Leaders' Questions

In March 1983, the chief prison officer of Portlaoise Prison, Brian Stack, was shot in the back of the neck. He was the only prison officer in the Republic to be murdered during the Troubles by the Provisional IRA. He died in September 1984 as a result of his injuries.

It took 30 years for the Provisional IRA to admit that it murdered him despite many denials by the IRA and Sinn Féin spokespeople during that period. Deputy Adams, as leader of Sinn Féin, brought the sons, Austin and Oliver Stack, to a particular location in the northern part of the country to have the IRA tell them, after years of denial, that it did indeed murder him. However, the IRA attempted to qualify its complicity and its act by saying in its statement at the time, which was handed to the sons, that:

In Portlaoise a brutal prison regime saw prisoners and their families suffer greatly. This is the context in which IRA volunteers shot your father.

In his authorised biography, Man of Kerry by J.J. Barrett, Deputy Ferris described the late Brian Stack as a "particularly vindictive individual". Those words and the IRA statement to which I refer give the impression of retrospectively trying to justify the cold-blooded murder because Brian Stack was nothing of the sort. He was a loyal, diligent and committed officer of this State. In my view, the situation has been compounded by a report in today's Irish Independent, which reveals that Deputy Adams passed on the names of four individuals, three of whom are allegedly prominent public representatives, to the Garda Commissioner last February and said that Austin Stack, the son of Brian Stack, gave him the names. Austin Stack has been on radio this morning and has publicly said that at no stage did he ever mention any names to Deputy Gerry Adams. It seems to me to be a very serious situation for the leader of a political party to pass on the names of suspects to a Garda Commissioner and we are all supposed to go away off into the night and do no more about it. This is an extraordinary situation. In the first instance, I ask the Taoiseach to meet Deputy Adams and put to him the need to co-operate fully with any investigation. The IRA knows who committed the murder and it should come clean on the matter to give final closure to the Stack family.

I also want to make the Taoiseach aware of correspondence that the wife of the late Brian Stack has sent to the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality about reopening the Remembrance Commission, which was established to assist and support victims of the Northern Ireland conflict in the Republic. Given that his murder was only admitted to by the IRA in 2013, there is a very strong case for the reopening of the commission in respect of the late Brian Stack. His family have been in correspondence for 18 months and have received nothing but acknowledgements. It seems that the State needs to move now and respond positively to that correspondence. I ask the Taoiseach to do so, given that Brian Stack was the only prison officer murdered in savage circumstances by the Provisional IRA back in 1983.

It seems to be an extraordinary development in respect of the contradictory statements that have been made here. It is correct to say that Brian Stack was murdered in cold blood outside a boxing stadium in south Dublin, which was admitted by the IRA in 2013. Austin Stack says he gave no names to Deputy Adams, the President of the Sinn Féin party. Deputy Adams is not here today and I am not sure whether he has advised his deputy leader on the truth of this situation. If names were furnished by Deputy Adams, including those of members who are serving public representatives, to the Garda Commissioner, that is a serious matter in itself. I am taking Deputy Martin's question but I do not have the detailed answer to the points being raised. It would be appropriate that if names were furnished to the Garda Commissioner by Deputy Adams, but which were not given to him by Austin Stack, the question is answered. The Garda Commissioner is either taking or will take action about that.

I expect that when I speak to the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality, she might make a statement on this based on the information or correspondence she has received and look at the question of the Remembrance Commission that Deputy Martin has mentioned.

The previous Minister for Justice and Equality, Mr. Shatter, met the Stack family. To be honest, if I interview Deputy Gerry Adams, he is not going to tell me the position as it applies but he might have to tell others. In that context I have no objection to meeting Austin Stack or members of his family to hear their side of this story.

Deputy Adams needs to clear up the contradiction that has arisen. If the Garda Commissioner has been furnished with names presented by the President of Sinn Féin that Austin Stack says he never gave to him, then that issue needs to be addressed. We will look at the question Deputy Martin raised in respect of the Remembrance Commission. The Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality will respond in so far as she can. I would be prepared to talk to Austin Stack and members of his family.

I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. I put it to the Taoiseach that Deputy Adams often asks the Taoiseach to meet him and others who are victims of other atrocities. I have no difficulty with that. It is equally legitimate to seek a meeting when it comes to the only prison officer murdered in this State defending the State. Portlaoise Prison was a difficult assignment for any prison officer at that time. In fact, following his murder there was an outbreak or attempted escape from Portlaoise Prison a year or so later in 1985.

The point I am making is that this was an atrocity. It was denied for 30 years by Sinn Féin and the IRA. In 2013, eventually, those involved owned up and said to Austin Stack that they murdered his father. They did not do it in the way they should have done it, without any context or anything like that. There is no excuse for what they did. It was quite cold-blooded. The question is how Deputy Adams came into the possession of those names and how he could be confident or competent to send or pass those names to the Garda Commissioner as suspects in the case. What is Sinn Féin going to do about it?

Given that this involves a defender of the State, a person who worked on behalf of the State, I think it merits such a meeting. On the Remembrance Commission issue, I believe the Stack family are due acknowledgement of the loss of their husband and father. They are also due consideration by the Remembrance Commission, which could be opened up on a case-by-case basis. It was not possible to deal with this before now because it was only in 2013 that the murder was owned up to.

The position is that Deputy Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Féin, has presented names to the Garda Commissioner, as I understand it. He says he got the names from Austin Stack, son of Brian Stack, who was murdered. Austin Stack says he never gave him the names. Deputy Adams needs to explain that.

The IRA admitted the murder 30 years later. We have had questions in the House before about associations with membership of the IRA and about safe houses on this side of the Border which were, in some cases, allegedly used for sexual abuse. There was no follow through. This is a serious matter.

As I have said to Deputy Martin, I am prepared to talk to Mr. Stack and members of his family and to look at the question of the Remembrance Commission. The Sinn Féin party needs to address this. A man was murdered. The military wing associated with the party has admitted 30 years on that they murdered him. They will know who murdered him and who gave the orders to carry out that unwarranted execution. They know these things. There is a need for them to answer up.

I ask the Taoiseach to conclude.

The family deserves to know the truth. For my part, I will speak to the Minister for Justice and Equality to find out what information is at her disposal. Obviously, the Garda Commissioner has responsibility for the investigation of issues related to the Garda Commissioner.

I noted with interest the report in Friday's The Irish Times that the Taoiseach told a Fine Gael fundraising event that the outcome of the Brexit referendum could result in a united Ireland. The Taoiseach will not be surprised to hear that I welcome these comments if true. The First Minister of Scotland, Ms Nicola Sturgeon, spoke in the Seanad earlier today. She has been very clear on her position in respect of Scotland's interests. She has said that the option of another independence referendum remains on the cards should the British Government proceed with its plan to drag Scotland out of the Single Market. I do not purport to speak for the First Minister. These are matters for the people of Scotland to decide. However, I think citizens of Ireland would like the Taoiseach to adopt a similar stance in respect of Ireland, that is, that Irish unity should be on the table. As welcome as the Taoiseach's comments were, thinking out loud at a Fine Gael fundraiser is not enough. It is time to turn aspirations and notions into reality. The issue is Ireland and our interests. The Taoiseach cannot logically say to those in business and agriculture and people who rely on cross-Border services that Brexit will not have an effect on them because it clearly will. He cannot claim that the consequences of Brexit simply boil down to a hard Border versus a soft Border because the truth is that the Border - any Border - is the problem.

Yesterday, Sinn Féin launched our Towards a United Ireland discussion paper. We have sent the Taoiseach a copy of it. I have no doubt that he will find time in the coming days to read it. It is a document from us, but for everyone. We do not pretend that any one party has a monopoly on Irish unity. We want all parties that aspire to a united Ireland to become persuaders for unity. That means the Irish Government more so than all others. The Government will have a seat at the table during the Article 50 negotiations. Therefore, in our view, it has a responsibility and an obligation to use those talks to advance the pursuit of Irish unity. When the British Government pursued Brexit, it did not give one thought to Ireland, to the consequences for Ireland or to the Good Friday Agreement. Brexit is a British problem that requires an Irish solution. The Taoiseach says that unity is one possible outcome of Brexit to his Fine Gael colleagues. Does this therefore form part of Ireland's negotiating strategy? Has the Taoiseach shared the same thought with our EU partners, namely, people such as François Hollande and Angela Merkel?

I am not responsible for newspaper reports that may consist of second or third-hand information so I am glad the Deputy has raised the issue here again. I have dealt with it on a number of occasions. Brexit is one of the most critical issues of the past 50 years and will impact this country more than any other European country. That is why we have a particular interest in maintaining the links we have with Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom and preserving the peace funds and INTERREG funds and so on that we have. We have made it perfectly clear, however, that the question of a united Ireland is contained in the Good Friday Agreement, which I support fully, and of which I, as Head of Government, am a co-guarantor with the British Government. The Good Friday Agreement and its successor agreements contain a very clear measure to the effect that if people north and south of the Border decide by referendum that there should be a united Ireland, they should have that opportunity. We support this measure. My point, as articulated at the function at which I spoke, is that this measure must be part of a continued guarantee of the negotiations that will take place between the European Union and on our future relationship with the United Kingdom.

This is an internationally binding agreement, signed and accepted by everybody. The observation and fulfilment of the Good Friday Agreement and its successor agreements are binding issues for both countries. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, has been at pains on so many occasions to refer to this repeatedly in his conduct with associations and people in Northern Ireland. The North-South Ministerial Council knows this is part and parcel of the ordinary work in which we are involved.

I will answer the question the Deputy may be asking. Does this mean that a Border poll is imminent? No, it does not. Does it mean that the Government is calling for a Border poll now? No, it does not. Does it mean that the Government is looking at the longer term as to what the people in Northern Ireland and the Republic might do in accordance with the Good Friday Agreement? We will guarantee that right and opportunity is protected in the language of the future negotiations. This is an international, legally binding agreement of which the Republic is co-guarantor and it will be followed through on fully. That time is not now, Deputy McDonald.

I welcome and share the very strong view the Taoiseach has expressed of adherence to the Good Friday Agreement. That progress came after a very protracted and vicious conflict and it was hard-won on all sides. The Taoiseach is aware that this internationally-binding agreement recognises the Border as a contested border and that the matter is contemplated within it. The agreement also makes provision, as the Taoiseach rightly points out, for the democratic and peaceful means by which partition might be ended, with the consent, it goes without saying, of people North and South. I agree with the Taoiseach on all of that.

My question was rather more pointed. When the Taoiseach thinks out loud that Brexit might spur or cause what he called, if I am correct, an uncomplicated route to Irish unity, I want to understand what that means. I am not asking the Taoiseach to act in a pre-emptive or coercive manner and nor would it be acceptable for any Taoiseach to do so. That is not the point I am making. I am asking the Taoiseach to pin his colours to the mast as regards Irish unity over the medium and longer term. Is this something to which the Taoiseach aspires as Head of Government? Will he be part of a dialogue and a respectful, democratic conversation about the reunification of our country?

When I visited Prime Minister May at Downing Street very shortly after she was elected, we both agreed, in the context of these matters, that there would be no return to a hard border and that we would keep, for want of a better term, the "invisible" Border we have now, which is very different from what applied before and which would preserve the benefits of the common travel area that has, as Deputy McDonald is well aware, existed since the 1920s. I mentioned this, in the first instance, to Chancellor Merkel of German, President Hollande of France, Mr. Barnier, Presidents Tusk and Juncker, as well as all the others, because they understand - at a European level - that there has been a peace process in Ireland for quite a long time arising from the Good Friday Agreement, which Europe supports. We want to preserve that. This means that while some may seek alternative strategies or special status of one sort or another, we have a particular set of circumstances that I discussed with the First Minister, the deputy First Minister, the North-South Ministerial Council and the Executive Assembly. That means we will have a land border with the European Union when the UK leaves. We have PEACE and INTERREG funds and we want to preserve those benefits so the people of the island can have the intertwining of our economies progress in the way we would like. I have set out our priorities, which are our citizens, our trade, our economy, the Border, the common travel area and our future relationship with the European Union.

Tá an t-ám istigh.

These matters have been raised with other leaders. I take part in every discussion about Northern Ireland and the Republic. A central focus of that is the Good Friday Agreement-----

The Taoiseach will have to use another opportunity to elaborate further.

-----and its successor agreements. It is an internationally-binding agreement which I support and of which I am co-guarantor.

There must be some discipline regarding time.

Gabh mo leithscéal.

Perhaps Deputy Grealish will lead the way. He has three minutes.

I will try, a Leas-Cheann Comhairle. I have timed my speech and it is slightly more than three minutes. There has been a great deal of discussion inside and outside this House about the urgent need for the accident and emergency departments in our hospitals to be improved. Hundreds of patients are having to spend nights on trolleys in unacceptable conditions. I would like to highlight the particular problems at University Hospital Galway, which is one of the biggest hospitals in the country. I ask the Government to implement a solution that could be introduced in the short term to resolve the problems at the hospital, at least in part. The accident and emergency department at the hospital is one of the two busiest in the country, with well over 60,000 people attending it every year. Management and staff are doing their best to cope with working conditions that are impossible at times. Patients are being shoehorned into every nook and cranny as they await treatment. Those who have to be examined in corridors without privacy are stripped of their dignity.

I do not need to remind the Taoiseach of the words he used in this House this time last year after a visit to University Hospital Galway. He said that "the emergency department at University College Galway is not fit for purpose" and described it as "one of the most inadequate facilities in the country". Every day of the week, this department is desperately trying to cope with patient numbers that are two or two and a half times in excess of the numbers for which it was built to cater. The logjam in the accident and emergency department is having a knock-on effect on other aspects of the hospital's operations. Planned surgeries for almost 5,000 patients at University Hospital Galway were cancelled in the first nine months of this year. This has been blamed in part on overcrowding in the accident and emergency department, which has been causing elective surgeries to be postponed. There are plans in the pipeline for the construction of a new accident and emergency unit. The rate of progress in this regard makes me fear that another 500,000 people or more will have to endure the trauma of the current facility before the new unit actually opens.

There is another option that would considerably ease the pressure on the current accident and emergency department. Its attraction is that it could be implemented in a relatively short period of time and at a relatively low cost. A minor injuries unit at Merlin Park University Hospital could handle a large proportion of the people who currently present at the accident and emergency unit at University Hospital Galway. A similar service is operating at 11 locations around the country. The unit at Roscommon County Hospital is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and handles cases like cuts, bruises, burns, sprains, broken legs and broken arms. Just one in four of those who attend the accident and emergency department at University Hospital Galway end up being admitted to the hospital. This suggests that a huge number of people could be treated at a minor injuries unit at Merlin Park University Hospital. Will the Taoiseach agree to provide such a unit as a matter of urgency, before another generation of people from Galway and adjoining counties endures the limitations of a facility that does not belong in modern Ireland? Will he confirm a report in last week's Connacht Tribune, which quoted Government sources as saying that the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, "will announce the go-ahead for a new Emergency Department" when he visits the hospital in December? If this report is accurate, how long will it be before the new accident and emergency department is open?

Deputy Grealish is perfectly entitled to raise this issue, which has been raised by a number of Deputies in recent times. The fact of the matter is that the accident and emergency department at University Hospital Galway is too small and, as a result, the foyer leading into it is consistently jammed with people. As the Deputy has rightly pointed out, just one in four of those who go through the foyer into the accident and emergency unit actually end up going into the hospital for treatment. Even though this is a central issue, few others have had the accuracy to refer to it. As Deputy Grealish knows, this unit was originally designed in the 1950s and was upgraded in the late 1960s. It caters for 1 million people in the greater region. There is a need to look at what the situation should be in five, ten or 15 years' time for the greater spectrum of care for patients in the university hospitals. As the Deputy has pointed out, the university hospitals in Galway are University Hospital Galway and Merlin Park University Hospital.

I understand that the Minister for Health intends to visit the hospital in December, as Deputy Grealish mentioned. Following my own visit last year, a commitment to have a new accident and emergency department provided for University Hospital Galway was included in the programme for Government. The Saolta group, which deals with these matters, as the Deputy is aware, has advised that a cost-benefit analysis of the new accident and emergency department project has been submitted to the HSE national estates directorate. It has been considered and was accepted on 15 November last. We will now move on to deal with the provision of funding for the project in the review of the capital programme, which is to be carried out in 2017.

There is a consultant-led service at University Hospital Galway that opens from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and that takes all medical patients to the emergency department following triage of their particular conditions. There is access to key facilities such as diagnostics in order to facilitate rapid decision-making and so on. The service sees approximately 30 patients a day. In the course of examining the operational flow through the emergency department in 2005 and 2006, an internal reconfiguration was put in place to create a minor injuries area that would take away many of those who are in the system waiting to be admitted and who may, in fact, not need to be admitted. This is, as the Deputy points out, also the case at Roscommon County Hospital, which is now busier than ever. All non-core clinical accommodation was moved out of the department to create additional capacity. The emergency department now accommodates 62,000 attendances annually. Despite recent improvements in that patient flow - achieved by keeping the acute medical assessment unit, AMAU, free of boarded patients during periods of peak attendance at the emergency department - the Saolta Group advises that University Hospital Galway is extremely challenged. A 75-bed unit is being completed, as the Deputy knows.

Go raibh maith agat.

When the Minister visits, as the designs that have been completed have been accepted, it is now a case of putting it in for financial backing so the next generation will not have to go through what has happened here. Finally, I would say-----

The Taoiseach will have another opportunity.

We need to look at the possibilities for Merlin Park for the next period and perhaps to move out some of the services currently located at University Hospital Galway and allow it to achieve the excellence in cancer it is looking towards.

I have to be fair to the House. I call Deputy Grealish.

I thank the Taoiseach for his response but I would like him to give a firmer commitment on when the new emergency department will be built and opened at University Hospital Galway. This has been going on for the past number of years but no member of Government or Minister has given a commitment on when it will actually happen.

I welcome the Taoiseach's comments on the minor injuries unit at Merlin Park. This is a major issue and such a unit would solve much of the overcrowding at University Hospital Galway. As well as bringing down the number of people at the emergency department in University Hospital Galway and reducing the worrying risk to patients from the current overcrowding, it would greatly reduce the length of time people must wait to be seen and treated. Current waiting times at the hospital are unacceptable. In the first seven months of this year, only 58% of the people attending the emergency department were dealt with in the first six hours and a quarter of the total were still waiting after nine hours. Both figures are well below the national average, and that is not to mention the 2,000 plus who were waiting 24 hours or more. Perhaps the most shameful statistic, from figures provided by the HSE, is that 50% of patients aged 75 and over in Galway were waiting more than nine hours to be either discharged or admitted, which is more than 3,300 of the most vulnerable members of our society.

Go raibh maith agat.

I will finish on this point. Patients turning up at the minor injuries unit in Roscommon, and this shows how successful Roscommon is-----

Sorry, Deputy. I have to be fair to the House. Members are taking too much advantage of my generosity.

-----wait an average of one hour in the unit and are seen and out within two hours. That is the success of a minor injuries unit. I hope the Taoiseach will consider one for Merlin Park.

The Minister opened an endoscopy unit at Roscommon County Hospital that is doing brilliant work. We have moved quite a long way in respect of this emergency department. It was contained in the programme for Government and was given priority. The design has been completed and has been accepted by HSE Estates. It is now a question of being able to provide for that within the adjustment of the capital programme for 2017. I would also make the point that, as the Deputy knows, a 75-bed unit has just been completed and will be commissioned and equipped by the end of this year, hopefully. That will free up a number of other wards that can be closed for refurbishment in order to help this situation.

The staffing numbers have increased somewhat in the emergency department. There are 54 whole-time equivalents there, including newly appointed clinical nurse managers who do an absolutely first-class job.

Go raibh maith agat.

This is not the way we would like it to be but I think we are in a clearer position than before.

I cannot give a date but it will continue to be an absolute priority having moved through to acceptance of the design by the HSE, moving to the review for capital programme and with the other areas that will make it better for everybody.

We heard the sad news today of the death late last week of a man called Paul Gorman in Dundalk. It seems the cause of death was that he had been sleeping out overnight and was exposed to the cold weather. We pass our thoughts and prayers to his family. Similarly, we heard yesterday that the number of people sleeping rough in Dublin increased by 50% to 140 in the past year. Those working in the area are concerned that does not fully reflect the level of the crisis in housing and homelessness facing us. There is talk that people are starting to sleep in tents in green areas in Dublin. This reflects the scale of the crisis. Tent cities will possibly grow up in the city unless we start to address this issue. There are over 5,000 people in emergency accommodation. Can the Taoiseach tell me that we will have space for those 140 people during the cold period in the year, and facing into the new year, so that no more people die of exposure from sleeping out? While emergency hostels are opening, they are not enough to deal with the crisis.

Second, and more important, what does the Taoiseach want to do to deal with the rent crisis, which is the underlying reason for the homelessness crisis? I know the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government has a building plan, but that will take several years. It is matched with a support plan for the construction industry, which I fear will only make the rent and housing crises worse. What other measures will the Taoiseach consider? I see the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government is here now and may be able to assist in the answer. Will we do as they do in Belgium when the temperature drops below a certain level and open up State buildings to make sure we do not have any shortfall, or will we do what Germany does by allowing rent increases mirror only what has happened in a particular area over the previous four years and restrict the level of rent increases - not allowing an increase above 20% - so that families are not forced into homelessness and emergency accommodation, or men and women forced to sleep rough? We are not doing enough. I know we have a constitutional right to the protection of property but the Constitution also imposes social duties. We are not treating this homelessness crisis with the severity that it needs, particularly the short-term crisis of people sleeping rough. What will the Taoiseach do this cold winter to avoid any further deaths on our streets?

This is a matter of priority for Government, specifically for the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, and that is why a most comprehensive housing programme, including dealing with sleeping rough and homelessness in all its forms, has been central to what we are trying to do. This programme has serious backing from Government with over €5 billion on the table for the years ahead. That involves emergency shelters, expanded Housing First programmes, acquiring vacant housing, the returning to habitable use of voided units, exits from homelessness and so on. Additional emergency accommodation is being brought on stream in the Dublin region during the winter months. The Minister and the Government, as well as everybody else, would like to see that there is nobody on the streets this Christmas, as was achieved last year. Another 200 emergency beds are being provided for homeless people on the streets, bringing the number to 1,800. Given that the Dublin Region Homeless Executive estimates that there are approximately 115 rough sleepers, the additional bed spaces, coupled with the Housing First programme, will bring about an improvement in the situation here.

Deputy Ryan is aware that the Housing First programme means that for complex cases the services necessary to give them the opportunity to be able to live in a home are put around them. That will provide permanent, stable and supportive housing to long-term homeless individuals and thus reduce their reliance on emergency accommodation at any one time.

Under the Minister's programme, it is intended to triple the Housing First units in Dublin from 100 to 300. This has been very successful in other countries and is now something that is being implemented here with very beneficial results. The Housing Agency will acquire 1,600 vacant housing units in the period ahead.

Along with the provision of stable housing, health care services have a particular role to play in looking after homeless people. The Government has committed to providing that by way of allocating an extra €2 million to the HSE for these services in 2016 and a commitment to treble that to €6 million for 2017 and 2018. That means that those individuals will be able to receive a high level of support for their needs. They can access the range of health services and supports they require while living in the supported temporary accommodation or in long-term accommodation. Of that €2 million, €450,000 was given to the Peter McVerry Trust to support temporary accommodation on Charlemont Street for a further 10 beds. Some €450,000 was also allocated to Crosscare St. Mary's of Dorset Street, and €200,000 was allocated to Sophia Housing long-term accommodation on Seán McDermott Street, which is specifically aimed at focusing on homeless couples with complex needs. That additional funding will also provide four extra care staff there.

The programme for Government commits to step-down facilities after drug rehabilitation. That additional funding will also enhance GP services and so on. There is a great deal going on. I am sure that the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, would be happy to tell Deputy Ryan of the full range of initiatives and the progress that is being made in this area.

A great deal is going on but the problem is getting worse. The simple figure is that there has been a 50% increase in the past year in the number of people sleeping rough. I acknowledge that new centres are opening with 100 beds here and 70 beds there, but 5,000 people remain in emergency accommodation. In the Taoiseach's response, he did not address the fundamental underlying issue as I articulated it, that there is a rental crisis. What is different and unusual about the crisis, particularly in this city at this time, is that people are being forced into homelessness because rental prices are going up so dramatically that they cannot afford to stay in their accommodation. The Government should look at addressing that underlying problem by looking at other mechanisms of trying to restrict the rental increases in order that people are not forced out of their homes and to give renters the rights that we have so far failed to give them. I was amazed when listening to the debate on the Finance Bill in this House about the endless tax breaks and incentives we give to try to get the construction industry to develop. There was no mention of a vacant site levy being introduced ahead of schedule. There was no mention of a site value tax or other measures that might actually push the building industry to build, not just by-----

Go raibh maith agat, a Theachta.

-----giving them tax breaks, but by starting to give them obligations. What is the Taoiseach doing to address the main fundamental underliying problem in this, which is that renters-----

Thank you, Deputy. The Taoiseach to respond.

-----in this city and this country have no rights? What additional powers does the Taoiseach think he could give them to avoid the fundamental cause of the problem?

The Taoiseach to respond.

The Minister will introduce a vacant site levy as soon as he can. By 9 December, there will be three new hostels open in Dublin with 210 extra beds. The new rental strategy will be presented to the Dáil in the next few weeks. That is based on security, supply, standards and services. This city is the most affected area but it is not the only place in which there is a homelessness problem, as Deputy Ryan is well aware. I am sure that he can get all of the detail from the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government. The detail is extensive.

The problem has been exacerbated by the shortage of supply of proper accommodation and that is why Government has focused on the rough sleepers, the homeless, those in hotel rooms and bed and breakfasts and those who are becoming homeless because of elements of the rental strategy. All of these five pillars are proceeding together. It is the most extensive and comprehensive programme to deal with the housing shortage, housing supply, rough sleepers, homeless people and all other forms. We hope that this Christmas and this winter, there is nobody on the streets who is looking for a bed and that there is an opportunity in those very complex cases to continue the Housing First programme and bring them to a location in which the services can be provided around them to give them the opportunity of having their own place.