Dáil debates

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Social Housing: Motion (Resumed) [Private Members]


The following motion was moved by Deputy Barry Cowen on Tuesday, 26 January 2016:

Debate resumed on amendment No. 2:

- (Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government).

5:30 pm

Photo of Dinny McGinleyDinny McGinley (Donegal South West, Fine Gael)
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Deputies Catherine Murphy, Daly and Wallace are sharing the next ten minutes.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
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Language is one of the first things one gets caught out on in politics. I recall the first time it happened to me. Soon after I was elected to the council in Kildare I received several letters from the county engineer in which he repeatedly told me that things were "desirable". I thought that meant the matters would be resolved. Then I discovered that "desirable" meant that the council would like to do it, but did not have the money. It was a nice way of saying that something was not going to happen. Once one gets an ear for such language, one pays attention to it. Every Member of the House will be in that position. In recent days, we have been hearing that 13,000 or 17,000 houses have been provided. The word "provided" does not mean built. Essentially, anybody who is homeless or at risk of homelessness will be hopeful about a large number of new houses coming on stream, even though only 28 houses were built last year. Let us be clear about that, as it is a very dishonest presentation.

I first started raising this issue more than three years ago when it became obvious that we were seeing a new type of homelessness emerging in my constituency. People were unable to afford rent and were required to top up the rent supplement. Everybody was topping up, but nobody in the Department of Social Protection believed it. The environment committee held meetings about it. I and other members had the subject included in the work schedule. We invited everybody involved, ranging from the local authorities to the homelessness agencies. The representatives of the Housing Agency told us that there was no shortage of money and that up to €500 million was available to be drawn down from the European Investment Bank. However, there had to be a co-guarantee arrangement by the Government to do that. I do not care whether the houses are provided by housing associations, local authorities, co-operatives or otherwise. I just wish to see houses built for people, not provided under the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme. They must be built. There has been a fundamental dishonesty in that regard.

What we have at present is "hope for the best" politics. The Government is hoping that the private sector will come up with the goods. The HAP scheme is dependent on the private market. That scheme really is hapless. In many ways it is worse than rent supplement. There is a part of it that deals with the poverty trap and I acknowledge that is definitely a plus, but it has gone backwards in terms of the limits and the availability of accommodation for people. They now get less on the HAP scheme, even if they are at risk of homelessness, than they received in rent supplement. That has been my experience week after week.

There is also a huge amount of unrecorded homelessness that will present itself in the future. For example, I have been dealing with a couple who have a four week old baby. They lost a property due to a rent increase. Support was not sanctioned by the Department of Social Protection. They tried to register as homeless but they were advised that they had access to a family member's house. They are now sleeping on the sitting room floor, with the new baby on the sofa. Another couple with a four month old baby lost a property due to serious mould and disrepair. If people make a complaint to the landlord about the quality of the accommodation, the next thing that happens is they are out on their ear and it is claimed that a son or daughter wishes to move into the house. That couple tried to register as homeless with the local authority but were told to find a family member. I am also dealing with a single parent who has two children, aged 11 months and two and a half years. I do not know how many times she has been to my office and, indeed, to those of other Deputies in Kildare. She has tried numerous times but will not be registered as homeless.

The problem is that there is the homelessness we see where people are being put up in hotels, but in other parts of the country, such as Kildare, people cannot even get registered as homeless. They are left to their own devices to self accommodate. It is an absolute crisis.

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin North, United Left)
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I am delighted that Fianna Fáil has robbed some of the points originally raised by Deputy Wallace a long time ago. The Government should compel the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, to allocate at least 50% of the 20,000 units it is providing for social housing. Perhaps one of the reasons the Government is failing to address that sensible and practical solution to the delivery of 10,000 units is that it is deliberately masking and hiding the figures. The point made by Deputy Catherine Murphy about this mythical 13,000 social housing units delivered in 2015 must be tackled, because it is mentioned everywhere. The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coffey, on "Clair Byrne Live" last week talked about 13,000 additional housing units. In the programme for Government scorecard the Government boasted about delivering 13,000 units, although it did not have the neck to call them "new". Then the Taoiseach said in the House that there was money on the table, provided by the Government, to build 110,000 new social housing units. That is patently and utterly untrue. The Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, told us this morning that 13,000 keys had been given to people, which is an increase of 86% on the previous year. That is simply not the case.

I will examine the figures. Of the 13,000, a total of 5,680 were households that moved from rent supplement to HAP. Calling something a different name is not delivering new social housing units. In fact, in many instances it was the same private landlords. A total of 1,644 of the 13,000 units were people who moved to the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, as they do every year. Indeed, the number was a little down on the previous year. That is certainly not new social housing. If one adds the RAS and HAP figures, it amounts to 7,324 or 56% of the 13,000. That cannot be called new social housing units. They are private rentals. In the case of voids, these are units in existing housing stock that were run down. That is not new social housing, and people will see through it.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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The Government's amendment starts with the phrase "recognises the high priority which the Government has afforded to increasing housing supply, through its Construction 2020 strategy and its Social Housing Strategy 2020". The situation has got consistently worse over five years. How poorly the Government has dealt with the housing crisis beggars belief. At the core of the crisis is the lack of local authority built social housing. I checked the position in Wexford today. The council has permission to build 19 units over the next couple of years. There are 3,800 people on the waiting list in Wexford. The number has increased every year in the last five years, and it will get bigger. The notion that the Government would allow NAMA to build nine times more private housing than social housing in the scheme for 20,000 units just does not make sense.

The lack of local authority built social housing is at the core of the problem. I do not understand why the Government cannot admit it. I accept that Fine Gael does not believe that local authorities should build housing, because it does not suit the neoliberal agenda.

However, the problem will not be solved until that is done. The problems in the private sector and the development sector are linked to the fact that we have yet to start to build local authority social housing. We need to stop describing as social housing the provision of rented units through the rent supplement scheme. It is disingenuous. Social housing is housing built through the local authority scheme which allows people who cannot afford to buy to get a house that is owned by the State. NAMA states €300,000 will be the average price of the houses it will build. How many of the 100,000 people plus on the waiting lists today will be able to afford those houses? They are the people who need the housing most but very few of them could afford it. The same is true for Wexford.

5:40 pm

Photo of Dinny McGinleyDinny McGinley (Donegal South West, Fine Gael)
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I call Deputy Jim Daly. I understand he is sharing time.

Photo of Jim DalyJim Daly (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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I am sharing ten minutes with Deputy Arthur Spring.

Photo of Dinny McGinleyDinny McGinley (Donegal South West, Fine Gael)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Jim DalyJim Daly (Cork South West, Fine Gael)
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I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the debate on housing, which is undoubtedly a topic of considerable significance and importance to many. It is, rightly, dominating much of the discourse of politics and society as a whole at this time. Housing is always going to be a challenge for a county that has endured the trauma ours has been through in the past ten to 15 years. We went from hero to zero over that time in terms of the number of houses being built and supplied. We must acknowledge the progress the Government has made and its commitment to this issue in the Social Housing Strategy 2020. What is key in that is not just building houses, which is the topic of the debate all the time, but building communities. We must keep our language in check in that regard because ultimately this is about people who want to live in communities and not just houses in general.

While the Government has committed a very significant contribution of €3.8 billion to dealing with this issue, it is sometimes missed that a significant part of the solution to housing lies at local government level. This is not to pass the blame, but if we are to have a real and detailed conversation on the solutions for housing, the steps taken as the local authorities prepare plans must be discussed because supply is key. It is the biggest challenge facing the housing sector. One can pump in all the money one wants, but if houses are not being built, they are not there.

I put a proposal forward to the Department two years ago in September 2014 to urge the local authorities to take a more proactive approach to dealing with the challenges presenting in relation to housing. One of the options I outlined in that proposal was that local authorities would zone land that would be affordable housing land and put a cap on house prices. I maintain that is a very sensible solution which would have to come from local authorities zoning designated land at affordable rates and putting caps in place. Prices could be agreed by an independent body by reference to the geographies of the different areas. For example, houses would not be allowed to be sold at a price above, say, €200,000 in a town like Clonakilty. One would be surprised but developers can make that work. Developers and private industry will have to be part of the solution and major contributors in dealing with the problems we face. I hope the local authorities will play their part in being creative as they prepare local area plans and see the opportunities presenting to deal with this issue and supply.

I disagree with some of the previous speakers in respect of the HAP scheme. It has been very successful for many people and should not be underestimated. This year, approximately 10,000 households will be accommodated through the housing assistance payment scheme. These figures are not insignificant by any means. Any examples I have encountered of people dealing with HAP have been very positive. We must praise every bridge as we pass it and, as such, I note that people have found the system to be much easier to navigate in terms of form filling and so on. It has been very constructive. It allows people to keep their full-time employment and, through it, local authorities deal directly with landlords on their behalf. Those are all positives.

One other point that may be lost is that Part V was very successful, albeit it belongs to a different era when we were building houses at every crossroads. I was often minded that we did not build schools but had an major obsession with building houses at every crossroads. Part V was a good idea in that 20% of houses were to be applied so that one would have a good mix of social housing and private market housing side by side. One sees many estates where that has been very successful. That is something we should not lose sight of in the debate.

Photo of Arthur SpringArthur Spring (Kerry North-West Limerick, Labour)
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I will be sharing the time also with colleagues beside me.

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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I see that Deputy Spring has moved places.

Photo of Arthur SpringArthur Spring (Kerry North-West Limerick, Labour)
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I am just making sure that these boys are on script with us in terms of housing. It is all good. We will be in here again next time in this half of the Chamber.

Housing is a major issue for everybody in politics. People face shortages not only in Dublin, but potentially down the country, largely due to a credit and construction collapse the likes of which has never been seen in the previous history of the State. Supply is the big issue. When one gets builders building again, it is a sign that construction is a consequence of a thriving economy. It is not supposed to lead the economy or to be over 20% of GDP as previous Administrations permitted. In those circumstances, it becomes an unsustainable economic model and a disaster for people's homes. We have ended up with the legacy of negative equity and families living in two-bedroom apartments. We have ended up with situations where people have had to sell their homes and move to rented accommodation.

The Government has taken some steps which I have very much welcomed. Ultimately, however, we need to get supply well and truly increased. For that purpose, I recommend that we look at institutional investors of the type that have been used in most of northern Europe and in Germany and France in particular. Institutional investors look for a low rate of return, are prudent landlords and look for long-term leases because they do not want the difficulty of dealing with short-term lets. They look after large blocks in large urban areas like Dublin, which has a level of property demand with which I do not agree. When I hear non-stop job announcements for Dublin, I ask why so many jobs are focused in Dublin and more are not moved out. IDA Ireland published a statistic this week that 53% of the jobs created in Ireland last year were created outside Dublin. That must increase. There is still housing supply down the country and things are easier there in that there is less density of land use. Dublin has to grow slowly because the inner city does not have the high-rise development it needs.

Ambitious plans are afoot particularly around the social housing strategy set out by the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government, Deputy Alan Kelly, and in the Labour Party's commitment on the €3.8 billion that has been secured for social housing. Over the past couple of days, we have seen announcements in Tralee, Killarney and other provincial towns, which are welcome. Long lists have been published as the Opposition will point out. Most of the people affected are in rent allowance accommodation at the moment. They are very happy with and integrated into their local societies. They feel part of the communities in which their families have grown up. Had I been the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government five years ago, I would have insisted that houses in negative equity which landlords could not sell were optioned when rent allowance was applied. We were giving landlords a guaranteed cash flow and should have been in a position ultimately to say that when those houses emerged from negative equity, something would go back to the landlords and the residents could stay in them. They would not just be houses but homes for the families set up in them. We see programmes where people are transferred from one part of a city to another but even in small towns like Tralee, people do not want to live too far from their families whether it be for child care purposes, to look after an elderly parent or the need to be in the community or to play GAA.

While a great deal still needs to be done, in a prosperous economy the Labour Party in government will make housing a top priority as it has always been for us. When I was chair of an SPC in Kerry County Council, I put across as many solutions as I possibly could. We have now got to a point where houses which were boarded up previously are being occupied. We are canvassing morning, noon and night and walking into housing estates where, I am delighted to say, we are seeing houses being put back into tenancy for the first time in ten or 20 years.

I welcome the fact that, when I drove to Dublin yesterday, I saw some of the dilapidated properties in Crumlin and Dolphin's Barn being demolished and new ones being raised.

The homelessness crisis cannot be ignored. It is a terrible indictment of society. A significant problem, it was created by a lack of funding and supply. It can be rectified, but only through the passion of the members of the next Government and the allocation of funding. We can do that. I am delighted that there is a motion on this issue. We should work together to solve the problem.

5:50 pm

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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No problem. Give us 20 seats and we will work with the Government.

Photo of Dinny McGinleyDinny McGinley (Donegal South West, Fine Gael)
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I call Deputy Nolan.

Photo of Derek NolanDerek Nolan (Galway West, Labour)
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Do I have five minutes?

Photo of Dinny McGinleyDinny McGinley (Donegal South West, Fine Gael)
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Yes. Two Members remain in this time slot, Deputy Creed and the Minister of State. There are 20 minutes between the three Members.

Photo of Derek NolanDerek Nolan (Galway West, Labour)
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I thank Fianna Fáil for tabling this motion. It is appropriate that we discuss housing as often as possible, as it is an important issue that affects many in our communities, not least in my constituency of Galway West and, in particular, Galway city where a significant shortage of private and social housing is causing considerable problems.

In any discussion on how to address the issue of housing and what policies should be pursued, the first task is to change the discussion and classify housing not as something that should be provided on the whim of the market, speculators or developers, but as a social good that should not be treated as a commodity on the open market. When a state takes the approach of treating housing as a social need to which people are entitled regardless of their incomes or backgrounds, it automatically changes the policy remit under which the problem can be solved.

The housing crash, the bubble and the mess that was left behind for the rest of society to pick up stemmed from one of the greatest issues of recent decades, namely, the fact that land values were allowed to escalate. Land was hoarded, properties were built and extortionate prices were charged. Many young couples mortgaged themselves for 30 or 35 years to buy three-bedroom semi-detached houses in which to raise their families. If we accept this as the norm again and that it is just how the market is, we will have failed and learned nothing. I understand that people have problems with some of the Central Bank's decisions on mortgages and so forth. These decisions are not meant to curtail people from buying homes, but to curtail those who are selling people homes at extortionate prices because of the current market. This should be kept in mind.

Not a week goes by in which I do not meet family after family that has been 12, 13 or 14 years on social housing waiting lists. This is not on. It is a scandal. Just because we are in government does not mean we should shy away from using such words or claim that this situation is either acceptable or not happening. It is happening.

The solution is not just to build more houses. The situation is more nuanced than that. Yes, the most fundamental need is to build more social housing, but we must also build more private and affordable housing for families that do not need or qualify for social housing lists. In the 1960s, housing co-operatives got together on Ardilaun Road in Galway. The land was zoned for residential purposes and plots of land were set aside for people to buy at reasonable rates and build their own houses. Is there any simpler idea than the vast number of people who have enough resources to build moderate houses for themselves getting the moderate-cost sites on which to do so? Why not go down that route? We would be providing houses, increasing supply and giving small and medium-sized builders a chance to build homes and provide employment. No major capital investment from the State would be required except for zoning and the installation of the facilities, roads, pipes and so on that would service the areas.

What about saying that renting is not just something that one does between finishing university, an apprenticeship or the like and getting on the property ladder? Why not have renting as something that one can do for 20 or 30 years? Why not take a real look at rent control and different types of tenancy? What if people do not wish to buy because, for example, they had large houses when their children were young but now want to downsize? Why not have the options that other modern European countries seem to be able to provide? Why not accept the fact that, unless we get all of these facets in order and change our mindset towards housing, we will be stuck with this problem and discussing it because it will never be solved?

There is much that we can do. We must establish a land development agency, something akin to NAMA but one not involved in building, to examine these matters, to ensure we never allow people to hoard land again, to tackle speculation and to ensure local authorities plan in a correct manner in terms of where and how to build social houses and where to designate lands for rezoning for residential purposes. In this way, we would have a functioning and properly regulated housing sector that was not market or speculator driven, but driven by the social need of everyone in the State, regardless of background, to have a place to live and raise a family, a community to be part of and a society into which to contribute on the basis of his or her citizenship rather than on the basis of where the market dictates he or she should live or where some speculator decides to build a house.

Photo of Michael CreedMichael Creed (Cork North West, Fine Gael)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute on this motion and the Opposition's tabling of it. Were resources the resolution to the problem, we would have the resolution in our hands. For the first time in a number of years, the State is in a position to commit the level of funding required to address the issue. This was not the case five years ago when the Government came to office or even three years ago, but with the improving economy, we are now able to address the problem financially.

The countryside was littered with houses five years ago. This was the case to a lesser extent four years ago and to an even lesser extent three years ago. In the past two years, we have been caught by an unprecedented level of demand and a collapse in supply. Kickstarting the building process is not easy, but the Government is grappling with it. While I welcome the commitment of resources, more will be needed to resolve the issue.

I wish to raise a local issue. During the week, the Minister announced €7.4 million for 34 new social housing units in Ballincollig. This is welcome. I hold a clinic three times per week in Ballincollig, which is the largest town in County Cork. The lack of social housing opportunities there and the circumstances in which many people find themselves living are profoundly depressing. This investment will help and will form part of the solution, but we must address a more fundamental problem. In light of the scale of the challenge that we face, could we get better value for the €7.4 million? Were someone more competent in the market than I charged with spending €7.4 million in the morning, I suspect he or she would probably buy 60 houses. The issue is whether they would meet modern building standards. Is there a case to be made for a trade-off? For example, I might buy a three-bedroom semi-detached house on a village main street in County Cork for €70,000 and invest €30,000 in it. It might meet the minimum safety requirements but not the new building standards. Is this an acceptable response to what is a national emergency? We need to have this debate. I believe it is acceptable. We must challenge local authorities and permit them to consider a range of options, to go to the marketplace and to buy as well as build. They are doing some of this, but not enough. There is great value to be found in certain segments of the market.

I was a member of Cork County Council and am an admirer of its endeavour, but when I had occasion recently to bring to its attention two former local authority houses that were for sale privately, it told me that it was not interested in purchasing them. One was in Charleville and the other was in Ballincollig. Both could have been bought for substantially less than the €220,000 per unit that we are now approving. In the face of an unprecedented crisis, we need to think outside the box. Solutions do exist.

There are plenty of vacant houses in the country. It is true they are not always where demand is greatest but we can challenge local authorities to ensure better value for money by providing a quicker option to address the needs of many families than that involving a cost of €220,000 per unit. We need to examine this.

We need to validate the lists. I was lobbying recently on behalf of an individual seeking a local authority house in Macroom and discovered it was offered four times recently before it was offered to the individual, who was screaming for it desperately. There are people on local authority housing lists who certainly do not want a social house. They need to be in that position to maintain their HAP or rent allowance. We need to validate the lists and determine who is and who is not looking for social housing as a solution to their being on a housing list. Unless we are building a policy based on real facts indicating the true level of demand for social housing, we are at nothing.

This issue is multifaceted. Resources are not the issue. Delivery, building, purchasing and validating social housing lists are all part of the solution. I welcome very much the commitment of €7.4 million in Ballincollig. It is but a drop in the ocean of what is needed but I am satisfied that the Government is committing the resources. We need local authorities, builders and developers to partner with the State in addressing this problem. I am sure we can deliver a solution. For the first time in five years, because of a prudent management of the economy and the building of a recovery, we are in a position to resource social housing, which was not done under previous Governments.

6:00 pm

Photo of Ann PhelanAnn Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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I thank the Deputies on both sides of the House for their commonsense contributions. This is an opportunity for me to restate the Government's position on tackling the significant challenges associated with the delivery of social housing. This Government's ambitious programme of social housing delivery, Social Housing Strategy 2020, sets out clear, measurable actions to increase the supply of social housing, reform delivery arrangements and meet the housing needs of householders on the social housing list. There is flexibility to meet future demand.

Under the strategy, an investment of €4 billion to 2020 is envisaged. Almost €3 billion of this has been committed under this Government's capital plan, Building on Recovery: Infrastructure and Capital Investment 2016–2021. Funding is now approved and sites are selected for the construction of over 5,000 new social homes in the coming years. The social housing output report for 2015 outlines many of the achievements that were delivered in support of the Government's programme. Exchequer funding for social housing in 2015 was over €800 million, representing an increase of €210 million over 2014. In 2015, Exchequer funding for homelessness services was €64.77 million, representing a 32% increase on the amount provided in 2014.

Funding has been approved and sites have been selected for the construction of over 5,000 new social units. Over 1,000 properties were acquired by local authorities for social housing use in 2015. Some 420 staff were recruited by local authorities to deliver more social housing units as quickly as possible. Over 13,000 new social housing unit sets of keys were delivered in 2015. There was an 86% increase in unit delivery above the figure for 2014.

Some 2,700 vacant social housing units were brought back into use under an intensive programme of works funded by the Exchequer. Approval of the first 500 units of a new PPP, which will deliver over 1,500 units, was announced in 2015. Almost 9,000 social housing units were delivered through social housing leasing, the RAS and the HAP scheme. The latter is now operational in 18 local authority areas. NAMA delivered 2,000 units for social housing by the end of 2015.

In 2015, over €4 million in capital funding was provided to local authorities for Traveller-specific accommodation. The number sleeping rough in Dublin at the end of November 2015 had fallen by 46% since the previous year, a statistic that people choose to ignore. Under a ministerial directive, Dublin regional authorities must allocate at least 50% of tenancies to homeless and other vulnerable households. The authorities in counties Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford have been directed to allocate 30%. Details collated on the operation of the directive over a nine-month period, namely February to October, confirmed that a total of 612 local authority units had been allocated specifically to homeless households in the relevant local authority areas. I wish to express my appreciation for local authorities, approved housing bodies and the NGOs involved in the provision of homelessness services. However, there is still a long way to go. I look forward to further progress in 2016.

With the continued expansion in social housing provision under the social housing strategy for the period to 2020, over 17,000 new homes are to be delivered under a range of social housing initiatives in 2016. The HAP is to be rolled out to more local authority areas. There is to be a pilot affordable rental scheme in place for those on low incomes. We will utilise private sector investment in the construction of new social housing. We will utilise rapid housing delivery techniques as a way of improving significantly emergency accommodation. We will continue to implement the measures set out in Social Housing Strategy 2020 and Construction 2020. Choice-based letting allocations will be introduced to all local authorities. A full summary of social housing assessments will be carried out in 2016 and annually thereafter. That is a really important point because, in some cases, strategies to meet housing need were not based on good, accurate data. We were considering a programme of building houses without having really good data to underpin it.

It is worth recalling that the roots of the current set of circumstances lie in the decision of the previous Government to abandon the construction of social housing units and to depend almost exclusively on rent supplement to provide social housing. The efforts of the current Government, particularly the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, and the Minister of State, Deputy Paudie Coffey, will deliver the best outcomes for those in need of State support in meeting their housing needs.

I could not finish without referring to my constituency, Carlow–Kilkenny, where €64 million has been delivered by the Government to meet housing need. That is unprecedented. It was never heard of previously across the constituency. I know it will be put to extremely good use in the housing of people who are in need of social housing. Such money was never provided by a previous Government that I can remember.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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I am sharing time with Deputies Seamus Kirk, Niall Collins, John Browne and Michael Fitzmaurice.

I wish to pick up on the final remarks of the Minister of State and the usual ráiméis that comes out. From 2007 to 2010, we built 14,581 new social housing units. This was an average of 107 units per local authority per year in that time. During the first three years in office of the current Government, from 2011 to 2014, 1,250 new units were built, representing an average of nine units per local authority per year. Therefore, the notion that we abandoned social housing, or abandoned the problem to the private market to solve, is wrong. It has been proven wrong but I suppose one has to keep hammering this home. We invested considerably in companies and agencies such as Clúid Housing and Respond!, companies and agencies that I heard the Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, take credit for on the radio this morning in his normal old, modest, shy way of doing things.

Clúid Housing has provided a new approach to social housing and shown local authorities how to provide social housing with decency, integrity and respect for tenants.

What the current housing crisis demonstrates is a complete failure of the permanent as opposed to the political Government. It highlights difficulties across every aspect of the permanent Government in responding to a crisis in any Department. Everything takes time and excuses are always offered. In the meantime, the housing waiting lists grow longer. In the eight years I have spent in the Dáil, housing has never been as big an issue in County Mayo as it is now.

While rent supplement may not be a solution in urban areas and cities, it is a solution in rural areas as it affords people an opportunity to move into a house they could not otherwise afford. Local authority houses are still boarded up because local authorities are not using the funding available to remove voids or refurbish local authority houses. This may also be the case in the constituency of the Minister of State, Deputy Ann Phelan. It is extraordinary how long it takes local authorities to refurbish social housing. They carry out refurbishment projects on one electoral area at a time. In the meantime, people on the housing waiting lists wonder why there are empty local authority houses.

Long-term local authority tenants who are unable to have basic repairs carried out on their homes become frustrated at the sight of local authority void houses, perhaps next door or in the same street, being refurbished to a high standard. This is occurring in County Mayo and it is exceptionally frustrating for those concerned. When public representatives make representations on the issue to Mayo County Council, we are informed that the Department will not provide funding for repairs. I do not accept that the fault lies with the Department. Such cases show that local authorities must show greater respect to their tenants. If some of the conditions in local authority housing were replicated in a private rented arrangement, a third party would intervene.

The housing crisis has reached a very serious point. That my party is using its final Private Members' slot in this Dáil to discuss the issue is an indication that Fianna Fáil takes the issue seriously. My colleague, Deputy Barry Cowen, has made many proposals for immediate action. I listened to the Minister argue that he could not magic away the problem. No one is arguing otherwise. However, in the past two years, the National Asset Management Agency has placed large property portfolios on the market and the Government has not intervened. The Minister stated today, in his homage on "Today with Sean O'Rourke", that it would be illegal for him to get involved in such matters. While that is correct, Ministers have intervened with NAMA in respect of tourism and community projects. If ever the social clause in the NAMA legislation should be invoked, surely the provision of housing is a more appropriate reason for doing so than tourism or economic and cultural development. A roof over someone's head is a basic requirement in a republic that is marking its centenary.

I will return to my point about the failure of government. One sees a large number of empty and boarded-up houses and a significant amount of space available above shops and business premises. With a little imagination and a relatively small amount of funding, these houses and spaces could be returned to use. The Minister of State, wearing her rural development hat, could produce some type of scheme to reinvigorate villages. As to the notion that people will not move to rural areas, if a proper offer were made and a little imagination were put into the design, people would choose to return to rural areas to revitalise schools, services and communities. It is ridiculous when one travels through villages that are dying on their feet to see large numbers of empty properties that could, with a little imagination and funding, be put to use to address the social housing waiting list.

One of the legacies of the Government will be that at a time when it was consistently preaching about recovery and an economic turnaround and spoke of major tax cuts, 1,500 families were in emergency accommodation. These families do not know where they will be this time next week. They are being discommoded for the want of a proper response and due to the lack of imagination and urgency that lies at the heart of the problem. That is an appalling legacy of government in Ireland in 2016.

If I may digress briefly, I am conscious that I am sharing my time with Deputies Seamus Kirk and John Browne. It appears that this may be the final sitting week of the Dáil. For this reason, I wish the Deputies and the Acting Chairman, Deputy Dinny McGinley, every health and happiness as they bow out of the House after many years of service. I extend special best wishes to Deputy John Browne who is an office neighbour of mine on the corridor. He claims he is not emotional about leaving the House but we know he is secretly emotional about it. The Deputies have given great service to the people at every level of government. We wish them health and happiness and every success in whatever role they choose to take up afterwards.

6:10 pm

Photo of Séamus KirkSéamus Kirk (Louth, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute briefly to this most important debate. The issue of housing has been at the top of the agenda for some time. The number of people on the housing and homeless lists is growing daily.

The organisations directly tasked with addressing the issue of social housing and homelessness are concerned, as is every member of the public, that not enough is being done to tackle the problem. I am downright disappointed, annoyed and upset that the issue had not been a priority for the Government. We have endured extremely tough times and I understand the need to cut costs, but the current situation requires urgent action.

Fine Gael and the Labour Party have presided over a housing crisis. The number of homeless families has increased fivefold since 2012 and by 80% between January and October 2015. These families have been forced out of their homes as a result of the home repossession crisis and, in particular, the spiralling cost of rents. More than 800 families, including 1,600 children, are sleeping in emergency homeless accommodation, with up to 80 families becoming homeless in Dublin each month. Given that the Government has been in power for more than five years, now is not the time for it to point fingers. It must realise that the programme for recovery was created by the previous Fianna Fáil-led Government.

Politicians are elected to lead, manage and take responsibility. Housing is a red line issue which requires action rather than election promises. Who can remember the Fine Gael Party's five-point plan or the Labour Party's "Gilmore for Taoiseach" slogan during the previous election campaign? The Fianna Fáil Party published a detailed national housing roadmap which sets out our plans to tackle the social housing crisis. We propose investment of €4.5 billion in social housing, 45,000 new social housing units by 2021, the retention in full of Part V and allowing tenants to refurbish their homes. These four steps would help alleviate the problems the nation is facing. They are not quick-fix plans but sustainable, effective policies with a direct focus on what people need and deserve.

I thank Deputy Dara Calleary for his very kind remarks a moment ago. I will also avail of this opportunity to thank a number of other people. I thank the constituents of Louth and east Meath who gave me the honour of representing them in the House for a good many years, my constituency organisation for its help and support over the years, my family and staff who have worked diligently for many years, the Ceann Comhairle, Members and the staff of the Houses for their consideration and help over many years. I wish every person standing in the upcoming general election the best of luck in the campaign. Campaigning is not easy and those who come through it earn their spurs. We wish them the best and hope they will play a full part in the next Dáil.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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I am glad to have an opportunity to participate in this debate on housing and homelessness. We are experiencing a national crisis and the response from the Government has not been up to the mark. In my constituency and the Limerick city and county council area, in excess of 5,300 people are on the housing waiting list. The response from the Minister has been to invest €13 million in the provision of 68 housing units in the next number of years. This figure equates to 1.28% of those on the housing waiting list. That the Government describes this as a robust response speaks for itself. It is wholly inadequate and, unfortunately, it is failing the people of my constituency and Limerick city in the provision of housing.

Government party Members have been critical of the Fianna Fáil Party's record on housing.

It is a fact that during the years 2007 to 2010 we provided in excess of 14,500 housing units whereas the current Government, of which the Minister of State is a part, provided a mere 1,254 housing units from the years 2010 to 2014. It is most disingenuous. The Government is living in fantasy land and is delusional in trying to criticise the Fianna Fáil Party and the previous Government for the provision of housing units. The numbers speak for themselves: 14,500 as against 1,252.

It is worth putting on the record the role the Labour Party and the Fine Gael Party have played at local authority level. Part V of the Planning and Development Act allowed local authorities to take a cash contribution in lieu of the provision of housing units, as the Minister of State is aware. The Minister of State has sought to criticise my party for that section of the Act, but it was the Minister of State's party and the Fine Gael Party which controlled all the local authorities up until the last local elections. They ran local government for practically the past 15 years and they did the deals with the developers to buy out their part V obligations.

6:20 pm

Photo of Ann PhelanAnn Phelan (Carlow-Kilkenny, Labour)
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No, the legislation was watered down by the previous Government, as Deputy Collins knows well.

Photo of Niall CollinsNiall Collins (Limerick, Fianna Fail)
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It is most disingenuous of the Labour Party to try to blame Fianna Fáil for the lack of provision of adequate social housing. The record speaks for itself.

We have to be honest about the supply of housing. Supply has been limited because of the Government policy of nurturing two pillar banks to provide funding to the construction industry. This has limited the ability of the construction industry to build new housing units. That is the policy of this Government. It has nurtured two pillar banks but, in turn, they have not provided adequate finance to the private construction industry to build housing. Hence, we have a limit in the supply of housing units throughout the country.

It has been pointed out on many occasions in this House that the Government has failed to provide adequate social housing units. The Government tells us that NAMA will provide 20,000 units over the coming years, with 2,000 of this allocation being social houses, in other words, 10%. Why does the Government not go for a 50-50 split in recognition of the fact that we have a national housing crisis? The 2,000 units that NAMA is looking at will not even address the needs of the 5,000 people on the housing list in Limerick alone. That is something the Government needs to take on board.

There is a problem with local authorities and voids. We are all out canvassing because of the imminent general election. The turnaround time is far too long. Under the system the Government has in place, for each void house the local authority has to make a separate application for the funding to turn it around. It is simply crazy.

Another issue has arisen during our canvassing and we can see it clearly. It relates to houses in private ownership. The local authorities should be targeting the empty and void houses in private ownership. They should try to find out who the owners are and they should then go after them to see whether they would be willing to enter into leasing arrangements. Placing a notice in the local authority section of the newspaper or including a footer in an e-mail indicating local authority interest in housing units is not enough. They need to go after them actively. The proposal from the Fianna Fáil Party to speed up the turnaround of void houses should be taken on board.

If a tenant is allocated a house which needs some degree of refurbishment, he or she should be allowed to do it himself or herself, within agreed parameters. That cost should be offset against the rent owed to the local authority until such time as it is recouped.

The various housing agencies, including Clúid, Focus Ireland and the Mid-West Simon Community, are doing great work in my part of the country. Great credit is due to them. However, in the main they are not a substitute for the role of the local authority in building and providing houses, although that seems to be the Government policy.

To date, no one else has referred to the staff dealing with homelessness in the local authorities. In particular, those in Limerick city and county councils deserve favourable mention. They deal with people on a very humane, responsible and compassionate basis and I want to acknowledge their work in that regard. I also wish to mention the estate management staff. We have had issues over the years in local authority estates. However, to their great credit, they have dug in and reorganised many of the local authority estates throughout Limerick city and county. They are now vastly improved parts of our community and we should give them due recognition in that regard.

In excess of 5,300 people are on the list in Limerick. The Government response has been so poor that it has failed abysmally to deal with the issue. In total, the Government is going to deal with only 1.28% of the problem of the provision of housing. That speaks volumes and it needs to be addressed.

Photo of John BrowneJohn Browne (Wexford, Fianna Fail)
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I wish to speak about homelessness and the need for an increase in house building throughout the country. The Government has reigned over many inconsiderate moves in the past five years in this area and it has created a situation whereby many people, families and individuals, are now homeless.

The homelessness crisis is not about people living in hotels or on the streets alone. It is also about many families who have gone to live with their parents or taken over one bedroom in the family house. In some cases, they are staying in the sitting room during the night and sleeping on couches. This has become a problem not only in Dublin, but throughout the country.

We have a situation where banks are ordering people out of their homes because of an inability to pay and then selling off the houses at a cheap rate. I ask the Minister to consider if some situation could be arrived at whereby local authorities, through the Minister's intervention, would enter negotiations with banks which have houses for sale at a reduced price. The banks are taking these houses from ordinary families and selling them off to financial vultures at a reduced rate.

I can think of approximately 150 houses in Wexford at present that have been repossessed by the banks and which are for sale at a reasonable price. I believe the rate is probably the same throughout every constituency in the country. I estimate that between 2,000 and 3,000 houses have been repossessed by banks in the south east and are now up for sale. It is not an easy way, but it is a way of acquiring houses for local authorities. Money would be made available to purchase these houses and allocate them to families who may have been dumped out of their houses as well as to people on the housing lists.

Between 2011 and 2014, the Government built or acquired from the private sector 44 social housing units in Wexford. Last year, one social housing unit was built in the county. This compares to 559 units between 2007 and 2010 under Fianna Fáil. I remind the Minister of State that Gorey and Enniscorthy are to get eight houses each in 2016 while no houses are planned for the New Ross or Enniscorthy urban areas. That in itself says a good deal about the commitment of the Government to building social housing in Wexford.

Wexford always had a great record of building houses through the years. Various Governments made money available to the various local authorities, urban authorities and those in the county. Unfortunately, it has been static in recent years. We now have a situation where people are trying to find rental accommodation. In Wexford, and particularly in Gorey, a two-bedroom house costs €650 per month. The most a person can get on a rental subsidy in Wexford or Gorey town is €300 or €350 per month. There is no way the people concerned can make up the difference.

I have encountered cases in recent times of people who were paying €400 per month - I imagine all the politicians in Wexford know about the same cases - but all of a sudden the landlord decided to increase the rent to €650 per month. I realise a curtailment has been put on that for the coming years, but all of these landlords have taken the opportunity to increase the rent to a level such that people are unable to pay. It is important that we recognise the need to make moneys available.

The Minister has announced on a number of occasions that money has been allocated for Wexford and other councils throughout the country. I do not know whether the same money is being announced on each occasion, but there is no great movement to build houses in any local authority areas. Is that because there is no longer the wherewithal within the council structure to bring about a building programme? Is it the case that no money is being made available?

I understand 30,000 houses are being made available by the Government, but there is no flexibility. The Minister needs to have more flexibility in the renovation of houses because many houses that are ready to be repaired are locked up. Councils do not seem to have the funding or manpower to carry out such work. Perhaps it is time that small builders and developers were brought on board to bring houses up to a standard in which people can live. There is nothing as frustrating for people on the housing list as seeing houses boarded up in every urban area, leaving them with no opportunity to move into them.

No housing targets are being laid down. The Government seems to be making it up as it goes along. Mistakes may have been made in the past whereby decisions were made to provide most of the houses through voluntary housing or developers. Developers have told me that houses are for sale in urban areas for €90,000, €100,000 or €120,000. It will not pay them to build new houses while houses are available for sale at a reduced price.

It is important that the Minister of State recognises the difficulties faced by communities and people seeking to be rehoused in Wexford and every other constituency in the country. He should bring forward a fire brigade proposal to ensure local authorities become involved in building houses. There is a need and demand for housing. The time for talking is over. Now is the time for action. The Government will leave office next week or the week after. I do not know who will replace it, but whatever happens it is very important that building new houses and providing money for local authorities is the No. 1 priority to ensure the housing list is substantially reduced over the next five years. The Minister of State referred to 2020, 2021 and 2022. That is too far in the distance.

Before I conclude, I thank the Ceann Comhairle for his courtesy and kindness to me over the recent years since he took the job. I did not bother him too much. I do not bother Ministers too much either. I usually deal with ministerial staff because I always found one probably got far more action in terms of getting things done than one would with the hierarchy. I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle and the Acting Chairmen for their courtesy and kindness to me.

This is my 34th year in the House. It has been a long time. I have had eight successful general elections. I thank my family, organisation and the many people who helped me along the way. I wish all my colleagues on both sides of the House well. I have built up many friends across the political divide during my years in the House. I came in here during the Haughey era and am going out during the Kenny era. There have been some very contentious and very good times. I have enjoyed all of my years here, representing the people of Wexford.

I hope to spend the next month canvassing for my son, James. The Brownes have been here since 1951. I hope to see that continue. I wish every candidate well. The election is tough on candidates, but I often think it is even tougher for families who worry about the results of the election. I wish everyone every success. I hope most are re-elected and that Fianna Fáil will have a substantial number of Deputies.

6:30 pm

Photo of Michael FitzmauriceMichael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-South Leitrim, Independent)
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I thank Deputy Calleary and commend Deputy Cowen on the motion. As we speak, one would be able to buy two or three houses with the money used to proved people with temporary accommodation. That is the reality of what is going on in the country. I have seen the number of voids throughout the country which are the result of people not making decisions. Whenever one asks questions, one is told no one is at fault and that the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government has to deal with the issue. Whoever is at fault, the situation needs to be sorted out.

In many areas where there is no demand for housing, houses have been left vacant for ten to 15 years. That is not the fault of those involved in housing, but people in county councils need to make decisions about selling such houses and buying houses where they are needed. Ironically, we sold the country to vultures a few years ago and are now trying to buy back the same houses. Opportunities are available to the Government. I attended a meeting in Roscommon two weeks ago. I could not believe it when I heard that over the next three years only ten new houses will be built.

The new concept seems to involve the private sector providing rental accommodation. At the end of the day, no one is making a decision. Councils have a lot of land. A builder could build a house at a cost of €80 per sq. ft., but decisions are not being made to do that. We are not going the distance and sorting out the problem. We have decided to go down the road of modular houses. We were told they would cost €90,000 or €110,000. I read in a recent report in a newspaper that the costs of infrastructure and everything else would result in such houses costing €160,000 or €170,000. Can the Government not see that it could build many houses very quickly and create employment? Most of the required building materials are available in the country. More employment would be created. It would be a win-win situation. Instead, we decided to bury our heads in the sand and implement short-term solutions.

I know temporary accommodation has to be provided, but we are not solving the problem by concentrating on that. We have to go the distance. We have to change the mindset that the private sector will solve the problem. That is not working and the desired results are not being achieved.

The Government needs to work with NAMA because it may have the necessary finance if the Government wants to go down that road. The Government should put it in charge of building a specific number of houses where they are needed.

Every county has one, two or three towns to which people say they want to go. As Deputy Calleary said earlier, if other towns are improved, businesses are back up and running and essential services provided, they will be more attractive for people to live in. If such changes are not made, the crisis will continue to get bigger. We have to forget about dazzling figures. In October 2014, I heard in the Budget Statement that a gigantic figure would be spent on housing, but I never saw it since because it did not happen. The promises are not any good. We have to nail the problem down once and for all.

A 1,200-1,400 sq. ft. house could be built for €80 per sq. ft. Plenty of land is available to county councils. The Government should give NAMA the job of providing low-cost housing to ordinary people. Instead of continuing down the road we are currently on, namely, building a certain number of units for the private sector through NAMA, there should be a 50:50 split. The problem can be solved if people roll up their sleeves and get to work. Dancing in front of a veil and not doing anything is not an option. The issue needs to be addressed and I commend Deputy Cowen on the motion.

6:40 pm

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputies from all sides of the House for their contributions to this debate over the past two nights. Something we can all agree on is that the country requires more homes for its people. Fortunately, the Government has responded by putting in place two strategies, first, the Construction 2020 strategy and, second, the Social Housing Strategy 2020 to deal comprehensively with the legacy issues that were left to us in terms of a completely dysfunctional property and construction sector. In terms of the context, the Government came into office and found a property sector that was essentially decimated. Builders and developers were gone off-site, many of our skilled tradespeople had left the country, and funding that had been available to build houses was not available. That is the context in which this Government took office. Essentially, it was left to clean up the mess of the previous Administration.

It is all too easy to criticise the Government and to say that we need to build more housing. As I said, there is no arguing in that; we are all agreed on it. The long-term solution to homelessness and to providing housing for all of the people on the housing list is to supply more homes, but identifying the problem alone without proposing concrete, sustainable solutions is not helpful.

On the other hand, this Government, through its strategies, is coming up with projects in various forms. We are prioritising how we can deliver projects by concentrating on early delivery. That is why there was a lot of investment in the voids and vacant housing programmes across the country, the direct acquisition of properties from the private sector by local authorities and approved housing bodies and approval last year for over 300 multi-unit housing projects by local authorities and the approved housing bodies. I am a bit disappointed but not surprised to note that there has been no acknowledgement from the Opposition of the achievements made under the multifaceted approach the Government is already undertaking.

The Social Housing Strategy provides for 35,000 new social housing units at a cost of €3.8 billion and, in addition, the delivery of up to 75,000 units of long-term, quality accommodation to meet housing needs through the housing assistance payment, HAP, and the rental accommodation scheme, RAS.

It is there for all to see in the Social Housing Output in 2015 report published yesterday that this Government is delivering on its targets with local authorities and approved housing bodies. We have met the social housing need of 13,000 households in 2015, an 86% increase in unit delivery on the previous year. We have also refurbished over 2,700 vacant social housing units, bringing them back into productive use by having people live in them. The vacancy rates have fallen significantly and are now down as low as 1% in Dublin city. I acknowledge that Deputies have identified further vacant units around the country and I urge those Deputies, and the local authorities responsible for the units, to make application to the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government to have those units turned around also. Almost 9,000 homes were delivered through the social housing current expenditure programme, the RAS scheme and the HAP scheme. That is now operational in 18 local authorities and we intend to roll it out to additional local authorities in 2016.

There has been criticism of the number of units constructed to date by local authorities. Again, it is easy to criticise and convenient to disregard the fact that bringing a construction project to completion is not done overnight. It takes time for it to be tendered for, procured, to get builders on site and have the units constructed but we are now seeing considerable progress across all local authority areas in that regard.

The announcement I made yesterday with the Minister, Deputy Kelly, of 1,000 additional units across the various local authorities means that 200 projects have now been approved and will deliver over 5,300 homes across this country. This figure is made up of 3,250 local authority direct builds and 1,500 public private partnerships. A further 600 are to be built by the approved housing bodies under the social housing current expenditure programme. We have made sure that local authorities have the capacity to deliver this accelerated construction programme by giving sanction for 420 local authority housing posts. That should be acknowledged also.

I am satisfied that the approach taken by this Government is comprehensive and I am committed, along with my colleagues, to doing all that is possible to overcome the difficulties faced by households in accessing good quality housing. Our vision is that every household in the State will have access to secure, good quality housing suited to their needs at an affordable price in a sustainable community. This Government is ensuring all stakeholders are working together to make this happen: my Department, local authorities, approved housing bodies, developers and NAMA. We acknowledge that we have some way to go, but I believe we have made a good start in 2015 by meeting the needs of some 13,000 households. I commend amendment No. 2 to the House.

This is not just about the money and resources. The Government has put the money in place. It is now about delivery and encouraging the local authorities, through the Part 8 mechanism, the tendering and procurement process and the approved housing bodies, to get building under way on the sites that have been approved across the country.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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I call Deputy Billy Kelleher who is sharing time with Deputy Barry Cowen. Is it five minutes and ten minutes or seven and a half minutes each?

Photo of Billy KelleherBilly Kelleher (Cork North Central, Fianna Fail)
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About that; 50:50.

The Minister's contribution was extraordinary to say the least. He has to acknowledge that in the five years he has been in government the housing situation has deteriorated to the point where it is now a crisis. Every evening, 1,500 children are housed in emergency accommodation across this country. Day in, day out, families are finding themselves homeless. That is not just a statement from Fianna Fáil or from other Opposition parties. That is consistent with the views being expressed by people who are advocates for those facing homelessness or who are homeless.

The bottom line is that there is a real crisis and it is multifaceted in the sense that it is hitting many people. It is not just traditional homelessness in the context of people who may have alcohol or drug addiction problems, or other problems. Families are now finding themselves unable to meet the basic need of putting a roof over their heads, and this Government has failed abysmally in that regard. The Minister can dress up the statistics all he likes but the bottom line is that in the past five years, this Government has averaged 300 new builds per annum, not new keys, as stated by the Minister, Deputy Kelly. To give a new key one only has to change the lock. One can go down to Cunneens in Cork any day of the week and change a lock and get a new key, but that does not mean one has an extra house. The Minister is counting the changing of locks in terms of house provision. The Minister has to accept, first and foremost, that there is a problem and that the policies, or lack of policies, the Government has had for the past five years are having a profound effect on the ability of families to put a roof over their heads, and those statistics do not lie.

Ten local authorities have not built a house in the past two and a half years. The Minister can blame the local authorities all he likes but whether it is the local authorities or otherwise, the bottom line is that the policies and the resourcing being made available by this Government to local authorities means that ten local authorities failed to build a single house in that period, so it has been far from successful. All the plaudits, platitudes and self-congratulation does not take away from the fact that we have a crisis.

The motion put down by Deputy Cowen makes sense. NAMA has an obligation. It has an obligation on many fronts but the very least it should do is make available land and the cash reserves it has in the context of the provision of social housing. Home ownership and the aspiration to own one's own home is a critically important component in social mobility. It is critically important for society. The yearning and the need for a family to put a roof over their heads is a positive thing and something Irish people hold dear.

Sometimes there is dysfunctionality in the housing market and it causes huge difficulties, but the current dysfunctionality is in the context of Government policies, or lack thereof. There has been no coherent strategy since day one. When the Government came to office, it spent the first two years of its life mooching around the countryside looking for a ghost estate to knock, and it is running silly advertisements five years later. However, while it was looking for ghost estates the housing crisis in the context of a shortage of social and affordable housing grew on its watch to the alarming situation we have now where over 120,000 people across this country are on housing lists. In my city of Cork we have 8,000 alone who simply cannot access social or affordable housing of any form, and the Minister says the Government is providing new units but it is a lick of paint, a change of windows and a lock. That is not additional housing, and the Minister must accept that. As long as the Government is pretending that these restocking and refurbishments are additional housing it will never address the fundamental problem, which is that in the area of social and affordable housing there is just not enough new builds.

NAMA has a central key role, in providing 10,000 units through its cash reserves and the landbanks available to it. This would be a radical departure. It would be a radical policy that would go some way towards alleviating the housing crisis in the country. The changing of locks and the provision of a new key will not do this. The Minister of State needs to acknowledge his failure and that of the Government over the past five years in even acknowledging there was a crisis. Week in week out this has been raised in the Dáil and throughout the country by local authority public representatives and organisations advocating for people who find themselves in dire straits. In the dying throes of the Dáil there has been announcement after announcement. The Government has woken up to the fact there is a crisis, but has only made an effort to send out a few press releases and a bit of spin in the past six months. Press releases and spin do not build houses and will not put the 1,500 children who are in emergency accommodation tonight into some form of housing which is considered acceptable. The cost of the modular housing units makes no sense, when one can go to the marketplace and buy permanent housing for less than they cost. It simply shows the Government is bereft of imagination and ideas to address this.

When the Minister of State goes back over the record of the Government of the past five years and goes to the people in the coming weeks advocating what it has achieved, he should bear in mind the reason so many people find themselves without a home and unable to afford private rent is as a direct result of the policies the Government has pursued. The cap on the rent allowance is an issue which is causing homelessness. Every Deputy who spoke during the debate stated not a week goes by without people presenting at a clinic or an advice centre to state they can no longer find suitable housing or afford the housing they have. This is an indication it is having a profound impact on families earning lower rates of pay and those dependent on social welfare who qualify for rent allowance. This cap is causing huge difficulties. The Government has insisted on maintaining it, which, in itself, is driving people into homelessness. I condemn the Government's policies and the arrogant approach it has taken in this debate, because this is a positive motion which should be supported and commended.

6:50 pm

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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I thank all contributors to the debate on the motion before the House. I acknowledge much of the content contained in many of the deliberations. I am particularly conscious of the fact many members of Fine Gael and the Labour Party have acknowledged the housing crisis to be an emergency. Deputy Nolan acknowledged there was no shame in admitting this is a crisis and admitting the failure of the Government to address the crisis in the way in which he had hoped over the past five years. I find this most magnanimous on his part and on the part of others, much more so than the contribution made by the Minister who has had responsibility for the past two years, Deputy Kelly. He spoke for half an hour, and much of it was taken up in seeking to lay blame for this existing crisis, which evolved during the Government's tenure of office, in the hands of Fianna Fáil. Unfortunately, as Deputies Kelleher, Calleary and many others alluded to, the facts and statistics speak for themselves. The statistics state the case of which we are certain and of which the Dáil should have no doubt. This is that during the course of the previous Dáil the previous Government built 3,600 units per annum whereas the Government has built 300 units per annum. That is it in a nutshell.

This does not surprise me because it has been synonymous with the Government over the past five years to lay blame on the previous Government when confronted on various issues, considering the success it had in doing so at the time of the previous election. However, it has failed to acknowledge the great responsibility placed on it and the great expectations of those who gave them the privilege. I am conscious of saying this in the context of the publication today of the report of the banking inquiry. It does not carry weight and is not the launch pad the Taoiseach and others would have hoped for their campaign as we enter into an election. Without having read it I do not want to go into detail, but many would say it is interlinked with this debate, considering the blame the Government places on us for our supposed role in the crisis which exists for many of those who find themselves among the 130,000 people on a waiting list. There is no mention, I am led to believe, of any axis of collusion which supposedly existed between our party and builders and bankers, according to the Taoiseach.

Photo of Dara CallearyDara Calleary (Mayo, Fianna Fail)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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There was no mention of acts of treason by any Member of the previous Government, as was alleged by Deputy Gilmore to the catcalls of his colleagues. There was no mention of documents being shredded in the Taoiseach's office, now occupied by Deputy Enda Kenny, considering the fact he stated he sought to find them and despite the fact they had been in the hands of the Department of Finance. Rather, I believe, there was confirmation of the fact the Central Bank and the Financial Regulator assured the then Government of the solvency of Irish banks.

The Government has form over the past five years in this regard, when confronted with issues and failures on its part. The public has noticed this, has paid attention to it and has reminded us of it in recent weeks. We acknowledged the results of the last election and we wished the Government well on entering office. We commend the Government on having completed the job of bringing income and expenditure into line, considering the previous Government had done two thirds of the heavy lifting. The means and method by which it went about it on this issue leaves much to be desired. The Government continues to throw out figures it thinks can pull the wool over our eyes. More importantly, it thinks it can pull the wool over the eyes of the public. As Deputy Kelleher alluded to, the Minister, Deputy Kelly, stated yesterday 13,000 keys were handed out last year, but that is not true and the Minister of State, Deputy Coffey, knows this. Of these, 2,700 were vacant units which were refurbished and this is nothing to be proud of. When they were constructed and built many years previously, there was nothing in the contract to state they should be left idle for two years after ten or 15 years. The Government wants a pat on the back for refurbishing them. The reason they needed to be refurbished was because the Government failed to put in place a tenant purchase scheme which would fund local authorities and give them the capacity within their funding streams to be able to ensure they were turned over regularly. The Government has allowed the 30,000 cap to remain in place, and local authorities need the approval of staff in the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government before they can proceed

The Minister of State mentioned 9,000 local authority units are in various leasing programmes. In many of these cases there was a change from the rental accommodation scheme, RAS, to the housing assistance payment, HAP. The Government is renaming things and giving the impression keys were handed out. They were not. Another point made was that our proposal was somehow breaking the law with regard to the provision contained in the legislation giving effect to NAMA, that the Minister for Finance cannot direct NAMA to construct houses for the benefit of the State, despite the fact there was an implicit clause in the legislation that there should be a social dividend for the State. If it is illegal why then did he direct it to build 10% only for social housing? If it is illegal to build 50% it is illegal to build 10%. Last week, the Taoiseach stated it would cost €2 billion and on Sunday he stated it would cost €3 billion, so he does not know. He does not have a clue to be quite honest.

The Minister of State said there were no funds and we were broke. The credit unions, for which the Government seems to have scant regard, considering what it signed in recent weeks, have €2 billion on deposit in the "pillar banks", as the Minister of State calls them, propping them up. They are not allowed the scope to invest in this sector, to invest in their communities, to revitalise them and to make a telling contribution within them.

7:00 pm

Photo of Paudie CoffeyPaudie Coffey (Waterford, Fine Gael)
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They are allowed.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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Then he said that NAMA owned the loans, not the land. For God's sake, the land is the security that determines the value of the loan. The return on the investment in the land will repay the State. The Fine Gael attitude is that we get as much as we can and we throw it into the public finances to show the improvements we have made in those finances and to hell with those within the State who cannot afford to provide a house for themselves without the Government doing so. That is the difference between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. That is the difference between what this Government has done for the past five years and what we will do in the next five years. We look forward to engaging with the public and having the opportunity to say to them that we can do things differently, and that we can allow the fruits of success of this economy, for which we all strive, to be given to those who can benefit. We will not just look at the 30% to 35% that the Minister of State believes will win him an election. There was a time when a Government had to get 50% of the vote to win an election.

Photo of Seán BarrettSeán Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, Ceann Comhairle)
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Thank you, Deputy. We are over time.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Laois-Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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There is still a time, believe it or not, when parties and political organisations want to satisfy and help all of society across this Republic, especially in the year that is in it and the commemoration it signifies.

Amendment put:

The Dáil divided: Tá, 64; Níl, 25.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Barry Cowen and Billy Kelleher.

Amendment declared carried.

Question put: "That the motion, as amended, be agreed to."

The Dáil divided: Tá, 63; Níl, 27.

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Barry Cowen and Billy Kelleher.

Question declared carried.