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Dublin: 12 °C Monday 23 October, 2017
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AFTER QUITE A long summer break, politicians are back in Leinster House today for the new Dáil term.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will be taking Leaders’ Questions – with possible topics likely to be raised including housing, water charges, and the health service.

Micheál Martin is up first to question the Taoiseach and he tells Leo Varadkar that the housing crisis is a damning indictment on this government.

He goes through the latest figures which show that some 8,000 people are in emergency accommodation.

Martin says the government’s plans to fix the problem just aren’t working and he says it is children that are in these situations that are suffering.

“There is no overall plan” to affordable housing either, he points out.

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Martin says radical change is needed now to solve the problem.

Varadkar says the government have a plan, and it is working. He also pays tribute to the death of Jimmy Magee.

I acknowledge the stress that is being endured by lots of families in emergency accommodation, he said.

He said homelessness “is a stain on our society”.

 

Varadkar said it has become increasingly more difficult for those in their twenties and thirties to buy homes, something he raised at the Fine Gael think-in.

Taoiseach says workers in their 20s and 30s should be given the chance to buy a home>

Varadkar says he acknowledges that they government are “very much in catch-up mode” in terms of building houses.

Varadkar lists of some of the progress that is being made saying 80 solutions are being found each day. He says 21,000 families will be housed this year through a range of measures.

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He tells Martin they are making progress. “It does take time,” he said.

Gerry Adams is on his feet now…

He is talking about the need for residential care for one boy who was raised on RTÉ’s Prime Time last night. The mother pleaded with Minister Simon Harris for her son to be put in care, as he experiences violent episodes. He is in hospital now, taking up a bed in a burns unit.

Adams raises another case of ‘Sam’, who is also waiting for residential care, and another case of ‘Adam’. He says these families are being left and feel like they are invisible.

He said Budget 2018 could make a real difference to these people.

In relation to the case that was raised on RTE – the Taoiseach said Minister Harris and Minister of State for Disabilities Finian McGrath met today to discuss the matter.

Varadkar says dedicated funding has been given over, but says more needs to be done for respite and for those who are living with their elderly parents.

There are two areas that will require additional investment in the years to come,” he said.

“With respect Taoiseach, it’s not good enough,” he said.

He said just because someone has a disability doesn’t mind the don’t have rights.

“You talk about the Republic of Opportunity,” adds Adams, but says there is no equality.

Adams says that as a doctor, the Taoiseach is bound to know the stress that is being placed on families.

The Sinn Féin leader says he was recently moved by a woman whose son is aged 50 and he walks all night, up and down the stairs. “She can’t get a break,” he said.

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Varadkar says he doesn’t accuse Adams of being heartless when he references some of the cutbacks that are happening in the north.

Brendan Howlin is up now and he wants to talk about the proposals to amalgamate PRSI and USC and Fianna Fáils calls to cut USC.

He says there is insufficient space to cut taxes, particularly when they are so “paltry”.

Howlin says more investment is needed, and the €200m that is being used on tax cuts could be used elsewhere.

Varadkar says they will balance the books in this year’s Budget and “pay down our debt”.

He says there will be increased spending on infrastructure – to the tune of about €1.5 to €1.8bn.

He says “it is the right thing to do” to cut taxes.

“Yes I do believe they deserve a break in this Budget,” says Varadkar.

Howlin says the 30% on the lowest incomes are to get nothing, “is that what you are saying?” he asks the Taoiseach, highlighting that Varadkar says they no longer have to pay USC.

Varadkar says it is clear Howlin is “on weak ground” when he is misrepresenting what he said.

The Taoiseach accuses him of twisting his words, and is not happy that the opposition are shouting back at him. He tells the Ceann Comhairle that those in opposition don’t like it when the “hear facts”.

He is concerned that project is under threat and it might show Ireland in a bad light in terms of future inward investment.

Varadkar said last week that he had spoken to Apple about the issue.

He tells Dáil said he is keen to see it go ahead, and will be one of the biggest projects in the west of Ireland. The project is worth about €850m, will create about €300m construction jobs, and 15o jobs on site

He said Apple reaffirmed that the Athenry will go ahead, but said it was frustrated.

“I do share your concerns,” he said.

One of the things that now under consideration is an amendment to the Strategic Infrastructure Act to treat data centres as part of our strategic infrastructure and enable the planning process to work more smoothly.

He says a working group has been set up also, to encourage more data centre projects and identify future sites.

That’s it for Leaders’ Questions today. Not too many barneys for the first day back after the holidays. Join us back here tomorrow!

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