Leaders' Questions

Speaking today at the launch of the HSE service plan for 2015, which outlines in detail the spending budget of just over €13 billion, the CEO of the HSE, Mr. Tony O'Brien, stated the funding will not be sufficient to fully address the increasing demand being placed on our hospital system, in particular the growing waiting lists for elective surgery. We have been here before, in terms of having no confidence in how the Government has formulated health budgets over the past three years, and we have been proven right on every occasion. Again we have a concern that the budget is being built on sand, in that it does not have sufficient funding in place to ensure the basic levels of service required in our public health system. This is not Deputy Billy Kelleher stating this, it is Mr. O'Brien, the head of the HSE, who will be directly charged with implementing the spending programmes on behalf of the Government.

In October, 7,000 people were on trolleys and 377 people were waiting on trolleys yesterday. More than 2,000 beds are closed, 56,000 people are on waiting lists for inpatient day care and 370,000 people are waiting for outpatient appointments.

Last year, a young man died in an emergency department in Limerick. He was admitted to hospital and marked as urgent, but was not seen for more than three hours. People on the front line have been consistently raising the issue of the pressures the public health system is under-----

-----in particular our emergency departments. There seems to be consistent denial from the Government that the health services are in crisis. If the Tánaiste wants the evidence, she should read the reports of the harrowing case of the young man in Limerick last year.

The broader issue is that we have had spin and lots of it, but next year the Government will already have a budget deficit on 1 January because of the demographic increases and the demands being placed on the health service, plus the fact that it is carrying over €500 million. Does the Tánaiste agree the spin from the Minister will not be sufficient to run the health services next year and that what we need is a proper funding system in place to ensure the health services can deliver what they are meant to do?

As the Deputy knows, the Department of Health, the HSE and the Minister for Health received significant additional resources this year, with an increase in the ceiling, and significant extra resources in respect of next year. I understand the Deputy's argument, that he would like to see more money made available to the HSE, but I would first like him to acknowledge that very significant extra resources have been made available. In this context, the Minister has undertaken to continue the reform programme in the HSE and provide to additional resources.

According to the HSE's most recently published data, the total number of patients on inpatient and day case waiting lists to the end of September was 56,902. This is an increase of approximately 3,400, or 6.5%, on August. Of these, almost 10,000 adults had exceeded the target waiting time of eight months for a procedure and 1,930 children had exceeded the target paediatric waiting time of 20 weeks for a procedure. A total of four out of five people receive treatment within the target time. The Minister has committed to addressing the issue of improving the targets in the context of the significant additional resources available.

Trolley waits are an unacceptable feature of anybody's hospital experience and I am perfectly aware of the distress it causes to individuals who use them, and even more particularly to their families who accompany them to the hospital emergency department. The figures to 21 November show that compared to the baseline year of 2011, there were 11,774 fewer patients on trolleys. However, compared to 2013 there was a small increase in the number on trolleys. This is something for which the Minister has been given resources and he has undertaken to make it a priority as he seeks to have ongoing reform of the health service.

With regard to the Limerick case, as the Deputy knows, the family of the patient who unfortunately died during the summer last year consequent on being in University Hospital Limerick asked that their privacy and confidentiality be respected. They said so to all of the parties. The Deputy is aware from previous discussions on the case that the man was in the hospital on a particularly busy night. The notes state he came in on 9 July last year, was seen by a triage nurse, was assessed as triage category two, which is a fairly urgent category, and was placed on a trolley. Subsequently he was in and out, as I understand it, to have a smoke and unfortunately subsequently the man died. As I stated, I am limited in what I can say about the case because of the desire, understandably, of the family to have their privacy and the man's privacy protected.

What is of concern in all of this is that the Tánaiste is beginning to believe the spin also. The difficulty we have is that the Government is in denial. The Tánaiste spoke about the HSE being charged. In the programme for Government it is proposed to abolish the HSE. It is also proposed to have universal GP care for everybody by the end of 2016 and to cut waiting lists to zero. We have seen no progress in these areas.

We are seeing escalating waiting lists, increases in numbers of people on trolleys-----

Beaumont Hospital.

-----and all the time the Government is pretending things are improving.

Beaumont Hospital is out the door.

Deputies, please. Deputy Kelleher is well able to make his point.

Ballinasloe being downgraded.

Let us be very clear.

She is not interested.

The Government needs €500 million to plug the hole in the budget deficit this year. With the demographic changes, next year, in the words of the Minister, Deputy Varadkar, he needs €200 million and the Government is providing an extra €600 million. By any stretch of imagination the Government is automatically down €100 million before it even starts.

A question, please.

Mr. O'Brien is saying the exact same thing today at the launch of the HSE service plan which is meant to ensure we will have additional services next year, but that is not the case. Will the Tánaiste agree for once that this HSE service plan does not have sufficient funding in place?

The Government is again robbing from the most vulnerable to try to plug the holes here and there. It has not even committed the full amount of money provided for mental health in the programme for Government. We are still behind in terms of funding.

I thank the Deputy; he is way over time.

Will the Tánaiste at least agree that the HSE service plan, as with the previous three the Government published, is not sustainable even before we start?

No. I want to make it very clear that I do not agree because for both this year and next year the Minister has actually received a very significant increase in resources. The Deputy has made the point that he would like to see it increased further.

I want to see it prioritised.

I think everyone would like to see resources in almost every area increased further, particularly as the economy recovers. I do not dispute that. The Deputy wants to have an honest discussion. As he knows, the movement for instance to establish local health centres with the provision of services in an outpatient and a more local setting is critical in order to assist the emergency departments being reserved for the most serious cases.

The investment in primary health-care services, as the Deputy knows - he did not reference it in his comments - is increasing very significantly with new primary health care centres opening throughout the country. They are able to provide a number of the services that used to be provided in hospitals, particularly services for children and older people living in their homes who can now get a service at a local level thus taking the pressure off the emergency departments.

The Deputy needs to acknowledge that there are now 11,774 fewer patients on trolleys than was the case when we took over from the Government led by the Deputy's party.

(Interruptions).

That is the reality.

The Government is massaging the figures.

Through the special delivery unit and through the investment in primary health care-----

The Tánaiste should promise to stop the porkies.

-----there has actually been a significant overall reduction in the number of patients on trolleys, that Fianna Fáil left when it left government. If the Deputy is talking about an honest discussion, he should acknowledge that.

I know the Tánaiste does not even believe that.

Those are the figures.

As the Tánaiste may be aware, very serious long-standing allegations of sexual abuse by the late Domhnall Ó Lubhlaí, teacher and founder of Coláiste na bhFiann, became the subject of an internal Garda review in April 2013. The review was initiated under the watch of former Garda Commissioner, Mr. Martin Callinan. The review was deemed necessary because of very serious concerns relating to investigations into these complaints of abuse by An Garda Síochána. Victims feel very let down by the Garda and the criminal justice system, although it should also be said that other agencies of the State, including the Department of Education and Skills, the HSE and the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, similarly failed victims in their quest for justice.

Their experience of botched investigations and institutional prevarication amount to what they believe to be a cover up. The scale of abuse perpetrated by Domhnall Ó Lubhlaí is truly shocking. Some estimate that as many as 100 victims may have suffered at his hands. One of his victims was 13 years old when he was abused. His name is Gearóid Ó Conchubhair. I raise his case today at his request and with his consent.

I now understand that the Garda internal review has concluded on the watch of Ms Noirín O'Sullivan, formerly acting and now confirmed Garda Commissioner. I understand that the review report has been with the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Fitzgerald, since July. I have with me a copy of the letter sent to Gearóid Ó Conchubhair, refusing him access to that review report. The letter very coldly informed the victim that the review has concluded, but that he will not receive a copy of that review detailing findings and conclusions. Other victims have received the same letter.

I am sure the Tánaiste will agree that this is mind-boggling. However, equally concerning is that Tusla has informed victims that its inquiry into these abuse complaints is being held up because the Garda Síochána and the Department of Justice and Equality have failed to pass on necessary information. What is going on? Will the Tánaiste join me in calling on the Garda Commissioner to make the review report available to victims immediately? Will she join me in calling on the Garda Commissioner and the Minister for Justice and Equality to instruct that all information required by Tusla be passed on without delay?

As I am sure the Deputy will agree with me, all sexual abuse, whether of adults or children, is reprehensible. The Deputy might possibly join others in the House in condemning all sexual abuse. We recently had a discussion on that issue regarding the Maíria Cahill case. If I recall, her response regarding that case left much to be desired.

On the case the Deputy has referred to, as she is aware I do not have access to the kind of detailed information that she has just brought to the floor of the House. Down the years I have heard suggestions and reports of what might have happened in that case and with the person who has been identified as the accuser. Given that this case is one that has been talked about over a long number of years, I am sure that those people have suffered grievously. I extend my sympathies to anyone who may have suffered at the hands of this individual whom the Deputy has identified. In order to deal with this in a responsible way the Deputy should raise the issues, which presumably she has obtained on a confidential basis from some of the people affected by the abuse, directly with the Ministers for Justice and Equality, and Children and Youth Affairs, particularly in the context of the very detailed statements and allegations she has made.

I am sure everybody in the House would be deeply concerned about any suggestion of a cover up. We heard in detail Sinn Féin describe the cover up of sexual abuse that happened on its watch in communities in the North of Ireland and with supporters in the Republic. We heard about that in detail. We have had that confirmed in detail. Sinn Féin Members said that such cases had to be examined in great detail.

I suggest the Deputy takes this up first with the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs because in terms of the detailed allegations she has now made on the floor of the House I am not in a position to respond on the detail of those allegations. I think she is very aware of that. If she is seeking to assist with the victims, it might be more appropriate to go through the Ministers who have responsibility directly in relation to this in the first instance and then we can deal with it when we or they are in a position to determine, in relation to the inquiries and the allegations she has made, as to how then to proceed and respond.

In case the Tánaiste did not hear me clearly, in the years that I am in this House in so far as I am concerned and the women and men of Sinn Féin are concerned, anybody culpable of crimes such as this faces the full rigours of the law-----

What about your actions? You say one thing and do another.

-----but I understand that the Tánaiste raised this by way of diversion and perhaps we will leave that discussion to another day. I am raising this issue on the floor of the House because I have been asked to do so. It has been requested of me as a parliamentarian.

Many things are requested of the Deputy.

One might ask why this request has been made. The simple reason is because these victims have faced a brick wall, institutionally, through the various Departments that I mentioned to the Tánaiste - Education, the Gaeltacht, the HSE, the Department of Justice and Equality and, indeed, An Garda Síochána. That is the reality. There is little point in the Tánaiste saying to me to say back to those victims to go to those various agencies again. They have tried that and that has failed. We know that there has been an internal review within An Garda Síochána. We know the review is complete. We know it has been with the Minister, Deputy Frances Fitzgerald, for four months. We also know, through the victims who have asked me to raise it here today, that Tusla is being held up because of a refusal of the Garda and the Department of Justice and Equality to forward on information.

Without getting into the specifics of the case, because clearly the Tánaiste does not have the specifics even though this has been a matter of public concern for a number of years and has been well publicised, could she not simply agree with me on behalf of those victims but most particularly on behalf of Gearóid Ó Conchubhair-----

Sorry, Deputy, you are way over time.

-----who wants that review report, that it be given to him? Could she not also agree that the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Garda Commissioner must hand on whatever information Tusla requires without delay?

As the Deputy has raised this without any notification, I have to say to her in regard to this particular case, which has been spoken of over a long number of years, that she and people in Sinn Féin would be very well aware of the fact that Mr. Domhnall Ó Lubhlaí was identified for a long period of time very closely as a very significant and important republican figure. Whether or not he was associated with Sinn Féin or at what stage-----

What has that got to do with it?

This is ridiculous, disgraceful.

A Deputy

A family is listening to this.

-----he was associated with Sinn Féin-----

He was a lot closer to people in the Minister's party than anything to do with our party.

That is the wrong track.

Ask some of your Ministers and they will tell you about it.

Sorry, please.

Certainly in any reference that I ever heard to Mr. Ó Lubhlaí, his connections to the republican movement were always very strongly identified. Deputy McDonald might not like to hear that-----

-----but that is the reality.

And how is that relevant?

That is false information.

Deputy McDonald knows the history of the republican movement better than anybody else in this House.

That is false information and the Tánaiste knows that.

It has nothing to do with this.

Mr. Ó Lubhlaí has been characterised in previous media reports, as Deputy McDonald well knows, as being a paedophile rapist on a very significant scale in relation to children who came under his care and attention. I do not have the results of the Garda investigations to hand but he was a very prominent republican during his life. He died before the investigation was completed-----

The Government has that.

-----and in numerous media comments in relation to the investigation-----

It is sitting on the review.

----- it was always pointed out that his links into the republican movement were of deep significance. We know-----

Tánaiste, we are way over time.

-----from the discussion previously and the acknowledgements by the Deputy's party that in fact there has been a problem of paedophilia and sex abuse particularly of children in the republican movement-----

-----and cover ups.

(Interruptions).

The Deputy knows that. She has acknowledged it.

(Interruptions).

I call Deputy Murphy.

(Interruptions).

A Cheann Comhairle-----

No, the Deputy had her question. I call Deputy Murphy.

That comment was outrageous.

A Cheann Comhairle-----

Sorry, Deputy. I do not want to go through this again with you.

The Tánaiste needs to withdraw that remark.

Hold on a minute. Would you mind staying quiet and would you resume your seat, please?

And would you ask the Tánaiste to retract that statement?

Will you resume your seat please? There is system here. The question is asked, the Tánaiste replies in this instance, the Deputy has a supplementary question and the Tánaiste replies-----

And she made an accusation which should be withdrawn from the record.

-----and then I move on to the next question. I will move on and call Deputy Murphy. Deputy Murphy, please.

A false accusation.

Deputy Murphy, will you please proceed with your question?

A Cheann Comhairle-----

If a political charge is made here, it is not for me to-----

A Cheann Comhairle, I want to point this out to you. A specific charge was made-----

I am not putting up with this once again.

-----against an organisation, which is contrary to Standing Orders.

I will suspend the House if the Deputy does not resume his seat.

The Ceann Comhairle was the very one who interrupted Deputy Adams on the exact same point.

Will the Deputy resume his seat, please?

It is a point of order.

I will resume my seat if the Ceann Comhairle will address the specific point.

Deputy, will you please resume your seat? I will suspend the House now.

Suspend away if you want.

This is outrageous. Deputy Murphy, will you please ask your question?

A Cheann Comhairle, you are allowing-----

Will you switch on the microphone for Deputy Murphy? Deputy Ó Snodaigh, resume your seat.

I will not resume my seat until you deal with a specific charge, which is contrary to Standing Orders, which is made against this organisation and the people sitting here. That is not allowed under Standing Orders as you well know.

Deputy, there is no charge made against the Members here. Deputy Murphy, please.

Deputy Murphy, would you please ask your question?

The Ceann Comhairle is being biased; he is supposed to be impartial but he is not being impartial.

He is not being impartial.

Will you stop making charges like that, please, and resume your seat? Deputy Murphy, please.

I cannot if you are not willing to-----

The House stands suspended for ten minutes.

Sitting suspended at 12.28 p.m. and resumed at 12.38 p.m.

I call Deputy Catherine Murphy.

Sorry, a Cheann Comhairle, I have taken the time to get the Standing Orders, in particular the Standing Order which you quoted to Deputy Adams on a previous occasion about defamatory remarks. We have tried to raise with you that the remarks made by the Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection here in her last contribution were defamatory in the extreme and were aimed at Members of this House. According to Standing Orders, when such a defamatory remark is made in the House we have an opportunity to raise it with you there and then so that you can ask the Member in question to withdraw. You did not do so and you were not inclined to do so, which is why I took umbrage with the Chair.

Sorry, would you just resume for a moment. During the suspension I asked the Clerk of the Dáil to have the record checked. The record was checked and no allegation was made against the Sinn Féin Party.

The record speaks for itself.

She said, "your organisation".

Remarks were made about the republican movement.

She said, "your organisation".

Excuse me, would you listen for a moment, please. There are other parties in this House that have the term "republican party" after their name.

No. She said, "your organisation".

There was no allegation made against members of Sinn Féin.

A Cheann Comhairle, she said, "your organisation".

The Deputy has rightly asked that the remark be withdrawn. I now ask you to allow the Dáil to continue its business. I call Deputy Catherine Murphy.

Sorry, a Cheann Comhairle-----

I have had the record checked and have had the advice of the officials who agree that no derogatory remarks were made against members of Sinn Féin. Now would you please resume your seat?

Obviously, a Cheann Comhairle if somebody refers to "your organisation" that specifically refers to a particular organisation.

No. I have had the record checked.

She had mentioned-----

He has had the record checked.

I have gone to the trouble of having the record checked-----

She had mentioned the republican movement at one part of this-----

-----and the officials who are independent have given me the advice. Now would you please sit down.

When she mentioned the republican movement-----

(Interruptions).

-----she should have looked within her own party and she would have found closer links with Domhnall Ó Lubhlaí. She specifically referred to our organisation and she specifically referred-----

Do not be holding up the proceedings. I call Deputy Catherine Murphy.

Sorry, a Cheann Comhairle, I have no intention in that regard. I have other work to do and would rather be doing it and not be in this House but every single time-----

If the Deputy wishes to check the replay he will find-----

The allegation has been made.

I will check the replay. We have checked before and we will continue to check.

My officials are not biased.

I want the record corrected. I ask that you would ask the Tánaiste at this stage to withdraw the defamatory remarks-----

No. My officials are not biased.

-----that she made today.

You are disputing the record. Check it.

You are attempting to-----

I am not asking about something said a few weeks ago. I am specifically asking that the defamatory remark "your organisation" made by the Tánaiste in her contribution today in the Dáil be withdrawn.

Would you please check the record because I have checked it and-----

No. I am asking for it now because if I leave this Chamber then what she said sits on the record. I want you to correct the record.

Sorry, Deputy. Please show respect.

(Interruptions).

Resume your seat. I will review the record of the Dáil with you personally and the officials.

I want it done now. The defamatory remark was made now. The opportunity is supposed to be available for Members of this House to get you-----

This is a deliberate attempt to obstruct-----

An allegation was made.

The allegations and defamatory remarks were made now and should be withdrawn now and not in a week's time.

If you do not resume your seat I will have to suspend the sitting again.

Well then do that.

I would prefer if you did not. I would prefer if you just asked a simple question of the Tánaiste-----

Would you please resume your seat?

-----to withdraw the defamatory remarks.

Would you please resume your seat?

You cannot have allegations like that being made.

Will you please resume your seat?

I will resume my seat if you are willing to address that issue.

I am suspending the House for half an hour.

Sitting suspended at 12.45 p.m. and resumed at 1.20 p.m.

I call Deputy Catherine Murphy.

I am not inclined to delay the Dáil any further but we have looked at the transcript of the contribution made by the Tánaiste - the second contribution. At the start of that, she made a very defamatory comment about Sinn Féin, specifically, and what led thereafter-----

If you have a complaint, please give it to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges. I dealt with the situation that arose fairly and openly-----

-----and the record clearly shows that any reference was not towards Sinn Féin. That is on the record for anybody to see. Would you please stop holding up the business of the House. I want to get on and call Deputy Catherine Murphy.

(Interruptions).

A Cheann Comhairle-----

If you want to bring this matter to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges, by all means do so.

If you allow me to finish-----

You cannot hold up the House once again.

I have no intention of doing so. As I said, I have other work to do in the House today, and in this Chamber.

(Interruptions).

I ask you to resume your seat and let us get back to normal business.

If you allow me to finish-----

(Interruptions).

-----I will finish quite quickly. What the Tánaiste said - I will not go through the whole script-----

No, you certainly will not.

Just for the record-----

I have got the record and it is clear.

-----she said Sinn Féin has tried to cover up sexual abuse-----

Sorry, Deputy. Please-----

-----on its watch.

We are not going into this.

That is what she said.

The record is there for everybody to see.

That is a specific defamatory charge against a party.

I have distributed the record.

(Interruptions).

I ask that it be withdrawn.

I am going to suspend the House again if you do not resume your seat.

(Interruptions).

You are not holding this House to ransom.

(Interruptions).

Resume your seat. The record is there. Will you resume your seat? I am calling Deputy Catherine Murphy, who is entitled to have her question answered.

(Interruptions).

We are entitled to-----

We are not here to deal with what was said. The record is clear.

If you allow me 30 seconds to finish the sentence I was in the middle of, then you would see it is a reasonable request. If you are not going to ask the Tánaiste to withdraw that defamatory remark-----

Hold on a second-----

I do not know what remark you are referring to. I reviewed the record. The record is there for everybody to see.

(Interruptions).

I call on Deputy Catherine Murphy. If you do not resume your seat, I will have to suspend the sitting again, so make up your mind.

You are not holding this House ransom.

(Interruptions).

I was just going to say that if you were not going to do that, I would refer the matter to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges.

Resume your seat. If you have a problem, you can come to me afterwards and I will deal with it.

If you are not willing to be reasonable-----

Will you please resume your seat? I call Deputy Catherine Murphy.

Will you resume your seat?

If you give me the 30 seconds-----

I am suspending the House.

Sitting suspended at 1.29 p.m. and resumed at 1.43 p.m.

Rather than delay the House further I ask that the Tánaiste's remarks, which have not been withdrawn, be referred to the Committee on Procedure and Privileges so that the work of this House can continue today but that the CPP may be able to look at this matter.

It is a matter of making a formal complaint to the CPP and it will be dealt with in the normal way.

I have no problem doing that. I had hoped that the Ceann Comhairle might refer it but I will do that.

I read with interest the housing document launched by the Government yesterday. While I welcome any initiative that will deal with the housing crisis around the country, I have said repeatedly that it needs three strands, short, medium and long term. It is clear from the document that the focus is almost exclusively on the medium and long term, referring to 2017-2020, a timeline beyond the lifetime of this Government and we can understand why. I see nothing in the document that will alleviate the current emergency situation that leaves hundreds of children homeless tonight. I had hoped to see something that would relax the rent supplement limits which are a key issue forcing people into homelessness.

In 2014, a total of €344.1 million was available in the social protection budget for rent assistance. That has been reduced to €297 million for 2015, a 14% cut at a time when rents are rising and there is a housing emergency. The medium and long term solutions are essential and many will come to fruition in 2020. That does not provide an immediate solution for the 800 children and the families who are homeless and will be homeless this Christmas.

The Government seriously underestimates the level of homelessness because there are countless families supporting relatives, allowing them to sleep on couches. I know whole families occupying one room, as I am sure the Tánaiste does, given the location that elected her. How long can a mother and her children sleep on a couch? That cannot be a semi-permanent solution, which it is at the moment. They cannot wait until 2017 for a solution. How many new houses will come on stream in the lifetime of this Government or is that known? Does the Tánaiste agree that the rent supplement limits are completely out of line with market rents? Will she seek a supplementary budget and immediately relax the rent limits to address or stall the homelessness crisis?

I am very concerned, as I know Deputy Catherine Murphy is, about any family which has problems securing a long-term tenancy or ownership of a family home. We all share a common objective to ensure that as many as possible of our people are properly housed. That was the purpose of yesterday’s announcement by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Kelly, the largest committed investment by this State in a very long time to a programme of social housing which will see all of the people on the waiting list housed over the next few years. It did not deal with all the money being spent this year to bring back some of the 2,000 flats and houses currently boarded up or ‘voided’, which is the term used by the local authorities. They are coming back and we anticipate that over the next six to nine months, 1,000 of those will be made habitable for families who need homes.

I want to correct one misunderstanding the Deputy may have about rent supplement. There is no reduction in the funding for renting homes in the private sector. In the Estimates for next year there is a provision to move a significant part of the current rent supplement budget dealt with in the Department of Social Protection to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to fund the move and the development of people moving onto the housing assistance payment. This reform has been widely welcomed because it will remove one significant difficulty for families on rent supplement, that very often if they get an employment opportunity they are not in a position to take up the employment because they may be at risk of losing their rent supplement. I assure the Deputy that there is no reduction whatsoever. There are just under 73,000 families or households availing of rent supplement at a cost of an estimated €344 million for this year. The same kind of costs will be incurred next year but some of them will be in the budget for the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government with those families who move to a long-term arrangement with a county council. There are very significant funds being used to address homelessness.

Of course people become homeless for a variety of different reasons. The protocol which has been in operation since the middle of June between the Department of Social Protection, organisations like Focus Ireland and the local authorities in the Dublin region has successfully secured ongoing tenancies for over 220 families. I want us to start looking at rent supplement cases on a case-by-case basis. There are two issues here. First, the community welfare service has discretion in law to raise the rent supplement.

The other issue is that people on rent supplement are unable to go back to work because the conditions of the rent supplement scheme do not provide for differential rent, whereas the housing assistance payment and local authority differential rent systems allow people to take up work and calculate how much their rents might increase by.

The money that transferred across to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government is still less than the budget that was available last year, even when the €20 million that transferred to the housing assistance payment scheme is taken into account. I accept the point that has been made about rent assistance as a poverty trap. I have made that point continually over the years. While I welcome the decision to address it, sufficient staffing resources will not be available at local government level to deal with it in a practical way. We are asking landlords in some areas to take a 30% reduction. That figure is based on the difference between the market rents and what will be available under the housing assistance payment scheme. There are very serious issues in regard to that.

There is no doubt that the Dublin area is the epicentre of this problem. I fully accept that. There are 90,000 individuals or families on the housing list nationally, some 45,000 of whom are in six local authority areas, including Kildare and Cork city. Even though I fully acknowledge that the problem of homelessness is at its most extreme in Dublin, I do not think the solution to it can be confined to that one area. Targets are being set for the next Government, or even the Government after it. This Government does not appear to be setting targets for dealing with homelessness progressively. It is completely unacceptable that a stone's throw from here, we can talk to people who are sleeping on the streets. The extent of this problem and the kinds of conditions in which people are living are being significantly under-estimated. We need to find better ways of capturing the true position of homelessness. It is not good enough for many family members to have to exist in one room, with four or five of them sleeping on the floor and three or four of them sharing a bed.

That is homelessness, but it is not being counted as such.

Yes. Hear, hear.

I agree with Deputy Murphy that the provision of good-quality, affordable housing to individuals and families is one of the biggest challenges facing Irish society. The allocation of €2.2 billion over the next three years is one of the basic social dividends from the budget. As I have said previously, it takes some time to build houses. The problem with the current housing market, which needs to be addressed as quickly as possible, is that no social housing has been built really since 2002. For reasons I do not fully understand, the then Government decided to move away from any provision of social housing by local authorities.

It decided, probably because so much house-building was going on, that all of this should be left to the private market.

What is the housing assistance payment but the private market?

The Tánaiste is not correct.

She could be correcting the record twice.

Some 73,000 households are being housed in the private market at present. The private market supply is tightening all of the time. The target for the increase in the number of houses by the end of 2015 is 15,000. This is not a long-term target. Deputy Murphy is correct when she says that there is a short-term objective, which is to bring all the voids into play. I refer to the 1,800 or 2,000 empty properties that are boarded up.

That is way off.

It has always been a mystery to me that councils can board up perfectly good houses. I think we will see a very significant change. In relation to the people who are homeless at the moment, the protocol I spoke about is available right around the country. I am happy to talk to the Deputy privately if she feels that a protocol like that which has been operating in Dublin since June would be of assistance in Kildare. I am perfectly open to that argument. I will conclude by reiterating that the community welfare service officers have discretion in law to deal with these problems.