Dáil debates

Tuesday, 9 July 2024

Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2024: Second Stage

 

6:05 pm

Photo of David CullinaneDavid Cullinane (Waterford, Sinn Fein)

I welcome the Bill. I also commend my colleague and our higher education spokesperson, Mairéad Farrell, on her work in this area and on, in my view, putting this issue on the political agenda in the first place by identifying the total amount of vulture fund-owned PBSA, identifying the average rent charged and identifying where 51-week leases were being demanded, but also by identifying and highlighting the seriousness of the issue and ensuring then that action was taken by the Government. All of that, in my view, highlighted deficiencies in the data collection of both Departments: the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and the Department of housing. It also, as we know, and as evidenced by this Bill, identified the need for greater regulation and oversight. I would have preferred to have seen the Bill brought forward earlier, as my colleague has said, because there is a chance that some people may have taken or may still be offered 51-week leases in the current academic year. We understand the difficulty in making legislation retrospective. It of course creates difficulties, which is why there was a need for speed and haste in bringing forward this Bill. My colleague has already identified that we will not bring forward any substantial amendments bar a single amendment. We want the Bill passed as soon as possible.

I will raise briefly the issue of student accommodation in my constituency. Like the previous speaker and the Minister of State, I live in the south east. We have the South East Technological University, and it is great to have that university for the first time, but there is a crisis in student accommodation. The Minister of State will be aware of a site that was purchased - part of it, at least - by the State, the former Waterford Crystal site, that will now be used for educational and academic purposes. There are some plans for that and, in my view, there needs to be a substantial plan for affordable student accommodation. That is the most important part of it. I have met with the former president and the current president of SETU in relation to this, and they talk about student accommodation. I think a lot of universities are hedging their bets and are hesitant about going into this space because they will say it has to wash its face and has to be financially sustainable. That is where the State has to come in and underwrite some of this and support universities and what were the technological universities in providing this accommodation. It needs to be subsidised. It is one of the areas where the State has to come in and play a role, so there should not be that hesitancy.

I know that a call has been made by the former Minister, Simon Harris, who is now Taoiseach, for universities to come forward with plans. I am sure that SETU will do so, but if we want to grow the campus - there are very ambitious plans to grow both the campus in Carlow, as the Minister of State will know, and the campus in Waterford and increase the footprint - we will need more purpose-built student accommodation. That needs to be a real part of any capital plan for the Department going forward.

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