I gave a commitment yesterday and took a list of names of Deputies who did not get an opportunity to speak because of the vote. I will be calling anyone on the list first.
Work continues today on managing the fallout from Storm Ophelia, which hit the country on Monday. Those at the front line were rightly praised yesterday and continue to be praised for their outstanding efforts. They include the emergency services, local authorities, the ESB, Irish Water and many others. There are many issues that still need to be addressed but I think we can agree that the most pressing one for those affected is the lack of electricity and water. Today, there are still over 130,000 homes without power, some 48,000 homes are without water supply and another 50-odd thousand face the prospect of potentially losing their water. I acknowledge the extraordinary effort that is being put in by the ESB, which has already restored power to over a quarter of a million homes around the country, but I am sure the Taoiseach will agree that for those without power and in some cases, without power and water, it is an absolute nightmare, particularly for elderly people living alone and families with young children. Many of the affected homes are in County Cork and in several other counties around the country. People want to know when they will get their power and water supply restored. Can the Taoiseach reassure people that everything that can be done is being done? I am told by the ESB in the southern region that help is arriving from Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland, France and even the Isle of Man and that is to be very much welcomed. Does the Taoiseach have an update on the number of homes the ESB expects to be in a position to restore power to over the course of today and tomorrow? The question is the same with regard to water.
The other issue I want to raise, which is very much related to the storm, is insurance. A greater effort is needed to provide information to consumers about their rights and what they can expect, for example, dealing with the myth that acts of God are not covered. There is no such exclusion clause, as the Taoiseach knows, in household and commercial insurance policies. Other measures include advising consumers to read in detail their policy documents and booklets, ensuring that adequate resources are provided by insurance companies to provide inspections, dealing with claims processing as quickly as possible and advising those who are hiring loss assessors, particularly for larger claims, to use the services of companies that are regulated by the Central Bank. When I looked at the website of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, I found no such information and no update from the commission as to what people should be doing in terms of taking photographic evidence and so on and what the rights and entitlements are so I ask the Taoiseach to address that point. I also ask him to give an assurance that Government will engage with the insurance industry to ensure that the claims arising from this storm are not used as cover for further hikes in premiums for both households and businesses throughout the country.
I thank the Deputy for raising this important issue again today. I had the chance to visit parts of Meath and Kildare yesterday to witness some of the repair work that was underway and the excellent work of ESB staff who had been working 12 hours at that stage to reconnect people. I met some of the people affected by loss of power, including some young families. The children were delighted they got two days off school but aside from that, the householders were very much affected by the fact that they could not have normal day-to-day lives. I also met some people with disabilities who clearly had particular concerns. As things stand, 70% of people who lost power have now had their power restored. That is 255,000 homes and businesses. So far this morning, 11,000 homes and businesses have been reconnected. This leaves 125,000 without power. Work is continuing to restore power to those homes and businesses. Assistance is now coming in from Northern Ireland and Great Britain through Scottish Power and will come in from France in the coming days. It is anticipated that the vast majority of remaining homes and businesses will be connected in the next three days but there may be exceptions to that, particularly in some isolated areas. We know from Storm Darwin that it took about eight days to connect everyone and this storm was much worse than that one.
The number of households considered at risk of losing water is down by 80% from 260,000 to 56,000. Of those who have lost water, more than half have now had it restored. Irish Water is working with the ESB to restore supply and reduce risk. The key issue is connecting the water treatment plants to the power network. Where that cannot be done, generators will be installed in water treatment plants as a temporary fix while the power lines are reconnected. There are 3,000 local authority staff across many disciplines, including fire, road staff, engineers and health and safety officers, who are on the ground assisting with the cleanup and repair efforts. I particularly want to recognise the Defence Forces, which have deployed two Army chainsaw teams to clear roads. The Defence Forces will deploy a 10,000 l water tanker to assist Kilkenny County Council to provide emergency water services to people in Kilkenny. Water was restored this morning to Kilmaganny. The Defence Forces have also deployed Air Corps helicopters which are flying over the power lines carrying out reconnaissance for ESB Networks and informing it of where the faults occur. A total of 30 personnel from the Defence Forces have been deployed in support of the national response and a further 15 Defence Forces personnel and five vehicles were deployed to assist the gardaí in Galway. The Army is helping HSE staff get to their workplaces in Kilkenny and to clear routes in Kenmare and Tralee.
I would appreciate if the Taoiseach could deal with the issue of insurance, which I also raised, and the need for the State to provide information to consumers. Insurance Ireland, which is the insurance industry representative body, has provided information but that is the industry. I think the State's consumer watchdog should be front and centre in providing whatever information and reassurance people need about their rights and entitlements. We also need a commitment from Government that it will engage with the insurance industry to make sure that claims are dealt with efficiently and are settled as quickly as possible and that the cost of this storm in terms of insurance payouts will not be used unjustifiably as cover for increasing premiums for households and businesses around the country.
The concern people have about electricity and water is that progress will slow down.
There are still 125,000 homes without power. Some are in urban centres in large housing estates; therefore, it is not only one-off houses which are still affected. I spoke to the ESB this morning about the need for it to update its website powercheck.ie because the houses that remain without power are not reflected on the website. It is welcome that it is now updating the estimated restoration times around the country. That is the type of practical information consumers need to prepare and plan for the period until their power and water supplies are restored.
The Deputy has that commitment. The Government will engage with the insurance industry in the coming days. The Minister of State, Deputy Michael D'Arcy, will lead that process. I encourage business owners and householders to read their insurance policies as each policy is a little different. It is also important that they make contact with their insurer as soon as possible. Insurance companies ask people to do so in order to conduct a damage assessment. I will follow up on the matter of ensuring consumers and homeowners will be provided with better information by the ESB and the insurance industry.
The Government anticipates that this incident will be treated differently from flooding. When there is flooding as a result of severe weather, people often find themselves uninsured because they live on flood plains or in areas that have been flooded previously. As a consequence, they do not have insurance cover. We expect this incident to be treated differently because no one lives in the path of a hurricane which is different from a floodplain. We believe that in the vast majority of cases people will be covered, but the best thing they can do is to read their own policy and contact their insurer as soon as possible.
Last week the Taoiseach misled the Dáil on the health proposals contained in Sinn Féin's alternative budget. He also did this on the North in responding to questions from Teachta Mary Lou McDonald two weeks ago. Incidentally, he gave an entirely untruthful account of the Northern talks process in an interview with the Irish Examiner and in Government briefings for The Irish Times today. The substance of these issues and the reason he did it are matters for another time; I raise them now to illustrate my main point which is whether we believe the Taoiseach or whether we believe Fianna Fáil. Yesterday in this Chamber the Taoiseach said Fianna Fáil had not raised with him the need to reverse the unfair 2012 changes to the State pension which disproportionately impact on women. As he knows, tens of thousands of men and women are not receiving a full State pension. These are senior citizens who get up as early as the Taoiseach or me every morning if they are able, and many are losing as much as €30 every week.
Sinn Féin in its alternative budget. which the Taoiseach has said he has read, proposed to reverse this injustice, but the Government ignored this proposal, just as the previous Government did when we made the same proposal last year. Furthermore, in December Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil blocked a Sinn Féin motion which called for the 2012 changes to be reversed. There were a number of opportunities for the Government to deal with this issue, but it refused to do so. When the Taoiseach says Fianna Fáil did not raise this important issue with him, he might clarify that he means the Fianna Fáil leader, but despite not raising it with the Taoiseach, Deputy Mícheál Martin has now tabled a Dáil motion to achieve the very outcome his party blocked last December and which it did not see fit to raise with the Taoiseach during the negotiations on last week's budget. Is the Fianna Fáil leader in breach of the confidence and supply agreement? The reason Deputy Mícheál Martin did not raise the issue with the Taoiseach is he had signed off on the confidence and supply agreement which did not include a remedy for this discrimination against these pensioners. That is why he did not want it to be included in the budget. Last week the Government and Fianna Fáil concluded negotiations which led to the totally bonkers and unbelievable budget. Now, following justifiable outrage, Deputy Mícheál Martin has done a U-turn and wants to change an essential part of his agreement with the Government. It is very likely that the Government will lose the vote on the matter if Fianna Fáil continues with its U-turn. Will the Taoiseach say where the confidence and supply agreement will stand in that case? Will the Social Welfare Bill remedy this issue? When will these pensioners get their money?
I did not mislead the Dáil last week on Sinn Féin's health policies. Deputy Gerry Adams is the great misleader in Irish politics, and let nobody be in doubt about that. Last week he claimed it would cost €691 billion alone for the health service to stand still. He also claimed that his budget proposals which would have provided an extra €450 million were on top of this. I have read Sinn Féin's budget proposal again and that is not what it states. I invite anyone who is independent on these matters to scrutinise it as it demonstrates once again that Sinn Féin's policy is like asking people to buy a pig in a poke. When one goes through it, the figures simply do not add up. I will not mention the €2 billion of tax increases Sinn Féin proposed imposing on people, with 14 different tax increases on everything from betting, inheritances, pensions and employment.
It is important to understand there are different types of pensions paid by the State: there is the public service pension paid to public servants, the non-contributory State pension which is means-tested and the contributory State pension. This issue relates only to one of them, the contributory State pension. It works like any other contributory pension such as the pensions Deputies are paid, as well as people across the public and private sectors. The amount of pension is related to the number of contributions one has made. It is normal in workplaces for someone to have to work for 40 years to qualify for a full pension or, in some cases, 30 years and to make contributions into the pension fund for each of those years. That is how a contributory pension works.
Sinn Féin's pre-budget document proposed to reverse one set of changes, namely, the ones made in 2012. However, if one were to reverse those changes, it would not give the people in question a full pension either because even before 2012, contributions were banded in a particular way, which gave people with fewer than 48 contributions on average less than a full pension. As is so often the case when we discuss this issue, it is not as straightforward as people want to make it out to be. It is very complicated. If we are to make changes, they should not be piecemeal. We should understand what they are, how much they would cost, how they would affect individuals and different groups in society and the knock-on effects they might have. To help with a rational discussion of this the Minister, Deputy Regina Doherty, will publish the actuarial review of the PRSI or Social Insurance Fund which will help to inform the debate. If we care about the pensioners of today and the future, it is most important that we ensure the Social Insurance Fund does not become bankrupt. It was in deficit for years. When I became Minister for Social Protection, because of the recovery in the economy it went back into surplus but the actuarial analysis shows that it will return to being in deficit again in coming years. We will do nothing for any pensioner if we make changes now or in the future that will bankrupt the fund. We must ensure the amount of money coming in from contributions from people paying PRSI today will be enough to match what the State pays out in pensions and other benefits.
The core matter is the reversal of the cut made in 2012. Does the Taoiseach accept that the 2012 cut is unjust? Does he accept that these people are entitled to a full pension? Does he accept that they cannot afford the cut? Thirty euro is a bottle of wine or some such little ornamentation for members of the Cabinet-----
Please allow Deputy Gerry Adams to continue, without interruption.
Where does the Deputy buy his wine?
That is good wine. You have very expensive tastes there, Gerry.
Deputy Gerry Adams without interruption.
What I said - the Government and Fianna Fáil Deputies heard me - was "for the Cabinet".
Deputies should act responsibly. I will give Deputy Gerry Adams injury time.
It takes years to ferment, of course.
I am sure the pensioners who will be watching "Oireachtas Report" will see the unity between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael on this issue.
The clock is running.
Our alternative budget provided for the reversal of this cut.
He is sipping his glass of wine watching "Oireachtas Report".
Deputies are depriving other Members of time to ask questions later.
He is not adhering to his own rules on pay.
I will repeat myself. Our alternative budget proposal provided the means to reverse this cut and costed it at €70 million. The Taoiseach has not contradicted that or challenged it. Neither has he challenged the fact that Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil can, between them, reverse this cut. The root of the problem is they decided not to. They decided in their confidence and supply agreement and in their budget last week that they would not include this. It was not included in the budget priorities.
Tá an t-am caite.
It was not included by their spokespersons in any of their Dáil or budget speeches.
The Taoiseach to respond.
I ask again, when will these pensioners get their money?
The Taoiseach to respond and he has one minute.
I will repeat my point.
Deputy Adams got injury time. I have been very reasonable.
It is a little amount of money for the people in the Cabinet. It is a huge amount of money for pensioners who are deprived of it. The Taoiseach should reverse it quickly and speedily.
Every time I listen to Deputy Adams speak it is so evident that he does not fully understand the detail of the issue he is raising, nor does he understand, once again, his own party's proposal. His party's proposal is to reverse the changes made in 2012. That still does not give any of those people a full pension. It might give them something approaching a 98% pension rather than a 71% one or an 80% one.
The difference is €30.
It is remarkable that every time Deputy Adams stands up in this Parliament it is so evident that he neither understands the policy issues the Government is grappling with nor does he understand his own party's proposals. It is extraordinary, I have to say, the level of-----
Arrogance on your part.
-----lack of knowledge and understanding from Deputy Adams again and again.
The Taoiseach without interruption.
It is not surprising that he thinks a bottle of wine costs €30 in that context.
That is why we never see him hanging around the bar here.
I know Deputy Adams likes to travel first class whenever he can find someone to pay for him, but I am not sure who is buying his bottles of wine for him. It is some bottle of wine that costs €30.
With regard to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the matter was not raised with me personally but I can confirm the matter was raised briefly in discussions between spokespeople in the run-up to the budget.
Thanks for that clarification, at least.
It was raised by Fianna Fáil spokespeople with Ministers.
We have to observe the time limits.
However, it was not put down as a priority measure because the priority for parties was the €5 increase across the board-----
We have to observe the time limits.
-----for disabled people, carers, blind people, widows, pensioners and unemployed people.
There will be other opportunities.
In any budget we have to prioritise. There is only a certain amount of money. The other priority, particularly on this side of the House-----
Taoiseach, please co-operate.
-----was to make sure we did something on children and increasing the family income supplement, which we did, increasing the qualified child payment for the first time in eight years.
The Taoiseach will get another opportunity.
The priority in terms of the parties that are party to the confidence and supply agreement was increases across the board and targeting poverty, and that is what was done. In that sense, the confidence and supply agreement was honoured.
I would like all Members, Ministers and Deputies to observe and keep an eye on the time because we are depriving others at a later stage. I call Deputy Brendan Howlin.
The Leas-Cheann Comhairle knows I am always disciplined on time.
The Deputy is, yes.
The tracker mortgage scandal has now affected 13,000 customers, with that number expected to rise. A total of 102 houses and apartments were repossessed as a fallout from the scandal. A total of 23 of these were family homes and a further 79 were buy-to-let properties. Put simply, 23 families were put out of their homes as a result of what can only reasonably be described as malpractice on the part of the banks. As the Central Bank has made clear, only 25% of those have received redress or compensation.
The Central Bank wants all banks to start their compensation programmes at the end of the year. Only three banks have even done anything to date. This problem started with PTSB, but it is now clear there was a sector-wide approach across the banks that disadvantaged mortgage holders. The Central Bank says it has no choice but to move slowly on this issue, but that is clearly not good enough when we see the level of real harm done to families. It is not good enough for the thousands of families who have been ripped off to the tune of thousands of euro, and it is certainly not good enough for those who have been put out of their homes.
We now know that two banks are being pursued by the Central Bank for ongoing failure to identify customers caught up in the scandal. In the name of public accountability, will the Taoiseach write to the Central Bank and make the names of these banks public? The Central Bank has said that legislation giving it power to compel banks to give a certain level of compensation can only be applied in cases occurring after August 2013. We know some of these cases go back to 2008. Has the Taoiseach considered amending legislation to require all banks to pay a set level of compensation where they have ignored contractual obligations to mortgage holders? Will the Taoiseach give us a definitive timeline as to when all impacted customers - and some as I have said were grievously impacted - will be identified, when the ongoing harm to them, their families and their well-being will be stopped, and when all affected customers can be expected to be given proper redress and compensation?
The Government believes the behaviour of the banks in regard to removing people from tracker mortgages was scandalous. We also believe the banks have been dragging their feet in solving this problem at a real human cost. Some people have lost their homes. Others have lost investment properties. Aside from the financial cost, there is, of course, the impact on people's mental health and well-being. It is our view that people affected should have had their tracker mortgages restored and should have been fully compensated by now. As a Government, we have lost patience. Consequently, the Minister for Finance has arranged to meet the CEOs of the main banks, Bank of Ireland, AIB, Ulster Bank, PTSB and KBC, on Monday and Wednesday next week, and he will admonish them for their conduct on behalf of the Government.
Three years on.
He will also seek a detailed explanation from the banks as to why the process has been so slow and their plans for resolving it quickly.
While the Central Bank is fully independent as a regulator, the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, is also contacting the Central Bank to ensure it has sufficient powers and resources to ensure the banks resolve this problem. The Government will take further action if we do not see further progress much more quickly, whether this is through enhanced powers for the Central Bank or increased taxation imposed on the banks by the Government. It is very much in the interests of the banks, their shareholders, management and staff to fix this situation and to do so quickly.
The Central Bank yesterday published its latest update on its industry-wide examination of tracker mortgages, which was commenced in 2015. Approximately 13,000 impacted accounts have been identified by lenders as of the end of September, an increase of 3,100 since the March report. The Central Bank is currently pursuing enforcement investigations on tracker mortgage-related issues arising in Permanent TSB and Ulster Bank Ireland, and two further enforcement investigations into other lenders are now in train. It is anticipated that more enforcement investigations will follow.
The Central Bank is not making the names of the two lenders known while the process is ongoing. As a result of the Central Bank's challenges, the two lenders are reconsidering certain outcomes of their reviews and are due to revert to the Central Bank by the end of October. If the Central Bank is not satisfied with the response from those two lenders by the end of October, at that point the Central Bank will name those two lenders. As of the end of September, lenders had rectified the interest rates applied to approximately 98% of the customers who were affected, so in 98% of cases people are now back on the interest rate they were supposed to be on. However, redress has been much slower and the initial proposals fall short of the Central Bank's expectations. So far, only 3,300 account-holder homeowners have received redress and compensation, and the Central Bank now expects that all lenders must have commenced providing redress and compensation by the end of this calendar year.
More than two years have now passed since the courts found that PTSB had mismanaged a mortgage. More than two years have passed since the Central Bank began its enforcement investigation, yet only a quarter of those affected have received any redress. I do not think that is acceptable and I do not think the House believes it is acceptable.
I do not understand why the two banks concerned cannot be named here. That would be a start in the process. It is imperative that we set out a clear timeframe for compensating all affected customers and, in so far as it is possible, righting a terrible wrong that was done to them. We talked about other issues in terms of needing to have a clear timeline in which to have things done. In this case, banks have clearly abused their own customers. In my judgment, the activity of the banks, which have really benefited from the extraordinary support and benevolence of the taxpayers of this State, is a gross act of betrayal. Does the Taoiseach agree with me that we now need a clear timeline as to when all affected customers will be fully compensated for their losses?
As the Deputy will appreciate, I cannot speak on behalf of the Central Bank. It is independent. It is very important, given the office I hold, that I respect that. The Central Bank said to me in the briefings I have been given that it wants to give the two lenders concerned a little more time to get their act together. It is indicating that it is expecting a reply from the two lenders by the end of October, which is only a few weeks away. I expect, or suspect, that if the Central Bank remains dissatisfied after that, we will know the names of the two financial institutions.
I absolutely agree with Deputy Howlin that we need a clear timeline for compensation and redress. As the Deputy knows, 98% of people are already back on the interest rate they should have been on in the first place, but really only between one quarter and one third of people have been compensated. The Central Bank is expecting redress and insisting that it be under way in all cases by the end of the year. There may be difficulties in individual cases, as is often the case, but we certainly expect to see the vast majority of people receiving redress before the end of the year.
It is important to point out the law has been changed in this regard. It was changed under the Central Bank (Supervision and Enforcement) Act 2013. That is legislation that was brought in under the previous Government, the Fine Gael-Labour Government. Unfortunately, most of the activity in question took place prior to the introduction of that legislation, and legislation is not retrospective in Ireland. To a certain extent, the people here are very much victims of the light-touch regulation that existed prior to 2013.
Almost four months ago to the day, I used my time during Leaders' Questions to raise the very serious issue of domestic violence. More specifically, I raised the failure of the Government to provide funding of approximately €1 million to review the groundbreaking study that was carried out in 2002, indicating over 3,000 victims of violence generally. This confirmed the extraordinary prevalence of violence in Irish society. Since then, the Taoiseach has presided over a budget that utterly failed and fails to grasp the seriousness of the issue or make any provision to deal with the extent of domestic violence and its pervasive and detrimental effect not only on women and children but also on society at every level. Simultaneously, the Taoiseach has provided €5 million for a strategic communications unit. He did so notwithstanding the urgent representations from SAFE Ireland, which represents over 30 organisations on the ground that are more than familiar with the catastrophe owing to violence generally, particularly domestic violence. It pointed out that 4,831 requests for a safe place or refuge - a massive number - were refused last year. It pointed out that we are dealing with the tip of the iceberg, and that 79% of women do not report abuse. It pointed out that there is no such thing as a typical victim. Domestic violence affects those of every social class, age and level of education. It pointed out that domestic violence is rarely a once-off event. One in every three women experiences severe psychological violence, and over 12,500, comprising almost 10,000 women and approximately 3,000 plus children, attended for a safe refuge. The organisation also pointed out that there is a serious lack of safe havens.
I would really appreciate it if the Taoiseach listened because he accuses the Opposition of interrupting him and giving false facts. I am confining my remarks to outlining the facts of the experts on the ground. Where is the Cabinet sub-committee that the Taoiseach's colleague and former Taoiseach promised to set up? Where is the leadership in respect of this issue, which is costing the economy a minimum of €2.5 billion per year? Where is the Taoiseach's leadership in helping people to avail themselves of the benefits of his so-called "Republic of opportunities"? If the Taoiseach does not have an answer and comes back to me, I will respect that, but he should not give me sanctimonious rhetoric in regard to this matter. He should clarify why there is no Cabinet sub-committee and how he can stand over giving €5 million for a spin unit and not giving €1 million to review a report on sexual abuse and violence in Ireland. He should please tell me he will read SAFE Ireland's findings, work with it and come back here with a plan and timescale.
I assure the Deputy that domestic violence is an issue the Government takes very seriously. It is one we are determined to tackle and reduce as best we can through a suite of measures. It affects both men and women but it is very specifically dealt with in regard to women in the recently published Government strategy on women and girls. In addition, the Domestic Violence Bill has been published and is at Committee Stage. I ask the House to work together on an all-party basis to ensure that important legislation will go through.
On the question on the Cabinet sub-committee, domestic violence is covered by Cabinet sub-committee B. I have adopted a different approach to Cabinet sub-committees. In the past, there might have been 15 or 20 dealing with any issue deemed important, ranging from the Irish language to climate change - the list goes on - but the approach I have adopted is different. Just because something does not have a dedicated Cabinet sub-committee does not mean it is not important to the Government. We have a much smaller number of Cabinet sub-committees, each of which deals with very important issues, including domestic violence, which will be dealt with by Cabinet sub-committee B.
I did not receive notice of this question so I do not have an up-to-date note on it. I will endeavour to get back to the Deputy with a more detailed answer once I have it. Budgets across Departments have been increased very significantly. There was a €650 million increase in the health budget, and there was a 48% increase in the budget for housing. There was a substantial increase in the budget for the Department of Justice and Equality. Therefore, the budgetary increases for the Departments that deal with domestic violence – the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Health, and the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government – have been very substantial indeed. I am sure some of the additional resources will be dedicated to addressing the issues related to domestic violence.
With regard to whether we will spend another €1 million commissioning another report, or another statistical or academic study, on domestic violence is a matter that will have to be considered by Ministers. Departments up to this date have said they are satisfied with the statistics and information they have. Rather than spending €1 million on another study or statistical report, they would prefer to spend it on other things, such as services or additional shelters and housing. It is, however, a matter on which I absolutely have an open mind. If the people within the Departments believe expenditure on an academic analysis or statistical report should be prioritised over alternatives, I will be happy to consider it.
I welcome the fact that the Taoiseach has an open mind on it. I am not reassured, however. He referred to Cabinet sub-committee B. It is unfortunate that it is a B committee rather than an A committee. Leaving that aside, the Taoiseach has not explained why he changed a Cabinet sub-committee that was formed as a result of the previous Taoiseach highlighting the importance of leadership, the need for something to drive the reduction and prevention of domestic violence, and the role of education in its prevention. He has not explained how he could allocate €5 million for spin and he has not explained the position on the €1 million. It is not academic research that SAFE Ireland is requesting. If the Taoiseach reads the documentation he will see that, after the research of 2002, those concerned followed up with qualitative research and found out the actual study helped the victims in coming forward.
It is beyond Cabinet B committees. It is time for leadership. It is time for the Taoiseach to come back and say he is setting a date and a timescale; that he is setting up a Cabinet committee that will drive the issue and that he is going to work with the organisations on the ground. Homelessness, for victims of domestic violence, has not been captured in the figures. Such victims have no place to go. I appeal to the men in suits that if it does not get them on the level of emotion and psychology, perhaps it might get to them on the level of the €2.5 billion cost to the economy per year. It makes sense to deal with it.
I again thank the Deputy. Among the actions being considered by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Charles Flanagan, is the provision of free legal aid for victims of alleged domestic abuse. That is one of the things he is considering and prioritising in his budget. It is not a decision I will make personally, but four of the Ministers who are involved in our struggle against the heinous crime that is domestic violence will have to consider what the priorities are. I understand a real priority for the Minister for Justice and Equality is providing free legal aid for individuals who are victims of domestic violence. Deputy Catherine Connolly would also like us to prioritise the allocation of €1 million for further research and studies. I am not ruling that out by any means; I am just saying that no matter what budget one has, one has to prioritise within it.
In terms of the communications function within my Department, as I explained on many occasions, it is cost-neutral. My Department is one of the few that had its budget cut for 2018 because we will meet the cost entirely from reductions in spending in other areas within the Department. If the Deputy read the Irish Independent today, she will have seen the effect the unit has already had in getting the message out and warning people about Hurricane Ophelia. Communications are not a waste of time. It may cost money, but it can also save money and good communications can also save lives. Good communications on domestic violence can also save lives; therefore, I do not think it is something that should be dismissed in the way it has been.
I have explained on a number of occasions that my approach to Cabinet committees is different from that of the former Taoiseach. He took a view that if there was an important issue, one of the first actions should be to set up a new committee. As a result we had 20 or more Cabinet sub-committees.
I have been more than reasonable with the Taoiseach.
I have a different approach. I do not think the best way to solve a problem is to set up a Cabinet sub-committee. The best way is to take specific actions.
I will say no more. That completes Leaders' Questions.