Dáil debates

Thursday, 23 June 2022

Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions

Housing Schemes

9:50 am

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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7. To ask the Minister for Housing, Planning, and Local Government the targets the vacant homes unit in his Department is working towards to tackle vacancy and dereliction. [32972/22]

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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I will ask the Minister about the targets towards which the vacant homes unit in his Department is working, to tackle vacancy and dereliction.

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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Housing for All, which was published in September 2021, provides a new housing plan for Ireland to 2030. Its overall objective is that every citizen in the State should have access to good-quality homes through a steady supply of housing in the right locations, with economic, social and environmental sustainability built into the system. The strategy sets out, in four pathways, a broad suite of measures to achieve its policy objectives, together with a financial commitment in excess of €4 billion per annum.

The suite of measures under the pathway to addressing vacancy and efficient use of existing stock includes the Croí Cónaithe towns fund, which will be delivered by local authorities for the provision of serviced sites for housing, to attract people to build their own homes and to support the refurbishment of vacant properties. The consideration of the approach to the Croí Cónaithe towns fund is at an advanced stage. It in proposed that this fund will provide 2,000 homes and sites by 2025.

In addition, a new local-authority-led programme to help local authorities buy or compulsorily purchase vacant homes which can then be sold on the open market, will ensure homes do not lie vacant. My Department is working with the Housing Agency on the underpinning steps to ensure and support this programme. The objective is for all local authorities to acquire at least 2,500 vacant units and present these to the market by 2026. All of these measures will have a transformative effect on the landscape and I look forward in particular to the launch of the Croí Cónaithe towns fund in the very near future.

Many of these measures are being balanced with the work currently under way with regard to having full-time vacant homes officers in situ in our 31 local authorities, as well as ensuring that we are acting on our compulsory purchase orders, CPOs, through the local authority network. We can see that Waterford and Louth are doing incredible work in that regard. We are waiting to hear from the Law Reform Commission in terms of what reforms can be made with regard to that. The Department of Finance is also working on a proposal for vacancy, on foot of the revaluation of the property tax.

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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On 5 May, the Minister of State confirmed to me through a response to a parliamentary question that he had no targets for social housing voids and that local authorities should set them. On 26 April, the Minister confirmed to me, again through a response to a parliamentary question, that he had not instructed local authorities to set targets for any area of vacancy, either voids or private, but that it would be kept under consideration. Overall targets for Housing for All, as the Minister of State has just outlined, are for 5,500 homes by 2025, with 2,500 of those through local authority purchase of vacant homes and 2,000 through the Croí Cónaithe fund. The GeoDirectory in quarter 4 of 2021 showed that there were more than 90,000 vacant homes in the State. The Government has set a target of 6% of these. The Minister has confirmed that there is only one full-time staff member in the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage working on the vacant homes unit, which is a reduction of three from the unit was originally set up, and that has no idea of how many staff he intends to employ. This was confirmed through a reply to a parliamentary question on 5 May. This Minister is now two years into the job. He has not set any targets. He has no plans and he has failed to deliver on vacancy.

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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We clearly outlined the target numbers in the parliamentary question response for local authorities in terms of vacancy. We have had the biggest voids programme in the history of the State to bring in 6,000 voids over the past two years. It is highly inaccurate to say that the Department does not have targets when the evidence does not back up that assertion. Unfortunately, sometimes people feel that repeating things that are not correct in the Dáil makes them true. Unfortunately, it does not. As I have pointed out, we are working on a number of other measures to ensure that we bring in voids on a timely basis. It is interesting the Deputy quotes the GeoDirectory in terms of 90,000 units, which would be approximately 4.4% of a vacancy with regard to more than 2 million houses in the State. There are significantly conflicting responses in terms of the various reports into vacancy. We are waiting on the census results, which will give us a greater insight into some of the measures we are tailoring within the Department.

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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What I heard from what the Minister of State said was that having 90,000 vacant houses is not an issue because that is only 4.5% of the overall stock of housing. That is not good enough for a person stuck in the middle of a housing crisis who is looking at vacant and derelict houses in every city, town and village. In 2018, the Minister, Deputy Darragh O'Brien, referenced voids and said:

It beggars belief that we are here talking about this issue again when we cannot even get our act together in terms of the properties we own. It is a scandal.

This is what the Minister said in this Chamber in 2018.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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We are doing something about it.

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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We can send the quotation on to the Minister. Here we are in 2022, four years later. Deputy Darragh O'Brien is the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage and he cannot even fix the problem he called a scandal four years ago.

10:00 am

Photo of David StantonDavid Stanton (Cork East, Fine Gael)
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What incentives exist to encourage and support people who own private vacant properties to make them available for housing, either for sale or for rental? What plans does the Government have in that regard? Does the Minister agree that in a county like Cork, which is the biggest county in the country, we should have three full-time housing officers looking after vacant homes and trying to get people to bring them back to use, rather than one who is very much working on a part-time basis?

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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As I have said, repetition in the Dáil, unfortunately, does not make something true. As I have said-----

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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I am quoting the Minister.

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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As I have said, 6,000 voids were brought back into use. That is the evidence over the past number of years.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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They were not voids. The vast majority were not voids.

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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There is a significant programme going forward, as I also referenced.

With regard to Deputy Stanton's question on the current suite of measures, in the first instance we are ensuring that by the end of June there must be full-time vacant homes officers within local authorities. With the Croí Cónaithe scheme, we are awaiting regulations that will be launched shortly to try to bring properties back into use. It will be a key fund for towns and villages. There are other measures, such as the buy and renew and repair and lease schemes. Some counties, such as Waterford and Louth, have made huge inroads in that. We also have the compulsory purchase order, CPO, process being reformed by the Law Reform Commission, and that will be a significant body of work to improve how local authorities-----

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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How many of the Minister's staff are working on vacant homes?

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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Will the Deputies stop?

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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It is true what they say about empty vessels. They absolutely make the most noise. Will the Deputy stop interrupting?

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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Answer the question. It is a simple question.

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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Can the Deputy stop interrupting?

Photo of Thomas GouldThomas Gould (Cork North Central, Sinn Fein)
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I asked a question but did not get an answer.

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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If the Deputy keeps interrupting, I will not respond.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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The Minister of State does not have the answers, if we are honest.

Photo of Peter BurkePeter Burke (Longford-Westmeath, Fine Gael)
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I gave the answer.

Photo of Darragh O'BrienDarragh O'Brien (Dublin Fingal, Fianna Fail)
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The Deputies should try to behave themselves. They were doing well up to then.

Photo of Eoin Ó BroinEoin Ó Broin (Dublin Mid West, Sinn Fein)
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The Ministers just provoke us too much.

Question No. 8 replied to with Written Answers.

Question No. 9 answered with Question No. 6.