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]
Cian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
I agree with Deputy Canney's comments about the importance of local authorities and that it is nearly impossible for them to get approval for housing. If the Government is serious about building social housing, the very long process the authorities have to go through, which makes it very difficult, needs to be tackled.
Anyone watching this debate who is in a housing crisis, and there are thousands of people in that situation, will be very worried that the Government is clearly saying it will not deal with this urgently at all. It is going to take its time, in the middle of a housing catastrophe with more than 8,000 people living in emergency accommodation and more than 125 people sleeping rough in Dublin on the last count. There are more than 100,000 people on housing waiting lists and in insecure HAP tenancies and the Government is saying it is going to take its time on this. It is simply not the case that work has not been done on wording, as has been implied. Legal experts and the Home for Good coalition have done substantial work on that and there has been a very slow response from the Government. I asked the Tánaiste last year in the Dáil about the referendum on housing and he confirmed at that point that there would be a referendum on the right to housing. However, the Government has said tonight that the referendum might not be on the right to housing and might be something else. What is the Government going to put in the Constitution about housing if not a right to it? How could it possibly think, with the situation we are in, that it can fall short of inserting a right to housing? What does that say to all the people living in emergency accommodation, including more than 2,000 children? Is it the Government's position that it is not sure whether they should have a right to housing? What does that say to the people who are homeless? Last year there was an 80% increase in homeless individuals dying either in emergency accommodation or on our streets. That is a huge increase, but the Government is not going to act fast on this issue.
The Government has to get its story straight when it comes to housing and stop contradicting itself. During the last election, the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, told us that he was going to deliver 10,000 social homes and 10,000 direct build affordable homes each year. He has spent most of the time since the election telling us that is a load of rubbish, that it cannot be done and is pie in the sky thinking. Today, the ESRI stated that not only is it fiscally possible to do that but that it would be the fiscally prudent thing to do. If we do not put in that capital investment, we will continue to pump more and more money into current spending and into housing supports at very expensive rates. The ESRI is, correctly, making the case that the fiscally responsible thing for the Government to do would be to build around 18,000 social and affordable homes each year. That is coming from the ESRI, which is not a group of left-wing radicals. It is a mainstream think tank and the Government is usually very happy to accept its research and recommendations but it seems that on this occasion the Government has been left scrambling about how to respond.
We are having a debate in the housing committee now on Committee Stage of the Land Development Agency Bill 2021. The Government cannot even get its story straight in that regard. We have been told, intermittently, that in Dublin city the Government will provide 100% affordable and social homes on public lands, while at other times we are told that this will happen in all of Dublin. On other occasions, we are told that it is going to happen in all cities around the country or that it will happen in all urban areas on public lands. When the Government is giving these types of commitments, it cannot even decide in which areas they will apply. At the same time, the Government is introducing a Bill that will only allow, as a baseline, 50% of homes on public lands to be affordable. We need urgency on this issue. We need the Government to get its story straight on housing and act on it. We also need the Government to accept mainstream advice, such as that offered by the ESRI.