Thursday, 21 September 2023
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Tá an Rialtas seo in oifig anois le breis agus trí bliana. Tá plean tithíochta an Aire seo i bhfeidhm anois le dhá bhliain agus tá a fhios ag madraí an bhaile go bhfuil teipthe ar an bplean sin. Tá na spriocanna tithíochta ró-íseal agus tá an plean agus an Rialtas seo ag ligean síos ár muintir. Tá a fhios ag Sinn Féin gur an rud atá de dhíth ná 20,000 teach poiblí a chur ar fáil an bhliain seo chugainn agus freagra a chur ar fáil do riachtanais tithíochta ár muintir. The Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, has been in office for three years and everybody knows his housing targets are far too low. It is universally acknowledged at this stage that the targets do not reflect actual housing need across the State but, even still, he misses his affordable housing targets every year.
House prices are at record highs and continue to rise. Rents continue to spiral out of control, with no end in sight for struggling renters. What has been the response of the Minister? In his first full year as Minister, not a single affordable home to rent or purchase was delivered under his tenure. In his second year as Minister, he delivered only 75 affordable homes to rent and not a single affordable home was delivered to purchase in that year. In his third year as Minister, he promised 4,000 affordable homes but delivered just a quarter of his target. What about this year? This year, he promised 5,500 affordable homes. He is supposed to report the progress on affordable home delivery every quarter but there was no update in quarter 1 or quarter 2. What is the Minister hiding? Why will he not tell the public what is being achieved under these missed targets? Why will he not tell the House today how many affordable homes to rent or buy have been delivered? The problem is that his targets are not being delivered.
As he knows only too well, people in his constituency are crying out for affordable housing. A recent article published on thejournal.ie highlighted the difficulties faced by workers and families. Homes in Dun Emer housing scheme in Lusk were to be fully completed in October last year but some residents are being told it will be October this year, 12 months later, before they will be delivered. In the words of one of the Minister's constituents:
I wish I never applied for the scheme. I thought we were the luckiest people ever to get this. ... But it has caused so much stress and anxiety and everything is just constant worry.
Even planned developments are not being delivered on time, yet the Minister is more than happy to show up for photograph after photograph and soundbite after soundbite, while all around us, everybody knows his plan is a shambles. It is not working. It is not delivering and he, as a Minister, is failing.
We in Sinn Féin have been clear. We know what is needed. We need to deliver at least 20,000 public homes next year. At least 8,000 of those should be genuinely affordable homes to rent or buy. What have we seen under Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael? Rates of home ownership have fallen. A generation of people who desperately want to move on to the next stage of their lives have been locked out of owning their own homes. The Minister is shaking his head. I spent August in Australia. I met with people whom he forced onto those planes. A common thread through all of them, whether they were in Sydney, Canberra or elsewhere in Australia, is that it was the failure in housing that drove them to board a plane at Dublin Airport.
The Minister should, please, recognise the fact that he is failing and his plan is failing. He has a simple choice. The budget provides him that choice. He can either stick with his current plan, which is clearly failing, or take Sinn Féin's advice to dramatically increase investment in public housing and deliver genuinely affordable homes to rent and buy that working people rightly deserve and need. Will he heed this advice? Will he change course and acknowledge his plan is failing?
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta as ucht a cheist. To deal with facts, as opposed to his contribution, he will know that last year we delivered just short of 30,000 new homes, 5,000 more than the target set, in the first year of Housing for All. The Deputy might like to ignore the fact that it was a difficult year, with the difficulties relating to supply chain, inflation - real world issues - and the pandemic. While ignoring that, he ignores his own party's policies in respect of first-time buyers. We now have more first-time buyers drawing down mortgages each week than we have had since 2007. The reason for that is the support this Government and I, as Minister, are putting in place.
I will name the supports for the Deputy and he can come back to tell me what he would do instead. The help-to-buy grant puts €30,000 of people's own tax back in their pocket to help with a deposit. That tax credit has been claimed by 41,000 households, with more in the first quarter of this year than we have seen in many years. What would the Deputy's party do? His colleague sitting beside him is on the record as stating he would abolish it. The policy of Deputy Ó Broin and Sinn Féin is to get rid of the taxback that people have earned and paid to help them buy a house. That is clear. The second assistance we brought in under the Affordable Housing Act was the first home scheme. That scheme helps people bridge the gap between the finance they have and what they need through the State stepping in and taking an equity. Again, the Deputy's colleague seated alongside him tried to scuttle that before it was even published. He said it would be a second mortgage and lead to house price inflation, none of which has happened. What has happened is that we have had more than 2,500 approvals. Those 2,500 families have been enabled to buy their own home by the State giving them equity, many of whom were renters or living at home but wanted to buy. I have met these people. I have visited people, not in Australia but here in the Twenty-six Counties of the Republic, who are actually buying their homes with the assistance of the Government. Inexplicably, the third thing Sinn Féin opposes for some crazy reason, because many of the Deputy's colleagues behind him keep asking me to alter and expand the grant further, is the vacancy grant. The Croí Cónaithe vacancy grant provides €50,000 for a vacant property and €70,000 for a derelict one. Again, Sinn Féin opposes it.
I asked Deputy Ó Broin why Sinn Féin opposes it. He said, "We just do it better." That is all he said. No policies, no nothing. "We just do it better."
As regards the overall investment, a Theachta, we are investing €4.5 billion this year under Housing for All. Does the Deputy know how much is in the Sinn Féin policy? Not its housing policy, which it still has not produced even though it was due to do so in July, but in its most recent alternative budget, it allocated €2.8 billion - €1.7 billion less than the Government is investing. What Deputy Ó Broin and the geniuses on the Deputy's side of the House would say is that you can build more houses with less money. That is simply not true whatsoever. The facts are borne out in delivery figures. Last year, this State, while catching up on housing delivery - and yes, we do need to catch up on housing delivery - built more new social homes than in any year since 1975. Sinn Féin councillors and representatives objected to many of those homes across the country-----
-----6,000 in Dublin alone. That is a fact. That is what is happening. Just up the road from Deputy Ellis, we will be turning the sod on Oscar Traynor Road. Sinn Féin has spent years objecting to that scheme but work is going to start on the site. We have a plan that is working. Challenges remain. We will exceed our housing target this year. The Deputy might tell me what Sinn Féin is going to do for first-time buyers when it abolishes the help-to-buy grant, the first home scheme and even the vacancy grant. What is its plan to deliver more houses with less money?
That is the really shameful thing. He talks about Sinn Féin and tries to mislead the public with some of his commentary. Let us deal with reality. I am talking about affordable housing. How much did he deliver in year 1? Zero. How much did he deliver in year 2? He delivered 75. How much did he deliver in year 3? Fewer than 1,000.
In year 4, the Minister promised 5,500 but how much did he deliver? He will not tell us. That is how bad his plan is. It shows how little confidence the Minister has in himself that he will not even tell us. If he was achieving those targets he would be donning a hard hat and posing for photographs. The Minister's plan is failing. He is failing as a Minister and he needs to understand that.
The Minister can come out with the same stuff over and over again but let us look at the facts. Home ownership is falling under his Government. Nothing he says will take away from that. House prices are at an all-time high, rents are through the roof and homelessness is at levels that we have never seen before.
There is no Sinn Féin housing policy. It does not exist. There is no question that there remain very significant challenges. We have an overall target this year to deliver 29,000 new homes and we intend to do that. We delivered affordable homes in the first year of Housing for All for the first time in a generation. Speaking of photo opportunities, very recently in Deputy Louise O'Reilly's constituency, we turned the sod on 1,200 new homes in Balmoston. This is one of the biggest and most significant sites in the country, with 253 affordable homes and 253 social homes. Deputy Doherty might ask Deputy O'Reilly what her councillor in Fingal County Council did in objecting to that development and opposing it in the council. Supported by this Government under the affordable housing fund, 1,200 families there will get new homes. While challenges remain, our plan is taking hold.
In fairness, people watching will see that all that Sinn Féin has called for, particularly for first-time buyers, is the removal of all the supports available, including the help to buy scheme, the first home scheme and the vacancy grant. Sinn Féin would get rid of them all.
The Minister wants to deal with facts. This month marks two years since the launch of his Housing for All programme. In all the facts and on all the objective metrics, Housing for All is failing. It is failing in ambition and delivery. The Minister has said himself that the Government needs to catch up on housing delivery. That is evident but it also needs to upgrade its targets. As our housing disaster deepens, it is becoming clear that Housing for All or "Housing for Some, as it might more appropriately be called, has failed. It is failing partly because the targets are too low. The Minister knows from his own figures that, with a growing population, the target should be closer to 50,000 new builds per year, not the 29,000 or 30,000 level at which new builds are flatlining.
An economic analysis for the Labour Party also shows that we need to see significant additional capital investment in housing delivery of at least €1 billion this year. I do not know if the Minister can accept that. We also know there is a need to deliver an ambitious recruitment programme to ensure we have enough skilled labour to deliver housing. The Minister and his Government colleagues always refer to shortages in labour supply but we need to see some ambition and the delivery of increased recruitment in the construction trades, increased recruitment campaigns and better pay and conditions for apprenticeships, with a beefed up apprenticeship programme as well. Otherwise, the Minister's plan is incapable of delivering the real need.
To deal again with facts, two years on, house prices have skyrocketed, rents are spiralling and each month we are seeing, unfortunately, record-breaking homelessness figures. Homelessness is now at 12,847 individuals, each with his or her own story of distress and of being out of a home. House prices have increased by nearly 20% since September 2021. Rents are up 21%. All the key indicators are showing failure on the Housing for All programme, both in ambition and on delivery. It is just not good enough. We are seeing people and families being failed. Every family and community affected by the housing disaster, every individual young or old, knows that it is impacting upon them and on their communities.
Let us take the shameful lifting of the temporary ban on no-fault evictions, which the Government lifted in March without any clear evidence basis. The Minister's party leader, the Tánaiste, asserted that the Labour Party's proposal to keep the ban in place until homelessness figures had been shown to have fallen would exacerbate the situation. The Minister's own policy has exacerbated the situation. Official homelessness figures have risen by another 11% since March. There are now 3,873 children in homelessness, doing their homework on hotel floors and unable to bring friends home on play dates. That is a shocking and unacceptable situation in 2023.
Will the Minister take ownership of his decision to lift the ban and will he reinstitute it for this year? Does he accept that Housing for All has failed on ambition and in delivery? Will he adopt more ambitious targets and a more ambitious programme that would really deliver for the communities that so desperately need new homes?
I thank the Deputy for her questions and the points she has made. I reject outright that Housing for All is failing. It is not. I have responded to some of the charges from the Deputy opposite, which, to be fair, were put in a less constructive way than those Deputy Bacik put. It is all I would expect from Deputy Doherty on most Thursdays in the House.
Leaving that aside for the moment, there are very serious issues here, particularly around homelessness. The number one priority are the people who do not have a home. We need to make sure there is secure accommodation for them and we can have more people exit homelessness into permanent social homes. That is why the focus has been on delivering more new social homes. Last year, we built more new social homes than we have done in 50 years and we will do more this year. It is important that we do that.
Deputy Bacik's commentary on house prices is not borne out by the statistics. To take Dublin, for argument's sake, as per the Central Statistics Office, this is the tenth consecutive month of decline in house prices. Supply is catching up. The Deputy is right that we have had ten or 12 years of very significant undersupply. Affordable homes were delivered last year for the first time in a generation. We obviously need to do a lot more than that, and we will do that this year. This is why we are supporting first-time buyers. It is why we need private and public development and why we need the Land Development Agency delivering more, which it will this year. I remind the Deputy that her party opposed the Land Development Agency-----
If we are to deal with the facts, we built just short of 30,000 new homes last year, the first full year of Housing for All. That was more than the Labour Party did in the five years that it was in government between 2011 and 2016.
Deputy Bacik said the plan lacks ambition. It does not. I am always open to constructive points and criticism. Indeed, I have found the Labour Party to be constructive in the main but not its idea that we can simply increase capital investment by a further €1 billion without looking at the capacity to deliver the houses. We need to build up capacity in the sector too. That is what we are doing, in particular on social and affordable housing. It is a question of catching up because of the many years of under-delivery, five of which were under the Labour Party.
It is utterly farcical and the Minister's response is utterly farcical. It is very hard for anyone in this House to take lectures on the economy from Fianna Fáil. The Minister's party wrecked the economy and drove-----
It wrecked the construction industry. As the Minister knows well, when Fianna Fáil left office in 2011 the country was broken. It was in bankruptcy and in a troika programme. Nearly 20% of people were in unemployment and we had a construction industry in shambles. The economy has been rebuilt. We have seen seven wasted years of prosperity since 2016 and we have seen a failure by successive Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil governments to deliver the homes people need. That is what is driving the current crisis. It is why we are seeing record numbers of young people forced either to emigrate or still living at home in their parents' houses in their childhood bedrooms.
That is why we are seeing record numbers of children in hotel rooms in homelessness. That it shameful and the Minister has to take responsibility. We saw this week a real hands-off approach by the Government, with the three party leaders abroad in New York and the Minister for Health away when there is a healthcare crisis. At least the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage is here in this House but he must take responsibility for factually verifiable failures in respect of housing ambition and delivery.
Furthermore, the Labour Party did support the Land Development Agency because it supports measures that will genuinely deliver for the people we represent.
Anyone in government who travels and is away is working, and the Deputy knows that. Hers was a pretty cheap shot and one she should not repeat.
I do take responsibility for the work this Government does. I agree with the Deputy on that. We have many more challenges. What I am saying to the Deputy concerns housing delivery across all forms of tenure. Even if she looks at what will happen later on today, she will see that we will publish the commencement figures for August of this year. There were 2,770 new commencements in August, which is 31% up on the previous August. This means that nearly 22,000 homes were commenced this year to date. The highest number of completions were in the first six months of this year too. While it does not suit Sinn Féin to see progress on housing – in fairness to Deputy Bacik's party, I find it more constructive in this regard – we are seeing a sustained pick-up in delivery in many areas, even when we have a difficult funding environment with higher costs.
I notice the absence in the Government benches today. I hope that is because the Members are down supporting the farmers and not intimidated into not attending Dáil Éireann today.
One of the strongest vestiges of our colonial mentality is our continuing to unthinkingly replicate the policies of other nations as though they somehow have things figured out. We think the Finns have the answer to homelessness and that we need to copy Amsterdam's night-time mayor and implement the Kiwis' literacy programme. We followed the Brits in their short-sighted rush to close down railway lines and we built Le Corbusier tower blocks in Ballymun. That alone should remind us that we need to keep an eye on planners and their utopian visions for how other people should conduct their lives. It is a dangerous business to tell people how to live, settle and raise their families, yet planners look down their noses at the dominant vernacular settlement pattern of this land.
Planners and urbanites are derisory of and confounded by the townland formation idealised in Yeats's "Lake Isle of Innisfree", turned into a modernist manual in Jack Fitzsimons's "Bungalow Bliss", whereby anyone, and indeed almost everyone, could build or self-build a home by the age of 25 and clear the mortgage by 40. You could raise a family and they could live around you. The houses in question grew with the people who made them and they were altered and renewed to reflect the changing contours of people's life course. In revising our planning laws, the Minister is recognising that they are not fit for purpose. This House has been messing with the property market since the Bacon report, nudging and cajoling to spur on or throttle down supply and demand. It is hard to believe that we will finally get it right in these revisions. They certainly will not get it right if they do not provide a way back for one-off housing, our vernacular form of settlement.
The key feature of self-built one-off houses was that they were never actually houses; they were always homes. The Minister will probably rehearse the technical reasons that one-off housing is bad for the economy, the environment and society. For each and every technical reason cited against one-off housing, be it sustainable transport and public services or quality water and waste infrastructure, there are various and many solutions that allow us to keep some utility of our traditional settlement formation. The ideologues, behind proper planning, have created told and untold misery in this country, misery in terms of homelessness, deferred adulting, economic hardship, forced urbanisation and not being able to conduct your life in the place where you were born. Their answer of higher density, forcing people to live in conditions that most people in this House would not wish for themselves, has thwarted and diminished lives. It has shoved people into permanent renting for corporate investors. The kicker to all this is that we cannot even provide enough of these ideologically designed shoeboxes. Any reform needs to put citizens back in control of their housing destiny.
I thank Deputy Shanahan for his contribution. Of course these is a role for one-off rural housing. I am not opposed to it and never have been. Last year, 2022, over 5,500 one-off rural homes were built, 16% up on the year before. While building these, we need to make sure we are revitalising our towns and villages. That is why I have been very strong, particularly with the Croí Cónaithe vacancy grant, for which there have been over 4,000 applications. It offers €70,000 for a derelict dwelling and €50,000 for a vacant dwelling, with a top-up of an additional €20,000. That has been responded to really well. What we need is sustainable rural communities. These need to be supported by planning policy, and that is why I am reviewing. I will be introducing the planning and development Bill to the Cabinet in the next two weeks. I intend to publish it here and we will debate it. The revised rural planning guidelines are being prepared in the Department right now.
This Government is not against rural housing. I, as Minister responsible for housing, am certainly not opposed to it. The numbers and facts bear that out. I have done a couple of things to support it. This week, when I met the Deputy at the ploughing, we have extended the first-home scheme to one-off homes and rural homes – to self-builds. That is a really important departure. The first-home scheme has been very successful. We have had 6,000 registrations and over 2,500 approvals, and now we are extending the scheme to self-builds, which will be predominantly in the rural areas. The scheme is now open for applications.
I waived the development levy on developments for 12 months, resulting in an average saving of €12,700, and the Uisce Éireann connection charge. That also applies to one-off homes, not just to larger developments. That is in place for 12 months. It has been responded to well, and that is part of the reason we are seeing commencements continue to increase. Others – not the Deputy – wish to ignore the economic environment and funding environment that exist but we need to make sure we can keep costs at a minimum. The State can keep the costs down. We have done that with the development levy. The waiver is in place, and it is in place for one-off homes. Very significantly, we are seeing the biggest take-up of the vacancy grants in rural counties, in counties with high levels of dereliction and vacancy. There have been over 4,000 applications for the grant. They are for existing buildings. From a climate perspective but also from rural regeneration and Town Centre First perspectives, the grant makes sense. The grant also applies to one-off rural vacant homes. We made changes, some at the prompting of the Deputy and others on the other side of the House, to make sure it was available to everyone. The actions I have taken and the measures that are in place are working. Inexplicably, some others across the House would get rid of them, which I do not understand, although Deputy Shanahan is supportive of them. We want to expand them further and get more vacant homes back into use.
There is often a disconnect between aspiration and output. I hear what the Minister is saying about trying to stimulate the economic conditions to deliver on planning and, in particular, deliver one-off housing. However, I am not seeing it in my constituency. When I speak to my colleagues, I note there is a lot of difficulty, particularly in the rural areas, in securing planning permission, be it for their children, people caring for them, or others.
The Minister mentioned the need to reinvigorate and support our regional populations, particularly our rural ones, but I have encountered a myriad of planning cases. They concern not only people in Waterford but also people from outside it. I just cannot see justice or logic being applied to them. Despite what the Minister is saying, I believe the planners have different minds and guidelines. We do need reform of the planning law but we have to consider how we are supporting communities. This is about allowing our communities, particularly rural ones, to refresh themselves and continue. I urge the Minister to secure planning reform and make Ireland a more livable country.
I understand what the Deputy is saying in that, in many instances, families or individuals talk to their Deputies or other public representatives about planning when there have been issues and when they have not been able to get planning permission. They seek advice from Deputies, and indeed councillors. I am just stating the fact that over 5,500 individual rural homes were delivered in 2022. I expect there to be more this year.
There is no question but that people will have well held views about different planning authorities operating things differently. That is why we are at the final stages of the preparation of the updated rural housing guidelines. The planning and development Bill that, as I said in my initial response, I will bring forward shortly will also help because we need a streamlined modern planning system, underpinned by modern legislation to deliver the infrastructure we need, not only in rural housing but strategic infrastructure across the country. It is a priority for the Government to get that legislation through as expeditiously as possible.
I need to bring to the Minister's attention the high level of anger, dissatisfaction and frustration felt by many people in Kerry because of two things, namely, the Shannon LNG project and the Killarney bypass. Energy security is being compromised, jobs are being lost and, in the case of the Killarney bypass, road safety is being compromised. Shannon LNG's application to An Bord Pleanála for approval for a gas terminal on the Ballylongford land bank in north Kerry was turned down in recent days. The refusal was primarily due to the Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan's, submission against the application, which he made many months ago. Indeed, the language used by An Bord Pleanála in the refusal included the same words as the Minister, Deputy Ryan's, submission. This is political interference at the highest level. Deputy Ryan used his influence as a Minister to block a planning application as he highlighted that the Shannon LNG application was against Government policy. I call for a high-level investigation by the Standards in Public Office Commission, SIPO, or whoever, into the Minister's actions. As majority partners in government, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are complicit in what has happened to this application for allowing the Minister, Deputy Ryan, to abuse his position in the way he has, especially the Tánaiste and former Taoiseach, the Fianna Fáil Party leader, Deputy Micheál Martin. When he was canvassing for the election of Deputy Foley in the last general election, he promised the people of north Kerry that he would back Shannon LNG and it would become a reality. He has let us down.
The Minister, Deputy Ryan, has also blocked the progression of the next part of the upgrading of the N22 Cork-Kerry economic corridor, also known as the Killarney bypass, which has been on the table and promised for more than 20 years. It is vital for the economy of our county and for the safety of the 23,000 people who use the road on a daily basis. He has stopped Transport Infrastructure Ireland, TII, doing the necessary environmental and economic capacity assessments. As I already stated, more than 23,000 vehicles use this road already. TII was to notify the landowners and the public of the preferred route. Four routes are being considered. TII now cannot do so because it does not have the funding. Much land has been sterilised for many years and many landowners are contemplating legal action to get their land back to use as they want, which is their legal right.
Is what many people are saying to me now right, which is that the Minister, Deputy Ryan, has neglected County Kerry for driving tests? Is it because he does not want young people on the roads? They have been waiting since last January and will wait until next January to be allowed to apply for a driving test. That is not fair on the young lads in our county.
That is okay if he feels justified in doing so.
In particular, his comment about the Minister interfering in the planning process regarding the LNG project is simply not true and is a very dangerous charge to make.
Anyone is entitled to make a submission to a planning application. An Bord Pleanála is an independent planning authority. It made a decision on the appeal independently and has published the reasons for it. As Minister with responsibility for planning, I cannot say any more on that. Options are open to all parties, should they wish to pursue it further. However, stating that a Minister interfered with the planning process is not correct. The Minister made a submission.
I am not trying to be argumentative but to defend the Minister, Deputy Ryan, in that regard, he is entitled to do so.
Investment in roads, including regional roads is crucial. The facts bear this out. At the start of this year, for regional and local roads, the allocation was €626 million. That compares to €597 million in 2022. We need to make sure that road infrastructure across the country is kept up as regards quality of the roads. The new investment through our national development plan includes many roads such as the Portlaoise southern relief road, the Sallins bypass, the Sligo western distributor road - I could go on - the Tralee northern relief road, and the Shannon Bridge crossing and Killaloe bypass, which I saw a few weeks ago. A lot of good and significant work is being done at the moment because of the investment the Government is making in regional development - and no less so in County Kerry - under the urban regeneration development fund, under which Kerry County Council has been very successful in securing funding for major upgrade works in Tralee and Killarney, to name but two projects. I continue to support the local authority in the work it is doing. We have also ensured that as of July, local authorities, including Kerry County Council, were given an additional allocation for key road programmes to help them to deal with cost inflation. It is not correct to say that nothing is being done for the regions or for Kerry. I am simply stating the facts.
I am stating the facts as well. Wherever the €626 million went, it did not go to the Killarney bypass or the Cork-Kerry economic corridor as it is also called. It did not go there anyway. That is a fact. It has been stopped because TII has been starved of the funding to do the assessments.
If the Minister states that anyone could have made a submission, why did Deputy Micheál Martin or Deputy Foley, as a Minister, not make a submission? Why did the Minister, Deputy O'Brien not make a submission to support the Shannon LNG terminal?
Where were they? They are allowed to do what they like and at the same time no young lad in Kerry can get a driving test. Does the Government want to keep them off the road as well? There are 23,000 vehicle movements every day on the Killarney route I am talking about. Their safety is being compromised. He kicked up a big hullabaloo the other day saying he was going reduce speed limits and do this and that. What really needs to be done because the volume of traffic has increased is to bring the roads up to standard and the sooner the Government realises that the better. There are junctions on this stretch of road that have caused fatalities. I ask the Government to look at it seriously and if it is serious about looking after the people of Kerry, I want an investigation into what happened with Shannon LNG and I want the Killarney bypass to be progressed.
Let me make clear that the Minister with responsibility for planning is statutorily barred from interfering in any way or making representations in any way on any planning file. That is a simple fact of life.
In any case the decision has been made and if the Deputy feels things have not been done correctly, there are other avenues he can go down.
I have stated the facts about rural investment and investment in the regions. There has never been greater investment than since this Government came into office. If you look at local property tax, we have allocated an additional €75 million to our local authorities. With a commitment we gave in the programme for Government, we ensured that 100% of the local property tax raised in a county stays in that county; 100% retention. We revised the baselines so we are making sure our local authorities are better funded than they have ever been.
If the Deputy talks to Moira Murrell and the excellent team in Kerry County Council, they will him directly that they have never received more investment or staff than they have from this Government. That is just the reality. Is everything perfect? No, it is not. I will raise the Deputy's point regarding driving tests with the Minister of State, Deputy Chambers, who is working on the matter.