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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 1 Mar 2022

Vol. 1018 No. 7

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

Ar dtús, ba mhaith liom mo dhlúthpháirtíocht, agus dlúthpháirtíocht Shinn Féin, a léiriú le muintir na hÚcráine. Ba mhaith liom ár dtacaíocht a léiriú leo. Ní féidir le éinne a bhfuil meas acu ar an saoirse ach breathnú le huafás ar ghníomhartha na Rúise san Úcráin. Cáinimid na gníomhartha sin go hiomlán.

I reiterate on my own behalf and that of my party our total and unwavering solidarity with the people of Ukraine at this deeply distressing and traumatic time for their country. We once again condemn unreservedly the actions of the Russian Government in violating Ukraine's sovereignty and internationally recognised borders, its attacks against Ukrainian people, property and infrastructure, and its initiation of a humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. The invasion of Ukraine and the military assault we have witnessed are a criminal affront to the civilised world and a threat to the peace and security of people everywhere.

The Irish people have been appalled at the heartbreaking scenes of civilians being killed, being injured and fleeing their homes for their lives. Communities across our country are now actively working to assist in the humanitarian response. I believe I speak for all Deputies in the Dáil when I say we are united in our condemnation of the actions of the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Any attempt by Putin or his regime to justify his actions as a response to NATO are without foundation and are merely a means of distraction from his own culpability. It is his military aggression that is bringing death and destruction to Ukraine.

The international community has an obligation through diplomacy, support for Ukraine and strong sanctions against the Russian Federation to bring about a peaceful resolution to stop this horrific war and to see all Russian forces leave Ukraine. Ireland must be a voice for peace, justice and freedom in the world.

Will the Taoiseach agree with me that Ireland, more than most, understands the impact of occupation and imperialist aggression, that we deeply value the principles of national sovereignty and the right of all people to self-determination, that Ireland also understands the importance and difficulty in finding peace through dialogue and diplomacy and that our status as a neutral state, with no colonial baggage and an independent foreign policy, has allowed us to play a valuable and honourable role in peacekeeping and conflict resolution around the world and in the battle against nuclear proliferation? Now, as a member of the United Nations Security Council, we must do everything we can to end this unjust war and force complete Russian military withdrawal.

Will the Taoiseach outline how he intends to intensify sanctions in order to ensure a Russian withdrawal and the right of Ukraine to a peaceful future as a sovereign independent state? I ask him to update the Dáil on the efforts of the Government, as a member of the UN Security Council, to ensure an urgent response to what is a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.

I thank the Deputy for raising this very grave issue. No one in this House or anywhere else should be under any illusions about the seriousness of the situation Europe and the world faces right now, this afternoon. Vladimir Putin, who is a bully and a thug, has unleashed an unprovoked and unjustifiable war on the people of Ukraine, committing war crimes in the process, as we are witnessing. As President Zelenskyy said most movingly to the European Parliament this morning, every day now in Ukraine is someone's last day. I was very struck both by the contribution he made there and, indeed, to the European Heads of State last Thursday at the European Council, when he said to us it might be the last day he would speak to us because he is number one on the list, along with his family.

It is difficult to comprehend. A week ago, it would have been unimaginable to see what we are witnessing now: a 40-mile-long convoy of Russian troops and heavy military equipment grinding their way towards Kyiv, where children and their families take shelter in the underground. Just hours ago, Liberty Square in Kharkiv was devastated by a missile strike. As President Zelenskyy said, it is a city where there are up to 20 universities and the area is frequented by thousands of young students in the full expression of freedom of choice, expression and so forth. Residential neighbourhoods in cities all over Ukraine, where ordinary, decent people were going about their normal lives, are today facing barrages of illegal cluster munitions, which we, well over a decade ago, worked as a country to ban in an international treaty. Caithimid deireadh a chur leis an gcogadh seo. Caithfidh Vladimir Putin deireadh a chur leis an bhforéigean agus leis na hionsaithe uafásacha ar leanaí na hÚcráine agus ar theaghlaigh éagsúla ar fud na hÚcráine because what we are witnessing is scarcely believable but it is very real for the people of Ukraine.

Our response, I agree, must, therefore, be unprecedented and it has been unprecedented. Over the past ten years, and certainly since 2014, I have been arguing and debating in this House about the consistent violation of Ukraine's territorial integrity by Russia. Now it has reached an appalling stage in terms of an all-out assault on Ukraine and the Ukrainian people and territory. Before leaving for Brussels last week for the emergency European Council, I said I wanted to see the most comprehensive and widest set of sanctions deployed by the European Union. That has happened in respect of the sanctions that have now been put in place by the EU, along with the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan and others. I have been very heartened by the unprecedented commitment to humanitarian care and support for Ukrainians. I believe the European Union genuinely has responded with absolute solidarity with Ukraine and with absolute speed in its response in terms of the unprecedented scale of sanctions that have been deployed, in particular, the sanctions against the Central Bank of Russia in terms of it not being in a position to access its European and foreign reserves, Russian banks being locked out of the SWIFT mechanism, the listing of key individuals who are part of the coterie of leadership around Vladimir Putin and much more in terms of the industrial base of Russia.

It is an extraordinary package of sanctions that people did not believe would happen. Ireland did not hesitate to facilitate the deployment of the European peace facility and €500 million to assist people in Ukraine, Ireland's support being in terms of non-lethal weapons.

The biggest challenge facing the country is that we must be very, very generous in the refugee crisis that will undoubtedly flow as a result of this war. It will be beyond anything we have comprehended before. I have said to my colleagues in government and the Departments that we must put to one side what we might have considered to be the norms in responding in a humanitarian way to the plight of the Ukrainian people. The Secretary General of my Department is convening with other Secretaries General and Government Ministers to make sure we scale up the response in the context of the humanitarian crisis that is unfolding before our eyes.

Nobody is under any illusion but that Vladimir Putin and the Russian Federation are the aggressors in this scenario and they have brazenly breached international law. They have launched an all-out offensive against a sovereign people and they have, as the Taoiseach has correctly said, committed war crimes on the watch of the international community. We need to see an intensification of this package of sanctions. Vladimir Putin, and all others who might choose to violate international law and brutalise people, need to understand that the international community can and will put our foot down. I support the Taoiseach’s call for generosity towards those fleeing war and conflict. We must extend the most generous of Irish receptions to those people and families. I want to go back to the economic sanctions and to invite the Taoiseach to set out how we might deepen them, not least in respect of the Russian banking system and the SWIFT system.

We have witnessed the severest form of sanction of the Russian banking system, particularly in the Central Bank of Russia being denied access and being frozen out of accessing its reserves, which is unprecedented. Furthermore, financial transactions with many Russian banks and companies have been prohibited. That means it is very difficult for Russia to sell exports and to buy imports on international markets, which will be significant. European Union banks are prohibited from accepting deposits over a certain amount from Russian individuals and, as I said, the European assets of the Central Bank of Russia have been frozen, restricting its ability to prop up the value of the Russian rouble. Many Russian banks are excluded from the SWIFT payment network and that will hamper Russia’s ability to trade with the outside world, particularly the major global economies. The sanctions are already having an effect, with the Russian rouble crashing to record lows on foreign exchange markets. Russian purchasing power in international markets has also dropped and inflation in Russia is likely to rise significantly. The Central Bank of Russia has been forced to hike interest rates from 9% to 20% to prop up the currency. Interest rates at these levels, if sustained, will severely damage the Russian economy. Russia’s stockmarkets are shut and there are signs of increased stress in the Russian banking system, with media reports of long queues at ATMs. Some analysts have predicted that the stress on the system could lead to a run on Russian banks.

We have to be in for the long haul, which is a phrase that was used consistently last Thursday evening. Vladimir Putin has fundamentally altered the multilateral rules-based order that characterised international behaviours since the end of the Cold War.

It is that fundamental and will cause reflection all over the world and within Europe in terms of how we respond to that and how we endeavour to restore some stability to the multilateral rules-based order to which we subscribe as a country.

What we are witnessing in Ukraine is a rapidly-unfolding human rights and humanitarian disaster. Yesterday, the Russians used cluster bombs in a densely-populated civilian neighbourhood of Kharkhiv. This kind of indiscriminate attack is clearly designed to maximise civilian casualties. I know the Taoiseach will agree with me that this is the definition of a war crime. Today, a military convoy extends for 60 km and inches its way closer to Kyiv. It is clear Kyiv will soon be under siege with massive invading armies surrounding the city. The people of Kyiv, who are watching this on satellite images as a convoy approaches must be experiencing unimaginable fear.

Ireland is a neutral country but, as has been said before and as I will say again, this does not mean we are neutral on the invasion of Ukraine, which is a sovereign country and nor does it mean we cannot act. I welcome the Government's lifting of visa restrictions and donation of humanitarian relief which have been announced in recent days. However, we have been slow to act against the Russians in the past.

It has long been reported, including by John Mooney, that the Russian Embassy in Dublin is being used as a base for espionage operations across Europe. This was confirmed when the Government used legislation to block a proposed expansion of the embassy, on security grounds in 2020. Yesterday, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, suggested that Russian diplomats or some operatives who are in Ireland and may not be diplomats could be expelled in coming days. Will the Taoiseach confirm to the House whether this means that the Government has identified spies among the Russian Embassy staff who are about to be expelled?

The economic sanctions announced by the EU over the weekend are wide ranging and significant and must be welcomed. However, Colm Keena, in The Irish Times, has reported how one Russian company, subjected to previous sanctions in 2014, was able to bypass them and access Western capital markets using a company registered in Ireland. We know that tens of billions in Russian money has been funnelled through Ireland using financial services operations in the International Financial Services Centre, IFSC, and entities called limited partnerships.

One of the attractions of limited partnerships is that there is no requirement to disclose publicly by whom they are really owned. If the ownership of these entities is shrouded in mystery, how can Ireland ensure sanctions will be properly applied? Will the Taoiseach confirm what the Government intends to do to close any loopholes and ensure there is no place for dirty money to hide in this country?

Hundreds of thousands of civilians have already fled Ukraine and the number of refugees could soon reach the millions. Will the Taoiseach outline the practical steps Ireland will take to ensure refugees can easily get from Poland and other eastern European countries to Ireland and to safety?

I agree with the sentiments expressed by the Deputy on the appalling attack and war being raged against the Ukrainian people by Vladimir Putin and the Russian leadership. I have no doubt that the vast majority of Russian people do not support this war.

In terms of the diplomatic issue, first, anything we do should be in consort with our European partners. European strength and unity of purpose are very important in respect of responding to Russia. That has been a hallmark, so far, of the European Union's response, working with the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and other countries that hold up democratic and universal principles of sovereignty, territorial integrity and freedom of speech and movement. Those are fundamental values. We share those values with other countries. Those countries are uniting in opposing what the Russian leadership is doing.

In respect of the ambassadorial issue and diplomatic channels, no country is proposing the expulsion of any ambassador so far.

Our view is that it is important from a practical point of view in looking after our citizens either in Russia or Ukraine that we keep all channels open right now. We have a limited presence in the embassy in Moscow with six individuals all told. They have a fundamental function to look after Irish citizens in Russia and also to articulate our views and keep abreast of what is happening within that jurisdiction and different jurisdictions. I am very conscious of that.

While I understand fully the revulsion and anger towards how the Russian ambassador has spoken on this war, nonetheless, we have to keep cool heads, hold our nerve and keep the fundamentals in front of us all the time in terms of looking after Irish citizens, in particular.

On the IFSC, entities in the financial services sector in Ireland are within scope of the sanction measures agreed unanimously by the 27 EU member states. All natural and legal persons in the State are obliged to comply with the European Union sanctions. A breach of financial sanctions is a criminal offence. Accounts, funds or other assets must be frozen without delay so that they cannot be made available directly or indirectly to the sanctioned person, entity or body. The sanctions include a prohibition on the listing and provision of services on EU trading venues, including Euronext Dublin, which was formerly the Irish Stock Exchange, in relation to shares of Russian state-owned entities.

The Central Bank of Ireland has undertaken an initial review of any links between the approximately 3,000 Irish domiciled special purpose entities and Russian entities. Some 34 of these 3,000 entities have a Russian sponsor, meaning that they were established on behalf of a Russian company. The total assets of these special purpose entities is approximately €36 billion, largely comprised of loans to Russian companies. Of these 34 entities, three have been identified as being directly linked to individuals or financial institutions covered in the 23 February round of EU sanctions. Work is ongoing in respect of the subsequent sanction rounds.

With regard to authorised investment funds, the Central Bank has advised that total Russian assets held at 31 December 2021 are estimated at €11.4 billion or 0.3% of the total Irish fund assets of €3.8 trillion.

I thank the Taoiseach.

That 0.3% of the total Irish fund assets of €3.8 trillion is evenly split between equities and bonds.

The Taoiseach's time is up.

I will finish for completeness and transparency. The Irish collective asset management vehicle, ICAV, unit trusts, common contractual funds and investment limited partnerships are subject to beneficial ownership registration requirements to enhance transparency and help combat money laundering activities. I can give the Deputy further details on this.

It is really important that we play our full part in those sanctions. With regard to the limited partnerships, it has been demonstrated that a Russian company previously subjected to the sanctions in 2014 was able to overcome them by having a registered company in Ireland.

It will be really important that if there are loopholes to be closed and legislation to be produced in that regard, it needs to be done as a matter of urgency. We do not want to look back in retrospect and see that there was a way around this. I am hopeful that the Taoiseach will give us an assurance that there will be comprehensive consideration of this.

I also asked the Taoiseach about the practical steps regarding people arriving into Eastern European countries across the border from Ukraine. What practical steps are there to make it easy to get from Poland and other Eastern European jurisdictions to Ireland for people who wish to make that journey?

We will do everything we can to ensure compliance with the sanctions. We have no interest - none, zero - in enabling any Russian oligarch or to be more specific anyone who is part the sanctions' list, either to evade or avoid being fully accountable to that sanctions regime. We have no interest as a country in protecting anybody in that regard. I have to be crystal clear about that. We will do and are doing whatever it takes, with the Central Bank, to facilitate full compliance with sanctions.

As I said, it is a criminal offence to endeavour to evade these sanctions or to facilitate the avoidance or evasion of these economic and financial sanctions.

This morning, we went further in the European Union. Justice and home affairs ministers will meet on Thursday to ratify this. Understandably, we are making very liberal plans for Ukrainian people who are fleeing Ukraine to come to this country and to any European country. They will be able to stay here under the temporary protection mechanism for quite a considerable length of time. They will have access to our social protection system, housing and the education system. This will involve a levelling up in terms of the humanitarian response in this country. We will work with countries closer to the border of Ukraine and on the border of Ukraine in respect of burden sharing across the European Union to contribute our fair share and to facilitate logistically transfers of people to Ireland where that would be required.

Will the Taoiseach join me in congratulating two female migrant workers who recently won a quite significant claim against their unfair dismissal in the Labour Court? Julia Marciniak, who is originally from Poland, and Lenka Laiermanova, who is originally from the Czech Republic, were found to have been sacked by the Ivy restaurant on Dawson Street for trade union activity. These two experienced waitresses joined the newly opened Ivy restaurant in 2018. They found that customer tips were being taken by management and were being used to make up the difference between their contracted wages and the minimum wage. After Lenka contacted me through my constituency office, I arranged for her and for a group of her fellow workers to meet the trade union Unite, which they joined. It sought negotiation rights with the Ivy, which were rejected.

It is quite rare for an unfair dismissal case over trade union activity to be won in the Labour Court and the case has a wider significance. That significance is that while the Unfair Dismissals Act only kicks in after one year of work with a specific employer, there are exceptions to this, one of which is trade union activity. However, that one-year rule gives some employers and managers a licence to dismiss workers on a whim. As Julia said to The Irish Times, “if you ask about your breaks, you can be dismissed. See ya!” Both Julia and Lenka, as well as Unite’s regional secretary, Brendan Ogle, have called for the Act to be amended to give all workers protection against unfair dismissal from day one of their employment.

The other aspect of this is that there is no penalty under the Act for employers that are found to have unfairly dismissed staff. All the Labour Court can do is make an employer pay for loss of earnings for up to two years after an unfair dismissal. As both Julia and Lenka found work and new jobs very quickly, the compensation to be paid by the Ivy is quite limited. There should be penalties against employers that are found to have unfairly dismissed workers.

Finally, will the Taoiseach join me in congratulating Julia and Lenka and their trade union, Unite, on this victory over a very exploitive, bullying employer, as well as encouraging all workers who are suffering low pay, who are being bullied by employers and managers and are being denied their rights under labour law to join a union and to stand up for themselves and their workmates? When you act together with the backing of your union, you can win.

First, I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. I pay tribute to two workers concerned. To go to an unfair dismissal tribunal is not an easy journey. It can be a very challenging one for young workers. I pay tribute to them for seeing that through. On the specifics of the case, the Deputy is saying that the tips were essentially being retained or kept or were being used part of wages, which is an absolutely unacceptable practice. There is separate work being done by the Government in relation to that. In my view, that is reprehensible and wrong; if that was what transpired here.

I also should say to the Deputy that under the Labour Employer Economic Forum, LEEF, discussions are under way between trade union leadership, employer leadership and the Government in respect of collective bargaining more generally. We have freedom of association in the country under the Constitution. That governs the relationship between the employer and the employees.

It is not as simple to resolve as one might think, but serious negotiations are under way in respect of it through LEEF. Equally, in my view, employees should always feel entitled to raise issues without being punished for doing so by employers as a basic code of conduct that has to apply in employer-employee relations. If the Deputy has specific proposals in the context of labour relations reforms that are being contemplated and how they can be improved to enhance the rights of workers and facilitate the smooth operation of collective bargaining in worker-employer relations, I will certainly discuss them with the Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment.

I thank the Taoiseach for joining me in congratulating those workers. As he said, it was a very high bar, and there is no other case we know of in Ireland in which an unfair dismissal dispute over trade union activity has been won. The unfair dismissals legislation should be amended to give all workers protection from unfair dismissal from day one of their employment, not just after 12 months, which is much too long. We must also deal with the issue whereby there is no penalty under the Act for employers that are found to have unfairly dismissed a worker. There is also the issue of trade union recognition, which the Taoiseach mentioned, and the right of a union to access the premises of its members, another crucial issue that has to be addressed.

The Payment of Wages (Amendment) (Tips and Gratuities) Bill 2022 is going through Committee Stage at the moment. It partly addresses the issue of employers robbing employees of tips but it must deal with the issue of service charges, which have to go. The Ivy restaurant still applies a 12.5% service charge to all tables. It is used to pay wages and to supplement business income. An owner-manager of a bar-restaurant in Connemara says service charges should be abolished and I concur. Does the Taoiseach agree?

I am minded to be disposed to the abolition of service charges. In any event, there should be full and absolute transparency governing them. Many people are under the impression that when they pay a service charge, it goes to workers and that is not the case in many instances. We need absolute transparency. Ideally, the consumer should hand tips directly to the employee, or to a group of employees, however those mechanisms can be facilitated, as an additional contribution if he or she is so minded. That needs to be absolutely clarified and in the context of the legislation going through the House, the Tánaiste is anxious to clarify that and make it as transparent and simplified as possible in respect of the reality on the ground.

In respect of amendments to the Unfair Dismissals Act, a balance has to be struck between competing rights, practical issues with employment and so forth. Again, that is a matter we keep under constant review. Trade union activity in itself should not be the subject matter of a dismissal.

According to daft.ie, just 17 houses are available to rent in the entire county of Tiobraid Árann today, with just one property available to rent in the largest town, Cluain Meala, a one-bedroom apartment. There are currently 3,521 people on approved housing lists waiting for housing in Tiobraid Árann. Rents in the county were on average 7.7% higher in the final three months of 2020 than they had been one year previously. The national average listed rent is now €908, up 61% from its lowest point. The property rental crisis is now at its worst point in more than a decade, with so limited a supply of housing. Tipperary County Council - agus gabhaim buíochas leo siúd atá ag obair air seo - is meeting its Rebuilding Ireland targets for 2021 and is expected to exceed its targets this year, but that is simply not sufficient to meet the demand.

Tipperary County Council delivered 840 units between 2018 and 2021 and aims to meet its new-build target of 230 units between now and the year end. Unfortunately, these targets will go nowhere near to address the acute problem that is there.

My office and, indeed, many other offices are inundated with people desperately seeking housing. Gabhaim buíochas leis na daoine ag obair i m’oifig féin freisin. People are desperate. These are families who are currently living in homes where the landlord is selling up and they cannot find alternative accommodation, applicants approved for housing but who cannot find accommodation under the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme, returning Irish emigrants who cannot find accommodation in their local areas to rent or buy and young couples - this is a big bone of contention - who have sites but who are being refused planning permission and cannot find accommodation to rent or buy either.

There is also a serious disconnect in respect of the current income limits to qualify for social housing in Tiobraid Árann. The Tipperary County Council cap is €25,000 for a single person and €27,500 for an average family of two adults and two children - a figure that has not been reviewed since 2011. I am calling on the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, the Taoiseach and the Cabinet to review this immediately. It is causing a considerable problem, especially when we see that an average four-bedroom house in the county costs approximately €2,100 per month to rent, meaning that a family with an income of €28,000 is expected to pay 51% of their income on rent without any assistance. Tá sé sin uafásach ar fad. In the face of the significant increase in rent in the county and across the country, as well as the considerable increases in the cost of living, these limits are wholly inappropriate and need to be reviewed urgently. I reiterate I am calling on the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, and on the Government as a whole, to act here. We keep talking and having aspirations and good intentions but they are not being delivered. People cannot afford or they cannot get HAP. There are people sleeping in tents beside the River Suir in the beautiful Cluain Meala and I meet them on the street. I am sure other Deputies also do so in all the counties. The policies that the Government has, with not cutting timber and the insulation costs as a result of oil prices and carbon taxes, are driving up the cost of building. We are in a perfect storm. We need action and we need it now.

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. The issues concerning housing in Tipperary are ones that are reflected across the entire country. The only response to it is a sustainable comprehensive one, which is what the Government has provided in the form of Housing for All.

Housing for All provides a comprehensive set of measures and targets with financial backing to increase housing supply. That is the most fundamental thing we can do in relation to the housing situation, which is difficult and challenging for many people, particularly the scarcity of supply.

Basically, Housing for All is committing to the creation on average of 33,000 homes per annum over the lifetime of the plan. We have had setbacks with Covid-19 in 2020 and 2021, in terms of the lockdowns which slowed down construction in housing, but there has been a very significant rebound since then, with 31,000 commencements in the year to January 2022, which is a 48.4% increase year on year. That is the highest rolling 12-month total since comparable data were first published. Construction of 1,861 homes commenced in January 2022. That figure is up 35% on January 2021.

Approximately 20,400 houses were completed in 2021, while the number of apartments completed increased by over 30% for the year. Progress is being made and we have got to make much, much more. It really is about supply on the house construction side, and then a variety of offers to people including affordable housing, in terms of the local authorities supporting affordable housing with State backing, social housing, of which we want to construct up to 10,000 annual with the approved social housing bodies and the local authorities, cost rental, which will be increasingly more significant as an option for people and we want to develop a critical mass of supply on the cost rental front, as well as giving supports to help to buy through the shared equity scheme to young first-time buyers. Last year, approximately 46,000 homes were purchased, with over 30% of these being bought by first-time buyers.

Approximately 40,000 planning permissions were granted up to quarter 3 in 2021.

HAP is a huge provision from the State. At the end of quarter 3 in 2021, over 97,500 HAP tenancies had been set up since the scheme commenced. This comprises more than 62,000 households actively in receipt of HAP support and over 33,400 separate landlords and agents providing accommodation to households supported by the scheme. Budget 2022 allocated €585 million in Exchequer funding for the HAP scheme. That will enable a further projected 14,000 households to be supported, in addition to the supports to existing recipients.

There are facilities whereby each local authority has statutory discretion to agree to a HAP payment of up to 20% above the prescribed maximum rent limit to secure appropriate accommodation for a household that requires it.

In my considered opinion, HAP has been an unmitigated disaster. Billions have been spent on it which should have been used to build houses. We need to get off that particular road, an bóthar uafásach, as I said. The situation is desperate. While the Government talks of great intentions, when it comes to building houses we need further immediate action for young people, na daoine óga. Many of the Government's policies, especially since the Taoiseach hitched up in a marriage or threesome with the Greens, are leading directly to a limited supply. Young couples who want to build on their own land cannot get planning permission. The Government will not let them cut a cipín not to mind a tree. Cad a dhéanfaimid feasta gan adhmad? It is so sad. Then there is the price of building. We do not have enough apprentices. The Taoiseach referred to starts. Are there ESB connections? Is it when everything is finished and the ESB has approved the turning on of the electricity? The Government is playing with people's lives here and playing with figures. Builders cannot get tradesmen or supplies. A young couple, or any couple, cannot get a quotation for less than a week now because building suppliers will not give it to them, because they cannot due to the escalating costs. It is backwards we are going. The sense of meitheal, tá sé imithe. Is mór an trua é sin.

Mar a dúirt an file, "Cad a dhéanfaimid feasta gan adhmad? Tá deireadh na gcoillte ar lár".

Níl aon choillte.

Caithfidh mise a rá anois, níl deireadh na gcoillte ar lár.

That does not mean much.

Is é atá i gceist againne ná iad a chur ar ais, lá i ndiaidh lae, seachtain i ndiaidh seachtaine, agus bliain i ndiaidh bliana. Is é an rud is tábhachtaí is féidir linn a dhéanamh ná na coillte a thabhairt ar ais agus iad a leathnú ar fud na tíre. Is é sin atá faoi chaibidil againn ag obair leis an gComhaontas Glas, working with our Green colleagues in government, whom I know the Deputy has great admiration for-----

What is the Government doing?

It is not happening.

We are doing everything we possibly can to bring the trees back, to bring our forests back and to grow them in abundance. Deputy Mattie McGrath is correct in one thing; I appeal that there would be no objections to afforestation licences.

We should get on with it, in particular the planting of native trees. We should grow them. The new riparian scheme that has been introduced by the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy McConalogue, and the Minister of State, Senator Hackett, will facilitate small plantings on farms with income streams for farmers, which will enable us to clean the waterways. It is a very innovative approach to tree planting.

We will work with the local authorities in respect of growing trees and also building houses as well, which is critical.

Cut them to get timber.

Caithfidh muid tithe a thógáil. The most important thing we can do for the housing supply is to build more houses, get the schemes approved and remove the logjams in terms of obstacles and objections.

It is all schemes and no action.

We must just get on with it.

We have gone significantly over time on Leaders' Questions, but given the unique circumstances today, that was unavoidable.

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