Thursday, 29 March 2018
Questions on Promised Legislation
The right to the protection of personal data is explicitly recognised in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. People now require a higher standard of data protection. An Oireachtas committee called this morning for a digital safety commissioner to protect children. Legislation is necessary to force a change of culture regarding the storage of personal data by large organisations and other bodies. The Data Protection Bill must be published immediately. How soon will this happen?
The British Prime Minister, Ms Theresa May, is in Ireland today visiting the North as part of her Brexit roadshow. She is not, however, meeting any of the political party leaders. This is no surprise, perhaps, given that the majority of the political representatives in the North favour remaining in the European Union and staying within the customs union and the Single Market. These are the voices that Ms Theresa May continues to ignore as she and the DUP show contempt for the cross-community majority who voted to remain. She is clearly not interested in the concerns or interests of the people on this island; otherwise she would not be imposing a reckless Brexit agenda and trying to sell it as a positive thing, which she will be doing today.
Will the Tánaiste or Taoiseach have any engagements with the British Prime Minister when she is here? If so, what will be their message for her?
It is important to note, however, that in 12 months, Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union. We have had many debates in this House about how this Government and country need to approach the Brexit challenges we face. We are taking on those challenges and the British Government is very clear in terms of what the Irish Government is prioritising. Yesterday I confirmed that we need to see significant progress on the Border issue, in particular, by June, which is when European leaders will again review the guidelines on their approach to Brexit. There was some progress this week in Brussels in terms of negotiations on a number of issues relevant to Ireland but we need to see more progress, particularly between now and June. We keep in very close contact with our British counterparts to ensure those issues continue to be prioritised.
I want to return to the issue of housing and homelessness. It is a very broad subject so I want my question to have a very narrow focus. It relates to the programme for Government commitment that states we will end the use of unsuitable long-term emergency accommodation, such as hotels and B&Bs, for homeless families in part by delivering 500 rapid-delivery housing units. According to information supplied to Deputy Jan O'Sullivan, only 208 rapid-delivery units were completed by the end of 2017, 22 of which were completed the previous year. What is the Government's current target for rapid-build houses? When will we see them?
I thank the Deputy for the question. The initial response to the use of hotel accommodation was to move to rapid build as a solution for new social housing homes. As the technology has advanced, however, it is now the default position in the private sector to use rapid build. As such, we are telling the local authorities that rapid build should be the default position for every new scheme because that can be delivered far more quickly. In the coming weeks, I will announce the build targets for 2018 for every local authority. We may not distinguish in that between traditional and rapid build as we expect most to be rapid. Most houses from local authorities now should be rapid build. This is no longer a solution for a particular aspect of our housing crisis for those in homelessness. It is now the default for all builds. Where a local authority does not proceed with rapid build, we will want a good reason as to why because it takes longer. I will produce more detail on the targets in the next couple of weeks for 2018, including the allocation of an additional €500 million provided for Rebuilding Ireland in the last budget over the course of the five-year plan. Rapid is very much what we are proceeding with now for every local authority.
We do not have the fourth quarter construction report for last year yet. It will be published in the next two weeks. We will have more detail on that. Rapid is at the centre of what we are doing for the more than 30,000 units to be built by local authorities and housing bodies.
I raise an issue I have raised numerous times in the House, namely, Opposition Bills and in particular to the Bill I put forward a year ago on medicinal cannabis. A meeting of the sub-committee on Dáil reform has been proposed three times and been cancelled three times in March. We talk here about new politics but what I see is completely dysfunctional politics. People are being granted licences by the Minister for Health for medicinal cannabis and have to leave the country. Not only that, it costs €4,500 for three months’ supply. That is in the case of Ava Barry who lives in the Tánaiste’s county of Cork. This issue is a complete mess not only on Opposition Bills, but on medicinal cannabis. While the House fumbles, people are suffering.
On the same issue, the Cannabis for Medicinal Use Regulation Bill 2016 presents a unique procedural issue. The health committee scrutinised the Bill and issued a report which was debated in the Dáil. For reasons best known to the political parties involved, the report was not accepted and was returned to the committee for consideration. However, the committee cannot consider the Bill further until a money message is issued. An application for a money message was made in February 2017 and, 13 months later, it has yet to issue. When will the Taoiseach issue a money message or at least make a decision on whether a money message will be issued or not? It is a unique situation that a Bill has been considered and reported on by a committee, the Dáil rejected the report and sent it back to the committee but it is precluded from looking at the Bill further because no money message has been issued.
I will raise the issue raised by Deputy Harty with the Taoiseach and try to get an answer. On the boarder issue of Opposition Bills, my understanding is that the matter was discussed by the Business Committee this morning. There is ongoing discussion on, perhaps, introducing a new approach to Opposition Bills and ensuring they progress. I am familiar with the individual to whom Deputy Kenny refers. I know her well and have been involved in trying to assist her with her case, as have others in the House. I am conscious of the case, but the Bill is a separate and broader issue which is subject to the consideration of the Business Committee.
The programme for Government contains commitments to young people, especially our students. The cost of student accommodation in Dublin has got completely out of hand. At DCU’s Shanowen Hall, which is only minutes from the main campus, it is currently €7,000 for nine months. It is going up, however, by 24% to €9,000 a year. They will only be in it for nine months, which means it will be €1,000 per month. That is extortionate and legislation should be introduced to curtail it. Students have been pulled out of college because they cannot afford it. The €9,000 it will cost next year for a single room would pay for a three-year degree at €3,000 a year. It is extortion and it is disgraceful to treat students in this manner. Will the Tánaiste, Minister for Education and Skills or Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, or whoever is responsible, do something about it?
I thank the Deputy for the question. Thousands of new student places are being built at the moment. We have a very ambitious plan for that which will help students into affordable accommodation. On the particular issue the Deputy raises, if it is a case of traditional tenancy arrangements, it should be captured by the rent pressure zone and that kind of inflation should not be allowed. However, there may be a different licensing arrangement in place in this instance. I am investigating that.
The new runway at Dublin Airport is critical national infrastructure. For the best part of two years, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross, advised the House that he was preparing legislation to make the Irish Aviation Authority the competent authority to deal with noise regulation. A number of months ago, the Government changed tack and confirmed that it would bring forward legislation to make Fingal County Council the competent authority to deal with noise regulation at the airport. This is a delay involving critical national infrastructure. Can the Tánaiste tell the House today when we can expect to see the legislation before the House for debate? Certainly, we have grave reservations on this side of the House about making Fingal County Council the competent authority and want an opportunity to debate the issue.
This is about making the appropriate decision on the authority which will make determinations on appropriate sound levels in relation to a new runway. There was an initial recommendation that the Irish Aviation Authority should be the regulatory authority, but on good advice, it is now proposed that it be Fingal County Council. We discussed the matter in Cabinet a number of weeks ago and it is being prioritised by the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport. We are more than aware of the importance of the infrastructure to Dublin Airport and its growth and expansion. I expect that we will see the legislation shortly but I do not have a date for the Deputy. I can ask the Minister to come back to him.
On page 4 of the programme for Government, there is a commitment to end the homelessness crisis. As we heard earlier, almost 10,000 people are recorded as homeless, including 3,755 children. Clearly, the Government is not doing enough to prevent people becoming homeless. In Britain, new legislation comes into force next week to place an obligation on local authorities to step in and assist people at risk of homelessness 56 days before they lose their homes. Will the Government examine this legislation and consider introducing similar proposals here or, if the Opposition tables such legislation, will the Government commit to looking at it positively?
Has the Government or the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government examined properly the reasons homeless figures continue to soar? The Government's reliance on the private sector to build housing and on the private rented sector is one of the reasons. Non-interference in the private market is a major issue in relation to homeless figures. The unwillingness of the Government to have the State build large quantities of social housing is another reason. The Government does not even have an affordable housing scheme. We need a State company to spearhead the building of social housing. We must also stop the sell-off of housing portfolios to vulture funds and others. It is a scandal that this is allowed to happen while this is going on. Almost 10,000 people are now homeless, of whom 3,755 are children. There are almost 90,000 people on the housing waiting list. This has not changed, rather it has got worse over the past number of years.
I raise the same issue in relation to page 23 of the programme for Government. Homelessness is not just a city issue relating to Dublin and Cork. I note the figures released yesterday for the midlands.
It shows that in a one-week period in February there were 85 adults. There are no figures for the numbers of children. It was mentioned there were 60 dependants.
This Rebuilding Ireland is not working. We all wish it was. The question I have for the Minister is this. On page 23 of the programme for Government, the Minister gave a commitment to put in place a cost rental model. When will we see the cost rental? On page 23, it states they will "initiate an affordable housing scheme." It is badly needed to solve the housing crisis. When will we see that-----
I thank the Deputies for raising those particular issues.
One of the measures we introduced in the fourth quarter of last year was an obligation for landlords to notify the Residential Tenancies Board when they serve a notice to quit on at-risk tenants so that the local authority can then get involved with those tenants to put in place early solutions to prevent those individuals or families from falling into emergency accommodation. That has proven successful.
If one looks at the numbers for January and February, almost 300 families were prevented from entering or exited out of emergency accommodation, in roughly a 50:50 split. Therefore, work is being done. Early intervention works where tenants are at risk of falling into emergency accommodation and we will continue to progress that.
We are not relying on the private sector to build social housing homes. Rebuilding Ireland is a €6 billion commitment to bring 50,000 new homes into the social housing stock. What we are trying to achieve is mixed communities into the future. It is not about going out to a greenfield site and building tens of thousands of homes in one place because that would not be in the best interests of those who may live there. It is also not in the best interests of making sure, as we grow our country and as we build new homes, that we have the schools, the transport and the infrastructure in place for those who will live there.
On the private side though, it is important to note that planning permission was given last year for 20,000 new homes to be built in the State, a 27% increase on the previous year.
We do have an affordable housing scheme. Local authorities have identified land and finance for 4,000 affordable homes under the affordable purchase scheme. Our ambition is for 10,000 homes. We are not taking the responsibility for building houses away from local authorities. That said, we are bringing in a new land regeneration and development agency to better co-ordinate the use of State and semi-State land for the building of homes and we are, of course, looking at situations outside of Dublin and Cork when it comes to the increasing number of people who are in homelessness. I have met the European Investment Bank on a cost-rental proposal for Dublin city, which I hope to announce in the coming months, that will involve a dramatic increase in the provision of cost-rental model in this country if it is successful.
We have the rent pressure zones in place. When we look at the quarterly data from last year with one year of their existence in Dublin, we see that rent increases in Dublin have dramatically slowed down. There are particular qualifying criteria for other local authorities to come in to the rent pressure zones-----
We need to conclude. I am sorry that Members keep interrupting the Minister when he is answering. The time has now elapsed for questions on promised legislation. We must therefore proceed to the next business.