Dáil debates

Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Ceisteanna - Questions

Cabinet Committees

4:30 pm

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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8. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing and infrastructure unit of his Department. [22094/22]

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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9. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with transport will next meet. [22875/22]

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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10. To ask the Taoiseach the extent of any recent changes to the national risk assessment; and the action taken arising from same. [22928/22]

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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11. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing and infrastructure unit of his Department. [22900/22]

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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12. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing and infrastructure unit of his Department. [23380/22]

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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13. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing and infrastructure unit of his Department. [24523/22]

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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14. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing and infrastructure unit of his Department. [24526/22]

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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15. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing and infrastructure unit of his Department. [24529/22]

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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16. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee that deals with transport will next meet. [24530/22]

Photo of Paul McAuliffePaul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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17. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing and infrastructure unit of his Department. [24570/22]

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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18. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing and infrastructure unit of his Department. [24572/22]

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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19. To ask the Taoiseach if he will provide and update on the national risk assessment. [24774/22]

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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20. To ask the Taoiseach if he will provide and update on the national risk assessment. [24777/22]

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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21. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing and infrastructure unit of his Department. [24808/22]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 to 21 together.

The housing and infrastructure unit supports me and the Government in building a successful society and economy through sustainable economic development with a particular focus on housing and infrastructure policy. This includes supporting the work of the Cabinet committee on housing which oversees the delivery of Housing for All. The unit monitors implementation of Housing for All and prepares quarterly progress reports. The most recent of these, for quarter 1 of 2022, was published in April and shows strong progress towards fundamental reform of the housing system, and the implementation of measures to increase the supply of quality and affordable housing.

While we are seeing good progress and we are confident of good progress on housing delivery in 2022, we recognise that there are many challenges to be overcome, including ongoing inflationary pressures and supply chain issues. Given the need for accommodation arising from our humanitarian response to the situation in Ukraine, delivering on the plan is more important than ever. The Cabinet committee will maintain focus on this delivery.

As part of the broader economic division, the unit also maintains an overview of progress in key policy areas in line with Government priorities and provides me with briefing and speech material on relevant policy issues.

The unit also develops the national risk assessment, which plays an important role in promoting an open and inclusive discussion on the strategic risks facing the country. The national risk assessment for 2021-2022 was published in December. Many of the risks in the report have been identified in previous assessments. However, there are a number of new risks, including inflation, and a number of previously identified risks, including housing and cybersecurity, which have evolved considerably. This is at the same time as major risks, in particular climate change, have taken on an even great importance.

The report also identifies major geopolitical risks, including the rise of a multipolar world, Ireland's post-Brexit relationship with the United Kingdom and the risk of armed conflict as we are now seeing to horrendous effect with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The national risk assessment is just one element of the overall system of preparedness and resilience planning for Ireland and is not intended to replicate or displace the detailed risk management and preparedness which takes place across Departments and agencies.

There is no dedicated Cabinet committee dealing with transport; rather transport-related matters are discussed in a number of Cabinet committees, as appropriate. This occurs most usually at the Cabinet committee on economic recovery and investment, and at the Cabinet committee on the environment and climate change. As with all policy areas, transport issues are also regularly discussed at full Cabinet meetings where all formal decisions are made.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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The Minister for Finance said that the local property tax returns show low levels of vacancy across the country. The comments from the Minister do not reflect the reality in communities. In Cork city, Jude Sherry and Frank O'Connor have identified 700 derelict properties located within 2 km of the city centre. Data from the national GeoDirectory show at least 90,000 vacant homes and 22,000 derelict homes. Does the Taoiseach accept that the returns from the local property tax are flawed and do not reflect the amount of vacancy that actually exists? Does he accept a survey that was not completed by 380,000 households is not a good source of data on this? When will the Government introduce a tax to bring vacant homes back into use?

Photo of Darren O'RourkeDarren O'Rourke (Meath East, Sinn Fein)
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In response to questions raised by my colleague Deputy Mac Lochlainn last month, the Taoiseach agreed to engage with the Minister for Transport on the restoration of Government funding to the City of Derry Airport. If the airport is not eligible for funding from the Irish Exchequer under the regional airports programme, the shared island initiative is an obvious option to explore. I know the Taoiseach is aware how significant connectivity is. The Departments of an Taoiseach and Transport recently committed to a review of air routes between Dublin and Derry as well as Cork and Belfast. Can we get an update on that?

Photo of Bernard DurkanBernard Durkan (Kildare North, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Taoiseach for his initial reply. I ask the extent to which the extra risks have been identified, isolated and are being pursued at present with particular reference to the supply of imported goods and racing inflation affecting almost every sector at the moment. I ask the Taoiseach to what extent a positive intervention can be made on the one hand to avert and on the other hand to identify the precise causes.

Photo of Ivana BacikIvana Bacik (Dublin Bay South, Labour)
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Last week another report from Daft revealed record rents and serious shortages of supply. I was in Limerick yesterday and I heard that only five properties are available to rent in the entire city. We need to ensure our stock of housing is being used more effectively along with ensuring more supply of homes coming on-stream. Is the Government taking any action to ensure an effective vacant housing tax will be introduced without further delay? It is also a climate measure ensuring we use our building stock more effectively. Most importantly it makes more homes available for more people.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I have raised the case of a particular woman multiple times. This week after a long fight, it was confirmed she has lost nearly a decade on housing waiting list because her income went €38 over the income threshold. Another family of six only earns €31,000 but because of an averaging of income earned by another member of the family over the previous year will now be evicted from homeless accommodation.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy's time is up.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I know of another couple who have just been cut off from the housing list because of their income.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy's time is up. I call Deputy Paul Murphy.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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When will the Government raise the income thresholds for social housing as I have repeatedly requested over five years?

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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Public transport fares have recently been reduced for the first time since the Second World War. As a consequence, we have seen an increase in passenger numbers which is very welcome. Imagine what moving to free, fast and frequent public transport could do. We know that cutting fares saves people's money, reduces congestion and cuts CO2emissions. More than 100 cities and towns across the globe have now moved to fare-free public transport and we should do the same here. It is one of the demands of the Cost-of-Living Coalition which is holding a protest outside Leinster House on Thursday at 1 o'clock. Will the Taoiseach support a plan to achieve fare-free public transport?

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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When the pandemic raged, bus drivers kept society on the move, risking their health day after day as key front-line workers. How are they being repaid? They are being repaid with a kick in the teeth. Bus Éireann is threatening to freeze their wages, not just for 2022 but for next year as well. While prices continually increase, this represents a massive pay cut. What does the Taoiseach say about this situation? Does he think this is what the drivers deserve? I would like to hear his views on it.

Photo of Paul McAuliffePaul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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Last week Dublin City Council, the HSE and the ETB launched a plan for public homes on public land with infrastructure to match. It will include a primary care centre and an increase in all-weather sporting facilities along with 100 homes. These facilities along with the new family resource centre in the area will be crucial to support the community in Finglas. Will the Taoiseach ensure that the primary care centre will be included in the capital plan for next year? Will he come to Finglas and visit the new family resource centre which is doing great work without premises and will do an even greater job with the new facility?

Photo of Jennifer Murnane O'ConnorJennifer Murnane O'Connor (Carlow-Kilkenny, Fianna Fail)
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Affordable housing regulations require that 70% of the units advertised must be allocated on the basis of priorities. This only leaves 30% of the units for the local authority based on the local criteria. In the last private housing scheme to come on the market in Carlow, 26% of the units were sold to people who were not resident. It meant that because of the criteria the Carlow people did not qualify. Can the criteria be set so that people in the local area who want to buy affordable housing meet the criteria?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Cian O'Callaghan raised the issue of the local property tax in respect of vacancies. Vacancies and dereliction are two separate concepts. In a recent analysis, 96% of all apartments in Dublin were occupied despite all the commentary that lots of apartments are empty. I think that was in the Daft report; I will check the source of that. We need to be careful with our descriptions and definitions.

The principal purpose of the residential zoned land tax is to encourage the timely activation of zoned and serviced residential development land for housing in order that identified housing need can be met through the delivery of suitably located housing development. That will be an important factor to ensure we can get land at zone. That is one element of this.

The existing vacant sites levy has not been an effective mechanism for preventing land hoarding and speculation. There are many loopholes. The residential zoned land tax will be more broad based, with very few exemptions, and will be administered by Revenue rather than local authorities.

The Housing for All strategy includes an action for the Department of Finance to collect data on vacancy with a view to introducing a vacant property tax. The recent local property tax re-evaluation enabled Revenue to collect certain information on vacant properties in the local property tax return forms submitted by residential property owners. The information on vacancy in the local property tax returns in respect of approximately 2 million properties is currently being analysed by Revenue and together with the information from other available sources will be used to assess the merits and inform the design of a vacant property tax. That will be considered by the Minister with a view to the introduction of a residential property tax as soon as possible.

I do not have an update for Deputy O'Rourke. My Department is engaging with the Department for Transport in respect of the availability of funds under the shared island initiative. We are endeavouring to get everybody to agree on the importance of the connection provided by a Dublin to Derry air service.

In response to Deputy Durkan, there are certainly risks in terms of inflation, particularly in the cost of construction supplies. There is an inflationary cycle. It is a worry for many builders and that is why the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, changed the fixed contract to create a more co-operative framework to enable projects to be completed in the context of the significant level of inflation that has occurred and in order to ensure people continue to tender for projects. That is a concern. The cause is the war in Ukraine and there are further challenges ahead in that regard.

Deputy Bacik raised the issue of using the vacant tax and I dealt with that issue in an earlier reply. We must use the existing housing stock more effectively. We will continue to work on measures to incentivise the use of existing housing stock more broadly. I know that the Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Humphreys, will have some important announcements in terms of the social protection code to the effect that people who let out their houses will not be disadvantaged in terms of various social welfare protections. We are constantly looking at ways to incentivise the use of existing housing stock.

Deputy Boyd Barrett raised the issue of income thresholds. The Minister indicated to the Deputy last week that the review is complete. The Minister should be in a position to comment on that.

4:40 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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When will that happen?

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister said his announcement is imminent. I will ask him to confirm when he will make an announcement in that respect and come back to the Deputy.

It is welcome that we have cut the fares for public transport and that it is leading to an increase in uptake. Free fares is not a realistic prospect. The Government made the decision to cut fares as part of its anti-inflationary measures. We also made the decision in the budget to halve fares for 17- to 25-year-olds. That will also be effective and important in encouraging and incentivising the use of public transport. We will keep that under review.

Who did Deputy Barry say is proposing a wage freeze?

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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Bus Éireann is proposing it.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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That is not my understanding but I will follow that up.

Deputy McAuliffe raised the issue of-----

Photo of Paul McAuliffePaul McAuliffe (Dublin North West, Fianna Fail)
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I raised the issue of the Finglas primary care centre.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I would love to call out to Finglas to visit the family resource centre. I will talk to the Minister about the primary care facility, housing need and the potential provision of housing in that area.

I will talk to the Minister about the specifics of the proposal made by Deputy Murnane O'Connor in terms of providing greater opportunity to the people of Carlow to avail of affordable housing. The criteria provided will facilitate the inclusion of people who live in the area to avail of housing. That is a worthy objective indeed.