Dáil debates

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Planning and Development (Amendment) (Large-scale Residential Development) Bill 2021 [Seanad]: Second Stage


3:40 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent) | Oireachtas source

Go hiontach. Gabhaim míle buíochas leis an Aire agus is é an pointe ata á dhéanamh agam ná go raibh orthu an stró seo a chur orthu féin chun a chur in iúl dúinne go bhfuil easpa airgid agus acmhainní i gceist le fada an lá i gContae na Gaillimhe. Is í sin an fhadhb agus an pointe faoi láthair.

We go back now to policy and ideology. For a long time, and I have always said this, we have been accused of ideology. I do not have an ideology. I am a practical, pragmatic woman who believes in justice. We cannot have a just society if we do not have homes. If we treat a house or home as a commodity, we are lost. We need a policy where we treat it as a basic ingredient of a civilised society. I welcome the Bill. It is a step in the right direction. However, it was brought in as part of that ideology that housing is a commodity. It is now being condemned by Fianna Fáil. I would hope that Fianna Fáil will also condemn the previous housing policy that it supported and, more importantly, give me an analysis of how it failed in the four or five pillars that it had and of the failure to bring in the 47,000 social housing units that it promised. It was going to do that when it was really privatising the service with HAP which is now more than €1 billion.

Let us look at the situation in Galway city. In November 2021, the Simon Community has been locked out of the market. In Galway city and suburbs there are no properties available within HAP limits. There has been a little progress in Galway in respect of the building of housing units, which I welcome. It is small and starting from a very low base. The major policy remains HAP. If the major policy remains HAP but people cannot get any premises, we are in serious difficulty in Galway. Galway city suburbs have no properties available within the HAP limits. Galway city centre has one property available within HAP limits for a couple with two children. There is nothing for single people, couples or couples with one child. HAP is the only policy. Where do they go? Nationwide, in nine out of 16 areas surveyed there were no properties available within standard or discretionary rent supplement HAP limits. Nearly 73% of all HAP properties are located in Dublin. There were 190 properties available within HAP limits, which is a 79% decrease on the 906 that were available in June. I could go on with all of these figures. The language used in Galway when I was a councillor was that it was the only game in town. HAP is the only game in town and here we have the consequences of that. I refer to daft.ie, and daft is an appropriate word when we are talking about housing and daft policies, one after another. According to that website, rents in Galway increased 8.3% in the year to quarter 3 of 2021. Rents in Galway county rose by 18.8%, almost one fifth, in the same period.

I hate throwing out homelessness figures. The Minister knows it is an obscenity to have the number of homeless people we have. When I walk to the hotel at night I see at least three to seven people. The difficulty for me is that I am actually walking past these people. What am I doing as a Deputy and what is the Government doing? What is happening to us as a society and as so-called civilised human beings that we are tolerating this and accepting it? It is being normalised.

I refer again to Galway city and the housing task force and what is within its control.

I acknowledge there is a shortage of staff. If the task force is to be given extra responsibilities, which is to happen under this legislation, the Minister will have to spell out clearly what additional staff he will provide.

I asked for an update on the number of empty properties. Officially, there are 89 houses owned by the city council that are empty. These include four-bedroom, three-bedroom, two-bedroom and one-bedroom semi-detached houses. Time does not allow me to elaborate, nor would elaboration serve any purpose. Does the Minister know what is missing from the statistics? What is missing is the date on which the houses became empty. At one time, our quarterly reports stated when houses became empty, why they became empty, why they were empty for so long and the action needed. Now we have reduced the amount of detail. As the crisis worsens, the amount of information lessens. I will hand it to the Minister. This is a matter I have brought to his attention. It is an obscenity to have so many houses empty. I know, as a Deputy, that the figure is not the total figure. Straight off, I can think of three houses that are not included, so a conservative estimate is that there are 100 empty houses in Galway. Does the Minister know the answer from the city council? I have the greatest of respect for the staff on the ground; they do Trojan work. This may not be so much the case regarding the management. For the staff, as they are moved around from section to section, I have the greatest of respect. We are told the number in question is a tiny percentage of the overall housing stock. That is the answer we get rather than a sense of shame and embarrassment, or an urgent desire to say it is intolerable. It was intolerable before Covid, it is intolerable during Covid, and it is intolerable after Covid. There should be a turnover time of a maximum of three to six weeks in a city with a housing crisis and people who have been waiting on the list since 2002.

Regarding Galway city, there is no master plan based on the common good. There are individual plans with different names but no master plan for the common good in a city with banks of land, at Ceannt Station, the docks, Sandy Road and other places. The city development plan states the developer will be helped with a plan, but the authorities do not have the resources to have their own master plan.

Since Deputies – this is my opinion – rejected the proposal to amalgamate the two councils, the two councils have been punished. The county has been punished with a lack of resources and a scenario in which there has been an acting county manager for a very long time. One acting manager went to Mayo to a permanent job, and we now have another acting one.

All in all, I welcome this legislation. It was part of a flawed ideology and policy that unfortunately continues with the new plan, which is based on the market providing as opposed to having the State i lár an aonaigh.


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