Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

Before I commence my question, I join with the Taoiseach in offering our sympathies to the French people on the appalling fire that destroyed Notre Dame Cathedral yesterday evening. The cathedral belongs to the French people, but in many ways it belongs to the world. Many Members have experienced the joy of visiting it. Our sympathy and support go to the French people on the damage to such a wonderful, historic and iconic piece of architecture.

In recent weeks, the country has been dismayed by the unfolding saga at the Football Association of Ireland, FAI. Thousands of people of all ages, from schoolboy and schoolgirl level through to senior adult level, participate in FAI-run sports and soccer. Many participate by organising, mentoring or volunteering or by celebrating the game of football. Many people on the ground are extremely angry at the current state of affairs. The appearance last week before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport by the FAI was farcical on one level. However, it was effective on another because, although there was much obfuscation and a straightforward refusal to be open with the committee, the court of public opinion did not take too kindly to that. The Irish people saw that they, through their public representatives, were being denied an open and straightforward explanation in regard to the specific matter of a loan of €100,000 to the association by its former chief executive officer. Wider issues of governance and capacity within the FAI emerged from the revelations around that transaction. Essentially, in refusing to be open with the committee, the FAI and its former CEO were refusing to be open with the Irish people.

State support of soccer is substantial, totalling more than €50 million in the past decade. That support has rightly been withdrawn. It can only be restored when we have full, proper corporate governance and, critically, given the impact of the organisation and the number of people who depend on its being properly and effectively run, the commissioning by the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport, through Sport Ireland, of a truly independent forensic audit of the finances of the Football Association of Ireland.

Until this happens, the funding cannot be restored. We had the Genesis report well over a decade ago. Its recommendations were not followed through on, and questions remain as to why this is the case. This is now an opportunity to clean up once and for all and to give full transparency to the affairs of the association.

We learned at lunchtime that Deloitte has submitted a H4 form to the Companies Registration Office, CRO, stating that the FAI has been in breach of sections 281 and 282 of the Companies Act. The implications of this are that transactions may have occurred that were not brought to the attention of the auditors or of which they had no knowledge. Corporate governance expert Niamh Brennan said at lunchtime that it does not get any more serious than this. Failing to keep proper accounting records is indeed-----

I thank the Deputy. His time is up.

-----very serious. I therefore ask that the Government ensure that such a forensic audit of the FAI's finances be organised and that the opportunity is taken to ensure restoration of proper corporate governance and a new era for the Football Association of Ireland arising out of this sorry saga.

I also offer my sympathies to the people of Paris and of France and indeed to all Catholics around the world following the devastating fire which destroyed Notre-Dame Cathedral yesterday. For almost 700 years the iconic cathedral has survived war, rebellions and revolutions, and it will survive this, but the Irish people and the wider Catholic community are heartbroken by the events of yesterday. In this Holy Week we look for hope in the story of the resurrection and an answer to millions of prayers that have been said. As President Macron said today, Notre-Dame is part of the destiny of France and will, I am sure, be reborn and rebuilt.

Regarding the Football Association of Ireland, the Government very much shares the concern of taxpayers, the anger of football fans and the annoyance of the football grass roots with the revelations of how the FAI has been run in recent years, if not for much longer. The FAI is not a public body or a Government agency and its staff are not public servants. About 5% of its funding comes from Government agencies, almost all of which goes to very worthwhile programmes: youth in sport, women in sport, sports capital grants for local clubs around the country, with some funding also for the Euro 2020 games, which are due to be held in the Aviva next year and which I know so many of us are looking forward to. Government wants this to continue because it is our role to fund youth in sport, participation and women's sports, to help fund local clubs around the country and to support major tournaments. We cannot do this, however, until the accounting problems, financial irregularities and corporate governance problems in the FAI are put right. This was discussed at Cabinet this morning, and I know the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Transport, Tourism and Sport is holding hearings today. I agree that investigations by Sport Ireland into the accounts and the finances of the FAI are necessary. It may also be necessary for the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement, ODCE, to carry out investigation under company law if there have been breaches of company law. These investigations need to take place. It would probably be best for Sport Ireland and the ODCE to decide the form of those investigations, but I agree that they are required. The objective must be to restore confidence in how the FAI is being run, ensuring we can get back to doing what we should be doing, that is, promoting this sport, funding it at grass-roots level for participation by young people and women in particular and ensuring that those involved in this really popular sport across the country are able to focus on what it does best.

The Taoiseach did not seem to answer the one question I put to him about the need to commission an independent, robust, forensic audit of the FAI's finances. They have been clouded too much in obfuscation to date. We simply have not been told anything as to why such a loan was necessitated or, for example, what the debt is in respect of the Aviva. How is the FAI performing relative to the Irish Rugby Football Union, IRFU, in this regard? I accept the Taoiseach's point that the FAI is not a public body; nonetheless, the State has invested very heavily in it.

I suggest the Aviva Stadium, and many other stadia around the country, could not have happened without the State's involvement. Much of the funding for the Munster Football Association's football ground at Turners Cross in Cork also came from the State. Sport Ireland is in a strong position. No one can object to the idea of an independent forensic audit. We are hearing many rumours about this issue. What is the state of the FAI's finances today? It is important that there is total transparency. We regulate charities and groups all over the country and when substantial State funds are allocated there is a public expectation that things will be above board regarding basic requirements on corporate governance and transparency in the financial position of a company. The news today that the auditors have submitted a H4 form is very worrying and suggests something is deeply wrong. The only way to clear this matter up is by carrying out an independent forensic audit.

We are broadly in agreement on this matter. I completely agree that Sports Ireland needs to carry out an investigation in the form of a robust, independent audit of the FAI's finances in recent years. As Deputy Micheál Martin knows, the term "forensic" has two meanings. It can mean in depth and in detail, and I agree with the Deputy if that is what he means by a forensic audit. "Forensic" can also, however, have a legal meaning relating to criminality and criminal prosecution. Sport Ireland does not have the authority to carry out criminal investigations or recommend prosecutions and carrying out a forensic audit of that nature could actually prejudice a prosecution.

The world looked on with horror at the inferno at Notre Dame cathedral. I and my colleagues extend our sympathies to the people of Paris, in particular, and to everybody who visited and loved that great cathedral. It will be rebuilt.

The Taoiseach stated last December that the cost of the national broadband plan roll out could amount to many multiples of what was originally estimated. He reiterated that view in recent weeks. We are again, perhaps, faced with a scandalous cost overrun that might be commensurate with the debacle surrounding the construction of the national children's hospital. It is a scenario where a vital piece of infrastructure desperately needed in much of rural Ireland is way over budget and is left at the mercy of one investor. I do not think this is an accidental or incidental occurrence because this is again the result of a botched tendering process.

The completion of this process was targeted for June 2017 but it is ongoing two years later. There is just one bidder now remaining for the contract, leaving the Government and taxpayers in an extremely precarious position. The original estimated cost for the plan was some €500 million. We are advised now that it could, in fact, run into billions of euro instead. Should that transpire, it will be a damning indictment of the Taoiseach's party's management, or mismanagement, of the public finances. We need, therefore, to get to the bottom of what is happening here. The Taoiseach stated in February that he wanted to be transparent on these matters and that he would consult with the Oireachtas. That never happened.

When will we have clarity on the cost of the national broadband roll out? It was supposed to be announced before Easter. The Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, Deputy Bruton, has stated that is not now going to happen despite repeated assurances that it would. The real casualties of this entire debacle are the more than 500,000 homes still without access to high-speed broadband. We still do not have a date for commencement seven years after this plan was originally announced and the commitment to deliver high-speed broadband to every home and business by 2020 is going to be broken spectacularly.

The process has been chaotic and, frankly, farcical. When will we have clarity on when people will actually get access to high-speed broadband? A specific model for the broadband plan has been adhered to whereby the project will be conducted by a private company to which ownership will revert after 25 years.

The Government is now tied to one bidder which has the bargaining power, not the State. If the process fails or the Government decides to ditch it, what is plan B?

Time is up, Deputy, please.

Leaving households, businesses and communities in the lurch is not a policy option here.

I thank the Deputy for the question. As I have always said about this and other projects, small and large, one only really knows what the true cost will be when the bids and tenders come in. When it comes to this project, there were three bids.

We do not have three bids.

While it is true that two of those three bidders have since withdrawn, we have three bids and we know what the cost is of the project. All three bids came in at a similar figure. When the Deputy referred to the original cost estimate of €500 million, she neglected to mention that it was for a very different project which was designed to bring fibre to 11,000 towns and villages but not to rural areas. Whenever people speak of the cost being multiples of that original estimate, it is important always to point out that it is a different project. Bringing fibre to the villages of Ireland is not the same as bringing it to 540,000 homes, farms and businesses in rural Ireland. It is quite a different project. Since this Government of Fine Gael and Independents came to office, we have seen a major increase in the number of homes with access to high-speed broadband. It was approximately 50% three years ago but is now over 75%.

That was done by commercial companies.

Not by Government.

That still means that without Government intervention, approximately 540,000 homes, farms and businesses will not have access to high-speed broadband. That is why Government intervention is required. It is not a small number of people and it is not a small number of homes. It is 540,000 homes, farms and businesses and over 1 million people and it will require the laying of 100,000 km of fibre. It is a huge project when looked at in that way.

The Government needs to spend a little more time before we can bring a decision on this to Cabinet. As the Deputy knows, the cost, including VAT, contingencies and so on could be in the region of €3 billion, albeit spread over 25 years. However, the benefits must be borne in mind. It is 540,000 homes, farms and businesses and over 1 million people. It is a huge project of huge scale. We want to do this and to do it right. Before we bring a decision to Cabinet, we want to ensure there is no better alternative. Deputy McDonald asked about plans B, C and D. We are examining all of those because we want to be convinced that the business case, costs and everything else are deliverable, that it is done in accordance with the public spending code, that is being technically reviewed, that international expertise and an outside panel have examined the plan, that all of the alternative ideas being floated are not better and that it cannot be done cheaper or quicker. We want to be satisfied of all of those things, make a Cabinet decision and bring the plan before the joint committee and Dáil to allow Members to examine the facts also.

I would not buy a smart phone any time soon.

The Taoiseach says he wants more time but we know from a response to a parliamentary question submitted by my colleague, an Teachta Stanley, that 80 civil servants and consultants have been working on this tender process for over two years. The whole process has been marked by delay, which has generated massive frustration and impatience right across those rural homes and communities which the Taoiseach describes, and now he says he wants more time. The Taoiseach challenged me on the using the term "multiples of the €500 million" but it is the phrase he used himself. He said it would likely cost multiples and, as such, it is his language not mine. What we want to know now is the final cost.

It is astonishing that the Head of Government would take such a laissez-faire approach to final costings. He should have a view as to the affordability-----

It is not laissez-faire at all.

-----or price range. In a similar manner to his colleague, the Minister for Health, Deputy Harris, regarding a hospital that will perhaps be the most expensive ever built anywhere in the world, the Taoiseach persists with this laissez-faire approach.

Time is up, Deputy, please.

I have asked two questions. I would like an answer to them. I actually asked three on the issue of cost, the issue of timing-----

Your time is up, Deputy.

-----and, if all else fails, plan B. We have offered the Government a plan B by way of using the established ESB network.

Deputy, please. Your time is up.

The Government has resisted that thus far. Will the Taoiseach consider it if the situation comes to that?

I really think the Deputy needs to pull out her Irish-French dictionary and look up what the word "laissez-faire" means. There is nothing laissez-faire about this at all.

I think the Government's forensics were laissez-faire.

We are going into this one in excruciating detail. Deputy McDonald is right - those are my words.

A laissez-faire attitude to money.

The final cost of this will be a multiple of the original estimate, but what the Deputy never mentions is the full truth.

The Taoiseach said that was not the original estimate.

There is a difference between the truth and the whole truth. This is a different project.

The original estimate was based on bringing fibre to 11,000 villages-----

The Taoiseach is wrong. That is incorrect.

-----not fibre to 540,000 homes, farms and businesses.

Read the roll-out document. Read the actual plan.

That is not the case.

Every home and every business.

If we look at the scale----

The former Minister, Pat Rabbitte, announced it.

If we look at the scale of this project, we are talking 500,000 homes, farms and businesses.

This is Orwellian.

He will have to correct the record again.

We are talking-----

The Government has been reading George Orwell.

This is twice now.

-----about benefits for over 1 million people.

The Taoiseach will be back in here again correcting the record tomorrow. I assure him of that.

We are talking about a project of the scale of rural electrification, which took 20 or 30 years.

The Government will be announcing it again before Easter.

I am only trying to be helpful.

This will not take that long.

The Taoiseach will be correcting the record tomorrow.

We are looking at a project of the cost and scale of Ardnacrusha.

We are back to Ardnacrusha again.

In relation to plan B, of course we are looking at other options. I said that earlier - plan B, plan C, plan D.

Time is up, Taoiseach, please.

The problem with the Sinn Féin plan, which of course is being considered, is that, first of all, the ESB pulled out. It would cost more-----

After the Government allowed Eir to cherry-pick. That is why the ESB pulled out.

-----and because of rules around state aid and procurement, we could not just award it to a semi-State. We would have to put it out to tender. As to the Sinn Féin alternative, the ESB pulled out, it would cost more and it would take longer.

After the Government allowed Eir to cherry-pick.

I call Deputy Howlin.

Will the Government make the announcement again before Easter?

On a point of order, Deputy Enda Kenny-----

George Orwell is mandatory reading for the Cabinet.

We will have order for Deputy Howlin, please.

On behalf of myself and the Labour Party, I express my support and solidarity for the people of Paris and France following the devastating fire at Notre-Dame de Paris last night, a world heritage site that, hopefully, can be fully restored.

In recent weeks, women from across Ireland have been telling their stories on Joe Duffy's "Liveline" about their experiences of our maternity services. There is an urgent need to improve our maternity hospitals. Last year, we saw months of delay in beginning the work on moving the national maternity hospital to its new site at St. Vincent's hospital. While Holles Street continues to deliver excellent care to mothers and babies, international best practice is for maternity hospitals to be situated on the same campus as acute hospitals to allow for all the necessary consultants and specialist care to be provided on site. That delay is regrettable.

This year, the Government has confirmed that the plan for the national children's hospital involves the co-location of the Coombe maternity hospital, which is to be moved from its current location on Cork Street. The trilocation with St. James's Hospital would provide for best international practice. However, the Minister for Health has confirmed in recent days that there is no funding this year to start the work on moving the Coombe to the St. James's site. Earlier this year, I asked him to confirm whether there was sufficient space on the St. James's site for a new maternity hospital. According to newspapers, a three-acre site has been put aside. The Taoiseach might indicate exactly where that is, as people have asked and encountered difficulty in identifying it.

The Minister has indicated that he will be spending money this year on theatres in the Coombe in lieu of moving it. To what extent will this investment be transferable once the new hospital is built? Is this investment in the Coombe an indication that it will remain at the Coombe site for years to come?

Will the Government provide a clear timeline for the delivery of the new national maternity hospital at St. Vincent's, that is, when it is envisaged that it will be completed and opened? Will the Government further provide a timeline for the moving of the Coombe maternity hospital to the tri-located site at St. James's and confirm whether there will be enough space? Finally, will the Government provide a timeline for the delivery and relocation of Limerick's new maternity hospital, which, by everybody's understanding, is also urgently needed?

The Deputy will be aware that for the best part of 20 years, no new hospitals, with the exception arguably of one, were built.

That is not true.

We are in a very different space today, with three hospitals under construction, namely, the national children's hospital, the national forensic mental health hospital in Portrane and the new national rehabilitation hospital in Dún Laoghaire.

The Taoiseach should answer the questions.

After a long time, therefore, without any new hospitals being built, there are now three projects in train.

That is not true. It is a distortion.


Apart from the Central Mental Hospital, which other hospital was built in the past 20 years?

Tullamore hospital and Tallaght Hospital.

Tullamore hospital was built 20 years ago.

It is not far off 20 years in any event. Tallaght Hospital was built in 1999.


Whole wings have been built.

St. Vincent's is a relatively new hospital.

The Taoiseach to respond.

I am often accused of spin. If, however, people think a new ward or wing constitutes a new hospital, they need to reconsider.

What about the timelines?

Maternity services are very good, which we see from patient outcomes at all levels. The staff in maternity services, such as midwives, nurses, obstetricians and others, do a fabulous job. There are approximately 60,000 births every year but, while services are good, there will always be people who have an unsatisfactory or bad experience. It is important that we listen to those stories, learn from them, and see what we can improve. For the past two years, we have carried out a patient experience survey in which patients are asked to judge our health service. A total of 83% have indicated that they had a good, very good or excellent experience. We need to extend that to maternity services.

The national maternity strategy provides for the co-location and relocation of four maternity hospitals. Holles Street will be moved to the St. Vincent's campus, while St. Munchin's hospital in Limerick will be moved to the Dooradoyle campus. The Coombe hospital will be moved to the St. James's campus, a site for which has been designated for some time, although it will involve demolishing outpatient clinics and other actions. The Rotunda Hospital will be moved to Blanchardstown.

What about timelines?

They cannot all be done at the same time. We are building three hospitals. Only so many can be built at one time. Planning permission has been secured for the first, Holles Street hospital, which will be moved to St. Vincent's., where necessary works are under way to move the pharmacy and make space for the new hospital. I anticipate that will go to tender this year and that construction will begin next year. The others will move into the tendering, planning and design process, which has not yet started. The projects will have to be completed one by one. It would be wrong of me to indicate a particular timeline and then be unable to stand over it, particularly when one considers what has happened in the context of other major capital projects.

The Taoiseach is right that we are fortunate to have extraordinary people working in maternity services but they often work in adverse conditions. This afternoon, the HSE apologised to those women whose experiences were outlined on Joe Duffy's radio programme and recognised shortcomings that need to dealt with through the provision of proper resources. The Taoiseach indicated that the Holles Street will be moved but the project was announced by the former Minister for Health, Senator Reilly. As the then Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, I allocated the money to allow that to happen. However, it still has not happened. The money was allocated almost five years ago.

The most urgent issue now is that we are building a state-of-the-art children's hospital. It is to be tri-located but the Government will give no indication of when the Coombe hospital will be moved to the site involved.

The Government has an opening date for a new children's hospital but the whole idea was to have it close to a maternity hospital-----

-----whereby the most vulnerable babies could have instant access to the best children's hospital facility.

Thank you, Deputy.

I am using the 24 seconds that I kept from the last bit.

Will the Taoiseach indicate whether he agrees with me that it is urgent, if the vision for the determination that St. James's Hospital is the appropriate site, to have three hospitals built and that one of them cannot be put into abeyance sine die?

To the Deputy's credit, he allocated funding for the relocation of the national maternity hospital to St. Vincent's hospital and he allocated a sum of €50 million for the Coombe and Rotunda hospitals. As we all know, allocating a sum is not the same as allocating the amount of money that will be required to do these projects. We will not know that figure until the tenders come in and the planning and design have been done. One thing we are changing about public procurement is that we will not decide to go ahead with any major capital project now until the tenders actually come in.

Is the Taoiseach suggesting the Coombe move will not go ahead?

That is a change but it is a change for the better. It is not correct to claim credit for having allocated the money for something before actually knowing what it would cost.

Is the Taoiseach suggesting the Coombe is not going ahead, subject to some other verification?

Everyone agreed with us three years ago that we would not sign off on major capital projects until the tenders came in and we know the price.

Surely the whole basis of-----

The Government did that.

That applies-----

It signed off on the children's hospital.

That applies to all projects of every nature.

All except the children's hospital.

It appears to be a sensible policy in my view.

I would be delighted to answer these questions but I am not-----

I do not think that is the case.

The Taoiseach is not making sense.

The policy for a very long time has been to trilocate a national children's hospital with a maternity hospital and an adult hospital. Seven years ago, it was decided to do this at the St. James's Hospital site largely for medical and clinical reasons, not reasons based on cost or planning. The children's hospital is now under construction. It will be finished in 2022 and commissioned in 2023.

We are over time.

We will need to start planning and design for the Coombe hospital to move to the adjacent site before that.

Following the publication of the Social Justice Ireland report yesterday, do the Taoiseach and Government feel ashamed that 760,000 of our citizens are living in poverty and approximately 250,000 of them are children? This is in one of the richest countries in the world and, as the Taoiseach keeps reminding us, a country that has nearly full employment. A huge cohort of those living with their children in poverty are working. They are the working poor. This is utterly shameful. There are many contributory factors to this obscene level of poverty, including low pay, precarious work and the extortionate cost of childcare. There is no doubt that probably the major contributory factor at the moment is the obscene and unaffordable cost of housing and rent. Average housing costs nine times the average income. Rents in Dublin for a three bedroom home average an astonishing €3,400 per month.

I will give the Taoiseach two instances of where the failure of his housing policies are directly contributing to driving people into poverty. Many working people whose incomes are slightly over the income threshold for social housing have been completely abandoned by the Government in terms of housing support. A recent report showed 20% of households pay more than 40% of their income on rent and 10% pay an incredible 60% of their income on rent. Most of them get no support from the Government. The Government will not raise the social housing income thresholds to give these people social housing support and it provides no affordable housing. There is another cohort, namely, housing assistance payment, HAP, tenants. I was shocked to discover in a response to a question to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council this week that 70% of HAP tenants in its area make top-up payments over and above their normal council rent contribution.

Threshold has said that some 50% of HAP tenants are paying top-ups over and above their normal rent contribution, which is driving them directly into poverty. To give an example, Elaine, who has four children and an income of €1,400 per month, is paying €350 per month on top of her council rent of €182 per month. This leaves her with €900 per month for herself and her four children. There are many more examples. Does the Taoiseach accept that the failure of the Government's housing policies is directly driving families, in particular children, into poverty and deprivation? Will he commit to abandoning the failed HAP policy and guarantee in the meantime that no HAP tenants will be forced to make top-up payments that drive them into poverty? Will he raise the income thresholds for social housing supports? Will he also tell the House where the affordable housing is to be found because there is none?

I thank the Deputy. There are lots of ways in which the Government is helping people to buy their own homes. The help-to-buy scheme helps people to get a deposit by getting some of their taxes back. Some 10,000 people have availed of that scheme, which has helped them to get a deposit to buy a new home. The Rebuilding Ireland home loan has helped thousands of people to get mortgages. In addition, there are all of the actions being taken by the Government to increase housing supply. Of the 18,000 new homes built last year, one in four was social housing built by local authorities or affordable housing bodies. It is probably the first time in a long time that one in four homes built here was public housing. We will continue and intensify that in the years ahead.

The social housing income limit is under review. We acknowledge that it needs to be reviewed and increased because house prices have increased more rapidly than incomes. That work is currently being done.

I wish to come back to something the Deputy said earlier, which was not true. On the figures he used relating to poverty, what the Deputy said was very misleading. He included people who are in poverty and added to that the number of people who are at risk of poverty. Being at risk of poverty is not the same as being in poverty, which means having a low income and, as a result, suffering forms of deprivation. That is terrible and we need to reduce that and work on it every year, as every Government does. Being at risk of poverty is a relative measure related to earning 60% less than the median income. The Deputy is a bright guy who understands facts and numbers. There will always be hundreds of thousands of people who earn less than 60% of the median income. What he said, therefore, is not true. He combined the figure for those who are at risk of poverty with the figure for those in poverty and said it was poverty. That was misleading and the Deputy should not do that type of thing.

Figures from the Central Statistics Office, which nobody disputes, show that poverty rose during the recession and financial crisis but has been falling for five years. Having peaked at 12.8% in 2013, it fell to 12.7% in 2014, 11.5% in 2015, 10.9% in 2016 and 8.8% in 2017. While we do not have the 2018 figures, we anticipate that the rate has fallen again. What we see are five years of falling levels of deprivation and poverty. The questions the Deputy should have asked me are what policies the Government has brought in to make this possible and how have we succeeded in bringing down poverty levels and deprivation for the past five years. The answers are simple. The first is to do with employment. A person in employment has a 95% to 97.5% chance of not experiencing poverty. We and the Irish people have worked so hard to turn the economy around to make sure we are approaching full employment. We have increased wages. The minimum wage has increased by nearly 25% since 2011 or 2012. Wages are now going up across the economy. We have increased welfare payments of all forms for the last three budgets in a row, including weekly payments and targeted payments such as those for children in low income families and the fuel allowance. We are also bringing in subsidised and affordable childcare. We are extending school meals programmes and free GP care to more and more children. The question the Deputy should have asked is how we managed to reduce poverty every year for the past four years. That is the answer to the Deputy's question.

When I need the Taoiseach's help in formulating questions I will ask him for it. I will cite the recent Social Justice Ireland report on these so-called incorrect facts. It states that approximately 230,000 children in Ireland are living in poverty today. That is one in five children under the age of 18.

The group the Taoiseach refers to is the 110,000 people who are living in consistent poverty. There are 230,000, or a shameful one in five, children living in poverty. It is clear the Government does not feel the shame, but it should. Followed by children under 18, who form the biggest cohort of those living in poverty, the second biggest cohort, at 14%, is people who are working, also shameful. The working poor are the people who get up at 7 a.m., earn a pittance and cannot afford the cost of putting a roof over their heads. I asked the Taoiseach two specific questions. First, will the Government raise the income thresholds so that these working people can access social housing support?

Time is up, Deputy.

The Taoiseach said it is under review. It has been under review for a year.

Deputy, please your time is up.

When will the Government raise the thresholds instead of, as is currently the case, culling people from the housing lists and abandoning tens of thousands of others and failing to give them housing support?

Your time is up Deputy, please.

Second, will the Taoiseach commit to end the practice of people on HAP tenancies being forced to pay top-ups, because if they pay those top-ups, by definition, they are their children are driven into poverty?

I think the Deputy is easily one of the brightest and most intelligent Members of this House. For that reason, he should do better than to take his speaking lines from a press release, released by a campaign organisation or NGO of any sort. The official measure of poverty in Ireland is consistent poverty. The Deputy has added to that people at risk of poverty and created a definition of poverty that is not the one that is internationally accepted or the one used in this State.

That seriously is splitting hairs.

At risk of poverty is a relative measure related to the fact that there are people who earn 60% less than the median income. Unless everyone earns the same, and that could be nothing, there will always be a lot of people who earn 60% less than the median income. Consistent poverty is the official poverty rate in Ireland, recognised broadly because it is low income plus two forms of deprivation, and that has been decreasing for four years among adults and among children because of the policies of this Government. I know we need to do more but that would not be happening if we were not at least getting some things right.