Dáil debates

Tuesday, 19 October 2004

Ceisteanna — Questions.

Sustaining Progress.

2:30 pm

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Question 1: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the social partners. [18253/04]

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Question 2: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the main provisions of the new social partnership agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [20071/04]

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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Question 3: To ask the Taoiseach the matters discussed and conclusions reached at the meeting held on 13 July 2004 with the social partners under the auspices of Sustaining Progress; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21322/04]

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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Question 4: To ask the Taoiseach when the next quarterly meeting with the social partners under the auspices of the Sustaining Progress agreement will be held; the likely agenda for the meeting; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21323/04]

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Question 5: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the implementation of the programme for Sustaining Progress; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21424/04]

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Question 6: To ask the Taoiseach when he will next meet the social partners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21425/04]

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Question 7: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the recent activities of the national implementation body; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21427/04]

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Question 8: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the outcome of the ballot of trade unionists on the pay agreement concluded in the summer of 2004; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21567/04]

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Question 9: To ask the Taoiseach when he next expects to meet the social partners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22392/04]

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Question 10: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on his recent contacts with the social partners; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22394/04]

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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Question 11: To ask the Taoiseach the progress in the implementation of the Sustaining Progress agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22458/04]

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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Question 12: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the fifth plenary meeting with the social partners under the Sustaining Progress agreement; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [22459/04]

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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Question 13: To ask the Taoiseach if the issue of educational disadvantage came up at the recent meeting with the social partners. [24179/04]

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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Question 14: To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the programme for Sustaining Progress particularly in respect of housing; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [24180/04]

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 1 to 14, inclusive, together.

In June we successfully concluded an agreement on pay and workplace related issues to cover the second half of the lifetime of Sustaining Progress. The agreement provides for a general round of pay increases in the private sector totalling 5.5% over 18 months, with an additional 0.5% increase for workers earning less than €9 per hour or €351 per week. The same increases will apply to the public service, commencing on 1 June 2005. There is also a commitment to review the national minimum wage and provision for increasing the weekly ceiling for the calculation of redundancy payments by almost €100 to €600, with effect from 1 January 2005.

Among the workplace related elements covered in the agreement are an increase in maternity benefit from its current level of 70% of earnings to 80% over the lifetime of the agreement; co-operation between the parties to the agreement to address concerns relating to pensions provision, in particular, the need to increase the take-up of pensions across the economy; the further development of partnership and learning in the workplace; a continuing focus on inflation and excessive prices; and ongoing consultation on the development of workplace legislation and codes.

The agreement represents a fair deal for all concerned and this has been borne out by its ratification by the parties' respective memberships. The agreement will serve to underpin our model of social cohesion, facilitate economic growth and maintain the industrial relations stability of recent years.

This completed review of pay and related matters in part two of Sustaining Progress complements more generally the mid-term review of Sustaining Progress which had a number of dimensions, namely, formal consideration of progress in the steering group for the programme; bilateral discussions between officials and the social partner pillars on matters of particular concern to each pillar; a separate progress report on the ten special initiatives set out in Sustaining Progress; a fifth progress report to the plenary meeting, including the report of the parties to the agreement and the steering group; and the statements on behalf of the Government by me, the Tánaiste and the Minister for Finance and the responses from each pillar at the plenary meeting on 13 July last. Copies of all the relevant progress reports and speeches have been placed in the Oireachtas Library.

The plenary meeting provided an opportunity to discuss the overall assessment of progress during the first half of the agreement and the key priorities for attention during the remainder of Sustaining Progress. The meeting also afforded an opportunity to hear at first hand and acknowledge the particular concerns of each of the social partner pillars. Housing and tackling educational disadvantage are two of the special initiatives under the agreement. Progress on these initiatives was noted in the context of the progress report on the ten special initiatives published as part of the mid-term review of Sustaining Progress.

I express my appreciation of the positive contributions made by those on all sides who contributed to the successful mid-term review. I emphasise the Government's continued commitment to pursuing our nation's well-being and prosperity through the process of social dialogue and I look forward to this ongoing dialogue on items of mutual interest.

The next quarterly plenary meeting of the social partners is set to take place later this month and a presentation by the Department of Finance on the medium-term economic outlook will be a key feature. Formal meetings such as these complement the meetings I hold with representatives of the social partners on a regular basis. I will continue to meet the social partners regularly and as required over the remainder of the lifetime of Sustaining Progress.

The national implementation body, which includes employer and union representatives, operates under the chairmanship of my Department. The body met on three occasions during August of this year to consider ongoing and threatened industrial action in the private and commercial semi-State sectors. It will continue to meet as necessary to consider the implications of ongoing disputes of particular significance. Meetings of the body also provide opportunities for informal discussion of the broader issues relating to the social partnership process, from the employer and trade union perspectives.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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It is incredible that the Taoiseach did not refer to the 10,000 affordable homes which were flagged initially as being an important part of the Sustaining Progress agreement. Since he signed off on a promise to provide 10,000 homes as an incentive to workers to agree Sustaining Progress, which has only about 12 months to run, not a brick has been put on top of a brick to achieve it. Is there any reason we should not accuse him of being guilty of a cruel deception, using the extreme concern of working people about the obscene profiteering in the housing industry, which has put a house out of the reach of a worker on an average wage, and getting a result by which workers agreed to go along with his programme but failing to deliver? Precisely what timescale has the Government set for the achievement of the building of 10,000 homes? I ask the Taoiseach not to give me the number of houses which will be built overall, etc. as I have that speech from a previous occasion. I want the specific details on that particular element.

Against a background in which the term "rip-off Ireland" has become accepted by people everywhere on the island as a result of their experiences and with prices of services and housing continuing to rip ahead, what moral right has the Government to insist that workers accept wage moderation and limits on wage increases, when it refuses to put any restraint on outright profiteering and rack-renting by a significant section of the landlord class which creates major difficulties for workers on ordinary to middle incomes?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I did not refer to affordable housing because the Deputy put down three questions which did not mention it but I would be glad to answer.

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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It was part of the terms of the deal.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy had a great deal of latitude. He should allow the Taoiseach to speak without interruption.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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Substantial progress has been made towards the target of 10,000 affordable houses outlined in Sustaining Progress — I mentioned the various initiatives. There are 59 projects planned on State and local authority lands. Together with a projected 2,100 affordable units under Part V, just short of a total of 8,900 housing units are projected to be delivered. These projects are being progressed as a priority. Activity is being paralleled as necessary with a view to their earliest possible delivery.

This year we estimated approximately 500 affordable units under Part V and next year we are projecting an output of approximately 1,500 units in specific affordable housing projects. There has been progress with a number of sites. The Finglas Road site is under construction while the Bricin's Park military site has been advertised as part of the redevelopment in that area. Advertisements for expressions of interest from developers and builders were placed at the end of last month for the Jamestown Road, Inchicore, and Infirmary Road projects. There are almost 500 units in those projects.

The group is currently examining additional strategies put forward by the Construction Industry Federation, including the option of land swaps that might accelerate delivery. The services of Des Geraghty, the former president of SIPTU, have been engaged to assist the initiative. He presented a progress report to the initiative as part of the recent pay talks.

Both local authority and State lands have been identified for the initiative in Clare, Cork, Dublin, Galway, Kerry, Kildare, Meath, Sligo, Waterford, Wexford and Wicklow. The potential yield from the sites in the ownership of State authorities alone is almost 3,000 houses. Almost 3,900 will be developed on local authority lands and these are distributed across the country: in Clare, Cork city and county, there will be 900 units; in Dublin city and county, there are 3,800; Galway city and county have more than 500; Kerry and Kildare have 700; Meath has 450; Sligo has 130; Waterford city has 100; Wexford has 60 and Wicklow has 50.

The precise numbers will be determined in planning the projects. They may vary depending on the need to incorporate a mix of social and other facilities. It is anticipated that a further 2,000 units will be delivered to meet the needs of the target group under the Part V arrangements. That brings the total yield to approximately 8,900. That is still short of the 10,000 target but there is an ongoing effort to identify further sites. The Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is currently engaged in discussions with a number of Departments and State agencies in regard to those other sites and securing land.

The sites identified have the potential to yield almost 9,000 units but the precise number can only be determined when planning starts in those areas. We have to follow the rigours of the planning process and that takes time. The idea, however, is to try to incorporate a social mix and other facilities to ensure there is a good living environment in the developments. Once the initial planning phase is over, specific planning permission for the projects will have to be obtained and developers procured to deliver the projects. A number of meetings have taken place in recent months with developers to examine the projects. We are trying to ensure the process is parallel to the greatest extent possible to prevent undue delays.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Does the Taoiseach understand the level of frustration among people with the way the Government does its business? While Ministers consult employers and trade unions through the social partnership scheme, they rarely, if ever, consult those who are directly affected, that is, members of the public. In the case of Aer Rianta, for example, no representative of the travelling public was asked for views and in the case of proposals to privatise CIE, no bus or rail passenger was consulted. There is, therefore, a valuable element of information missing from the process. Does the Taoiseach agree that this could be addressed by the establishment of a statutory consumer enforcer as a pillar of social partnership, through which the public, who experience the direct impact of such Government decisions, could have its say? It might be most beneficial for the Ministers involved.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I certainly agree that the public should give its view, through whatever process. I am not sure whether that should be through social partnership that deals with initiatives or reform of what workers do, workers' rights and workers' legislation. I am not sure that it is the best pillar to do it. Perhaps there is ground for an input. However, consumer groups and the Consumers Association of Ireland are extremely active in giving their views to all Departments. They continually seek meetings, at which they put forward their views, and receive delegations.

The Deputy suggested the possibility of users' councils in some of these areas, a concept I am not against. The trade union movement would feel it provides this, in many cases, from the point of view of workers and users. I accept the argument that a user would believe the views would not equate in many cases. Nonetheless, with regard to transport and the travelling public, the consumer groups are strong in airing their views on measures they wish to see implemented.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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Does the Taoiseach agree that the appointment of a statutory consumer enforcer would be an important element in bringing efficiency to the public service so that consumers could see that their rights are enforced? Does he agree that, despite all the talk, the system does not work in the way it should in respect of the money paid by taxpayers at present? The concept of having a statutory consumer enforcer to represent the views of consumers, namely, the public directly impacted upon by these decisions, would be greatly beneficial to the entire process. Does the Taoiseach share this view?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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I am not sure the appointment of a statutory enforcer of views is the way to go. Matters work best in this country when there is voluntary dialogue between the respective bodies, whether employers, boards, workers or users through the consumers' association. To try to make that statutorily and legally enforceable would probably only bring resentment and people would begin fighting.

It is difficult enough, although not impossible, to achieve restructuring reforms. I accept the process is slow and that users would like progress made far quicker. However, workers and others have rights. While they want protection, consumer interests are often not in line with those of workers or the statutory legislation that governs many of these organisations. The voluntary method of trying to involve people, hearing their views and trying to find ways forward, is probably better than statutory enforcement.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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On affordable housing, we are approaching the second anniversary of the agreement, which was to provide an injection to build an additional 10,000 affordable houses. The Taoiseach told Deputy Joe Higgins that when one counts up all the bits of land that have been sequestered, the potential exists to build 8,900, which is not 10,000 but is fair enough. Approaching the second anniversary of the agreement, will the Taoiseach tell the House when any of these units will be built? Is it not the issue that not a block has yet been put on a block? I listened to the Taoiseach's statement on going through the rigours of planning. When does he expect that some houses will be ready to be occupied? I noted his remarks about planning in Singapore and Malaysia, and the fact that the process is more rigorous here, which I understand. However, having regard to the fact that we are in this part of the world, when can people hope to move into the affordable houses promised?

What did the social partners say to the Taoiseach about the community employment scheme, the effective scrapping of the social economy programme and the shutting down of the job initiative? A press release from the Fianna Fáil office stated that a deputation of backbenchers met the new Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin. Did they do so in support of the social partners? What was their view on community employment? What arguments did they make and how will the Government respond? Were they taking advantage of the fact that the Tánaiste has moved from that Department and that, perhaps, the Minister, Deputy Martin, might be more sympathetic to understanding the need in communities for the continuation, at the optimum numbers, of community employment, job initiatives and social economy?

Regarding the Taoiseach's remarks on commercial State companies, he described privatisation as a race to the bottom. In the context of Aer Lingus and recent developments, does that mean, now that the former Minister for Transport, Deputy Brennan, has been promoted, the Government no longer wishes to press ahead with facilitating the privatisation of Aer Lingus?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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Regarding the 10,000 affordable houses, some of these units are already under construction, although I readily accept there are not enough. The State must first seek the lands and must not interfere with the separate social housing programme on which a vast amount of money is being spent. In many cases the land given by the State must be properly serviced and must go through the formal planning process. It is a slow process, but at meetings aimed at trying to interest them in social housing initiatives and to speed up the process of providing such housing, private developers have told me that it takes six and a half years to build a house from the time they purchase a site until the house is finished, even when they do not encounter much difficulty. That is the difficulty with which we are faced. However, many of the available sites are open green field sites and it should be possible to increase the pace in regard to these.

Deputy Rabbitte is probably aware of some initiatives that could speed up these projects but I am not sure they would win total acceptance. They involve trying to get local authorities and the group working on this problem to examine the possibility of using lands zoned for amenity and other uses but not being used for those purposes. If that could be done quickly it would speed up not only social housing projects but those for affordable housing.

I have stated that these issues must be discussed with local authorities because if Government were to act in isolation it would create problems with development plans. Genuine efforts are being made by many of the people involved in this area to come up with imaginative ways of speeding up the process which, I accept, is too slow. It takes far too much time to get a project up and running from the time a site is identified, even if the conveyancing and transfer of land are quickly dealt with. To speed up matters there is a need for some form of private sector involvement with regulations regarding land prices. There are ways in which we could improve matters without affecting the resources going into social housing.

Regarding the community employment scheme, everybody wants to keep the maximum number of people in the schemes. The figure has been fixed for last year and this year. There are issues regarding the phasing out of some of the schemes and the pressure that puts on the system. Both the Tánaiste and the Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Deputy Martin, are involved in discussions on that and on the issue of people over the age of 55 years who are unlikely to return to the normal labour market but who are doing good social work involving social schemes. The Minister must come to his own conclusions when he completes his Estimates in the next few weeks.

For many years I have argued for the enhancement and development of State companies to be as efficient as they possibly can be and to give good employment. We must not endeavour to turn them into organisations where it is a race to the bottom in terms of salaries and standards. There are different ways of achieving efficiencies in State companies and some have been turned around into better operations. In my capacity in a number of ministries and as Taoiseach, my line has been that these issues must be resolved in discussions with workers' representatives. I have been involved in discussions over the years with companies from B+I Line to hospital boards and companies which moved out of State hands.

The report on Aer Lingus is now available and the Cabinet will discuss it over the next few weeks.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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In respect of the potential yield of 8,900 affordable housing units, the Taoiseach remarked that some of them are under construction. Will he inform the House on the precise number under construction? He claimed that this was an additional number and that he did not want it entangled with the other substantial investment in affordable housing. Is it not the case that only 163 affordable houses were built last year? Is it not the case that when the Government changed the law on this issue at the end of 2002, it handed back 16,000 affordable housing sites to builders? Will he agree that 163 units of affordable housing is absurdly and ridiculously inadequate and a paltry contribution in terms of housing need in that category? The entire social and affordable housing provision is distressfully inadequate in meeting the needs of people in those areas.

3:00 pm

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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A broad spectrum of housing needs must be met and the Government has actively responded by increasing the level of social and affordable housing. In the first four years of the national development plan, more than €5.2 billion was spent on social and affordable housing, which is ahead of the forecast. That helps those in the low income bracket. Under the full range of social and affordable housing measures, the housing needs of 13,600 people were met last year compared to the needs of 8,500 people five years earlier. That is the highest figure in housing provision in the past 15 years. Last year, there was increased activity under the affordable housing scheme, with more than 1,500 units completed. The combined output of the 1999 affordable housing scheme and the 2003 shared ownership scheme was more than 2,500 units. That is higher than forecast in the national development plan.

The answer to Deputy Rabbitte's question on planning legislation is "Yes". When the changes to the housing scheme were made in 2001, developers were allowed to complete existing planning applications. As the Deputy will recall, the matter caused an outcry in the House and I had to answer questions on it on many occasions. Due to the arrangements under Part V, developers held back and there was a risk that the housing supply would dramatically decrease that year. We could not allow that to happen and we allowed the existing applications to continue. The quid pro quo was that the developers would move on the land and build, which they did and a record number of houses has been built. In future, however, Part V must be complied with and we will see more of such developments. It was the Government's wish that it would work the other way, but that did not happen.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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They blackmailed us into doing so and shut down the initiative of the then Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Noel Dempsey. They then delivered only 163 social and affordable houses.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Allow the Taoiseach to continue without interruption.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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The reality is that the then Minister, Deputy Noel Dempsey, strongly supported by me, would have brought it to Part V and it would have gone through. The fact is that people were holding back and the output——

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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Whatever word the Taoiseach wants to use, be it "holding back" or "blackmailing", they got their way.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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A number of Deputies are offering.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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They got their way on a temporary basis to deal with what was then the difficulty, but Part V still comes into play. Most local authorities have informed me, although again I think they are too slow, that a number of initiatives under Part V are coming through and in future those planning applications which have not been used must, on re-application, comply with Part V rules. In the medium term, we will not lose on it.

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)
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Two months ago, in August, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council introduced a so-called affordable housing scheme. Is the Taoiseach aware of the details of that scheme where two-bedroom houses cost €335,000 and three-bedroom apartments cost €345,000? Does the Taoiseach not agree that these so-called schemes that masquerade as affordable housing initiatives simply do not fall within the intent of the initiative? Does he not further agree that this particular initiative only adds to the great disappointment of people in that area who were promised and would have had a reasonable expectation that the local council would have provided an affordable housing project that they could attain and achieve?

Is he aware that even to participate in the selection process for allocation under this particular scheme, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council imposed a non-refundable fee of €100 for all those who wished to be considered? Regardless of whether one was successful, the fee was not refunded. Given those facts, does the Taoiseach not accept that the so-called steps being taken by local authorities only masquerade under the banner of affordable housing and that this needs to be addressed by local government administrators and managers? Does he also accept that there is a bounden need to ensure all schemes that present under the affordable housing initiative have criteria that ordinary, average income families can meet?

Does the Taoiseach not accept that the restoration of Part V of the Planning and Development Act is a requirement if we are to see the inclusion of social and affordable housing within major developments in all parts of the jurisdiction? Clearly, the row-back on that has allowed property developers to hold back from their responsibilities. I urge the Taoiseach to take action in this regard.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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The purpose is to provide affordable housing. I am not familiar with the scheme in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown but, obviously, it is based on the land value in the area. In another recent scheme in Ringsend, homes cost €120,000 or €130,000 and that is just a few miles from Dún Laoghaire. Clearly, the purpose is using State and local authority lands in a model that can speedily provide affordable housing that people can afford. I accept that it does not meet the criteria if the cost is €350,000.

Part V is now law. Existing planning permissions were allowed through but it takes effect in all new applications. As we go forward, local authorities have said we should see far more coming through. I am not familiar with all areas but I am aware it is already happening in Fingal. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government will have all the details. The intention is not just to provide for this fresh initiative, but rather to try to develop a model through which more affordable houses may be built wherever State and local authority land is available. The Construction Industry Federation, which has done a good paper on this, believes it is possible. The industry is looking for some concessions in how these matters may be fast-tracked. I am not sure whether that is possible but I have asked that it be examined by the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and the local authority managers.

Photo of Trevor SargentTrevor Sargent (Dublin North, Green Party)
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Members of the public hear of Government commitments on overseas development aid, carbon tax and the 10,000 houses. Will the Taoiseach reiterate and assure the House beyond doubt that this commitment of 10,000 genuinely affordable houses will be delivered on, given some of the doubts in this regard that he has expressed in the past? It is somewhat forgiving of ICTU and other members of the social partnership to accept that the commitment is now watertight. Will he give the House the same commitment that it is watertight?

On carbon tax, will the Taoiseach again consider whether under Sustaining Progress there is a membership role in the partnership for environmental groups as this does not exist currently? On the basis of what the House knows he is not going to do in terms of carbon tax, will he indicate what he is going to do, something which may have been discussed with the social partners? For example, was the economic analysis on the abandonment of the carbon tax discussed with the social partners and how it would be costly to invest in carbon credits, or perhaps even give them away? The estimate of €50 million to €200 million has been given by a number of people who have analysed the cost to the country of the payment of carbon credits, the benefits of which are effectively given away to other countries. Will the Taoiseach say whether there have been any discussions on the economic implications of that with the social partners and whether he has given any commitment in this regard?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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As I indicated earlier, sites for up to about 8,900 houses have now been identified and the group involved is still endeavouring to try to locate other sites from the State and its agencies. Obviously, the planning process will have to be gone through. The group has worked hard to find a model that will move this matter on. It has engaged actively with the CIF and the social partners. Part V is working and hopefully will work more effectively in the future, now that people must adhere to the current planning permission.

On the other matter, I have not been directly involved in the discussions about the carbon tax and it did not come up at the meetings I have referred to in the reply. However, I know there have been discussions and assessments made by all of the employer groups about the effect of the economic analysis. I know that information was shared with the social partners. I cannot, however, speculate as to the level or degree of discussion involved. Perhaps the Deputy could table a parliamentary question to the Minister in this regard.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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Will the Taoiseach say what the views of the social partners were about the figures he has just produced? Do they agree with him that the houses that come on stream under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000 which form part of the 8,900 houses, which figure is a roll-back on the original number of 10,000, were never to be included in the original commitment? That was the understanding of many Deputies on this side of the House. Now suddenly the Taoiseach is——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Will the Deputy confine himself to the question?

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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I will. Will the Taoiseach say whether the social partners gave an opinion as regards the other side of the housing scenario, namely, the escalating waiting lists throughout the country for social housing? There are in excess of 50,000 applications at present. In my city, for the first time, the numbers have reached the 5,000 mark. Have the social partners any views on that side of the equation?

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Before the Taoiseach replies I will hear a question from Deputy Kenny.

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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It is a different question, a Cheann Comhairle.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Is it related to the questions before us?

Photo of Enda KennyEnda Kenny (Leader of the Opposition; Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland; Mayo, Fine Gael)
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It is, yes. In respect of the progress on benchmarking and the €1.3 billion, is the Taoiseach in a position to state that for future benchmarking awards, there will be a more transparent and robust method of scrutiny so that the public will see the advantages and increased efficiencies and productivity that will come from future benchmarking awards? In analysing any of the Departments, State agencies or local authorities to which benchmarking awards have been paid, it is difficult to identify the increased efficiencies that would allow members of the public to say, as a consequence of those awards being paid, that they are getting better services in the various areas.

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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Two other Members are offering. I will hear a brief question from each of them and then a final reply from the Taoiseach.

Photo of Pat RabbittePat Rabbitte (Dublin South West, Labour)
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I apologise to the Taoiseach but if he answered my question about the number of units under construction, I did not catch it, and I would like to ask the question again. I also welcome the appointment of Des Geraghty but I would like the Taoiseach to outline his precise mandate in this situation. Also, did any of the social partners raise the question of the savage 16 cuts in social welfare and what is the disposition of the Government in terms of responding to those concerns?

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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Did the issue of educational disadvantage come up in the Taoiseach's talks with the social partners, and the question of pupils and young people from extremely disadvantaged backgrounds where there is poverty, violence, drugs and dysfunctional activities? Hidden among that sector is a very small minority of violent young people who may kill people in future and end up in prison? Does the Taoiseach accept that between 100 and 300 young people are now in that category and that recent events have shown they are a threat to the broader society? Will he accept also that we must support families, parents, social workers and juvenile liaison officers to prevent those young people getting into trouble? Was the question of an allowance——

Photo of Rory O'HanlonRory O'Hanlon (Cavan-Monaghan, Ceann Comhairle)
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We do not have time for another question, Deputy.

Photo of Finian McGrathFinian McGrath (Dublin North Central, Independent)
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——for teachers working in disadvantaged schools raised in the talks?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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To answer the last question first, the question of an allowance for teachers in disadvantaged schools is an educational matter, and I am aware there has been ongoing discussion about teachers in genuine disadvantaged areas.

Deputy Allen asked about the number of houses. As I said in my reply, 2,100 Part V affordable units are now coming through the system. They are part of the 8,891, which is not a final figure. Efforts are still being made by a number of State agencies in that regard. I am aware the Department of Health and Children is examining an inventory of the health boards to identify lands which could potentially yield approximately 1,500 units.

Photo of Bernard AllenBernard Allen (Cork North Central, Fine Gael)
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They were supposed to get 10,000 extra houses.

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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Including those under Part V. If they get enough estate land they will go well above their figure. The point is that it is not stopping. The idea is not to reach 9,000 or 10,000 and then stop but to continue. If we were to get all the sites, we would have well over 10,000, even if we exclude those under Part V. It is a question of the State agencies being able to release the land but they have not done badly in that regard. They have already released several thousand units from State areas, including Gormanstown and others.

Deputy Rabbitte asked about the sites. A total of 160 units are under construction on Finglas Road. Advertisements have been placed for the building of 200 units on St. Bricin's military site and there have been expressions of interest from developers in respect of sites at Jamestown Road, Inchicore and Infirmary Road, which will make a total of 465 units. They are not under construction but merely expressions of interest from people to begin construction. There are other smaller ones in several local authority areas.

The social partners were anxious to find a model that could be used in all areas. I have read out the list of counties involved. If there is not a fairly standard model we will have great difficulty in moving this on and who knows how long it will take. The social partners came up with a model and Des Geraghty assisted in trying to achieve progress in the initiative and finding a joint approach. They are also trying to achieve the movement of the CIF because if the number of private houses declines over the next few years, which most commentators say is likely, we need to engage the CIF and the private sector builders to move into the construction of local authority houses, or affordable housing at a lower cost.

There is great difficulty in this area as many local authorities find it hard to spend the budgets they have because the builders are too actively engaged in the private sector, which has an effect on local authority housing. They have endeavoured to interest private builders in involving themselves more in the affordable housing area, not social housing. That is what Mr. Geraghty——

Photo of Joe HigginsJoe Higgins (Dublin West, Socialist Party)
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Why does the Taoiseach not set up a State building company?

Photo of Bertie AhernBertie Ahern (Taoiseach; Dublin Central, Fianna Fail)
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The social partners have raised the issue of last year's changes in social welfare numerous times and in discussion have sought further changes.

Much work has been done in this round of the social partnership discussions regarding educational disadvantage. The social partners have been involved in a long series of measures, details of which I can give to Deputy Finian McGrath if he would like it. This particularly covers educational disadvantage in inner cities but not only there.

Deputy Kenny asked about the transparency of the system. The answer I have received from all those involved in the system is 'yes' but they need some flexibility in how they deal with the issue. They make the point that if the way they do the benchmarking is laid out in the open it will create great difficulties. This is not done in areas where there is benchmarking, in either the private or public sectors — the private sector here and the public sector in other countries. They do not have a problem with trying to be more transparent but they must have some flexibility in looking across grades and professions and doing some work that is perhaps not as transparent as everyone would like it to be. Otherwise, they will never be able to complete the exercise. I have asked them about this twice in the course of the year and that is the reply they have given me. On the second occasion I spoke to people involved in the exercise.