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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 29 Mar 2022

Vol. 1020 No. 2

Ceisteanna - Questions

Departmental Reports

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

1. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when the annual report of his Department for 2021 will be published. [12411/22]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

2. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when the annual report of his Department for 2021 will be published. [14270/22]

Paul Murphy

Question:

3. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach when the annual report of his Department for 2021 will be published. [14273/22]

Paul McAuliffe

Question:

4. Deputy Paul McAuliffe asked the Taoiseach when his Department’s annual report for 2021 will be published. [14354/22]

Mick Barry

Question:

5. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach when the annual report of his Department for 2021 will be published. [15475/22]

Ivana Bacik

Question:

6. Deputy Ivana Bacik asked the Taoiseach when the annual report of his Department for 2021 will be published. [16203/22]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 6, inclusive, together.

My Department's annual report for 2021 will be finalised and published in the coming months and will set out the work of my Department in 2021 to deliver on the strategic priorities set out in the Departments three-year statement of strategy. My Department continues to work at the centre to ensure that policies developed support the Government's commitment to develop Ireland in a sustainable way which supports economic development and social progress. It achieves this mainly through the Cabinet committee structure.

Through the work of the ten Cabinet committees, supported by my Department, a range of cross-government work has been advanced during 2021 under the new strategy statement, including: management of the whole-of-government response to Covid-19, including the national vaccination programme roll-out; the economic recovery plan, which was published in June, and implementation of which is helping to drive a jobs-rich recovery and which will support the economy in transitioning towards a decarbonised and digital economy; publication of the Housing for All plan, an ambitious and far-reaching plan to address the provision of housing, to increase the supply of housing and to provide a sustainable housing system into the future; supporting cross-government work to manage the ongoing economic and political impacts of Brexit; driving the delivery of our commitments on a shared island on a whole-of-government basis, through the shared island unit in my Department and the shared island fund; supporting Ireland's role in Europe and the world, including through my participation in the European Council, Ireland's seat on the UN Security Council and with respect to continuing EU-UK discussions on the Northern Ireland protocol; delivery of an initial well-being framework for Ireland and a supporting information hub, which are being developed to better understand and measure our progress as a country; the establishment of a social dialogue unit in my Department, which is working to co-ordinate and support the Government's overall approach to social dialogue; work on the Future of Media Commission, which has now concluded its work; completion of the work of the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality; the launch of the revised national development plan, setting out the roadmap for investment of €165 billion in new and upgraded infrastructure over the decade ahead; supporting the development of the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021 and the Climate Action Plan 2021, which are key elements of a suite of measures introduced to fundamentally alter Ireland's approach to climate change; and three legislative programmes published during 2021 setting out priority legislation across government.

My question concerns the expulsion of four senior officials from the Russian embassy in Dublin. I understand these four senior officials have been identified as carrying out activities not "in accordance with [...] standards of diplomatic behaviour". Will the Taoiseach inform the House who these senior officials are and what behaviour marked them out for expulsion? We all dearly hope there will be positive progress at the talks in Istanbul today. We know that the war must end and that peace and diplomacy must prevail but we have said to the Taoiseach for quite some time that as this illegal war continues and as Russia breaches international law so viciously and with such brazenness, Ireland must exert all possible pressure. The call had been for the expulsion of the Russian ambassador and all the staff. Russia should not be left with the cloak of respectability and any diplomatic footprint in Europe. Will the Taoiseach please set out for us the facts around the expulsion of these four officials?

The Taoiseach mentioned Housing for All. Does he not have to accept now that it is failing disastrously? From my clinic, I can tell him about the number of people and families coming in, most of whom are working and who are facing eviction or who are already homeless. They have no prospect of finding rented accommodation under the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme or social housing. The numbers are going through the roof. I will give one example. A man, his ill wife and their family of five are facing eviction on 2 April. He is working in one of our Dublin hospitals. I have another young man who works for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and he is living in his car. Another woman, who was previously homeless and is now in a homeless HAP tenancy, is being evicted. The Dublin place finder service cannot find her a place. She will not go to a hostel, so she is going to end up sleeping in her car. Another mother, with two kids, is on the housing list. She works part time and is in receipt of the working family payment. She has been told that she is over the limit for social housing. The list goes on. What does the Taoiseach intend to do for these people who are working but for whom the Government's housing policies have totally failed?

Last September, the Taoiseach first promised a bonus for front-line health workers who helped in the fight against Covid-19. Seven months on, not a single cent has been paid out and now many workers are finding out that they either will not qualify for the full bonus or they will not get anything at all due to the Scrooge-like terms and conditions being applied. One such group is the Covid-19 community swabbers, who helped to run our testing facilities throughout the country before vaccines were even available and without personal protective equipment, PPE, back in the early days of the pandemic. They put themselves at risk to help to control the virus, but now many of them are being told they do not count as front-line workers. I will quote a short excerpt from an email from a woman who worked as a community swabber. She made the point that "We are the people who worked on the front line, day in and day out, throughout the entire pandemic, at times with sub-par PPE, and for many of us in suboptimal conditions, working in temporary structures, such as army tents in freezing cold snow and blistering heat". Will the Taoiseach intervene to ensure these people get what they deserve at the very least?

RTÉ is the national broadcaster and provides excellent content, particularly in the area of sport. Many people in the North, however, are precluded from accessing that content because of issues around intellectual property rights. It is particularly the case on the RTÉ Player. Examples include the Olympics, which are important. It is the matter of the All-Ireland championships, though, that I want to raise. We are now only weeks away from them commencing and many people in the North will be unable to access those programmes. I believe the shared island fund exists to fight cross-Border issues in respect of infrastructure. Will the Taoiseach's Department identify or examine how the national broadcaster and the shared island fund might work together to create an Internet protocol that will allow everyone in the North to access the RTÉ Player?

Broadly speaking, there were only ever three options when it came to the future of the leaving certificate examination. The first was to keep the examination as is, the second was to go for a mix of examination and assessment and the third was to abolish the examination and introduce a policy of open access to third-level education, based on increased investment and offering a place to all who wanted one. Following the student protests of recent years, the first option was never a serious runner. The students did for that one. The Government was then left with the option of either reforming or abolishing the examination. I believe the Government has made the wrong choice.

To be clear, I welcome the introduction of drama, film and theatre studies onto the curriculum, as well as climate studies. I am not so mad about there being no proposals to teach more Black and Traveller history, and that there is still no comprehensive, objective sex education. I put it to the Taoiseach, however, that the Government is choosing here to patch up an examination system that deserves to go and failing to take the opportunity to genuinely open up third-level education now to all who wish to go.

I thank the Taoiseach for his response to my question earlier. I certainly did not expect to have such an immediate response to my first set of Leaders' Questions as the leader of the Labour Party. I thank him and commend him, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, on acting to expel four senior Russian diplomats. Does this mean that the position of the Russian ambassador is now under threat? I very much hope the Government will see fit to move to expel him too. My party, the Labour Party, as an internationalist party and a member of the Party of European Socialists, PES, has consistently stood with the people of Ukraine, and with the people of Syria when they endured horrific bombardment and attack from Putin through the al-Assad puppet regime. We have also stood with the people of Yemen and Palestine.

We can see daily the sort of horrendous suffering people are enduring in Ukraine. The people of Mariupol are enduring that now just as the people of Aleppo did when it was under siege. We have a strong track record of solidarity with people under assault and threat from the sort of brutal regime that Putin personifies. Will the Taoiseach now take further steps to expel Putin's ambassador here, having moved so swiftly and in such a welcome fashion to expel four senior diplomats?

Both Deputies McDonald and Bacik raised the expulsion of four senior officials in the Russian Federation embassy because their behaviour was not in accordance with international standards of diplomatic behaviour. We are doing this under Article 9 of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. I do not want to divulge the security briefing we received in respect of these individuals but in my view, it is the correct and the right decision in terms of our own national security but also in terms of sending a very clear message about our abhorrence of the war in Ukraine. The decision is primarily informed by the briefings we have received from security officials in respect of the behaviour of these individuals. That is why the Department of Foreign Affairs summoned the ambassador today.

We also wanted to take initiatives of this kind with our colleagues in the EU. Some of the Baltic states and states on the eastern side of Europe have already taken steps in sending officials back to the Russian Federation. No member state has yet expelled an ambassador. We have carried out these measures relating to officials with some countries today and although we worked with other countries on this initiative, it has not been possible to get the full 27 states working on the same agenda.

With regard to the ambassador, we are anxious to keep channels open and we believe that is important for the protection of citizens and in maintaining a channel to communicate our abhorrence of the war directly to the Russian Federation Government. This also will enable humanitarian assistance if it is required for Irish citizens in Russia or certain areas of Ukraine if we need to engage with the Russian Federation Government or officials to facilitate humanitarian responses to situations that may arise. It is important that diplomatic channels are maintained and kept open. That is the motivation behind the decision not to expel the Russian ambassador at this stage.

Deputy Boyd Barrett asked a question relating to Housing for All. I do not accept Housing for All has failed as it is less than a year since its publication. The Government has been in office now for 21 months and a lot of progress has been made. We were held back by Covid-19 as the two lockdowns had an impact on construction. There were nonetheless 31,000 commencements last year, which augurs well for increased supply. Our aim this year is for 12,000 social houses, 9,000 of which will be built. We have also brought back 5,500 empty houses or voids within the local authority system. We have kept a strong focus and resourced local authorities so as not to have houses idle.

The cost -rental model we are developing is very important. We need to ramp it up and it will be a very significant feature of giving opportunities to people for affordable rents in future. That goes along with supply and we must build far more houses than we have been doing as a country.

It is getting worse.

Deputy Paul Murphy raised the issue of the bonus for healthcare workers. Again, the Government has given the resources to do this to the Department of Health and HSE. These are major employers but I am anxious that the front-line workers are suitably provided for with the €1,000 payment we have agreed. The Government decided this and the implementation is about to begin. There has been a lot of consultation with unions in respect of this and it is time for it to be implemented. We are not adopting in any shape or form a Scrooge-like mentality towards it.

I will engage with Deputy Paul McAuliffe again as he raises a very fair point in respect of the RTÉ Player and the difficulties that citizens in Northern Ireland have in accessing it. I will engage with him to see what we can do to work with the national broadcaster with a view to being of some assistance if that is possible.

Deputy Barry raised leaving certificate reform and today's announcement by the Minister, Deputy Norma Foley, is radical and a watershed moment in the history of the leaving certificate. There will clearly be continuing engagement with stakeholders. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment has published the various principles governing the reform. To have 40% of the process dealt with via continuous assessment is a massive change and it will require much in-service training as well on models of assessment and the science of assessment, which is quite involved. Teachers used to a State exam may not have had the same level of in-service training as will be required with this process. It is very exciting that there is to be a new subject of climate change coming to the curriculum, along with drama and film and so on.

Urban Development

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

7. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the role of his Department in the north-east inner city initiative. [12412/22]

Paul McAuliffe

Question:

8. Deputy Paul McAuliffe asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his Department’s work in the north-east inner city initiative. [14355/22]

Ivana Bacik

Question:

9. Deputy Ivana Bacik asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the role of his Department in the north-east inner city initiative. [16204/22]

I propose to answer Questions Nos. 7 to 9, inclusive, together.

The Mulvey report, Dublin North East Inner City - Creating a Brighter Future, was commissioned by the Government and published in February 2017. It contained recommendations for the social and economic regeneration of Dublin's north-east inner city. This report has been supplemented by the publishing of the North East Inner City Strategic Plan 2020-2022.

In June 2017, an independent chairperson was appointed by the Government to the north-east inner city programme implementation board. Members of the board include representatives from relevant Departments and agencies, businesses and the local community. The board is assisted in its work by six subgroups. They are enhancing policing; maximising educational, training and employment opportunities; family well-being; enhancing community well-being and the physical landscape; substance use, misuse and inclusion health; and alignment of services. The board and its subgroups continue to meet monthly to oversee and progress the implementation of the Mulvey report and the North East Inner City Strategic Plan 2020-2022.

Officials from my Department work closely with the board, the subgroups and the dedicated programme office based on Seán McDermott Street. The chair of the board reports to an oversight group of senior officials chaired by the Secretary General of the Department of the Taoiseach. This group supports and oversees the work of the north-east inner city programme implementation board, ensures strong and active participation by all relevant Departments and agencies in the north-east inner city initiative and deals with any barriers or issues highlighted by the chair of the programme implementation board.

The Cabinet committee on social affairs and equality provides political oversight of the north-east inner city initiative. The Government is committed to supporting and investing in the north-east inner city community. From 2016 to 2021, inclusive, the Government provided more than €30.7 million in funding to ensure the board had the necessary resources to achieve targets and fulfil its ambition. In 2021, the Government provided funding of €6.5 million to the initiative and for 2022 this funding has been increased by a further €1 million to €7.5 million. On 2 December last, I launched the 2021 progress report for the north-east inner city initiative, which highlights all of the work progressed throughout the year. This report, along with all of the progress reports since 2017, is available on the north-east inner city, NEIC, website.

The programme implementation board continues to implement the remaining actions set out in the Mulvey report and the North East Inner City Strategic Plan 2020-2022, as well as adopting a greater focus on long-term sustainable outcomes while operating in an integrated framework and adding value to the existing service infrastructure. The Government remains committed to supporting and investing in the north-east inner city community and ensuring that the chairperson and programme implementation board have the necessary resources to help make the area a better place to live and work.

I very much welcome today's announcement of Government approval of high-level proposals for a national centre for research and remembrance, which will be situated on the site of the former Magdalen laundry on Seán MacDermott Street. The centre will stand as a national memorial to honour all those who were resident in mother and baby homes, industrial schools, Magdalen laundries and related institutions. It will also involve social housing and an early education provision. This is very positive news for the north-east inner city.

I acknowledge and welcome today's announcement. More to the point, I look forward to seeing the detail of what is proposed for the Magdalen laundry site on Seán McDermott Street.

This will be a very significant development locally but also nationally and internationally. It is essential that we get it right in terms of the archive, the site of conscience and the whole area of social housing. That will mean there has to be a collaborative approach and spirit, and a willing ear to listen not least to the local community and, of course, to the entire community of survivors.

In September 2020, I raised the issue of a review of the NEIC with the Taoiseach. Initially he was warm towards the idea but he cooled on it. I want to pitch for it again with him. It is absolutely imperative that this initiative be reviewed and measured. I believe the time is ripe for that to happen. With the outworkings of Covid, the housing crisis and shortfalls in healthcare, particularly in addiction services and supports, and now with people fleeing from Ukraine coming to the north east inner city, the need is more acute than ever for supports, enhanced funding, review and real attention to the community and community development.

I wanted to raise the issue of our drugs task force, which disgracefully has been spancelled by people within the HSE. I have raised the matter with the Taoiseach previously. I will stop talking now because my minute is over.

I gave the Deputy a minute and a half.

Thank you, I am much obliged.

I would also like to welcome that announcement. While not in my constituency, it is a matter we dealt with many times on Dublin City Council. It is a site with a significant legacy. It is also a site where we can demonstrate how we can tackle disadvantage and how early intervention can make a real difference. The Taoiseach's Department has been doing work in the north inner city for some time and €30 million is a substantial intervention. It is also the access to senior officials that allows issues to be identified and resolved.

Has the Department of the Taoiseach considered how that model might be extended outside of the north east inner city? I have been calling for it in my own area in Ballymun and Finglas. There are communities throughout Dublin, for example in Darndale, and in Limerick, that could benefit from a targeted approach in tackling the impact of the illegal drugs industry and breaking the cycle of disadvantage. It is something Fianna Fáil has been committed to for a long time, including when we were in government in the past. I would like to see us deal with it in this term. The north east inner city has been getting significant attention. We now need to see how we can provide those same solutions to other communities throughout the country.

I warmly welcome the announcement of the memorial site in Seán McDermott Street. It is something survivors have sought for a long time. It is very good news. I also ask for more clarity on the future plans for ongoing funding for the NEIC initiative and, indeed, whether it will or could be expanded to cover other areas. It is a model that has been effective. I am grateful to my colleague, Senator Marie Sherlock in Dublin Central, who has brought to my attention the report, No Child Shall Suffer, published last year by the Dublin City Community Co-operative, which is active in the north east inner city. It really illustrates the impact of child and family poverty and social exclusion, particularly on families and children. It includes 14 stories, which are pen pictures of the lived experiences of children in the north east inner city communities, showing the need for investment in early years, after-school care and youth work as a critical part of addressing the needs particularly of children and families. I ask the Taoiseach to commit to ongoing funding for the north east inner city initiative and to tell us if it is envisaged that a similar model might be rolled out in other areas where the needs are very dire.

As the Taoiseach knows, one of the biggest issues in areas of significant deprivation is the impact of drug addiction on individuals, families and communities. I have often heard Government spokespeople pay lip service to the idea that we need to move away from the criminal approach to dealing with this problem and take a health-related approach but, in fact, we have not done that at all. I wonder when we are going to realise that the so-called war on drugs is a disastrous failure and that we need to start to deal with this as a health issue. We cannot bemoan criminal activity if simultaneously the State effectively criminalises huge cohorts of our young population. That is what we are doing and the consequences are a total failure that particularly impacts on the most disadvantaged areas. When are we going to get serious policy change in that area?

I thank the Deputies for their comments. The national centre will involve a collaborative spirit. I will come back to that later. In terms of the review of the north east inner city initiative that Deputy McDonald has asked for, I have not gone cool on it but we wanted to work through it. We did the progress report, which in a way is a review of its own. I think the Deputy is looking for a more comprehensive review.

I have asked senior officials in my Department, including an assistant secretary on social policy, to look nationally at areas that need interventions of this kind or to map what is out there in different communities. Deputy McAuliffe raised issues pertaining to Ballymun. I have met with groups there. Other communities have also said they could do with a more community-based intervention somewhat similar to the revitalising areas through planning, investment and development, RAPID, programmes of old. A very good presentation was made to the more recent social affairs Cabinet committee on that issue and how, along with the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, on the communities side we can develop a model that would take the best of what is there at the moment and apply it without duplication. Many different community groups and bodies are involved. The challenge is to knit that together into a cohesive focal effort and impact on the ground and to have real community capacity on the ground that would be supported by the State, targeted to the areas that need it most. That is what I am endeavouring to do.

A review of the north east inner city in that context could be useful for other areas but also of course for the north east inner city itself in terms of moving forward from the base we have now established. I was recently at the launch of a unique educational project there; the acronym escapes me right now. It relates to the leaving certificate. Students in the senior cycle in the college on Seán McDermott Street have the capacity to do third-level modules in second level, which equips them for the world of work in technology. It is very impressive and shows how innovation in education can work in these type of community initiatives as well. There were young people saying to me that they want to be the next Elon Musk in robotics. It was fantastic to see the progress they have made. The private sector was involved with the initiative in terms of technology supports and so on. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from how this model has worked in some aspects and maybe where it could do better in others. It seems to me that the implementation side of it is strong and that the personnel charged with implementing it have driven it well.

I take Deputy McAuliffe's point that a lot of it has to do with providing access to senior officials and that matters in getting things moving on the ground, not just in the north east inner city but in other areas that need this type of approach. I will come back to the Deputy in respect of the review. I have not gone cool on it. I will also revert to the Deputy on the issue around the HSE and the task force.

I favour a health-based approach to drug addiction as opposed to a criminalisation approach. There is always a balance to be struck in approaching it. Essentially we need stronger supports for people who are addicted across the board, be it to alcohol, gambling or drugs.

We have to develop a supportive culture but we also must enhance and increase professional capacity to deal with addiction in the strongest possible way. Health services should be front and centre in that approach. That is where we are heading as a Government and it is where our policy is focused.

I have dealt with Deputy Bacik's points on using this model for other areas. She referred to the issues raised in the report, No Child Should Suffer. My view is that we need consistent, long-term funding of areas of disadvantage, to use that phrase, where the metrics are not right, early school-leaving is still too high and patterns of educational attainment are not similar to the average across the country. As a country, we have very high levels of school completion, but in certain areas of the country, that is not the case. Therefore, we need consistency. There has been too much of a stop-start approach. Initiatives happen, they work for five or ten years and then they are pulled back. Sometimes, they are pulled back if they are successful, whereas I think we should keep them going if they are successful. Sometimes, we pull the rug from underneath the providers.

Thank you, Taoiseach. We are way over time.

The whole thing really should be about changing the cycle.

Official Apology

Peadar Tóibín

Question:

10. Deputy Peadar Tóibín asked the Taoiseach if he will provide a list of all State apologies he has issued since he assumed office. [12558/22]

Richard Boyd Barrett

Question:

11. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will provide a list of all State apologies he has issued since he assumed office. [14272/22]

Paul Murphy

Question:

12. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will provide a list of all State apologies he has issued since he assumed office. [14275/22]

Bríd Smith

Question:

13. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach if he will provide a list of all State apologies he has issued since he assumed office. [14277/22]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 10 to 13, inclusive, together.

Since taking office, I have issued one formal apology in the Dáil, on behalf of the State, for the hurt experienced by many former residents of mother and baby institutions and county homes. I apologised for the profound generational wrong visited upon Irish mothers and their children who ended up in a mother and baby home or county home and for the shame and stigma to which they were subjected. As part of that apology, I acknowledged that the State had failed in its duty of care to the mothers and children who spent time in these institutions. This apology was one of the first steps taken by the Government to respond to the findings of the report.

The overall response is being driven by the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, who is now working to advance the action plan for survivors and former residents of mother and baby homes and county home institutions. The plan commits to a suite of 22 actions across eight key themes, namely, a survivor-centred approach, a formal State apology, access to personal information, archiving and databases, education and research, memorialisation, restorative recognition, and dignified burial.

Today, the Government took a decision to publish the legislation pertaining to the mother and baby institutions payment scheme along with the national centre for research and remembrance related to institutional trauma, which will be strongly resourced by Government. The information and tracing legislation is making progress in the Oireachtas. The burials legislation also has been published. We spoke earlier about the decision that the former Magdalen laundry on Seán McDermott Street will be the location of the new national centre for research and remembrance. The Secretary General of my Department did a lot of work in that respect and there already has been a great deal of collaboration. That needs to continue.

People sought information on this earlier. The intention is that the centre will be a museum and exhibition space, for which the National Museum of Ireland will have responsibility. It will be an archival, repository and research centre forming part of the National Archives of Ireland. The latter will be responsible for, and will be resourced so to do, to bring together all the archives pertaining to mother and baby homes, industrial schools and Magdalen laundries. It will become a centre for academic research, allow for access and will be a centre for solemn reflection and remembrance. Remote access to digital records will be made available because we are conscious that there must be access to these records from all over the country. That availability will be made easy. We will work further with Deputies on this.

The Farrelly commission examined the issues around the Grace case. The way the State treated Grace was utterly shameful and represents, perhaps, one of the greatest scandals of modern Ireland. Is the Taoiseach aware of the Alice report, which deals with a case bearing a striking resemblance to the Grace case? The primary difference is that Alice can speak while Grace is non-verbal. Alice was removed from her home eventually, after allegations of sexual abuse. She was placed in a foster home, where there was further physical and sexual abuse. That abuse was reported repeatedly to social workers and to the Garda but no investigation was undertaken for years. A total of 16 children were then fostered by the same family. It is a harrowing case.

I have the Alice report in my hand only because Alice gave it to me. I assume the Farrelly commission is focused just on the Grace case. The real question is how many cases like it are there? Will the Taoiseach establish a commission to examine the State's response to all historic allegations of abuse of children in State foster care? Will he apologise to Alice and meet with her?

Does the Taoiseach think, as I do, that it is time the State issues an apology to all those who are homeless in this country and for whom the State has failed in its duty and obligation to provide the most basic thing, which is affordable, secure housing? The homeless figures are accelerating disastrously once again. Despite all the talk about Housing for All and all the policy measures the Government claims it is taking, the number of people going into homelessness is increasing. There now are more than 2,500 children who are homeless. Are they not owed an apology? They will be marked for life by being in homeless accommodation.

Will there be an apology for working people, as I mentioned earlier, who are working in our hospitals, local authorities and in Tusla? I have cited cases in this regard today and on other days. These people cannot, on their earnings, afford the rents that are out there and, in many cases, they are denied social housing support and are in emergency accommodation. I met a council worker last week who is sleeping in his car. He is working for Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and is sleeping in his car. This is a disastrous failure by the State to meet its most basic obligations. Does the Taoiseach seriously not think these people deserve an apology from the State for its failure to vindicate their right to secure, affordable housing?

I acknowledge the Taoiseach's outlining of the action plan for mother and baby home survivors. We on the Committee on Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth have been working through a number of issues in this area, including improving the information and tracing legislation to deal with many of the concerns and issues of survivors of mother and baby homes and those who were adopted. I welcome the announcement of the new national centre on Seán McDermott Street. I also welcome the Taoiseach's provision of more detail in this regard, including that the National Museum of Ireland and the National Archives of Ireland will have a strong role in it, which is very important for survivors.

Will he consider an apology on behalf of the State to another group that has long awaited such an apology or acknowledgement? I refer to the thalidomide survivors of Ireland. Last 26 November was the 60th anniversary of the international withdrawal of thalidomide, but this State has failed to offer any acknowledgement of the circumstances in which the drug was not withdrawn in Ireland at that point and continued to be prescribed after that date, with consequent harm caused to children. Having met with many members of the Irish Thalidomide Association, I am conscious of how anxious they are that their parents, many of whom are now very elderly, would receive a formal acknowledgement from the State as a matter of urgency. I have sought support from colleagues of all parties and Independent groupings for a cross-party motion expressing our co-ordinated and collegiate response as a parliamentary House to the concerns of thalidomide survivors. I have heard from Irish Thalidomide Association members on the need to support resumption of mediation between the association and health authorities to address their real and ongoing healthcare needs and ensure all outstanding issues can be resolved.

First, Deputy Tóibín raised the Grace case. That commission has completed its work and there have been interim reports. It is a shocking case and I want to await the outcome of the full, compete report. I have not seen the Alice report. From what the Deputy has just said to the House, it represents a shocking situation.

I will engage with the Deputy again on the issues and see what I can do in respect of meeting Alice and so on, if the Deputy feels it would be of assistance.

On the broader question, the establishment of a commission to examine the case of everybody abused in foster care would, in itself, be an enormous undertaking. One would have to give it very serious consideration before embarking on it. Commissions, as a model, take an extraordinary length of time to reach conclusions, and that remains the case. In this regard, I am referring to a number of commissions of investigation that are under way and that have been extended and extended, for different reasons. By its very nature, the matter in question would be a particularly difficult one because it does not pertain to institutions as such. It would take an enormous amount of, dare I say, fieldwork. One would have to consider the vast number of fostering cases down through the years. That is my initial response to that. While there are issues, that does not mean we should not examine issues.

I believe strongly that we have existing State agencies that should be the first resort in following through on allegations and abuse of the kind in question. One of the best things we did — I was involved in it at the time — was to set up HIQA, for example. It is an example of a body that exists to do the quality control, if you like, in this day and age to protect people right now and to improve standards in the areas under its remit. The establishment of commissions has become the first thing we resort to. It seems to be the fallback position to almost excuse existing agencies for not thoroughly doing the work they are legislatively charged to do. We have a range of bodies that should be getting to the bottom of these matters much faster and much more efficiently rather than having us raise them in the House, inevitably leading to a commission of inquiry that takes years to complete its work. It becomes even more difficult for all involved.

With regard to homelessness, homelessness is not entirely the fault of the State. It is more complex than that but the State has a responsibility to provide housing and give people shelter. It does have that obligation, in my view.

We support a referendum in that regard. It is important to note that we need more supply. Given the current crisis, not just in respect of housing but also in respect of immigration, including the arrival of Ukrainian refugees, which presents a big challenge to us all, I am still struck by the fact that, as a society, we take an inordinate amount of time to get projects through the planning system. Many groups feel they have the luxury of opposing significant housing projects.

Nonsense. Many planning permissions are granted.

Is it nonsense? I do not agree with the Deputy. I know I annoy people when I keep on saying that when we oppose projects with 1,100 units or 500 units-----

Fianna Fáil councillors opposed a project in Bray last night. The Taoiseach's own councillors are opposing social housing.

----along with that, we still say there is a crisis. I did not mention Deputy Ó Broin at all but he interrupted. I am just saying that, generally, as a society-----

I am just informing the Taoiseach that his councillors opposed social housing in local authorities last night.

The Deputy's party is a serial objector. He knows that. That is just the bottom line.

That is absolutely not true. Look after your own councillors, Taoiseach.

Through the Chair.

The point is that we have a crisis in housing.

Because of Government policy.

The fallback position of the Deputy's party is to say everything is Government policy. It is more than just a question of the Government.

Are you saying the homeless are responsible for homelessness?

It is more than just the Government. The Deputy did not ask a question so I respectfully ask him to respect the norms of the House. I am answering Deputy Boyd Barrett-----

I do not think you are answering the question at all.

-----who did raise a question about homelessness.

You are misleading the House again on the issue of housing. Shame on you.

The Taoiseach should be allowed to conclude without interruption.

Family homelessness is down 34%. I am simply saying there are too many objections to too many housing projects.

Including by Fianna Fáil councillors in Bray last night.

It is about time people got real about the housing crisis.

Sort out your own councillors, Taoiseach. Shame on you.

I make no apology for saying that. The Deputy has form in this matter. I am making a general point because I believe we are in a housing crisis. Twenty thousand houses per year is not good enough. Covid was an issue last year. We want to get the number up but will not do so if we do not have more supply, get more planning permissions through and get the houses built in this country.

Zero council houses were built last year in Dún Laoghaire.

We need to do that. We are aiming to have 12,000 provided this year. Again, we have given the local authorities and approved social housing bodies the resources to build social houses.

On family homelessness and Housing First, we are 34% below the peak recorded in July 2018. However, we need to do much more. We want all children housed. That is my objective.

It is getting worse again.

We are not going to do that, however, if we do not ramp up housing supply. We need to prioritise what we want as politicians and as a society. People want more housing, particularly for younger people, who need access to affordable rent and affordable houses. We are not going to give them that access if we object collectively, and if various parties object at council level, to various projects. It is about prioritisation and realising and accepting the scale of the crisis and acting on it.

On thalidomide, which Deputy Bacik raised, I met the thalidomide group recently with its legal representative. There is a legal process involving the Government and the Irish Thalidomide Association. We will continue to reflect on this matter. Certain presentations were made at the meeting. Over the years, there has been a significant Government response. There was compensation at the time that people felt they were bounced into or pressurised into accepting, but I hear what the Deputy is saying and will continue to reflect on the matter.

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