Dáil debates

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

An Bille um an gCúigiú Leasú is Tríocha ar an mBunreacht (An Ceart chun Teaghaise) 2016: An Dara Céim [Comhaltaí Príobháideacha] - Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to a Home) Bill 2016: Second Stage [Private Members]

 

8:30 pm

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)

Tairgim: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois."

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

As each week passes the housing crisis gets worse. Rents continue to spiral out of control, house prices continue to rise, real social housing need continues to grow and the number of adults and children in emergency accommodation has hit historical highs. By any meaningful indicator, the Government's housing plan is failing, yet every day the Taoiseach and his Ministers claim Rebuilding Ireland is working. Yesterday's daft.ierent report is further evidence that the Government has lost control, and the Taoiseach's and Minister's responses to the report yesterday and today show once again how out of touch they are. How can anyone looking at the evidence say rent pressure zones are working when new rents are up by 7% in Dublin, 13% in Limerick, 16% in Waterford and a staggering 17% in Galway? The average new rent across the State is now €1,300 per month. One would need take-home pay of €4,000 for that to be affordable. Here in Dublin, the average new rent ranges from €1,700 to €2,200 per month. One would need take-home pay of between €5,500 and €7,000 for that to be affordable. However, without the slightest tinge of irony, the Minister, Deputy Murphy, told the Dáil today that rent pressure zones are working. Worse still, he claimed yesterday that the rate of rent increases is the lowest since 2013. Both these statements are factually incorrect. Data from the Residential Tenancies Board and daft.ieshow that they are simply not true but that does not matter to the Minister who could not even grace us with his presence this evening. He just makes it up as he goes along and carries on regardless. While tens of thousands of tenants are either strangled with excessive rents or locked out of the rental market without any hope of making a home, the Minister carries on.

The daft.iereport yesterday also told us that the number of properties available to rent in the past quarter was the lowest since 2006. This is no surprise. Since January 2017, more than 12,000 rental properties have left the market. Accidental and semi-professional landlords, taking advantage of rising house prices, are selling up and moving on. What is the Government doing to deal with this disorderly exit of rental properties from the market? Absolutely nothing.

There is nothing in the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Bill going through the Houses of the Oireachtas that will address either excessive rents being paid today or the loss of rental properties. The Government knows that Sinn Féin is supporting that Bill, mainly because it provides for measures we have been calling for since 2016. Unfortunately, however, it is like so much of this Government's housing policy - too little, too late and already overtaken by events.

Fine Gael's strategy for the private rental sector is simply in tatters. It is not working and it is making matters worse, as it is with social housing, affordable housing, homelessness, Traveller accommodation and accommodation for people with disabilities and wheelchair users. The question many people are asking is "Why?". The answer is that Rebuilding Ireland is based on the same failed policy consensus that has dominated Government housing policy for decades, a consensus that underinvests in public housing and over-relies on the private sector to meet social and affordable housing need.

Last October, when this Chamber passed the Raise the Roof housing motion, which 40 or so Deputies from the Opposition benches signed, we made four demands. These were to double capital investment in public housing and public land; introduce emergency measures to stem the flow of families into homelessness; take urgent action to stop the rise in rents; and hold a referendum to enshrine a right to housing in the Constitution. Eight months on, these demands are more urgent than ever, yet the Government refuses to listen.

The Bill before us deals with one of these Raise the Roof demands. The Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to a Home) Bill is very simple. It seeks to insert in the Constitution, this State's foundational law, a right to adequate, appropriate, secure, safe and, crucially, affordable housing. It also seeks to place an obligation on the State to ensure the realisation of that right through its laws and policies in accordance with the principles of social justice. This proposition was endorsed by 84% of the people involved in the Constitutional Convention in 2014. It is a right that exists in many jurisdictions, including Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden, to name just a few. If passed, it would not guarantee every person in the State a home but it would provide a basic floor of protection, obliging the State to realise that right progressively. According to Mercy Law Resource Centre, which has published three separate reports on the issue, a constitutional right to housing would "mean that legislation and policy would have to be proofed to ensure they reasonably protect that right". Mercy Law Resource Centre goes on to say that while a legal right to a home is not a silver bullet and would not solve all our housing problems overnight, it is an important tool that would ensure this Government and future Governments introduce policies that promote and protect access to appropriate, secure and affordable homes.

Based on its previous record, I have little doubt but that Fine Gael will oppose this Bill tonight. No matter the script the good Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, has been given to read out in the absence of the Minister, Deputy Murphy, or either of the two Ministers of State in his Department, the real reason Fine Gael will oppose this Bill, if that is what it does, is that it fears an approach to social policy based on human rights. More importantly, however, it fears the wrath of those in emergency accommodation, those crippled with excessive rents, those languishing on housing waiting lists and those locked out of buying or renting a home in any possible referendum.

Tonight, however, it is Fianna Fáil that holds the balance of power. In the past, Deputy Micheál Martin's party has voted down similar Bills from Sinn Féin and other Opposition parties here, but its housing spokesperson, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, has indicated a willingness to revisit this issue.

I appeal to Fianna Fáil tonight to work with the rest of the Opposition to advance this Bill. As always, Sinn Féin is open to considering amendments on Committee Stage, if amendments are necessary. Our parties worked together on student accommodation and we forced the Government's hand to the benefit of thousands of students. We worked together on increasing Part V obligations and we again forced the Government's hand to increase the output of much-needed social housing. We also worked together on the Management Fees (Local Property Tax) Relief Bill 2018 and once again forced the Government's hand to the benefit of thousands of hard-pressed apartment owners. If Fianna Fáil is willing to support this Bill tonight we can yet again force the Government's hand to the benefit of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people in real housing need.

This Saturday, Raise the Roof protesters will again be marching on the streets of Dublin. Thousands of people will be demanding a legal right to a home. Those people will include the entire trade union movement, the entire student union movement and whole swathes of civil society, homeless organisations, housing associations, grassroots groups, citizens and residents. All of them will be calling on this House to act. We have an opportunity tonight to do just that. We can take an important step towards ending the Fine Gael housing crisis and provide the people with an important tool to vindicate their right to appropriate, secure and affordable homes. Even if there are Deputies in this Chamber who do not support a constitutional right to housing, surely they believe the people should get to have their say on such an important matter.

Let us do the right thing. Let us pass the Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to a Home) Bill 2016. Let us provide a legal, constitutional right to a home and then let us get out on the streets on Saturday and raise the roof to demand real solutions to the housing emergency.

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