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Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions (Continued)

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 991 No. 2

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(Speaker Continuing)

[The Taoiseach: Information on Micheál Martin Zoom on Micheál Martin] The first case the Deputy raised is a complex one and there are individual matters involved which I will not go into in the Chamber, but perhaps I can speak to her about it privately afterwards. We all acknowledge there are human stories around homelessness and the appalling impact homelessness has on both parents and families. I share the Deputy's concern about children who, in the run up to Christmas, are concerned about whether Santa will be able to find them on Christmas Eve. He will find them, and the same goes for children in hospitals, emergency accommodation, hotels or who are at home with their parents.

The solution to the housing crisis, on which we all broadly agree, is to increase dramatically the supply of housing in this country. We have an expanding, growing population and more households are being created every year, which means we need to build many houses. The Central Bank is right that we need to build about 35,000 new homes a year. We are not there yet, but in the two and a half years since I became Taoiseach, the number of new homes being built has trebled. That is significant; it is not enough and houses can only be built so quickly. It is significant that the number of new homes being built has trebled in the past three years. We need to double that number again and get up to 35,000 or 40,000 houses per year, which we will do as soon as we possibly can. This year, we have added 10,000 homes to the social housing stock. That is significant as it means 10,000 families are now living in homes that were not being used for social housing this time last year. Santa will arrive in 10,000 houses which were not available for social housing this time last year. We need to build on that and get up to 11,000 houses next year and 12,000 the year after, which we will do.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald It is significant that the Government has shirked its responsibilities and failed not just these families but countless others as well. The Government has stepped behind the shadow of private developers and landlords. The Taoiseach comes into this Chamber and endlessly recites figures and statistics and pats himself, the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and their partner in government Deputy Micheál Martin on the back. The Taoiseach is trying to tell us that everything is okay, when it is clear that the Government's policy is failing and that things are not okay. For these families to be heard and to find solutions, they must be listened to. The Government has to care about them, as does the Taoiseach. People outside of politics have said to me that the problem with the housing, homelessness, and rental and affordability crises is that the Government does not care. At times, I challenged that assertion, because nobody wants to turn this into a personalised battle. However, when I observe the reactions of the head of Government and his colleagues - some of whom are smirking - to the human stories of loss and heartbreak, which are casualties of their failed policies, it raises the question of whether the Taoiseach cares.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Pat the Cope Gallagher Zoom on Pat the Cope Gallagher The Taoiseach to respond. The Deputy must observe the time limit.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald If he cared, he would not hide behind figures but would change policies. He could start tomorrow evening by backing a rent freeze and a tax credit for renters.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I do not seek to hide behind facts or figures. I am just presenting the facts. The Deputy does not deny that those facts and figures are correct, which means there is legitimacy in what I am saying. I care much more about these issues than Deputy McDonald does. I care deeply about the housing crisis and the problems in our health service, which is why I have taken on the mantle of leadership. It is why I, my party and our colleagues in the Independent Alliance are willing to serve in government. Sinn Féin is different. It walked out of government in Northern Ireland three years ago-----

Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe Jesus.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald Is that actually the Taoiseach's answer?

Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe He is like a broken record.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar -----and appalling health and homelessness crises are now unfolding in Northern Ireland. If Sinn Féin really cared about health and housing, it would have gone into government in Northern Ireland, fixed those problems and shown us how it was done. It then could have come here and said it would do the same, but it did not.

Deputy Seán Crowe: Information on Seán Crowe Zoom on Seán Crowe What rights would the Taoiseach have had us drop?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar The people who care about health, housing and the problems our country faces are those who spend 16 or 18 hours every day trying to fix them. Deputy McDonald does not care. She comes into this House twice a day and makes out that she has some sort of monopoly on compassion, but she does not.

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald The Taoiseach has no compassion.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar If Sinn Féin cared, it would have stayed in government in Northern Ireland three years ago-----

Deputy Mary Lou McDonald: Information on Mary Lou McDonald Zoom on Mary Lou McDonald He is in his little Tory boy bubble with his colleagues.

Deputy Josepha Madigan: Information on Josepha Madigan Zoom on Josepha Madigan That is ridiculous.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar -----and solved these problems.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin The Department of Children and Youth Affairs launched a six-week public consultation on the draft childminding action plan at the end of last August. The plan aims to improve childminding in this State, which has been largely unregulated up until now. Estimates for the number of childminders in Ireland vary, from the Department's figure of 19,000 to the 35,000 suggested by the Central Statistics Office. However, as few as 120 childminders are currently registered with Tusla. There is a long road to go to regularise this sector.

The way in which the Government has proceeded with this plan is causing concern to the many thousands of people involved in childminding. Members across the House will have received serious representations from people worried about their future. Despite the draft plan's allowance of up to five years for preparation and transition, childminders are concerned that these changes are going ahead without any real understanding or response to the concerns they have vocalised. Some childminders could be driven out of this important sector by heavy-handed regulation, which would, in turn, affect thousands of parents who rely on the current childminding arrangements to go to work every day. According to the Government's plan, legislation will be implemented over the course of the next five years which would require childminders to gain formal qualifications and be Garda vetted. Their homes would also have to be inspected to ensure they meet certain requirements. In principle, these are sensible proposals, but there is a risk that they will be implemented in a heavy-handed way. I am hearing that concern across the country from those providing this essential service.

Officials have admitted that childminders must sign up to strict standards of care or face prosecution. While Garda vetting is clearly essential, is it really necessary for every childminder to attain a level 5 qualification in order to continue operating?

Deputy Sean Sherlock: Information on Seán Sherlock Zoom on Seán Sherlock It is crazy stuff.

Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Providing a safe and caring environment for children does not necessarily require that level of formal qualification. Many individuals who are currently involved in childminding never had the opportunity to attain third level education. They rightly consider this requirement to be extraordinarily onerous. Childminders are also concerned about the level of inspections of their family homes these new regulations may entail. While health and safety issues are of great importance, there needs to be greater recognition that childminding is an activity carried out in the private space of people's homes rather than in any formal or structured business setting. Will the Government provide a credit or part-credit towards the required qualifications in recognition of the existing professional childminding experience of those who have been doing this for years? Will the Government put limits on the range of official bodies that will have the right to inspect the private homes of individuals involved in childminding, as well as the frequency of such visits? Will it be explained to them how this process is going to happen? Does the Government intend for childminders to be prosecuted for simple non-compliance? The Taoiseach should be aware that these are real concerns that need to be assuaged.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I spent some of the morning in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs with the Minister, Deputy Zappone, where I had the privilege of formally launching the national childcare scheme, which is now operating. More than 15,000 families have already qualified for the national childcare scheme.


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