Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

One in five families across the State lives in rented accommodation and one quarter of all households in Dublin rent. Renters are working single people and couples, some desperately trying to save for a deposit. They are separated and divorced people, in some instances, who have lost their family home. They are families recovering from mortgage distress. Renters are students forced to choose between sky-high rents and a crippling commute. They are modest-income earners approaching retirement who never had a chance to buy their own home and who now look nervously to the future. They are 300,000 households and 750,000 people. That is who renters are.

Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have been in government together for five years, first in confidence and supply and now in their coalition Government. During that time, the cost of renting has spiralled out of control. Average rents now stand at €1,352 State wide and €1,848 in Dublin. Today, an average-income worker renting in Dublin pays more than €22,000 a year in rent - more than half their take-home pay. Renters, of course, still have to put food on the table, provide for their children and face the massive gas and electricity bills. As things stand, those who wish to get a deposit together do not stand a chance of doing so. They are locked into what can only be described as a nightmare.

It took a pandemic for the Government to introduce emergency protections for renters, but since the Taoiseach has been in office, all these protections have been stripped away by his Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien. The result is that rents have started to spiral out of control yet again. The long-promised supply of affordable cost-rental accommodation has not materialised. However, the Government's tax breaks for vulture funds continue. This means they can still gobble up apartments, for which they charge extortionate rents to the tenants concerned.

To top it all, the Government announced a budget yesterday that did nothing for renters. Why is this? Not a single measure in budget 2022 will alleviate the financial pressures faced by renters. There was no move to cut rents or ban rent increases, no measures to improve standards or security of tenure. The Tánaiste has stated one person's rent is another person's income. While this budget does nothing for struggling renters, it made damn sure big landlords still get their income, given that the only private rented sector measure in the Government's budget is an extension of a tax break for landlords.

Tá sé go hiomlán scannalach nach raibh aon rud sa bhuiséad do chíosaithe atá ag streachailt. Tá cíosanna imithe ó smacht ar fad agus tá na cíosaithe croíbhriste leis an gcostas maireachtála atá ag ardú, ach ní raibh dada ann dóibh.

Why has the Taoiseach's Government refused to show up for renters, people who are facing extortionate rents? When will it cut rents, ban rent increases and provide tenants and renters with the security and affordability they so desperately need and so rightly deserve?

I need to correct the disinformation given to the House. The truth matters. Fianna Fáil has been in government for 15 months and we have had a Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage for the past 15 months. We have not been in government for five years. The Deputy should not continue to articulate an untruth-----]


The Taoiseach, without interruption.

Just because the Deputy keeps saying it does not mean it is true. It is untrue and she should stop saying it in the interest of proper honesty in public debate.

Let us leave that to one side. The Deputy is also ignoring the fact this budget does deal with many thousands of people who rent, but maybe people on the housing assistance payment, HAP, or on the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, or people who get rent supplement do not matter to her. These are real renters in real homes whom the Government directly supports, namely, 65,000 tenants with HAP, 17,000 through RAS and 20,000 through rent supplement, with about €600 million provided to support renters in those situations.

The other key measure announced yesterday that will benefit renters is the tax relief from the indexation of income tax bands and credits. A total of 1.8 million working families will benefit from that tax package announced yesterday. The Deputy has opposed that and her party's finance spokesperson said yesterday that Sinn Féin is against that tax relief. It is a tax relief that will benefit renters. I have spoken to some renters, people in their mid-20s who are earning incomes in and around €35,000 or €40,000. People who earn below €35,000 will benefit also. They will get some relief from that tax relief. The Deputy not only ignores that but actually opposes it and thinks we should not have indexed the tax bands, which will give a modest relief to people who are renting and paying tax in that regard. For remote workers, there is further tax relief. Across the board within the budget, a variety of cost-of-living measures will, I hope, reduce costs in health, childcare and other areas to assist people and more, of course, needs to be done.

The most fundamental way to deal with the rental situation is to provide for supply of houses, and the Housing for All strategy does that in an unprecedented way through the interventions that will be taken and particularly through the cost-rental model. Next year, 1,500 homes will come on stream through the cost-rental model. That is a scheme the Minister has committed to and it will grow and be ramped up over time, which will see rents significantly below market level. The Minister has introduced five rental Acts to help deal with rent issues and to keep the pressure downwards in respect of rent. He introduced legislation to tie rents to the consumer price index. Unfortunately, inflation has increased in recent months, mainly through global issues arising from the impact of Covid, but the Minister is committed in the coming weeks to bring in a cap below the level of inflation to keep downward pressure on rents in order that they will not increase at the rate they would have previously. This will be lower, obviously, than what was provided for in rent pressure zones. The Minister has also been consistent and focused on improving the capacity of the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, in respect of identifying landlords who breach rent caps and penalising them. He has provided additional resources in the budget in this regard, with €11 million given to the RTB for 2022 to help it carry out this work.

We have taken measures to ensure our resources are targeted at those who want to rent or buy houses at an affordable level. There is no guarantee that what Sinn Féin has suggested in its Opposition budget would give the results the party thinks it would in respect of tax relief for renters. The Commission on Taxation and Welfare has been consistent on that in previous times in ruling that out as a viable option.

Of course, the truth matters. The truth is not alone did Fianna Fáil support Fine Gael in government through confidence and supply but the Taoiseach came into this House and bragged on more than one occasion that he had secured what he described at the time as a housing budget. That was his claim, his brag at the time.

Consistency also matters and so does this. I have asked the Taoiseach questions he knows are directed towards those in the private rented sector. I do not doubt that the Government will ratchet up money into HAP and RAS, commensurate with its failure to deliver social and affordable housing; that is a long-established pattern. On behalf of those who face rents of more than €1,300 or €1,800 a month, whom the Government has left high and dry, I want an explanation.

I want to know when the Government will finally act and do the right thing. The right thing is to give relief to renters, as we have proposed. Our proposal is to put a month's rental income back in their pockets and to ban rent increases for three years. I want an explanation for those people from the Taoiseach as to why he has failed to show up for them again and failed to take these actions.

I put it to the Deputy that she has opposed tax relief for renters in the form of the indexation of tax bands and credits that the Government introduced yesterday. She is resolutely opposed to that. That will give relief to those who are renting at present through reductions in income tax as a result of those measures. The Deputy opposes that, and she has articulated her opposition to it.

With regard to the HAP payments and so forth, these are real people who are renting right now.

I know. They are trapped people.

We want to provide social housing for people-----

-----and that is why the last 12 months have witnessed a transformation in terms of putting the State centre stage in the provision of social and affordable housing. The Housing for All strategy announced by the Government provides for unprecedented resources next year and the year after. Some 11,000 social houses are to be provided next year. That will ultimately turn around the HAP experience and will result in fewer people on HAP and more people housed through social housing programmes. Equally, the State, through local authorities and through the Land Development Agency, will be providing affordable houses for young people, in particular, and for renters who are currently renting to enable them to buy houses that they can afford.

I want to ask the Taoiseach about a rather sensitive and emotional issue regarding a young boy named Adam Terry. He is from Whitechurch in Cork. Adam and his mum, Christine, had to go on Claire Byrne's radio show with the reporter Brian O'Connell again yesterday to tell the horrific story of the pain Adam is experiencing as he waits for the complex scoliosis surgery which he was promised for the past four years. I am also aware of a ten-year-old boy named Senan. He and Adam share the same interests - trampolining, drama and gaming. I, along with thousands of others, found it very difficult and emotional to listen to the report of Adam and Christine yesterday. I took it upon myself to speak to Christine yesterday evening for over half an hour. Her story was horrific.

Adam's story is far more important and indicative of where we are going as a country than any budget announced yesterday. Why? Our priorities have changed. I am sure the majority of people in this country would give up any modest tax change if Adam and the 172 other children waiting for scoliosis procedures could have them. That is my belief. Adam suffers from Marfan syndrome. He has spina bifida, osteogenesis imperfecta, OI, or brittle bone disease and a heart condition. He was identified with spinal issues when he was 18 months old. He has had 21 procedures in his ten years with us. Some of them did not go well and Adam had to go through an awful lot. He is a full-time wheelchair user. Four years ago his surgery would have been complex, but now it is more complex. It may go to the point where he will never be able to live without pain - imagine that - because of the delay.

Now the curve of his spine is so bad that some of his internal bones are rubbing against each other and he has to try to crack his back to get pain relief. You can see the curve on the side of his body. It is upsetting his organs and potentially causing other medical issues. His stomach is squashed and he cannot eat properly. His weight is down to 18 kg, and remember, he is ten. Adam and Christine were told by Crumlin hospital in December 2020 that the surgery would be done in the spring. That was once again put off to never-never land. In February, the date was put off to another six or nine months. That has not happened and last month Christine had a very difficult conversation with the clinicians in Crumlin. They are considering Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children. As the Taoiseach knows, that should not happen in our country. He should not have to go there because the aftercare and complications of aftercare there would not be good enough. Adam describes his pain as "almost paralysing". This is very hard to take. He said: "Nobody is coming to find me in the lost and found." He has suffered enough.

The question for the Taoiseach is not from me, but from Adam. I spoke to him and his mother at 10.30 this morning. He asked me to put this question to the Taoiseach on the floor of the Dáil. They are his words, not mine:

Dear Taoiseach, I am from Cork, like you. You know my story well by now. Will you please ensure I get the treatment and aftercare I so desperately need so I can get back to school and play with my friends, who I miss so much? I really, really need your help. Thanks. Adam.

I thank the Deputy raising the issue of Adam Terry. Quite frankly, I do not think this is good enough. I do not think any child should have to wait so long to get vital surgery of this type. It is complex surgery, but that is no excuse. Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children should not be the answer, although sometimes it is necessary for children to go there. In my view, this reflects a systemic failure. I have spoken to the Minister for Health and my office has been in touch with the HSE. I will not give any false dawns today. I just want to see the surgery happen. It needs to happen, and it needs to happen in a very timely manner. It is our responsibility as the Government to make sure that other children, and the Deputy mentioned Senan, get access to surgery in a timely manner, not just for scoliosis but also other conditions. I am committed, as Taoiseach, not just to putting pressure on the system but also to ascertain why these situations continue to occur.

We all are familiar with stories about scoliosis over the past six or seven years. Additional resources have been provided and so forth. I have a couple of pages with me outlining what has been done, but I will not go through that with the Deputy. I want to see Adam go back to school and see him mix with his friends. We will do whatever we have to do. The consultants want to help as well in this situation. That is what I am saying to the Deputy. It reflects systemically. It is not a question of resources as the resources are in place. We must ensure elective surgery is ring-fenced from anything that occurs on the trauma side in terms of both theatre capacity and consultant capacity, so that it is not the case that the person or child gets a date, arrives for the operation, and the surgery is postponed because something else has happened.

I do not disagree with the Deputy. I hear Adam's question, through him, loud and clear. I spoke this morning to the parents and I will keep on this case, even though legislation dating from 2013, in some ways and for some reason, tells Ministers they can advocate for but they cannot direct. It was passed by this House in 2013, which is interesting with regard to the governance of the HSE. I believe individual cases reflect the faults of systems and processes and we should have that capacity as public representatives. The individual case can shine a light on a broader systemic problem. It is just not good enough and I want it resolved, not just for Adam but also for other children.

"It is a genuine scandal how many services which children rely upon have failed in recent years. The situation is by some distance worse than it was before. One look at the waiting list for scoliosis illustrates this". Those were the Taoiseach's words in 2017. I could also read others, but I will not bother. The former Minister, Deputy Harris, made a commitment regarding four months that was not honoured. It was that there would be a list and children would be prioritised after four months because of the complexity of what happens as regards the operations needed when there is no timely surgery. We all know it is a worse outcome.

I committed to raising this yesterday. I was driving a car when I heard this, and I got upset. I have a ten-year-old son who does not have these issues, but I would do absolutely anything to ensure he got the best treatment. That is what Christine and her family are doing. There are 172 children waiting for scoliosis treatment. They have to be the priority of the Taoiseach and this Government, above any small tax deductions or fivers here, there or anywhere.

The consultant paediatric orthopaedic surgeon, Conor Green, has very eloquently told the stories of how some of these children have very complex neurological disorders and they need absolute priority. Adam is one of them. Will the Taoiseach please ensure that happens. Yesterday's budget means absolutely nothing to me, tens of thousands watching this or, dare I say it, some people in this Chamber if we cannot deliver for those children.

The budget does not mean anything to parents and children in situations like this. What matters is that our health service can respond in a proper, timely and effective manner to children with particular conditions that require surgery or other forms of medical treatment. That is the bottom line. Investments have been made. Previous Ministers have allocated increased resources and so on. Nonetheless, it is still not good enough that we have children like Adam Terry and others who have simply been waiting too long to get urgent complex surgery done. We need to ensure we have the theatre capacity and the personnel available so that these operations can take place in a timely manner and the appointments for children waiting for spinal surgeries, other surgeries or other appointments happen without delay. I am committed to working on this and ensuring we get it resolved, not just in these cases but for paediatrics in general and children in general so that they would get their operations and appointments in a timely manner.

This morning, the Tánaiste said that most people in this country will be better off after yesterday's budget and the Taoiseach has more or less reiterated that myth. It is critical to puncture that myth and get across the truth about what happened in yesterday's budget. Using even the most elementary arithmetic, looking at the details of budget will show that is not true. The Minister, Deputy Donohoe, pointed out that inflation is running at 3.7%. The Tánaiste actually got the figure wrong this morning and said it was less than 3%, but at least the Minister, Deputy Donohoe, knows what the rate of inflation is. Added to that are the carbon tax increases and the energy price hikes.

I want to zone in on one particular group and I want to use examples from the Government's own budget documentation to show how it disgracefully let down renters in this country. Its claim that little adjustments to USC compensate for that is simply not true. I will use some of the examples because I actually bothered to read the Government's budget books. The booklet entitled, Tax Policy Changes, gives example 3 of Mairéad, who is single and works in the hospitality sector earning €30,000 a year. Given that Mairéad works in hospitality and is single, it is very likely she is a renter. The booklet also gives the example of Roan, who is self-employed earning €40,000 a year, and Nicole with one child. Very likely they are renters. How much of a break on the tax they pay has the Government given them? Mairéad got the grand total of 0.5% more. Roan and Nicole got 0.5%. They along with the majority of people in this country are earning average industrial wages or median wages but the inflation rate is 3.7%. The rise in the cost of living will wipe out by about five or six times what the Government has given to Mairéad, and Roan and Nicole.

However, the situation for rent is even worse. Average rents in Dublin now are in fact higher than Deputy McDonald pointed out. The August Daft report pointed out that average rents in Dublin are €2,200 in south County Dublin and just marginally under €2,000 in Dublin city. In the three months of the second quarter of this year, they increased by 5.7%, on top of 4.4% last year. Of course, many people in rented accommodation also have poor-quality, badly insulated homes and they have no control over energy price hikes. Is it not the actually the truth that the Government has done nothing for Mairéad or for Roan, Nicole and their child? The vast majority of renters are seeing rents go through the roof and become completely unaffordable along with other costs they must bear like energy costs, carbon tax increases and so on. Is it not the truth that the Government has badly let them down?

No, it is not the truth. The first point I would make is the overall context of this budget is that as we are emerging, we hope, from the pandemic, and there are still some challenges so we are not out of the woods yet regarding Covid-19, the vaccination programme and the phased reopening of the economy and society have meant a more accelerated economic recovery than anybody anticipated two or three months ago. That is of value to everybody in society, including renters. Between 2021 and 2022, we are looking at potentially 400,000 jobs returning to the economy. That is fundamental to people who are renting and to all our people. We now need to try to consolidate and maintain that. The budget is in the context of dealing with a once-in-a-century pandemic. Notwithstanding that, we were in a position to give modest relief to people. I am not saying this is the be-all and end-all. The indexation of tax does help people. I do not know whether the Deputy is opposing it. We think the indexation of tax credits and bands modestly helps many people on low and middle incomes, including renters.

There is other cost of living assistance. For example, the investment in childcare will consolidate capacity within childcare and assist people working in childcare who are also renters. Yesterday's budget is a significant turning point for pay and conditions within the childcare sector and creates career pathways for people in childcare which we urgently need to do. We need to build on that in subsequent budgets to make childcare more affordable. Childcare and rent are the two big pressure points for many people in society.

The most effective economic way to deal with rents is to get more houses built - more affordable houses and social houses. Our resources are targeted in that direction while at the same time providing about €600 million to support those on very low incomes who, because of insufficient social housing, are renting using the HAP scheme and RAS and are benefiting from rent supplement. That cannot be ignored and represents a significant targeting of resources by Government to people on very low incomes who are renting.

In the health area, the individuals the Deputy mentioned will benefit from the expansion of access to free GP care, the reduction in the contributions for drug payments and other initiatives such as the abolition of hospital charges for paediatrics. When all that is taken in the round along with the investment in education, including, for example, a significant expansion of DEIS investment and investment in special needs education, we are helping many people in a very targeted and effective way. Most economists do not believe the proposals for more direct relief for renters would have the desired impact in improving the rental market. They believe it could have the opposite effect.

We have a different view about how to deal with rents than some of the other Opposition parties. We believe we should control rents, as is done in other countries, and set rents at affordable levels based on people's income and the size of the property, not refunds or things that will inflate the market, but actual rent controls.

I go back to the example of Mairéad. Based on average Dublin rents, Mairéad is paying between €18,000 and €24,000 a year in rent after tax on her income of €30,000. It is similar for Roan and Nicole.

How are they possibly supposed to manage that? How do the abysmal and derisory measures just referred to by the Taoiseach in any way deal with that? They simply do not, and for the Taoiseach to mention HAP is just unbelievable. The vast majority of people with HAP in Dublin are making top-up payments to landlords because the HAP limits are too low, so the landlords are creaming it with public money they are getting as part of these rents of between €1,800 and €2,200 per month. In addition, they are getting tax breaks on the rental revenue and capital gains they make on the property. That is while Mairéad, Roan, Nicole and their child, along with tens of thousands of other renters, are being absolutely screwed to the wall. There is not one word in the budget books about renters. There is not a single word.

The Deputy is wrong and he knows it. The only way to deal with the rental situation is to build houses and provide houses for Mairéad and all the people he mentioned. Ultimately, the only way to deal with this is to build far more social houses than we have built before and far more affordable houses than we have built before. The Deputy is not in favour of the affordable housing approach.

We are but it must be genuinely affordable.

He is not. He has opposed projects left, right and centre because they did not have the right mix for the representatives on the councils and so on.

We opposed the selling of public lands.

That is opposition. Does the Deputy not get that if we do not get supply fast, it could hold up projects for four or five years? That is doing more damage to renters than anything else.

There was lots of supply during the Celtic tiger.

I can count up to 6,000 units that have been opposed by the people opposite. That is political hypocrisy at the end of the day.

Unaffordable supply is not useful to Roan and Nicole.

We need supply in social housing at a scale we have not done going back maybe to the 1930s, 1950s, 1960s or 1970s. We need to go back to that and get substantial social housing built. We also need to get affordable houses built as well. We need private sector development for the building of houses as well so we can reduce the dependency on the rental market on which, unfortunately, so many people depend.

On the question of rent control, we have been told that a freeze would be unconstitutional. It is easy to keep shouting we should freeze rents for three years but we are being told it cannot be done.

We should have a referendum on it.

In 2016 I raised the question of our bail laws in this House when I told the Taoiseach's predecessor how more than 250,000 offences had been committed in Ireland in the previous ten years by people who were out on bail at the time. The only element that has changed since is the numbers have gone up. In the decade from 2011 to 2020, offenders out on bail were found responsible by a court for a staggering total of 261,427 crimes. They include 84 homicides and almost 9,000 threats to murder or seriously assault, with more than 4,000 robberies, 16,000 burglaries and 65,000 thefts. Of course, these figures only relate to those offenders who were caught and convicted in courts and do not include what may be thousands of more serious offences where nobody was charged or convicted.

Last year alone, people already on bail in respect of other charges accounted for one in every six crimes where there was a court conviction. It is a shocking statistic that these people were responsible for one in every five murders and 25% of people convicted of explosive or firearms offences were also on bail at the time, as were 16% of those convicted of robbery, extortion and hijacking offences. More than 1,200 burglars - again, these are just those who were caught - were out on bail when they decided to wreak havoc on other people's lives.

In total, more than 30,000 people convicted of a criminal offence in the Irish courts last year were offenders out on bail, and that was during a global pandemic, when overall crime figures were down. It is clear something must be done about easy access to bail for serial offenders who have no hesitation in leaving court and going out on the street to inflict further trauma, injury or worse on others. It is obvious the rules governing the granting of bail to repeat offenders are not protecting members of the public from suffering further harm at the hands of these people.

The Taoiseach might tell me that changes have been made since I raised the matter in 2016, with the bail laws tightened through the Criminal Justice Act 2017, but the evidence of the effectiveness of the measures suggests otherwise. The number of offenders committing crimes while on bail has increased since the beginning of the previous decade. In 2011, the numbers were fewer than 25,000 but last year, as I stated, they have increased to more than 30,000. In the year before that, the number was well over 31,000.

Will the Taoiseach undertake to further strengthen the laws governing the granting of bail to people charged with serious offences, making real changes in order to protect the law-abiding citizens of our country?

I thank Deputy Grealish for raising this matter because it is extremely important for people to have a genuine sense of security and a feeling of safety in their communities and homes. It is a priority for the Government and the Minister for Justice. We are striving to provide that safety by engaging with communities, reducing crime, tackling recidivism and supporting victims.

I am aware of recent media coverage relating to the operation of the bail system. The Deputy knows the decision to grant bail in a particular case is a matter for the presiding judge, who is independent in the exercise of his or her judicial functions. It is also important to be clear there is a constitutional presumption in favour of bail as a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. Notwithstanding that, it is open to judges, under section 2 of the Bail Act 1997, to refuse bail for a serious offence where it is reasonably considered necessary to prevent the committing of a serious offence. That provision has been strengthened several times and most recently in the Criminal Justice Act 2017, which was introduced following a review of the operation of the bail laws.

In the justice plan of 2021, the overriding imperative of the prisons policy through a penal reform action plan will be to develop policies that support reductions in the rate of reoffending, helping to reintegrate safely back into their communities those who have committed crimes.

I will discuss the matters raised by the Deputy about the numbers of offenders committing crimes while out on bail with the Minister for Justice. There are two elements in the matter. We must tackle repeat offending in general and there is also the question outlined by the Deputy regarding the operation of the bail system. The Minister for Justice and the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, are prioritising the area of reoffending and the penal reform action plan, particularly as it applies to young people and engagement with those people. A number of initiatives are on the way to try to break the cycle of reoffending, which is an important aspect to this. The joint agency response to crime initiative is a multi-agency response to the supervision and rehabilitation of prolific offenders, and there is a number of rehabilitation and reintegration-focused programmes for prisoners pre and post release from custody.

We understand certain offenders have relatively high risks of offending while on bail. Again, it is a matter for a trial judge to determine whether bail should be granted by weighing up factors in each case. The Government will take further measures to increase access to addiction treatment, education and employment opportunities. There will be increased use of community-funded organisations.

I will continue to engage with the Minister on the operation of the bail system. The constitutional matters around that and the presumption in favour of granting bail cannot be understated. Under the 2017 Act, the court is required to have regard to persistent serious offending by an applicant for bail and the nature and seriousness of any danger presented by the granting of bail to a person charged with an offence that carries a penalty of ten years of imprisonment or more.

I mentioned the inadequacy of the bail laws earlier and the impact they have on people in this country. There is another related matter to which I would like the Taoiseach to turn his attention. Not only are people getting bail and going out to reoffend but they are costing the taxpayer millions of euro at the same time. In the past five and a half years, criminal legal aid has cost the taxpayer almost €350 million, averaging more than €60 million per year and the figure is rising. There is no limit to the number of times offenders can get this free legal representation under current laws, no matter how many times they appear before the courts.

Last year alone, and again in the middle of the pandemic, more than €61 million was paid under the main criminal legal aid scheme, involving more than 73,000 cases. These criminals are laughing in the face of the justice system. They get the best legal representation in court courtesy of the Irish taxpayer, no matter how many times they offended in the past.

They seem to be able to get bail just as easily only to rob, murder and assault at will. Will the Taoiseach agree a major review of the free criminal legal aid scheme is also needed?

It is a matter of grave concern that serial reoffending, and people offending while on bail, causes immense anger to people and the community at large. That is very well put. Again, it is a matter we have to keep under review because many serious cases and issues have arisen while people were out on bail and serious crimes were committed. The general scheme of a criminal legal aid Bill is currently being prepared. The key purpose of that general scheme will be to transfer the administration of the criminal legal aid scheme to the Legal Aid Board. A number of reforms are being considered for inclusion in the scheme, including new sanctions relating to the provision of false or misleading information, introducing an improved financial assessment system for criminal legal eligibility and updating the law on criminal legal aid generally. When that legislation is approved by the Government and comes before the House, there will be an opportunity for Deputies to make their contributions and input into that. That will involve reform of the system.