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Dáil Éireann debate -
Tuesday, 20 Sep 2022

Vol. 1026 No. 3

Ceisteanna - Questions

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Bernard Durkan

Question:

1. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Taoiseach the extent to which he has had discussions with other European and NATO leaders in regard to EU Security and Defence issues; and if defence and security issues were discussed at a recent dinner in Madrid. [35894/22]

Seán Haughey

Question:

2. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the EuroAtlantic dinner in Madrid. [45761/22]

Mick Barry

Question:

3. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his meetings with European Union and NATO leaders on the margins of a recent NATO summit in Madrid. [45762/22]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.

I attended a meeting over dinner in Madrid on Wednesday, 29 June 2022, hosted by Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, which brought together leaders of EU member states and those of NATO member countries. While the event took place alongside a NATO summit, it was a separate event and not a part of the summit. The discussion covered current political and security challenges in Europe, not least the need for a strong common response to Russia's illegal and immoral war against Ukraine. There was remarkable consensus that the issues at stake include not only Ukraine's right to freedom and sovereignty, but also our shared democratic values and the vitally important rules-based international order on which they depend.

Ahead of the meeting, I had the opportunity to meet bilaterally with the Austrian Chancellor, Karl Nehammer. Our discussions covered a range of issues including how we, as fellow neutral EU member states, can best contribute to efforts to support Ukraine and to ensure Russia's aggression does not prevail. At the event itself, I spoke to many fellow leaders, including Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre and Icelandic Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdöttir, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. I also met with President Joe Biden; the President of the European Council, Charles Michel; and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

In my contribution, I made the important point that while Ireland is militarily neutral, we are not, and have never been, politically neutral and we have made a significant contribution to the EU's resolute response to the war. I pointed to our unwavering commitment to international peace and security, including through our role on the United Nations Security Council. I also noted the ongoing review of Ireland's security and defence arrangements to ensure we are ready to meet new threats and challenges.

I thank the Taoiseach for that comprehensive answer. Has any consideration been given to the threat to neutral countries posed by aggressive nations, having regard to the experience of the Second World War and that more recently of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which that country seems determined to continue until it has suppressed Ukraine?

I believe the Taoiseach was right to attend the EuroAtlantic dinner. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has major implications for Ireland and the world, especially concerning energy, food and migration. It is important at this time that Ireland shows solidarity with like-minded democracies and advocates a rules-based international order. In this context, Ireland should continue to commit to the evolving Common Security and Defence Policy, CSDP, of the EU. As the Taoiseach is aware, we have been an active participant in civilian and military CSDP missions and operations, and I take it we are open to the idea of the proposed mission to provide military training to Ukrainian personnel. It is clear that participation in CSDP does not alter our defence policy of military neutrality. For a start, this would be incompatible with our commitment to the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Therefore, has the Taoiseach further considered his suggestion that a citizens' assembly should examine the whole issue of non-alignment at this time?

The Taoiseach is on record as saying he wishes to have an informed debate about military issues and this country in future. The NATO summit in Madrid committed not just to an arms race but to a nuclear arms race. The strategic compass declares full support for the "forward deployment of" US nuclear weapons on European soil. At a time when millions of ordinary Europeans face the threat of being frozen in their homes this winter or struggling to put food on the table, it is outrageous that NATO is committing to spend billions on a new nuclear arms race. The Taoiseach attended the EuroAtlantic summit dinner that took place immediately after the NATO summit. It was held in the same city and had a huge overlap in participation. Therefore, will the Taoiseach join with me in opposing what so many of his EuroAtlantic summit partners signed up to, namely, a fresh "forward deployment" of US nuclear weapons on European soil?

The Government appears to be making a habit of attending NATO meetings and meetings of NATO allies. I do not believe it is an accident at all, but part of a conscious drive to integrate this country with a process of militarisation led by US imperialism.

I asked last week whether the State was represented at the fifth so-called Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting, which happened in Germany a couple of weeks ago. When I asked about it last week, the Taoiseach told me that he was "not aware of the specific meeting in question," and that he "does not believe ... [I am] correct ... [in my] analysis that ... [they] are using the war in Ukraine to drive the militarisation of the world or NATO." I want to ask again as this is important. Was the Irish Government represented at the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting which took place at the Ramstein US air base, which is also NATO headquarters in Germany, on 8 September?

There are images on the NATO website of the Irish delegate present at a previous Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting. I reiterate that the US Secretary of Defense has described this as "our NATO alliance." It was also mentioned that there were nearly 50 countries present for this fifth meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. I am opposed to this integration into a NATO alliance but this House, at the very least, has the right to know whether the Government is participating in this military alliance. We need to have clear answers about our participation and should really have a debate about it.

Deputy Durkan was the first to raise this matter. It was interesting that after the immoral invasion of Ukraine by Russia, which was an unprovoked and savage attack on the people of Ukraine with missiles hitting civilian targets and killing innocent people, including children, Finland and Sweden, which had a different position prior to this war, decided to join NATO. It was their decision. They are closer to Russia than we are and felt vulnerable. Around that time, I visited Finland. I had my visit organised before their decision. Both the Prime Minister and the President of Finland were in a position to articulate to me the entire sea change that this invasion caused, in terms of the national psyche of Finland in the first instance. They said that everything they were told as children in terms of fearing a potential invasion of Russia had transpired in terms of the invasion of Ukraine, so much so that public opinion had changed dramatically in favour of joining the military alliance that is NATO. The same happened in Sweden. That is the impact so far in terms of how those countries feel threatened and vulnerable.

The same applies, by the way, to the European Continent in terms of what could happen in the future and the degree to which the EU on its own, or at least certain countries within the EU, would be in a position to repel significantly attacks of this kind. Hence, the countries on the east see this as an existential threat because of their history. Countries like Estonia are clear that this is existential to them. When I speak to the Prime Minister of Estonia, she points out that the only time of freedom her parents got was that time between the First World War and the Second World War. She speaks about Stalin, who was brutal in terms of what he did to Estonia, Poland and other countries, and Hitler. These people's life experiences are far different from ours. Sometimes we should be less arrogant in the House in proclaiming what they should and should not do. If we had lived through what their parents and grandparents lived through, we would have a different perspective in terms of the potential of Russia to violate their territorial integrity and their nationhood, as has happened in Ukraine. I hope I have answered Deputy Durkan's questions in that respect.

I agree with Deputy Haughey that the broader aspects of this war bring in energy and migration. It is a terrible tragedy that migration has become a weapon of war of cynical countries, such as Russia and Belarus. The latter encouraged people to fly in from the Middle East, and indeed flew some of them in, and then brought them to the borders and left them in over the borders pretending to them that it was Germany. That is what is going on. I have no doubt that Putin knew what he was doing by bombing entire cities so that the people would flee Ukraine into Europe. We have had the biggest humanitarian disaster since the Second World War in terms of up to 7 million more displaced, with the vast majority having to flee into Europe. On the food issue, there has been an improvement made in terms of the opening up of the Black Sea but there are real concerns, between a combination of climate change and the war, in terms of future hunger in the world.

With the evolution of the Common Security and Defence Policy, it is the best place for Ireland to be in right now. That is my view. It has evolved. We have contributed to peace missions in that context and to interoperability training missions, etc., which make sense, particularly when we are in serving with the UN in Lebanon. We work with Polish troops and work with other countries which are members of the EU, and it makes sense that the same equipment is used and that there is interoperability. That is how our policies have evolved. We are not a member of NATO. That is clear to NATO. It is clear to us. We are not politically neutral but we are militarily neutral.

On the possibility of a citizens' assembly, hopefully the existing ones will come to a conclusion shortly. I would like to think that sometime next year, we could commence a citizens' assembly in relation to the broader issue of neutrality and defence, etc., because we have issues around cybersecurity and broader issues in terms of our vulnerability at sea. In terms of all of the data that goes under our seabeds, we must be mindful of the economic presence in Ireland. We also must be mindful of how vulnerable are we in terms of radar. That is why the Commission on the Defence Forces has articulated the need for a significant increase in defence spending to protect ourselves as a country. We would have the lowest level of military expenditure across Europe and I smile at times when the Deputies opposite talk about militarisation. The one thing Ireland has not done in the past 20 years, 30 years or 40 years is to militarise.

How much is the Government increasing the military budget by?

I said that over the past 40 years we have not militarised as a country. We should stop pretending that we have because we have not.

The Government is trying to do it now. It is playing catch-up now.

That is not what we are trying to do now. I would point out that the defence commission has made recommendations. The Government has accepted those recommendations, not in their entirety but in terms of the middle tier of ambition which by any yardstick is not militarisation, but getting the bare essentials in place that we can protect vital assets, protect our seas and protect ourselves from a cybersecurity perspective, and also be conscious that we do things at a more reasonable level than we have been doing. Frankly, that would be our view on that.

I do not agree with Deputy Barry's view of NATO. NATO is not interested in an arms race. It is interested in defence. It is a defence alliance. It is not an attack alliance.

Tell that to the people in the Middle East.

What is extremely insightful in the contributions that I have heard today is that it is all about NATO. NATO did not start this war on Ukraine. The reason for the EuroAtlantic EU-NATO dinner and engagement was because of the war on Ukraine. NATO did not start that war. Most of the leaders of NATO who I know did everything they possibly could to stop the war from ever starting. They spoke to President Putin. They asked him not to commence the war. They invited him to talks around the security architecture of Europe if he felt there were vulnerabilities for Russia. It is a needless war that was caused by Russia. It is interesting to note, in particular, from the far left, that right throughout this war the protests are being organised around NATO. There are no protests around Russia.

I have been at protests outside the Russian Embassy and I did not see the Taoiseach there.

It is all about NATO. It is all about NATO's aggression, allegedly, and NATO's militarisation when actually it is Russian aggression that has created this world crisis that we are in. No one wants to be in this. The members of NATO want their economies to work.

The question is about new US nuclear weapons in Europe. Will the Taoiseach please answer?

We favour nuclear non-proliferation and we work at the United Nations to try to achieve that. We have been one of the most consistent member states of the UN to advocate for nuclear non-proliferation and are perceived as such.

The Taoiseach is for it.

Deputy Paul Murphy-----

The time is up.

Can I just get one word in?

I will come back to the Deputy on the specifics.

Sorry, the time is up. We need to move on to the next question, which is Question No. 4.

Ukraine War

Bernard Durkan

Question:

4. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to Ukraine. [38168/22]

Neale Richmond

Question:

5. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his attendance at the second summit of the Crimea Platform. [44785/22]

Seán Haughey

Question:

6. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent participation in the international Crimea Platform. [44816/22]

Seán Haughey

Question:

7. Deputy Seán Haughey asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his visit to Ukraine. [44817/22]

Ivana Bacik

Question:

8. Deputy Ivana Bacik asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent visit to Ukraine. [45725/22]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 8, inclusive, together.

I made an official visit to Ukraine on 6 July at the invitation of President Zelenskyy. I was honoured to be the first Taoiseach to do so.

During my visit I visited the towns of Borodyanka, Bucha and Irpin, north of Kyiv, where I heard about and saw at first hand the abuses and destruction inflicted by Russian troops. As the Ukrainian army has recently liberated parts of eastern Ukraine that have been under Russian occupation, we are, unfortunately, learning of horrific and brutal acts carried out in these regions also, with the uncovering of mass burials of victims in Izium.

While in Kyiv, I visited an exhibition of artifacts from the war and artworks inspired by it. I laid a soft toy at a memorial to the children killed in the war since February.

I also visited the national memorial to the Holodomor, Ukraine's catastrophic man-made famine of the 1930s.

At my meeting with the President, we discussed the security and humanitarian situation in Ukraine and its economic impacts. I congratulated President Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people on achieving EU candidate status on 23 June. He thanked Ireland for our strong support and advocacy for Ukraine's EU aspirations and for the welcome and support provided in Ireland to Ukrainians fleeing the war. I invited President Zelenskyy to visit Ireland when he is free to do so.

I met separately with Prime Minister Shmyhal. We discussed the pathway to EU membership for Ukraine, sanctions, the ongoing situation in the war and plans for reconstruction.

On 23 August, I joined President Zelenskyy and EU and global leaders at a digital meeting of the international Crimea Platform. Participants in the Crimea Platform remain committed to Ukraine's sovereignty, political independence, unity and territorial integrity within its internationally recognised borders, extending to its territorial waters. We reiterated our resolve to maintain pressure on Russia to end its occupation of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol without delay and to restore Ukraine's control over its sovereign territory. I reiterated Ireland's unwavering support for Ukraine in defending its sovereignty and territorial integrity. I also expressed strong support for its EU membership. I highlighted Russia's cynical exploitation of hunger, energy and migration to weaken the resolve not just of the Ukrainian people but also of those in the international community who stand with them. Russia will not succeed. I expressed my grave concern about Russian military activity at the nuclear power plant in Zaporizhzhia, which should be under Ukrainian civilian control, supported by the International Atomic Energy Agency. I welcomed shipments of grain and other foodstuffs from Ukrainian ports through the Black Sea grain initiative. I also expressed concern about the gross violation of human rights, in particular against indigenous Crimean Tatars.

To what extent did the Taoiseach see at first hand evidence of the atrocities we hear so much about? What was the reaction of his colleagues with whom he had discussions at a later stage? What is the possibility of introducing some mechanism whereby countries subject to this kind of aggression from Russia - or anywhere else, for that matter - might expect to receive assistance in a meaningful way to protect themselves?

My last point is about experiences of the past, when big countries decided to overlook national or international boundaries and decided to take it upon themselves to impose a law on allegedly subservient countries. Did any discussion on that take place?

I thank the Taoiseach for his fulsome response and for travelling to Ukraine on behalf of all of us. It was an important undertaking by him and other members of the Government over recent months, at a difficult time in the conflict. It is fundamentally my belief that as soon as this conflict is ended and, crucially, as soon as Russia is defeated, we will be able to draw a line under the serious challenges this is presenting to every household in this country, socially and economically, as well as the extremely worrying security threats that have come with it.

Further to the Taoiseach's response, I wish to ask about the collective European commitment, and indeed the Irish commitment, to providing finance to address not just the current challenges Ukraine faces but also the future challenges it faces in rebuilding, following this vicious invasion, on a path that will allow Ukraine to swiftly join the EU. Are we doing enough as a member state and as a collective Union, or could we do more?

As we know, the horrors of the war in Ukraine continue. The spirit of the Ukrainian people is extraordinary, and we are in awe of their courage, bravery and resolve in defending their country.

We should all be concerned about the threat posed by the recent military activity around the nuclear plant at Zaporizhzhia, as the Taoiseach said. The Ukrainian authorities, aided by the International Atomic Energy Agency, must be allowed to take control of this site and to defuse this serious threat. What is emerging near Izium is also shocking, as the Taoiseach said. There, a mass grave containing more than 400 bodies has been discovered. Evidence of torture by Russian forces of Ukrainian prisoners is also unfolding.

In that context I welcome Ireland's third party intervention before the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Ukraine v. Russian Federation. Russia has to be made accountable for its unlawful invasion of Ukraine.

Ukrainians are heading into a long winter. What is the Taoiseach's assessment of the course of the war at this stage? Clearly, Russia is not winning it. Does he agree that we should continue to support Ukraine in every way we can in order that its sovereignty and territorial integrity can be restored?

From the start of Putin's horrendous invasion of Ukraine, we have raised the need for the State to call clearly for debt cancellation as a significant act of solidarity with the Ukrainian people. We tabled a motion in the Dáil to that effect, pointing out that, annually, 12% of all Ukrainian state budgetary income is currently going on debt repayments and that that was utterly unsustainable. At the start of the war the IMF said that Ukraine's economy could contract by as much as 35% in 2022 but that the debt would remain sustainable if there were a fast end to it. Unfortunately, and tragically, there has been no such fast end to the war, and the result is a deeper crisis for Ukraine. The consequence, in the absence of a full debt cancellation programme, is that Ukraine has been forced to apply for a new special IMF loan programme, which will come, as we understand from our own experience, with onerous restrictions, if the country is even able to get it. Is it not past time, therefore, for cancellation of Ukraine's debt? Let us look at who the debt is owed to. The biggest creditor is the IMF, which was due to be paid more than €2.5 billion in 2022. Then there is a series of private creditors, hedge funds, including the likes of BlackRock, Fidelity International, Amia Capital and Gemsstock Limited, all holding Ukraine's foreign debt. Is that not a real act of solidarity that could be made with the Ukrainian people to lift this unsustainable and odious burden?

Deputy Durkan raised the first question. What was interesting about the three towns just outside Kyiv that I visited was that none was a military town and, therefore, there was no militarism there. There was no need to undertake the atrocities carried out by Russian forces on the people of those towns. I went to the town of Bucha and to the church there. I met with the priest and the people there. They had a photographic exhibition of young men, hands tied behind their backs who were murdered. It was quite horrific, graphic and shocking. If a young man was caught with a mobile phone in his hand, the Russian forces might suggest that he was ringing somebody in the Ukrainian army. He would be taken out and killed; summarily executed. In Irpin, likewise, there were just residential blocks bombed. There was no military context whatsoever.

In many of the cases, citizen defence committees were trying to hold things together. The economic prospects of these towns is very bleak. Much of our meeting focused on reconstruction and how the EU can help as it is committed to that. Other countries are helping out Ukraine. There are the issues of immediate supports and then reconstruction.

We have given assistance in a variety of ways. We have given direct humanitarian funding to Ukraine. We have provided funding to the Red Cross. In the context of international war crimes, we have allocated an extra €3 million to the International Criminal Court, which Deputy Haughey and others raised, to improve its capacity. There must be careful gathering of evidence of war crimes by the courts and the International Criminal Court has the expertise to do that. That needs to be followed through on. Deputy Richmond raised a similar issue and asked whether we are doing enough. We are in my view. The Ukrainian Government asked EU member states to help specific regions, almost in a twinning relationship, to recover and reconstruct basic services, such as schools and hospitals and so forth. The Government is examining that proposal, as well as providing supports more broadly with our European colleagues.

On the financial issue raised by Deputy Paul Murphy and others, EU leaders agreed to support Ukraine via exceptional macro financial assistance of up to €9 billion in 2022. Disbursement of the first €1 billion was agreed before the summer break. EU finance ministers recently agreed to accelerate the next tranche of €5 billion, which is in addition to the €1.2 billion emergency loan provided to Ukraine earlier this year.

The EU will be the key player in the reconstruction of Ukraine. Along with international partners, we will work with our EU colleagues. Through our Presidency of the Council of Europe, Ireland has worked with the other 45 member states of the council on an action plan to assist rebuilding work in Ukraine. We made a €1 million contribution to a specially established Ukraine donor fund in the Council of Europe Development Bank.

On the liquidity questions, it is not as simple as saying that the debt should just be cancelled. There are various mechanisms, via the IMF, World Bank and so on, whereby Ukraine is being facilitated. Its economy has collapsed by approximately 50% so efforts have been made, in the allocation of European funding to Ukraine, that they will be able to pay the basic wages of citizens.

One of the biggest challenges facing Ukraine is that many of its workers are on the front line fighting and many millions have left Ukraine. This in itself is having an impact on the country and, therefore, President Zelenskyy is anxious that people will come back to Ukraine to provide childcare and various services.

We will do everything we can to pursue the war crimes issue. I pay tribute to Ms Justice Siofra O'Leary, on her elevation to the position of President of the European Court of Human Rights, which is significant and fantastic achievement for an Irish woman. I had the privilege of meeting her on my recent visit to Strasbourg. It is tremendous news indeed.

Looking at what has happened in recent weeks, two nuclear plants have been threatened by Russia. A bomb fell within 300 ft of a plant. This is deadly and dangerous stuff in Ukraine with nuclear plants being put at risk as a result of Russian aggression, bombs and so forth. A reservoir dam was also destroyed in retaliation.

I think I have covered most questions. We will continue to work with the Ukrainian Government to do whatever we can to support Ukraine, in particular its application to the EU, reconstruction and in respect of its interaction with the IMF, EU and World Bank. All member states have a role on those bodies in terms of guarantees we give. One cannot say, "Let's cancel this." That would have repercussions across the system. There are structured ways to deal with this and help Ukraine financially, which people in all organisations have been responsive to at all levels.

Housing Policy

Mary Lou McDonald

Question:

9. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing will next meet. [43922/22]

Cian O'Callaghan

Question:

10. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing last met. [44366/22]

Paul Murphy

Question:

11. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing will next meet. [44841/22]

Rose Conway-Walsh

Question:

12. Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing will meet next. [44917/22]

Ivana Bacik

Question:

13. Deputy Ivana Bacik asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing last met. [45726/22]

Mick Barry

Question:

14. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing will next meet. [45764/22]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 9 to 14, inclusive, together.

The Cabinet committee on housing has met six times to date in 2022. The last meeting took place on Thursday, 15 September, with the next meeting planned for Monday, 10 October. The committee works to ensure a co-ordinated approach to the implementation of Housing for All and the delivery of programme for Government commitments regarding housing and related matters. Housing for All is the most ambitious housing plan in the history of our State and contains a range of actions and measures to ensure more than 300,000 new homes will be built by 2030, along with delivering fundamental reform of our housing system.

The 2030 target includes 90,000 social, 36,000 affordable purchase, and 18,000 cost-rental homes. The plan is backed by the highest ever State investment in housing. The progress of Housing for All is overseen by the Cabinet committee on housing and government, with progress reports published quarterly. On 14 July, the Government published the fourth quarterly report, Q2 2022 progress report. It shows significant progress and sets the course to significantly increase the supply of housing and provide a sustainable housing system into the future. Of the 213 actions in Housing for All, a total of 156 have either been completed or are being delivered on an ongoing basis.

While the war in Ukraine and consequent cost pressures have placed great pressure on the sector, there are strong signs of momentum in housing delivery. Between April and June of this year, planning permission was granted for 11,374 new homes, which is a rise on the same period in 2021. Building started on more than 7,000 new homes during this period and 7,654 new homes were completed, an increase of more than 50% on the number of homes completed in the same period of 2021. We are confident that the target for delivery of 24,600 homes in 2022 will be met.

Under the plan, we have introduced four significant affordable purchase initiatives: the first home scheme; the local authority purchase scheme; the local authority home loan scheme; and Project Tosaigh. These measures have been implemented to increase supply and make homes more affordable. The Croí Cónaithe cities fund has also been established to address current viability challenges and activate housing supply at density in city centres through the delivery of 5,000 homes for owner occupiers. In tackling vacancy issues, we have launched a number of measures, including the Croí Cónaithe towns and villages scheme and a new town centre first policy, as well as changes to the fair deal scheme to remove disincentives to renting or selling vacant property.

Employment in the construction sector is now greater than pre-pandemic levels, and apprenticeship registrations are increasing significantly. International recruitment initiatives are under way while there is an entire work stream on modern methods of construction. Far-reaching reforms, including to our planning laws and our land management and activation mechanisms, are well under way. The actions outlined in the plan are backed by in excess of €4 billion in annual guaranteed State investment in housing over the coming years.

When Housing for All was published, it included provision to review and update the plan on an annual basis to react to any changes or emerging challenges. This review is under way and it does not seek to change the policy direction, but affords us the opportunity to react to the many challenges that have emerged since the plan was published, most notably, the ongoing inflationary pressures.

The review is focused on measures to activate and accelerate supply, and a final version of the update will go to Government in October. The Cabinet committee will continue to focus on delivery of the Housing for All plan and any other housing-related priorities.

Will the Cabinet committee on housing discuss home income thresholds for social housing supports, which have not changed since 2011? There is a scarcity of available properties for renters and those that are available have rents that many simply cannot afford. Homeownership is unattainable for many people, especially throughout Limerick. The safety net is meant to be the social housing support, but the income thresholds are too low for most at €30,000 for a single person and €36,000 for a family in Limerick, and they have not changed since 2011. The move to raise income thresholds for eligibility for social housing in counties Clare, Carlow, Laois, Galway, and Westmeath is welcome, but they were not increased in areas with acute affordability issues such as Dublin, Cork, and my home place of Limerick. Why were they not changed in Limerick, Dublin, and Cork, where the need is greatest?

People cannot rent or buy or get social support. Where are working people supposed to go? When will the income threshold review be published? It has been with the Minister since last December.

It is almost two months since the Government received the report from the working group to examine defects in housing. That report is extremely stark in terms of the situation it sets out with regard to defects, primarily fire defects in apartments and duplexes. The report states: "The Working Group estimates that of apartments and duplexes (or associated common areas) constructed between 1991 and 2013, the number that may be affected by one or more defects, i.e. fire safety-, structural safety- or water ingress defects, is likely to range between 50% and 80%, which equates to between 62,500 and 100,000 apartments/duplexes." It means if people live in a Celtic tiger-built apartment block or duplex the chances are that there are serious defects in the construction of the home and they will be faced with a substantial bill. The average bill is €25,000 and I believe this will increase. Many are facing bills of significantly more than this at €68,000 and more. People simply cannot afford to pay this. This is not the fault of the residents. They did everything they were supposed to do when they their homes were built. Now they are faced with these massive unaffordable bills to make their homes safe. The only just and workable solution is a 100% redress scheme. The question for the Taoiseach is when the Government will respond to this report. Will he give a commitment now that whatever scheme is introduced will be retrospective?

Housing for All mentions student accommodation only once. The student accommodation emergency was brought into focus last week when the French embassy warned its students against coming to Ireland. We are in a shameful situation, with students who have worked hard and families who have sacrificed to get their children to college now finding they are locked out of their courses and career of choice. They are crippled with high rents, they are open to exploitation, and they are forced to commute crazy distances. We need an urgent capital intervention in the budget to enable educational institutions to get advanced building projects started. This is the only way these projects can proceed in order that they are affordable to ordinary students and families and financially viable. Will the Taoiseach now admit that the Government has failed students by designing a system that hands over student accommodation to the private market? Will the Government finally commit to real capital funding in this year's budget to unlock these projects and deliver affordable accommodation for students? Will the Taoiseach commit once and for all to a new accommodation strategy for students?

Last year, the Taoiseach said in the House:

All the measures the Minister has taken in placing restrictions on evictions and so on have borne fruit. The tsunami has not happened that the Deputy said would happen a year ago.

The Deputy he referred to was my good self. This morning Threshold came before an Oireachtas committee and reported that it has been notified of 462 notices to quit per month this year. This has increased from 263 in 2019. It is an increase of 76% on pre-pandemic levels. The tsunami the Taoiseach denied would happen is happening now before our eyes. What will he and the Government do about it? They could reinstate the ban on evictions. They could follow the example of Germany, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands and ban evictions on the ground of sale of property. This ground were responsible for 58% of the evictions notified to Threshold this year. Will the Taoiseach do this or will he once again bow to the landlord lobby, so heavily represented in his parliamentary party?

One of the many reasons people will be out on the streets for the cost-of-living demonstration next Saturday is the housing crisis. I ask the Taoiseach in advance of the budget to listen to what people are calling for. As Deputy Barry said, we have had a massive spike in evictions on the ground of sale. The Government should reintroduce the eviction ban. If the Taoiseach will not do so there is something else he could do. He could instruct local authorities to purchase every property where there is an eviction on the ground of sale. If this is done, people will be housed, the social housing stock will be increased and it will save the State money on the rental accommodation scheme, housing assistance payment and homeless payments. It is a simple measure. The Government could use the extra tax receipts available to it for capital expenditure. This would be prudent expenditure.

I reiterate the next question yet again for the umpteenth time. Will the Government please publish the review on social housing income thresholds? It was promised since December last year when the review was completed. The ESRI states we have gone from a situation where 47% of households used to be entitled to social housing to 33%. It is a massive stealth cut in the housing support available to people who cannot afford the extortionate rents and house prices in the private market.

To respond to Members generally, the State is the biggest actor in housing now. One would not think that from the contributions made regularly in the House and some public commentary and analysis. The State is the biggest actor in housing, be it social housing, affordable housing, cost rental, Croí Cónaithe, the town centre first policy and trying to bridge the gap in viability on brownfield sites. The State is the biggest player now in house building. We need to build far more houses than we are currently as a country. No doubt Covid 19 hit construction with the two lockdowns. The increase now in commodities and prices has been quite significant, at well over 20% on some materials in the building industry. There has been one big storm after another facing the construction industry and the Government's plans. Notwithstanding this, we feel that we will make the target of 24,600 this year. This is not enough and we need to be at approximately 35,000 per annum. On all fronts, in terms of workforce, planning and better construction methodology, we are doing what we can to get construction going.

Student accommodation proposals are coming forward. It is not a failure. Thousands of student accommodation places have happened in recent years. They are not a failure. Again, it is about scale. We need more. We need higher volumes. There is an affordability gap after Covid and there are inflationary issues. The educational institutions say they cannot make it work. The Government is examining this. The Government is doing an awful lot on housing, without question. We will also deal with the student issue. The Minister is examining the increase in income thresholds for social housing.

We have heard that for a year.

It has been going on for a year.

I have been in discussions with the Minister on this.

On the defects in housing, the Minister established the working group in 2021 under Mr. Seamus Neely, former chief executive of Donegal County Council. He received the report and published it. As Deputies will be aware, the working group estimates the average cost of undertaking the remediation of defects is likely to be approximately €25,000 per apartment duplex. This would be an overall potential cost of between €1.56 billion and €2.5 billion. It is estimated that remedial works have been completed in respect of up to 12% of the affected properties, and up to 34% of the affected properties may now be in a process of remedial works being carried out. The Minister is examining the report and will report back to the Government on the response. He is also looking at the lessons learned through the development and operation of other schemes such as the pyrite remediation scheme and the defective concrete blocks scheme.

On Deputy Barry's question regarding notices to quit, landlords are leaving the market in significant numbers and have been for the past four to five years. I would argue that at times much of the rhetoric from his good self and the ideas he has brought forward are leading to an acceleration of this exit.

Many people do not feel it is worth their while to be landlords anymore. They may have purchased a house or two in the past with a view to renting them out. They are now selling.

(Interruptions).

The value has become high but also-----

If one talks to people-----

I do talk to them.

The Deputy is interrupting me again. The point is landlords are getting out of this.

So what? The State could buy the houses.

The State will not buy every house.

The State could buy the houses to keep the families in them.

However, the State has said that local authorities are allowed and have the capacity-----

The Taoiseach should tell them to do it.

-----and the firepower-----

The Taoiseach should tell them to do it.

-----to purchase houses from people who could rendered homeless as a result. The councils have been told that they can-----

-----buy the houses where someone could be rendered homeless if-----

They are not doing it.

There are in some cases where they are.

Would you lads not stay quiet when you are asked?

However there is an issue to reflect on as well. There is no point in saying "buy every single house". These kinds of simplistic answers to everything are not the way to solve the housing crisis-----

-----because we need people to let existing housing stock. Many people do not feel it is worth their while and yes, because of the value now, they feel it is timely to get out. That is not good enough for the housing-supply issue because we need the supply at present. Many approved housing bodies are saying this to us. They want us to take action to encourage landlords to stay in the system.

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