1. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he has updated the national risk assessment following the receipt of submissions to his public request. [36043/16]
Vol. 930 No. 3
1. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach if he has updated the national risk assessment following the receipt of submissions to his public request. [36043/16]
2. Deputy Bríd Smith asked the Taoiseach his views on whether the election of Donald Trump means he should revise his strategic risk assessments plan. [36055/16]
3. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the national risk assessment for 2016. [37381/16]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 3, inclusive, together.
The Department of the Taoiseach co-ordinates the production of the national risk assessment, which is a high-level overview of the strategic risks facing the country. Since 2014, this has been completed on an annual basis. Each year, my Department prepares a draft overview of strategic risks based on input from all relevant Departments. This document is published for consultation to facilitate public engagement about the strategic risks facing the country. Following the consideration of submissions, the draft is updated and finalised by my Department in consultation with other Departments. The final national risk assessment for 2016 was approved by the Government and published in October. It includes information on how all of the submissions that were received were considered in the preparation of the final risk assessment document for 2016. The 2016 national risk assessment highlights 29 distinct risks across five different categories: economic, environmental, geopolitical, social and technological. Certain risks were highlighted as having particular importance in 2016, including uncertainty about Brexit and the UK's relationship with the EU, weakening global economic growth, infrastructural deficits, international terrorism and expenditure pressures. The national risk assessment exercise will be repeated in 2017. This will give the Government an opportunity to consider again and update the strategic risks facing the country in consultation with stakeholders including Members of the Oireachtas.
As the Taoiseach has indicated, the national risk assessment identified risks in economic, environmental, geopolitical, societal and technological areas. There are significant risks in all of those areas now. The value of doing a risk assessment can be questioned at a time when the grounds are shifting with such speed and alacrity. The issue of Brexit was very much on the agenda when the overview of strategic risks was assessed. I would like to ask the Taoiseach about another strategic risk that is imminent. I refer to the implications for the stability of the euro and the euro area of the referendum that is due to take place in Italy in the coming days. It is feared that there may be multiple bank failures if the proposal of the Renzi Government in Italy fails. Prime Minister Renzi has proposed a constitutional change to the Italian Parliament's bicameral system that would significantly dilute the power of the Italian Senate. The Taoiseach will know that no risks at all are attached to seeking to dilute a bicameral system by removing a second chamber. If the vote in Italy goes as the opinion polls are now indicating, and if Prime Minister Renzi resigns as he has said he will do in such an event, it is possible that there will be a significant and immediate risk to the stability of the euro. The indebtedness of the Italian banking system is estimated to be €360 billion. The eight most vulnerable banks have equity deposits of €225 billion. What is the value of our national risk strategy when real risks present without much warning? Are there ongoing preparations to deal with the real potential risks that may arise in the coming days?
I know the Taoiseach does not have a crystal ball. None of us has a crystal ball. As we have heard, the draft national risk assessment plan covers some key areas for us. I want to draw the Taoiseach's attention to two areas that are relevant following the election of Donald Trump. There are global concerns about the President-elect's attitude to the issue of climate change in the context of the Paris Agreement. I would like the Taoiseach to tell us whether there is some means of revising the climate change assessment in the risk assessment document, which does not extend beyond the fines we might incur if we do not reach our targets. I remind him that climate change is about much more than fines. Paragraph 2.3 of the risk assessment refers to the "importance of multinational corporations to Irish economy and [the] risk of unfavourable international tax changes". I suggest that the assessment does not look at the risks associated with our fawning over multinationals, our leniency towards them, our emphasis on them and our reliance on providing them with an extremely low corporate tax regime. I believe we need to look at such factors again in the context of Donald Trump's statement that he intends to reduce the US corporation tax rate to 15% and probably to an even lower level to ensure they are part of our assessment of risk. We fawn over the multinationals in this country. We do our best to make sure they stay. We have lenient tax laws and workers' rights provisions. We do not tax them properly. We do not want to collect the taxes they are supposed to pay. That is why the State is appealing the Apple judgment.
In addition to Google, Apple and the big pharmaceutical companies, there are multinationals in the finance sector in this country. It is interesting to note that Donald Trump is proposing to appoint the co-founder of Cerberus, Stephen Feinberg, as one of his financial advisers. We learned this week that Cerberus paid €1,900 in tax on profits of €77 million for the sale of Project Eagle. I know the Taoiseach will argue that we have closed off the section 110 tax loophole. If we had collected the effective 12.5% rate on those profits, we would have had an additional €9.6 million in our coffers to deal with mental health, housing and all the issues that we keep saying we are strangled in dealing with because of the lack of fiscal space. It was estimated the other night during the debate on the Finance Bill that the closure of the section 110 tax loophole would probably not yield more than €50 million. That does not make sense given that an additional €9.6 million in tax should have been paid as a result of the sale of Project Eagle. Many other vulture fund sales could bring in far more tax receipts. I would like the Taoiseach to comment on that. How will the contents of the risk assessment document relating to corporation tax changes be affected by the election of Donald Trump and the appointment of advisers like Stephen Feinberg? We all know he will say "nice one lads, we only paid €1,900 on €77 million, let's keep this going". Such people are going to look at ways of doing this for themselves in other parts of the world like the United States thereby depriving citizens all over the world of the finance that is needed to deliver decent public services.
I would like to begin by welcoming the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, who addressed the Upper House earlier today. In my opinion, her visit underlines the importance of the connections between Scotland and the island of Ireland.
The national risk assessment paper identifies Brexit as one of five major risks facing the State in the time ahead.
Each day brings new information about the likely impact of Brexit and, in fact, this further information is changing the very assessment provided almost every other day. I can tell the House, as somebody representing and living within a Border constituency, the impacts of the Brexit decision are presenting every day in the lives of my community and the people I represent.
The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, recently told the Confederation of British Industry conference she is committed to introducing the lowest corporate tax in the world's 20 biggest economies and President-elect Trump has also set as one of his major economic goals a cut in corporation tax and the return of overseas investment and jobs to the US. How confident is the Taoiseach that measures introduced for budget 2017 will protect the Irish economy from both the US and Britain dramatically reducing their corporation tax rates? Has the Cabinet discussed these developments and the specific references I have made vis-à-vis Theresa May and Donald Trump?
Notwithstanding the corporation tax announcement by Theresa May, the recently leaked memo from the British Cabinet Office points to serious divisions and the lack of a common strategy within the British Cabinet over how that Government should approach Brexit. Another embarrassing leak from the British Government suggests the British are trying to have their cake and eat it. This has sparked a stern response today from the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, who rejected any idea of cherry-picking on the Brexit negotiations.
All of this indicates a very difficult and challenging situation and I ask the Taoiseach if he is concerned. Last week in Cardiff, at the British-Irish Council, the Taoiseach said the Brexit negotiations would take longer. Will he elaborate on what exactly he means by that statement? Regarding the absence of Theresa May, there has been a lot of criticism that she did not attend or take part in the meeting. Does the Taoiseach agree her absence was not helpful?
I come from an inland constituency but I have had representations made to me from a whole raft of different experiences across the island of Ireland. To take the situation of the fishing industry, it has been decimated since the 1972 negotiations and some Irish vessels rely wholly on British ports to land their catches. Some 27% of the total value of all fish landed by Irish fishing boats goes through British ports. Has the Government examined the likely impact of Brexit on the Common Fisheries Policy and our fishing industry in particular?
The biggest potential non-standard shock to the economy that the national risk assessments consider is the Brexit vote. I do not get a sense that the nation is possessed of the grave threat that Brexit poses to our economic model. It fundamentally changes what we have been working with for 50 years in terms of us being with Britain in a European Single Market. The ESRI, with the Department of Finance, has done considerable work in terms of identifying the gravity of the situation regarding reduced national income, reduced employment and reduced public revenues that will flow from all of that down the line. Has the Taoiseach initiated any other long-term macroeconomic analysis of the implications of Brexit, other than the work of the ESRI?
On an issue I have raised previously with the Taoiseach, I believe cyber attacks are a very serious national risk, given what we have seen in other countries, such as Lithuania and the United States. There are ongoing active threats against European democracies. Given connectivity is vital for the modern economy, there is a need to increase investment in the whole area of combatting cyber attacks.
Deputy Howlin raised the question of the weakness of the euro. Under the economic heading, the areas identified were weak global economic growth, trading relations with the UK, a loss of competitiveness, the importance of multinational corporations, the risk of unfavourable international tax changes, vulnerabilities in the banking system, turbulence in the euro area debt markets and monetary policy uncertainties. Each of those are dealt with in the report.
We do not know the result of the Italian referendum, which is a on a knife edge, as I understand it. The polls indicate the proposition is behind and Prime Minister Renzi has made his comments on this. It remains to be seen what the outcome will be. Clearly, when the lira applied, Italy devalued and devalued in respect of many of the industries that were there. We will see what happens. There are also uncertainties in other areas, for example, in Austria, where an election for the presidency is pending, and other areas of Europe are quite fragile. These are all potential impacts and risks of one sort or another on the euro and the eurozone. Even with regard to the Brexit position, different statements have brought about fluctuations in the strength of sterling versus the euro, which has had an impact on jobs here already. The purpose is not just to identify the risk, but to allow for proper discussion of people's ideas of how we might deal with these changing circumstances as they apply.
Deputy Smith raised the issue of section 110. There is a €50 million assessment but others say it might be much more than that when it eventually comes through. It remains to be seen what other instruments are out there that may have to be attended to. These things were quite complex in the beginning and were designed for a specific purpose. When they were not being used for that purpose, the Ministers closed them off.
Corporation tax is a national competence of each individual country. What the American Administration does or wants to do in respect of corporation tax is its business. The line of investment and the interest in investment into this country remains very strong. We have had evidence again today of two further investors making serious commitments to Ireland because they see the opportunity to have high-quality young people emerging into work in their industries, as distinct from the issue that is always mentioned, namely, corporation tax. The incoming Administration, when it is appointed, will obviously make its decisions in so far as Ireland is concerned. We view the portfolio we offer in terms of our track record, our legal base, our technology capacity, our young people and the fact our corporate tax rate has been static, transparent and accountable right across the board.
The Apple case is being appealed on two fronts, one by Apple and the other by Ireland, on the basis that the Revenue Commissioners have never done sweetheart deals and have been utterly independent, accountable and transparent in the way they have done their business since they were set up. Obviously, the Commission has made its determination and a ruling that some of that money may well be due to other countries. We are only entitled to collect tax here on the economic activity generated here. There are no brass-plate companies here, the double Irish is gone, stateless is gone and we have introduced the new concept of the knowledge box at 6.25%, which is proving very attractive. The investment by one company of its intellectual property here distorted the GDP figures last year. However, this is fully compliant with OECD requirements and there may well be others who find this very attractive for further investment in intellectual property in Ireland, which would mean further research, innovation and development, which would obviously mean higher quality jobs coming on stream.
Deputy Ó Caoláin raised the point about Prime Minister May. Clearly, until Britain actually leaves the EU, it remains a full member. It will accept its full responsibilities and pay its full contributions. When Article 50 is triggered, that does not mean it has left and it will not have left until the exit process and transition process are completed and it is unclear how long that is going to take. If the Prime Minister decides to change the rate of corporation tax that applies in Britain, that is the British Government's absolute right under the European treaties, as it is ours.
If corporation tax is reduced, that has to be made up for in some other way and that is a matter for the Government. Until such time as the definition of what we have to decide on, borders, the Single Market and economic and customs union - these are matters that have yet to be put up front - we have put several measures into the budget. They will not deal with everything and we are reconsidering matters such as access to low-interest credit, etc. There is a British Supreme Court decision due next week on the question being asked in the UK. Deputy Martin was right to say Brexit is the single critical issue.
With 67,000 cyber attacks against the American Government last year, it might be appropriate to have a discussion here in order that people might gain an understanding of what it is we should be doing. The Minister of State at the Departments of the Taoiseach, Foreign Affairs and Trade and Justice and Equality, Deputy Dara Murphy, will be happy to respond to that. We have given him extra resources. The Data Protection Commissioner has been properly facilitated in terms of remit, staff and so on. She has much better offices here in the city centre, which is good.
Long-term economic analyses are being undertaken all the time but we have not commissioned a Government analysis yet because the point on the horizon for which we should aim will not become clear until movement occurs. The sectoral work is quite detailed and I will brief the leaders as needs be. I have not commissioned a formal long-term economic analysis other than those that show possibilities as to might emerge from Brexit.
Will the Taoiseach answer the question about the Common Fisheries Policy and Brexit? He did not discuss that.
It has come to light very much in the past. This will be quite a complex issue. We discussed the matter at the North-South Ministerial Council in part. We did not get into detail about it, other than to say that we need a working, effective outcome. The claims of who owns what for many years have been rejected on both sides. There is a situation regarding fishing rights, volume and stock at stake. There is a great deal of discussion about that in respect of Irish and British waters. The Common Fisheries Policy is part of that. Our situation in recent years has been determined by accurate scientific analysis in terms of the quotas allocated to Ireland. However, there will be much more discussion on this matter in the period ahead.
4. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach his plans to appoint new special advisers. [36045/16]
5. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach the status of the appointment of additional special advisers by him and the Ministers of State at his Department. [37380/16]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 and 5 together.
There are five special advisers employed by my Department. I have three special advisers, including my chief of staff, and all were appointed with effect from 6 May 2016. The Government Chief Whip has two special advisers, one was appointed with effect from 6 May 2016 and a second was appointed with effect from 3 October 2016 due to the increased emphasis on parliamentary liaison.
In August 2016, I appointed a chief strategist for the Independent Alliance. Most recently, I appointed a political co-ordinator for the Independent Ministers in Government who took up his post this week. While not special advisers, these individuals are members of the political staff of my Department. I have no plans presently to appoint any new special advisers in my Department.
I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. Is it true, as reported in The Irish Times, that a ministerial adviser has been made available to Deputy Harty? What is the legal basis for such an appointment? Is every Opposition Deputy to have access to the resources of a special adviser or is that only to be made available, in the words of Deputy Harty to Opposition Deputies who are "well-disposed" to the Government?
I acknowledge the Taoiseach's response in terms of his own Department but I want to ask about the appointment of special advisers across Government. Deputy Howlin has referred to one. It was reported recently that the Minister of State at the Office of Public Works, OPW, Teachta Canney and the Minister of State with responsibility for training, skills and innovation, Teachta Halligan, made a case in early October for the appointment of special advisers. Under guidelines, Ministers of State are permitted to hire special advisers only in "exceptional circumstances" subject to approval by Government. Senior Ministers are able to appoint two special advisers. I know there has been much controversy about such posts in the past but I acknowledge that it is an important role in terms of assisting Ministers with their workloads and responsibilities. The real point of contention centres on Ministers of State affording salaries in excess of the pay cap levels. What criteria were applied in the two instances I have cited in determining special circumstances for the two recent special adviser appointments to the Ministers of State, Deputies Canney and Halligan, respectively?
I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. Advisers can have an important role in the context of Government. I have no difficulty with that. There are six non-members of Fine Gael in the Administration and a handful of other Deputies in the arrangement for supporting the Government. It is quite intriguing that Deputy Harty, who does not have ministerial status, has access to an adviser. We need urgent clarity on that. Could the Taoiseach outline the specific staffing resources assigned purely to managing relations between Fine Gael and the others, who are made up of different groups? One adviser appears to have the sole role of managing the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Ross.
I met that individual during the talks with the Independents. He came across as a very intelligent, pragmatic person who has had his work cut out for him since. He must be finding it very testing and challenging indeed to keep the Minister focused on his ministerial duties.
He was very good on "Claire Byrne Live" last night.
I have to question whether that is an effective use of resources. Can the Taoiseach outline the specific staffing resources? I take it that their focus is the implementation of Government policy and proper co-ordination and cohesion on policy. We are also advised that the person responsible for transport suddenly has a greater interest in justice and is dictating the scene there to the neglect of the transport portfolio. I note that the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport is claiming credit for the tourism figures even though he has been in office only six months. At least he is focusing on tourism despite the fact that he can hardly claim credit for it.
The information I have refers to my Department, the Chief Whip and the Minister of State at the Department of Defence. I am not aware that a special adviser has been appointed to Deputy Harty.
It was stated in The Irish Times that he has access to a special adviser.
These things have to be approved by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, something about which the Deputy knows. He grappled with these issues in times past. I do not have that information here. As I understand it, a special adviser has not been appointed to Deputy Harty. He is the Chairman of an important Oireachtas committee but special advisers, as I understand it, are appointed to Ministers and Minister of State for particular reasons and their appointment must be sanctioned by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
The Taoiseach did not reply to my question.
In today's edition of The Irish Times, it is stated that Deputy Harty has access to a special adviser appointed through a member of the Government.
I presume that is with the Taoiseach's consent. I would be very surprised if it is without the Taoiseach's knowledge. We are very careful about any special advisers. I am strongly of the view that special advisers perform a very useful and important function. The Taoiseach will remember the practice that no special adviser can be appointed without the consent of the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, certainly, but they also cannot be appointed without the consent of the Taoiseach. Is the Taoiseach learning for the first time that Deputy Harty, ostensibly an Opposition Member who says that he is well disposed to the Government, has access to ministerial advisers? Do others in opposition have equal access? Is it intended to provide other Opposition Deputies access to advisers who are actually recruited to work with Ministers? On what legal basis would that be provided?
The Taoiseach completely ignored the question I asked. While he may wish to kick the can in respect of Deputy Harty's arrangements, I asked him a question about Ministers of State who have had special advisers approved. I would think it unlikely that the Taoiseach was unaware of those appointments. I have asked him to explain the special circumstances that gave rise to the approvals in each of the cases of the Ministers of State, Deputies Canney and Halligan. I would like to know the special circumstances, given that it was a requirement that the appointment of advisers to Ministers of State needed to be approved.
I assume that these things apply in the case of the range of work and responsibilities relating to Ministers of State. I am being upfront with the Deputy when I say that what I have before me is information relevant to the Department for which I have responsibility. All of the details in respect of all those appointed in the various Departments are not to hand. I am, of course, asked when consent or approval is to be given for the appointment of special advisers. I will have to-----
Does the Taoiseach have a view on it?
-----check the extent of approvals that have been given to Ministers of State, or, as it is put in Deputy Adams's question No. 5, "for additional special advisers by him and the Ministers of State in his Department". I think I have dealt with the Deputy's question on appointing new special advisers.
I will give Deputy Howlin a full report from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on the Ministers that have special advisers, the number of them, the Ministers of State-----
And their roles.
Yes, and their roles. We will of course do that.
Yes. There is no problem about that.
Will the Taoiseach provide it to Deputy Howlin or to all of us who posed the question to the Taoiseach?
We will not exclude you, Caoimhghín.
Deputy Ó Caoláin is elected to this House on the same basis as myself, Deputy Howlin and everybody else. Of course I will supply him with that information.
I thought there might be a residual special relationship between the Government and Deputy Howlin.
No. Just because Deputies Ó Caoláin and Howlin are divided by a passageway, does not mean they are divided by-----
The Taoiseach did not address the questions I posed. I do not accept that he is not aware of the arrangements of the two Ministers of State. I believe that is stretching credulity.
It is not stretching credulity. The Minister of State, Deputy Canney, is dealing with very extensive flood response business at the moment, which covers €1 billion in expenditure and-----
The Fine Gael Ministers are getting-----
Is Deputy Canney passing on the baton in February?
-----deals with very sensitive cases around the country in which flooding has occurred. The Minister of State, Deputy Halligan, is a very busy man and is dealing with SOLAS, training, apprenticeships, school transport, which was raised in the House as a matter of priority, and other matters. I will send Deputy Ó Caoláin a full report.
I presume there are six special advisers available now to the three Ministers of State who attend Cabinet meetings. It is new that there are three Ministers of State attending Cabinet meetings. The two Independent Ministers of State, Deputies Halligan and Canney, have special advisers. Have there been any applications from Ministers of State of a Fine Gael persuasion to have advisers or do they not get a look in?
I have many applications. Believe me, I have.
I am a little bit intrigued by the Taoiseach's earpiece.
Sometimes I cannot----
I am not quite sure if he is following the racing from Kempton Park or somewhere or if he is here with us at all.
No. I am not listening to Cavan radio or anything else. Sometimes I find it difficult to pick the Deputy up.
I am not sure with whom he is in touch.
This is very important and it is a serious matter. We have all acknowledged the important role that advisers play.
Nobody is arguing about that. However, the criteria laid down relate to special circumstances - these appointments are not supposed to be made willy-nilly. I would like to know the special circumstances that were assessed for each of the Ministers of State to whom I have referred. I look forward to receiving the Taoiseach's reply as soon as possible.
Could the Taoiseach outline the specific staffing resources assigned purely to managing relations between Fine Gael and the other Government Deputies? Could he send it on to me if he does not have it at his disposal, as well as the individual arrangements pertaining to the Independent Ministers and Ministers of State?
Arising from that, what is the arrangement for the Minister of State, Deputy Canney, and the incoming Minister of State, Deputy Moran?
He is to become Minister of State in February. They tossed a coin as to who would get the first attempt at being Minister of State.
Will he inherit the adviser?
Will Deputy Moran get the same adviser that Deputy Canney has or will he have the luxury of picking his own? This is a very unprecedented thing to happen, to be honest. I have never come across a situation before in which turns are given to people on the basis that it is one person's turn one year and another person's turn the next and that a coin is tossed over it.
For such a vital issue.
Partnership Government. Power-sharing.
In my naivety, I asked if it was for the full term of two and a half years each. One of the Deputies looked at me as if I had lost my marbles and said, "Are you joking me? Sure this thing will not last at all. We will go one year at a time". Someone should intervene and stop that.
I will give Deputy Martin the full information on that. For Deputy Ó Caoláin's information, sometimes when the microphone switches on, I find it hard to pick up the first sentence or two. The earpieces are provided to give absolute clarity so that I can hear the Deputy with accuracy.
It is not the horse racing so.
I will have the full information relating to Deputy Ó Caoláin's question sent on to him.
6. Deputy Ruth Coppinger asked the Taoiseach the dates of the future scheduled meetings of the Cabinet committee on housing. [36061/16]
7. Deputy Gerry Adams asked the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing last met. [37379/16]
8. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach the number of times the Cabinet committee on housing has met. [37682/16]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 6 to 8, inclusive, together.
The Cabinet committee on housing last met on 7 November. It is scheduled to meet later today and again in December. It has met 11 times - on 12, 20 and 26 May; 2, 9, 15 and 30 June; 7 July; 28 September; 27 October; and 7 November - to date.
The committee is meeting regularly to oversee implementation of the action plan for housing and homelessness, which is a priority for Government.
I am glad the Taoiseach has his hearing piece on because-----
-----if we had to identify a single issue, this, to me, is the most important in the country bar none. The Taoiseach is the chairman of the Cabinet committee on housing. He is chairing the only committee that has all of the relevant Ministers, that is cross-departmental in nature and that is meant to cut out cross-cutting issues and all of that jargon. However, everything that committee does is subservient to ensuring the making of private profits on the market.
It is absolutely terrible to be homeless at any time but to be homeless at Christmas is the most upsetting thing, particularly for children. I can say that having dealt with people who are facing into it. We have all been familiar with children asking their parents how Santa will come and how he will know where we are, etc. It is the most horrific time for any family to face homelessness. I do not think that there is any other Taoiseach in recent history who has stood over families being homeless for successive Christmases. Not only were those to whom I refer homeless last year, many are facing a second Christmas of homelessness. I am not talking about people who experience an abundance of social issues that might lead them to become homeless. I am referring to the likes of Ms Erica Fleming, who is well known, who worked as a receptionist for a well-known paint company and who pays taxes and has done for many years in this country.
A woman like that, with her daughter, should be able to get a roof over her head in this city but because of policies the Taoiseach is standing over, she is now facing homelessness for a second Christmas. I do not know if the Taoiseach has anything to say to her or to the other families in the same position.
Last week in the Dáil the Taoiseach referred to the tsunami of homeless as having had a "slight increase". I challenge the Taoiseach on that because the increase is not slight. The latest figures on homelessness in Dublin were published last week. I will confine my comments to Dublin for the moment. I am aware that there is a homelessness problem in other parts of the country but the bulk of homelessness in the country is in Dublin, which is why I am focusing on it. There were 2,110 children in 1,026 families in emergency accommodation in the last week of October. A total of 67 families with 133 children became newly homeless last month. I will repeat that for the Taoiseach - 67 families became homeless last month. The Taoiseach told the Dáil earlier today that his Government has the most comprehensive housing programme in the history of the State. Indeed, the former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, used to say the same thing. The Government's housing programme is clearly not working and I would like the Taoiseach to admit that. I would like him to admit that we have an emergency and to say that there will be a change of course.
There has been an increase of 45 in the number of homeless children in Dublin since September 2016. There has been an increase of 639 in the number of homeless children since October 2015. These statistics were provided in response to parliamentary questions I submitted a week ago. There has been an increase of 349 in the number of homeless families since October 2015. In total, there are now 5,146 homeless families in emergency accommodation in Dublin. That does not include the 140 people who were counted sleeping rough on the streets last week - the Taoiseach referred earlier to a figure of 115. Nor does it include the 70 people sleeping on the floor in the Merchant's Quay café or those sleeping in tents in the Phoenix Park. I do not know if the Taoiseach has seen them. The total does not include people sleeping in derelict buildings or on park benches. Indeed, according to Fr. Peter McVerry, the true figure for rough sleeping would be twice as high if all of those people were included. Furthermore, the figure does not include the 16 women per day who are turned away from refuges and who face the choice of homelessness or returning to a violent abuser. The total does not include homeless non-nationals who are dealt with by the Department of Social Protection's new communities unit. The true homelessness figure is much higher than the official one.
What is causing this? The Taoiseach chairs the Cabinet committee at which several Ministers attend. I do not have time to go into the record of each Department but in terms of Social Protection, cutting the dole for young people will not help. The lack of refuge spaces, for which the Minister for Justice and Equality is responsible, will not help. The response of the Minister for Finance was to focus time and attention on the first-time buyer's tax rebate of €20,000 which will go straight into the pockets of developers and push up the price of housing.
This is a shared speaking opportunity.
I am sorry. I did not realise I was on a time limit.
Deputy Coppinger is not on a time limit but normally the other Deputies would be accommodated.
I am sorry-----
We also need a reply-----
There is not much point in asking questions if there is no opportunity to get answers.
I am sorry but it is rare to get a chance to ask the Taoiseach questions on such an important issue. Mr. David McWilliams who is not a card carrying member of any left-wing or socialist party has said that the deposit rules were relaxed by the Central Bank in order for prices to rise which will coax builders who are sitting around waiting for such price rises into beginning to dig foundations. This is State-sanctioned house price inflation.
One of the main reasons for people becoming homeless is the failure the Fine Gael Party, in particular, to do anything to tackle landlords and their control over tenants. Mr. David Erlich of the Ires Real Estate Investment Trust, REIT, told The Irish Times last week: "It's a great market, we've never seen rental increases like this in any jurisdiction that we're aware of". I hope the Government's private rental policy, to be announced next week, will introduce rent controls.
If the Taoiseach had to pick just one thing to do immediately it would be to remove the clause in the Residential Tenancies Act which allows landlords to evict tenants on the basis of selling the property. This is the key provision that is being used to make people homeless. Landlords simply have to state that they intend to sell the property, tenants take that at face value and they leave. The Taoiseach has done nothing to suggest that he will remove that clause.
The Ceann Comhairle indicated that there would be 15 minutes shared between three questioners but there is now less than two and half minutes left. Is the Ceann Comhairle going to offer leniency to the other-----
He is not.
I cannot. There are 45 minutes in total for the questions. I will say that we cannot continue in the current fashion whereby the person in possession talks at length and other colleagues are not allowed to-----
I would like-----
If I had been aware of that and given a time limit, I would have stuck to it. Perhaps the Ceann Comhairle could have indicated that in advance.
I accept what Deputy Coppinger has just said.
We will bring proposals to put a time limit on contributions so that we can have answers.
I would like the Taoiseach to note that the cold, lifeless body of 49 year old Paul Gorman was found last Friday morning in the trolley bay at the Longwalk Shopping Centre in Dundalk. He was homeless and died on a particularly cold night when temperatures fell below zero. I want to take the opportunity today to extend my condolences to his family. His death clearly highlights the dangers for rough sleepers.
The number of rough sleepers is up over 50% on last year, despite what the Taoiseach and the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government have pledged would be done in regard to emergency bed provision. According to the latest figures from the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive, DRHE, about 140 individuals were found to be sleeping on the streets and in doorways. That figure has been challenged, as Deputy Coppinger pointed out, by the Peter McVerry Trust which argues that the actual figure is more likely to be twice that number. On the "Today with Sean O'Rourke" programme on RTE radio this morning a researcher spoke of discovering a cadre of homeless people in Cork who have set up a little camp. They are living in fear and in totally outrageous circumstances. We need to wake up to the real problems here because the true facts of the situation are not being established.
With no time left I can only ask the Taoiseach what the Cabinet committee on housing is doing to address this worsening problem and whether it will address the discrepancies in the recording of homeless figures that I have just highlighted.
There is a consensus in this House that addressing the two issues that have been set out, namely rough sleeping and homelessness, needs urgent attention. The Cabinet committee brings together the various actors at Government level but there is no simple solution to this. It is an issue of supply and we must get the supply right. There is a number of proposals coming from the Opposition. Although there is an overarching housing plan, there is good legislation coming from various Members of the Opposition, including the Labour Party which has drafted legislation on two issues. I ask the Taoiseach to give these two issues careful attention. The first is that of rent certainty and the second is the implementation of the Kenny Report on building land which is long overdue. We are all responsible for the fact the recommendations of that report have not been implemented which would ensure that building land was affordable. Will the Taoiseach give fair wind and real consideration to legislative proposals coming from this side of the House?
I will provide an additional two minutes and ask the Taoiseach to give a very brief response.
It is ridiculous that we only have 15 minutes for this. While valid contributions have been made, they went on a bit and obviously I cannot answer the questions properly when we are now in the red sector of the clock to the tune of 1 minute and 45 seconds.
There are 1,800 beds to be provided for emergency sleepers in Dublin. Deputy Coppinger made the point that the former Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, used to make the same point about the most comprehensive housing programme but he could not have done so because what is in place now is much more comprehensive.
The purpose of having the Cabinet sub-committee is to draw all those people together, namely, the housing unit in the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government and the relevant personnel who can indicate what has happened about the targets we have set. On 9 December, three further hostels will open in Dublin with 210 beds.
This is a phenomenon and the supply question, which is one of the few from the Opposition point of view that put its finger on the real problem, must be dealt with because if we do not have supply we cannot deal with those who need these services. Homelessness, rough sleepers, hotel bedrooms, bed and breakfast accommodation and voids coming back in are all part of it. The Business Committee might allow for a regular hour and a half discussion on the progress being made towards housing because this is completely unsatisfactory. Many valid questions are being raised and I do not have time to give Members answers from all the material that is here. We might have an opportunity to do that, which the Minister with responsibility for housing would be quite happy to take up and give people details of any particular areas or issues they raise in respect of housing.