Dáil debates

Tuesday, 14 May 2024

Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions

 

2:00 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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Fine Gael has been in government for 13 years and in that time the housing crisis has gone from bad to worse. It is not an accident. We now have a full-blown housing disaster because the Government has the wrong priorities and the wrong policies. As a result, many workers and families are simply unable to put a secure, affordable roof over their head. A defining feature of Fine Gael housing policy has been the enrichment of the private players - the big corporate landlords, the cuckoo funds and the vultures. I want to raise one area in which the Government's mismanagement and incompetence in housing looms large; that is its long-term leasing fiasco. Figures released to our housing spokesperson, Deputy Eoin Ó Broin, revealed the extent of the scandal, and it is shocking. From the Government that brought us the most expensive hospital in the world, the yet undelivered children's hospital, we now know it has agreed 9,000 leasing deals with property funds for the provision of social housing. The cost is a whopping €3.24 billion and the leasing agreements are to last 25 years. These leases do not come cheap. Many are costing more than €2,500 a month, with the Government agreeing a 25-year lease on one Dublin property to the tune of €3,200 per month. These costs can only be adjusted upwards: they cannot come down. The leases on these properties are subject to upward-only rent reviews every three years and they are not limited by the 2% cap. It is a very sweet deal for the property funds.

The money forked out by the State on these 25-year deals is often more than the cost of buying the property outright. Here is the kicker: after handing over billions of euro in taxpayers' public money, when these deals end, the properties go back to the property funds. Wow; you could not make this up. This is a scandalous, short-sighted, negligent waste of taxpayers' money by a government. Instead of investing to boost State-owned social housing stock, it is paying out huge sums of taxpayers' money to big shot property funds for homes the State will not own. The incompetence here is off the charts. Once again under Fine Gael, the property funds are laughing all the way to the bank.

Tá polasaí lig ar léas fadtéarmach an Rialtais ag cur na mbilliún in airgead cáiníocóirí amú. Léiríonn sé arís go bhfuil polasaithe tithíochta mícheart ar fad ag Fine Gael.

In 2021, Government committed to the phasing-out of these long-term leasing deals for social housing by 2025; instead, it has performed a big and very expensive U-turn. It has locked the taxpayer into this madcap policy for the next two and a half decades. Far from phasing out this wasteful policy, it has turbo-charged it with bumper profits for property funds.

This puts up in lights that Fine Gael is never going to solve the housing crisis. The simple truth is it is not capable of it. Billions of taxpayers' money is spent on expensive leasing arrangements instead of ambitious investment to deliver public homes on public lands. We know 9,000 of these leasing deals have been made. Can the Taoiseach tell us today how many more are under negotiation? I challenge him to put a stop to them, stop wasting taxpayers' money and bring this bad policy to an end.

2:05 pm

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank the Deputy for raising the question. She likes to talk about our party's time in government. When my party came into government in 2011, fewer than 7,000 homes were built that year. Despite a global pandemic and a construction sector having to be shut down on many occasions, more than 32,000 homes were constructed last year alone. Later this year we will be in a position to revise housing targets upwards for the years ahead. We live in a country where 500 individuals or couples buy their first home every week. In the 12 months to February of this year, just under 2,600 applications were received for the first homes scheme - a scheme the Deputy opposes. Work has commenced this year and continues every working day on 337 new homes across the country. Today, the Government decided to extend the operation of rent pressure zones for a further year until 31 December 2025. The Deputy likes to talk about failure but the statistics show significant progress being made for many homeowners.

On long-term leasing, let me be clear the phasing out of long-term leasing is well under way, with 3,500 social homes to be delivered through long-term leasing from 2022 to the end of 2025. Most of the target is already subscribed with proposals, tapering from 1,300 units in 2022 to just under 200 units in 2025. The managed phase-out of long-term leasing by the end of 2025 is under way. The annual leasing targets for local authorities are already reducing year on year because we are continuing to construct and bring about more social housing.

We have to approach this housing challenge using every lever at our disposal. Government should not and does not apologise for that. We need to use every possible avenue and pathway to deliver homes for our people, be they social homes, affordable homes or homes to buy. A variety of initiatives have been already put in place.

I assure the Deputy the Government's policy to end long-term leasing under Housing for All has not changed and long-term leasing will be ended by 31 December 2025. However, leasing enables a portion of social housing need to be addressed in the short run. Surely it is a good thing that every day every one of us works to maximise the housing supply and options available to people who I am sure the Deputy meets when she goes across the country, as I do. Housing supply is very much going in the right direction and that provides Government with many more options in relation to delivering for people. There are reasons now for people to be hopeful of being able to own their own homes.

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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As I go across the country, I meet people who live with the consequences of the Taoiseach's housing policy. Here is what they experience: record rents they struggle to afford, record homelessness which leaves families and children in misery, a collapse in home ownership and an entire generation locked out of any real expectation of ever owning a home. Consequential to that, so many, particularly of our young people, are choosing to simply pack their bags and leave. That is the reality of the Taoiseach's housing policy on the ground. There is nothing short term about a 25-year lease. There are 9,000 of these wasteful arrangements. I have asked the Taoiseach to tell us how many more are under negotiation.

Far from winding down this policy, last year the Government had more leases than the previous year, so the data tell us it is moving in the wrong direction. These leases are costly, they are ineffective and they are, as I said earlier, glaring confirmation that Fine Gael and the Government will not solve this housing crisis; they will simply make it worse.

2:10 pm

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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And your rhetoric certainly will not solve it either. Proposing to abolish all of the schemes that we put in place that help people to move out of the box room and into their own homes certainly will not make progress either.

I have answered the question very clearly in relation to long-term leasing and the Government's plan to end that by 31 December 2025. That is the Government position, it was the Government position and it remains the Government position.

Far from the Ireland that Deputy McDonald paints, here is the Ireland that many people looking to buy a home and looking to rent live in today. They live in an Ireland where their Government has just decided to extend the rent pressure zones for a further year. They live in an Ireland where there is a renters tax credit in place and a wish to do more on that to help meet the cost of rent and help people save for a deposit. They live in an Ireland where 500 people a week now buy their first home. They live in a country where 337 new homes are going to construction every single working day, which is around 29,000 homes so far this year. They live in a country where there is help-to-buy, an initiative giving some of their own money back, which Deputy McDonald opposes. They live in an Ireland where there are more social homes being built now than at any time since the 1970s.

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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It is now more than three years since the then Taoiseach, Deputy Micheál Martin, gave a very clear commitment. In response to questions from my colleague, Deputy Catherine Murphy, he said he was opposed to the State entering long-term leasing deals for social homes. To quote him directly he said, "No local authority should be on the other side of this, engaging in a long lease with these institutional investors.” He followed up that a few weeks later with a very clear statement, "Long-term leasing is bad value. That is my view and I continue to make that clear."

The practice would be phased out, we were told, except it was not. In the Business Post at the weekend, we learned that the State is continuing to enter into these deals and the rents being charged are through the roof. Deals with rents up to €3,200 per month have been agreed. That means that over the course of a 25-year lease, the State is spending more than €900,000 on a single social home. Having spent nearly €1 million to rent it, the State then hands the home back to the developer or the vulture fund. The State pays through the nose and is left with nothing except the bill - no asset, no home. In total, the State has agreed to almost 9,000 of these deals at a combined cost of nearly €3.2 billion. All of these deals come with upward-only rent reviews, which are not subject to caps in rent pressure zones.

You could not make it up. Quite literally, if we wanted to design a worse way to provide social housing, we could not. Every single aspect of the deal is bad for the State and investment funds are loving it. These sweetheart deals are a cash-cow for them. There is literally no downside. They lock in sky-high rents, include upward-only rent reviews and ensure they retain ownership of the asset at the end.

The Taoiseach has spoken a lot recently about common sense. Do these long-term leases sound like common sense to him? Do they sound like value for money? Does he stand over them? Or, if we are honest, are they necessary only because of the failure of this and successive Governments – failure to tackle the housing disaster, failure to meet its social housing targets and failure to deliver on Government commitments? One of those commitments, let us remember, was a promise to phase out long-term leasing. When will the Government end long-term leasing of social homes and when will it actually meet its own new-build social housing targets?

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy Cairns for also raising this matter. First, context is important. While I have already outlined the Government's intention to end the use of long-term leasing by the end of 2025, I want anybody watching in at home to be aware that this is a very small part of our overall housing provision and a very small part of our social housing provision.

If the Deputy will allow me a moment, last year we saw the highest annual output of social homes in decades. It is a statement of fact to say that we saw the highest level of new build social housing since 1975. Never in the Deputy's lifetime or my lifetime were more social homes provided than were provided last year. More than 4,000 affordable housing supports were also delivered last year through approved housing bodies, local authorities, the Land Development Agency, the first home scheme, the cost-rental tenant in situscheme and the vacant property refurbishment grant. This represents a massive increase of 128% on the previous year as well. We now have over 1,600 cost-rental homes being delivered, and funding is in place to support the delivery of more than 4,000 affordable homes by 21 local authorities.

I say this for context because long-term leasing has been an element of housing provision given that in an emergency, you use every tool at your disposal. The Deputy asked what the State gets in return. It gets a roof over the head of some vulnerable citizens needing a house today. That is what it gets because housing policy cannot just be about ideology in an emergency. It has to be about using every single provision-----

(Interruptions).

2:20 pm

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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It might be funny to laugh and joke over there-----

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
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Does value for money not count?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Can we have the Taoiseach?

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I would appreciate that because I doubt Deputy Cairns needs the assistance of Deputies. It might be funny to laugh and titter over there about this but there are real people living in these homes. There are real people with roofs over their heads and they are additional housing solutions that this Government has invested taxpayers' money in providing. When it comes to housing, we take a pragmatic view, unlike some Deputies who rule this and that out. We will use every tool at our disposal to maximise the availability of housing supply for our citizens. That is a good thing to do in an emergency.

However, let us be clear. The views of the Tánaiste are the views of myself as Taoiseach, and are the views of the three parties in this Government. We want to see an end to long-term leasing. We have been clear that the use of long-term leasing will end by the end of 2025. There are figures out there that I do not believe to be accurate. A figure of €3.25 billion has been stated but that is based on the cost of all leasing over 25 years, and it is based on 8,900 operational units. These figures assume that all operational leased units have a remaining term of 25 years. That is not the case. We need to be very careful and accurate about the figures we put out there.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Tut-tut.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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It is not, and I do not really know what tut-tutting does.

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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The Taoiseach reeled off a whole load of figures to say that he wants to give context to the situation but he left out the very important figures that give further context to the situation, which is record homelessness, record house prices and a record number of people stuck in their childhood bedrooms. That context is pretty important as well.

He might be new to the job but Fine Gael certainly is not, and this Government is not. The Taoiseach's party has been in office for 13 years now. Clear commitments have been given, including a commitment to end long-term leasing. The practice of long-term leasing is actually just one of those broken promises. The Taoiseach is now promising that it will be phased out, just like when Deputy Micheál Martin was Taoiseach and he promised it would too, three taoisigh ago. The Taoiseach might understand why, to people out there, it feels like the personalities change but the broken promises remain the same. There is fundamental difference between the narrative he is putting out and what the Government is actually doing.

Even yesterday, I heard him on "The Pat Kenny Show" saying that we need at least 50,000 homes per year but the Government's set out target is 33,000, and the Minister for housing is saying that will not change, at least until next year. The Taoiseach is not in opposition. He is the leader of this Government. If he wants to change that, why does he not? Why is this promise to end long-term leasing any different from the last one? What is actually going to change?

Photo of Holly CairnsHolly Cairns (Cork South West, Social Democrats)
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I respect the Deputy but I ask her to please not misrepresent my position at all. I never, ever said anywhere that there would be 50,000 homes built this year. Let us not try to create a rift where one does not exist. What I said very clearly is that this country needs to build 250,000 new homes between 2025 and 2030. It does, by the way. The Construction Industry Federation, which has many members involved in building the houses, believes that is eminently doable. I have told the House this afternoon that we have seen 29,000 houses go to construction this year so far, and we have just started the month of May. There are reasons to be hopeful in relation to housing supply, and I absolutely stand by and double down that we will need to lift the scale of ambition in the second half of this decade. There is a very clear process that all three parties in government agree with. We will publish a draft national planning framework in the month of June that will set out indicative headline numbers. That will go out to consultation.

A finalised breakdown and composition of those numbers will be published in the autumn. There is no broken promise in relation to the phasing out of long-term leasing. The exact commitment the Government has consistently given is that it will end by the end of 2025.

2:30 pm

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)
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At a cost of 3.2 billion.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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That figure is not correct.

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Reports in the media indicate - the Taoiseach can confirm this - that following the Cabinet meeting this morning, the Government intends to roll back labour market measures, including the further roll-out of a minimum wage to a median wage and the increase in sick leave, which is to be staggered until 2026 to bring the entitlement of sick leave for every worker up to ten days. I get it that we are in a period where the Government wants to improve its vote in the local and European elections. I also get it that because a big part of the Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael base is small- and medium-sized enterprises, those parties will want to do something for SMEs in the lead-up to an election. However, what is it doing to the 1.3 million workers who are employed in SMEs when it is talking about cutting back on commitments made on the minimum wage and sick pay? I remember when, during the austerity years, a Fine Gael Minister for Finance said the Government was picking the low-hanging fruit, and he meant it. It strikes me that if the Government is to bring in this measure, that is exactly what it will attempt to do - pick the low-hanging fruit to impress its base.

It is important to say that there are very serious problems for some of the small enterprises out there which are struggling, but not all of them are struggling. Some 1.3 million people are employed by SMEs, but not all of them are small or medium. A company has to have 250 employees or fewer to be described as an SME, so there is a wide spectrum within that. If the Government is going to target progressive labour measures that have been promised to some of the lowest paid and worst treated workers in the country, why is it not targeting those measures at those who need them, rather than giving a blank cheque to the entire SME sector, many of whose members' profits are going up? That is true of both hospitality and retail. Profits have gone up and the cost of living has not come down sufficiently. The Government is telling workers that although it made a commitment to bring up their standards of living, it is now pulling back on it. Can the Taoiseach justify that sort of policy in this day and age in one of the richest countries in Europe? The Government will now pick the low-hanging fruit and attack the people who are worst off in this country. Yes, give supports to the small businesses in local towns and communities that are struggling, but must that support include penalising the workers who are worst off? They have been given a promise by this Government that they will do better in terms of sick leave and a median wage over the next two years. Can the Taoiseach please answer those questions and confirm if this is the Cabinet’s plan?

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I always find it slightly amusing that when the Government says something, it must be about the local and European elections, but when the Opposition does something, it has nothing at all to do with them. I am sure Deputy Bríd Smith is hoping to get a few votes herself in the election, and I wish her well.

The Government had an important discussion today on a series of proposals for 15 actions around small and medium enterprises. Deputy Smith is correct that they are really feeling the pinch. She knows that from her constituency, as I know it from mine. Small businesses, café owners, restaurateurs, hairdressers, butchers and the businesses we all know on the main streets of towns and villages have seen a lot coming at them in a short space of time. They say to me that it may look very busy in their business, that it is hard to get a table or a seat but, when they do the books at the end of the week or month, the margin is tight. They have asked the Government to listen, and we have committed to doing that. We have listened and today we have acted. Tomorrow, the package will be announced.

Let me tell the Deputy what it will and will not do. It will look at initiatives we have had in place, such as the increased cost of business grants which have worked well for many businesses, and ask whether we can give another blast of that to some small and medium businesses and give more assistance through a direct cash injection. That is one of the things it will look at. Can we look at making sure that when the minimum wage is increased, as it was, there is a lower rate of employers’ PRSI so that employers do not feel like they are being hit twice? Can we look at things like the commitment in the programme for Government to apply an SME test? It is easy for us in here to come up with a great idea, but often we do not have to pay for it. It is the small and medium businesses that do and we need to factor that in. We do not want anyone to lose a job here because that is the most important protection you can give any worker.

I am extremely proud of this Government's record when it comes to workers and supporting hard-working people. We only have to look at the minimum wage, which is now €12.70, having been increased by €1.40 per hour just five months ago.

That is a very large single increase, an increase of 12% when the inflation rate last year was around 5.3%.

We are the Government that introduced a sick pay scheme. No one is talking about rolling back on anything. We are talking about following the evidence and having the ESRI do research about what happens next. What has the impact been? How are SMEs coping with it? How is it working in practice? That sounds sensible. We are a government that introduced parental leave. We are a government that made progress on remote working. We are a government that has reduced the cost of childcare at least twice. We are a government that reduces tax for low- and middle-income workers. We are a government that established the Low Pay Commission.

The Deputy knows well the process the Low Pay Commission goes through. It has worker representatives and business representatives. It has an independent chair. It does its work over the summer and then it generally reports to Government. Therefore, I agree with the Deputy, if this is the point she is making, that we should not pit the needs of one against the needs of others. If the Deputy is not hearing this on the hustings, she is on very different hustings from me. We should be listening to people who are saying, "You come up with your bright ideas in here but you're not considering the impact it's having on my café, my butcher's shop, my small clothes shop." That is the balance we are trying to get right. I believe with the range of packages we have in place, the details of which will be announced tomorrow, we have got that balance correct.

2:40 pm

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I probably am not on the same types of hustings as the Taoiseach.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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That is true; I have not met her on them yet anyway.

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Some 8% of workers in this country are on the minimum wage and they are the people I meet. The postponement of an increase for them is cruel and unnecessary. Instead of tackling the businesses by getting them to pay different rates, the Government is attacking workers' rights again. Almost a year ago we brought a Bill before the House to get rid of the discrimination against young workers in the minimum wage legislation. The Government said, "Park it for a year and we'll come back to you." I am dying to hear what the Government has to say in the first week in June about that Bill which it parked for a year. Has the Government even looked at it? It is very clear to me that this is about picking the low-hanging fruit. The Taoiseach may want to support the businesses that he meets on the hustings - not all businesses are covered by this, by the way. Research by SIPTU and Maynooth University have proved that many of the businesses to which the Government is giving extra support are very profitable. The point is that it is not targeted at those who need it the most. In business terms, it is targeted at those who need the increase most in their wages.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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That is either an unintentional or deliberate misunderstanding of the Government's increased cost of business scheme, which is targeted. I am sure Opposition Deputies have often got queries into their constituency offices as to why someone over a certain threshold does not qualify. There are very clear thresholds showing that this is being targeted, as Deputy Smith knows. If any Member of Dáil Éireann does not believe we should pay another additional sum of the increased cost of business grants to retail or hospitality, they should let me know. They should let their constituents know and let the café owners know. I would have thought there is a consensus that the increased cost of business grant is the very least we should be doing to try to help businesses at this hard time. In advance of the budget, we are trying to see how we can be innovative within the resources we have available.

I do not buy into this idea of pitting one group of people against the others.

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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That is what you are doing.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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That is what you wish we would do. That is what you would thrive on us doing. That is what you would like to tell people we do.

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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This is spin. You are-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Taoiseach without interruption.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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Every time I speak it is something. Every time you speak it is authoritative and every time I speak you try to degrade it.

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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That is because I am an authoritative-type person.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy, please.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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That is because you know everything and fair play to you. I will tell you this. We cut taxes. We cut childcare costs. We increased the minimum wage. We introduced statutory sick pay. We support remote working. We are building more homes. We have the backs of workers in this country. We do not need any lectures from you on it.

Deputies:

Hear, hear.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Ba mhaith liom an spotsolas a dhíriú ar chathair agus contae na Gaillimhe inniu. Mar is eol don Taoiseach, is cathair álainn í. Go teoiriciúil, is cathair dhátheangach í agus geata chuig an Ghaeltacht is mó sa tír. Tá an t-ádh dearg orainn go bhfuil lánfhostaíocht sa chathair ach tá fadhbanna tromchúiseacha ó thaobh cúrsaí tithíochta agus go háirid ó thaobh infreastruchtúr de. Tá easpa infreastruchtúr bunúsach atá fite fuaite leis an bhfadhb ó thaobh tithíochta de.

I am putting the spotlight on Galway city and county today. While I could say many good things about it, I want to highlight the problem with housing, but from a different perspective - the absolute absence of basic infrastructure. The wastewater treatment plant on Mutton Island right beside where I live was upgraded a few years ago and is able to cope with a population equivalent of 170,000. However, the collection network is seriously deficient.

It encompasses Oranmore, Barna and the city. We have two syphons under the River Corrib, which are inadequate and have been identified for a very long time. We have an inadequate situation in Oranmore and Merlin Park. An application for a storage area in Merlin Park was submitted by Uisce Éireann and subsequently withdrawn. I have one minute and a half to make a pitch for Galway city and want I want to do here is to highlight the actions of Uisce Éireann. I do not wish to demonise Uisce Éireann but I believe it should have stayed with the local authorities. The local authorities submitted a comprehensive plan in 2012 and 2013, which was not approved by the Department because of the future birth of Uisce Éireann. What are we doing now in Galway city? We have no wastewater treatment plant on the east of the city, which is stymieing development. The Ardaun plan of 10,000 people cannot go ahead. Within the city, taking in Oranmore and Barna, we have a combined sewage and stormwater pipe which overflows all of the time. In one particular case, an Environmental Protection Agency site inspection to Oranmore found there had been 70 overflows of combined stormwater and sewage into Galway Bay, which has not been reported to the EPA. A compliance investigation has been open since 2008, although it could be since 2010, regarding the deficiencies in the system and constant overflows which should be confined to unusual weather conditions. In 2023 alone, 70 overflows were not reported to Uisce Éireann. What is my point? There cannot be development in Galway city in any sustainable way unless we face the infrastructure problems. There can be no balanced regional development if we do not have a sewage treatment plant in Carraroe. I will come back to the issue of transport in a minute.

2:50 pm

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy Connolly for raising the question. I think she will understand and appreciate that I may have to come back to her on some of the specific issues she has highlighted in relation to her constituency, as is right and proper for her to do. On a broad level, when we look at the issue of housing and balanced regional development, I accept the importance of needing to look at in the round. I can sense the Deputy's frustration and, I am sure, that of her constituents, regarding investment in wastewater treatment plants and also connection issues in a number of the areas she outlined. We believe very much in balanced regional development. It is not just a nice thing to do but is absolutely essential if we are to create the country and the quality of life that people want and if we are to meet the housing needs of people and their wish to be able to continue to live in, raise a family and work in their community. On foot of the specific issues the Deputy raised, I will be happy to take a look at them, not just in relation to her constituency but, perhaps more broadly, in relation to the need for us to take a joined-up approach to anything we do in ensuring that housing supply can flourish in all parts of this country, including, of course, Galway city and county. I am very happy to come back to her and to receive specific details of the issues she has raised. I undertake to directly engage with her.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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Perhaps I can use a little bit of the time the Taoiseach did not use, with the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, because this is really important. It should not be up to me to raise this issue with the Taoiseach. We have Uisce Éireann, which the body in charge, and the local authorities. We have plans and conditions have been set as part of a licence which are not being complied with. These are not my words. This is what the EPA has outlined in its open compliance investigation. Either Uisce Éireann does not know what it is doing, which is not my way, it does not have enough staff or the Government is not behind it. We cannot have a situation where basic infrastructure - the collection of sewage and stormwater - is inadequate. The network of collection has been inadequate for years, as identified by the local authorities, the EPA and Irish Water. Galway is one of the four cities outside of Dublin that is set to develop, with its population to increase to 120,000. It cannot do that, however, and nor can we have balanced regional development. I heard the Taoiseach set out his beliefs. I do not really want to hear about beliefs. What I want to see is action. I want to see what feedback is going from Irish Water to the Department of Public Expenditure, National Development Plan Delivery and Reform, where the connection is between what is needed in Galway city and the regions and what is actually happening on the ground, and what we need to do.

Galway city is absolutely caught up with traffic.

Back in 2018 or 2017, 24,000 people signed a petition asking for a feasibility study on light rail. That is finally being done by a body that said it was not possible but is now looking at it. Similarly, on Friday, there will be a conference on the western rail corridor. This is all basic infrastructure in addition to what I just highlighted. Basic collection of wastewater is not adequate so no development can take place. As a result, the housing crisis is going to intensify and planning applications will be refused, as they have been for some years, because of inadequate infrastructure.

3:00 pm

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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I do not have the figures in front of me - I will check - but I would imagine that housing commencements in Galway city are increasing-----

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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They cannot. They are being refused.

Photo of Simon HarrisSimon Harris (Wicklow, Fine Gael)
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-----as they are across the country. I will check. I am not taking from the Deputy's point. Across the country, housing commencements are increasing.

I assure the Deputy that when State agencies like Uisce Éireann and others make investment decisions, they do so cognisant of the national planning framework and the national development plan. A new national planning framework will be published in draft form towards the end of June. There will be an opportunity at that stage for all agencies to contribute, and for the Deputy and her community to contribute in relation to the important needs of her community. I will specifically undertake to pursue some of the infrastructural issues the Deputy raised regarding Uisce Éireann with the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, regarding this case. I am happy to come back to her if she wants to provide more details of where she believes there are particular blockages to development in Galway city or county.

I, too, am pleased with the work under way on the western rail corridor and light rail. Any fair objective analysis of the Government's time in office would see there has been a significant increase in public transport. The Minister, Deputy Eamon Ryan, is to be commended on that.