Dáil debates

Wednesday, 4 May 2022

Rising Rental Costs: Motion [Private Members]

 

7:00 pm

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I move:

That Dáil Éireann:
notes that:
— the rental crisis continues to spiral out of control;

— the latest Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) rent index shows new rents increased by nine per cent State-wide;

— 14 counties experienced double-digit rent inflation;

— rents increased by 18 per cent in Westmeath, 19 per cent in Longford, 25 per cent in Waterford and 25 per cent in Roscommon;

— average new rents State-wide are €1,415;

— average new rents in Dublin are €1,972;

— rents in Dublin have increased 100 per cent since 2011;

— the private rental sector continues to shrink as accidental and semi-professional landlords exit the market; and

— vacant possession Notices of Termination are responsible for half of all evictions and are driving the increase in homelessness; and
calls on the Government to:
— introduce a ban on rent increases for existing and new tenancies for three years;

— introduce a refundable tax credit to put a month's rent back in every private renter's pocket;

— resource the RTB to properly enforce the Government's rent regulations;

— dramatically increase investment in the delivery of large volumes of affordable Cost Rental; and

— introduce real tenancies of indefinite duration.

The rental market continues to spiral out of control. The latest Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, rent report shows that rents increased by 9% last year. In 14 separate counties the rental increases for new rental tenancies was double-digit inflation. The worst affected counties were Roscommon and Waterford, with rental increases of 25% for new rentals. In Dublin we have seen the end of the Covid-19 flattening of rents, with a significant upward increase of 9% for new rents. This means that the average cost of a new rental in Dublin today is €23,634, which is an astonishing sum of money. If one tracks back through the RTB reports, since 2011 rents in the capital have increased by more than 100%. They have increased by approximately 15% since the Minister took office.

Behind all of these figures there are very real people. The impact of these rising rents is very severe. A significant number of renters, and particularly those who are losing rental tenancies and trying to secure new ones, are experiencing severe financial hardship.

That is on top of all the other rising costs of living. We saw today, for example, newspaper stories about how one in four households are having difficulty purchasing groceries. Some 73% of households surveyed in the most recent RED C poll indicated that they were spending less each week on groceries to make money go further. Of course, we know the impact of the rising cost of fuel, home heating, petrol etc. We also have large numbers of people who are simply unable to save for a deposit or have to go through extraordinary measures to do that. There are also those older renters and people who have lost a family home because of a relationship breakdown who are back in the rental market and are facing an increasingly precarious future.

The Minister knows only too well from Friday's homeless report that the crisis in the private rental sector is also driving levels of homelessness and leading to rising levels of presentations. Approximately 50% of all notices to quit are vacant possession notices from landlords selling up. It has also led to a dramatic collapse of more than 50% in exits in the last year as people simply have nowhere to go once they are in emergency accommodation.

The question we must ask is why is the rental crisis getting worse? My clear view is that it is Government policy. There has been an over-reliance on the private rental sector for social housing and the housing assistance payment, HAP, or rental accommodation scheme, RAS, placing enormous pressure on limited supply. There has been a failure to deliver cost rental over the last three years with zero in the first year, 65 last year and possibly 700 this year depending on the numbers. It is nowhere close to the thousands that are required. There is an exclusive focus, particularly in Dublin, on high-end lower-design quality build-to-rent, which is saturating so much of the market. Outside of Dublin, literally nothing new to rent is coming on the market. Of course, as the Minister knows, single-property landlords are leaving in droves.

This cannot continue. It must stop. We need a radical change in direction. The measures outlined in our Private Members' motion today signal just that. We need the emergency ban on rent increases for three years. Renters cannot take any more. We must reduce rents by putting at least one month's rent back in people's pockets through a refundable tax credit, which is something the Minister was in favour of before the election but on which he has gone silent since. We also need to introduce real tenancies of indefinite duration, not the smoke and mirrors change the Minister introduced last year. Crucially, we need at least 4,000 cost rental tenancies annually. For decades, housing policy experts and advisers to Government have been saying we need cost rental on scale. The Minister is not even going to reach that scale at the end of 2026 because he is only targeting 2,000 units by then, which is nowhere close to enough.

With respect to the rising levels of homelessness, we urgently need the Minister to reintroduce the tenant in situscheme. I know he announced some increased level of flexibility. I am not convinced that is what our local authorities need. I would welcome if the Minister could expand on that. Local authorities need to be told to use the capital budgets that have been allocated, subject to cost ceilings and the quantity surveyor's reply. If any family with a HAP or RAS tenancy is at risk of homelessness, subject to the usual rules, the local authority should step in, purchase the home and prevent them from becoming homeless.

I must say, the Minister's record over the last two years speaks for itself. He is not doing enough, and the crisis is going to continue to get worse. One of the worrying trends in recent times is that the Minister keeps blaming everybody else. He blames Covid-19, inflation and Ukraine. On the Gavin Reilly show, he seemed to be blaming migrants coming into the State. If that is the case, it is a very retrograde step. Like former Minister Eoghan Murphy before him, the Minister's policies are the core of the problem. They must change and if they do not change, we are going to have to get him out of office because that is what renters desperately need and rightly deserve.

7:10 pm

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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First, I thank my colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, for bringing forward this motion and working tirelessly for renters. Deputy Ó Broin has put forward really important motions, which we implore the Government to take on board. Speaking for myself, the housing crisis in Cork has never been as bad as it is now. I am working with more than 20 families who are facing eviction from next week up to September. There is no light at the end of the tunnel for those families. People are living in fear not knowing where they and their families are going to go.

Every week now, desperate families come to me because they have nowhere to go. The Minister has responsibility for housing. He needs to provide solutions. My colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, is bringing forward solutions. That is what we need the Minister to do. Instead, my constituents are being turned away when they go looking for housing because the Minister never delivered the supply he promised. Young families come to me day in, day out.

To give the Minister an idea, I went onto daft.ietoday. There are 48 properties to rent in Cork. That includes student accommodation for more than 27,000 students between University College Cork, UCC, and Munster Technological University, MTU. Only two one-bedroom properties are available in Cork, and they are more than €1,200 per month. It also includes only one property that is under €1,200 per month to rent. That is a result of the Minister's policies and this Government putting landlords, speculators and vulture funds before ordinary people.

Photo of Louise O'ReillyLouise O'Reilly (Dublin Fingal, Sinn Fein)
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We are discussing this motion that has been put forward by my colleague, an Teachta Ó Broin, whom I wish to thank, not only for this motion but for all the work he does on behalf of people who are really living at the business end of the Minister's policies and what he, his party and his pals in government have done to the housing market. The housing market is almost broken beyond repair. I agree with an Teachta Ó Broin about the need to remove this Government from office, if that is what it is going to take, because it will not listen and do the right thing.

I want to address remarks the Minister made on the Gavin Reilly show. I will read out an extract from a statement issued by Fingal Communities Against Racism, which is a very active group in our constituency that does a huge amount of good work. The statement said the Minister's "claims that a recent increase in homelessness is partly driven by the arrival of 'economic migrants', is a deliberate attempt to distract from his own government's failure to address the housing crisis". The group is spot on and I 100% agree with it. I sincerely hope the Minister takes the opportunity to walk back those remarks he made because they were wrong and hurtful. The Minister knows what they were. He knows exactly what a dog whistle is. He knows exactly what he was doing. I hope that he will take the opportunity to walk back those remarks.

The Minister and I share a constituency. I have two offices - one in Balbriggan and one in Swords. I do not hold a single clinic in which I do not see someone coming in with a notice to quit. Most recently, a couple in their 70s came in, and I will not say where they live because they would be mortified, who are a tiny little bit over the income limit. They do not qualify for housing supports. They are on a notice to quit. They cannot find anywhere they can afford to live, and they are in their 70s. There is indignity in dealing with this at any stage in a person's life but particularly after a lifetime of work.

I am dealing with another case of a woman in her 60s who is sleeping in her car. She cannot get anywhere to rent. She is terrified of going into a hostel because of what she has heard and seen. We have nothing else to offer her. She cannot find anything that she can afford. This woman is working. She is lucky that she can find somewhere to get a shower in the morning, but she does not have anywhere to sleep. That is what has happened. That did not happen because of economic migrants or anything else. That happened because of the Government's housing policy. That is the result. I urge the Minister to engage with the substance of this motion and listen to what an Teachta Ó Broin said, pick up and take on board the positive solutions that have been offered to him this evening and implement them.

Photo of Maurice QuinlivanMaurice Quinlivan (Limerick City, Sinn Fein)
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To put it mildly, renters and especially young people who want to live independently are really struggling. If the cost to rent does not lock people out of the market, it puts huge financial burdens on workers and their families. People from all walks of life are struggling to pay the rent. Families who need to rent a house for themselves and their children are struggling. Young workers starting out in their careers are struggling to pay rent. Hard-working people cannot keep pace with the cost of rent.

In Limerick, the rent increase in quarter 4 of 2021 was 14.1%. The average rent in my home county is €1,203 per month but in fairness, there is hardly anything to rent there. With the rising rate of inflation of 6.7% in March, people are paying more in rent but with less income available. The rising rents are one of the huge challenges facing renters. The other is that there are almost zero properties available to rent. The number of available properties in the market has been falling for five years.

On daft.ie, there were five properties available to rent in Limerick city this morning. There was only one house available. The cheapest of these properties was €1,200 per month and that was for a studio in the suburb of Dooradoyle. A three-bedroom apartment in the city centre was listed as €2,750 per month. These are outrageous prices that most families would struggle to afford.

For too long, the Government has depended on the housing assistance payment. It is not suitable. The rates have not increased in a decade. In my experience in Limerick, either it is an insufficient sum to aid with renting or, in many cases, a prospective tenant who is eligible for HAP will be simply not considered by the landlord. HAP helps a little but what can and will help more is the speeding-up of the delivery of new social housing.

Last week, I met John and Aoife, who have nowhere to live. Their previous rental property was sold. Both of them work and they have a young child in primary school. The limit for social support from Limerick City and County Council is €32,250, which is below what they earn, so there is no help for them. There are thousands in a similar position and the Minister and the Government have failed to increase these limits. Social housing income limits have not been changed since they were last set in 2011. They must be raised at least in line with inflation. Given John and Aoife cannot rent, buy or get social support, where are they supposed to go? What is going to happen to them?

What would help is an increase in the social housing income thresholds. They are simply too low and far too many people are excluded from social housing or State support because they earn too much and, at the same time, too little to afford a mortgage or even rent. The rental crisis is one the Government and its housing Minister seem incapable of resolving. The crisis has a knock-on effect on homelessness and overcrowding and is an issue that simply must be addressed. We in Sinn Féin believe renters can be rescued. It is time the Government stepped up and ensured increased investment in the delivery of affordable and cost rental houses. In the meantime, it could increase the social housing income thresholds and introduce a three-year ban on rent increases and a refundable tax credit of one month's rent.

7:20 pm

Photo of Mark WardMark Ward (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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The rental system is in crisis. The average rent in my area now stands at more than €1,900 per month. Ordinary workers and families are being pushed to the pin of their collar. The increases in the cost of living have had a terrible impact on people in my community. This week, there have been increases in the price of electricity by 24% and of gas by a whopping 32%. The Government will say some of these increases are outside of its control and I agree, but how a government responds to the plight of its citizens is completely in its control. Introducing a punitive carbon tax increase this week was the Government's choice. It points to its retrofitting programme as the great panacea for saving energy. Information I have received from South Dublin County Council states that of its current housing stock of 10,000 properties, approximately 9,000 need energy upgrades. It expects to have funding for 300 properties to be upgraded this year, and at this rate it will take 40 years to complete the programme. As energy prices go through the roof, so too will these tenants' heat for the next 40 years. On top of this, rents are spiralling, with an increase of 9% in the past three months. Rent in Dublin has increased by 100% since 2011. How are ordinary Dubliners meant to remain in their city?

This situation has not happened by accident. It has been manufactured by policies that rely on the private market to solve public problems. The Government has failed not only to supply the housing that is needed but also to adapt and change its failed policies. Again, Sinn Féin and my colleague Deputy Ó Broin will give the Government some solutions to fix the problems it created in the rental market. We would ban rent increases for three years, introduce a refundable tax credit to put one month's rent back into every renter's pocket, dramatically scale up the delivery of affordable cost rental homes, resource the RTB properly to enforce rent regulations and introduce real tenancies of indefinite durations. That is what Sinn Féin would do, and it is what the Government must do.

Photo of Mairead FarrellMairead Farrell (Galway West, Sinn Fein)
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As we all know, the cost of living has spiralled, people are under severe pressure to make ends meet and many people simply cannot do so as a result of the cost of living crisis. Nevertheless, before this increase in inflation and the war in Ukraine, we had the highest rents in Europe. People were struggling with housing, with paying rent and even with finding accommodation. All of this was known before the increase in inflation and the uncertainty arising from the war in Ukraine.

What we needed to see from the Government was clear, swift action in respect of housing. My colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, and our party have brought forward proposals time and again, and time and again what we see from the Government is a lack of action. I have read the Government's amendment to the motion but people who cannot make ends meet and who cannot pay for the rents in Galway city or county, which have increased by 8.8% and 19%, respectively, do not need flowery language from the Minister or the Government. What they need is action to tackle the cost of these rents. They need a ban on rent increases and the tax break we have put forward budget after budget.

Time and again, we hear the Government saying it knows there is a cost of living crisis and that people are finding it really difficult to make ends meet but that it cannot do everything. Nobody is saying the Government can do everything but we are here to work with it constructively. We are putting forward proposals we know will assist and help people who cannot pay their rent and who are looking at a notice to quit - there has been an increase in the number of notices of quit - and are wondering what they will do now because they cannot find a place to live in Galway city or county. What they are seeing from the Government is that instead of it working productively with the Opposition, it is ignoring the suggestions of the Opposition and just offering flowery language.

Photo of Seán CroweSeán Crowe (Dublin South West, Sinn Fein)
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The latest rent figures from the Residential Tenancies Board show no real relief for renters. It is not a shock to anybody that rents continue to spiral out of control for individuals and families. As the Minister will know, rents keep growing every year and show no real sign of stopping any time soon. As my colleague pointed out in respect of his area, the average rent for a new tenancy is €1,900, although that depends on the area and, in some areas, it is up to €2,000. The most shocking figure is that average rents in Dublin have increased by 100% in ten years. The worrying aspect is that we do not see any real change or anything happening to help people in those circumstances. It is another steep increase that far outstrips what should be acceptable and it is a massive additional cost for workers and families to bear on top of rapid increases in other household bills.

Rents such as those throughout the State are one of the main reasons we are going through a cost of living crisis; of course, that is if you are one of the lucky ones able to find somewhere to rent. As public representatives, we all dread, on a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday morning or whenever, those families and individuals coming in to our offices, telling us they are facing eviction and asking whether we know of anywhere they can get. One of my colleagues referred to only two one-bedroom vacancies being available in his area, Cork. On Daft this morning, the number of properties available to rent in Dublin 24, which includes more than just Tallaght, where more than 100,000 people live, 16 properties were available to rent. That is the challenge we face.

It is clear the Government's attempts are not working and clearly, the crisis is getting worse. As I said, rents have been increasing for ten years and have gone up and up, and I do not think people have any confidence circumstances will change. Rents and house prices are still increasing far in excess of what is affordable to workers and their families and that is the key issue. The Minister cannot continue with the same approach and expect things to change, and that is the message I appeal to him to take on board. He might have a look at the Sinn Féin motion and the proposals therein and meet us halfway. Let us make some change and give some hope to people who are listening to this debate.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I move amendment No. 2:

To delete all words after "That Dáil Éireann" and substitute the following: "notes that:

— the Government is fully committed to tackling high rents and ensuring an increase in the supply of affordable, high-quality rental accommodation through continued significant capital investment including Cost Rental and other means and in a manner that respects the security of tenure for renters by ensuring equity and fairness for landlords and tenants;

— the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage has brought forward comprehensive new protections for tenants, in the form of a two per cent cap on rents in Rent Pressure Zones, which are balanced with constitutional property rights;

— the Government is committed to improving the security of tenure for tenants and has legislated for tenancies of unlimited duration, which will commence in June 2022;

— the Government has increased funding to the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) from €7 million in 2019 to €11 million in 2022 and increased resources for the Board to help further protect tenants;

— the Government's Housing for All - a New Housing Plan for Ireland (Housing for All) is the most ambitious plan in the history of the State, with in excess of €20 billion in funding over the next five years;

— Housing for All commits to increased supply of new housing, both public and private, up to an average of at least 33,000 per year to 2030;

— Housing for All ensures that the provision of an adequate supply of high-quality, affordable rental accommodation remains a cornerstone of Government policy under the Housing for All plan;

— the Affordable Housing Act 2021 is the first of its kind in the State, introducing a framework for a new type of housing tenure through Cost Rental;

— Cost Rental delivery is being rapidly ramped up to provide 18,000 homes over the course of the Housing for All plan, at an average of 2,000 per year; the first Cost Rental units have been delivered in 2021 and will be significantly expanded by the Government over the coming years;

— the latest figures for housing completions and for building commencements indicate strong construction activity and increased housing supply; in the year to March 2022, commencements outside of Dublin were up 78 per cent and commencements in Dublin were up 139 per cent year on year; and

— the Government keeps the operation of the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004 to 2021 under constant review and will make any necessary enhancement to the legal enforceability of RTB determination orders, in consultation with the RTB."

I thank the Deputies for tabling their motion, which gives us an opportunity to debate this important topic and to be, I hope, open, realistic and honest with people as to where we are, why we are here and where we are going. It is easy, and perhaps it suits Deputy Ó Broin and others, to just dismiss Covid, two construction shutdowns, inflation, supply chain issues and what is happening in the rest of Europe and of the developed world. It might not suit their narrative but people deserve an honest debate. We should credit people with the intelligence they have to be able to understand the issue. Moreover, we should not try to send people down rabbit holes or to paint a picture that is very different from what is happening. Progress is being made and I welcome the opportunity to detail areas where it is being made, notwithstanding the very difficult situation in which many thousands of people find themselves.

7 o’clock

I welcome the opportunity to provide details on areas where progress is being made, notwithstanding the very difficult situation that many thousands of people find themselves in.

Deputy Seán Crowe outlined one of the big issues, namely, the lack of supply. This lack of supply is down to a number of factors. For the past two years, construction was very badly impeded by two severe construction shutdowns. Even last year, however, we delivered more than 9,000 new social homes, an increase of 17% on the year before. I will concentrate on social housing first because it is an area in which the Government and I absolutely believe. We have a plan, Housing for All, that is fully funded to the tune of €4 billion per year, which is €1.2 billion per year more than Sinn Féin proposed in its housing plan. It is important people know that too.

7:30 pm

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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It is also not true.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I did not interrupt the Deputy once, even though I was tempted. Tá brón orm ach gabh mo leithscéal.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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It is also not true. The Minister said he wanted to be honest.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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The fact of the matter is that we have identified measures in the Housing for All plan, which we have resourced to the tune of €4 billion. I will talk about the effect that is having right now. We have targeted 90,000 new social housing builds. This year, the target for new-build social houses is 9,000. One thing the Sinn Féin Party might do is to instruct its councillors and other public representatives right across the country to stop objecting to social and affordable housing.

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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Not true.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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It is the Minister's own party colleagues who are opposing social housing, not ours. I am sorry, but we cannot have this dishonesty.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Will the Deputies just let the Minister speak?

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputies got their one-minute clips for Twitter. I am responding to the motion. I have moved the countermotion. Will the Deputies show a little bit of-----

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister is misleading the House.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Ó Broin has made quite a serious charge. He is losing his temper again. He cannot behave himself.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I never lose my temper. The Minister knows that.

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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You certainly could not put the Minister's comments on Twitter because people would see through them.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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This is the juvenile behaviour we have come to expect from Sinn Féin.

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister mentioned it.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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What I am trying to do and what I will do, because I will not be bullied or shouted down by the Members opposite, is to speak in this House on behalf of the Government, which I have a right to do. I ask the Deputies to please respect the Chamber, if they could.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister should be honest with people. He said he was going to be honest, so he should be honest.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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We have targeted-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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If there is going to be more of this, I will suspend the House.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I apologise.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Let us not make fools of ourselves.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCeann Comhairle. I will continue.

This year, we have a target of 9,000 new-build social houses. Should that be delivered, as we intend it to be, it will be the single biggest delivery of social housing in any year in the history of the State. All I am saying to the Members opposite, including Deputy O'Reilly who is no longer here, which is fine, is that her colleagues in Fingal have objected to a housing scheme of 1,200 homes, including 253 social homes and 253 affordable housing with the remainder private. Her party's councillors in that area decided that was not what they wanted. I can give examples of that kind right across Dublin and right across the country. One constructive thing Sinn Féin could do is to allow developments to happen and to allow public and affordable housing to be built. It is very important that this happens because we have to catch up on supply. Last year, there were just over 21,000 completions, which is approximately 12,000 fewer than are needed. However, in the 12 months to the end of March, more than 22,000 new homes were completed, the highest 12-month total in the past decade. More than 35,000 new commencement notices were received between April 2021 and March 2022. This is also the highest rolling 12-month total since comparable data was first published. Planning permission was granted for 43,000 new homes in 2021. Supply of both public and private housing is crucial in tackling the rental and affordability crises.

We brought forward the Affordable Housing Act 2021, the most comprehensive affordable housing Act ever brought forward in this House. Not only have we done that but we have also opened the affordable housing fund, through which affordable homes for purchase will be delivered for hundreds of families this year. We will be bringing forward our first home shared equity scheme from 1 July this year, under which the State will step in to help potential first-time buyers, many of whom are stuck in rental traps, to bridge the gap between the finance they have and the finance they need by taking an equity share. The party opposite opposed that scheme vociferously but it will work for people who want to own their own home. Another scheme that Members opposite vociferously opposed is that relating to help-to-buy grant, which has helped more than 30,000 people buy and own their own homes. Inexplicably, the Members opposite opposed that. We will continue that scheme because it is a direct support for people.

We also need to resource our local authorities to build the homes we need. We have plans in place, agreed with all 31 local authorities across the Twenty-six Counties, as to their housing delivery between now and 2026. These cover social housing, cost-rental housing, affordable housing and private housing.

We have delivered cost rental from a slow start. It did not exist and was not here but we legislated for it, which Sinn Féin supported. There are now tenants in place paying 50% below the market rent in many places. We will deliver hundreds more such units this year. I genuinely thank the Sinn Féin Members opposite for tabling their motion and giving me the opportunity to respond to it. It speaks of dramatically increasing "investment in the delivery of large volumes of affordable Cost Rental" but there is no detail included. There is no detail with regard to the capacity to deliver. We have to build capacity in the construction sector to deliver the homes we need.

I am thankful that, because of the Housing for All plan, the construction sector is back to its pre-pandemic capacity. The plan itself will create at least 27,000 new jobs. That is happening right now. Again, that might not suit the narrative but things are turning in the right direction. The roll-out of cost rental is happening and will continue. We have funded more than 900 new tenancies for this year and, if we can do more, we will because resources are not an issue. We now have a national cost-rental scheme in place along with a national affordable purchase scheme. Our local authorities are delivering houses starting from €166,000. In this instance, the State also takes an equity stake in those homes through the local authorities. That is helping people who have been locked out of the market for the last ten years to get back into it.

While it may surprise some of the Members opposite, we need to increase the delivery of private housing. It is not illegal for people to own their own homes. By the way some of those opposite talk, you would actually-----

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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It is just very difficult under the Minister's Government.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Ó Broin cannot help himself.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Ownership declines every time Fianna Fáil is in government.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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It is not illegal for people to own their own homes.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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It is just impossible.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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From the contributions of the Members opposite, it seems they do not hold that position. It speaks to the fact that a sustainable housing market is needed. The market needs to serve the people so that people can have good public social housing that is built to a high quality. I have visited such housing all across the country. Many here have had the pleasure of turning up to my opening of housing developments, developments that this Government is funding. I was in south Connemara on Friday. Deputy Mairéad Farrell, who is no longer here, was quite happy to stand in for a picture. We are repurposing an old post office into four beautiful new apartments in the Gaeltacht.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Four apartments? Well done, Minister. Bravo.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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If Deputy Ó Broin went to Spiddal and met the families who got those four apartments-----

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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They are delightful.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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-----he might not be as flippant and trite as he is being here right now.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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What about the thousands who have no home?

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I am not going to-----

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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What about the thousands who cannot afford rent? What about the families the Minister is leaving behind?

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Deputy Ó Broin cannot help himself. I am not going to lower myself to his level. His performance so far here this evening - and it has been a performance - speaks for itself. I am trying to address the points he has raised. We have brought in a 2% cap on rent increases, which Sinn Féin supported. Sinn Féin has actually supported ten of the 11 pieces of legislation I have brought forward over the past 12 to 14 months. Despite this, according to Sinn Féin, we are doing everything wrong. There is a little bit of a contradiction there. When Deputy Ó Broin and his colleagues talk about dramatically increasing investment, does that mean more than the €2.8 billion Sinn Féin said it would put in when we are putting in €4 billion?

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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The Government is not spending €4 billion this year.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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How is Sinn Féin actually going to deliver? Is it-----

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Ceann Comhairle, it is-----

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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This is honestly ridiculous.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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This is highly misleading. The Government is spending €1.5 billion not €4 billion.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Throughout this debate, the Deputy opposite has not been able to behave or control himself.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister cannot be honest with the people.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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It is unfortunate that I have been shouted down for half of this debate. It really is. If Deputies are to take things seriously and table motions that deserve proper debate and discourse-----

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Then give us a proper debate and not the misleading statements you have given us this evening.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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There is no point. Deputy Ó Broin should be ashamed of himself.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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May I make a point? My job is to attempt to ensure that everybody here has an opportunity to express their views.

That includes the Minister, as much as it does everybody else. I am afraid we are witnessing strategic heckling taking place here on an ongoing basis. If it persists, we will have to take action to put a stop to it because it is objectionable. It is preventing people from speaking. As I see it, you may reject everything the Minister says. That is fine. I have no problem with that. You have additional time to reject what he says and put the counterargument. That is what I ask you to do.

7:40 pm

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I assure you that we will not interject.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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I thank the Minister.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister never interjects.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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We did not do so right the way through. Try to behave yourself.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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We are moving on. Next is Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire, who is sharing time with Deputies Andrews, Mitchell and Munster.

Photo of Donnchadh Ó LaoghaireDonnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Cork South Central, Sinn Fein)
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I listened to what the Minister had to say. I had some things that I intended to say before I came in, but I need to respond to some of the nonsense that he came out with first. As the Minister knows, the figure of €1.2 billion is not accurate. He is incorrect. In regard to dismissing things, nobody is suggesting that we dismiss Covid-19 or that supply chain issues are not there. We absolutely acknowledge those issues. The problem is that it is six or seven years since the Minister started promising housing budgets for more every year. Every year he declared victory and every year things got worse. Pardon me and pardon the public for not believing him when he says that things would have been fine except for the interruptions we had over the course of the past two years.

The housing crisis started because of the policies that were implemented by the last Fianna Fáil Government. That is a fact. They encouraged local authorities to step back from building houses. That is the truth of it. That is the origin of this. There were other factors, but that is a big part of the origin of this. Fianna Fáil came back and promised a housing budget every year but it never arrived. It still has not arrived as far as I am concerned. The Minister throws back at us that we support legislation. What is it that he wants? What exactly does he want from us? Is it to oppose everything or to support everything? We are in opposition. We are going to offer critical support for good measures where they make sense. When there is a Bill that contains good stuff and bad stuff, we will support the good stuff and we will oppose the bad stuff. That is what we are here for. That is what we are going to do. We are not going to hold back good things where they make sense. We are not going to do that.

I want to deal with the matter of objections. The Minister knows for a fact, in his heart of hearts, that where policies or proposals are on the table and people vote against them because they are unaffordable, that is different from the situation where Fianna Fáil councillors vote against social housing out of snobbery. The Minister knows that is a fact across local authorities throughout the State. In Cork City Council, Sinn Féin has never voted against social and affordable housing. Within the past two years, every Fianna Fáil councillor, including the Taoiseach's brother - and I am sure they had a conversation about it - voted against social housing on the Skehard Road. This also happened in Kanturk and in many other places. Let us be honest. The Minister talks about being honest. I know in truth where these projects are voted against, it is not out of any snobbery. It was not bouncy castles we wanted to be built on those sites; it was houses at affordable prices. When Fianna Fáil votes them down, it is out of snobbery. That is the truth.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Well said.

Photo of Chris AndrewsChris Andrews (Dublin Bay South, Sinn Fein)
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I commend my colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, on bringing forward this motion. The latest report from the RTB paints in black and white the devastating impact this Government's housing policies have had on renters, with the average new monthly rent in Dublin standing at €1,972. Rent in Dublin has increased by 100% since 2011. It is safe to say that in my constituency of Dublin Bay South, the average monthly rent is more than €2,000. Today, I saw a three-bedroom apartment in Capital Dock advertised for €5,000 a month. That is what they are looking for. That is complete madness. It is unaffordable for the vast majority of working families. In Capital Dock, those involved let some of the units lie idle rather than reduce the rent.

There does not seem to be any sign of a break for renters on the horizon. While we see large numbers of developments being built and designated as build-to-rent, the pricing of rent for one of these units is completely out of the reach of average working families. Some 3,500 new homes are due to be built on the glass bottle site but there is no good news for those on average wages because the cost of the new homes there will be between €500,000 and €600,000. The Minister mentioned social and affordable houses. It is unclear whether there will be any social and affordable housing on the glass bottle site. He might indicate whether that will happen. Residents there are very concerned that there will be no social and affordable housing on the glass bottle site. That matter needs to be addressed. The residents need to be reassured. The cost of those homes, at €500,000 or €600,000 each, will make renting in their own community unaffordable for the vast majority of young families, even for those with good or average incomes. I know who will be able to afford them. Senior management in the high-tech companies and the big vulture funds will be able to afford them. Senior legal professionals will be able to afford the rent, but not ordinary working families who made Ringsend the great community that it is today. Those who stayed when it was not a popular place rebuilt Ringsend into a vibrant community.

Photo of Denise MitchellDenise Mitchell (Dublin Bay North, Sinn Fein)
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Out-of-control rents have been an issue for years. There does not seem to be an end in sight to this crisis. Since 2011, the cost of rent in Dublin has doubled. The average rent is now just under €2,000 according to the latest RTB report. This Government and previous governments have failed people when it comes to affordable rents. Rent pressure zones have made little or no difference, with rents shooting up regardless. Last night I looked on daft.iefor properties available to rent in the Dublin Bay North constituency. There was no two-bedroom property available for less than €2,000. Three- and four-bedroom properties had asking prices of more than €3,000. That is utter madness. I ask the Minister how is the average worker expected to put a roof over his or her head with these prices?

We have put a number of solutions to the Minister on various occasions. My colleague, Deputy Ó Broin, has presented more to him tonight. Our asks are simple. They are in the interests of those who are struggling and those to whom he could provide much relief. The Minister needs to introduce a ban on rent increases for existing and new tenancies for three years. He also needs to put in place a refundable tax credit up to the value of a month's rent in every renter's pocket. It is time the Minister tried something different. His policies are not making a dent in the current crisis. What he is doing is clearly not working. People are suffering because of him and his Government.

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister was getting tetchy when my colleague, Deputy O'Brien-----

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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His name is Ó Broin.

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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-----was calling him out on his figures and his so-called delivery. I suppose the Minister was getting frustrated that the Deputy was doing that. If he finds that frustrating, I dare him visit every town and village throughout this State. He will see that there are homeless people, people languishing on housing lists, people who cannot afford to rent and people who cannot afford to buy. If he makes such a journey, he will find out what tetchy is. The rental crisis is continuing to escalate. Everybody has told the Minister that. He still sits there. The latest RTB rent index figures show a 7.7% year-on-year rise in County Louth between quarter 4 of 2020 and quarter 4 of 2021. Throughout the State, rents for new tenancies grew by 9% in the past three months. The rising rents in the shrinking private rental sector is driving people into homelessness. We are now back to pre-pandemic levels of homelessness. In March there were more than 7,000 adults and almost 3,000 children in emergency accommodation. That is a 5% increase on the previous month. It is shameful that this far into a housing crisis, six years since the then Minister, Deputy Coveney, promised to remove families from emergency accommodation, we are still looking at figures like this.

Every morning I come up O’Connell Street when making my way to Leinster House. I pass people of all ages curled up in doorways. Last week or the week before I saw a young lady who appeared to be in her mid-20s or who might have been 30 years of age. She looked scared, cold, hungry and absolutely miserable.

From one end of O'Connell Street to the far end of O'Connell Bridge, on average, you could count between eight and 12 people. That is the Government's legacy. It is not just people who rely on State supports who are falling homeless; working people cannot afford to rent. People who are not eligible for State housing supports are out of options now. They cannot afford rent and while they might be able to afford a mortgage, the asking price is beyond them. The Minister already knows that and six years' on, he has done nothing.

When I pass those people on the street, I literally ask myself how the Government can do it. Does the Minister really have no idea of the utter misery the Government’s policies have inflicted on those people for years? Does he have no idea or is it the case that he is so aloof and caught up in his bubble that he could not give a damn? Homeless people are in every town and village across the State.

7:50 pm

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The time is up.

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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People are languishing on council housing waiting lists for decades. People cannot afford to rent. People are getting eviction notices-----

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The time is up. I thank the Deputy.

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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-----and people cannot afford to buy. The Minister sits there and has the cheek to be arrogant with us for putting forward solutions.

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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The Deputy should please conclude, as the time is up.

Photo of Imelda MunsterImelda Munster (Louth, Sinn Fein)
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It would answer him better to adopt some of the solutions. Perhaps our solutions might be able to solve the crisis the Minister and his buddies in government have created.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Hear, hear.

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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I welcome the debate. We will support the motion. We have proposed an amendment to the motion. Am I in order to move the amendment?

Photo of Seán Ó FearghaílSeán Ó Fearghaíl (Ceann Comhairle; Kildare South, Ceann Comhairle)
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Yes, after the Minister's amendment has been dealt with.

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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Thank you very much, a Cheann Comhairle.

We welcome the motion. To be fair, I do not doubt that the Minister is doing his best. It would be good if we could take some of the heat out of this debate because it has become quite personalised of late. I know we all have to robustly defend our positions in this House. That is right and proper. However, the personalised nature of the debate does not give comfort to the people who are on the housing list in my constituency. If I was to characterise their experience at present, it is such that, historically, if you were on a housing list you were applying for a house from a rented house or a family home and you had a guarantee of a roof over your head. Increasingly, however, we, as public representatives, are seeing more and more people coming to us in desperation because they are being forced out of accommodation through a notice to quit and they have absolutely no place to go due to the lack of supply. That is acknowledged. I do not want to politicise this debate. I acknowledge the fact that the Government is seeking to do what it can through the Housing for All policy.

One of my worries is as follows. Let us take a town like Mitchelstown in County Cork. It is a typical rural town that has an agricultural hinterland. There is a phenomenal demand for housing in Mitchelstown and there is also a capacity to build houses. In spite of the pent-up demand that exists, however, there is a major issue in terms of the ability to provide essential services such as water and waste water treatment facilities. For a couple of years, my constituency colleagues and I have all advocated for an increase in capacity for water and waste water services because, as we speak, we cannot build houses in the town of Mitchelstown because Irish Water will tell the local authority that the capacity is not there. It is all well and good for us to talk about the supply that is coming on stream now. Lands are being zoned in county development plans and we are seeing, theoretically, wonderful opportunities emerging on the horizon, but the pinch point is the fact that if we do not have the capacity to deliver basic infrastructure, such as is the case in Mitchelstown, then the policy fails.

Until such time as the nettle is grasped on that issue, I suspect that towns like Mitchelstown and my native town of Mallow, where there is a strategic housing development application for 299 residential units before An Bord Pleanála with a decision date due for 23 May, will fail to provide sufficient housing. In the event that the planning permission is granted, I guarantee that Irish Water and the local authority will turn around and say that the planning may have been received but the commencement will not be given until such time as there is capacity to deal with water and infrastructure. If those issues were dealt with as a top priority the Minister could pick off a lot of low-hanging fruit. He knows that anyway. I know for a fact that he is very much aware of the infrastructural issues relating to Mitchelstown in particular. I understand that he might visit the town in the not-too-distant future. I ask him to use his good offices to lean in to Irish Water. If some capacity was delivered in Mitchelstown, it would have a tremendous effect, as it would throughout the country.

We support the motion put forward by Sinn Féin. In the few short minutes remaining, I would like to speak about the tenant in situscheme advocated by the Labour Party. I urge that we lift the cap on the ability of local authorities to purchase when there is a HAP or RAS - some people are still on the latter scheme - supported tenant in situ. The limit on local authorities' buying second-hand homes and competing with first-time buyers is having consequences whereby people who are getting social housing support through HAP are then being evicted by smaller landlords who are leaving the housing market. That has been well signalled to the Minister. Because of these limits, there is an unintended consequence of forcing people who require social housing support into homelessness. That is what I spoke about at the top of my intervention here tonight. I ask the Minister to look at greater flexibility around a tenant in situscheme and to allow local authorities to purchase housing where there is a tenant in situgetting social housing support. I am sure the Minister will have an answer to that. I would welcome a reply. If he is favourable to that, it would be good.

The other point I wish to raise relates to the Croí Cónaithe scheme. If the Minister is responding to the debate-----

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I cannot respond to the debate because Sinn Féin tabled the motion. However, I have taken a note of Deputy Sherlock's point.

Photo of Seán SherlockSeán Sherlock (Cork East, Labour)
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I thank the Minister. I want to put it on the record that I asked him about this scheme on 5 April and I received a reply from him today. I asked the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage if he will report on a new Croí Cónaithe fund under Housing for All to increase owner-occupier apartment developments in city centres. I know it is a city-focused scheme. In his reply, the Minister stated his Department is currently working with the Housing Agency on finalising the operational basis for the new fund and it expects to engage with prospective proposers in the call for proposals in the second quarter of 2022. If the Minister or his officials are listening, I would be pleased if I could get greater clarity as to when that is happening because it would facilitate a lot of accommodation opportunities over the shop or commercial premises to turn them into residential spaces. What is not known out there is the number of schemes that are available for towns. The biggest impediment to somebody in a town or city converting what was a commercial premises into a residential premises, where there are perhaps intergenerational owners, is that they are not going to make the leap towards converting to residential with all of the attendant grants that are available because the capital cost of doing so is still too high. They may be asset rich but cash poor and they are at pains to take the risk of borrowing. There are hundreds of towns throughout the country where we have lost capacity on the main street, where shops and commercial premises have closed.

There are many people who would like to live in towns, people who are downsizing and want to be closer to services on the main street, which would free up many houses. Yet, people do not perceive that there is anything in place for them to be able to do that. We need more schemes that are fasttracked. There should be a treatment in planning that could facilitate that and that could allow for better funding of it.

On the Labour Party's Residential Tenancies (Tenants' Rights) Bill 2021, there remains a huge imbalance in power between renters and landlords. Our Bill focuses on issues relating to quality of rental accommodation. We need to get solid commitments when it comes to security of tenure. That is ultimately the bedrock upon which renters’ rights are based. I will return to the issues on which I spoke in relation to Mitchelstown and Mallow, for instance. These are two examples of two typical towns. The capacity constraints and the infrastructural constraints will require that more people will be in rented accommodation for longer. That market trend for rent is going upwards. The housing assistance payment, HAP, is not meeting pace with demand. There needs to be a rights-based approach for tenants for the duration of this housing crisis. That is what we advocated for in that Bill. I ask that that Bill would be looked at again.

8:00 pm

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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First, I want to respond to some of the comments that have been made. There is a problem with some politicians and some public representatives opposing housing. There could be other instances, but I am only aware of one where councillors voted to de-zone land that was earmarked and needed for social housing. We all know that it is needed, because of the crisis we are in and because of the huge increases in homelessness. There was a 22% increase in homelessness in the last year. There was a 30% increase in the number of children who are homeless in the last 12 months. I am only aware of one instance, which happened recently in South Dublin. A thin majority of councillors voted to de-zone residentially-zoned land that was earmarked specifically for social housing. It was needed for social housing. It would have provided 100 social homes. I call on the Minister and on every Minister to call on their Government councillors in south Dublin, from Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, who voted to de-zone these residential lands that had been earmarked for social housing, to reverse that decision. They can do that as it has not yet bedded in as it is part of the draft development plan. The Government should show leadership in that by calling on its councillors to act in the right, responsible way and to re-zone those residential lands that were earmarked and needed for social housing. If that call was made publicly, it would be very useful. It would show good leadership on this.

I want to talk about the human cost of the rental crisis. I will give one example of how this is affecting people. One of the costs is that when renters are in terrible conditions they do not have the choice and ability to move out and find somewhere better to live because things are so constrained at the moment. Recently, my office has been helping one group of renters who have been in terrible conditions. They would like to move out and rent somewhere else if there was choice, affordability and availability. However, they cannot. This group of renters lives in a rental building with different units in it. It is owned by one landlord. They were living without hot water for three months over the winter, including over the Christmas period. They then, within their rights, took a case to the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, about this. The tenants do not have the address of the landlord, which creates a particular difficulty for the Residential Tenancies Board in following up on this. The Residential Tenancies Board says it is limited in what they it can do in trying to assert the tenants' rights. They ring the landlord because they have a phone number. However, as soon as the landlord realises who it is, the landlord hangs up. Because the tenants do not have the address of the landlord, the RTB says there is not a lot more it can do to proceed with the case.

It does not end there. In retaliation for the tenants starting this case with Residential Tenancies Board, the apparent landlord or their agent entered the property, shut off the electricity, ripped the curtains off the wall and destroyed the bathrooms to the extent that there is no functioning toilet or shower. This is all on video. The landlord also left a note to the tenants which confirmed that the electricity would be switched back on if they dropped their case with the Residential Tenancies Board. All of this is happening while the tenants are holding down stressful and demanding jobs in key industries where we need them to work. This is what they have to come home to every evening.

A common loophole that some of the most exploited tenants face is that they are not in possession of the landlord’s address and the RTB saying there is little it can do. I know from speaking to people with experience in Threshold that this has caused problems for many people. Some of the worst landlords and offenders are exploiting this loophole. Obviously, for more responsible landlords this will not be an issue. I call on the Minister to do what he can to shut down this legal loophole as quickly as possible so that tenants can no longer be exploited because of this. We should have zero tolerance for this gross exploitation of renters by a minority of landlords who are using this loophole to flout the law.

The Social Democrats is happy to support this motion. We thank Deputy Ó Broin for highlighting it. New rents have increased by 9% over the last 12 months on average. However, it has been far worse in some areas. One of the effects of this has been an increase in homelessness. I echo the comments that were made in the Chamber earlier today. When we are talking about homelessness and the cause of homelessness, we need to be very careful and responsible in the language that we use. I call on the Minister to reflect on the comments he made on radio during the weekend. He should be very careful not to be deflecting-----

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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I am not deflecting.

Photo of Cian O'CallaghanCian O'Callaghan (Dublin Bay North, Social Democrats)
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-----responsibility for increased homelessness on any vulnerable groups.

In the last 12 months, we have seen the number of children living in emergency accommodation increase by 30%. Behind these numbers are individuals and families who are struggling to maintain some semblance of normality and routine. They are doing their best to keep up the school routine for their children, despite living miles away from school in emergency accommodation. They are living miles away from jobs and in emergency accommodation where they do not feel safe.

Of course, we should have the same standards for all providers of emergency accommodation, whether these providers are not-for-profit or private. We should have HIQA inspections to ensure that proper standards are in place. The shocking figures relating to the increase in homelessness in the last 12 months show not only a Government that is failing to stem the rising tide of homelessness, house price increases and rents; they also show a Government whose housing policies are failing. To see an example of that, we need to look no further than how the Government is failing to miss its targets for building social, affordable and cost-rental homes.

In 2021, we were promised 9,000 direct-build social homes by the Government. Instead, the figure that was delivered was in the region of 5,000. Most of these were turnkey purchases. There were just 1,726 direct builds. We were promised just 350 cost rental homes, only 65 of which were tenanted and fully delivered last year. We were promised thousands of affordable homes through various initiatives last year and zero were delivered.

We are seeing build-to-rent becoming the dominant supply of new housing, especially in Dublin. Some 82% of all residential schemes that had been applied for, or that were granted planning permission, according to analysis carried out with the executive of Dublin City Council in 2020, were build-to-rent schemes.

Despite this, the Planning Regulator is telling Dublin City Council it must drop its plans to curtail build to rent as this conflicts with national policy. Let us be very clear, under this Government, build to rent and investment funds are dominating and controlling the supply of new homes to the detriment of new and affordable supply for individuals. This has been borne out by the analysis done by Mr. Mel Reynolds and Dr. Lorcan Sirr, which shows the amount of new and affordable homes available for individual purchase fell last year and was at its lowest level in years at under 6,000. This is what is happening under this Government.

We are seeing a growing number of people stuck with renting who would like to be able to afford to buy their own homes. We are seeing house prices about to reach record levels, surpassing their Celtic tiger peak. Home ownership levels are in free fall under this Government and home ownership among adults at prime working age between 25 to 54 has collapsed, according to the Parliamentary Budget Office. Since 2012, we have seen wages grow by 23% while house prices have increased by 77%. In fact, since the 1980s, average house prices have increased by 230% in real terms after adjusting for inflation. The average age of a person who leaves home in Ireland is now 28. If we go back to the early 1990s, two thirds of people aged 28 owned their own homes.

Renters cannot continue to pay more and more. We have some of the highest rents in the European Union that are a major cost to individuals and families and also have a significant economic cost. We need a radical increase in the supply of cost rental and affordable homes to meet the housing needs of people as well as a ban on rent increases and improvements in security of tenure for renters.

8:10 pm

Photo of Richard Boyd BarrettRichard Boyd Barrett (Dún Laoghaire, People Before Profit Alliance)
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I am sure the Minister had reasons for leaving the Chamber, but I am disappointed he is not here to hear what I have to say because the situation is just getting worse. We can bandy around alternative policies and plans until the cows come home but seeing is believing. I want the Government to understand, if it does not already, that the situation has got decisively worse in the past few months. It needs to grasp that. There is real human misery. I emphasise that worsening situation predates the significant arrival of Ukrainian refugees, the outbreak of the war and Putin's brutal invasion. It was getting very significantly worse and towards the end of last year things started to get very bad again. There had been a temporary break during the Covid pandemic because of the eviction ban and the temporary freeze in rent increases. That actually made a difference. It did not solve the problem but it started to improve things. The numbers going into homelessness were falling because evictions were banned.

I want to plead with the Government at present. The main reason people come into my clinic, are facing and then end up in emergency accommodation and, increasingly, are people who are working, have jobs and families and end up in homeless accommodation, is because they are evicted by landlords on grounds of sale. That is why they get evicted. If the Government stopped that, as it did during Covid, it would stop people going into homelessness. I am pleading with the Government to do that. It did not solve all of the problem but it had an impact and since the Government removed that measure the situation has got worse again. Since rents were allowed to increase, it has got worse.

If someone is in that situation where his or her landlord is selling up and the eviction of that person is allowed, he or she has to look for a rent that is affordable. If the Minister of State goes on daft.ieany day of the week, he will see I am not exaggerating in saying that, in my area, he will not find anything costing less than €2,200 a month. Seriously, that is not affordable by about 80% to 90% of working people. It is completely not at the races. People are goosed if they are looking for accommodation at that level of rent. They are facing despair. That is what people are feeling because there is nowhere to go.

When they go to the council, they are told they are not allowed look for anything costing more than €1,950 because of the housing assistance payment, HAP, limit. That is the highest they can get and before that, if they are not on the homeless HAP rate, the highest they can look for is, I think, €1,250. Imagine how hopeless it is for people checking daft.ie or myhome.iewho are told they are not allowed look for a place that costs any more than €1,250 when everything costs €2,200. They can only get the homeless HAP rate weeks before actually becoming physically homeless. That is another thing I appeal to the Minister of State to change; once people have a notice to quit, give them the homeless HAP rate to give them some chance. They still do not really have a chance but they have some outside chance. They might find the needle in the haystack if they get the homeless HAP rate.

The Government has got to do something because it is just not fair. It is mental torture to say to people they have to find a HAP tenancy because there has been no social housing for 15 or 20 years and there is no social house for them, and that they are not allowed look for anything more than €1,950 if they are on the brink of being homeless, when there is nothing available for less than €2,200. That is mental torture. That is what the Government is doing to people with families, children and so on. If they do not find somewhere, which we know they will not, in one case they are going into a hostel in town when one child is going to school in Ballybrack and another is going to school in Shankill. That family will be in a hostel in Gardiner Street. Give me a break. That is torture. It is abuse of those children to put them in that situation but that is what is going on. We have to do something about that.

I am not in favour of giving loads of HAP money to these landlords but, to be honest, the HAP rates have to be raised to at least the levels of the rents that are around. That has to be done otherwise people have no chance whatsoever. I agree with Deputy Sherlock, and I have also made the point, that if people are about to be evicted from a HAP tenancy the council should step in and buy the place immediately. The council is inflicting suffering on itself by evicting people in that situation because they will be knocking on the door of the council saying, "Will you please give me somewhere to live?", when they are evicted from a HAP tenancy. How long has the review of income thresholds been going on for now? Is it five, six or seven years? I know of one woman, as does Deputy Ó Broin, working for a State agency who has spent three and a half years in emergency accommodation and is no longer entitled to income support or HAP support because she has just gone over the threshold. That is now happening to people all the time. They are completely banjaxed because their income will not allow them to afford anything. They will not even get HAP, never mind a social housing unit, and they could potentially be, and some are, evicted from homeless accommodation. It is just unbelievable.

This goes slightly further than Sinn Féin's motion, which I support, but could we possibly do what the French have just done? They have brought in a body that will set rents in each area at a level that is affordable and based on people's incomes. The French have just done it because all the other measures were not working. I propose we do the same.

Photo of Mick BarryMick Barry (Cork North Central, Solidarity)
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High rents are driving many families into homelessness. Many of these families are ending up in emergency accommodation, including the family hubs. Some time ago, People Before Profit Councillor Hazel Norton reached out to families in one of these hubs in Dublin and was shocked to be told that residents were only allowed out three nights per month, had to ask in advance to do so and had to be home by 10 p.m. Last weekend, journalist Mr. Martin Beanz Warde, interviewed two young single mothers in a hub elsewhere in the country. The young women said they felt they were constantly being watched. They said that if they came to their front doors at night, when their children were asleep, they were told they were neglecting to supervise their children and warned they could be reported to Tusla. They said that if they called into a neighbour's house at night, they were immediately phoned and told to go back to their own places. Mr. Warde highlighted reports of security checks with flashlights and residents constantly being told by staff that this was not their home.

There is a history of rotten and misogynistic treatment of women in institutions in this State. Look at the mother and baby homes and Magdalen laundries. I could be all night listing them. People know the story. This journalist, it seems to me, is asking the question as to whether some of the spirit of that tradition lives on today in some of the State's homeless services and family hubs. That is a legitimate question to ask. I look forward to hearing the other interviews he conducted, which he will post on social media during May. Any person who has experienced poor treatment of this kind is free to contact my office. I advise the Minister to keep an eye out for this issue. I suspect that this may not be the last we hear of it.

At the weekend, I went on a housing protest march and the Cork May Day march. I spoke to housing activists about this debate. An anti-dereliction campaigner asked me to say that 90,000 homes were identified as vacant by GeoDirectory with the addresses known. Surely these are ideal for compulsory rental. Some 22,000 homes were identified as derelict. Given their addresses are known, surely these homes are ideal for compulsory sale. Revenue has the owner details. Why can this not happen now?

An organiser with Community Action Tenants Union, CATU, Nora Labo, asked me to highlight that people are automatically removed from the housing list when they go on to HAP. Many of those who are evicted after a year on the HAP scheme find out only then that they are no longer on the housing list. There are more points I would like to make on that issue but I have gone over my time. I will return to this issue soon in future debates.

8:20 pm

Photo of Peter FitzpatrickPeter Fitzpatrick (Louth, Independent)
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In recent years, I have raised the rising cost of rent and property and the lack of rental properties. Trying to find a property in my area is like looking for hen's teeth. The problem is countrywide and affects every county. In my home town of Dundalk the rental cost of a standard three-bedroom house is between €1,200 and €1,600 a month. It is much more that someone would have to pay for a mortgage for the same property. Why are the tenants paying these rents not able to get a mortgage for the same property? This is one of the main reasons for the crisis we are in and it makes no sense. It is not fair and needs to be addressed.

New homes and apartments are still being purchased in bulk by real estate investment trusts and institutional investors. This is a major problem. Ordinary people trying to bid for a new house have no chance. This is driving up the prices of houses, which, in turn, is driving up the cost of renting. High prices relative to incomes are pushing potential buyers out of the market and into rental accommodation, which is pushing up demand. People come to my constituency office and tell me they would be better off on social welfare. They pay between €1,200 and €1,600 on rent. These people are working and want to work but they come home with a salary of between €25,000 or €30,000 after they have paid their taxes and universal social charge. They are left with nothing after rent. They cannot afford to put food on the table or clothes on their children's backs and they have no help with their rent because local authorities have not changed the housing list thresholds for the past ten years. That is not fair. If people in that position gave up their jobs tomorrow morning, they would get €1,320 in HAP towards their rent. They would get medical cards and everything else they would be entitled to and their rent would cost them only €50 per week or €100 per month instead of €1,600 per month. It would, therefore, make sense.

The overarching goal of housing policy should be affordability, sustainability, equality and social inclusion. The high cost of housing can lead to deprivation, exclusion and poverty at household level and low levels of consumption and economic growth at national level. The standard of rental properties is poor. Landlords refuse to carry out repairs and if tenants complain, they are asked to leave the property. If they do not pay their rent, they are evicted from the property. It is impossible to get a rental property for a family. Many families in my area are moving back to live with their parents. Some are sleeping on sofas. It is either sleep on the sofa or go on the homeless list.

The Minister is always looking for solutions. I propose that he put in place support to increase the supply of housing through affordable rent and purchase. There are various ways of achieving that. There is an untapped supply of vacant and derelict housing throughout the country, in both rural and urban areas. According to the GeoDirectory residential buildings report, there are more than 90,000 vacant dwellings across the country. Every year, up to 4,500 people leave behind an empty home when they go into long-term nursing home care, yet just 400 of these homes are subsequently rented out. The nursing home support scheme, fair deal, charges older persons three separate times if they decide to rent out their home. The Government needs to reform the fair deal scheme to remove the financial barrier to renting out properties, thereby releasing vacant family homes in cities, towns and rural areas.

The Government also needs to do something for older people. For example, it should develop clustered bungalow housing close to services, which would allow older people to downsize and free up family homes.

The Government also needs to establish a framework for the supply and installation of prefabricated 3D volumetric modular homes which can significantly reduce the construction time for social and affordable housing. It also needs to review the housing grant limit in light of rising construction costs. It needs to address supply-side constraints, including skilled labour shortages, rising costs of construction, including materials, and excessive lead-in times, which are limiting the development of affordable new dwellings. In my constituency, all that families want is a home for their families. Whether it is through buying, renting or living in social houses, they want stability. They want their families to feel safe and their children to be able to play with their friends. Everyone deserves a home. There is a shortage of housing which needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

We need rent freezes with no loopholes for investment companies. We need stronger powers for the Residential Tenancy Board, including the power to spot-check residential properties, and we need confirmation that retrofitting and substantial renovations will be removed as a reason to evict.

Everyone needs a home. Last week, when I spoke at Leaders’ Questions, I was given a commitment from the Taoiseach that the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, would contact me about vacant properties in the Dundalk area. I have yet to hear from the Minister. I would appreciate if the Minister of State would ask the Minister to contact me.

Photo of Seán CanneySeán Canney (Galway East, Independent)
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We have heard a lot about housing this evening. I would have liked the Minister to be here to listen to what I have to say.

I have previously made statements about housing that may have fallen on deaf ears. I have just come from a meeting of the Committee on Budgetary Oversight at which I raised an issue with the Minister for Finance, Deputy Donohoe. He does not agree with me that we should support first-time buyers or homeowners who want to buy second-hand or derelict houses. We might disagree but the Minister has made no progress in trying to get these houses occupied.

I heard the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage talking last week about Ukrainian refugees coming into the country and what would have to be done in the immediate, short, medium and long term to try and help them, and rightly so. He talked about introducing emergency legislation to deal with planning. If he is to do that, let him do it for everyone.

A survey by the Northern and Western Regional Assembly identified some 45,000 vacant houses in the northern and western area. If half of those properties were put into use as homes, we would make progress. One of our biggest problems is a deficit in infrastructure to enable houses to be built. In my constituency, many towns and villages are effectively locked out of development for the simple reason that they do not have a municipal waste treatment plant. Galway County Council will not give planning permission and An Bord Pleanála will refuse to give planning permission, which means we cannot build. Craughwell, Abbeyknockmoy and Corofin have development land right in the centre of the village but development is deemed to be premature until a municipal treatment plant is put in place. As a result, we end up with nothing happening in these areas. At the same time as we are trying to prohibit people from building in rural areas, we cannot build in towns. What do we do? One proposal from my local authority is that we build houses in clusters of five.

8 o’clock

We would have a small hamlet of five houses in some place - we do not yet know where - with their own individual septic tanks to try to get over the issue of not having a municipal wastewater treatment plant. The Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Deputy Eamon Ryan, might have something to say about us putting septic tanks in our towns and villages instead of building wastewater treatment plants. It is important we do things in a joined-up way.

Rents are rising all over the place because we do not have the supply coming on. We hear talk that this year housing starts are up and are very near targets, or whatever. They are not really being delivered in the places they need to be delivered in. Many of these houses are being delivered as social housing for the local authorities, which is fine, though not enough are being delivered. However, what about the people who want to build their own houses, get a mortgage and could take over an existing property and do it up?

The HAP scheme is not working properly. One of the things that has not been said tonight is if you have a landlord who rents his or her second house and the tenant does not pay the rent, then all the rent is stopped. Therefore, the landlord is left without any rent either. We need to ensure tenants and landlords are treated properly and fairly when houses are in the HAP system. Constituents have told me they cannot find a HAP house because when they go into the letting agent, they are told the agent's clients will not take HAP because they are afraid of it. We must ensure whatever system we have in place is fair to both. We need to look at this in such a way that we are providing houses. At this stage we have an emergency. We should short-circuit the planning on a temporary basis for the next two to three years to give us a chance to build something rather than be engaged in the planning, with An Bord Pleanála, with judicial reviews and with all that kind of a charade without actually building houses. We also need to remove all these procurement gateway approvals that have to be given before houses can be built in the public sector. It is incredible the way it is going on at the moment.

I hope the Minister of State takes on board some of what I am saying I thank the Acting Chair for her indulgence.

8:30 pm

Photo of Emer HigginsEmer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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The Rural Independent Group is next. There are five speakers with two minutes each.

Photo of Michael Healy-RaeMichael Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I thank the Acting Chair. I declare an interest in this whole matter but I feel I am very well equipped to talk about it because I see the problem as being the demonisation of people who have property to rent out. That is not an answer to the problem. We must try to ensure there is enough availability of the product. If we do not have enough of the product and it is scarce, people will not have the properties to rent. Not every Deputy would be willing to stand in the Dáil and say this because they would nearly be afraid to, but last night I spoke to one of the finest developers we have ever had in this country, who has been building homes for between 40 and 50 years, probably. He is a highly respectable individual. He told me that when we are at a stage when the garda and the nurse cannot afford to buy a house anywhere in this country, we are in serious trouble. He said the Government must be willing to sit down with people like him. He meant the developers and the builders, who are not bad people but people who have the brains to borrow money and the ability to acquire land and provide homes. However, they are not allowed to do so because everything is set up against them. With all due respect to people who talk about developers and property owners and so on, they talk as if there is something wrong with them. For God's sake, there is nothing in the world wrong with a builder. We had small builders, medium builders and big builders and we do not have any of them now because the sums simply do not add up for them and they are demonised for doing what they doing. I wanted to put that on the record.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I wish to continue on the same theme because my office is overrun with unfortunate people who are looking to rent, have notices to quit and cannot get properties, etc. We have a perfect storm here. We have parties on the left, and some on the middle left, that are demonising landlords. Some landlords are accidental landlords and never wanted to be. We cannot keep demonising the developers, builders and others as bad people. There were some rogues but there are bad apples in every area. All day today and yesterday people were demonising the sisters who provided the maternity care in this country for generations. Now we want to demonise them. We are getting a 300-year lease. Where would you get the like of it? Do we want to pay the going rate for it? If we do, we should buy the land.

Getting back to housing, the same people are objecting to this and objecting to that and demonising the landlords. We must have the people with the wherewithal to borrow and the brains to finance this. They have the brains and skills and are able to build the houses. We must deliver more housing; it is as simple as that. There must be private housing. The local authorities are not building the houses. They fell off the cliff long ago when it comes to providing housing. We must go back to that but we must also support the small builders. Ní neart go cur le chéile. We must allow people build houses of their own. We must bring down rents that way because when the commodity is scarce, the cost goes up and up and up.

We have passed more regulations in here in the last ten years, and I did five years on the housing committee, and all we were doing is passing legislation making it more difficult and more people who provided houses and flats were getting out of the land. We closed all the bedsits in Dublin. Would many people not be glad of them now? We closed all of them with mad legislation too. We do not think beyond our nose, beyond the Pale or beyond what we are doing today and the implications this legislation and these rules are having. It is time we had a wake-up call in this House as well.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins (Cork South West, Independent)
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Rising rents are a frightening experience for tenants. Yesterday, I received an email from a man living in Clonakilty informing me of some steep rent increases that have been imposed on tenants in the last few days in an estate in Clonakilty. They were all informed their rents were rising by 25% and were given three months’ notice to get their heads around this increase. This man and his wife work full-time but they are finding the cost of living very hard to cope with. This added increase in rent, which adds up to €3,000 extra per year, makes it impossible for them to continue in their home. In the middle of a national cost-of-living crisis, there are landlords hiking up the rent and taking advantage of the demand for housing. This man would be very angry but he says he does not have time as he must now try to find somewhere for himself and his wife and children to live. This morning I received an email from a man asking for my help as he has nowhere to live in west Cork and is staying in his car. Unfortunately, that is what I find at my clinics every Friday, Saturday and Monday. It is the same crisis. People say they have not anywhere to stay and they are staying in their cars. As I said, at clinics I have families coming in to me begging for help with rent, HAP, accommodation and housing.

Those lucky enough to get this once-off, farcical planning permission, given the way things are gone, are then left with the building costs that are crippling Ireland. The price of materials is crippling everyone and even if the client can pay it is hard to get your hands on the materials. The Government stands by and issues press release after press release and statements that come one after the other on what is being done to fix the housing crisis in Ireland. It would do well to remember every policy taken so far has failed. This is why we are where we are today. The unfortunate thing I find in my constituency is so many people getting eviction letters. I do not want to tar every landlord with the one brush because some of them are very good and have been very fair to tenants down through the years. However, there is a crisis out there and it must be addressed.

Photo of Danny Healy-RaeDanny Healy-Rae (Kerry, Independent)
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I must declare an interest if my brother has an interest because of the fact we are brothers, even though I only have my own bit. The cost of rent is exorbitant in Kerry as well, in places like Killarney, Tralee and Dingle. It is also hard to find places to rent because there is no availability. While I, like everyone else, welcome the Ukrainian people here, we need to be inventive about where we can house them because we certainly cannot lose. There are people on Kerry who have been on the list, like youngsters I know, for 15 or 16 years and still have not got a house. We need to be more inventive. There are places like St. Finan's Hospital. There are vacant houses around. The Minister of State should delegate the local authority to send out people to investigate why houses are empty or if there could be a deal done with them. Some people are coming forward but they do not know who to come forward to.

There is no direct line they can contact. Already, our hotels and guesthouses are full. It will jeopardise our tourism product. We cannot ask our people on the housing list to wait any longer.

Landlords are selling up and getting out of the business because they are paying 52% tax. The number of voids, according to Kerry County Council, is at an unacceptable level. The local authority states the tenant purchase scheme used to generate money for the local authority to do up houses, but tenants cannot purchase houses until they are tenants for more than ten years. That is unacceptable.

8:40 pm

Photo of Carol NolanCarol Nolan (Laois-Offaly, Independent)
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It is profoundly disappointing that we heard the announcement for third level and the supports available to third level students yesterday but nothing was done in terms of increasing the cap on the amount students can earn in part-time work. That cap should have been increased because students are facing a crisis in terms of spiralling rents. That was definitely a missed opportunity by the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and I want to put that on the record.

We have a crisis with rent. There is no longer any doubt we are in a state of complete and overwhelming emergency when it comes to our housing needs and the inability of people to pay rent.

It is simply incredible to think the average rent nationally now stands at €1,516 per month. As I understand it, that is a spike of 6.8% and marks the 36th consecutive quarter where rents are higher than they were in the previous 12 months.

Our recent analysis of trends in the Irish residential sales market shows the biggest year-on-year increases in the State are in my county of Offaly, where it is up almost 18%. The designation of Tullamore as a rent pressure zone provided limited support and limited financial certainty to tenants in the medium to long term. That was badly needed because, at the time, the latest figures from the Residential Tenancies Board rent index showed an increase of almost 10% in Laois and 6% in Offaly. That meant many of my constituents in Tullamore, Edenderry and Portlaoise were paying at least €1,000 every month before the current crisis erupted.

We need to take urgent action here. We have a deep crisis but I also call on the Government to look at the issue around the cap on students' earnings to allow them that little bit of flexibility to pay the spiralling rents.

Photo of Emer HigginsEmer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputy Nolan. I am well impressed by how the Rural Independent Group shares time so efficiently and effectively.

Photo of Mattie McGrathMattie McGrath (Tipperary, Independent)
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I thank the Acting Chairman.

Photo of Emer HigginsEmer Higgins (Dublin Mid West, Fine Gael)
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Deputies Pringle and Connolly are sharing time.

Photo of Thomas PringleThomas Pringle (Donegal, Independent)
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I thank Sinn Féin for the opportunity to speak on this motion today, or maybe it is more accurate to thank the party for the opportunity to shout into the void once again because that is truly what it feels like trying to have a discussion on this topic with this Government and, to be honest, with all previous Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael governments, which have, unfortunately, allowed rents to soar exponentially over the past decade. However, we are truly at a crisis now and I cannot stress enough the urgency of the matter.

The situation for renters is truly shocking at present. Failed housing policies have created generation rent, who do not have the option to buy their own home and, as a result, are being forced into the rental sector. With a significant reduction in rental properties available and with the price of those few properties skyrocketing, people have been left abandoned with literally nowhere to go. It is clear the Government's two recent rent caps are not working. None of the Government's policies are working. How many different ways must this be pointed out before it is finally accepted?

We have had discussion after discussion in this House, stating the same over and over again, but nothing seems to be getting through and the people are starting to lose hope. We have watched rent report after rent report come out over recent months outlining the exact same sad reality: rent is rising, Government policy is not working and something needs to be done now.

The latest report, the Residential Tenancies Board, RTB, rent index mentioned in this motion, shows new rents have increased by 9% State-wide in the last three months of 2021. The index showed that, in my constituency of Donegal, rents for new tenancies have increased by a massive 16.6%. We have seen the recent daft.iereport which showed that overall rents increased in Donegal by an astonishing 24.3%, the highest rise in rent nationally.

Week after week I have people in my constituency office in dire situations, unable to afford to buy but unable to find the rent either. I have seen families unable to meet the rising costs of living and struggling to hold on to their homes. I have seen young people forced to put their life on hold, with many not seeing any hope of ever living independently in the foreseeable future. I have seen people nearing retirement age, worried about how they will continue to make rent payments once they take a dip in income. I have seen mica families paying mortgages on crumbling houses while trying to come up with rent money on top of this. Yet we see that Airbnb has grown exponentially in the county. Nothing has been done with enforcement so that Airbnb properties will be rental properties for citizens.

As a board member of the North West Simon Community, I have seen, sadly, the shocking rise of homelessness in my region, which does not even take into account the incredible number of those in hidden homelessness across Donegal. In a single week in March, 97 individuals in the north west were provided with emergency accommodation. This included 62 single adults and 13 families comprising 15 adults and 20 child dependants. These are only the people who come to the service. I am not talking about those who are couch surfing or anything like that who are not included in any of the figures the Government talks about.

There is no justifying the situation. No child should ever have to face homelessness. The State has failed these families. We should all feel ashamed when hearing these statistics because the truth is these are not just statistics; this is real life and real people. They should be treated with respect and with dignity and not as another number on yet another homelessness report.

Where is the compassion of this Government? Where is the empathy for our constituents who are literally pleading for help? It gives me no joy to stand here and relay these stories and statistics to the Minister of State. It should not have to be done. The people of Donegal and Ireland deserve so much better than this. We should not have to do it repeatedly before it will sink in.

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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I thank Sinn Féin for giving us the opportunity to speak once again, although I despair of talking continually, with a few minutes on different motions, trying to draw attention to a housing crisis repeatedly since the day I was elected in February 2016. We have a Minister who thinks it is a debating competition and scoring points across the floor at Sinn Féin in a manner that is not befitting the Dáil when we have a housing crisis.

One can quote any report. There are many. I am taking the Simon report because Simon has consistently done a snapshot every quarter over a number of days. Their latest one, in March, told us this is the 25th snapshot study. The Minister stood here and told us all of the facts, that things were improving.

The March 2022 Locked Out of the Market report shows yet another stark decline in the availability of affordable properties. The report goes on to mention, in particular, the end of Covid-enforced renter restrictions having a particular bearing. It states, "The private rental market is affected by an ongoing contraction in supply, increase in rental prices, and an overall lack of affordability", and "There was a strong decrease in the number of properties available to rent within the standard or discretionary HAP rates."

The report looks at Galway city and Galway county. In Galway city, there were seven properties available for rent. Not a single one of them came under the housing assistance payment, HAP, criteria. There were no properties affordable under the standard or the discretionary HAP rates for any of the households examined. There was only one property available to rent during the study period, at €1,430 a month - a one-bedroom property. Rents for three bedrooms ranged from €2,440 to €2,875. I wish I had more time to repeat the figures because they are stark and they make a mockery of what the Minister has told us.

Rents in Galway county rose at an extraordinary rate of 19%. That was up 122.9% from the trough. In Galway city, ours rose by 8.8%. While it might seem a little smaller, it was 115.5% from the trough.

Homelessness has increased in Galway. We have 280 adults in official homeless emergency accommodation. The figure nationally is, once again, approaching 10,000.

I am absolutely at my wit's end walking in Dublin and Galway and seeing people on the street when we are spending billions on a housing policy that is not relieving the situation but adding to it. I say that because at a conservative estimate, more than €1 billion per year is going straight into landlords' pockets. Never in my life have I decried landlords because we need them. We certainly need small builders. I have a conflict here because my father was a small builder in the past, among the many jobs he had. We need more small builders. What is absent here is a recognition that the Government is ideologically committed to the market to the point where it is putting billions into the private market to keep rents artificially high. The consequence of that is homelessness, high rents and a continuous lack of security for people. It is impossible for anybody in that situation to participate in democracy, make their views known or look after their children. The most crucial and fundamental thing is security of tenure in a house. A government, whoever is in government, has to commit to being in the market. It has to be i lár an aonaigh, in the middle of the market, providing public housing with absolutely no division between public housing, private housing and cost rental. There should be no such division.

There has been a housing task force in Galway for years and I have not seen a single report that has analysed the cause of the problem in Galway. In my limited experience, which was 17 years on a local council, I saw what was happening. From 2009, not a single public house was constructed. I repeat that not one single public house was constructed in Galway. All of the eggs went into the basket of the housing assistance payment, HAP. We were told in plain English that HAP was the only game in town. I saw a crisis build up year after year and it is still building up. The only difference is that we are now putting more money in for the wrong reasons.

Where is the audit from the Land Development Agency? It was set up on a non-statutory basis prior to the legislation and one of its first tasks was to give us an audit of all the public land available.

In the last minute of my available time, I am going to once again highlight that Galway city, one of the five cities destined to see an increase in population of 50%, has no plan for the common good. We have developers developing Ceannt Station. We have developers developing the docks, with a view to selling off property. There are other developments near the university and there is no overall plan.

8:50 pm

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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I thank Deputies for contributing to this debate and the discussion of the rental sector. I look forward to the real changes that Housing for All will make for landlords and tenants alike. However, the motion generally addresses the RTB-ESRI rent index as published last week and calls for a number of actions from Government which have been debated numerous times in both Houses.

The Government's counter-motion outlines achievements to date and the plans that are in train through Housing for All. The Government's housing plan to 2030, Housing for All, is a multi-annual, multi-billion euro plan which will improve Ireland's housing system and deliver more homes of all types for people with different housing needs. The Government believes that everybody should have access to good quality housing to purchase or rent at an affordable price, built to a high standard and located close to essential services, offering a high quality of life.

As we can see, real progress is being made. The latest figures for housing completions and building commencements indicate strong construction activity and increased housing supply, which is critical to alleviating pressure. In the year to March 2022, 22,004 units were commenced outside Dublin, up 78% on the number of units commenced in the year to March 2021. Some 1,842 units were commenced in Dublin, which is an increase of 139% on the same period to March 2021. The Land Development Agency is advancing plans for thousands of cost rental homes on its portfolio of lands. Cost rental delivery is being rapidly ramped up to provide 18,000 homes over the course of the Housing for All plan at an average of 2,000 per year.

Over the past two years, the Government has not been found wanting when it comes to protecting renters, nor will it be going forward. It introduced a ban on evictions in all but limited circumstances in order to mitigate, where practicable, the effect and spread of Covid-19, introduced enhanced protections for tenants economically impacted by the pandemic, extended rent pressure zones to the end of 2024, restricted upfront payments by tenants to one month's rent and one month's deposit, capped rent increases at 2% per annum where inflation is higher and will introduce, from June, tenancies of unlimited duration.

In the time I have remaining, I will address some of the other topics which were raised in today's motion. The RTB rent index for quarter 4 2021 was published on 27 April 2022 and showed that, year on year, new rents increased nationally by 9%. The growth rate was higher than that of the previous quarter, when it was 8.8%, and was the highest since quarter 4 of 2017, which recorded a growth of 9.3%. It should be noted that the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic were still strongly impacting the rental sector during the fourth quarter of 2020, the comparison period. The national standardised average rent remained static in quarter 4 of 2020 and overall there had been a significant trend of moderation in rental inflation relative to previous years. The annual increase of 2.7% in 2020 represented the lowest annual increase in rent levels since 2012.

I also note that the analysis carried out by the ESRI and the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, published earlier this month, suggested that ongoing pressures in the general housing market and the robust macroeconomic recovery would mean that without rent pressure zones, rental inflation would be notably higher.

The Government is committed to supporting the continued participation of small-scale landlords in the rental market. The management of tax issues is a matter for the Department of Finance and under Housing for All, a specific action has been set for that Department to review the policy options proposed by the 2017 working group on the tax and fiscal treatment of landlords. The Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, working in collaboration with the RTB, will assist the Department of Finance in carrying out this review in quarter 3 of this year.

The review of taxation of rental income will take account of the trends in landlords exiting the private rental sector. The aim is to ensure that the residential rental sector represents a viable investment option within a stable regulatory environment, with a fair and effective balancing of tenant and landlord rights and responsibilities.

The exiting of small landlords from the private rental sector is a consequence of multiple factors. A changing regulatory environment which has been necessary to ensure a fair and effective residential rental sector that balances tenants' rights and landlords' responsibilities has resulted in a challenging compliance framework for some. The recent rise in house prices has also prompted some landlords to sell their rental properties in the absence of negative equity. Some of the key findings from the RTB rental sector survey published last year included that, of the landlords surveyed, only one in five acquired the rental property with a buy-to-let mortgage, while 54% acquired it with an owner-occupier mortgage and one in ten inherited the property. Most became landlords ten to 15 years ago, during the Celtic tiger era, and 60% previously lived in the property they rent out. All of this would appear to strongly support the anecdotal reports of accidental landlords as key players in the sector heretofore.

Any measures such as a rent freeze that impacts private property rights requires detailed consideration and scrutiny, having regard to the provisions of Article 43 of the Constitution and the associated legal complexities. The current rent pressure zone arrangements, under which the rent increases are capped at 2% pro ratawhere inflation is higher, were introduced as a balanced set of arrangements which recognised the need to intervene in situations of high and significantly increasing rents while at the same time taking account of constitutional property rights and the need to avoid disincentivising the provision of rental properties. The Government needs to strike a balance between restricting the level of rents tenants are paying and keeping ordinary landlords in the system. It is unclear how the motion as drafted would reconcile the desire to freeze rents for tenants while simultaneously seeking measures to stop the exit of landlords from the market. A blanket rent freeze will simply not grow or maintain the supply of much-needed accommodation in the rental market. It is highly likely that a blanket ban on rent increases for a significant duration would be the subject of legal challenge and would almost certainly deter continued investment in the rental accommodation market.

Regarding a tax credit for renters, the matters raised in the motion have arisen before now. The previous tax relief in respect of rent paid was abolished in the 2011 budget and it is no longer available to those who commenced renting for the first time from 8 December 2010. This followed a recommendation in a 2009 report by the Commission on Taxation that rent relief be discontinued. The view of this independent commission was that, in the same manner in which mortgage interest relief increases the cost of housing, rent relief increases the cost of private rental accommodation. Accordingly, the result of reintroducing this relief would be a transfer of Exchequer funds directly to landlords, which would not have the intended effect of reducing pressure on tenants. Pumping more money into the rental sector in a way that will just inflate prices will not help renters.

In order to ensure the RTB is fully resourced to deliver on its every-increasing mandate, €11 million current funding was secured for the RTB's operational costs in 2021, which is an additional €2 million on the previous year's funding of €9 million. Some €11 million current funding has also been secured for the RTB's operational costs in 2022. The RTB received sanction for an additional 41 staff since 2019 to ensure that its enhanced powers and the new legislative provisions are fully implemented and enforced. This includes the sanctions granted in 2021 by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for two new full-time permanent senior posts at principal officer level, and also for the remuneration of the director or CEO to be set at assistant secretary level. The authorised staff complement for the RTB is now 106.4 whole-time equivalents. The Department continues to engage with the RTB to guarantee that it has the funds and staffing it requires to effectively discharge its functions in the residential tenancies sector.

In accordance with both the programme for Government and Housing for All commitments, the Government has provided for tenancies of unlimited duration through the Residential Tenancies (Amendment) Act 2021. All new tenancies created on or after 11 June 2022 will become tenancies of unlimited duration once the tenancy has lasted more than six months and no notice of termination has been validly served on the tenant. This will enhance security of tenure for tenants and simplify the operation of the Residential Tenancies Acts 2004 to 2021 through a transition to tenancies of unlimited duration. This provision respects the landlord’s constitutionally protected rights to terminate a tenancy in accordance with section 34 of the Acts. The Government is fully committed to tackling high rents and ensuring an increase in the supply of affordable, high-quality rental accommodation through continued significant capital investment, including cost rental and other means, in a manner that respects security of tenure for renters by ensuring equity and fairness for landlords and tenants alike. Above all, we urgently need the supply of all tenures of housing to keep up with demand in the market. The supply is now ramping up and we have a plan to deliver that in Housing for All.

9:00 pm

Photo of Paul DonnellyPaul Donnelly (Dublin West, Sinn Fein)
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I am gobsmacked that the Minister of State stood there and talked about the transfer of wealth to private landlords due to a tax rebate to people paying their rents. I find that absolutely shocking. The housing rental sector is a mess and I cannot believe for a second that the Government does not see that or thinks its plan is working. Every single measure that is used to gauge how good or bad it is for workers and families trying to access social and affordable housing is telling us that it is beyond horrific. I will give a couple of examples, in case the Minister of State does not read his emails. I know of a family of four that have been 13 years in a RAS house and got a notice to quit. It is their fifth time moving as a family. The council is blocked from buying this house and allowing this family, which has strong roots in the community, a chance to finally settle. This house has now gone on the open market. Ironically, it could come back to the council in the form of a long-term lease if that is what the owner wishes to do. A young woman contacted me today. She has one child and is living in an overcrowded house. She has been approved for HAP - that transfer of wealth to landlords the Minister of State spoke about earlier - but even though she sent out 100 emails, she only got one response. One person wrote:

I am writing to you again to vent my desperation with regard to my housing situation and ask for some help. I am born and raised in Dublin 15. I am in senior management. I have worked hard all my life. I am living with my parents trying the last two years to save for a mortgage but increasing house prices have meant I am still stuck here. I feel there is no hope left here in this country. I am emigrating.

Another said:

We thought we had somewhere to go when we were made homeless on Saturday but also getting onto the housing list and approved for HAP. We find ourselves having to rely on my wife's friends letting us sleep on the couch.

It goes on and on. The Government must treat this housing crisis the way we rightly treated the pandemic and the way we are rightly treating the crisis of refugees from Ukraine. It must take emergency measures. That is what we are talking about because that is what is needed. It should introduce a ban on rent increases and a refundable tax credit, putting a month's rent back in people's pockets. It must massively increase the investment in the delivery of affordable homes, and introduce real protections for tenants. That is what people are asking for. That is what people are demanding. What the Minister of State talked about earlier is not working. Every single person here is saying it is not working. The Government needs to start listening.

Photo of Réada CroninRéada Cronin (Kildare North, Sinn Fein)
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I am at a bit of a loss after listening to the Minister of State. This morning, I was contacted by a constituent in her 60s who told me she slept in her car last night. Every housing case coming into my constituency office in north Kildare is just getting worse, with every one more unbelievable than the last. Eviction notices are arriving thick and fast. I have had more people with notices to quit coming into my office in the last month than I have had since I got elected. I was not a bit surprised by the dramatic increase in the RTB figures. The Minister must implement the Focus Ireland motion, which passed through this House unchallenged, without delay.

I have lost count of the number of people being asked by the system that was created to house them if they have friends or family they can stay with. Here they are, citizens of this State, and they are meant to depend on the luck of having somebody who might be willing to put them up. I know another woman aged 60 who is camped out on a sofa. The family dog had to be moved from his spot to make room for her to have a place to sleep. Older people are being made homeless and the stuff they have gathered through their lifetime is being dumped or stacked in a friend's damp shed - the sheer cruelty of it.

Rents are rocketing in north Kildare. The €1,400 cited by the RTB is way lower than what is being asked in the northern part of Kildare, in my constituency. One would not have a snowball's chance in hell of getting a place for under €2,000. A house in Mullen Park recently went for rent for €3,500. It is the same desperate people chasing the same shrinking number of properties available to rent, and they are desperate. This is all the Government's doing and it is hard to believe we tolerate it. The Government has turned housing, something that every human needs, into a profit commodity for investors. All this mess is of its making.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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I thank the Minister of State for his comments. At least he had the good grace to deal with the substance of the motion, although we may disagree on the points. His speech was in stark contrast to the earlier speech of his senior Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, which hardly mentioned either the private rental sector crisis or the specific points in this motion. He had nothing to say about what he was going to do to stop rising rents. He had nothing to say at all about how he was going to reduce the cost of renting. He had nothing to say about increasing real security of tenure and nothing about the very low output of affordable cost-rental housing this year, next year and into the year after. Again, he completely avoided responding to requests for clarification about the crucial tenant in situprogramme to stop families on HAP and RAS with notices to quit becoming homeless. There was nothing at all about the rapidly shrinking private rental sector as accidental and semi-professional landlords leave in droves. Interestingly, he also had nothing at all to say about his deeply regrettable comments about migrants on "On the Record" with Gavan Reilly on Sunday.

I intended to say this while the Ceann Comhairle was still here. The debate earlier got heated but that is because, in our constituency offices, there is so much fear, anxiety, frustration and anger at the deepening housing crisis. I am sure it is the same across the Chamber. It would be strange if that did not spill over into our debates at times. What really frustrated me about the Minister is that he made a series of misleading claims, so I will correct the record. I would have preferred it if he were here for this. I appreciate that he is a busy man but it is important that his claims do not go uncorrected. Supply in and of itself will not fix the problem. It is not only about supply. We need the right kind of supply in the right place at the right price. If we do not have sufficient affordable supply, particularly in the coming years, then an increase in the number of homes will not necessarily reduce rents and house prices, or tackle homelessness.

The Minister repeated the claim that the Government is spending €4 billion on public housing this year. That is not true. One can look at the budget book. There is just under €1.5 billion of direct capital investment through Government programmes for the delivery of social and affordable homes. I do not know why the Minister keeps misleading the house. He again claimed that the Government delivered 9,000 social homes last year. That is not true. One can look at the Department's website. There were just over 5,000 new builds and just over 1,000 acquisitions, which is just over 6,000, which is 30% less than what the Minister claimed. The Minister repeated the untruth that the Opposition opposes the building of social and affordable homes. He was corrected by The Journal'sexcellent fact-check on the matter and knows very well that what the Opposition had opposed is the gifting of public land at low or no cost to private developers where the affordable homes on those sites will sell for more than €400,000. We make no apology for that.

The Minister claimed that Sinn Féin is against home ownership. The irony is that the Minister of State, Deputy English, used to have battles with the Minister, Deputy O'Brien, when Deputy English was at the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government, because Deputy English rightly used to point out that home ownership falls most rapidly under Fianna Fáil Governments. In our alternative budget, we would have delivered more than double the number of affordable purchase homes funded by this Government.

I strongly disagree with the Minister about the Constitution. I do not believe there would be a constitutional or legal challenge. We will continue to have that debate. He is right that rent relief in and of itself would be inflationary, which is why we called for a three-year ban on rent increases, along with the rent relief, to make sure that that does not happen.

The number of commencements has increased. The problem is that many are large apartment developments that will take two to three years to complete. Are we seriously saying that people will have to wait for two to three years before that supply starts to come online? Planning permission numbers have increased but last year we had more than 80,000 active planning permissions, but only a fraction were being built. Planning permission does not guarantee the delivery of much-needed homes.

The Minister misrepresented our position on shared equity and help-to-buy. We oppose them because they are inflationary. We are not the only people who think that. The only people who have not got the memo on that are the Government. Almost all independent agencies share our concerns.

On Sinn Féin's proposals, we put together a detailed alternative budget each year. We will do so again in September. We set out clearly how to fund the delivery of 20,000 public homes, including 4,000 affordable cost rental homes and 4,000 affordable purchase homes, which is more than double what is in the Government's proposals. In the meantime, renters need a break. We have to stop rents from increasing, to put money back in renters' pockets, to give tenants real security of tenure, to end inferior build-to-rent design standards and, crucially, we have to develop thousands of cost-rental units, not the hundreds that the Minister spoke about earlier in the debate. That is not in the Government's plan and until it is, this rental crisis will deepen. That is why I commend the motion to the House and oppose the Minister's amendment.

Amendment put.

9:10 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent)
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In accordance with Standing Order 80(2), the division is postponed until the weekly division time on Wednesday, 11 May 2022.