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An tOrd Gnó - Order of Business (Continued)

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 980 No. 4

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Deputy Brendan Howlin: Information on Brendan Howlin Zoom on Brendan Howlin Last week this House debated a Fianna Fáil motion on plurality in the media where there was a consensus view across this House that we needed to support the local media. The Taoiseach may be aware that the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission operates a support scheme where the operations of this House are reported both to local print media and radio stations. The print media arrangement ends today and the broadcast media support ends on 1 April. I ask all Members of the House, if we are all interested as we all said we were in supporting local media, to indicate our support so that the views expressed in this House and the debates should be presented free of charge to those media outlets that carry it. That would be good for both democracy and the sustaining of local media as well.

Deputy Thomas Byrne: Information on Thomas Byrne Zoom on Thomas Byrne Hear, hear.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar I was not aware of that. I imagine it is in the interests of this House to provide content from this Chamber and the Seanad to the media. I imagine this is a matter for the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl It was discussed at a commission meeting this morning.

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar On the face I agree with the Deputy. Perhaps the Ceann Comhairle might-----

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I call Deputy Boyd Barrett.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett In the programme for Government the Taoiseach said that the provision of affordable housing to those who need it would be a "priority" and that the Government should be tested on its ability to deliver on that promise. Can I suggest that promise is a hoax given the revelation today that, without telling anybody, instructions were given not to give out what is already a very limited scheme around affordable mortgages under the Rebuilding Ireland mortgage scheme? The limitations of this scheme can be told by the fact that in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown only three Rebuilding Ireland mortgages were given out. Indeed, I have raised this issue with the Minister before, how people who should and are supposed to qualify did not qualify. The affordable scheme, which is supposed to deal with the same cohort of people and in which we were told €300 million was to be put, still has not appeared two years later. Are not all of the "affordable" promises in the programme for Government just a complete hoax?

Deputy Declan Breathnach: Information on Declan Breathnach Zoom on Declan Breathnach I would like to follow on from Deputies Martin and Boyd Barrett by asking the Taoiseach and the Minister whether it is a fact that there is no database for the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme and the reason that there are 1,000 applicants still waiting for approval is that there are duplicates of up to 50% right across multiple applications, particularly in the north east. Is that the situation? We have been told that there are multiple dual applications and that this is the reason for the delay in the approval of the additional 1,000.

Deputy Eoin Ó Broin: Information on Eoin Ó Broin Zoom on Eoin Ó Broin The real issue here is that of the 1,500 applications that have been approved, 68% have not been able to draw down the funds. They have not been able to draw down the funds because either it is taking too long for the underwriting process or, particularly in Dublin, the amount of money being offered - on average about €200,000 - comes nowhere close to the average house price of €340,000 and in Dún Laoghaire of €590,000. We have a situation now where €136 million of this fund is sitting there and the people to whom it is being offered cannot access it. It is not just a matter of extending the overall funding, it also involves fixing the scheme to ensure that when people are offered loans, it is an appropriate amount of money and it is done in a speedy enough fashion so the money can be spent on the houses they so desperately need.

Deputy John Lahart: Information on John Lahart Zoom on John Lahart The Taoiseach confirmed that over 500 loans had been drawn down and 1,000 were still outstanding. Could the Minister comment on how long have some of those, the longest of them, been in the system? Does he appreciate the limbo that those applicants find themselves in while waiting for those applications, to know whether they will or will not be drawn down? Can the Minister give an assurance to the House, particularly in relation to the number of constituents that I am familiar with, that the response as to whether they will be able to draw down these mortgages will be considered and given as swiftly as possible?

Deputy Eoghan Murphy: Information on Eoghan Murphy Zoom on Eoghan Murphy I wish to say to the Deputy that this is a revelation today. I was clear with the Dáil and I can direct attention to parliamentary questions on 5 and 26 February but also to previous conversations we have had at committee about the operation of this loan.

The Rebuilding Ireland home loan is incredibly worthwhile and supportive of people trying to buy their first home. Time and again Deputies have come into the House to say that it is not working. Today we see clearly and know that it is working so well that it is working better than anticipated, because the additional €200 million of funding was a tranche that was meant to be there for three years, but only a year and a month into the operation of the scheme we have already seen hundreds of people approved and drawing down and hundreds more waiting to draw down their loans.

We have dual applications because people are applying to different local authorities depending on where they intend to buy their homes. We also have cases where some loans are approved but not drawn down. That happens for many reasons. The lag between an approval and a drawdown is not necessarily on the local authority's side. Once one gets approval for a mortgage it takes time to find a home, to complete the sale and to do all the things that one has to do when someone is buying a home. In those circumstances, that is where a delay can arise and that is often the case. Sometimes a loan is not drawn down at all because the circumstances or the choice of the individual changes. I indicated to the Dáil that we would need to look for a second tranche when the first tranche did expire. Only half of the first tranche has been drawn down to date. That is why at the moment I am in negotiations with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform about a further tranche to ensure we can continue with the Rebuilding Ireland home loan. It has been successful in helping hundreds of people to buy their first home and we want to see that happen for hundreds more.

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae: Information on Danny Healy-Rae Zoom on Danny Healy-Rae It was not amusing to hear Deputy Murphy asking the Taoiseach to change the entire Dublin Bus fleet. Outside the Red Cow and indeed in all of rural Ireland, since the ramming through of the Road Traffic (Amendment) Act 2018, to please the Minister, Deputy Ross, people in rural Ireland are angered and frustrated like never before, young and old. Provisional drivers who are waiting for driving tests have no transport now and have to impose on parents and family members to drive them. Old people are facing checkpoints daily and several times a day right around the country like never before. Will the Taoiseach reduce the level of checkpoints, seeing as it was this Government that put them in place, and with this Government reverse this Act in the light of the anger, frustration and hardship that has been imposed on the people of rural Ireland at this time?

The Taoiseach: Information on Leo Varadkar Zoom on Leo Varadkar In the first instance it is important to point out that it is the gardaí and the Garda Commissioner who make decisions on the frequency and location of checkpoints. There are no Ministers ordering checkpoints anywhere: I can guarantee that. There is a degree of misunderstanding on the new law. This new law has not changed the drink-driving or alcohol limits: it has changed penalty. The limits are exactly what they were before. The solution is not to allow drink-driving but is better transport.

I am particularly enthused by what the Minister of State, Deputy Griffin, is leading with his lift scheme in the Deputy's own county, which could be the potential prototype for a much more flexible, more individualised and much more available road transport, particularly at night.

Deputy Danny Healy-Rae: Information on Danny Healy-Rae Zoom on Danny Healy-Rae One motor car will not transport the people-----

Deputy Michael Collins: Information on Michael Collins Zoom on Michael Collins The Taoiseach can cod the people but it will not fool them.

Deputy Catherine Murphy: Information on Catherine Murphy Zoom on Catherine Murphy There was a very significant judgment in the High Court last Thursday in the case of Denis O'Brien v. Sunday Business Post, which was a very significant and good day for journalism but it does bring into question the issue of defamation laws. Is it intended to advance a change to our defamation laws or will he consider the call from the National Union of Journalists that there should be a commission into the future of the media, which will obviously look at things like social media and other platforms at the same time? This is a critical issue as to the health of our democracy and health of journalism into the future.

Deputy Charles Flanagan: Information on Charles Flanagan Zoom on Charles Flanagan As to the issue of the reform of the defamation laws, Members will be aware that the current law, the 2009 Act, is the subject matter of a review. There is a wide-ranging consultation process underway, and has been for some time because of its breadth. I expect to have a report in the next five to six weeks and I would be very keen then to move matters on towards the next stage, keeping the House fully informed as I proceed.

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