Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 3 June 2021
Select Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government
Land Development Agency Bill 2021: Committee Stage (Resumed)
The ESRI report today is highly significant, not least because the ESRI is an independent, mainstream and very well established centrist think tank. The game is up now for the Government and it can no longer ignore the very clear and strong calls for public investment along the lines of what the ESRI and the rest of us have been saying for a long number of years. The Government can no longer dismiss that argument.
On the on balance sheet versus off balance sheet argument put forward in respect of the LDA, Deputy Ó Broin is correct that the LDA is going to be on balance sheet for the foreseeable future. There is no question about that. The question that arises is whether the EU fiscal rules and orthodoxy will still exist by the time the LDA is possibly off balance sheet. Those rules belong to a previous era and mainstream economists no longer subscribe to that fiscal orthodoxy. That said, even if mainstream thinkers still subscribed to it, there is a very strong case, given the housing emergency we have, for breaking those rules, if needs be.
The idea that we would, because of the orthodoxy of the EU fiscal rules, perpetuate circumstances in which more than 8,000 people are living in emergency accommodation and 120,000 people are on housing waiting lists or in insecure HAP tenancies is utterly unacceptable. Bearing in mind that European Union member states are engaging in serious breaches of the rule of law, involving breaches of fundamental democratic rights, human rights, press freedom and attacks on the LGBTI+ community, all without proper sanction, the idea that the European Union would sanction Ireland for investing in public housing in the middle of an emergency crisis while turning a blind eye to all of those breaches of the rule of law and democratic rights is not in any way credible.
The Centre for Housing Law, Rights and Policy in NUI Galway has produced very good research on EU state aid rules and cost rental housing. It very clearly put forward the legal case that a legitimate case can be made under EU state aid rules to support interventions in housing to address housing market failure. We very clearly have housing market failure. We do not need today’s ESRI report to know that. The case for public investment is overwhelming and the use of the outdated and previously mainstream EU fiscal orthodoxy, which some of us have never supported, as an excuse is a red herring. Will members of this Government be the last people in Europe defending those rules? Everybody else has moved on from them?