Dáil debates

Wednesday, 19 May 2021

Ceisteanna - Questions

Departmental Bodies

1:52 pm

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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14. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing, infrastructure and digital unit of his Department. [23895/21]

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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15. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the economic division of his Department. [24643/21]

Photo of Mary Lou McDonaldMary Lou McDonald (Leader of the Opposition; Dublin Central, Sinn Fein)
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16. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the economic development unit of his Department. [25543/21]

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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17. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing, infrastructure and digital unit of his Department. [26241/21]

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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18. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the economic division of his Department. [26242/21]

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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19. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing, infrastructure and digital unit of his Department. [26244/21]

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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20. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the economic division of his Department. [26245/21]

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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21. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing, infrastructure and digital unit of his Department. [26248/21]

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)
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22. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the economic division of his Department. [26249/21]

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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23. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the housing, infrastructure and digital unit of his Department. [26500/21]

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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24. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing last met and will next meet. [26501/21]

Photo of Gino KennyGino Kenny (Dublin Mid West, People Before Profit Alliance)
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25. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing, infrastructure and digital unit of his Department. [26515/21]

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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26. To ask the Taoiseach if he will report on the work of the housing, infrastructure and digital unit of his Department. [26520/21]

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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27. To ask the Taoiseach when the Cabinet committee on housing last met. [26689/21]

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 14 to 27, inclusive, together.

The economic division in my Department supports me and the Government in developing and implementing policy across relevant areas to support sustainable economic development, including job creation, infrastructure, housing and climate action, and social dialogue. This work is particularly focused on ensuring a co-ordinated approach to the delivery of the programme for Government and on issues that cut across multiple Departments.

The division supports the work of the Cabinet committees on economic recovery and investment; housing; and the environment and climate change. It also supports associated senior officials' groups. As part of the division's work, the economic development unit's work is currently focused on the development of an economic recovery plan, which will be finalised shortly. This will set out our approach to a jobs-rich recovery, with a focus on digitalisation and decarbonisation. The unit also leads work on the development of a well-being framework for Ireland. This seeks to move beyond using uniquely economic measures to gauge our progress as a country towards a more holistic approach that encompasses broader living standards.

The housing, infrastructure and digital unit supports the work of the Cabinet committee on housing as well as contributing to cross-departmental work in areas such as infrastructure, balanced regional development and digital policy.

The Cabinet committee on housing last met on 15 April and is scheduled to meet again on 10 June. This committee works to ensure a co-ordinated approach to the delivery of programme for Government commitments regarding housing and related matters. There is significant work under way on these commitments across Departments and agencies, including the preparation of the new multi-annual housing for all strategy.

Progress is also being made on legislation to increase the availability and supply of affordable, quality homes. The legislation includes the Land Development Agency Bill and the affordable housing Bill. This work is supported by the provision of more than €3 billion for housing initiatives this year, which will fund the delivery of 12,750 social homes, the new cost rental equity loan scheme and expansion of the Rebuilding Ireland home loan as well as the serviced sites and the local infrastructure housing activation funds.

More broadly, the work of the economic division also includes leading Ireland's participation at the annual European semester process, liaising with the Central Statistics Office and providing me with briefing and speech material on economic and related policy issues.

Photo of Pádraig Mac LochlainnPádraig Mac Lochlainn (Donegal, Sinn Fein)
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Thousands of family homes in Donegal are falling apart due to reckless practices in the industry in the 2000s. There was a huge housing boom and self-regulation was the order of the day. In the case of pyrite, the State stepped up and put in place the pyrite remediate scheme, which is fully funded, which is as it should be. In counties Donegal and Mayo, however, the families have been asked to step up and make 10% available and the banks were supposed to help. That was second-class citizenship but it has got even worse a year on. Now people have to pay as much as 50% of the cost of making their homes safe. What we are demanding in Donegal is equal citizenship. Our people whose lives have been devastated are asking for a fully funded redress scheme that is the same as that for the families in Dublin and north Leinster. I appeal to the Taoiseach to listen to the stories, heartbreak and despair coming from Donegal and to do what is right by our people.

Photo of Alan KellyAlan Kelly (Tipperary, Labour)
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I have three points, the first of which concerns the Taoiseach's announcement yesterday on housing. He has taken on board what we have said about stamp duty but I just do not know why he opted for 10%.

2 o’clock

The Government has missed it. It should have been at least 15%. I do not understand why the Government is coming in at ten homes and not a lower figure. I genuinely do not understand the three-month transition period.

Since I last raised the issues about An Bord Pleanála and strategic housing developments, another 300 apartments in Dublin's docklands have gone. The judge addressing it spoke of the laxity with regard to An Bord Pleanála's work. What can we do?

I ask the Taoiseach to give some indication about Project Ireland 2040 and the national planning framework, NPF. This will cause war across Ireland. It will be one of the biggest headaches the Taoiseach will face in a year. He should get ahead of it. Many county development plans are being drafted now. With regard to housing proposals, the idea that some areas will be open and people will be able to get planning for houses and then be told that the year they will get it is 2027 or 2028 just cannot work. We additionally have infrastructural issues relating to water and waste, which I know much about. What are the Taoiseach's thoughts about where we are going with Project Ireland 2040 and the NPF, which needs to be completely changed from how it was constituted by the previous Government?

2:02 pm

Photo of Paul MurphyPaul Murphy (Dublin South West, RISE)
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I do not think it is an accident that the housing policy of this Government and many previous Governments has not solved the housing crisis and has not addressed the needs of ordinary people, but instead has lined the pockets of developers, speculators and investment funds. I put it to the Taoiseach that is because housing policy has been captured by those interests. We have seen many revelations about how they win on both sides of the equation. The State, through the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, ISIF, invests in the investment funds. They get to the buy up the properties and then lease them back to the councils.

I will give another example, which is HAP. Some 40% of the HAP budget goes to corporate landlords or investment funds. It was €128 million in 2019. Corporate landlords are responsible for 4% of total private tenancies but 40% of the HAP budget goes into the hands of these corporate landlords. This is effectively a gold mine. They get a guaranteed rent from the State, plus a built-in rent increase of 4% every year because of how the supposed rent control legislation is written. It is an even better deal for them than the social housing leases currently being advertised to investment funds. Does the Taoiseach agree that a crucial part of addressing this is to introduce proper rent controls, which do not include this sort of rent increase?

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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It is abundantly clear that the Government supports 100% of new build apartments being sold off to investment funds. That has been made clear by the Government over the past couple of weeks, especially with the proposals announced last night. Why does the Government not support home ownership for smaller households, individuals and older couples who may want to move out of a family home into an apartment but do not want to rent? Why is the Government opposed to home ownership for people who want it in our cities and in apartments? Is the Taoiseach aware that, this morning, the share price of the largest real estate investment trust, REIT, in Ireland increased by approximately 4% in reaction to the announcement last night? That is what the stock markets think about the Government's proposals. I do not think there is any indication that the Government is serious about tackling investment funds. If it is, then remember that last year, of the number of homes available for purchase to individual buyers, when one-off houses and various other schemes are taken out, approximately half of the new builds went to investment funds, with the other half being available on the open market. If the Government is serious about that, would it not tackle rents and rent levels for new builds so that investment funds do not get such a high return? It would give people a fair chance to rent and to buy.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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"A home is a home, whether it is an apartment or a house," said Ciarán Cuffe MEP of the Green Party. The only pity is that the Green Party says that but does not vote along the line that would follow from that. It is hot air. The Green Party has a chance to show us tonight that it can vote according to what was said. We will keep a close eye on that. What a concession the Taoiseach has made to the vulture funds by excluding apartments entirely from the legislation. That is where the big money is. Some €7 billion of institutional capital chases the purchase of apartments. In 2017, 40% of all new apartments in the State were bought up by these funds. Are the first-time buyers, the young people who want to get into the market and buy an apartment as a home for themselves and their family, not being squeezed out of the market by the vultures? Why does the Taoiseach let the vultures off the hook so completely by excluding the apartment sector entirely from this? I put it to the Taoiseach that he is giving the vultures a huge let-off.

Photo of Micheál MartinMicheál Martin (Taoiseach, Department of An Taoiseach; Cork South Central, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Mac Lochlainn raised the issue that he raised yesterday. I have spoken to the Minister, Deputy McConalogue, about this and I believe that the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, is meeting the group shortly, having invited them in February, when he met them, to make a submission which he got at the end of April. It is important to say that the Government has responded strongly to the mica issue in Donegal with the allocation of substantial funding. Grants are available under the five remedial options, from €49,500 to €247,500, and approximately €20 million is available for that in 2021. With thousands of homes affected, the State has committed approximately €1 billion to this scheme between now and 2030. That is a substantial commitment by the State and needs to be acknowledged. The Minister will engage on the broader issue in the submission. As the Deputy said, grant levels in the scheme that was developed were initially capped at 90% of estimated costs depending on the remediation option chosen, and vary from €49,000 to €247,000, as I said.

The average cost in the east coast pyrite scheme is less than €70,000 per home. The defective concrete blocks grant scheme in counties Donegal and Mayo is likely to be at least double that, which will mean a far more substantial allocation to each home in Donegal than for the pyrite situation. They are not comparable and I do not think the Deputy is comparing like with like. That said, the Minister will engage with the group representing households and is examining the submission that has been made. There are issues that genuinely have to be explored with the group and representatives across the board. As the Deputy knows, much work was done prior to the Government being formed, with expert panels established and so on, that led to the creation of the scheme. There is ongoing work with groups representing the householders affected prior to the design of the scheme itself. I do not think we are comparing like with like with the two schemes.

Deputy Kelly raised the issue of An Bord Pleanála. We need more resources for An Bord Pleanála and we need to look at the overall planning situation. A planning court has been mooted, for example, and we have to consider developing that. We need a more streamlined, effective, resilient and robust to challenge planning system.

Deputy Paul Murphy raised issues with regard to the funds. Government is in hock to nobody and has no agenda in promoting any particular group in society, whether it is a fund or whatever else. The only objective is to get houses and apartments built and to get a variety of housing and apartments for home ownership, social housing, affordable housing and cost rental.

There will be a market for rental and a market for home ownership. Government has initiated a whole range of proposals, all of which the Deputies have opposed. I refer to the affordable housing Bill, the shared equity scheme and the Land Development Agency Bill 2021, all of which will provide housing. All of the Deputies seem to be against mixed housing developments. This morning the Minister turned the sod on a mixed development scheme of 1,200 houses. It was held up for years because of opposition on the ground. People need houses, however. People need social houses and people need to be in a position to buy houses and apartments.

We support families, young people and people generally being in a position to afford an apartment but there is an issue with viability with regard to building apartments for sale, particularly in Dublin. The country needs capital to develop some of these markets. Capital has to be there. Government will not be able to build all of the 40,000 houses required every year. The ESRI states that 33,000 will be needed but, given the impact of Covid-19 last year and this year, I believe that a higher figure could be required for the next while. Government will not be in a position to provide all of that housing. We will need capital to provide some of it. Apartments for rent will be particularly needed. If we took some of the initiatives the Deputies suggest, the number of apartments would be reduced, which would put a further squeeze on people's capacity to buy apartments. What is being proposed on the other side is not coherent or logical.

2:12 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank everyone for their co-operation. Tá gnó na maidine déanta. Táimid chun 60 nóiméad de bhriseadh a ghlacadh.

Written Answers are published on the Oireachtas website.

Sitting suspended at 2.12 p.m. and resumed at 3.12 p.m.