Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Select Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach

Estimates for Public Services 2018
Vote 1 - President's Establishment (Revised)
Vote 2 - Department of the Taoiseach (Revised)
Vote 3 - Office of the Attorney General (Revised)
Vote 4 - Central Statistics Office (Revised)
Vote 5 - Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (Revised)
Vote 6 - Office of the Chief State Solicitor (Revised)

10:00 am

Photo of Leo VaradkarLeo Varadkar (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Dublin West, Fine Gael)
Link to this: Individually | In context | Oireachtas source

I think there are a number of factors. Problems in politics and with policy that have one cause are easier to solve than those that are multi-factorial and have a complex phenomenology. This is obviously a country with a rising population and increased household formation. Every year in Ireland more housing is needed, unlike in other countries where the population is dropping or there are fewer households. There is also a lack of supply, but it is not as simple as that. It was probably best explained to me by somebody whose name I cannot remember. I went out before Christmas with a group, the name of which I cannot remember. I think it was Streetwise, or perhaps it was the group of doctors who visit people who are sleeping rough. I spent the evening meeting people who were on the streets or living in tents and talking to those who worked with them. The way she described it was this and in some ways it best explained the problem to me. In a normal scenario, were it not for the boom and bust cycle, about 30,000 new homes would be built in Ireland every year. The figure would be in that ball park. In Ireland, because of the financial crisis and the economic crash, there was a seven-year period in which virtually no homes were built. The Government and the local authorities did not have the funds to build homes; the banks were bust and the construction sector was destroyed. During that period about 200,000 or 210,000 houses would ordinarily have been built, but they were not. As a result about 200,000 households which in the past would have bought a home are now renting. As a result, another 200,000 households have been pushed down, some of which have been pushed out of the rental market altogether and fallen off the ladder. That is the best simple explanation that has been given to me for the worsening homelessness problem and housing crisis.

We are going to have to catch up. Not only will we have to get supply to equilibrium, that is, provide what is needed to meet the natural increased demand every year of about 30,000 houses, we have a catch-up figure of about 200,000 to achieve. That is not going to be done quickly. It will take us quite a number of years to get back to building 30,000 houses a year, which is where we need to be, and then catch up on the 200,000 that were not built during the last decade. In the meantime, we are going to have to do lots of things to treat the symptoms of the problem. If I were to apply my medical expertise, there is an underlying problem which we need to solve - a fundamental lack of supply. While we fix that problem we will have to treat the symptoms. That will involve doing some of the things we are doing - providing emergency accommodation; focusing on prevention in order that people will not fall into homelessness; allowing the uplifts in the housing assistance payment; and identifying people early before they lose their home.

Deputy Michael McGrath asked a straight question. Yes, the position is getting worse. I absolutely acknowledge that and have given the Deputy the best analysis I have heard as to why that is the case.