Tuesday, 3 December 2019
Confidence in the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government: Motion [Private Members]
“That Dáil Éireann:
notes that: — the most recently published homeless figures stand at a record 10,397, with 6,524 adults and 3,873 children classified as homeless;
— the number of homeless families has increased by 354 per cent since September 2014, and more than one in three people in emergency accommodation is a child;
— these figures do not account for the thousands of people living with housing uncertainty, living back with parents, staying with friends or with no security of tenure;
— the Rebuilding Ireland Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness has been published for almost three years and for the third year in a row the Government will fail to meet 2811 the targets set out in the plan;
— with a stated target of 121,000 homes built by the end of 2021, given current failures to meet annual targets, Rebuilding Ireland has completely failed and will not achieve its stated objectives;
— the latest Daft.ie report on the private rental sector showed just 3,500 rental properties available nationally;
— the average cost of renting a property in Dublin now exceeds €2,000 a month, the 32nd quarter in a row there has been an increase;
— average rents nationally are 8 per cent higher than the same period last year;
— as a result of the consistent failings of this Government and the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, there is an entire generation of people locked out of affordable and secure housing options; and
— the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government has been in his position for two years and has completely failed to address the housing and homelessness emergency, and the consistent growth in the homelessness figures coupled with the failure to meet the Rebuilding Ireland targets underlines that fact; has no confidence in the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, Eoghan Murphy T.D., and calls for him to be removed from office; and
calls on the Government to: — urgently introduce an affordable housing scheme;
— immediately expand the Rebuilding Ireland Home Loan scheme;
— implement an immediate nationwide rent freeze; and
— accept that the Rebuilding Ireland Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness is not fit for purpose and commit to urgently implementing a new housing plan tackling security of tenure and affordability for all.”
When Rebuilding Ireland was published in 2016, it had several aims, the first of which was to address the homelessness crisis. At the time, the number of homeless people was 6,107, including 2,206 children. According to the belatedly announced figures for October, 10,514 people were classified as homeless, comprising 6,688 adults and 3,826 children in emergency accommodation. The disgraceful figures do not take account of the many thousands of so-called hidden homeless, that is, those who have returned home to live with their parents or who sleep on a friend's couch. We come across such people all the time. Two or three families under the one roof is not unusual. The stress and tension it causes is obvious to those who constantly deal with the issue. According to Fine Gael, the great silver bullet to solve the problem is Rebuilding Ireland, a document so mired in spin and ambiguous language that one would need a translator to find the numbers. In 2016, the then Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Deputy Coveney, promised to fix the homelessness and housing emergency in one fell swoop.
He said he would stake his career on it. The then Taoiseach, Deputy Enda Kenny, said the goals were ambitious but achievable. Not only has this Government not eradicated homelessness, the situation has become far worse.
The second stated aim of Rebuilding Ireland was to improve the rental sector. As we stand here, we are currently in the 32nd quarter in a row where rents have risen. The average rent in Dublin is now 100% higher than in 2010, and in one part of Dublin it is 125% higher. Those figures have not been plucked out of thin air; they are all from the daft.iequarter 3 report.
Another aim of Rebuilding Ireland was to address housing waiting lists. In excess of 100,000 individuals and families were on the list when Rebuilding Ireland was published. According to it, HAP and RAS will deliver 58,560 housing solutions over the period 2018 to 2021. We keep pointing out that they are not new houses. The question that must be asked is what exactly is being rebuilt. Across all local authorities the target for 2019 is to build 6,545 houses and acquire 1,325 leases, but the big number is HAP. To reach the target, 17,360 units are needed. The HAP element of the plan is expected to cost €423 million in 2019, with a further €80 million allocated in 2020, bringing the total spend on HAP to 2022 to over €500 million. The more this approach is pursued, the more difficult it is to row back on it. HAP does not provide a secure form of housing, nor is it cost efficient. HAP is the single biggest transfer of public funds to private landlords in the history of the State and has been used to effectively confuse the numbers in terms of units being delivered.
The Committee of Public Accounts, of which I am a member, did extensive work to try to decode the Rebuilding Ireland spin. In the committee's sixth report, published in July, the housing waiting list totalled 114,858 which, of course, includes those in receipt of HAP. That figure includes individuals and families and represents an actual figure of in the region of 330,000 people in need of housing or on waiting lists. Let us be clear. HAP is not units being delivered; rather, people and families are being put at the mercy of the private market and left to fend for themselves. It is a means of massaging the social housing waiting list numbers and the delivery of housing units.
During the hearings of the Committee of Public Accounts on housing, an official from the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government said, "HAP tends to provide for shorter leases". The dread of a notice to quit is something that renters in general experience, but is an extra complication for those in receipt of HAP because it is more difficult to find accommodation within the specified price range. I have raised the issue on Leaders' Questions and in a recent Topical Issue debate about the administration of HAP which is causing long delays and making it even more difficult to secure accommodation.
The Minister apparently does not recall the Social Democrats ever tabling questions, amendments or proposed legislation, or attending the housing committee. That is funny because a simple fact check would reveal that he is wrong on all counts. The reality is that we have tabled hundreds of questions, have repeatedly used Leaders' Questions and Topical Issue debates to raise issues and brought forward a piece of proposed legislation on rents that the Minister welcomed. Why let the facts get in the way of spin?
In this era of fake news, I urge those in the media who have a responsibility to report impartially to do just that. Let the facts speak for themselves. Some have trotted out Government spin verbatim, and they need to look at themselves. Whenever the general election happens, I can confidently predict that housing will be a central issue. People have already made up their minds that the approach to housing is not working and must change. We are days away from yet another cold weather initiative being announced. This year, more people than ever will be in need. We can count the rows of tents in our parks and along the canal banks. We can understand the level of need. This initiative is not a solution.
The Government's business as usual approach and dismissive attitude that the problem will not be solved overnight has sought to normalise children missing developmental milestones because they are stuck in unsuitable homeless accommodation. This approach has sought to normalise two or three generations living under one roof and, ultimately, a society without empathy or compassion. That is not who we are. Irish people have an inherent sense of decency and are appalled at the trauma we are inflicting on those who find themselves unable to keep up with the property and rental markets that make no room for those on average or below average incomes.
When cuckoo funds buy large blocks of houses or apartments we are told that will provide housing. What kind of communities are we building? They are transient and such housing is only available to those who can afford it. Our use of public land is dictated by the Minister's Department. One only has to look at the O'Devaney Gardens and Oscar Traynor sites to see the approach. They should have been a major opportunity to deliver affordable housing for sale or rent, but the Minister's approach is to have private developers who want to make a healthy profit build units, which works against delivering affordability.
We need to focus on a State-based approach to the project management of sites under public ownership to ensure the maximum use is delivered effectively and in an affordable way for sale and rent. The underlying philosophy of Rebuilding Ireland is that the market is the solution, but the people I come across do not talk to me about getting on the property ladder. Rather, they talk to me about wanting a home. I hear parents ask where their children are going to live. I hear from their adult children who are embarrassed to still be dependent on their parents. I hear from a generation of renters who are working hard but paying large rents, which means they cannot save money for a house they can call home. I hear from people who have received eviction notices who crave the security of a home. I cannot tell the Minister how often I have had people in my office in tears saying the same words, "I never thought homelessness was something that happens to people like us".
The narrative has to change and affordability has to be central to housing delivery. That requires a vision, a vision that I do not believe the Minister or the Government has. The Government has spent years saying no money is available and things take time. This completely ignores the fact that as far back as 2012 the European Investment Bank told us funding was available for housing. Myriad other options were put forward, but all were rejected because they ran contrary to the Government's determination to rely on the private market to deliver solutions to the problems it created. It has not and it will not. The longer the Government fails to realise that, the worse the emergency becomes.
Rents are running significantly above the monthly cost of a mortgage, yet an entire generation is locked out of accessing mortgages because they cannot afford to save a deposit while paying rent. The solutions are there. The Minister appears to have memory difficulties. It is to be hoped that by now his memory will have been jogged enough to recall the many pieces of proposed legislation tabled by the Opposition on these issues. Perhaps he might also remember our call two years ago for a national rent freeze, something the Fine Gael by-election candidate in Dublin Mid-West said she supported as she mounted a campaign about how her party and director of elections were failing renters and to provide affordable homes for purchase.
I am glad that over the past three or four weeks during the by-election campaign Fianna Fáil has finally woken up to the scale of the housing crisis. Its words have been laudable over the past number of weeks. Deputy Micheál Martin has repeatedly used Leaders' Questions to decry the state of affairs and excoriate the Minister for failing in his job.
The two new Fianna Fáil Deputies in the House this evening will no doubt have lambasted the Minister and his track record while on the election stump in recent weeks. Yet, it would appear now that those words are really all hot air and Fianna Fáil will continue to do what it has done since the outset of this silent partner arrangement. Brexit has been used as an excuse to dumb down many pressing domestic issues, including the housing and homelessness emergency. Not one of those Deputies, however, wants to talk about how this housing and homelessness emergency will make Brexit, and the fallout from Brexit, even worse for Ireland and the individuals stuck in this situation.
How will companies look at this country, where their employees cannot afford to live and are considering the prospects of relocation? We are already hearing of people moving because they cannot afford to live here. Those are people with good jobs and a good education. The Expat City Ranking 2019 report, published today, unfortunately ranks Dublin last of some 82 cities. Some 86% of people surveyed stated that they found it difficult to get housing and 88% responded that they did not find housing in Dublin affordable.
The Government, and its silent partners in Fianna Fáil, want to pretend that this motion is reckless and that a general election so close to Christmas is ill-advised and a political game-playing stunt. It seems, however, that nobody on those benches cares to recall a no-confidence motion that the Fianna Fáil Party tabled in respect of the former Deputy and Minister, Frances Fitzgerald, when the heat became too much for that party to bear back in 2017. That motion did not require a general election and neither does this one. The Government knows that, the Fianna Fáil Party knows that and most observers know that as well. The Government, however, will spin, obfuscate and attack. We make no apology for tabling this motion and we will not be silenced by the use of the age-old trope of attack as the best line of defence.
We are using this opportunity, one of the few we get on Private Members' business, to do what is morally and politically right. I refer to acknowledging that the Minister has utterly failed in his job and that we have no confidence in his ability to solve this housing and homelessness emergency. For that reason, regardless of any election timing arguments, we have no option but to state that we have no confidence in the Minister. We are not only seeking to have this motion passed, we are asking the Minister to resign. Our society can no longer afford him or Fine Gael.
I support this motion of no confidence in the Minister. He is presiding over a housing and homelessness emergency. This is no accident and no error, but the result of deliberate policy pursued by this Government and previous Governments. This policy sees housing as a commodity and the market as a solution to the housing and homelessness crisis. That policy has failed, was always going to fail and will continue to fail. The reason the Minister refuses to tackle this housing and homelessness emergency, the reason he will not commence a large-scale construction of public housing on public lands, the reason he will not provide significant affordable purchase and rental schemes and the reason he refuses to freeze rents or to stop families being evicted into homelessness is that he is part of an extreme free market, pro-super rich Government.
The right to housing is a human right. This Minister and the Government, however, are treating housing as a commodity on the market, and that has resulted in the biggest housing and homelessness crisis since the Famine. The policy of the Minister and the Government on housing has been criticised by the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, who said housing is stability, security, dignity and, crucially, housing is not a commodity. The Minister's policy is damaging children, families and society in general. Indeed, the result of the Minister's policies, as we have seen only this afternoon, is another increase in the homelessness numbers for October. There are now 10,514 people homeless, and one in three of those is a child. Homelessness has increased by 354% since September 2014. Since the appointment of the Minister, the number of people homelessness has increased from 7,300 to 10,300.
Rents have also skyrocketed during this Minister's tenure. In Dublin, average rent is now more than €2,000 and rent nationally is up 8% compared with the same period last year. One in five renters pays more than 40% of income on rent. Housing assistance payment, HAP, tenants pay an average top-up to landlords of some €200 monthly, in addition to their local authority rents. These figures are unsustainable and mean these tenants do not have 2 cents to put together at the end of a week. An illness, bereavement, communion, confirmation or an unexpected bill can and does drive these families into debt and, indeed, into long-term debt.
A generation of young families are locked out of ever having a family. Thousands of these families are just above the limit to get on a local authority waiting list for a home. At the same time, those families will not qualify for a mortgage. They are condemned to paying long-term exorbitant rents. Even families lucky enough to get on the local authority housing list face reviews and removal from those lists if their income has crept over the income limit. I have seen cases where families with only social welfare income have been removed from local authority housing lists. We have the 77,000 people on those lists and 37,000 families on HAP, with no security of tenure and paying exorbitant rents.
There are also thousands on no lists. Those are the hidden homeless, living with family or friends or sleeping on couches. The Minister's housing policy is not only a failure, it is a disaster for families and for society. It has broken the social contract between the Government and the public. The housing and homelessness emergency can only be tackled successfully by the declaration of a statutory housing and homelessness emergency, by the building of an emergency large-scale public construction housing programme on public land, by large-scale affordable purchase and affordable rental programmes, by the freezing of rents at significantly reduced levels and by ensuring that sitting tenants have the right to remain on as tenants in situations where properties are being sold. To implement these measures requires the removal of the Minister and the Government and I support this motion.
We have a challenge with housing and homelessness in this country and it is a serious one. My concern tonight is that the motivation that has brought us to this debate is not a genuine one. Nevertheless, I am the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. I am responsible for housing and homelessness in this country and I am accountable to this House, as I always have been. I know all too well that people are hurting in this crisis because I meet them every week in my job. It is my determination, as Minister, to see them through this crisis and to see them right at the end of it.
Rebuilding Ireland is our housing plan and it is constantly being reformed and improved. That can only happen with the support of this House, because we are a minority Government. That support has been forthcoming quite often. For example, when I was appointed as Minister and I increased our social housing building targets by 30% and secured €500 million to do that, I was supported by this House. When I introduced some of the most progressive rent reforms earlier this year, I did so with the support of this House. Earlier today, we approved a new regulator for the approved housing bodies sector. Again, that was with the support of this House.
Last year, I lifted the height cap on buildings like apartments, again with the support of this House. Reforms have been made under Rebuilding Ireland. Before we talk about all the challenges faced by renters, first-time buyers, people who are living in overcrowded accommodation and those who are at the sharpest end of this crisis, including people who are sleeping rough on the streets and families in emergency accommodation, we have to talk about supply, which is the fundamental problem we are facing. We are facing it because our housing sector was broken in the past. In 2013, only 4,500 homes were built in this State. In 2014, just over 400 social housing homes were built in this State. Like others, I can throw around facts and figures, but I suggest there are certain facts we cannot escape. When Rebuilding Ireland was launched in the middle of 2016, it contained a commitment to the delivery of 125,000 new places to live by the end of 2021. We still have two years to go, but we have already delivered 64,000 new places to live. In the last 12 months, 26,000 new homes started under construction on new sites. More than 30,000 homes have planning permission. These numbers are increasing. Only 4,500 homes were built in 2013, as I have said, but this year we will build more than 20,000 homes. That will be the biggest number in a decade. Only 419 social housing homes were built five years ago, but this year we will build more than 6,000 such homes. Next year will be a record year. We will build more social housing homes next year than we have built in any year in the past two decades.
I invite Deputies to think about the fact that more than 6,000 social housing homes and more than 20,000 private homes are being built this year. One in three homes being built this year will be used for social housing. It is nonsense for people to say that we are reliant on the market for our solutions and that our targets are not ambitious. Next year, we will build more social housing homes than were built in any of the boom years. We cannot escape such facts. Rebuilding Ireland is working. As supply increases, we are locking in affordability. Since 2016, 50,000 new homes have been bought by first-time buyers. That number comes from the CSO and is not my own. The help-to-buy scheme has supported 15,000 households over the same period. The Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme has helped more than 1,000 households. Deputies have called for a shared equity affordability scheme and such a scheme now exists. It will help a couple on €55,000 - a teacher and a nurse, for example - to buy a new home in Dublin. It will help a single person on €36,000 to buy a new home in Cork. Our studies have shown that the Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme is helping chefs, carpenters and lorry drivers to buy homes. We are helping people to buy homes. We are not relying on the market for these purposes. We are putting taxpayers' money in to drive delivery. These facts come from the CSO. Our work is not finished, but we are making progress. The number of people in emergency accommodation - 10,514 - is also important. It was just under 8,000 when I came into office. I am answerable for that increase. I am also answerable for the more than 12,000 people who have left homelessness since I came into office because of the significant efforts that have been made in this area. The solution of the Social Democrats is to propose a motion of no confidence and to say that Rebuilding Ireland is failing. Not once have the Deputies in question come into the joint committee to question me on Rebuilding Ireland.
I have brought forward one of the most progressive rent Bills this year. Even though one of the biggest challenges we have when it comes to emergency accommodation relates to people leaving the private rented sector, the Social Democrats did not propose a single amendment to the Bill in question. Deputy Catherine Murphy wants to know what to say to people who are worried about people not being able to afford homes. I suggest that she should look at her colleague to her left, who has spoken against emergency accommodation, social housing and apartment building in her constituency.
Sinn Féin will be supporting the motion of no confidence even though it called it a stunt when it was first proposed. Sinn Féin should know what a stunt looks like when it comes to housing. Deputy McDonald has said that if she gets into government, she will have the most ambitious social housing programme in the State. I ask her to look at what we are doing. Next year will be a record year for social housing delivery. These are the types of reforms we are making under Rebuilding Ireland. Our work is not yet finished. We are continuing to make progress and to see our plans through. We recognise that people are hurting in this crisis. We recognise that two generations of people have been condemned by the housing failures of previous Governments. We are committed to not condemning any future generations to those types of failures through short-term thinking.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for the opportunity to speak in this debate. I thank the many Deputies who have rearranged their schedules to travel to be here for this debate and for tonight's vote.
I am not going to speak at length, but I will make a few points. The first thing that needs to be said is that tonight's motion will not pass and was never going to pass. It was just a stunt to gain publicity and coverage for its proposers. It has succeeded in that respect because it secured precious airtime on television and radio, sometimes with a by-election candidate in the doughnut. I give the Deputies full marks in that regard. This motion is also a lost opportunity because those who have proposed it, and their Opposition colleagues who support it, could instead have put forward constructive proposals, new laws and new ideas that might have helped to alleviate homelessness and to increase the supply or affordability of housing.
This motion does none of that. I give the Deputies no marks in that regard. I respect the views of Members of this House. I always try to reflect on what they say. I have not forgotten the advice provided by one of our colleagues two years ago last week, when it looked like the country would be plunged into an election before Christmas because of false allegations made against the then Tánaiste, Frances Fitzgerald.
I do not need to remind anyone that the allegations in question were subsequently proven to be without foundation. Deputy Shortall advised me at that time that the country could not afford to have a general election and that a Christmas election would do huge damage to the country. I have not forgotten her wisdom or her certainty about what was needed for the country at that time. It is a pity that she has forgotten her own words and wise counsel at that time. She forget them as soon as it was expedient to do so. The housing crisis is very real. It affects our citizens in many ways. High rents are unaffordable for many people. The struggle to secure a mortgage, which involves raising a deposit, is followed by the struggle of finding somewhere to buy. The sharpest end of homelessness is seen in the level of rough sleeping on our streets and the presence of families in emergency accommodation. It has become popular in some quarters to attribute all this to the policies or ideology of one party - my party. That is not accurate and does not stand up to scrutiny. The housing crisis in Ireland was a long time in the making. I will go back to that in a moment. My party has been in charge of the housing brief for three and a half years under the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. For the five years prior to that, the brief was held at Cabinet level by Deputies Kelly, Jan O'Sullivan and Penrose of the Labour Party. For the four years before that, it was held by John Gormley of the Green Party.
The housing crisis was not caused by any one party, ideology or person. Its roots lie in the economic crisis and crash that occurred ten years ago. The Government of the time was broke and could not afford to build houses for many years. The banks were bust and could not finance housing. The construction industry had gone bust and was unable to build anything. Some 100,000 construction workers emigrated during that period and most of them have not returned. In the normal course of events, a country with Ireland's demographics should build between 30,000 and 35,000 houses each year. For seven years, we built almost no houses. That left us with a deficit of approximately 200,000 homes. It is going to take time to recover that deficit. It was always going to take time. As our five-year Rebuilding Ireland plan is now three and a half years old, it is reasonable to ask how we are doing and to look at some of the facts. In 2015, the year before Rebuilding Ireland, only 7,000 new homes were built in Ireland. More than 20,000 new homes will be built this year. Housing supply has more than trebled. House prices, which had been increasing by 7% a year, have now levelled off. Incomes are now rising faster than house prices. That is the best way to achieve affordability in the long term. The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, has already mentioned that we have embarked on the largest social housing programme in many decades. Some 10,000 social houses have been added to the housing stock this year. This is more than any other year in this century, regardless of boom or bust. We know from today's figures that rough sleeping has fallen to its lowest level in many years. It is terrible and shameful that 10,000 people are living in emergency accommodation tonight, but we must not forget that we have lifted 14,000 people out of homelessness and provided them with secure housing.
The help-to-buy scheme, which has helped 15,000 young people to purchase their own homes, will run for another two years. The Rebuilding Ireland home loan scheme has enabled 2,600 people to get low-interest loans, thereby allowing them to afford new homes. We are three and a half years into a five-year housing plan. It has got off to a slow start. That was always going to be the case. We are now making real and measurable progress. When we are making such progress, we do not abandon it. We see it through and allow the next Government, of which I hope we will be a part, to build on it.
I fully respect the right of any party to use its parliamentary time in whatever way it sees fit. Any party has the right to table a motion of no confidence in the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, or indeed in any other Minister. It is perfectly permissible under the procedures of this House.
The question for many people, including the media and many of the people to whom I have spoken, is the timing of the motion. If we are honest with each other, most people saw it as a cynical manoeuvre to try to garner attention in advance of the by-elections. That is the truth of it.
I respect the right of the Member to speak. I did not interrupt her colleague. I am stating my own opinion and the opinion of thousands of other people across this country. That is the reality of it. In the first few minutes of this debate the Social Democrats, others and the Government have engaged in a blame game, the Taoiseach having given us a history of former housing Ministers and trying to blame former Labour Party Ministers, Green Party Ministers and others. He has a responsibility himself and we know that, as do the people watching this debate who know the country is in the grips of a housing crisis. People want to know how we propose to fix the crisis and what alternative measures we propose to bring forward.
As Fianna Fáil spokesperson on housing I have published 13 pieces of legislation in the last 14 months dealing with issues such as strengthening security of tenure, tenants' rights, student rents, affordable housing, owner management companies, multi-unit developments, an ombudsman for this area and strengthening the rights that people have in housing. This is what the people want to see us doing. This motion will not result in one person being housed or one person being taken off the homeless list. It will not do that. It will be seen for what it is, namely, a motion that does not put forward any solution.
Fianna Fáil would do things differently.
We have said that and the public will get an opportunity to see that. Nobody watching this debate believes that it would be beneficial for this country to plunge itself into a general election in Christmas week or shortly thereafter, in advance of another Brexit deadline of 31 January. The public are not on the side of the Social Democrats on this motion. Others have jumped on the bandwagon, including Sinn Féin. Sinn Féin has said that this motion need not bring down the Government, but voting no confidence in a Minister, of whom I have been highly critical, would bring down the Government. If Sinn Féin believes that is a good position for this country to be in prior to a Brexit deadline of 31 January and a UK general election on 12 December, it is for them to put their case forward.
Sinn Féin has presided over the pulling down of the Government in the North of Ireland, such that it has not sat for three years. There is also the matter of the record of Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland on housing. Deputy Ó Broin's book is a partitionist book because he never referred in it to Sinn Féin's track record on housing in the North of Ireland. I read it but it is not a great read. In the North, there were 37,859 applicants on the social housing lists at the end of March and seven of every ten households waiting for a social home were deemed to be in priority need of housing, officially described as in housing distress. Of the 26,387 applicants in housing distress, 74%, or almost 20,000, were officially considered homeless. That is Sinn Féin's record on housing and homelessness in the North of Ireland.
Fianna Fáil has put the national interest first by sticking with a confidence and supply arrangement that, frankly, in many instances has not suited and has been difficult to do politically. In doing so, we have put country ahead of narrow party political gain and that is what we will continue to do. The public will get an opportunity early in the new year to review what each party is putting forward in terms of solutions to fix the housing crisis and how to stall the fall in home ownership rates in this country. This Government has presided over the highest homelessness rates and it has condemned a generation of people into unaffordable renting. People want to know how the problem can be fixed and Fianna Fáil has alternatives to this type of motion, which will be seen for what it is, namely, an attempt to garner publicity and support for the Social Democrats. That is fine, but the Social Democrats should also have set out what it would do differently.
Early next year the public will be insisting that parties and those who put themselves forward for election show them what they would do differently. Fianna Fáil will put home ownership at the centre of the solution to the housing crisis, increase social housing build and control rents such that people will have a safe and secure home for themselves and their families.
This is a political Groundhog Day. For the second time, we are engaged in Dáil time in populist political games. We do so in December, when a defeat for the Minister would plunge the country into a general election which would run through Christmas. A general election during Christmas when homelessness is at its most dangerous and homeless services are working flat out to provide food and shelter for families is almost beyond belief but that is what we are facing tonight.
I was elected to find solutions to the problems we face. As Vice Chairman of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government I have worked with colleagues from all parties and none to hold Government to account and to propose practical solutions to the continuing scandal of housing delivery. During the last confidence motion I remarked that the speeches and the dramatic outrage were about who gets the political blame and who garners votes from an angry electorate. The politics of housing that are again on display tonight are an example of what is wrong with politics and contributes to the increasing disillusionment with politicians and the political system. Was anyone listening? It seems not, unfortunately.
Poor turnout in the by-elections should inform us as to the mood of citizens. The message from the people to whom I spoke during the campaign was crystal clear, namely, politicians need to deliver solutions and not waste time on political points scoring. Playing political games with housing and homelessness is shameful. Many of the Members here tonight who have issued press statements never bothered to attend one of the 145 meetings of the Joint Committee on Housing, Planning and Local Government. They are only concerned with getting media attention. Let us be clear, this motion will not result in the building of one home. It will not result in one policy idea and it will not offer hope to families desperate for a home. Can we honestly say, hand on heart, that this show tonight is helpful in solving the housing crisis?
There are only two possible results from tonight's motion. The first is no confidence is expressed in the Minister and the Taoiseach calls a general election, as he is entitled to do in such circumstances, following which we will all leave here and engage in a 21 to 28 day election campaign with all the noise and news cycle tailspin that goes with it. Will a Christmas general election help to put a roof over the heads of the thousands of homeless families? The answer should make us ashamed of this farce.
The second result is the Government narrowly wins the vote. The politicians whose sole purpose is to play the politics of housing and not the solutions for housing get their media fix and head off satisfied that their names will appear in tomorrow's newspapers and current affairs programmes. This motion takes up two hours of Dáil time to give the usual suspects their panto performance, when we could be introducing emergency housing measures. There are approximately 40 Dáil sitting days to an expected general election. We could be using those days to pass legislation that increases the delivery of homes-----
-----provides certainty for tenants and increases the whole-of-Government response that is needed to get on top of our housing and homelessness crisis. We could use those 40 days to work on housing solutions and get the entire apparatus of Government to realise that Rebuilding Ireland is not working.
There are 40 days to increase the State's role in the provision of homes for all who need them; 40 days in which an entire suite of measures, on which many of us involved in housing have been working since 2016, could be brought into reality and 40 days to show the people who elected us to this House that politics can be a positive force for change, that politicians can disagree but can also take their responsibilities seriously, as well as to provide the parameters to allow the people to decide what policies need to be introduced that will ensure every man, woman and child in Ireland gets a home.
There will be time for appropriate judgment about the failures of this Government. That time will be in an orderly general election in the spring, when the vast majority of people actually want an election and are prepared to engage. The need for radical solutions in housing will demand the attention of the vast majority of the electorate. That time is not in the run-up to Christmas. Let us end this farcical debate tonight and get back to work.
We are here yet again to debate a vote of no confidence in someone belonging to the Government, a Government so sick it is in need of home help, if only there were the staff to provide it with home help.
It is a Government in need of some special tutoring to show it the errors of its ways, if only there were the special needs assistants to help it in that regard and to give it some moral guidance while they are at it. It is a Government in need of shelter from the storms it faces on a weekly basis but we all know there is no hope of roof over one’s head. However, there is a festive mood around this place today. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle turned on the Christmas lights earlier and the Christmas movies are starting on television soon. No doubt the Taoiseach will be keeping a sharp eye on the TV listings for his favourite movie “Love Actually” and to relax on the couch and take in the lines of Hugh Grant. There is of course that famous scene where Hugh Grant, playing the Prime Minister, takes on Billy Bob Thornton, playing the US President and, having taken a series of kicks from him at various meetings, says that enough is enough and gives the US President a kick back. He speaks of their special relationship when he says -----
He continues, "A relationship based on the President taking exactly what he wants, and casually ignoring all those things that really matter to [us]." A bit like Hugh Grant and Billy Bob, there is no doubt that nights like tonight, for the Minister of State, Deputy O'Donovan, and the debate we are having make us examine our relationship.
The relationship is one that has afforded the party opposite that most trusted of positions of forming a Government to tackle the biggest issues of our day, and no issue has bedevilled our country more than that of housing. However, it has not lived up to that trust, it has failed our people and it has not delivered on that very basic issue of providing homes for people. If a State is failing its people on housing, it is not worth its salt on anything else. It should not surprise us because, as I said here during our housing debate last week, Fine Gael has been failing the people on housing as far back as 1924, when WT Cosgrave was grumbling to the Irish Independentthat the private market would solve the housing issue and the problem of the slums. Nearly 100 years later and Fine Gael is desperately looking towards its buddies in the development game-----
The people know that when it comes to the big ticket items such as housing, it will only be Fianna Fáil that solve it. I opened my comments about relationships. Ultimately, for Fianna Fáil the only contract or relationship that matters is the one we have with the Irish people. No matter what slurs the buckos on the far side will try to hurl at us, we know that when it comes to delivery on the housing market there is nobody else other than a Fianna Fáil Administration who will have the drive to get things done-----
Hold on. Deputy O'Donovan, the very fact that you are a Minister of State does not give you the opportunity to keep referring to me. Please refrain. There might be somebody walking it tonight. It may be all of us. Please, Minister. The public are watching this. How can they have respect for politicians if they hear continuous interruptions? I also ask others who are speaking not to invite interruptions.
I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle. The fact that the dream of home ownership for those who have the wherewithal to actually purchase a home has evaporated should fill Deputy O'Donovan with shame. People at the start of the noughties could aspire to own their own home in their mid-20s, now it is in their mid-30s, if they are lucky enough to find a property that has not been swallowed up by an investment fund or a local authority.
The Government has taken the actual focus and drive out of local authorities to go and build homes. I listened to the Minister give facts and figures in his speech but he and his team are touring the country with approved housing bodies, opening schemes, hauling county managers and directors of housing from the council and giving them the praise when they had nothing to do with it. They have lost the drive and the impetus to even want to build homes. It is depressing that the Government has bred that culture. Why? It has opened a chequebook for the local authorities to just snap up homes from auctioneers. If one goes to the senior executive officers, they are on their computers on a Monday morning looking at myhome.ie and trying to buy houses. That is the culture that the Government has nurtured. Officials of the State at county council level are in direct competition with young first-time buyers trying to get on the housing ladder. It is a depressing vista that has developed over the past decade but it will change. The prospect of an election in the new year will give people a clear choice on properly costed alternatives between ourselves and Fine Gael, unlike the pantomime tonight where the Social Democrats and Sinn Féin think houses will drop from the sky following a Dáil motion. I may totally disagree with the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, but I will always say this for him, at least he has an ideology. It might be a failing one but at least he has one. The nonsense coming from the left here tonight is a Wendy house solution that would have us in an even worse scenario.
The Taoiseach said earlier that he needed time. He is out of time. The choice for the people of Ireland will come soon. The people of Ireland can make the choice to give their children a better future, where the basic principle of having a home is not a fairy tale like the spoofers to my right, but an attainable reality because one party has always ensured that there were houses for our citizens and that party was Fianna Fáil.
-----I welcome this motion. It is not populist. It is not designed to bring down the Government and force a Christmas election. It is to focus collective minds and efforts on the issue of housing. One would never think to listen to our esteemed colleague from Fianna Fáil that he will sit on his hands later and allow the chancers and hoodwinkers from Fine Gael, his partners in government, to have their way again with housing policy.
When I say "the Government" I should be absolutely clear and say that I mean not just Fine Gael but Fianna Fáil also. The instinct of the Government has been to circle the wagons when it comes to housing, to learn speaking notes, engage in spin and, essentially, to send a message to the people that they do not matter. Those of us who offer solutions that will make a real and substantial difference to people's lives and put a roof over people's heads are routinely ignored, abused or disregarded.
This is because for this Government and the political establishment more generally, power trumps people every single time. In its greed for political power, Fine Gael is blind to the very real consequences of its policy failures. For its part, Fianna Fáil engages in shadow-boxing and makes much noise, as we have just heard. When push comes to shove, however, its Members will come in here, sit on their hands and support their buddies in Fine Gael. They back the Government to the hilt and in reality, they are part of that Government. With his abstention here today, Deputy Micheál Martin and Fianna Fáil have shown clearly whose side they are on. They are on the side of the landlords and the property speculators at the expense of homeless children and struggling workers and families. It is that attitude that truly sums up just how out of touch are all of those in government.
Earlier, I asked the Taoiseach if he accepts that his Minister's housing policies have failed. Faced with the evidence of rents reaching highs of €2,000 per month, people spending years spent on waiting lists for a council house, children waiting for Santa Claus in bed and breakfasts and family hubs and of more than 10,500 homeless people, the very best the Taoiseach could offer was spin, deflection and an appalling inability to admit that on this one, he and his Minister have got it wrong. Let us use tonight's motion as an opportunity. Let us start from scratch. Let us ditch the spin and let us take this motion as an opportunity to do something right. First, the Minister must go. That is the long and short of it. His Rebuilding Ireland policy is now in its fourth year and is simply not delivering. The problem has got worse. Figures released tonight show more than 10,500 people are now homeless, so the Minister is incapable of dealing with this crisis. He has demonstrated that time and again. We cannot keep coming in here, day in and day out, recounting the suffering of our people and the Minister's time has run out.
We need to set in motion a radical plan of home building both in respect of council and affordable homes to buy and rent. In this case, "affordable" should mean affordable to ordinary people. Sinn Féin has a plan for a public housing programme that will be the biggest that this State has ever seen. It must come at a pace and rate that will meet current need, pent-up demand and future demographic trends. Building social and affordable housing is the only long-term policy solution that can address this crisis and that can be done.
In the short term, we must tackle sky-high rents. We have a plan that would reduce rents by €1,500 per year using a rent freeze and tax credit for renters. That is the kind of targeted action needed instead of spin and bull. These targeted and concrete actions will help people. We must introduce the provisions of the No Consent, No Sale Bill 2019, which has been advocated by my colleague, Deputy Pearse Doherty, to empower ordinary people against circling vulture funds. That would help. We must also introduce a redress scheme for homeowners living in defective Celtic tiger properties. We must increase investment in local authority housing for retrofitting to ensure sustainability of our housing stock. These are common-sense suggestions that can work.
More than anything else, we must face the fact that doing nothing or the same things all over again simply will not be good enough. It is not good enough to keep spinning or to continue with business as usual. The solutions are there and the only thing now standing in our way is political will. I ask the House not to squander this opportunity because people are struggling. Now is the time to stand up for them and make a difference.
Rebuilding Ireland was launched in July 2016. Three and a half years later, are things really any better? Homelessness is up by 67% and child homelessness has increased by a shocking 81%. The latest homeless figures released today indicate yet another significant rise and although the Minister may claim there has been a decrease in rough sleeping, it is likely that this is the result of a change of methodology on last year's count.
Social housing output remains glacial. Just over 7,000 real social homes were added to the stock in 2018. In the same year, more than 14,000 households went on council waiting lists. The Minister says that those lists are decreasing but that is because more people are being moved into housing assistance payment, HAP, tenancies rather than into real social homes. Meanwhile, private sector output is way behind target. Rebuilding Ireland promised to ensure that an average of 25,000 homes are produced every year in the period to 2021 but nothing close to this has been achieved and we are 30% behind target. With output low, rents and house prices continue to soar. An entire generation has been locked out of renting or buying their own homes.
By every measure, Rebuilding Ireland has failed and yet the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, continues to defend the indefensible. He continues to claim that his plan is working and that alone is reason for him to go. Passing this motion tonight would force the Government to accept that Rebuilding Ireland has failed and it would open the way for a real change in housing policy, allowing us double capital investment in public housing on public land, freeze rents and put money back in renters' pockets. This could deliver genuinely affordable homes to rent and buy while protecting tenants and reducing homelessness.
Tonight, Deputies have a clear choice. They can choose to stand with thousands of homeless children and the hundreds of thousands of people in real housing need or they can stand with the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and his Taoiseach, Deputy Varadkar, and Rebuilding Ireland. I know where I stand.
I am proud and humbled to stand and speak in Leinster House tonight. The housing crisis was the number one issue that came up at the doors right across the Dublin Mid-West in the recent by-election campaign. As we have heard, homeless figures have increased again.
The normalisation of this housing crisis is not normal. It is not normal for our family, friends, neighbours and fellow citizens not to have a safe and secure roof over their heads tonight. It is not normal for almost 4,000 children to spend another Christmas in a hub, a bed and breakfast or a hotel as temporary accommodation. It is not normal for adult children to be living in the back bedrooms of their parents' homes with their own children because they cannot afford the spiralling rents. It is not normal for three generations of one family to be living under the same roof. It is not normal for the residents I spoke to in Dublin Mid-West to be left waiting for the introduction of a real affordable housing scheme in order that they can put down roots in their communities. It is not normal for the continued failed policy of the Government to rely on the private market to supply public housing.
I thank the people of Dublin Mid-West for giving me a very clear mandate tonight. The Minister's housing policies have failed and his term as Minister must come to an end. I do not know if the two new Fianna Fáil Deputies who joined me in the House today are here tonight but I have a message for them. They did not get elected to sit on their hands. While replacing one failed Fine Gael Minister with another failed Fine Gael Minister will not resolve the housing crisis, it will send a very clear message that this House has not just listened to those affected by the housing crisis but that we have acted. I urge everyone to support a vote of no confidence in the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. That would be normal.
The Labour Party has no confidence in the Government and we particularly have no confidence in the Government with respect to its action or inaction relating to housing and homelessness. One need only look at the figures published today, unexpectedly late and into December. They normally come at the end of the month, which would have been November in this case.
More than 10,500 people, including almost 4,000 children are now homeless. Surely that in itself demonstrates the complete failure of the Government's policy.
Many Members have said that Rebuilding Ireland has failed and the Minister said this is the policy and it is working. I will quote from the summary published by Government when it published Rebuilding Ireland: "The plan sets ambitious targets to double the annual level of residential construction to 25,000 homes and deliver 47,000 units of social housing in the period to 2021”. That clearly is not being delivered. The Irish Fiscal Advisory Council, which gets its figures from the Department, now predicts only 45,000 completions by 2024, not by 2021. Clearly, Rebuilding Ireland is failing in that.
The second point in the summary document addresses the unacceptable number of households, particularly families, in emergency accommodation. Clearly, Rebuilding Ireland has failed in that regard. More than 10,500 people are in homelessness. There was a specific aim to take families out of hotels by a certain date and it is now two or three years later and families are still living in hotels. The next point in the summary relates to moderating rental and purchase price inflation, particularly in urban areas. Rebuilding Ireland has failed completely on that. Rental prices in Ireland are unaffordable, particularly in urban areas, and purchase prices are also increasing.
The summary then proposes to address a growing affordability gap for many households wishing to purchase their own homes. Clearly, Rebuilding Ireland has failed again on that. The next point in the summary is maturing the rental sector so that tenants see it as one that offers security, quality and choice of tenure in the right locations and providers see it as one they can invest in with certainty. There is no doubt Rebuilding Ireland has failed in that regard. What we need now is a rent freeze because they have become unaffordable, yet that is not something the Government is willing to contemplate.
The next point in the summary relates to ensuring housing's contribution to the economy is steady and supportive of sustainable economic growth. Again, clearly, we do not have that. A report published yesterday shows that, for people looking at Ireland from outside, the cost and the unaffordability of housing is one of the main reasons they believe it is not an option for them to come and work in Ireland. Those were the points made on the launching of Rebuilding Ireland and it has failed completely in that regard.
The Minister and the Government need to admit this policy has failed and they need to change it. I agree with those who said the policy is primarily based on using the private sector, even on the publicly-owned land. While the Minister refers to it as mixed tenure, his policy clearly is that the majority of homes on publicly-owned land should be for private profit. That is fundamentally unacceptable.
I want to answer the point the Minister made, and others who referred to previous Ministers with responsibility for housing. I want to show him this document published by a former Minister, Deputy Alan Kelly, which contains a detailed description of how the money that was to be spent when the man seated bedside me, Deputy Brendan Howlin, was Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, and allocated €4 billion for housing as soon as we were able to afford it. When I took up office as Minister of State with responsibility for housing, we were under the troika and, similarly, when Deputy Penrose took up the post, we did not have any money, but as soon as we had money, it was allocated for the building of public houses. That is what was meant to happen but that has not happened. There is a list of construction projects but most of them have simply not moved forward because of the Minister’s policy of using public lands primarily for private profit, and that is a failure.
It is important to be clear that there is fundamental difference in the way in which we approach this issue, which is fundamental for people. The Minister said the Opposition has not put forward proposals. We have put forward a number of Bills, two of which have gone through pre-legislative scrutiny in committee, having passed through this House. We have put forward proposals. We have a comprehensive policy document entitled, Affordable Housing for All. I want to nail the lie that the Opposition parties have not put forward constructive proposals and do not have policies on these issues. The issue is about the failure to implement policies that work. We need a fundamental change of policy in that regard.
I refer again to the issue of children in homelessness. We have had many debates on homelessness in this House but the fundamental issue is their childhoods are being taken from them because they are living in homeless accommodation. The Royal College of Physicians in Ireland published a paper entitled, The Impact of Homelessness and Inadequate Housing on Children’s Health recently. The college called on the Government to urgently take action to address the serious harm to the health of thousands of children experiencing homelessness and inadequate housing. It states: "Children experiencing poor housing have a 25 per cent increased risk of severe physical and mental ill-health and disability during children and early adulthood." It cites the various effects on those children. We know the impact on a person’s health and well-being of adverse experience in childhood lasts well beyond childhood. It refers specifically to a higher risk of preterm pregnancy and low birth weight; higher rates of asthma, respiratory illness and infectious diseases; poor nutrition and obesity; less access to developmental opportunities, pay, recreation and social activities; poorer emotional and mental health, and increased behavioural difficulties; less access to preventive health care and lower rates of childhood immunisation; poorer education opportunities; and difficulties in the relationship between parents and their children.
Fundamentally , we need to think about those children who need a home. That is why we support this motion of no confidence. We need this most serious of issues to be addressed. There is publicly owned land. There is now money that there was not in the early stages of our time in government. We need the policy to change to ensure the housing that can be delivered is delivered. We need to send a message of hope that this can be done. It is wrong to say the policy is succeeding when, clearly, it is not. That is the change of tack we need and we do not appear to be getting it from this Government.
If the Minister wanted to measure the scale of his failure, he could do a lot worse than to look at the workload now placed on the shoulders of the volunteers at Penny Dinners in Cork city. Penny Diners has been feeding the poor and the homeless in Cork city since at least the 1880s - some say since the Famine times. This Christmas, these volunteers have to organise 2,000 food hampers. Each week they have to serve 2,000 meals, a twentyfold increase in the past decade. They serve meals to families with small children. More than 200 children are homeless now in the Cork-Kerry area alone. They serve food to people with jobs. Cork’s homeless community now includes members of the working poor. Damningly, Penny Dinners, relatively recently had to keep its doors open at night for the first time since 19th century to provide an alternative to people who otherwise would be forced to sleep out on the streets.
On Thursday, thousands will march on the streets of Cork and Dublin in solidarity with the homeless and to demand action on homelessness. There is a glaring need for a massive increase in social and affordable housing, drastic cuts in rent and a total ban on evictions into homelessness. The people who march know that they will not get these from the Minister. They have no confidence in him or in this Government. Many of them have no confidence in the entire system, a system which puts the profits of vulture funds and landlords above the needs of workers, young people and the homeless.
The Government may just about survive this vote later If it does, it will be with the connivance of a Fianna Fáil Party that attacks the Government on the doorsteps but props it up in the Dáil. If it does survive, it will be with the votes of the Dáil’s very own unmentionables, the likes of Deputy Lowry, Deputy Grealish and the invisible man himself, Deputy Dara Murphy. A Government that relies on votes such as these to survive is truly a bankrupt Government and a Government that is clearly on its very last legs.
This is not personal. This is not about Deputy Eoghan Murphy as an individual; this is about a policy that has failed and the shameful consequences of that policy. Almost 4,000 children are suffering circumstances that no child should have to suffer. Indeed, the number is much higher because, while some eventually get out of homelessness, more enter it. Thousands of young people, children, mothers and families, thousands more who are couch-surfing, and tens of thousands more who are on waiting lists or who are in expensive rented accommodation where they are threatened with the possibility of eviction and have no security are being put through things that no family and no child should have to be put through. The Minister's policies have caused that.
He said that the Opposition does not put forward alternatives. That is dishonest so he should stop saying it. We have put forward Bills on the right to housing, which he voted against. We put forward Bills to stop evictions on the grounds of sale, which he voted against. We tabled a motion to stop land hoarding and property speculation and to introduce a genuinely affordable housing scheme, which he also voted against . Multiple motions and Bills to this effect have been tabled by the Opposition.
What needs to be done? We need at least 20,000 public and affordable houses to be built every year for the next five years. In addition, other measures are needed in the transition. Those transitional measures, however, must not be a substitute for building the public and affordable housing that we need. Sadly, these transitional measures are the Minister's policy. They are not temporary or transitional, but policy. That is why we have a housing crisis. One only has to read Rebuilding Ireland to see this. It is not just that the Minister is not meeting his targets; his targets are the problem. Three quarters of his plan to deal with the housing crisis relies on vulture funds and landlords who have no interest in solving that crisis but who are profiting handsomely from it. In fact, the worse the crisis gets, the more money they make. That is the reality the Minister's policy has facilitated.
Is it slowly getting better? I refer to Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. Does the Minister know how many council houses will be built in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown in 2020? Two. That is considerably worse than this year, for which the figures are abysmal as well. It is getting worse in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown. Rents are now averaging €2,000 a month. Who could afford that except very rich people? No ordinary working person can afford that. That is the mess the Minister has got us into because of his reliance on HAP and private landlords. It is not working. The policy has to go and that is why we will support this motion.
By their friends shall ye know them. Let us look at the friends on whom the Minister and the Government are relying tonight to maintain their pro-landlord, pro-development policies in power. It is a verifiable rogues' gallery, including a liar and convicted tax cheat - Deputy Lowry; a landlord who has used racist-----
Cheating on taxes is fairly unparliamentary. The Minister is also relying on a landlord who has used dog whistling of a racist kind to distract from the true causes of the housing crisis, and the party of the Galway tent and the big developers - Fianna Fáil. This suits him because he represents the same developer and landlord interests. He has overseen an increase in the total rent going to landlords from €5.5 billion in 2009 to €13 billion a year. He stands over legalised tax dodging by the real estate investment trusts, REITs. IRES REIT paid nothing in corporation tax on profits of €120 million last year.
The Minister is engaging in spin and lies that are worthy of Boris Johnson when he speaks about delivering 10,000 social houses this year given his own plan involves leasing 2,000 of them from private developers rather than the State. Just 1,000 houses were built in the first six months of this year but the Minister expects us to believe that 5,000 will be built in the second half. This is just like Johnson's claims in respect of nurses and hospitals. The truth is that this crisis is going to get worse. Fianna Fáil supports it. It is time for the Minister and the Government to go. It is time for the Minister's neoliberal, pro-developer, pro-landlord policies to go.
I will support this motion. Social Justice Ireland states: "Rebuilding Ireland is defined by privatization and financialisation – private operators of emergency accommodation, private landlords receiving increasing amounts of rent subsidies for “social housing solutions”, private developers building on State lands, short-term, high-cost lettings, and private property owners hoping to maximise a profit." Social Justice Ireland went to the trouble of writing a chapter on this. I would have expected the Minister or the Taoiseach to have come in here tonight with a written speech outlining where they think they have succeeded. I am taking part in debate on a day a figure was released to which the Minister did not refer - 10,514. That is not 10,000 plus or 10,500 but 10,514. Of this figure, 6,688 are adults and 3,826 are children.
I have spoken on housing many times and have put forward many positive solutions. Almost a year ago, Sinn Féin tabled a motion of no confidence. Since then, 699 people have been added to the homeless list. A year before that, my colleague, Deputy Healy, who is sitting on the right although he is of the left, begged and implored the Government to declare a housing emergency. That did not happen either. I only mention one or two of the debates.
I stand here tonight and hear Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael trade insults, after which I will go to a hotel bed. On Thursday night, I will go home to my warm house while 10,514 people will not as a direct result of the Minister's policy and that of the Government before him. Unfortunately, Labour was instrumental in developing that policy. It was responsible for a most fundamental change in housing policy through the introduction of HAP. In Galway city, HAP was, and remains, the only provision for social housing. The local authority only reached 25% of its building targets. As I stand here tonight, 62 inexplicably empty houses remain on the local authority list. The only thing that has changed is that the column that says when they became empty has been removed.
I stand here tonight and listen to ideology from both the Government and Fianna Fáil. They accuse us of being beholden to ideology. I am a practical politician who is committed to public health, public housing, and public education because I believe that these are essential ingredients of a democracy. Without them, we cannot have a democracy in which everyone is allowed to participate. This is not personal but the Minister's ideology has privatised the concept of a home. We have asked him to hold a referendum to enshrine in the Constitution that a home is the most basic necessity in allowing us to participate. That has not happened.
I can quote many people but perhaps the best way to proceed is to put the accommodation figures in context. They do not include people in refuges, people living with their families, and a list of others. A study commissioned by the European Commission said that the Minister's figures involved "statistical obfuscation if not 'corruption'". Many other organisations have commented on these issues. The UN rapporteur has commented on the utter failure of the housing policy and on how it has been privatised. Any sensible government, especially a minority government, would see sense after three and a half years of rebuilding Ireland in the image of developers. A sensible government might stop this policy.
At what figure of homelessness will it be allowable to stop? What is the magic figure that might make the Minister, his Government and his colleagues on the other side of the House face reality?
Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council recently signed an agreement with a German cuckoo fund called Realis which will see the council paying between €2,000 and €3,000 per unit for a 25-year lease on 87 apartments. The price of each of these apartments was in excess of €630,000. This is the reality of the housing policy of the Government and the Minister. It is absurd, insane and immoral. In fact it is criminal, given that while this is going on, 4,000 homeless children live in temporary emergency accommodation. Today we have seen homelessness figures increase to 10,514.
One of the solutions is to build public housing on public land. We have enough zoned public land to build 100,000 units of public housing. Rebuilding Ireland specifically puts forward the idea that the private market will solve our housing crisis by building private houses on public land. What recently happened in Dublin City Council with O'Devaney Gardens is also criminal. The Government has handed precious public land over to a private developer to build a development of which 30% will be public housing. That land could be used for public housing and the cost rental model, which would allow mixed tenure. That is part of the solution.
The other part of the solution is to introduce a right to housing in the Constitution. The UN special rapporteur for adequate housing has explicitly said that this should be introduced all over the world, not just in Ireland. Housing should be recognised as a human right in the Constitution so that people are empowered to demand their right to housing. I support this motion of no confidence. Nobody has confidence in this Minister, and he is not the only one.
I have another reason to express no confidence in Deputy Eoghan Murphy. Three years ago, a Bill passed Second Stage without opposition. That Bill was the Thirty-fifth Amendment of the Constitution (Water in Public Ownership) (No. 2) Bill 2016. The Minister has dillydallied and said he would bring forward amendments. In July he said he would have the wording of amendments ready in autumn of this year. We are still waiting. We are facing an election in about 40 days and we have still not received the Minister's amendments. The unions of the Right2Water Ireland movement are concerned about this, along with other organisations and the people themselves. I do not have confidence in the Minister on the housing issue and I do not have confidence that he will implement the will of the people. On paper, everybody in this Dáil agrees with keeping water in public ownership. If the Minister does not agree with it, he should bring the Bill into the Dáil, argue against it and let people know what his position is.
The Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, was established in 2004 to operate a national tenancy registration system and to resolve disputes between landlords and tenants. It has also advised successive Governments. This Government is causing evictions every day by supporting the vulture funds who are in the courts during every sitting hour, getting court orders to evict tenants from rental properties. The vulture funds are not landlords so they can do what they like. This is a gaping hole in the Minister's policy. It is one of his major problems. He is not protecting tenants. Vulture evictions are happening daily, faster than one could even think of building a house. Why is the RTB not supporting these tenants when they end up in court? It offers no support whatsoever. Why does the RTB's legal team not support the tenants who are being evicted? Vulture funds are causing huge distress by putting them out on the side of the road.
The figures today are damning. Some 10,514 persons were in emergency accommodation in October. That is 117 more than in September and a new record high for the Minister. The game is up for him. He has failed, and so have five or six successive Ministers who were mentioned tonight. He will not deal with the vulture funds or the banks. He will not pass any legislation to stop them causing the havoc and mayhem that they cause.
I welcome tonight's debate. It is good to have a debate on such an important issue. The people are fed up with reports and Government spin. The spin doctors always put out the message that the Minister is dealing with the crisis. The truth is that he is not. All he has to do is take a very short walk this evening and he will see the very sad sight of people queuing up for necessary services. These people do not have the simplest thing in the world; a secure place they can call their home, their bed, their corner of the world. People do not have that. I compliment our own local authority, Kerry County Council, and the people working in our housing section. I compliment the people working in the homeless unit in Kerry County Council. However, I truly believe we should not need a homeless unit. We should not have homeless people. We should be doing more to cater for those people. There are thousands of units throughout this country that are not part of the available housing stock but should be. Government policies are keeping them out of it. There is a lack of Government will to take on this problem in a workmanlike way. I have put ways to help to tackle this crisis on the record of the Dáil over the years. Unfortunately the Minister did not listen, he is not listening now and it looks like he will not listen. I welcome this debate and I am grateful for having it, because it is good for democracy to thrash this out tonight.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in support of this motion. I have pleaded with the Minister time and time again for immediate action to tackle the housing problem. The Government is presiding over the worst homelessness crisis in the history of the State. The number of homeless families has increased by 354% since September 2014. More than a third of people in emergency accommodation are children. Moreover this number does not include the hidden homeless, people who are living in squats or sleeping on sofas in friends' homes.
This motion was moved by the Social Democrats, but they are no angels. In Dublin last month, councillors from Fianna Fáil, the Green Party, the Labour Party and the Social Democrats agreed to give land at O'Devaney Gardens to Bartra Capital Property. More than 700 houses and apartments are to be built, of which 20% are to be affordable. They are expected to sell for approximately €310,00. For the average worker this is far from affordable. Some 30% of these units are to be social housing but they are likely to cost the State much more than they should. This is what happens when the Government and some councils do not stand up for the taxpayer. I recently saw this in west Cork, when a motion to increase property tax was blindly brought forward by the Green Party and seconded by a councillor from the Social Democrats. The motion was later passed, adding an extra 5% to property tax in County Cork. This was an unforgivable act by the Social Democrats councillor in west Cork who seconded the motion and, to rub salt in the wound, voted against the motion when the vote was taken. This was too little too late for the hardworking taxpayers of west Cork, who now face an extra 5% thanks to the Social Democrats.
Rural resettlement must be explored and promoted. It is time the Government listened and took real action. If I saw real action being taken towards rural resettlement, I might be able to stand here with some degree of confidence in the Minister. Sadly, however, I will not be voting to keep him in his position.
I very much regret that the Minister blames the local authorities for failing to build houses. The fact is that the Minister and his Government have retained the four-stage process demanded by the Department. That is slowing down the building of social housing.
How many times have we asked the Minister to bring forward the tenant purchase scheme to allow pensioners to buy out the house they have rented, in some cases for 40 years? In Kerry there is funding to build just 12 rural cottages from 2016 to 2021. Rent costs have reached €1,400 in the town of Killarney. I asked the Minister to do something about the tax that is being levied. In most cases the Government levies a tax worth 50% of the rent.
The housing assistance payment is a disaster. It is €690, including the 20%. This is all that a tenant can get in the County of Kerry. On top of this the tenant has to pay money from that amount to the local authority. The Rebuilding Ireland loan is a disaster because it is so hard and there are so many hoops for people to jump through. It puts people through the mill, over and over again, before they actually get the funding.
I am aware of a case of a vulture fund demanding to put a man, his wife and their four children, with his mother and his brother who is in a wheelchair, out on the road. This is instead of the Government buying that house by giving funding to the local authority to buy the house. This would give the family a chance to rent it back. We have asked to do that several times. Why will the local authority not do it? It could buy the house and give the people the dignity to stay in the house. I put it to the Minister that there will have to be a house somewhere. This is the truth. There will have to be a house somewhere-----
Tá an Comhaontas Glas sásta tacaíocht aa thabhairt don rún seo. We have no confidence in the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. We have no confidence in him as the Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government. We have no confidence in this Government's ability to tackle this housing and homelessness crisis. It has shown time and again that its solutions are not working and that it has no willingness to change.
This motion is not just about a lack of confidence in the Minister. We had no confidence in his predecessor, or any of the Ministers with responsibility for housing who have been in office since Fine Gael entered government. Since 2014, Fine Gael has worn a set of ideological blinkers that prevented the party from recognising that our housing crisis is a result of market failures. It is clear that market solutions will not solve this problem. The obsession with market solutions is an article of faith among the Minister and his colleagues. No amount of suffering and no number of families spending Christmas in hotels or bed and breakfast accommodation seem able to convince the Government that its fundamental approach to this issue is flawed.
It seems to me that to call our current situation a housing "crisis" is an insult to those who have suffered and who continue to suffer under it. A crisis is something that occurs suddenly and demands immediate action. We have been told by Fine Gael every year since 2014 that houses cannot be built overnight and that its solution is just around the corner. I believe that the term housing "disaster" might be more apt than housing "crisis". The Minister and his colleagues stand for continuing to tolerate this disgrace, this status quo. We need change.
The Minister released the latest homelessness figures for the month of October mere hours before this debate tonight. The figures were not released at the end of the month, which was last week. Instead they conveniently arrived with a very limited timeframe for Opposition Deputies to study them before tonight's debate. We have, however, had a look at them and they are not easy reading. There are now 10,514 people in homeless emergency accommodation across the State. There was an increase of 117 people homeless in a single month this year. When homelessness figures are going up, week after week, month after month, and year after year it is a sign that something is not working. Nothing is working in the Minister's housing policy.
It is not as though the Opposition has been quiet with our alternative approaches. There is hardly a Deputy on this side of the House who has not put forward a constructive, practical, alternative solution to the housing and homelessness crisis and yet, almost without exception, these solutions have been ignored, dismissed and at times ridiculed by the Government. This Dáil passed a Green Party motion calling for the provision of cost rental public housing at scale on public land. In our pre-budget submission this year we provided for a huge investment in this sustainable form of housing, which will ensure a range of diverse tenants in stable, secure rental accommodation for decades. We provided for the same proposals last year but the Government ignored it. The Government is simply unwilling to build public housing on public land in the numbers needed to tackle this housing crisis. More than three years ago we introduced into this House legislative amendments on a cross-party basis with a number of Opposition parties for rental security for tenants. The previous Minister, Deputy Coveney, opposed it then and his successor has opposed these rights every time since, because it would decrease the property values of landlords. People are without homes. Agus muid ag smaoineamh ar choinneal a lasadh san fhuinneog ar Oíche Nollag na bliana 2019, is scannalach an rud é go bhfuil beagnach 4,000 páiste ag fanacht in óstáin. This is 3,826 children, mar mháthair agus mar Theachta Dála, táim an-bhuartha faoi thodhchaí agus faoi mheabhair shláinte na bpáistí seo. This is a result of Fine Gael's housing policy. It is a result of Rebuilding Ireland. It is a result of favouring the powers of landlords to evict tenants for almost any reason over the rights of tenants to safe, secure and warm homes. It is a result of endorsing and transcribing every wish of the construction industry instead of listening to the horror and anguish of those families who are without a home as we stand here tonight, and who will be without a home this Christmas. Níl aon muinín againn as an Aire.
When history looks back on this Government, one of the most severe criticisms will be that what was a very good national planning framework, which sought to bring life back into the centre, was abandoned in a national development plan that was all about sprawl. When we talk of housing and no confidence in the Government's housing policy, it is inexorably connected to transport; the two go together. Under this Government we are seeing a numbers game with regard to how many houses are being built, but some 25% of the houses are in counties surrounding Dublin and the same Government is spending all our money in widening every motorway. This traps us into an unsustainable form of housing and transport for decades to come.
If the Government was serious about the national planning framework, the last thing it would have done - which was the first thing done by the current Minister - would have been to lower all of the apartment standards. If we have to bring people back into the centre we must build high-quality housing and apartment living, including for families. We must not go with what we see everywhere currently, which is hotels, box apartments and the hostel-type accommodation that make up the numbers. This was a fundamental mistake. That was the time for us to build close to the centre with quality and proper sized apartments, with light and greenery around them to make an environment people would enjoy living in. This is what we have to do and this is what the national planning framework set out, but it was abandoned. For this reason, among all the other reasons my colleagues have set out, the Green Party will not be able to vote confidence in the Minister this evening.
More than 10,500 people are homeless. Since 2014, the number of families who are homeless has increased by 354%. One in three persons living in emergency accommodation is a child. These figures do not include the people who live with families and friends who, I can vouch, come in daily and weekly to my constituency office. The figures also do not include people who live in squats, those who live rough, or the women and children who live in domestic violence refuges. Some of these people are facing more than one year without a home. It could be two or three years. Babies are being born into homelessness. This causes serious damage to children, causes serious stress for families and results in many family break-ups.
If the Minister had been working in the private sector and spent the millions of euro, as he said, then he would be fired. I live in Louth, known as the "wee county", where we have 4,763 people on the waiting list for social housing, 2,990 of whom are in receipt of HAP. This costs millions of euro but with nothing to show at the end. The council has plenty of land on which to build but has loans on the land. The council was requested by the Minister's Department to buy the land and now cannot afford to pay the loans, only the interest. There are acres and acres of land in County Louth on which we cannot build. Louth County Council had hoped to build 347 units but only managed 37, just 10% of what it was asked to do. The council has no money. There are more than 100 unoccupied houses in the area. If the council had the money those houses could take 100 families off the waiting list. I am sure this is the same in other counties. This could take thousands of people off the waiting lists.
All I hear from the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is the amount of money he has invested, but all I can see are the waiting lists going up and the homeless numbers going up. This has to stop. The Minister has said he is spending billions of euro, but I believe he does not have the right people with him in the context of his advisers and his Department. Something is seriously wrong. We have the land and the money, so I ask the Minister to please get the right people in the right place and start building affordable houses now. I worked in the private sector.
Based on his current results, if the Minister worked in the private sector, he would be sacked. I see no reason for him to be working in the public sector. No one wants a general election at Christmas, but no one wants to end up homeless either. I will support the vote of no confidence in the Minister.
I wish to share my time with the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection, Deputy Regina Doherty, the Minister of State, Deputy English, and Deputy Heydon.
Like Deputy Michael Healy-Rae, I welcome this debate. It reveals just how threadbare the policies of the Opposition are and, indeed, how in complete contradiction they are of one another. This mix of an Opposition that will troop in later to vote against the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, cannot agree anything consistent on housing policy.
People have been fond of citing figures about living conditions. They should compare last year's Survey on Income and Living Conditions to the 2013 one. It reveals that this Government has taken 262,000 families out of deprivation. That is nearly 500,000 people by the Central Statistics Office's measure. Some 75,000 families have been removed from consistent poverty. This means that more than 120,000 children who were in consistent poverty in 2013 are no longer so.
We have a problem with housing, but have Deputies forgotten what created the crisis in housing? For a while under a previous regime, 90,000 houses were being built. They were being built because of the toxic relationship that had developed between banking, housing and property.
The Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, and the Tánaiste, Deputy Coveney, had to rebuild a model that was workable on the ashes of the previous approach. That is the reality that has had to be taken on.
-----figures selectively, but the truth is that, under the Minister, we have seen for the past four years the number of houses built increasing by 25% per annum. That was 25% in 2016, 25% in 2017, 25% in 2018 and 25% in 2019. That is a housing policy that is delivering.
-----will see that it is more housing supply. I heard my good friend from the Royal County, Deputy Cassells, saying that his party was the author of local authority housing. The truth is that, at that stage, 10% at most of housing was social housing. Under the Minister, 40% of housing built this year will be social housing, as it was last year.
-----often lambasted the Government in the Chamber for failing to see new social housing being built. I did not hear him comment that the number of social houses being built now is seven times what it was in 2016. That is the reality.
My good friend, Deputy Eamon Ryan, stated that the Government was allowing for private developers and a collapse of the well-honed policy that he wanted to deliver. This is the first Government that introduced its own land development agency.
-----accumulate sites in the cities of Waterford, Cork, Galway and Limerick where we want to see compact development and growth so that we can break the perverse regional balance from which we have suffered for many years.
Far from voting no confidence in the Minister, tonight is a night when we should be endorsing the work he is doing because it will deliver.
We have a manufactured debate in the Chamber tonight. Certain Deputies on the other side of the House would like to present this debate as the very caring Opposition against the big, nasty Government as if we did not care.
It is a cartoon version of politics that bears no relation to the reality of what Rebuilding Ireland is achieving. We do care. I am sure that everyone in the House cares. Like every other politician, we meet families week in, week out who are trying to get on the property ladder.
-----when we were in our 20s and 30s. Owning a home, having a roof over one's head, is fundamental to the Irish psyche. That is why, when we entered into government in 2016, Fine Gael actually asked for the housing portfolio and developed a plan called Rebuilding Ireland. The Labour Party stated that its Government had no money. With respect, though, no foundations of a social housing plan were put in place when the Labour Party owned housing policy.
The Deputies across from us tonight have trotted out loads and oodles of policies that they said they put forward but that we rejected. I would like to remind them all that we are a minority Government. The only way that this Government can get its policies passed is-----
They have all stood up tonight, slagged one another off and told us that this is not personal to the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, but it is exactly that - it is very personal. Slagging is not a policy, though, and does not build houses.
The housing organisations in this country - the people who were building - were shattered by the great recession caused by the mismanagement of this country for years before the Fine Gael-Labour Party Government took over.
We have not run away from the policy. We are doing things that have shown tangible results in my own county of Meath. We had 1,000 houses built two years ago, 1,500 last year and 1,000 built this year already. I have every confidence not only in our Rebuilding Ireland project, but in the Minister who is steering the ship right now.
Let us call this what it is - an election stunt by the Social Democrats, who announced this motion ahead of the by-elections last Friday. The Social Democrats purposely held a photo opportunity outside the Dáil gates so that a by-election candidate could be included in the picture. We all know that an unelected representative would not have been allowed into the photo opportunity had it been held on the Dáil plinth as is normal.
The Government's plan to provide more houses and homes and to stabilise prices is working. More than 50,000 new homes have been built in the past three years. There was an 82% increase in the number of new homes completed between 2016 and 2018. That represents thousands of families and individuals who now have a place to call home when they did not at the start of this Dáil. As we near the end of this Dáil, the Opposition is getting more exercised and, dare I say, more excited. Opposition spin doctors decide that housing is a topic on which to win a few votes. The politics of housing excites the Opposition-----
We have heard addresses from many Deputies this evening, including Fianna Fáil's housing spokesperson, who said that people would get to see Fianna Fáil's housing plan early next year. It has been 600 days since Fianna Fáil promised an alternative housing policy.
Deputy Cassells identified deficiencies in our local authorities' ability to build enough homes. We face challenges in that area because Fianna Fáil, when in power, privatised the housing sector. We have been trying to re-equip our local authorities ever since.
Fianna Fáil stripped our councils of their expertise and sold it off to the private sector. The only thing that Fianna Fáil knows about the housing sector is how to destroy it and then blame us for not fixing its mess quickly enough.
Voters can look at Sinn Féin's record in Northern Ireland to see what little impact and opportunity to influence policy the party has had there. It has had no impact. It runs from the homelessness crisis in the North like it ran from power sharing and government. Sinn Féin is a party that only a few weeks ago tried to vote down a proposal for 800 new homes less than 4 miles from here and close to Dublin city centre.
This is a time when the Government and all Members of the House should work together to address citizens' challenges. Alas, that will not happen because politics has taken over. Fine Gael will continue the work of government for the citizens. Fine Gael will continue to rebuild Ireland.
The job of the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy, is to put a housing plan in place. Rebuilding Ireland is a five-year plan and we are in the third year. His job is to implement it and go site by site to ensure that the houses are being built. That is his job, not to make an odd statement in the Chamber calling for some kind of action.
It is actually to drive the plan and make it happen. That plan is three years old. It has already helped 100,000 households into a home.
It was the single transferable script. They do come from the same background and hold the same type of ideology. There is not a cigarette paper between them.
Deputy Heydon should know we were required to submit our Private Members' motion last Wednesday so it was not a question of looking for publicity.
We were required to have it in last Wednesday and we did that.
I have to say I am somewhat concerned and I wonder about the memory of the Minister, Deputy Eoghan Murphy. This morning, I heard him having a right swipe at me on "Morning Ireland". He referred to hypocrisy. He said our party never tabled amendments on the rent reform Bill earlier this year. What is wrong with the Minister's memory? In January 2018, it was the Social Democrats that introduced the residential tenancies Bill. At that stage, the Minister thanked Deputy Catherine Murphy and I for bringing forward the Bill. He acknowledged the substance of the Bill and its genuine motivation to improve the situation for tenants at a time of undersupply in the residential sector. Does the Minister not remember that?
The Minister undertook to introduce legislation to do what our Bill would do. We had to wait a year for him to do it because it was a full year before he introduced the Government Bill to do what we had proposed a year earlier. The Minister said we did not propose amendments. Does he not remember us having a conversation across the floor of the housing committee on how we might improve his legislation? Does he not remember that when his Bill was brought to the floor of the House several of us signed an all-party Focus Ireland amendment to improve the legislation the Minister had introduced? Unfortunately, he had watered down the Social Democrats' Bill from a year earlier. Does the Minister not remember all of this? He should try to jog his memory because he owes us an apology.
There is no doubt the housing crisis is one of the main challenges facing the country and the failure to address this crisis represents a major failure of responsibility on the part of the Minister. Ensuring an adequate supply of housing at affordable cost is a basic responsibility of any Government. The Minister has abdicated this responsibility by outsourcing it to the market. The market is only concerned with the profit margin and, therefore, takes no responsibility for the social and economic welfare of people. That should be the job of politics.
With regard to housing, the Minister speaks a lot about supply. While it is important to maintain a strong supply, the basic rules of supply and demand do not apply to housing. The reason for this is that the cost of land is the key determining factor when it comes to the cost of housing. While supply is obviously very important so too is affordability. This is a reality that is ignored by the Minister. We only have to recall what happened in the boom. There was an oversupply of housing but critically prices kept spiralling. More supply in the absence of affordability means many people overextend themselves with borrowing. We saw the awful consequences of this during the crash.
If the Minister were serious about the housing crisis he would set out to drive down the cost of housing for buyers and renters but this Government and the previous Government set out to do the very opposite. The former Minister for Finance, Deputy Noonan, admitted as much. Government policies set out to bolster house prices rather than drive them down. The help-to-buy scheme is a case in point. So too is the new affordable scheme. Both of them accept the inherent unaffordability of housing as a given and merely offer some discounting on these inflated prices so the root cause, the high land cost, is not tackled. It is quite clear the balance sheets of the banks have been of much more concern to the Government than ensuring people have homes.
The Minister is very fond of referring to the Opposition's criticism as ideological but his heavy reliance on the private sector is entirely ideological. Fine Gael never sees itself as having any responsibility for the public good or public provision. It sees housing as a commodity to be bought and sold for profit rather than an essential part of people's lives. Not only is Fine Gael leaving housing to the market but the policies it is pursuing are clearly designed to maintain the high cost of housing and there are umpteen examples of this. The Minister refuses to adequately fund local authorities and instead pours hundreds of millions of euro of public money into the pockets of landlords through the housing assistance payment. This in turn drives up rents. It means private renters must compete with housing assistance payment tenancies. It also means house buyers, particularly first-time buyers, are squeezed out as they cannot compete with landlords. The recent practice of local authorities being encouraged to buy rather than build social housing also squeezes first-time buyers. All of this conspires to keep house prices and rents high while guaranteeing high returns for investors.
Equally, the failure of the Minister to tackle land hoarding in any effective way means people struggling to buy a home are at the mercy of developers who bought land at inflated prices during the boom and are now slowly releasing it in a way that maintains high land values. The site cost is now a major factor in high house prices. This is a far greater factor than the cost of building. I do not recall the Minister ever identifying the high cost of land and the problem of land hoarding as a factor of the housing crisis. I wonder why this is the case.
There is no reason we cannot build large numbers of houses at that price on the very many publicly-owned sites available in Dublin and throughout the country. This is the type of approach taken by many Governments in the past, even when times were very hard. It is a cruel irony that at a time when the country was never wealthier, so many people are locked out of housing completely. There is now an entire generation of young people in their 20s and 30s who are denied human aspirations their parents took for granted.
They are denied the right to stay in this country, for example, the right to settle down and the right to consider starting a family - all due to the enormous struggle that faces them in trying to access decent housing. The cost of housing is the single greatest contributor to our high cost of living and employers cite it as a significant issue in attracting people to come to this country or to return here to fill key job vacancies. The lack of affordability has impacts beyond that generation, as their parents try to bail them out and support them financially, or try to accommodate them in an overcrowded home.
The tragedy is it does not have to be like this. If the Minister was serious about ensuring people could have access to a decent home, he would ensure we used public land for the public good. The Social Democrats has called for a housing delivery agency to develop well planned, mixed housing developments on all large public sites. This is the kind of sustainable and fair approach that is needed, unlike the Land Development Agency, LDA, as proposed by the Government, which would use public land to achieve private profit. It is clear that what the Minister has in mind for the LDA is not an agency that is socially focused, just as the National Asset Management Agency was not either. Claims by the Minister he is implementing the Kenny report are laughable. The State needs to take control of land prices and the Minister should stop hiding behind the Constitution in that regard.
Having a place to call home is a fundamental issue to us all as humans. For that reason, it is the fundamental responsibility of a Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government to ensure everyone can have access to a home at a reasonable cost. The Minister has failed to do that. It is time for him to go and it is time for change. I commend this motion to the House.
Before I put the question, I have been requested by Deputy Lowry, as is his right, to make a personal statement at an early date to address accusations by Deputy Paul Murphy. I advised Deputy Paul Murphy at the time he should be careful. Deputy Lowry will get that opportunity at an early date. He will not do so tonight but he will get an opportunity-----