Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

The disgraceful practice of so-called cuckoo funds snapping up family homes in bulk, under the noses of ordinary workers and families, is an issue we have raised with the Taoiseach in the House many times. Indeed, it is perhaps the most abhorrent aspect of our broken housing system. Of course, what is even worse is the practice of these funds snapping up those homes and then leasing them back to local authorities. That is a triple whammy. The funds get away scot-free, the taxpayer pays over the odds for social housing that we do not own, and families and young people are priced out of the market.

The Taoiseach told the Dáil that this practice would cease. In fact, on 5 May, he said that no local authority should be engaged in leasing back homes from these funds. He went on to say that this message should "go out loud and clear from Government". That was a fairly lofty pronouncement. It is now clear that the message from Government is loud and clear and it is, in fact, a direct contradiction of what the Taoiseach said on 5 May. Tomorrow night, it is the intention of the Minister for Finance to introduce an amendment that will afford these funds another tax break to incentivise them to buy up family homes and lease them back to councils. On the one hand, the Taoiseach told the Dáil that councils should not engage in long-term leases with institutional investors, but the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, is now actively encouraging it. This is happening on the Taoiseach's watch. One really could not make this stuff up.

The result of all of this, to be clear, is that aspiring home buyers will continue to be priced out of the market by institutional investors who avail of sweetheart tax breaks gifted to them by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael and, lest we forget, by the Labour Party in its time. If the Taoiseach really means what he said in May, he will insist that the Minister's amendment to the Finance (Covid-19 and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021 is scrapped. He will not do that, however, because he is not serious about this and he never has been. He is content to allow these funds to rip off our citizens. He has done nothing to rein this shower in and their sweetheart tax arrangements remain in situ. Indeed, far from sorting this mess out, the Taoiseach is, in fact, adding to it at a time when families and young people cannot put a secure roof over their heads.

It is a free-for-all when it comes to apartments. In 2019 alone, 95% of apartments built were acquired by these institutions at the expense of first-time buyers. Last year, six out of every seven homes built in the city of Dublin were apartments and these funds have carte blanche to snap up all of them in bulk. The Government has surrendered our city to these vulture funds, to the detriment of ordinary workers and families. Now it is pulling another stroke and attempting another fast one by actively encouraging these funds to acquire houses and rip off the Irish taxpayer by exempting the funds from any tax hike. Is it not time now to rip up this plan and start all over again? Is it not time for the Taoiseach to be true to his word? Is it not time to have effective remedies and stop these funds from snapping up apartments and houses under the noses of families and working citizens?

First, I again reject the Deputy's assertions in regard to Government housing policy and our commitment to building social houses and, indeed, affordable houses, and providing the first cost-rental scheme in the evolution of State housing policy. The Minister has brought in a suite of measures and initiatives that the Deputy consistently ignores. We have allocated more money to the building of houses this year than ever before in the country's history. There is a difference between my approach and that of the Deputy. She sees the housing crisis as a political opportunity; I see it as a major social problem that needs to be fixed. All her language today is about votes and elections. That is all it is about. It is about how she exploits the problem, not about finding solutions. She sees a lot of young people, as do all Members, who cannot get access to housing and she thinks how she can use their situation to generate anger and division and get political advantage. That seems to be her approach and that of her party.

I look at the issue differently. I want to see how I, along with my Government colleagues, can resolve it. Resolving it means a range of measures, principally direct building of housing, both social housing and affordable housing. To be fair, the Minister has brought in a suite of measures, including affordable housing schemes, which the Deputy has railed against. By the way, she has been quiet enough in terms of actually opposing them in here on the floor of the House. She is saying one thing and articulating against the Minister a lot in respect of his affordable schemes. She opposed the help-to-buy scheme, she is opposed to shared equity and she is opposed to the Land Development Agency, which will be launched shortly and is very important in terms of getting houses built. The Government today approved a plan for Shanganagh, which will be a significant housing development in itself, both social and affordable. We are about action and getting things done. I am interested in getting results in terms of getting houses built. It is the most important task facing the Government and we have allocated substantial funding to it. That is how we are going to approach it.

The very clear focus of the housing for all strategy, which the Minister will be publishing and is being deliberated on at Cabinet level right now, is direct build for social housing and schemes for affordable housing so that young people, and people in general, can afford to buy houses, and the utilisation of State lands to facilitate the building of affordable homes and social homes. That is what is contained in the Land Development Agency legislation and other measures and in the reform of the serviced sites fund that the Minister has introduced. By any yardstick, his activity in the House in the past month illustrates the range of initiatives he is taking in terms of affordability and freeing up housing and direct build capacity. The cost-rental scheme, as I mentioned earlier, will be a further addition to that.

The Deputy referred to comments I made in the House. I do not believe there should be any large-scale leasing by local authorities in respect of social housing. There can be limited use, which I said as well in the Dáil that day. The Deputy should go back to the next sentence, which she excluded, where I referred to mortgage to rent provision, for example, to help people who are in distress. It is important to get people out of mortgage arrears distress, which we have been doing for quite some time, and the repair and leasing scheme is important as well. The mortgage to rent scheme is a hugely important scheme, as the Deputy knows, that allows families and households in mortgage distress to remain in their homes. However, the central pillar of the housing for all strategy will be direct build. It is about getting houses built that people can own and local authorities will own, which will increase local authority housing stock over the next number of years. The social housing programme for the next five years will be the largest in the history of the State. We need to get local authorities building and we need local councils to get the projects delivered and so forth.

At a time of crisis, when so many people struggle to put a roof over their head, they deserve much more than the kind of incoherent waffle we are hearing from the Taoiseach as Head of Government. It is really quite disgraceful. I have the Minister's amendment here. It is written down, black on white, what the Government is proposing to do. It is proposing to incentivise these funds to buy up houses, lock, stock and barrel, pricing ordinary buyers out of the market because they cannot compete with these big funds. The funds will be incentivised to buy up all of these homes and then lease them back to local councils. That is what it says in the amendment.

By addition, the Government has also allowed these funds to have a free hand in respect of apartment blocks.

I have set out for the Taoiseach the reality that a significant proportion of new builds in this city and beyond are apartment blocks. Far from assisting those who are in the middle of this housing crisis, he is making things worse.

Time is up, Deputy, please.

I am asking the Taoiseach simply to be true to what he said in May, that is, that there should not be an allowance for these funds to snap up homes and lease them back to councils.

Time is up, Deputy, please.

I want him to be as good as his word and to call a halt to this.

When is the Deputy going to be honest with people? It is her behaviour that is disgraceful. It is her and her party who opposed 975 homes in Clondalkin which included 30% social housing. It is Sinn Féin that opposed 500 homes in Tallaght, of which 80% would be social or affordable houses. Sinn Féin opposed 278 houses in Swords. Most recently, it voted against 1,200 social, affordable and private homes at Ballymastone in Donabate, a development that would have delivered 238 social homes and 238 affordable homes priced at between €250,000 and €270,000. Sinn Féin opposed those houses. It opposed the Land Development Agency Bill which gives us the capacity to deliver houses, both social housing stock and affordable housing stock. The hypocrisy from the Deputy's party is incredible. Sinn Féin is about exploiting housing for votes but it comes up with no solutions. It opposes everything that is put before the House in respect of-----

I thank the Taoiseach. The time is up.

Does the Taoiseach propose to answer questions?

The contrast between the Deputy's rhetoric and her delivery in respect of housing on the ground is quite disgraceful.

Does the Taoiseach propose to answer questions during Leaders' Questions? Are there answers to our questions?

I ask the Taoiseach to respect this House and to respect party leaders who are putting questions to him. I am asking him to give me a straight answer, unlike his last response, to a straight question that I will pose. He has stated that housing is the number one crisis facing people, young people in particular. He said that anything the Government can do in terms of housing, it is going to do. One of the things the Taoiseach promised to do was to deal with cuckoo funds buying up family homes. His Government eventually introduced a 10% stamp duty on the bulk purchase of ten or more homes. The Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, described it as a strong deterrent and stated that funds that try to get around the measures will be caught and prevented from doing so. However, now we learn that what the Government is doing is actually quite different. Instead of catching out cuckoo funds trying to evade this measure, it is actually helping them to do so. Cuckoo funds that lease homes back to local authorities will be exempt from the stamp duty increase. This Government is renowned for saying one thing and doing something else but this U-turn can only be described as brazen and downright dishonest.

In May, just two months ago, the Taoiseach told my colleague, Deputy Catherine Murphy, that he did not agree with local authorities entering long-term leasing deals. He stated, "No local authority should be on the other side of this, engaging in a long lease with these institutional investors." Later that month, he was clear that long-term leasing is "bad value", as he called it, and stated, "That is my view and I continue to make that clear." He has not done a very good job of making it clear, given that his housing Minister has quietly tabled an amendment to the Finance (Covid-19 and Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2021 that will actually incentivise cuckoo funds to swoop in, purchase homes from under the noses of first-time buyers and then lease them back to the State. The measures the Government introduced to limit the activity of cuckoo funds in the residential property market were the bare minimum that was required. It did not even bother to include apartments. Now we learn that even the bare minimum has been diluted and that the promises the Taoiseach made to the people to do something about the activity of these funds are worthless. Fundamentally, the Government cannot be trusted. Instead of helping young people trying to buy a home, it prefers to help the vultures seeking to profiteer on their misery.

I am asking the Taoiseach to show some respect and answer my specific questions. Does he think long-term leasing is unacceptable and bad value? Is that still his view? If not, when did he change his mind? Why should anyone trust the Government to solve the housing crisis when it cannot even be trusted not to amend its own reforms?

First, I always respect Opposition leaders in terms of the questions they put-----

(Interruptions).

-----but I always reserve the right to respond robustly.

Then answer the question.

When the Deputy sees the housing for all strategy, she will see the point I am making. The strategy will-----

(Interruptions).

-----cover the housing policy of the Government for the next five years. That will make it very clear that the focus will be on building houses, owning houses-----

Just answer the question.

I will deal with it. I am entitled to reply and not to have this constant heckling which seems to have become a feature. If Deputy Shortall wants me to respect leaders, reciprocity is called for. I am simply making the point that when the housing for all strategy is published, it will reflect my views on the optimal way forward for local authorities. I believe the best value for money is for local authorities to buy houses and to own houses. That is my view, and it is a view that will be reflected in the housing for all strategy.

In my commentary in the Dáil, I also said it has limited use. Leasing had been built up before I came into office. It does have some limited use in certain circumstances in terms of housing people who need emergency social housing. We have had a 48% reduction in family homelessness, for example, partly facilitated through leasing and actions taken by Dublin City Council, on which the Deputy’s party has members. That is exactly what I said last month in the Dáil in respect of this. Leasing, however, does not represent, in any shape or form, the core policy platform of this Government in respect of social housing. Can I make that very clear? Direct builds, both by local authorities and approved housing bodies, will do so. In addition, affordable housing is to be facilitated by local authorities and the Land Development Agency. With regard to the latter, legislation is going through the House that I hope will be passed before the summer recess. It will enable us to put the agency on a statutory basis to get houses built. Again, the Deputy is distorting the Government’s response by focusing on a single amendment tomorrow evening as if it constitutes the entirety of Government policy. Of course, it does not.

The Taoiseach knows I am not saying that.

The Deputy is saying that. She is implying that.

That is exactly what she has been doing.

Just answer the question, please.

That is what she has been doing. She has been trying to undermine Government policy because the bottom line is that she does not know where her own policy is at the end of the day. We are clear that we have a suite of measures. The largest social housing programme in the history of the State will be part of that housing for all strategy which will involve direct build and building up the social housing stock of local authorities and approved housing bodies; building affordable homes, which is a critical need right now; developing cost rental, which is extremely important; and getting homelessness down.

Thanks to the excellent work of the Business Post on this issue, we know that one industry source has said that social housing lease deals are like government bonds on steroids. That is what the Taoiseach is facilitating. He has not answered the specific question I asked. He is obfuscating. If his word means anything, he will withdraw the amendment due to be moved tomorrow evening and ensure that first-time buyers have at least a fighting chance of buying a home for themselves. The Taoiseach should do the right thing, withdraw the amendment, stick to his word and let us trust him on that.

Is the Deputy asking about first-time buyers? They will not be buying social housing.

No, the competition-----

First-time buyers will be assisted by a comprehensive range of measures in the housing for all strategy, but also in terms of the help-to-buy scheme and-----

The cuckoo funds are competing with them.

-----the shared equity scheme-----

Does the Taoiseach get that?

I get what the Deputy is talking about but the point I am making is that-----

The cuckoo funds are competing with them by being incentivised to enter these-----

-----we will be doing more to incentivise first-time buyers. The Deputy, or certainly the party opposite me, opposed the 22,000 people who gained from the help-to-buy scheme-----

Sorry, that is not my party.

That is helping first-time buyers-----

Just answer the question.

-----and we will be building far more-----

Answer the question. Are you going back on your word?

----affordable housing through the Land Development Agency legislation-----

Two months ago, you said something.

-----which is going through the House this week.

Now you are doing the opposite.

A Cheann Comhairle, is it regular that heckling is facilitated?

You are having a cross- debate between the two of you.

No, a Cheann Comhairle, on a point of order, it is going on a lot.

If the remarks came through the Chair, it would be easier for me to manage it.

A Cheann Comhairle, it has been remarked to me for quite some time that this is a growing trend and it is being facilitated, which was not agreed on Leaders Questions and is certainly not my understanding of Leaders Questions.. My understanding was----

Taoiseach, what I would say to Members is that if everybody addressed their remarks through the Chair-----

That is a cop-out-----

-----then we would have less of this going on and I would be in a better position to deal with it.

I do not accept that, a Cheann Comhairle.

If people want to talk directly to each other one-to-one, it is rather difficult to deal with.

I do not accept that, a Cheann Comhairle.

Are we finished with that question? Yes. I call on Deputy Boyd Barrett.

There are many uncertainties with the Covid pandemic, particularly now with the emergence of the Delta variant. There is uncertainty about whether we can win the race in terms of vaccination to get ahead of this variant and ensure that things do not go into reverse, plunging us into lockdowns and more people getting sick and going to hospital. It is still unclear, given where we are at in the vaccination programme, whether the rise in the Delta variant will lead to higher levels of hospitalisation, sickness, admission to ICU, or, indeed, fatality.

However, there is one thing that we pretty much do know now, which is the more people who are vaccinated, the better protected we are and the less likely it will be that variants will undermine all the progress that has been made. We know that is not just true here. Critically, on a global level, it is true that even if we get to the point we need to - and we are not there yet - in terms of having sufficient numbers of people vaccinated, if huge swathes of the world do not have access to vaccines, more variants will develop and those variants will reach Ireland, Europe and other places, even though people may be vaccinated.

The question of vaccine supplies, both for here and globally, is critical if we are going to get beyond this grim, depressing pandemic. There is a very significant movement that has been calling, particularly on the EU, to waive the intellectual property rights and patents that the big pharmaceutical vaccine-producing companies are using to protect their profits. It is a serious problem. The European Parliament has voted by a majority to say that those intellectual property restrictions and patents should be removed and that the vaccine-producing companies should be forced to share the technology to produce the vaccines with anybody who can produce them across the world. Let us be clear, it is profit that is stopping them from doing that. Pfizer is making an 80% mark-up on the doses of its vaccine because it wants to protect the money it is making. That is not acceptable. In fact, it is immoral, when some of the poorest countries in the world have less than 1% of their populations vaccinated.

We need to use every single bit of capacity, globally, to produce vaccines if we are going to defeat this pandemic and come out of this miserable situation that we have been in for the last year and half. Yet, the European Commission - it is not clear what the Government's position is on the issue - is not committing to that position and supporting the people's vaccine. There is a meeting of the WTO on 14 July. What is the Government's position? Will it call for the people's vaccine, which is being supported by Dr. Mike Ryan and the WHO, to allow the sharing of vaccine technology to increase the supply of vaccines globally to all those who need them?

Through the Chair, a Cheann Comhairle, the Deputy has raised an important issue in respect of the need for a global vaccination programme that is effective and efficient. I do not think the solution offered by the Deputy is the correct one. I think it is simplistic and in itself, it would not generate the additional supplies of vaccines.

I also think that the Deputy should acknowledge that of all the blocs across the world, the EU has been the most open, effective and efficient in terms of vaccine production and in the export of vaccines across the world. There have been no export bans in Europe, which has facilitated the capacity of countries all over the world to get vaccines. The Deputy never acknowledges that. It is always attack, attack, attack, through the Chair. He is attacking the Commission and attacking governments. The reality is that Europe has been to the fore. We should acknowledge and celebrate Europe's achievement, both in terms of the procurement of vaccines and the pre-purchase agreements, which gave funding, which was an important factor in getting vaccines produced within 12 months. Intellectual property is important in the advancement of science and research. It should not be dismissed as easily as the Deputy dismisses it. It is extremely important. Technology transfer and know-how are important.

The European Union has pledged €1 billion to Africa to develop manufacturing capacity and know-how to facilitate technology transfer. I would argue that the European Commission's response, and indeed that of the European Council, of which I am a member, as is the country, is more intelligent and sensible than the sloganeering of just waiving, TRIPS waivers and so on. The sloganeering does not cut it here in terms of the increased production of vaccines. It just does not cut it. It is ideologically fine and pure and all the rest of it, but it does not cut it. To be fair, the issue of global vaccination is absolutely essential if we are to deal with variants and get on top of this disease. However, we have to support know-how in certain locations across the world. Europe has made a very solid contribution to Africa.

As for the WTO, we are also engaging in the proposal at the TRIPS council in terms of initiatives and trying to reach a sensible working compromise that would get vaccines to the countries concerned with low and middle incomes. Europe has been constructive in that regard. It is all about production capacity. As I said, the EU has announced €1 billion in terms of building production capacity in Africa. That will provide long-term production capacity in Africa. The US Government-----

This business of attacking the Opposition and accusing it of sloganeering really has to stop. I do not think the Taoiseach would accuse Dr. Mike Ryan of being a left-wing sloganeer, but he is supporting the people's vaccine. Médecins sans Frontières and UN aid agencies are supporting the people's vaccine. Many of the countries that for years suffered the consequences of the refusal of big pharmaceutical companies to share the combination therapies to deal with AIDS and HIV until they were forced to back down by a popular movement that demanded those intellectual property rights and patents restrictions were removed, which helped us actually get on top of the AIDS crisis, are saying the situation is exactly the same here.

Let us be clear. The Taoiseach mentioned a compromise. Why do the big vaccine-producing companies not want to share the technology? I ask the Taoiseach to tell me why. We all know the answer. They do not want to share the technology with other places that have the capacity to produce vaccines because it would impinge on their profits. Let us remember that it was public money, through those advance orders, to the order of €6 billion, that actually paid for the development of those vaccines. That is how they were able to do it. It was public money that paid for it. Public health and defeating the pandemic should come ahead of the profit hunger of these big vaccine producers. The Taoiseach should take a clear position in calling for the TRIPS waiver to be introduced.

We have taken a position. We have taken a sensible position to get vaccines produced in greater volumes. Waiving intellectual property rights tomorrow morning will not do that. It will not do it. Does the Deputy know anything about pharmaceutical production? This country does know a thing or two about it. It is about sharing technology, capacity and know-how-----

Why will they not do it?

------to get these vaccines produced.

We are doing it. The EU is doing it. It has pledged €1 billion to increase manufacturing and production in Africa. It is co-operating with the WTO and the TRIPS initiative to get a sensible outcome around the expansion of production and facilitating equitable access. There were discussions around here at the beginning of the year about the lack of enhanced production within Europe itself. Europe set about getting its house in order and increased production significantly. We are now doing RNA substance development in Dublin, which is important.

Countries that know how to do this fast should do so faster. Some of those countries the Deputy is talking about were offered vaccines at cost price and refused at the beginning of the pandemic. There are leadership issues in some of these countries that we need to face up to.

I am a small farmer, I own forestry land and I have worked for many years in the forestry services. I have raised with the current and past Governments the need for carbon credits to be given to farmers and others involved in forestry. As the Taoiseach will be aware, the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, denied many amendments by the Rural Independent Group and others, including those seeking carbon credits, but I believe that in recent days he has had a conversion. This is the second time during Leaders' Questions that the Business Post is to be complimented. I compliment it for excellent reporting over the weekend on the Minister's change of heart. He now recognises, rightly so, that farmers and forestry owners should have a system of carbon credits put in place. As the Taoiseach knows, I am very fair to everybody. I thank Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil Deputies and others, including those of no party, who have lobbied the Minister and tried to persuade him to understand and realise this is the right thing to do. I hate talking about somebody when he is not present but when the Minister is not here, I cannot help it. He said recently that young people should be supported in rural communities and that he wants them to live in them. The funny thing about it is that, at the same time, he does not want them to get planning permission to live in them. He does not want to build roads, even though he is the Minister responsible for roads. He wants briars out to the middle of the road in the countryside and cyclists avoiding potholes and trying to prevent the eyes from being taken out of their heads. At the same time, forestry has been neglected. There has been zero movement on the ash dieback scheme. Nothing has improved or changed. There is a lack of support for replanting after storm and frost damage. There have been no reconstruction grants. We have been crying out for those for a long time and have been told they are on their way but so is Christmas.

Is the Taoiseach aware that there are applications for more than 9,000 ha, or 22,239 acres, sitting in the forest service awaiting approval? That means 1,300 people are waiting for permission to plant trees, some for more than three years. Can the Taoiseach answer one simple question? Why is the forest service only capable of processing fewer than ten afforestation scheme applications per week in June? Is it a policy of the Department to favour felling applications over afforestation licences? Could the Taoiseach tell us once and for all what exactly the Government and Department have against people who want to be involved in the forestry plantation business?

ESB costs are rising enormously, with a 9% increase coming very soon, and gas prices are on the increase, on top of the increases last year. At the same time, the Green Party and Government are telling us we should rely more on electricity.

I acknowledge the Deputy's positive comments in respect of the Committee Stage amendments to the climate Bill in the Seanad last week. It illustrates the Minister's openness and accommodation in taking on the views and ideas of others in the legislative process. He has a high regard for agriculture and rural Ireland. He has made that clear on an ongoing and consistent basis. The amendments the Deputy referenced strengthen the Bill and provide greater clarity on the use of sinks of greenhouse gases and carbon and that removals will be used to comply with our carbon budgets and sectoral emissions ceilings.

I fully take on board the Deputy's comments on forestry in the sense that it is a key sector. The Government has nothing against forestry; it wants to encourage more afforestation. We have inherited a long backlog because of issues to do with serial objections in the courts in respect of the licensing of felling and planting. As the Deputy knows, legislation was introduced late last year. That legislation is being implemented but I acknowledge a lot more work needs to be done. There are extra staff. Twenty-one full-time ecologists are now working in the Department on forestry licensing. Ten permanent forestry inspectors have joined the Department's team in addition to those who were on it. More staff have been recruited. Fifteen more administrative staff have been recruited. A project management expert, a business analyst and so on have been recruited to try to expand the capacity of the forestry team within the Department. The last three months of 2020 were the months with the highest licence output, with almost 900 new licences issued. Licences for felling, covering a volume of some 2 million tonnes, were issued in that time, amounting to 40% of the output for the year. We have seen some improvements in licensing output during the first half of 2021. June saw the most to date. There have been 1,758 licences issued so far this year. That represents a 19% increase over the figure for the same period last year. Then again, I accept that further gains are needed. We are moving in the right direction. The average output for the past seven weeks was 95 licences per week. Farmers are the big beneficiaries, receiving 75% of these.

Licence output is only one measure of performance. The more realistic metric is the volume of material licensed. This is what really matters to the sector. In that regard, felling volumes are 77% higher than at the same point last year. The area for afforestation is 19% higher. The licensing of road lengths is 121% higher. Coillte's 2021 felling programme is fully licensed. Coillte is working with the Department to ensure the availability of supply to the market.

Not to kill the Taoiseach's comeback, I will make just one statement: forestry planting has fallen 70% short of Government targets for 2020. That is a damning indictment of this Government.

I will continue by finishing what I was saying about electricity. The Green Party and the Government are telling us all to use more electricity. At the same time, the Taoiseach knows we ran dangerously close to outages. I would be very surprised if we do not have electricity outages this coming winter because of Government policy and inaction.

New slurry-spreading dates have been suggested, meaning less time to spread slurry. A ban on soiled-water spreading during the closed period is also being suggested. These are more of the crazy suggestions being made by the Government. What set has the Taoiseach got on people living in rural Ireland? What set has he got on farmers? What set has he got on people involved in forestry? Why is it that there seems to be so much disconnection between the Government and the people? I would love to be standing up here today praising the Taoiseach from the sky down to the ground but I cannot because of the actions he is taking.

Maybe the Deputy is watching the European Championship because he has shown such agility of foot across the pitch here in the past two minutes. It is highly impressive. He has covered everything from slurry spreading and forestry to carbon sinks-----

It is all rural Ireland.

I acknowledge it. I reassure the Deputy that the Government is for rural Ireland. We have invested unprecedented amounts in rural Ireland through a range of capital funding measures. The Deputy must surely acknowledge that. We have developed new initiatives in respect of forestry. The Government has, through both legislation and resources for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine-----

But has the Government delivered on that?

-----and we will deliver an increase in afforestation, certainly over the lifetime of the Government. We will do everything we possibly can to do that. We will continue to support all aspects of rural Ireland into the future.