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 Header Item Departmental Operations (Continued)
 Header Item Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 979 No. 6

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar] The other half consisted of voids brought back into use, houses purchased by local authorities or affordable housing bodies and houses that were leased for the long term. This represents a very considerable increase in the social housing stock. I do not know when the last time was that the social housing stock was increased by 8,500. It could be a very long time ago. Of the 18,000 new houses and apartments built last year, roughly 4,500, or 20%, were built by the State. Again, I am not sure when the last time was that the State built 20% of the homes in the country but we need to be at that kind of level, going from 18,000 a year up to something closer to 35,000 and increasing our social housing stock by approximately 10,000 homes a year. Obviously, if the social housing stock is increased by 10,000 homes a year, it will be increased by 100,000 homes in a decade. This would be a considerable step change in the amount of social housing and public housing we have, and that is what we plan to do.

In talking about the budget mix, we always need to bear in mind the difference between capital and current. As a long-term investment, building or purchasing houses and adding them to the social housing stock makes more sense than HAP or rent supplement. On a very logical and micro basis, however, it must be borne in mind that it may cost €150,000 to build a new home from scratch for a family in need of social housing but that for the same amount of money one could rent ten houses. For the same amount of money spent in one year, therefore, one could house one family or ten. When one is faced with huge demand for housing and huge housing need, it often makes more sense to house the ten families rather than the one, even if one takes the 20-year view that it would be cheaper to house the one and not the ten, if that makes any sense.

Regarding Owen Keegan's comments the other day, I do not believe that anyone chooses to be homeless. Certainly, I do not think any children are homeless by choice. There are really two main causes of homelessness, in particular family homelessness: one is family breakdown, which I do not think is a choice; the other is a notice to quit being issued by a landlord who is renovating, moving back into or selling on the property. Again, that is not a choice made by the tenant in respect of whom the notice to quit has been issued. Therefore, if there are people who are making themselves homeless to skip the queue or to avail of services, I imagine they are very few and far between and are exceptional cases. I therefore do not agree with Mr. Keegan's comments. It was interesting, however, that in the debate that was held there was wide agreement from Owen Keegan to Mike Allen of Focus Ireland that homeless services had improved considerably in Ireland and in Dublin in recent years. This is happening through the development of the family hub programme. Hubs are much better for all kinds of reasons than shelter accommodation, bed and breakfast accommodation or hotels. I refer to the availability of the HAP place-finder, for example, and the additional social and other supports that are provided to people who find themselves homeless. It was good that while there was disagreement on what Owen Keegan had to say, there was widespread agreement, from NGOs to political parties, that homeless services had improved very considerably in Dublin in recent years. It was good to hear that acknowledged.

Taoiseach's Meetings and Engagements

 4. Deputy Micheál Martin Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin asked the Taoiseach Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he has met church leaders recently. [5680/19]

 5. Deputy Brendan Howlin Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin asked the Taoiseach Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he will report on his recent meetings with church leaders. [6510/19]

 6. Deputy Mary Lou McDonald Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald asked the Taoiseach Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he has held recent meetings with representatives of churches and faith communities as part of the church-State structured dialogue process. [6558/19]

 7. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Taoiseach Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar if he will report on recent or planned meetings with church leaders. [8378/19]

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I propose to take Questions Nos. 4 to 7, inclusive, together.

  On 25 August 2018 I met Pope Francis during his visit to Dublin Castle. The meeting provided an opportunity for us to discuss several issues.

  On 22 January, I met representatives of the Church of Ireland and the Presbyterian and Methodist churches in a formal meeting under the structured dialogue process between church and State. We discussed social and economic issues facing Irish society as well as international issues. This was the second in a series of meetings I will hold with dialogue partners.

  On 31 August 2017 I held a formal meeting under the structured dialogue with representatives of the Catholic Church, led by Archbishop Eamon Martin.

  Some of the issues we discussed at these meetings were challenging. They are issues on which people have deeply held views and which are considered to be matters of conscience. Our discussions were valuable not just because they dealt with important issues, but particularly because they were conducted in an atmosphere of respect for the views of others, where everyone sought to be constructive.

  Like public representatives generally, I meet church leaders informally from time to time in the course of attending official functions and public events.

  In particular, with the recent presidential inauguration and the visit of Pope Francis, I attended several events that gave me an opportunity to engage with representatives from various religious groups.

Deputy Micheál Martin: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin During the years of progress in securing the end of the illegitimate campaign of violence in the North and the building of a new peaceful model of co-operation on this island, the churches played an absolutely central role, to be fair. This went well beyond the number of now widely and rightly acclaimed clergymen. It really was a consistent approach through the entirety of the leadership of the churches in Ireland and at every stage they pushed a positive agenda of reconciliation and played a very important role as advocates of Border communities.

It is in this context that we must take very seriously their warning about the damage being caused by Brexit and the further damage it threatens. The political paralysis in the North is a huge concern for them. Equally, they are deeply concerned about what will happen on the Border in 37 days' time, or whenever Brexit happens, if there is no deal. Yesterday I asked the Taoiseach for what I believe is the fifth time in recent weeks to say what would happen on the Border, were there to be a no-deal situation in 37 days' time, and yet again he refused to answer. He repeated what is not being planned or contemplated - I get that - and he then added the remarkable comment that the situation "will cause a dilemma". Is this the best he can do? Communities and businesses across the country, in the Border area in particular, are crying out for some basic information on what they should be planning for if - and we hope it does not happen - a no-deal arrives in 37 days' time. It beggars belief that there are no arrangements in place as to what to do on the Border if a no-deal scenario comes to pass next month. The Taoiseach's entire argument for the proposed deal is that only it avoids a hard border. I know what the Government is not planning and not contemplating, but will the Taoiseach please tell us what he believes will happen?

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Regarding the Taoiseach's meeting with church leaders, a swastika was recently painted outside the synagogue in Terenure. Has the Taoiseach met representatives of the Jewish community in recent times? I think we are all concerned about a very significant rise in anti-Semitism across Europe, very noticeably in France and other European countries. Should we be alert to this in this jurisdiction? The only law dealing with hate crimes here is the rarely used Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act, which in its 30 years of existence I understand has resulted in only five convictions. I would be interested to hear the Taoiseach's views as to whether our protections are robust enough in this regard.

  On a separate matter, the Irish Daily Mail reports today that a test excavation has begun at a second mother and baby home in Sean Ross Abbey, near Roscrea, County Tipperary. This is following directions from the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters. Has the Taoiseach discussed this matter with church leaders? Does he expect more sites to be investigated? Is he satisfied that the commission has the capacity and the resources to carry out its very important task?

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald I wish to pick up on that theme. A geophysical survey of infant burial grounds will begin today at the site of the former Sean Ross Abbey mother and baby home, near Roscrea, County Tipperary. Records of deaths at the home show that 269 children died there between 1934 and 1967 but, due to the failure of the order to keep records, the number of children who died there is not known definitively. In the past two interim reports the Commission of Investigation into Mother and Baby Homes and Certain Related Matters has highlighted its difficulty in finding out more about the burial arrangements for children and women who died in these homes. The commission has noted that there are significant gaps in the information available on the burial of babies who died in a number of the institutions under investigation and has warned that it will prove difficult to establish the facts. This statement tells its own story of the State's direct hand in the treatment of children who died, none of whom reached his or her first birthday in the case of Sean Ross Abbey.


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