1. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent engagement with the First and deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland. [53399/21]
Vol. 1014 No. 1
1. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent engagement with the First and deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland. [53399/21]
2. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent engagement with the First and deputy First Ministers of Northern Ireland. [55855/21]
3. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his most recent engagement with political leaders in Northern Ireland. [55888/21]
4. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Taoiseach the recent discussions he has had with the leaders of the Northern Ireland Executive. [55889/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.
Last week, I had a series of phone calls with the leaders of the Democratic Unionist Party, DUP, Sinn Féin, including the deputy First Minister, the Ulster Unionist Party, UUP, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, SDLP, and the Alliance Party to discuss the ongoing talks on the Northern Ireland protocol. I emphasised that the ongoing talks between the EU and UK should be given every chance to succeed and the European Union's commitment to addressing genuine implementation issues around the protocol. We also discussed concerns around any potential triggering of Article 16, noting the risks this poses for political stability and prosperity in Northern Ireland. In all cases, there was good, detailed engagement on the practical implications of these negotiations and their potential outcome for people on the ground in Northern Ireland. Other topics discussed included the UK Government's legacy proposals and likely political developments over the coming months. We agreed to remain in contact on all matters of mutual concern.
I briefly spoke with the First Minister, Paul Givan, at the Ireland-New Zealand rugby test match on Saturday. I also spoke with the First Minister and the deputy First Minister, Michelle O'Neill, at the beginning of the month at the COP26 leaders' summit in Glasgow. I had last spoken with them in Belfast on 8 October, when we all attended and addressed a conference on climate action. During that visit to Belfast, I also, separately, had meetings with the leaders of the main political parties, including the deputy First Minister, on current political developments, including the protocol and legacy issues. I took the opportunity to brief them on the record €3.5 billion budget for collaborative cross-Border investment announced with the publication of the national development plan, including the doubling of the shared island fund to €1 billion to 2030.
I call on Deputy Kelly. I am sorry; Deputy Richmond is first. I did not see him.
Jesus, how did the Ceann Comhairle miss him?
I am sorry; I was lurking at the back here. As ever, I thank the Taoiseach for a fulsome response to the question. I will ask supplementary questions on two areas he may be able to illuminate. With regard to the discussions on the protocol and the need to avoid triggering Article 16, did the Northern Irish representatives give much detail on the impact of the protocol on life on the ground in Northern Ireland, how businesses are adapting and, more importantly, how businesses and communities are responding to the very generous package of improvements announced by the European Commission? Did the leader of the DUP or the deputy First Minister give any insight as to if or when the DUP might re-engage with the North-South Ministerial Council?
I have a question on a totally unrelated area, although I believe it is timely. Has there been, or will there be, any further engagement on greater co-ordination between North and South with regard to pandemic restrictions? Obviously, announcements are being made in Northern Ireland as well. In some areas, these restrictions are coming up to speed with what we have been doing here for some time.
I will flag two matters. The High Court in Belfast has ruled that the situation with regard to North-South ministerial meetings is unlawful. Does the Taoiseach have any update on that?
The second issue I will raise sometimes goes under the radar. Yesterday, it was made official that a public inquiry is to be held in Northern Ireland to investigate mother and baby homes, Magdalen laundries and workhouses in the region. The deputy First Minister and the First Minister have already assured survivors that legislation will ensure full access to records from social services and the institutions involved and that work will begin on setting up a consultative forum immediately, in collaboration with the Irish Government. Details of a redress scheme for survivors of mother and baby homes and county homes were set to come before the Cabinet today before the scheme is opened for applications next year. I understand an announcement has been made while we have been in here. It is not good enough to be told it will be next year. On what date can we expect the scheme to be opened to survivors? We must also learn from the failings of the Magdalen laundries ex gratia scheme. My colleague Deputy Sherlock called for medical cards for survivors for the long term. That suggestion has been refused despite an amendment being passed in here. We must also address access to records. It is disheartening that, in contrast to the approach in Northern Ireland, this Government continues to double down on the heartache of survivors by refusing to provide them with their own information, which they are entitled to by law. Accelerated legislation and schemes have been developed to better the wrongs of the Government against the women and children of Ireland. Will the Taoiseach give us details with regard to this scheme? What is being proposed? Will he give us details on his discussions with our Northern Ireland counterparts as regards their proposals?
I welcome the Taoiseach's ongoing engagement with members of the Northern Ireland Executive and the leaders of the political parties. It has been almost ten months since Britain left the EU, and the protocol on Ireland-Northern Ireland is still a subject of concern. Triggering Article 16 would be disastrous for the entirety of this island and for Britain. It is clear from all surveys the business community in Northern Ireland realises the value of the protocol and wants it to work well. Recent surveys show also that the majority in Northern Ireland view the protocol as beneficial.
I previously raised with the Taoiseach the specific issue of medicines and I understand the recent EU proposals deal with any doubts there were regarding the supply of medicines to Northern Ireland, which I hope he can confirm. As we all know, since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, trade on an all-Ireland and cross-Border basis has grown to the benefit of all the people on this island.
With regard to legacy issues, the Stormont House Agreement needs to be implemented. The needs of victims and survivors have to be foremost in all our political work. The planned statute of limitations, in effect an amnesty proposed by the British Government, is a totally unacceptable and reprehensible proposal. The survivors and families I know who have lost loved ones want the truth. They are not looking for vengeance on anyone. To close inquiries now would be absolutely scandalous, denying forever the possibility of those families who have lost loved ones getting the truth.
At a meeting of the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement on Thursday, the Independent Commission for the Location of Victims Remains will appear before us. Three people remain under the term "the disappeared", that is, three persons who have not been returned to their families to be buried. These people were abducted, killed and buried in secrecy. The very least any family deserve is to have their loved ones brought back to them and for those loved ones to have a Christian burial as well. I would like a much greater impetus to be given to dealing with legacy issues.
I welcome the fact that the Taoiseach engaged with the Northern Irish political leaders last week. I understand from what he said that the main issue for discussion was the Northern Ireland protocol and the associated Article 16. The Vice-President of the European Commission Maroš Šefčovič gave an optimistic assessment of the current position in the negotiations between the EU and the UK at yesterday's meeting of the Seanad Special Select Committee on the Withdrawal of the UK from the EU. The change in tone of the discussions is welcome. He stated all problems under discussion can be solved and that trust can be rebuilt. He also said, however, that the EU is preparing for all scenarios and will be ready for any outcome. There is still the ongoing threat of violence on the streets of Northern Ireland over this issue, with buses being hijacked and set on fire. The Democratic Unionist Party, DUP, leader, Jeffrey Donaldson, has issued threats about the future of the Stormont institutions and the DUP has withdrawn its co-operation with the North-South structures provided for under the Good Friday Agreement, as other Deputies noted.
In the Taoiseach's talks with the First Minister and Jeffrey Donaldson, did he get the sense that if problems with the Northern Ireland protocol can be resolved, North-South co-operation can resume on the many day-to-day practical issues that confront us all on this island, and that there will be a willingness to advance the peace process generally? I echo what other Deputies said about legacy issues. Will the Taoiseach give a current assessment of the talks initiated in July between the parties in Northern Ireland and the relevant stakeholders on dealing with the legacy of the past and implementing the provisions of the Stormont House Agreement?
It goes without saying there are many issues relating to the British Government at this time. There are the ongoing issues of the protocol, the amnesty legislation, the delivery of Acht na Gaeilge and the DUP's boycott of North-South meetings, the last of which presents legal questions. It is difficult to see how the cul-de-sac in which unionism finds itself will be exited without the British Government making a final decision. I welcome some of the positivity we are hearing from Maroš Šefčovič and that which we have heard from business interests and others in regard to trying to make the protocol work, but we need to progress the politics on this. It is not all right for a British Government to use the North as a pawn in its game with the EU. What concrete action does the Government intend to address and advance all these questions?
I welcome the publication of the bipartisan letter from leading US Congress members calling on the US Secretary of State to speak out against the British Government's proposal to end all judicial investigations and offer an unconditional amnesty. This is about the British Government covering over the part it played in its dirty war in the North. Families and virtually everyone else are of the opinion this is not okay, so we need to be very strong on this issue. It goes completely against the obligations of the British Government under the Stormont House Agreement and undermines the human rights commitments in the Good Friday Agreement.
The failures of the British Government are mounting, although that is hardly shocking. We need clarity from the Taoiseach on what the Government will do in the coming weeks and months in this regard.
I thank all the Deputies who raised questions in respect of the meetings I had with Northern party leaders. Deputy Richmond raised a number of points relating to the prospectus of the unionist parties in regard to the protocol and so on. I think it is fair to say that all parties, although I do not want to go through each individual conversation, favour continued access to the European Single Market as beneficial to jobs, employment and businesses in Northern Ireland. That is an important point in the context of this saga. As Deputy Haughey noted, all parties, in their approach, want the issue to be resolved by negotiation. I do not think they want a triggering of Article 16. They want a negotiated resolution of all the issues that have been raised so far.
In respect of medicines in particular, which Deputy Smith raised, Vice-President Šefčovič has stated to the British negotiating team led by Lord Frost that we should concentrate on medicines initially and get that resolved. The issue has been largely dealt with in the context of the presentation made by the Vice-President, but finer details have to be ironed out and that can be done. There has been a change of tone in these negotiations and the UK Government, through both Lord Frost and the Prime Minister, has indicated it wants a resolution.
On the North-South Ministerial Council, we have pressed for continued engagement. It is fair to say that, politically, we need these issues to be resolved to get the North-South agenda on a more dynamic plane and platform. We are continuing with our work under the shared island initiative on various projects and engagements. Recently, there was the welcome formation of an all-island network on biodiversity and climate change, involving academics and interested people, North and South. That all-island network has been established and we hope to support and sustain it into the future with supports from the shared island initiative.
On pandemic restrictions, we have kept each other abreast and the two chief medical officers keep in touch on the pandemic. We have more or less been in consort, although not totally, in respect of restrictions. The North has liberalised much faster than we have for reasons related to broader policy emanating from the UK Government side. We have been much more cautious and slower in our reopening of society.
Deputy Kelly raised the issue of the inquiry into mother and baby homes. It remains to be seen how fast that will get off the ground in the North, although I welcome its announcement. We have not yet had any formal engagement with the Executive. There were references in a number of meetings we have had that this was forthcoming and we have offered any assistance or advice we can give from the experience here in the Republic in respect of mother and baby homes.
Medical cards have not been refused-----
Enhanced medical cards are being refused. The Taoiseach might clarify that.
The Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth made a comprehensive announcement earlier in respect of both an action plan and a payments scheme for all residents of mother and baby homes and county homes-----
That does not make it an enhanced medical card, so it might be necessary-----
It does include an enhanced medical card.
The Taoiseach is contradicting what has been said outside.
We will have to get this reconciled-----
Yes. I am glad the Taoiseach is clarifying it.
-----in respect of the medical card being available-----
-----on the same basis as the Magdalen laundries. That is my understanding, but I will get this issue checked for the Deputy.
Let us be clear, however, that this is an €800 million package, which is being allocated in this regard. I do not want to monetise it, but the action plan is important. Turning to information, the legislation on information and tracing is still before the House. I think it was published on 9 May and it is still at the pre-legislative scrutiny stage. We must move it on and onto Second Stage and then Committee Stage. A significant number of people are waiting for that legislation in respect of accessing information and tracing. Legislation pertaining to Tuam is also undergoing pre-legislative scrutiny. The general data protection regulation, GDPR, right of access to commission records exists, so we are doing everything we can on access to personal information. We have had significant breakthroughs as a result of Government decisions in respect of access to information for residents and survivors of mother and baby homes and county homes. We are looking at the establishment of a national memorial and records centre, public access to original State files, the expansion of the database, the appointment of an archivist, educational research, memorialisation, a national memorial, local memorials and a survivor-led annual commemoration. We are also establishing a children’s fund in honour of those who went through the institutions with a view, in the modern contemporary era, to allocating funding towards the children of today who need particular initiatives.
Regarding the legacy issue, we have consistently said to the British Government that we oppose its proposals. We do not want anybody getting off. Those who committed terrible crimes should be pursued and, above all, the families of victims need closure, be that in the context of actions taken by the British Army, by the Provisional Irish Republican Army, PIRA, or republican groups. I was in Enniskillen last Sunday and passed the building where the bomb went off and 12 innocent people were murdered. We need answers for those families. Loyalist paramilitaries have also committed terrible atrocities, for example, the Glenanne gang. For me, it is unthinkable that any Government would not allow for closure for the families of the victims.
5. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the policing reform implementation programme office based in his Department. [47864/21]
6. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the policing reform implementation programme office based in his Department. [55856/21]
7. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Taoiseach the details of the policing reform implementation programme office based in his Department. [55890/21]
8. Deputy James Lawless asked the Taoiseach if he will provide a report on the policing reform implementation programme office of his Department. [55893/21]
9. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the policing reform implementation programme office based in his Department. [55898/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 9, 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, PRIPO, monitors progress on A Policing Service for our Future, and supports the work of the implementation group on policing reform, IGPR. The office also keeps the high-level steering board on policing reform and the Cabinet committee on social affairs and equality apprised of the progress being made. The programme office has been resourced with appropriate expertise in 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 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, namely, the building blocks phase; the launching phase; the scaling phase; and the consolidation phase. The first two phases have been completed and much has been achieved, for example, the 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, is under way; An Garda Síochána has established and strengthened resourcing of a human rights unit and re-established the strategic human rights advisory committee; pilots of local community safety partnerships, LCSPs, are being undertaken in three locations around the country, namely, in Dublin's north inner city, Waterford city and county and County Longford; the development by An Garda Síochána of an equality, diversity and inclusion strategy statement and action plan 2020-21; and the launch of a three-year Garda health and well-being strategy, which will see the introduction of additional health and well-being supports.
Progress on legislative reform has also been made. The Government has approved the drafting of the landmark policing, security and community safety Bill, which provides for the most wide-ranging and coherent reform of policing in a generation; the Garda Síochána (digital recordings) Bill, which concerns the use of recording devices, including body-worn cameras; and the Garda Síochána (powers) Bill, which brings together and modernises police powers of search, arrest and detention. These measures and achievements represent only some of the wide range of actions being progressed under the plan, and further detailed information on the implementation of the reform programme is available on www.gov.ie. While progress since early 2020 has been impacted as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, 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 the implementation of A Policing Service for our Future, the scaling phase, commenced in October 2020. This is the critical phase of the programme of reform, during which the programme will gain momentum. The delivery of the majority of the actions will be started or executed during the scaling phase. The IGPR and PRIPO have been, and continue to be, actively engaged with key stakeholders to ensure continued momentum on reform, insofar as possible, in the current circumstances.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the global 16 Days campaign. One of central themes of this year’s campaign is the demand for an end to gender-based violence in all workplaces. Ireland has yet to ratify the International Labour Organization, ILO, Convention 190, which commits the State to ending violence and harassment in the world of work. Does the Taoiseach know when his Government will ratify this convention? There is also an outstanding commitment to deliver domestic violence paid leave for victims. Victims and advocates have called for paid leave for years. Sinn Féin has introduced robust legislation in this regard that was developed in consultation with stakeholders and the Office of Parliamentary Legal Advisers, OPLA. I urge the Taoiseach and his Government partners to engage constructively with this legislation in order that the Oireachtas can collectively deliver on cross-party support for the provision of domestic violence paid leave.
I also want to raise with the Taoiseach outstanding commitments to victims of domestic homicide and their families. Progress on domestic homicide reviews has been too slow and commitments on legislative amendments to the Succession Acts made to families and supported by the Taoiseach during the period of confidence and supply have been withdrawn by the current Government. It is important to note that the long-awaited study on familicide and domestic homicide reviews is not relevant to the specific matters raised concerning the Succession Acts, nor was the consideration of succession rights included in the study’s terms of reference. I encourage the Taoiseach to do what we can to expedite all of these long called for reforms. In addition, any changes in respect of the structure of An Garda Síochána and community safety forums must consider An Garda Síochána as being part of a holistic solution to the issues we have with drug and organised crime.
The new Garda divisions coming into place are downright mental. They make no sense in some areas. The one in Cork is particularly bad. The one in my area of Clare and Limerick, from Ballyvaughan to Carrick-on-Suir is insane. The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, AGSI, has raised this issue and said that it will not be able to administer the area. We also have a situation where the headquarters has been taken out of Thurles and moved to Ennis. Therefore, Galway, Ennis and Limerick are headquarters, but the county with the two biggest motorways running straight through it, and one of the largest counties in Ireland, does not. It is crazy from a policing point of view, and it is the AGSI which is saying this and fairly deliberately. This decision must be re-examined.
The Garda Commissioner has questioned the constitutionality of the powers to be given to the new Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission. That is fairly unprecedented. Is he going to be listened to? As the party which brought forward and introduced the Policing Authority some years ago, we highlight the fact that the chair of that body, Mr. Bob Collins, has described the reforms as "a significant step back". Are these stakeholders going to be listened to? We will not be in a position to support a reform regarding changes to the Policing Authority as regards how senior appointments are made, if this aspect is not looked at. These appointments must be made independently given that is what got us into trouble in the first place. Has the Taoiseach examined that aspect?
I too have some concerns about the policing, security and community safety Bill. It contains a diminishment of the joint policing committees, to be replaced by a new structure. The joint policing committees have been effective, though less so since the abolition of the town councils by the Government that was in office between 2011 and 2016. This new structure will result in a further diminishment of community involvement in policing.
I have also noted Garda Commissioner Drew Harris's concerns about the Bill. He normally takes on reform but he has said that this Bill would result in the seeping away of his authority as the most senior Garda officer. He has expressed concern about its impact on the force. What plans has the Government to take on board those concerns, as well as the concerns expressed by the Association of Garda Superintendents and the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors?
Speaking generally, this is a long-term programme of policing reform, which the House, to varying degrees, bought into in terms of the establishment of an independent Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. I was in opposition at the time and we were properly consulted by the commission itself, along with many others. I have noted there seems to be a lot of dissatisfaction now across the board.
We support the minority report.
I know that. I am not just talking about the issue as it pertains to a policing authority, I am talking more generally. The Deputy is now calling the Garda divisions "insane".
The Garda divisions are insane.
I am not saying the Deputy is wrong, I am referring to the language used.. The point I want to get across is that there is now a huge gap between what I heard previously and what I am hearing now. That invariably happens when geography comes into the question around the reform of organisations.
This has nothing to do with the policing commission.
I take the Deputy's point. I am not answerable on specific operational decisions as to where a headquarters is located. I take the Deputy's point about Tipperary, as opposed to the west of the mid-west, as the Deputy has described it, and the organisation of divisions, headquarters and so forth on the ground. I will follow up on that. A unit in my Department oversees policing reform and I will undertake to have a briefing and bring to the attention of those who are overseeing the reform the concerns quite a number of people have about these matters.
Deputy Ó Murchú raised issues relating to domestic violence and the UN convention. I will come back to him with a timeline for Ireland's ratification of that. Issues of murder within families and so on are complex. A lot of work is being done from the justice and health perspectives in terms of the comments and experiences of others who have been through terrible trauma as a result of the loss of life of family members through the actions of another family member. There have been a number of such cases in recent times. We are open to an informed engagement and dialogue on the issue. It involves input from many professionals.
In terms of domestic paid leave and so on, we are supportive of measures of that kind. The Minister for Social Protection recently brought in some measures that were tried during the Covid period in respect of social protection which we will continue now as part of policy into the future. We will follow through on those issues. A joint departmental approach is being taken by the Departments of Justice; Housing, Local Government and Heritage; and Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth in respect of domestic and gender-based violence more generally with a view not just to additional resources but the provision of proper coverage across the country in terms of refuges and supports. It is a bit uneven at the moment. Eight counties have no provision right now and there is a need to support victims of domestic and gender-based violence in areas where the supports are not adequate or sufficient.
I will turn to the Garda Commissioner's comments. I have great belief in the joint policing committees. I think they have been very instructive and I know the Garda Commissioner has articulated some concerns with the legislation. We will take input but the Government must legislate, ultimately. Our objective is to create a modern, reformed police force. That means change from the way things were done in the past. We want to do that in a way that is operationally sensible to ensure it works. We will take on board submissions that are being made by the Commissioner and others in respect of the legislation. Authority is important in terms of the management of any force but, as I outlined earlier in my reply, the Commissioner has overseen significant reforms in respect of the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, GSOC. The Government will always be advised by the Attorney General on matters relating to the constitutionality of any matter we introduce through legislation. It has always been that way and it will continue that way. There is always a balance between oversight and operations.
Overall, we must never lose sight of the fact that we want to maintain resources on the front line. Sometimes we can create enormous bureaucratic overhang above any force. Resources must, first and foremost, be targeted to front line resources and to gardaí on the ground to allow them to police effectively and to make communities safe. I would be concerned that a lot of the anecdotal evidence is that many people do not feel safe in some of our cities and towns right now. That is something we need to address because people need a sense of security and safety as they walk our streets.
10. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing and infrastructure unit of his Department. [47865/21]
11. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing and infrastructure unit of his Department. [54496/21]
12. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing and infrastructure unit of his Department. [54563/21]
13. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing and infrastructure unit of his Department. [54566/21]
14. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing and infrastructure unit of his Department. [54767/21]
15. Deputy Alan Kelly asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the economic division of his Department. [54769/21]
16. Deputy Paul McAuliffe asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing and infrastructure unit of his Department. [55894/21]
17. Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor asked the Taoiseach if he will provide a report on the work of the housing and infrastructure unit of his Department. [55895/21]
18. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing and infrastructure unit of his Department. [55899/21]
19. Deputy Dara Calleary asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the economic division of his Department. [55904/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 and 19, 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 and these include policies in the areas of job creation, infrastructure, housing, climate action, digital, social dialogue, quality of life and well-being. This work aims to ensure a co-ordinated approach to the delivery of the programme for Government and any issues that cut across multiple Departments. The division supports the work of the Cabinet committees on economic recovery and investment, housing, the environment and climate change, as well as associated senior officials' groups. The economic division also maintains an overview of progress in key policy and sectoral areas, in line with Government priorities, liaises with the Central Statistics Office and provides me with briefing and speech material on economic and related policy issues.
The housing and infrastructure unit is part of the broader economic division and the unit supports the work of the Cabinet committee on housing, which oversees the delivery of Housing for All. The unit supports the delivery of wider public investment through Project Ireland 2040, which falls under the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment. The unit is also responsible for publishing the national risk assessment, which has provided a high-level overview of strategic risks facing the country since it was first published in 2014. The national risk assessment 2021-2022 is at an advanced stage and publication is expected in the coming weeks.
Last week, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage recommended 1,720 structures of architectural heritage to Dublin City Council for inclusion on the record of protected structures. It appears the Moore Street terrace did not make the cut despite recent planning observation by the Minister's officials. It is their view that many of the existing buildings, in addition to the national monument, are capable of refurbishment and adaptation and they have recommended to Dublin City Council that it should consider an alternative design for the redevelopment of this site that would allow for the retention and sensitive adaptation for reuse of these significant existing structures. It looks now as if the Government is on the side of Hammerson. We need a change of heart. I urge that, at the very least, the Minister would view the relatives' alternative master plan for the Moore Street area. The completed plan, which they launched last month, addresses all of the Department's planning concerns and unlike Hammerson's development, will meet all of the economic, social, cultural and heritage needs to sustain Moore Street and the surrounding area.
Dubliners are very worried about the erosion of the city's uniqueness. There are also other issues. I could go on.
What is being done to reduce the number of homeless people sleeping rough on our streets? The latest figures show there are 95 people sleeping rough in Dublin. I have met people on our streets who say they feel safer sleeping on the streets than in emergency accommodation. There is no Garda vetting of staff in privately run emergency accommodation. The basic national quality standards are not applied. The local connection rule is used to prevent people from progressing from emergency accommodation to housing. When will Garda vetting of staff in privately run emergency accommodation start? When will the national quality standards be applied to this type of emergency accommodation? When will the Government take action to ensure local connection rules are not used to block people from moving out of emergency accommodation and into housing?
I hope the Taoiseach and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage will address urgently what I hope is an unintended consequence of a new statutory instrument that was introduced in March of this year. The instrument changed the income assessment arrangements for social housing. I have been trying to get to the bottom of this because I am dealing with a family of eight who have been homeless for three years. They are currently in emergency accommodation in a hotel and are solely dependent on social welfare, but they are being told they will be evicted from emergency accommodation because, for a period during the 12 months prior to their being assessed, the father was working and the family's income went over the threshold. The father has lost his job and the family is now well below the threshold, but a change requiring an assessment of income earned in the preceding 12 months will now apply. This was not the case previously. I cannot believe the Government intends that those below the threshold should be made homeless. I want the Taoiseach to examine this as a matter of urgency.
The Finance Bill going through the House provides for a new zoned land tax to replace the vacant site levy, which should be collected properly in the meantime. However, the zoned land tax will apply only to serviced land and not to land with planning permissions in place. We will have to wait another year for a vacant homes tax. Our party is calling for the zoned land tax to apply much more broadly. Limiting it to serviced land restricts its usefulness, especially if planning permission is in place for housing. There are huge delays in getting electricity and water connections for housing developments that have already been built. My colleague in Wexford, Councillor George Lawlor, has encountered homeowners who have received quotes of €90,000 for a water connection. In Bryanstown Wood, just outside Drogheda, County Meath, there is a delay in the building of a number of houses until 2022 because of an issue with an electricity connection. It is incredible that we have completed houses lying empty while they await grid connections. Could this be put on the agenda of the Cabinet subcommittee on housing? Will the Taoiseach return to the House with a report on the matter because these stories are ridiculous?
The lack of supply is the biggest issue around the country. I am aware it is a massive issue in Carlow. However, there is a new company, CarlowBuild, that can deliver prefabricated homes. I do not know whether there are similar companies around the country but we need to consider this possibility. It could be part of the solution to the housing supply issue and the delivery of homes. The homes would be efficient and affordable and would help to alleviate the housing crisis. CarlowBuild builds modular housing, and it can build a house in 11 days. This is incredible. Its system has secured the approval of the National Standards Authority of Ireland and meets the requirements of the latest building regulations. The houses are top-line houses. How can we fast-track this? How can we have a process by which we can deliver homes? I ask the Taoiseach to examine the process of CarlowBuild and ascertain whether there are other such companies. We are still dealing with the mica issue. We need to build homes. The lack of supply is the issue. I ask that the Taoiseach consider this.
Rents went up 14.6% in Cork county from the end of September 2020 to the end of September 2021, according to Daft.ie. Huge parts of Cork county are not designated as rent pressure zones, nor are they covered by any of the Government's rent controls. How can the Taoiseach justify this? When is he going to extend rent controls to the county as a whole and, more than that, to the country as a whole? Kerry and Clare had some of the highest rent increases.
Furthermore, how can the Taoiseach explain so many vacant local authority houses throughout the country in the middle of the worst housing crisis in the history of the State? How can he explain the fact there were 5,000 vacant local authority houses in the State at the start of the pandemic and 400-plus vacant local authority houses in Cork city at the end of the summer? Crucially, what does the Taoiseach intend to do about it?
The importance of delivery under Housing for All is known to everybody. What work is the Department doing to monitor delivery and the appointment of staff to various authorities at engineer and quantity surveyor levels? Without such staff, none of the promises under Housing for All or the defective blocks scheme will be delivered upon. Is there regular monitoring of the appointment of staff to local authorities to ensure they can deliver on what is expected of them?
I thank all the Deputies for their commentary. Deputy Ó Murchú raised the issue of Moore Street. Again, I regret the endless partisan politicisation of this issue by the Sinn Féin Party given that there has been considerable and very significant cross-party engagement involving Dublin City Council and many in the Oireachtas for many years on the preservation of the site of the Rising. A Fianna Fáil Government made Moore Street a monument, if I recollect correctly. The entire area has been derelict and lacking development for decades. My sense is the Deputy wants to take us back to that for political ends. There was a lot of agreement and discussion on this. Do we want to go on for another decade or two and allow the dereliction to continue or do we want to transform the area? It has great potential in terms of employment and history. It is a matter of integrated development that ensures a good, modern, rejuvenated and revitalised streetscape with more employment and security. It is also a matter of transforming the site to reflect its historic importance and attract people. In its current state, despite its centrality at the foundation of the modern State, it does not attract people in the desired numbers.
We are on the side of getting things done now. There has been enough discussion. There has been substantial engagement and ongoing consultation, and a resolution has been arrived at. Decisions have been taken on the matter. I genuinely believe the development should be proceeded with, under the planning processes and so on it will go through.
What about the relatives' plans?
We have discussed this with relatives as well, and the Deputy knows that. I do not want to have an engagement that is too partisan but I believe what is going on is regrettable. I believe there is an electoral and definitely a political agenda associated with what is going on. There has been cross-party engagement on this matter for a long time. I can go back five, six or seven years in the more recent period.
Could Deputy Boyd Barrett give me or the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy O'Brien, the information on the family he mentioned? I will raise the issue with the Minister. There should be flexibility in assessing people, particularly a family of eight, for emergency housing accommodation. There should always be flexibility in whatever legislative framework exists.
On Deputy Kelly's point, the zoned land tax is part of the Finance Bill. It is a substantial part of it. In one year a very substantive proposal has emerged in the context of Housing for All that will make a difference, in the view of the Government, in getting housing and land developed.
It is probably the most substantive decision that has been taken and move that has been made in decades in respect of unused land. I will relay the views of the Deputy regarding what he perceives to be deficiencies on water connections to the Minister for Finance.
More generally, there are a number of work streams flow. The Secretary General of my Department chairs a group of Secretaries General in terms of implementation of Housing for All and, every quarter, the targets and progress on them will be published. The first quarter has been published, with ten of the 11 recommendations having been fulfilled. The second quarter will be published in January in terms of much more expansive and ambitious targets. The three key Secretaries General oversee issues in terms of what overall finance will be required to deliver the entirety of the plan, both public and private, and the working through of that. They also oversee the public service and what it takes to get the entire public service on board in respect of delivering Housing for All, which involves the ESB, EirGrid and Irish Water. There have been meetings already in this regard. The three Secretaries General chair the different work streams. The other issue relates to capacity and skills in terms of training up, apprenticeships and so on. There is a fairly significant implementation.
Deputy Calleary asked about this as well in terms of the various work streams that are headed up by a Secretary General who chairs each work stream and engages with the different State agencies and public authorities. For example, I refer to the effort to compile a database of land that the Land Development Agency can pursue to get houses built on land that is in the possession of, but not needed by, a Department or State agency so that we can get land utilised, particularly in urban centres, for housing. That is already under way at Heuston Station. There are plans afoot in respect of that whole area.
Deputy Murnane O'Connor raised a very important point. There is work under way in terms of innovation and how we can accelerate house construction. Prefabricated and modular housing is one aspect of that. It is used in the UK and to a degree here, as I saw when I visited the Intel site recently, in terms of industrial building. Prefabricated and precast structures and so on are a feature of construction in industry but, likewise, there have been some instances of their usage in housing. If a product is NSAI approved, then there is a role for it in certain circumstances.
Deputy Barry raised the issue of voids. He referred to a figure from before the pandemic. He ignored the significant impact of the July stimulus programme in the context of voids. Since the Government was formed, 6,000 voids have been brought back through additional resources being allocated. We are saying to local authorities that there is no excuse for leaving a house void. As soon as a property is empty, it should be reallocated. The Deputy mentioned rent pressure zones, RPZs. The Minister is bringing in legislation to reduce rental increases in RPZs to 2% or the rate of inflation, whichever is the lower.
Has the Taoiseach nothing to say in reply to my question on homeless people rough sleeping?
My apologies; I am coming to that. There are several Deputies to answer. In terms of the homeless, preparations are in place for the homeless coming into winter. The Government has worked with local authorities so that the cold weather arrangements are in place in time. They allow for additional temporary beds to be brought into use across a range of existing services and facilities for those who need them during periods of cold weather. Increased outreach is also a key feature of the cold weather arrangements. The Dublin Region Homeless Executive implemented its cold weather strategy on 4 November. It details increases in capacity for the homeless on a phased basis throughout the winter months. As the beds come on stream, they are triggered as needed, depending on the demand for homeless services on any given night. The Deputy raised issues in terms of the local connection. The Minister has been very consistent that it is not a barrier to a person getting access to homeless accommodation.
On Garda vetting, that is-----
This issue is progressing out of it, though.
On the Garda vetting, that is a more recent ask, if you like, in terms of recent developments. I will come back to the Deputy in respect of any timelines in that regard.
The Dublin Region Homeless Executive, in partnership with the Dublin Simon Community, continues to implement the outreach programme. There is a stepping up of activity and engagement in respect of the homeless during this period.
We are significantly over time. I ask the Taoiseach to conclude.
I will conclude.