Dáil debates

Thursday, 29 September 2022

Financial Resolutions 2022 - Financial Resolution No. 6: General (Resumed)


3:05 pm

Photo of Fergus O'DowdFergus O'Dowd (Louth, Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

Ba mhaith liom a rá gur buiséad an-mhaith é seo agus molaim an beart atá déanta ag an Aire agus ag an Rialtas. Níl aon dabht ach go raibh dianghá leis na rudaí atá sáite istigh ann.

One thing in particular I have campaigned for in Fine Gael, and I put down a motion on this at the Fine Gael Parliamentary party some time ago, was an empty homes or vacant homes tax. I can think of no better way to have a go at the 160,000 empty homes around the country, in particular the 37,000 empty homes and apartments in Dublin city, and to put pressure on the owners when they lie vacant for a significant period.

As I said, I have campaigned for this and I have worked with the Peter McVerry Trust in Drogheda as I campaigned. They came to Drogheda and I brought them around and showed them homes which were vacant and empty. Some of the homes had birds nesting in the roof spaces for years, flowering shrubs growing out of the windows and, as we all know, rodents dancing and having a merry time in the kitchen, with the doors locked and nobody inside for years. Nobody gives a bloody damn, or that is the truth of it until people like the Peter McVerry Trust say otherwise.

It is about time that this Government woke up to these issues. I had to campaign hard for this and there was significant opposition to this move, as we all know. The reality is that when an empty homes tax was introduced in Vancouver, a major city, the number of vacant homes has dropped 30% since 2017. That is some figure. Imagine if we could do that in Dublin, in Drogheda or right around the country.

There are significant and appropriate exemptions for families or people who own these homes, for example, if somebody is in hospital or in a nursing home. The data show there are many significant and important exemptions. The key thing is not to get the income from the tax; the key thing is to get the house let and to get people living there. There is evidence that we have significant purchasers of properties in the major cities and other significant areas who are very well able to buy these homes, but they buy them to leave, they buy them to appreciate in value, they buy them to make a profit for themselves. Nobody is turning the key to go into those apartments or to use the kitchens or the facilities.

It is time to put an end to that and I believe this is a start. I acknowledge what some of the people on my left are saying, namely, it does not go far enough. Of course, it does not go far enough but, by God, it is a damn good start. As we debate the budget and the legislation that is to back this up, I will be making my submissions on it. If the housing committee meets on this issue, I hope that it takes evidence from people in other countries as to how this can make it tougher on those who are abusing the privilege of owning a home and excluding people from it by virtue of just sitting on it.

The other point I would like to make concerns another campaign in County Louth which is not mentioned in the budget. Nonetheless, it is part of my thinking and Fine Gael has referred to it. This relates to using compulsory purchase orders to release into the community homes that were vacant or abandoned. It was a very active programme in County Louth and over a three-year period more than 100 houses were brought back into commission, with families living in them, for an average cost, including the site cost, of under €200,000. There is progress. There is a way forward. It is time for the Government to follow up further on this. Of the empty homes officers who are dotted around the country, some of them work very hard on empty homes and others, regrettably, do other administrative work, which, to me, is a joke. If they are on the empty homes desk, that is what they should be doing - ringing up, putting pressure on, getting people to respond to queries, finding out who the owners are and if they cannot find them, they should then go through CPO to get the homes occupied.

The Government is serious about housing. The budget for this year is more than €4.5 billion. Let us continue that work. As part of our armour, let use the pressure of this empty homes tax, beginning this year, based on facts and on what has happened in other jurisdictions. Let us increase the tax on these homes if people do not use them and if they do not put them into commission in the first year. In Vancouver, that tax was raised from 3% in the first year to about 5% or 6% now. I welcome that. It is what we need to do. I am not one for shouting about what I do, and not too many other people shout about it either, but I want to say I am very happy with this and I very much support this. I might be sitting on the backbenches but my voice, hopefully, will continue to be heard. Should I have the exalted position that the Minister of State holds in the future, I will be very happy to shout there as well.


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