Leaders' Questions

Despite yesterday's setback and the inability to conclude the negotiations that would facilitate a movement to the next and most crucial phase of Brexit negotiations between the European Union and the United Kingdom, I welcome the significant progress made in the form of the eventual wording that emerged yesterday which would commit all Governments and parties to not having a hard border between North and South in the aftermath of Brexit. I thank the Taoiseach for his briefings as well as his officials and the officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. While there was a lot of negativity articulated about civil servants last week, let us acknowledge this week the diligent and very able work of our civil servants and diplomats in Brussels, Dublin and London who, since the Brexit vote, have focused their energies loyally and intelligently on behalf of the State.

When the vote for Brexit occurred, all parties - the United Kingdom Government, our EU partners, unionists and nationalists in the North and the parties in this Oireachtas - were clear that there should be no hard border. Economic common sense and the desire to preserve and mind the Good Friday Agreement were central to this belief. However, the fears and concerns of unionism need to be addressed. From the outset of the Brexit vote, I have been at pains to separate the Brexit issue from the unity question. Others have sought to conflate the two. For me, Brexit is about the economic well-being of all our communities on this island - the bread and butter of daily lives - and not, as others advocated, an opportunity to pursue a united Ireland through Border polls or otherwise.

On reflection, it must now be very clear to all that the contrived collapse of the Executive and the Assembly has not served the people of Northern Ireland well. It would have facilitated the articulation of different perspectives on Brexit in a democratically elected forum. In short, it would have given a voice to the people of Northern Ireland on a most profound issue. Our agenda and that of the majority in the Oireachtas, I believe, is to limit the economic damage a hard Brexit would do to this island - nothing more and nothing less. The Good Friday Agreement upholds the constitutional status of Northern Ireland and the formula of words of yesterday copperfastens that status and does not undermine it. British–Irish relations are vital to our long-term economic well-being and we would do well to reflect this in our tone and demeanour from now until the Council meeting. Does the Taoiseach agree that the collapse of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly has been very damaging and that these institutions need to be restored as a matter of urgency, particularly in the light of the ongoing negotiations? Does he accept that there needs to be an outreach to unionism that is deep and meaningful, notwithstanding our differences on the issue? Does he agree that nothing in the formula of words or negotiations undermines the integrity of the constitutional status of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom, in accordance with the outcome of the referendum in 1998 and the Good Friday Agreement ?

I acknowledge the considerable work done in recent weeks, particularly over the weekend, to seek an agreement. I refer to the work done by Ministers, officials and diplomats in Dublin, Brussels and elsewhere. I very much regret that it was not possible to conclude the deal yesterday, as had been envisaged, agreed and sequenced.

The Government very much wants to move to phase 2. It does not want to hold things up. It is absolutely in our interests, as a country, to move to phase 2 because it is about the future trading relationship between the United Kingdom, Ireland and the rest of the European Union. If one is an importer, an exporter, a farmer or a worker in the agrifood sector, or if one's job depends on trade with the United Kingdom, one wants to move to phase 2 and so do we.

Phase 2 also deals with the transition period which is so important because it will give people and businesses time to prepare for any permanent change that might take place. It also deals with really important matters, with aviation being just one example. It is a question of making sure planes can still fly and that airlines can agree schedules for the summer and autumn next year. We cannot move to phase 2, however, until we have the assurance we need that there will be no hard border and the assurances we have been promised for 18 months or even longer.

As things stand, the ball is very much in London's court. The Prime Minister, the European Commission and the negotiating teams have asked for more time. We are happy that there should be more time. The European Council is not due to meet until Thursday of next week, 14 December; therefore, there is time to put the agreement back on track. I understand the Prime Minister is managing many difficulties in the United Kingdom. The European Union negotiates together with Ireland; we have the one negotiating team and that team is waiting to hear from London as soon as its team is ready to speak to us about events.

With regard to the unionist community in Northern Ireland, the Government and this Parliament respect the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts. We have no hidden agenda. We respect the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, which is that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom until a majority of the people in Northern Ireland say otherwise. We do not want there to be a border in the Irish Sea any more than we want there to be a border between Newry and Dundalk or between Letterkenny and Derry. Our aim has always been practical - to allow people to live their lives and carry out their business in the normal way in which they have done it for 20 years. I refer to cross-Border workers, people involved in business, traders, exporters and students living in one jurisdiction and studying in the other. That has always been our objective. We were against Brexit in the first place because of the risk of the disruption that could be caused by it and the imposition of the Border.

It is important not to forget to mention the nationalist community. I know that Deputy Micheál Martin did not deliberately forget to mention it, but it is important that it be mentioned. We say to the nationalist community in Northern Ireland that we will protect its rights and freedoms and also protect the peace to which it is equally entitled to enjoy. We recognise that there is not just one political party in Northern Ireland; there are many. We will listen to, respect and engage with all political parties in Northern Ireland.

We will recognise the fact that the majority of people in Northern Ireland, and the majority of constituencies in Northern Ireland, did not vote to leave the European Union.

I did reference nationalists at the very beginning of my remarks when I said no one on this island wanted a hard border, including nationalism, as articulated in Northern Ireland. I made the point in my question, which the Taoiseach did not answer, namely, that the absence and contrived collapse of the Executive and the Assembly in Northern Ireland have not served the people of Northern Ireland well, irrespective of the traditions from which they emanate or the political traditions that they represent. In fact, if the Assembly were in place today there would be a majority in favour of remaining or against Brexit, but the tragedy is that for the past 12 months that opinion has been silenced, in many ways by the absence of a democratically elected forum in Northern Ireland. I have been saying that since the day it collapsed.

Given the enormity of Brexit and its potential damage to Northern Ireland I do not understand that politicians could in my view contrive the collapse of that Executive and Assembly and allow it not to be restored over 12 months. The North-South Ministerial Council would have been a very useful conduit, for example, between the Government and elected Ministers from the North. Does the Taoiseach not think that has been a very significant damaging factor in all of this? It is interesting that Scotland, London and Wales have all said they want the same type of agreement. What that illustrates is that there is a lot of opinion in the United Kingdom that does not favour a hard Brexit and I think it would be worth our while to reach out to that community in Britain who want a close relationship to Ireland and to the EU - in essence the equivalent of the customs union they currently enjoy.

I agree that the absence of an Executive in Northern Ireland has been very unhelpful in the past year when we have been trying to secure a good agreement for Ireland and Northern Ireland. Before the Executive was collapsed there was an outline letter written by the First Minister, Mrs. Foster, and deputy First Minister, Mr. McGuinness, which set out principles which are not very different to what was agreed yesterday in Brussels, and had the Executive remained in place it would have been possible to have a united cross-community elected voice for Northern Ireland, which is not what we have had in the past year. People could be mistaken for thinking that one party spoke for all of Northern Ireland. In fact, only the Executive elected and constituted under the Good Friday Agreement can speak legitimately for all of Northern Ireland.

I agree with Deputy Martin's assessment. Perhaps if the Northern Ireland Assembly was meeting today it might even pass a resolution in favour of what was agreed, as a majority of the people elected to that Assembly wanted to remain and the majority of the parties, including the Alliance Party, the Green Party, the SDLP and others, want to stay in the Internal Market and the customs union but, unfortunately, we have to deal with the situation as we find it. I know the days, weeks and months that were spent trying to get the Executive up and running and to get the Assembly going. I know the enormous work the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, has done in that regard and also the previous Minister, Deputy Flanagan, prior to that. We have done everything possible to get the Executive and Assembly up and running while at the same time trying to handle Brexit negotiations. We will continue to do that.

In terms of outreach to the unionist community and Northern parties, that will continue. As Deputy Martin is aware, not too long ago I spent an entire day in Enniskillen doing exactly that and that will continue. All members of the Government will continue our outreach to Northern Ireland and our business to Northern Ireland. The negotiations are taking place between a sovereign Government, namely, the United Kingdom on the one hand, and the European Union, of which we are part, on the other. These are not negotiations involving one or any political party. This agreement, if we come to it, will be made between the UK Government on the one side and Europe and Ireland on the other. It will not involve one political party to the exclusion of others. That would not be right.

Everything I say must be taken in the context that Sinn Féin has not seen the text of the deal which the Taoiseach outlined yesterday. I thank him for the briefings. Tá Sinn Féin buíoch don Taoiseach, don Tánaiste agus dá gcuid oifigigh.

The Taoiseach should also know that Downing Street is briefing today that the text was not finalised, that those involved were still going back and forth and that the British Prime Minister did not have enough to go to her Cabinet, agus tá sé sin mar eolas don Taoiseach, b'fhéidir.

From the very beginning, Sinn Féin has said that what is required is a designated special status for the North within the European Union. We are not precious about what it is called but we are certain that any deal must ensure that the North remains within the customs union and the Single Market. That is the only way of ensuring stability and certainty for Irish agriculture and business as well as Irish people's lives, prospects and prosperity.

That is not the only issue. Citizens' rights, access to the European Court of Justice and access to European institutions needs to be firmly bedded down. As I understand it, those matters have yet to be agreed. Ensuring that these requirements are met is common sense. It is also, crucially, what the people of the North voted for. Despite the claims of the DUP, this will not change the constitutional position of the North. I say as much as someone who is offended every day by the divisions on this island, including the Border and partition.

We have always said that the Tory deal with the DUP would end in tears. However, we should also not underestimate the consequences of that deal. It has been played out in Stormont in recent times and yesterday in Brussels.

More enlightened members of the DUP know that a special arrangement needs to be struck for the North. They know that this is not a case of orange versus green. Yet, we should not underestimate the contrariness of some of their leaders. Despite this, all of us who live on this island collectively, including the DUP, must protect each other and plan intelligently for a future for everyone.

I genuinely wish the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, all the best in their endeavours in the run-up to the meeting of the European Council on 14 December. However, let us be clear: no matter how diplomatically the Taoiseach may have to put it, his Government needs to stand up against the narrow interests of the DUP and the English Tories. It is about getting the best deal for all of the people of the island of Ireland.

Can the Taoiseach guarantee that his Government will not accept any deal that does not ensure the North remains within the customs union and the Single Market? Can the Taoiseach guarantee that his Government will not accept any agreement that does not have the legal and political infrastructure of the Good Friday Agreement hardwired into it?

The text was agreed by the negotiation teams on both sides yesterday morning and was confirmed to me in telephone calls with the EU Commission President, Mr. Juncker, and the European Council President, Mr. Tusk, during the morning as well. It was only during the lunch that we got information that a problem had arisen. It is always the case with these agreements that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed and signatures are on the dotted line. In any event that would not have happened until 14 December, which is Thursday of next week. Even if it had been the case that the deal had been agreed in the way we had envisaged it would be yesterday, it is possible that it would still be falling apart today - we need to be realistic about that.

Nonetheless, the ball is very much in London's court. We are here to work constructively on behalf of the European Union and Ireland with the UK Government to come to an agreement based on the principles that we had agreed to, at least in principle, yesterday.

It is important to talk about the kind of agreement that we believed was in place. First of all, it would be one that defends all parts of the Good Friday Agreement and its successor agreements. It is one that would continue to ensure everyone born in Northern Ireland could continue to be a British and Irish citizen and, therefore, a citizen of the European Union. Thus it would allow people in Northern Ireland, for example, people born in Belfast and Derry, to study in Paris, if they wished, to travel to Athens and to work in Madrid. People born in Sheffield and Leeds are giving up that right by leaving the European Union. It would protect the common travel area between Britain and Ireland, which is about so much more than us being able to travel freely between Britain and Ireland. It comes with a whole set of reciprocal citizens' rights and the fact that British and Irish people can live, work and study as well as access health care, housing, education, welfare and pensions in each other's countries as though we were citizens of both. We had that agreed too.

We also agreed that INTERREG and PEACE funding, which are so important for Border areas, would continue through to 2020 and 2021 and be favourably considered for the period thereafter. We agreed a solution that we still believe allows us to keep the Border open to trade between North and South.

This solution is that there would not be a hard border and there would be no physical infrastructure. This would be assured in one of three ways, namely, in the end EU-UK new trade agreement, through bespoke solutions that the British Government would come up with or, if all else failed, the UK assuring that regulatory alignment would be continued between Northern Ireland and the European Union. One of these three ways is also one about which the UK Government and those who support Brexit want to talk. By refusing this agreement, the UK Government has made it impossible to talk about the technical solutions it believes could solve our problem. Having asked us for many months to start engaging in options as to how we can avoid a hard border, it has now decided it does not want to have that conversation simply because we have asked that there be a backstop that assures us that in all circumstances there will not be a border with Northern Ireland.

What is interesting, and it has been picked up on by other speakers, is that the agreement we believed we had yesterday and still believe we have, although obviously it has not been ratified, is one which, within hours, was being identified by people in Scotland, Wales and London as an agreement that they too would like. Even people in England, both on the remain and leave sides, have been saying in the past day that perhaps they would like such an arrangement for all of the United Kingdom. It is a remarkable turn of events in that regard. I believe, and this is the most important thing, that the majority of people in Northern Ireland, if they were asked, would like to have this agreement.

Sinn Féin consistently argued that the negotiations should not move to the next phase unless there was movement on the three outstanding issues. We, therefore, support the Government's position in not moving into that phase. What I outlined to the Taoiseach earlier is what Downing Street is briefing today. I am not saying it is telling the truth but simply that this is what it is briefing.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade correctly stated that Ireland cannot afford to take a leap into the dark. The only way to avoid doing that is to have absolute clarity and certainty on the entire island staying in the customs union and Single Market. This is about more than trade, although trade is obviously important. Does the Taoiseach agree - as I understand it, this was not part of the deal he outlined yesterday - that citizens' rights and access to the European Court of Justice and other European Union institutions need to be a central part of any agreement? If so, this needs to be a central plank in his negotiations as otherwise the Good Friday Agreement will be destroyed. The Taoiseach must not let that happen on his watch.

To clarify what I said earlier, what we agreed yesterday was the whole text, not just principles. We agreed principles and a detailed text and we had confirmation of that from President Juncker and President Tusk to whom I spoke last night. The principles and the basic outcome that we want are shared by all parties in this House and I am encouraged by and grateful for the support we have received from Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the other parties. We know what needs to be achieved and we are waiting to hear from London as to how it wishes to proceed. There will be contacts in the coming days to see if there is a possibility of putting this agreement back on track before the European Council meets on Thursday and Friday next. I am reassured by today's statement from the European Commission and the task force that Ireland's position is Europe's position and that Europe stands with Ireland.

Long before the Brexit referendum, it was clear that Brexit presented a mortal threat to the soft border between Ireland and Northern Ireland and the peace process that had been built up by so many people over many decades. The Labour Party has consistently supported the position adopted by the Government on the commitment required by the people of this island from the British Government to ensure Brexit does the minimum possible damage to the hard won political and economic stability on this island. We do so in full recognition of the rejection of Brexit by the people of Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, as we are all well aware, the consequences of Brexit on the Border were not central to the Brexit debate in the United Kingdom, that is, until now.

Yesterday, we were on the verge of a significant breakthrough. Months of extensive work, lobbying and networking - I, too, pay tribute to our officials - with our colleagues in Europe had reached a critical point. Patient efforts to build a consensus on the Irish issues, to get people who did not really understand them to be fully apprised of them, to unite the 26 countries of the EU behind the Irish position and to find a practical solution acceptable to the UK had, we believed, borne fruit.

The final agreement came down to a debate on the difference between no regulatory divergence versus ongoing regulatory alignment. I said to the Taoiseach last week that what we needed was Ireland to act collectively in regard to this. Little did I know that it was the UK that would fail to act collectively. Despite the position of the DUP being that it officially opposes a hard border, it has offered no solutions to achieve that objective. What it is prepared to do is to say, "No". What has shocked me and many others from the middle of yesterday is the failure of the British Government and the Prime Minister, Mrs. May, to ensure that the constituent parts of her own Government and the United Kingdom were on board with what was being agreed. I spoke to my colleagues in the British Labour Party yesterday evening. They were also at a loss as to how such a defeat could be snatched from the jaws of victory. The Brexit demons that have plagued political discourse in the UK have been unfortunately unleashed again.

The solution to this problem is obvious and involves the UK as a whole accepting the need to remain within the Single Market and the customs union, a position, as others have instanced, that has now been accepted by, among others, Wales, Scotland and London. While this morning the leader of the Conservative Party in Scotland has called for ongoing regulatory alignment for the entire UK, exiting the Single Market and the customs union was not determined by the British referendum. There was a political decision made by the British Government to do that, and the outstanding question now is what the British Government will be able to agree to.

I have a number of questions. Our relationship with the UK had reached a peak of strength in recent years. I believe it has been significantly damaged in very recent times. Having formally agreed a position that collapsed over lunch yesterday, how can we as a country now negotiate with the United Kingdom in good faith and how stands the credibility of the negotiating forum when carefully negotiated words can be unpicked after the fact?

I will pick up on one or two points. There was an exchange of text including different options, one being no regulatory divergence and the other being regulatory alignment. On Sunday night, we were satisfied that we could accept either of those sets of words and regulatory alignment was what was accepted by the British negotiators on Monday morning.

We have also agreed a mechanism which, I think, should allow us to move on to phase 2. We all - the DUP in Northern Ireland, all the parties here, all the parties in the North, the British Government, both Remainers and Brexiteers - say we want to avoid a hard border and have no physical infrastructure. How do we achieve that? The agreement that we had yesterday set out three possible options. The first, my preferred option and the preferred option of most Members in this House, is an EU-UK free trade agreement that would allow free trade to continue, not only North-South but between Britain and Ireland. Second, an option which those who have been advocates of Brexit have always said was a possibility, is a bespoke arrangement involving technology and other things about which we are sceptical but we are willing to allow for consideration. Third, and crucially, is a backstop, if all else failed, of ongoing regulatory alignment between North and South. I do not see how we can proceed and how we can achieve what anybody wants to achieve unless we allow ourselves to go on to phase 2 on that basis. We are keen to move on to phase 2 but we must have the assurance we were promised that, no matter what, even as an unintended consequence, there will not be a hard border on the island of Ireland. We have to hold firm on that position.

In terms of relations with the United Kingdom, Deputy Howlin is correct. Relations were probably at their peak since independence around the time of the Queen's visit and the years after that. Relations had been strained in the past year or two, not because of a decision we made but because of Brexit, which is a British policy and a British decision, one that we respect but that we are aware causes enormous problems, not only for us but for others in Europe as well.

Nonetheless, I am very firmly of the view that the Prime Minister, Mrs. May, is negotiating in good faith and that her team, who agreed the language of the EU task force on Monday, were negotiating in good faith. They have asked for more time and we are happy to allow them to have that time and we look forward to hearing from them as to how they now believe we can proceed with this agreement.

However disappointed all of us are at the turn of events yesterday, obviously we are all now required to look forward and not back. Has the Taoiseach had discussions with Michel Barnier since the events of noon yesterday? Has he ascertained his position as the mandated negotiator on behalf of the EU 27? How can Mr. Barnier and his negotiating team sit down and negotiate to a conclusion a form of words, set up a carefully organised series of events involving the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU Council President, Mr. Donald Tusk, the Irish Government and others and have all of that fall apart?

The Taoiseach has said that the ball is now in London's court. What specifically can we do, as one of the EU 27, to ensure that we move on to the next phase of negotiations, while safeguarding the fundamental principles that we, as a House, have set out as our requirements for the conclusion of phase 1?

We operate a particular line of communications. As Deputy Howlin knows, Mr. Barnier heads up the Barnier negotiating task force but that is a creature of the Commission. The Barnier task force reports to the Commission and to the President of the Commission. When I speak to an interlocutor, I speak to the President of the Commission, Mr. Juncker as my counterpart in the set up and also to the President of the Council, Mr. Tusk. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Coveney, mainly deals with Michel Barnier and his task force, which includes a Sherpa who speaks to our Sherpa. That is the line of communications that exists, with which the Deputy will be familiar.

I spoke to President Juncker twice yesterday; once in the morning to confirm our acceptance of the language and once yesterday evening, after things had gone somewhat pear shaped. In our latter conversation he confirmed his ongoing support for the Irish position and asked that we continue to trust him in the negotiations, which we absolutely do. I know that he has cancelled a planned overseas visit so that the essential EU officials can be available for further talks in Brussels in the coming days. We are at the point now where the UK Government is trying to sort out its own affairs and when it has done so it will come back to Brussels for further negotiations. We will be in daily contact with the task force and with President Juncker.

I would like to bring the Taoiseach's attention back to our other national crisis, the housing crisis. Homelessness is at record levels, the price of a house has risen by 50% since 2013 and rents continue to sky-rocket despite the Government's ineffectual rent pressure zones. This Government and its predecessor have treated the housing crisis like some strange, mysterious phenomenon for which we must go on a quest to find solutions but it is actually quite simple. Public house building has ground to a halt; it was slashed to bail out billionaires ten years ago and it has never been restarted. Local authorities own more than 1,200 ha of land with the potential for 38,000 houses but less than 1% of the social housing that is needed has been built on that land. Housing analyst Mr. Mel Reynolds said that it is a policy decision not to build on local authority land and that the State is actually the biggest land hoarder in this country. To hoard land during a housing crisis is akin to hoarding food in a famine. A total of 13 councils did not bother to build a solitary thing in the last two years. Fingal County Council, with which the Taoiseach will be familiar, completed ten homes. Ten homes equates to 0.01% of the number needed for the 8,046 people on its housing list. The Fingal area has 22% of Dublin's population but 35% of its homeless population, mostly in the Taoiseach's own constituency and mine, Dublin West.

It is a microcosm of the national housing crisis.

Solidarity has put forward a proposal to council management to build on its own land. In Blanchardstown the council has 75 acres of zoned land that it has never developed at Damastown. Solidarity has taken drone footage, got architects drawings, made a video, produced a booklet and costed a proposal to provide over 1,100 homes on that land which will be launched tomorrow night by Fr. Peter McVerry in Dublin 15. We seek the support of all councillors for it. Some 50% of those homes will be for workers under an affordable mortgage scheme and 50% for people on the list. Damastown village, if properly planned, with the additional transport infrastructure that Dublin West needs and with dedicated youth facilities and parklands, could transform the lives of thousands of people. Only 15% can get a mortgage. What about the other 85%? Why do we hear on Sean O'Rourke's show today that workers in Ballymun can get a mortgage for €170,000 in the Ó Cualann project but the Taoiseach thinks it is affordable for workers in Blanchardstown to pay €315,000? This could resolve that issue for many workers. Will the Taoiseach back the funding of this project and similar projects nationally, given Dublin West is just a microcosm of the national homeless crisis?

First, I do not agree with the Deputy about rent pressure zones. They are far from perfect but I believe they are working. Some 60% of people in tenancies are now covered by rent pressure zones and, as a result, they are assured their rent will rise by no more than 4% a year. Therefore, the 60% of people who are renting have that assurance, which is a very big assurance, that their rent cannot rise by more than 4% a year. The figures we see from daft.ie and others are published rents, as the Deputy knows. These are new tenancies and new rents, and they do not take full account of the 60% of people who are covered and protected by the rent pressure zones - the existing tenants. The rent pressure zones were designed to cap rent increases to protect people who had tenancies on their homes, and they are working in that regard. They were never designed for new tenancies and do not apply to them.

In terms of social housing and public housing, part of the Deputy's analysis is correct. Due to the collapse of the banking sector, the collapse of the construction industry and the collapse and disaster in the public finances, we were not in a position to build public housing or social housing, or private housing, for very many years. However, it is possible, when we get the final figures, that in this year, 2017, more houses and homes will have been built in the country than in any year since 2010. Therefore, we are starting to see, from a very low base, a ramping up of construction of both social housing - or public housing, if the Deputy prefers - and private housing. The number of directly built social homes this year will be around 2,000 and that will rise to 3,800 next year. We can add to that those that are not directly built by local authorities, for example, houses brought back into use by renovating voids, long-term leases and purchases from developers. That will bring the number of new social homes available to around 7,000 next year, which is a huge increase from only a few hundred a few years ago.

I am very familiar with Fingal. I share the county with the Deputy and we are both former members of that council. Given my familiarity with it, I know for a fact there have been more than ten social homes provided in Fingal in the past year. How do I know that? It is because I have been in more than ten of them. I know the Deputy boycotts these events. She does not like to come to school openings, job announcements or the opening of new social housing because, if she sees no good, then she can perhaps pretend there is no good. However, these places do exist. An example is Hansfield, where there are 100 new social homes, in Wellview, where I and the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, opened about a dozen or so, and also quite a number in Waterville.

The reason the Deputy does not believe they exist, even though they do exist, is because they were not built directly by a local authority; instead, they were acquired from developers, either through direct purchase or through Part V. I can guarantee her that the people who live in those homes, who now have secure social housing, with a council rent, know that these are real homes because they and their families are living in them.

While those houses and people might not count for the Deputy, they do count because they are real properties with real people living in them who now have secure tenancies and pay subsidised council rents.

As regards the proposal in respect of Wellview, we will certainly give consideration to any plan that might help us to provide more housing in the State. The general view of the Government, though, is we want to have mixed developments because they promote social cohesion. If there is public land that could accommodate 1,000 new homes, we would like to see a mix of private housing, affordable housing and also public social housing because that is the best way not just to provide housing but also to build sustainable communities into the future.

Maybe the Taoiseach might actually answer the question this time. Half of the proposed housing in Damastown would be affordable housing, which is a mix. One could not have more of a mix than with 550 affordable mortgages and the development could be delivered. The affordable mortgages would pay for themselves over the period. What the Taoiseach proposes through the HAP scheme is much more expensive than building directly. Since the HAP scheme will, over 30 years, cost €23 billion more than building 132,000 permanent homes, why does he follow this creed? Is it because a few people are enriching themselves off the back of the misery of tens of thousands more?

Regarding Fingal and the other local authority areas the Taoiseach cited, I am discussing direct building, which is the cheapest and most cost-effective way of providing housing, not acquiring at market rates, which is expensive. I hope the Taoiseach will get his party's councillors to back it. We have been told that money is not the object and that there is no shortage of it. The then Minister for Finance appeared before the housing committee last year and it seems that the European Union's fiscal rules prevent us from using money we have available - we do not need to borrow it - to build public homes on public lands. Anyone can see that this is the solution, but it seems that there is neoliberal ideological opposition to doing this and a prioritisation of the private sector at all costs.

First, I did not mention the HAP scheme. That is a separate issue. None of the homes to which I referred would be in that space.

To answer the Deputy's question, we will give full consideration to the proposal she is making in respect of the lands at Damastown. We will, of course, need to see the proposal, test it and see if the business plan stacks up, particularly the Deputy's claim that it will pay for itself. I find that hard to believe, but if her business plan which indicates that this mixed development of social housing and affordable housing can pay for itself stacks up, we would be rather foolish not to take her up on it. Of course, we will consider any serious proposal to build more housing and ensure there will be homes for people who need them and also that everyone will have the opportunity to aspire once again to own his or her own home.

I appeal to the Deputy to reconsider her own very hardline ideological position. Just because social housing or public housing is not built directly by a local authority does not mean that it should not count. I was at an Iveagh Trust development with the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, only a few weeks ago. It is being provided through a long-term leasing arrangement. All of the people moving into that housing know what it is - it is social housing run by the Iveagh Trust, an agency that has been providing housing since before the State was founded. They have secure tenancies and a subsidised rate, but because of the Deputy's ideology, it does not count. I ask her and her supporters to consider their ideology and adopt the approach my party and the Government adopt. When people want housing and come to our clinics, we try to get them into one of these places. We do not try to pretend they do not exist and deny them those places because it goes against our socialist ideology.

I thank the Taoiseach. That concludes Leaders' Questions. We are significantly over time.