacik, have been pushing for many years. We have been raising it for more than five years. The sooner it is up and running, the better for everyone working in that sector. The sooner we can get an employment regulation order in place to establish binding rates of pay, terms and conditions, etc., the sooner we would be taking a step in the right direction for all these workers. The legislation to put this in place was put forward by the Labour Party.

The Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth has written to the Minister of State at the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Damien English, with this recommendation for joint labour committee to be established. The Minister must apply to the Labour Court for this to happen. Will the Taoiseach confirm that the JLC will now be established by the Government and the relevant Minister to support these workers? What is the timeline to put the committee in place? Will the Taoiseach commit to this happening in the near future? It is something of which we are highly supportive.

I agree it is concerning that the committee has not met since November given the considerable pressures, in particular mental health pressures, young people are under.

The Taoiseach previously gave a commitment on young people and children who are trapped in camps on Greek islands. As the Taoiseach knows, in September last year a fire at one of these camps left 12,000 people, including 4,000 children, destitute. When will the commitment to evacuate 50 of these people, including children, be carried out? Will he consider providing residency support for approximately 400 people who are trapped in these camps?

The fact that the committee has not met since November is alarming, frankly. It raises a question mark around the urgency and order of priority being attached to children and younger people, especially in the context of the public health emergency.

I have had conversations with community and voluntary organisations that provide support and mental healthcare and related services to adults and young people. Those involved have been telling me loudly and clearly that access to care is a major problem. The 2,500 children on the CAMHS waiting lists have been referenced. We should bear in mind that almost 9,000 children are waiting for a psychology appointment as well. Our spend on mental health is too low by international standards. A paper authored by clinical and public mental health specialists in May last year warned us that we were facing into a tsunami of mental health need. This is felt across society but it is felt acutely among our children and young people in particular.

We have published proposals for emergency investment in mental health. My colleague, Deputy Mark Ward, has put the initiative together to provide surge capacity for mental healthcare, to provide in an emergency way for talk therapies and to ensure that young people, children in particular, have quick access to vital emergency services. I am keen for these proposals to be considered and for urgency to be attached to this area. This is a difficult time for all of us, but, by God, some children and young people have had an extraordinarily difficult time. We need to respond with all due urgency and priority.

Following the third wave of Covid-19, we took a decision to reduce the number of times we would meet at Cabinet committee level. This does not mean these issues came off the Government radar or anything like that. In fact, the opposite is the case, especially in terms of mental health and education. A number of specific meetings have taken place in the intervening period with the Minister for Education on the leaving certificate and with the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Deputy Simon Harris. We had a Cabinet committee on education meeting and held a series of meetings with the Ministers for Education and Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science on the leaving certificate and the return to school more generally.

The position of Deputy Boyd Barrett is that we should provide places to everyone straightaway. That is not achievable or doable. It is simple to say that but it is utterly ridiculous and cannot be done. We could create many difficulties with that approach too. What we have done, however, is provide €200 million for targeted places and apprenticeships as well as a range of training opportunities for young people who many not wish to pursue further or third level education.

The further education colleges have got additional resources. We have created thousands of additional places at third level as well. The policy of providing a broad suite of opportunities for young people is key. The idea that we simply open up the CAO system to everyone who wishes to do whatever they want does not work. People need to think that through very carefully. It does not make much sense to me and could undermine the well-being and development of young people in future. I say this as a educationalist and as someone who knows a thing or two about education. Deputy Boyd Barrett's approach to politics of giving people whatever they want when they want it is not grounded in reality.

There has been reform in how the leaving certificate operates. I support further reform of assessment and the modes of study and so on. We need to create opportunities across the board in further and higher education and in a range of other areas that people wish to pursue. One area where this is relevant is youth strategy. The Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Deputy James Browne, brought forward the draft national youth strategy to Government yesterday. It was very much focused on developing opportunities for disadvantaged young people, especially for young offenders. One of the areas where we engage on a good deal is the past but we must be focused on the present as well especially on those children who are highly marginalised. When we go through why they offend and get into offending, it is clear a range of background issues are relevant, including addiction and family issues. This needs intense resourcing and supports. That will form part of the national youth strategy. This kind of work has been ongoing and the Minister of State has brought forward a comprehensive strategy in that regard. Another area is school completion, which has been a passion of mine for a long time. I believe we have to give every child born in the country an opportunity to complete second level education and we have to support and resource that. This is something we are highly committed to as well.

Deputy Kelly raised the question of early education and I agree this is a key priority. There is a long journey yet to go in terms of equalising the comparisons between early education and the later years of primary education. The Deputy referred to the joint labour committees. The Government and the Minister are committed to progressing that to support the entire sector. The age group from zero to three is key to the development of any child. A child learns more between the ages of zero and three than in the remainder of his or her life. That is something we want to progress.

I was asked about mental health. The Cabinet sub-committee on Covid-19 decided to provide even more additional resources to mental health, in particular to non-governmental organisations. The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Mary Butler, has put major efforts into mental health. She is an excellent Minister of State for that area and is working hard, especially in the context of Covid-19. It is without question that Covid-19 is putting considerable strain and anxiety on young people.

That is evidenced by the reports from mental health non-governmental organisations that help young people. We are conscious of that also. We provided additional resources this year through the national HSE service plan to deal with waiting lists for CAMHS. We have provided additional resources in terms of mental health more generally.

In terms of Deputy Cian O'Callaghan's question, I will revert to the Minister with responsibility for children in respect of that. We are willing to do our part in respect of the commitments that we have made. When we make those commitments, we have to fulfil them, and not just optically in the short term. There has to be a comprehensive follow-through plan in terms of the well-being of those whom we assist to make sure it is sustainable for the individual children involved and we follow through on those commitments.

Cabinet Committees

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

3. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with housing will next meet. [1329/21]

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

4. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee dealing with housing will next meet. [13103/21]

Bríd Smith

Question:

5. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with housing will next meet. [13269/21]

Paul Murphy

Question:

6. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with housing will next meet. [13272/21]

Alan Kelly

Question:

7. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing last met; and when it will next meet. [14479/21]

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

8. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing will next meet. [15521/21]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 3 to 8, inclusive, together. The Cabinet committee on housing last met on 8 February and is scheduled to take place again on 19 April. The committee works to ensure a co-ordinated approach to the delivery of the programme for Government commitments regarding housing and related matters.

There is significant work under way on the implementation of these commitments across Government Departments and agencies, including through regular discussion of these matters at meetings of the Government. This is supported by the provision of over €3 billion for housing initiatives this year, including funding for 9,500 social homes to be built as part of the overall delivery of 12,750 social homes; €210 million for lending under the Rebuilding Ireland home loan; €88 million across the serviced sites and the local infrastructure housing activation funds; and €35 million for the cost rental equity loan scheme, through which the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage recently approved funding for the delivery of 390 cost rental homes this year. The budget allocation also supports the continued delivery of housing supports in relation to residential tenancies, homelessness and the maintenance and upgrading of existing stock.

Significant progress is also being made on key enabling legislation for measures to increase the availability and supply of affordable, quality homes, including the Land Development Agency Bill, which has recently completed Second Stage in the Dáil, and the affordable housing Bill, which is undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny. Legislative measures have also been introduced and extended to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on tenants, although current public health restrictions will have an impact on housing output this year. Work has also started, under the aegis of the committee, on a new multi-annual housing strategy, to be called "Housing for All".

The committee operates in accordance with established guidelines for Cabinet committees and substantive issues are referred to the Government for discussion and approval.

I feel like I am living in a parallel universe whenever I hear the Government talk about housing. I hear about all these grand plans, but I believe there will only be one additional council house in my area this year and we only got one or two last year. All the rest is outsourced and now the Government is planning to outsource more through the Land Development Agency, LDA, and privatising public land.

I wish to raise the fraud that is the Residential Tenancies Bill 2021, which will be before the Dáil today, in that it is a pretence by the Government that the latter will protect tenants from eviction during the pandemic. Its protection is being extended to a tiny, limited cohort of people who have gone into arrears as a direct result of income loss due to Covid, but where everyone else is concerned, a green light is being given to landlords and vulture funds to evict people.

The Taoiseach may have read in The Irish Times or heard on radio last week the details of a case that I have raised with him and the Minister repeatedly. It is a textbook case of tenants being mass evicted by vulture funds. There is nothing to protect them. How can the Taoiseach justify people being evicted into homelessness and the less safe environment of the homeless system on 5 April just because the 5 km rule is being changed when we still have a pandemic raging? This is just one of the many examples of unscrupulous corporate landlords and vulture funds that are, for no other reason that profit, evicting into homelessness decent people who have always paid their rents. The Government is going to allow it instead of doing what we are asking for as a minimum, that being, to extend the eviction ban until the pandemic has passed.

Recently, I accompanied the Dublin homeless outreach team when it visited homeless people who were sleeping on the streets of Dublin. I met homeless people who told me that they felt safer sleeping on our streets than in private emergency accommodation. I raised with the Taoiseach previously that the National Quality Standards Framework, NQSF, is not applied to private providers of emergency accommodation. When I raised it with the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage in the Dáil, he incorrectly stated that it was being applied. Afterwards, Mr. Brendan Kenny of Dublin City Council confirmed to the Oireachtas Committee on Housing, Local Government and Heritage that that was not the case. Subsequently, the Minister gave national media interviews where he again insisted that the NQSF was being applied to private providers. This is a serious issue. Some private providers have been operating without fire certificates and a range of matters need to be addressed. For example, there is a lack of independent inspections. "RTÉ Investigates" has also confirmed that the NQSF is not applied to private providers. I have with me copies of reports from Dublin City Council confirming that. I am happy to show and go through them with the Taoiseach or the Minister.

When will the Government act to ensure that private emergency accommodation for homeless people is safe and up to standard so that people who are sleeping on our streets can avail of it? When will the Government ensure that the NQSF is applied to all providers, including private ones?

The housing crisis is extreme and has not abated at all under the Taoiseach's watch. There are 8,313 households registered as homeless and another 62,000 families on the housing list. This is shocking, but just as shocking is the fact that there are 230,000 empty properties across the State. It is not that there is a lack of housing. Rather, there is bad housing policy. Not enough public housing is being built on public land and the rents and prices paid for housing are ridiculously high and unaffordable. The rent for an ordinary house in Dublin is €2,500 per month.

The Taoiseach may be aware that this situation is being exploited in our areas by far-right and fascist parties to blame immigrants rather than successive Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Governments, including this one, and the bankers and fly-by-nights that we bailed out consistently. More than half of our health service is staffed by immigrants, yet the housing crisis is being exploited by those who claim that we must look after our own first. That begs the question of who our own are. Are they the one third of Deputies who are landlords? Are they the bankers and fly-by-nights that we bailed out consistently? Alternatively, are they the workers in our hospitals and home care settings who are doing so much to help us in the Covid era?

The housing crisis is being exploited, but the blame for its continuation can be laid at the doorstep of successive Governments. Instead of dealing with it, the Government is creating the LDA, which will basically give away public land to private operators and again fail to deal with the crisis.

Last year, we launched a Bill to implement a complete ban on evictions and rent increases during the pandemic. The Government rejected that and instead adopted a piecemeal approach of banning evictions under certain conditions while the 5 km limit persisted. Now we have the potential lifting of the limit, which poses the possibility of opening the floodgates on a large number of evictions. Even worse, the Government's Bill that will be before the House today proposes to water down the protections for tenants who fall into rent arrears during the pandemic. It is a move that Threshold warns will cause considerable confusion and distress to a significant cohort of private renters.

What does the Taoiseach say to those who are looking at the possibility of the lifting of the 5 km limit and not thinking that it means they can go 10 km or travel across the county, but that they might be evicted as a result? What will the Government do to avoid a wave of evictions? Will it agree to extend the eviction ban beyond being linked to the 5 km limit? Will it agree to adopt the approach that we set out previously to halt evictions and rent increases completely while the pandemic persists?

A report published today by the European Committee of Social Rights, which is part of the Council of Europe, criticises the standards of local authority housing and Traveller accommodation. It states that Ireland is in breach of Article 16 of the European Social Charter. What are the Taoiseach's views on this issue? How will he address it?

On the Residential Tenancies Bill 2021, to which reference has been made, we need to decouple the eviction ban from the 5 km limit so that when that limit is changed, it will not lead to the eviction of families. Many Deputies have highlighted this issue. What action will the Taoiseach take on it?

On the Land Development Agency Bill, a principal concern of the Labour Party is that the Land Development Agency cannot sell off mass swathes of public land and ensure that 100% of the land is used for social and affordable housing. There is real fear that parts of sites will be privatised and sold off for further and more expensive housing. The Bill also strips away powers from councillors of all political leanings and none. This is something with which I certainly do not agree. Does the Taoiseach agree with it? Does he believe that councillors should have this power stripped from them?

I refer to the finding of the human rights committee of the Council of Europe that sizeable numbers of local authority tenants live in inadequate housing conditions. That is putting the matter very politely. Some of the housing conditions are utterly deplorable and shameful in 2021. The finding that the State is in breach of Article 16 of the European Social Charter in respect of Traveller-specific accommodation should not come as any surprise because, of course, it is not the first time that the State has been found to be in violation on these matters. In fact, these violations are decades in the making. The Taoiseach needs to give a response on these findings.

On the issue of renters, it is very clear what needs to happen. A full ban on evictions needs to be fully extended but, in addition, we need a decrease in rents. Sinn Féin has a proposal to put a month's rental income back into the pockets of renters by way of a tax credit. That should happen. We also need a full rent freeze. The manner in which renters have been literally left to their own devices - thrown to the wolves - by this Government and the previous one is absolutely astonishing.

Finally, the Government's shared equity loan scheme is clearly the wrong way to go. The Taoiseach does not have to take my word for that because, as he knows, the Central Bank, the ESRI, the Institute of Professional Auctioneers and Valuers and his own top civil servants have made clear that this scheme is the wrong way to go, will keep prices up and might even cause price inflation. It will not make housing affordable. I again ask that the shared equity loan scheme be removed from the affordable housing Bill.

The Deputies have asked quite a range of questions. First, I point out to Deputy Boyd Barrett that the Government is not outsourcing housebuilding. Some 9,500 of the 12,500 social housing properties to be built this year will be built by local authorities and approved social housing bodies. There will be very large social housing provision this year in terms of building. The Government is not outsourcing that at all, contrary to what the Deputy asserted.

I also point out that there is no green light to evict people via this legislation. It is wrong to suggest that there is such a green light. The Deputy said the same things the last time this legislation was introduced in terms of the scale and how he presented the argument. His predictions did not come to pass. The Residential Tenancies Bill 2020 came into operation on 24 October. As the Deputy knows, it sought to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on tenants to support the Government's efforts to restrict the movement of people in order to suppress the spread of the virus while level 5 restrictions were in place. There was very strong legal advice given to the Minister in terms of the parameters around which the legislation could be grounded and put into law free of any potential successful legal challenge. That was an important aspect that the Minister simply had to take on board. The legislation, broadly speaking, has proved to be effective and its extension is important.

The target is for 12,750 social houses to be built this year. Unquestionably, the three months of level 5 restrictions due to Covid has reduced output. The Government has only been in office since last July but it has made very significant commitments. Deputy Boyd Barrett referred to not one house being provided. A significant number of voids were brought back in his council area under the dramatic initial programme taken by the Minister and funded by the Government last July. It brought close to 3,000 social houses back into play, yet the Deputy comes in with propaganda about not one house being provided etc. We will do everything we can to build social housing and get them built in 2021 at far higher levels. Obviously, Covid has impacted on that. The Deputies know that, but choose to ignore the impact of Covid on housing construction in the first three months of the year.

On the issues raised by Deputy Cian O'Callaghan, the Minister has established a homelessness task force. He has regular meetings with the NGOs in relation to homelessness and in terms of the quality issue, but also the provision issue, particularly during the winter, when he was very anxious that we would provide as much capacity as we possibly could. I take on board the Deputy's comments and the assertions of quite a number of homeless persons that they feel safer sleeping on the streets than in emergency accommodation. We should not be in a position where people feel that way in terms of their accommodation. I accept that point. We are consistently trying to work to address it.

In general response to some of the contributions that have been made, I make the point that ideology will not build houses.

From what I can see, ideology is preventing the building of houses.

I thank the Taoiseach.

Deputy Kelly asked me about the provisions in the Land Development Agency Bill in respect of councils and so on.

The Taoiseach is over time.

Look at the development on Oscar Traynor Road. Up to 900 houses - 853 homes - are stopped. How much longer will it be stopped because ideology keeps getting in the way?