Tuesday, 3 November 2015
Last February the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, confirmed "the Government is proposing a statutory framework which will introduce a rent certainty for up to four years". Throughout the year, month by month, the Minister, Deputy Kelly, is quoted as saying he will bring an end to rent instability, he will bring rent certainty, he will bring proposals before Cabinet, he will tackle spiralling rents, which are now his No. 1 priority, and he expects legislation by the end of the year. In June we read that he wanted to tie rent increases to inflation and to bring in temporary rent controls to assist families which are under huge pressure and which are being made homeless on a month by month basis. In September, we had leaks and headlines from Fine Gael sources, with senior Cabinet Ministers saying it will not happen and that they are against the Minister, Deputy Kelly's plan. Worryingly, in a Jose Mourinho-type response, he then went into the third person and attacked the "anonymous cowards" who are briefing against him.
He is talking about his colleagues, Fine Gael senior Ministers. As this goes on, we read all the headlines about "AK-47" versus "Buddha", in the form of the Minister for Finance, who is nodding silently and sagely.
Meanwhile, there are 1,500 children in emergency accommodation and Threshold states the number of homeless families will increase from 700 to 1,000 by Christmas. The indecision of the Government is creating further instability in the rental market, with landlords shoving up rents to get in ahead of whatever proposals emerge from the Cabinet. The National Economic and Social Council, NESC, states well designed rent certainty proposals could bring stability and a degree of certainty to the market and that it is somewhat concerned by some of the leaks from the Fine Gael side in regard to the rent certainty and rent control agenda. The commitment last February was that we would see rent certainty by the end of the year, but there was nothing proposed in the budget announced recently. Will we see legislation shortly that will bring about the rent certainty on which the Minister has staked his reputation, saying its introduction is his number one priority, or is the story in the Irish Independenttoday correct, that his plans are dead in the water?
We have referred to this issue on a number of occasions in the recent past. A number of issues need to be dealt with in respect of housing generally, including homelessness, whether of rough sleepers or those who do not have a place to stay because they are being put out of their accommodation. A great deal of work has been done on the issue. The Minister for Finance and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government had a very good meeting yesterday when they discussed a number of issues that needed attention in both the short and longer term. The real problem is the lack of housing supply. The Government is looking at a range of options to supply the many houses needed, but they cannot be put in place overnight. Yesterday we made progress in our discussions on modular housing, the number of voids being returned to habitable accommodation, the targets set for the social housing objectives of the local authorities -the Minister has called on them to get on with the task of meeting them - and the renovations taking place, particularly throughout Dublin. I expect the progress being made in the case of rough sleepers will help us to meet the need in a bad winter. An extra 130 beds have been opened this year and a further 130 are to be opened. The money is in place to deal with this issue and I expect the issue of rough sleepers, particularly in Dublin, to be dealt with. I hope the two Ministers will conclude their discussions this week on what needs to be done in the short, medium and longer term to deal with the issue of housing supply.
The Taoiseach hopes they can conclude their discussions this week. We have had the budget and the situation is chaotic. What is going on with the two Ministers is chaotic. They had a good meeting yesterday and we are all supposed to breathe a sigh of relief, after all the leaks, counter leaks and antagonism of the past two months. This goes back to what happened in February. I asked the Taoiseach a simple question. The Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, said legislation would be introduced in September to deal with this issue. He said he would link rent increases with the CPI, to the rate of inflation. We are almost at the anniversary of the death of Jonathan Corrie by which the Dáil was appalled, as well as by the issue of homelessness. However, all that has happened in the past 12 months is that the position has got progressively worse. Many Deputies have seen in their clinics young families who have absolutely no certainty about where they will be housed. This is a shocking indictment of the Taoiseach's leadership-----
-----and the Government's lack of cohesion, focus or a sense of purpose, or a policy on homelessness. All we get is the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government calling Fine Gaelers a load of cowards and, in turn, them calling him "Calamity Kelly". That is what we are getting in the media each week, yet families are coming to us to ask us to do something for them. They are spending three nights in a hotel, followed by three nights in a self-catering apartment, and the welfare officer only has €700 to pay out. The position is that bad. Rents have been increasing and are spiralling out of control, which means that families are being evicted.
The Government continues with the pseudo warfare through the media in the absence of coherence or a single-minded or purposeful policy initiative. The budget was silent on this issue. The two Ministers, Deputies Michael Noonan and Brendan Howlin, were silent on this issue in their entire Budget Statements.
One of the most basic obligations of a state is to put a roof over people's heads. Will there be legislation before the end of this Dáil session and will the Taoiseach confirm whether the plan to link rent increases with inflation is dead in the water? Is that what is going to happen?
I have said I hope the discussions between the Minister for Finance and the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government can be concluded satisfactorily this week. They will deal with a number of matters in the shorter term. Arrangements must be put in place to deal with the provision and supply of housing in the medium to longer term. As the Deputy is aware, the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, changed the regulations for the housing assistance payment, HAP, programme, which allows for an increase in rent through subsistence from the Department of Social Protection. This gives certainty of tenancy to a category under serious pressure. The provision of modular housing is under way, with a start on sites identified in Dublin.
I accept the point made by the Deputy. I am aware of many examples of people who are under serious pressure owing to rents being increased by landlords. Not all landlords are putting pressure on people; I am aware that many landlords show their humanity. The situation is not what we want it to be. There was a total collapse of the housing sector, with the figure falling from 190,000 units to less than 8,000.
There are issues that need to be addressed in the immediate term. The Ministers are discussing them and I hope they can conclude their discussions this week. The issue of housing supply is critical, but it is not possible to deal with it overnight.
It may well be that legislation is required and if so, it will be introduced. At the other end of the scale, there has been announcement after announcement of jobs and investment. This is obviously creating pressure in other areas in terms of the provision of both commercial and residential accommodation. This does not solve the problem for the person who is under pressure this evening, but the changes already made by the Minister are beneficial and helpful. They are not the answer, but we hope we can conclude the discussions this week.
On three separate occasions the Taoiseach has claimed the Government was on the brink of deploying troops onto the streets and introducing capital controls. He told a Fine Gael fundraiser in October, "The head of the Central Bank came in on a Wednesday and said, I have to tell you Taoiseach that it is probably likely that you will have to put the Army around the ATM machines on Friday. We may well have to print money. We may well have to introduce capital controls." On 20 October the Taoiseach told the Dáil a similar story. Two days later he repeated this tall tale to a meeting of the European People's Party in Madrid. We all know that there were contingency plans in place. We have read about them in Pat Leahy's book, The Price of Power - Inside Ireland's Crisis Coalition, while the banking inquiry was told by the former Secretary General of the Department of Finance that they were developed before the Taoiseach's time in office and continued to be developed during his time. However, what the Taoiseach is claiming is something very different. Both inside and outside this Chamber, he is claiming that, in the estimation of the Governor of the Central Bank, a moment had come when he thought it necessary to suggest to the Taoiseach that he should put these plans into action. The Taoiseach has given the impression that somehow within 48 hours, he had thwarted disaster and saved us all from catastrophe. Before we start erecting statues to his glory, will he finally clarify some matters for the Dáil and citizens? What was the event that led Professor Honohan on that Wednesday to suggest to the Taoiseach that he should deploy troops on the streets of the State on that Friday? What week is the Taoiseach talking about and how was this issue resolved?
I note the Deputy's comment about fund-raisers. It shows the extent of the priority that his leader and deputy leader attach to this House that they decide to exit to the United States for a fund-raiser which is very much in excess of anything I might have attended myself.
There will be no statues to my glory or otherwise. If that is where the Deputy's interest lies I ask him not to talk to me, please.
I am happy to outline the context in which all of this happens. The reality, as the Deputy well knows, is that for a prolonged period in 2011 and 2012 there was massive instability in the eurozone with the economic circumstances that applied in a number of countries. People were openly questioning whether the currency would survive in its current form. That is why I make no apology to anybody for putting in place, as head of Government, with the agencies of Government, contingency plans to deal with the possibility of a total collapse of the euro currency.
It would have been grossly irresponsible and negligent of the Government not to have done so in the face of clear warnings and signs of being blocked from capital markets, money moving out the country and so on. It was not appropriate to make any of the contingency plans that were being put in place public at that time, for very good reasons. Even today it is not appropriate to provide the details. Those continency plans----
As everybody knows, as a small open economy we are dependent upon exports and imports and we would have been particularly vulnerable to a breakup of the euro. Those contingency plans covered policy issues, including legislation, logistics, security, the role of the banking sector, international relations and communication to the public.
Emergency structures to manage that crisis, to be overseen by Government, were designed and designed very carefully and would have been activated if necessary. That work was carried on in secret by a small number of officials from the Department of Finance, the Department of the Taoiseach, the Central Bank and the National Treasury Management Agency. Given the scale of what might have happened, which I am thankful did not happen, the full resources of the State would have been mobilised, including the Garda and the Defence Forces. It is always clear that in the change from one currency to another currency, or in a changed currency, these issues, including capital controls, are always discussed. It would have been necessary to pass emergency legislation providing exceptional powers to the local authorities.
While it is not appropriate to give the details of the contingency plans, the issues considered would have clearly dealt with producing, supplying and circulating a new currency, supplying essential supplies of fuel, electricity and medicines and so on - the normal running of any country. It was absolutely appropriate that those discussions around those contingency plans took place. At the end of all of that, had it happened it could have happened very quickly. As the Governor of the Central Bank said, we do not talk about the details of discussions that took place here but there were those discussions that took place between the Department of Finance, the Department of the Taoiseach, the Central Bank and the NTMA about very serious indications that it might have been necessary to introduce those contingency plans. I am glad it did not happen and we are now in a very different spot from those days of early 2011 and 2012.
I asked the Taoiseach a direct question and he has been waffling about contingency plans. I made the point that it is not about the contingency plans. We already know that such plans were drafted. We questioned Professor Honohan on the contingency plans at the banking inquiry. The specific question is the Taoiseach's claims, made at Fine Gael fund-raisers, at his colleagues' meeting of the EPP and in the Dáil on 20 October, that the Governor of the Central Bank, somebody who sits on the General Council of the ECB, came to the Taoiseach on a Wednesday and told him of the need to execute this plan on the Friday. The Governor of the Central Bank has said that any discussions of a contingency plan were in the context of the breakup of the euro.
It is important that the Taoiseach clarifies the statements he made on three occasions in the last month. Did the Governor of the Central Bank, Professor Patrick Honohan, walk into the Taoiseach's office, as the Taoiseach claims, on a Wednesday and say that the Army needed to be deployed on the Friday? Did he say to the Taoiseach that he believed the euro was about to break up, or was this a fantasy of the Taoiseach? Was there a dose of reality in these conversations or in what the Taoiseach was saying at the Fine Gael fund-raisers, at the EPP and to the Dáil? Does the Taoiseach believe he needs to correct the record of this House? Did this conversation happen?
It is not about the contingency plan. I ask the Taoiseach not to insult my intelligence by referring to contingency plans and the need to have them in place. The question is very clear. The Taoiseach makes the claim that Professor Honohan said to him on a Wednesday that he would need to deploy the Army on the Friday and introduce capital controls. I sit on the banking inquiry. The State has spent close to €5 million getting to the guts of what happened in the crash and also examining the policy responses and the aftermath of what happened when trying to restore the credibility of our banking sector. It is crucially important that the Taoiseach clarifies the situation. Were we within 48 hours, as he claims, of seeing the breakup of the euro and introducing a new currency in the State?
Maybe Deputy Doherty did not listen to me in the House. What I did say was that the context of these discussions took place against a background where there was a very serious set of economic circumstances applying right through 2011 and 2012. The discussions that took place within those circumstances warranted putting in place a strategy that would deal with an eventuality where the euro might collapse. Those discussions took place on a number of occasions and the participants in those discussions were officials from the Department of the Taoiseach, the Department of Finance, the NTMA and the Central Bank. We referred to that in the past. That is where the discussions took place and against that background. As I say, I make no apology for having to deal with the clear warning signs that were there about the economic collapse and the collapse of the euro.
Those contingency plans, as I said, covered all of those issues. There was a possibility of an abrupt change from the currency of the euro in its current form to something else and consideration of what the Government would have to do and might have to do in terms of legislation, security, logistics, and all of these issues that affect the normal running of any country. It is in that context that those discussions took place. They were the participants that took part in them and, as the Governor himself has commented on this quite recently----
Go raibh maith agat, a Cheann Comhairle. Around this country every year, 13.7 million miles are being clocked up in vehicles when people go for dialysis. One transplant, as well as saving a valued life, saves the health service €750,000 as well as meaning a person is going back to work and a family has someone who was in danger of losing his or her life. At the moment 2,000 people are on dialysis. Since 1 January this year I am led to believe there has been no pancreatic transplant in this country. Since David Hickey resigned, or retired or was forced to go - what he did say was the conditions he was working in were intolerable----
Eight people were on the list at that time. I ask the Taoiseach whether they were given the option of treatment abroad. Some 18 children in the last few years were given kidney transplants. From what I believe, that has dropped to four this year but the number of children requiring a transplant has not dropped. Sadly, because of a clash of characters we have lost two consultants. Mr. Zimmermann is gone to a foreign shore. William Shields has gone to England and Mr. Hickey has resigned or has so-called retired.
The best advice from talking to those involved is that if we are to get on top of the transplants we need 300 to be done per year.
At the moment, we are struggling to get 150 kidney transplants. In Galway-----
There are three transplant nephrologists in Galway but we need two surgeons because we could do with two places performing this at the moment. Has the Taoiseach been informed by the Minister about what is going on? The fact is that because of a clash of personalities, people's lives are put at risk.
Why is the programme in Beaumont Hospital and Temple Street Children's University Hospital in disarray? Given what has happened over the past year, is the Taoiseach prepared to hold an inquiry or meet with these people and solve it once and for all-----
Deputy Fitzmaurice raised a general point about transplants. It is a matter for people who may wish to supply organs for transplant, which is a very good thing to do. Not everybody has the courage or mentality to do that but it is something which is being constantly promoted and which I support.
I am aware of the situation concerning Dr. David Hickey. The pancreatic transplant service has been transferred to St. Vincent's University Hospital in Dublin with support from Edinburgh. This is a specialist area. I do not think anybody who has been treated or has had a family member treated in centres of excellence for cancer can complain about the professionalism that applies in a centre of excellence. The new service for pancreatic transplants in St. Vincent's University Hospital will go live this month. St. Vincent's University Hospital has appointed a number of new consultants and the service will start in January. It is anticipated that heart and lung transplants will be up this year but kidney transplants will be down. It is important to say that the transplant programme requires the support of people who wish to be organ donors. The Minister has indicated that the new service in St. Vincent's University Hospital will be structured differently from that in Beaumont Hospital and will not be dependent on any one individual. It is expected that this new service in St. Vincent's University Hospital will be exceptionally high-level.
The Minister has also informed me about Organ Donation and Transplant Ireland, which is led by Professor Jim Egan with additional staff to identify suitable organs for transplant, and the living donor programme, which aims to get even more people to donate and involves the Department and the HSE covering the expenses involved. There is encouragement there for people to consider becoming donors. It is has always been difficult and requires specialist centres. What the Minister has done in transferring this service following the retirement of Dr. David Hickey to St. Vincent's University Hospital with consultants appointed and a first-class operation will add greatly to the comfort and health of those patients.
Is it not ironic that what appears to be the first time the Taoiseach has heard about this is through bits of paper pushed in front of him telling him what is going on around the country? Let us not forget that Dr. David Hickey was pushed. He was forced to retire. The Taoiseach has now admitted that since 1 January, and we are now talking about next January, there have been no pancreatic transplants in this country. Is it not serious for the Taoiseach to say that the Minister has done nothing for a full year to resolve this issue? Dr. David Hickey pioneered transplants in Ireland, is recognised worldwide and has offered to help the next generation in a voluntary capacity, which is unusual. Why will the Taoiseach and the Minister not meet this man and drive this forward for the betterment of the people of this country?
I resent the Deputy's comment about bits of paper. If the Minister for Health wishes to give the detail of an issue raised by the Deputy here, it is only right and appropriate that he does so. I am well aware of the change from Beaumont Hospital to St. Vincent's University Hospital and that the new programme is due to commence very shortly. There are difficulties in recruiting transplant consultants in Beaumont Hospital. The Minister, the Department and the HSE are working to make that situation more attractive. If the Deputy has an issue with Dr. Hickey being, as he said, pushed out, he should raise it directly with the HSE and the hospital management by way of a parliamentary question or Topical Issue matter. What is important here is that a new transplant situation applies in St. Vincent's University Hospital where consultants have been recruited and the programme is to start in January. It is expected that the pancreatic transplant programme will go live in advance of this. The projected date is mid-November subject to patients on the list being assessed by a multidisciplinary team, which will meet next week. I understand that arising from this meeting, seven patients who are suitable for pancreatic transplants will be listed.