Dáil debates

Thursday, 3 June 2021

An Bille um an Naoú Leasú is Tríocha ar an mBunreacht (Ceart chun Tithíochta) 2020: An Dara Céim [Comhaltaí Príobháideacha] - Thirty-ninth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to Housing) Bill 2020: Second Stage [Private Members]

 

7:25 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)

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

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

It is worth noting that we originally tabled this Bill in the previous Dáil in September 2017. At that point, not surprisingly, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael voted against it and, as a result, it did not pass. In the context of the earlier debate, let us be absolutely clear: we wanted to put the right to secure, affordable, dignified and appropriate housing into the Constitution and make it a right for every person living in this country. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael voted against it. People need to hear that fact.

This Bill seeks to delimit the protections given to private property in favour of the common good, which does allow, even under our Constitution, the Government to override private property rights. However, it does not define clearly what the common good is and, specifically, it does not include in it the right to housing as a clear part of the common good and give it priority. This is what we are setting out to do.

I will not read all the wording but the Bill states:

The State, in particular, recognises the common good as including the right to secure, affordable, dignified housing, appropriate to need, for all the residents of Ireland and shall guarantee this right through its laws, policies and the prioritisation of resources.

It goes on to state that we will delimit the right to private property in this regard. Why is this necessary? Why did the Government, or the two major parties in government, oppose it on the previous occasion? The Green Party supported it so it will be interesting to see whether it is consistent with its previous position on trying to get the Bill passed into law to get a referendum so we can insert this right. Why is it important to do this? I will not rehearse the obvious about the absolutely shocking, obscene and outrageous housing and homelessness crisis we have in this country. We only have to walk through the city centre to see the tents of people who are homeless littering the streets. We only have to think of the 100,000 families on housing waiting lists. In my area, they have been on these lists for up to 20 years, waiting for social housing they will never get. We only have to think of the fact that 70% to 80% of working people in this country do not have a prayer of being able to buy a house when property prices have increased by almost 100% over the past seven years. Rents, certainly in my part of Dublin, are now running at an average of €2,000 a month, with €2,500 being common and €3,000 not uncommon. How is anyone supposed to pay for this? It is a disaster.

All along, the Government has facilitated the vulture funds and the corporate landlords who are profiting from this crisis. Its policies are designed to facilitate them and prioritise their rights over the right of people to have secure and affordable housing. Today, we had residents from St. Helen's Court protesting. I have raised their case in the Dáil I would say 30 times over the past four years. They are still in the desperate plight they have been in for all that time at the hands of a vulture fund. Vulture funds were invited into this country by the Fine Gael and Labour Party Government in 2012 and 2013 and they have profited handsomely from the housing misery people are facing.

The residents were protesting today because they are now overholding and have been evicted from where they have lived for years by a vulture fun. They are part of the community. Some of them are elderly and some are unwell. The council is telling them that it has nowhere for them to go and that they will probably have to go to homeless hostels. They are looking for affordable tenancies but cannot find them. The rent they were paying before they were evicted by the vulture fund was €900 a month but the problem is that same landlord can now get €2,000 a month for the same properties. This is why it wants them out. Over the past two years, it tried on five occasions to get them out. Now it has succeeded because the law that protects tenants is not robust enough to deal with the ruthless profit hunger of these vulture funds and the Government does nothing because we cannot interfere with private property rights, that is, the right of corporate landlords and vulture funds to make profit by making other people homeless.

This is why we need to change the law and put the right in the Constitution to protect tenants, stop unfair evictions and take action against vulture funds, land hoarders and property speculators who profiteer from the housing misery of other people. The Government has consistently failed to do this because it is dancing to the tune of these landlords.

The Irish rich have always got rich through property, through landlordism and through their investments in these kinds of investment vehicles. They now want to move into the public land bank. People are getting very rich from property, and specifically from the housing misery and homelessness of huge numbers of people - those who are in the dire situation of being homeless and those who are trying to get to buy a home or trying to rent something that they can afford. If you are a tenant, there is the constant insecurity that you could be put out on the street.

This Bill will remove the obstacles and excuses to taking the effective action we need in order to have rent controls, in order to give security to people and in order that the State will prioritise the resources it has to make housing a basic right for everybody in this country.

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