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Dáil Éireann debate -
Wednesday, 27 Apr 2022

Vol. 1021 No. 2

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

The Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, published its quarterly rent index this morning and it shows again that the Government's housing policy is failing dismally. In fact, it makes for fairly devastating reading, particularly for those in housing need and for those who now have their lives defined by this never-ending housing crisis. The report tells us that rents have doubled since 2011 - in a decade. We saw another big hike in new rents across the State for the last three months of last year and the average new rent in Dublin now stands at nearly €2,000. That is off the wall. I have said it so many times in this Chamber and I say it again - this is a social catastrophe. The rent crisis is hammering a generation today and robbing them of their aspirations for tomorrow, for their future. This is no way to live. It is deeply, deeply unfair. In fact, it is a horrible situation for anyone.

Of course, this is not simply an urban crisis. Rural Ireland fares no better. Counties like Donegal, Longford, Roscommon and Leitrim have all experienced massive jumps. In fact, in many towns and villages now there are no homes available to rent at all. Where are people supposed to live? How can they hope to put a roof over their heads, build a decent life or raise a family, if that is what they wish to do? How can ordinary people, families and workers be expected to pay these rip-off rents and somehow still find money to pay soaring energy bills, big childcare fees and to put food on the table?

Meanwhile, house prices go up and up and many have given up on the dream of ever owning their own home. The number of properties to rent continues to fall right across the State and this does not just push up the cost of renting; it is also forcing many families into homelessness. Since the Government launched its housing plan, the scourge of homelessness has escalated once more. We are now close to breaking the pre-Covid peak of 10,000 homeless people. That, by the way, is just the official figure.

The facts speak for themselves. The Taoiseach and the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, have failed spectacularly to get a grip on this crisis. The fact is that their housing plan is not fit for purpose because it is underpinned by the same policies that got us into this mess in the first place. Theip ar pholasaí tithíochta an Taoisigh. Teastaíonn freagairt éigeandála uainn a oibríonn do gach duine a bhfuil riachtanas tithíochta acu. Ciallaíonn sé sin cíosanna a ghearradh, cosc a chur ar mhéaduithe cíosa ar feadh trí bliana agus plean ón Rialtas a chuireann an méid tithe sóisialta agus tithe ar phraghas réasúnta atá ag teastáil ar fáil.

Housing can be fixed. Extortionate rents can be tackled. This generation can have the opportunity of a good life but it is not going to happen by chance. It requires a big change in direction and ambition from Government. Those caught up in this crisis need a real plan that leaves no person or family behind. There are things the Government can do now that will make a big difference. It can cut rents by putting €1,500 back into renters' pockets through a tax rebate and it can ban rent increases for three years. I have asked the Taoiseach countless times for this and I am asking again today. The Government can change its housing plan and ramp it up for social and affordable housing.

Níl an ceart ag an Teachta. Tá fianaise ann go bhfuil polasaí an Rialtais ag obair. Tá níos mó tithíochta á cruthú againn. Tá sé sin soiléir ó na figiúirí atá againn maidir le cúrsaí tithíochta.

The Deputy is not correct in saying that the Housing for All strategy, launched last September, is not working. It is working. There has been a rebound in construction activity since we emerged from Covid. Covid did cause difficulties. It closed down construction for a substantial period in 2020 and 2021 and the impacts of that are still being felt. Notwithstanding that, 35,000 homes were commenced in the year to March 2022. That is the highest rolling 12-month average since 2008. That is a significant figure - 35,000 new commencements. There were 31,000 homes commenced in 2021, the highest since 2008. There were 24,000 apartments commenced, while the number of apartments completed increased by over 30% year on year. There were 43,000 planning permissions granted in 2021, a fourfold increase on 2011 but we still need more supply. Housing for All is a substantive suite of policies that is designed to increase supply. That is fundamental.

The RTB index relates to new tenancies. The ESRI is saying that if it was not for the rent pressure zones, RPZs, and the restriction of increases to 2% that rents would be far higher in existing tenancies. The RPZs are having an impact but in terms of new tenancies, the increases are very worrying. They are not satisfactory but they are related to the supply issue. There is an onus on everybody to facilitate the supply of housing. Sinn Féin objects to build-to-rent developments here in the Republic. Deputy McDonald keeps opposing it and her party opposes it in terms of planning applications and so on, on a consistent basis, and yet in Belfast there is no difficulty. Her party supports 800 apartments in Belfast in a big development there of build-to-rent units. It is a different policy in the North that her party engages in, which is in complete contrast to how it operates in the Republic in terms of its opposition to a whole series of developments.

The cost-rental initiative within Housing for All is very important. The first cost-rental tenancies are now in place in Balbriggan and Leixlip, with rental prices at least 40% below comparable market levels. The Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage opened 50 further cost-rental homes in Stepaside last April. We have targeted 9,000 new-build social homes in 2022 but Sinn Féin has never explained how you can double that in one year. The party just threw that figure out there, with no substance. It is top-of-the-head stuff. Working with people in the field and in the Department, we have said that we want to target 9,000 new builds in social housing for 2022, between approved housing bodies, AHBs, and the local authorities and we will continue to do that. Since the Government came into office, because of a new emphasis on voids, we have brought back close to 6,000 local authority voids for reallocation to those on the social housing list. A further 2,000 will be brought back in 2022.

A range of initiatives is being taken to increase supply significantly and as I said, that has happened. In Dublin, for example, we are 78% up on the number of units commenced in the year to March 2022 as against March 2021. Outside of Dublin, we are up by 139%.

We seem to be going around in circles here. The Taoiseach does not dispute the facts in the report from the RTB as presented this morning. I am assuming he does not contest the fact that rents are out of control right across this State, that people are struggling to make these rents, that house prices continue to climb and climb or that homelessness is again at crisis proportions. All of these facts indicate that the policy the Government is pursuing is getting it wrong. The Government is getting it wrong.

I asked the Taoiseach about two specific measures where the Government can get it right. I asked him about a tax credit and tax rebate for the hundreds of thousands of renters caught in the grip of a cost of living crisis. Will he introduce a tax rebate that puts a month's rent back into renters' pockets? Will he finally move to instigate a rent freeze for three years? I ask him to answer these questions for me directly.

The rent index is designed to measure developments in rental prices faced by those taking up new tenancies. A tax credit would only add to the price of those rents. It would be inflationary. There is no guarantee it would result in a reduction of increasing rents for new tenancies, none whatsoever. The Deputy is wrong in saying the Housing for All policies are not working. By definition, 35,000 commencements to March is the highest rolling 12-month average since 2008. There is a lot of activity in the construction sector. A lot of houses are being built in the private sector and through social housing, cost rental and a number of other schemes. Through the shared equity scheme and various other schemes we have introduced, we will help those buying new houses. The Deputy opposed the help to buy scheme. She was against it. That was designed to help thousands of young people to buy their homes. I do not know why she opposed it but she did.

We are only a matter of months away from Ulster Bank and KBC leaving the Irish banking market. Almost 1 million Ulster Bank customers will need to find a new bank and the same will apply to 130,000 KBC customers. Two weeks ago, the Governor of the Central Bank told me that banks are not ready to deal with the biggest transfer of bank accounts the State has ever experienced. The potential for catastrophe is obvious, but the Department of Finance is completely oblivious to this. It has taken a vow of silence. It is a bystander. In fact, it is not even a commentator on it. This is part of a wider hands-off laissez-faire policy when it comes to banks. There is nothing if not consistency from the Department of Finance. Yesterday the Minister issued a statement thanking the outgoing head of Bank of Ireland for her work over the years but we are still waiting for the banking division in the Department to say anything about the fate of almost 1 million ordinary bank customers in the coming months.

Ulster Bank will give its customers six months to switch their accounts to a new bank or to open a new account elsewhere. In the case of KBC it will be three months. Even in ordinary times, "banks" and "good customer service" are words we rarely hear in the same sentence. The fact that branches have been closed and good bank jobs have been sacrificed has not helped. Staff are under huge pressure as it stands. The recent Central Bank assessment suggests that 50% of customers waiting on the phone line have to hang up because it takes so long to get a simple query answered. This is an historical analysis.

How can we have any confidence the big switch will go well for customers? The switching code is ancient. It predates GDPR laws. I can see GDPR rules being quoted as the omni-excuse over the coming weeks and months for the poor performance of banks. Direct debit receivers and originators of recurring payments are not covered by the switching code. The banks themselves have said this. Direct debit originators will not always take an instruction from a bank. This leaves the customer with an awful lot of work to do. People who want to open a new joint account with AIB or Permanent TSB have to show up at the branch. This is if they can get an appointment over the next period of time.

More than 1 million accounts are in play here. There are tens of millions of direct debits, standing orders and overdrafts. People have enough to worry about at present, as I hope the Taoiseach will admit, without being kept awake at night with the fear of a bounced direct debit payment on their mortgage. This would kill their clean credit record through no fault of their own. Does the Taoiseach agree with what the Governor of the Central Bank told me two weeks ago, that the exiting and receiving banks are not ready to meet the scale of this switching challenge? What does the Government plan to do to hold Ulster Bank and KBC to account? Does the Taoiseach agree the receiving banks left on the market should significantly staff up to meet the demands that will be placed on them in the coming weeks and months? Should the Central Bank use its powers to delay the departure timetables of the exiting banks if the process is not working for their customers? What will the Government do to ensure customers have a real banking choice in this economy?

The existing banks should step up to the plate and should do everything they possibly can to assist the customers of the exiting banks, KBC and Ulster Bank, in respect of their needs and to facilitate switching. I am unclear as to what the Deputy thinks the Government should do. He has not really specified that. He spoke about a laissez-faire approach. I am not clear on what he is saying the Government should do specifically. What should the Department of Finance do? We have a structure and the Deputy knows this. The Central Bank is the key structure. It is separate. There is a separation between the Government and the Central Bank in terms of the management of the commercial banks.

It is regrettable that Ulster Bank and KBC are leaving the Irish market. It is not something the Government wanted to see happening but we know the reasons and rationale for it. The Government does not have a role in the commercial decisions of banks and of those banks in particular. Yes, every effort has to be made that the banks would withdraw in an orderly manner. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, and his officials are engaging with the banks that have indicated their intentions to leave the market to emphasise the importance of an orderly withdrawal and the need to engage in a timely manner with their customers in advance of any exit. The Minister and the officials are doing this. They are also engaging with the Banking and Payments Federation Ireland to ensure the remaining banks are prepared to accept applications from customers who are switching from closing banks. The Department will also be monitoring closely the number of accounts that close and switch in the coming months. It will continue to engage with all stakeholders to ensure the impact on consumers is minimised. I understand the Central Bank's supervision of any bank that withdraws from the market will be focused on ensuring its customers are treated fairly and it remains in place to support customers when switching current accounts to ensure it is easy and straightforward.

All banks, payment institutions and e-money institutions that offer payment accounts in Ireland must comply with the switching code. As per the code, all banks must provide a switching pack to their customers. Provision 10 of the code requires that the switch is completed within ten days of the switching date. In terms of supports for vulnerable customers, the Central Bank's consumer protection framework is designed to ensure that customers' best interests are protected. It requires banks to consider specifically the impact of their decisions on vulnerable customers and provide the assistance necessary to reasonably mitigate those impacts and retain access to basic financial services. There is an obligation on the exiting banks and the existing banks to do everything they possibly can to facilitate their customers. The Department of Finance is engaging with them on this and will continue to do so. The Central Bank has to engage on this also.

Quite frankly, the Taoiseach's response is an absolute deflection. The Government has a Minister of State with responsibility for financial services. What kind of message does his answer send to the 1 million consumers who have to switch accounts? Tens of millions of direct debits and standing orders could be in disarray over the next few months because of the disorganised way that all banks are approaching this. What is the purpose of the banking division in the Department of Finance? It was established in the teeth of the financial crisis. It seems that the only time the Government gets involved in banking is when it divests itself of the shares that Irish taxpayers bought during the financial crisis. This is the only policy coming from the Department of Finance on banking. It is scandalous. There is no doubt that if a new bank entered the market here the Department of Finance would be all over it claiming credit for it. It will not take any responsibility when banks are exiting. It takes no responsibility for the poor experience that I anticipate consumers will have in the coming weeks and months. One thing the Government could do to protect consumers is to reintroduce the legislation that the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, introduced when he was in the Opposition in the previous Dáil to fix variable mortgage interest rates. We anticipate an increase in interest rates from the European Central Bank over the next period of time. This would send a strong signal that the Government is backing consumers in this country and backing the customers of banks.

I am still unclear as to the fundamental point the Deputy is making. Is he saying the Department of Finance-----

You deflected in the original response. You have responsibility for economic management in this country.

Is the assertion-----

Is it now the Central Bank's responsibility?

He has not articulated it. Is he asserting that the Department of Finance should take over the role of the Central Bank?

It has a function to play.

What is the function? We have had this argument-----

It ought to hold the Central Bank to account politically.

This is an argument that is not from today or yesterday with regard to the management of banks. The Central Bank is there. There is a separation between the Government and the operation of banks.

There always has been. I am interested in hearing the Deputy's ideas as his presentation was not clear.

The Taoiseach is in classical Bertie Ahern territory.

In respect of KBC and Ulster Bank leaving-----

Will he protect customers? This is a deflection.

If you let me-----

Perhaps if the Taoiseach speaks through the Chair, it might be easier. We are almost out of time.

I am speaking through the Chair. The point I am making is that existing banks should do everything possible to work with the exiting banks to facilitate customers. The Department of Finance is engaging with the banks to ensure that happens.

The Taoiseach suggested the Government's Housing for All policy is working. I would like him to try to explain that to three people in the Gallery. They are Tony, Radoslaw and Seán, who are three of the five remaining tenants in the St. Helen's Court complex in Dún Laoghaire. This Friday they will be at the Four Courts, where a vulture fund will seek an enforcement order to evict them from their homes. They have never done anything wrong and have always paid their rent. Once upon a time they were part of a community of 20 tenants who all lived there. It was a fabulous community, which has been destroyed by the greed of two successive vulture funds. It is fair to say their lives have been ruined for four years by the greed and ruthlessness of vulture funds and the failure of this and previous Governments to address the causes of the persecution they have suffered at the hands of vulture funds.

Their story is not just a story of their persecution but, to be honest, it tells the story of tens of thousands of people who are victims of the housing crisis and the failure of this and successive Governments to deal with the matter. Why do I say this? This vulture fund has no reason to evict these people but it is allowed to evict them. Legally, the vulture fund is allowed to just throw these people out on the street. They have paid their rent and never done anything wrong but they can be thrown out on the street.

These tenants receive the housing assistance payment, HAP. Seán and Radoslaw are both working and Tony, who is now retired, was a healthcare worker. He has had a stroke as a result of the stress he suffered over the past four years at the hands of these vulture funds. They are HAP recipients, so in other words they are meant to be socially housed, although they are not. They are being thrown out on the street and the council has no obligation to rehouse such people. They may well end up in homeless accommodation.

This would not be such a problem if there was social housing but there are 5,000 families on the housing list waiting ten to 20 years to get a house. These people are included in that list. The tenants get €960, the homeless HAP rate, to find alternative accommodation but the problem is that rents are more than €2,000 per month in our area. What is really shocking is that not only will they end up on the street unless the Government intervenes but there are now only five tenants where there used to be 20. For two years, 15 fully refurbished apartments that could have housed people on the housing list have been sitting empty because a greedy vulture fund can make more profit by sitting on empty properties and evicting other tenants than renting them to people who need them.

What is the Taoiseach going to do about that for them and others facing similar persecution by vulture funds and the failure of Governments to deal with the housing crisis?

Everything must be done to protect tenants and we are doing that through a variety of legislation and so forth. The Deputy asked about St. Helen's Court in Dún Laoghaire and landlords issuing notices to vacate to five HAP tenants at that location. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is working with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council to ensure the five remaining households - three singles and two families - do not fall into homelessness as a result of their tenancies ending at St. Helen's Court. Viewings of available homes have been facilitated by the placefinder services and eligible households have been provided with access to the choice-based letting systems. Two of the five families have recently been offered or are due to be offered alternative accommodation imminently. The Department has advised that recent court procedures taken by the property owner to repossess the properties was adjourned. That is the existing position.

The Deputy knows the HAP programme is State assistance to provide for social housing. Since the Government came to office two years ago we have ramped up and will continue to ramp up the provision of social housing through direct builds. We want to create a much larger stock of social housing in the country, with a target this year of 9,000 social housing units between approved social housing bodies and the local authorities. That is key to rebalancing the number of tenants on HAP compared with those in local authority housing. We want more people in approved social housing body rentals and local authorities and in cost rental units, which will be well below market levels.

Housing for All was launched last September and very significant progress has been made with 35,000 new commencements, as I said the largest number since 2008. A number of measures have also been introduced under the Residential Tenancies Act with the objective of improving security of tenure for tenants. For example, the Tyrrelstown amendment provides that where a landlord proposes to sell ten or more units in a single development at the same time, the sale would be subject to the existing tenants remaining in situ other than in exceptional circumstances. That aims to strike a balance between landlords' constitutionally protected rights to sell their property and achieve a fair return on investment with a tenant's right to security of tenure. It provides security of tenure in the interests of the common social good.

The Housing Commission that is now established is examining matters such as tenure, standards, sustainability and quality-of-life issues in the provision of housing. It is also examining wording for amendments to the Constitution with regard to the Government's commitment to hold a referendum on housing, which will be important in establishing a balance between security of tenure and the constitutional protection that currently exists.

That is all very interesting. Will the Taoiseach guarantee that Tony, Radoslaw, Seán and the other two households remaining in St. Helen's Court will not be thrown into emergency accommodation after Friday's court proceedings? That is what they want to hear. That is the commitment they need. Beyond that, why are the vulture funds allowed to do this for nothing other than greed? Why are they allowed to evict people who have done nothing wrong and sit for two years on 15 empty properties when there are people crying out for accommodation? It is even worse now. There are 5,000 people on the housing list and Ukrainian people are fleeing a desperate situation of war but this vulture fund is allowed to sit on empty properties and evict tenants who have done nothing wrong.

The State should step in, buy that block and force its purchase. The Government must also change the law because they got around the Tyrrelstown amendment. They tried to evict more than ten households. The Tyrrelstown amendment protected those people, so they evicted seven households. Give these people that guarantee and do something to prevent vulture funds treating people like this.

The Tyrrelstown amendment was the optimal that could be achieved within the current constitutional framework. That is my understanding and we must work with the practical and real legal framework.

The Government can change the law.

It would require a change to the Constitution. We are working on an amendment to the Constitution related to housing. It is one of the tasks of the new Commission on Housing. With regard to Radoslaw, Tony and the other tenants who are the victims of this unacceptable behaviour, the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage is working with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council to ensure the five remaining households do not fall into homelessness as a result of their tenancies ending at St. Helen's Court. That is ongoing work. As I said, according to advice I have received, two of the families have recently been offered or are due to be offered alternative accommodation imminently.

What about the rest of them?

Today I will raise the question of housing again with the Taoiseach. I have raised it with him and his colleagues in the Government many times and to be honest, it seems we are only paying lip service at this stage. We are in the middle of a housing crisis.

We hear from the Government about the many thousands of new homes that will be built every year but we are still are no better off when it comes to the number of people requiring houses or homes.

The war in Ukraine has had a devastating effect on the people of Ukraine and Ireland has once more risen to the challenge and taken in refugees in a time of need. Great effort continues to be made in housing, and also with the many thousands of refugees coming to our country from Ukraine. I completely support all the efforts that have been made to find accommodation for refugees from Ukraine. Why is the same effort is not being made to tackle the housing crisis here in Ireland? I have lost count of the number of times I have raised this issue in the House. Vacant properties are there and we are not availing of them. The biggest issue I deal with in my constituency office in Dundalk is housing. On a daily basis, new cases of homelessness are presented to me. The Government is failing on the issue.

I have called on the Government many times to look at the potential that vacant properties have in addressing the housing crisis. Only this week, I had to deal with a local constituent in the Carlingford area. She is a mother of four children who has been on the housing list for over eight years. She identified a property which is vacant and approached the council. She was subsequently told that the council does not have money or resources to refurbish the property. This is wrong. We are throwing money at every other problem, yet when it comes to refurbishing vacant properties, the council is saying it does not have the funding or resources. It is important that councils are supported in this. If it is the case that they are not being supported, they must be made accountable.

The price of rental property is going through the roof and those looking to buy property find it cannot be done. I have people coming to my constituency office who have been told by their landlord that they must vacate the property in three months' time. When they go to the council they are told to come back a week before they are evicted from their home. That is not right. These families have children. If they move to another area, they will have no access to transport. It is causing chaos. I am asking that we do the same for Irish people as we are doing for Ukrainians. I ask the Taoiseach to confirm that the same effort in providing badly-needed accommodation for Ukrainian refugees will also be made to fund and support local councils to refurbish and bring back into stock the many thousands of vacant properties that currently exist around the country.

The Deputy should go back to the person in question and tell them to go back to the council because the funding is there. I do not know the specifics about the house but that is not on. Very significant capital funding has been given to local authorities to repair housing and vacant properties. Due to a very strong initiative taken by the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, local authorities have brought back 6,000 vacant local authority housing units for people on the social housing list in the nearly two years since the Government came in. That is a fact. There will be a further 2,000 this year. Some 35,000 houses were commenced between March 2021 and March 2022. That shows that the emphasis on housing is working. Covid-19 hit us in 2020 and 2021. We were shut down completely for nearly four months in 2021 and four months in 2020. That slowed us down. There is €4 billion allocated for housing per annum.

It is wrong to juxtapose the Ukrainian situation with the housing situation. Some 25,000 Ukrainians have come here because there is an unprecedented war. It is unprecedented since 1942. I saw on television the other night that a man lost his wife and three-month-old baby. He went out to the shop, came back and they were dead. That is what people are fleeing. The UN has said that it is the biggest humanitarian crisis we have witnessed since the Second World War. Close to 5 million refugees have flowed into Europe. Some 16,000 have been accommodated in Ireland, with 25,000 in total. Some are in private accommodation with Ukrainian families. The vast bulk are in hotels and various other types of accommodation. Thousands of Irish people have pledged homes. The pledges are being processed right now. The vast bulk of refugees have been accommodated in hotels and other types of accommodation. That is the truth of the matter. We have to be very clear about it. It is not a case of one or the other, nor should anybody in the House try to present it as one or the other. I do not think that is fair. It is not the right approach because those are not the facts.

The vast majority of the Irish people want to do the best in the terrible wartime situation we are in because of an extraordinarily cynical, barbaric strategy pursued by Vladimir Putin. He is not just attacking people. He is deliberately creating a migration crisis by terrorising neighbourhoods and bombing residential areas to terrorise people into leaving. He is creating a food crisis as well and he has created an energy crisis as part of his war effort. We have to be strong and stand up to that. We are not a military power. The one great strength we have is humanitarian capacity. That is what that is about. On the housing front, I assure the Deputy that will do everything we can to bring more vacant properties back. If the Deputy has other examples, I ask him to bring them to me.

I have already put on the record my complete support for all the efforts that are being made to find accommodation for the refugees. That is not the problem. The problem I am talking about is with the local authorities. The vacant house to which I referred was left in perfect condition last October. It is now six or seven months later. A year ago, if I had asked the council what the problem was, it would have said it had no money. Now it is saying the problem is resources. Personally, I think the local authorities are not able to do this work. Perhaps somebody who knows something about business, like Michael O'Leary of Ryanair, should be put in there. I cannot understand it. Years ago, the councils had their own plumbers, electricians and everything else. They are doing absolutely nothing. The biggest problem is accountability. Where is the accountability for them? There is nothing. Council staff are civil servants who can fob people off. I know of a person whose mother and father threw them out of the house last week. The person was homeless. They were told by the council to go back and make up with their mother and father. When marriages break up, the husband and wife have to vacate the house. They go to the council to get put on the list. They are told that they cannot go on the list because they have accommodation or their name is already down. Excuse after excuse is being made. I am asking for solutions. The Government is doing a fantastic job with the Ukrainian refugees. I have no problem whatsoever with that. I have mothers coming to my office, with their children roaring and crying, who are looking for accommodation. We have to look after Irish and Ukrainian people. If the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform could find €3 billion last week to help out-----

Deputy, we are over time.

I am just saying we have problems in our own country. I ask that the Government help the Irish people as well.

We are going to do that. Fortunately, this year we have put €4 billion into a contingency fund in the budget for Covid for 2022. Some of that is now being used for Ukraine. The figure the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform used last week was an estimate of what it could be in 2023. We hope it is not and that the war will end. I accept the Deputy's bona fides and the merits of what he is saying in terms of vacant properties. I will ask the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage to meet the Deputy to discuss vacant properties in his area. We would like to find them, particularly local authority vacant properties. I assure the Deputy that we will do everything we can to get them repaired. I do not want any vacant properties hanging around the place. They should not be hanging around the place. That is why we had a special voids programme two years ago to get voids brought back into use for social housing, in particular. There is also the repair and lease scheme. On Tuesday, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage brought a package to us that deals with repair and lease for non-local authority housing to get them brought back, and to do more on the voids in terms of the social housing list. We are also seeking to extend notice to quit periods, for example, to give greater time to tenants. The Deputy mentioned the case of people being evicted. We want to delay eviction as long as we possibly legally can. I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. I will ask the Minister to engage with him in terms of those vacant properties.