Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters

National Asset Management Agency

I thank the Cathaoirleach for selecting this Commencement matter and I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Fleming, for coming to the House from the Department of Finance to discuss what I think is a really important issue. I refer to the need for the Minister to make a statement on NAMA-controlled lands estimated at 426 ha with planning permission for housing and zoned residential use sufficient to build at least 20,000 new homes. I wish to put on the record of the House that these figures were provided by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, in response to a parliamentary question tabled by Deputy Ó Broin in the Dáil. The response indicates that some 63 acres of land under NAMA control with the potential for 2,745 housing units have planning permission. That is a significant figure, and it is alarming to some extent, given that we have a housing crisis, but also given the role of NAMA and its connection with the State. The reply suggests that South Dublin County Council has the largest parcel of land, comprising 15 ha, enough to accommodate 817 housing units. I wish to acknowledge Deputy Ó Broin for raising this issue. He is on the housing committee with me.

NAMA controls all of this land for approximately 20,000 houses. That is really significant at a time when we have a housing crisis. However, when one drills down into the figures relating to this landbank and its potential for housing development, one sees the majority of it is located in the areas of the four Dublin councils, namely, Dublin City Council, Fingal County Council, South Dublin County Council and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. On top of that, there is Kildare County Council and Meath County Council. It is significant. To provide some figures in this regard: Dublin City Council has 94 ha with the potential for 7,400 housing units; Fingal County Council has 136 ha of land with the potential for 4,751 residential units; Kildare County Council has 370 ha with the potential for 1,340 housing units; Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, where I live, has 7 ha with the potential for 720 housing units; and Wexford County Council has 15 ha with the potential for 436 residential units. That is an exceptional amount of land. There are other areas too.

NAMA was created by the Government in 2009 to alleviate the pressures on Irish banks. It did this by taking €74 billion of risky property loans off the hands of the five banks, namely, AIB, Bank of Ireland, the Educational Building Society, the famous Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide. What a mess those banks left and what a legacy and difficulty the then Government had. It had no option. I am not suggesting NAMA did not do the right thing or was not the right move. It was the right move. In fairness to NAMA, it has managed its portfolio and assets on behalf of the State exceptionally well. There is sometimes a failure to acknowledge the significance of NAMA and the importance of its role. We should remember that the financial banking crisis resulted from excessive, and in many cases inappropriate, lending for the property sector. I refer to the history of the crisis within the banks.

There is also their connection to the property sector, greedy and excessive development and excessive borrowing for development to make vast profits. We should now look at the assets and resources in NAMA and use these assets to address what is a national housing crisis, particularly in the Dublin region and in Kildare and Meath where there seems to be a block of this land. I am very happy the Minister of State has come to the House. I hope he will shed light on this. It is an important issue on which we and the public need to know more about.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue. The issue of housing and NAMA is always a matter for discussion and should regularly be discussed in the Seanad and Dáil Éireann. As the Senator rightly said, the taxpayer heavily invested in bailing out the banks originally. As a preamble, the five banks the Senator mentioned that were bailed out and whose commercial loans were transferred to NAMA included Anglo Irish Bank and Irish Nationwide, which were subsequently liquidated by the State and the Houses of the Oireachtas some time ago.

I want to clarify that the majority of the remaining land secured to NAMA does not have planning permission for housing and much of it is not currently suitable for residential development. It is important that the commentary regarding the amount of residential units that NAMA can deliver is fully cognisant of the factual position regarding NAMA's remaining portfolio and the restrictions under which the agency operates.

I am advised that NAMA debtors and receivers own an estimated 489 ha of land that is potentially suitable for residential development in Ireland between now and 2035. There is quite a time period involved in which all this could take place. At present, 63 ha of this land is under construction or has funding approved for construction. Of the remaining land, 63 ha have planning permission and planning applications have been lodged in respect of 26 ha. The remaining 337 ha do not yet have planning permission.

NAMA is not hoarding land. Since inception, NAMA debtors and receivers have sold or refinanced approximately 5,500 ha of residential zoned land with potential for 86,000 residential units, representing 71% of NAMA's original secured land bank. However, the majority of this land did not have zoning or planning permission for housing. Furthermore, NAMA is progressing delivery of residential units on all sites where it can, and has already facilitated the delivery of 22,500 new homes. Many of the sites in NAMA's portfolio are simply not suitable for residential development at present owing to a lack of appropriate planning, zoning or essential infrastructure and services such as roads, water, sewerage and utilities. The new taxes being introduced in the Finance Bill, which we discussed yesterday, deal with sites that have planning permission and are serviced and are capable of being built on. A site with appropriate zoning may not have planning or services. There may be no water or sewerage services and Irish Water may not be in a position to provide them in the short term. Just because there is land in NAMA does not mean it is suitable for residential development in the short term. Some of it may never be suitable for residential development.

Of the approximately 22,000 units which NAMA has identified for residential delivery between now and 2035, there are 1,500 units under construction or with funding approved for construction and 1,200 units which have been granted planning permission for which NAMA funding is under consideration. A further 1,500 units have been granted planning permission and will be sold or refinanced by NAMA debtors. There are 3,900 units in the planning system, with planning either lodged or being prepared.

The remaining land, with long-term potential of delivering 11,700 units have infrastructural needs, such as roads, water and sewerage, which will need to be addressed by local authorities and Irish Water. Accordingly, much of the delivery potential of the remaining portfolio can only occur over the medium to long term. Recognising this, NAMA aims to advance sites through the planning system to maximise the number of sites that are ready for future development.

I thank the Minister of State for what was a comprehensive statement that has shone a light on many of the issues I have raised. I find it helpful. Clearly we have a housing crisis. Clearly we are not operating in a silo. We need to work together. There are challenges with land and for the 31 local authorities. There is potential for the Land Development Agency to look at some of this or to work and collaborate with people involved in this land. We must always remember what NAMA was set up for. I understand it is leveraging its assets versus available land. The Minister of State made a very valid point in summing up on Irish Water. We now see as a regular occurrence the frustration and difficulties people have in rolling out development land for housing because of Irish Water.

There are 31 local authorities. There is the Land Development Agency. There is NAMA and there is Irish Water. They are all in the mix. We should be banging their heads together and trying to realise the potential to deliver homes, be they social, affordable or shared equity. Whatever the model, we need homes for our people. I know the Minister of State is a champion of this. I thank him for his comprehensive response.

I thank the Senator for his remarks. It is also important to state that commercial viability is becoming more challenging for developers throughout the sector. Some sites that have planning permission in place are not viable to build on, and this is especially true for certain apartment blocks. Under NAMA's legislation, commercial viability is the most important and relevant factor for NAMA-funded residential development. This basically means that NAMA can only finance developments that are expected to yield a profit. It was given a commercial mandate by this House, this Parliament and the European Commission on the strict basis that it would be a time-limited project. This is why we were allowed to take the loans off the banks in the first place.

The Senator is aware that what are often referred to as "NAMA land" or "NAMA properties" are not owned by NAMA. NAMA owns only the loans. The Senator is fully aware of this and I do not need to point it out. Some people think NAMA owns the land and can do what it likes. It only has ownership of the loans on those sites. NAMA has been successful in achieving its mandate and ultimately it will have a commercial return of €4.2 billion for the taxpayer, together with the delivery of all of the houses. We would all love to see it done more quickly but there are physical problems with services, infrastructure and commercial viability, and NAMA is determined to do everything it can to complete its mandate by the end of 2025, which has been approved by the European Commission.

Agriculture Industry

Ar dtús, ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire go dtí an Teach agus gabhaim buíochas leis as a bheith anseo mar tá a fhios agam go bhfuil sé faoi bhrú mar go bhfuil a lán oibre le déanamh aige. The Minister is very welcome to the House this morning. The Minister knows, and he does not need me to tell him, that every farmer in the country is speaking about the price of fertiliser. It has gone through the roof. Recent figures I have seen show the price of urea has risen almost 80% in the past year. The average price of all fertilisers has risen by 72%. According to the World Bank, unfortunately, this is a trend that is set to continue. This is very bad and worrying news for the farming community. When coupled with a recent Teagasc report that predicts that farm incomes are set to decline by an average of 19% next year in all sectors, it is a worrying and troublesome time for the farming community. As we all know, what is bad news for the farmer is ultimately bad news for the consumer because the results of this will be higher food prices. This is something that affects us all.

We are told the reason for this is the increasing price of natural gas throughout Europe. Recently, I saw statistics that in the past year, the price of natural gas throughout Europe has risen by 441%. This is a crazy figure. This will be a serious problem for farmers. In the meantime, it will also be a serious problem for the importers and suppliers of fertiliser to the farmers. They will have difficulty in trying to source it. If they do source it, the cost they will incur by importing it will have serious implications for them holding this type of funding. A potential solution would have to involve the banks, as well as the farming community.

There is another solution that has been talked about, which is temporary. The EU could set aside the anti-dumping charge on fertilisers, which we import from Trinidad and Tobago, the US and Russia, and perhaps that would result in an easement as well. The Minister has been proactive in this case and he wrote to the EU some time ago looking to see what can be done. We need a short-term solution. Perhaps a more long-term solution could be found in a county such as the one in which I reside. As the Minister will be aware, County Monaghan has a strong tradition of food production the mushroom, poultry and pig sectors. The waste that those plants generate currently cost farmers between €15 and €16 per tonne to remove from their sites. Perhaps if that particular product was dried, turned into pellets and some value added then that could be the future of fertiliser not just for ourselves in this country but for export. One would imagine that option would be a much more environmentally friendly solution or substitute for fertiliser in the long run. We should explore that option and I am interested in the Minister's comments on how we can explore the possibility of using the waste while solving a problem for the farming community.

I thank the Senator for raising this issue. He has his finger on the pulse regarding the importance of this issue for farmers and the fact that it will be a significant issue in the year ahead. We have found that to be the case during the autumn. There is no doubt that the situation has become more acute in terms of the inflation we are seeing and, indeed, it is going to be a significant factor for 2022.

Ireland, as a member of the EU, supports an open, rules-based trading environment. However, we recognise the need to ensure that agreed trade rules are applied uniformly with full transparency to ensure that wider commercial interests are maintained, and that EU industry is not unfairly disadvantaged as a result of third-country trade practices that might distort EU internal market dynamics, particularly referring to the issue of fertiliser, fertiliser tariffs, and anti-dumping tariffs and their role in pricing. It is for that reason that the European Commission operates a comprehensive trade defence system that seeks to strike an appropriate balance between user and producer interests when there is clear evidence that trading practices in foreign jurisdictions are having a distorting effect within the Single Market.

These trade defence instruments can include the application of duties on goods. This is the case in a number of fertiliser products, specifically urea and ammonium nitrate, UAN, and ammonium nitrate, being imported into the EU from a number of third countries. Anti-dumping fixed rate duties range from €22.24 per tonne to €42.47 per tonne. These duties are imposed on UAN that originates from Russia, Trinidad and Tobago and the US. As the latest measures were imposed in 2019, no full review of these measures is expected until 2024.

Ammonium nitrate, which is a key ingredient in calcium ammonium nitrate, CAN, is one of the main types of fertiliser that are used by many Irish farmers. Anti-dumping fixed rate duties range from €28.78 per tonne to €32.71 per tonne and are imposed on products that originate from Russia. As the latest measures were imposed in 2020, no review of these measures is expected until 2025. However, as provided for in EU regulations, an interim review can be initiated once the current measures have been in place for one year.

As has been discussed in this House in the past month, it is quite clear that there has been a sharp increase in fertiliser prices over the past year, particularly in recent months as pointed out by the Senator. I am very conscious of the impact that these price increases have had at farm level. The fertiliser market is driven by global supply and demand with several factors that influence the price of fertilisers. The major driving factors for the increase in prices over the recent period has been the increase in the price of raw material and the cost of energy production. There is also protectionism by global players and issues with the supply of certain fertiliser products.

The imposition of the anti-dumping tariffs from certain third countries is an additional, albeit secondary, factor when imported into the EU from these producing countries. At the November meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council, I raised the increasing challenge faced by farmers around fertiliser prices. I called on the EU Commission to consider all options to ease the pressure on farmers at this time, including the question of whether the imposition of anti-dumping duties on fertiliser imports continues to be appropriate. Indeed, I called for this matter to be examined as a priority. Last week, I wrote to the EU Commissioner for Agriculture, Mr. Janusz Wojciechowski, asking him to finalise the Commission's examination of the tariffs.

With fertiliser prices constituting such a high portion of farmers' expenditure, I am aware that the impact of rising fertiliser prices will very much have a negative effect on farmers' incomes. Ireland will remain a fertiliser price-taker in this regard as no fertilisers are manufactured in Ireland, rather fertiliser companies blend a number of imported fertiliser products into different compositions that are suitable for agricultural use in Ireland.

In line with the farm to fork strategy at European level, the climate action plan commits to a more targeted and reduced use of chemical nitrogen fertiliser over the time ahead, while maintaining the same level of grass produced through more use of multi-species sward and clover swards, for example. I engage regularly with the farming organisations and have introduced a number of initiatives to support farmers to reduce their dependence on chemical fertiliser such as the planting of multi-species sward and introduced a support for that. Recently, I also introduced a pilot soil sampling programme. Additionally, I have asked Teagasc to develop a roadmap for farmers to reduce the use of chemical fertilisers on farms. I expect to be able to publish this report before the end of next year.

Finally, the Senator made a specific suggestion for the constituency of Cavan-Monaghan, which I will deal with in my further response.

I thank the Minister for his comprehensive response. He has been on the ball on this matter, which he demonstrated when he outlined his contacts with the EU. I am sure that he understands and accepts that this is a serious matter. This is a particularly worrying time for the farming community as the price of fertiliser is rocketing. Ultimately, what is bad news for the farmer will end up being bad news for us all. The long-term strategy is to reduce the use of fertiliser and nitrates, which is important and I understand that Teagasc is working on a long-term plan. However, the most immediate problem needs an urgent response. I have every confidence in the Minister that something positive will come from his negotiations with the EU.

In conclusion, I look forward to his response to my suggestion concerning the waste generated by food production plants in County Monaghan.

The anti-dumping tariff ranges from €28 per tonne to €32 per tonne for CAN, which is now a smaller portion of the overall cost because fertiliser prices have rocketed. At the start of this year the tariff was 10% of the price but because prices have rocketed the tariff is now a smaller portion. Nonetheless, it is another cost for farmers and I am determined to address this issue at European level. At national level, we have a lot of latent capacity in how efficiently we use organic fertiliser. There is a particular supply in Cavan-Monaghan as it is a region that is at the beating heart of the poultry sector at a national level. The constituency has significant pig, dairy and other sectors. How we use that efficiently and ensure farmers seek to replace chemical fertilisers with a better use of organic fertilisers will be important and I have given the task to Teagasc. Professor Frank O'Mara and his team are doing a lot work on how we can advise farmers to best use organic fertilisers in the time ahead, and how we can ensure that there is more collaboration between farm types so that the poultry sector, for example, can work with the livestock or tillage sectors to make the most use of such fertilisers.

The Senator used a word that is often used when talking about organic fertiliser, which is "waste". That is used in respect of the poultry sector. That has been the terminology used over the years and we must change that around so people view waste as a valuable resource. We must ensure that such waste is sought after and demanded by farmers because it is a powerful organic fertiliser, which we very much value. I want lots of progress in this area over the course of this year and next. That is a key way in which we can, hopefully, try to mitigate the very real pressure generated by chemical fertiliser prices.

Finally, I again thank the Senator for raising this matter.

United Nations

Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. The context of the matter I raise today is that Ireland pays more than €300 million per annum towards the cost of running the United Nations. Within that framework of the United Nations, special rapporteurs are regularly appointed and given a remit to examine and report on a specific human rights matter of broad concern worldwide or a matter specific to a particular country. Examples might include child poverty internationally or specific human rights abuses in a particular country or region. These rapporteurs are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council and they are usually lawyers considered to be independent human rights experts.

According to the UN Human Rights Council, these rapporteurs undertake country visits, act on individual cases of reported violations by sending communications to states, seek information, contribute to the development of international human rights standards, engage in advocacy and so on. These positions are unpaid and there are three-year mandates that can be renewed for a further three years. As of last October, there were 58 such mandates. Given the nature of this role, it is vital these rapporteurs carry out these tasks without fear or favour and are beholden to no master. That is why the positions are unpaid and there is a code of conduct that applies to special rapporteurs binding them to "objectivity and non-selectivity in the consideration of human rights issues, and the elimination of double standards and politicisation".

The reason this objectivity is demanded is very clear and obvious. The conclusions these rapporteurs come to can have significant impacts on the position of the United Nations and the UN Human Rights Council on many controversial matters. It can have a positive and negative impact on the reputations of individual member states and their governments. There should not be any conflicts of interest, and this brings me to the matter I raise today.

Earlier this year, the European Centre for Law and Justice, ECLJ, a well-known and respected non-governmental organisation, NGO, based in Strasbourg, published a report indicating some shocking practices relating to these special rapporteurs. Much of this information was in the public domain but it was gathered by the ECLJ as part of an exhaustive research process it conducted. It found various private foundations, NGOs, state governments and private corporations are spending huge amounts to influence these special rapporteurs and, in some cases, to recruit them in the first place. There were 121 special rapporteurs appointed between 2015 and 2019 and 37 of those received payments totalling $11 million outside any UN control from private foundations and NGOs, including the Ford Foundation, the Open Society Foundation of George Soros and other anonymous donors.

It is a matter of public record that the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty, Mr. Philip Alston, was paid $600,000 by the Open Society Foundation in 2018 and 2019 alone through various grants and yet only declared $5,000 to the United Nations. An Irish lawyer, Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, has held special rapporteur positions while concurrently being the chairperson of an Open Society Foundation project. There are myriad other examples in the report of the European Centre for Law and Justice, which is available on its website.

It seems there has been widespread knowledge of these practices for many years but a culture of omerta seems to have grown, so the publication of the report has caused some stir. The problem is this: the Open Society Foundations, the Ford Foundation and other such groups are not independent and disinterested actors when it comes to certain human rights issues. They often have very particular positions on controversial matters such as marriage rights, the right to life, assisted suicide, religious freedom, religious ethos in education, transgender rights and so on. They spend vast amounts in financing campaigns advancing those views.

Is the Government aware of the ECLJ report to which I have referred? Is it aware of the allegations made about financial influence being exerted over the holders of such positions? Has this Government made any representations in this regard? Is the Irish Government ever consulted when it is proposed to appoint an Irish citizen as a special rapporteur? What monitoring takes place within the Minister of State's Department on the operation of the United Nations Human Rights Council? The Minister of State would surely agree we should insist on proper ethical standards, given Ireland pays more than €300 million per annum towards the cost of running the UN.

Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir as ucht an t-ábhar seo a ardú inniu. We believe the offices of the UN special rapporteurs receive adequate funding to allow them to implement their important mandates fully and in an independent manner.

As the Senator will be well aware, respect for human rights and the promotion of human rights is, and will continue to be, a cornerstone of our foreign policy. Ireland plays an active role in promoting and protecting human rights at the United Nations, primarily through our consistent engagement in the Human Rights Council in Geneva and at the Third Committee of the General Assembly in New York but also through our membership this term of the UN Security Council.

The UN special procedures, including the special rapporteurs, independent experts and members of the working groups play a critical role in protecting and promoting human rights. They are independent human rights experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective. The system of special procedures is a central element of the United Nations human rights machinery and covers all human rights, including civil, cultural, economic, political, and social.

The independent status of the mandate holders is crucial for them to be able to fulfil their functions in an impartial manner as guided by the code of conduct adopted by the Human Rights Council. It is a testament to the strength of civil society in Ireland that of 45 thematic and 13 country mandates, five prominent Irish experts are currently serving as special rapporteurs or working group members. These are Ms Mary Lawlor, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Professor Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, as mentioned by the Senator, who is doing very good work as special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Ms Siobhán Mullally, special rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially in women and children; Mr. Gerard Quinn, special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; and Ms Anita Ramasastry, member of the working group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.

I am conscious that the international human rights system is facing a triple threat. First, across the world we see growing evidence of conflict and abuses and violations of human rights. In some countries we are seeing a pushback by states against the fundamental concept of universal human rights for all individuals. Second, the Covid-19 pandemic has created additional challenges and, in particular, has severely restricted the opportunities for special rapporteurs to undertake essential country visits. Third, the human rights system of the United Nations is severely underfunded, with the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights receiving only 3.7% of the budget we proportionately pay into that was mentioned by the Senator.

Against this background, Ireland remains committed to supporting the independent mandate of the special rapporteurs and to protecting that mandate in the face of growing pressure from those countries and organisations that would seek to reduce their influence.

I thank the Minister of State for his response and, of course, I agree with much of what he has said about the need for such special rapporteurs to receive adequate funding and the importance of their role. I question whether they can be as independent as he says when it is a matter of public record, for example, that the Open Society Foundation donated $137,000 to Amnesty International to fund a pro-abortion campaign. Should we not be concerned when organisations that campaign on such issues are making huge payments to supposedly independent special rapporteurs at the UN level.

The Minister of State agrees that if he left office or the Dáil in the morning, as a matter of law now there would need to be a decontamination period before he could take up advocacy in the private sector. In a very similar way we could argue that, as occurred in the case of Professor Ní Aoláin, there should be no question of a person being concurrently a chairperson and, I presume, in the pay of an Open Society Foundation project while also supposedly acting as an independent UN special rapporteur. There is an apparent conflict of interest and the Minister of State's response to me, with all due respect to the Government, does not address it.

I am interested in finding out whether the Government knows about the ECLJ report and if there is anything in the report that worries the Government. Does the Government propose to look at it now in light of what I have brought up? Is the Government consulted when it comes to the appointment of special rapporteurs from this country? In principle, we should be very proud of that. The question is, if there is an apparent conflict of interest, whether the Government will express a view.

The Senator was a special rapporteur at the Council of Europe.

I was a rapporteur for a report for a parliamentary assembly. It is a very different matter.

It is a different forum but it is a similar matter.

I do not have the same code of objectivity, independence, freedom etc. from all parties. I am a parliamentarian. It is a very different matter. We are political.

An independent special rapporteur cannot be political in that way.

The Minister of State has the floor.

The Senator's position of special rapporteur is similar, albeit in a different context.

I was not concurrently funded by any private body. My only salary was my parliamentarian's salary.

The Senator was in that position with his own views and those of the organisations of which he is a member.

We are all entitled to our views but we are not entitled to conflicts of interest.

I am not saying they are directly comparable and I am not accusing the Senator of conflicts of interest. To be honest, the Senator in this House has accused people of a conflict of interest and I am not clear exactly what the conflict of interest is.

I do not believe he has specified it. He has made allegations that people are in the pay of some organisations while also doing the work of the UN. He has not substantiated those allegations.

I have; there are several matters on the public record. I mentioned Mr. Philip Alston. It is a matter of public record-----

I heard the Senator mention the Soros foundation on a number of occasions.

He got $600,000 from Soros and declared only $5,000 of it to the UN. Does the Government know about that, and is it worried about it?

I am very pleased and happy-----

I ask both Members to respect the House. The Minister of State has the floor. Senator Mullen has had his opportunity.

The Minister of State is a distinguished former Member of this House-----

I reject any allegation that I have disrespected the House because I spoke only when it was my turn. I thank the Chair. I am in the hands of the Chair, of course, but I found the ruling difficult.

People like the staff I mentioned are doing incredible work. They are representing our country. The person the Senator mentioned is extremely highly qualified. NGOs and private foundations can make a contribution to human rights and the Human Rights Council, but there are a small number of countries, notably the Netherlands, Germany, the United States and Ireland, that proportionately make additional unearmarked voluntary contributions to allow the special rapporteurs maintain their independence. That is because we want them to be independent.

We are providing funding to make sure that is possible.

And not in the pay of private organisations.

I have not heard a specific allegation that somebody has had a conflict of interest. I have heard it stated but, as far as I can see, there has been nothing-----

I gave two examples: Mr. Philip Alston and Ms Fionnuala Ní Aoláin.

I am afraid the time is up. There are to be no more interruptions as we have a schedule to keep to.

This year we provided €1.965 million in unearmarked funding to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Achieving the sustainable development goals in respect of protecting human rights requires collective action. To this end, we are a strong supporter of multilateralism and core flexible funding to enable our multilateral partners to plan and manage resources effectively.

In February, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, joined an initiative led by the Netherlands calling on the UN Secretary General to ensure the UN human-rights-based approach is supported with increased financial resources. The Department of Foreign Affairs, from Dublin and through permanent missions in Geneva and New York, will continue to advocate for adequate financing and will support the independence of the special procedures system.

Disability Services

I thank the Minister of State for attending. I appreciate his time. I have submitted a Commencement matter to call for the publication of the Indecon report on disabilities. The Minister of State will be aware that I was the Minister in 2018 when the Cabinet was good enough to give the money to do the research. As with most of us, I can see daily that the social welfare supports on offer from the Department of Social Protection and various other Departments do not really cut the mustard when it comes to recognising the extra costs incurred by people with disabilities. I am pleased, therefore, that we are welcoming this morning the publication of the report late last night and the statement from the Department of Social Protection.

The aim of the report and research was to gain a better understanding of the costs faced by people with disabilities daily. It is not just a question of money, although money is incredibly important and although we need to, and be seen to, put our money where our mouth is. The additional costs are unaffordable to those with disabilities, as borne out by the research. The research shows the genuine challenges associated with independent living and the risk of high poverty and social exclusion among people with a disability who are lucky enough to be able to live independently. It shows that the increased payments, access to services and the provision of targeted grants programmes actually work, and it highlights the fact that the approach needs to be more targeted and effective. It shows the difficulties faced by people with a disability in accessing employment and the significant challenge faced by employers who are willing to take on people with a disability in ensuring the process is smooth. It also shows that additional supports are needed for those most in need. Those who have a disability face the most deprivation. We need to challenge and change our payments system and allowances to recognise that people have different kinds of disabilities and, therefore, different costs associated with living their normal lives.

We need to recognise the loss of earnings and sacrifices of families who are offering care and support. In many cases where a child is disabled, the parents have to stay at home. In a significant number of families, parents, including elderly parents, care for an adult with a disability in the home. The most important aspect of the report to me is its highlighting of the mistakes of the past in not making every scheme, support or service the State offers central to the individuals we are here to recognise and support.

I welcome the publication of the report. I was the person who had the privilege of ensuring it would feed into the practical changes in policy associated with the commitment in the programme for Government. Therefore, I am genuinely dismayed that the report will be sent to a steering group, the national disability inclusion strategy steering group. I mean no disrespect to the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Rabbitte, who has been doing incredible and mighty work in this area for the past 18 months. The Taoiseach's office absolutely needs to take the lead and co-ordinate a coherent response across all Departments. The Taoiseach is the only person who has the power and might to make sure every single Secretary General of a Department responsible for providing disability services and every single Minister will come together under a special Cabinet sub-committee to ensure there are quarterly reports related to the recommendations in the report and that everybody will be held to account. This is not just about the Department of Social Protection although we absolutely need to see an increase in the budget next year for people with disabilities; it is also about a coherent Government response and living up to the commitment we made in the programme for Government.

I thank Senator Doherty for raising this issue and for all her work on it in her previous role. The cost of disability is the extra cost faced by people with a disability in their day-to-day lives that others in society do not face. This extra cost is a direct result of the person's disability and would not arise otherwise.

Research conducted in Ireland and internationally over many years has shown that there can be significant costs associated with disability. As the Senator is aware, to gain a better understanding of these costs the Department of Social Protection commissioned Indecon to conduct an independent cost-of-disability study. The report was presented to the Cabinet and published yesterday, as the Senator has noted.

The programme for Government commits the entire Government to use the research into the cost of disability to individuals and families to properly inform the direction of future policy. The Senator mentioned the Minister of State responsible for disabilities, Deputy Rabbitte. This matter of costs and disability allowances falls under the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, at this juncture, but it is obviously a whole-of-government consideration. The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, apologises for not being able to be here.

This report confirms earlier studies that show that people with disabilities face significant additional living costs by comparison with people without disabilities. While some of the costs are met by the State, further improvements cannot be delivered through income supports alone and require the broader perspective the Senator spoke about. The research finds that costs vary across several dimensions, including age, the severity and nature of the disability, and household type. There is no one single or typical cost of disability but, rather, a range of costs. Indecon estimated this range, using both a costs-studies method and an equivalence approach. The cost-studies method is based on over 4,734 responses to a survey of people with disabilities. The equivalence approach applies econometric techniques to data from the annual survey of income and living conditions of the Central Statistics Office.

Indecon, using both a direct-costs approach and an income-equivalence approach, estimated that the overall average annual cost of disability in Ireland ranges from €9,482 per annum to €11,734 per annum. Additional costs of disability go across several areas of expenditure, including: housing; equipment, aids and appliances; mobility, transport and communications; medicines; care and assistance services; and additional living expenses.

The report recommends that additional costs of disability should be based on a multifaceted approach involving increased cash payments, enhanced access to service provision, and specific targeted grant programmes. The report also recommends that disability payment levels should reflect the very different costs that arise depending on the type and severity of disability. Furthermore, the concentration of any additional supports should be targeted at those most in need and who face the greatest additional costs. The report also highlights that increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities should be a priority.

This matter is significantly wider than the income-support system under the Minister for Social Protection, as implied by Senator Doherty, and it is clear that the solution will not be found in a specific income-support payment.

The findings contained in the report have implications for many areas of public policy, including delivery of care, health, housing, education, transport and income supports. That is why the whole-of-government perspective for which the Senator has advocated is being taken on this issue.

I welcome everything the Minister of State has said on behalf of the Minister. I know the memorandum to Cabinet yesterday only sought permission to publish the report. What we need to see now is action on the recommendations. I know from speaking to the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, that she will bring the report to the steering group next week. The Minister of State, Deputy Byrne, and I both know that the might of the Taoiseach's office is needed to direct and manage the recommendations on a quarterly basis. We are one third of the way through the term of this Government already. We have a real commitment in the programme for Government to make a tangible difference in the lives of people with disabilities.

As the Cathaoirleach knows, Senators speak week-in, week-out about the conscious and unconscious biases faced by people with disabilities. We have a real opportunity to address the financial burden people with disabilities live with weekly and to recognise the extra supports that are needed. I know this will cost hundreds of millions of euro, if not €1 billion, but it is time for the Government to show the true measure of the decisions that are made and the real positive impact we can make for the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people and families living with a person with a disability and for the State to support them as we truly wish it to do.

I thank the Senator for her comments. The Government is keen to address the concerns raised by the people who live the daily reality of disability and it will use the results of this research to inform measures to address the issue of cost. People with disabilities have widely differing needs and the extra costs of disability do not arise to the same extent in every case. Basic standard income support is unlikely to address properly the costs incurred by those most severely limited by disability. As we have said, measures should be based on a multifaceted approach. The approach taken will be the one most suitable to improving the economic and social position of people with disabilities. The Government has agreed that the national disability inclusion strategy steering group will consider it. The group is chaired by the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, who has responsibility for disability across Government. Actions taken across all Departments will be monitored bi-annually through the process. The next meeting will take place on 15 December and Indecon will present the report to stakeholders.

It is important to acknowledge that the Government is already taking or has committed to take many actions under the national disability inclusion strategy, Pathways to Work, the roadmap for social inclusion and Sláintecare that will improve living standards and outcomes for people with disabilities. As the Senator will probably agree, the Taoiseach has a track record of advocating for people with disabilities and getting involved in the minutiae of policy across a range of Departments, so I have no doubt he will be highly involved in this. Although the group will be chaired by the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, the Taoiseach takes a very keen interest in disability issues and is keen to get results from this and the Government in that regard. The Government will continue to take positive steps to ensure people with disabilities have the opportunity and the supports necessary to play a full part in society.

Sitting suspended at 11.23 a.m. and resumed at 11.30 a.m.