Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 30 Sep 2015

Vol. 891 No. 1

Leaders' Questions

I am sure the Taoiseach is aware of the harrowing accounts in today's newspapers of the incredible trauma that Mark and Emma Corcoran had to endure at the hands of seven criminals who travelled from Dublin to burgle the Corcoran family home in Tipperary. Their daughters spoke of how they thought their Daddy was going to die at the hands of these criminals. The criminals wore balaclavas and had handguns and knives. It was only due to Mrs. Corcoran ringing 999, as she was upstairs, that the gardaí in Monasterevin were in a position to apprehend the gang. There was also the case of John O'Donoghue in Doon, who collapsed and died when he came across intruders in his home.

In the 12 months from June 2014 to June 2015, there were 28,830 burglaries in the country. That is an average of approximately 80 reported burglaries per day. It is a truly shocking figure. Furthermore, that is not the real figure. The Central Statistics Office, CSO, has admitted that many of these crimes go unreported. Indeed, farmer David Thompson, aged 75, has been burgled three times in the past two years, but he has not reported the incidents. He said there is no point as there is no Garda presence. The Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors, AGSI, has specifically linked the surge in crime to the human impact of the closure of a total of 139 Garda stations across the country, which saved only €0.5 million. Anybody who has a finger on the pulse of rural Ireland says that was the wrong decision. Tim O'Leary, chairman of the Irish Farmers' Association, IFA, countryside division, said his organisation is deeply concerned and says it is happening because of the absence of gardaí in localities. When the nearest Garda station is 30 miles away one will not get a response. John Comer of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association, ICMSA, says rural people feel the neglect due to the lack of a Garda presence.

There is real fear among people across the country, in both urban and rural areas. Due to the lack of a Garda presence it is particularly acute in rural areas, and all of the organisations involved tell us this. Will the Taoiseach accept that he got it wrong in terms of the closure of Garda stations across the country, that the strategy of removing presence in favour of mobility was wrong and that there are dire consequences as a result?

I agree with Deputy Martin that these burglaries and attacks on ordinary people are deplorable, and I condemn them without reservation. I am glad that many of those involved, although not all of them to date, will be brought before the courts under the law. It is most unfortunate that a death occurred among the cases the Deputy mentioned.

We live in a very different type of society. I and the Garda are aware that a small number of gangs are responsible for carrying out the majority of burglaries. It also appears that many of those who carry out these burglaries and vandalism, including beating up elderly women and so forth, are high as a result of substance abuse and create fearsome damage.

Garda stations were closed. This is an operational matter for the Garda. Having looked at the situation in so far as the closure of the Garda Training College in Templemore is concerned, where there were no gardaí coming through, that college has now been re-opened and 500 new Garda recruits are going through the college on an ongoing basis and coming into active service. There has been a change in the legislation for dealing with burglary which provides that consecutive sentencing can apply. These are important matters. A sum of €27 million has been allocated to the Garda for vehicles over the last number of years. In particular, finance has been made available for specialist vehicles to deal with high speed chases.

The valid point the Garda can make is that there are an extra 61,000 community hours because gardaí can now be in the community. That is important in respect of communications, intelligence and information. With regard to the capital programme announced yesterday, when the Government looked at the inferior, outdated and inadequate technological systems that the Garda has had to endure, it decided that must change and over €200 million has been allocated for that. One would like to think it could be done today, but obviously that is not possible.

The observations and vigilance of communities are very strong. The community text alert is a valuable instrument for notifying Garda stations and gardaí of incidents, strangers or strange activity in a locality. Obviously, the situation is not as satisfactory as we would wish. In fairness, a number of the very old Garda stations that were in various communities, where gardaí were expected to stay for a couple of hours once or twice a week to sign unemployment forms, would not prevent any crime. However, Community Alert, community information, access, proper equipment, good vehicles and proper technology are essential for gardaí to be able to their job. That is where the Government's focus is. I have been speaking to chief superintendents in their districts and they say the freeing up of gardaí to do community work is an important aspect of the work they must do.

I regret that these burglaries occur and I hope the Minister for Justice and Equality in conjunction with the Garda Commissioner can put a specific plan in place to deal with the gangs that are carrying out burglaries on a nightly basis in various parts of the country.

That is a very weak response. The Taoiseach is speaking like a commentator who is helpless to do anything about it. His recent interview in the Irish Independent was quite remarkable. In it he declared to the nation that he had been told recently by the Garda that travelling gangs are evading gardaí by driving at high speed and wearing night-vision goggles. The headlines blared that the Taoiseach has discovered that the criminals are wearing night-vision goggles. In addition, the Taoiseach said they could do ten burglaries at any time at any location they choose.

He has blindfolded himself.

What will the Taoiseach do about it?

He needs day time goggles.

Will he listen to the people in rural Ireland? I mentioned John Comer of the ICMSA, Tim O'Leary of the IFA, the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors and local councillors from all parties.

The dogs in the street.

What are they all saying? They are saying Garda presence matters.

Stations matter. They act as a deterrent. Presence on the ground acts as a deterrent and there is the capacity to gather local intelligence. When local people see somebody acting strangely, they can report it and get an immediate response but that is not happening. The Taoiseach is detached and out of touch.

Could you put your question, please?

To be honest with the Taoiseach, the people listening this morning to all this stuff about technology are not really worried about that.

They would much prefer to have a local garda with local knowledge on the ground.

It is not good enough to say, "It is not as good as we might like it to be", but that is what the Taoiseach is saying.

Sorry, Deputy. Would you please put your question?

Approximately 28,000 burglaries are reported every year. The Taoiseach got it wrong in terms of the closure of Garda stations and he is out of touch with rural Ireland and with the lives of people on the ground.

Councillor Noel Gleeson summed it up best-----

I am sorry. Hold it a second, Deputy. I said that you are way over your time. Would you please listen to me?

-----when he said:

Rural Ireland is being decimated as regards law and order, that’s the bottom line. We can’t say it often enough and hopefully someone might heed us...

Will the Taoiseach heed what people across the country are saying?

I ask Deputies to please adhere to the rules of the House that they made and that I am forced to impart. If I call time, please respect it. I call the Taoiseach.

I notice Deputy Martin is becoming more and more personalised in his politics. It is an indication that he wants to talk about anything but the forward momentum of the economy and the way it can impact upon what we are talking about here.


They wrecked the economy. They were in the booster seat for Bertie.

Why is he talking about the economy when somebody wants to talk about burglaries?

Will you please be quiet? I will not ask again. I will adjourn the House if this behaviour is going to continue.

It is not just on this side.

Please allow the reply, in the same way that I asked for silence for the Deputy asking the question.

The Deputy said we are standing as helpless commentators. I reject that.

Would you stay quiet?

They will set Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell on you, Mattie.

A Deputy

With night-time goggles.

What we have done is to change the law, to which we are all subject, so that consecutive sentencing can and will apply for burglaries. We have reopened Templemore Garda training college, which Fianna Fáil closed, with 500 men and women going through there, being attested and accredited and giving service to the country.

It took them four years.

They forgot that one.

Please, the Taoiseach is able to answer on his own.

We have allocated €29 million to replace the clapped-out vehicles, which were left as a legacy of what Fianna Fáil did when it was in government, with new cars and vehicles for gardaí.

Because of the incidence of specialised burglary gangs leaving from particular parts of the country, we have given almost €1 million for specialised vehicles to deal with high-speed chases.

Thank you, Taoiseach.

It is a fact, and Deputy Martin can make a comment about it if he wants, that some of these gangs do use night-vision goggles and drive at excessive speeds throughout the country.

I will have to ask the Taoiseach to finish.

In addition, Deputy Martin asked what else we can do. Some 61,000 hours of Garda time are now available for community business.

Tell it to the family in Tipperary.

Deputy Martin made the point, and I agree with him, that Garda presence matters. Gardaí are far more visible when in the community than sitting in a 100 year old Garda station for two hours, waiting to sign unemployment or dole forms. The communications that Fianna Fáil left behind them were a Stone Age facility but that is all being replaced.

Sorry, Taoiseach. Would you please finish?

Communication, information, contact and community - these are the activities we need to have.


Will you please stay quiet? We are now five and a half minutes over time on that one question. I call Deputy Mary Lou McDonald.

The Taoiseach should put on his day-vision goggles to see what is going on.

The Taoiseach might acquire clear-vision goggles.

This morning I spoke to a young working mother with two children. She works hard and her priority is putting her two kids through school and college. In 2009 one of her dreams came true when she bought an affordable home in Longboat Quay here in Dublin. Last night she learned to her horror that she may be evacuated from her home within a week. Not just her and her two children, but all of the 299 families that live in Longboat Quay may have to move out. Why is that? The reason is that their homes are firetraps. Built at the height of the boom by Bernard McNamara and the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, Longboat Quay has been plagued with problems for years. Remedial work carried out to date has cost the docklands authority €1.2 million. Owners have now been told they have to pay up to €18,000 each to make their homes safe, or they will have move out. The total cost of the required fire safety works is €4 million.

The woman I was speaking to and her neighbours paid anything between €250,000 and €600,000 for their homes but they were not built properly. They do not meet fire safety standards, yet the developer, the builders, the architects and the planning authority will not be penalised and it is the owners who are being asked to foot the bill. Bernard McNamara, meanwhile, having run up debts of €2 billion during the boom, is now, I understand, debt free and back in the property business.

A question, please.

This is not the first time such a situation has unfolded; it is not a unique scenario. I have two questions for the Taoiseach. First, where is the legislation that is required to provide home owners and the taxpayer with the protection they need? Second, will the Taoiseach personally intervene with Bernard McNamara to ensure he and those responsible for Longboat Quay foot the bill and are held accountable?

Is he is one of yours, Micheál? Timmy would know. I think he stood for election once.

Careful, Dinny. Look in your own corner.

Will you stay please quiet?

I have read the account of what has happened here-----

Was he a Fianna Fáil councillor?

He went for the Dáil as well, did he not?

Will you let the Taoiseach reply?

I have read this account. Obviously, Deputy McDonald has spoken to someone who actually lives there. This is not the first time this has happened. We recall Priory Hall and the firetraps that were discovered there, and the difficulties that went on for quite some time, including court cases, before that matter was eventually sorted out.

We recall the late Deputy Shane McEntee dealing with pyrite in houses that were built and then became unsuitable for those who paid big money for them. Now, we have a situation like this.

As Deputy McDonald is well aware, under the legislation, planning permission is issued on certain conditions. Unfortunately, because of the over-enthusiasm that was being followed with regard to the whole building boom during the so-called Celtic tiger years, nobody policed the quality of the building that went into these houses and estates. I am quite sure that if the planning application and the conditions that applied to the structure of those houses had been implemented properly by a clerk of works or a project manager, this would not have happened.

The clerk of works.

Given the rush to cut corners and the rush to make money, people now find, years afterwards, having paid very good money and having mortgaged themselves for that, the house they live in is a firetrap. This is grossly unacceptable and is not an easy situation to sort out. I would like to find out more about this, in discussion with the city council and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. I cannot give a judgment at this stage. The point Deputy McDonald raises is of particular difficulty and I am sure great stress to the people who live in those houses. Unfortunately, it is not the first case. When Priory Hall was raised in this forum, I said I hoped it would be the only case, but clearly it is not and there may be others in the system as well.

If the Taoiseach or I walk into a shop today and purchase something, and we subsequently discover that it is faulty, we can return that item, have it exchanged or get our money back. However, if, like the home owners in Longboat Quay, one buys a house that was not built properly, the responsibility for making the property good rests with the purchaser. That is essentially what has happened here and it is, as the Taoiseach correctly says, grossly unfair and unacceptable.

The Taoiseach has a responsibility to address this issue. These scenarios have played out before and I fear we will see many more such cases. However, the question that arises for this particular woman, who is from just one of the families affected, is "What happens next?" She has been asked, at short notice, to put her hands on €18,000. She does not have that money nor does she have the prospect of it. Failure to come up with it means that she, along with her young family, will be evacuated. That is the position.

Thank you Deputy.

I asked the Taoiseach if he would intervene with Mr. Bernard McNamara and I would like him to answer that question. I believe he should intervene, that he should telephone Bernard McNamara and the other responsible authorities and ask them to make good on that €4 million.

Did Deputy McDonald telephone McFeely?

We spoke yesterday about the homeless crisis.

Sorry, the Deputy is over time.

We know the figures. They may be statistics for some people, but they involve real families. The last thing this State needs is 900 more people evacuated from their homes. Will the Taoiseach call Mr. McNamara? Will he put him under pressure to come up with this money? He is back in business and things seem to be good for him again.

Thank you Deputy. The Deputy is way over time.

I will finish on this. We need legislative change and adequate provisions in this area. We need changes in the fire safety Acts and building regulations. The Taoiseach knows this needs to happen. His Minister for fiascos, Deputy Alan Kelly, surely knows this. How is it that this change has not happened and that these families are left in this dire, stressful and utterly unacceptable situation?

The Deputy mentioned the legislation that applies in the case of items purchased in a shop, which can be returned if faulty. Where a person decides to apply for planning permission to build a house or building and does not build it in accordance with the planning permission, the authority concerned is entitled to bring the builder to court to enforce compliance with the regulations. The problem in this country is due to a time when there was a rush to give planning permissions for buildings. I do not know the details of the planning of the buildings concerned but I am sure permission for them was given in good faith and that it was expected the construction would be carried out in accordance with the building conditions and regulations, which would mean they would not be fire hazards.

We cannot allow a situation where when an inspection says these places are fire hazards, we expect people to live in them. The problem is that there was nobody to police the quality of the buildings that were constructed in those cases. Any good clerk of works would have said the building was not in accordance with the regulations, that he would bring the builder to court, make him knock the building down and rebuild it in accordance with the conditions.

The Taoiseach refuses to bring in the tractors.

What is the Taoiseach going to do?

I have not spoken to Mr. McNamara for a number of years. I do not know whether in raising this issue here the Deputy has attempted to speak to him herself.

We are over time.

I need to know more about whether there was a HomeBond insurance scheme in place for any of these houses or whether there was any other insurance scheme. We had evidence the other day of houses that were bulldozed and rebuilt. We are aware that HomeBond was able to deal with a number of houses involving pyrite before that fund ran out. We had all of the complications between the city, council, local authority, City Hall and the courts in respect of Priory Hall.

It is still going on.

That took some shifting.

Will the Taoiseach contact Mr. McNamara?

I am not sure whether Deputy McDonald has spoken to Mr. McNamara or whether she has made any attempt to locate him.

I have no difficulty in trying to make contact with him, but I am not the Taoiseach.

The Deputy is not.

Hold on. The Taoiseach is way over time. Please adhere to the Chair.

I need to find out the details of this before I contact anybody. If I did contact him, he would have a different story to tell.

Does the Taoiseach agree there is no more pressing issue in this country than the housing crisis? Will he and the Government now come out with their hands up and declare it a national emergency? If he does not make that simple admission, the type of emergency measures we need will never be taken. There are homeless women and men in the Visitors Gallery today who have come in hope that the leader of this country may display a modicum of urgency about the homeless nightmare into which they and thousands like them have been plunged. Their children are traumatised with serious physical and psychological effects, travelling miles to school from far-flung hotels and hostels and are unable to get healthy food and so on. The Taoiseach shed a tear for the Magdalens. These are the Magdalens of this generation and in years to come, the Taoiseach will be held to account for his action on homelessness.

Let us confine ourselves to family homelessness. The families that are here today would never ordinarily be homeless. In any other decade, they would be in council or affordable housing, but that has been slashed in recent years. The Government keeps telling us that it is spending more on housing than anyone ever spent before. Last week it told the Dáil €4 billion was being invested. However, that €4 billion is to be spent over six years. We need €4 billion in one year to deal with the issue. Does the Taoiseach agree this does not sound like much of an investment for an emergency when we look at the figures? Some 20 council homes were completed in the first quarter of 2015 and some 117 completed by housing associations. If this level of building continues for the year, we will have less than 500 social homes this year.

Has the Deputy a question, please?

In 1975, the last housing emergency, some 8,794 local authority homes were built. Why, therefore, in the middle of a housing crisis did the Taoiseach see fit to reduce the social housing obligation on private developers, from 20% to 10%? Why, in the middle of a housing and homeless crisis, is he allowing NAMA to sell off hoards of property at a massive discount? Why is he allowing the biggest construction operation in the world not to come into play to provide social and affordable housing? Will he do so or will NAMA continue as a form of corporate welfare to nurse the dysfunctional developers, the people who crashed the economy in the first place, back into business? Will the Taoiseach order that the proceeds of NAMA sales from shopping centres, hotels and office blocks now be used for social and affordable housing?

The Deputy has raised a number of issues. The remit of NAMA is to make and return a profit to the Irish taxpayer. While NAMA was expected to end its responsibilities by 2020, it may have finished its remit some time before that. As I said, that remit is to return a profit, where possible, for the Irish taxpayer.

The Deputy said €4 billion is required now. As we meet here, the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government is meeting with all the chief executives of all the local authorities around the country. They have been given their money and given their targets and objectives and told to get on with the job.

That is rubbish.

We cannot deal with homelessness in this form or any other form until we provide more houses on the ground, block, concrete or modular homes.

Yes, four and a half years after taking up office.

Allow the Taoiseach to explain the situation.

The Minister has already given an instruction that in regard to social housing, 50% of the allocation should go to homeless people. This year in Dublin, 765 units or apartments that have been neglected or closed up are being renovated and made fit for families and individuals. Dublin was given €37 million last year to deal with homelessness. By August of this year, €33 million of that had been spent. Why is this happening? It is happening because people are unable to pay their rent or they have moved out

We know that. What is the Taoiseach going to do about it?

Please settle down.

We need more buildings on the ground. In the private housing sector, we have a situation where good contractors who want to start building are being charged a €60,000 or €70,000 development levy per site. They will not start those houses because of the restraints on loans and mortgages by the Central Bank.

It is because they cannot make enough profit.

We cannot expect taxpayers to make up the difference between what some contractors paid for land at extraordinary prices and what it is now worth.

We cannot expect the taxpayer make good on that. This is not a question of availability of money now.

Build on State land.

It is a case of being able to move to a point where the social housing targets set by the Government for each local authority are implemented and that the relevant houses are built.

They have not even met them for this year.

It is all for private landlords.

They are not shovel ready.

Second, in respect of rent supplement, as I said yesterday, people, and families in particular - I sympathise and empathise with the Deputy in this regard - are entitled to support today, this evening and tomorrow from the Department of Social Protection in respect of an increase in rent supplement to give them some certainty regarding their continued tenancy of the houses in which they live at present.

What about the cap on rent supplement?

These are important elements that are not isolated. They have all got to work together and we cannot deal with it until more houses are provided.

No, they cannot.

They cannot deal with it anyway.

They should call a national emergency.

This year, those targets are set and the Minister is meeting with them this morning to see that they live up to their responsibilities and get on with the job.

Oh, yes. Their heads will roll.

It is their fault. Sure, the Government left them short money.

Blame someone else.

They received taxpayers' money to do this and the should be following through on it now.

If the Taoiseach knows of local authorities which are sitting on money he has given to them for housing-----

-----he should sack the managers of those authorities. He knows that is not true. If any councils had the funding to build social houses - which they have done before - they would do it.

The Taoiseach says that NAMA's remit is to return money to the taxpayer. It is not - NAMA's remit is to return money to the banks. While it expects to recoup €1 billion for the taxpayer, it will give €12 billion back to the banks at the same time. What the Government does have from NAMA, though, is a €3 billion fund for development. I understand it will be invested in the docklands. That €3 billion should be used to build social and affordable housing.

Could you put your question, please, Deputy Coppinger?

Would the Taoiseach agree that the €1.8 billion from the sale of Dundrum and other shopping centres yesterday could build 15,000 to 18,000 homes? Instead, what he is promising the people in the Visitors Gallery is modular homes - portakabins - which they know will become a permanent fixture, just like the hotels which he told them were only for short-term use. They have been in them for between ten months and one year.

When people hear what the Taoiseach has to say about NAMA, and see that he leaves it untouched while they languish in hotels and hostels, would he agree that they are now perfectly entitled to stage occupations of NAMA houses and vacant houses? Would he, as I do, call on people to stage a day of action for homes and would he look at the Facebook page for that?

Thank you, Deputy. You are over time.

We took part in the occupation of a NAMA house last week and it seems that is the only thing the Taoiseach knows - protest - because he is not listening to the rational arguments of people here today.

I do not accept Deputy Coppinger's comments at all. The situation is that the Government responded last autumn and winter to a serious situation in this city in respect of homeless people, particularly those who were sleeping rough.

It has become worse.

It has doubled since then. That is the truth.

I pointed out yesterday the action that was taken by the Government.

Craig is still on the beach in Killiney along with seven or eight other people.

The money that was put up and the consequence thereof - night cafes, extra beds, money to different agencies and all the rest of it-----

I asked the Taoiseach to consider families.

-----dealt, by and large, with the vast majority of people sleeping rough who wanted a bed for the night. Speaking to some of them myself, they said they would not go into hostels because they might be attacked, beaten up or whatever. These are not simple cases. The Deputy mentioned families and I empathise completely with her in this regard. Housing men, women and their children, some in bed and breakfasts and some in hotel rooms, is not satisfactory.

They do not want that. They want a home.

I ask the Deputy to imagine if a local authority official said to someone, "I am going to provide you with a social house at address X and number Y. The money has been given to the contractors and building is about to start. It will take 18 months to two years to do all of that."

It would take four years.

"In the meantime, I am prepared to give you one of the proposed 500 modular houses for you and your family, where it is your own space."

Do they not need planning?

"They are comfortable, warm, insulated and have a life span of 50 years, and I will give it to you until such time as your social house is built." Would the Deputy not advise a family in those circumstance that, compared to being in a bed and breakfast or hotel room, they would be much better off to have their own space for that period until their social house is built?

They would be better off in a house.

All of these things I have mentioned, modular homes, the social housing targets, the money that is in place, the €37 million given to Dublin City Council - €23 million of which was spent up to August - to deal with these very issues-----

There are 2,600 vacant homes.

-----thee Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government and his Minister of State are very conscious of them. As I said, there was a meeting this morning with the chief executives of all the local authorities to see that they are following through on meeting the targets that were set down.

They are all paralysed.