Tuesday, 14 May 2019
An Bille um an gCúigiú Leasú is Tríocha ar an mBunreacht (An Ceart chun Teaghaise) 2016: An Dara Céim [Comhaltaí Príobháideacha] - Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to a Home) Bill 2016: Second Stage [Private Members]
Tairgim: "Go léifear an Bille an Dara hUair anois."
I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
As each week passes the housing crisis gets worse. Rents continue to spiral out of control, house prices continue to rise, real social housing need continues to grow and the number of adults and children in emergency accommodation has hit historical highs. By any meaningful indicator, the Government's housing plan is failing, yet every day the Taoiseach and his Ministers claim Rebuilding Ireland is working. Yesterday's daft.ierent report is further evidence that the Government has lost control, and the Taoiseach's and Minister's responses to the report yesterday and today show once again how out of touch they are. How can anyone looking at the evidence say rent pressure zones are working when new rents are up by 7% in Dublin, 13% in Limerick, 16% in Waterford and a staggering 17% in Galway? The average new rent across the State is now €1,300 per month. One would need take-home pay of €4,000 for that to be affordable. Here in Dublin, the average new rent ranges from €1,700 to €2,200 per month. One would need take-home pay of between €5,500 and €7,000 for that to be affordable. However, without the slightest tinge of irony, the Minister, Deputy Murphy, told the Dáil today that rent pressure zones are working. Worse still, he claimed yesterday that the rate of rent increases is the lowest since 2013. Both these statements are factually incorrect. Data from the Residential Tenancies Board and daft.ieshow that they are simply not true but that does not matter to the Minister who could not even grace us with his presence this evening. He just makes it up as he goes along and carries on regardless. While tens of thousands of tenants are either strangled with excessive rents or locked out of the rental market without any hope of making a home, the Minister carries on.
The daft.iereport yesterday also told us that the number of properties available to rent in the past quarter was the lowest since 2006. This is no surprise. Since January 2017, more than 12,000 rental properties have left the market. Accidental and semi-professional landlords, taking advantage of rising house prices, are selling up and moving on. What is the Government doing to deal with this disorderly exit of rental properties from the market? Absolutely nothing.
There is nothing in the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Bill going through the Houses of the Oireachtas that will address either excessive rents being paid today or the loss of rental properties. The Government knows that Sinn Féin is supporting that Bill, mainly because it provides for measures we have been calling for since 2016. Unfortunately, however, it is like so much of this Government's housing policy - too little, too late and already overtaken by events.
Fine Gael's strategy for the private rental sector is simply in tatters. It is not working and it is making matters worse, as it is with social housing, affordable housing, homelessness, Traveller accommodation and accommodation for people with disabilities and wheelchair users. The question many people are asking is "Why?". The answer is that Rebuilding Ireland is based on the same failed policy consensus that has dominated Government housing policy for decades, a consensus that underinvests in public housing and over-relies on the private sector to meet social and affordable housing need.
Last October, when this Chamber passed the Raise the Roof housing motion, which 40 or so Deputies from the Opposition benches signed, we made four demands. These were to double capital investment in public housing and public land; introduce emergency measures to stem the flow of families into homelessness; take urgent action to stop the rise in rents; and hold a referendum to enshrine a right to housing in the Constitution. Eight months on, these demands are more urgent than ever, yet the Government refuses to listen.
The Bill before us deals with one of these Raise the Roof demands. The Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to a Home) Bill is very simple. It seeks to insert in the Constitution, this State's foundational law, a right to adequate, appropriate, secure, safe and, crucially, affordable housing. It also seeks to place an obligation on the State to ensure the realisation of that right through its laws and policies in accordance with the principles of social justice. This proposition was endorsed by 84% of the people involved in the Constitutional Convention in 2014. It is a right that exists in many jurisdictions, including Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden, to name just a few. If passed, it would not guarantee every person in the State a home but it would provide a basic floor of protection, obliging the State to realise that right progressively. According to Mercy Law Resource Centre, which has published three separate reports on the issue, a constitutional right to housing would "mean that legislation and policy would have to be proofed to ensure they reasonably protect that right". Mercy Law Resource Centre goes on to say that while a legal right to a home is not a silver bullet and would not solve all our housing problems overnight, it is an important tool that would ensure this Government and future Governments introduce policies that promote and protect access to appropriate, secure and affordable homes.
Based on its previous record, I have little doubt but that Fine Gael will oppose this Bill tonight. No matter the script the good Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, has been given to read out in the absence of the Minister, Deputy Murphy, or either of the two Ministers of State in his Department, the real reason Fine Gael will oppose this Bill, if that is what it does, is that it fears an approach to social policy based on human rights. More importantly, however, it fears the wrath of those in emergency accommodation, those crippled with excessive rents, those languishing on housing waiting lists and those locked out of buying or renting a home in any possible referendum.
Tonight, however, it is Fianna Fáil that holds the balance of power. In the past, Deputy Micheál Martin's party has voted down similar Bills from Sinn Féin and other Opposition parties here, but its housing spokesperson, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, has indicated a willingness to revisit this issue.
I appeal to Fianna Fáil tonight to work with the rest of the Opposition to advance this Bill. As always, Sinn Féin is open to considering amendments on Committee Stage, if amendments are necessary. Our parties worked together on student accommodation and we forced the Government's hand to the benefit of thousands of students. We worked together on increasing Part V obligations and we again forced the Government's hand to increase the output of much-needed social housing. We also worked together on the Management Fees (Local Property Tax) Relief Bill 2018 and once again forced the Government's hand to the benefit of thousands of hard-pressed apartment owners. If Fianna Fáil is willing to support this Bill tonight we can yet again force the Government's hand to the benefit of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people in real housing need.
This Saturday, Raise the Roof protesters will again be marching on the streets of Dublin. Thousands of people will be demanding a legal right to a home. Those people will include the entire trade union movement, the entire student union movement and whole swathes of civil society, homeless organisations, housing associations, grassroots groups, citizens and residents. All of them will be calling on this House to act. We have an opportunity tonight to do just that. We can take an important step towards ending the Fine Gael housing crisis and provide the people with an important tool to vindicate their right to appropriate, secure and affordable homes. Even if there are Deputies in this Chamber who do not support a constitutional right to housing, surely they believe the people should get to have their say on such an important matter.
Let us do the right thing. Let us pass the Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Right to a Home) Bill 2016. Let us provide a legal, constitutional right to a home and then let us get out on the streets on Saturday and raise the roof to demand real solutions to the housing emergency.
I am proud to stand here this evening and support this Bill. The Bill is intended to provide all citizens with a constitutional right to adequate, secure and affordable housing and to give effect to the decision by 80% of participants in the Constitutional Convention that such a right should be enshrined in Bunreacht na hÉireann. Providing for the constitutional right to a home will oblige the State to make reasonable provision to vindicate that right through its policies and actions.
This is not a novel idea. More than 80 countries around the world provide for the right to a home in their constitutions and providing for such a right in Ireland is a position supported by the United Nations special rapporteur for adequate housing. It is the right thing to do. That is why we in Sinn Féin are moving this Bill this evening and calling on every Deputy here, including Government Deputies, to support it. We are in the midst of an unprecedented housing crisis in this State. It is a crisis that is out of control and which worsens with every passing day. We all know the statistics, the figures and the numbers. They make for abhorrent reading. The reality, however, is there is really no way to quantify the social and human cost of a crisis that now permeates every part of our society.
Families with good incomes, that would never have faced difficulties in securing a place to live in years gone by, now live in fear that a hike in their rent could push them into homelessness. Young people, as well as couples in their 20s, 30s and into their 40s, unlike their parents before them, have no prospect of ever being able to afford their own home. They are caught in a rent trap. They are paying out-of-control rents and unable to save up for a deposit. Tens of thousands of low and middle-income families, once able to secure council houses or affordable homes, now languish on waiting lists that will never be cleared.
Thousands of children go to bed every night in family hubs and bed and breakfasts deprived of a basic right that should not be a luxury in childhood, that is, somewhere to call home. Behind every outworking of this crisis are real lives and real people. The Government, in the guise of the Taoiseach and the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, just does not get that. They persist in peddling a lie that the Government's housing plan is working when it is patently clear it has not, is not and will not. They do not seem to understand the predicament of tens of thousands of people. In fact, last year the Taoiseach advised young people who wish to buy a home to ask their parents for the money for a deposit.
Let me assure the Dáil that those who can do that are few and far between. This nonsense just goes to show how out of touch with reality the decision makers are. We have people on the Government benches formulating housing policy who simply do not understand or care about the struggles of ordinary people. Perhaps that is because those in government will never struggle. Perhaps it is because those in government believe they represent those who can run to mammy and daddy for a deposit. They really should know that is not an option for the vast majority of people. It is not the world in which most people live and it is ludicrous and preposterous to suggest that. Coupled with that is an ideological opposition on the part those in government to State intervention in the housing market. That is because it is most unlikely that those in government will ever face the prospect of spending a night in emergency accommodation and perhaps that is the crux of the problem.
The truth is that we can bring the housing crisis under control. We can build homes and we can house every citizen in this State. That will only be possible, however, if there is a will to do so at every level and that has to start at the top. We need a change of direction and a change of policy. We need bold and urgent action. We need to double investment in social and affordable housing to deliver homes. We need to introduce a temporary tax relief for renters, alongside an emergency rent freeze for three years. We also need to move now to enshrine the right to housing in the Constitution. Real courage, real vision and real leadership are called for. It is time to call a halt to inaction. That is why I urge all Deputies, from all parties and none, to support the Bill.
It is a pity the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is not here to account for his and the Government's policy failures in respect of the housing crisis. Deputy Ó Broin has pointed out that the Government is entirely failing to arrest runaway rents. There are supposed to be rent pressure zones in Cork city but there has been a 10% increase in rental prices, while in the wider county the increase has been 12%. There has been a 480% increase in child homelessness during Fine Gael's time in government. It is a scandal and it is clear that Rebuilding Ireland is not working.
I presume the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, is here in the guise of being the Minister of State tasked with responsibility for law reform. It is a pity, as I said, that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government is not present but it is apt that the Minister of State is, because this also is a matter of justice and of equality. Housing is one of the most fundamental rights. It is a right without which it becomes very difficult to fulfil a life properly and move on to other rights. We will be dealing for years with the consequences of children and families being in emergency accommodation and the disruption that causes to them.
Far from the situation improving, anecdotally I see an increase in the number of families with whom I am dealing in emergency accommodation. Some of them have been in emergency accommodation on an ongoing basis. I give the recent example of somebody who was on the housing list for 11 years in Cork city. She was evicted from her house and moved into emergency accommodation. She was then moved from that emergency accommodation, from that family hub, out of the city to Kinsale and into other emergency accommodation. She has been failed not once or twice but thrice by the State, which has not prevented her being evicted into homelessness and has not provided her with social housing. She does not drive but she has been forced out of Cork city to Kinsale. She now has to try to get her children by bus from Kinsale into school in Cork city. That story is replicated across the country. It is a disgrace and a scandal.
Unfortunately, that will stay with those children and countless families for the rest of their lives. Housing is a fundamental right. There are no absolute rights in the Constitution and this would not be one either. However, it would provide a minimum level of protection that is right and appropriate and as exists in other countries. I hope the Government and Fianna Fáil will support this proposal to ensure people have that very basic right.
This proposed constitutional amendment is not one we ask for lightly. We are in a housing and homelessness crisis but the Government is not treating it with the urgency it should. That is a serious charge but, unfortunately, it is true. I knock on doors in my constituency, speak to people and listen to their concerns. In a constituency like Dublin North-West, there are many issues, but housing and the homelessness crisis are repeatedly raised with me and Sinn Féin councillors in the area every day without exception. I cannot emphasise too greatly how frustrated and disempowered people feel. We spoke the other night to a woman who has three families living in her small home, all of whom are immediate relatives. She was right to say she felt people like her were ignored and forgotten. She was right to say there were no houses for her daughters. She was right to say her daughters were as much a part of the homelessness problem as rough sleepers.
There is, in effect, no obligation on local authorities to provide housing. There is no constitutional or statutory right to a home in Ireland. The Government's policies are creating a lost generation. There are almost 4,000 homeless children and they have no stability or security in their lives. The stress of living like this is having a real psychological impact on them. We must provide hope, security and stability to these children and their families. The constitutional amendment we propose is one step on the way to addressing the catastrophic failure of the housing policies of this and the previous Government.
I thank the Sinn Féin Deputies for introducing this Bill which seeks to incorporate a right to a home in the Constitution. The Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is very sorry he cannot be here. If Members look at the monitors, they will see that he is on his feet in the Seanad to take the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill. He cannot bilocate but he would have liked to have been here. I am sure Deputies will acknowledge that he cannot be in two places at once. The Minister of State in the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy English, will attend to respond to the debate shortly.
As the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and the Taoiseach have stated before in this House, they are open-minded about whether to include a right to a home in the Constitution. While the Government is not set in a direction on this, it is opposing the Bill as brought forward as it has not undergone the level of careful scrutiny required before making what has the potential to be a very significant change to the Constitution. Whether or not the right is enshrined in the Constitution or in law, it does not prevent or impede us from approaching this as a de factoright and responsibility of the Government which we meet through our policies but also through the unprecedented level of investment in housing and homelessness. That is said notwithstanding the many legal rights that already exist in this area and which I will explain further. The House will be aware that the eighth report of the Constitutional Convention of March 2014 recommended that the State should progressively realise economic, social and cultural rights, subject to maximum available resources, that this duty should be cognisable by the courts and that specific additional rights should be inserted into the Constitution, including housing rights, social security rights, essential healthcare, rights for people with disabilities and linguistic and cultural rights. The Government's response pointed out that the Constitutional Convention's recommendations raised substantial questions. These include the suitability or otherwise of the Constitution as a vehicle for providing for detailed rights in this area and the fact that there is already power to confer rights and determine expenditure via primary and secondary legislation. There are, of course, already many substantive rights regarding housing arising from legislation, including the right to be assessed for social housing assistance and, if qualified, placed on a waiting list for a social house or to avail of housing assistance payment and be placed on a transfer list.
The absence of a right to housing in the Constitution has never prevented the Government from actively seeking to provide housing for those most in need and the provision of social housing has been taking place since the foundation of the State. However, this has always been done with appropriate consideration for the other needs of citizens which must be factored into any allocation of scarce resources. The ultimate responsibility for making that decision lies currently with the Government and the Dáil. In seeking to make any change to the Constitution, complex issues arise including the question of the necessary revenue to provide for any ensuing expenditure, and concerns about potentially transferring to the Judiciary, which is unelected, the power to make decisions affecting the allocation of resources which are more appropriate for an elected Oireachtas and Government. There is also the matter that placing additional rights into the Constitution creates the potential for significant diversion of resources into the handling of court cases and the creation of uncertainty about the state of the law while cases are processed, judgments are given and appeals are pursued in higher courts. It may be noted also that this Bill seeks to put only the right to a home into the Constitution and not any of the other economic, social and cultural rights referred to by the Constitutional Convention. This would place the right to a home ahead of rights to social security or essential healthcare and it needs to be considered whether this is appropriate. For these reasons, the Government prefers that the right to a home be considered with the other economic, cultural and social rights, and that the process already agreed is followed. That process is the referral of the eighth report of the Constitutional Convention to the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach for a comprehensive examination of the issues raised.
Not putting a right to housing into the Constitution will not get in the way of the Government building houses. It will not hinder us from implementing Rebuilding Ireland. It will not stop us from moving forward with the national development plan and Project Ireland 2040. It will not stop us fulfilling the commitment that one in five homes built will go to the social housing stock or all the many important things we need to do around affordability that can be delivered now because we have specific funding lines. We all agree that the core of the solution is an increased supply of housing of all forms. We need many more houses and apartments. Last year, 21,000 new homes were made available for use, more than at any other time in this decade. One quarter was social housing built by local authorities or affordable housing bodies and we need to increase this. We have set the target of building this year approximately 25,000 new places in which to live, of which approximately one quarter will be social housing. That is because we need market and non-market solutions to the housing crisis and recognise that while the majority of people will want to buy and own their own home, there will always be people who cannot do so.
I turn to some of the measures taken by the Government as part of Rebuilding Ireland. These include the comprehensive framework for tackling the range of complex issues needing to be addressed across the housing sector, a framework which 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 from 2016 to 2021. Very significant progress has been made on delivery through local authorities, approved housing bodies and a range of other delivery partners, with over 72,000 households having their housing needs met during the first three years of Rebuilding Ireland and a further 27,300 households supported by a record investment of €2.4 billion in housing to be supported this year. That brings to almost 100,000 the total number of households who will have been assisted under Rebuilding Ireland by the end of 2019. Notwithstanding the continued increases in homelessness, record exits from homelessness into sustainable tenancies have been achieved in recent years. Rebuilding Ireland is further supported by Project Ireland 2040, the Government's overarching policy initiative to align in a strategic manner our spatial planning and investment programmes to underpin a sustainable approach to planning for a growing population and the associated need for housing. The new €2 billion urban regeneration and development fund aims to support sustainable growth In Ireland's five cities and other large urban centres with the aim of delivering at least 40% of our future housing needs within our existing built-up areas.
The Land Development Agency, LDA, has been established to ensure more effective co-ordination and management of the development of State-owned lands, in particular publicly-owned lands in our urban centres, supporting the ambition to achieve more compact and sustainable growth. To enable greater delivery of social and affordable homes on public lands, the Government has, in parallel with the establishment of the Land Development Agency, approved a new public land affordability requirement whereby a minimum of 30% of any housing developed on public land must be reserved for affordable purposes, whether affordable purchase or cost rental, in addition to the 10% statutory social housing requirement under Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, whether such development is being progressed by the LDA or any other market operator. In order to support local authorities to get their sites ready for affordable housing, funding of €310 million over 2019 to 2021 has been allocated for enabling infrastructure via the serviced sites fund, or SSF, in budget 2019. Cost rental housing is being brought forward in conjunction with the Housing Agency, the Land Development Agency, local authorities and other stakeholders, with two pilot projects already being progressed. As to housing generally, overall supply continues to show significant increases, as I said earlier, with over 18,000 new homes built In 2018, which is a 25% increase on the previous year and the highest number of newly built homes any year this decade. In addition, more than 2,500 homes were brought out of long-term vacancy and almost 800 dwellings in unfinished housing developments were completed.
That means the number of new homes available for use increased by almost 21,500 in 2018, together with more than 3,700 student bed spaces. There is clear evidence of moderation in the annual rate of growth of house prices, due primarily to increasing supply and the Central Bank macro-prudential rules. Residential property prices increased by 5.6% nationally in the year to January 2019 compared with 6.4% in the year to December and 11.8% in the year to January 2018.
While there may not be a right to housing in the Constitution, the State, through its current laws and through the actions in Rebuilding Ireland, is doing everything it can to address our housing issues. We are opposed to amending the Constitution as proposed, but we are not opposed to considering the issue further in an appropriate manner. In referring the right to housing, as well as other social and economic rights, to an Oireachtas committee, following on from the recommendations of the Convention on the Constitution, we are following the process that has served the public well in terms of marriage equality and repealing the eighth amendment. We will continue with that process of Oireachtas committee engagement and coming to a determination regarding possible next steps in this public debate we are having. In the meantime, the immediate best way to ensure that the State fully meets its obligations to those who need assistance to provide a home for themselves and their families is through continued delivery through Rebuilding Ireland and the development and implementation of further policies and measures as required in the future.
Ireland is in the midst of an unprecedented housing crisis. Homelessness levels have soared to in excess of 10,000, including almost 4,000 children. The number of people homeless and living in emergency accommodation is at record levels. Latest figures show that in March, 10,305 adults and children were without a home and living in hotels, bed and breakfast accommodation and family hubs, an increase of 41 on the previous month. The number of children in emergency accommodation stands at 3,821, a rise of 37 in a month. The social housing waiting list, including housing assistance payment, HAP, recipients, is more than 110,000.
It is incredible that with all of these facts a Fine Gael general election candidate can publicly say that there is no housing crisis outside Dublin. To say there is no housing crisis outside Dublin is at best to show an appalling ignorance of the crisis being experienced in all commuter belt counties such as Wicklow and Wexford and even beyond the commuter belt. In Wicklow a one-bedroom apartment will cost in excess of €1,000 to rent while a mortgage will cost only €663 according to yesterday's daft.ierental report. A two-bedroom house will cost an average of €1,173 in Wicklow, while a mortgage can be reached for €911.
Supply of homes is the issue, not the right to them. It is the State's inability to build enough homes when there is plenty of available land that is at the heart of the national crisis. Ireland is experiencing a severe housing crisis like many other countries. There are growing calls for Ireland to emulate countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and South Africa and enshrine a constitutional right to housing. Ireland has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which prescribes for the State to take "all appropriate means" to provide for the right to adequate housing based on the availability of resources. The Irish Constitution also contains certain explicit property rights, but there is no clear statutory right to adequate housing which can be legally enforced by the courts.
Any amendments to the Constitution or any approach to legislating for a right to housing will have to balance the rights of landowners. In 1982, the Supreme Court found that the Rent Restrictions Act 1960, which obliged landlords to accept below market rents, was an unjust attack on the property owners' constitutional property rights. Nonetheless, there have been successful legislative measures to assist with meeting social housing needs, such as Part V of the Planning and Development Act 2000, which provides that up to 10% of a new housing development must be reserved for social housing. In March 2014, the Constitutional Convention, as part of its consideration of broader economic, cultural and social rights, found in favour of inserting a right to housing in the Constitution.
Fianna Fáil rejected a similar Bill two years ago on the grounds that the finance committee ought to be tasked with assessing the concept of economic, cultural and social rights in the Constitution. That work has not been sufficiently progressed to date, however, and the Government must address this as a matter of urgency. Holding a referendum would cost approximately €15 million, or the same as building 75 social housing units. It is important that we prioritise building and clear solid measures to address the crisis. In Wicklow, 75 social housing units would be a significant development in any part of the county. Last year only 28 units were completed, while the housing list stands at 4,126. We prefer a legislative approach to the problem initially followed by a deeper discussion on constitutional protections. Any change to the Constitution that involves handing powers to judges may have unforeseen consequences and must be carefully considered. That is why Fianna Fáil supports a legislative approach to the right to housing followed by a debate on constitutional changes. We should have all learned the lessons of playing politics with our Constitution for partisan political gain. A botched referendum could result in a lengthy and divisive debate on the nature of property rights at a time when we need to encourage housing development in the rental and affordable markets.
It is unclear what impact the Sinn Féin amendment would have on the Constitution and on subsequent legal cases. The Constitutional Convention was divided on what specific option to take in terms of the realisation of the right to housing, that is, immediate, gradual or progressive. This has been a major impact on public policy and should be weighed up carefully. It is not clear in the wording of the Sinn Féin insertion what the impact would be. This needs to be debated further. While the Government has delayed committee discussions, this does not mean that it should be completely bypassed by a unilateral Private Members' Bill by one party.
With rent levels at such highs, a whole generation cannot save enough to own a home while vulnerable households are at risk of homelessness. Home ownership is slipping away from an entire generation as house prices rise at 13% per annum while wages are only growing at 2.5%. The 68% home ownership rate is the lowest since 1971. Fianna Fáil has shown its commitment to finding meaningful solutions through our role in the confidence and supply arrangement and has not shirked from leading criticism of the Government where it is at fault.
The key test for the Government is delivery. Since coming into power, Fine Gael has launched Construction 2020, the Social Housing Strategy 2020, Rebuilding Ireland, the 2012 capital programme, the 2015 capital programme and the 2018 capital programme. These six separate plans, excluding the numerous relaunches involved, amount to more launches than local authority homes built in several counties so far this year. This needs to change.
It is clear the legal framework around housing needs to be reviewed. We should do so carefully, however, with full consideration of the consequences, not a knee-jerk party political change. Fianna Fáil is opposed to this Bill, which is more about optics than addressing the housing crisis. We need further discussion on what changes we should make to the Constitution. The Government must address its failure to progress discussion of the Constitutional Convention recommendations on these issues. While there are quicker and more important ways to address the housing crisis, we need to discuss the legal framework around housing rights. Fianna Fáil supports initially putting this right on a legislative basis with further exploration of the constitutional protections in the committee system. Any change to the Constitution must always be weighed up carefully to avoid unforeseen consequences. It should not be hijacked by any political party seeking a quick headline before election day.
For the record, I have stated before in the House that the right to housing is a constitutional imperative clearly implied in the common good clause of the property rights article. The common good, the right to housing, the right to a home and the right to shelter need careful and serious discussion before any referendum proposal. The people as a whole need to be part of that discussion.
The people who live in six apartment blocks on the Old Youghal Road, Dillons Cross in Cork city face eviction, having been given a notice to quit date of 19 July. They have not broken the terms of their leases and have paid their rents. The stated reason for the eviction is renovation. The landlord plans to evict, refurbish and, I suspect, massively hike the rents. Rents in Cork city are at a record high, while the shortage of homes to rent has never been greater. The residents in question face the threat of eviction into homelessness but they will not take that lying down. They have seen how the residents of the Leeside Apartments successfully resisted eviction, how people power worked, and are inspired by the example. Last night, more than 70 people attended an anti-eviction protest organised by Solidarity's Carol Brogan and a second protest has been called for 5 p.m. on Monday, 20 May at Dillons Cross. A Government that cared for people such as the residents in question would support the legislation but the Government will not do that. It does not care, it worships the markets, and the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party is stuffed to the gills with landlords. If the Government allows such residents to be thrown out onto the streets, Fine Gael councillors deserve to be thrown out of the council chambers. A Government that allows such evictions deserves a hammering at the ballot box on Friday, 24 May.
Solidarity will support this progressive Bill. With more than 10,000 people now officially homeless, it should be passed, although we would go further. The constitutional right to a home should be underpinned by a guarantee of a home for all. If it is necessary to delimit the right to private property to ensure the common good, that is precisely what should be done. Solidarity calls on people to attend the Raise the Roof protest in Dublin on Saturday, 18 May in massive numbers to show the Government how people feel about the issue and to demand real action on the housing crisis.
The people affected by the housing crisis such as those in emergency hubs, or those who fear their landlord will evict them, or those who cannot find rental accommodation they can afford, or those who work but cannot afford anything on the market to purchase or rent and who live at home with their parents, and sometimes with their grandparents, too, are sick of all the talk. They are sick of the Government's abysmal failure to change anything or to present anything other than a situation that continues to get worse and worse. All I can do is echo what Deputies Barry, Ó Broin and others have said, which is to tell people to get onto the streets. We need to do with the issue of housing what was done with that of water charges. We need to terrify the Government and to make it fear politically that it will lose badly. We need to make it shake with fear inside the walls of Leinster House. Unless there is a movement of that scale to terrify the Government, it is clear it has no intention of changing tack and delivering on scale the public and affordable housing on public land that we need, which is at the heart of the crisis. The policy of retreating from the provision of council housing and relying on the private rented sector, developers, cuckoo funds, vulture funds and so on has led us to the disastrous position we are in, and it will not change unless the people force it to. They must punish electorally the Government and the major parties that contributed to the situation but must also use a mass movement of people power that will force the change.
Telling people to get onto the streets at 1 p.m. on Saturday, 18 May is the most important message but there is so much that could be said about so many aspects of the crisis. There are a few myths of Government guff that I wish to bust. One such myth is when the Government states: "The answer to the problem is supply, supply, supply, and we will ramp up supply." It goes on to highlight, for example, all the planning permissions that have been submitted and claims to be on the way to sorting the crisis out. What is actually happening is that applications for planning permission are being submitted to inflate the value of the land holdings of the property speculators who have bought the land. In many cases, they have no intention of building anything at all. I cite as an example the Sentinel building in Sandyford, which has approximately 20 storeys and has been called a work-life pod. It is a new term. It has been designed in order that the developers will not have to allow even 10% of it to be used for social housing. What is a work-life pod? Would anybody like to guess? It is just nonsense. It might be a bedsit but by calling it a "work-something", it is not quite classed as a residency and, therefore, the developers do not have to use 10% of it for social housing. It does not matter because the building is sitting there as a half-built skeleton in any event, towering over an area where people are crying out for affordable housing.
Richard Barrett and his gang, Bartra, in Dún Laoghaire have submitted an application for planning permission for a site which had been granted planning permission for 50 apartments to allow them to build 200 co-sharing units. Co-sharing units are rooms, if one could call them that - boxes would be a more accurate description - of 16 sq. m. with fold-out beds and no kitchens. Approximately 30 or 40 of the co-sharing units will share a kitchen and their occupants will be charged approximately €1,300 for living there. They are the tenements of the future. Alternatively, they will be leased back to the council for use as an emergency hub because the Government will not have delivered the public and affordable housing that is necessary and the housing crisis will get worse. We will end up probably leasing the property from Mr. Barrett for a fortune to house the increasing numbers of homeless people. Although I am sure he will probably not even build the property and is instead merely seeking the planning permission, even if the supply is delivered, the strategic housing development process means he will have bypassed the normal planning process. That is shocking. Even if the property is built, although most of it will not be, none of it will do anything to address the housing crisis or to provide secure, decent, proper, dignified affordable or public housing for the people who need it. All the Government is doing is enriching and facilitating the speculators while the crisis continues to get worse and worse. The people must get onto the streets on Saturday because it is the only way.
I had written a nice speech about how having such a provision in the Constitution could be treated, considered, addressed and so on. I do not usually sit in the Chamber and listen to the speeches of the Government because they are usually claptrap, although the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton's, contribution on the Bill was even worse. I listened to it and have read a copy of it. I am sorry the Minister of State has left the Chamber because I do not think he believes what he read out. It was amazing. Economic, social and cultural rights were mentioned in the context the recommendations of the Convention on the Constitution, which reported in March 2014. The Minister of State indicated that the Government will refer the matter to a committee to consider whether housing rights should be enshrined in the Constitution but it has been five years since the report. That is a load of rubbish. I have moved two economic and social rights Bills, most recently in 2016, but both times the Government voted them down and rejected them. There is no way the Government will consider the matter in committee at some stage in the future. The Government intends to move it to a committee rather than voting it down because local elections will be held next week and a general election is probably coming within the next year.
That is why the Government is doing it. It will give this claptrap of how a committee will sort it out. It is a load of rubbish. Then we hear from Fine Gael's partners in government, Fianna Fáil, stating it has to consider carefully these rights. This crisis in housing has been going on for eight years. For the whole time I have been a Member of the Dáil, the crisis has been ongoing. Fine Gael has been in power for the whole time and it has done absolutely nothing. Ideologically, it wants to see the crisis continue because it supports developers and does not see a right to housing; it sees that housing will be provided by the private sector and that is where it will stay.
In his contribution later the Minister of State, Deputy English, will probably state we are in crisis and we cannot deal with this now because we have to deal with the crisis and we have been under the cosh for so many years and we have had to deal with all of that. Portugal went through a crisis and bailout at the same time as us but Portugal had housing rights and economic, social and cultural rights protected in its constitution. What happened was the European Commission could not attack those rights and neither could the Government because they were enshrined in the Constitution. As the rights were protected constitutionally, it could not attack them when it got there. Now, Portugal is one of the leading lights of left-wing governments in Europe. It welcomes people and does not try to stop them coming in. If this right had been enshrined in the Constitution eight years ago we could have protected our people. There is a chance now to enshrine it in the Constitution but the Government will not do it and neither will Fianna Fáil. That is the way it will be and that is fine but the Government should not pretend to Sinn Féin that it will refer this to a committee and the committee will speak about it and come back to us on it because the Government has already voted this down twice in recent years and it will do so again.
I fully support the Bill. It is almost 71 years since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25.1 of which sets out that everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself or herself and of his or her family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care. We are failing utterly on all of these issues. With regard to housing, the proposed amendment is minimal. It simply seeks that the State would recognise the right of all citizens to adequate, appropriate, secure, safe and affordable housing 71 years after the declaration of human rights. We were asked to do this by the convention five years ago, as my colleague pointed out, and we have been asked to do it by the UN special rapporteur on the right to housing, who called on us to make housing a constitutional right. She stated what was unfolding in our housing crisis was tragic and serious but solvable.
We are not here to shout and roar. We are not here to be negative. I agree with the UN special rapporteur that it is solvable. The way to do it is to look at what is happening. If the Minister of State is tired of listening to me, I would not blame him because sometimes I tire listening to myself because it is like an echo chamber. We must remember that we should not be dependent on charity but let us look at what COPE, a charity in Galway, is doing. It is asking all of the local election candidates to pledge that if elected, they will ensure that Galway City Council meets its housing targets through the building of new social housing. It also asks them to make three other pledges. It bases this on a comprehensive document. This tells us that the housing assistance payment, HAP, on which we pay almost €500 million per year, is not working. The amount has doubled within one year. It tells us the HAP does not produce additional social housing stock and does not represent good value for money for the public purse in the long term. It also tells us the housing and homeless crisis continues to increase unabated despite the best efforts of all to impede the increasing number needing support.
We can also look at daft.ieand daft is a good name when we think about it. I do not know what word could apply to the housing crisis. We have left and right in both parts of government with Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. I was going to criticise the speech of the Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, and wonder who wrote it and I was going to invite that person to Galway for a little tour but then I heard the prepared speech from Fianna Fáil and the Minister of State's speech seemed like a work of art. The daft.ierental report tells us we have the lowest number of properties available for rent. It looked at rents in Galway, where they are now 91% higher than when they bottomed out in 2012.
I will repeat the figure, because it is important, that 10,305 people are homeless, including 3,821 children. We are normalising this homelessness. I find this to be repulsive and unacceptable. In Galway, 309 people are homeless and the very same charity that is asking us to make pledges - it is right to do so - must rely on bed and breakfast accommodation and hotels to house homeless persons. Within bed and breakfast accommodation, people are not allowed visit one another in their rooms. If they break the rules in a private bed and breakfast they are told they will have to self-finance for a number of days. Listen to this new language. We are listening to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael telling us that rights should not be placed in the Constitution. We are placing charities in terrible positions where they must fight for accommodation and introduce appalling rules. We are relying on charities but all the while we have solutions. We have public land on which we could build.
Earlier today, I asked that Galway be chosen with regard to climate change. Intimately connected to climate change are housing, public transport and biodiversity. They are all tied in. We have lots of land in Galway. We have the docklands, Ceannt Station and an area out at the airport all sitting there waiting to be developed but no master plan.
I absolutely support the motion. It is the most basic requirement if we want to call ourselves a civilised society. I despair of the type of speeches that have been read out in the Chamber this evening particularly, as my colleague has said, with regard to the Minister of State telling us the recommendation made five years ago by the Constitutional Convention will be referred to a committee.
Government policy is responsible for the crisis. We have relied on the marketisation of social housing and public land. The Government continues to do this unabated and the most unacceptable part is the twisting of language to call it social housing.
It is worth recalling that in January with great pomp and ceremony we all decamped from here and went around to the Mansion House to mark the centenary of the first Dáil and, in particular, its Democratic Programme. That Democratic Programme was very clear that our country would "be ruled in accordance with the principles of Liberty, Equality and Justice for all". It is worth recalling what the programme said on the issue of housing. It stated "we reaffirm that all right to private property must be subordinated to the public right and welfare". It stated "It shall be the first duty of the Government of the Republic to make provision for the physical, mental and spiritual well-being of the children, to secure that no child shall suffer hunger or cold from lack of food, clothing, or shelter". In total contradiction, the Irish Constitution protects the right to property.
Perhaps previous Governments had a much more honest position to events such as 1916, the Proclamation, the First Dáil and the Democratic Programme. The anniversaries of these events were largely ignored by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. Perhaps this was a better position than the verbalised republicanism of the establishment parties of these times.
At the Mansion House event the Taoiseach described the first Dáil as a bold, profound and decisive statement about the future of Ireland. It is a great pity he does not agree with that bold, profound and decisive statement. One hundred years later, citizens in this state have no legal right to a home. James Connolly, the great Irish revolutionary in 1899 predicted all of this. He wrote:
After Ireland is free, says the patriot who won’t touch socialism ... if you won’t pay your rent you will be evicted same as now. But the evicting party ... will wear green uniforms and the Harp without the Crown, and the warrant turning you out on the roadside will be stamped with the arms of the Irish Republic.
Today the courts regard a lending institution as having superior rights over those of the occupier or homeowner. Citizens and families with children in crèches have no effective remedy through the courts. In 2005 the State opted out of Article 31 of the revised European Social Charter, which concerns the right to housing. That brings us to the nub of the problem, which is that the Irish establishment does not believe in a citizen's right to a home. That has to change. The programme of the Government states it will be judged on how it addresses the issues of housing and homelessness. Out of its own mouth it is condemned. No amount of fancy words, spin or plámás can disguise the Government's disastrous housing policy, its failure to prevent increases in rents and to end evictions, the huge number of people on housing waiting lists, the fiasco of local councils refusing to draw down available funds for housing for Travellers and the number of citizens, especially children, who are homeless. All of this exposes the inability of the Government to govern in a fair way.
By any measure the Government has failed. It has failed families, pensioners and children. The March figures were the worst ever for homelessness, with 10,305 people homeless, including 3,821 children, despite the massaging of the figures. In my part of the State, that is, counties Louth, Monaghan and Cavan, there were 60 people homeless in March 2018, but in March this year the figure was 173. The past eight years have seen a 490% increase in the number of homeless children, while the level of family homelessness has increased by 40%. The level of pensioner homelessness has also increased dramatically, by 80%. There are generations of people who, in bad times in this state and on this island, at least had a home over the heads. Níl aon tinteán mar do thinteán féin. Now we have a generation of working people who cannot afford to buy a house.
I urge Teachtaí Dála to support the Thirty-fifth amendment of the Constitution (Right to a Home) Bill 2016 and ask people to turn out on Saturday to attend the Raise the Roof demonstration in Dublin. It will be an important opportunity to demonstrate public opposition to the Government's housing strategy.
The right to a home is the most basic demand a person can have. Without the right to a home, a person cannot have any stability in life. He or she cannot start a family or plan for the future. There are now 118 people homeless in the four midlands counties. In County Offaly there are 50 people homeless, while there are 19 homeless in County Laois, which is absolutely shameful. The responsibility for the housing crisis belongs with the right-wing failed private market policies of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael. This week new figures from daft.ie reveal that rents have increased by, on average, 8.5% in County Offaly in the past year and by 10.7% in County Laois. How are ordinary people supposed to come up with the money to meet these increases? Workers' wages are not increasing at that rate and some workers are not getting any increase at all. Amazingly, rents in counties Laois and Offaly are now 30% above 2008 peak prices. Families are being priced out of their homes and forced into homelessness. People have come into my constituency office in the past week whose rent has increased by between 20% and 30%. Could it be any clearer that the Government's housing policies have absolutely failed tenants and are great for landlords?
Sinn Féin has repeatedly brought forward measures to introduce rent controls across the State. We have consistently called for State intervention in the market to get a hold on the problem, but the Government has failed to even designate the midlands as one of the rent pressure zones which are not working to any great extent. The Government has failed to do anything in the market in the midlands. Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil have repeatedly clubbed together to vote down our proposals and it looks like they are going to do the same again here this evening. They are two parties which represent nothing more than a landlords' coalition and do not represent the interests of the average renter or mortgage holder. It is outrageous that we now have the lowest ever total of homes available to rent. Eight local authority houses were completed in County Offaly last year and just 34 in Counthy Laois. They are moving at a snail's pace because the Department is deliberately slowing down the granting of approval.
It is time for the State to step up and take action with a massive house building programme in every constituency. That is why Sinn Féin is demanding that we enshrine in the Constitution the right of every citizen to a home. It would be just one measure and not a silver bullet. We have called for a three-year rent freeze and 8.5% tax relief on rents paid, with a doubling of the number of local authority homes. Some people are paying half their wages in rent. It is essential that we build more local authority homes and start to build affordable homes and introduce rent controls across the country. I call on Members to support the Thirty-fifth amendment of the Constitution (Right to a Home) Bill 2016.
I welcome the opportunity to say where the Government stands on this Bill. We have had similar discussions in the past year on the right to a home and I am conscious that this marks the build-up to the protests organised for Saturday. I listen to speeches night after night and, while I have no doubt that in earlier speeches some solutions were set out, what I heard did not give me greater solutions to how we can deliver houses on sites. We can make all the changes we want here, but it does not necessarily give us houses. The constant mantra that there is no social housing building programme is dishonest. It is not true and wrong to keep repeating it. I have no problem with Members saying it is not enough and showing how things can be done on a site by site basis, but it is dishonest to keep saying there is no social housing building programme. Leading people out to protest on Saturday under the impression that there is no social housing building programme is wrong. The protesters have many demands, one of which is that the Government start a social housing building programme, but we started it over three years ago. I agree with Deputy Catherine Connolly that it was stopped, but it is not right to say it has not been restarted. Members should stop peddling that lie because it does not make sense. A budget was passed only a couple of months ago in which €2.4 billion was allocated to build houses and fund a social housing building programme. It is ridiculous that Deputies say the same thing in debate after debate. I could take them to 294 sites on which we are building houses. A total of 5,000 social houses are under construction.
It is dishonest to say no houses are being built. As stated, while we are opposing the Bill, we recognise that the potential inclusion of such right to housing needs further consideration and we support doing so by way of its consideration by an Oireachtas committee which will consider all of the economic, social and cultural rights referred to in the eighth report of the Convention on the Constitution. While there is no constitutional right to housing, it is important to note that there are existing specific, substantive and procedural statutory rights to social housing assistance arising from legislation. They include the right to apply for social housing assistance and the right to be assessed for it once a person has applied for it; the right to obtain a housing assistance payment-----
-----once eligible for it on income grounds and subject to some restrictions regarding the suitability of accommodation, or otherwise be placed on a waiting list for social housing; and the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of gender, marital status, family status, sexual orientation, religion, age, disability, race or membership of the Traveller community. It includes the right to purchase a local authority house, subject to certain conditions, and the duty of the local authority to make an assessment of housing need, to make an allocation scheme and operate according to it and to have regard to the needs the scheme is supposed to meet.
It also includes rights in regard to the procedure for tenancy, warning and eviction. The Housing Act 1988 places particular responsibility on local authorities to provide for the accommodation needs of people who are homeless. There are also many legislative protections in place in regard to private housing and rented accommodation, including protections for the family home, which again is very often dishonestly discussed in this House. It includes the right to a four-year tenancy, or a six-year tenancy for those tenancies commencing after 24 December 2016, with limited grounds for termination in private rented accommodation if a tenant has been in occupation for six months continuously and no notice to quit has been served; the right to graduated notice periods that must be given to tenants on the termination of a tenancy, reflective of the length of time spent in the tenancy; the right to a rent that is no greater than the current market rent; and for tenancies in a rent pressure zone, the right to a rent increase that is no greater than 4% annually for three years. We all agree that rents are too high. Nobody is disputing that. We accept that, but we disagree on how to address it. Sinn Féin does not believe that supply bears any reference in that regard, but it does. Four years ago, a house an hour's drive from here could be rented for half the price it costs today. Supply is relevant. The warped view that supply is not relevant is wrong. Of course supply is relevant. In 2011, we had 3,000 ghost estates and thousands of empty houses. Rent was much cheaper then because there was available stock. Ten years later, owing to a lack of building for seven or eight years, there are fewer properties available to rent and so rents are higher. The issues are linked. They are not the sole reason for the problem but they are linked. There is no point in the Deputies opposite continually saying they are not linked, because they are.
It also provides the right to refer a landlord and tenant dispute or resolution to the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB. The Residential Tenancies (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill 2018 was passed by Dáil Eireann on 8 May and it was before the Seanad this evening. The main provisions of that Bill relate to making it a criminal offence for landlords to implement rent increases that contravene the law. It provides powers to the RTB to investigate and sanction administratively landlords who engage in improper conduct. It allows the RTB to initiate an investigation without the need for a complaint and requires the annual registration of tenancies with the RTB.
The designation of existing RPZs will be extended to the end of 2021. The exemptions from the 4% per annum rent increase restriction in RPZs have been revised so as to apply only to the first rent setting rather than to every rent setting during the period of RPZ designation in respect of a new rental property, including a property that had not been rented in the two-year period immediately prior to the commencement of a particular tenancy. Also, a definition is proposed to illustrate the type of works that qualify for the exemption from the rent increase restriction in respect of a substantial change in the nature of the rental property. Again, we have all heard the evidence around this issue and we are trying to deal with that too. Revisions are also proposed in respect of the average rent qualifying criterion for RPZ designation. Outside of RPZs, the requirement for biannual rent review cycles rather annual reviews will continue to the end of 2021.
The new RTB sanctioning regime will apply to improper conduct by a landlord who contravenes the tenancy termination provisions. Landlords will be required to copy a tenancy termination notice to the RTB. Where a landlord terminates a tenancy because he or she intends to sell the property, he or she must enter into a contract for sale within nine months of the termination date or else offer to relet to a former tenant who provides his or her contact details. There are more changes provided for in that legislation, of which those who took time to attend the debate on it will be aware. These key measures and reforms are designed to enhance enforcement powers for the RTB, to provide greater security of tenure for tenants and greater rights, and to underpin further the operation of the RPZ arrangements, with some further targeted priority measures.
In regard to the Sinn Féin Bill, it is important to note that, as stated, the general concept of potential inclusion of a right to housing in the Constitution is not intended to be opposed outright. I have said that I do not have an issue with the proposal, but there is a process to go through to get there. Any such step should be taken with the appropriate level of scrutiny and with due regard to the complexities that arise in proposing such an amendment to the Constitution. This matter was referred to a committee. Members of the relevant committee should try to have it brought forward for discussion. In the case of this Bill, it is not immediately clear what the effect of the proposed amendment would be. Given the potential for unintended consequential policy, legal and financial effects and the complexity of the issues raised by the eight convention report, it is appropriate that the Government should oppose this Bill and instead follow the process agreed, namely, referral of the eighth report of the Convention on the Constitution to the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform. I hope that it will go through that journey also.
On a practical level, it is unclear what tangible effect the proposed constitutional amendment would have in terms of solving our current housing problems. I am not convinced this would provide us with additional houses. I have raised that question many times, but nobody has shown me how it would help us deliver more houses. I cannot see it. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is of that view also. This debate can continue, but it does not help or hinder us in any way in terms of what we are trying to do, which is to rebuild our social housing stock.
The social housing building programme has started. Money has been ring-fenced for the next ten years under Project 2040 to deliver that programme. I reiterate that nobody has challenged me on this. The ambition is to deliver 12,000 social houses per annum every year to 2028. I have read most of Sinn Féin's policies and seen no commitment therein to that level of social housing build year on year.
Sinn Féin can protest all it wants. It would be a better use of its time if it could come into this House and spell out, site by site, where it would deliver social houses. This year, we will deliver 10,000 social houses. They will not all be delivered in the way Sinn Féin would like them to be delivered. We accept that. We have different ways of delivering housing. Approximately 6,400 will be direct and new build, a combination of social housing directly built by the local authorities, approved housing bodies and Part V. I accept that Sinn Féin has a problem with the fact that some houses will be leased. We do not. We propose to provide a couple of thousand houses in that way. We will also acquire houses. In total, there will be 10,000 new social houses this year, which will be built on year on year. With respect, nobody in Sinn Féin has shown me that it can deliver any more houses than that.
Everybody continually says the housing assistance payment, HAP, scheme is not good. At this time, there are approximately 45,000 families in HAP homes. Naturally, we would all prefer if they were in permanent social housing stock and could remain there for all their lives. That is the aim long term. If we did not have the HAP scheme, there would be 45,000 families without a home. Again, nobody opposite has provided an answer to that question. That is the reality. Most of those people are happy in those houses. I accept that for some people it does not work out well, but the majority of people are very happy to participate in the HAP scheme because it provides them with a family home.
Cuirim fáilte roimh an díospóireacht anseo anocht agus go háirithe roimh an Bhille atá curtha chun tosaigh ag na Teachtaí Ó Broin agus Adams. Tá ardmholadh tuilte acu mar seo Bille fíorthábhachtach do mhuintir na hÉireann ina gcuirfidh sé cearta do thithíochta i mBunreacht na hÉireann, agus tá na cearta sin de dhíth orainn níos mó anois ná a bhí riamh mar gheall ar an slad atá déanta ag an Rialtas seo ar chúrsaí tithíochta le naoi mbliana anuas. Feicimid ansin sna fíricí, fíricí b’fhéidir nach bhfuil an Rialtas sásta éisteacht leo nó nach bhfuil an Rialtas sásta a admháil, ó thaobh an méid daoine atá gan dídean anocht agus iad ag fanacht in óstáin, i mbrúnna agus i gceantair eile ar fud na cathrach seo agus ar fud an Stáit. Feicimid é sna fíricí sa mhéid atá daoine ag caitheamh gach mí ar chíosanna ollmhóra, cíosanna nach bhfacamar riamh sa Stát seo, atá ag gearradh ar theaghlaigh agus iad ag cur brú millteanach orthu, agus feicimid é sna fíricí ina bhfuil teaghlaigh ann anois nach bhfuil ábalta dídean a chur os cionn a chlann mar go bhfuil na praghsanna ró-ard.
This legislation is timely and welcome. I commend Deputies Ó Broin and Adams on bringing it to the floor of the House. Having listened to the Minister of State's contribution, I believe he is living in a different reality. He referred to Sinn Féin being dishonest. The remarks he articulated are the height of dishonesty. Every year, and as Sinn Féin spokesperson on finance I can stand over this, Sinn Féin shows the Government how it can deliver more houses. We show how it needs to prioritise-----
We showed how it could have delivered 10,000 social houses and 5,000 affordable houses. We bring to the Government the legislation which states it should legislate to ensure that no family is evicted into homelessness. What does the Government do? It votes against it. The Government prioritises investors and vulture funds and it throws Irish citizens to the wolves. The reason for the crisis is not an act of God.
It is not some sort of accident. In excess of 10,000 people are in emergency accommodation as a direct result of the policies introduced by the Government. More than ten years ago I stood on the floor of the Seanad and said to the Minister of State of the day, Michael Finneran, that his policies - followed by the Government - would mean that house prices would reach a peak again. I said that when that happened landlords would turf tenants out onto the street. What we needed then and what we have needed every year since then was for the Government to build and purchase social houses. However, the Government has decided not to do that. We have repeatedly said that this area is an ideological blind spot for Fine Gael. It has prioritised investors, vultures, cuckoos-----
The Minister of State is saying this is not true. I will tell him something. A real estate investment trust, REIT, buying up apartments, snatching them away from families who want to put a roof over their heads, does not have to pay a penny of tax on the income, or any of the 33% capital gains tax, CGT, that everyone else has to pay on the gains they make. These companies are getting away with hundreds of millions of euro in tax benefits as a result of the policies of the Government, supported by Fianna Fáil.
Earlier today the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach was invited to the offices of the Irish Mortgage Holders Organisation, IMHO, to see what is happening, under the bonnet, to those in mortgage distress. Only two members of the committee turned up. Shame on Fine Gael; not one member of that party turned up. It does not want to see the truth, or to hear about what is coming down the line in terms of the number of evictions that are about to happen.
This Bill is timely. It is not radical. This is something that was supported five years ago by 100 randomly selected citizens. Some 84 of them said the right to housing should be enshrined in the Constitution. However, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil say no. They will cry crocodile tears when people do not have that right. They say it will make no difference, but that is nonsense. It will make a difference, because there will be an obligation on the Government and successive Governments to bring forward policies that are in line with that constitutional right. I appeal to Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to do the right thing, for the first time since this Government came into being, on the issue of housing. They should stand up and do the right thing for the people by fulfilling the desire of the Constitutional Convention and allow this legislation, proposed by Deputy Ó Broin, who has brought forward many solutions for this crisis, to be enshrined in the Constitution. It should take the right step along the road to recovery for the first time.
I will respond to some of the points made by the two Ministers of State and Deputy Casey. The Minister of State, Deputy Stanton, said this issue had not undergone sufficient scrutiny. Everyone else has referred to the very detailed work of the Constitutional Convention, which was very substantive. There was also detailed consideration of this proposal at the Committee on Housing and Homelessness, including presentations from experts, legal advisors and legal professionals. We also have examined this matter in great detail at the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government and reports have been authored by Mercy Law Resource Centre, the Ombudsman for Children and a range of other figures. Many Members have spent their time wisely and have considered this matter in great detail. If members of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael have not used that time in the same way, I am sorry. They were given the opportunity of listening to the real and clear benefits that such a right would have.
The Minister of State, Deputy English, listed what he believed to be a set of rights. I would hazard to guess that if he submitted those arguments in an undergraduate law essay, he would fail. Rights are not something to be applied for which one might get by meeting certain criteria. That is the opposite of rights. It is why legislation has the word "may" rather than "shall" when outlining what a local authority may or may not do. They are not legal rights. To answer his question very directly, all of the legal opinion we have heard at the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government has shown the value of a legal and constitutional right to housing is the fact that it provides a basic floor of protection, so that every single thing a Government does - legislation, policies and budgets - must have due regard to how it will vindicate that right. It does not provide everyone with a set of keys to a home nor is it a silver bullet that will resolve all problems. However, it provides an additional check and forces Governments to consider these issues, in exactly the same way it has to do with all of the other enumerated rights in the Constitutions. To Deputy Casey I say, of course, it is not a stand-alone proposal. He is correct that referendums cost money, but the idea that his party would oppose a legal right to housing because it might mean an additional 75 homes in his constituency is almost comical.
In fact, if we had a legal right to housing his county would not be in the mess it is in at the minute, because the Government, the Opposition and the local authorities would be forced through the courts to deliver the homes that the Deputy said he wants to deliver for his constituents.
One of the most striking aspects of this debate is the absence of the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and the Front Bench spokesperson for Fianna Fáil.
The idea that the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government could not have taken half an hour to come out to participate in this crucially important debate speaks volumes for the Government and the fact that the lead spokesperson for Fianna Fáil could not have been bothered to show up - I presume we will see tweets of him canvassing in his constituency for local government candidates at some stage tomorrow - shows that the party is not taking this issue seriously either. I have some sympathy for Deputy Casey and the Minister of State, Deputy English, because on the occasions their parties deliver unpopular news, they are sent in to take the hit for their seniors.
There are tens of thousands of families with housing needs which are not being met by this Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael coalition. This includes tens of thousands of renters, first-time or aspiring first-time home buyers and people languishing on social housing waiting lists. The Minister of State is correct; social homes are being built. In fact, if he had listened to my contribution, he would have heard me acknowledge that. The problem is that it is nowhere close to enough.
The crucial difference between our party and Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael is that we would double capital investment in social and affordable housing. It is the only way in which to begin to increase output. We would shorten the delivery time we proposed to the Department in terms of approval and procurement to get those homes built more quickly. We would set higher targets for the local authorities to deliver social homes, affordable rental homes and affordable purchase homes, which is something that the Government, actively supported by Fianna Fáil, is refusing to do. Crucially, we would enshrine in the Constitution, subject to the approval of the people in a referendum, a legal right that would ensure that in the future parties such as Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael which say they want to resolve this crisis but which will not act to ensure that is done will be forced, either through the Constitution or the courts, to provide the homes that families so desperately need. Anyone watching this debate will be deeply disappointed, but not surprised. Once again Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael say they want to solve this housing crisis, but are showing by their actions that they are neither interested, capable or able to do it. That is why I believe there will be a major mobilisation on the streets of Dublin on Saturday in an attempt to force those parties to take this crisis seriously, for once and for all.