Leaders’ Questions.

The Government has always proclaimed itself a low-tax Government, but it has introduced a raft of stealth charges and new taxes in the past few years. Last week in the budget, the health levy was increased by 25%, there was an increase in the cost of private beds in public hospitals and the Government voted through a measure requiring 5% of the notional value of a person's home to be assessed for the purposes of a claim for subvention.

Yesterday, we saw the introduction of a new death tax on the elderly. It appears the Government intends to wash its hands entirely of the future care of the elderly, those who built up this country, worked in far more difficult times than now and paid their taxes and PRSI, but now find they will be subject to a death tax after they have gone, in some cases requiring the sale of the family home. The Government's proposal is built on three pillars, namely, an inspectorate regime for nursing homes, community services and this funding proposal. The Government seems completely unaware of what is happening in respect of the provision of community services. It is some years since those in psychiatric institutions were abandoned in communities with no facilities to support them, but I see something similar happening now.

Is the Taoiseach aware that, in respect of the provision of community services for elderly people, we do not have sufficient general practitioners, nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists or home helps? To expect those services to be in place by 1 January 2008 is complete and utter fantasy. If the Taoiseach has been unable to prevent the serious abuse of some elderly in some licensed nursing homes, where a monitoring regime is supposed to exist, how does he expect that a community service to look after those elderly who are semi-highly dependent can be put in place by that date? How can he justify that as one of the fundamental pillars of this new programme, which also includes a death tax which was introduced yesterday?

Providing safe and decent residential care for older people is one of our key long-term challenges. As people live longer, the number who will need residential care will increase. The Government's response is twofold. We want to provide home help and qualified assistance to allow as many as possible to live as independently as possible and for as long as possible in their own homes. An enormous range of measures has been put in place and funded in the recent past. An outline has also been given by the Health Service Executive and the Department of Health and Children of what they want to achieve in the short term.

Second, we want to ensure that those who must go into residential care have the assurance of a quality place in a nursing home, where there is now a new and fair deal on how everybody pays. Long-term issues facing us such as care for the elderly and pensions are very important. As Deputy Kenny knows, the system that has been in place for the past decade and a half for supporting nursing home residents is deeply unfair. People with the same means and care needs can face different costs in public and private homes. We have decided on a new and fair deal for older people, a scheme that must be——

The Government did not consult members of the public.

——in effect by 1 January 2008. In accordance with the agreement reached through the lengthy discussions on Towards 2016, the scheme will ensure the same level of support for public and private nursing home residents and involve co-payments between care recipients and the State. Unlike the current system, it will ensure that care is affordable for all and no one will be asked to sell or mortgage his or her home to pay for care.

One would wonder who has been in Government for the past ten years.

A major change is that in the future, a person will make his or her contribution and the State will meet the balance of the costs and take on the risk of price increases. The scheme will be transparent with the same standardised needs assessment for everyone.

There is no home care package.

Everyone knows that the cost of care of the elderly has increased dramatically and will continue to do so. However, the individual contribution will be based on income and assets. At the time of receiving care, the individual will be expected to contribute 80% of his or her disposable income. Contained in the documents provided yesterday were details of the calculations, how the figure is capped and the residential sector matters that have been addressed, legislation on which will be discussed here in the new year.

Saying one thing and doing another.

From the Taoiseach's reply, it seems that there is no more a foregone conclusion in respect of this matter than there is regarding a number of other policies referred to by the Taoiseach.

The persons who will need nursing home care in the next ten to 15 years are those who worked in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, built the Celtic tiger enjoyed by the Taoiseach and paid their taxes and PRSI. They find themselves in a situation whereby the State says that this proposal, which is supposedly revenue neutral, will leave a legacy of a new death tax of 15%. It will not be acceptable at a time of such economic strength when the Tánaiste says that the €2.4 billion received by the Government is not necessary.

The Taoiseach has not referred to the complete failure of community services to deal with this issue.

The Deputy's time has concluded.

What will happen in the case of a person who is unable to avail of home supports and is required to go to a nursing home, but is refused for not being high-dependency? Are these people being told to get lost and go back where they came from? If they are refused the option of nursing homes, where will they go? Many years ago, psychiatric patients released from mental institutions were abandoned in the community.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

The Government is proposing that by 1 January 2008, there will be community services to look after elderly people in their homes and communities. The service's current rate of provision makes a mockery of this issue. The Taoiseach is living in fantasy land if he believes the service will be provided. There are not enough general practitioners, nurses, occupational therapists or home helpers and the State cannot employ the physiotherapists it has trained. Where will the Government find the personnel to provide cover to people refused entry to nursing homes?

In a country of considerable wealth, why are we facing a situation——

I ask the Deputy to give way to the Taoiseach.

——in which the Exchequer will no longer contribute to care of the elderly and a 15% death tax will be imposed on those who have built up the country led by the Taoiseach?

Deputies

Hear, hear.

People will be afraid to die.

I do not know where Deputy Kenny has got the notion that the Exchequer is no longer funding care for the elderly.

The Taoiseach said it.

This year, the State's expenditure on long-term residential care is €648 million. There has been an additional——

The Government is freezing the contribution.

Deputy Kenny asked me a question. Deputies should stop interrupting.

The Taoiseach is not answering the question.

In addition, €117 million will be provided in 2007. Some €85 million of that amount will support improvements in subventions and the balance will be used for the provision of 1,250 beds, mostly public, during 2007 and 2008.

Mostly private.

The amount of €85 million was added in anticipation of the care support scheme. Residential care is only one part of long-term care that requires funding. Care in the community — while the Deputy has claimed it is not present, it is — also needs to be funded.

It is not there.

People cannot get home helpers.

It is rubbish.

There has been an increase of €400 million in services for older people in the past two years, all of which——

Does the Taoiseach believe that amount is sufficient?

——has been used in respect of staff to look after the elderly in the community. There is a whole range of new HSE facilities for the elderly across the country, which I am sure Deputy Kenny has seen in his travels.

The elderly cannot find them.

The facilities are staffed by nurses and others.

With all that money, why is the Government grave-robbing?

Home help services are operating——

They have been cut by 30%.

——and will continue to provide care to people at home.

One hour per day.

Two hours per week.

They will require additional funding over the years. Yesterday, the Minister made it clear that she envisages a further expansion in home-based care.

The Government is grave-robbing.

Government backbenchers will not be happy.

We have made provision for a large increase in the number of professionals in all of the related services so that we will have a greater cadre of people in terms of occupational therapy, physiotherapy and other health professions. Far from——

The State cannot employ physiotherapists.

It is a skeleton service.

One cannot get the services.

I can understand why the Opposition does not want to hear about the services or the figures.

The Taoiseach only——

We do not want to hear about grave-robbers.

Unlike the old system in which someone would need to sell his or her house, the current system set out for people is fairer and more certain.

Legislation was introduced last week——

(Interruptions).

The Taoiseach is misinforming the House.

I ask Deputy Stagg to desist from interrupting. If he does not desist, the Chair will deal with him.

The Minister of State introduced legislation one or two weeks ago.

The Taoiseach might be inadvertently misinforming the House.

The Taoiseach is entitled to the same courtesy Deputy Kenny was afforded.

We have a problem. Bertie and Harney are the new Burke and Hare.

Deputy Jim O'Keeffe should also desist.

Last week, the Minister of State, Deputy Seán Power, introduced legislation concerning the sale of one's house.

If the Deputy interrupts again, I will ask him to leave the House. We will have an orderly Leaders' Questions. The Taoiseach is entitled to the same courtesy as every Member of the House when he is called.

Hear, hear. It is only fair.

All of the resources I have mentioned — the €400 million in the past two years and the resources outlined in the budget — relate to staff working for the elderly and more home care packages. The organisations have acknowledged the considerable increases provided to home care and community care people.

They have not.

Given what has happened in other services, we must continue to try to provide a better service.

The Taoiseach's time has concluded.

It has often been pointed out that what has happened during the past 14 years has been unfair and unbalanced. The new system will be seen as being fair and far more compassionate.

The Government is legislating to rob the dead.

Where there are difficulties, they can be ironed out with legislative changes.

People will be turfed out of communities.

They will have no right of appeal.

People will not be able to afford their gravestones.

Unlike the off-the-top-of-the-head remarks made by Deputies who do not understand the system, the services were negotiated during the past year in the context of Towards 2016. We will see them implemented next year.

The Government is following people down the line.

This low tax Government will tax us from beyond the grave.

I want to raise the issue of an innocent young plumber's assistant who was murdered today in broad daylight. This case follows a situation when, four days ago, a post office worker was shot dead on the streets of Kilkenny during an armed robbery. Three weeks ago a young, separated mother was shot on her own doorstep. A few months ago Donna Cleary was shot at a party. This year there have been 23 gun murders — there were many other murders — the highest number in the history of the State. Fianna Fáil made such a row and many of us remember Deputy John O'Donoghue in 1998 when in the first year of the Government of the two parties opposite there were four gun murders. Since January 1998, there have been 120 gun murders, 30% of which saw proceedings commenced and 15.8% a conviction. That is the record.

I remind the House of the pledge made by the Taoiseach in 1997 when he said he would make the fight against crime his priority in the new Fianna Fáil Government. He put the Fianna Fáil message in five simple words to the drugs barons and criminal gangs: we will not accept this, he said, they would no longer be allowed hold sway over our communities. They would not live in luxury with impunity because Fianna Fáil had a plan for them: to arrest them, prosecute them and put them out of business.

Compare that with the reality now. We have a Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform who will advise on any aspect of human affairs at the drop of a hat but this is the reality in his portfolio. What was his reaction last Sunday? He blamed the judges. He said the Judiciary is to blame because it will not implement his mandatory sentencing. He blames whoever is near at the time.

Does the Taoiseach acknowledge that drugs are driving this crime wave? Does the Taoiseach acknowledge there is a crisis in policing and crime? If he does not accept that, how many more killings must there be for the Government to acknowledge there is a crisis and to put the relevant measures in place?

I utterly condemn the barbaric and senseless killings in Finglas today as well as the tragic slaying of Alan Cunniffe on Friday in Kilkenny. What else can I add to what I have said about some of the recent other murders? I said here two weeks ago when a mother was shot in Swords that there have been too many gun murders. This year there has been 23 to date, with 21 last year. Two years ago, there was a small figure, nine, although one is too many. There have been two bad years, I will not say anything else, with 44 murders. The figure has increased from nine to 23 this year.

What are we doing and what can we do? Deputies can be assured that a major Garda operation is underway to deal with the perpetrators of the Finglas murders. The Tánaiste has spoken to the Garda Commissioner and senior gardaí today. A senior, experienced garda has been put in charge of the investigation. I have seen some of the details but I am constrained from giving information. The Tánaiste, however, will give further details later.

I extend my sympathies to the families concerned. The fact that one of the victims was a young apprentice going about his work makes his murder doubly horrific, if that is possible. The Tánaiste and the gardaí have clearly stated that no stone will be left unturned in hunting down the killers in any of these murders. I assure the House there is no question of a lack of resources or laws. Deputy Rabbitte knows there is plenty of legislation on the Statute Book and there are sentencing procedures to deal with these issues. The issue is to apprehend those responsible.

Operation Anvil has been in place for the last year and a half to deal with this sort of drug-related crime, which most of these murders are, although some of them involve internal conflicts between gangs and individuals concerned. Operation Anvil has a large number of gardaí dedicated to dealing with this issue. In doing so, there have been 56 arrests for murder since the unit was established, with 800 arrests for robbery, 1,700 arrests for burglary and 800 for serious assaults. They have arrested almost 3,400 in that operation alone.

In recent months, Operation Oak, an intelligence operation, was undertaken by a large number of gardaí to target gangs and individuals. It may not be news to the House, but a large proportion of the resources of Operation Oak targeted the individual murdered today. Many detectives were involved in that operation because of the activities of that individual.

I regret that these things happen. They are drug-related and gang-related and the laws are there but the resources in place for both Operation Anvil and Operation Oak, which are focussed on the man murdered today, did not stop these murders from happening. That cannot deter the gardaí, however, who must continue their efforts to the best of their professional ability using the resources they have been given to deal with these gangs and individuals, particularly those who have been engaged in disputes for the last 18 months.

The Taoiseach may well say we have plenty of laws but the average, law abiding citizen is concerned that we have plenty of deaths as well, plenty of killings, a huge increase in the crime wave, falling detection rates and communities ravaged by drugs and drug pushers. That is the reality.

When we think about the cliché uttered by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when he came before the House two years ago to tell us that we had just experienced the last sting of the dying wasp, it was reported as a colourful remark from the boring Minister, but should someone with that sort of judgment be in charge of this portfolio, someone who told this House in all gravity that this was the last sting of the dying wasp?

There has been a swarm of wasps since and this Minister does not seem to have any grasp of the reality of life in communities afflicted by the drugs menace. He does not seem to understand that there is not a town or village that is not affected by the drugs menace. He does not seem to understand that most of this vicious crime is driven by drugs. A plumber's apprentice was shot down in broad daylight in his place of work. The Taoiseach made a remark but one can never know whether he meant it or it was a slip of the tongue. He said whatever about the other murders, these are terrible today. There is an attitude that while a gangland member is killing a gangland member, the rest of us will put up with it but the fear was expressed so frequently that one of these days, one of these gangland killings would involve an innocent citizen, which is exactly what happened earlier. A young apprentice was shot down in his place of work this morning, presumably casually, because he could have been a relevant witness to the crime.

It is not good enough for the Taoiseach to say he is turning over stones, we have plenty of laws and it is terrible this is happening. Somebody needs to get a grip on this situation.

The Deputy's time is concluded.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform wanders from one radio studio to another——

He should resign.

----advising on anything that happens to come up and not attending to his primary duty to protect the safety of citizens in their places of work and homes.

Deputies

Hear, hear.

Shame on the Government.

The Minister should resign.

He is a failure in every way, including on stamp duty.

Lest I am in any way misinterpreted, I condemn all murders and I am dealing with those that happened last Friday and earlier today. All murders, regardless of who is involved and the circumstances, are barbaric and senseless killings. While I have not received a final Garda statement on the earlier murders because I do not usually get them for a few days, it seems the apprentice was a totally innocent individual going about his day's work.

I will not get into a debate about what is happening in the drugs area, the successes in communities or other statistics. I have any amount of figures, which show with the population increase——

It is worse than Chicago in the 1930s.

Deputy Jim O'Keeffe will have plenty of time to debate this. He is becoming a professional interrupter and he should listen for just a few minutes.

Just like the Minister beside the Taoiseach.

The public is at risk.

The Government is exacerbating the problem.

The Taoiseach, without interruption, please.

Deputy Rabbitte raised serious questions, which I will try my best to answer.

The Taoiseach should give a serious answer.

The overall figures show significant reductions in many areas but with regard to gun murders over recent years, mainly due to a war between various gangs, the number of deaths annually increased from nine to 21 last year and 23 so far this year.

Were the people killed by a wasp?

We know what is happening. What will the Government do about it?

What is the solution?

That wasp had a lot of venom.

Hundreds of gardaí have been involved in Operation Anvil.

They are down in Mayo where they are not needed at all.

In fairness to the gardaí, in a short period they have arrested more than 3,400 people. A large number have been sentenced or are on remand.

It is fair of the public or Deputy Rabbitte to ask how about some of these individuals. I also ask this question but 55 detectives were working on Operation Oak, which targeted significant effort at the individual murdered earlier.

He was still shot.

Time and again, that individual and related activities were highlighted. His name has come up in connection with several serious incidents over the past year and while 55 gardaí were involved in that operation, the issues surrounding him were not resolved and he was gunned down earlier. Operation Oak was trying to deal with him and a small group of others properly before the law. As a civil society, which totally opposes such acts, he was dealt with by those with whom he was in conflict. That is dangerous for all of us. All we can hope is that the gardaí who are intensely involved with the various gangs can have better success than they have had. This involves an intricate web of activity across the city but it does not involve many people. It is no good my saying there have been enormous numbers of convictions against these gangs. Their members are well known and the name of the individual murdered today was mentioned in every briefing I have heard over the past year or more. I refer to the criminal, not the innocent person.

He should have been arrested.

The Garda, not me, makes those decisions. I will convey our sympathies to the individuals involved as well as our support for the Garda. We have been at pains to say to the Garda regarding this operation since the beginning of last year that we would make whatever resources were necessary available to deal with the people involved.

A helpless, hopeless, hapless response.

I am not sure whether the Taoiseach saw "Prime Time Investigates" on RTE last night, which made me very angry, but he can indicate whether he did. We can all be angry about people being forced to live 50 miles from where they work because they cannot afford a house any closer. However, the behaviour of the gombeen men and racketeers who give auctioneers and estate agents a bad name angered me the most because of their unethical, criminal and downright two-faced dealings with vulnerable, hard pressed and cash strapped clients. As the programme continued, it emerged that the activity being reported and shamefully exposed is the result of the Government's inaction on a number of clear failings in the industry. For example, false bidding at an auction continues quite legitimately, yet if one did this in Australia, one would be put behind bars. False information is regularly provided about the floor size of a property to make it look bigger in its description but if that happened in the US, it would be a criminal offence.

Is protection being provided for the industry that was exposed last night? Are certain activities permitted as long as estate agents, auctioneers or the Government parties receive a cut of the action at the Galway Races? It is impossible to understand how such an obvious omission in law is not being tackled by the Government. The estate agency review group recommended an independent regulatory authority. Will the Government put that into effect so that complaints can be followed up and the conflict of interest reported last night can be clearly legislated for and prevented? Will the Taoiseach introduce legislation to end false bidding and the false disclosure of information and to prosecute individuals who engage in clear breaches of data protection law similar to those exposed last night? The Taoiseach has a job to do. When will he do it?

The Deputy raised two issues. The auctioneering/estate agency review group submitted a report last year. We subsequently approved preparation of a scheme for a Bill to give effect to its central recommendations, including the key recommendation to establish a regulatory authority with licensing and consumer protection functions. That legislation is due shortly. Pending enactment of the legislation, preparatory arrangements for the establishment of the new authority are under way. A chief executive designate has been appointed and is engaged in the preparatory work. The office for the new authority is located in Navan, County Meath.

I was told today that, following last night's programme, the Data Protection Commissioner, accompanied by the Financial Regulator, has met associations representing mortgage brokers to discuss the allegations raised. I understand that the Data Protection Commissioner has taken very seriously the information brought to his attention by the programme. He has launched an investigation into the allegations of improper relationships and the disclosure of information from mortgage brokers to estate agents seeking to force extra money from bidders. This investigation began yesterday with the inspection of a mortgage broker where information pertinent to the investigation was seized and is now under examination.

These powers already exist in statute. This morning an inspection took place on the premises of the firm of south Dublin auctioneers. The commissioner reported to the Government that he is determined to use his statutory powers of inspection and enforcement to clamp down on these issues, if they are proven. He will act in close co-operation with the Financial Regulator, which authorises mortgage brokers under the terms of the Consumer Credit Act, an Act which bestows legal powers in such cases. The commissioner is calling on individuals who believe the law has been broken to report such breaches to the Office of the Financial Regulator.

The Data Protection Commissioner and the Financial Regulator have substantial powers of investigation to address this issue and are investigating the issues raised in last night's programme.

I asked a number of questions that the Taoiseach did not answer in his response. I asked when legislation will be introduced to stop false bidding and require truthful disclosure. Such matters require law, not merely independent regulation or a regulatory authority. The Taoiseach has had nearly ten years to deal with these matters.

The Central Bank suggests that house prices are over-valued by 14%. The Taoiseach has pumped up prices through various forms of property tax relief and by talking up the market. Why does the Taoiseach continue to tolerate racketeering scams when he has the power to address the matter? He could give a signal to indicate the Fianna Fáil Party will not be as welcoming of corporate donations as it has been. How much of the Fianna Fáil Party's funding comes from auctioneers, estate agents and developers who set up management companies and walk away from unfinished estates? Is an ethical yardstick used before such funding is accepted, because I think it has a bearing in this matter?

I request that the Deputy give way to the Taoiseach as time is pressing.

We must get answers to these questions as they were raised on the public airwaves. The Taoiseach referred to an independent regulatory authority but did not say when legislation will be introduced in the areas I mentioned. He has not told us when prosecutions will be taken relating to data protection, though I hope they come about soon, and he has not informed us of when we will see an end to the racketeering scams exposed on television last night.

The Deputy asked me questions, which I answered, and now he is asking me the same questions again.

The Taoiseach did not give answers.

Deputy Sargent has gone four minutes over time and he should allow the Taoiseach to speak without interruption.

I was correcting the Taoiseach as he did not hear me.

I heard what the Deputy said. If he feels the legislation at the disposal of the Data Protection Commissioner is inferior he can raise that matter, but the legislation exists. I have outlined precisely what the Data Protection Commissioner is doing.

The Taoiseach knows the legislation is inferior.

If the Deputy believes the Financial Regulator is not dealing with these matters, despite what I have told the House, he can raise that issue.

If the Taoiseach believes everything is all right we are in trouble.

I have outlined the strength of the Consumer Credit Act in this matter. Now the Opposition refuses to listen to me. I was asked about the situation regarding the auctioneering-estate agency review group and I have outlined what is happening.

The gazumping Bill from this side of the House was rejected by the Government.

I pointed out that, pending the enactment of legislation, the preparatory regulations for the establishment of the new regulatory authority are under way. The chief executive designate has been appointed and is engaged in preparatory work and the authority will be located in Navan, County Meath. Property management agents that maintain shared facilities and common areas in developments and estates are being examined. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Roche, outlined in the House last week that the new licensing system that will apply to agents will improve consumer protection and bring about greater transparency in their operations.

Perhaps the Minister of State, Deputy Haughey, should look into it.

The Law Reform Commission will publish a consultation paper next week that will give an overview of problems in this area. The issues are being addressed. Legislation is pending and going through Government. The Data Protection Commissioner and the Financial Regulator are dealing with the issues raised by the "Prime Time Investigates" programme last night. They all have the necessary powers.

The Taoiseach should deal with the matter.

I am not dealing with it. I will not do the jobs of the Financial Regulator and the Data Protection Commissioner.

The Government is responsible for legislation.

There is no point in my employing these people if I do not let them do their jobs.

There is no legislation.

Deputy Sargent should allow the Taoiseach to answer and request the other members of his party to desist from interrupting and allow the Taoiseach to speak.

We are all quiet now.

For the third time, the Deputy has asked what I am doing about legislation and, for the third time, I will tell him that the auctioneering-estate agency review group submitted a report last year to Government. We subsequently approved preparation of legislation giving effect to the report's central recommendations and that legislation is before Government. Pending the enactment of the required legislation we have applied the substance of the review group's recommendations and put in place preparatory arrangements for the new regulatory authority. We have established an executive chairperson and the office is based in Navan. I hope this is clear to the Deputy.

The Taoiseach should outlaw false bidding.