1. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent conversation with the British Prime Minister. [24532/22]
Vol. 1023 No. 2
1. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent conversation with the British Prime Minister. [24532/22]
2. Deputy Ivana Bacik asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to the leaders of the parties in Northern Ireland following the Stormont elections. [24223/22]
3. Deputy Sorca Clarke asked the Taoiseach the engagement that he or his Department have had with the British Government and Prime Minister since the Assembly elections in Northern Ireland on 5 May 2022. [24925/22]
4. Deputy Sorca Clarke asked the Taoiseach the engagement that he or his Department have had with the political leaders in Northern Ireland following the Assembly elections. [24924/22]
5. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his engagement with the British Prime Minister following the recent Stormont election. [25801/22]
6. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent conversation with the British Prime Minister. [26000/22]
7. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent conversation with the British Prime Minister. [26003/22]
8. Deputy Brendan Smith asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his engagement with the leaders of the parties in Northern Ireland following the Stormont elections. [26028/22]
9. Deputy Paul McAuliffe asked the Taoiseach if he will report on his discussions with the leaders of the parties in Northern Ireland following the Stormont elections. [26194/22]
10. Deputy Gary Gannon asked the Taoiseach if he has spoken to the leaders of the political parties in Northern Ireland following the Stormont elections. [26206/22]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 10 together. I have had a number of discussions with each of the leaders of the main parties in Northern Ireland since the election. Most recently, I travelled to Belfast on Friday, 20 May for a day of meetings. In all of these engagements, I reiterated the importance of early formation of the Northern Ireland Executive and a functioning assembly. The people of Northern Ireland want their elected representatives to address the pressing issues facing them, including the cost of living and healthcare waiting lists. The onus now is on the leaders of the political parties to work together in the time ahead to agree a basis for forming a new Executive to serve the interests of all the people of Northern Ireland.
As co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement, the Government will continue to work with the political parties in Northern Ireland and with the British Government to support the formation of the Executive and the operation of all the institutions of the Good Friday Agreement. The protocol was, of course, discussed extensively at these meetings. We recognise that there are genuine concerns about aspects of its implementation but these can only be addressed in a sustainable manner through intensified EU-UK discussions and agreed solutions.
Work on the formation of the Executive and on issues around the Northern Ireland protocol should proceed in parallel. One should not be a precondition for the other. We also spoke about the United Kingdom's legacy Bill and I shared my concerns regarding this unilateral move and its implications for victims.
I spoke to Prime Minister Johnson by phone on 10 May. We agreed on the importance of having a strong functioning Executive in place to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland. During our call, I urged the Prime Minister to engage in intensified EU-UK discussions to address issues relating to the implementation of the protocol. I set out clearly my serious concerns at any unilateral action at this time, which would be destabilising in Northern Ireland and would erode trust. Unilateral action is wrong and is not the correct approach. I strongly pointed out that the EU has engaged constructively in the protocol discussions, addressing the issues of medicines and last October putting forward a substantial package of flexibilities and mitigations on customs and sanitary and phytosanitary, SPS, arrangements. I stressed to the Prime Minister that the way forward should be through agreed EU-UK solutions that address the practical issues arising around the implementation of the protocol. I subsequently wrote to the Prime Minister to outline my views in detail on this matter. The British Government's indication that it will bring forward unilateral legislation to override parts of the protocol is deeply concerning. Such a step would be a serious breach of the withdrawal agreement and of international law. I sincerely believe that with intensified engagement and political commitment, the EU-UK process can deliver outcomes that respond to the genuine concerns of people in Northern Ireland.
I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. It is accepted by everyone in this House, or at least I hope it is, that the Taoiseach's personal and political commitment to relations North and South, east and west is absolutely exemplary. As a Government backbencher I take pride when I hear him speaking on these issues and genuinely engaging. However, to be quite frank I do not believe that level of commitment is shared by his counterpart in London. It is extremely worrying that we are repeatedly seeing the livelihoods of people across this island being used as a political plaything by a Government in London that dials in and dials out. How is the Taoiseach ensuring that this British Prime Minister actually meets the responsibilities he holds in office for his entire country?
Following the recent Stormont election, as the Taoiseach has said, the approach of both the British Government and the Democratic Unionist Party, DUP, to the protocol has been deeply unhelpful and the people of Northern Ireland will suffer from the lack of a functioning Executive. We support the Taoiseach and all those engaged in trying to ensure that the Executive will be up and running again. We are conscious that there are very serious issues facing communities in Northern Ireland that require a functioning Executive to deal with, notably the waiting lists in hospitals in the North, which have been the subject of a good deal of concern because they are so extensive.
Waiting lists have also been a major problem in our own health service. In that context I have been asked to raise the case of Jeanie May Moylan, an 11-month old baby born in Portlaoise hospital who is in urgent need of medical treatment. Her parents have been waiting ten months for an appointment for their daughter at Crumlin hospital and are on the brink of borrowing to pay for specialist medical care. Her case was reported on by Alison O'Reilly in the Sunday Mirror on 22 May and is just one example of a serious waiting list issue in our own health system. I am conscious, as we all are, that a functioning Executive in Northern Ireland is required in order to ensure that issues around budgeting to deal the extensive waiting lists in the healthcare system there will be dealt with and that the real day-to-day concerns of the people of Northern Ireland around the cost of living, increases in the cost of fuel and food and the sorts of issues facing all of us on this island can be addressed.
I do not know whether the Taoiseach gleaned from his engagement with the Prime Minister that he had any understanding of the need for a functioning Executive, of the scale of the cost-of-living crisis in the North or of the fact that his not being properly assertive with his friends in the DUP is holding up funding which could be given to help those who are in dire need of investment. Regarding the so-called Tory legacy Bill, which has been described by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission as fatally flawed and incompatible with Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights, was there any awareness on the part of the Prime Minister that if he enacts that Bill that will be totally contrary to the Good Friday Agreement and international law?
In my book, there is not a lot to recommend Mr. Boris Johnson but he has, under pressure, done one positive thing recently, which was to introduce a windfall tax on the super-profits being made by energy companies. Companies like BP, Shell and others have seen their profits triple while ordinary people are being crucified by the cost of heating and energy. Under pressure, Mr. Johnson was forced to introduce a 25% windfall tax on energy companies. However, this Government resists such a windfall tax even though our energy companies also recorded spectacular and record profits while simultaneously increasing the price of energy by 46% over the past year. Between May 2021 and May 2022, energy costs have gone up 46% for ordinary people. This means that huge numbers are literally struggling to feed their children and pay their bills. The Government continues to resist the call we have repeatedly made for the imposition of a windfall tax, as has been done in the UK, on the profits of energy companies and to use that money to protect ordinary working people and low income households from the ravages of the cost-of-living crisis.
Earlier the Taoiseach appeared to suggest that saying that the Government should do more to protect families from the cost-of-living crisis was repeating Russian propaganda. That was quite incredible cynicism, to be honest.
I did not say that.
It was strongly suggested that saying that the Government should do more-----
No, it was not. The Deputy cannot mislead the House. That is not true.
People can go back and read the transcript-----
That is classic spin by the Deputy.
That is fine-----
That is classic politicking by the Deputy.
People can go back and read the transcripts of the exchanges between the Taoiseach and Deputy Doherty.
Can I ask a question? Is it Russian propaganda to point out the fact that the top oil and gas companies in the world made total profits of almost $100 billion in the first quarter of 2022? How does that compare with last year? It is almost a doubling of profits. Is it Russian propaganda to point out the fact, as Deputy Boyd Barrett has done, that in this country they are taking advantage of supply shortages to jack up prices and make record profits from the pain of ordinary people?
The energy companies and the electricity companies in this country.
They are BP, Shell-----
They are not drilling here.
Look at their profits; they have doubled.
We are running out of time.
As Deputy Boyd Barrett said, even-----
Is the Deputy referring to the ESB?
-----the Tory Government-----
Is he saying that the ESB is involved?
The ESB, Energia, Airtricity - every single electricity company in this country has increased its prices and its profits. In response to a parliamentary question we were told that a 50% windfall tax would raise €300 million. If the Tory Government can do it, even with some horrific loopholes, why can we not have a windfall tax on these super profits?
Deputy Richmond raised the issue of the level of my commitment to Northern Ireland. I appreciate his kind comments. In respect of the UK Prime Minister, both of us agree on the necessity to convene the assembly and the Executive and get them formed. That said, the intention of the UK Government to introduce unilateral legislation to circumvent the protocol is undermining political stability in Northern Ireland and is not conducive to getting a resolution of issues around the operation of the protocol. There aspects of the operation of the protocol that the European Union has signalled its interest in discussing with the UK Government. One gets the sense that domestic considerations are uppermost in terms of EU governments' assessment of all of this. It is very difficult to get a clear landing zone from the UK Government or, indeed, for the UK to involve itself with the EU in order to get an outcome. These issues can be resolved, just like the medicines issue was resolved last year.
The initiatives that Maroš Šefčovič put forward last October, in my view, formed the basis for decent and rounded negotiations to follow. What we got from Lord Frost was an attempt to torpedo that by invoking the European Court of Justice. This was not of concern to unionism at the time at all, if the truth be told. Unionism is concerned about the movement and transit of goods from the UK to Northern Ireland. Those issues are important and I believe they can be resolved. For the information of the other Deputies also, I met the Brexit business working group. It has done a lot of research. Manufacturing is doing very well in Northern Ireland and the protocol benefits manufacturing. The protocol benefits the dairy industry. The protocol benefits the meat industry. In its most recent survey, 65% of companies were managing the protocol well. Some 8% in the survey said they were experiencing significant difficulties. These are mainly consumer-facing companies or goods. We need to work on that 8% and make it more operable. I believe we can do that. We need to get the technocrats and the business people into the room as well because they know what works and what does not work, and what is practical and what is not practical. I picked this up from my meeting with the Brexit business working group.
Deputy Bacik raised similar issues to Deputy Richmond. I will follow up on the case with regard to the baby and Crumlin. I will certainly follow that up with the Minister. We must do everything we possibly can so that children are not waiting. They should not have to wait that long for treatment, attention, and intervention.
The Deputy was correct to say that bread-and-butter issues are what dominated the election in the North. The people in Northern Ireland will be very frustrated at the failure to convene an Assembly. When I visited the parties I said it is a very basic truth that in the democratic world when people vote through the ballot box and elect their representatives, they expect a parliament to be formed. It is the natural way in a democracy. The voice of the people in Northern Ireland must be heard. The Assembly should be convened forthwith and a speaker should be appointed. Subsequently, the Executive should be established.
On Deputy Ó Snodaigh's point, the British Prime Minister is, to be fair, very well apprised of the need for a functioning Executive and is committed to that. On the legacy issue, we have had a long-standing disagreement with the British Government around its initiative on that front. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, in terms of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, with the political parties in Northern Ireland have been arguing that. We do not accept the proposition that has been put forward by the British Government. In our view it is fundamentally against the wishes of the victims' families. It would, essentially, give many perpetrators of the most horrendous atrocities and crimes an amnesty. I am not just talking about those within state forces but also those in paramilitary groupings and other people who committed terrible atrocities. They could avoid any accountability or prospect of prosecution.
On the windfall tax, in the first instance I will make the point to the Deputies opposite that I take strong exception to what Deputy Murphy said. I said this morning that the Russian ambassador is blaming western governments. The Putin operation is in full operation propaganda-wise in blaming western governments for the 40% increase in energy costs that Deputy Boyd Barrett referred to. Russia is responsible for what is going on in the energy crisis. Russia is fundamentally responsible. Its war in Ukraine needs to be called out again and again. I note that the two Deputies did not call it out in respect of the issue.
The energy prices were going up before the war started.
It is without question a key factor. On the windfall tax, the ESB is a State company. We already get a dividend from the ESB. We do not want to tax wind energy companies because we want to move as fast as we possibly can to secure our independence in that regard and to secure energy security.
I thank the Taoiseach. We must move on. I am sorry but we are out of time.
We need the energy companies to invest and have a total focus on other areas that can be looked at in the fullness of time. In Ireland we are not similar to the UK.
We are out of time. We need to move on to Questions Nos. 11 and 12.
We do not have too many native fossil fuel companies in this country, as the Deputy knows well. I do not believe that we should tax Bord na Móna and I do not believe we should tax the ESB, as the Deputy has advocated. We get a dividend every year and that makes sense.
11. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the preparation of the language scheme of his Department. [22877/22]
12. D'fhiafraigh Deputy Aindrias Moynihan den Taoiseach cuntas a thabhairt ar an tslí ar a bhfuil Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla, 2003 ag feidhmiú ina Roinn. [26027/22]
Tá sé i gceist agam Ceisteanna Uimh. 11 agus 12 a fhreagairt le chéile.
Foilsíodh scéim teanga reatha mo Roinne don tréimhse 2019 go 2022 in 2019 ar gov.ie. Áirítear sa scéim raon gealltanais seirbhíse atá leagtha amach chun a chinntiú go mbeidh custaiméir ar bith de chuid Roinn an Taoisigh atá ag iarraidh a gcuid gnó a dhéanamh trí Ghaeilge ábalta é sin a dhéanamh.
Áirítear leis sin: seirbhísí ar an bhfón, ar an láthair agus cáipéisí ina leagtar amach tograí beartais phoiblí a fhoilsiú. Aithnítear an tábhacht a bhaineann le baill foirne a bheith againn atá líofa sa Ghaeilge agus a bhfuil sé ar a gcumas seirbhísí a chur ar fáil i nGaeilge agus leanfar ar aghaidh á dhéanamh. Tá Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla (Leasú), 2021 leagtha amach chun forálacha reachtaíocht 2003 a neartú trí chaighdeáin teanga a thabhairt isteach do chomhlachtaí poiblí a thiocfaidh in áit chóras reatha na scéimeanna teanga. Tá scéim reatha na Roinne i bhfeidhm go fóill agus leanfar de bheith ag cloí léi go dtí cibé am a mbeidh na caighdeáin nua sainithe agus á gcur i bhfeidhm.
Is í an uaillmhian atá leis an Acht nua ná caighdeáin na seirbhísí a chuireann comhlachtaí Stáit ar fáil don phobal a fheabhsú le réimse bearta nua a bheidh le tabhairt isteach de réir a chéile. Áirítear ar na bearta sin baill foirne a earcú sa tseirbhís phoiblí atá inniúil sa Ghaeilge, níos mó fógraíochta i nGaeilge agus na seirbhísí poiblí go léir sa Ghaeltacht a chur ar fáil i nGaeilge.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Taoiseach agus aithním go bhfuil an scéim reatha ann ach beidh deireadh leis an scéim sin i mbliana. Níl a fhios agam an bhfuil sé i gceist ag an Taoiseach síneadh ama a chur léi, scéim nua a chur ar siúl dá Roinn, nó cén bealach atá i gceist aige chun déileáil léi má leantar go bhfuil moill ar thosú Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla (Leasú), a ritheamar anseo níos luaithe i mbliana. Is léir go bhfuil an mhoill sin ag cur as do roinnt nithe agus tiocfaidh mé ar ais chucu sin ar ball.
Níl an coiste comhairleach bunaithe, níl caighdeáin leagtha síos go fóill agus níl a fhios againn fós cén uair a thosóidh éifeacht ceart a bheith ag an Acht sin. Deirim é sin mar go raibh coiste ar siúl an tseachtain seo caite, agus aréir freisin. Bhíomar ag déileáil leis an mBille fá Choimisiún um Cheapacháin Bhreithiúnacha, áit a deir an tAire Dlí agus Cirt, an Teachta McEntee nach raibh uirthi cloí le forálacha an Achta sa choimisiún sin toisc nach raibh Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla (Leasú), 2021 tosaithe.
Aréir dúirt an tAire Stáit, an Teachta Noonan, go raibh sé sásta moill a chur agus féachaint an athuair ar an Bille um Athchóiriú Toghcháin maidir leis na forálacha sin ó thaobh earcaithe agus aon rud eile de a thagann anuas as Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla (Leasú) a ritheamar anseo. An féidir leis an Taoiseach treoir a thabhairt do na hAirí uile gur gá dóibh gníomhú in aon Acht atá idir lámha acu fad is atáimid ag fanacht ar Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla (Leasú) a bheith tosaithe, amhail is go bhfuil an tAcht sin féin tosaithe?
Maidir le Roinn an Taoisigh, an gá nó an féidir síneadh ama a chur leis an scéim sin chun a dhéanamh cinnte de go leanfaidh sé agus nach mbeidh folús ann nuair a thiocfaidh deireadh leis in 2022?
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle. Táim ag fiosrú mar gheall ar an tslí a bhfuil an scéim teanga ag feidhmiú ina Roinn féin. Mar a luamar, tá Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla (Leasú) nua le teacht i bhfeidhm sa tréimhse amach romhainn. Tá spriocanna dúshlánacha ann maidir le 20% den earcaíocht nua agus tá go leor nithe eile ag baint leis. Cad iad na hullmhúcháin atá á ndéanamh chuige sin? Glacaim go bhfuil an scéim reatha chun leanúint go dtí go mbeidh an córas nua i bhfeidhm.
Roimhe sin, shamhlófá go mbeadh ullmhúcháin ann chuige. An bhfuil aon treoir ann maidir leis na hullmhúcháin sin a bheith á gcur i bhfeidhm? Ag an am céanna, tá an t-aonad shared island mar chuid de Roinn an Taoisigh agus tá Bille nua ag teacht chun cinn ó Thuaidh. Tá an-chuid oibre déanta ag go leor eagraíochtaí, ar nós An Dream Dearg, Conradh na Gaeilge agus go leor eile, chun é sin a thabhairt ar aghaidh. Tá cearta teanga an-tábhachtach. An mbeidh plé mar gheall air seo ann mar chuid d'obair an shared island unit?
Tháinig an scéim i bhfeidhm ar an 1 Iúil 2019 agus beidh sí i bhfeidhm go dtí go gcuirfear na caighdeáin nua i bhfeidhm faoin reachtaíocht nua. Ós rud é go ndéanann an reachtaíocht nua foráil do chaighdeáin nua a thiocfaidh in áit córas na scéimeanna teanga, thug an Roinn fhreagrach comhairle do mo Roinn gan scéim nua a ullmhú in 2022. Baineann formhór d’obair mo Roinne le hidirghníomhaíocht idir na Ranna agus gníomhaireachtaí Rialtais eile. Mar thoradh air sin, ní bhíonn aon éileamh mór ag an bpobal ar sheirbhísí i nGaeilge ó mo Roinn. Tá curtha in iúl ag roinnt baill fhoirne atá ag obair i mo Roinn go bhfuil siad inniúil i nGaeilge agus go bhfuil siad in ann leibhéil éagsúla seirbhísí a chur ar fáil do chustaiméirí trí Ghaeilge. Astu sin, tá beirt fhostaí a bhfuil leibhéal ard inniúlachta sa Ghaeilge acu roghnaithe chun seirbhísí a chur ar fáil don phobal trí Ghaeilge de réir scéim teanga oifigiúil mo Roinne. Is leor na daoine sin chun freastal ar an éileamh atá ann. Tá teacht go héasca ag gach ball foirne de chuid na Roinne ar chúrsaí Gaeilge tríd aonad acmhainní daonna na Roinne.
Ó thaobh an aonaid shared island, bhuail mé féin agus an t-aonad leis na húdaráis sa Tuaisceart, go háirithe i gcomhthéacs na Gaeilge agus Ulster Scots. Dúramar le gach éinne go bhfuilimid sásta, tríd an aonad, gach aon tacaíocht gur féidir linn a chur ar fáil agus infheistíocht a chur isteach ó thaobh aon chomhoibriú idir an Deisceart agus an Tuaisceart. Táimid ag lorg tograí agus smaointe nua chun é sin a dhéanamh. Tá an doras oscailte agus beidh an t-aonad sásta aon tacaíocht gur féidir linn a thabhairt do na heagraíochtaí éagsúla atá ag comhoibriú ar fud an oileáin chun na teangacha seo a chur chun cinn. Beidh muid an-sásta é sin a dhéanamh. Tá an-chuid eolais agam anseo ó thaobh conas atá an scéim ag obair i mo Roinn agus is féidir liom é a thabhairt do na Teachtaí.
13. Deputy Ivana Bacik asked the Taoiseach the mechanism by which his Department will review progress made in implementing the programme for Government [24220/22]
14. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the progress of the programme for Government. [24773/22]
15. Deputy Paul Murphy asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the progress of the programme for Government. [24776/22]
16. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Taoiseach the mechanism by which his Department will review progress made in implementing the programme for Government. [24809/22]
17. Deputy Mick Barry asked the Taoiseach the mechanism by which his Department will review progress made in implementing the programme for Government. [24936/22]
18. Deputy Paul McAuliffe asked the Taoiseach the mechanism by which his Department will review progress made in implementing the programme for Government. [26195/22]
19. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the progress of the programme for Government. [26196/22]
20. Deputy Cormac Devlin asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the progress of the programme for Government. [26197/22]
21. Deputy Cian O'Callaghan asked the Taoiseach if he will report on the progress of the programme for Government. [26646/22]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 13 to 21, inclusive, together.
The Government has been working hard to implement the commitments in the programme for Government across a wide range of issues in all Departments. The ten Cabinet committees established by this Government reflect a broad range of policy areas that it will work on during its lifetime, as set out in the programme for Government. Cabinet committees meet regularly to continue this work. Strategy statements prepared by Departments reflect the key national priorities as outlined in the programme for Government. My Department has been involved in progressing some key programme for Government commitments in recent months, including ongoing monitoring and management of the impact of Covid-19 on the provision of both Covid and non-Covid healthcare; driving delivery of our commitments to a shared island on a whole-of-government basis through the shared island unit in my Department; the establishment of a unit in my Department to help support social dialogue; implementation of the Housing for All strategy, which is driving delivery of key housing-related commitments; the delivery of the economic recovery plan 2021, which focused on driving a sustainable jobs-rich recovery and under which significant milestones and progress have been achieved, including in the transition towards a decarbonised and digital economy.
The number of persons in employment is now over 2.5 million, which is in excess of the Government target contained in the economic recovery plan. In 2022, we will spend a record €21 billion on our health and social care services. This will allow us to reduce waiting lists, increase capacity, protect our most vulnerable, address inequalities and deliver the right care in the right place at the right time. Work is continuing to advance a number of priority programmes of work identified in the Sláintecare Implementation Strategy and Action Plan 2021-2023, including progressing six new regional health areas, waiting list reduction and taking steps towards the establishment of elective care centres in Dublin, Cork and Galway.
Significant progress has been made in education, including plans for a reimagined senior cycle of education; a €32 million increase in Department of Education expenditure on the Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools, DEIS, programme to benefit 347 schools, which is the largest ever increase and expansion of DEIS; a commitment to a reformed multi-funding model for third level education; and measures to reduce the cost of education for students and families through changes to the student grant scheme.
The Government will publish a second report on Ireland's well-being framework imminently, entitled Understanding Life in Ireland: A Well-being Framework. This report outlines the longer-term approach for embedding the well-being framework into the Irish policymaking system over time. This includes the development of an analysis of the well-being dashboard, which will be published alongside the report and which is to be reflected in the annual budget process. In February, we published Harnessing Digital - The Digital Ireland Framework, which seeks to position Ireland as a digital leader at the heart of European and global digital developments. It sets out a framework to drive and enable the digital transition across the economy and society.
We signed into law the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development (Amendment) Act 2021, the marine planning framework and the Maritime Area Planning Act, as well as publishing the climate action plan 2021 and adopting the carbon budget programme. Engagement is ongoing with EU leaders to advance a range of high-level objectives in the programme for Government, in particular in relation to Brexit, Covid, the European Union budget and the European Union green agenda, as well as pursuing a strong, collective response to Russia's illegal invasion of Ukraine.
Other commitments in the programme for Government being progressed include the implementation of Global Ireland 2025; supporting the work of the United Nations through our membership of the UN Security Council; progressing work on the Government's response to the Future of Media Commission report; the establishment of a transitional team in my Department to progress the administrative elements of the establishment of the electoral reform commission, anticipated later this year; completion of the work of the Citizens' Assembly on Gender Equality and the establishment of two further citizens' assemblies, one dealing with the issue of biodiversity loss and the other with the type of directly-elected mayor and local government structures best suited for Dublin. There is also ongoing oversight of the implementation of A Policing Service for our Future, the Government's plan to implement the report of the Commission on the Future of Policing in Ireland. Ensuring progress on implementation of the programme for Government will continue to be a priority across all Departments, as well as through the work of Cabinet committees.
The issue that dominated the general election that brought this Government to office was the housing crisis. In the programme for Government, the Government promised action to address that crisis, particularly in the area of homelessness. It reads:
Reducing and preventing homelessness is a major priority for the Government. We recognise the particular challenges of homelessness [facing] families.
I am just off the phone from speaking to a young, vulnerable and very frightened woman. It could be somebody else on another day because I get such phone calls virtually every day. This is a woman with three children. Her landlord is evicting her on the grounds that a relative is coming to live in the house. She will be made homeless on 30 June, as will her children. Teachers report that her children are now crying in school because of this. One of them now requires counselling while the woman herself is being seen by a psychiatrist. She has been told all she will get is homeless emergency accommodation in Dublin city centre, approximately 15 km away from where she lives and where her children go to school. It is absolutely shameful. I wonder what "preventing homelessness" in the programme for Government means to her. I would like to be able to tell her this Government has a priority to stop her going into homelessness with her children.
I am also struck by another case I have mentioned a few times of a mother who is now three and a half years in homelessness emergency accommodation. She works with vulnerable children as an agency worker for Tusla. Because the Government has refused to raise the income thresholds, she is now not entitled, even though she is in emergency accommodation, to even the housing assistance payment or social housing. She is wondering where the priority is to get her and her child, who is now also getting counselling, out of homelessness accommodation, where they have been stuck for three and a half years. She has been told she is not entitled even to any housing support.
Will the Taoiseach tell me what the Government is going to do for those two people in order that I can pass back the message? They are just two examples. I am telling them at this stage that I am in such despair that the only thing they can do is get out on the streets and march on 18 June as part of the cost of living coalition because the Government is not listening. If that is not true, will the Taoiseach give me advice I can give to them about how they can get out of being homeless?
At this stage I have run out of fingers and toes to count the scandals about An Bord Pleanála that have been revealed by The Ditch. There have been multiple incidents of what certainly look like clear conflicts of interest not being declared. There is a pattern of inspectors' reports being disregarded to favour the wishes of developers. There have been reports of at least three incidents of inspectors being pressurised to change their reports to bring them into line with the interests of developers. The director of planning is reported to have participated in a meeting of institutional landlords, giving them advice in regard to applications to An Bord Pleanála. There are question marks over the appointment of two members of the board, including a sister of a Fianna Fáil Deputy nominated by the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association and the deputy chairperson of the board, who was nominated by the Irish Rural Dwellers Association at a time when it was defunct and did not exist as an organisation and could not have had any nominating rights for more than a year. The very latest is a story published yesterday on The Ditch about the director of planning having an issue in terms of ruling on applications that relate to her husband.
What is the Government going to do about this? It has announced a review, but it is a review into the actions of one member of the board in respect of just three specifics. That is simply not good enough. Does the Taoiseach not accept that, at the very least, the review needs to be expanded to include all the operations of the board, including the role of these so-called nominating bodies?
I want to ask about the commitment in the programme for Government regarding the divestment of schools. The programme for Government commits to ensuring plurality in regard to choice in education and progress on this has been extremely slow. Survey after survey shows the majority of parents want to send their children to secular, co-educational schools but the places are not there to meet the demand. In my constituency, a survey of parents in one area showed just 5% of the respondents wanted single-sex, religious secondary schools, yet five of the seven secondary schools in the area surveyed are single-sex, church-run schools.
What is the Government doing to accelerate the process of divestment? Will it commit to prioritising funding in order that new, secular, co-educational secondary schools will be provided?
Approximately 50 households have been or are being evicted from the Shannon Arms apartment complex in Limerick city centre. The notices to quit were issued to households that include a woman who is eight months pregnant, a person with terminal cancer and a family with five kids. Several landlords are involved in issuing the totality of these notices to quit. One of them is the Supermac's boss, Pat McDonagh. Many of these families face eviction into homelessness. On average, just six homes are available to rent in Limerick city each month. I congratulate the tenants on choosing to organise and fight back and the Community Action Tenants Union on the help it has given them.
Does the Taoiseach agree these landlords should meet face to face with these tenants and their representatives to discuss the issues at hand? Does he accept that his decision and that of his Government to end the ban on evictions is directly responsible not merely for the fact more than 10,000 people are now forced to live in emergency accommodation but also for the very particular nightmare these people in Limerick are being forced to live through?
The Taoiseach has just three and a half minutes for a response.
I have been very clear, and have repeatedly said in this House, that housing is the single most urgent and important social issue facing our country at this time. Through Housing for All, we have provided action with a wide range of initiatives relating to social housing, homelessness and affordable housing. Access to housing is fundamental to our security, stability, health and progress as a nation; there is no doubt about that. The Government has been in office for two years. We had two lockdowns, unfortunately, which impacted on construction, although we managed to keep quite a number of social housing projects on the go. This year will see - I hope, and we are heading there - a record number of social houses built everywhere in the country, but we need to keep that rate going every year. I cannot comment on individual cases whose detail I am not familiar with but supply is the vital part of this. We need to build more houses of all types as quickly as we possibly can. That is the key intervention.
We have provided the resources. A total of €4 billion per annum will now be provided to enable the construction of social and affordable homes. We have also taken significant action on, for example, voids and on making sure local authority houses bring their voids and empty houses back as quickly as possible.
What do I say to these people?
More than 6,000 voids have been brought back into use in the past two years as a result of the initiative of the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage on that. We want to get to at least 33,000 a year. I think the target this year is about 24,000 and last year, about 20,0000 was achieved, given Covid had an impact on that. Interestingly, from March last year to March this year, we had the highest ever number of commencements, at about 35,000. The war on Ukraine, the cost of materials and commodities and inflation are having an impact, but the recent co-operative framework for tenders announced by the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform will give some capacity to try to finish projects and enable people to tender for new ones.
Homelessness is a very key issue for us. Again, the Minister has taken a lot of initiatives, particularly working with the sector and with all the non-governmental organisations in respect of homelessness and the approved housing bodies, to do what we can to provide homes for the homeless and to prioritise them through Housing First and so forth. The current level of family homelessness is too high at 1,308. It is 26% below the peak figure recorded in July 2018, but it is increasing and a range of factors are behind that. It is not as simple or straightforward as is sometimes articulated. Our priority will always be to do what we can, working with the non-governmental organisations, to increase the supply.
We are almost out of time.
Deputy Cian O'Callaghan raised the issue of the divestment of schools. We operate a pluralist model and plebiscites are held in different locations regarding new schools, for example. Certainly, we want to see more divestment, greater plurality and greater access. Significant investment has been allocated to Educate Together, for example, and that will continue.
An Bord Pleanála?
I apologise. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O’Brien, has appointed a senior counsel to investigate the issues raised in respect of An Bord Pleanála and one individual on the board. It is important we allow that report to be completed without further comment until the senior counsel brings it to finalisation.