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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 19 Jan 2022

Vol. 1016 No. 4

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

Dia daoibh agus fáilte ar ais. Táim ag súil le bhur dtacaíocht i rith an lae, i rith na seachtaine agus i rith an téarma amach romhainn.

Roimh tús a chur le himeachtaí na Dála inniu, ní mór dúinn Ashling Murphy a thabhairt chun cuimhne, a cailleadh agus a fuair bás seachtain ó shin go tragóideach. Ní mór dúinn ár gcomhbhrón a chur in iúl don chlann, dá tuismitheoirí, a deartháir, a deirfiúr agus an pobal uilig. Suaimhneas síoraí dá hanam dílis.

Before we start it is important to remember the late Ashling Murphy. We acknowledge the devastation caused to her family, friends and the community by Ashling's tragic, untimely and premature death. We remember the joy Ashling brought to people's lives and we extend our deepest condolences to all who knew her. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a hanam agus suaimhneas síoraí di.

Ashling Murphy was not the first woman to die in a random violent attack as she went about her business in broad daylight on the banks of the Grand Canal. Others have met violent deaths going to work, coming home, in daylight and in dark. The outpouring of grief and anger across the land is a powerful expression of solidarity with the Murphy family who now face the unimaginable heartbreak of coming to terms with life without Ashling. The streams of stories, personal experiences and traumatic narratives that flood our airwaves are stark testimony that male violence against women, harassment of women and degradation of women are endemic, pervasive and ever-present in Irish life. We now stand at a crossroads and there is a choice to be made. We must choose action - united, persistent action, to end the violence, the threat of violence, the fear of violence that blights the lives of women and girls. We must make that choice and we must mean it.

The roots of sexism and misogyny run deep. The Ireland of religious dogma, that defined women as men's property, that excluded women from the world of work, that relegated us as objects and confined us to domestic chores, that confined and exploited the poor and vulnerable in laundries and mother and baby homes and that stole babies from the arms of their mothers, that Ireland defined and disfigured the lives of generations of women; our grandmothers, our mothers. Much has changed. The face of misogyny has changed but it has not gone away. Today's Ireland, our place, our daughters' Ireland, is ugly and dangerous still, whether it is the unsolicited sexual photos, the online stalking and abuse and harassment in shops, in nightclubs, on the bus, on bicycles, at work or at college. It is the intimidation of lewd commentary and catcalling. It is the never-ending mansplaining. It is the gaslighting and the coercive control. It is rape.

All of this and more is the circuitry of misogyny, a culture that enables violence against women and then looks the other way. Hundreds of women have met the ultimate brutality of this toxic culture. The fear of random attack is terrifying but for many women, the terror is at home and the most dangerous person their intimate partner. Yet, every year, women and their children are turned away from refuges because there are no places for them. We have to be honest. While women suffer, the State penny-pinches and, as the words of lip service ring in their ears, vital services struggle to survive.

The murder of Ashling Murphy must mark a turning point. Leaders must lead. We need now to stand up and be counted. The public appetite for action now matches the scale of male violence that women face every day. This is our chance to turn the tide. This a rare moment for change. The safety, dignity and lives of women demand political action and unity. A meeting of political leaders must now be convened urgently. We need to unite in agreeing on and driving immediate and long-term action to eliminate violence against women. I ask the Taoiseach to convene this meeting as Head of Government.

This is a heartbreaking time, but hearts and lives have been repeatedly broken and each time, once the initial grief cools, the political system goes back to business as usual. This cannot happen again.

Ar dtús, táim buíoch den Teachta as an ábhar seo a ardú. Aontaím leis an Leas-Cheann Comhairle chun ár gcomhbhrón a dhéanamh le muintir Uí Mhurchú as bás Ashling. Níl aon amhras ach go bhfuil an tír go léir an-bhuartha ar fad maidir leis an méid atá tarlaithe. Tá tuiscint againn go léir le hathair, máthair agus le teaghlach uilig Uí Mhurchú ag an am seo. In the first instance, I join with the Leas-Cheann Comhairle in expressing my profound sympathy once again to the family of Ashling Murphy, her parents Raymond and Kathleen, sister Amy, brother Cathal, boyfriend Ryan, her wider family and the entire community for the violent and horrible manner of her death. She was taken from an entire community and was someone who gave so much to that community. As a national school teacher, she personified the essence of national school teaching in this country that, as I have said previously, is the bedrock upon which much has been built in our society down through the decades. She encapsulated a lot in her love of music and sport but, above all, what one was left with yesterday was a sense of the extraordinary embeddedness of the Murphy family, and of Ashling, in the wider community, which was there in all forms and facets. This horrible crime tore at the heart of that value of community and family. I wanted to say that.

I agree with the Deputy that this is a watershed in our society's approach to the undermining of women and violence towards women. There can be no tolerance for that. The Minister for Justice has been working on a national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence. That will be completed in early March. I can say to the Deputy that the Minister for Justice will, as a result of that, lead the policy area on this matter but will also be responsible for the provision of services. This is so there will be, as the Deputy and others have articulated previously, a coherent, single key leadership role within the Cabinet in this area, which will then be accountable to the Cabinet committee, chaired by me, in respect of making sure there will be delivery on all aspects of that strategy and existing policies.

I will convene a meeting of leaders. I think that is a good idea. I believe that statements on this matter from all leaders will be articulated later in the House.

I will say openly that this should be a cross-party Oireachtas approach mirroring what society wants to do. In that context, men need to listen more and hear women more on this and related issues.

The Deputy is correct that Ashling is not the first woman to have been murdered violently in this manner. We need to eliminate this from our society, as well as all aspects of the undermining of women in a misogynistic way or in any other form. That takes a multifaceted approach embracing prevention, protection, security and education. In short, it needs a sea change in culture, not just legislation and initiatives, to eliminate this.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Taoiseach. We all send our sympathies and condolences to the Murphy family at this awful time. There are not words really to describe the trauma and grief that family and, as the Taoiseach said, the entire community is experiencing. An ocean of tears has been shed for Ashling and the hundreds of women who have lost their lies in a violent manner.

The systemic nature of male violence towards women has now been identified and called out in a powerful way and so it falls to us as legislators, elected representatives and political leaders to lead the way. That is the expectation of us.

I share and endorse the Taoiseach's position that we need an all-of-Oireachtas approach to this. This is not a moment for party politics or division, but for unity. It is my strong belief that it is imperative that the Taoiseach, as Head of Government, is at the wheel and leads on this matter. The danger is that when the shock lessens, the initial grief subsides, the headlines have been written, the cameras go away and that poor family is left with the awfulness of their loss, the real test will be what we do in here.

We need an all-of-society and whole-of-community response to this complex issue. We cannot legislate misogyny away but we will never see an end to this endemic violence unless we get our act together and are clear that we mean business. That initial meeting of all political leaders should be the beginning of our collective journey and endeavour.

I agree with what the Deputy has said. Delivery and the maintaining of momentum on this will be key. The week before Ashling's murder, I met the Minister for Justice and, separately, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, looking ahead. We focused on the issue and on the issue that others have raised in this House about having a focal point and a lead Department. The sector outside, that is, the people advocating on behalf of women, had been looking for this as well.

That issue has been resolved in terms of the Department of Justice leading on all aspects of this and having a chain of accountability to the Taoiseach's office and to a Cabinet subcommittee and working with the Oireachtas through either a specific committee or the relevant Oireachtas committee to make sure there are timelines to get things done. The proposed hate crime legislation is important and Coco's Law has been important. Supporting a Victim's Journey and the No Excuses campaign are important initiatives that have been undertaken.

A comprehensive, co-ordinated approach is required and, above all, delivery is required on all fronts. The centrepiece of this strategy, as I said, is prevention, protection, prosecution and the co-ordination of policies.

On behalf of the Labour Party, I extend sympathies to the family of Ashling Murphy, her boyfriend, Ryan, her family, community, colleagues, friends and pupils. I think of them a lot. It is a terrible tragedy that has deeply touched us all, across the country, and it demands a serious and collective response from all of us in this House. I welcome the question-and-answer session just beforehand and I agree totally. The word "watershed" is often used in this House for many different things. Sometimes the word is misplaced and sometimes those sentiments are not followed up on. We are all guilty of that. This, however, must be a watershed moment when it comes to violence against women. It simply must be.

Collectively, we are all leaders. Everyone who has been elected to this House is a leader. We must address violence against women in this country, which has ended so many lives. I was taken by a piece broadcast on "Prime Time" last night, which went back 60 years. It contained many reminders of cases that might have been forgotten. It was shocking. Whatever we collectively have to do, we must do. The new special committee on gender equality that my colleague, Deputy Bacik, will be chairing will have an important role in helping us all to deal with domestic, sexual and gender-based violence in Ireland.

I want to ask the Taoiseach another question relating to the leaving certificate. I ask it in an honest way. We in the Labour Party have asked it before. Deputy Ó Ríordáin, our education spokesperson, has been asking the question since July. Thousands of students are waiting for an answer from the Government as to whether the leaving certificate will go ahead as normal or whether there will be a hybrid leaving certificate, which we have been proposing since July. Those students need an answer. We absolutely believe in a hybrid leaving certificate. Those students have gone through a difficult two years and have lost much time despite the best efforts of teachers, schools etc. Some 10,000 people, the majority of whom are students, have signed a petition. There are students outside today. We know two thirds of the students' union secondary representatives who were surveyed favoured the hybrid model. I accept it cannot be a carbon copy of what happened last year. I accept there are additional difficulties. However, a move to the hybrid model is absolutely necessary. The stress these students are under at the moment is enormous. I have spoken to many of them across the country and in my own constituency. With oral, mock and practical examinations coming up, we need a quick decision. I hope we are coming into a different phase of the pandemic. Perhaps we are moving out of it, although we do not know that because the pandemic has been full of surprises. I commend the Minister for Education because she got the decision right last year and the year before that. I ask, on behalf of all of these students who deserve a fair chance like others, that the leaving certificate will be a hybrid again this year.

I thank the Deputy for his question and his earlier remarks. We will work together on the issue of gender-based violence and violence against women.

On the question of the leaving certificate, we fully accept the challenges and we know that the education and learning experience of many students has been disrupted this year. All of the planning for the 2022 examinations was guided, above all, by the prevailing public health advice with regard to the well-being of students. Significant adjustments have already been made to this year's leaving certificate to allow for that disruption that has been experienced by students. Adjustments to the assessment arrangements for the 2022 leaving certificate examinations were announced in August 2021. They were designed to take account of the disruption to learning experienced by students in the early part of 2021 and to make allowance for some possible further disruption in the 2021-22 school year.

They allow for greater choice for students while retaining the familiar overall structure of the exam. The Department of Education and State Examinations Commission, SEC, have sought to make as much information as possible on examinations available to students as early as possible. That is why the adjustments were communicated in the summer of last year.

Last month, it was announced that the oral and practical examinations will take place outside of school time over the first week of the school Easter holidays. The SEC aims to minimise disruption to teaching and learning by taking that initiative. These were all pre-emptive moves that were taken conscious of disruption that had already happened.

The Minister and Department continue to engage with the partners and stakeholders. A meeting of the advisory group on planning for State examinations, which involves the student unions and patrons, is taking place tomorrow. That is an important forum for the Minister and all the stakeholders involved, namely, students, parents, teachers, school leaders, the SEC, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, NCCA, and higher education bodies.

The Deputy made an important point when he said the leaving certificate examination cannot be a carbon copy of last year. There are challenges with the hybrid model in year three. We will all be aware that in the previous two years, the Minister with responsibility for higher education, Deputy Harris, in engagement with the third level sector, managed to squeeze many extra places. That happened for two years in succession. The capacity of the third level sector to provide that equivalent number of places this year may not be as high, and that is to put it charitably. That creates an additional challenge. We know hybrid models can create grade inflation. There are, therefore, challenges with the hybrid model that have to be assessed. I need to put that out there. The Minister and Department will engage with all the representative groupings in a meeting of the advisory group tomorrow. I accept the need for clarity as quickly as possible.

I am not saying this is easy but it has to happen. I rarely come in here and say something like that. The mental health of the students is paramount. I know there are issues with regard to third level. Those who have gone into third level this year and last year have performed quite well after what they have had to go through, which is great. This year's students, however, lost three months in fifth year. They have suffered an awful lot again this year. That is not fair and fairness should be the medium by which we decide this.

I believe the leaving certificate and its role will change dramatically in the coming years. We all know that. This year will possibly and hopefully be the last year. It has to be a hybrid system. I know there are challenges given the situation with the junior certificate but there are definitely ways in which that can be dealt with.

I understand the advisory group is coming together tomorrow. As a follow-up, if the Taoiseach is not going to give an answer on whether a hybrid model will be offered, will he at least propose some date by which a decision will be made for the thousands of people who are watching and all the students who will look back on this on social media? Will it be next week, for instance?

I do not want to pre-empt the outcome of tomorrow's meeting-----

I am not asking that.

-----or any further engagements between the Minister and the respective partners in education. I understand, however, the need for clarity and certainty for the students in terms of understandable worry, anxiety and stress levels. That is absolutely clear. The Minister is also clear on that front. I am not in a position to give the Deputy a date or timeline for this particular process to be brought to a conclusion. I ask him to accept our sincerity in understanding the need for providing certainty and clarity as quickly as we possibly can.

We do not want to compound the situation for students either. With the qualifications framework, there are pathways for students, from further education and apprenticeships right through to third level education. There is a danger with three years in a row, in that by not perhaps having the same capacity as we have managed to extract from third level in the previous two years, we could create other issues that may cause stress and anxiety students. All that has to go into the mix in terms of assessment. It is fair to point out that these are real issues facing students.

Bogfar ar aghaidh go dtí People Before Profit-Solidarity agus An Teachta Bríd Smith.

Ar dtús, ba mhaith liom ár bhfeall a chur in iúl mar gheall ar dhúnmharú Ashling Murphy agus gealltanas a thabhairt go gcuirfear deireadh le foréigean in aghaidh na mban agus na gcailíní sa tír seo. Déanaim comhbhrón le clann agus cairde Ashling Murphy.

The shock waves throughout this country in the aftermath of yet another violent killing of a woman have already been mentioned. It is felt particularly in the wake of the repeal and the “Me Too” movements, where dozens or tens of thousands of young women throughout the country came out to express their anger, their sorrow and their dismay that this can happen in 2022. I think all of us females in this country, if we are honest, have at some stage our lives experienced a mix of harassment, abuse, sexual threats, aggression and misogyny. Some people have experienced it much more than others, such as the 244 women who have died at the hands of misogynist violence in this country.

It is a universal experience. We need now to own up to the universality of the oppression of women. It does not just stem from a country like Ireland. It is universal. The UN figures on violence against women and on the killing of women right across the globe are extraordinary. It comes from a system that oppresses one gender in favour of the other. It does so to use their labour - their place in the home still remains in our Constitution by the way - and their image and abuse of their image to make lots and lots of money through very violent, sexualised porn. For that reason, it is very important that the Taoiseach gives a commitment to changing the sex education regime for young boys and girls. Four years ago, the Bill that we tabled on objective sex education passed Second Stage. It is still sitting on Committee Stage. The key issue in that Bill is that it has to be non-ethos based. Some 92% of our schools are run by the Catholic Church and that church, we believe, is incapable of delivering the non-ethos-based sex education that is required.

The Istanbul Convention, which we signed up to, calls from one refuge place for domestic violence sufferers per 10,000 of the population. Currently, Dublin should have 135 refuge places, but it has 29. Cork, the Taoiseach’s own city, should have 54, but it has six. We are providing 29% of the Istanbul target. Those are two things that the Taoiseach could move on immediately. I heard him say that the Minister will take responsibility and that there will be cross-party co-operation. However, there are two immediate and urgent issues that we need to change. That is the provision of services for domestic violence and to move from a budget of €30 million given to Tusla to deal with this issue, against a budget of €88 million which was given to the greyhound and horse industry last year. It is appalling that the lives of women are less valued than the cruelty administered to dogs and horses.

I want to ask the Taoiseach how we can trust a Government which last year accepted a commissioned report and the mother and baby homes when people are protesting outside today saying that there is not enough redress for them and that they do not accept that the truth in that report reflects their experience. Yet, we are sitting in front of a Government which accepted that lock, stock and barrel. Again, it has let down a cohort of women who are victims of the legacy of systemic violence and abuse. I have two questions. How can we trust the Taoiseach? What will he do immediately about the budgets for refuge and sex education, which are utter changes in this country that are required?

First, I agree wholeheartedly with the overarching principle that the Deputy has articulated on the need to eliminate all forms of violence against women and to create the policies and the mechanisms for the delivery of those policies to achieve that. As I said, the Minister for Justice, Deputy McEntee, has been working, to be fair, over the last 12 months on an overarching national strategy for domestic violence, sexual violence and gender-based violence more generally. That should be completed by early March. In addition to that, the Minister will be taking the lead role not just in policy but in the provision of services. That includes the allocation of funding for more refuge places. Better than that will be a more focused, stand-alone provision, which will not necessarily be through the existing system for the provision of centres but rather a more focused departmental-led approach.

That will get things done much faster in terms of provision. I assure the Deputy that it will not be an issue of capital resources when providing additional places and centres, or the ongoing wraparound services that will be required for children in such circumstances.

On relationships and sexuality education, I believe and agree that it should not be ethos-based - that is without question - and that a national curriculum should be implemented irrespective of the patronage of a school. However, a legislative approach alone is not adequate at all because the more important issue is that relationships and sexuality education requires capacity supports in schools for those who teach and provide the curriculum. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment has been engaged for quite some time in a fundamental review of the junior certificate syllabus on relationships and sexuality. That is coming to a conclusion. I met the Minister for Education a fortnight ago, ahead of this year's programme, and asked that we accelerate consideration of the senior cycle.

When I say "capacity", I am also referring to the teacher training college level. There should be modules on relationships and sexuality as a core part of the overall curriculum in our teacher training colleges. That is particularly important in those years. I also put forward the idea that there should perhaps be a post of responsibility in every school and that this person would have the authority and responsibility to deliver the programme throughout the school. There would have to be very comprehensive in-service programmes for teachers in primary and second level schools because that is where there have been challenges. I was involved in the original introduction of relationships and sexuality education in 1998, 1999 and 2000 and have monitored, watched and evaluated how it has progressed. With all curriculum change, the most fundamental prerequisite is comprehensive investment in teachers through continuing professional development as well as the original education through teacher training colleges.

I will respond to the last issue first. The fundamental thing the Bill we introduced four years ago would have done was remove the barrier of ethos in the delivery of the curriculum. The Government is going to have to address that because 92% of our national schools are run according to a Catholic ethos and it is up to the schools to refuse to implement objective sex education if it flies in the face of their ethos. Will the Taoiseach please address that in his next answer?

The matter of refuge places is hugely important. We have been campaigning for refuge places in Carlow and Dún Laoghaire and I am sure other Deputies have been campaigning locally as well. Nine counties have no refuges. It is outrageous that 42% of the Istanbul Convention is not being implemented by this country. The Government must address that immediately, without going through the rigours of setting up special committees. It should give the funding to Tusla to provide the places, keep hostels open, stop closing them and create new ones where they are required. Some 3,000 victims of sexual abuse at a minimum - I do not have the exact figure in front of me - were left outside of supports during the Covid pandemic because of the dearth of spaces. That has to be addressed immediately, not at some vague time in the future. I ask the Taoiseach to take both those points on board.

On the latter point, I agree about the need for additional places and that we need to do it as quickly as we possibly can. We have had three Departments, namely, those responsible for housing, children and justice, in this system and that is not optimal. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage has largely provided for the refuge places to be developed through the new capital assistance scheme, CAS, and so on. Too much has depended on groups coming to the Government or authorities saying they want to set something up. An audit has taken place. Basically, from the centre out we should now be designing what a modern refuge centre should be all about, including proper, high-quality facilities. We need to design that and do it and that is what we intend to do with regard to refuges. That would speed this up in some areas. The system works in some areas because of local activism but it cannot just depend on local activism. Some counties have very little provision at the moment. Deputy Murnane O'Connor has been on to me about Carlow, as have others.

That is an example and an illustration. We need to do that better.

I agree that there is a need to change legislation in respect of relationships and sexuality, but I have to stress it has to be an overarching package that involves the curriculum-----

-----and the capacity to deliver in the classroom. That is the key.

We will move on to the final question from An Teachta Naughten.

I too wish to be associated with the expressions of sympathy to the Murphy family on the senseless murder of Ashling Murphy. I support the cross-party and cross-group approach to the issue of violence against women.

I will raise a separate issue with the Taoiseach. The Northern and Western Regional Assembly has just published a report on regional vacancy and dereliction, which shows that 44,905 residential and commercial properties are empty in the five Connacht counties and the three Border counties of Donegal, Cavan and Monaghan. This is one third higher than Ireland's total national annual housing requirement of 33,000 homes. There are whole streets in our towns and villages that have not had a football kicked on them in a generation. Some 40% of the vacant homes in this country are in these eight counties. Many of them are vacant family homes close to schools and services and also have 1,000 Mbps broadband outside their doors.

The housing crisis is not just about a lack of houses. It is also about our failure to have empty homes occupied by families, especially those in our towns and villages. The fact is that if these homes were occupied, it would have an immediate dividend to the State, rural Ireland and homeless families. I have been making this point for some years. Thankfully, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and the Government have taken on board my suggestions. A whole section of the new Housing for All strategy is focused on how we can bring families back into empty houses throughout our country. However, that strategy was published last September and we still await its implementation.

To take County Roscommon as an example, we have a perverse situation in that we have a vacancy rate of 14% and 4,090 empty homes in the county but just 18 homes for rent and 230 for sale, according to daft.ie. Local auctioneers have waiting lists of people looking to buy or rent family homes. In east Galway, where demand for housing is considerably higher, many of our villages do not have access to any wastewater treatment facilities. In fact, in a number of instances, raw sewage is running through the streets.

There needs to be a strategic approach to addressing this problem, rather than trying to dump responsibility back on councils, which have not been able to utilise the repair and leasing scheme to bring vacant properties in need of repair back into use for social housing or repair the 3,900 local authority houses that remain empty throughout our country.

I thank the Deputy for raising this issue. I welcome the report from the Northern and Western Regional Assembly on vacancy and dereliction based on its analysis of the region. I did not realise Deputy Naughten had written a chapter in the Housing for All strategy but he is correct about the section that deals with the issue of vacant houses. There is a particular need, through a towns first policy, to get vacant or derelict houses back in play and to reconstruct them and enable their reconstruction. There are a number of ways in which we can do that. We can tax vacant properties to incentivise people to get them developed. We can create incentives, which we will, to help people to move towards refurbishing or bringing a house back into use as a home and residential property, which is the desired outcome, as well as creating activity within a town and village.

The study concentrates on towns and villages throughout the north west. I would like to engage with the Deputy to go through it in greater detail in terms of the models used and so on and to identify those houses and see, on a more micro level, whether we can get some of these issues dealt with on the ground.

There has been a range of schemes prior to Housing for All - the repair-and-lease scheme being one - that do not seem to have got the desired return or output.

The interesting news I heard just before I came into the House was that in 2021 there were 30,724 commencement notices. There is significant evidence of the construction sector really picking up. We had two lockdowns in 2020 and 2021 that affected construction output, but there has been such a significant bounceback that we have had 30,724 commencements. That augurs well. It is the highest number for quite a long time. That is part of the approach.

In terms of the rejuvenation of the regions - the north-west being one - we need a targeted, focused policy in terms of enabling vacant houses that have been described in this report to be brought back into use for families or for people generally who are either on the housing list or who are in search of affordable housing. There is a range of measures in Housing for All that can enable us to do that.

In terms of local authority and social housing, since this Government came into office, 5,500 social homes have been brought back into use over 18 months. These would be the typical local authority voids and that is through dedicated funding. Some 1,500 void homes are to be remediated and brought back into use this year. Those are important measures to counter the level of vacancy that has been described in the report. Local authorities will have a significant role to play in this.

There are commitments to provide funding to local authorities to support the refurbishment of vacant properties in our towns and villages, as well as to compulsorily purchase vacant properties, but these provisions - in some guise - have been available up to now but have had limited impact. Despite the publication of the Housing for All pathway to maximise the efficient use of our existing housing stock last September, the Government passed the reforms to the nursing home fair deal scheme without addressing the treble tax on nursing home residents who wish to rent out their former family homes. Our towns, villages and rural areas will benefit from this plan but there is a need to follow through with the necessary actions, especially in the west, the north west and the Border counties where there are such very high vacancy rates.

I agree with the latter point in terms of those in nursing homes being able to make their houses available for rent. There have been issues - these have been argued to and fro - in terms of protecting people and safeguarding the rights of those who may be in nursing homes. That said, the overarching priority now is housing and the provision of all available units for the purposes of housing. Work is on the way to resolve that issue.

That concludes Leaders' Questions.

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