Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 30 Mar 2022

Vol. 1020 No. 3

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

Ar an Aoine, chonaiceamar an méadú is mó ar easpa dídine ó thosaigh Covid. Tá beagnach 10,000 duine ina gcónaí i dtithíocht éigeandála anois. Is scannal é sin. Is í easpa tithíochta an ghéarchéim is mó sa Stát agus tá sí ag dul in olcas faoi cheannaire an Taoisigh. On Friday, we learned that last month saw the single biggest increase in homelessness since Covid began and that there are now almost 10,000 people living in emergency funded accommodation. We have come full circle on this, with the failure of this Government matching that of the previous one. On Monday, three separate reports were published, all showing another massive increase in house prices. In parts of rural Ireland, these increases are more than 20%. The average price of a home across the State now is close to €300,000 and in Dublin it is far more than that. This means that a person needs earnings of between €77,000 and upwards of €100,000 in most of the State to afford a home. That is so far above the earnings of the vast majority of workers as to make home ownership completely and utterly impossible. This locks out a whole generation of home ownership. Of course, the Taoiseach knows that because this morning we saw accounts of a confidential Cabinet memo that states one of the reasons the new auto-enrolment pension scheme is needed is to help pay rent for the increasing number of older people who will now not own a home when they retire and will remain trapped paying extortionate rent. All of this confirms once again that the Government is waving the white flag and telling a whole generation of people they will never own their own home. Young couples starting out in their careers are locked out of home ownership. Single persons, even those on a good income, are locked out home ownership. People in their 30s, 40s or 50s are locked out of home ownership.

Why is this happening? Covid-19 construction site closures had an impact and Brexit supply chain disruptions are a factor, but these are not the main reasons. For far too long, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have over-relied on private investors and developers to meet housing need. God knows, they have dished out tax reliefs, grants and subsidies like confetti. All that has done, however, is push house prices up even more. Never was so much spent to achieve so very little. On top of this, we are now quite rightly supporting families fleeing war in Ukraine and we have an obligation to put a safe roof over their heads at this awful time for their country. We are now dealing with crisis upon crisis. We are dealing with a massive housing emergency and the scale of the Government response needs to match that reality. What is the Taoiseach going to do? It is unconscionable to blindly continue with policies that are so clearly failing. The evidence of that failure is clear to be seen every single day.

I have repeatedly said in this House and since I became Taoiseach that housing remains the most serious social issue and crisis facing our country. Clearly, as the Deputy has acknowledged, the past two years have been very difficult in house construction because of two significant lockdowns. Putting that to one side, however, from our perspective access to housing is fundamental - social housing, affordable housing and a variety of housing types that will meet the needs of a modern society. I believe in home ownership. I am not so sure the Deputy or her party do because they have opposed every measure to do with affordability.

The help-to-buy scheme benefited 29,000 people. Sinn Féin has opposed it resolutely since its inception. On shared equity, Sinn Féin plays a double game. It actually sneakily voted for it in the end despite all the ranting and raving about it by Deputy Ó Broin and so on. He opposes shared equity, allegedly, but ended up voting for it when it came before the House.

I look at the Sinn Féin policies on affordability. I do not see any coherent policy of substance in terms of people owning their own homes. In terms of its affordable housing scheme, for example, it is clear people will not end up owning their homes. It is threadbare. Sinn Féin lacks substance in its housing policy. I saw this morning another manufactured attack on the shared equity scheme, putting out the old slogan that somehow the Government is looking after the banks versus those who would end up owning homes as a result of a shared equity scheme. It is the old kind of sloganeering. It is about slogans, not substance, all of the time in terms of housing policy.

The Government is putting in €4 billion per annum. There were 30,000-odd commencements last year. We only completed 20,000 in 2021 because of the impact of Covid but we are now looking at a much better situation for 2022. That said, we will need consistently in the next decade approximately 33,000 or 35,000 new houses per annum. I get the sense from Sinn Féin's real position that it hates the banks, builders and private home ownership, it seems to me-----

-----because every time a proposal comes for a mixed type of housing, be it private, public or whatever, Sinn Féin opposes it on the grounds it has to be 100% public on public lands and nothing else. Everything else gets pushed out. I do not know how Sinn Féin thinks we will get houses built without builders or finance. The Government is putting up €4 billion but we will also need private sector finance. We will need public housing and we are committed to 12,000 social houses next year, of which 9,000 will be direct builds. We believe there is a need for private sector rental as well. Sinn Féin seems to oppose and undermine anything to do with small landlords or whatever. It undermines the whole area of private finance because it does not think it is a viable proposition and it should be taken out of the housing market. Sinn Féin goes on with all this sloganeering and politicking in respect of housing.

What the Government is saying is we need all types. We need social housing, affordable housing, private housing and new models like cost rental. Above all, we need supply. Supply, supply, supply is key and we are committed to doing that under the Housing for All strategy. As Deputy McDonald acknowledged, Covid-19 hit house construction in 2020 and 2021 but some positive news from it is the number of commencements in 2021 - 31,000 of them - as well as the fact that the industry itself has come back to pre-pandemic levels in terms of capacity and skills and that apprenticeships in construction-related trades are up 40% in terms of the numbers taking on apprenticeships.

We are working on all fronts to deliver more housing because we need more supply.

It is very clear again that the Taoiseach cannot defend his Government’s record on housing. How could he? Some 10,000 homeless is not a slogan. House prices through the roof, where they are up 20% in rural areas, is no slogan. Generations locked out of home ownership and facing extortionate rents is no slogan. There are 35,000 additional homes now required, according to the Government’s own Minister for Housing, Local Government, and Heritage, on the radio this morning to accommodate families from Ukraine. My God, Taoiseach, that is not a slogan either. These are realities. I am inviting the Taoiseach, as the Head of Government to meet those realities head on. The Government’s Housing for All plan is in tatters and it was never fit for purpose to begin with. But now when we deal with a refugee crisis upon a housing crisis, the game is up. I have simply asked what the Government proposes to do to meet those challenges? I am hearing by way of response more of the same and I have to tell the Taoiseach that that is simply not good enough.

The Deputy is wrong in that she is not meeting the realities. Housing for All is a very substantive, well-researched, evidence-based approach to dealing with housing challenges over the next number of years.

I have seen nothing in comparison from the Deputy’s party in response to it and nothing by way of solutions. We all know the reality. I have accepted that housing is the biggest single crisis facing this Government-----

It is the single biggest failure.

-----and we are determined to deal with the reality of that. That is why I have said consistently and all of the time to people of all parties, including the Deputy’s, to stop objecting to the O'Devaney Gardens and Oscar Traynor Road projects of this world if they are sincere about meeting realities. The Deputy’s party lacks sincerity when it has that sort whole-scale opposition to projects that have been on the go for years but have been objected to and have been put back. That is one aspect of it.

The second aspect is around affordability. Every scheme that is brought forward by Government on affordability is attacked by Sinn Féin.

Deputy Ó Broin ends up voting for it sneakily at the end of the process but he does that anyway.

Not true either.

That is the hypocrisy that has become his hallmark on housing policy.

Personal attacks are not acceptable, Taoiseach.

These are political and not personal points I am making.

I am sorry but the Taoiseach’s time is up.

I want solutions from the Deputy-----

House prices are still through the roof.

-----that meet the realities of housebuilding and house supply. We are determined going to go on. We will spend €4 billion this year and will continue on a prolonged and consistent social housebuilding programme, the likes of which have not been seen before. We are not going to be deflected from that and we are also going to work on our affordability.

I thank the Taoiseach. Can we restore a little order, please? I call our next contributor, the co-leader of the Social Democrats, Deputy Catherine Murphy.

The renters out there who are fearful that they will never be able to afford their own homes need not worry. The Government has a plan to auto-enrol them in a pension so that they can raid the pension fund to continue to pay rack rents when they reach their mid-60s. According to the Irish Independent, a confidential Cabinet memo stated that the new auto-enrolment pension scheme is "particularly important" because "an increasing number of older people will need sufficient income to meet rental costs during their retirement years". I do not know what planet the Government is on, but if anyone thinks the answer to the housing crisis of 2022 is modest pensions that will accrue to people in 20, 30 or 40 years from now, is it any wonder we are in the mess that were in?

Renters reading the Irish Independent today will have been tearing their hair out. Hundreds of thousands of them do not have pensions because they cannot afford one while paying exorbitant rents of around €2,000 a month and struggling with a very acute cost-of-living crisis. The declining rates of home ownership are a great concern. The rate has fallen from 79% in 1991 to 68% in 2016 and will certainly be revealed to have fallen further when the new census is taken and we see the results. It is also the case that the average age on which someone buys their first home has increased from 27 in 2006 to 35 now. If people are taking eight additional years to buy their home, they are spending up to an additional €192,000 in rent. Meanwhile, when they do eventually buy, Ireland has the highest mortgage rates in the EU while the average house price is €300,000 nationally and more than €400,000 in Dublin. All of this additional money that is sunk into housing costs means there is nothing left over for anything else. Keeping a roof over your head is in the here and now and trumps any concerns about a pension arrangement.

While I welcome that the Government has plans to address the pension time bomb, we have a housing time bomb that exploded years ago. The two are linked because living mortgage-free in retirement is a completely different proposition than paying market rents, even on a good pension. We have a housing crisis that can only be solved if affordability is seriously tackled. There are no signs from the Government that it is doing this. Will the Taoiseach confirm it is not the intention of the Government to force workers to raid their pensions to pay for rental costs? What is the Government’s plan to ensure renters will still be able to pay their rents when they are in retirement?

In the first instance, I am somewhat taken aback by the commentary on auto-enrolment. Surely everyone in this House agrees we should as a State and society deal with poor pension provision for workers in this country, both those who own homes and those who do not own homes. The auto-enrolment scheme does not discriminate when it comes to home ownership and pension provision is not good enough where we are today as a society. I disagree with the Deputy in her reference to short-termism. This has always been the problem where pensions have always been put on the long term and decisions and have been deflected because of a lack of the sense that we had to deal with the here and now. It is essential for workers and for a proper society into the future that we develop a pension system that is complementary and supplementary to the State pension system. I am delighted that the Government has taken a very decisive step to get on with auto-enrolment in the decision we took yesterday. That is the type of reform and decision-making this Government is about in implementing the programme for Government we have laid out. We will not be deflected from that.

This scheme is irrespective and does not differentiate between whether a person owns a home or does not. The most significant issue for us for auto-enrolment is the dearth of cover for so many people. Our supplementary pension cover has remained static over the past 20 years, hovering around 50% of the total working age population. This rate reduces to less than 35% when the private sector is considered in isolation. There can be no argument against doing the right thing and it will have challenges for all concerned but it is the right thing to do.

On housing and rent, I have said and acknowledge the crisis that housing presents to us today. We have produced the Housing for All strategy some months ago before the end of last year. It is a clear strategy that has financial resources behind it, and it will take a number of years to get to the critical mass of housing that we want built throughout the country, but supply is the key to this. I have no doubt about that. We cannot go on with 20,000 houses a year. We certainly need 33,000 to 35,000 and perhaps more houses per annum and they have to be of a mixed type.

I mentioned the 31,000 homes that have commenced construction in 2021. That is the highest since 2008. That is important and is a 42% increase year on year, but that is based on the previous year which, of course, was affected by Covid-19. Some 1,580 cost rental homes is the target to be delivered this year and I believe cost rental is something that can be accelerated to give real options to people. The new national first home affordable purchase shared equity scheme will also assist in the purchase of homes.

Auto-enrolment, of course, is something that is to be welcomed and, in fact, I said in my contribution which the Taoiseach must have missed.

However, it was also reported in the Irish Independent that a confidential Cabinet memorandum stated that the new auto-enrolment pension scheme is particularly important because an increasing number of older people will need sufficient income to meet rental costs during their retirement years. Can the Taoiseach confirm that this is the purpose? This matters. Currently, there is a generation of people who are struggling just to keep their heads above water because of the cost of housing, particularly rental housing. They are the same people who will be asked to pay the auto-enrolment and who, when it comes to their pension, will then pay to keep a roof over their heads because they have not been able to purchase. The two things are linked.

Yes, we need more delivery and supply, but it must be affordable. History has a habit of repeating itself if we do not learn lessons from it. Looking at the 80,000 houses built during the Celtic tiger years, where did that deliver affordability?

Time is up, Deputy.

It was not numbers that delivered affordability. In fact, the crash reduced house prices. Affordability is something deliberate and I do not see that in the Government's plans. There is no evidence of it.

I am not hearing the Deputy's solutions to it. Is she suggesting that we do not build thousands more houses? Of course, we must build thousands.

Yes, affordable. We are developing schemes to make houses more affordable. It is very challenging because of the fact there were 20,000 houses per year in 2020 and 2021. That is not going to make the inroads we need. That is why we have to get to 33,000 to 35,000 per annum, if not more. On the delivery side, and I know I annoy people when I say this, we need to get real in terms of delivering housing schemes much faster than we are. Everybody needs to get real. There is no point coming in here every week, having a go, saying this is the great crisis, it is terrible and the Government is not doing enough, while we go on with business as usual on the councils across the country in terms of planning for schemes and so forth. We think it is business as usual and there is no problem objecting to that, amending that and changing that, yet the Deputy comes in here attacking, attacking, attacking. That is not going to wash anymore. It is a crisis.

You have been saying the same thing for ten years.

We want to deliver houses much faster than currently is the case, and we need co-operation across the board to enable us to do that.

On auto-enrolment, that is a comprehensive piece of work in which the Department of Social Protection and the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, have been involved.

Thank you, Taoiseach. We are out of time.

All I will say is that the fundamental rationale underpinning it is to give pension coverage to workers in our society that supplements the State pension and that will enable them to have a quality of life in their later years. That is it.

Not if they cannot pay their rent.

Can Members please adhere to the time allowed for these matters? I call Deputy Nolan on behalf of the Rural Independent Group.

I want to raise the ongoing crisis in the allocation and provision of respite care services, particularly for children and adults with a disability. As the Taoiseach will be aware, this is an area that has effectively been in a deep crisis since the national disability strategy was launched in 2004. The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Rabbitte, who I commend on her compassion and her strong commitment to improving this service, has accepted that further progress on addressing the deficit in services is needed. The situation has not been helped in the last few years with the transfer of functions in this area from the Department of Health to the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, in addition to the chaos that Covid-19 brought about with the closure of residential day care services.

There is a lack of cohesion and an inability to pin down precisely where the responsibility for respite care actually lies. This is compounded by the issue of transport services for adults and children with a disability. A family is allocated a respite place only to find out that there is no transport, or they have transport and then find out that there is no respite bed. I am aware that the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, recently announced funding for the upgrading and improvement of the transport options for HSE-funded disability organisations and that is welcome. However, what good is that if there are no residential or respite services for people to be transported to?

Last week, the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, Deputy O’Gorman, and the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, issued a statement on the impact of the war in Ukraine on persons with disabilities, saying: "Ireland will not leave people with disabilities behind as we respond to the crisis". Leaving no disabled person behind is exactly the type of ambition we need. That said, there are many families who will have heard or read that statement and questioned, not the will, but the capacity of the State to deliver on that promise.

They will have looked at their own children or their young adults who are falling between the cracks in terms of child and adult disability services. Where will the services come from? How can we talk of leaving no disabled person behind when it is clear that we already have a system that is manifestly unable to provide even the most minimal levels of respite care for thousands of adults and children languishing on respite care and disability lists? What assessments are taking place of the further strain that will be placed on our already creaking and highly dysfunctional respite services?

I emphasise this is not about refusing help. It is about asking difficult and important questions because, at present, it is abundantly clear that we simply do not have the capacity to meet the existing respite care needs. Does the Taoiseach agree that our rhetoric should be shaped by our capacity to deliver on those promises that we are making to disabled persons, irrespective of where they come from?

I appreciate the Deputy raising this issue. She referred to the transfer of disability policy and functions from the Department of Health to the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. That was a deliberate decision. In fact, before the last general election there was much commentary on disability services and there was a view that for the medium term it would be better if there was a more singular focus on disability by a new Department. The view was that within the enormity of the Department of Health and all the issues in that Department disability was not getting the type of focus that it should under that statutory framework and delivery system. That was the motivation behind it and it is one I support. There have been challenges, as there always are, when it comes to transferring services from one Department to another, particularly in the delivery mechanisms.

Second, there has been additional funding. New funding of approximately €65 million has been allocated to disability services in the budget for 2022. Of that, approximately €9 million is for respite care services. That said, I am not satisfied with where we are in respect of disability services, and I want to be candid about that, and particularly with regard to respite and the provision of therapies to children. For a number of years the HSE has developed a progressing disability services programme and approach, and the Government has allocated additional funding to the HSE in respect of therapists. I am still not satisfied that the translation, as it were, of that resource to parents on the ground is happening to the degree that it should. In an earlier era, I was involved in developing new schools for occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech and language therapy in the colleges outside Dublin, so we have a regional spread in terms of providing more graduates. However, it is not translating to the degree that it should in terms of services for children.

I acknowledge what the Deputy said about the Minister of State, Deputy Rabbitte, the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, and others. I also acknowledge we have more work to do in that regard, particularly on the provision of therapies and respite services. There has been ongoing progress with after-school services, community initiatives, personal assistant hours, school-leavers day services and so forth. Again, we believe that shift from the Department of Health to the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth is the right decision, ultimately, in terms of having a focused delivery mechanism. Capacities have to be built up, as well as proper integration between those delivering services on the ground with the parent Department.

I thank the Taoiseach for his response, but even with the transfer of functions to another Department the issue of respite care in disability services is not getting enough focus.

It is still severely lacking. This comes back to my core question. How will we cope with the pressures? How will respite services in this country cope with additional pressures? We need to answer this question honestly because many families are concerned. Every week in my offices I meet families who are struggling. They are begging for help. They are begging for respite for adult children. They are unable to cope and they have health conditions themselves. Will we assure these people there will be no erosion of current services, weak and all as they are, with the extra pressures coming into the system? We need to have this honest debate now. We need to provide assurances to these many families throughout the State who are struggling. They are pleading for more help and for basic respite services. We owe it to these families to be very clear that their services will not be eroded in any way and that more services will be put into the system to help these families.

I do not want to juxtapose in the mainstream the ongoing national provision of services for disabilities with the war in Ukraine. The war in Ukraine is devastating for the people of Ukraine. It has enormous implications for the Continent of Europe and the world at large. Across the board we will have to rise above what we do normally in respect of helping and doing everything we can to support the people of Ukraine as part of the European Union. I do not think we can resile from that. We are doing analysis of the refugees coming into the country so it can inform the type of responses we need to make. Apart from accommodation we will need responses in education, early childcare and health. It is very serious. For example, yesterday I was informed that approximately 6,000 unaccompanied minors from Ukraine have entered the European Union. We will have a share of them. It is an appalling vista to comprehend and we cannot let these children behind. We have to do everything we can and rise above what we normally do. I appreciate the points the Deputy is making and she is making them honestly and I accept that.

Lough Funshinagh in County Roscommon is a turlough. By its nature a turlough has channels underneath where the water goes out. Unfortunately in recent years it has not been functioning as normal. It was designated by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Unfortunately, some of the families in the area had to leave because the water level has kept rising. A solution had been found by Roscommon County Council in partnership with the Office of Public Works, OPW, under emergency powers. There are 1949 emergency powers to allow local authorities to act where people's lives or properties are in danger. The council in Roscommon used these powers. Unfortunately, Friends of the Irish Environment, FIE, which is funded by the Government, decided to take a case against it and stop the works. The High Court judgment came last week. The judge very clearly stated the 1949 emergency powers are redundant.

There has been no comment from the Taoiseach or the Government over the past week. The Taoiseach might not be worried about ten families in County Roscommon but I am because they are my constituents. He might worry about flooding out the road in Portrane or in his constituency in Cork. I know about jobs throughout the country, in Doonbeg in Clare, in Galway and in several other parts of the country, where houses are at risk or will fall into the sea, and because these emergency powers have been struck down in the courts - I would question why - these people have been left redundant, so to speak. Because of these powers being struck down, a county manager has no emergency power and the OPW has been left redundant.

In Roscommon, money was spent on a pipe as the sensible option to take the overflow from the lake. What is very worrying is that it has come to my attention, and unfortunately the council did not even tell me but I found out in Dublin, that over the past six to eight months someone in the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications got onto the Chief State Solicitor's Office. Be that a Minister or a Secretary General, the person got on to the Chief State Solicitor's and the Attorney General. From what I understand, the State joined the FIE against the council. The Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications or the Chief State Solicitor's Office was going to join with an unelected group against the council in a case in County Roscommon.

Is the Taoiseach aware that in the wake of this judgment, water on the road cannot be let into a ditch unless screening is done? Will the Taoiseach find out whether it was Minister or who it was who made the call to the Chief State Solicitor's Office and the Attorney General to get involved in this? Will he hold an inquiry into it? County Roscommon might not matter to the Taoiseach but I predict it will happen in Cork. Will the Taoiseach get the Government to look at this? If it had happened in Dublin or Cork, there would have been a meeting of the Government last week, but because it happened in a rural area, there was not a word about it. Will the Taoiseach give undertakings to do this?

The Deputy has an obligation to be a bit more precise in his assertions. He is asking me to respond to a general assertion he has made. The Deputy used a phrase such as "I am given to understand". Who gave the Deputy to understand it?

Do you want me to say who my sources are?

Yes. What are the sources?

They work in the Civil Service.

Did they join?

They are in the Civil Service. Answer the questions I asked.

I would if I could understand the question. I will come back to the basic point but I want to put this to the Deputy. Do not come to me and tell me to go off and become an investigator to find out about something you are given to understand. If you have it, tell me. That is all I am saying. The Deputy can come and tell me privately who said it to him but I need to know. That would short-circuit-----

I will tell the Taoiseach privately.

That would short-circuit the answer to his question.

We will short-circuit it.

Objections to flooding schemes have happened in Cork. They have happened throughout the country. They have delayed flooding schemes throughout the country. We live in a country where people have the right, whether we like it or not, to object. I do not approve of all of the objections. I support the Deputy's basic point on people in homes or businesses. Premises have been flooded on the main street of Bandon two or three times. We can name other towns throughout the country. How we approach these issues needs to be balanced. A fundamental priority has to be to protect people in their homes. We do care because it is in Roscommon.

You do not seem to.

I would imagine if there were consequences, you would have heard about it.

I will get a full assessment of this legally in terms of the court decision. I do not believe we fund the organisation the Deputy has suggested we fund.

In what way?

The Environmental Pillar is funded by the State.

That is very general. I am speaking about the specific organisation. The Deputy can "hmm" all he likes but we need to find out. The Deputy has made the assertion and I take it he has done research and knows the specific organisation is funded. The point is that the organisation is independent and separate from the Government. It made its objections and went to the courts. The Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, could give the Deputy chapter and verse about flooding schemes throughout the country that have been held back.

The Government is also frustrated. We want schemes delivered because we have a lot more flooding than we had before because of the change in the climate and so on.

I will be very clear with the Taoiseach. This is not a delay. This High Court decision has taken away the powers the State gave to every council in the country in 1949. Is that clear enough for the Taoiseach? What is he going to do about that?

I will be clear on the second assertion I made. The Taoiseach is closer to the Attorney General than I am. I do not get to talk to him or to the Chief State Solicitor's office. I asserted that they had joined, or had threatened to join, with an environmental pillar in a case. It is much easier for the Taoiseach to talk to those people than it is for me. Will the Taoiseach find out whether this is true? This was a case taken against a council at a time when that council was taking the lead and undertaking a pilot project to try to resolve an issue when people, including elderly people, were in danger of losing their houses. One of them has actually lost their house. In fairness to the OPW, it had put in diggers to do the work at that time. One arm of the State here in Dublin was threatening to join with an environmental pillar while the council, another arm of the State, and the OPW were trying to do the job. How can you get work done when the State is functioning in that way? Will the Taoiseach look into that? Will he also bring to the Cabinet a proposal to resolve this situation? This is not only about stuff on my back door. It will also happen in five or six other parts of the country within the next two years.

I thank the Deputy for raising the issue. I will get an answer for him. I will seek answers to the questions he has raised or the assertions he has made. That judgment will be fully assessed because Government has to act within the legal framework. The separation of powers applies but we will examine this High Court judgment and determine the steps that need to be taken now to resolve the situation. The broader point is that, as a State and through the OPW and the councils, we want to protect communities from flooding. That is our basic point.

The Government cannot do so at the moment.

We 100% agree with the Deputy on that. We have schemes and have announced additional funding to put flooding schemes in place all over the country. There have been objections to flooding schemes on environmental and other grounds. In my view, there comes a point in all of these processes when common sense should prevail and balance and perspective should be applied. Above all, protecting people in their homes should be the priority and protecting their capacity to earn a livelihood should matter. I genuinely believe that with climate change, the flooding issue is going to get much worse. That is the real challenge. We need very significant interventions over the next while to deal with this issue.

When is the Cabinet going to meet on this issue?

We cannot have chitchat about the matter now.

I will come back to the Deputy.