Dáil debates

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

An Bille um an gCúigiú Leasú is Tríocha ar an mBunreacht (Ceart chun Tithíochta), 2017: An Dara Céim [Comhaltaí Príobháideacha] - Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to Housing) Bill 2017: Second Stage [Private Members]

 

8:45 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Tairgim: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois."

I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I wish to share time: eight minutes for myself, seven minutes for Deputy Bríd Smith and five minutes for Deputy Coppinger.

It is a shameful decision of the Government to decide not to support a Bill to insert the right to housing into the Constitution. In doing that, the Minister is ignoring the views of the Simon Community, Fr. Peter McVerry, the Children's Rights Alliance, the Mercy Law Resource Centre and the Constitutional Convention which voted, by 84%, to insert the right to housing into the Constitution. It appears, in the face of the worst housing and homelessness emergency in the history of the State, an emergency generated by six years of failed misguided policies by Fine Gael-led Governments, that the Minister knows better than Simon, Fr. Peter McVerry, the Children's Rights Alliance, all the housing NGOs and, indeed, the Constitutional Convention.

Even the Taoiseach's new best pal, Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, is about to bring forward a right to housing into Canadian law. Some 81 other countries in the world have it but the Irish Government, in the face of a catastrophic housing emergency, will not put a basic right to secure, affordable, dignified housing into the Constitution so that it is a right of every resident of this country to have a home and, as our Bill proposes, that it should be a requirement and an obligation on all Governments to vindicate that right to housing through the allocation of resources and through their policies. The Government has set its face against that. It seems, rather than establish the right to housing which we so desperately need, the Minister wants to bury it in another committee and reject the advice of those who know and who are working on the front line.

I want to make clear that neither I nor anyone who advocates inserting the right to housing into the Constitution believes it is the panacea for all aspects of this current crisis. We have been saying to Fine Gael since 2011 that the answer to the housing crisis, that we could see was even building up at that point, is: to have an emergency programme of public housing construction; to have used compulsory purchase powers to get hold of vacant properties and building land that is being hoarded for use for public and affordable housing; to use NAMA as a vehicle to deliver social and affordable housing using its land, its assets and its cash; to stop all economic evictions and repossessions; to guarantee security of tenure to people privately renting; and to introduce effective rent controls that actually ensure affordable rents. For seven years we have been saying this. For seven years this Government and the previous Fine Gael-led Government ignored this advice and did exactly the opposite. It abandoned the construction of council housing and used NAMA to flog off tens of billions of euro worth of land, housing and assets to vulture funds which are now evicting people. The Government has allowed economic evictions to continue unabated, mortgage repossessions to happen in huge numbers, and rents to spiral out of control and beyond the affordability of large numbers of our citizens. The Government has done all of these things in the face of a growing crisis and against the pleas of those involved in housing and, indeed, ourselves and others in the Opposition.

Those are the measures necessary. However, in addition, everybody who works in this area has said inserting the right to housing into the Constitution would make a substantial difference. The Mercy law centre states:

A right to housing in the Constitution would mean that the courts could look at the State decision or policy as to whether it was 'proportionate' by reference to that right. It would mean that Government and State policies and actions would have to respect the right. Legislation and policy would have to be "proofed" to ensure they reasonably protect the right to housing. It would mean that the policies in relation to housing and homelessness could not be a political whim but would have this grounding, this obligation to respect the right to housing.

Had that been in the Constitution since 2011, the Government could not have made the desperate mistakes that it has made and we would not be in the mess that we are currently in. There is no case for not supporting this Bill.

I really have to ask what the Government has got against rights for citizens. For that matter, if Fianna Fáil does not back the Bill, I will ask its Deputies the same question. The Government will not ratify the rights under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It does not want to give women the right to control their own bodies, their own fertility and their own medical treatment. It does not want to give people the right to housing.

As much as Fianna Fáil's Deputies praise the European Union, for instance, they will roll out the red carpet for Mr. Verhofstadt tomorrow and they are always talking about how they love the European Union, when the European Union proposes rights they want nothing to do with them. For example, in 2000 the European Social Charter proposed a right to housing. Ireland sought an opt-out. That was Fianna Fáil. I am not sure whether Fine Gael raised objections at the time. Why did we specifically opt out of the European charter obligation on the right to housing? Of course, the answer is because at every hand's turn they have protected the interests of developers, speculators and vulture funds instead of vindicating the rights of citizens to a secure, affordable roof over their head, and we are in a mess because of it. Will the Minister please change tack and, as a first step, support this Bill and change the Constitution to establish that right to housing in law?

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The Taoiseach talked earlier today about the progress that has been made in dealing with the housing crisis and sounded very proud indeed of the Government's achievements. He is bound to say so but I think we need a reality check in this House. The housing solutions have included everything from family hubs to emergency accommodation, contracting out the State's responsibility to house its citizens to private landlords at huge cost to the State and uncertainty for tenants. That progress sees more need, more suffering, more distress and, as winter approaches, more fear as a result of the Government's failure, not its success - over 100,000 people on the waiting lists and over 8,000 in homeless accommodation.

One of the more amusing narratives is to suggest that in dealing with the housing crisis we have not been able to completely solve it because there is a minority Government and if only we had a strong majority Government we could sort it all out. The reality is that we have a majority Government. It is one led by Fine Gael and propped up at every hand's turn by Fianna Fáil. The housing crisis persists because we do not have the political will to solve it. It persists because groups and individuals who support those parties and who form the backbone of those parties to whose class they owe allegiance are doing very well out of this crisis, thank you very much.

This is the fourth piece of legislation that our group has put before this House to try and deal with the crisis. We proposed changing the remit of NAMA to provide social and affordable housing and to stop selling off public land and public housing. That was rejected by this House and by the Government.

We proposed an Anti-Evictions Bill to keep people in their homes and that was rejected by this House. In fact, there was a tied vote and the Ceann Comhairle used his casting vote to scupper that legislation. We proposed rent control legislation that would reduce rents to 2011 rates, which is where most workers' wages were at, and to control the rampant profiteering of landlords, real estate investment trusts, REITs, and vulture funds and that was rejected by this House and by the Government. We now propose to give citizens a constitutional right to decent housing and to join other European countries like Belgium, Finland, Greece, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden. Around the world, the right to housing is included in 81 constitutions, so what is wrong with this little country, with one of the fastest growing economies and one of the biggest housing crises ever? Why, having failed to get this House to reduce rents, to prioritise the building of social housing and to stop evictions, have we now turned to putting the right to housing into the Constitution? We have done so because in every debate, the adherents to the free market and to private property rights in this House have told us that our proposals are unworkable, unconstitutional, would be struck down by the courts, would result in an increase in the ghettoisation of poor people and would be a breach of the EU's fiscal rules. This is an attempt to scupper those excuses, which are really masking what Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael constantly do, which is to back up the builders, developers, corporate landlords and speculators who form the backbone of their parties' support. It is a fig leaf to justify a policy that sees people living in hotels or bed and breakfasts and allows them to stay there in one room, just like they did in 1913.

This crisis sees over 100,000 in housing need and on the social housing list. It also sees, on the other side, some people doing very well out of it. The three main owners of Cairn Homes made more than €20 million from selling their shares in the company, now valued at over €1 billion. This year they built 100 homes while last year, they built just 90. The crisis allowed these rich people to accumulate so much wealth that they now own 20% of zoned development land in Dublin. It means they can buy nine acres of prime land from RTE for more than €100 million. Cairn Homes, like other developers, are not in the business of meeting housing need. They do not, as the Taoiseach suggested earlier today, build homes; their concern is to make profits and that actually means it is not in their interests to see this housing crisis solved. It is also not in their interest to build homes on the scale that is needed and certainly not social and affordable housing. We have 8,000 homeless, as well as people dying in tragic circumstances on the streets, record rising rents and landlords using loopholes to evict people and raise rents beyond levels that are tolerable. We have boom times for estate agents and REITs. We see so-called affordable student accommodation now coming on stream at a rent of €250 per week.

Giving all citizens a constitutional right to a home will not solve this crisis overnight and we do not claim it will do so. Of course it will not but it will remove the fake arguments put up here and in the media to explain why we cannot invest in and build public housing to the effect that property rights mean that we cannot control rents or that fiscal rules preclude serious State investment to provide massive public housing, which would be scuppered if we had a right to housing enshrined in our Constitution.

I will finish by commenting on something the Taoiseach said today, which struck me as incredible because it shows the level of ignorance and the sheer class bias on this issue and the concept of public and social housing. The Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, stated he is opposed to giving everyone a house for free. That is a dig at those who live in social housing. It is a dig that shows his ignorance and his class bias because nobody gets a house for free. Those who live in social housing pay a differential rate, in case the Taoiseach did not know. This is actually the reality and his own stupidity or class bias is blinding him to that reality. We need to build mass numbers of good quality public housing that we can finance. It is not just the poorest who have no option now - it is all sorts of people. It is people who have good jobs and people who want to buy a home but who have no option. It is the people who are witnesses to that situation one constantly hears on the radio. This is not just about the poorest of the poor or those who lived in the squalor of the ghettos of 1913 but is about many ordinary, average-earning workers. It is now clear that the market will never provide decent, affordable accommodation in order that the majority of our citizens can live with dignity. This Bill would allow the State to prioritise housing in a way that has never been done in its history, to view housing as a fundamental human right that is not left to the market or to the whims of those seeking the maximum profit but to the State to provide, as a human need. This Bill will prioritise the need for housing over the owners of companies like Cairn Homes, IRES REIT and the multitude of vested interests whose wealth is growing on the backs of the misery this crisis is producing.

8:55 pm

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Solidarity)
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Another day, another housing Minister. We have had Deputies Alan Kelly and Simon Coveney and now we have Deputy Eoghan Murphy. The faces are certainly changing but the policies are not. In the context of this Bill, the continual refrain we heard from all of the Ministers I have named when asked to deal with the crisis was that it was unconstitutional. Rent controls allegedly were unconstitutional, as were a ban on evictions, the acquisition of any of the 200,000 vacant units or compulsory purchase orders. None of this is true because the housing committee heard last year that the common good overrides private property. It is an excuse used by the parties that continually back landlords and the market. Tonight we are removing this excuse by proposing to remove any impediments. We have 8,000 homeless people, including more than 3,000 children, and it will be 10,000 next year, if the current Minister is still here. No statistic seems to move the Government or Fianna Fáil from this pro-market, anti-public housing position.

Fingal County Council has almost 400 homeless families in the Dublin area. Most of them reside in Dublin West, which is mine and the Taoiseach's constituency. I estimate that there could be in 1,000 homeless people in Blanchardstown alone. I say this based on the fact that between 250 and 300 of the homeless families are from Blanchardstown - I am trying to get a breakdown from Fingal County Council. They include families like the Geoghegan Kellys, who the Minister may have seen, with a premature baby who was born in the back of a van, potentially have to return and be evicted from their home. Another woman with whom I am in contact in the Blanchardstown area was homeless for ten days. She was pressured by Fingal County Council to return to a dangerous home situation. She was told that she would not get emergency accommodation unless she went to the gardaí and pursued a case. We all know that is not always possible and can sometimes put people in more danger in situations involving domestic violence. Is there no depth to the horror stories that must be told to move the Government?

Dublin West is an area that is home to many different ethnic groups, with 25% of the population having been born outside the country. People who came here 15 to 20 years ago are now becoming homeless. There is a real potential for racism to develop here and in many other areas of the country. Immigrants and Irish alike are being evicted. However, migrants have less family support, for obvious reasons, given that they are not from here. More of them are in the private rental sector so they are becoming disproportionately homeless, as happened the Irish in Britain, America and elsewhere. The most vulnerable go first. There should not be competition between any marginalised groups for housing, be they Travellers, refugees or migrant workers who live in this country. We know the situation with regard to Travellers, with money unspent by councils and we know that refugees were brought here and placed in direct provision in horrific circumstances. Solidarity says the resources exist in the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, in NAMA, which also has funds - the debt that was paid while this Dáil was not sitting could have built 50,000 public homes - and in the AIB proceeds.

There is land available, either in the ownership of local authorities or NAMA, on which to build all of the homes needed. What does not exist is the political will to do so because the market puts profit ahead of the common good.

In Dublin west, which is at the epicentre of the homelessness tsunami, there are 30 hectares of land, owned by the council, lying idle undeveloped for many years. Approximately 1,200 or, at least, 1,000 houses could be built on that land, comprising a mix of affordable homes with mortgages provided through the council and social housing. All of the councillors in that area should agree to this. Solidarity-People Before Profit will bring forth a proposal in that area and others to force the inactivity of the local authorities and the Government on this issue.

9:05 pm

Photo of Eoghan MurphyEoghan Murphy (Dublin Bay South, Fine Gael)
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I move amendment No. 1:

To delete all words after "That" and substitute the following:

Dáil Éireann declines to give the Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to Housing) Bill 2017 a second reading and instead, taking account of previous Government decisions to have the broader recommendations in the Eighth Report of the Convention on the Constitution (i.e. that the State shall progressively realise economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights subject to maximum available resources and that this duty shall be cognisable by the Courts, and that specific additional rights should also be inserted into the Constitution of Ireland, including housing rights, social security rights, essential health care, rights of people with disabilities, linguistic and cultural rights) considered by an Oireachtas Committee, have the right-to-housing issue considered by the Oireachtas Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, to review the implications arising in terms of balance of rights, good governance (including the separation of powers) and resource prioritisation."

I welcome the opportunity to discuss this important issue. I do not doubt the sincerity of the Deputies proposing this Bill for a constitutional amendment to the House. It is important that, as Parliament, we debate issues and take a rights-based approach to our debates. It is an important function of what we do. I am not ignoring anybody, Deputy Boyd Barrett. I am not ignoring the voluntary sector. I work with it every day of the week. A great deal of money is funnelled through the voluntary sector to provide these important services to people who need them. If the Deputy proposes to take its advice on this particular issue, in terms of this constitutional amendment, he must also take its advice in terms of welcoming the outcomes from the recent housing summit. The Deputy cannot have it both ways.

Ireland's housing emergency is more than six years old: it stretches back at least two decades. It is a long time since we had a functioning housing market in this country. Fine Gael did not abandon the construction of social housing but it is taking it back as a priority of this Government. I am not dismissing the Bill. It merits further consideration and I mean that genuinely. I do not dismiss the importance of debating or deciding a rights-based approach to the provision of public goods. I have said a number of times that I have left ideology at the door as I address this crisis. That is not to suggest that there should not be a policy or a political philosophical underpinning to our actions but I would rather set down some key principles that would guide us as a Government, principles that would out-live whatever Minister is in charge of the particular brief. In regard to the principle that social housing should not be outsourced to the private sector, I believe in that. That was a mistake of the past, one which this Government is committed to undoing. I will focus all of my efforts in regard to social housing provision on direct build by local authorities and housing bodies. In regard to Part V and void conversions, these are treated as a bonus figure so that we are not relying again on the private sector to meet our social housing needs.

I also believe in the principle that a percentage of new stock in any given year should be social housing. That is an important principle. In terms of the houses that will be built next year between the public and private sectors, between one quarter and one fifth of them will be social housing homes newly built by local authorities and housing bodies. A conservative projection is that 20,000 new homes will be built next year between the private and public sectors, 3,800 of which will be built by local authorities and housing bodies, with 1,200 delivered through Part V and void conversions, voids that have not been in use for many years. That is not a small thing when one considers where we have come from, which basically was zero building either in the private sector or the public sector.

The Housing Agency has stated that we need to build 25,000 new homes every year. This is what is required in a steady state. Next year, we will build 20,000 new homes and we will use vacancy and other measures to deal with pent up demand and to get other forms of housing into the market. I have no objection to using compulsory purchase orders. I have asked the Attorney General to look at this proposal to ensure that local authorities in moving to use CPOs can be confident that they can use them to get homes back into use. This is not about the State trying to take someone's property. It is about ensuring houses are brought back into use as homes to meet the crisis we are facing.

Deputy Barry Cowen has said that the crisis we currently face in housing is beyond party politics. I agree with him. I hope that we can all rise to meet that challenge and, working together, come up with constructive proposals for our citizens who need homes. It must be recognised that a significant amount of work is being done. It must also be recognised that new homes are being built, because they are. I recognise also that we need more houses to be built more quickly and, crucially, as the Deputies opposite have pointed out, we need more affordable homes - affordable to build, affordable to buy and affordable to rent.

There are now 1,500 families being supported in emergency accommodation. One family in emergency accommodation is one family too many but thankfully we have been able to direct our resources to help those families out of hotels and into hubs and social housing homes, HAP-supported tenancies and more permanent forms of accommodation. Approximately €25 million will be spent this year on moving families from hotels and bed and breakfast accommodation into family hubs, with all of the supports and wrap around services they need. An additional €10 million has been provided, which will be drawn down and a further €10 million is in place as a contingency, if we can get those hubs in place before the end of the year. The hubs are working. If Deputies visit them they will see this. Families are better off in hubs and they are moving quickly out of them into more permanent forms of housing. Different families have different needs and we must be sensitive to those needs. Some families will be in hubs longer than we would like but we must be sensitive to their concerns.

Unfortunately we have also heard of recent deaths of individuals who were homeless and using homeless emergency services. They died for different reasons in very different circumstances. I know it has been a very difficult time for their families and for our emergency care works who are on the front line. We can try to make available every possible resource, and we do, and we can try to do all that we can. Sometimes it is not enough but that does not mean we should not keep trying, and we do. I am pleased to confirm that following on from the recent housing summit, an additional 200 emergency beds will be in place before the end of the year. We now have a national director for Housing First coming online with an additional 100 Housing First places outside Dublin. We have new exit co-ordinators for homeless people to prevent them falling back into homelessness, which is very welcome, and we have a new interagency team to manage all of the different supports that are being put in place to help people beyond their housing needs, including health, mental health and other needs.

Our budget for homelessness has more than doubled since 2014, and rightly so.

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Solidarity)
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That is because homelessness has doubled.

Photo of Eoghan MurphyEoghan Murphy (Dublin Bay South, Fine Gael)
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This year it will be more than €100 million and next year it will be more than that. It is important that we commit our resources in this way. It should not be forgotten that every working day of the week, 80 new households will be supported in tenancies through social housing supports. This means 21,000 new households this year will be supported by taxpayers' money. It is right that we do this. Next year, we will support more households. We know that there are a great many more people who cannot afford to buy or rent a home. Many people are paying too much in rent and, as such, they cannot afford to save a deposit to buy a home. Some cannot afford their rent but still they make do by moving back in with their parents or by sleeping on a couch in a friend's home. These people have nowhere else to go. As well as those on the social housing lists, these people need houses built. Our focus must be on building supply and that is where it is constantly. Increasing supply will relieve each of the different pressures that we face in the housing system. We face these problems as a society because they reach into every aspect of Irish society today.

Availability is on the way. It is happening. We know that building is happening. Planning permissions are up 42% on last year. Construction commencement notices are up a similar percentage. Connections to the ESB grid are up by one third in Dublin alone. Fast-track planning measures have been introduced to enable houses to be built more quickly. Government money has also been made available to quickly open up sites that can be developed. There is more that we can do and we know that. We are constantly looking at new measures to bring on-stream to help build more houses. As I said, availability is on the way. We have to continue to focus our resources on emergencies, on co-ordinating resources more efficiently so that they are in place to help people, on affordability, on ensuring builders build houses and apartments in the parts of the country where they are needed and on ensuring individuals are able to buy or rent their homes. There is not an ideological road block to any of this. There is no lack of will or public money. Some €5.3 billion has been ring-fenced out to 2021. No other Government expenditure is committed in this way or has ever been committed in this way. There is more coming in budget 2018. In regard to prioritising housing, as provided for in the programme for Government, we are prioritising it. This commitment is evident not only in terms of money but in the amount of time and effort we are putting into this area.

The Taoiseach tasked me with reviewing Rebuilding Ireland, not because it is not working but because there are areas on which we can improve, one year further from the recession, a year into a new plan, with a new Government and renewed ambition. Rebuilding Ireland is working. By taking a rolling analysis we can drill down deeper into those actions that we can take to see what can be improved. For example, Rebuilding Ireland did not provide for a national roll-out of the place-finder service but we can provide for that now. Rebuilding Ireland initially focused on local authorities buying homes, competing in the market with young couples and families but now local authorities are focused on building. As a result, the number of new homes built next year by local authorities and housing bodies will be 30% higher than anticipated. Rent pressure zones under Rebuilding Ireland did not give a definition of "substantive refurbishment".

Rebuilding Ireland does not provide a definition of substantive refurbishment. We know from anecdotal evidence that landlords are using this to get around the rent caps we have put in place but we now have a definition for that, which we did not have a year ago. The rent pressure zones are working. They have capped rent increases in Dublin and that means people are paying less rent as a result. These are all small changes in their own way but they all very important. None of them is a solution in and off itself but this is a complex area and they all add to the totality of measures this Government is devoting time and money to in terms of resources to try to solve this problem and ease this crisis for the people who are experiencing it.

The purpose of the Bill is to amend the Constitution by inserting "the right to secure, affordable, dignified housing, appropriate to need, for all residents of Ireland". We all want this for our friends and our neighbours but the question is around whether the Constitution is the most sensible place to enshrine this detailed right. I am not saying it is not. All I am saying is that I believe it needs further consideration. The Rebuilding Ireland programme of work will continue to be rolled out without such a provision in the Constitution.

We will continue to bring every resource necessary to bear to meet the housing needs of our people. We will continue to spend the money on homeless services because that is right. We will continue to invest in family hubs to support families as a first response because that is right. We will continue to invest in the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme, in void conversions and in leasing to support 20,000 new tenancies this year because that is the right thing to do. We will continue to focus our resources on building new social housing homes through local authorities and housing bodies because that is the right thing to do.

We will have 3,800 new homes next year. In 2015, the number of new homes built was between 500 and 600. The figure for new builds for next year represents a substantial increase on the number we have seen previously. We will continue to focus on building new homes that are affordable for people throughout the country, whether they are seeking to start a new home, move to a new home or rent for the first time having started a new job. These are the needs our people face and the Government is prioritising the supporting of those needs.

In not supporting this Bill and in saying it should be considered by the committee that deals with finance, reform and the Department of the Taoiseach, we are saying that, as we consider the Eight Report of the Convention on the Constitution and all the different rights it wants us to consider, we believe they should be considered in totality and they should have a considered view in that committee, and after that considered view we would then see where we would go from there.

9:15 pm

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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There are 18 minutes in the Fianna Fáil time slot. I call Deputy Cowen.

Photo of Barry CowenBarry Cowen (Offaly, Fianna Fail)
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We believe that this Bill should be delayed to allow the housing committee to consider the report of the Constitutional Convention on this matter and other economic, cultural and social rights. Broadening the Constitution, our fundamental law, should be done carefully and should take into consideration the wide range of consequences. We believe the committee is best placed to do that work. The most important task of the Government and of this Dáil in regard to the housing crisis is not necessarily the holding a referendum that will cost €15 million but ensuring that supply is increased. The upcoming budget and the review of the new capital plan are key in that and they should be the Dáil's and the Government's immediate priorities regarding this issue.

Regarding the Constitutional Convention on economic, social, cultural and constitutional rights and housing, the convention voted to enhance the level of protection for economic, social and cultural rights, making them amenable to supervision by the courts in certain circumstances. It also voted to highlight certain rights which should be expressly stated in the Constitution, namely, housing, social security, essential health care, rights of people with disabilities, linguistic and cultural rights and rights covered in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The programme for Government contains a commitment to send this recommendation to the Oireachtas committee on housing and other committees, where appropriate. We believe this is the appropriate forum to thrash out the issues involved. We recognise and have seen that the Government has been ridiculously slow in bringing forward legislation on foot of recommendations, motions and Bills that have been brought before the House and passed. For example, we can reflect on the arrears phenomenon and the recommendation from the Dáil for an independent commission on recommendations of solutions rather than the veto system we have, which was amended but which we see the courts interpreting as applications or appeals having to be in the name of the personal insolvency practitioner, PIP, representatives rather than of the individuals concerned, which again delays that whole process. In regard to what was passed earlier in the year, there is an opportunity to address that by virtue of that Bill, but again it joins a long list of Bills that remain on the waiting list. We would like to see an improvement in that regard in this term and it is wholly appropriate that would be the case, especially in issues pertaining to this terrible crisis and emergency we are facing in regard to housing.

Regarding housing priorities, it is important, despite the best intentions of those who have put forward this proposal, not to give false hope or fall into the politics of gestures, which we have seen in recent times in regard to this issue, rather than real action. Adding housing to the Constitution, make no mistake about it, unfortunately will not resolve the housing crisis. It is important therefore that we recognise that fact and that inserting this into the Constitution should only be taken after full consideration of the issues involved. More importantly, it cannot be allowed to divert attention away from practicable steps that have to be taken in order to increase supply and tackle escalating rents.

I use this opportunity to place on the record of the Dáil what we believe should be done in the immediate and in the short term to address the housing crisis. We have to increase social housing capital expenditure. We have been told on many occasions during recent months and years that the funding issue is not a problem, that money is not an obstacle to the provision of social and affordable housing. The social housing capital budget is 50% below the rate it was at in 2008. Therefore, it clearly is a problem and it needs to be addressed. By virtue of that, it is important that up to €400 million extra is put in place in order to ensure extra units are brought online. A new regulatory regime should be established to allow vacant units and above-shop units to be converted into residential units. As we all know, this would open up thousands more units in established areas. We would like progress to be made on that and for a regulatory regime such as that to put in place in the immediate term in order to have immediate resolutions.

We want to see the re-establishment of an affordable housing scheme. There is no affordable housing scheme currently in place under this Government's watch. The previous Government took away the affordable element of the Part V provisions. We want to see that re-established. In addition to that, we would expect in any ratcheting up of local authority housing building that it should include building programmes with an affordable housing element to purchase and to rent. That is a remit that needs to be given, shown and put in place. These are practical steps that can be taken in the coming months that can have a positive impact and that can address the 130,000 applicants who are on social housing waiting lists, the unfortunate cohort of people who find themselves facing the threat of, or are in, homelessness, and the huge issues in regard to the rental market.

I do not wish people to interpret our opposition to the proposed constitutional amendment to be us merely saying that it has to go to a committee. There are practicable reasons that need to be analysed and scrutinised in order for the right decision to be taken ultimately and the right question to be put to the people and, therefore, thereafter enshrined in the Constitution, as it could and should be.

The principles of social policy enshrined, for example, in Article 45 set out the rules of general guidance for the Oireachtas in setting out laws. However, the rights included in this article are not cognisable by the courts, that is, a citizen cannot take the Government to court for breaching them as they are for guidance only. This article would be subject to judicial review. This may transfer too much power into the hands of the courts rather than the democratically elected representatives.

The proposed amendment refers to residents rather than citizens, which is used in other articles in the Constitution. It should be clarified, for example, whether this broadens the right to housing above other rights that are enshrined in the Constitution.

Another point is that the constitutional review group report of 1996 advocated amending Article 40.3.1o to restrict wide-ranging judicial interpretation and to list explicitly the fundamental rights contained in the Constitution.

Enshrining housing rights without amending this article may lead to a further extension of judicial power as a creative approach to the Constitution could enable the Judiciary to widen its influence over areas that are considered the remit of the day-to-day political system and the democratically-elected representatives of the people in this Dáil in respect of their responsibilities, rights and duties in distributing taxpayers' funds to address this emergency that engulfs the country.

Despite the best intentions behind this legislation, and I understand from where they come, a methodology is in place to analyse and scrutinise the consequences of this proposal to ensure that it is implemented correctly and properly but that will not solve the housing crisis in the short or even medium term. There is a responsibility on us to ensure that the Government is held to account and does what is necessary to address this and bring supply to the fore, thereby allowing the graph that is drastically skewed at present to adjust to where it should be and to ensure people have some hope that the House has grasped the issue properly and can effect change and bring about solutions over which we can all stand. We can play politics another day because this is the greatest, gravest issue facing the State. As a result, we must leave politics outside the door and come together to deal with this in a way whereby everyone can see light at the end of tunnel and whereby people can be given some hope that progress can be made.

9:25 pm

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Sligo-Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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I thank colleagues for tabling this Bill in Private Members' time. I do not doubt at all their commitment to the issue and their wish, like all of us, for a resolution. I would love if we could include this in the Constitution as a right and fulfil it but, as matters stand, we would be as well enshrining the right to the winning lottery numbers because, sadly, more would be left without them than would have them. That is the sad reality. I support the amendment and the proposal to have the relevant Oireachtas committee examine this matter and bring forward recommendations on how best to implement the legislation and, more particularly, take action in respect of the provision of the housing that is needed throughout the country.

There is a housing emergency, yet we are kicking the issue around like a football, blaming one another about what should, could or might have been done. We are no closer to a workable solution. I do not doubt the Minister's commitment to the job. I had the pleasure of working with him for two years on the banking inquiry and I know how diligent he is in approaching any topic. I am sure he will try to do his best with this issue. Even before he walked into the Department to take up his role, he was strangled by bureaucracy and process. I have a document that is quite heavy and that outlines the Department's streamlined approval process for social housing. God help us all if this is the streamlined version. I examined four schemes that are before the Department and by means of which approximately 80 units will be provided. None is in County Sligo and, therefore, I do not want anybody to beat up the local authority there. The date of origin of the schemes was May 2015. None has proceeded beyond stage 2, with one still at stage 1 and awaiting approval. The lead time for the provision of a social housing unit is between two and a half and six years from conception to turnkey. The equivalent time in the private sector is three years maximum assuming finance is available, although that is an issue currently. We cannot tackle an emergency with such bureaucracy. The reason for this arduous, interminable process is the obsession with cost certainty at a level that is impossible to secure. We must, of course, get value for money and we must get the price as close as we can to the forecast outcome but, unfortunately, it is not a precise science. Architects, engineers and administrators within the Department deal with architects, engineers and administrators within local authorities who, in turn, bring in private sector expertise such as consulting engineers and so on. The level of duplication and repetitiveness in this process is strangling the Minister before he even begins. If he signed off tomorrow on the construction of 50,000 houses in Dublin and gave the cash to the four local authorities, there would not be a key turned in one of them if the process outlined in this document was followed in under three years. How many more people would be homeless or living in hotels, bed and breakfast accommodation or converted Garda stations or Army barracks in that period?

Before he gets to money, the Minister needs to be radical. He needs to tear up the existing document and get it down to a few pages. That is not about reducing quality, standards or anything else; it is about applying common sense to getting the job done. There is delay on the part of the Department, which is being blamed on local authorities, and vice versa, even though the unit in Ballina will say off the record that there is no cash and that it cannot do this and that even if there was cash, it would have to go through this process. Perhaps the process would be shorter if more cash was available but the Minister needs to take this 100-page document and tear it apart because nothing will happen in the meantime.

The second issue is that 933 housing units in Dublin alone have been boarded up for more than ten years. This is replicated, relatively speaking, in every county. That should be a priority. How much would it cost to refurbish every unit? Why have local authorities an innate objection to purchasing houses on former council schemes? They are cheaper but the local authorities refused to do that during the recession and now they are paying between €300,000 and €600,000 for units all over the country, particularly in Dublin. They also refused to buy houses on private sector schemes, which were boarded up or which were bought by somebody before being put up for sale on the open market at a lower price. That is a matter we need to address. Deputy Cowen mentioned units over shops in towns and so on and that should also be examined.

Another aspect of the four-stage process for social housing is local authorities are told to begin the process and bring in however many staff they need to approve the schemes. They have to get staff in whether they are architects, engineers or whatever. There is no certainty that the scheme will be approved within three or four years. All of a sudden, the local authorities have obligations because they have given these people full-time jobs with pensions and so on, which are costly. I can think of two instances where local authorities are refusing to recruit these staff because of their experience in dealing with the Department. During the boom, when the Department's policy was that local authorities should buy land and not be subservient to builders and developers, they did that. Smaller local authorities such as Sligo County Council got into significant debt. Then Mr. Paul Lemass, an assistant secretary in the Department, and his colleagues threw them under the bus and said they were reckless and should not have spent all this money. I am sorry but that was not the case. Sligo County Council, like every other local authority, is engaged in the provision of services to the people. The buck stops with the Department, which approved the loans, purchases and schemes years ago. That is making local authorities reluctant to engage in the process.

From a private sector perspective, money needs to be made available, apart from to the chosen few at the very top who have the ability to refinance throughout the world. Their names have been thrown about in the debate. The average builder who constructed two, five or ten houses in towns and villages around the country is now subservient to a vulture fund. Many people have been taken out of the industry. They cannot get money and if they applied for funding, they would have to match it themselves. We must press ahead with establishing a bank dedicated to housing, which we proposed in our election manifesto, as did Fine Gael, and which would be similar to the ICC-ACC model of the 1970s and 1980s that successfully helped farmers and industry.

We have An Bord Pleanála, An Taisce and other bodies that want planning to be correct but there is a crisis in Dublin. Five or six apartment and office blocks were refused planning permission near the airport over the past year because of congestion but we cannot go over so many storeys because An Bord Pleanála or whoever has stated we cannot go up 20, 30 or 40 storeys.

9:35 pm

Photo of Ruth CoppingerRuth Coppinger (Dublin West, Solidarity)
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Not near the airport anyway.

Photo of Marc MacSharryMarc MacSharry (Sligo-Leitrim, Fianna Fail)
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We do not want to create ghettos but we must take control of the matter. We cannot take decisions in here, saying we want more houses, while not putting in place the very specific and tangible things needed for this to happen. I am grateful for the opportunity to speak.

Photo of Michael FitzmauriceMichael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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I also welcome the opportunity to speak on the Bill. I would have worded it differently, mentioning "accommodation" specifically. We should live in the real world and if we said everybody in the country had the right to a house, the money would not be there to go around if the Government decided to act on it. Much can be done. There are 400 or 500 acres of State land around the country lying idle, with nothing being done by the Department. That is well known in the Department. Currently, the people of middle Ireland - for the sake of argument, two working people - cannot afford a house in Dublin, Galway or Cork. There is land there with a site value and even if the State has to take a hit, it should do so and provide affordable social housing.

We need to cut to the chase. The Department or councils are not fit to build houses; there is proof of that. We must ensure we can change that situation. I heard representatives of NAMA saying that if something is bought at a 50% discount, it is not great if the agency does not make a few quid from it. The Department has policy and we can argue if it is good or bad. That is fine but the Department is at this all its life. The councils deal with planning, but who has the expertise in delivery? We need to put a body together to ensure delivery or we will continue talking about this issue. Such a body should be able to get money at less than 1% now so that we can build houses. Houses are not complicated to build. We have the land so if we get money and people who know how to deliver, we can hand the properties back to the councils and let them run the process. We must also think of the people in middle Ireland.

Everybody is aware that there is now a major problem with homelessness. We must also address other issues. Unfortunately, almost every family in the country is affected by somebody who may have a problem that puts them in that scenario. I am referring not to everyone but to some people. We need to consider the social aspects of this issue also. There is a big problem coming down the line. I see what is happening with banks and people with distressed mortgages. They are getting buoyant trying to put people out of their houses. The vulture funds have bought the loans but they will not sell at the price at which they bought. If the Minister does not address it, we will hit more problems.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy O'Broin is sharing time with Deputies Ellis and Quinlivan.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I warmly welcome the Bill and state very clearly that Sinn Féin will support it today. Listening to part of the debate, it seems people just do not understand the purpose of a constitutional right to housing and the positive role it can play in addressing our housing crisis. To fully understand that, one must fully understand why we are in our current emergency.

I agree with the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, that this housing crisis has not just been created in the past number of years and it has been decades in the making. There have been decades of actions and inactions of successive Governments leading us to where we are today. There has been chronic under-investment and an inadequate supply of social and affordable housing by the State. There has been chronic under-regulation of the private rental sector, leading to rising rents, insecure tenures and, in too many cases, substandard accommodation. There has been a failure to put in place real protection for those people living in properties, including buy-to-let properties, in serious mortgage arrears. Crucially, there has also been a failure to regulate the market for land, control land prices and stop land hoarding and speculation. These are all clear failures of governance that have led us to where we are today.

I know the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is new to the job and still learning but if he continues to say what his predecessor, the Minister, Deputy Coveney, indicated that money is not a problem in tackling the matter, with €5.4 billion over six years being adequate investment in social housing, he will never be able to tackle the current crisis. It is that simple. The sum of €5.4 billion is an average spend of €800 million per year. Deputy Cowen is right about the €733 million being spent this year and €788 million being spent next year, as it is half of what the funding was when Fianna Fáil was last in government at the peak of social housing building in 2007. At that stage, the fund did not provide an adequate supply of social housing. We know that because the number of families on housing waiting lists was increasing, as was the number of families dependent on rent supplement. I worked for Focus Ireland and at the time, the number of people in emergency accommodation was increasing as well. The figure of €1.4 billion spent in 2007 was not adequate then, so what makes anybody think €800 million is adequate now?

The first thing any Minister who is serious about addressing this crisis needs to accept is that we need a supply of real social housing owned by local authorities and approved housing bodies of at least 10,000 units per year, costing somewhere in the region of €1.5 billion to €2 billion, depending on the mechanism of delivery. How many real social units will be provided this year? It will be approximately 4,500, and there were just over 4,000 provided last year. The figures for next year are over 5,000 but that is nowhere near what is required, and that is before we even start to speak about an adequate supply of affordable housing.

What does this have to do with the constitutional right to housing, which is the crucial matter? The Mercy Law Resource Centre produced a really important report last year and its representatives came to the special Dáil committee considering issues of housing and homelessness. We had very detailed discussions and deliberations on the matter. It made clear to those of us on the committee that a constitutional right to housing does not guarantee everybody in the State a home or a set of keys. It does not place an obligation on the State to provide homes for free. However, it allows citizens and the courts to ensure the Government progressively realises that right in a proportionate and reasonable way. Where the State in its decisions or inactions is not progressively and reasonably vindicating that right, particularly for those people in greatest need, the State could be held to account. That is the real problem.

I do not believe for a second that Fine Gael is interested in a constitutional right to housing. That is not because I doubt the sincerity of the Minister's remarks but I sat on a Dáil committee considering housing and homelessness, and Fine Gael was opposed to putting that as a central recommendation in our report. The party members told us in that committee that they were not convinced it was necessary and valuable. They were really saying that if one enshrines a constitutional right to housing, a Government would not be able to have the failures we have had for decades, as citizens would go to courts to vindicate those rights and force action.

This is absolutely about ideology and none of us leaves our ideologies outside the door. That does not mean we cannot be open to listening to the arguments of others. None of us leaves party politics outside the door when we come here and nor should we, but that does not mean we should not listen to the arguments of others. If a Deputy is unwilling to support the progression of this Bill to an Oireachtas committee where we can deliberate it and discuss the matters in exactly the manner outlined by the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and Deputy Cowen, the Deputy would really be saying that ideologically and politically he or she would not support this. Fine Gael did not support it last year in the committee when we deliberated the idea and it is not supporting it now. I suspect that when the time comes and we deal with the matter at an Oireachtas housing committee, Fine Gael will not support it. If it does, it will force the party to make the kinds of policy decisions it has refused to do for six years. I suspect from the announcements of recent days that the party will continue to refuse to take such decisions in the weeks ahead. That is deeply disappointing but Sinn Féin will support this Bill nonetheless.

Photo of Dessie EllisDessie Ellis (Dublin North West, Sinn Fein)
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Housing should be a right and not a privilege. The right to housing should apply to all those in need of housing and who qualify for it. The right applied in this manner should be applicable not just to families, but to individuals as well. We must also be aware that in today's society, the concept of family can be understood in a wider sense. This should be applied regardless of age, economic status, ethnic grouping, disability or any other factor. The right should be devoid of any form of discrimination and such a right to housing must not be interpreted in a narrow sense beyond just four walls and a roof. It must be seen as a right to live as defined under international law as somewhere in security, peace and dignity.

The right to adequate housing is already protected in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. These same rights are also laid out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Similar rights are also laid out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and other conventions.

9 o’clock

Ireland needs to recognise formally the right to adequate housing. The obvious and most reasonable way of recognising this right is to enshrine it in the Constitution. Such a right would be of particular value to those living with disabilities or who are particularly vulnerable to housing issues. This would also have the effect of strengthening our hand in Europe and has the potential to unlock impediments to how we borrow money and allocate it as a country, as has been the case for other European countries.

Supporting this Private Member’s Bill is not a panacea for the housing crisis and no Member is suggesting it is. One of the main ingredients in solving the housing crisis, however, is building social and affordable housing because it can be seen that when that stopped being done, these problems developed in recent years.

9:45 pm

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Deputies of Solidarity-PBP for bringing forward this Bill. It is a very important Bill which highlights the homelessness and housing crisis that is the number one issue facing our country. It is a disgrace that in 2017, in a rich country with the fastest growing economy in Europe for the fourth year in a row, the Government cannot house our people, in particular the homeless. Thousands of houses are lying vacant but there is no real progress in bringing many of them back into use. Land is being hoarded by developers and Fianna Fáil comes up with a proposal to give developers a tax break. Rents continue to escalate and that is forcing people out of their homes, but areas such as Limerick, which I represent, are not designated as rent pressure zones. More money needs to be set aside to build more houses for everyone, including the homeless, first-time buyers and adults living with their parents. However, the Government will cut taxes instead of investing the money in building more homes. The causes are there and the solutions are available but the hard decisions and leadership are absent.

Enshrining the right to housing in the Constitution would not solve the homelessness or housing problems and no Member on this side of the House has said it would. It would, however, put in place a basic floor of protection. It would require the State in its decisions and policies to protect reasonably the right to housing. It would recognise that a home is central to a person’s dignity and that everyone should have the possibility of attaining a home.

Many statistics and figures have been mentioned during this debate. However, behind the figures are people. There is a human crisis in the city of Limerick, where I am from, where there are often three generations of families living in one house and 297 people are in emergency accommodation, which is the highest outside of Dublin. Fifty families and 80 children have no home in the mid-west. Those figures do not convey the daily hardship and suffering that those people have to endure. Children are in crisis emergency accommodation and no solution is forthcoming. It is time for a new approach from the Government. The Minister is new to his role and I will not put all the blame on him, but the Government has been in power for six years and it is to blame. The crisis has deteriorated significantly over those years, and whenever the Opposition suggests alternative solutions or ideas, those suggestions are shot down by the Minister’s side of the House to the detriment of the people behind the figures I have referenced.

I welcome the Bill and thank the Deputies who brought it forward.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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I too commend Solidarity-People Before Profit for bringing the Bill before the House. The Labour Party will support it.

I am on the side of those who say that enshrining such rights in the Constitution will make a difference. It will not solve all the problems but I believe it will make a difference, and I am not alone in that. Other Members have referred to the eighth report of the Constitutional Convention which recommended this back in 2014, as has the Mercy Law Centre and several academics, including Mary Murphy and Rory Hearne of NUI Maynooth and Gerry Whyte of Trinity College Dublin. I recently attended a conference in Trinity College which was organised by Independent Senator Collette Kelleher, the Simon Community and the Mercy Law Centre. It specifically addressed enshrining the right to housing in the Constitution. Another organisation whose opinion should carry weight is the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission which says in its publication, The Provision of Emergency Accommodation to Families Experiencing Homelessness:

The Commission notes the commitment in the Programme for a Partnership Government to refer the Eighth Report of the Constitutional Convention, which recommends the constitutional recognition of right to housing, to an Oireachtas Committee. The Commission is of the view that socio-economic rights, including the right to housing, should be enshrined in the Constitution of Ireland.

It also quotes, as have others, Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights which Ireland ratified in 1990.

Mary Murphy made a very interesting point at the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government this morning in the context of competing rights in the Constitution were the right to housing to be added as there is also the right to private property and issues involving the common good and so on. However, she said that adding it to the Constitution would be to give a policy direction which would hold sway. She also brought up a point raised by Deputy Ellis regarding the possibility that the Government might be able to challenge the fiscal rules if it needed money for building houses. She suggested that Germany has done so previously. There are very good, solid reasons a constitutional right would make a difference.

It would also strengthen the hand of Government in several ways. I welcome that the Minister has asked about compulsory purchase orders and is seeking legal advice in that regard concerning vacant homes. It would strengthen the Government’s hand in that regard if there were a constitutional right to a home. It would also strengthen the idea of having a vacant homes tax, the vacant sites levy, which will retrospectively come in at the beginning of next year, and also, as the Labour Party has proposed by way of legislation, the implementation of the Kenny report to control the cost of building land and to stop developers from hoarding land. All these measures would be strengthened if there were a constitutional right to a home. It is not a panacea, as has been said, but it would very much strengthen the hand of the State in those kinds of ways.

In regard to the more than 700 sites that are publicly owned, most of them by local authorities, if there were a constitutional right to housing, it would help with the bureaucracy referenced by Deputy MacSharry in terms of making these things move more quickly. Members have discussed these sites with the previous Minister, Deputy Coveney, in the House and the need to make things happen quickly. A letter I recently received from my local authority suggests it will take a long time for them to be developed. I agree with those who have called for an affordable housing scheme in order that local authorities can at least move on those sites. However, all these things would make local authorities and the Department move much more quickly in terms of addressing these bureaucratic issues and the interminable amount of time it seems to take to get from the idea of doing something to doing it. For all these reasons, I believe it would be effective.

The children’s rights referendum added a provision to the Constitution under the previous Government which is making a difference to the lives of children. It did not in itself make a difference straight away, but it has brought about actions that have since improved the lives of children. On behalf of the Labour Party, I published the Housing (Homeless Families) Bill which I hope to be able to get some Private Members' time to introduce in the House. I introduced it on First Stage. It aims to implement that constitutional right for children who are homeless and to have their position within the family dealt with in order that they will not be sent to Garda stations when there is nowhere for them to go. Constitutional provision strengthens action and make things happen, perhaps not immediately but over time and in terms of policies and priorities.

Deputy Quinlivan raised the issue of rent pressure zones and the fact that Limerick has again been left out, as has Waterford. Good luck to Drogheda and Greystones on being included. Members have heard about rent pressure zones and whether they are working, but there would be some chance of it working in Limerick if there were one there. Rents in Limerick increased by over 12% in 2016 and it is still excluded from the rent pressure zones. When the previous Minister, Deputy Coveney, introduced that legislation, I said that the formula being used was inadequate, especially in regard to the use of local electoral areas. It does not work in certain areas. I urge the Minister, Deputy Murphy, to re-examine that.

It is not fair that certain parts of the country that are experiencing significant rent hikes and pressure on families are excluded from the rent pressure zones. It is not the ideal solution. I would have much preferred, as would others here, to have seen rent increases linked to the consumer price index but it is what we have so let us see it being fair around the country. We are happy to support the Bill. It is disappointing that it is not being supported by the two largest parties here. It has been adequately examined by a variety of bodies and does not need to be debated further by a committee. We should pass the Bill here this evening.

At the conference I attended, one of the strongest and most convincing speeches was made by Kitty Holland of The Irish Times, about children living in hotels and how their lives were thwarted by not having a home. They have nowhere to play, nowhere to do homework, they cannot bring their friends in, they are frightened, they are told to be quiet, and they cannot run around the place. This concerns the lives of real people as many have said tonight. It is a serious issue and underpinning it in the Constitution would help address the issues that face so many of our fellow citizens.

9:55 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Broughan is sharing time with Deputies Connolly and Joan Collins.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I thank Solidarity and People Before Profit. I have no hesitation in supporting this draft legislation. I have two and a half minutes speaking time. It is significant that the two major parties who are colluding in not supporting this legislation are at pains to reduce our speaking time. We have seven and a half minutes between us, which I hope we will use effectively.

Eighty-one countries have enshrined the protection of housing or a home in their constitutions. It is nothing unusual. Included in that number are Belgium, Finland, Greece, The Netherlands and Portugal. Other countries that have protected it in legislation include Austria, France, Germany and Luxembourg. Significantly, none of these countries has a housing crisis. The Minister might look at that.

I thank him for his statement that he is going to leave ideology at the door because if that is true, we are certainly turning a new page in this book of crisis after crisis. If he is leaving behind the ideology that has created this crisis continuously over the life of successive governments, I welcome it. The Simon Community gives us a snapshot of the result of this crisis. In August of this year, over three days it examined 11 areas in the country only to find that 91% of rental properties were unavailable to those in receipt of rent supplement or the housing assistance payment, HAP, which is the only show in town certainly in Galway city. In addition, it found that 8,000 people were in accommodation and that number was rising. In Galway city, approximately 15,000 people have been waiting for a house since 2001. The crisis has been deliberately created. In Galway city, rent is 213% more than rent supplement or HAP. Crisis after crisis has come from an ideology that said the market will provide, but it has signally failed to provide. If the Minister is telling me tonight that he is leaving ideology at the door, I welcome it. If he is telling me that he has suddenly realised a fundamental solution to this problem is the direct construction of social housing, I will be the first to praise him and champion that.

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, Independent)
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I support the Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to Housing) Bill 2017 and commend People Before Profit and Solidarity on putting it forward, as indeed I will support the removal of the eighth amendment from the Constitution and the referendum on the amendment to the Constitution water in public ownership Bill. The Constitution is not fit for purpose and needs replacement. It was written by a Catholic priest in the 1930s and reflects the ethos and values of a society dominated by the Catholic Church and conservative thinking of the time. It does not correspond to the needs of the Ireland that we live in today, in the 21st century. We need a constitution which prioritises the rights of citizens as opposed to those of private property, the State, and the Catholic Church.

Having a right and being able to exercise it are, however, two different things. What stands in the way of people being able to access decent and affordable accommodation are the links between developers and Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael which means the right to make profit comes before the right to housing. In the past week we have been treated to a storm in a teacup between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael over the tax cuts in the budget with an implied threat by Fianna Fáil to bring down the Government. This squabble will no doubt be resolved in the next two to three weeks. Where is the storm and the threat to collapse the Government over its outrageous lack of urgency in tackling the housing and homelessness crisis? The Nevin Economic Research Institute, NERI, partly funded by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, has put forward a very sensible, workable, costed proposal to establish an Irish housing company to initiate a programme of public housing using the European cost recovery model which could provide 20,000 affordable housing units per year, using existing State-owned, re-zoned land. The Government has apparently been considering this proposal as I know because I have tabled several questions on it to the Minister. Instead, we now have talk of some half-baked scheme to use the National Asset Management Agency, NAMA, in conjunction with private developers to somehow or other play a role in the provision of affordable housing. One of the definitions of stupidity is to keep doing the same thing and expect different outcomes. We are in the mess we are in today because of pandering to developers and the suspension of house building by local authorities. This needs to be reversed with a public housing programme at the centre of an emergency response to the humanitarian crisis we face today.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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I am delighted to support this Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to Housing) Bill 2017 and I warmly commend our colleagues in People Before Profit and Solidarity on bringing it before the House. This afternoon at Leaders' Questions, I listened in disbelief as the Taoiseach kept spinning about 80 citizens being housed each day. We all know that this mainly refers to citizens and families entering HAP and so-called family hubs and that the delivery of social and affordable housing continues to be non-existent or a trickle.

In my constituency in the three months since the Minister was appointed, and Deputy Varadkar has been Taoiseach, and in the six months before that when Deputy Enda Kenny was Taoiseach, we have had nothing, with hardly a single house provided. At the end of July, on behalf of my constituents who are homeless, threatened with homelessness or up to a decade or more on housing lists, I made a lengthy submission to the Minister's review of the Rebuilding Ireland action plan. My first and core recommendation was that he would bring forward housing emergency legislation similar to the financial emergency measures in the public interest, FEMPI, legislation to deal with the banking emergency. He should take very vigorous steps to address the complete disaster and catastrophe we have in the so-called housing market.

I called for at least 10,000 additional new social housing builds each year for the next five years with an additional capital investment of at least €1 billion a year. I also asked that local authorities and social housing bodies again have a primary role in directly building homes.

This NAMA proposal was made off the cuff by the Taoiseach at the Government's recent think-in. There are different proposals from NERI and others. Many people think that some kind of housing executive is necessary in the greater Dublin area because the four surrounding counties seem to operate as almost a single housing market. Dublin city, in particular, however, has grave problems in trying to create any kind of an efficient housing programme. I also submitted a wide range of other proposals to the Minister. It is deplorable that the Minister's party and Fianna Fáil while talking about being non-ideological have on ideological grounds refused to accept the Thirty-fifth Amendment (Right to Housing) Bill 2017 tonight. I urge the House to support the Bill.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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I am happy to have the opportunity to speak on this Bill tonight. The housing crisis is not only an issue in my constituency of Cork South West, but an issue of great national concern and one that I do not see being resolved over the next few years. There are many verbal plans to resolve this crisis but little or no physical action, no shovel-ready projects, especially in West Cork.

Census figures in 2016 showed that there was an 81% increase in the level of homelessness since 2011. During the programme for Government talks, I spoke at length of a regeneration programme for small rural towns and villages and the ability to rebuild areas that had been decimated by emigration, places in west Cork such as Ballineen, Eyeries, Goleen, Kilcrohane, Kealkill, Timoleague, Durrus, Drimoleague, Ballydehob and Schull, to name but a few.

This would have helped in some small way in easing the housing pressure where 8,000 people are left homeless, 3,000 of whom are just children. Advice we gave on the regeneration programme then went unheeded and a year and a half later, such programmes are headline news. In that year and a half, how many people have been made homeless?

People are caught in a trap. On one hand, good honest and hard-working couples cannot get a mortgage as their income is too low yet on the other, they are not eligible to go on the housing list as their income is too high. Rents are rising at an extraordinary rate throughout many parts of west Cork, where HAP payments and rent allowance are falling far short of what is being sought. Furthermore, far too many landlords are refusing to accept HAP, a practice which must be stamped out immediately.

Numerous people call to my constituency clinics every weekend, as they will to those of other Deputies, who have either lost their homes or are on the verge of such, with unscrupulous banks putting families under huge pressure. This stress is adding to the high levels of poor mental health in the country.

I do not envy the Minister's task in trying to turn this crisis around but if his Government fails to listen to the advice of the people on the ground, I fear to think what the future holds for homeless people.

10:05 pm

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I also support this Bill. A half decent effort by anyone in this House on this matter is worthwhile. We are just talking about this. I wish the Minister well but he is the fifth Minister with responsibility for housing during two successive Fine Gael-led coalition Governments and the situation is getting worse. We can talk and get reports. I am on the Joint Committee for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government and I am blue in the face from reports, site visits and visits to this place and the other, and from experts. We had more people in before the committee this morning who told it as it is. It is getting worse.

Only last Christmas, it was reported that up to 500 families were about to become homeless in Tipperary. That is only in one county - my county of Tipperary. The Minister is allowing people to be made homeless by his support for the banks and the vulture funds. He is playing catch-up and he has no idea. Deputy John McGuinness and myself, along with Senator David Norris, sought to secure cross-party support for a Private Members' Bill aimed at establishing an off-balance sheet national planning co-operative with the sole intention of keeping families which are in mortgage distress in their homes. It would keep them there and borrow money. The group which produced it and the former Master of the High Court went to America recently. They will get funding for this and they will embarrass the Government because they went to the effort of going out to get funds that are there to be borrowed at low interest rates in an effort to sort out this problem, not papering over the cracks and making the situation worse and worse.

I say to the Minister the same thing I said to his predecessor, and I believe it is the reason he did not get to become Taoiseach. I told him he kept talking himself into a bigger hole because the houses had not been built. The hole was getting bigger and the morass was getting bigger and the distress for traumatised people was getting bigger and we have reports, visits and the rest and nothing happened. I will not use the adjective that I would like to use to describe what is happening - it is sweet something something.

The Minister mentions the council. Deputy Healy-Rae came into the Committee for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, of which he is not a member, and he spoke sense. There are too many reports up and down the country. There is this report and that report, people are shovelling paper instead of shovelling clay to get the houses built.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I do not blame the Minister for this crisis which is not of his making but it is his position to find the solutions to the problem we have. The one thing our parents, our grandparents and our great grandparents wanted was a home to call their own without being strangled by a mortgage or exorbitant rent. What we want for our children and grandchildren is that they will have homes which will be affordable.

I am asking that local authorities be put in the correct position on this. I very much appreciate the work of Kerry County Council, for example. The people who work in its housing department, whether in the homeless unit, the people in management or the girls at the reception in the housing department, are doing their best with the resources they have but I am asking the Minister to increase the resources. Please start building houses. Start building single rural cottages. Start acquiring affordable houses and making them local authority homes and giving them to local authority applicants who are waiting for years for housing. The Minister knows I appreciate his efforts. I am not a critical person, I am a positive person who will support good work where I see it being done but I ask him to reapply himself to this job. It is an enormous task but I know he can be up for it but he will have to fight to ensure adequate resources are made available to ensure these young people are looked after when all they want is a corner of the world that is their own.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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It went out under the Minister's name. I am not blaming him, but his statement said that he was going to take people out of urban areas and take them out to rural areas to house them. I want him to tell me how many vacant houses or how many houses are ready for habitation in County Kerry which I represent. We do not have houses for the people we have on our own housing lists. Forget about taking people out of Dublin and bringing them down to Kerry because we do not have houses ready for habitation there yet. There are vacant houses but they are a long way from getting them ready or making them fit to put people into them. The Minister must acknowledge that.

The pace at which we are going at these houses is as slow as it took the snail to get to Jerusalem. The Department demands four stages of approval. Imagine what one of those stages was with Kerry County Council. We are building 20 houses in Killarney, the first in about eight years. One of the stages was that the Department wanted the council to lower the cost of the 20 houses. That was very wrong and a needless waste of time. The cost of the houses cannot be determined until the contract goes out and the tender comes in and until then one cannot determine the cost of the houses. Those stages of approval being demanded by the Department only hold up the project. I am asking the Minister to say honestly if he has the money to build the houses. If he does not he should come out and tell us and everyone will accept it. I am sure they will because one cannot get blood out of a turnip and one cannot build houses without money. At the housing committee this morning, a Deputy said the local authorities had lost their way in building houses. That was very unfair of him to say. The former Taoiseach said so as well. The local authorities will build the houses as they always did if they have the money and the Government will release it to them to allow them to build the houses. Otherwise, the houses will not be built.

Finally, VAT and levies are demanded on the building of private houses. If the Government could do something about that it would allow private builders to build houses as well. Until it does that, no houses will be built.

Photo of Catherine MurphyCatherine Murphy (Kildare North, Social Democrats)
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Article 43 of the Constitution guarantees that the State shall pass no laws attempting to abolish the right to private ownership. However, the same article also recognises that such rights of private ownership ought to be regulated by the principles of social justice and may, as occasion requires, delimit by law the right to private ownership if it comes to be at odds with the common good. When read as intended the Constitution is robust on this issue and if utilised, could become a tool of action to fight the ever worsening housing emergency that we face.

If that were the case and the constitution was interpreted as intended, this Bill would not be necessary. However, the Social Democrats will support the passage of this legislation through Second Stage because it provides an opportunity to interrogate why we are not challenging the way in which the Constitution is being interpreted. We welcome the opportunity to have the conversation about how the Constitution can be used in conjunction with other measures to address housing issues. We believe this Bill should be allowed to proceed to Committee Stage and can be amended and discussed in order to arrive at solutions. The Social Democrats have proposed a number of measures and legislation to make this happen, to free up vacant sites, put an end to land hoarding and speculation and ensure housing delivery.

As we have done consistently, we call for the establishment of a dedicated housing delivery agency that would act as a powerful co-ordinating body charged with proactively activating publicly-controlled landbanks in a way that would co-ordinate local authorities, housing associations and private builders, because we need to build cohesive sustainable communities.

Recently, we introduced the Urban Regeneration and Housing (Amendment) Bill 2017, which would raise levies on vacant sites. Those levies would increase accordingly each year a site remained vacant. There must be an impediment. We urge the Government to accept this legislation. We are submitting another Bill aimed at ensuring transparency regarding landownership and land price sales. It is important to know who owns what, because development costs are a big factor. Construction costs are less so, but development costs and land prices are big factors. Knowing who is buying the land to hoard it and subsequently sell it is a major issue.

We know there is evidence of such landholding on a very large scale. It is being tolerated and this needs to stop. This is why we believe a use-it-or-lose-it policy is absolutely essential. We do not believe it is in the common good to tolerate a situation where profit seekers sit on vast acres of land waiting for the price to climb higher. We believe that if the Government is not prepared to challenge the incorrect notion that the Constitution gives precedence to private property over the public good, then the Constitution must change. Either challenge the Constitution or seek to have it changed. We cannot accept the interpretation as it stands at present because it is not in the interests of the common good.

10:15 pm

Photo of Séamus HealySéamus Healy (Tipperary, Workers and Unemployed Action Group)
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I welcome the Bill and will support it. A right to housing in the Constitution is a key element in tackling the housing crisis, but we must not wait - and we do not have to wait - for a referendum to tackle the crisis. We can and must tackle it now. Government policy has been and continues to be disastrous and disingenuous. The Taoiseach's claim earlier today that Rebuilding Ireland, the housing policy, is working only proves he is completely out of touch with ordinary people. Hundreds of thousands of citizens, including thousands of children, are being damaged by this Government policy which has created a housing emergency and which has left 1,400 families, 8,600 people, including 3,000 children, homeless and, of course, led to three deaths in recent times.

We must stop families becoming homeless. We need to take measures immediately to stop this. We must stop the State-owned, our banks, namely, Allied Irish Banks and Permanent TSB, demanding the surrender and repossession of family homes and we must stop them evicting families from their homes. No new legislation is needed to do this. A simple instruction from the Minister for Finance to these banks is all that is necessary. It is an absolute disgrace that this has not been done already. The Minister should ensure that it is done immediately.

Emergency legislation must be rushed through the Dáil to stop vulture fund speculators, banks and others demanding vacant possession of purchased apartments and houses. Tenants must be entitled to remain so in purchase situations. If the political will was there, this could be done overnight. Recently, emergency legislation on the Rugby World Cup was put through the House in a matter of hours. These measures would go a long way to stopping families falling into homelessness.

Crucial to solving the housing and homelessness crisis is a formal and legal declaration by the Oireachtas of a housing emergency. If there was political will, this could be done quickly. There is already precedent for such an emergency declaration in the financial emergency measures in the public interest legislation introduced by a previous Government.

I welcome the recent statements - in July and again today - of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions on housing and homelessness. It stated that in light of the extent of the human suffering caused by this public policy failure, as well as the economic damage it is doing, the housing situation should be treated as an emergency. It further stated that this is not a matter of choice but an absolute necessity. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions also stated, quite rightly, that the policy of reliance on the market has failed disastrously and that a key priority of the State must be to avoid reliance on the private sector and dramatically increase the building of social housing by local authorities. Local authorities should drive this programme, targeting a sharp increase in the output of social housing to a rate of at least 10,000 houses per year. As a result of the disastrous failure of Government policy, some authoritative body must take this issue by the scruff of the neck and make it a national priority. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions is ideally placed to do this and I call on it to call a one-day general strike in order to demand a solution to the housing and homelessness crisis created by successive Governments.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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I will start by asking a question: what exactly is going on in the Dáil Chamber this evening? The radical left has proposed that a right to housing be in the Constitution, something which exists in more than 80 other countries around the globe. Every single party represented in the Chamber has indicated its support for this proposal with the exception of two. Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, the Civil War parties, are joining forces against all others in the Dáil and, I suspect, the wishes of the clear majority of Irish people in order to vote down a proposal that the right to housing be included in the Constitution.

I want to take up a point raised by Deputy Healy, because I also welcome the fact the Irish Congress of Trade Unions issued a call this morning for a national housing emergency to be declared. I take this opportunity to call on the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, in the face of the attitude we see revealed by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, to call and organise a major national demonstration to demand the right to housing and the declaration of a housing emergency, and to place centre stage in that demonstration the call that the State should build social and affordable housing for our people on a massive scale. The trade union movement, with hundreds of thousands of people in its ranks, has the potential to organise a major demonstration on this issue and I call for it to do so.

According to Central Statistics Office, the 2016 census shows that 500,000 young adults are living at home with their parents. This is double the number indicated by the census conducted ten years previously. These young people are members of a locked-out generation. They may never own homes themselves. They may be at the mercy of landlords for decades to come. A total of 83% of their parents' generation owned homes by the age of 36. Today, a mere 50% own homes by that age. It is estimated that by 2020 the average age of first-time buyers of houses will be 40. Why is that? It is because the system is rigged.

The Cairn company owns a landbank of 20% of all undeveloped zoned land in the Dublin area. It is valued at €835 million. A total of 12,000 homes could be built on that land. How many will be built this year? The answer is 300. This week, 2.1% of the shares in the company were sold and three people became cash millionaires as a result.

At a meeting of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning, Community and Local Development this morning, Dr. Rory Hearne and Dr. Mary Murphy of NUI Maynooth presented a report containing staggering, mind-blowing statistics and information.

They told the committee that, in order to give payments to a private landlord through the housing assistance payment over a 30-year period in the Dublin area, it would cost the State €274,128 more than it would cost it simply to provide a council house. They took the Rebuilding Ireland target of 87,000 private rental units and said that if this were translated over a 30-year period, the State would spend €23.8 billion more on paying private landlords than on building the houses itself. These are mind-blowing figures. They show that the policy of this Government is criminal. It is a Government of landlords concerned with enriching landlords on the back of the misery of those who have been locked out and at the expense of society.

The people who profit from the housing crisis are tied to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael by a thousand strings - political, economic and social. Indeed, many of the Deputies from these parties profit directly from the crisis. With rents at an all-time high, 36% of Fine Gael Deputies are landlords and 33% of Fianna Fáil Deputies are landlords. Moreover, they worship the very market that caused the crisis in the first place. That is why they are so ineffective in the face of the crisis. Is it not telling that one of the Government's main proposals to tackle the crisis is the return of the bedsit? The essence of a bedsit is shared bathroom facilities. They are cramped and often unsanitary. The Government is using the housing crisis to row back progressive legislation and force people to accept a deterioration in housing standards, going back to the conditions of the 1950s, 1940s and beyond.

On the left, we say what is needed is security of tenure, a ban on economic convictions, a ban on sale as grounds for eviction, and the tackling of the scandal of landlords using minor refurbishment as grounds for big rent hikes. Threshold pointed out last week the example of a Cork landlord who recently hiked rent by 30% after putting on a lick of paint and putting down a few new carpets. We want to put out a call to people who receive notices to quit and face economic eviction this winter to consider seriously refusing to co-operate with their eviction. They should stay put, defy the eviction and defy the notice to quit. In many cases, neighbours, families, friends, housing campaigners, we on the left and others will rally round to support them. We need real rent controls and a ban on rent increases. We must claw rents back to the levels of a number of years ago. A massive programme of direct State building of social and affordable homes is needed.

In 2006, more than 4,000 council homes were built. There were 42,000 people on local authority waiting lists at that time. Last year, when there was more than double that number on the list, 91,600, there were 75 homes built. It is absolutely pathetic. If the rate of social house building that we saw in 2009 had been carried through in the years 2000 to 2016, there would have been an extra 31,136 local authority houses in this country. Their absence is a major contributing factor in the crisis. For that reason, we feel entirely justified in saying that if the local authorities that meet in November to pass budgets for next year do not have sufficient cash and housing plans in those budgets to tackle seriously the housing lists in their jurisdictions in the ensuing 12 months, they should refuse to pass them. They should knock the ball over into the court of the Government and ask it what it is going to do about it. They should provoke a political crisis in the country, if necessary.

At the Fine Gael think-in, the Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, said the possibility of repurposing NAMA to develop lands on behalf of the State to step in where the private sector has failed must now be considered for affordable housing. The left has called for that for many years. Let us be clear: the lands and the initiative should be for affordable and social housing alone, not housing for profit or for private contractors or direct builds.

If one wants to see the reality of capitalism today, one need only consider the housing crisis in this State. That is capitalism in action. It entails a bonanza for landlords and developers and a locked-up generation with a growing number of homeless, including thousands of children. The Taoiseach says he is a politician of the European centre. There is no centre about this. This is a right-wing agenda that serves the interest of capitalism, which is red in tooth and claw.

I repeat the call to the trade union movement to have a major national demonstration. Now is the time and place for applying pressure for real action. Meanwhile, we will redouble our efforts to build a political alternative to the bankruptcy of the right-wing parties on this and other issues. We will redouble our efforts to build the left challenge and to have a left Government that will look out and fight for the needs of the many, not the profits of the few.

10:25 pm

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I am grateful for the chance to answer some of the questions in the debate and to add a few thoughts. I thank all the Deputies who contributed. I had a chance to listen to some of the debate when in my office going through submissions in regard to Rebuilding Ireland and housing. I wish to add to the speech of the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and share thoughts on this issue.

I have listened to some of the comments and am constantly hearing about ideology. I have listened repeatedly to Deputy Ó Broin and many others in this Chamber talking about rights, responsibilities and so on. We can discuss responsibilities at a later stage. I want to be very clear: it is not a question of ideology on behalf of this Government and parties that support us. We have had a strong record of investing in social housing when we could and now again we can-----

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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Rubbish. The Government has a strong record on-----

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I did not interrupt the Deputy.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Nobody interrupted Deputy Barry.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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Could the Deputy calm down for a couple of minutes?

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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I am very calm.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I am going to speak for only nine minutes and I speak quickly. The Deputy is just looking for something to be campaigning about. That is grand if that is the way he wants to operate but we are solution focused.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Minister should direct his comments through the Chair. If Members control themselves, we will all be much better off.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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It might help. Let me return to the question of ideology and the comments of Deputy Ó Broin and many others. This debate has mainly been very reasonable. Most want to get back to building 10,000 social houses per year. We are committed to that. Those who support the Government are also committed to it. We recognise, however, that one cannot just do it overnight. One cannot just flick on the switch because the capacity in the system to build any houses, private or public, was gone. Construction dropped by about 90%. We have to bear that in mind. Much of our work has been to revamp it and increase capacity in the private sector and certainly the public sector. We are committed to social housing. We want a minimum of 47,000 social houses, either built or acquired. That is the same figure that Deputy Ó Broin talks about, bearing in mind an annual rate of 10,000 per year. Therefore, we are on the same page. We wish we could build them overnight but it takes a little time. The Minister, in the review of the plan and in including more actions and driving it on, is increasing the targets to get where we want quicker, but we are talking about the same figure.

I refer the House to the original Rebuilding Ireland document. Like the jobs action plan, it must be updated every year. We have been asked to increase the urgency. Pages 43 to 46, inclusive, refer to increasing the numbers and they imply we want to be building or acquiring 10,000 houses per year. That is what we are trying to do. We are on the same page so it is not a case of ideology. There might be slight timing differences. The Deputies should please park the false argument about ideology. If we want to have a debate about rights, let us have an honest one. We all want the social housing and recognise the need for it. Let us also bear in mind the facts, however. We will go quicker when we can.

I have listened to people saying there is nothing being done and that we are way behind. We are also committed in the plan to revamping and restarting private building. We hope to return to the rate we all want, namely, 28,000 per year. We believed it would take three or four years to get there. The ESRI confirmed in its figures this week that, by 2018, the State will be delivering about 24,000 houses. As it turns out, a good 20% plus of those will be social houses. The percentages are in favour of what the Deputies want. Again, we are on the right trend. I wish that some of the work we have been doing for the past year were more visible to everybody so we could have a better argument here. We can see some of the trends going in the right direction. Some of the data prove that. We recognise on our side, however, that it is not enough to deal with the emergency.

We will do more. We will put more money into it and push on.

I can assure the Deputy it is not ideology. Again, the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has referred to trends. Planning permissions have increased by 42% or 43%, commencement notices have increased by 40% and the number of housing projects on site has increased this year in the Dublin region and around the country. More than 2,000 social houses will be delivered whereas two years ago, the figure was 75 and last year the figure was approximately 700. Next year the figure will be 4,000. The trends are going the right way. We are trying to get to the figure of 10,000 units. Whoever is in government thereafter can add to and build on that but we need to be realistic as it takes a little more than one or two weeks to achieve that.

The money is available. Deputy MacSharry and others have asked whether the money is real. It is real. We have travelled to every local authority in the country over the past year. In the past couple of months the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has engaged with each local authority to tell them straight up, face to face, that the money is available and to get pipelines in place and bring projects forward. That is what we are asking and we will back them.

I can confirm that no project has been refused on funding grounds in any local authority. We have repeatedly asked councillors and colleagues from all parties to drive this agenda at local level. People have referred to affordable housing and using State-owned lands. We have identified 800 sites belonging to the State, 770 of which are in local authorities. The most recent proposal from Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown was driven by Fine Gael councillors. Every party and councillor can roll in behind this process and drive plans forward. Affordable housing plans on all of those sites are in addition to our commitment to 47,000 social housing units. I ask Deputies not to tell me that we are holding them back. The options are there, the mechanisms are in place and we must drive the process on.

Part of having an action plan for housing is to move things forward at pace and with a sense of urgency. That is part of the reason for having a review in order to determine whether we can do things even faster and add more changes. That is what is happening. People are have quoted timelines for the delivery of social housing projects that are out of date. We have improved the system and made changes to speed up the process. In some cases it has not happened quickly enough and we will re-examine the process. A new delivery team is being established to build on the housing delivery office to drive that process even faster and push the system even more to make it even more urgent. We recognise that quite a number of people in emergency situations are declaring themselves homeless on a weekly basis. We will drive on and do more.

The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has made it very clear that money is not an issue in tackling emergency homelessness. Money is available for whatever is required, be it the HAP scheme, the hub scheme, acquiring houses, repair and lease back or voids. Everything is happening and we will work as quickly as we can to bring houses on board. Deputy Cowen said people need to see hope and change. Let us reflect on the figures. Last year, more than 3,000 people left a homeless situation and found a housing solution. In the first three or four months of this year, more than 900 people found a housing solution. Last August and September we stood here and made a commitment to move people out of hotels. At that stage, there were approximately 1,100 living in such accommodation. One thousand families have left hotels and are in other accommodation. I acknowledge that more have required hotel accommodation and there has been an increase in presentations in the past three or four months. We will deal with that and some progress is being made.

I do not state that the Government is looking for a pat on the back because it is not enough until everyone is out of emergency accommodation and living in a house. People need to know that progress is being made because taxpayers' money is getting to the root of the problem in some cases. We will build on that and do even more. I ask Deputies not to come to the House and say nothing is happening because that is not the case and the facts do not back that up. We want to do more as quick as we possibly can.

Most Deputies who have spoken have been constructive and tried to put forward good suggestions. The Taoiseach, Deputy Leo Varadkar, and I have made the same point. I refer to the Action Plan for Jobs. When the Minister, Deputy Bruton, set out that the Fine Gael and Labour Party Government would create 100,000 jobs over three or four years many, including some Deputies in the Chamber, said this would never be done. In the first year of the plan we received a lot of criticism and people asked where the jobs were because they could not see them. As a Government, we kept saying we were making all the right changes, putting all the resources in place and were making all of the right moves and policy decisions to deliver those jobs. In the second, third, fourth and fifth years of the Action Plan for Jobs the jobs started coming. The private sector worked with us and we were way ahead of target as by 2016, more than 200,000 jobs had been created. The process of the Action Plan for Jobs was right.

The housing process will deliver results. I am confident that all the measures we are putting in place, as well as the new measures that are being added on a weekly basis, will fix the housing crisis, shortage or emergency – whatever one wants to call it. I was involved in the jobs process and saw what happened.

Deputy Barry mentioned hundreds of thousands of young people. I am not sure of their ages. He said they cannot get houses and are stuck living in family homes. In a debate three or four years ago, Government Members were being told hundreds of thousands of young people had no future in Ireland, would never have a job here and could not be educated. We were asked where they would go. All of that has now changed. Those young people can stay in this country and have the option of getting jobs and developing careers. Our job now is to make sure we can provide accommodation for them and we will do that. As we gave them hope of staying in this country and having the choice, we will do the same when it comes to housing. It means driving on these actions.

I welcome all of the suggestions on how to improve things. Some people in the House made submissions to the Rebuilding Ireland review and others did not bother. Of those that did, we will take them on board and drive them on as best as we possibly can. I ask Deputies not to tell me this is to do with ideology because it is not. We will put the required resources in place and drive the process forward as quickly as we possibly can.

People have talked about rights and how this debate is about inserting rights into the Constitution. I am not sure how that would help to fast-track the supply of private or social housing. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and others have said it is fine to have the conversation. In the programme for Government, we agreed to have the matter dealt with by the appropriate committee, to review the report published a couple of years ago and to have this conversation. There is nothing wrong with having the conversation and making the right decision. The Bill will not solve the housing crisis today, tomorrow or in the next six months or year. We must drive on and keep our focus on the delivery of social, private and affordable housing and ensure people have the choice to rent.

Deputy Barry put forward some suggestions around the rental market. We have made changes. The Government has recognised that if people are to have the choice to rent, which they have in the many countries to which the Deputies referred, it is because there is investment in rental properties from an affordable and cost rental point of view from both the State and private sector. There needs to be investment in property or people will not have choices.

We have rental plans and strategies. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, announced more changes yesterday to strengthen the rights of tenants and provide them with more confidence of supply and security. We must recognise the need to balance that with providing investment for housing. People want that choice. As a Government, our job is to do all of the different things to make sure we tackle housing supply. We will do that and I thank Deputies for their support.

10:35 pm

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, Solidarity)
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The Minister of State, Deputy English, said this is not about ideology, not once, twice or three times but seven or eight times in a ten-minute speech. The Minister of State doth protest far too much and gives the game away. What proposal are Members debating? We are debating whether the right to a home should exist in the Constitution and whether the right to private property - in reality the right to profit from private property - should be limited to ensure the right to a home can be vindicated. It gets to the heart of what the housing crisis is about. It is about the so-called free market and the right to profit versus the right of people to a home. How do Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil answer that question? They answer it without hesitation – they say the right to profit. They say one could not possibly seriously interfere with the private market. That is ideology but hey do not see it as such. The ruling ideology in any society is never recognised as ideology. Rather, it is recognised as common sense.

They may genuinely think that the best way to deal the housing crisis is to incentivise the private sector to build more homes and do some things around the edge. The other mantra is that progress is being made. It is like the debate on jobs, where we were told they were coming around the corner. I came in here in October 2014 and heard that about the housing crisis. I have heard it ever since. The houses and homes have never arrived.

I have no confidence that the Government will deliver the homes because it is not willing to invest seriously in social and affordable housing. It is completely hamstrung both by its ideology and world view and by the rules that codify that world view, namely, fiscal rules which state it cannot use the money that exists in respect of NAMA and the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF.

10 o’clock

That refusal to interfere in the private market is the reason we have people dying on our streets, 8,000 people homeless across the State, people sleeping in cars, on couches and in tents, tens of thousands of people facing rents they cannot afford, and people trapped in their parents' homes unable to have their own homes. The housing crisis is not an accident. It is a direct result of putting the greed for profit of developers, landlords and bankers before the right of people to a home. That is what exists in this country and that is why we have this Bill.

Last year, we introduced an anti-evictions Bill. It was a simple Bill to ban landlords from evicting tenants, a huge crisis that would be acknowledged. We were met with opposition from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil who told us that we could not do that because it would be unconstitutional because of the right to private property in the Constitution. At that time, we said that was wrong and that it was a narrow interpretation of the Constitution designed to justify not taking those actions. We still stand over the argument. We are saying that even if the Government is right, we are proposing to change that balance in the Constitution by inserting the right of people to a home. Now they say that they could not possibly do that because, in Fianna Fáil's words, it would be like putting a right to the winning lottery numbers in the Constitution. It is nonsense.

This is all rooted in a class reality, that the interests of big landlords, developers and bankers are counterposed to the interests of people on the streets, people facing unaffordable rent hikes and people facing mortgages they cannot afford. A major problem in the Dáil is that it is the class interests of the first group that are represented - what James Connolly described as the committee of the rich. That is what the Government fundamentally is and it is reflected in the ratio of landlords in this place and even more in the Government - the Ministers, Deputies Michael Creed, Regina Doherty, Simon Coveney, Paul Kehoe and Charles Flanagan, and the Chief Whip, Deputy Joe McHugh. This is 13% of the Cabinet compared to 5% of adults in normal society. Are they against the right to housing because they are landlords? No.

10:45 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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It is not fair and is without precedent for the Deputy to come in here and make an imputation against named individuals.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, Solidarity)
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There is no imputation whatsoever. These are people who according to the register of interests own-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy is not saying it to compliment them.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, Solidarity)
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It is no individual compliment or insult to them.

Photo of Eoghan MurphyEoghan Murphy (Dublin Bay South, Fine Gael)
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In the context, it is absolutely relevant in how the Deputy raises those names.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, Solidarity)
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Absolutely. Of course, it is very relevant. The point is that

Photo of Eoghan MurphyEoghan Murphy (Dublin Bay South, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy is trying to impugn their good name.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, Solidarity)
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No. The point is that the Government represents the interests of landlords. This is not about individuals in Government but it is wildly out of whack with society as a whole and this is not accidental. It is the world view and the interests they represent. This is fundamentally the point and, as a socialist, I believe that building homes for profit and housing provision generally for profit is incompatible with the right of people to a home. That is why we have this crisis and the answer to this crisis is challenging the basis upon which our housing is provided and upon which our society is organised to put people's needs and rights first.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I do not want to assert the dominance of ideology for the sake of it because this crisis is too serious but is it seriously a coincidence that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael refuse to support inserting the right to housing in the Constitution when 84% of people in a randomly selected Constitutional Convention said we should insert the right, when all of the housing NGOs say we should assert this right, and when parties ranging from Sinn Féin to Independents to Solidarity-People Before Profit, the Labour Party, the Green Party and the Social Democrats all say this would be a good idea? Is it a coincidence that Fianna Fáil decided to opt out of the right to housing provision in the European Social Charter? Is it a coincidence that when the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act was being debated and we pointed out to the Government the loopholes that would be exploited by the landlords and which the Government is finally acknowledging, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael resisted our amendments on those things and our attempts a year ago to close them down?

This has consequences. In my area, the case of the residents of St. Helen's Court is before the RTB. A vulture fund called Apollo Global Management is evicting these residents because it tried to get a 60% rent increase, felt it could not get away with it and came back a couple of months later saying it needed to carry out substantial refurbishments and that the residents needed to get out. Robin Hill apartments were in the hands of NAMA. These 20 or so apartments were sitting empty for the past four or five years. NAMA refused to sell them to the council and now the people who own those apartments, our friend Cerberus, which the Department of Finance met along with holding 60 other meetings with vulture funds and which was invited to buy this property, is evicting people and because it cannot increase the rent, it is adding over €100 and, in some cases, €200 in additional charges per month for heating and hot water which never existed previously. We pointed out all these loopholes to the Government. These people will be evicted so already the Government's ideology has got in the way of preventing these things from happening. There is no explanation other than ideology.

This Bill is very clear. It is about re-balancing the common good provisions and strengthening them over the rights of private property specifically in respect of the right to housing, but the Government resists. Why? It has not given an explanation other than to say it needs to consider it. The Constitutional Convention made its recommendations in 2014. The Government has had three years to consider it. There have been multiple papers on this, and there have been conferences and recommendations. It has been done across the world but the Government still resists it. Why? There can be no other explanation other than it is because the Government's ideological default position is to defend the landlords and the vulture funds. What is it going to do about the fact that Cairn Homes has 20% of zoned building land? We could build 12,000 units on that land but we are not going to do so because Cairn Homes, a private, for-profit entity, only wants to build 300 units because it is more profitable to do it that way. I say that the State should go in, take that land and build the houses we need. What will Cairn Homes do if we try to do that? It will scream that we are interfering with its private property rights but to hell with its private property rights. The right to housing for the citizens in homeless accommodation comes first. That is what we are saying and we want the Government to agree with and act on that, build the public housing, stop the evictions and profiteering by landlords and vulture funds, get the land that is being hoarded by these people and use it to provide housing for our citizens. The Minister knows damn well what this is about. We need that action because Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have dragged their heels at every single point of this crisis.

Cuireadh an leasú. Amendment put.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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In accordance with Standing Order 70(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Thursday, 21 September 2017.

The Dáil adjourned at at 10.10 p.m. until 2 p.m. on Thursday, 21 September 2017.