Dáil debates

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Homelessness: Motion [Private Members]

 

1:40 pm

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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I move:

“That Dáil Éireann:

notes that the homeless figures continue to rise month on month and, at the end of October 2018, there were 9,724 people and 3,725 children in homeless accommodation according to the statistics provided by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government;

further notes that:— at least 1,600 people were removed and recategorised from these homeless figures;

— people and children in domestic violence refuges and direct provision accommodation are not included in these figures;

— people and children living in unsuitable, overcrowded accommodation and ‘couch surfing’ are also not included in these figures;

— some children are spending their second and third Christmases in emergency accommodation;

— the most recent rough sleeper count was 156, up from 110 in the spring count;

— over 10,000 attended the rally on 1st December, #HomesForAll, which was also the fourth anniversary of the death of Jonathan Corrie;

— over 14,000 people signed the recent Barnardos Ireland petition to call for an end to the use of bed and breakfasts and hotels to house homeless children; and

— public opinion is ahead of the political will to end the crisis, and the majority of the public believe that housing is a human right which should be enshrined in the Constitution, according to a recent Amárach poll published on the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on 10th December; andcalls on the Government to:— immediately declare a housing emergency and implement the necessary emergency measures to urgently address the crisis;

— hold a referendum on the right to housing in May 2019;

— commit to re-housing families who have been in emergency homeless

accommodation, including hubs, for 18 months or more, no later than by the end of quarter 1, 2019;

— commit to re-housing all other families experiencing homelessness by the end of quarter 2, 2019;

— limit the use of hubs and emergency accommodation for families with children to three months maximum;

— increase supports to schools in areas with large populations of homeless families;

— provide free counselling to all families and children experiencing homelessness should they wish to avail of the service;

— increase the number of available emergency beds and single rooms in dry hostels; and

— extend the Housing First programme by doubling all targets in the Housing First National Implementation Plan 2018-2021.”

I wish to share time with Deputies Joan Collins and Maureen O'Sullivan.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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I am delighted to have the opportunity to bring forward on behalf of my Independent colleagues our motion on homelessness, which was placed on the clár of the Dáil in December. Every day Deputies are contacted by upset constituents who are at the end of their tethers. These people are trying to look for housing assistance payment, HAP, properties, having been given notices to quit because of sale or refurbishment of the properties in which they are living, they are living in substandard accommodation or they are sleeping in their cars or in tents. There are mothers who are desperately upset with regard to how their children are reacting to the uncertainty relating to homeless accommodation. There are also those who are trying to get deposits together for mortgages and individuals who require urgent housing adaptations. The list is endless. What these people experience is exhausting for them. The Minister knows this as well as I do.

The majority of individuals and families entering homelessness services are coming directly from the private rental sector, having been evicted. Despite the Minister's comments earlier today, we do not even know how many new homes will be coming online and ready for occupation in each quarter. We can only say to families with children who have been in hotel rooms for over two and a half years that they should be getting close to moving out or close to what Fingal County Council calls the "offer zone". It is rare that families are in emergency accommodation for three years or more. We also have no information on how long families have to spend in hubs, such as those in Greencastle Road and St. Lawrence Road in my constituency of Dublin Bay North.

I do not know how many more times and in how many more ways I and other Opposition Deputies - excluding those who are members of Fine Gael's coalition partner Fianna Fáil of course - can provide options and solutions to the Government to address the housing and homelessness crisis. I accept some builds are happening but in very small numbers and they are mainly for-profit units with few if any social housing units. Fine Gael keeps trotting out the failing but glossy Rebuilding Ireland strategy, which places most of the so-called solutions in the broken private rental market. A wide spectrum of Irish society is totally fed up with the tortuously slow response to the citizens and families enduring homelessness, those facing eviction and the tens of thousands on housing waiting lists. The success of the Raise the Roof movement has shown us that almost every sector of Irish society wants and needs change.

That is why our motion calls on the Fine Gael-led Government, propped up by Fianna Fáil, to immediately declare a housing emergency and implement the necessary emergency measures to urgently address the crisis. We believe a key element of those emergency measures should be an urgent return to direct-build by the local authorities and to support them, either individually or regionally, to develop and build out their own landbanks to deliver an adequate stream of social and affordable housing. That direct-build programme in the four Dublin local authority areas should, for the reasons I have previously explained to the Minister regarding the problems that exist in Dublin city in particular, be managed by the Dublin Region Housing Executive.

Our motion also calls on the Government to hold a referendum to place the right to housing and right to shelter in the Constitution on the same day as the local and European Parliament elections in May. We should offer people the vote on the matter and see what they think. The excuse the Minister outlines for not doing so in the Government amendment is pathetic.

We also call on the Government to commit to rehousing families who have been in emergency homeless accommodation, including hubs, for 18 months or more by the end of the quarter 1 of this year and no later. The Government should also commit to rehousing all other families experiencing homelessness by the end of quarter 2 and to limiting the use of hubs and emergency accommodation for families with children to three months maximum. When the hub on Greencastle Road in Coolock started, the Salvation Army informed me that no family would be there for more than three months, but this is yet another promise that has not happened.

We are also asking for increased supports to schools in areas with large populations of homeless families. We come across that every week and we talk to children who are homeless. We call on the Government to provide free counselling to all families and children experiencing homelessness should they wish to avail of the service; to increase the number of available emergency beds and single rooms in dry hostels; and, in particular, to extend the Housing First programme by doubling all targets in the Housing First National Implementation Plan 2018-2021.

I asked the Minister a question on this during Question Time. During the week of 24 to 30 December, Christmas time, according to the official statistics from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, 3,559 homeless children were in emergency accommodation managed by local authorities across the country. It is shocking and shameful that on Christmas Day, these children woke up in overcrowded homeless accommodation.

At the start of this year, in replies to parliamentary questions on the number of families in direct provision centres, the Minister advised that in 2016 there were 899 parents and 1,219 children in direct provision centres. I also asked the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, to provide the numbers of parents and children in domestic violence refuges who were ready to move out of supported accommodation but who were awaiting appropriate accommodation. TUSLA was unable to provide the numbers for 2017 and 2018 but did provide the figures for 2015 and 2016. The latter showed that there were 1,736 adults and 2,463 dependent children in refuges in 2015 and 1,520 adults and 2,170 dependent children in 2016.

Based on the Tusla figures, we can assume that there are at least around 2,000 children in domestic violence refuges and with almost 4,000 in official homeless figures and another 1,600 in direct provision centres, the number of homeless children on the watch of the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is at least 8,000, an unbelievable statistic.

The most frustrating aspect for Deputies on this side of the House is that we cannot trust the figures the Minister has given us in the past on the number of new homes built. Last June he revealed that the Government was overestimating new build figures between 2011 and 2017 by over 30,000. He claimed that approximately 85,000 homes were built, whereas the CSO figure put the number at 53,500.

The housing crisis, of course, is most acute in the Dublin City Council region, the local authority area in which most of my constituency lies. Housing output has been miserable in recent years. Astonishingly, in the Dublin City Council area, direct social housing output in 2019 is expected to be lower than in 2018. The February report of the Dublin City Council housing manager shows that in 2019, only 187 homes are expected to be built directly by Dublin City Council compared with 247 in 2018. Only 170 units are to be leased or acquired in 2019 and voids restored will also fall. In total, Dublin City Council housing output will only increase from 5,565 units in 2018 to 5,957 units in 2019, but 3,000 of those, of course, are HAP tenancies.

Part of the constituency I represent is located in Fingal. Fingal County Council is great at sending around press releases but its output from 2015 to 2017 has also been very disappointing. The CEO’s housing report on 11 February shows that only 416 social housing units were delivered in 2018, comprising Fingal direct build, approved housing bodies, Part V and voids. Once again, the vast majority of what the Fingal County Council housing manager likes to call "housing solutions" - 1,243 units out of 1,916 social housing units - were simply HAP and RAS tenancies. Everything is planned for the early 2020s and so on.

The constant backdrop to the suffering of families and individuals on homelessness and housing lists, of course, is the ruthless Irish property market.

Almost all the families I have met going into homelessness were evicted by landlords and their agents. The 2018 quarter four daft.ierental price report again shows the remorseless determination by landlords and estate agents to maximise housing market profits and the inefficacy of the Government's so-called rent caps. As the Minister knows, the sponsors of this motion all voted in this House for a three year rent freeze. Dublin rents rose by almost 9% in 2018 and now are almost 40% above the pre-crash peak. As my old economics teacher and the former Fine Gael Taoiseach, Mr. Garrett Fitzgerald, used to say, the rate of increase is falling but while the rate may be falling, it is still at 10%. Galway rents rose by 13% in the same period, Cork rents rose by 11% and while rents in Limerick and Waterford were 16% and 16.7%, respectively, higher. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil are in thrall, as always, to the property market sector and the country’s landlords. They have steadfastly refused to impose a statutory rent freeze, which is now needed urgently.

In December 2018, myself and my Independent colleagues submitted this motion which notes the constant and relentless increase in the homeless figures, except for small reductions in recent months, thanks in part to the recategorisation of some people by the Department. We are asking that action would be taken for the children and families living in unsuitable, overcrowded accommodation, some of whom are engaging in couch surfing and other measures in an attempt to keep a roof over their heads. The majority of the public believes that housing is a human right which should be enshrined in the Constitution. Some people would argue that it is anterior to positive law and is a natural right that does not have to be explicitly referenced in the Constitution but I disagree. We need to specify that right in our Constitution. There are umpteen reports from civil society groups on how damaging homelessness is to children. These reports detail how children's growth and nutrition is adversely affected, as well as their mental health and yet, this Government has sat back and allowed child homelessness to constantly climb. The time for Fine Gael spin has long passed. We need emergency action to address homelessness along the lines of the motion before us today. I urge the Minister to act before it is too late and before he is removed from office in a general election.

1:50 pm

Photo of Joan CollinsJoan Collins (Dublin South Central, Independent)
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I thank Deputy Broughan for tabling this Private Member's motion on homelessness. This motion was to be moved last December but was postponed, by agreement, to allow for other business. It is certainly as relevant, if not more so, today. Homelessness permeates our society and the figures for the number of homeless children referred to by Deputy Broughan are stark. It must be extremely embarrassing for the Government, as we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the First Dáil, to see Army veterans using tricolour themed sleeping bags, now dubbed "sleeping flags", to highlight the issue of homelessness among ex-service personnel. This is part of a campaign to raise funds for the services provided by the Organisation of National Ex-servicemen, ONE. That organisation is dependent on public charity to continue its work. Mr. Ollie O'Connor of ONE says that hundreds of Army veterans have ended up homeless. The organisation has helped more than 900 homeless ex-Army personnel since it opened up its first hostel. Last night when I was leaving Leinster House at around 10.55 p.m., there was a gentleman asleep outside the gates. I did not wake him last night but spoke to him this morning. His name is James Mee and he has completed almost 30 years service at Monaghan Army barracks. He has done a tour of the Lebanon but was sleeping outside Leinster House last night to highlight the fact that some of his former colleagues are homeless and are sleeping on our streets. The cost of running ONE's Brú na BhFiann hostel in 2017 was €839,000, of which €44,000 came from the Department of Justice and Equality and a further €183,000 from the Dublin Regional Homeless Executive. The remaining €600,000 came from fundraising, which is disgraceful. This must be addressed by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government.

No doubt the Minister will bombard us with statistics and claim that progress is being made. I will concede that some progress is, at last, being made. Last year 18,000 new housing units were built, mainly in Dublin, where new units rose by one third. However, this is still way below the generally accepted requirement of 30,000 units per year. There is also a big question as to how many of these new builds in the private sector are affordable for people on average incomes. The housing investment programme is predicting 6,200 public housing units this year, which is almost double the figure for 2018 but again, this is well short of the 10,000 units that are required per year.

Yesterday at the homelessness summit the Minister referred to 8,400 units comprising new builds, leases, voids, acquisitions, HAP and RAS. How many of these units were built by local authorities and housing associations? In 2017, the Minister spoke about 7,000 units in these categories but we found out later that of that total, only 394 units were local authority builds. Apparently a special purpose vehicle, SPV, will be established this quarter to enable credit unions to invest in approved housing bodies, AHBs but credit unions expressed a desire to use a portion of their reserve funds in this way a very long time ago. Again, it is a question of too little and too slow.

As the homelessness crisis carries on, it is doing untold damage to homeless children and young adults. Behind all the statistics are real people who are negatively affected by this crisis. The latest scientific and medical evidence suggests that good nutrition, play and a feeling of security are crucial to the development of children's brains and motor skills. The lack of these crucial elements in their formative years can physically impair children's brain development and can have long lasting if not life-long effects. Children in temporary accommodation without cooking facilities or areas for playing and mixing with others are deprived of the aforementioned crucial elements. The same is true of the effects of homelessness on young adults. The rate of homelessness among young adults has doubled in the last four years. Young adults are at a crucial point in their emotional, cognitive and social development, transitioning from adolescence to adulthood. Again, difficult experiences at this stage can have life-long consequences. It is much more difficult for this group to exit homelessness because they are not entitled to public housing and they cannot afford the astronomical rents being charged in the private sector. This is particularly true for those in receipt of a social welfare payment, often the half-rate jobseeker's allowance. A group called the Irish Coalition to End Youth Homelessness held a briefing last week in Buswells Hotel. The group argued strongly for the introduction of a Housing First programme for young adults and I urge the Minister to consider that.

The Government must respond to the points made in the Private Member's motion before us. It must declare a housing emergency and hold a referendum on the right to housing.

Photo of Maureen O'SullivanMaureen O'Sullivan (Dublin Central, Independent)
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I wish to acknowledge the work of Deputy Broughan and his staff in preparing this Private Member's motion. We have been consumed by health issues in recent weeks and I welcome the fact that we are being reminded again today of the importance of housing and homelessness. I took part in two debates in the House last week. One was on the child and adolescent mental health Service, CAMHS, and the other was on a report on childhood obesity, both of which are relevant to today's debate, such is the effect of homelessness on children. Being homeless and in inappropriate accommodation, whether that is a hotel, bed and breakfast accommodation or moving from one relative to another, has a devastating effect on the physical and mental health of adults but it is particularly hard on children. We know of the delays in accessing CAMHS and it is schools and youth projects that are picking up the pieces for these children. Great work is being done in school completion programmes, by home school liaison officers and youth projects but they need more support and resources to continue their work. It is very difficult for families living in temporary or unsuitable accommodation to cook and eat healthily. They are overly reliant on take-away and fast food, which contributes significantly to childhood obesity.

Last night RTÉ broadcast a very interesting report on homelessness in Dublin. The figures were very stark, particularly the really significant increases in homelessness in the last few years. I acknowledge that people are moving out of homelessness and I know of many individuals and families who have finally found a home. However, no sooner does that happen than others are becoming homeless and going onto the housing list because of unscrupulous landlords who are evicting them in favour of those who can and will pay higher rents. A ban on rent increases should be introduced overnight with no lead-in period because we are in a housing emergency. Those landlords who are ethical and moral and who have certain standards would not have a problem with that. To make a real difference, evictions must cease except in very extreme circumstances.

We are all aware of the complex needs of rough sleepers but they are getting lost in the current housing crisis. The mortality rates for those sleeping rough are shocking. A study conducted a number of years ago found that the average life expectancy for men sleeping rough was 44 years while for women, it was 38 years. Life expectancy for the general population is almost double that. Such is the extent of the housing crisis that rough sleepers are falling down the priority list. Other groups that are getting lost include Travellers, people in addiction and those in recovery from addiction. The latter group in particular are being put into inappropriate accommodation which is making their continued recovery very difficult. Single people are also being left behind. We are all aware of the shortage of one-bedroom units.

Equally, those who were on the housings lists prior to the housing crisis are being pushed further down the lists because of it. The Minister's amendment refers to the availability of €6 billion under Rebuilding Ireland to support the delivery of 50,000 new social housing homes and 87,000 other housing supports over the six years from 2016 to 2021. I heard the Minister say on radio this morning that 8,400 social units were provided in 2018, either built, repaired or made available. Any increase is welcome. How does the Minister propose to make up the balance in the remaining two years? There is need for a detailed plan in that regard.

Social mix was referred to. I hope we will not repeat the mistakes of the past of putting all social housing in one block and, as I have witnessed, different treatment of those residents by the management companies. My bugbear is student accommodation. We supported it on the false premise that it would have an impact on the housing emergency. As students live in this accommodation for only eight to nine of the year it is a lucrative profit-making enterprise for the remaining months of the year. I have been in student accommodation. It is very good, with 24-hour management on site. Why is it the owners of this accommodation were not required to provide, say, 10% of this accommodation for suitable people? The urgency and speed with which student accommodation is being provided, which is very good quality accommodation, is not replicated in the provision of social housing.

In regard to the docklands, of the 1,178 apartments being built in this area only 26 will be social homes. There are concerns that there will be little or no social housing within the strategic development zone, SDZ, with social housing being located well away from the docklands area. Existing communities are concerned about the pressure to increase building heights. While agreed heights are already in place and some developers have adhered to them, there is increasing pressure to raise them further. This will have a devastating affect on the communities living in this area.

I acknowledge that the Minister has a difficult Ministry and that the root of the problem took hold before he took office in it but it is heartbreaking to hear the realities of life for those who are homeless. It is equally disturbing to still see derelict sites and local authority housing voids.

2:00 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 “Dáil Éireann” and substitute the following:

“acknowledges that:

— the Government recognised the urgency of the housing crisis over two years ago and introduced the Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness, providing a comprehensive framework for addressing the range of complex issues needing to be addressed across the housing sector;

— the Rebuilding Ireland - Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness is underpinned by over €6 billion in funding to support the delivery of 50,000 new social housing homes and 87,000 other housing supports over the six years 2016 to 2021;

— very significant progress has been made from 2016 to the end of 2018, in partnership with local authorities, Approved Housing Bodies and a range of other delivery partners, with over 72,000 individuals and families having their housing needs met during those three years, over 27,000 of which were supported in 2018 alone, and a further 27,300 households are expected to be supported this year, and this will bring to almost 100,000 the total number of households who will have been assisted under Rebuilding Ireland by the end of 2019;

— the level of progress being made is reflected in social housing waiting lists, which have reduced by 22 per cent, from 91,600 households to 71,858, between 2016 and 2018;

— to date, Rebuilding Ireland has increased the active social housing stock by over 21,200 homes, with some 8,420 of these being delivered in 2018;

— in 2018, over 18,000 new homes were built, a 25 per cent increase on the previous year and the highest number of newly built homes any year this decade, and in addition, more than 2,500 homes were brought out of long-term vacancy, with almost 800 dwellings in unfinished housing developments completed, meaning the number of new homes available for use increased by almost 21,500 in 2018, which does not include the 3,742 bed spaces completed in the student sector in 2018;

— the Government is committed to supporting those single persons, families and their dependents who are experiencing homelessness, and Budget 2019 reflects this commitment, with an increase of 25 per cent in the current spending budget for the provision of homeless services (bringing the total to €146 million for this year);

— the most recent published statistics show there were 9,753 persons in emergency accommodation in the month of December 2018, comprised of 6,194 adults and 3,559 associated dependants, and this represents a reduction of 215 people nationally on the numbers recorded in November;

— in December 2018, there were 111 fewer families and 252 fewer dependants in emergency accommodation than was the case in November, and that for the fifth consecutive month there was a reduction recorded in the number of families presenting to homeless services in the Dublin region;

— 111 families exited emergency accommodation into new homes in Dublin in December 2018, while 72 per cent of families in emergency accommodation in the Dublin region at the end of December had been homeless for less than one year, and through service level agreements with service providers, local authorities are working towards ensuring that exits from homelessness are achieved within six months of entering emergency accommodation;

— while the most recent count of rough sleepers in the Dublin region showed that 156 individuals were recorded sleeping rough, which was an increase on the numbers recorded in March 2018, there was a decrease of 28 on the number of persons recorded as sleeping rough during the equivalent winter count in 2017;

— the number of beds in use for single adults has risen from 2,000 beds at the end of 2017 to 2,300 beds in the Dublin region at the end of 2018, and all of these beds are supported temporary accommodation where single individuals and couples receive the accommodation and health supports that they need, with those presenting as homeless being matched to the best available accommodation, according to their needs, and emergency accommodation capacity fluctuates and is dictated by demand, with extra contingency beds being put in place during periods of adverse weather;

— increased outreach and prevention measures are working and will continue to be supported by the Government, including through the Homeless Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) Placefinder Service, and 19 HAP Placefinders are now in place and to the end of quarter 3, 2018, in excess of 5,300 households have been supported through Homeless HAP nationally, 4,350 of whom were in the Dublin region;

— the Government will continue to provide more suitable temporary accommodation to homeless families, increasing the number of family hubs to 26 at the end of 2018, with a total capacity for over 600 families, and with further hubs spaces to be added in 2019, as hubs provide a greater level of stability than is possible in hotel accommodation, with the capacity to provide appropriate play-space, cooking and laundry facilities, communal recreation space, while move-on options to long-term independent living are identified and secured;

— the most recently available performance reports show 3,752 adults exiting homelessness into independent tenancies in the nine-month period between January and September 2018, and this represents an increase of 431 (13 per cent) on the 3,321 exits recorded over the same period in 2017;

— an error was discovered in 2018, whereby households who were not in emergency accommodation had been counted in the emergency accommodation numbers, and this error was rectified and reports on the matter were published;

and

— extensive supports are also provided to families experiencing homelessness by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, and the Child and Family Agency, Tusla, and supports include:— a special provision under the existing Community Childcare Subvention Programme of free childcare for children from homeless families;

— Tusla’s School Completion Programme, which places an emphasis on children from homeless families;

— Home School Community Liaison Scheme co-ordinators proactively engaging with parents from homeless families to provide supports and assistance where required; and

— children in homeless accommodation being prioritised within the School Completion Programme for services such as breakfast and homework clubs; and

further acknowledges that:

— Housing First is delivering permanent housing solutions for rough sleepers and long-term users of emergency accommodation, and by the end of 2018, the Dublin Region Housing First Service had created Housing First tenancies for 243 unique individuals, of whom 86 per cent have successfully retained their homes, and the Housing First National Implementation Plan 2018-2021 contains targets for each local authority, with an overall national target of an additional 663 tenancies to be delivered by 2021;

— a high-level Homelessness Inter-Agency Group has been established, with representation from the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Health, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection, the Department of Education and Skills, local authorities, Tusla and the Health Service Executive, and a report from this Group was submitted to Cabinet in June 2018, and a range of recommendations are now being implemented, including better co-ordination of responses, particularly in the areas of health, justice and family homelessness;

— the provision of accommodation to those in the international protection process and the provision of domestic violence refuges, and reporting on progress in these areas, will continue to be prioritised by the Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs/Tusla, respectively; and

— the Eighth Report of the Convention on the Constitution recommended that the State should progressively realise economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to housing, subject to maximum available resources, by inserting such a right into the Constitution of Ireland, and the Convention’s recommendation raises substantial questions, including for example, the suitability or otherwise of the Constitution of Ireland as a vehicle for providing for detailed rights in this area, the possible cost, and the fact that there is already power by legislation to confer rights and determine expenditure via primary and secondary legislation and an elected and accountable Government and Oireachtas, and for these reasons the issue of the right to housing was referred, for further consideration, to the appropriate Oireachtas Committee, the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, in October 2017.

I thank the Deputies for tabling this motion and for facilitating the time change to enable it to take place. Unfortunately, I will not be able to stay for the full debate as I only got notice that we were taking it today and arrangements had already been made that I cannot change. I accept the point that regardless of what else is happening in public life we need to be constantly debating this issue in this House because it is so important. I agree with Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan that it is heartbreaking to hear the very difficult stories of not only people who are in emergency accommodation but people in housing insecurity, people experiencing difficulty paying the rent or trying to save for a mortgage and the many others who are suffering because we stopped building houses when the economy crashed and for years before that we were not properly building social housing in a sustainable way. A combination of all these factors, including the increase in demand from people returning home and so on, has put huge demand on the housing system throughout the country.

Rebuilding Ireland is about rebuilding our housing sector in a sustainable way over time. I have never said that this could be done in one, two or three years. There are three years remaining in Rebuilding Ireland as a plan. We have from 2016 to 2021, which is the life span of the plan, to make the corrections that we need to make and to do so in a sustainable way. By sustainable I mean a social mix and getting it right and not building massive social housing estates.

Sustainability also means higher densities in places such as Dublin and other cities and urban centres where there is already infrastructure and people want to live. Sustainability also means building really good homes. I will not put people into student accommodation for 20 or 30 years. That accommodation is brilliant for students for nine months. It takes the pressure off the housing system because it means students are not renting a house in, say, Rathmines, Aungier Street, and so on. The houses we build have to be of the best possible standard because they have to stand the test of time. Also these houses will be people's homes, so they will have to be very good. We are taking all these actions over time.

We are roughly half way through Rebuilding Ireland so it is a good time to take stock in terms of where we are going. In terms of each of the challenges that we have or that people face in housing in Ireland today, the focus has to be on the root challenge of increasing supply. There is no point talking about other actions because that is just tinkering. We have to ensure that supply is increased, and in addition to that, we do the other things that we need to do to protect people who are in difficulty. The information we have from the CSO is important. Everybody knew we were using ESB connection data in regard to housing data. It was not a hidden fact. Rather, it was a stated fact that this was the best way to get an idea of the increase in supply. When I took up this Ministry I asked that people try to get an actual figure so that we could really measure what was going on. We did that work with the CSO and we now have those figures. The latest information for 2018 is really encouraging. There were 18,000 new builds last year, which is a 25% increase on the previous year. In addition, 2,500 vacant homes were returned to the housing stock. A further almost 800 homes were also brought back into use. These were houses in ghost estates, which shows that the legacy of the crash is still with us. Also, approximately 3,400 student bed spaces were provided. I have already mentioned why student accommodation is important.

We also have important information today about house price inflation. It is roughly half what it was in 2017 or 2018. We know that this is linked to the increase in supply. House prices are coming down and the rents are reducing but not everywhere. The Deputies will be aware that I have rent legislation coming through the House because some of them have made positive contributions to it and put forward ideas on how the legislation can be improved on Committee Stage, which we will do. We also have the figures from local authorities in terms of council housing. The increase in the stock of social housing last year was significant, being in the thousands. One in four of the new houses built last year was for council housing. I do not know when we last did that but I am looking into it. There are approximately 70,000 people on the housing list, who are our most vulnerable people and need our help. There are also just under 10,000 people in emergency accommodation. As I said, one in four new houses built last year was for council housing. That is not a low target. It is good, but we can do more. I will give Deputies another percentage that might drive them crazy. There was an 800% increase in social housing build over the year before Rebuilding Ireland. Rebuilding Ireland is increasing supply across the economy, including in social housing. This is positive news because these new homes help people out of emergency accommodation or overcrowded situations into new homes. I have met the families who have experienced this. For all the heartbreaking stories we hear, and there is still too much heartbreak out there, it is heart warming when one meets a family given the keys to their new home. I have met some people who have just started their families and have moved from hospital into their new homes. It is fantastic but we need to do so much more because there are so many people who are still in emergency accommodation or still cannot get their own home.

On the number of people in emergency accommodation, there was a decrease in December, which is welcome, but it could be seasonal. In regard to families in emergency accommodation, we also had a number of exits in December. These are families who exited into tenancies as opposed to into their own homes. There was also a decrease in the number of presentations and a decrease in the number of people in hotels, which is also welcome. Much more work needs to be done. I met the local authorities yesterday and drilled this home to them again. It was our fifth housing summit. It is a good process in terms of finding out were the challenges are. We need more hubs as a first response and we need delivery of more homes. We also need to do more work on prevention. Dublin City Council is in the process of hiring new officers to engage with people and help them out of emergency accommodation or to prevent them going into it.

I will not comment on the rent pressure zones because we will have another opportunity to talk about them but I would like to comment briefly on HAP. There are roughly 900,000 people in the country renting. Renting is a safe, secure place for the vast majority of people. It does not work for some and that is why we have, and continue to, put in place extra supports. We did a lot of homeless HAP last year which really helped people and prevented them ending up in emergency accommodation. The housing assistance payment allows people to have flexibility and choice in where they live. It allows them to continue working and earn more money without affecting their housing entitlement and it also allows us to deliver social mix where there previously was no social mix planned in advance. It has positives to it and that must be recognised. We are not planning to put all our weight on the private sector to deliver social housing supports. We are rebalancing. The HAP supports for 2018 versus 2017 were static. The increased delivery came through the increase in stock. This year, we will do less through new HAP than we did last year. Moving forward with each year we rebalance such that in 2021, we will have more people being supported into new social housing homes than being supported into HAP tenancies. We will continue on from there. This is the trajectory we are on.

I will now address a couple of issues in the motion. On the recategorisation issue, which comes up time and again, nobody was removed from the homeless figures. What happened was that people who were not in emergency accommodation were counted by local authorities as being in emergency accommodation. This was corrected. I have been transparent around this issue. The Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government accepted that this mistake was made. As I said, it has been corrected.

The important thing here is not being obsessed with the numbers. It is about how we help the people who are behind the numbers. That is the one thing about this debate that really disappoints me. People are focusing on numbers when they should be focusing on the people behind the numbers and how we help those people out of emergency accommodation and into homes. That is exactly what we are trying to in everything we do.

The Deputy has said that we should declare an emergency. I am not quite sure what new powers we would take in declaring an emergency or how we would use them. I have looked to see what I could do if I declared an emergency. I cannot get around procurement law and I am bit reluctant to go further with regard to planning changes because if we cut standards or regulations too much, we will have situations like Priory Hall in the future. The Deputy should please tell me what emergency powers he would take, how he would do something with a quick change in law that we have not been able to do over the past number of years and what such a law would look like because we have looked at this.

The right to housing has been discussed. It is one of a number of socioeconomic rights that are being discussed by the relevant committee in the House. If we move too quickly to a referendum on something, we risk losing it. We have seen how a proper process has helped us win very important referenda in our recent history. The introduction of a constitutional or legal change regarding the right to housing in other countries has not ended homelessness and the need for emergency accommodation so we must be clear on this. I am not saying I am against having a referendum or the idea of it. I am saying that there is work to be done. While that deliberative work is being done, we will do physical work in terms of building new homes.

Regarding the time spent in emergency accommodation, 72% of families in emergency accommodation in Dublin are there for less than one year. The average length of time in a hub is less than six months. Again, when one meets the families who have gone from a hotel to a hub to a home, one can see and understand the benefit of the trajectory. They should never have been in a hotel. Families who go straight into a hub will get into a social housing home far more quickly as a result, which is why we need more hubs as a first and temporary response.

The number of beds for individuals is increasing and we have more coming on stream. Recently, there was a meeting of the Ministers over the interagency group so it involved the Ministers for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Justice and Equality, Health along with myself and others. Next week, the Taoiseach will bring a memorandum to Cabinet on additional supports we are bringing in for people in emergency accommodation, some of whom are trapped there because we do not know their rights or status. Some of them have long-term health needs that are not being met because they are not in the right accommodation. All these new supports will help improve that.

Housing First is working really well with an 88% to 92% retention rate, with people not falling back into homelessness. We have a national director, a national plan and ambitious targets on which we will build but we must put in the resources first. We must build it and get it right and not do it in the wrong way or else people will start to change their minds around Housing First. Again, we are trying to bring a number of different bodies involved in emergency accommodation around to this new way of thinking. Most have come that way but we need to do it in a stepped way to get it really right. Supply is key to all our challenges. The recent numbers we are seeing with regard to supply are really positive but we will not stop here. The number will increase again in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022. We will keep on going until we get this done.

2:10 pm

Photo of John CurranJohn Curran (Dublin Mid West, Fianna Fail)
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I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I thank Deputy Broughan, a former teacher of mine, for tabling this motion. It is disappointing that nearly three years after the election of the 32nd Dáil, an issue that dominated the very beginning of that Dáil, housing and homelessness, is as severe and prominent today as it was three years ago. While Fianna Fáil will be supporting the principles of the motion before us today, I acknowledge that there is no one simple solution to this. The motion specifically calls for an emergency to be declared and emergency actions to be taken. They must be taken in tandem with long-term structural changes that are needed in terms of the provision of significant additional housing. The motion acknowledges the fact that we still have people who are homeless. According to the latest homeless figures we were quoting, almost 10,000 people are homeless, of whom more than 3,500 are children. As public representatives, we all know the challenging lives those families are living, particularly if they have children, because we meet them in our constituency offices. Whether it involves trying to access cooking facilities in hotels or being driven to different areas to try to get to schools, their lives are hell at the moment. This figure has consistently stayed in or around the same number for a long time. It is in that context that we need to look at some of the emergency measures.

I would allude also to the fact that the figure for rough sleepers in recent times is quite high. I think the latest figure we got was 156. I do not know where the count is but I am certainly seeing people sleeping rough in parts of Dublin where I never saw them before - on the canals and out on the M50, N4 and N7 in tents. That is something I have never seen before and I do not know if those people are even included in that count. I would have serious concerns about that.

The first action in Rebuilding Ireland was the rapid build programme, which is why emergency actions must be taken in parallel with structural changes. The Minister committed to delivering 1,500 rapid build units by the end of 2018. My understanding is that only a couple of hundred of those have been built. Can the Minister imagine what would have happened if the 1,500 had been delivered in a timely fashion, as was anticipated and as was supported by Members on all sides of this House? Think of the positive impact that would have had on the people who are now homeless because rapid build was, as was specifically stated in Rebuilding Ireland, aimed at addressing the immediate need of homelessness. It has been allowed to slide and has not been addressed significantly.

I am disappointed when I drive around Dublin and see the number of vacant houses. The repair and leasing scheme is not returning the type of figures hoped for. I do not know the answer to it but I think that in times of emergency, we should know why properties around this city and its suburbs still remain vacant instead of being brought back into use.

The Minister spoke about the number of new build social houses for 2018 and how about 18,000 new houses were built, of which 4,000 were social houses. However, I have one particular concern. One of the Deputies asked how many of those houses were local authority houses. Only 2,022 houses were built by local authorities last year. The reason I am concerned about it is that, traditionally, local authorities were the leaders in the provision of social housing yet in 2018, the total number of social houses built by local authorities was 2,022. A total of 1,388 were provided by approved housing bodies while 840 were provided by Part V. There needs to be a much clearer focus on the delivery of social houses through the local authority scheme. From my conversations with people in the housing departments in local authorities, I believe they are still concerned about the process and the time it takes. There is a piece of work to be done there.

The Minister spoke about HAP. He talked about giving people choice and how they can work and pick where they want to live. At the moment, there is an over-reliance on HAP. HAP is certainly a very suitable payment for a short-term situation but for somebody who wants to settle down in a particular town or community, who has young children and who would envisage staying in that community and their children going to the local primary school and progressing to the local secondary school, HAP does not afford them these opportunities. The figures are in the programme but the problem with HAP, a problem the Minister needs to get to the bottom of, is that there is very significant churn in private rental accommodation. Not many people stay five or ten years. The people who are coming to our constituency offices who are homeless have all come through private rented accommodation. I am not opposed to HAP but what I am concerned about is the over-reliance on HAP. It is a short-term solution that does not provide the long-term accommodation it should.

I recognise and appreciate that a Bill will come before the House relating to private rented accommodation. Regarding a rent register, I spoke to Deputy Ó Broin about a particular case where property was vacated, re-advertised and re-let and the rent went up significantly. It is very important that legislation on a rent register is introduced. Many people in private rented accommodation are in a vulnerable situation. There is such a scarcity of property that they are afraid to complain. Property inspections need to be ramped up. I know the Minister will say there has been an increase year on year. The target is one in four properties being inspected by 2021. That programme should be accelerated.

In the amendment to the motion, I see that the Minister noted "the level of progress being made is reflected in social housing waiting lists, which have reduced by 22 per cent, from 91,600 households to 71,858, between 2016 and 2018."

That may be statistically correct but the problem is I meet a significant number of people who do not qualify for social housing and have no prospect of buying a house of their own, so they are caught in limbo. It is about time the income thresholds for social housing, particularly in Dublin where the cost of accommodation is so expensive, were reviewed. This is important. As I said, I meet a significant number of people who do not qualify for social housing but who do not have a hope in hell of qualifying for a mortgage to buy anything in the greater Dublin area.

The issue of affordable housing needs to be addressed. All of the Dublin Deputies, although I cannot speak for those in the rest of the country, will know of many cases where two people in a household are working but have no chance of buying a house in Dublin in a community where they may have lived all of their lives. We need to look to introducing schemes in this regard. While the Minister may argue funding is available for infrastructure, which will reduce the cost of housing, it is not significant enough. There are significant developments under construction and to be constructed in the South Dublin County Council area but none of them offers meaningful affordable housing schemes, which means a cohort of people will be left behind. Apart from the cost of the house being reduced, we need some type of savings scheme and recognition that the fact people are paying rent impacts on their ability to save a deposit. All of those issues need to be considered. There is certainly a group of people in this country who are working but who do not qualify for social housing. If we do not change and give them an opportunity to buy their own home, they will never have that opportunity. In addition, in the absence of a cost rental model, their rent will go up significantly over their lifetime.

There is much comment on the right to housing from the point of view of whether a constitutional or legislative change should be made, and the Minister said this is being considered. Three years ago, the Committee on Housing and Homelessness made a recommendation that an Oireachtas committee should address this issue as a matter of priority. It is not just some abstract or meaningless right that would be nice to have in the Constitution; it would be a counterbalance to existing property rights. I recall that at one of the sessions of the committee we discussed the purpose of the vacant sites levy. We were informed that, due to the advice of the Attorney General, the levy could only be introduced at a date in the future and at a certain rate. The reason given was that there was protection of property rights in the Constitution but there was no counterbalance in terms of a right to housing. That is a tangible example of why a right to housing in the Constitution would be beneficial.

2:20 pm

Photo of Pat CaseyPat Casey (Wicklow, Fianna Fail)
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Over several previous contributions on homelessness in our Republic, I have pleaded with this Fine Gael Government to declare homelessness to be a national emergency and I have asked that it do this now. Our homelessness national emergency needs a whole-of-Government response, with monthly targets and delivery reports. We must declare today that the common good of the people dictates that the Government must ensure a minimum standard of housing for all of our people.

That common good is the primary responsibility of Government. If policies are not working, then they need to be changed or dumped immediately. There are almost 10,000 homeless human beings in Ireland today who need to see delivery on homes. There are also the uncounted thousands known as Ireland's hidden homeless, those who are still living with parents or in overcrowded accommodation because the Government in 2019 cannot ensure an adequate supply of homes. Just as frightening is the fact that hard-working people, including public servants such as nurses and gardaí, and young men and women working in industry - will never afford to own their own home in Fine Gael's so-called republic of opportunity.

The fact remains that our Republic and our political system of government, from Cabinet to Department to Parliament to local authority, is failing to ensure there are enough homes for our citizens. We have been elected to represent the common good and to ensure it is vindicated, and we should not be afraid to call out the truth. We in Fianna Fáil have not played, and will not play, politics with homelessness and housing. Looking for ministerial heads, looking for an irresponsible and premature general election, will not take a single family out of homelessness. Outrage politics will not build a single home. The politics of continuous protest will not generate the practical solutions that can be put in place to radically increase the availability of affordable homes for all Irish people.

We need to be honest when it comes to our homelessness crisis. There are almost 10,000 homeless people in Ireland today, not including the hidden homeless, because there are not enough homes for our people. We need to build, purchase and acquire sufficient housing units to radically increase the supply of homes. Homes can only be built on appropriately zoned lands. Builders in the construction industry build these homes and have a duty of quality of provision. Planners ensure that homes are appropriate to the area in which they are being built and they have a duty to gear up to this crisis. An Bord Pleanála decides appeals and must do so quickly and with a view to the scale of Ireland's homelessness crisis. Politicians who come into the House to complain about homelessness but then object to the building of homes need to reflect on the hypocrisy shown. Irish Water needs to ensure that it is not a block to the development of housing.

Too many delays are beginning to appear in the system. The Government must ensure there are policies to direct financial supports, end bureaucratic delays and drive the sense of urgent action that the crisis requires. Throughout our recent negotiations with the Government on the latest budget and on the renewal of the confidence and supply agreement, we in Fianna Fáil ensured delivery on housing is the priority to be tackled this year. Fianna Fáil has secured ambitious but achievable targets in the provision of homes, which previous Fianna Fáil-led Governments have delivered, often in far tougher economic times.

The question must now be asked of all parties and none: what do they propose to do? On this, Fianna Fáil has brought forward many solutions. Through the confidence and supply agreement we increased social housing funding. The overall capital budget for housing has increased from €1.065 billion in 2018 to €1.34 billion in 2019, a 25% increase, and this includes social housing and homeless capital funding. Since Fianna Fáil entered into the confidence and supply arrangement, we have forced the housing capital budget to increase from €430 million in budget 2016 to €1.34 billion today, a €900 million or more than 300% increase. We have proposed a new affordable housing scheme. Only €20 million was allocated to an affordable housing scheme in 2018, with no units delivered or regulations even signed off. Fianna Fáil has established a revamped scheme worth more than €100 million per annum over the next three years, which will deliver some 7,500 units at an average price of €200,000 for ordinary income workers.

Our policies will keep landlords in the vital rental market with tax incentives to stabilise rents. Landlords that sell up are removing units from the market and driving up rents, with 4,000 landlords leaving over the past 12 months. We established a 100% mortgage interest relief measure to help keep landlords in the market and maintain supply in the short term while more homes are built. Further measures to incentivise long-term leases are in development. Delays in procurement and the four-step approval process for social housing are crippling delivery. We tripled the discretion of local authorities to build homes without going through administrative hoops. Local authorities can now build up to €6 million or 30 homes through a fast-track process.

Affordability of homes is key to addressing homelessness in Ireland. Affordable housing was a key aim of Fianna Fáil in budget 2019. We actively support home ownership and aim to launch an ambitious new scheme that will provide subsidised homes on State-owned lands across the country. There is a new €100 million per annum affordable housing fund, an investment that will construct at least 6,000 homes by 2021 and it quadruples the original allocated money per year from €25 million.

Local authorities must work with other agencies to identify where affordable homes should be built. They will take out loans from Housing Finance Agency to build the units, with a further subsidy of between €40,000 and €50,000 per home directly from the Exchequer. Homes are sold for approximately €200,000 to households on incomes of €50,000 annually for a single earner and €75,000 for those with joint incomes who cannot afford to buy a home in their own local area.

The proceeds of the sales are used to build new homes and the process starts again. Some 6,000 to 7,500 units could be built under the scheme by 2021. Social housing funding has been ramped up by €270 million. Year on year, there is a €270 million or 25% increase.

Budget 2019 was not a landlord's budget. A rental market needs landlords if it is to work. The budget does, however, incentivise landlords to stay in the system. Some 40,000 landlords left the system between 2012 and 2018, including 4,000 in the past 12 months. We need to keep landlords in the system or else there will be fewer units available to rent and rents will rise as a result. Mortgage interest relief is targeted at small landlords with two units or less to keep them in the system. My personal view has always been that if it takes constitutional change for the Government to ensure that there are enough homes for people then that must not be avoided because of powerful vested interests.

The common good has been a core founding principle of all republics since the idea of people-based government was invented by the ancient Greeks and Romans. The State we celebrate this year, with 100 years since the First Dáil, has been guided by the aspiration of being a republic for all our people. The common good for Irish people in 2019 should be results and achievements in the context of ending homelessness and ensuring homes for all. The people will eventually decide whether we, the elected Parliament, have been up to the work that is needed to end chronic homelessness.

2:30 pm

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I wish to share time with Deputy Buckley.

Photo of Pat GallagherPat Gallagher (Donegal, Fianna Fail)
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Is that agreed? Agreed.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Tonight, as many as 13,000 adults and children will sleep either on the streets or in emergency accommodation funded by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Tusla or the Department of Justice and Equality, or, indeed, not funded by any Department. Contrary to what the Minister stated, the Oireachtas committee did not under any circumstances accept that his removal of homeless adults and children from the figures relating to homelessness was acceptable. In fact, at the Oireachtas committee hearing – Members can check the record – there was a clear disagreement. The Dublin Region Homeless Executive and independent academics who helped with the homeless report categorically said on the record that the adults and children who were removed at the request of the Minister were, at the time of their removal, homeless, without tenancies, without security of accommodation and accessing homeless services, something Brendan Kenny, the director of housing services for Dublin City Council had also confirmed. The Minister is absolutely wrong and should consider correctly the record and misrepresenting the Oireachtas committee.

The Minister also claimed that recent figures both from the CSO and his Department suggest that we are turning a corner, that supply is beginning to increase and that it is a sign that things are going to change. The problem is that if one takes the figures that he is quoting and compare them against his own targets, the very opposite is the case. Last week, the CSO released the total output figures for 2018. They are good robust figures and I have no quibble with them whatsoever. The indicate that 18,000 homes were constructed in 2018, up from 14,000 in 2017 and 9,000 in 2016. That is positive, but what is the Rebuilding Ireland commitment? It is to ensure that an average of 25,000 homes are produced every year in the period to 2021. That means what the Government believes is necessary to tackle the crisis is an average of 25,000 units a year. Halfway through Rebuilding Ireland, how far are we behind target? The answer is that we are 43% behind target? While I welcome the additional homes, for the Minister to somehow say this is unquestionable progress belies his own targets.

When one looks at the social housing delivery figures that were announced late last night, the Government is claiming 27,000 social housing tenancies were created last year. We know from the figures that only 6,861 real social houses, owned by approved housing bodies and local authorities, were delivered last year. That is no my definition of real social housing, it is that of the National Economic and Social Council and the Committee on Housing and Homelessness. Of those, just over 4,000 were built and the real worry, which I share with Deputy Curran, is that only 2,000 of those were delivered by local authorities. It is not that the other units were not welcome, but 31 local authorities should be delivering far more than 2,000 new builds a year. Five approved housing bodies are delivering almost as many new builds as the local authorities and that makes absolutely no sense.

The Department continues to wrongly count expensive casual re-lets as voids. I think that practice should stop as it inflates the figures, albeit by only a small amount. Probably the real scandal of the figures last night is 44% of the Traveller accommodation budget remains unspent. This is the second year in a row that the Traveller community has been badly served by the Government. That is the reason homelessness among Traveller is higher than in any other section of the population. That is why tragedies happen such as we saw in Carrickmines. While I appreciate that this is not solely the fault of central government, central government must do more to address the shortfall to make sure it does not happen again this year. The real problem with yesterday's figures is they confirm the overall picture, namely, that 75% of all social housing need is being met by subsidised private rental tenancies through HAP, the RAS and leasing. It is the casualisation of social housing. It is almost like zero-hour contracts in the social housing space, but it is also very expensive and it crowds non-social housing tenants out of the private rental market. The Minister is wrong when he states that they are rebalancing. Rebuilding Ireland wants to have 90,000 additional HAP tenancies by 2021. We are going to have more subsidised private rental tenancies than ever before at a higher cost if this plan meets its targets, which it seems to do on that front.

How do I know Rebuilding Ireland is not working? Last year, the total number of real social houses was just under 7,000. How many new households came onto the social housing waiting list last year? The answer is 14,000. If, therefore, one is producing housing to meet the needs of half the number of new applicants, how is one ever going to deal with historic need let alone future need? It would take the Government 20 years to do so, which is how we know this plan is not working.

The question is what we need. We know what we need because almost everybody else bar the Government is telling us. We need a rights-based approach to housing and we need to enshrine the right to housing in the Constitution. We do not need more time. The Constitutional Convention recommended this approach by a majority of 84% in 2014. In fact, there was a deal between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to deny the housing committee the right to deal with the issue. It is buried in the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform and we will never see the outcome of that, which is really what is going on, not deliberation. We need a doubling of capital investment in social and affordable housing to meet real targets and real need. We need action to freeze rents and, in Sinn Féin's view, to take the pressure off struggling renters with a refundable tax credit. We also need greater action to prevent the flow of families into homelessness, including the introduction of the Focus Ireland amendment.

Our position has not changed since the previous debate on the matter. This plan is failing. This Government is failing. The Minister, who is not even here to listen to the rest of the debate, is failing. We need a new plan. The only thing that is going to change the Government is massive protest on the streets, both through the Raise the Roof campaign throughout the course of this year and the National Homeless and Housing Coalition mobilisation in Dublin on 9 March. When Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael see the strength of public anger at the failings of the Government's policy, we might perhaps see some change but I do not think we will see anything until then.

Photo of Pat BuckleyPat Buckley (Cork East, Sinn Fein)
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I thank Deputies Broughan, Clare Daly, Joan Collins, Wallace and Connolly for tabling the motion. Sinn Féin stands squarely and proudly beside them on this campaign regarding housing and, in particular, addressing the most dire need for housing that exist within the State. I refer to those who have no home at all and are currently living in emergency accommodation in hotels, hostels, bed and breakfast accommodation, family hubs, reception centres or anywhere else. That is totally unsuitable for continuous habitation by a human being. It is as simple as that. Shelter is the most basic need of humanity, along with food and water. For a night, shelter might be a roof over one's head or a shield from the elements. In the long term, however, shelter can only be determined by a secure, affordable and comfortable home that suits the needs of those who live in it.

A total of 10,000 people in the State are homeless. I am not referring to those who are struggling to pay rent or people who are living in overcrowded, damp conditions or unhealthy housing, I am referring to those who do not even have that. One person in every 500 in the State is homeless. I really do not think the Government gets it. There are 10,000 people who are homeless. The only conclusion that I can draw is that if it does get it, then the Government just does not care. I fear the latter is the case. Homeless people probably do not vote Fine Gael. If I had the names of those 10,000 people and if I were to read them into the record, it would probably take until 10 p.m. The human tragedy behind the figures is a stain on our nation and the Government. The damage done will only truly be known in years to come, but it is not too late to turn back the tide. Sadly, there is no sign of the Government taking action to do so. We have a national emergency. It is plain to see. Every decent-minded person can see it.

We need to begin to seriously build houses. We need to invest in our future by building new council housing, publicly owned and protected from the greed of the market which turns basic human need into unbridled profit.

We need to enshrine the right to housing in the Constitution. That is not a solution in itself but it would certainly send a very strong message. We need to end the long-term use of emergency accommodation now. We need the members of Fianna Fáil to step up and put their money where their mouth is on crucial issues like this. They can no longer pretend to care about the homeless and about human suffering when they sit on their hands and allow Fine Gael policy to continue the disastrous legacy their party started in the Celtic tiger years.

I refer to something that is not directly linked to this motion and that I have raised many times with the Minister. The rent pressure zones are an absolute disaster and are not working. They are certainly not working in east Cork. Another problem we should be looking at in the short term, because it is an emergency, is the fact we do not have any local emergency accommodation in rural towns. The Government is sending everybody into the city and saturating the system. It breaks families up. The local connection is gone, people get into bad situations, which evolve, and things get worse. The Minister of State looked bewildered and did not believe us when we said there was a housing emergency. I suggest the Government and Fianna Fáil, which are in a coalition, wake up and smell the coffee and realise there is a housing emergency.

2:40 pm

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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I would like to thank Deputy Broughan and his colleagues for tabling this motion. It gives us an opportunity to talk about homelessness again. We have not seen any of the real and substantial progress we need to address it from the Government. This morning the Minister said the social housing delivery figures for 2018 were good news and talked them up. The changes are minimal and are nowhere near the kind of numbers that the Government itself has accepted we need in order to address the housing crisis. There does not seem to be any significant change in policy. I refer to the decision to use available State land, most of which is owned by local authorities. Housing experts like Mr. Mel Reynolds have said there is enough local authority-owned land zoned for housing to build 30,000 units in the Dublin region and 50,000 in the State as a whole. The solution is to build social and affordable housing for the people who currently need it on land the State owns. However, that does not seem to be the solution the Government is pursuing. The main increase in the figures published today is once again in HAP, which was never meant to be a substitute for the construction of social housing. The number of payments has increased to 17,926 in 2018 while the build figure is below the target. It has increased from 2,297 in 2017 to 4,251 in 2018, but the target for 2018 was 4,409. It has not reached its target.

In the meantime, nearly 4,000 children are living in homeless accommodation. We must focus on those children. I know a family with two young children, both in primary school, that has been living in hotels for almost a year. There are many other families like that. As a result of the number of cases that have come to its attention, the office of the Ombudsman for Children is doing serious research on the effects on children of being in homelessness for a long time. There are serious and life-altering effects on young children. We just cannot leave them in that situation when we have solutions.

I agree with Deputy Curran on rapid-build housing. Rapid-build housing was supposed to deliver what it said on the tin, that is, rapid building, but it seems to have been abandoned. There is no evidence whatsoever that it is producing homes at an increased rate. That is one of the failures of Housing First. There are many others.

I agree with Deputy Ó Broin on Traveller accommodation. The outcome for last year means that less than half of the money allocated was spent. That is an indictment of policy implementation. The policy is there, but the implementation is not. That is about communication between the Department and the local authorities. They must ensure that if money cannot be spent in the way identified at the beginning of the year, it should be spent in other ways. We all know Travellers living in appalling conditions whose circumstances could be improved if that money was spent. The Minister said there are objections and various problems, but if the Government cannot spend money one way, it can spend it another. That money should be spent. Objections should not be taken as seriously as they apparently are. We need to get on with improving the lives of Traveller children.

In the time I have left, I will look at the data presented to us and in the Minister's statement this morning. He talked about improvements like the delivery of eight times more social housing units in 2018 than in 2015. He also talked about improvements on last year. The telling little piece of the statement was the exclusion of voids. As far as I know, this is the first time voids have been being excluded. Perhaps the Minister of State will correct me. In fact, the output of voids went down from 1,757 in 2017 to 560. That was the target.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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Just for the record-----

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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That is what is in the figures.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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Yes, but the Minister agreed with the committee to count the figures that way. As a point of information, 1,760 voids were put back into use during the last year. I will go into more detail later.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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If voids have been delivered they should fit the definition of voids.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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Opposition parties did not want us to count them. There was a desire on their part not to count them.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Not on my part.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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I am not on the committee but either way-----

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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It is hard to win with this.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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In 2014, there were 2,333 voids. Voids are local authority houses that have been boarded up for a long time with nobody living in them. They are houses that have been brought back into use for families. In 2014, the figure was 2,333; in 2015, it was 2,829, which is the figure on which this eightfold increase is based; in 2016, it was 2,308; in 2017, it was 1,757; and in 2018, it was 560. I know for a fact there are many empty local authority houses in my council area that could provide homes for people. They should be counted, regardless of whatever explanation for not doing so the Minister of State will provide. They should not be left empty. If it means the Department getting together with local authorities and deciding that specific money has to be allocated, those homes should be brought back into use. Councils have empty council houses while there are 100,000 people on housing lists.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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Money allocated to them has not been spent.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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If money has been allocated to them, it is the Minister of State's job to make sure it is spent.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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Exactly.

Photo of Jan O'SullivanJan O'Sullivan (Limerick City, Labour)
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These are the figures in front of me in black and white, as delivered by the Department. Last year, there were 560 voids. The figure for 2015, with which the Minister of State is making comparisons to show how much progress has been made, was 2,829. If those figures were added in, we would not see the kind of figures that were being boasted about by the Minister today. We can quickly bring these homes back into use and I urge the Minister of State to do so.

I support Housing First. It needs to be developed, and I fully support whatever action is taken in that regard. It does not just apply to Dublin either. Housing First can be a solution for many people who have been in long-term homelessness throughout the country, particularly in our cities. It needs to be resourced and developed.

I realise my time is almost up. There is always so much more we can say on this issue, but it is not really about talking. It is about delivering. We need to see this serious situation addressed, and not just through these slight incremental changes from one year to the next. We will not deal with it if that does not happen.

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, Solidarity)
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It is like Groundhog Day every time we discuss housing. I welcome the motion from the Independents 4 Change. We support the motion. It is a good motion but every single time we talk about housing it is exactly the same. The Government says it appreciates that things are bad, but that they are getting better.

We have been dealing with that response from this Government and the previous Government for years. The situation is getting worse and the spin from the Government is increasing because it has to try to bridge the gap between the propaganda and the reality as the reality continues to worsen and the propaganda has to pretend it is improving.

Oliver Callan has a tweet which encapsulates the issue very well. He shows an article from the end of 2017 in which the Taoiseach pledges 7,000 social homes in 2018 and an article from a couple of days ago in which the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government says that the number of new social homes are on target, with 4,000 social homes being delivered. That is a broad, expansive definition of social housing, illustrating that gulf between the reality and the propaganda of the Government.

The only way out of this Groundhog Day is a mass movement. We can, and should, continue to table motions and legislation before the House but that will not change the mind of the Government. It will not fundamentally change the mind of Fianna Fáil either because one in four of its Members is a landlord - the number is even higher in the Cabinet - and the interests they represent, not in terms of personal interests but class interests, are the landlord class, the developer class and the banker class who have an interest in the housing crisis continuing. A mass movement on housing is essential. It is the only way to force any change whatsoever.

That is why the upcoming regional demonstrations and the demonstration in Dublin organised by the National Homeless and Housing Coalition at 2 p.m. on Saturday, 9 March, with three meeting points - the Housing Agency on Mount Street, the GPO and City Hall - is important with the demand for public and affordable housing for all and an end to evictions and homelessness. That movement is developing; it is coming. The energy we saw on the streets in support of the nurses and midwives, and paramedics last Saturday will also feed into it and be seen on those demonstrations.

I refer to a case that I have raised here previously, which is an extreme illustration of the scale of the housing crisis. Constituents of mine in Tallaght Cross are in properties owned by Túath Housing, which is traditional housing for those coming out of homelessness. People who have been living in hotels or homeless hubs are put into transitional housing with 18-month leases. At the end of those leases, they get notices to quit, are pursued through the RTB and threatened with eviction back into homelessness. Effectively, they are still in homelessness and they are threatened with going back into homelessness. We raised this before Christmas with the Minister and he said that nobody would be made homeless. Nobody has been made homeless but the threatening letters continue and people are still faced with the prospect of being taken to the RTB. I had a meeting with them last week and they are understandably concerned. The letters and the threats of evictions of people who are effectively in homelessness back into worse homelessness need to stop.

2:50 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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The reason we have a housing crisis is the Government, and the two major parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, believe that housing is a means to make money for certain people in society. The Irish rich have always got rich through property. The property owners who see property as a means to make money are disproportionately represented in this House and the Irish rich disproportionately, in international terms, get rich from property. They do not want to resolve the problem and their commitment to making money from property is the reason we have a housing crisis.

Tragically, an economic crash in 2008 that was caused by the greed of people making money out of property, rather than leading to people saying we need a fundamental rethink and that housing should be seen as a human right to be provided by a decent society, has been used as an opportunity, primarily through the vehicles of the banks and NAMA, to further enrich a certain layer of people who make money from property.

What I heard the Minister, Deputy Murphy, talk about earlier is just rubbish. He said we were moving in the right direction in the same week that Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council, which is dominated by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael, and assisted by the Green Party in this particular instance, flogged off land wholly owned by it in Cherrywood to - guess who - Johnny Ronan. The boys are back in town, facilitated by the State and the major political parties. When we opposed the plan to sell off that land, we were told by the council that it could not be used for council housing. Apparently, there were some problems with the land. It was too low or something like that. All of that was rubbish because it has now been sold to Johnny Ronan, one of the guys who helped crash the economy, and he will build 140 apartments there and make a lot of money from them.

We are hearing a lot of nonsense from the Government while in reality the policy continues to be to see land and property as an opportunity to enrich the rich and make them richer. That is the reason the crisis continues to escalate. For the Government to say it is moving in the right direction in some sense is nonsense. Its own targets, which it has missed, were pathetic in the first instance, as we have been saying since Rebuilding Ireland was launched. To try to solve a massive social housing crisis when three quarters of social housing provision will depend on the private sector was a disastrous policy in the first instance and guaranteed to continue the housing crisis but the Government has not even met its own pathetic targets.

Whatever minimal progress was made in the past year or two, it will get worse in the next few years. We had a small increase in social housing in Dún Laoghaire and other places because the pressure was on. When we look at what is in the pipeline in many areas, social housing provision will diminish in the next few years. Only 56 houses will be delivered in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown in the next two years and the target is 1,500.

People have to get out on the streets. As in the case of water charges, unless we have tens of thousands of people affected by this housing crisis out on the streets in Dublin on 9 March, which is the next opportunity to do it, we will not resolve this diabolical, shameful housing and homelessness crisis.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I call Deputy Carol Nolan who is sharing with Deputy Michael Fitzmaurice.

Photo of Carol NolanCarol Nolan (Offaly, Independent)
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I thank the Rural Independents for allocating some of their time to me.

Tá 13,000 duine gan dídean sa Stát seo. Tá sé soiléir go bhfuil an géarchéim ag éirí i bhfad níos measa ná mar a bhí sé. Homelessness is becoming all too prevalent and, to our shame in this State, it is becoming normalised. Homelessness is not just confined to urban regions. Its prevalence is now very noticeable in many rural towns. In many towns in Laois and Offaly, such as Tullamore, Edenderry and Portlaoise, rent costs up to €1,000 per month. That factor alone is driving families into homelessness every day of the week. Every day of the week, I have upset and disillusioned people in my offices who are in desperate situations seeking accommodation. Many of them are working part time. They have tried their best to make ends meet and they find themselves in this difficult situation.

The local authorities in Laois and Offaly are doing their utmost to deal with the issue of homelessness. I have seen that first hand, but they are hampered in their efforts by insufficient funding from central Government. In Offaly, there are very few centres or hotels providing emergency accommodation for families who find themselves homeless and experiencing the trauma that goes with that. The Simon Community and one local hotel provide such accommodation in Tullamore but it is insufficient to meet the numbers seeking emergency accommodation. However, those services become full very quickly, which leads to a situation where women and children have to travel to a hostel in Mullingar while the men have to travel to County Longford for emergency accommodation. The separation of families and the breakup of the family unit can be traumatic. I am sure the Minister of State will agree with that. It is like something one would hear about Famine times when families were split up and sent to the workhouses. We are seeing echoes of that now yet we are hearing the constant spin about a republic of opportunity and fairness for all in society. That is not the case.

The gap is widening all of the time. It is because this Government has not acted in time. I accept that there have been some small improvements but they are minimal. The Government needs to look at the rural towns. All too often this problem of homelessness is seen as just an urban problem in our big cities. It is not and it is far from it. I would like some action to ensure that there is more emergency accommodation available in County Laois and County Offaly so that people do not have to leave their counties. I know of families who have had to leave their county to go to hostels in Mullingar and who have had to uproot their children who were in schools in Tullamore and surrounding areas. That is so destructive. It is traumatic enough for children to be separated from their fathers or the head in the family, whoever that may be, but it is shameful that we have this situation. We talk about mental health and all that is being done in that area but this situation is adding to that problem of mental health and we are not getting to grips with that either. Rents are increasing month on month in the main towns of the counties I have just mentioned, in Tullamore, Edenderry and Portlaoise.

The solution to this problem of spiralling rents needs to be looked at urgently. The criteria for rent pressure zones must be broadened in order to ensure that towns where there are ongoing problems with rent increases outside of the main cities are catered for and assisted. This would be a lifeline to many tenants in rented accommodation. As has been stated already, HAP is a short term solution. I know of many cases in Offaly and Laois where people have to top up the HAP payment by hundreds of euros. They have no choice, they are in a vulnerable situation and in order to stay in their accommodation they have to fork that out. That is sometimes done by getting loans from family members or worse, borrowing off moneylenders and that is what is happening. As the Minister of State may not know, the midlands region has one of the lowest rates of income in this State. This must surely be taken into consideration in ensuring that our towns in Laois and Offaly are designated as rent pressure zones. I call on the Minister of State to pursue that possibility in light of the ongoing homeless crisis and the shortage of social and affordable housing for families in Laois and Offaly. It must end. We need Government intervention and we need it fast.

3:00 pm

Photo of Michael FitzmauriceMichael Fitzmaurice (Roscommon-Galway, Independent)
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Before the house is built, planning is needed, roads and sewers must be put in and there is an awful problem in this country in that we do not do a bit of planning ahead of building a house. We think it will just fall down out of the sky. Right around this country the State owns a lot of land and it has never pursued an objective of putting in sewage treatment plants, having the water there, making sure that the planning has gone through and having the roads put in because that is when building can commence. In fairness to the former Minister in the Department, Deputy Coveney, we saw in 2016 in Dublin where he brought councillors together and got the whole thing sorted in O'Devaney Gardens and this is 2019 and the council has still not put in planning permission. How can houses be built on that because when we look at it it will take three or four years more? There are companies coming into this country and they have to try to get housing for their people. Those companies are able to compete better than any individual and they will buy the houses in an area. If we are not careful, we will see that it will be landlord country inside the M50 in Dublin because people will not be able to afford the housing.

The housing issue is ongoing and I am not directing this at the Minister of State but I question some of the stuff that goes on within the Department. I spoke to the Minister of State in recent days and in fairness he is as helpful as a person can be, but the Department has rules and regulations and there is no one with a bit of what I would call cop on or common sense who will turn around and say they will sort a particular issue because it will cause a problem down the line. Fr. Peter McVerry said that we have 12,500 buy to lets that are in trouble currently. It is not the people who are losing those houses, it is the people who are living in them and renting them. We cannot afford to let them move on again.

I am saying this and I may be as well off talking to the wall but there is only one way of solving housing. We have State land and we need to put in a system where we can get planning through, irrespective of the objectors and everything else that is happening. We just have to drive it on currently because this is an emergency and we have to get housing going. Roads, sewers and water have to be brought in and then it is a simple job to tell a subcontractor or the man who will price it what to do. It will not be like the hospital job up the road. It will be so much money per sq. ft. and it will be a built at a price. Affordable housing can be built that way because there are young people in the front line services, especially in the big cities around the country, who cannot afford to live in the area. There will be pressure on wages if we keep going down that road. I am looking at the Department for a while and the Minister of State must bring in seven or eight of the top people from outside who know how to go for the throat in doing things efficiently and have a group who will drive this on. I am not saying it is the Minister of State's fault because he cannot deliver the sun, moon and stars but his Department needs a woeful looking at.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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The Minister of State is extremely helpful so my comments are about a housing crisis. The housing crisis has not been caused by difficult tenants, people refusing houses or indeed people objecting to planning permissions although we will always have a small minority. They certainly did not create the housing crisis however: it is a deliberate crisis caused as a result of the policies of successive Governments and we know that. The Government is picking up the pieces and I appreciate that but it is also part of the problem. The Minister of State and the Government believe that the market will provide and the market has not provided.

In 2009, in Galway city we stopped building houses. We just stopped. We bailed out the banks and we looked after everybody but we did not look after the ordinary people on the ground. That was bad enough except we created the problem and no social houses have been built in Galway and the Minister of State knows that. I have all the reports before me and there has been some progress. Some 14 houses were built in Galway between 2009 and 2018. To put the beautiful city of Galway that I come from in perspective, it is second worst in terms of rent in the country. We have most of the debate in the media on Dublin. The report from the council is that Galway is the second worst and daft.iehas confirmed that it has risen by 13%.

A major contributory factor in landlords existing the RAS scheme alone is that tenants cannot pay close to the current market rents and this is a rent pressure zone. The landlords who are there are exiting the market. We have over 4,000 households on the waiting list in Galway. Some of them have been on that waiting list since 2002. I know that for a fact because they are in and out of my office on a regular basis. I am unsure of the number of people but we have 50 families in emergency accommodation. That emergency accommodation cost €2.5 million last year. To be precise, it was €2.455197 million. That is not to mention any of the shelters or any of the other measures. The families in emergency accommodation, as has been said, do not cover the women who have fled homes as a result of domestic violence, nor does it cover the hundreds of people who are in direct provision and who cannot get out even though they have achieved status because there is no accommodation available.

The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, talked about social mix and I appreciate that he has other things on today and I make no point on that except what I heard him say this morning. I thought I was beyond despair, but when the Minister talks about the HAP payment being helpful in having a social mix I really want to give up. Some €431 million was spent on HAP this year. It went from €150 million in 2017, it doubled in 2018 and it is going up to €431 million and possibly €500 million this year in HAP payments. Each year it is increasing and doubling to back up the private market artificially and then we wonder why rents are rising and rising. Galway city has 26 ha of land zoned residential alone. In addition and not counted in that, we have Ceannt Station with something like 14 acres of land. We have the docklands with acres of land. We have 150 acres between Galway City Council and Galway County Council in the former airport. That is not to mention institutional land.

I thank my colleague for tabling this motion and for the work that has gone into it in declaring a crisis. What the motion will do is make us act in a different manner because a house is not a product. It is the right of a person to have a home and declaring an emergency is sending out a strong message.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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I congratulate my colleague, if congratulations is a word that can be used on an issue such as this, on preparing this motion and putting it before the House because it is vitally important. The focus on solutions to homelessness has largely been a city wide perspective. While this is warranted, it is important to focus on the rise of rural homelessness, for example, in my constituency of Donegal.

The resources, staffing and financing that Dublin and other cities receive to help combat the growing tide of homelessness are not the same as those afforded to rural constituencies such as Donegal. In fact, we still do not know how many people are homeless in rural Ireland because the Housing First response to homelessness has not trickled across the country.

The official figure for the number of people homeless in Donegal, as documented by the Department, is 12. That figure is incorrect. Homeless shelters in Donegal are full to capacity, and that amounts to at least 20 adults in one shelter I know. It has also become evident that county councils record homelessness in different ways. The pathway accommodation and support system, PASS, is being used inconsistently across the board. Ideally, people who present themselves as homeless to the council are automatically logged in and wrap-around supports are provided. In Donegal, it is a different story. Homelessness is only visible between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. while the council doors remain open. Help switches off at 5 p.m. For example, a woman fleeing domestic violence in the middle of the night cannot be registered because there is no out-of-hours PASS system in Donegal.

There is a narrow definition of what homelessness means in Donegal. Anyone in sheltered accommodation, temporary accommodation or couch surfing is not considered homeless and, as is happening to a family in Letterkenny this week, a family that does not have habitual residency status cannot be registered as homeless. We also do not have an accurate estimate of the number of people with mental health issues leaving mental health services who end up homeless. If we do not have the numbers, we will not have a solution.

In this crisis a system such as PASS should not become a closed user group to which only a select few individuals have access. NGOs are not automatically contacted to deal with an individual, as is the case in Galway, Cork and Dublin, so people do not get the wrap-around supports they need. People are going to Derry where they will get help to a certain extent. The Minister must ensure that resources go where they are needed. Greater oversight is required to ensure councils reform their systems for recording homelessness. This could be done through a circular in which the Minister decides how homelessness should be recorded. Resources are also needed to provide dedicated case workers with solutions tailored to the individual on hand, in addition to funding for more homeless action teams, including for out-of-hours services.

Despite billions of euro being spent to solve homelessness, the response has been too slow, inconsistent and system-led. Housing First has not been adequately adopted throughout the country, but perhaps that serves to keep the numbers lower.

3:10 pm

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin Fingal, Independent)
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I thank Deputy Broughan for tabling this motion. It is a debate we appear to have every month, but as we talk, the situation is unravelling for thousands of people because of the failure of the Government to build social housing. Announcing that it has solved the problem by placing some people in the private rental market through HAP, apart from the enormous waste of resources at €400 million in payments, is not a solution. As Social Justice Ireland and others have pointed out, it is a short-term fix. It is precarious for tenants. Their security of tenure is at the discretion of landlords, rents are spiralling and many are living in fear.

There is a danger of hiding the reality of this crisis behind lies, damned lies and statistics, thus blinding people with figures that do not explain the reality of life for our citizens. I will tell Linda's story. She is a woman from my area who sent me the following email:

I have been issued with a notice from my landlord as he is selling. He has given me until May. I have been in rented accommodation since 2001. I am a single of mother of 2. My son is 17 and daughter is 6. I have spoken to the local council and to Threshold about my situation. I am constantly looking to rent somewhere else and I am at a loss. The properties are getting snapped up by professionals. I can’t go into emergency housing as I have to wait until closer to the time that I am due to leave the house. I am beginning to panic. I am a lone parent and it's up to me to provide security for my kids. My daughter is 6 and she offered me her savings box to buy a house today god love her innocence. This is not a feel sorry for me email; this is real life stuff. I am not a victim I am simply a mother who is looking to provide housing for her children.

There is also Caroline, who wrote to me months ago. Again, the landlord was selling and she did not know where she would go. She wrote:

I cannot afford to rent privately as €1600 a month is way out my budget. I have lived in Swords all my life, my kids go to school there and I work beside the airport. I cannot afford a mortgage on my own and have no idea what my options are.

The months since then have evaporated and she has written to me again. She still has nowhere to go. Like every other Deputy, I get emails like that every week. There is nothing I can tell these people except that they should look for a private rented house even though I know they are not available and that they will not get one. It is an absolute scandal in this day and age. That is aside from our veteran Defence Forces personnel who ran a valiant campaign with Tricolour sleeping bags on the streets to highlight the way we treat men and women who loyally served the State.

The housing policy is not working. It is a thundering disgrace. Lives are being destroyed by the Minister's inaction, but that is being hidden by lies, damned lies and statistics.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on the motion and to outline the facts of the situation. They are not lies. I listened to many speakers saying we come to the House every month to debate this. I mean no offence to Members, but I have not seen any new solutions emerging from the different motions that have been discussed. In fairness, Deputy Fitzmaurice gets down to the details of the reality of delivering houses. It takes work. It requires planning, organising, infrastructure, picking sites and so forth. It is not a case of just clicking one's fingers and the houses arrive. It does not work that way. Our job has been to do that work.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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The Minister has not been doing it.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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The Minister has had eight years - wasted years.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I did not interrupt anybody, and I did not come here for a row. I am referring to what Members have said about inaction, just talking and no delivery. That is just not true. The facts do not support Deputy Clare Daly. We accept that there is not a house for everybody. We accept the supply issues. We are not saying that the issue is solved in any shape or form. However, it is also untrue to say that nothing has been happening or that there are no houses. That is not true. I can bring the Deputy to the houses.

Deputy Curran said that nothing has happened in three years. That is not true. We are spending taxpayers' money, as was sanctioned by Members, and that is delivering and building houses. All of them are not where everybody wants them and there are not enough for everybody, but it is untrue to continue saying in the House that no houses are being built.

Photo of John CurranJohn Curran (Dublin Mid West, Fianna Fail)
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We did not say that. The Minister of State is factually incorrect. Members did not say there is nothing happening.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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That is what everybody is saying.

Photo of John CurranJohn Curran (Dublin Mid West, Fianna Fail)
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No, the Minister of State is misquoting.

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

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Please let the Minister of State reply.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I have listened to what everybody said-----

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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We are saying the Minister is reliant on the private sector.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I will return to that shortly.

Photo of John CurranJohn Curran (Dublin Mid West, Fianna Fail)
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I specifically said there were 2,022 council houses built this year. I acknowledged that.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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Will the Deputy let me speak?

Photo of John CurranJohn Curran (Dublin Mid West, Fianna Fail)
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I said the Minister failed miserably with the rapid build. We were specific.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I will go through all of that if the Deputy will let me speak.

Photo of John CurranJohn Curran (Dublin Mid West, Fianna Fail)
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The Minister keeps saying that we said he did nothing; we did not say that.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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It is all on the record.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Please, the Minister did not interrupt anybody. He is entitled to speak. Every Member was entitled to have their say and nobody intervened with anybody else.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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We are exasperated.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Please let the Minister speak.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I will go through every Member's query. I have no problem with that. Deputy Curran raised rapid build housing and I will return to that shortly. However, he also gave the impression that nothing has happened since the housing committee met here three years ago.

Photo of John CurranJohn Curran (Dublin Mid West, Fianna Fail)
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I did not say that.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I sat here and listened to what the Deputy said. Deputy Paul Murphy wants to hold a big march in a few weeks. That is fine. He should hold the march, but be honest with people. The last time there was a big march I listened to the message from the campaign, which was to deliver 10,000 social houses. That is what we are doing. Deputy Joan Collins nodded her head. She wants that, and it is sought in the motion. That is what is happening in 2019. Members sanctioned that budget.

I accept that Members have a difference with us about delivery. We are saying there will be 10,000 additional social houses. Approximately 6,500 of them will be directly built by local authorities. It appears Members do not wish to give any credit to local authorities for the work they do with AHBs and with the different sectors in acquiring vacant properties and bringing them back into use. They do that work as well. Their job is to deliver houses, not just to build new houses. Naturally, we want them to build more new houses every year but it is wrong to say that one can solve a housing problem by just building social houses from day one and doing nothing else.

Members raised issues with HAP, using the private sector and so forth. More than 40,000 families are in HAP houses today. Has anybody here got a solution for those 40,000 people tomorrow? There is no other quick solution. We have to use, engage with and rely on the private sector in the short term. However, that is not the only plan. The plan is to reduce that after a couple of years when the housing supply is increased.

However, one must first build the houses. In the meantime, people must avail of HAP or some other form of support. Some Members do not seem to like it but no other solution has been put forward. I ask them to bear that in mind.

In recent debates on this issue, Members raised situations involving persons living in emergency accommodation for two or three years and so on, and such situations are referred to in the motion. However, when I looked into the detail of the cases raised, I discovered there was more to the story. In some cases, the person was offered HAP accommodation but refused it as it did not suit his or her needs. In other cases, the person was seeking a council house within a small geographical area, which limited the available housing options. There is more to the story. The majority of people do not spend two or three years in emergency accommodation although, sadly, some do. We wish they did not. People are offered various options and solutions, but those solutions may not always suit their needs. However, some Deputies are trying to create the perception that everyone who enters emergency accommodation is left there for two or three years and that there are no solutions. The fact is that approximately 5,000 adults, along with their children, left a homelessness in 2018, slightly more than was the case in 2017. The difficulty and sadness for us all is that just as many came back into homelessness. I do not deny that.

3:20 pm

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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The Minister of State is finally addressing the issue.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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It is unfair to those providing services, including NGOs, local authorities and AHBs, for Members to give the impression that nothing is improving. It is not true. It has been repeatedly alleged that the Government only wishes to use private housing but that is not true either. A building programme is in place to increase the stock of social housing by 50,000 over the next three or four years. More than 20,000 social houses have been delivered since we began the programme two and a half years ago and more than 50,0000 will be delivered by the time it is completed. The Government is committed to going beyond that provision but it will take time to do so. It will not happen overnight, although I wish it did as it would make my job and that of the Minister far easier.

Deputy Ó Broin stated that the Government is doing nothing to solve the long-term problem of housing waiting lists because there are 70,000 on them and that number is growing every year. The Sinn Féin housing plan, which has only been worked out on paper and has not been tested, aims to deliver fewer houses than the Government plans to provide. Sinn Féin wants to deliver 100,000 houses. Our plan, which has been funded and put into action, will deliver 120,000 houses. The sites have been identified and services are being provided. The necessary funding has been allocated to the plan and it will deliver houses. It is more difficult for the Government because we must do things for real. It is easy to draw up a plan. However, the Sinn Féin plan proposes to deliver fewer houses than the Government intends to deliver. We need to have an honest conversation about what everyone hopes to achieve and get real about what can be delivered.

On voids, I wish to clarify that approximately 1,760 properties belonging to local authorities and which had been lying empty were brought back into usage last year. A figure of 560 was used for the purposes of recording delivery of new accommodation because the Government was accused at the housing committee a couple of years ago of massaging the figures by counting voids as new properties. As a result, the Minister changed how the figures were recorded. He parked the properties originally allocated under Rebuilding Ireland and numbering approximately 560. However, the reality is that 1,760 were brought back into use.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan raised the issue of voids in Limerick. Funding has been allocated to that issue. Limerick City and County Council is doing great work on housing. There is a significant volume of activity and many properties are being delivered. However, there is an issue regarding some voids, which are a little more costly to deliver than the norm, but that will be sorted out. I hope that they will soon be back in use. Many void properties remain in Dublin and elsewhere and they will be brought back into use. Thankfully, the local authorities in most counties have brought their voids back into use. There has been much progress. There should not be any empty stock belonging to the State.

On Donegal, the picture painted by Deputy Pringle is a little different from that depicted by others. I do not accuse the Deputy of misrepresenting the facts. However, yesterday I met representatives of Donegal County Council yesterday who were very clear in terms of the delivery of housing in the county and the various options they are pursuing. They are making great progress. We accept this is not just an urban problem. The required funding has been allocated. If additional or out-of-hours services are required in Donegal, that can be considered. The funding is available for such measures and there should be no difficulty putting them in place. The picture painted by the Deputy is a little different from that presented by Donegal County Council or other representatives of the area. We must ascertain the true position. If certain services are required, I am happy to ensure they are put in place.

Reference was made to the situation in County Laois . The perception was given that there is no money for housing there. I met representatives of Laois County Council yesterday and made it very clear, as did the Minister, that money is available for emergency services, acquiring more properties, building more new houses, buying vacant properties and so on. The local authority did not tell us that it is short of money. We recognise that the homelessness and emergency accommodation problems are spread across the country and do not only affect cities. We do not differentiate between rural and urban areas. We know there are difficulties in rural areas. When I was appointed to this post two years ago, I met representatives of rural areas and told them that homelessness would also become a problem in rural areas and that we should put plans in place to deal with that. We are happy to have family hubs and other forms of emergency accommodation in all counties but the local authorities must request them; they are in charge. Money is available to make it happen.

I do not deny that there is a problem in housing - nobody does - but housing supply has increased. When the Action Plan for Jobs was being discussed three years ago, many Members said the jobs in the plan were not real jobs. Unfortunately, in those days I could not bring people to see the jobs. I am glad that I can now bring Members to all of the sites on which work is under way. Houses are being built. Families are living in houses provided under the plan. I have no problem with Members wanting more housing delivery. We all want more houses to be delivered. The job of the Government is to make that happen. We must ensure that houses are being built on the 251 active sites and that the required infrastructure is being provided.

Deputy Jan O'Sullivan referred to Mr. Mel Reynolds and the State land in Dublin which he claims is suitable for housing. If one examines his claims, one will discover that he identifies green space, parks and many other types of land as potential sites for construction. It is not all suitable for housing. A Member quoting an expert should be sure to understand what the expert is saying. We want to use any suitable and available land for housing. We are using State-owned land to deliver more housing. The housing activity of local authorities is eight times what it was two and a half years ago but we have asked them to double or treble that. Members must acknowledge that doing so involves putting teams, personnel and infrastructure in place and ensuring that taxpayers' money to fund it is available. It does not happen overnight but they are committed to doing it because I agree with Members that local authorities should build houses. They want to do so but they are also required to provide housing using the other streams. They are doing so and they are delivering.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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The Minister of State and I are probably tired of listening to each other at this stage.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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Exactly.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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We would not have to go over this issue again and again if the problems were going away. Sadly, they are not. The homelessness crisis is linked to housing, Government policy, landbanking and many other issues. The Minister of State accused the Opposition of not coming up with new solutions. Has it dawned on him that perhaps we have come up with solutions and recommendations but the Government has not------

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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Has the Opposition provided solutions to deliver houses as quickly as possible?

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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Yes, to deliver houses.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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It probably has done so in the past but very few Members have done so this evening.

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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That is not true.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I have listened to the entire debate. The motion contains no suggestions on how to improve the delivery of houses.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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As the Ceann Comhairle can testify, I did not interrupt the Minister of State. Deputy Clare Daly referred to people losing the roof over their head because a landlord decided to sell the property or refurbish it or facilitate a family member, all of which is legal. At the root of the problem is the fact that we do not have a sufficient quantity of State housing.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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I agree.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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The last time I checked, approximately 9% of housing was local authority stock. The current figures indicate that local authorities built 2,022 houses and AHBs built 1,388, giving a total of 4,251. However, there are 70,000 people on the waiting list. Approximately 20 social houses Wexford were built in 2018. That does not come close to dealing with the problem.

As I stated previously, I was very disheartened when the Government came up with the idea of the Land Development Agency. It was soul destroying. I do not understand why the Government would turn over State land to developers. The sites will provide 10% social housing and 60% private housing. The Government states that 30% will be affordable housing, but the average price of those properties will be approximately €330,000, which is unaffordable for most people. I do not understand the rationale behind that policy. If the Government thinks local authorities are unable to deliver housing, why does it not make them fit for purpose? Are they out of control? Has the Government no handle on them? I would like to think that the Government could sort out any local authorities that are not fit for purpose. If that task is beyond it, we are in trouble.

At a Dublin economics workshop less than a year ago, Mr. Niall Cussen, the head planner in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, said in response to a question on social housing that we will not be building social housing at scale and that we have tried it before. He was the head of housing. That is a bit scary.

3:30 pm

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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To be fair-----

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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I did not interrupt the Minister of State. He should listen.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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If the Deputy is going to name somebody-----

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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Jesus Christ, stop.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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What he said was that, on its own, we had to-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Deputy Wallace should be allowed to continue.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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The Deputy named a person. It is not fair to people.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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I am only quoting what somebody said at a public forum.

Photo of Clare DalyClare Daly (Dublin Fingal, Independent)
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It is a public statement.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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That is not the context in which it was said and the Deputy knows that. Come on.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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Consider the massaging the Government does on the numbers. The majority of the Part 5 developments were not even newly built. That is the truth. Acquisitions solve no problems. They are just eating into another aspect of the market. The next time the Minister of State gets a chance to address this, could he explain to me why State land is not used? If the local authorities are not fit to build or provide housing, why does the Government not create an entity to do so? It does not have to be a big quango. Somebody should be appointed who has the knowledge, experience and interest to use State land to provide social and affordable housing. They should be mixed. When I talk about affordable housing, I am talking about €200,000, not €350,000.

I have said before what I would do if I were given the gig of building 100,000 units in a specified period on State-owned land and if I were allowed to use builders rather than developers. A builder is actually very happy if he can make a profit of €10,000 per unit because he gets his wages out of his company anyway. A developer looks for between €60,000 and €80,000, and a builder has to make a profit on top of that. Going down the Land Development Agency route is just enriching men who have more money than sense already. For the love of God, why does the Government not use the State land to provide housing itself? It is not doing this.

Photo of Damien EnglishDamien English (Meath West, Fine Gael)
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That is what we are doing.

Photo of Mick WallaceMick Wallace (Wexford, Independent)
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The Minister of State should not tell me that is what is being done. Fine Gael has been in government since 2011. I remember begging it not to sell Project Arrow to Cerberus at a par value of over €6 billion. NAMA was allowed to sell it for €800 million although it had a par value of over €6 billion. It was all residential property in Ireland. I begged Fine Gael and the Labour Party not to sell the portfolio to Cerberus, which is obviously making mad money on it now. Where is the logic in that? It is gone.

Why do we not use the State land? The Minister of State is saying we are not depending on the private sector. When somebody who is selling a place, refurbishing it or changing its use to facilitate a family member creates a homeless family in the process, there is something amiss. It means the Government is depending on the private sector. Despite our having debated this for years in here, we are still facing an outrageous homelessness crisis. Fair play to Deputy Broughan for tabling the motion even though we are sick to the back teeth of discussing the issue. It has not gone away, however, and we have to keep talking about it until it does.

Photo of Tommy BroughanTommy Broughan (Dublin Bay North, Independent)
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We all listened very carefully to the speeches of the Minister of State, Deputy English, and the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. I agree with the Minister that supply is key to breaking the logjam. The point, however, is that for most of the past eight years, there has been no supply. I agree very much with my colleague Deputy Wallace that the Government had a choice either to empower the local authorities or set up a State building company that would build on out from the sites it has. The Minister of State asked me to show him what is occurring. We meet people who have been in homeless accommodation week in, week out, for two years plus. I could take the Minister of State to at least half a dozen large sites that are partially or totally owned by Dublin City Council and where there has been no movement not only for the last eight years but for the past 28 years. That is the problem. In many respects, the authorities have been hamstrung legally.

The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, asked what we would do differently. We have had to drag the Government kicking and screaming towards every little improvement, whether it was addressing the rights of tenants to some extent or the situation with rents. This was to begin to have even a minuscule direct-build housing programme for the councils and approved housing bodies. The man who was Minister for Finance for most of the past eight years, Deputy Michael Noonan, always put the interests of banks and the financial sector in front of the interests of the homeless. That is the reality. The current Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe, has continued with that policy, by and large, right up to the present. That is the sad reality of this Government.

The Government has talked about emergency powers. Emergency powers were adopted in a few hours in 2008. My Labour Party colleagues at the time and I stood alone against the blanket bank guarantee. Deputy Noonan and I were both on the back benches and we knew exactly the meaning of the blanket bank guarantee. My colleagues and I stood against it. The current Government has an omnibus Bill. The Minister was discussing it this morning. If a hard Brexit happens, we will come in here and, in about two or three hours, we will legislate across the board to protect this country and our people in the North. That is what we are going to do and we know we are going to do it but the Government will not do it for the homeless people. It is refusing to take action on behalf of the 10,000 homeless - or, according to Deputy Ó Broin, 13,000 - and the 8,000 homeless children. It is just making glacial progress and will not take the drastic action that is necessary, which has been outlined.

Deputy Wallace is the most experienced of us but, like others in this Chamber, I have worked on building sites also. When I worked on sites, we were building a very large housing development in south County Dublin for Dublin City Council. It was a major development in east Clondalkin. We know what has been done and what can be done. The Government is refusing to do what can be done. It is all pie in the sky. References are made to 2020, 2021 and 2022. The 2020s look like they will be the Roaring Twenties again. It will be fabulous and we will have houses coming on stream year in, year out, but the problem is that so many families have suffered so much. The Government could prevent this in a couple of weeks by getting moving on some of the sites. In Dublin Bay North alone, we could probably build 15,000 or 20,000 houses over a couple of years, with the proper powers for either Dublin City Council or the four Dublin councils together. Dublin City Council, Fingal County Council, South Dublin County Council and Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council are inextricably linked. We are all Dubs and we all wear the blue shirt, including when we have to put it on to support our brilliant Gaelic teams. We need to work together on housing also, as we always did, including when Blanchardstown, Clondalkin, Lucan and all the inner suburbs were built. Unfortunately, the Minister of State has failed in a key remit. This whole issue and the failures in the health service will lead to a very serious depletion of the ranks of the Fine Gael Party in the forthcoming general election.

Amendment No. 1 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 February 2018.