Thursday, 22 September 2022
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Leo Varadkar (Dublin West, Fine Gael)
I thank the Deputy for raising the important issue of the very high cost of rent in Ireland, which is out of kilter and disproportionate when compared with our peer countries. I acknowledge that. What the Deputy has said about what I have said in the past is not the case. I have never said that landlords should be prioritised. A little like the Deputy’s leader, Deputy Doherty would not win any truth-telling contests. I did not say that. It is at best at misrepresentation and perhaps a fabrication, and I hope the Deputy will acknowledge that in his further response.
What I am interested in talking about is solutions. There are a number of solutions to the housing crisis that we now face and a number of things that we can do to help renters. Probably the most important and significant thing is increasing and ramping up the amount of social housing we have in Ireland. As the Deputy will know, we are probably going to break records in terms of the number of new social houses provided in Ireland this year. We are getting up to the kinds of figures we have not seen since the 1970s, if not before. Social housing benefits everyone. It takes people off the housing list and also frees up private accommodation for other people to rent and buy, thus exerting downward pressure on rents and property prices. That is why we are investing so much in new social housing and why we will continue to do so in the years ahead.
The other area is cost-rental housing. This programme was started by the former Minister, Eoghan Murphy, under the previous Government but is now for real. We see the huge demand for cost-rental housing and how interested people are in that form of public housing. We need to see that scaled up as much as is humanly possible over the next couple of years.
We also have the help-to-buy scheme, a programme that has helped over 30,000 young people and young couples to buy their first home, often leaving rental accommodation and freeing it up for others. This is something the Deputy’s party opposes, wrongly in my view. I hope in Sinn Féin’s alternative budget it will consider dropping its opposition to the help-to-buy scheme. It is the most important thing we can do for first-time buyers at the moment. Saying to first-time buyers that we will not give them the €30,000 back to help their deposit, but instead we will give them €1,000 or €1,500 to help with their rent is not a good deal. That is what Sinn Féin would do. It would take the €30,000 away from first-time buyers and give them €1,500 a year to help with their rent. That is not a good deal and I hope Sinn Féin will drop its opposition to the help-to-buy scheme.
We also have the rent pressure zones which, as the Deputy will know, for tens of thousands of people, if not hundreds of thousands of people, have meant that rent increases have been 2% or lower. That does not show up in areas like the daft.ie index for example, as the Deputy knows, but has been of great relief to many people who are renting in this city and country. It has had negative consequences too. It has probably had a negative impact on supply and has perhaps driven up rents when it comes to new tenancies. That is something that we need to be concerned about.
In terms of budget measures and the Deputy’s suggestion of a credit for renters, that is a budget matter and it would not be appropriate for me today to comment on decisions that will be announced by the Minister of Finance, Deputy Donohoe, and the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, next week. However, as is the case with all proposals, they will be considered and a decision will made by the Government in due course.