Ceisteanna - Questions

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Alan Kelly

Question:

1. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent engagements with the President of the European Commission. [21940/21]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

2. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent engagements with the President of the European Commission. [24250/21]

Bríd Smith

Question:

3. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent engagements with the President of the European Commission. [24253/21]

Paul Murphy

Question:

4. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent engagements with the President of the European Commission. [24256/21]

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

5. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent engagements with other European Heads of Government. [23893/21]

Neale Richmond

Question:

6. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the EU social summit in Porto. [26071/21]

Mick Barry

Question:

7. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent engagements with the President of the European Commission. [26141/21]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 7, inclusive, together.

I joined European Union leaders at the Porto social summit on 7 to 8 May, which was also attended by Commission President von der Leyen. This included a high-level conference on 7 May organised by the Portuguese Presidency, which discussed work and employment, skills and innovation, and welfare and social protection. Along with a number of other leaders and representatives of social partners, I participated in a workshop on skills and innovation.

Leaders of the Union's three main institutions - the Council, the Commission and the Parliament - joined with social partners in endorsing three targets to be achieved by 2030. These are that we should ensure at least 78% of people across Europe aged 20 to 64 should be in employment; at least 60% of all adults should participate in training every year; and the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion should be reduced by at least 15 million, including at least 5 million children.

That evening I attended a working dinner where our discussion focused on the Covid-19 situation, including production and distribution of vaccines, progress toward digital green certificates, and international solidarity.

At our informal meeting on 8 May we adopted the Porto declaration, which makes clear that our shared European ideal is first and foremost about improving the lives of our citizens. We also welcomed the new EU headline targets on jobs, skills and poverty reduction.

Members of the European Council also attended an EU-India meeting with Prime Minister Modi on 8 May. Due to the pandemic, and the extremely serious situation in India in this regard, Prime Minister Modi joined the meeting virtually. In our meeting, we agreed to reinforce the EU-India strategic partnership, which is underpinned by the shared values of democracy, freedom, rule of law and respect for human rights. We agreed to resume free trade negotiations and to start negotiations on two additional trade agreements. A free trade agreement is likely to take some considerable time to deliver, so we also asked officials to ensure progress on market access issues that currently act as a barrier to smooth trade between us.

I regularly interact with the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, on a range of issues, including matters relating to Covid-19 and economic recovery. We are very much like-minded on the need to work with pharmaceutical companies to increase the supply of vaccines at global level as rapidly as we can, and to support the work of COVAX in making vaccines available throughout the world.

I also regularly brief the President on the situation in Ireland and in Northern Ireland. Since the beginning of the year, President von der Leyen and I have participated in videoconferences of EU leaders convened by the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, on 21 January, 25 to 26 February and 25 March.

We have seven questions, so we will allocate a minute to each questioner for supplementary questions and that will leave the Taoiseach time to reply.

Has the Taoiseach discussed the crisis in the Middle East with Ursula von der Leyen? We are all deeply concerned. I see that she put out a tweet saying that she was very concerned about the situation in Israel and Gaza. It stated: "I condemn indiscriminate attacks by Hamas on Israel. Civilians on all sides must be protected. Violence must end now." There was no mention, however, of the horrendous acts being carried out by Israel, which is killing so many innocent children in Gaza, children who do not have anywhere to flee. She does not seem to mention that in her communication or the efforts to evict Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem. We know Israel does not really care about condemnation. Unfortunately, words from the Irish Government have very little impact. Has the Taoiseach discussed the need for meaningful sanctions on Israel with Ursula von der Leyen, Charles Michel or Josep Borrell? Could he enlighten us on any discussions he has had beyond those three individuals on what sanctions are being proposed or considered in response to the horrendous acts that are being carried out, as we speak, by Israel?

I thank the Taoiseach for his report. I note that he did not mention any discussions on climate change. Yesterday, the International Energy Agency gave its starkest warning yet. Exploitation and the development of new oil and gas fields must stop this year. No new coal-fired power stations can be built if the world is to stay within safe limits of global heating and meet the net zero emissions target by 2050. My concern is that although I would love to be in a position to welcome the announcement yesterday by the Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, on behalf of the Government on LNG, I fear that like the EU, the Government is speaking out of both sides of its mouth. The Government tells us that it cannot ban fracked gas because it is an EU-wide issue. It says it is against LNG terminals, but it will not ban them because there is a review of energy. Can the Taoiseach tell us that at a minimum, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, will amend the law to ensure that New Fortress Energy, for example, is stopped in its tracks in having discussions about an LNG terminal at Shannon?

The statement of the EU Commission President that she condemns indiscriminate attacks by Hamas on Israel was scandalous. There was no mention of the ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem. Neither was there any mention of the pogroms being carried out by far-right Israeli activists in Israel, with the backing of state forces, against Palestinians. Likewise, there was no mention of the bombs raining down on Gaza, not even the kind of mealy-mouthed false equivalence that the Taoiseach himself likes to engage in.

It shows that the official international community, following the lead of US imperialism, is fully on the side of the Israeli regime, one that is a deadly threat to all Palestinians and is an enemy to ordinary, working-class Jewish people. However, there is another international community out there. It was seen on the streets around the world last Saturday. It is a global movement of resistance, solidarity and support for what increasingly looks like the emergence of a new third intifada in the Middle East, which by mobilising people from below, can defeat the occupation.

Back in the 1980s, Ireland led the way against the South African apartheid regime, starting with the Dunnes Stores workers and then Ireland was the first country to put in place sanctions against the South African apartheid regime. Human Rights Watch recently published a report comprehensively demonstrating that Israel is an apartheid state, and this follows the report from the respected human rights organisation, B'Tselem. Our Government knows this. That is the context to the slaughter that is happening right now, in which 181 Palestinians have been killed, with 1,200 injuries and 34,000 people displaced. Forty schools operated by the UN are now being used as shelters, and 18 high-rise towers have been destroyed, along with 350 buildings.

When is the Government going to return to the leadership that we showed in the 1980s? When are our people going to have a Government that will do what is right in what we feel about this crisis?

Has the Taoiseach raised at European Union level the need for support for the International Criminal Court to investigate potential war crimes in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem? If he has not raised that, will he?

As I said yesterday, I am very clear that the violence in Gaza has to stop. I believe Hamas should stop firing rockets as well, and that has killed people. Equally, I have been very clear that the response from the Israeli Government has been wholly disproportionate and wrong. It has been ruthless and brutal. One cannot bomb Gaza without killing innocent children, innocent families and civilians. I am very clear about that. That is my position and has been my position for a long, long time.

In my view, the key to this, ultimately, has to be negotiations around the two-state solution, but the behaviour of Israel over recent years has made that more and more challenging, and more and more difficult, in terms of settlements, annexation of land and so forth. There has been very little moderation in recent times or engagement in terms of getting a settlement in the Middle East.

Ireland has strong views on this, and always had strong views and put forward strong views. In fact, it was the late Brian Lenihan Snr., as a Fianna Fáil Minister for Foreign Affairs, who was the first Minister in Europe, I think, to recognise the Palestinians’ right to a homeland. We have been very consistent as a party in that regard. When I was Minister for Foreign Affairs, I visited Gaza in the aftermath of a war there to witness the devastation at first hand.

What I also witnessed and reflected on in particular was the European Union's strong support of UNRWA, the United Nations relief organisation which provides a range of supports to Gazans and Palestinians on the West Bank, from education supports to social supports to economic supports. That needs to be acknowledged but it never gets acknowledged in the debate. It is always one that is condemnatory of stances that the President of the Commission might take but no one on the far left ever acknowledges that Europe is not an imperialist power or anything like that. There is this constant negativity about everything that Europe does without balancing it with some of the positive things that Europe does. Europe, overall, has been a force for positivity in the Middle East, underpinning a lot of economic and social supports and governance supports to try to help to get the capacity for self-governance going.

There are different perspectives across the 27 EU member states, and let us not pretend there are not. Some are historic and some relate back to history, and that is the reality. It is easy to stand up in the Chamber and lambast the Union as if it was a coherent whole in terms of this issue. It is not. It is not one coherent entity on this; it brings together a consensus view.

Ireland's view is very strongly that the type of behaviour by the Israeli Government is wholly disproportionate and wrong. Likewise, we are equally of the view that Hamas should not be firing indiscriminately into Israel, threatening innocent lives. No one so far who has spoken, apart from Deputy Kelly, has condemned that and said that was wrong too, because it is wrong and it has been wrong all along the way. Hamas has enjoyed support from other regimes which would be far better off not doing that, because this can only be resolved in a peaceful way, ultimately. People have to coexist and people have to live in a shared space, and what has been going on for far too long is utterly unacceptable.

Ireland's role, in my view, is to work as best we can, as the small nation that we are, to see if we can help to persuade others to move towards resolution. Of course, I fully accept that the public in Ireland are very seized by this issue and have been consistently over the years, and I understand that. There is an innate sense of justice and fair play among Irish people, and that is what we want for Palestinians in particular, and their right to a homeland. That is our position.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs attended the EU foreign ministers meeting earlier this week, where agreement and consensus were reached on the need for a ceasefire. That, in itself, was not easy but consensus did emerge, ultimately, in regard to that. I have not spoken to President von der Leyen yet but we are having a Council meeting on Monday evening and Tuesday. There is a range of issues already on the agenda but we will obviously be raising this issue also, and the foreign ministers have spoken in regard to it.

Deputy Bríd Smith raised the issue of fracked gas and climate change. The Cabinet this week passed a significant statement that will emerge from the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, in regard to the importation of fracked gas into the country and outlining the Government's position in that regard. The Deputy was right that the EU legal framework does not facilitate the passing of domestic law that would contravene EU law but the statement is a strong one which will have an impact in terms of planning and so on.

An Garda Síochána

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

8. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the policing reform implementation programme office based in his Department. [23894/21]

Alan Kelly

Question:

9. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the policing reform implementation programme office in his Department. [26234/21]

Bríd Smith

Question:

10. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the policing reform implementation programme office based in his Department. [26247/21]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

11. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the policing reform implementation programme office based in his Department. [26506/21]

Paul Murphy

Question:

12. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the policing reform implementation programme office based in his Department. [26512/21]

Mick Barry

Question:

13. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the policing reform implementation programme office based in his Department. [26519/21]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 to 13, inclusive, together.

A Policing Service for our Future is the Government's plan to implement the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. As recommended in the commission's report, implementation of the plan is being overseen by a dedicated programme office in the Department of the Taoiseach. The policing reform implementation programme office monitors progress on the strategy, supports the work of the implementation group on policing reform and keeps the high-level steering board on policing reform and the Government apprised of the progress being made. The programme office has been resourced with appropriate expertise in the areas of project management, policing, justice and public service reform.

A Policing Service for our Future is a living document which is reviewed and updated by the policing reform implementation programme office, as required, to maintain ambitious but realistic commitments, timeframes and milestones. A Policing Service for our Future is broken down into four stages of implementation: the building blocks phase, which is of six months duration; the launching phase, which is of six months duration; the scaling phase, which is of 18 months duration; and the consolidation phase, which is of 12 to 18 months duration as currently envisaged. The first two phases of A Policing Service for our Future - the building blocks and launching phases - have been completed and much has already been achieved. For example, there has been roll-out of a new operating model for An Garda Síochána, designed to streamline Garda administration and to provide a more visible, responsive and localised policing service to communities nationwide. An Garda Síochána has established and strengthened resourcing of a human rights unit and re-established the strategic human rights advisory committee. The National Security Analysis Centre has been established. We have seen the roll-out of over 3,250 mobile data stations, which have been deployed as part of An Garda Síochána's mobility project.

It also includes the development by An Garda Síochána of an equality, diversity and inclusion strategy statement and action plan 2020-2021 and, recently, An Garda Síochána launched its three-year Garda health and well-being strategy, which will see the introduction of additional health and well-being supports.

There has also been progress on legislative reform. The Government has recently published the general scheme of the landmark policing, security and community safety Bill which provides for the most wide-ranging and coherent reform of policing in a generation and the general scheme of the Garda Síochána (digital recordings) Bill, which concerns the use of recording devices, including body-worn cameras. Progress continues to be made also in relation to the codification of legislation defining police powers of arrest, search and detention.

These measures and achievements represent only some of the wide range of actions being progressed under the strategy and further detailed information on the implementation of the reform programme is available on gov.ie.

Progress since early 2020 has been impacted as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. The third phase of the implementation of A Policing Service for our Future, the scaling phase, was originally scheduled to commence in early 2020. However, as the scaling phase was being finalised, Covid-19 and the response required became a factor to be considered. I have been encouraged to see the responsiveness and flexibility shown by An Garda Síochána in dealing with the demands of this unprecedented situation. The third phase of A Policing Service for our Future, the scaling phase, commenced in October 2020 and is published on gov.ie. This is the critical phase of the programme of reform, during which the programme gains momentum. The delivery of the majority of the actions will be started or executed during the scaling phase. The Implementation Group on Policing Reform and Policing Reform Implementation Programme Office have been, and continue to be, actively engaged with key stakeholders to ensure continued momentum on reform, insofar as possible, in the current circumstances.

The Taoiseach will be aware the last Dáil and Seanad voted on four motions calling for a public inquiry into the circumstances that led to the death of Shane O'Farrell in August 2011. Rather than implement the will of the Dáil and Seanad, the then-Government introduced a scoping exercise led by Judge Haughton. That was to have been completed by May 2020, then September, then December, then this March and then this April. I am sure the Taoiseach will appreciate the delay is causing ongoing distress to Shane's family. It has been protracted and it is unjustifiable at this stage. Will the Taoiseach assure the family that it will be completed as soon as possible and a decision on a public inquiry will not be delayed any further after that?

An Garda Síochána has undergone massive reform in recent years, which was badly needed. One reform was moving the promotions and appointments system of the Garda to the remit of an independent oversight agency which we believe was essential. The Labour Party set up the Policing Authority. It demanded it was set up in order to remove these appointments from the Commissioner. An independent body making senior appointments is something we really fought for. The Commission on Policing has recommended this be reversed. We believe that is a fundamental mistake and we will oppose it passionately. My colleague, Deputy Howlin, has been to the fore on this. Our main concern is the removal of the appointment of senior garda officers from the Policing Authority and restoring it to the Commissioner. We know where this has got us before. I note the programme for Government has taken on some of the commission's report but I urge the Taoiseach to reconsider this. We believe the current appointments system for senior people in An Garda Síochána works much better and is more transparent and focused when it lies with an independent body rather than at the discretion of one person, namely, the Commissioner of the day.

The Taoiseach's statement looked very much at the policing service of the future but in order to make reforms for the future we must also look at the past, and at the record of GSOC in particular. Sinn Féin has already referred to the inquiry on behalf of the family of Shane O'Farrell. I want to talk about two other outstanding issues on behalf of families. When someone dies either in police custody or directly at the hands of the police, invariably they are from a working class background. That has been notable throughout the history of the State. Terence Wheelock died in 2005 in police custody. GSOC's investigation and report was completely unsatisfactory to the family. Similarly, George Nkencho's family have been very dissatisfied and frustrated and disappointed with GSOC's behaviour since new year's eve. Is it sufficient that gardaí investigate gardaí, particularly in cases where working class people such as Terence Wheelock and George Nkencho have died at the hands of gardaí?

It is reported that yesterday the Cabinet agreed to seek to extend the sweeping Garda emergency powers to November with a possible extension all the way to February 2022. Shamefully, while political parties have been exempted from the ban on gatherings, workers' pickets and socially distanced protests have been effectively banned for over a year. Recently, taxi drivers were threatened with criminal action if they went ahead with their planned car cavalcade even though every protester would have been inside their own car. On Monday night, the gardaí were used yet again against the Debenhams protesters. We saw the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign being threatened with prosecution if it went ahead with last Saturday's protest in solidarity with Palestine. Right now, 60 people can sit together on a bus, hundreds are gathered in factories, shopping centres and beyond but if they are holding a placard rather than a shopping bag, they face criminal action. That is shameful. My question is very simple: will the Government scrap this draconian imposition and ban on the right to protest?

Twenty years ago, Amnesty Ireland carried out what might have been the first large-scale survey of Ireland's black and ethnic minority communities. Some 54% polled said that they did not feel confident to report a racist incident to a garda. Twenty years on, how much has changed? The recent survey by Youth Against Racism and Inequality interviewed people of colour and Travellers. Some 35% said they had the experience of being stopped by a garda for no apparent reason and 45% reported feeling humiliation and 42% reported feeling fearful after such an incident. What steps are the Government prepared to take to address this? Has there been any change in thinking whatever around the repeated call from the Nkencho family that rather than an inquiry by GSOC, there should be a full independent public inquiry into the killing of that young man?

On Deputy Mac Lochlainn's question, I want the scoping review completed as soon as possible. It has been a very traumatic journey for the family of Shane O'Farrell. I have been in touch with them on an ongoing basis. Deputy McGuinness and others have raised this consistently in the House. Scoping reviews can be effective in terms of subsequent inquiries. I do not know if Covid is a factor in the delay in completing the review but I have spoken to the Minister for Justice on this. Obviously, once the review starts we cannot interfere but we understand the need to bring this to a conclusion and take decisions on it.

Deputy Kelly raised something that has been the subject of ongoing political debate. The Labour Party-Fine Gael Government brought in the Policing Authority, particularly its role in the appointment of senior positions, whereas the Commission on the Future of Policing took a different view and put forward an alternative view. I had discussions with the commission, as have many others, when it was doing its work. It was of the view that there was a multiplicity of bodies to which the Garda had become accountable, including the Oireachtas, and there needed to be some streamlining, which is part of the issue.

I am of the view that if we establish a commission to carry out a wide-ranging examination of An Garda Síochána, with a view to preparing it for the future, there will always be a difficulty associated with picking the pieces one likes oneself as opposed to accounting for the overall coherence of the recommendations of the commission. We should afford an opportunity to drive through the commission's recommendations and have them implemented.

Deputy Bríd Smith raised GSOC and the Terence Wheelock and Nkencho family cases. As I said last week, we have to create proper, independent processes of investigation. GSOC involves one such process. Everything cannot become a public inquiry either because we know how long public inquiries can take. They can take years.

So, it is GSOC.

Yes. We all need to reflect on this a little. Ultimately, we have to have faith in our services and strengthen their capacity to serve in accordance with the principles and policies we lay down here in the Oireachtas. That means constant interaction with the authorities and management bodies. It also means proper internal and external accountability structures. There is a challenge here for all of us. I am a parliamentarian like all Members present and we all call for specific investigations or inquiries but there needs to be a systemic approach that is robust, resilient and independent.

Deputy Paul Murphy surprised me. He seems to have a very anti-Garda approach. I do know what it is about but he is constantly negative about An Garda Síochána. I have to disagree with him. I am confused as to what position is. He said there should be large gatherings, although he might call them protests or otherwise, in the middle of Covid but at the same time he calls for zero Covid. That does not tally. The Garda has been put in the unenviable position of having to implement very restrictive public health measures. The Deputy wanted to make them even more restrictive. He wanted to make them more restrictive. He wanted to make travel virtually non-existent. He wanted all shops closed and all hospitality closed. He did not care at all about the rights of people in the hospitality sector. He said this. He accused us of yielding to the lobbyists. He calls them lobbyists, not people. He does not say they are people with human rights who have interests as well and who are legitimately entitled to articulate their view.

The Taoiseach never answers the question.

The Deputy just ignores them and says they have no rights and that the gardaí are all wrong. He says the gardaí are oppressors. That is wrong.

The Taoiseach should answer the question.

That is not a balanced approach. The legislation will be debated in the House. I would have believed the Deputy would support it because it enables us to restrict the journey of the virus. That is the crucial part of it all. It is a matter of keeping the numbers down and trying to achieve some semblance of normality and to reduce severe illness, mortality and the numbers of hospitalisations and admissions to intensive care. That is the purpose of the legislative framework but we do not want that going on forever. The powers are still necessary, however. We just witnessed the effects of the Indian variant in the UK, for example, so we have to be constantly alert to what could become superspreader events, which the Deputy seems to want to encourage now and more generally.

On Deputy Barry's point, the gardaí are rooted in the community. The vast majority of the Irish people trust An Garda Síochána. That has to be said. If one were to listen to the proceedings of the past 20 minutes, one would think An Garda Síochána was an oppressive force out to do down the community. It is not; it is rooted in the community and its policies and procedures are designed to work and engage with people and encourage compliance, particularly regarding public health. Penalties are its last resort. That has always been its position.

More broadly, the objective of the policing reforms is to embed the Garda in the community in a positive way. Deputy Bríd Smith and I have witnessed the Garda leading the way for the past 20 or 30 years in working-class areas, including some very disadvantaged areas. It has done so by developing community buses, for example, and driving kids with challenges to sports occasions. The Garda has done a lot of unsung work quietly in the background for many disadvantaged working-class youths. That needs to be put on the record also and acknowledged.

Departmental Bodies

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

14. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing, infrastructure and digital unit of his Department. [23895/21]

Alan Kelly

Question:

15. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the economic division of his Department. [24643/21]

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

16. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the economic development unit of his Department. [25543/21]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

17. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing, infrastructure and digital unit of his Department. [26241/21]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

18. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the economic division of his Department. [26242/21]

Paul Murphy

Question:

19. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing, infrastructure and digital unit of his Department. [26244/21]

Paul Murphy

Question:

20. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the economic division of his Department. [26245/21]

Bríd Smith

Question:

21. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing, infrastructure and digital unit of his Department. [26248/21]

Bríd Smith

Question:

22. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the economic division of his Department. [26249/21]

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

23. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the housing, infrastructure and digital unit of his Department. [26500/21]

Alan Kelly

Question:

24. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing last met and will next meet. [26501/21]

Gino Kenny

Question:

25. Deputy Gino Kenny asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing, infrastructure and digital unit of his Department. [26515/21]

Mick Barry

Question:

26. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing, infrastructure and digital unit of his Department. [26520/21]

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

27. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing last met. [26689/21]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 14 to 27, inclusive, together.

The economic division in my Department supports me and the Government in developing and implementing policy across relevant areas to support sustainable economic development, including job creation, infrastructure, housing and climate action, and social dialogue. This work is particularly focused on ensuring a co-ordinated approach to the delivery of the programme for Government and on issues that cut across multiple Departments.

The division supports the work of the Cabinet committees on economic recovery and investment; housing; and the environment and climate change. It also supports associated senior officials' groups. As part of the division's work, the economic development unit's work is currently focused on the development of an economic recovery plan, which will be finalised shortly. This will set out our approach to a jobs-rich recovery, with a focus on digitalisation and decarbonisation. The unit also leads work on the development of a well-being framework for Ireland. This seeks to move beyond using uniquely economic measures to gauge our progress as a country towards a more holistic approach that encompasses broader living standards.

The housing, infrastructure and digital unit supports the work of the Cabinet committee on housing as well as contributing to cross-departmental work in areas such as infrastructure, balanced regional development and digital policy.

The Cabinet committee on housing last met on 15 April and is scheduled to meet again on 10 June. This committee works to ensure a co-ordinated approach to the delivery of programme for Government commitments regarding housing and related matters. There is significant work under way on these commitments across Departments and agencies, including the preparation of the new multi-annual housing for all strategy.

Progress is also being made on legislation to increase the availability and supply of affordable, quality homes. The legislation includes the Land Development Agency Bill and the affordable housing Bill. This work is supported by the provision of more than €3 billion for housing initiatives this year, which will fund the delivery of 12,750 social homes, the new cost rental equity loan scheme and expansion of the Rebuilding Ireland home loan as well as the serviced sites and the local infrastructure housing activation funds.

More broadly, the work of the economic division also includes leading Ireland's participation at the annual European semester process, liaising with the Central Statistics Office and providing me with briefing and speech material on economic and related policy issues.

Thousands of family homes in Donegal are falling apart due to reckless practices in the industry in the 2000s. There was a huge housing boom and self-regulation was the order of the day. In the case of pyrite, the State stepped up and put in place the pyrite remediate scheme, which is fully funded, which is as it should be. In counties Donegal and Mayo, however, the families have been asked to step up and make 10% available and the banks were supposed to help. That was second-class citizenship but it has got even worse a year on. Now people have to pay as much as 50% of the cost of making their homes safe. What we are demanding in Donegal is equal citizenship. Our people whose lives have been devastated are asking for a fully funded redress scheme that is the same as that for the families in Dublin and north Leinster. I appeal to the Taoiseach to listen to the stories, heartbreak and despair coming from Donegal and to do what is right by our people.

I have three points, the first of which concerns the Taoiseach's announcement yesterday on housing. He has taken on board what we have said about stamp duty but I just do not know why he opted for 10%.

The Government has missed it. It should have been at least 15%. I do not understand why the Government is coming in at ten homes and not a lower figure. I genuinely do not understand the three-month transition period.

Since I last raised the issues about An Bord Pleanála and strategic housing developments, another 300 apartments in Dublin's docklands have gone. The judge addressing it spoke of the laxity with regard to An Bord Pleanála's work. What can we do?

I ask the Taoiseach to give some indication about Project Ireland 2040 and the national planning framework, NPF. This will cause war across Ireland. It will be one of the biggest headaches the Taoiseach will face in a year. He should get ahead of it. Many county development plans are being drafted now. With regard to housing proposals, the idea that some areas will be open and people will be able to get planning for houses and then be told that the year they will get it is 2027 or 2028 just cannot work. We additionally have infrastructural issues relating to water and waste, which I know much about. What are the Taoiseach's thoughts about where we are going with Project Ireland 2040 and the NPF, which needs to be completely changed from how it was constituted by the previous Government?

I do not think it is an accident that the housing policy of this Government and many previous Governments has not solved the housing crisis and has not addressed the needs of ordinary people, but instead has lined the pockets of developers, speculators and investment funds. I put it to the Taoiseach that is because housing policy has been captured by those interests. We have seen many revelations about how they win on both sides of the equation. The State, through the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, invests in the investment funds. They get to the buy up the properties and then lease them back to the councils.

I will give another example, which is HAP. Some 40% of the HAP budget goes to corporate landlords or investment funds. It was €128 million in 2019. Corporate landlords are responsible for 4% of total private tenancies but 40% of the HAP budget goes into the hands of these corporate landlords. This is effectively a gold mine. They get a guaranteed rent from the State, plus a built-in rent increase of 4% every year because of how the supposed rent control legislation is written. It is an even better deal for them than the social housing leases currently being advertised to investment funds. Does the Taoiseach agree that a crucial part of addressing this is to introduce proper rent controls, which do not include this sort of rent increase?

It is abundantly clear that the Government supports 100% of new build apartments being sold off to investment funds. That has been made clear by the Government over the past couple of weeks, especially with the proposals announced last night. Why does the Government not support home ownership for smaller households, individuals and older couples who may want to move out of a family home into an apartment but do not want to rent? Why is the Government opposed to home ownership for people who want it in our cities and in apartments? Is the Taoiseach aware that, this morning, the share price of the largest real estate investment trust, REIT, in Ireland increased by approximately 4% in reaction to the announcement last night? That is what the stock markets think about the Government's proposals. I do not think there is any indication that the Government is serious about tackling investment funds. If it is, then remember that last year, of the number of homes available for purchase to individual buyers, when one-off houses and various other schemes are taken out, approximately half of the new builds went to investment funds, with the other half being available on the open market. If the Government is serious about that, would it not tackle rents and rent levels for new builds so that investment funds do not get such a high return? It would give people a fair chance to rent and to buy.

"A home is a home, whether it is an apartment or a house," said Ciarán Cuffe MEP of the Green Party. The only pity is that the Green Party says that but does not vote along the line that would follow from that. It is hot air. The Green Party has a chance to show us tonight that it can vote according to what was said. We will keep a close eye on that. What a concession the Taoiseach has made to the vulture funds by excluding apartments entirely from the legislation. That is where the big money is. Some €7 billion of institutional capital chases the purchase of apartments. In 2017, 40% of all new apartments in the State were bought up by these funds. Are the first-time buyers, the young people who want to get into the market and buy an apartment as a home for themselves and their family, not being squeezed out of the market by the vultures? Why does the Taoiseach let the vultures off the hook so completely by excluding the apartment sector entirely from this? I put it to the Taoiseach that he is giving the vultures a huge let-off.

Deputy Mac Lochlainn raised the issue that he raised yesterday. I have spoken to the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, about this and I believe that the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, is meeting the group shortly, having invited them in February, when he met them, to make a submission which he got at the end of April. It is important to say that the Government has responded strongly to the mica issue in Donegal with the allocation of substantial funding. Grants are available under the five remedial options, from €49,500 to €247,500, and approximately €20 million is available for that in 2021. With thousands of homes affected, the State has committed approximately €1 billion to this scheme between now and 2030. That is a substantial commitment by the State and needs to be acknowledged. The Minister will engage on the broader issue in the submission. As the Deputy said, grant levels in the scheme that was developed were initially capped at 90% of estimated costs depending on the remediation option chosen, and vary from €49,000 to €247,000, as I said.

The average cost in the east coast pyrite scheme is less than €70,000 per home. The defective concrete blocks grant scheme in counties Donegal and Mayo is likely to be at least double that, which will mean a far more substantial allocation to each home in Donegal than for the pyrite situation. They are not comparable and I do not think the Deputy is comparing like with like. That said, the Minister will engage with the group representing households and is examining the submission that has been made. There are issues that genuinely have to be explored with the group and representatives across the board. As the Deputy knows, much work was done prior to the Government being formed, with expert panels established and so on, that led to the creation of the scheme. There is ongoing work with groups representing the householders affected prior to the design of the scheme itself. I do not think we are comparing like with like with the two schemes.

Deputy Kelly raised the issue of An Bord Pleanála. We need more resources for An Bord Pleanála and we need to look at the overall planning situation. A planning court has been mooted, for example, and we have to consider developing that. We need a more streamlined, effective, resilient and robust to challenge planning system.

Deputy Paul Murphy raised issues with regard to the funds. Government is in hock to nobody and has no agenda in promoting any particular group in society, whether it is a fund or whatever else. The only objective is to get houses and apartments built and to get a variety of housing and apartments for home ownership, social housing, affordable housing and cost rental.

There will be a market for rental and a market for home ownership. Government has initiated a whole range of proposals, all of which the Deputies have opposed. I refer to the affordable housing Bill, the shared equity scheme and the Land Development Agency Bill 2021, all of which will provide housing. All of the Deputies seem to be against mixed housing developments. This morning the Minister turned the sod on a mixed development scheme of 1,200 houses. It was held up for years because of opposition on the ground. People need houses, however. People need social houses and people need to be in a position to buy houses and apartments.

We support families, young people and people generally being in a position to afford an apartment but there is an issue with viability with regard to building apartments for sale, particularly in Dublin. The country needs capital to develop some of these markets. Capital has to be there. Government will not be able to build all of the 40,000 houses required every year. The ESRI states that 33,000 will be needed but, given the impact of Covid-19 last year and this year, I believe that a higher figure could be required for the next while. Government will not be in a position to provide all of that housing. We will need capital to provide some of it. Apartments for rent will be particularly needed. If we took some of the initiatives the Deputies suggest, the number of apartments would be reduced, which would put a further squeeze on people's capacity to buy apartments. What is being proposed on the other side is not coherent or logical.

I thank everyone for their co-operation. Tá gnó na maidine déanta. Táimid chun 60 nóiméad de bhriseadh a ghlacadh.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.
Sitting suspended at 2.12 p.m. and resumed at 3.12 p.m.