Wednesday, 29 June 2005
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. Kenny: As the Taoiseach will be aware, the main issue to dominate tomorrow’s G8 summit in Scotland will be the effort to solve the plight of the people of Africa. It is worth bearing in mind that, in every ten minutes we speak in the House today, 60 children will have died of a vaccine-preventable illness and 80 babies under a month will die worldwide. A woman in the developing world will die every second in childbirth. Every 30 seconds a child dies of malaria. Six thousand people will die today from an AIDS-related illness. By the end of this year, just like every year, whooping cough will have killed 300,000 children, and diarrhoea will have killed 600,000 more under the age of five.
The Taoiseach and his Government obviously cannot prevent these tragedies from occurring. However, I am annoyed that in September 2000, with no election in sight, he made a solemn commitment to the UN Assembly, before the eyes of the world, that the Government would achieve the UN target of 0.7% of GDP by 2007. He made this commitment based on the information available to him with the consent of his Government and on behalf of the people of Ireland. When it became politically expedient for the Government to break that promise, it did so.
This country can be very proud of the outstanding work done by our NGOs which dispense aid all over the world. It is a pity that our reputation in the eyes of the world is now being besmirched by the fact the Taoiseach broke the promise he made on behalf of the people and the Government. Some time ago, he stated in the House that his job was to answer questions when asked. In light of this, let me ask him a question now: when will this Government achieve the Taoiseach’s commitment to donate 0.7% of GDP in overseas development aid? Why has he postponed making a decision on this matter until some time before September, at which time the House will not be sitting and at which time there will be no opportunity to raise these matters with him? If the Taoiseach’s job is to answer questions, he should state when the Government will make this announcement.
The Taoiseach: As I stated previously, I would like Ireland to be the number one subscriber to overseas development aid in the world. We lie at about number seven or eight in the world. This is an extraordinary achievement for this country and everybody should be proud of it. We subscribe the better part of €600 million towards overseas development aid, more than the entire capital programme for health in this country. Every year we are increasing our overseas development aid package by a vast amount. In the last budget, the first by the Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, a €1.8 billion package for overseas development aid for the next three years was outlined.
I am thankful that we are now able to help NGOs to do their job. They cannot do it without the money. I am proud that under the Governments I have led, we have increased our overseas development aid contribution from €150 million to over €600 million. With the packages that have been announced, this will amount to approximately €700 million by 2007.
The Taoiseach: The United Kingdom, which is being held up in lights at present in respect of the G8 summit — I wish them well — has a lower target than ours. It is not contributing the kinds of resources we are contributing, nor has it made the kinds of strides we have made. France is totally ambivalent. This country——
The Taoiseach: I look forward to the discussion on the millennium goals in September and to reporting that Ireland, which has 1% of the population of Europe, can stand as one of the highest in Europe in terms of its ability and achievement regarding overseas development aid.
Mr. Kenny: I am not talking about France, the United Kingdom or the United States but about the Taoiseach, who made a solemn commitment before the eyes of the world that the Government would achieve the target of 0.7% of GDP by 2007. The Taoiseach knew the implications when he made that commitment and was promised before that he would get a seat on the Security Council. What is the value of his word? What does his word mean? What did it mean in terms of the health services where €50 billion has been spent since 1997 and yet there were 257 patients lying on trolleys around the country yesterday? What does his word mean in terms of the commitment given for 2,000 extra gardaí? The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform is smirking but he should have been listening to the public speak in Raheny last night.
What does the Taoiseach’s word mean in terms of broken promises on class sizes which the current Minister for Education and Science now terms a noble aspiration? What does it mean when the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform says the release of the murderers of Detective Garda Jerry McCabe will be the happiest day of his life? What does the Taoiseach’s word mean in terms of the 34 stealth taxes imposed on consumers of this country?
Mr. Kenny: This morning we listened on radio to the reprehensible conduct of the Minister for Foreign Affairs who talked about decisions with regard to the target of 0.7% as against seatbelts on school buses.
Mr. Kenny: I thank the Ceann Comhairle for reminding me of this. The central question is the value of the Taoiseach’s word. Promise after promise and commitment after commitment have been broken. How can we believe anything from this Government when, in respect of the poorest people in the world, the Taoiseach stood up in front of the eyes and nations of the world and said we would achieve our target by 2007? Not only has he let down the poorest in the world, he has let down people here at home. Promises and commitments have no value because his word no longer counts for anything.
The Taoiseach: We have delivered substantially to overseas development aid. Some €150 million had been delivered when I came to power, and this figure is heading towards €700 million which is a huge achievement. There has been a commitment of €1.8 billion over a three year period which helps NGOs do their job, enables them to provide services and allows us to go into new countries such as East Timor.
Unlike most places in the world, Ireland should be very proud that it does not have tied aid. Former President Clinton said he would like the US to have done half of what we did. It is amazing that people all over the world recognise what Ireland has done for overseas aid. Yes, we decreased our percentage but I did not know in August 2000, when the economy was growing by 11%, that it would only grow by 1% a year later. However, we still continued to provide untied aid at a rate not achieved by anybody else in the world.
Mr. Rabbitte: Without any justification, the Taoiseach proposes to call the House to rise on 1 July. The Government will limp off into the summer recess with the ministerial debris of the parliamentary year still on the front bench. The former Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Deputy Noel Dempsey, came up with the idea of spending €52 million on electronic voting, and the subsequent Minister, Deputy Cullen, decided against all advice to implement it. The behaviour of former Minister for Health and Children, Deputy Martin, with regard to the nursing homes issue would, according to the former Ombudsman, make previous Ministers squirm in their graves. Ministers of State, Deputies Callely and Tim O’Malley, managed to read the brief but did absolutely nothing. Then there is the issue of the former and current Ministers for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputies O’Donoghue and McDowell.
Mr. Rabbitte: Fianna Fáil backbenchers will like what I have to say. In August 2000, the Acting Commissioner, Mr. Noel Conroy, sent a secret report based on the Carty investigation to the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O’Donoghue. It was a shocking 37-page summary of what Assistant Commissioner Carty had uncovered in Donegal. What did the Minister, Deputy O’Donoghue, do about it? Absolutely nothing.
In November 2001, the then Minister, on the advice of the Attorney General, voted down a motion from the Labour Party, Fine Gael and the Green Party calling for an inquiry into this affair. The current Minister, Deputy McDowell, came in last week and said if they had known the facts earlier they would have acted earlier. He then went on to accuse me of bluffing when I told him what was in the Conroy report, saying I had not read it or seen it. I have the report here now, entitled An investigation carried out by Assistant Commissioner Kevin Carty into allegations that members of An Garda Síochána attached to the Donegal division engaged in criminal and unethical behaviour in the execution of their professional duties between 1994 and 1998.
Mr. Rabbitte: Every time I raise the issue, the Minister scurries up the back stairs to brief the media and muddy the waters. I hope when he scurries up today that he brings the report with him and gives the media a copy. Contrary to what he tried to suggest yesterday, I have seen the report and it would cause the hair on the back of any reasonable person’s neck to stand up. It is reprehensible and indefensible to think that Deputies O’Donoghue and McDowell contrived to do nothing about it.
The Taoiseach: In February 1999, Assistant Commissioner Carty was appointed by the Garda Commissioner to investigate allegations that gardaí in Donegal had engaged in criminal and unethical behaviour. In July 2000, over a year later, Assistant Commissioner Carty submitted his report, which was the investigation file, to the Director of Public Prosecutions who is independent. A few months later, in August 2000, Deputy Commissioner Conroy forwarded a 37-page summary of the Carty report to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. This was not the Carty report itself. At that stage, the DPP was considering the Carty report and its recommendations and prosecutions. That is the process. He would get the file and then consider it. A number of civil actions relating to Donegal were well under way at that stage and a number of complaints were with the Garda Complaints Board.
In light of the controversy at that time, the then Minister, Deputy O’Donoghue, sought a preliminary opinion from the Attorney General in June 2001 regarding the options open to him to have the matter inquired into. The Attorney General replied immediately that he required sight of the full Carty report before he could furnish an opinion. The Attorney General, while agreeing that a public inquiry was the most attractive option — and he said that — advised that since tribunals of inquiry have to be conducted in public, this could seriously prejudice pending prosecutions. A tribunal could not be conducted while prosecutions were ongoing. He also advised that a tribunal could be established if the truth did not emerge in the cases that were pending.
In November, four or five months later, having consulted the Director of Public Prosecutions, on foot of the Attorney General’s request to see the Garda file, the Garda Commissioner gave an edited version of the Carty report to the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. This consisted of those parts of the Carty report considered to be relevant to the defence of the civil actions related to events in Donegal. This edited version was a bulky document and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions remarked that it would be difficult for persons reading the case to make sense of the issues without sight of the papers. In November, Shane Murphy was appointed to review all the papers and advise on how best to proceed.
The fact is that the full Carty report was given to the Department in late January of 2002. Mr. Murphy submitted his report at the end of the same month. The following week, in February 2002, the Government approved in principle the establishment of a tribunal of inquiry. That approval came a week or ten days after the full report was given. Just a few days after the full Carty report was given, the Government approved the establishment of a tribunal of inquiry and the drafting of a Bill to amend the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act to facilitate the holding of such an inquiry.
As I have said a number of times, there was no delay or holding back. The cases were being proceeded with and it is the role of the Director of Public Prosecution to prosecute such cases. The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform had not got the investigation file.
The Taoiseach: The Attorney General, when he was asked for advice, said that a tribunal would be best but that it could not be held in public while cases were pending. I do not know why Deputy Rabbitte persists with this issue because all of the records, dates and information are available. I can make a list of these publicly available for people to see. I read the full Dáil debate on the matter last night and it is quite clear what the then Minister, Deputy O’Donoghue, said to the House on 23 May 2001. It is there for everybody to read.
Mr. Rabbitte: When the Taoiseach reads the Dáil debates at night I would ask him to focus on some of the language that he uses because language ceases to have any meaning when he issues a reply like the one we have just heard. The fact of the matter is that the then Minister, Deputy O’Donoghue, claimed throughout 2001 that he had the Carty report. As time is limited, I will furnish one quotation. On 23 May 2001, Deputy O’Donoghue said, at column 1414 of the Dáil debates, “The investigation by Assistant Commissioner Carty was completed and presented to me and, in turn, to the Director of Public Prosecutions.” That was on 23 May and he repeated that point to Deputy Howlin and others. Last Wednesday, 22 June 2005, the Taoiseach came into the House and said: “A partial version of the Carty report was eventually furnished in November 2001...” That is a straightforward untruth. The report was furnished on 1 August 2000. The Taoiseach uttered a straightforward untruth and he has now picked up the habit of his former Attorney General, Deputy McDowell, of trying to throw sand in people’s eyes about when is the Carty report not the Carty report; when is the Carty report the Conroy report; and what is the difference between the report and an investigation file needed for prosecution. Opposition Deputies were not talking about an investigation file for prosecution, which was the defence that the Minister advanced. We were talking about the hair-raising report from Mr. Noel Conroy, who acted quite properly and who, within a month of the report being delivered to Mr. Pat Byrne, summarised it and sent it to the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform in easily intelligible terms. The Minister did nothing and a year and three months later, when we put down a motion in the House calling for the matter to be investigated, the Government voted it down.
The current Minister, Deputy McDowell, has stated that he could not engage in such an inquiry because he had not received the full Carty report. When, as Attorney General, he was advising on the legal redress scheme and could not get the relevant report because of the secret deal cooked up by the Taoiseach and Deputy Woods, he quite properly said that he would withdraw from giving advice because he could not get the documents from Deputy Woods. However, he did not say the same in this case and he has now dropped the Minister, Deputy O’Donoghue, in it to the extent that the poor fellow is ashamed to come into the House, go on radio or television or to present himself anywhere. He is properly embarrassed, as he ought to be, about having read the Conroy report and done nothing about it.
I have read the Dáil debate and Deputy Rabbitte has quoted only one line from it. In a section of the debate approximately one minute before the line quoted by Deputy Rabbitte, there is an exchange between Deputies Shatter, O’Donoghue and Howlin. This part of the Official Report states:
The Taoiseach: Deputy Jim O’Keeffe’s other profession is law and he should know better than anybody in this House — with the exception of the other legal experts here — that the Minister could not deal with this issue while the Director of Public Prosecutions had cases before the courts. He knows that.
The Taoiseach: Deputy Rabbitte speaks on this matter as if nothing happened but I wish to remind the House that it was this Government, not the Opposition, which identified the solution to the impasse, namely, the enactment of the legislation to enable a tribunal to hold part of its proceedings in private so as to avoid possible prejudice to court proceedings. That was the solution found by the then Attorney General, Deputy McDowell, and the then Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy O’Donoghue. They acted totally properly and correctly.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: There has been no debate in this House on the report from the National Economic and Social Council, Housing in Ireland: Performance and Policy, published six months ago. I am not aware of any response from the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government to the recommendations of the NESC report. Will the Government accept and implement the recommendation that there should be an increase in permanent social housing units, owned and managed by local authorities, of the order of some 73,000 units between 2005 and 2012? This is a key recommendation of the NESC. Will the Taoiseach note that the NESC report cites evidence from other states showing that only through increased social housing provision can the housing crisis in this State be seriously tackled and also the terrible tragedy of homelessness for so many?
Does the Taoiseach accept that Part V of the Planning and Development Act is failing to deliver social and affordable housing which I have acknowledged it has the potential to deliver? Does the Taoiseach recognise that the subsequent Planning and Development (Amendment) Act 2002 allowed developers to shirk their responsibilities under the original legislation and through the giving of money, land or units on other developments they are able to avoid the responsibility of providing social and affordable houses in key developments? Is the Taoiseach aware that the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, indicated there were only 390 units — I ask the Taoiseach to take note of that figure — of social and affordable housing provided under Part V of the Planning and Development Act up to the end of September 2004?
Has a cost benefit analysis been carried out on the transfer of land, the proposed swap of land in Government ownership with developers in exchange for so-called affordable housing units? What has happened to the Government’s so-called commitment regarding the creation of integrated communities and a living city? The Taoiseach is also a Dublin Deputy. It is clear that in the heart of Dublin——
The Taoiseach: The Government was very glad to receive the NESC report and also the PricewaterhouseCoopers report and the other work done on housing. As the Deputy knows, the Government rate of building social and affordable housing and housing is higher than anywhere else in the modern world. It stands at 20 houses per 1,000 people as against a rate of three houses per 1,000 people in Britain and five in the United States.
The Taoiseach: Some 30% of all houses in the State are new houses which is an enormous achievement. The Government is delivering strongly on social and affordable housing programmes with 13,000 benefiting under the broad range of social and affordable housing programmes in operation since 2004. Record levels of funding are being allocated to local authorities for their housing programmes this year. The total Exchequer provision for both capital and current expenditure for 2005 is €1.3 billion which is 20% over the provision figure for last year. This represents a seven-fold increase in the past seven years. I know the Deputy will be very supportive, as I am, of such investment.
The Deputy is correct in that changes were made in Part V. The supply of social and affordable housing has been boosted by the implementation of Part V. It took some time to implement the provisions of Part V and there were changes and delays following much lobbying in the House. Whether or not those were justified, I accept delays occurred but it is up and running. It is envisaged that more than 11,000 units will be delivered from the various affordable schemes between this year and in 2007. The needs of a further 6,000 households are expected to be met through other social housing measures, including houses completed by the voluntary co-operative sector. The long-term housing needs of approximately 5,000 current recipients of rent supplements will be addressed through new rental accommodation schemes.
The local authorities are also producing five-year action plans for social and affordable housing programmes. The primary aim of these plans is to ensure housing is delivered in a manner which breaks the cycle of disadvantage and dependency which still exists in some areas and I accept the point made by the Deputy on that matter.
The Deputy asked about the transparency of the land swaps. The Harcourt Terrace site was the subject of an initial feasibility analysis which concluded that given its present zoning it would only realise about 30 apartments on site in addition to some commercial developments. The analysis found that its maximum value would be extracted by facilitating a commercial development focused on the owner-occupied market, for example, a law practice for which demand is strong in that area. The recommendation was to consider an exchange of the site as a pilot scheme to test the Government’s fast growing approach to early delivery of affordable units. The net consideration for the site was determined in the analysis at €15.6 million which is €2.6 million over its pre-sale valuation of €13 million. This equates to approximately €39 million per acre for that area and reflects the top of the range for sale prices achieved in the city centre. Dublin City Council acted as project managers for the site. Sixteen bids were received on an open tender and Durkan Homes was identified as the prime developer from a short list of three bids.
The advantage is that rather than having a site which would have required the State to take considerable years to develop — it takes four years to complete a building project on a site — the State was enabled in a matter of months to go to the market and have 193 apartments. One hundred and forty families will be in their apartments by Christmas as a result of this decision and 53 more early in the new year, rather than having to wait for the longer process. The Government has now made six other sites available. Any reasonable person would agree this process is a fast-track approach. I accepted the point made in the House on many occasions. It is a fair point and it was raised by Deputy Rabbitte many times. I am here again answering questions from Members because we have effectively done things, as is always the case. The Deputy asked if a proper feasibility study was carried out and my reply has shown it was.
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: I thank the Taoiseach for his reply. As this is the last Leaders’ Questions of this term, the House should deal with the issue being raised, which is social and affordable housing. The Taoiseach refers to the building programme in total which includes private building which we know is currently at an unprecedented level. However, that will not address the focus of my question which is the 50,000 housing units for people who are still on local authority waiting lists throughout this jurisdiction. When the Taoiseach refers to a cost benefit analysis regarding specific cases, under any cost benefit analysis there would be a greater return for this State if the lands were given to local authorities rather than in swaps with private developers.This is what is needed. What of the NESC recommendation in respect of a tax on second homes? Many of those new homes in that private sector area are being bought by investors and property speculators, people who are buying second and subsequent homes——
Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Is it the Government’s intention to act on that recommendation of the NESC? What is the Taoiseach’s position in respect of the continuation of section 23 tax relief when clearly it is contributing to ever spiralling house prices particularly in the city of Dublin where it is having a devastating effect on the potential of young couples to aspire to first-time home buyer status? It is having devastating consequences. Centre city communities are being ravaged. Those who have lived generationally together are being forced to move out to suburbia and into far distant counties, including my constituency. There is clear neglect. As the Taoiseach said yesterday, it is time he lifted the telephone and talked to his brother in terms of his portfolio responsibility.
The Taoiseach: The only reason I outlined to the Deputy the transparency in the system is that he said he wanted to ask me two specific questions, and that was one of them. In that respect, I am sorry if I answered his question.
On the issue of social and affordable housing, we are acutely aware of the need for such housing. That is why we are putting approximately €2 billion a year into building the record number of houses we are now providing. In addition, we are removing the old slums in the heart of the cities, where people lived close to each other because there had no alternative as there were packed in together, and redeveloping them.
The Taoiseach: The Deputy mentioned the inner city. Part V of the legislation enables local authorities to provide houses in areas where they would not have been able to provide them previously, and that arrangement is working. In most of the new schemes being built the local authorities have successfully negotiated that a portion of the units will be allocated to tenants on the list. This is very helpful and is happening in respect of every development.
The Taoiseach: ——in terms of provisions on foot of decisions we have made. The announcement last week of the establishment of the Affordable Homes Partnership under the 1971 Act is designed to pull together the four local authorities in Dublin——
An Ceann Comhairle: For the benefit of the House, I point out that we went 18 minutes over time on Leaders’ Questions. The Chair requests all leaders before the autumn to try to find a way of living within the Standing Order which provides for seven minutes per question or the Chair will have to find a way to ensure this.
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