1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if his officials have outlined to him the necessary legislative changes required to prepare for Brexit. [1428/19]
Vol. 978 No. 5
1. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach if his officials have outlined to him the necessary legislative changes required to prepare for Brexit. [1428/19]
2. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach his legislative priorities for 2019; and his plans for emergency Brexit legislation. [1547/19]
3. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach his legislative priorities for 2019; and his plans for emergency Brexit legislation. [2489/19]
4. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach his legislative priorities for 2019. [2757/19]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 4, inclusive, together.
The Government legislation programme was published on 15 January and sets out our legislative priorities until March 2019. There are six Bills on the priority list for publication this session. Three are Brexit-related; the miscellaneous provisions (withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on 29 March 2019) Bill, which is the primary legislation for the spring programme; the regulated professions (health and social care) (amendment) Bill; and the European Parliament elections (amendment) Bill to enable the number of MEPs for Ireland to increase. The remaining three Bills on the priority list consist of the constitutional amendment Bills necessary to facilitate the referendums on extending the right to vote in Presidential elections to Irish citizens abroad and to change the law regarding divorce, as well as enabling legislation to establish a tribunal to deal with issues regarding cervical cancer screening.
The programme reflects the need for the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel to prioritise work on Brexit-related legislation to ensure that the necessary primary and secondary legislation can be enacted and commenced by 29 March 2019 in the event of a no-deal Brexit. As part of the Government’s contingency action plan, the miscellaneous provisions (withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on 29 March 2019) Bill comprises vital legislation that will need to be enacted prior to 29 March in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The general scheme of the proposed primary legislative actions was published by Government on 24 January. The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Simon Coveney, is the lead Minister for the overall Bill and will lead the Second Stage debate on it in the Dáil, assisted by the Minister of State for European Affairs, Deputy Helen McEntee. The draft Bill focuses on the broad themes of protecting our citizens and assisting the economy, enterprise and jobs. Amendments to the Interpretation Act 2005, which would be required in the event of an orderly Brexit with a transition period, are also included. As set out in the Government’s contingency action plan and in the update provided on 15 January 2019, work is progressing in parallel on the required secondary legislation. On 15 January, the Government approved the drafting of statutory instruments covering a wide range of issues where secondary legislation is needed, from recognition of driver licences to recognition of some qualifications.
As timelines are tight, the Government will work very closely with all Opposition parties in the Oireachtas and all Members of the Dáil and Seanad in ensuring that the necessary no-deal Brexit-related legislation will be in place before 29 March. This Bill will complement the steps currently under way at EU level to prepare for the UK's withdrawal, notably as regards the implementation of the European Commission's contingency action plan and the associated legislative provisions. The draft omnibus Bill may need to be adjusted in light of ongoing developments.
Aside from the legislative priorities, the spring programme also includes 32 Bills that are expected to undergo pre-legislative scrutiny and work is under way on a further 91 Bills. Work is also continuing on other legislation across all Departments and several Bills that are at an advanced stage will be introduced in the coming weeks to be progressed alongside those currently on the Dáil Order Paper. Those on the Order Paper include the National Surplus (Reserve Fund for Exceptional Contingencies) Bill 2018, the Health Service Executive (Governance) Bill 2018, and the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018. It is intended to prepare and publish a further legislative programme towards the end of March.
Last Friday, only after significant pressure from the Opposition, the heads of the Brexit legislation were finally published by the Government. Even though Ireland is the country which would be worst hit by a no-deal Brexit, we are near the back of the pack when it comes to legislative preparations. In fact, we are by some distance the least prepared of the economies that would be significantly exposed to a no-deal Brexit. For example, the Dutch published their draft legislation early last November. It was sent to the parliament where it was discussed and suspended until this week, when the government negotiated amendments with the opposition. Because legislation was published two months ago, it has been scrutinised and the opposition has been given full access to Ministers, officials and background work.
Now that we have draft legislation we need the background material relevant to the various sectors covered by the overarching Bill to be published. There are as many as 11 different sectoral impacts. We need to see the analysis that lies behind the proposals and whether the measures proposed address the issues that have been raised over the past two years in different fora and studies. Can the Taoiseach give us an assurance that he will immediately publish this background work? In regard to the drafting of statutory amendments, there might be a need for a more comprehensive presentation to the House on the detail of all of those statutory instruments.
Given that today the Taoiseach has finally published the Government's assumptions on the fiscal impact of a no-deal Brexit, can he explain why he refused to provide this information on the many occasions we have asked for it in the past two months? Interestingly, the projections published today show a significantly lower impact than that projected by the Central Bank study only a few days ago. As the Taoiseach knows, the Central Bank is headed by an eminent economist who is the favourite to hold Europe's most important economic post. Can the Taoiseach explain the basis on which the Government has decided that the impact of a no-deal scenario will be lower than that projected by the Central Bank of Ireland?
I wish to speak about the omnibus Brexit legislation, the heads of which were published last Friday.
Obviously, we need to have a methodology. How will the detail of that be discussed with the Opposition? Will there be briefings on the component parts of that on a spokesperson-by-spokesperson basis? Is the Bill to be dealt with entirely in a committee of the full House? I honestly submit that is the best way to do it. The notion of referring it to a particular select committee with either Ministers or spokespeople alternating would be cumbersome and not the correct way to do it. Also, the importance of this legislation commands the centrality of this Chamber. I ask the Taoiseach to agree to that.
The exact nature of the legislation to be enacted will be contingent on decisions that are being made this week and next week in the House of Commons, in Westminster. I am reluctant to even put this in these terms but I will come to that. The British Prime Minister today is lobbying her own backbenchers to vote for an amendment that undermines the withdrawal agreement and the backstop that she negotiated and agreed to formally twice, and persuaded her Government to formally endorse. It is a backstop that was largely shaped by her own red lines and her submission that it would have all UK application. How can Ireland negotiate with somebody who formally negotiates for a year and a half, and agrees, but is now seeking to undermine the very agreement arrived at? Is that a basis on which we can continue to engage in good faith?
I appreciate that when there is a live negotiation any commitments made to mitigation or legislative measures have to be weighed against the dynamic and the positioning of the Irish State in that negotiation. Having said that, time is running short now. I would certainly welcome it if we could see the legislation before 22 February. It is imperative that we have ongoing briefings not just at leadership level but spokesperson by spokesperson. I am convinced by Deputy Howlin's suggestion that this be processed by means of a committee of the House. It seems to me to be the least cumbersome mechanism to do that.
The Taoiseach said that already.
We established that we are of one mind on the backstop. We expect that Dublin will remain firm in its resolve and that whatever happens in London, the Taoiseach will not be not convinced, cajoled or pressured to give way on the very basic protections that are required for Irish interests.
On the issue of contingency planning, where we part company and where there is a very significant gap in the Taoiseach's thinking is on the commitment to prevent a hard border on the island at all costs. He will have seen the conference in Belfast. The Minister, Deputy McHugh, was there on behalf of the Government and spoke very well. The Taoiseach will have seen the activism on the Border over the weekend and also the polling data, North and South. Nobody wants a hard border. In fact, a hard border will not be tolerated. The big gap in the Taoiseach's planning, if I can say it to him again, is the fact that he will not rely on the Good Friday Agreement and its provision for a border poll in the event of a crash Brexit-----
Thank you, Deputy. Your time is up.
-----even though the Irish people are now telling him that given a scenario of a crash and a hard border, people want the opportunity to resolve the issue of the Border themselves democratically and to opt for a united Ireland. I want to impress on the Taoiseach again, and I hope he got feedback, that the genie is out of the bottle on this one. Indeed, I hope Deputy Micheál Martin got feedback from Deputy Calleary, who also spoke at the conference. The debate is under way. The responsible thing for the Dublin Government to do now is to plan-----
Time is up, Deputy, please.
-----for that eventuality and the ultimate backstop, which is the Good Friday Agreement, and a referendum on unity.
Briefly on that, the Taoiseach should start to prepare the ground for a border poll in the event of a hard Brexit and any effort by anybody to erect a border. It is a basic democratic call at this stage to let people make their decision if that eventuality occurs.
My question is more generally about the Taoiseach's legislative priorities. I urge him to make a priority of legislating to change the income thresholds for social housing because an absolute cull is happening of the social housing waiting lists where much of the time people are being forced because rents in the private sector are extortionate to do overtime on a regular basis or get marginal increases in their income that do not allow them to buy a house on the private market or pay the extortionate rents but are then taking them over the income threshold for social housing, which has not changed since 2011.
I was talking to a council worker the other day who has been on the list for years. In his wildest dreams his income would not buy him a house in the greater Dún Laoghaire area where rents are absolutely shocking. To pay his rent he has been forced to do Saturday overtime for the past year and a half or two years, and he has to do it because there are staff shortages, but he has now been taken off the housing list. That is happening again and again. A nurse came into our office recently who is on the housing list since 2004. She has just been taken off the list because her income has gone marginally over the limit. That is not acceptable. I would not mind if the Taoiseach had an affordable housing scheme, which he promised, so that those who go over the limit have some alternative available to them but despite promise after promise, we do not have an affordable housing scheme. Is the Taoiseach going to raise the income threshold for social housing to stop this cull of people from the housing list or, at the very least, could he say that basic pay is what should be taken into account? It is outrageous that marginal increases in income because of overtime that is enforced should take them off the housing list that they have been on for years.
To return to Brexit, last week there was a lot of speculation that in the event of no deal we might end up with border controls in Rotterdam or Calais. Unfortunately, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Deputy Creed, in answering a simple question on what would happen in such circumstances stated that the dead parrot that is the withdrawal agreement would suddenly be alive and would fly again. That was not believable. In Davos, the Taoiseach then seemed to indicate that we might see Army personnel back on the Border. That has created a real sense of confusion and those in Westminster are using it by saying it represents confusion in the Irish position, which gives them hope that we may move. Will the Taoiseach clarify something in fairly simple terms? I presume the Government's line is that we will legislate for the package of measures in the event of no deal but the key issue around how exactly the Border would work is only something we would countenance once it becomes a reality. We do not want to negotiate in advance. Is that the Government's position? Will the Taoiseach clarify that confusion, which has not helped matters and which became apparent last week?
The legislation on Brexit will be the most important, complex and technical to come before the Dáil for quite a number of years. The only more significant legislation I can recall in recent history is the ill-fated bank guarantee and the NAMA legislation. When we are talking about very complex legislation, if we fail to have adequate scrutiny and understanding of it, we often end up with bad outcomes that we spend many years seeking to redress as all the information resides with the Government for obvious reasons. Has the Taoiseach considered whether individual Deputies, parties or spokespeople should have additional resources, specifically in terms of legal resources? Second, in the analysis supporting the Bill, it is very important that we understand the relationship of the proposed legislation to the Belfast Agreement.
In terms of the future of the island, it is absolutely important that we both protect the Belfast Agreement and that we have a clear understanding of what we are doing legally, but from talking to lawyers, there seems to be a wide swathe of difference in what we are doing. Has the Taoiseach given any thought to how to address this?
We have a bit of a dilemma because the time for this question is gone. The Deputies have asked their questions but there is no time for an answer. Do Members want to take time from the other questions and give the Taoiseach an opportunity to respond?
It is pointless otherwise.
It is but if Members stuck to their allocated time we would not have these difficulties.
It is an important issue.
It is but Members should stick to their allocated time.
They are all important issues.
Would the Taoiseach be able to answer in five minutes?
I will do my best. I was asked about the legislation at the start and we will have the legislation done on time. Some countries have no legislation done and I am not sure the British will have the legislation done on time but we will. The heads have been published and the Bill will be published on 22 February. If we can publish it any sooner than that, we certainly will do so. It is simpler than Members may think and I am not sure what background information there is to publish. What the officials did was go through all the different areas where legislation may be required and they came up with 17 different areas where we would require primary legislation and then other areas where we will require secondary legislation. Members have that information on the different areas such as healthcare, business, communications and so on. I do not need to go through them because the heads have been published.
On the procedure, as indicated when I met the party leaders last week, we will consult with the Opposition on the appropriate procedure. I heard some support in the House for taking this legislation in a committee of the House. That makes sense to me because it means the lead Minister, Deputy Coveney, or the Minister of State, Deputy McEntee, can be there and the line Minister can also be there. Splitting it up into nine different committees or having Ministers coming in and out of the same committee would be unworkable. I am conscious that I do not have a majority in the House and will require the support of the Opposition to get this through. I would be happy to have those conversations again, either at the level of Whip or at party leader level.
On the fiscal impact, the Department of Finance's projections in the event of a no-deal hard Brexit were not published sooner because they were only finalised last week and they had to go to Cabinet first. I would say that the Central Bank projections are similar, with the Department of Finance's projections being a little bit more optimistic. However, the ESRI and Copenhagen Economics projections were much more optimistic than the Department of Finance's ones. The difficulty with economic and fiscal forecasts is that they are just forecasts and nobody knows for sure what impact a hard Brexit with no deal would have on Ireland. We do not know how much it would affect consumer confidence, for example, and at what level tariffs would be imposed by the UK, if at all. These are assumptions but we have to build our budget and we have to operate on assumptions and these are our revised assumptions.
The public finances indicate that rather than having a small surplus in 2019, the budget will go back into a deficit of about 0.2% of GDP, that the deficit would rise to 0.5% of GDP in 2020, that it would rise again in 2021 and that we would then go back into surplus in 2022. In many ways, it proves the position that the Government took around budget time to be correct. There were many people in this House, particularly on the left, arguing that we should spend more and fund that spending through additional borrowing and because we did not take that advice-----
We said the Government should not cut taxes if the Taoiseach will recall.
-----and because we kept borrowing at a minimal level, we now have the capacity to borrow. This is exactly what I mean when I talk about breaking out of the boom and bust cycle. What we saw in the past was that-----
Not by cutting taxes.
We raised some taxes as well, as the Deputy knows.
That is not the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council's observation.
Quite a lot of money will come in from the VAT increases, as the Deputy knows.
It is not prudent to cut taxes under any circumstances.
What we saw in the past, during times of economic growth and times of boom, was that Governments fuelled that and cut taxes and increased spending at unsustainable levels and when we ended up in a financial crisis, there was no headroom and no money and austerity was imposed on people. We will make sure that does not happen no matter what happens with Brexit and because we have managed the public finances prudently in recent years, we can afford to run a small deficit for the next couple of years if we have to. That means we will not have a return to recession or to austerity measures in the event of a no-deal hard Brexit. However, it means that we will not be able to deliver the levels of increased spending that we might have wished to have done, or that we still intend to do should we able to secure a deal.
On the Good Friday Agreement and a Border poll, we all know what the Good Friday Agreement says. It enshrines the principle of consent, that Northern Ireland will remain part of the United Kingdom until such a time as the majority of people in Northern Ireland wish it to be otherwise or wish for unity to happen. The judgment call is to be made by the UK Secretary of State for Northern Ireland as to when those conditions exist. My judgment, which I know is shared by many in this House, is that mixing the issue of Irish unity with trying to secure a deal on Brexit is unwise. Some of the unionist voices who have been opposed to a deal on Brexit are concerned that some Members of this House or some political forces may be trying to exploit Brexit to bring about Irish unity. That is not the Government's agenda, that is not what we are doing at all and we do not want to threaten anyone's loyalty or identity. We want to deliver an agreement that avoids a hard border, that gives us a transition period and that secures free trade between Britain and Ireland. The issue of Irish unity at some point in the future is a separate one and should be dealt with at some point in the future and not mixed up in these Brexit negotiations.
We will move on to Question No. 5.
Can the Taoiseach address my question?
I asked a specific question.
There are seven more specific questions. I am happy to answer them.
What do Members want to do?
I would prefer to move on. We can have this debate on Brexit another time.
5. Deputy Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee D, infrastructure, last met; and when it will next meet. [1549/19]
6. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee D, infrastructure, last met; and when it is scheduled to meet again. [2490/19]
7. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet D, infrastructure, last met. [2657/19]
8. Deputy Eamon Ryan asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee D, infrastructure, last met; and when it will next meet. [2735/19]
9. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee D, infrastructure, last met. [2758/19]
10. Deputy Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach the Cabinet committee at which climate change is discussed; and the committees at which the issue can arise. [3040/19]
11. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach the Cabinet committee that deals with climate change. [4067/19]
12. Deputy Joan Burton asked the Taoiseach when Cabinet committee D, infrastructure, last met; and when it will meet next. [4207/19]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 5 to 12, inclusive, together.
Cabinet committee D works to ensure a co-ordinated approach to the delivery and ongoing development of policy on infrastructure investment and delivery, housing and climate action. The committee last met on 1 February last and the next meeting is scheduled for Thursday, 31 January.
Although issues relevant to climate change can arise across the various committees, including committee C which covers European affairs, substantive matters of climate action policy are progressed through Cabinet committee D. Significant work is under way across each of the areas covered by the committee through Departments and agencies and a range of interdepartmental groups, such as the climate action high level steering group and the Project Ireland 2040 delivery board. In addition, these matters are regularly considered at meetings of Government and in bilateral meetings with the Ministers responsible for the issues.
Good progress is being made on the delivery of Project Ireland 2040. Through the national planning framework, it sets out our strategic 20 year vision for Ireland's future, balancing rural and urban development and links it with the capital investment of €116 billion over ten years to meet the infrastructure needs of our growing population. The four funds launched under Project Ireland 2040 have a total of €4 billion to invest across the areas of rural and urban regeneration and development, climate action, and disruptive technologies innovation. The first round of funding allocations under these funds, amounting to €276 million, was announced late last year. These funds will leverage further private sector investment in innovative and targeted projects that deliver on the aims of Project Ireland 2040.
The Land Development Agency, another cornerstone initiative of Project Ireland 2040, was established on an interim basis in September and is working to ensure the optimum management of State land through strategic development and regeneration, with an immediate focus on delivering homes, including social and affordable housing. Housing continues to be a priority for the Government and we have seen strong growth in housing completions and in leading indicators, such as planning permissions, commencement notices, and housing registrations. There has also been a strong delivery of publicly funded social housing in 2018, and the finalised figures will be published by the Minister in the next few weeks. We are very aware of the significant challenge in meeting housing demand and tackling the ongoing issues in the housing market. For this reason, budget 2019 provided an increase of 25% in the total housing budget, bringing it to €2.3 billion.
Delivering on our EU 2030 climate commitments and our objective to transition to a competitive, low carbon, sustainable economy by 2050 are also core priorities of the Government. We are investing €22 billion in climate action through the national development plan to ensure our future growth is regionally balanced and environmentally sustainable.
Budget 2019 provides for a range of provisions to lower carbon emissions and to improve sustainability, including more than €200 million for agri-environmental actions to the rural development programme and more than €164 million for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.
The Minister, Deputy Bruton, is currently preparing an all-of-Government action plan on climate disruption and is working with colleagues across Government to develop new initiatives in electricity, transport, agriculture, heating and other relevant sectors. The action plan will build on the progress to date and set out the steps which must be taken to make Ireland a leader in responding to climate change.
On the children’s hospital overrun, the Taoiseach informed the House that the impact on the capital programme this year would be €100 million and to the tune of €450 million between now and 2021. In terms specifically of the €100 million worth of projects that will not be advanced this year, has he had an opportunity to look across Departments, particularly the Department of Health? Can he specify the projects that will not be advanced this year to meet the requirements of reducing other projects to the tune of €100 million? I would be obliged if the Taoiseach could be specific because there is great anxiety about every project now in terms of wondering where the axe will fall.
On the Cabinet decision to approve the children’s hospital, what specific sum was approved by the Cabinet and did that decision involve an absolute commitment that it was the final figure and that there would be no overruns beyond that?
On the capital programme generally, are there agreed public private partnerships to be advanced in the coming year and, if so, what are they?
Regarding housing, it is important the Taoiseach would give Deputy Boyd Barrett an answer to his question. I would add to it a question I asked last week, namely, could there be a review of the disparity of the income limits between local authorities because there are some now that are ludicrously low?
I want to ask about cost rental and affordable housing. No affordable housing scheme has been in place since Fine Gael and, let it be remembered, the Labour Party in government scrapped it in 2011. Now we are in the midst of an unprecedented housing crisis, of which Deputy Boyd Barrett has given examples. Dublin City Council, for its part, has led from the front. It has ambitious plans to develop both cost rental and affordable housing. It has agreed to build 330 cost rental homes, the first in the State on the old St. Michael's Estate in Inchicore and another 300 are planned for Ballymun. It also wants to deliver more than 2,000 affordable homes as part of the Poolbeg strategic development zone, SDZ, in Cherry Orchard and in Coolock as well as 325 homes as part of the land initiative. However, none of this can be delivered without a scheme that lays out the criteria for who may be eligible for such homes, the income levels that will apply, and on what grounds homes may be allocated. That needs to be urgently addressed. I referenced Dublin City Council but I know this applies to a number of local authorities. The absence of this scheme is holding back projects from proceeding. When will we see such a scheme? When will it be published?
I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. This time last year he was spending large amounts of public money not just promoting the new national development plan, NDP, but also advertising specific projects in different parts of the country. We all remember that. The project about which he talked most was the national children's hospital. He said many times that the NDP was fully costed and timetabled. As he was forced to admit last month and as the Joint Committee on Health has heard, there has been what has been described as a catastrophe cost overrun on the children's hospital and on the costs that were provided by the Taoiseach as Minister for Health at that time and in the NDP which he launched only a year ago. On a series of occasions he has attempted to downplay the impact of the overrun, as Deputy Howlin has said. The Taoiseach has been suggesting there will be a benign reprofiling of the implications in later years so we should not be too bothered about it, but that is not sustainable. It suggests he is desperate not to admit the impact of what has happened on the many projects he has launched. We need to consider the impact of the €1 billion extra that will be required. The Taoiseach said it would be €650 million, but my understanding is that the Cabinet apparently signed off on a figure of €1.7 billion prior to Christmas.
It was €1.4 billion.
Some are saying it was €1.7 billion. It can be divided into two amounts, €1.4 billion and €300 million, but that is €1.7 billion in total. Why will this overspend and the dramatic increase in construction inflation about which we have been told in terms of the hospital not happen with other healthcare projects and NDP projects across the board? Presumably the €61 million we were told is needed for fire safety in the children's hospital will apply pro rata to all other healthcare projects.
The issue is whether the Taoiseach is willing to be honest with the public and publish the exact impact on the NDP of both this overspend and the increase in costs which will apply to all other projects across the NDP. He spent hours last year defending his marketing unit on the basis of the need for the public to know what the Government was planning. If these plans change and if there has been an impact on them, surely the public deserve to know. It seems that on one project alone the NDP is way out of kilter in contrast to what was originally suggested would be the cost. I have always described many of the projects in the NDP as a bit fanciful. I know of one hospital that was included because the Minister rang up and asked people to put a proposal together because if they did not get it into the NDP it would not be considered. The Taoiseach can take a pick of ten, 15 or 20 years for that project to be realised. That is the kind of stuff that is going on.
The Taoiseach said in his reply that the Government is preparing an all-of-government action plan on climate disruption. Can he confirm it will fulfil the exact same role as the national energy and climate action plan, which we are compelled to agree with the European Commission before the end of this year under new EU governance climate legislation? It is important we have clarity and that this proposed plan is not the same plan. The plan to which we are required to commit under European planning is the key one. Given that we know we have to reduce our emissions in the non-emissions trading sector by at least 100 million tonnes cumulatively in the next decade, and we know now, after the fact, that the national development plan will deliver at best only a third of that reduction, does the Taoiseach agree we will have to change the national development plan if we are to meet that national climate target we are mandated to meet under European legislation? We will be fined extensively if we do not reach this target and it would deliver major other benefits if we promote public transport, better insulated houses and so on? Is the Taoiseach's action plan for climate disruption the same as the European national energy climate action plan we are required to implement? Will he revise the national development plan to help us meet the goals to which we have already agreed?
I have already asked a question about income thresholds and I will add this further comment. The Taoiseach has gone on and on about a social mix in housing but the failure to raise the income thresholds for social housing makes a nonsense of social mix because nurses, council workers and people who are on low-to-average earnings are being whacked off the social housing list. That completely eliminates any notion of social mix and at the same time no affordable housing scheme has been delivered so no council can move ahead, in reality, with an affordable housing scheme.
I want to ask questions about the national children's hospital. The Taoiseach spoke earlier about his party's fiscal prudence and said that Fine Gael prides itself on its financial management as against the irresponsible populous representatives he accuses us of being. How did he manage to mismanage an infrastructural project of this importance and this scale, such that we have a 300% increase in the costs from the original tender? Did anybody bother to look at the rotten record of BAM, which got it and was €120 million lower than the nearest other bid. That should have raised alarm bells. It built car parks in Holland that collapsed. It had to make settlements with Cambridgeshire County Council over massive overruns on road projects. It built the Ballyfermot Leisure Centre on which there was a significant overrun and it had a five-year long battle with the council about who would pick up the tab for the overrun.
There were also significant overruns in the Port of Cork. Did anybody bother looking into Mr. Costello's record on a project board? He was involved with significant overruns when working for Sisk in Poland and these nearly led the company to collapse. Is it any wonder he stated that there was no problem with BAM's tender because he had a record of it?
I do not think there is any doubt that one of the greatest scandals of this Administration's term is the overrun relating to the children's hospital. People are scandalised by it and how the figures have moved in this extraordinary way. Does the Taoiseach have an upper limit regarding what the hospital is going to cost? Hospitals are often broadly priced in the context of the cost per room. Some years ago, it may have been €1 million per room. Allowing for inflation, if we increased that by 100% to €2 million per room, we would have a cost of approximately €800 million, which is consistent with figures from around the world. Has the Taoiseach, as head of the Executive, instigated any inquiries? There is no doubt that this is a disaster for the country. We all want to see the hospital built.
As the Taoiseach, who is my constituency colleague, knows, I made it clear that I favoured a greenfield site for the hospital somewhere along the M50, with easy access that would not give rise to the costs associated with the site that was eventually chosen by the then Minister for Health. That is all in the past. We now have a project in respect of which the costs increase daily. Has the Taoiseach washed his hands of the matter? He was Minister for Health so he is intimately familiar with it. Has he placed an upper limit on what will be the cost? Has he compared it with the cost of other hospitals for children across the globe? Has he decided to conduct a proper investigation into what has happened to hardworking people's taxes and with the diversion of money from desperately-needed projects in order to meet these highly inflated costs?
We are only on the second grouping. There are six minutes left, which should be given to the Taoiseach. The third group will be the first tomorrow.
With regard to Deputy Burton's contribution, it is important that we bear in mind Cabinet collective responsibility.
The Cabinet decision relating to the site of the national children's hospital was made with the full knowledge of the then Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform-----
On the recommendation of the then Minister for Health.
-----who is now the leader of Deputy Burton's party.
The Taoiseach ropes them in when it suits him and throws them to the wolves when it does not.
We have five minutes left if Deputies want to hear the Taoiseach.
All the Taoiseach has stated is that he does not like a collective-----
In fairness, there is a bit of that going around on all sides.
To answer Deputy Boyd Barrett's question, the income thresholds relating to social housing are under review. I do not have a timeline for a decision from the Minister but they are under review and we acknowledge that as incomes rise, more people become ineligible for social housing, which is happening at a time when house prices are rising faster than incomes. That may be a change but when incomes rise at a lower rate than house prices, it makes sense to increase the thresholds. I agree on that. We do not have the new thresholds yet.
Can we have them soon? Does the Taoiseach have a date?
I do not. The work is under way. A significant part of it is supply. I am sure everyone would agree that our objective is not to get more people on to the social housing list but to provide individuals with social housing so that they come off that list. Approximately 20% of our total housing stock should be public or social housing. It is currently only 10% or thereabouts. From here on, we need to ensure that 20%-----
So 80% would be landlord-let housing.
The houses would be owned by people too. Some 600,000 people own their houses. Another 300,000 have mortgages. This means that 900,000 homes are either owned outright or mortgaged. At least 20% of new homes need to be social or public housing units. We do not have the exact figures yet but we think between 18,000 and 20,000 new homes were built in Ireland last year. That is more than in any year this decade. Approximately 4,500 of those were built by local authorities or approved housing bodies. That does not include acquisitions and leasing, which would bring it to a much higher level. It is over 20%. I do not know when we last had 20% of all new homes being built by public bodies but that is where matters stand. It will take a number of years to catch up.
The capital budget for this year is €7 billion, 25% more than last year. We will need to re-profile €100 million of that. This has not been done yet but we think it will be achieved by deferrals of weeks or months and will not require the outright cancellation of any projects. Savings may arise for reasons outside our control, such as other projects being deferred, not as a result of any Government decision but because of planning issues, judicial reviews and so on. I appreciate that it is causing anxiety and that many people feel the projects they are interested in are being delayed as a consequence of overruns relating to the national children's hospital. That is not the case and we will try to clarify that as soon as possible. I hope that today's decision by Cabinet to go ahead with the N4 to Sligo and the Castlebaldwin to Collooney route is evidence that we are going ahead with these projects and not suspending them.
Is there any chance of finishing the road to Rosslare?
We will finish the Enniscorthy to New Ross road this year.
That was sanctioned by the previous Government.
I am pleased to see that the price for the N4 project was reasonable and in line with expectations. There are not overruns across the board. Many projects are costing approximately what we anticipated they would. Works will start on the new runway for Dublin Airport in the next couple of weeks. While that is not funded by the Exchequer, it is funded under Project Ireland 2040.
Great news for the climate.
These projects are happening. When it comes to any capital project, one really only knows what it will cost when the final tender comes in. It is a bit like putting a house on the market. One can estimate what it might cost to buy but it is only when it goes on the market and a final tender is made that one knows what it will really cost. I am not aware of any new public private partnerships, PPPs. I anticipate that the M20 will be a PPP. PPPs worked well for previous road projects but there are not any that I am aware of. The amount approved by Cabinet for the children's hospital was €1.446 billion but that is not the full Exchequer contribution. That contribution is €1.343 billion, which is slightly lower. The reason for that is that the car park and retail elements are included in the figure but will be commercially run. It is also anticipated that some funding will be raised by philanthropy-----
Did the Cabinet approve an amount of €1.4 billion?
-----for the children's research centre. That includes VAT, so part of that is circulated.
What about IT and kitting it out?
The figure I have seen used, €1.73 billion, includes costs which are separate to the capital costs of building the hospital. I refer, for example, to the cost of integrating the three hospitals into one. That is current expenditure. It also includes the electronic health record that we would have been doing in any event - for example, in maternity hospitals - even if we were not building the children's hospital. Interestingly, the overall amount includes €39.98 million which was spent on the Mater campus, largely by Governments prior to 2011 or 2012. When people use the figure of €1.73 billion, they are including expenditure that would have arisen even if the new hospital had never been built. They are including VAT and costs at the Mater incurred by a previous Government in respect of a hospital that was never built.
The Taoiseach should not be pathetic.
Those are just the facts.