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Dáil Éireann díospóireacht -
Wednesday, 25 May 2022

Vol. 1022 No. 6

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

I express my condolences to the families of the children murdered in Robb Elementary School in Texas. Our thoughts are with the heartbroken families at this time.

Along with the Ceann Comhairle and the rest of the team here I welcome to the Dáil the First Minister-designate and her team. I wish her all the best as she leads the assembly into this term.

Insím don Aire, nach bhfuil dabht ar bith ná go bhfuil polasaí tithe an Rialtais ag teip mar is scannalach an plean atá ag an Rialtas chun €450 milliún d'airgead cáiníocóirí na tíre seo a thabhairt d'fhorbróirí chun tithe a thógáil nach bhfuil aon duine ábalta a cheannach, mar go bhfuil siad ró-dhaor. Is ag filleadh ar pholasaí Fhianna Fáil a bhris an córas tithíochta atá an Rialtas seo agus ba chóir deireadh a chur leis. We have had three reports in recent weeks that highlight in the sharpest way the failure of the Minister and the Government to get to grips with the housing crisis. Extortionate rents continue to soar with the number of rental properties now at an all-time low. Off-the-wall house prices have increased again beyond the reach of ordinary workers and families. The scourge of homelessness is returning to the shameful pre-Covid-19 levels. We now hear the Minister's targets for housing are under serious threat due to spiralling construction costs. By any objective measure the Minister's approach is failing and he is failing spectacularly. The housing crisis being created by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is defining the life of an entire generation. On the Minister's watch things have gone from bad to worse. Is it any wonder that newspapers now refer to the housing crisis as a decade of shame?

Amid this social catastrophe what do we get from the Minister with responsibility for housing? Is it a ban on rent increases and evictions? No. Is it a serious ramping up of direct delivery of genuinely affordable homes? No. Is it an initiative to cut rents? Not on the Minister's watch. What we get instead is a bonkers scheme whereby he will gift €450 million of taxpayers' money to developers to build apartments with no reduction in the prices that will be charged to home owners. It is absolutely off the wall. The Minister will pay these developers out of the public purse to build apartments that only those earning the highest salaries will be able to afford. The question needs to be asked again as to what planet the Minister is living on with this type of scheme.

It gets worse because the Minister is not being entirely honest about his madcap plan. Last week in the Dáil he quoted purchase prices of €250,000 for the apartments to be delivered under the scheme. According to an unpublished document circulated between developers and the Housing Agency, the anticipated open market value of a one-bed apartment is €320,000, a two-bed apartment is €390,000 and a three-bed apartment is €445,000. Where is the Minister getting the €250,000 he spoke about in the Dáil last week? All he has to do is take a look at daft.ie. Apartments for sale in the city of Dublin command average prices of between €400,000 and €500,000. This is on the Minister's watch.

Why is the Minister raising the hopes of people looking to buy a home when he knows his scheme will only dash these hopes once again? The truth is his scheme will not deliver affordable housing for people. Is this not the truth? The Minister knows it and we know it. Why does he not tell the people straight? It is straight from the old Fianna Fáil playbook that destroyed the housing system at the start when it was previously in government. It is big handouts to developers and home ownership only for those who are the wealthiest. I urge the Minister to come to his senses and scrap this scheme. I am asking him instead to invest the €450 million to fund local authorities and approved housing bodies to deliver affordable homes that ordinary families and workers can buy.

I dtús báire, ba mhaith liom mo fhíor-chomhbhrón a ghabháil leis na daoine sna Stáit Aontaithe, go mór mór na daoine áitiúla in Valdes Texas tar éis dúnmharú uafásach na leanaí ann. Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha dílse. On behalf of the Government I send our deepest sympathies to those affected by the terrible murder of innocent children in Texas. Our thoughts are with their families and their communities.

Maidir leis ann gceist shonrach tithíochta a thagair an Teachta dó, tá an plean is láidre agus is tábhachtaí ná riamh de €4 billiún ann d'infheistíocht ar thithíocht sóisialta agus ar thithíocht inacmhainne freisin. Cabhróidh an plean seo agus oibreoidh sé. Tá a fhios ag an Teachta faoi sin. Níl aon phlean ar chor ar bith ag Sinn Féin. Is é an plean atá ag Sinn Féin ná a bheith in aghaidh gach rud. The Government has a housing plan that is working. It has €4 billion of investment and €1.2 billion per annum more than Sinn Féin proposed in its 16-page policy document, eight pages of which are pictures of cups of coffee and its spokesperson on housing. We are very serious about increasing supply and supply is increasing. There are affordability issues no question. This is why we passed the Affordable Housing Act, the most comprehensive legislation on affordability that has ever come before the House. Sinn Féin supported it and did not come up with alternatives to it. There are a number of measures within it, particularly on the delivery of affordable housing through local authorities, which we are doing. This year we will see homes sold at €166,000 and upwards throughout the country. For people stuck in the rental and affordability trap we will open the first home shared equity scheme.

It will help thousands of young, and not so young, people bridge the gap between the finance they have and the finance they need by the State taking an equity stake, not by getting a second mortgage as Sinn Féin and its housing spokesperson claimed last year. Sinn Féin supported the Act and I welcome that. It is about supply and activating dormant planning permissions that exist. The Croí Cónaithe cities fund is a targeted measure to ensure people can own apartments in the five major cities in the country on an open book basis where the support goes to the purchaser, not the developer. Sinn Féin knows this but it does not suit its narrative, which is to oppose measures on every issue and say the measures are not working. We have had the highest number of commencements in the year to March 2022 than there has been since 2007. We also have had the highest number of first-time buyer mortgages in the 12 months to March 2022 than there has been since 2007.

We will support people in owning their own homes because we believe in homeownership. While doing that, we are also delivering more social homes this year than have ever been delivered before, in any year since the foundation of the State. We are doing that even though the Deputy and his colleagues across the Twenty-six Counties continue repeatedly to object and cause delays.

Deputies

No.

If the Deputies want like specific examples, the Deputy's party leader sitting beside him has become a serial objector to developments too. Sinn Féin opposed Oscar Traynor Road.

Ask the Minister, Deputy Martin.

Ask your own councillors.

Sinn Féin opposed Ballymastone and the 253 social and affordable homes and, yes, some private homes too. Private ownership is not illegal either. Sinn Féin has opposed Ballymastone, Oscar Traynor Road, O'Devaney Gardens and any scheme that comes forward because it does not want to see progress. We have a plan that will work.

Enough of the Minister's spoofing. Here are a couple of home truths. He has been in the Department for a couple of years. House prices are going through the roof. Entire generations have been locked out of homeownership under his watch. Rents are spiralling out of control. They are increasing dramatically in many counties, which means people are becoming homeless. Homelessness is nearly back at record levels. That is the Minister's plan and it is not working.

I have the confidential document to hand about Croí Cónaithe that he has not been published. It is not about reducing the market value for the buyers. The cost of a three-bedroom apartment is to be €445,000. What planet is the Minister living on? Which families, workers and ordinary people can afford that amount? To whom is the cheque written to? It is written to the developers, to the amount of €144,000. It is straight out of the Fianna Fáil playbook during the times of the Galway tent. We know who the plans are working for. They are not working for ordinary families and workers. They are not working for renters or the generation who are locked out of homeownership. What the Minister needs to do is come to his senses, scrap that plan, invest the €450 million into local authorities, approved housing schemes, and build affordable homes for workers and families.

(Interruptions).

The Minister, without interruption.

He does encourage us sometimes.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh should try to restrain himself if he can. The reality is that, at every juncture, Sinn Féin has tried to distort the truth. This is a targeted measure to support homeownership in our five major cities, in which the support goes directly to the homeowner.

That is not true. He is misleading the Dáil. I have the document.

Deputy Doherty should try to calm down a little bit. By the way, that document is not a secret document. We published all the details on Croí Cónaithe online. Sinn Féin's housing spokesperson did not even know that last week when he asked me where the document was. Sinn Féin needs to do a bit more homework.

Who do you write the cheque to?

You write the cheque to the developer.

Sinn Féin is opposed to build to buy. We know it is opposed to build to rent, even though we need more rental properties. We need a balance between ownership. We want homeownership and apartments in which people-----

The Minister misled the Dáil - 250,000.

Hold on a second. Will you just let me respond? You might not like the answers. Do not shout me down. I will not be bullied by you. I will be allowed to speak.

(Interruptions).

There is a track record that the Deputy might not want to talk about. Sinn Féin is opposed to build to rent and now it is opposed to build to buy.

Thank you, Minister. The time is up.

I am opposed to putting taxpayers' money into the pockets of developers and charging nearly half a million for an apartment.

I asked what Deputy Doherty is actually for. It is very little. He does not want to-----

Anybody with sense is opposed to that.

Please, Deputy Doherty.

There is really no point in trying to respond when the Deputy keeps interrupting.

The Minister is out of time for a response.

This happens regularly, and that is fine.

Yes. You did it to me last week.

The proof is in the figures of the number of commencements. That is what is happening. Improvements are taking place. We are not there yet at all.

Thank you, Minister.

We know that but we are being honest with people.

Thank you, Minister.

Answer the 250,000 question.

Do not try to distort the truth, Pearse.

Answer the 250,000 question.

Stop shouting. Calm down, Pearse, please, would you? Just calm a bit.

I again appeal to Deputies. Can we conduct our business in a semi-civilised and orderly manner, please?

In a proper parliamentary fashion.

Thank you, Deputy Ó Snodaigh. In a proper parliamentary fashion.

Before I begin, I extend the Labour Party's deep sadness and shock at the horrific murder of 19 children and two adults yesterday in Uvalde, Texas. It is clear gun violence in the US is out of control, and there is ever-diminishing hope it will lead to much-needed change.

Last week, a family once again had to resort to telling their story to RTÉ to vindicate the constitutional right of their children to an education. When our leader, Deputy Bacik, raised it with the Taoiseach last Wednesday, he apologised to the family. We are glad the Milne family have now been given a commitment of local school places. However, it should never have come to this. For years, the Milne family had to fight for educational access. Ryan and Kyle Milne have lost six years of schooling. Their mother, Gillian, said, "We've basically been punished for having children with special needs. You feel almost to blame. Did we not fight hard enough?" No parent should have to say those words. No parent should have to put themselves in that position of opening up their private lives just to get access to education for their child.

We on the Opposition benches are constantly told that it is not for the want of resources or Government action that there is more than €2 billion in the education budget for complex needs but there are still many outstanding issues that must be addressed. The Minister will issue section 37A notices and open special classes, but we still do not have all the information. Many families throughout the country are still waiting for a place. There is an acute shortage of places everywhere in this country. Only last night, our spokesperson, Deputy Ó Ríordáin, and Councillor John Walsh met with parents to discuss the acute shortage of secondary school places for children with autism in Dublin 15. Last week, the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, was unable to reveal how many children are waiting on a place. We need to know how many are waiting. Schools throughout the country are still waiting on their special needs assistant, SNA, allocation for next year.

These are complex issues that involve huge public investment. Clearly, it is a problem where there is not sufficient planning for special class places. The legislative framework is also clearly out of date. The Government and the Minister have said they are reviewing the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs, EPSEN, Act and the Education Act. In his article yesterday, Fergus Finlay rightly highlighted that for 17 years, key EPSEN provisions have not commenced, including the granting of individual educational plans. A review at this stage will not help parents who are struggling now. It will not address the right of children with additional needs to an education. We know the law must be updated, but that will take time, and that proper planning can address these issues. We know the Department has nearly all the information it needs to determine where places are required.

What I want from the Minister today is clarification. How many children are waiting on a special school place? Will he provide the numbers with a regional breakdown? We are now at the end of the school year. Will he guarantee that every child will be guaranteed a special school place for the next school year? Will the Minister commence the EPSEN Act and fast-track a review?

I thank the Deputy for raising this very important issue. I know from working with him in my constituency, Dublin Fingal, that it is a very important issue to him and, indeed, all Members so that we make sure we provide special education places and supports for those kids who need it. That is why the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, has been so vociferous in her work to ensure we increase the number of available school places.

This year, the Department of Education will spend €2 billion, which is more than 25% of the Department's budget, on providing additional teaching and care supports for children with special needs, and rightly so. It remains an absolute key objective within Government. We have 287 additional special classes with 1,700 new places provided for in 2022-2023.

On the issue involving the Milne family, I agree with the Deputy that no one wants parents to have to raise those issues publicly. The Minister of State is in constant contact with the family. She has met with them and continues to keep them briefed. This evening, she will meet a group of families in the Dublin 15 area about their concerns. This is a real priority for us.

There are an additional 1,665 SNAs in place to provide supports for children with special needs. That brings the total number of SNAs to more than 19,000. As our population grows, we will need more, which is something the Government continues to prioritise.

There are 980 new teaching posts in special education and three new special schools have been opened in Cork and Dublin. That is important. Over €40 million has been made available to fund the summer education programme for pupils with complex special educational needs. We manage the numbers on waiting lists and assess how many people in each area need the supports that they get through our network of special educational needs organisers, SENOs. The work on the SNA allocation for each specific area will be completed by the end of this month. I fully understand why the Deputy is asking for numbers. The numbers change on a daily basis as kids enter the education system. The Deputy will be aware of that. The Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, and the Department of Education are focused on continuing to improve the services there. Many of the special educational needs that people have are complex. Each child needs to be assessed individually, as the Deputy knows. I assure the Deputy that we will continue to prioritise the issue. The work on the SNA allocation will be concluded by the end of this month. We should be in a position to be able to give more details once that work is concluded.

We still do not know how many children are waiting on special school places. We need figures that are as accurate as possible on an ongoing basis. We do not know how the Department will adequately enforce section 37a notices to ensure that every child who needs a place is granted one. An AsIAm report showed that one quarter of parents of children with autism feel that they do not have an appropriate school place. While we wait for a review, I also wish to ask the Minister whether the Special Educational Needs Act 2004, the EPSEN Act, will finally be commenced. It is a key question.

We also raised the delay in announcing SNA allocations last week. The Minister has said that that work will be completed by the end of this month. It should have been completed by the end of last month, if not earlier, as it has been in previous years. It is extraordinarily disruptive for SNAs, principals and parents that it is delayed to the end of this month. It really disrupts their ability to plan for next year. The Minister stated it will happen by the end of this month. We will have to take him on his word. We need definitive dates and ongoing planning. We need to know how many special school places are required on a regional basis.

I genuinely thank the Deputy. It is important that we are able to raise matters as important as this here today. The EPSEN Act review group met yesterday evening. The group will commence its work on this and will report to the Minister within a matter of months. The Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, will keep the House advised on that.

On the specific numbers, the number of children who require supports is recorded on a regional basis and a per-county basis. We could provide the Deputy with a figure today. However, today's figure will change tomorrow. It is important that we have the supports in place to make sure that kids are not waiting any longer than they need to to get the supports that they require and deserve. Going back to what I have said previously, looking back over the last 15 years and the improvements made in the mainstreaming of special education both at primary and secondary levels, we have made vast strides in that space and we continue to do so. It is a real priority within the Government's objectives on education.

First, I want to associate myself with the remarks made on the atrocity that happened in Texas.

I wish to raise an issue in relation to farmers. Last Monday at 7 p.m., I met with over 300 farmers at an event organised by the Galway Irish Farmers' Association, IFA, in my own parish in Corofin. It was organised by Mr. Stephen Canavan, chairman of the Galway IFA. The mood of farmers at the event was one of genuine concern and fear for the future of farming as a result of the unprecedented increase in input costs, such as that of fertiliser, feedstuff and fuel. Farmers are also aware that they have no control over the price they will get for their products at the end of the day. They are price takers. The feeling among farmers is that they are extremely concerned that they have to endure these increasing costs. They are worried. There is an acknowledgement that supports have been provided by the Government and some of these supports have been very welcome. However, there is a delay in the rolling out of the silage support scheme, which is causing farmers to be stressed. One of the questions that at least 15 farmers asked me last night was where they apply for the scheme and what criteria apply. There seems to be no information available to them. They also raised the issue of the European crisis reserve fund. There is no clarity and farmers have told me that it is just another announcement without money actually being provided. The message from farmers is that there is a crisis.

We are almost finished the month of May, which is the best growing season for grass. What is happening is that farmers have bought their fertiliser and inputs. Credit is very tight for all involved. Effectively, farmers are not seeing the result of these supports coming to them. It is important that farmers get that support now. Farmers need the support to come directly to them. This is an issue that will affect every citizen in the country, because farming is all about food production. If we cannot produce the food efficiently and make it available, everybody will be affected by it. If there is a shortage of food at the end of the day, if we do not have the feedstuff to feed our stock at the end of the year, what will happen? What will farmers do? I have met farmers who have not bought any fertiliser this year. They are relying on nature to grow grass for them to feed their stock. What will happen next winter? I am not so sure. It is a crisis. It is okay to have announcements. However, we need to take effective action and ensure there is clarity for farmers so they know where they are going to get the money, and when they will get it. The exceptional temporary support scheme was announced last week which talks about bringing money forward from Europe to pay it out. However, effectively, payments will not be made until next year. Farmers and agriculture contractors cannot wait that long.

I thank the Deputy for raising this very important issue. I can assure the Deputy that protecting farm family incomes is a priority of Government. Close to €10 billion in total, between EU and Exchequer funding, will support around 120,000 farm families over the next CAP period between 2023 and 2027. We have a farming and food sector that we should be proud of. It is an indigenous business and supports family businesses. We must ensure that continues, and it will. Budget 2022 provided €1.9 billion for the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. That is in addition to almost €1.2 billion in EU funded direct payments received annually. The Deputy is absolutely right. There is no question that the war in Ukraine has exacerbated issues for farmers. The Deputy mentioned the cost of fertiliser. Farmers were previously paying between €250 and €300 per tonne of fertiliser. That cost is upwards of €1,000 per tonne now. We are acutely aware of the impact that those cost increases have on our farmers and indeed our farming community.

The Deputy mentioned certain announcements. We will see these announcements being implemented. I engage with farmers in the horticulture sector in my own area of north Dublin on a regular basis. They require support. The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine has announced a number of measures amounting to around €35 million in very targeted supports, including €20 million in two packages to the pig sector worth up to €90,000 per farm family, €12 million for the tillage sector and an initial €3 million for the horticultural sector. I absolutely recognise the difficulties that our farming families and communities have. The Government will continue to support them. We want to ensure that the close relationship between farming organisations and the Government remains and that we work very closely together through this period to see us through the other side of it. The jobs that are supported in this sector are crucially important for our regions and for rural Ireland, in particular. To be fair to the Government, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is engaging on the issue and was in Brussels earlier this week for a meeting of agriculture ministers. He has been very open and has been bringing forward targeted schemes. We are not saying that those schemes will initially resolve all of the issues there, but we are open to looking at other areas where we can help. That is why the engagement between the farming organisations, the sector, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, and Government is crucially important. I assure the Deputy that we will continue to do that. I know the Deputy has been a very strong advocate on behalf of our farming communities and organisations.

Officials from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine are continuing to engage with officials from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on funding of the fodder scheme, for argument's sake. We envisage the terms and conditions of the scheme being finalised shortly. It will then be published and rolled out.

I thank the Minister for that reply and I acknowledge the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine is working under great pressure to get the supports in place. Farmers have the problem that the announcements have been made over recent months but the call for the funding and the application process is still not in place and this is the biggest concern they have. In looking forward to the end of the year, we need to ensure as a matter of urgency that we have a detailed inventory on what fertiliser, feedstocks and fuel are in this country.

Funding is required to support the growing of catch crops and the spreading of lime, which is a replacement fertiliser and is a great deal cheaper, but incentives are needed to do that. Excise duty on agri-diesel and liquid petroleum gas, LPG, for farm relief use should be brought into place. We should also reduce the VAT rate for agri-contractors. We have done that for the hospitality sector and it is important we also do it for the agri-sector. Agri-contractors do not get any credit from Revenue when they are carrying out their work and have to pay over the VAT when they get it. We therefore need to give that flexibility and margin these contractors need, in the interests of food production and of agriculture. This is an emergency we need to deal with now, not in September and October. We need to ensure money is injected into the farmers’ pockets now and not to leave it until the end of the year.

The point is well made by Deputy Canney and is well understood on the side of the House. I wish to give the Deputy the comfort that the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, is meeting and continues to meet regularly with stakeholders to discuss the impacts, particularly of the Ukraine crisis and the increases in costs associated with that. He has tasked a national fodder and food security committee with the preparation of a response to the emerging crisis in feed fodder, fertiliser and other inputs. He is developing contingency plans and advice to assist farmers in managing their farm enterprises. Within the Department the Minister has also established a rapid response team because when we announce packages of support, we obviously want to see them rolled out without delay. That is happening. Farmers can also plan on the basis of knowing what schemes are there. Teagasc has been doing a great deal of work directly on the ground with farms across all sectors to assist where we can.

I assure the Deputy of the paramount importance of the agriculture, farming and horticulture sectors to us to support jobs, farm incomes, our rural communities and our regions. We will continue to do that. I encourage the farming organisations to continue their very constructive engagement with the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine on this issue.

Ar an gcéad dul síos, I too, on behalf of the Rural Independent Group, condemn that most savage crime in Texas last night and I extend my sympathies to everyone affected.

It is appropriate the Minister is taking Leaders’ Questions here today. The housing crisis is worsening and immediate emergency measures are required to prevent more and more families from becoming homeless, to assist those who have already become homeless, and to give our Irish citizens a fair chance at homeownership.

The crisis in Tipperary is deepening, and despite the efforts of Tipperary County Council, which I salute, to meet its housing targets, these measures are simply insufficient to deal with the scale of the problem. Today, just nine properties are listed on daft.ie as being available in the for-rent category in the entire county of Tipperary. This is a huge county from Carrick-on-Suir right up to Lorrha with a population of 159,000 people. In the south of the county, just three properties are available to rent with nothing larger than two-bedroom apartments available for €1,000. It is just desperate.

Housing is now beyond the reach of most Irish people and this will have a very serious long-term impact on Ireland’s social fabric. Tipperary County Council’s recent analysis of household affordability found that 21.2% of households in Tipperary are experiencing affordability issues in keeping a roof over their heads, while Tipperary has not been included in the Housing for All plan to build affordable houses on State-owned land between now and 2026. This is an awful situation.

A shocking new report now confirms that first-time buyers will now need an income of €77,000 to buy a home, which is almost €30,000 above the average national wage. This means the housing market is closed to the majority of first-time buyers in Ireland. The report also shows that those first-time buyers who can get a mortgage approval, mainly couples, are drawing down an average of €254,000 on new homes, which is €17,000 above the €237,000 figure at the height of the boom. Something is badly wrong here.

This means the Government’s housing policy is trapping even those who can get onto the housing ladder in a mountain of debt that will take a lifetime to repay. The Government’s housing policies are a catastrophic mess and the only winners are the banks and the multinational-type developers and investment funds. Ireland housing problems are rooted in the high cost of construction, which has driven up our sale and rental prices and is compounded by lack of supply and a growing population.

The Government’s plans to give between €120,000 and €144,000 per apartment to large multinational developers is outright insanity in our and my opinion. The move will only add to the costs and will drive up the unaffordability gap that is already there for everyone. This is a crazy and daft idea.

I thank the Deputy for raising the matter of housing. First, I state that no county is excluded from the affordability measures and I wish to be very clear with the Deputy on that.

Éist liom, right. No county is excluded. I will be in-----

Kerry is out of that.

You are beginning to sound like Sinn Féin there, Danny. Relax. The-----

The Minister cannot deny the truth.

It is not on the list.

I ask Deputy Healy Rae to control himself please.

That is praise indeed.

Nílim cinnte faoi sin, a Phádraig. Ar aon nós, the affordable housing fund is open to every local authority. I am actually in Tipperary tomorrow, and I hope I will see Deputy McGrath there. I will be meeting with the chief executive and the housing team of-----

Beidh fíorfháilte roimhe ann.

Go raibh míle. I want to tell the Deputy now-----

Bring the airgead with you.

-----that the affordable housing fund is open for every local authority to provide schemes to us where we can deliver affordable homes.

That is not what we are being told.

We will hold the Minister to that.

I look forward to this and I will assess myself in a positive way any application that comes forward that makes sense. That is one aspect of how we deal with affordability.

The second one, which is open to all 31 local authorities in the Republic of Ireland, is the First Home shared equity scheme. I referred to this earlier and I will launch this scheme on 1 July of this year. This will be a game changer for thousands of young and not-so-young people who heretofore were not able to buy their own home. This will bridge the gap between the finance they have and the finance they need by the State taking an equity in that. That will be available to potential homeowners in Tipperary and, I inform Deputy Healy Rae, in Kerry.

I also refer to what we are doing in respect to vacancy. The Croí Cónaithe towns and villages scheme, which we will launch shortly, will provide assistance to people to take vacant property that is in our main streets, right through Tipperary, Kerry and across this country, to be able to bring vacant properties back into use and to enable people to buy them. We will provide support for those homes to be renovated on the basis that they are bought by owner-occupiers, because I believe in homeownership.

I also believe in providing social homes for people who need them. That is why this year we will provide 9,000 new-build social homes. This will be the highest number of such new builds in any year since the foundation of the State. I thank the Deputy for his support for the Affordable Housing Act, and the plan is taking hold now. Unlike what others will say, which is that this situation can be resolved overnight, it cannot and the people know that too. We are making progress, however, in that space. We have seen approximately 5,700 commencements on new homes in the first quarter of this year. This is the highest amount since 2011. We have also seen more than 46,000 homes purchased to February 2022. There are still issues and I am not saying the situation is resolved - nothing close to it - but we have the most targeted plan to deliver affordable, social homes, tackle vacancy and drive down homelessness throughout this country that any government has brought forward.

The Minister will be welcome to Tipperary. He talks the good talk but we were told that we are out of that plan. The catastrophic dysfunction means that all small builders are not even able now to tender for building houses that are bound to fixed-price contracts. This is just not happening and they have given up the ghost because they cannot get prices from suppliers.

Before the most recent general election, the Fianna Fáil leader and now Taoiseach promised that under his party in government, councils would be given the tools to deal with this, but those tools have not been given. The Government talks the talk but that is all. I will bring the Minister to any main street in any town in Tipperary tomorrow and show him the situation. There is a song called "It's a Long Way to Tipperary", but we will have a long good day in Tipperary and he will see the dereliction and the vacant properties. We are hearing about this being dealt with for 15 years but it has not happened. The Minister will be a hero if he gets it going and gets those places restored. In doing so, he will do two things: he will provide accommodation for Irish people and he will create living town centres, which is very important.

The Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland told Deputies today that the cost of delivering a three-bedroom semi-detached home on a new estate was €330,000 in 2016 and had risen to €371,000 in 2020. All the experts and institutions are telling the Minister what is happening but he is telling a different story in here.

The time is up, Deputy.

A reality check is needed. The Minister needs to get down and dirty. He should bring his wellies tomorrow and we will show him many good sites that are available for building houses.

We are very serious about tackling the housing crisis. We acknowledge it is there and that a big aspect of it is vacancy. That is why we are bringing forward very targeted measures to deal with it. I have been all across the country, including to Waterford with the Minister of State, Deputy Butler, where 72 apartments have been built in St. Joseph's House, a converted old school and convent, and are now providing permanent homes for people. I was in Crumlin earlier this week with colleagues, where 103 one-bedroom new-build apartments for seniors are being provided. New builds are happening but it will take time to feel the effect. There is no question about that.

In Tipperary, there is a very strong pipeline for the delivery of social homes. I commend the director of services for housing in Tipperary, to whom I spoke last week, on the work being done there, not only in providing homes for those who already are on the social housing list but also in providing assistance in response to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. I look forward to meeting the Deputy in Tipperary tomorrow. Yes, it will be a long day. I look forward to him accompanying me and my being able to talk directly to people in the council. To be very clear, the affordable housing fund is open to all local authorities to make applications.

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