Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

Transport Policy

I acknowledge that I have raised this issue with the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport previously but I am looking for an update on the proposed Limerick-Shannon metropolitan area transport link. Limerick is the third largest city in the country and is expanding at a significant rate. Many companies have shown interest not only in Limerick but in the region. It is all about Limerick being the driver of the region. To do that, a proper transport system and connectivity between our airport and the city is needed. We have the second largest port in the country in Shannon Foynes Port so we need connectivity. While strategies for Dublin and Cork have been announced, there is no update about what is happening with Limerick.

On the previous occasion we had this debate, the Minister referred to the cycling strategy. This also needs to be included in the strategy. With Shannon Airport on our doorstep, it is important that we have proper connectivity between the city and outlying areas in the county because we are all part of one local authority with a population of approximately 200,000 and the city is growing at a significant rate. I hope the Minister has some good news for us because a public consultation was due to take place earlier in the year but there has been nothing to date. It is frustrating to see the amount that has been spent on BusConnects in Dublin, with developments relating to Cork to be announced, but yet there is no update regarding Limerick so I look forward to hearing what he has to say.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue again. She is second to none in raising transport issues in the Limerick area in this House and possibly in the other House. I do not want to offend anybody by saying that but her persistence is commendable and is certainly noted in my Department.

As she will be aware, work is ongoing to develop a Limerick-Shannon metropolitan area transport strategy. The NTA is working in partnership with both local authorities in developing the strategy. This model has worked well in Galway and Cork. The Limerick-Shannon metropolitan area transport strategy will provide the strategic framework within which public transport will be improved in the area in the years ahead. This is in line with the objectives of Project Ireland 2040 and the need to plan for a sustainable future. If we are going to expand our cities, we need this sort of strategic transport planning.

Project Ireland 2040 sets out both the planned spatial development and investment framework for the coming years. At a regional level, it will be supported through the development of regional spatial and economic strategies by each of the three regional assemblies and through metropolitan area transport strategies for the cities.

Investment plans under Project Ireland 2040 will be guided by these transport strategies including the Limerick-Shannon metropolitan area transport strategy. They will also be guided by wider Government policies to promote balanced regional development and social inclusion objectives. The Limerick-Shannon transport strategy will consider all transport modes and will consider what investment in infrastructure and services is required over the short, medium and long term to promote and encourage sustainable transport use. It will be aligned with existing investment plans under Project Ireland 2040 which already contains funding for projects in Limerick over the period to 2027.

Project Ireland 2040 commits to improving public transport across the country. In line with this commitment, the Limerick-Shannon metropolitan area transport strategy will evaluate the potential for a BusConnects-type investment programme for Limerick. Limerick will also benefit from other investments such as traffic management, bus priority and other smarter travel projects which will complement improved bus services as they are rolled out.

Project Ireland 2040 recognises that development of a strategic cycling network in Limerick is a key growth enabler for the city and the increasing levels of funding now available will support improved active travel infrastructure in the city. This investment will complement and support infrastructure developments already delivered in Limerick over the years 2012 to 2016 through the smarter travel areas programme.

The interurban rail network plays an important role in enhancing regional connectivity between our cities. Increased funding has already been secured for the heavy rail network over the period 2019 to 2023 which will see just over €1 billion invested in the maintenance and renewal of the network. That means we have reached the annual steady state level of funding which represents considerable progress on years gone by. This level of funding allows for expanded track relaying and ballast cleaning programmes which in turn lead to better journey times. Limerick will benefit from this investment. Next year we will also commence an evaluation of the economic benefits and value for money of high-speed rail on a number of interurban rail lines, including Dublin to Limerick Junction, against improvements to existing and planned line speeds along the line.

Turning back to the development of the strategy itself, I understand, as I believe the Senator does, that a public consultation will take place later this year and it is hoped that the strategy will be completed by the end of the year. As I have outlined, the strategy will form the strategic backdrop to future investment in Limerick’s transport over the next two decades and will be an important input into the mid-term review of the funding element of Project Ireland 2040. It is important to have that strategic backdrop as we consider future public investment. Infrastructure requires long-term planning and this is what the Limerick-Shannon metropolitan area transport strategy will seek to do. I look forward to its finalisation and adoption by the local authorities.

I thank the Minister. It is good news that this will happen before the end of the year. Many companies are considering investment or expansion in Limerick and the greater mid-west region. We need a proper transport system put in place as quickly as possible. I believe the Minister understands the importance of that, but it is also important to get it right. We need to be a counterbalance to Dublin, which is outgrowing its capacity. In view of expansion in the region, the Limerick-Shannon metropolitan link is most welcome. I would like the Minister to keep the pressure on to make it happen sooner rather than later. It needs to be announced as soon as possible and plans put in place to develop it in a proper manner that will benefit not only Limerick but the region.

I understand and sympathise with the Senator's obvious impatience, which is perfectly natural in this situation. We need to go through several processes.

I could give her an update on what is happening with active transport projects. I do not intend to read it all into the record. I have a list here which, with the permission of the Cathaoirleach, I will give to the Senator and she can use as she feels is useful. It covers things like: the Dublin Road bus corridor; Parnell Street-Davis Street phase 1, which is active travel obviously; the Catherine Street-Roches Street junction improvements; Parnell Street, Davis Street to Roches Street; the Grove Island roundabout improvement works; Raheen roundabout to Quinn's Cross and Fr. Russell Road; the O'Connell Street upgrade; and the Castletroy greenway.

We can also give her an update on the M20 from Cork to Limerick. I will hand this to the Senator because it would take too much time to read out all the detail. It might be of help to her.

I thank her for the contribution she has made to advancing these projects.

I thank the Minister.

Abortion Services Provision

Tá fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit, Deputy Finian McGrath.

I thank the Minister of State for coming here and I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting my Commencement matter.

In light of recent media reports concerning St. Luke's Hospital in Kilkenny, I raise the issue of access to the full range of termination of pregnancy services there and in the 19 maternity units in Ireland. The obstetricians in St. Luke's have argued that the hospital is not an appropriate location for medical or surgical abortion. I welcome the decision made by the Minister for Health to appoint an additional obstetrician to St. Luke's last week. However, hospital-based termination of pregnancy cannot be delivered by one staff member alone.

The issues in Kilkenny are symptomatic of wider access issues. Only ten of the 19 maternity services currently provide the full range of abortion services under the 2018 Act. In addition to situations of fatal foetal anomaly and serious risk to the woman's health or life, women may need access to hospital-based abortion care for many reasons, for example, individuals for whom medical abortion is contra-indicated, and women and girls, such as those living in homelessness or violent relationships, whose personal circumstances may not be amenable to home self-management of medical abortion.

The absence of an abortion service in nine maternity units also impacts on community provision. The ability of GPs to serve the needs of women requires a referral pathway for women to their nearest maternity unit in those situations, for example, where the pregnancy exceeds nine weeks or in the rare event of a failed medical abortion. As the Minister of State will know, women have a legal entitlement to the termination of pregnancy, and the HSE must organise services where this right is vindicated in practice through local accessible abortion services.

If St. Luke's has declined to participate on the basis of resources, has it also refused to provide care to women undergoing a miscarriage? If not, how can this discrimination against women who need abortions be justified? The recently circulated letter assures local GPs that women who are morbid or septic will be dealt with. What does this mean? Is the Minister for Health satisfied that the hospital's position is in compliance with the law? Would a woman presenting at St. Luke's whose life is at risk be referred to another hospital or be required to wait until her health has deteriorated to the point where the medical team is satisfied that a termination is justified? Under the legislation there is no right to conscientious objection in emergency circumstances where a woman's life is at imminent risk or her health is at risk of imminent serious harm. Is St. Luke's providing for those women and how?

Beyond St. Luke's, on what basis are other hospitals refusing to provide abortions? What referral pathways are in place and to where? Have women requiring abortions who presented at these hospitals been referred elsewhere or been required to travel? How many women are we speaking about? Does the Minister foresee any risk of legal action due to medical negligence, for example, if a number of hospitals decline to participate in the abortion service?

Will the Minister of State outline what actions have been taken to roll out services in the remaining nine units, including Kilkenny? Is there a national implementation plan by the HSE? Has the €12 million allocated for abortion services in the 2019 service plan been released in full? Will abortion care in early pregnancy be available in all 19 units by the end of 2019? Do smaller units have the facilities and expertise to provide abortion care in cases of fatal foetal anomaly and risk of serious harm to a woman's health? If not, how is a woman's care managed in those situations? Are there clear and robust referral pathways to larger hospitals?

Perhaps the main issue here is an issue of fear and fear of the unknown. Dr. Nóirín Russell, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Cork University Maternity Hospital, CUMH, has made the useful suggestion to partner the non-providing hospitals with a providing hospital to help.

Dr. Mike Thompson, a general practitioner and spokesperson for Start, the Southern Taskgroup on Abortion and Reproductive Topics, a group of doctors who support reproductive rights, expressed a worry that the attitude of the doctors in St. Luke's would "embolden other hospitals" to issue a similar diktat. He said that it was "effectively institutional obstruction", and that while they were trying to "conflate it with resources", St. Luke's was no less resourced than any other hospital.

Given that we gave a resounding vote for such law to be put in place, I would like the Minister of State to outline how he will ensure that every woman in Ireland has access to safe abortion care and what the position is in respect of those hospitals that are refusing care so that all 19 maternity units can offer all the care that they need to.

I welcome the opportunity to address this House on behalf of the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris. He sends his apologies and has asked me to take this debate on his behalf.

I thank the Senator for raising this important issue. Last year the people of Ireland voted to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution. They did so, I believe, out of compassion for the women of this country, and out of respect and recognition of the need for safe, dignified and accessible reproductive health care for all. As a result the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 was passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas on 13 December 2018 and signed into law by the President on 20 December 2018. In January of this year, we successfully introduced services for termination of pregnancy in our hospitals and community services, and this achievement is testament to the dedication of the clinicians and staff across the service who worked so hard to ensure that this service was available to women in Ireland as soon as possible following the enactment of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018. The Government allocated a total €12 million in the budget for the provision of termination of pregnancy services in 2019. Terminations up to 12 weeks of pregnancy are currently being provided in ten maternity hospital units. In addition, all hospitals are providing terminations in emergencies, where a woman’s life or health is at risk. Terminations in cases of fatal foetal abnormality are available, generally, in the larger tertiary hospitals, as in such cases, particular expertise only available in those hospitals may be required to perform the procedure.

Additionally, to date, 325 GPs nationally have signed up to provide the service in the community setting, where women can avail of terminations in cases of pregnancy up to nine weeks of pregnancy. The Minister’s policy is that all 19 maternity hospitals should be in a position to provide termination of pregnancy services under the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018. In that context I assure this House that there is regular and ongoing engagement between the Department of Health and the HSE on the operation of the service to resolve any issues that may arise.

Regarding maternity hospital units providing the termination services up to 12 weeks of pregnancy, which is the specific issue of concern, the HSE has advised that additional maternity units are expected to begin providing termination of pregnancy services up to 12 weeks in the coming months. The remaining units will then be considered for service expansion. Of course, the Senator raised a very important point on St. Luke's hospital, Kilkenny, the referrals, the legal aspect and the fear of the unknown. These are all important issues that I will raise as well with the Minister for Health However, the most important issue is that women accessing this service can do so with certainty of the quality and safety of the care they will receive. In that regard, my Department will continue to work with the HSE to ensure all women, regardless of location, can access this service quickly and easily, without bias or judgment, and that we fulfil our promise of a compassionate and dignified termination of pregnancy service.

I hope that the allocation of €12 million to the HSE has been, or will be, released in full. The Minister of State answered the question on access to abortions for women at risk of serious harm. How is refusal of care being managed to ensure those who do not wish to be involved in service delivery are not in a position to obstruct colleagues who are conscientiously committed to providing abortion care? What is the HSE doing to ensure hospital staff, including those not involved in abortion care, receive appropriate training with respect to values, professionalism and ethics? In his reply, the Minister of State said that all 19 units "should be in a position" but I want to know whether they will be in a position to do so.

Will the Minister of State give an assurance that will be the case? It is really important that this is in place by the end of this year at the very latest.

The implementation of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018 is a priority for the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, for myself, and for the rest of us. A woman should be able to access these services in a local maternity hospital. It is expected that, by introducing such services across the country, women will be spared the need to travel lengthy distances to access a termination. At present, ten out of 19 hospital maternity units are providing the full service. The HSE has advised that additional units are expected to begin providing termination of pregnancy services in the coming months with the remaining hospital units being considered for service provision. It should be noted that terminations up to nine weeks of pregnancy are also provided by general practitioners and that 325 GPs nationally have signed up to provide this service in the community setting. The HSE has advised that feedback from a wide variety of stakeholders, including doctors from the START group and the Irish College of General Practitioners, suggests that the service is bedding down well.

The HSE My Options telephone helpline became operational on 1 January 2019. This is a freefone line for persons to call if they experience a crisis pregnancy. The information and counselling service is available from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. from Monday to Friday, as well as from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. It is staffed by trained counsellors. The telephone nurses service is available on a 24-hour basis and is staffed by nurses and midwives. My Options can provide an interpreter for 240 different languages and its information leaflet has been translated into six.

There is regular ongoing engagement between the Department of Health and the HSE to facilitate the efficient operation of the service and to resolve any issues that arise. As the Senator has rightly said, we have to ensure the €12 million is spent and that it is spent effectively and properly. Any suggestion of obstruction or refusal of care must be dealt with under the Act. I will bring these concerns back to the Minister, Deputy Harris, for a more detailed answer.

Schools Building Projects

I will try to be as swift as possible. The issue I am raising today goes back to a meeting in 2009, shortly after I had been elected to the council for the first time, in what was then the Bewley's Hotel in Leopardstown. A commitment was made to bring an Educate Together school to the Ballinteer-Stepaside area. Exactly ten years later, we now have two national schools and a secondary school, only one of which is in a full-time permanent building. I am delighted that a site has been secured for Stepaside Educate Together secondary school but the big news of the last few weeks has been An Bord Pleanála's decision to grant permission for a permanent home for Ballinteer Educate Together national school. The Minister of State is the fifth Minister with whom I have brought this up over the past three and a half years in the Seanad. The fact that the project has moved on from the planning stage is a huge push forward but, needless to say, the entire school community including the parents, the pupils, the teachers, and everyone else connected to it have quite a simple question: what comes next and when? What actions are being taken by the Department to jump on the opportunity presented by this positive planning decision, to get tender documents together and to roll out a timeline? This is progressing in conjunction with the provision of a new physical education hall for St. Tiernan's community school, which will be adjacent to the site. The real question is quite simple. When can the pupils, teachers, and parents of Ballinteer Educate Together national school expect children and teachers to go into their new permanent home?

I thank Senator Richmond for raising this very important issue as it allows me the opportunity to provide an update to the House on the current position with regard to the provision of a permanent school building for Ballinteer Educate Together national school. This school is a co-educational school under the patronage of Educate Together. The brief for the permanent project is to provide a new, 16-classroom school in addition to a two-classroom special educational needs unit together with all ancillary accommodation on the St. Tiernan’s community school site located at Parkvale, Balally, Dublin 16. This project was assigned to the Department's design and build delivery programme in March 2018. This delivery programme uses a professional external project manager to progress the project through the relevant stages of architectural planning and construction.

Architectural planning commenced immediately and an application for planning permission was lodged with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council in September 2018 following pre-planning meetings with the council. A notification of the decision to refuse permission was received on 2 November 2018. The Department appealed this decision to An Bord Pleanála on 27 November 2018. On 7 June 2019, An Bord Pleanála granted permission for the development subject to a number of conditions. Officials from the Department are reviewing these conditions and consulting their advisers and their technical team to comply fully with the planning permission. The next step in the progression of this school building project is to proceed to the tender and construction stages.

I appreciate the Minister of State's response. I have a specific question. What is the timeline for the tender and construction stages? If the Minister of State is unable to go into the specifics of this school's application, he might be able to give a general overview of what parents and teachers can expect and what the rough timeline will be. As I have said, this project has been going on for ten years. It got caught up in the planning process. This was beyond the control of the Department of Education and Skills. Now that we have broken free from that process, there is an absolute need to push ahead with the project as quickly as possible so that the needs of this ever-growing community can be met.

I understand the Senator's total frustration, given that he has been talking about this project for ten years. That is the bad news. The good news is that the project has overcome its most recent hurdle. We are now at the tender and construction stages. I will come back to the Senator with a more detailed response from the Minister, Deputy McHugh, on behalf of whom I am taking this debate. I sympathise with the Senator's point because of my experience with the cystic fibrosis unit at Beaumont Hospital. I thought it was bad when it took three years to get through the different processes in that case. I am taken aback to hear today about a ten-year wait. I believe there have been major planning problems in the case the Senator is raising. I know from my own experience that after a project proceeds to the tender and construction stages, it generally takes six months to a year. That is what I would think. I would prefer to come back to the Senator with a proper detailed answer from the Minister, Deputy McHugh.

Local Authority Housing

I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy English.

I thank the Minister of State, Deputy English, for coming to the House to deal with the issue of voids. As I am conscious that he is very much on top of this whole area, I will not go into great detail. The task under the Rebuilding Ireland policy is to deliver on the social housing targets that have been set down by the Department, in agreement with all 31 local authorities, to address a number of issues with housing delivery and supply.

The Minister of State has said this before, he will say it again and I would agree with him on the point that there is no single quick fix to our housing problems. There are horses for courses, there are different parts of the country and there are different sets of circumstances to be taken into account. Many interventions and many opportunities have to be looked at and seized.

I am a member of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government and through Rebuilding Ireland we identified, along with the Government, that there are a number of ways we will address the delivery of housing, namely, through new builds, addressing voids, acquisition, leasing, the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, the housing assistance payment, HAP, and a number of other interventions. I am particularly focusing on voids today because I am not convinced that certain targets have been delivered in addressing voids and the Minister of State will know that is the case. The issue of voids is a bit complex and it addresses issues with the ongoing inspections of social housing stock, which is an important asset for any local authority and an important State asset. We have learned a lot of lessons from how we have managed our housing stock in the past.

I am asking the Minister of State to address the issue of the 31 local authorities and the inclusion in the programme for 2019. What are the allocations from the Department in 2019 to address the voids?

I thank the Senator for raising this issue and the issue of housing in general and for keeping the focus on Rebuilding Ireland and the targets set therein. He is right to say that no single scheme will solve this issue. It will be a number of schemes and we have to keep pushing them and adding to them. We must look at the different opportunities presented in different local authorities in different ways.

When it comes to tackling vacancies, we need to do more. From a social housing point of view, I am happy that we are making great improvements with local authority housing vacancies. However, there are still many private dwellings being left vacant. The local authorities need to take the lead on this to bring them back into use, using all the different schemes such as the repair and leasing scheme and the buy and renew scheme. They can also use a combination of schemes to address voids and they can use funding from Project Ireland 2040 to so do. Local authorities have to lead and drive this effort but I ask Senators, local authority members and everybody else to support that work, to drive it on and to communicate to the people who own these empty buildings that there are a number of schemes funded by the taxpayer that provide solutions to people who own private homes. There is a fear factor that it could be complicated or there could be red tape but there is not. We are trying to reduce all that as well, so there is an opportunity for people who own private properties to bring them back into use. That might also be flagged out of today's conversation.

On the social housing voids programme, which is the local authority housing we own, my Department provides Exchequer funding to support local authorities in the refurbishment of social housing homes that, for a range of reasons, require a significant level of investment before they can be re-let. Ordinarily, responsibility for the management and maintenance of local authority housing stock lies with local authorities themselves, in line with the Housing Acts.

We know that vacancies arise on a daily basis in the approximately 130,000 social homes owned by the local authorities. It is critical to the Government and to Members of this House that such homes are quickly refurbished and re-let to a family or individual on the waiting list. Properties that require little or no cost to re-let need to be returned to use immediately and that is what local authorities are doing on a daily basis. Many of them do that and carry out a quick turnaround. Some are slower and I encourage all local authorities to immediately re-let a property if it is possible to do so and not to let it sit idle for a number of months. Properties that require greater funding should also be attended to swiftly, even if there are a greater level of works, which take longer to complete, with higher costs involved.

This is where the voids programme assists and in addition to the supporting the upgrade costs, the programme also covers costs relating to the insulation and retrofitting of the property. Not only do social homes get remediated through this programme and made available to new tenants in very good condition, the energy efficiency of the homes is upgraded and, consequently, the new tenants will face lower fuel bills. During 2018, Department funding of €26.2 million was provided to bring 1,765 homes back to productive use. In fact, it was far more than we had targeted that year. A total of 1,765 homes were brought back into use and as our Rebuilding Ireland target was about 560, we went far beyond that target, and rightly so, because all of these homes should be back in use. I am on record, as is the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, as saying we want all of the void houses back in use with none left idle, because they have been left idle for too long.

Looking back over the years 2014 to 2018, which were mainly under the scope of Rebuilding Ireland but also stretching back before it, more than €145 million has been provided to support the refurbishment and return to use of almost 11,000 homes, which had been lying vacant for many years.

That probably does not include last year's money.

Earlier this year, local authorities submitted details of their 2019 funding requests for voids to my Department and, as in previous years, work to return these properties is continuing. Under the insulation retrofitting part of the voids work, we claim back 50% EU co-funding, and an important part of this process involves the provision of building energy rating, BER, certificates showing the pre-works rating for each property. To finalise the distribution of the funding for this year across the 31 local authorities, my Department is awaiting the BER certificates for several of the properties, approximately 40%. I can indicate, however, that the funding provision for 2019 will be around the same level as the €26 million provided for 2018. We have asked local authorities to move that work on, and some are carrying it on and will submit the claims afterwards.

It is critical that we incentivise the local authorities to carry out the proper BER assessments to allow the Exchequer obtain the 50% EU co-funding. I ask my colleagues in this House to raise with the councillors in their areas the need for the councils themselves to provide a strong level of local funding for housing maintenance from the significant rental income that each receives. Councils need to support work on repairing their own housing stock, alongside the Exchequer funding that is being provided through my Department. It has been disappointing in a couple of cases to hear of councils actually reducing the allocations they make to maintain their housing stock. We have always said the voids programme will not be there forever. It was intended to tackle a backlog of more than 11,000 properties that needed a great deal of work. We have caught up on a lot of that and I stress to local authorities that, as time moves on, maintenance works have to be done regularly out of the rent they receive, if at all possible. Naturally the State will step in for deep retrofitting that needs to be done.

The voids programme has moved quite well. I am happy that most local authorities are doing a good job bringing them back into use. Some are lagging behind but the message is clear that we do not want long-term voids. Every local authority will be written to next October and told to bring forward extra voids if they have them and bolster their allocation for last year. No doubt the same will happen this year because a void is the quickest way to solve a housing problem for somebody.

I thank the Minister for that very comprehensive response. He is obviously on top of his brief. However, this is July 2019. Several local authorities are saying they are waiting to hear their allocations for this year. Will it be a matter of weeks? I presume so. We are coming into the summer holiday period and a slowdown in the construction sector, and some local authorities are saying they may not be able to get people to do work this side of September. This is all in 2019 but the allocation is intended for 2019 and these works need to start.

The Minister of State makes a very valid point about the proactive councillors in local authorities who help to push the thing along. I would like the Department's oversight of local authorities to continue because the Minister of State has said it is disappointing that some local authorities are now budgeting to spend less on their maintenance. There is the ongoing problem that some social houses are never inspected. I spoke to a woman who has been living in a local authority house for 20 years and it has never once been inspected, but that is an issue for another day.

Will the Minister of State indicate an approximate timeline for when councils can expect some notification? If some are falling behind on BER certificates, he should leave them behind. Let us move on with the ones that are organised and reward and incentivise them, to use the Minister of State's words. Let us incentivise the councils that are on top of their game, keen to get on with this work, that have provided the necessary information and BER certificates, and have met the criteria required by the scheme, and let them go ahead. Do not let the bad ones hold back the good ones.

It is practically ready to go and we have communicated with local authorities over the year. They have their targets and know approximately what they will get and it is important that they plan for that. Some have made their plans and are implementing them, so there is no issue there. It is an issue for us. We need the BER certificates to be sure we are getting the value for taxpayers' money and to be able to recoup money from the EU. We hope they will come in quite soon. We are chasing them. The money will be spent on the voids and they will be brought back into use because we want them to do it that way. Local authorities will be asked to go beyond the targets.

The Senator mentioned that under Rebuilding Ireland every local authority has been given its targets for all the schemes. I stress they are minimum targets. Every local authority has been encouraged by me, the Minister and the officials at various meetings to go beyond those targets. The majority of councils went beyond their targets last year, and the Senator can see that in the tables. That is what we are trying to encourage. Some went 150% beyond and some 110% beyond.

We met individually the local authorities that were below target to try to help them to come up to it because we want to reach it. Rebuilding Ireland involves a massive spend of almost €2.5 billion of taxpayers' money. It is important that we drive results through it, as I believe we are. This year we are on track to deliver more than 10,000 extra social housing homes. As that figure does not include all voids, there will be even more available. The number of new homes in the system will be 10,000 and it is important that we meet that milestone. All of the groups with which we have engaged in the past three or four years have asked us to get to the stage where, as a state, we deliver 10,000 homes a year. We are at that target this year and next year the number will be even higher. Under the ten-year capital plan under Project Ireland 2040, we have set aside money to provide 12,000 houses a year. That is far beyond for what anybody has asked, but that is where we should be and should stay in the coming years. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and I are committed to doing so, with the Department and my party. I ask others to readjust their plans for any future Government to the same level because we have to continue to deliver social housing every year and must not have a repeat of what happened under previous Governments when we stopped building social houses.

Sitting suspended at 3.15 p.m. and resumed at 3.30 p.m.